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.

VULNERABILITY – PART 3


Trapped_inside_my_mind_by_rebecki[1]“So many bad things have happened to them that they can’t trust the good things. They have to shove them away before someone can get it back.”  ― Wally Lamb

One of the things I most value about my life right now is the fact that I have surrounded myself with some really deep thinkers.  I have opened myself up to others who are willing to tilt their head, step back, walk around a little and dig a bit deeper to get a different perspective on themselves and others.  They are bold and brave and daring enough to go below the surface, knowing that drowning is always a possibility.

One of those people is my friend Kim who I met through the coaching group I started at the beginning of the year.  Kim is an outlier.  She walked into the group with her hard shell firmly intact.  No smiles, no warmth, no gratuitous platitudes to set the tone.  She simply made her way to her chair, locked and loaded, and observed.  In return, I never felt any pressure, any need to step up my game.  I soaked her up and, in full consciousness, made the decision to pull her in.

I am intrigued by people like Kim.  I am fascinated by those who have complexities and layers that allow me to go diving deeper and deeper.  Those that require me to fill up my oxygen tank for I know I will be down for a while.  The individuals who allow me to explore them in order to explore myself are the ones who catch me in their nets.  They engage me, provoke me, inspire me, frustrate me, challenge me and, ultimately, move me.  They change my life.  Always.  Unfailingly.

The first day of our coaching group chills ran up and down my spine when Kim spoke.  That is not a very common experience for me but one that I know to pay attention to.  It was not the sound of her voice, the cadence of her speech or, quite frankly, even the words.  It was the soul behind it that I was reacting to.  I implicitly understood her and my brain was sending me clear messages telling me to pay attention.  And I did.  And I continue to.  Yesterday, Kim, a reluctant but brilliant blogger, published a post that convinced me that she has a wire tap into my brain.

For months now I have been struggling to source the root of some very destructive anxiety.  It has been surfacing and meddling with my well-being.  Reluctantly,  I looked at it, invited it in and then, ultimately, begged for it to leave, to no avail.  My recent bout with the anxiety has taken many shapes and forms.  It has ranged from generalized stress, sadness, loneliness, fear, abandonment all the way to irrational conclusions about some critical aspects of my life.  It has had my mind working overtime, set it into overdrive and catapulted me into the air, soaring into the darkness with no parachute, no soft landing in sight.  The most frustrating aspect to this anxiety is that I have been working so hard to pull myself up and allow myself to be more open, to embrace vulnerability and experience a deeper level of intimacy with others in my life.  And, in retrospect, I fear that this vulnerability that I so willfully incorporated into my life has turned on me.  I suspect that allowing myself to walk around without my shield, my protective armor, I exposed myself to the elements and put myself in the direct line of fire.

It’s a complex balance for me.  Vulnerability allows me to experience the fullness of my life.  It allows me to feel my emotions deep in my bones.  It offers me connection points with others that I so desperately crave.  I feel courageous and energized by my ventures down avenues that would have previously been closed off for me.  On the other hand, being vulnerable removes the safety mechanisms I have spent decades building, keeping me safe from my own feelings, my own very fractured psyche.  My shell has allowed me to lock away all that is scary, hurtful, dangerous.  It has given me a way to live what I believed to be a meaningful life without being constantly derailed by my own self.  It has provided me with a pathway that kept the wolves at bay rather than having to run, always looking behind me to determine how far I needed to go, how fast I needed to move for safety.  Well, that all seems great but, of course, all of this is smoke and mirrors.

It’s all bullshit.

At the end of the day, there is no way to straddle the fence.  Either you are in or you are out.  You can’t be vulnerable and hang on to your armor.  You can’t really experience those emotions while quickly suppressing them, shoving them down when they disrupt your balance, sending you toppling over.   Those are the moments that count.  Failure is the pathway to success.  Falling is the only way to learn how to get up.  For me, the missing link in all of this is trust.  The connective tissue between vulnerability and solace is the trust that when you do get hurt, when you stumble, when you screw up in a way that seems so fatefully unrepairable, that you will be able to pull yourself up, stand tall and all will still be intact around you.  You will still be breathing, you will still be able to stand, you will still be loved.

