LOVE


loveOn Friday, I participated in a fun little blogging activity – Five-Minute-Friday – where a topic is thrown out and you write for 5 minutes.  It is pure free-association and is not meant to be some polished piece of work.  It is designed to get you to let your creative juices flowing and just connect to a word and write.  I love the idea behind that and found myself thinking about stuff that would not ordinarily come into my mind.  That’s the point!  Yesterday, I shared a little bit about this with my coaching group and asked them to do a similar exercise with the word “love” and agreed to participate as well.  So, for today, I am doing my own “Five-Minute-Sunday” and free associating with the word love.  But, since this is not such a formal activity, I might expand beyond just the five-minute limit.  But, I promise to not edit myself.  I’m committed to some free thinking here.

So, love.

I love love.  I used to be very uncomfortable with the word.  I used to never say the words “I love you” to anyone.  I was not raised in a home where those words were ever spoken.  We never acknowledged love for one another and, quite frankly, I think that contributed to our lack of love for one another.  As a parent, I tell my children each and every day – sometimes more than once a day – that I love them.  It comes easily and naturally and I love doing it.  I truly LOVE it.  The words rolling off my tongue feel healing and it warms me up.

As a child, I think the idea of love, in my mind, was reserved for romance.  What I knew about love I saw on TV or in the movies.  Or what I read.  I never understood the concept of loving your family.  I really did not understand what that meant.  Well, I’ll retract that a bit.  My mother used to often say “I love you but I don’t like you.”  I didn’t have the language to understand what a mixed message that was.  She used the idea of love as a way to ridicule me.  Essentially, she was admitting that she loved me (as if that was some great sacrifice) but she didn’t like me.  In fact, in many ways, she was emphasizing the like over the love.  Of course I have to love you because you are my child but I do not have to like you.  Hmmm, I never thought much about that.  I like my kids.  I cannot even imagine suggesting that I did not like them.  I don’t approve of their behavior sometimes but it does not change how I feel about them as people.  It makes me sad for my mother that she could not experience the joys of both loving and truly liking her children.  It gives me the most satisfaction in my life.

I am so uncomfortable with people who throw around the words “I love you” so easily.  If I tell you I love you, I mean it.  And when I mean, I really, really mean it.  It is deep, it is penetrating, it is life-altering.  If I am so connected to you that I can tell you, without provocation, that I love you, then you have so much power in my life.  And, I’m so good with that.  I LOVE being able to be open enough to have people in my life that I can be that raw, that vulnerable, that open, that honest, that connected to.  It is what makes my life that much more meaningful.  On the other hand, I like a lot of people.  I like them a lot.  However, I do not love them.  And that is for all the reasons I explained.  Love is a powerful thing.  Love connects people in ways that expands so much beyond what might be part of a relationship where people are in “like.”  Love commands expectations.  Love gives you license to set expectations.  Love offers some latitude.  It means we have something more meaningful going on here.  I am going to trust you, accept you, forgive you, respect you, acknowledge you and stick with you.  Love means you’re in it for the long haul.  Casual friendships are not loving but they can still be meaningful.  For me, when love enters the equation, I’ve let you into my deepest core.

The love that I struggle the most with is self-love.  I recently had some photographs taken of me and I looked at them with such a critical eye.  I called myself names in my head as I looked at some of the less attractive images.  I would never, ever, ever do that to someone I love.  I would see the photos through my loving eyes.  I would see all the beauty and be enamored by the love I had for the person.  I was not able to do that for myself.  I know I am not alone with this struggle. I often challenge myself to treat myself as if I were one of my own children.  Find a loving way to tell me something that is hard to hear.  Tell myself that I love you every day – sometimes more than once a day.  Make myself feel blanketed by the protection that comes from my love.  I wish I could do a better job of that.  Because, at the end of the day, if I don’t love myself, I am going to have an awfully hard time authentically showing love to anyone else.

I have a lot of love in my life and it makes me warm.  I am going to try to pass that warmth on to myself, when I need it, rather than looking for others to always give it to me.  Feels like that is definitely part of the story for me.

