ENDURING BONDS


enduring bondsThe friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most.  I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me in the sunshine of my prosperity – Ulysses S Grant

Growing up in my family, forgiveness was never an option.  Although my mother often spoke the words “I forgive but I never forget,” I knew implicitly that her memory was sharp and every infraction was stored in her mental filing cabinet BUT she did not have the capacity to ever truly forgive.  She harbored anger and resentment towards me and my siblings for every misdeed, every step over the line, every sideways glance.  And, she taught us that crossing the line was unacceptable and unforgivable.  Misdeeds were punishable by a lifetime of resentment and isolation.  In my teens, it was commonplace for my mother to ignore me for weeks at a time as a result of an argument or her displeasure over my behavior.  Then, as the temperature warmed and the ice started melting, we would return to some form of interaction but there was never closure, never a reassurance that I was still loved.  It was erratic and black and white.  Today I love you, tomorrow I do not.  The next day, perhaps I will welcome you back.

As an adult, this behavior morphed into months, even years of disconnection.  Anger the beast and you will be frozen out, disowned, disregarded, unwanted, unaccepted.  She would surgically remove me from her life.  One day I was a beloved daughter and the next a pariah.  This pattern of behavior traveled throughout my entire family with my sister and I spending years not speaking to each other and then trying to reconcile, only to replay the same behaviors and fall out for many more years.  I had to give up.  I raised the white flag and surrendered because the emotional battle tested me beyond my limits.  Despite mastering the ability of turning myself off when the battles began, as I matured and began to try out more healthy dynamics with my own family and friends, I realized that the price tag for engaging in the impermanence of these relationships was too high.  I could no longer endure being bathed in the sunlight of the love of my family and then watching the deterioration that would ultimately result in rejection and isolation once again.  So, I walked away.  I cut the ties.  I ended the torture.  I realized that the good was not good enough to support the bad.  The risk was too great, the reward too small.

In a perfect world, I would have the ability to compartmentalize that portion of my life and, once I walked away from the dysfunction of those primary relationships, I would leave that behavior locked away in the room with them.  However, as a human being, I am a product of every piece of my life and my cells are infused with the shrapnel of all of my tours of duty, leaving me challenged to constantly be aware of my behavior and attempt to isolate every situation to allow it stand on its own legs rather than resting on the foundations of history.  Sometimes I am really good at that and sometimes I pretty much suck at it.

As I have shared before, relationships are challenging for me.  Trust is an enormous struggle.  I want desperately to have intimacy of all kinds but I have yet to figure out how to navigate through the rough seas that accompany that degree of closeness.  Even the most blissful relationships hit bumps.  No matter how much you try to pave the road to avoid them, there are potholes and speed bumps that appear – sometimes out of nowhere – that slow you down or test your driving skills.  For me, those tests often break me.  More often than I care to admit, I fall into the hole and struggle to get out.  I am challenged to figure out how to pull myself back up and can’t find the right way to ask my ally – who might feel like my enemy at the moment – for help.  I fall into that same black and white pattern of behavior.  I operate from my unconscious core.  For every time I think I have managed to rise above my roots, I find myself succumbing to my history.  I play out the same behaviors that I abhor.  I behave like the imperfect human that I am.

I can count on my one hand the number of people who I truly trust in my life.  The people with whom I have relationships that are worth fighting for.  The ones who can shatter me.  And those are the people I struggle the most with.  The level of vulnerability that exists in those relationships often overwhelm me.  The rules of engagement scare me.  They are etched in my soul and I grant them the power to love me and destroy me and hope that they will opt for the former…most of the time.  I know we will stumble and fall and I just hope that we can always pick up, hug it out, and move forward.  I pray that there is no winter of discontent, trapped in the forest, cold and abandoned.

