2,500 WORDS


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

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

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

Uh oh.

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

…and I kinda liked it.

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

I’d like to introduce you to me.

My name is Tammy.

I am 46 years old.

I am an extraordinary person.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not being loved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

CONTROLLED CHAOS


chaos quoteI have the great fortune of leading a coaching group with some remarkable women.  Every week I sit with them and watch as they push hard past some dark and ugly obstacles that a mere mortal might ignore, looking the other way as they continue on their journey, disregarding the muck that is dragging behind them.  Every week when I worry that perhaps I am pushing them too hard, asking them to reach too deep inside themselves, they show me the power of human connection and the depth of strength we all have lying inside us.  It inspires me.  It moves me.  It is the most delicious delicacy I can consume.  I try to stop time and keep the clock from ticking past the hour, wanting one more story to emerge, looking for another opportunity to connect dots and see discomfort turn to empowerment.

Today was the most challenging day we have had.  Even more difficult than the first day we sat together, with everyone squirming just a little bit in their seats, not sure how they were going to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.  Some of us knew each other, some were complete strangers.  Others were familiar faces but, there we sat, seven women all parked at the side of the road ready for a brief respite to revisit their personal maps, willing to consider that a detour might be in order but no one really sure if they had enough gas in their tank to tolerate some roads where they could not anticipate the distance or the destination.  With a promise to keep them safe and a prayer that we all had the strength to bring our full selves to the table, we jumped in, hazmat suits at the ready, and prepared our journey deep into the depths of ourselves.  Of course, I was the only one who sort of knew where we might be going but, in truth, part of the fun of facilitating these groups is never truly knowing where you might end up or what obstacles might jump out in front of you.  Perhaps I am like a storm chaser.  I want to get inside that tornado.  I want to understand the velocity of the cyclone.  I want data to help better predict the next storm.  Will i ever abolish the storms from existence?  Not likely but, each time, I have better preparation and more fortitude to tolerate the winds and debris and lots of reserves to deal with the aftermath.

Each week we go just a few meters deeper.  Every week we fill our air tanks so we can submerge just a bit more and let ourselves linger under the water before we need to push up and catch our breath.  I try to guide the women to learn how to pass their tanks between them so they can support one another if one of them runs out of air.  I try to empower them to find ways to encourage each other to take a deeper breath before going down and to hold hands so they don’t drift too far off in the sea.  Today, the group showed me their skills.  I witnessed the shift.  I did not have to search for clues or try to squint really hard to see if there was a difference.  They boldly and loudly showed me that they were paying attention, that they were committed and that they had the ability to hold their breath as long as they needed to in order to make sure that their comrades were going to be alright.

And I was transformed right there just watching them.

Today we talked about chaos.  We talked about the space that chaos takes up in our lives and what we do to mask it, control it, avoid it, banish it.  We talked about our respective fears of chaos.  Some of us admitted that a little chaos was actually ok.  We have the ability to find order in the chaos or we have surrendered to it, hopefully muting its powers over us and diminishing it to an annoying gnat rather than a looming wasp ready to bite and poison us.

Today we talked about vulnerability. I love this topic.  I look for any opportunity to explore it – either on my own or with others.  I have no predisposed position on vulnerability except that it wields tremendous power, both positive and negative, and we get to choose which direction it moves in.  We have the right to determine if we are going to use vulnerability as a strength, allow it to put ourselves in a place of power or we can decide to hide behind our vulnerability and allow ourselves to build walls to protect us from the vulnerability.  Ironically, vulnerability actually allows us to take down the walls.  Being vulnerable means you are willing to be exposed and, when we are using vulnerability as a strength, we need no additional fortress to protect ourselves because we can handle whatever comes our way.

Today we talked about how vulnerability and chaos play together.  We discussed our ideal state where the sun shines, we are living in technicolor, we pick candy off trees and skip around gleefully – something like Oz.  Perhaps our most perfect happy state is one where we live life in full color and can breathe in all the beautiful fragrances that float amidst us.  Perhaps this is the place where our hearts are filled and we are blissful.  Is this a real place?  Perhaps?  Possibly, if we are living consciously in our lives and looking at chaos as something not to be controlled but to be embraced.  If we begin to shed ourselves of the fear that keeps us embroiled in a tug-of-war with chaos, with no feasible outcome other than us being the victor.  If we allow ourselves to be open and exposed without fear of assault or compromise.  If we allow ourselves to accept ourselves for who we are and we stop filling the space that chaos fills to try to control the outcomes.  If we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to the chaos, perhaps we can relinquish control and begin to accept that good enough is, in fact, good enough.

One of the beautiful spirits in our group, a woman who has magically lifted to us to another level of understanding, put it quite simply today.  She said – Vulnerability allows us to shift chaos into chaOZ and lets us live in a new normal.  We can be vulnerable and blissful all the while we have chaos in our life.  If we learn how to accept, embrace and utilize these gifts properly, maybe we can live in Oz.

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.