MARRIAGE


marriage“A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.” – Unknown

My husband came home from work today, after hanging out with some guys at the bar to watch the Masters, and said “I think we are becoming a minority.” Knowing my husband as I do, I could have gone in so many different directions with that comment. I looked quizzically at him and, as has happened hundreds of times in the 21 years we have been together, he realized I had no idea what he was referring to. “It seems like we are the only ones left married,” he said smirking. I laughed, knowing he was being facetious but I also stopped for a second and took in a deep breath. He is right. Maybe it’s because of our age, maybe it’s because of where we live, maybe it’s because of our circle of friends and acquaintances but, whatever the reason, it seems like every day we learn of more and more couples splitting up. Today he learned about yet another and, as is always the case, it sends chills down your spine. You can’t help but wonder if one day it will be you. I cannot deny that there have been moments – more than I care to admit – that I wondered if our marriage would survive.

I entered into marriage completely clueless. I had no role models. I had no reference point. Frankly, I had no interest in getting married. I had determined, at a pretty young age, that I wanted to have a fantastic career and would not submit to giving up my dreams for any man. And, I certainly did not want to have kids. Sure, I was a feminist. I was also broken from all that I had experienced in my childhood that I couldn’t even imagine a reality where I could be happily married. By the time I was in college, my mother had been married and divorced 3 times and was on her way to her fourth. My father had 2 under his belt and my sister, 14 years my senior, had just split up with her husband. She would go on to marry 2 more times. I wanted nothing to do with all this. I was not interested in participating in this ritual that seemingly always had an unhappy ending.

I was a serial dater after I got out of college. I would meet guys, date them, break up, find another, date them, break up, find another and the cycle went on and on. Nobody lasted more than weeks or maybe a few months and the relationships never went very deep. I had so much intimacy with all of my gay boyfriends that I never felt needy in that way. If it were not for sex, I would have been content to hang with my gay posse forever, collect some cats and become a living, breathing stereotype. I simply did not see a pathway that would ever lead me to wedded bliss. I had a great career, was starting to make some money and had, what I believed to be, a relatively glamorous life. I worked for a major movie studio optioning books for movies so I spent my evenings going to plays, movie premieres, parties, fancy dinners – all surrounded by the largest group of gay men imaginable. I guess, perhaps one of the reasons I could not see the pathway was because there were not very many suitable candidates crossing my lane.

I met my husband when I was 24. When I think about it now, I realize how I was still an emotional amoeba. I simply knew nothing about the world yet I had lived what felt like 5 lifetimes sorting through the turmoil of my family’s drama. We met as friends – he and I were both dating other people (he was living with someone!) so there was no pressure on the relationship. He seemed like a nice enough guy and, much to my amazement, I found myself quickly intrigued by him. The relationship became romantic very quickly and, after we sorted out our other conflicts, we started dating for real. Both of us being somewhat impulsive, dating lasted about two minutes before we fell remarkably, passionately, overwhelmingly in love. He was my soulmate. I could not imagine how I could spend one minute away from him, which was extraordinarily difficult since he lived 3000 miles away on the other side of the country. We managed to find ways to see each other several times a month and each visit was filled with anticipation – heart-racing, soulful expectation. And every goodbye was marked with tears, sometimes painful and gut-wrenching, because we could not imagine how we would be able to fill our lungs with oxygen without the other to move the diaphragm. We so quickly became a symbiotic unit and every thought I ever had about not wanting to marry went out the window like a paper floating away in a brisk March wind. My fears or uncertainty about how I could sustain a relationship seemed foolish and immature. Here I was madly in love and all I could think about, even at the tender age of 25, was how fast I could begin my life as his wife.

We got engaged in less than 6 months and just a little more than 2 years after we met, we walked down the aisle in a lovely spring wedding and began a whole new chapter in our lives. We set out to right the wrongs of our parents. We vowed to do it differently. We committed to break the cycle. We blindly, ignorantly, whimsically set out on what seemed like a perfectly paved pathway together.

Next month will be 19 years since that lovely spring wedding. 19 years – nearly two decades! In contrast, his parents’ marriage lasted 13 years, my parents stuck it out for 15 before they separated, my sister’s ended at year 14. There was a moment, several years ago, that we realized that we had hit some magical milestone in our family. We were officially the longest married couple. We made a toast. And returned to our blissfully banal life. We have expanded our symbiotic union by two with sons that keep us grounded and focused and remind us why we decided to enter this extremely challenging and complex obstacle course.

