“HAPPY” BIRTHDAY


birthday cupcakeToday was my birthday.  46 years of age.

I typically hate my birthday.  Some years not so much, others years much more.  This year was one of the bad ones.  I cannot exactly pinpoint what leads me to so much unhappiness on this day but this one left me in tears.  I was angry about it because I kept telling myself that this is the day that I should be celebrating.  It is my one day – my one chance to rejoice.  Instead, I cried.  I cried a lot.  I gave myself a headache from crying.  I shut out the world and locked myself away, hoping that the unpleasantry would pass and that I would stop feeling so unhappy.  It didn’t work so well.  I had some moments like early in the day when I was fortunate enough to land myself in a private karate class and managed to learn a new kata, further building my growing confidence in my martial arts skills.  I treated myself to a lunchtime mani/pedi and left my phone at home.  I had 90 minutes of quiet time with a book and managed to not think about how unhappy I was feeling.  It felt like an escape, a release from my own private torture.

In my mind, there is something about birthdays that symbolizes your value on the earth.  It is a brief moment in time each year – a mere 24 hour cycle – to allow yourself to be acknowledged.  Today, both my husband and best friend wrote beautiful messages on Facebook (the 21st century version of the birthday phone call) acknowledging that today is the day to celebrate my existence on the planet.  Today marks the day that I was created to leave whatever footprint I am stomping into the ground.  That is such a powerful notion.  If it were not for this day, 46 years ago, when I was pulled from my mother’s abdomen, taking in my first breath of air, the world of the people I am so intimately intertwined with would be different.  When I think about the people I love, I know how grateful I feel on their birthdays, knowing that this marks the day that allowed them to touch my life in the most magical and meaningful ways.  Yet, I struggle to embrace the same about myself.  My birthday should be the day to reinforce those messages and offer me the fortification of love and kindness to allow me to overcome some of the demons of my past.  Yes, today should have been a magical eraser to eradicate the ghosts of birthdays past.

When i was younger, there were never any birthday parties for me.  No celebrations or presents or moments that made me feel special.  I was not awoken with the relish that I have for my children on their birthdays.  I lean over them and breathe in their scents, grateful for what their birthdays represent to me.  Thankful to have been given the gift of their lives.  From the second their eyes creep open to the moment they close again many hours later, I want them to know how special they are and how much their lives mean to me and to everyone around them.  I give them permission to be kings for a day because everyone deserves that annual 24-hour monarchy.  For me, as a child, every year I looked forward to my day – so much so that I used to have a countdown for months leading up to it, impatiently anticipating the arrival of MY day.  And, invariably, my mother, a complete narcissist, rather than bask in the sunshine of our shared specialness on that day, would do something to disrupt my joy.  She would eclipse the light, rapidly shifting the focus from me to her.  Year after year, my mother would host a ruse, using the occasion of my birthday to throw a summer barbecue.  She portrayed it as a fete for me but she would invite all her friends, plan a nice meal and even bake a cake.  But there was no invitation announcing her daughter’s birthday and I was never allowed to invite my friends.  There were no gifts for me to excitedly unwrap.  There was rarely a candle for me to blow out.  Go ahead, try to find a picture of me in a birthday crown and a grin masked in frosting.  I dare you.  It was meant to be my day and the rug was pulled out from under me year after year.

Being born in July, my birthdays were often lonely.  I missed out on the special days at school.  I was one of the kids who were honored towards the end of the school year – that last party to offer some recognition to the poor souls who had the misfortune of being born when school was out.  But, my mother never baked cookies or cupcakes.  I was never carrying a tin of treats to share with the other kids.  I was ashamed and sad.  It was a reminder to my young psyche that I was not worth the time it took to pop some brownies in the oven.  On a deep level, I felt worthless and cast aside.  Center stage was not for me and, even if I had the lead role, there would be no one there to cheer me on.

