Friday, December 28, 2012

Living in the First Person, Present Tense

2012 was the year of KINDNESS for me.  It changed my life.  It changed me.  An entire year focused on one thing.  Kindness.  It was beautiful and glorious.  And while I will carry kindness forward with me, I am ready to move on.

This coming year I want to SEE.

I tend to be task oriented.  I get so focused on the task, the thing I am trying to accomplish, that I miss a lot.  I want to see more. 

I want to live in the first person, present tense.  I want to be truly present in the events and moments of my life.  I want to spend less time in the second person, worrying about what others do or should do.  I want to spend less time in the third person, observing life happening around me.  And I want to spend a lot less time in the past tense or future tense.  I want to be here.  Now.

Life is about moments.  It's about people.  It's about beauty.  That's where the glory of life happens.  But too often I miss it.

Instead of seeing the 360 degrees around me, I get stuck in tunnel vision.  Instead of seeing the technicolor of life, it becomes a grayish blur in my peripheral vision because I can't take my eyes off what's in front of me.

I want to see the beauty of a moment.  I want to rejoice longer as I watch my children enjoy each other's company.  I want to mourn deeper with my friends who are struggling.  I want to look more people in the eye and seek to understand.  I want to see progress in myself and acknowledge it and be proud of it instead of focusing on all the things I still need to fix.  I want to see purpose in the things I do by rote every day.

When I chose the word SEE to guide me in the next year, it felt so right.  It makes complete sense in my mind and heart.  It's about practicing mindfulness.  It's about making moments mean more.  It's about opening my heart wider.

I want to see with new eyes.  I want to see divinely.  I want to see as God sees.

I've had glimpses.  I sense that there will be times when my heart is overwhelmed.  I sense that I will cry more.  I will admit that I am a little frightened to completely open my heart and feel fully.  But I trust that this is the right next step.

And so, in faith I leap.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Year of Kindness

This last year I decided to let KINDNESS be my guide.  The one word that would be on my mind and in my heart as I lived my life.  And I learned a lot.

I learned that any time I make something a chore it becomes less fun for me.  I did okay tweeting every day for a long time.  Then it got a little more erratic.  I think I pretty much stopped all together around July.

I also learned that choosing one word, one idea, to focus on for the year is awesome!  I loved it so much more than I ever liked setting goals or resolutions.  It works for me.  Plus, it gave me plenty of time to really internalize things.  Change takes time.  Usually a lot longer than we think.  A year allows for effort, failure, correction, learning, and more effort.

And I learned that I am so much happier when I am kind.  I'm a pro at the quick, sarcastic quip, but I don't like being that person.  It feels false.  I like being genuine.  I like saying what I mean.  I like telling people how wonderful I think they are.  I like choosing to ignore things that bug me so that others feel uplifted in my presence.  And the more I choose to ignore those things, the less they bug me.  The more kind I choose to be, the more beautiful the world becomes.

I can't speak for the entire world, but in America we live in a society that praises both kindness (openly) and unkindness (subtly).  News stories of service and giving capture our interest and sometimes change our behavior for a while, but we sure do like our sarcasm and teasing.  Our entertainment is filled with biting remarks.  The verbal slam is what gets laughs and praise.  There are entire tv shows dedicated to pulling pranks on people -- the soul purpose of which is to embarrass someone else for our entertainment.  Political discourse is less about discussing a point of view and seeking to understand the other side than it is about tearing the other argument (and often, the other person) to shreds.  We seem to say we want kindness, we like kindness, but our actions so often support the opposite side.

I've learned to keep my mouth shut more.  Since my brain still isn't fully converted, I have to control what I can.  The unkind thoughts still enter my head, but I can stop them from leaving my mouth.  I'm not always successful, but I'm doing so much better.

And I've learned that listening is one of the most kind acts I can perform.  So many people just need someone to listen to them.  Not to fix things.  Not to give advice.  Just to listen.  We all need our hearts to be heard.  Honest listening, with support and love and an intent to understand, sends value to the speaker.  There are just too many people who have no one to listen to them.  Taking the time to truly listen fills my heart in a divine way.  It makes me more than I was.  It enhances me.  It strengthens me.  Listening is a good thing.