In 19 years we have had more than our share of fights and far too many moments, through tears, that we each gritted our teeth and questioned our beliefs. That perfectly paved pathway has revealed many cracks, uprooted roots that have pushed up the concrete and we have tripped and fallen many, many times. We have been challenged to find the intoxicating love that left us in tears when we could not be together every moment of the day. Now the tears were rage-filled and that love was nowhere to be found. Well, actually, it was buried beneath piles and piles of hurt feelings, unkind words, bad choices, anger, resentment and all the wonderful things that are often hallmarks of long-term relationships riddled with financial woes, exhaustion from child rearing and general disappointments that life did not turn out to have the fairy tale ending you dreamt of. For some couples that is where it all goes awry. For many, the challenges become too untenable and the relationship dissolves. For us, we had many sleepless nights, raging battles and days where we could barely look at each other because we loathed the sight of the other but we pushed through. Perhaps the fear of splitting up was more overwhelming than the notion of trying to tolerate each other another day, but we persevered. Despite our efforts to hold it together, I was certain we were doomed. Everyone around us seemed so happy. Their marriages looked so healthy. Everyone seemed to be having sex ALL THE TIME while I couldn’t muster the energy to even think about it most of the time. Everyone appeared to be blissfully in love, even after the trials of marriage had weathered their bond. They all seemed to have a healthier, stronger, more powerful attachment and I didn’t see how my marriage could ever compare.

The joke was on me, of course. Sure, some couples seem to have the good fortune of peaceful and loving relationships and personalities that are not like firecrackers with short fuses and a lit match. Many couples, however, put on a good show when everyone is looking in order to make the pain of their own unhappiness less visible in hopes that it will make their misery more manageable. They sweep it under the rug and put on a good face, hoping no one will notice, existing in silent desperation. For me, I had to learn to stop looking around for comps and spend more time looking at my own relationship and understanding what it needed to work properly. When I searched my soul, I knew I loved my husband on the deepest level and could not imagine a life without him. I needed to focus in on that and stop worrying about the window dressing. None of that shit mattered.

As I watched so many friends delight in the sparkle of new relationships after their marriages ended and they were reborn into these new loves, I had to dig deep to find a way to reconnect with the man who changed my life and brought peace to a war-torn girl. I doubted, I questioned, I ached, I cried, I searched, I begged for mercy. And then I fell in love all over again. This time, I fell in love with the old pair of shoes lying in the back of the closet that I had forgotten were hiding out, stuffed underneath some boxes of new shoes that were so shiny and inviting. I slipped into those shoes and they felt warm and comfortable, and my feet knew exactly how to mold themselves into the leather. They were perfectly suited for me. I exhaled and I opened my eyes wide to find that nothing ever changed between my husband and me. We still loved each other deeply – in fact, we were much more in love than we had ever been but we had lost our way. We fell victim to the complications of life. We stopped paying attention, took our eyes off the road as the car careened into the woods. It was a bit dented but still ran pretty well and just needed someone to get behind the wheel and steer it onto a new road.

I love my husband more today than I ever could have imagined that pretty spring day 19 years ago. I look into the eyes I have stared into millions of times and I see our lifetime together. Soon we will be together longer than we have not. Now we fit together like two puzzle pieces that slide together so easily. There were days we had to shove ourselves together, taking a second look to see if, in fact, we were the right pair of pieces but, now, it is easier. Sure, we still take each other for granted at times and we still have trouble finding time and energy to have quiet intimate moments but I know, without any uncertainty, that there is no one else I would travel the road of life with. We are a real story, a 3-dimensional, full-color, reality of married life. We are imperfect, we hurt each other, we make mistakes. And, we love each other with everything we have. And we fall in love over and over again.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY


motheranddaughter“The woman who bore me is no longer alive, but I seem to be her daughter in increasingly profound ways.” – Unknown

Today would have been my mother’s 83rd birthday.  And, Friday marked one year since she passed away.  As I have shared in this blog before, her passing was an event that did not hold much significance to me at the time because I felt I had said goodbye to her many years before.  Despite that, this past year has left me with the need to do a lot of reflection to help me come to terms with my feelings about this complicated relationship in order to begin a healing process resulting in forgiveness and transcendence from decades of trying to love someone who was fundamentally incapable of experiencing or giving authentic love.