STRADDLING THE FENCE


I realized this morning that it has been weeks and weeks since I last wrote a blog post.  Blogging has become such a way of life for me but, apparently, my life has been getting in the way of my way of life.  My life has not slowed down and there certainly has been plenty to write about – I still suffer through my daily struggles of trying to continue my healthy journey, I have the normal ups and downs in my relationships and I glean new insights from my work – every.single.day.  Yet, with all that is happening, I have not been able to find the time to slow myself down to catch my breath and check in, even if just for myself.

Several weeks ago I had some travel away from home and was gone for 10 days.  It was officially the longest I had ever been away from my husband and kids in one stretch and I knew it would take its toll.  I was pretty excited about my travel, though, because it started with a quick weekend away with an old friend and was immediately followed up with an intense week of work with my business partners in the midwest.  I knew these days were going to be transformational for me in many ways so I had great anticipation for what my journeys might bring.

My girls’ weekend ended up taking the shape of a bit of a midlife crisis weekend (or, at least, that is what I dubbed it).  I got my first tattoo and my first massage (and shame on me for waiting until midlife for the massage!).  The tattoo was meaningful in that it symbolized a change in myself that I was extremely proud of and marked a new phase of my life.  The massage, aside from being extremely relaxing and therapeutic, also marked some symbolism in my life because it represented a sense of indulgence and release that I had not before permitted myself to experience.  Instead of buying myself a convertible or running off to Jamaica with a younger man, I decided to indulge in myself and nurture the parts of me that needed to be tended to.  I also tried to stare down the realities that I am probably a bit further than midlife at this point and that, while my best years may still lie ahead, there are likely to be far fewer of them than what had already passed.  That is a pretty sobering thought.

When I continued on with my journey to my work meetings, I managed to catapult myself from my midlife crisis focus to building my future.  It was a great week of meetings, inspiration, collaboration and a few personal breakthroughs for me that I will forever remember and be grateful for.  As I returned home from the 10-day tour of duty, I felt disconnected and disjointed, not sure where I belonged.  I love my family and my heart broke every time my 8 year-old son texted me “I love you more than life” and, yet, I felt like a stranger intruding into someone else’s life when I got back.  Of course their lives had gone on while I was away.  Both my boys looked like they each grew a foot while I was gone and my tween son was that much more bottled up and unwilling to even hug me when I came in the door.  He could never admit he missed me.  My husband was suffering the pains of having to hold down the household for nearly 2 weeks without the support and assistance of a partner.  He was battle weary.  I was lost, trying to transition from my friends and work back into my family and responsibilities.  I was straddling two different worlds, not sure which one I best belonged in.

It is not uncommon for many of us, particularly parents, to be challenged by the disruption caused by immersing oneself into work and then trying to emerge and return to “normal” life.  Those of us who travel a lot for work or who have particularly intense jobs often live in a suspended state where we love everything in our lives but sometimes wish we were at work when we are at home with our families and desperately miss our families when we are away at work.  It’s a classic Catch 22 scenario.  Layer on top of that the guilt associated with feeling like you are not completely present in either (frankly, in my case, I feel like I am always more present at work and tend to be less present when it comes to my family and, for this, I am not proud).  I feel like I spend so much of my time lamenting about what I am not doing that I find it difficult to simply enjoy wherever it is that I am.  After all, both sides of my life are very appealing.  I love my work and my business partner is my best friend so, when we get to be together working, it is a double pleasure.  We have a magical quality to our work and our relationship that makes work feel more like play and who wouldn’t want more of that.  On the other hand, my family is my heart.  They are what makes me tick.  My children bring joy to my life in unexplainable and unimaginable ways.  My husband is the only constant in my life for the past two decades.  He is my support system and my rock.  My friends in my community are an extension of my family and make me feel connected in the world.  Who would ever want to leave that behind?

It’s an amazing conundrum that challenges me on many fronts.  I feel like I have to work that much harder to maintain all my relationships because sometimes I only have small chunks of time to work with to make my impact.  I have to be very conscious about being present and not distracting myself with my work when I am spending time having lunch or coffee with a friend.  I have to be much more deliberate about focusing when I am doing activities with my kids and husband because it is easy for me to pull out the phone, check my email or let my mind wander to the many details of my business.  I need to release myself from the guilt I feel when I am away from kids, trusting that they will not be blogging 20 years from now to try to overcome the pain they endured by having a sometimes-absentee mom.  It’s a lot to manage.  But, in the end, I suppose this would be what they refer to as a “first world problem.”  I am so fortunate to be able to get to run my own business, travel, luxuriate in collaboration and imagination.  And, I am even more fortunate to have love everywhere I turn.  I am blessed with children who, while growing by leaps and bounds every time I turn my back, give me the grounding I need to find my footing when I seem to be a little off balance.

I know I am not alone in this.  I know, even in my intimate circle of friends, there are many of us who struggle in a similar way.  Nonetheless, sometimes it feels really lonely and isolating and sometimes getting lost in my thoughts about this takes me away from some pretty important stuff – like remembering to blog…

WEIGHTY MATTERS


Yesterday morning I had breakfast with a new friend who specializes in coaching people about their relationship with food.  We met recently and we both knew implicitly that we needed to get to know each other better.  I believe in following the universe on these things because people come into your life for very specific reasons.  With Randy, while she may have had her own reasons for wanting to get to know me better, I know that she arrived in my life at exactly the right time.