Nowadays, I am a bit schizophrenic about my birthday.  Part of me wants to scream as loud as I can that “THIS IS MY DAY” while another really big part of me wants to hide out under a rock until the clock strikes 12:00am on July 12.  I want to be toasted and roasted and showered with gifts yet I want to be ignored and left alone because there is something that seems unbelievably comfortable and familiar about that.  I want to be enveloped by the people I love the most in the world and want them to surprise me with loving reminders of what I mean to them and, conversely, I want to pretend that it is any other day.  Too often this day leaves me filled with conflict and angst.  And, oddly enough, with all the great words I have and my tremendous ability to communicate, I can never express this message to anyone in a way that makes sense.  I feel selfish and silly and foolish and ungrateful and obnoxious and immature and, yet, completely justified because no one has lived my life or truly understands what makes me who I am.

Meanwhile, I love everyone else’s birthdays – especially those closest to me like my husband, kids and dear friends.  I will pull out all the stops to make sure they have their special days.  It means so much to me, I suppose, because it is a way for me to show them how much I love them and how special they are to me.  I delight in finding ways to honor them that reflects their uniqueness and importance in my life.  I don’t expect anything back from others yet I acknowledge that I am also shutting out something that I secretly want but don’t know how to accept.  To some extent, I suppose that I do not believe it is warranted or deserved.  Deep down, on my birthday, more than any other day, I feel like an after thought.  I am reminded of how passed over I felt in my young life.  This day becomes the hallmark of every painful memory of neglect.  It rarely makes me feel loved.  Even with all the loving wishes that I desperately try to absorb – urging them to soak into my cells and make their way to heart and brain, I still feel like an unwanted guest in my own life.  I feel invisible.  I cannot seem to experience the love people have for me.  It hits my force field, bounces right off and is gone.  I watch as it happens and I am powerless and pained.

This year, I tried hard to fight the demons.  I wanted, so much, to enjoy my day and I kept waiting for my spirits to lift.  I imagined all the things that could happen to buoy me.  I fantasized about my best friend appearing on my doorstep from so many miles away, knowing of course how impossible and unrealistic that was.  I dreamt of some unimaginable surprise that my husband would have in store for me that, of course, would never happen.  I cleaned my house in case someone unexpected came by to pay me a visit.  Not that I expected any of it or was, in fact, upset that it did not happen, but I was simply praying for something to turn this year around.  Instead, I dragged myself into the depths of it, shutting down, shutting everyone out and locking myself away.  However, in a strange way, there was some peace and solitude that came with being alone with myself on my birthday.  Perhaps I need this day to reflect.  I need to sort out the chaos and recharge my batteries for the journey of the next 364 days.

Last year, when I turned 45, I threw myself a party.  Like my 40th birthday party, my intention was to surround myself with the people I loved most in the world.  One of my friends called it a love fest, which is exactly what I intended.  I evaded the demons by using my friends and family as a shield and distracted myself with the planning and the actual festivities.  I was able to escape and enjoy the outpouring that came my way.  In contrast, this year was marked by deep sadness and sobbing.  Deep, soulful tears.  I felt overwhelmed by feelings of pain and rejection – from no one in particular.  It was the buried wounds that were summoned to the surface and the pain was so real, like I was being cut over and over again.  I spent moments holding my head in confusion, wondering where this was all coming from and desperately wanting to explain it to someone who could tell me how to feel better.  It felt so ritualistic, in a way, an annual release of all that has tortured me yet formed me.  I am a better wife, mother, friend because I know that pain and have an acute awareness of how important it is to not let others suffer the same way.

But, it was certainly not all bad.  I got flowers and a card and a lovely gift and my family did everything they could to comfort me and love me and make me feel special. They bought me a new hammock – something I have wanted for years.  It wasn’t a huge surprise but I loved it nonetheless.  I loved that my kids were in on the planning and that my older son helped to hide the huge box that it came in so I would not see it until they had set it up in the backyard.  Of course, I did my part to disrupt things because I woke up especially early this morning and derailed my husband’s plans to set it up before I arose so I would see it when I stepped out the back door to take the kids to camp.  But, I loved it when I was escorted out to see it in the afternoon.  Later on, we had a fun dinner out at one of our favorite local restaurants.  I explained to my kids, as best I could, that my mother didn’t always make me feel good on my birthday and sometimes that makes me feel sad.  I told them how I didn’t have such a great mother and my younger son, always knowing the perfect thing to say said, “Well, we got the best one.”  I’d call him a manipulative little devil but I know he meant it and I know he intended it to make sure that I knew that he and his brother did not share my experience.