This is a journey I did not enter into willingly.  In fact, I had my mind all made up when I learned that her life was nearing its end that I was relieved and ready to move on to the next phase of my life – a life without having to look over my shoulder and wonder when the next onslaught would occur.  I welcomed the freedom that came from knowing that the hurt, the humiliation, the constant anxiety about when she would next strike out would finally come to an end.  When I got the word that she had died, I texted my best friend to let him know and he immediately called me in bewilderment, wondering if he should console me or plan to take me out for a celebratory toast.  He gently prodded, fascinated by this highly unusual circumstance of someone losing their parent and not immediately  kicking into the rituals of mourning, honoring, etc., and asked “How do you feel?”  Of course, he knew that the feelings would be complicated.  He implicitly knew that I would be struggling to find words to make sense of the emotions, even in my own mind.  At the time I was quite laissez faire about the whole situation, resolved that I was ready to start anew.  I had prayed for an escape from the grip she had on me and suddenly my wish was granted and now I had the time and space to react and redirect myself.

In the year since my mother’s passing, I have had a metamorphosis of sorts.  In my own way, I have undergone a process of grieving and realigning myself without the force of my mother’s mental illness driving an undercurrent in my life.  Despite the fact that I had terminated my relationship with her nearly 7 years before her death, I was still struggling on a daily basis, balancing my indignation and my guilt while continuing to fear her wrath, her scorn, her outbursts intended to try to regain a connection with me.  She patented the art of attempting to have bad behavior rewarded with attention.  It took great resolve and discipline to not take the bait.  As an adult child, I still yearned the love of my mother and wanted nothing more than to wake up from a seemingly bad dream and find myself in a fairy tale, basking in the glow of love showered upon me by my mommy.  I never lost the wish, the unwavering desire to curl up and be loved and nurtured in a way that I understood was a gift meant for other little girls, simply not me.

As I worked through the process – one that I intentionally pushed to the background to be a backdrop to everything else that was going on in my life – I began to see answers and understanding emerge around me like giant thought bubbles bursting over my head.  I knew when I began the journey of healing that I would never truly understand my mother.  I acknowledged, albeit reluctantly, that her actions and behavior would never make sense to me.  I did not have all the puzzle pieces.  I was missing huge chunks of her history that informed who she became as an adult.  I did not understand the demons that she confronted as a young child and had no way of understanding the role they played in the destruction of her life.  I never had a clear sense of the roots of her mental illness.  All of that, however, was intellectual masturbation because none of it mattered in how I felt.  And, frankly, for the better part of my adult life, I spent my time trying to understand, trying to solve the equation.  How I felt was always secondary.  I knew I was a victim of her illness and I knew that our relationship was ultimately detrimental to both of us.  I woke up one day and realized with crystal clear certainty that we were better off without each other than with.  And I walked away.  As my therapist has explained to me so many times, I nearly erased myself from existence by abandoning the most primal and pivotal relationship in my life.  I annihilated myself by rejecting my mother.  And, at the same time, I gave myself life.

I have struggled over the past year to find my way with this.  Life has presented me with seemingly unending complications to derail my focus and challenge my own mental stability.  I have struggled with my own purpose, my intentions and my truth.  Losing my mother without ever closing all the loose ends left me with a complicated web of questions and emotions that I knew I had to tackle when I was ready and in my own unique style.  No one – absolutely no one – could help me make sense of it.  I was living an experience that not a single person I know has ever experienced.  I was alone on an island left to sort out a big giant tangle of ropes in hopes that, when untwisted, I would be able to toss them out to pull in my raft and return the land of others.  I had hoped that by whacking through this mess I would suddenly feel differently, look like everyone else and be able to return to life feeling more complete and more connected.

It’s been one year and two days.  367 days of quiet contemplation.  8,808 hours of attempting to locate a lost piece of myself in order to better fit into my world and begin to blend in with everyone else.

Guess what?

I failed.