As I have chronicled here, I have been on a journey of getting healthier and it has not been the easiest road for me to travel.  It has been a lifelong adventure for me and, for the past year, it seemed to have kicked in to high gear rather unexpectedly.  As i shared in an earlier post, I began my journey on a dare when I agreed to take a kickboxing class back in February 2011.  This triggered something in me and my life began to change in so many ways.  The net result is that I have lost nearly 50 lbs, have become leaner and more muscular and have a new level of self-confidence and discipline that never existed before.

But, here’s the strange thing about losing a lot of weight.  After a while, you forget that you were fat to begin with.  That is not to say that I have shed all my extra weight and am now tall and slender as I dream of being.  Instead, it is about perspective.  Even though I have discarded clothing that were 3-4 sizes larger than the ones I am currently wearing, I do not see myself much differently than I did when I was 50 lbs heavier.  It is quite a self-defeating position to be in because, rather than celebrating my success, I still critique myself with my old lens.  I look in the mirror and have to squint when looking at myself to be certain that I can see the differences.  I know there are changes but I simply do not have the perspective to see it.  I look at my body every single day.

When I began my journey in 2011, I was so deeply out of control with my eating and my physical health that I was in one of those places in life where you just do not know how to get started.  I felt like my body was a big pile of dirty laundry laying haphazardly on the floor and I just could not begin to sort through the colors and whites to begin the laundering process.  Ultimately, I did not put any pressure on myself and was as surprised as anyone that this new pastime actually made the difference for me.  It sort of makes sense to me now because of the outlet it provides for me to both release aggression and be competitive without actually having to compete against anyone other than myself.

Today, as I live in my life, I am struggling.  I am challenged to appreciate and celebrate what I have accomplished and, instead, am lamenting that I have not accomplished more.  I never set a goal for myself but, once the transformation began, I became very ambitious about what I could accomplish.  I work out 7-8 times a week, taking kickboxing and karate classes and now running in the mornings.  I try to eat healthy but, in reality, I struggle with that.  I gave up sugar and carbs for 2 months in order to gain some control over my eating and I fear that I placed too much focus on the food and actually sabotaged myself.  I worry every day that I will not be able to sustain this and the success I have had will be temporary, quickly replaced with the return to the “old” me.

During my breakfast with Randy yesterday, I shared a lot of these feelings and concerns and explained how this part of my journey fits into the larger parts of my life.  I have been transforming myself internally and externally.  I have freed myself from toxicity in many parts of my life and consciously chosen to be intentional about how I work, who I spend time with and where I put my energies (such as investing time in myself vis a vis exercise).  I also explained how my fears and anxieties about not being in control of my body is torturing me at this moment in time.  And, with the ease of someone who really knows what they are talking about it, she attempted to release me from my paralyzing thoughts.  She suggested that I am where I am supposed to be.  She indicated that, perhaps I simply need to level off a bit and get used to myself at this new stage rather than be so aggressively looking for the next goal.  I need to accept myself now – exactly where I am today.  Sounds pretty simple, huh?  It was a pretty profound perspective to me.  And I know she is right.

Last weekend, I was at Target during my normal weekly shopping adventure and I decided to buy some ice cream for dessert for the family.  I had not had ice cream in nearly two months and was really in the mood.  “Why not?,” I thought.  “I have to be able to live a life where I can eat ice cream now and again.”  So I bought two pints to share amongst the family and had no second thoughts about it.  Later that evening, my older son and I were preparing to watch a movie and were scooping out our ice cream to snack on.  I pulled out the two pints and began scooping the ice cream into my bowl.  I was scooping and scooping and my son said, “Look, old mommy’s back!”  That stopped me in my tracks.  No it was not old mommy.  It was new mommy who felt liberated enough to eat as much ice cream as she wanted to without fear that there would be no way to stop.  As much as I feared that I would revert to old behaviors and begin to gain the weight back, I knew in that moment that I actually had a new level of control.  Yes, I still binge on candy every now and again but don’t a lot of people do that?  I occasionally overeat when out to dinner or have a little too much dessert.  Isn’t that common even for people who are not struggling with their weight?  

So, when Randy suggested that it was time for me to simply settle in to where I am at this moment, I realized that I was already beginning to do that.  But I was doing it in a way that was unfamiliar and a wee bit scary.  I have much more control over food and what goes in my body and I maintain a very healthy and active lifestyle – something that was remarkably absent from my life a year ago.

My journey continues and I have so much work to do both internally and externally.  Yet, I am trying very hard to celebrate and appreciate me.  I have so many wonderful people in my life who continually remind me of this and fail to get frustrated with me – even when I share my innermost demons.  They understand the challenges I face – perhaps even more than I do.  And, I am grateful that I have a new friend in my life who can give me an additional perspective to help me turn the corner to the next road of my travels.