With each of the people in my inner circle, I have tripped.  We have battled, sometimes in a bloody fashion.  We have hurt each other, we have broken each other down and, in every case, we have relented, recognizing that there are few people who come into our lives to touch us in such a meaningful way.  We acknowledged that our connection, our love, our bond was too valuable, too precious to allow to be destroyed.  Several years ago, I fell hard with one of them.  I watched as a relationship slipped through my fingers.  I sat by idly, playing out the same tune that was the soundtrack of my childhood.  We fight, we hate, we ignore, we isolate, we cut out the disease and never look back.  However, this time it was different.  There was no disease.  There was no reason for hating or ignoring.  There was a disruption.  There was discomfort.  But, unlike my own family, this time there was so much love at the foundation yet, unfortunately, I was unable to feel it or see it.  I was incapable of honoring the value of the relationship.  I operated on auto-pilot and handed the wheel over to my demons.  I walked away not looking back and assuming this was another stitch in the pattern of my life.

One of the aspects of life that inspires me is the belief in a greater power, a greater force that guides you through life.  If you have the ability to tap into it and listen hard, you will find the truth for your life.  After I walked away from this relationship many years ago, I started paying attention.  The pain of the fracture was so great and the loss so significant that I knew I needed to learn.  I knew I needed to understand more.  I realized that part of my challenge was that I was not traveling my journey with consciousness but, instead, unconscious acquiescence.  I looked for familiar clues and traveled the road following a trail of breadcrumbs.  Instead, I needed to brave a new path.  I needed to wander into the woods and find a new trail that took me where I wanted to go, not back to where I had come from.  After this relationship abruptly exploded and, once I took the time to lick my wounds, I decided to wander off into the forest and find my way.  And miraculously – or perhaps, appropriately – my travels took me on some windy roads, visiting a lot of destinations but led me back to where I was supposed to be.  Right back into the warm embrace of this relationship.  Right back to the love and comfort that so eluded me because I was operating from an outdated guidebook.  When I allowed myself to open up and explore the truth of what makes me happy and who I want to be, I knew that this void was not one that could be filled by anything other than the real thing.  I knew that this relationship was far too important to be disregarded or discarded.  It needed to be mended.  It needed to be reconciled.

Unlike my previous endeavors with my family, I confronted my fears and trusted that I could be honest.  I pushed past my steel armor that protects me from emotionally engaging and allowing myself to get hurt and put my vulnerable self on the front line.  I tried on some new behaviors and the payoff was rich.  I learned, I grew, I was rewarded with a prize that I already had but did not understand the value of.  I was – I am – grateful.

Last night I sat with my friend, ensconced in warmth and love.  I looked at her and her family and knew, deep in my soul, that this was where I belong.  I felt the energy that exists in only the most magical of places.  I understood, perhaps for the first time, that forgiveness is possible.  That it is ok to trip and fall and the courage it takes to ask for a hand, when the correct hand is being outstretched, can be met with acceptance and love.  I looked at her and her family and knew that they had carved a place in my life and in my heart that could never again be eradicated.  We had tested our relationship.  We hurt and struggled and found our way back to each other because that is where we were meant to be.  Like a good marriage, we fit together like puzzle pieces.  There was no pushing or shoving to make the pieces meld together.  They seamlessly connect and the picture falls into focus clearly and beautifully.

I regret the time we were apart.  I will never forget the pain or the disappointment that accompanied the break.  Yet, I will cherish the power of our bond.  I will be forever grateful for the learning and the healing that came not just from the reconnection but from distancing me from my past.  I am buoyed by the confidence that my cells can be cleansed and I can, even at 46 years old, adopt new beliefs and behaviors and that I am blessed to have my precious inner circle to help me along the way.  I feel loved.  I feel thankful.  I feel happy.

To my friend, I offer a toast.  Here’s to the highs, the lows, the love, the pain, the bounty that comes from sharing a life together.  Watching our children from those early days of infancy to their adult lives when they share their families with us.  Here’s to dancing at their weddings, snuggling with their babies, rocking in our chairs as our hair grays and our hard edges soften.  Here’s to starting our day with bloody marys and ending with a glass of champagne to toast enduring friendship.  I love you.  And, bring on the bumps.  We can handle them.

“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.