On the bright side, I am beginning to forgive my mother.  I am finding ways to have compassion for her and understanding that hers was the road less traveled – and not in a good way.  No one would ever sign up for the cruise that she took in her 82 years. No one would willingly leave the earth with a scant few by their side, having more regrets than joy.  Four marriages, three children, four grandchildren and her passing was barely noticed.  I feel sad for her.  I grieve for a life that was lost to an illness left untreated and an unwillingness to relent and accept that perhaps the darkness that she lived with was not simply the way it was meant to be.  I take no comfort in my righteousness that she deserved what she ultimately received.  I wish, I truly wish, I could have made a difference for her.  I wish I could have saved her and brought her to my island.  I tried so many times to heal her with my love, thereby, hopefully, healing myself.  However, it was always short-lived.  She thrived on chaos and manipulation.  She needed to break things down and then attempt to put them back together in order to feel like a savior.  She needed to be a victim and find blame in everyone else.  She did not know what it meant to forgive.  She only knew how to hold a grudge and suffer as she exhausted limitless mental energy feeling anger and resentment, ironically usually targeted towards those she most frequently hurt.

For me, today, I am learning to get beyond all that and am starting to understand the impact of her life and her behavior on me.  I am not a victim of my mother.  I am a product of my life experience and it is my choice to continue down the pathway she led me or to take a detour and find my own lane.  She is not a compass for me – a fact that pains me greatly because I believe so deeply in the power of motherhood and the role we play in guiding our children to their own paths while standing by to guide them to another and another as they need us to.  Nonetheless, my mother is all around me.  She shows up in my life in the form of other people that create struggles for me – the narcissists that invariably make their way to me; the angry, damaged and pained individuals that sniff me out falsely seeing me as a safe harbor.  I am simply not that port and I am learning to accept that about myself.  My job is not to rescue anyone but to provide an atlas built from my own painful journey.  I am not a walking support group and I have come to accept and, in fact, insist, that I am not here to be pitied or protected or, quite frankly, understood by anyone because we can never truly understand the complexities that make each of us unique.  Instead, I am here to give love, receive love and hope to leave a legacy that includes inspiring and empowering others to live a more meaningful life.  And, for that, I thank my mother.  Without her, I am not sure that these lessons would have made their way to me.  I am not sure that I would have the courage to look at life the way I do.  I have no certainty that, without my mother, I would have broken down and been rebuilt in a way that provides me with my own brand of power.  I am not perfect and I struggle to make sense of things every day but I feel grateful to have the opportunity to tackle life and connect the dots in the way that I do. As with many things in my life, I would never go back and change history.  It all informed my place today.  The road could have been easier and my choices could have been better but it is all about the journey.

This morning I talked to my best friend again and shared with him a piece of my truth that has crystalized for me.  I have spent so much of my lifetime trying to adapt myself to fit into the world in a way that would enable people to understand me better.  I have twisted myself up so painfully trying to blend in and make sense in other people’s worlds.  However, today, my own gift to myself on my mother’s birthday, I committed to allowing myself to be me.  367 days after my mother left the earth I am finally becoming the person I am meant to be.  And, after 45 1/2 years of life, I know I am just getting started.

Happy Birthday Mom.  I wish you could have gotten to know me.

TRUST


trust“All trust involves vulnerability and risk, and nothing would count as trust if there were no possibility of betrayal.” – Robert C. Solomon

I’d be lying if I did not confess that relationships are challenging for me.

There were never any roadmaps or guidebooks to help me navigate relationships growing up. I learned how to connect with people by trial and error. I had no role models because the relationships in my family were transient and conditional. I learned how to love out of pure need to be loved. I was willing to love someone if they showed me love, even at my own peril for many of those who I believe “loved” me had a very shallow definition of love and tossed the word around recklessly. I learned how to trust by…. well, actually, that is where things get really complicated for me. In my life, trust presents a lot of difficulties and is not something that comes easily. Most who know me well will attest that trust is something I place high on a pedestal and, if broken, does not have a good chance of being repaired . I’m not proud of this but it is part of my complexity – I don’t trust easily and I can grow to mistrust without much effort.  I’m not perfect, nor are my relationships yet I work diligently every day to nourish and enhance the trusting bonds I do have.