I've also learned that being kind sometimes means speaking up.  Maybe it's the compliment I thought in my head but wouldn't always say in the past.  Say it.  It matters.  Or it's asking others to stop or change the conversation when it becomes unkind, even if it's about someone not present.  It may not ever get back to that person to hurt them, but staying silent hurts me.  Staying silent is participating.  It's passively saying that behavior is okay.  And it's not.

And I've learned that as with most things, it's more difficult to be kind with family.  And it's more important.

I notice kindness so much more.  There are so many kind acts every day, everywhere I go.  I notice unkindness more as well.  There's still way too much of that.  And I notice how my efforts to change and be more kind make a difference.  I am changing the world.  One person, one moment, at a time.

Kindness will go forward with me.  It is a part of me now.  It's in my heart.  But I've already chosen my word for next year and can't wait to get started.  More on that next week.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Simple Joys: Tiny Bubbles

Since we got rid of most of our dishes over a year ago I do most of my dishes by hand.  It's a more pleasant experience.  The warm water.  The suds.  Instant gratification.

And the tiny bubbles.

I don't remember seeing these before.  I've done dishes by hand many times in the past.  I think it might be the bottle.  Nearly every time I pick up or set down the bottle of dish soap, tiny bubbles shoot out of it and float around the sink.  About the size of my fingertip.  And it makes me happy.

Bubbles are one of life's miracles, if you ask me.  They're just magical, no matter how old I get.  Watching them float.  Wondering if they will survive the landing.  Trying to catch them without popping them.  They are a wonder.

They take me back to a simpler time with my children.  Every time I see them I remember the summers spent blowing bubbles so my children could chase them.  I remember helping my children learn to blow them.  I remember when the magic of bubbles was enough to solve most unhappy days.  Long before dating woes, driving stress, and worries about grades and graduation and college.  Just me, the kids, bubbles, and sunshine.

They also take me further back in time.  Every time I see them I hear the song "Tiny Bubbles" in my head.  I remember the first time I heard that song.  It wasn't Don Ho.  It wasn't on a ukelele'.  It was an old man on a guitar.  With his partner on a banjo.  I went camping with my grandma to an annual gathering called The Blackhawk.  As the summer evening was winding down, people were socializing and relaxing.  People were playing music together, rocking in lawn chairs by their trailers, singing.  And these two old men created heaven.  A moment that still brings me peace when I think about it.  Just a still, quiet summer evening filled with the beautiful harmony of two old friends.

A time when I had no worries.  There was nothing left for the day except to enjoy the company of those around us until it was time to go to bed.  I was with my grandma, my angel on earth.  And with people who had all the time in the world just to be.

Washing my dish makes me happy.  It brings me joy in a most simple way.  (And just in case it is the bottle -- it's Dawn and it works best when the bottle is mostly empty.  I want you to find happiness washing your dish, too.)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Simple Joys: My Bed

I was the only girl in my family, so I was the outlet for anything feminine for my mom.  Decorating.  Shopping.  Clothes.  Whatever.  And that's why I grew up with a beautiful canopy bed.  Dark wood.  Yellow and white canopy, bedspread, and pillow sham.  It was beautiful.  With or without the canopy, it was the only bed I used from the time I was four until I got married.

When we first got married we tried using his twin mattresses and my twin mattresses to make a bed on the floor.  That didn't work out very well so we ended up buying some very used queen mattresses (kind of gross now that I think about it).  We were grateful for them, even on the floor. 

Through the years we got a frame, a headboard, new mattresses, and eventually a big beautiful bed.

This bed was glorious!  Queen size mattresses, but the bed itself was larger than a king size.  I remember when we saw it on the showroom floor.  Dark red wood.  Very regal.  Throne-like.  Imperial.  I liked it; my husband loved it.  Then we got it home and realized our bedroom was no where near as big as a showroom floor.  It fit, but there wasn't much room to spare.