When we got home, we had one final celebration with my favorite birthday treat – ice cream cake.  The sole candle on the cake burned low as I thought long and hard about my wishes.  What would make the most sense for me this year?  Should I wish for success with my growing start-up business?  Should I ask for strength in my journey of getting into better shape?  Was I wishing for money or health?  Ultimately, I settled on the one thing that would bring me total joy.  I wished that next year I could be happy on my birthday – for the full 24 hours.

DIFFERENCE


trailblazer quoteI have spent a lot of time in my life figuring out how to fit in.  How to blend in with the crowd.  I struggled to look like everyone else, act like everyone else and make people believe I was no different from them.  When I was younger, my only wish was to not be different.  I didn’t want to be defined as anything other than regular or ordinary.  Of course, this is because my life growing up was anything but regular or ordinary.  My life was abnormal.  My family was broken, I was broken.  I did not have the opportunity to have a childhood like so many of my friends did.  I never had the chance to be carefree and explore all the “normal” experiences of youth.  Instead, I was hiding, I was covering, I was shielding.

When I would write stories as a kid, I would create characters that resembled what I believed to be ideal.  They had two loving parents, lots of friends, beautiful dresses, and practically lived in castles with rooms filled with magical toys.  I always gravitated towards the girls who embodied this image…and they never liked me because I was so very different.  I was a square peg trying to contort myself to fit into a round hole.  I refused to openly hang out with the kids who were outsiders because I could not comfortably admit that I was really one of them.  It is probably why I was friends with so many gay boys who were deeply in the closet.  We had so much in common – we were hiding out together.

Fast forward the clock.  I’m now nearly 46 years old.  I have hiked up and down metaphorical mountains in my life, searching for my place, looking for answers, trying to identify my own identity.  I have explored every aspect of my personality and tooled around inside my mind in an effort to understand what makes me tick.  I have confronted my demons (and continue to) and revealed my vulnerabilities in order to force myself to come out of hiding and show myself to the world.  And, in the end, I know for sure that I do NOT fit in, I will never blend.  I am not a face lost in the crowd nor am I a voice drowned out by the chorus.

And, guess what?

I love that about myself.

Today, just today, this very day, I acknowledged something about myself that I never have before.  I accepted and honored the fact that I am different and I am so totally ok with my difference.  My difference makes me unique and makes me talented and makes me special and makes me ME.  And ME is pretty awesome.  I know that to be true.  It does not make me perfect.  In fact, part of my uniqueness is my ability to be so unbelievably imperfect and yet so extraordinary at the same time.  I don’t have a very big ego but I believe, without a doubt, that I am special and that I have gifts and talents that are so uniquely mine that I cannot try to compare or contain myself to anyone else’s paradigm.

Yesterday I was reading a really interesting article about how successful entrepreneurs have such distinct identities and how their embracement of their distinctions ultimately is part of their success.  I felt liberated in the very moment that I read those words because I realized that I have been trying to conform to so many other people’s idea of who I am.  For years, my mother would tell me that she knew me better than anyone and she would choose words – words that no mother should choose for her daughter – to describe me.  I was labeled with unkind words and suggestions that I was dishonest and deceitful when my heart told me that i was sincere and authentic.  Because I have a penchant for gravitating towards narcissists, I tended to be marginalized in my professional environments because I was always so gifted at elevating others while I was squashed underneath the weight of the massive egos I was bolstering.  I was rarely recognized for my talents but, instead, scolded for my unwillingness to continue to be cast aside or passed over.  When I tried to stand up for myself, I was brutally diminished because my needs to be whole were in direct contradiction with the narcissists need to be all-encompassing and overbearing.  I was left to feel small and minimal.