I recently located an old video from my childhood that was buried away in a closet. It is the last vestige of my youth in my possession and it is a critical touchpoint for me. My parents, like many others in the 60’s and 70’s took lots of Super 8 movies and, after my parents divorced, my mother kept them stored away in a box high on a shelf in one of her closets. By the time I was a teenager, the projector we used to watch the movies was long gone and all we had left were a pile of flat round tin cans that held all the memories of when my family seemed “normal,” when things were happy and when it appeared that my course in life would be dramatically different from the road it actually took. The films lay in those cans for years because we never bothered converting them to VHS and because they represented a time in life my mother simply did not want to return to. To see the demise of her life in full color blasted before her eyes was simply too painful. It wasn’t until I was married and getting ready to start a family of my own that I went back to her house to retrieve whatever I could to piece together a life that now seemed a bit more like a dry erase board that someone leaned on and had carelessly rubbed across the words. Everything was smudged and smeared and you could sort of make out the content but the message was very unclear. I really wanted to chronicle my family’s history and gain a deeper understanding of where I came from. By the time I got to the box in the closet, it was evident that someone else had beat me to it. My older brother, caught up in his own turmoil, had the same idea I had. Unfortunately, he never converted the films and, in his haste to leave an apartment from which he was being evicted, he left the box behind, likely to be retrieved by some future renter who would carelessly toss them in a dumpster. When I went to my mother’s closet, there was one stray canister left behind and I grabbed it, not knowing what I would find. To my relief, it was a splendid 28 minutes of me from the age of about 5 months to one full year later. It included a magical Christmas, my first steps, a decadent vacation to Miami Beach, my brother’s birthday party and an assortment of other sweet moments that gave me insight to a life I never knew existed.

I watched the video countless times over the years but then stored it away, like my mother did, replacing it with converted DVDs of my own children’s highlights over their short lives. I had forgotten about the tape until recently. I started scouring my house looking for it because, for some reason, I knew it included some critical pieces to my puzzle. I knew that, today, with a new lens, a new perspective, a new need, I would find essential messages that would help me unpack more pieces of myself to help me move forward, even if only just by a few steps.

I was cleaning up the guest room and scoured through the closets and drawers. Surprisingly, it was right there out in the open in a drawer, waiting to be retrieved. It practically laughed at me, wondering why I had such a hard time locating it after I had passed over it again and again. It screamed “I’ve been right here all along!” I grabbed it, raced out to a local shop that converts VHS to DVD – yet another iteration in this film’s life journey – and popped it right into the computer the minute I got home. I had recollections of the scenes in my mind since I had seen the film so many times in the past. But this time I studied it. I watched every touch and every kiss my mother placed on me. I looked deep into my father’s eyes to try to understand this mysterious stranger. I looked at myself, trying to find the roots of me, trying to find my soul in that chubby little baby. I watched it and felt loved. I saw a child who was doted upon by family, friends, neighbors.  I saw a family so perfect and so sublime. And I knew it was all bullshit. I knew it was a show for the cameras that reflected just a small portion of what was really going on. Where was my sister who was 14 years older than me and had been exiled to live with my mother’s brother in Brooklyn because of conflicts with my father? Where was the endless flow of Johnny Walker that turned my father into a monster who beat my mother with anything he could find? Where was the vitriol that my mother doled out to my siblings and me to degrade us and demean us in order to get us to follow her every command? None of it was there because this was the highlight reel – truly. This is every Facebook post talking about how wonderful life is when, in fact, people are cringing and crying on the inside. It is a mirage of happiness that, while may hold some reality in those brief moments, do not reflect the real road traveled.

So, what does this all have to do with trust? Well, everything. For me, trust is about absolute authenticity. Trust is about honesty. Trust is about putting your real self on display and being vulnerable and allowing yourself to stand in your space and be who you are. Without that, we are only showing a fragment of ourselves that prevents us from really being honest and really being trustworthy. In all candor, I have not perfected this. In fact, there is a small contingent that I share my ugliest worts with. There are only a select few that I really trust. And the reason why is because, after a lifetime of being duped into believing that the highlight reel is the truth, I need to be certain that there is more. I need to know that we can get down and dirty and show our secret underbelly.