It kind of became an albatross around my neck over the years.  But my husband still loved it so we kept it and just tried to arrange the room around it.

A few years ago when we decided we needed separate rooms, I wanted him to have that bed.  But his room is in the basement and there is just no way it would fit.  So I kept the bed I didn't really like because it seemed the practical thing to do.

And then I finally came to a place where I was ready to be true to myself, practical or not.  I didn't want the bed.  I still wanted to use my queen mattresses, but wanted something much less gaudy.  Something you could barely tell was there.  And I remembered an old bed in my parents' basement.  My bed.  My first bed.  The one before the canopy bed.

It's iron, painted white.  Chipped.  It was a full-size when I had it as a small child.  At some point it had been given to a neighbor who promised to give my parents first dibs if they ever got rid of it.  A few years ago they were ready and contacted my mom.  She said she'd love to have it back.  And it turns out that they'd altered it so it was now queen size.

My parents used it for a while in a spare room, for when family visited.  But they have since downsized and didn't have a place for it.  It was just being stored.

My mom was thrilled when I asked for it.  I think it belonged to a great-aunt or something (the story is debated).  And it's perfect.  A supportive iron frame connected to a sparse, white iron headboard and footboard.  Almost invisible in the room.  And I recently acquired a chenille bedspread similar to the one I remember stroking as I lay on it as a child.  It brings me tender joy every time I see it.

Fortuitous, destiny, divine intervention.  However it came to be, I'm just glad to have my bed back.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My Own Misbehavior

I wish I could say my husband was the only one who was abusive in our relationship.  With all my heart I wish I could say that.  But it's just not true.

Growing up I never fought back.  My abusers were always bigger and stronger and more powerful than me.  I didn't think there was anyone who could protect me.  I learned not to cry because it only angered my abusers more.  My best weapons of survival were to hide or acquiesce.  I did my best to stay out of sight.  When I couldn't do that I just tried to be quiet and do what they wanted me to do.  I became excellent at reading the emotions in the room so I could sometimes head off an attack by changing my behavior or leaving.

I promised myself I would never stay with a man who was abusive.  If he hit me, I was gone.  Physical abuse is easy to recognize and prove.  When I was pregnant with our first child my husband and I got into a heated argument.  I stepped in front of him to keep him from storming away.  He shoved me out of the way hard enough that I fell to the ground.  I let him go.  When things cooled off I told him if he ever did anything like that again I would leave.  He never did.

Physical abuse is a quick blow (or several).  Emotional abuse is slow torture.  It isn't usually evident to others.  But it eats your soul.

I had been unhappy with the way my husband treated me and the kids for a long time, but I didn't call it abuse.  I didn't recognize it for what it was.  Mostly because it was so familiar.  It was how I'd grown up.  I remember the moment I knew.  It was when I heard myself telling the children, "Please be as good as you can so daddy won't get mad."

What a horrific moment.  What an awful responsibility to dump on a child.  A responsibility that was in no way theirs.  That's when I started to search for a better way. 

Instead of trying to placate him I began standing up to him.  In the only way I knew how.  I yelled.  I demanded.  I criticized and name called.  I threatened.  I demeaned and mocked and shamed.  I'd only seen my mom stand up to my dad a few times and this was how she did it.  It was what my emotions were shouting at me to do.  My heart said protect the children, so I stood between them and the raging lion.  With a whip and a chair.

It would be years before I knew a better way.  And after he started to change it was a long time before I saw how awful I had been to him.  In defense or not, my actions had been emotionally abusive as well.  Neither of us knew how to deal with these things in an emotionally healthy way.

One or both of us has been in therapy now off and on for about six years.  We have generations of unhealthy behavior to unlearn.  We both have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which means sometimes we are triggered and find ourselves back in those moments when we were powerless and terrified.  We are still working to get healthy and strong.  We still mess up.  We are still sometimes unkind to each other.  We still often see the other as an enemy and forget we're on the same team.