I struggle to trust.  I don’t have faith.  And therein lies my battle.  Trust is my demon, the monkey on my back.  I can look you in the eye, hear your words, feel comforted by your love and then turn around, walk a few steps and it all slips away.  Then, slowly, I implode.  I begin the dreadful descent, watching helplessly as I fall, deeper and deeper, afraid to ask for help, never calling for a strong hand to pull me up.  How can I?  I do not have the trust that you won’t extend your arm and then pull it away just as I reach for your grasp.  Contrarily, how can I expect others to dive deep with me if they do not believe that I trust them?  What guarantees am I offering if I am ready to bolt at any instant, fueled by my belief that all relationships are transitory?  While I do not believe that I serve up my cold, stone, hardness for most to see, the ones that matter the most get a bird’s-eye view when I am free-falling into the abyss of mistrust and anxiety.

So, I say this.  I need to be vulnerable.  I need to experience all that life has to offer.  I need to keep my heart exposed to capture those incredible moments that come along only when you are open and willing to accept them.  Sure, that is actually the easy part.  I can do that.  It is the moments that follow, when the after-glow begins to dim, when the darkness sets in that really matters.  In those times, when there are no fireworks displays, when all I have is the distant memory of the meaningful moments, can I simply be buoyed by the trust that it was all real and not simply a shooting star to be seen just a few times in life?  Can I have faith that not everyone is going to hurt me the way I was so traumatically hurt during some of the most critical years of my life?  Will I be able to believe that I am worthy of being loved, consistently and completely?  Am I brave enough to stare my mistrust in the face and send it away rather than welcoming it in because it is a familiar face.  I know what it likes to drink and eat.  It is an easy guest.  Until it shows it true self.  Once we move beyond the pleasantries, mistrust will decimate me.  It sets out to destroy every piece of my foundation.  It takes its jackhammer and loudly and painfully drills holes through my core.  Its disrupts my footing and drops me into the hole.  Do I have the strength and courage to look it in the eye and tell it that I need to make new friends?  It is time for us to part ways?  Will I be able to see the sheep in wolf’s clothing that appears before me looking like comfort and solace, familiarity and understanding?  I know that is the true test of bravery and of willingness to change.

I have been walking around for months, for years, for a lifetime with a steel cage protecting me from the rest of the world.  When things get tough, I pack myself up and move on.  I rarely unlock the doors and let myself step outside to see what the air feels like, smells like.  From my distant perch behind the bars, I assess every situation and test the water using a long stick rather than my own fleshy toe.  The heat can never scald me because I will never get close enough to be damaged.  Yet, I am setting fires all around me, scorching my flesh.  In my locked cage, I am cutting and bleeding, safe from the danger that lies outside.  When I see smoke in the distance, I know it is time to escape but somehow I seem to miss the heat that it is right under me.

I wonder what it looks like to look inside my prison.  Can you see through the walls?  Is there a cement enclosure or am I sitting in a glass house?  Are my endeavors obvious to all who care to observe or have I discreetly masked my masochistic tendencies?  When I am in full battle with the demon of mistrust, I lose all perspective.  I have no idea what is obvious and what is happening so loudly inside my mind.  When I am kicking and punching, struggling to stay afoot, I lose all peripheral vision.

Yesterday, when I read Kim’s post, I could feel her own battle.  I heard her inner voice comforting her, telling her it was ok to be guarded, to be locked down and I felt her overwhelming desire to set herself free, to find a new pathway.  That moved me.  It hit me in the face like a wayward baseball, soaring at 100 miles per hour.  It made contact, right between my eyes, shattering my skull and opening up a new space – a space ready to be filled with love and gratitude.  A space desperate to absorb the love and support that sits waiting for me.  I can see it.  I can really see it.  But I am afraid to touch.  I am afraid to reach out and embrace it.

Because, what if….

KINDNESS


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

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

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

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

TRUST


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AULD LANG SYNE


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOVE


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MISSING


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I miss me.

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

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

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