I’ve been thinking about all of this recently because it is a critical part of my journey. As both of my parents died in the past 1 1/2 years, I have been trying to find a way to forgive them for all of the pain and suffering they have caused me and my family. I have been trying to learn the lessons from their lives and my own to, hopefully, make different choices and better decisions to create a life for myself that is authentic and, while not free of mistakes and pain, makes me feel like I am being the best person I can be. I want to make sure I am putting out into the world something of import. I am trying to learn how to forgive those who hurt me in order to maintain trusting relationships and not be so quick to abandon the trust simply because I have been hurt or scorned. I am struggling with it today.  I seek out guideposts that help to send me in the right direction so I can figure out who to forgive and who to forget. I am trying to find a softness – an antidote to all of the callouses that have formed from years of hurt and betrayal.

My husband and I will celebrate the 21st anniversary of our meeting this week. What I did not know that February night in 1992 was that I was meeting the man who would teach me more about love and trust than anyone ever could. And, I had no idea how much I would test it or challenge it over the course of our lives. As I reflect on my life and all the relationships that have flowed in and out, I know without a shred of uncertainty that he is the only person that I trust completely. He is the only person I can forgive without question. He is the only person that I know, without any doubt, will have my back and love me no matter what. And, for that, I am really blessed. He has taught me that there is a life where the highlight reel can be the real reel.

AULD LANG SYNE


AULD LANG SYNEI’ve noticed over the past few days that lots of my friends on Facebook have been posting their “Year in Review” which consists of a series of photos that appeared on their FB wall, randomly selected to encapsulate their activities over the year.  In the past, Facebook would similarly offer up a compilation of your written posts to take a snapshot of what your year was like.  Looking at the images certainly evokes a sense of nostalgia, especially if they’re of close friends and you can remember the events where the photos were taken and partake in the reminiscence of the shared memories.  Frankly, I think about my year a little bit differently.  The photographs certainly remind me of the happy times with all the smiles and laughter that make me feel joyful but I also have to take a close look at the struggles of my year to gain an understanding of what I have learned and how I have grown.  It is imperative to acknowledge and respect the challenges that I have confronted in order to ensure that the learning is etched in my brain and that I can grow and improve in the coming year.

I am currently sitting in my melancholy room – my first floor guest room with its dim lighting and tranquility that always centers me and is my favorite place to write.  I came in here tonight because I was banished from the living room and surrounding rooms because my son has a bunch of friends over for a sleepover.  My husband escaped to our bedroom upstairs with the dogs and I decided I would move to the guest room to lay down and perhaps read for a while.  The moment I stepped into the room, however, I immediately felt nostalgic and thoughtful.  It was so distracting that it rendered me incapable of concentrating on reading.  I became overwhelmed with emotions and was compelled to try to capture the feelings in a meaningful way.  Curiously, this room has taken on an energy of its own for me.  It’s like sitting at the beach and smelling the salt and hearing the waves crash to the shore.  You can feel the sun baking on your skin and all the tension leaves your body nearly instantly.  It is almost impossible to feel tense at the ocean because of the calming and restorative powers of the sea.  The intense feelings that pour over me when I step into this room are inescapable.  I need not contemplate nor ruminate because the moment I open the door and move inside, I am flooded with warmth and calm and creativity takes over.  I don’t exactly know what it is about this room but I have my suspicions as to its magical qualities.

Tonight, when I sat down in here, I decided to text my friend to share some of what I was feeling.  I knew that a little texting was not going to cut it for me as I had a lot in my head and it was more than I could expect a friend to guide me through.  When I settled down with my thoughts, the first thing that came to mind for me was change.  Change is such a constant.  In my job, when we work with our corporate clients, we always teach employees to be prepared for change because it is the one thing that is, ironically, absolutely predictable.  Change is always going to happen.  As long as you are open and willing to engage with the change, you’ll ultimately be fine.  For me, change is certainly familiar.  I am constantly renewing.  Despite my inner desire for predictability and consistency, I have a very primal need for change.  I get bored.  I need to grow and learn.  I need to have new experiences while constantly battling my resistance to trying new things.  I want fresh faces, fresh ideas, yet I rely upon my old standards, the friends who know me for years and years and can help me reassemble my history when it all comes apart in my head.  At the end of every year, I rarely feel sad for the ending and typically feel energized by the renewal and the anticipation of what another new year can bring.  I am hopeful – eternally hopeful – of a better, more prosperous, more satisfying annum.