When I read the article yesterday, I felt light and airy.  I felt empowered to embrace my individual identity and explore those traits that are so uniquely mine.  Now, of course, yesterday was not the first day that I figured out that being unique was a good thing.  I have not been living under a rock for the last four and a half decades foolishly believing that blending in was the right strategy.  But, sometimes, the smallest thing – the simplest of words – causes a piano to fall on your head.  Sometimes a basic concept seems out of reach until suddenly it is not.

Once upon a time I was 45 years, 8 months and 15 days old and I stood up and believed in myself.  I was confident and strong and brave and realized that there is nothing I cannot do and no trail I cannot blaze.  I am different and unique and quirky and, sometimes downright odd.  And I am me.  Great, awesome me.

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.

LEAVE YOUR CRAZY AT THE DOOR


“Earth is an insane asylum, to which the other planets deport their lunatics.” – Voltaire

I am a crazy magnet.  I seriously attract crazy people to me all the time.  And, when I say crazy, I am not referring to people who walk down the city streets mumbling to themselves pushing a shopping cart.  These are not people that are awaiting their personalized straightjackets and an open room at the mental hospital, they are average everyday people who seem perfectly normal on the outside but are actually cukoo for cocoa puffs on the inside.  You know who I am talking about.  And they all gravitate towards me.

I’m not exactly sure what the draw is towards me except that I seem to be exceptionally gifted at dealing with these crazies.  I am so good at accommodating the narcissists or indulging the megalomaniacs or reassuring the terminally insecure.  I have, without a doubt, been put on this earth to exert futile efforts to cure the ills of these crazy people that come into my life on a regular basis.  Between just about every single member of my family who has some personality disorder or another, to so many of my friends and colleagues over the years who were either borderline personalities or narcissists, I have run the gamut of crazy and I just need a break.  Sometimes I wonder if there is anyone who is actually “normal”.

It is kind of a phenomenal idea, when you think about it, that I have this natural attraction towards these individuals.  For one person to be continually drawn into the grips of mentally unstable people and be subjected to their odd behaviors and personality disorders is almost beyond belief.  You would think that after going through this time after time after time that I would begin to recognize the signs of crazy and go running in the other direction.  But, in fact, it is just the opposite.  These people have such a unique appeal that I am drawn in like a moth to a flame.  I go in, eyes wide open, and then come out months or years later not knowing what hit me.  Shocked that I had been subjected, once again, to some form of crazy.

I am raising my white flag and surrendering because I clearly cannot win the battle against the crazies.  I have spent most of my life trying to sort out my own issues, ensure that I am accountable for my behavior and that I am not unwittingly leaving behind trauma on those around me.  I have worked hard at making sure that I have a level of self-awareness that I can comfortably acknowledge my strengths and weaknesses and be authentic about who I am and who I am not.  However, many of the people I have surrounded myself with in life are the polar opposites of that.  I often ponder what it is, really, about them that allows me to set aside my standards and allow them to corrupt the harmony of my peaceful existence.  I sometimes think it is simply my journey in life and I need to learn how to manage people like that rather than allowing them to interfere with my happiness.  I suppose that if I am capable of having a “healthy” relationship or interaction with one of the crazies then I have made forward motion in my life.

Or, perhaps, it is simply bad luck.  Either way, I guess, if the definition of crazy is that you do the same thing and expect a different outcome, I would be crazy to think that I could have normal, healthy dealings with these crazy people.  Perhaps I need to fine tune my radar and extend my tentacles up a little higher so that I can create a crazy-free zone in my life.  I really, really want to live a life where I don’t have to deal with the unanticipated outbursts from someone I merely look at the wrong way or the bizarre rage that has nothing to do with me.  Or the passive aggressive behavior.  God, I hate the passive aggressive behavior.  That just puts me over the edge.  If you are mad, then be mad.  If you feel like I hurt your feelings, then just say it.  Don’t do something completely unrelated to try to make me feel bad just to get revenge because you do not have enough courage to face me directly.  That is pure crazy!

I say all this with the knowledge that I am living in an almost crazy-free environment now.  I have purged a lot of those folks who exhibited that behavior but I live in fear of the next time, when I am not paying attention and crazy slips through my door.