So, over the last few days when I was looking at everyone’s photos and smiling at some as I recalled the happy memories, I realized that photos could not encapsulate my year.  They only told one small part of the story.  My year was highlighted by things you can never capture in a photograph.  They were small moments – some quiet and some quite loud – that catalyzed me to change, to advance, to propel forward.  Some of the moments were tear-filled because I was sad or in pain.  Some were tear-filled because my heart was so full it hurt.  Some moments were solitary when I searched deep into my soul to find answers to questions that plagued me for a lifetime and still sat unanswered, patiently tapping its feet waiting for me to solve the riddle.  For me, my year was one that brought continued awareness of who I am, where I am going and what is most important in my life.  I suppose this blog is the best snapshot of my year but, of course, I only shared parts of it.  There were still so many moments in between the photos and in between the posts that pushed me from day to day, urging me to shift into the next form that my life needed me to take.

I fell in love this year.  I fell in love with my husband all over again.  I remembered that I have a partner who, through the darkest of days, stands beside me and provides me with unconditional love.  He makes me feel safe and secure even when there is no safety and no security when the wolf is threatening to huff and puff and blow our non-brick house down.  He envelopes me and ensures that I am loved.

I also fell in love with myself this year.  I found a part of me that either had gone missing or I had overlooked for a very long time.  I was able to do that arm-in-arm with some very intimate and special friends who supported me and showed me what I am capable of.  Not many words passed our lips but the power of friendship – really strong and significant friendship – propelled me to discover parts of me that I simply never felt safe enough to explore.

I revisited trust this year.  As the year comes to a close, this idea continues to wash through my mind.  A long, long time ago I stopped trusting.  Probably it happened when I was very little and realized that I could not count on anyone to take care of me.  I learned then to be tough and strong to make sure that I could survive.  I didn’t believe anyone would protect me and I learned how to build a shield, a strong armor to protect myself from anyone trying to break down the fort that I had built.  No one was going to penetrate my castle.  I built a deep moat with a small bridge that only a carefully chosen set of individuals could cross.  Rarely did I let anyone even approach the bridge but this year, not only did I let down the bridge more frequently, I actually gave a select few the passcode to lower it themselves.  No picture can describe the power of that.  No image can articulate the vulnerability I opened myself up to.  And nothing can express the joy and relief that comes from moving out from the shadows and showing myself in full technicolor.

My mother passed this year and, I suspect, with her went floods of pain.  Many locked doors began to swing open, asking to be entered and explored.  It has been painful and powerful and complicated and sad.  It has relocated me mentally and brought me to a new level of being, a new place of understanding.  I feel things I have not felt for many years because I was so locked away, working tirelessly to protect myself from old demons and monsters that had long ago lost their fright.  But, until my mother’s soul left the earth, I could not be freed from decades of pain and struggle.  I am sad to not have been loved in the way a child should be but I am grateful to have developed a sense of enlightenment that, perhaps, would never have been afforded me without the struggle, without my particular journey.  And, now, I have a clear lens to see what I need to see in order to do what I am meant to do in the world.  My mother had her moments and I loved her so much as a young child but she suffered a lifetime of mental illness. While I try to forgive her for all the pain she caused, I still strive to understand the depths of the damage and am continually amazed by the unexpected eruptions.

Nearly 10 months ago, my very astute friend asked me some questions that catapulted me into a search deep within myself that I knew would lead me down a very windy, very narrow, very treacherous road.  And, as this year comes to a close, I know for certain what I only suspected back then was true – this year’s journey was intentional, despite the pain, despite the problems, and its outcomes abundant.  As I sit in my melancholy room, allowing all of my senses to take over, I can only smile a little internal smile knowing that all of the wonderment and all of the magic of my year can be captured only in my mind.  I cannot post it on facebook nor can I even articulate it using my mad writing skills.  It is preserved inside me, providing me with a bounty to catapult me into the next year, hopeful that even more of my unique riches and rewards will be forthcoming.

And, for that, I am quietly and overwhelmingly grateful.

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.