But we are so much better than we used to be.  I am proud of us for all the hard work and progress.  There are so many horrible things we experienced as children that we were able to protect our own kids from.  So many emotional battles we've fought so they won't have to.

We're cleaning up the line as best we can.  Breaking the chains that bound us.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

An Abusive Husband, part three

For the first part of my husband's story and why we are sharing it read this.
For the second part of our story read this.

Today I offer the final part of the story:  what happened when he saw the truth.


I started to work with a friend from an old job.  He is a very sensitive and caring man who understands women (and no he isn't gay).  But when I would talk to him at work and tell him how nuts my wife was he would always tell me where I was wrong.  He was very good at it because he can talk both male and female.  He had been through a lot of therapy, too.

Robin and I were about done with marriage and I was sick of all the accusations of being abusive.  I still loved her and didn't want to divorce but she just wasn't getting it.  Then one day we had a meeting, just her and me.  I was finally to the point where I really wanted to understand what she was trying to say.  I don't know if she explained it to me better that time or I finally listened but I got it.  It was the yelling, putting down and getting even that was the abuse.  The seething hatred when I was angry.  The fact that everyone at home was walking on egg shells around me so they wouldn't trigger another outburst from the angry man.

Holy cow, what an eye opener that was.  I love these people and they all feel like I hate them.  They walk on egg shells around me.  My wife and kids.  It was a shot to my heart.

But how to fix it, for now I see just what a bastard I am.  Anger was my nature.  I couldn't control it.  It would explode in me and I had to yell or I would be violent (I never was but it was because I could yell at those I was angry with).  I also knew that my OCD triggered my anger and how was I going to fix that?

That's when I started therapy (or thereabouts).  We found Dr. Dan.  Robin, bless her, saw my horror when I finally understood and we decided to work together to beat this thing.  I was ready.

It was really hard.  I had to learn how to control my anger.  I had to face issues from my past that I wanted to leave alone.  I had to trust Dr. Dan.  (Don't think that wasn't hard.)  I had to learn how to be a real man.  A real husband and father.  I don't always win in my daily fight to control my anger or my OCD, but I win most days.  I've learned that you can change.  You can control anger.  I'm to the point now where I hardly ever get angry anymore.  It's been a long road and I've had a lot of help.

The most important thing I've learned in this whole process is that you have to accept the fact that you are wrong.  Be humble enough to be told you're being a jerk and realize you are but you can change.  Your wife isn't trying to control you.  She loves you and is trying to help you reach your potential.

Thanks for helping me be a better man, Robin.

Monday, November 19, 2012

An Abusive Husband, part two

For the first part of my husband's story and why we are sharing it read this.

This is the second part of my husband's story: we got married and things got ugly.


I finished my 2-year mission and came home and that's when I met MisssRobin.  I was still very religious and active in my church but I had anger.  Robin was awesome.  Good looking, smart and would play with me in a snarky way.  She was a tease but then again so was I.  I fell in love with her so fast.

We got married and that's when things changed.  She is right about almost everything and she is very strong willed.  I, however, am not right about most things but won't admit it for self esteem reasons.  I am also strong willed and at the time was of the opinion that it's my castle and you're my property.  That's where it gets hard for women to understand I think.  How can you love someone if you think they are your property?  But that is how I was raised.  I'm the man, she's the woman.  It's my job to provide for her and keep her safe and it's her job to do as I say.

I became everything I hated in authority and didn't even notice.  I also suffer from OCD so my perception of reality isn't always on the mark.  Things would often make me angry that wouldn't bother other people.  When I got angry I would be mean to the person I was angry at.  I hated them for the time I was angry.  I wouldn't hit them or be physical, but I would yell and ignore and withhold.  I would scheme of ways I could get even.  "You won't do this for me then I'll not do something for you."  And I thought it was fine that I acted that way.  After a few days of cooling off, I would feel horrible and apologize and then everything was fine.  (How naive I was.)

Years into our marriage, Robin started telling me that I was being abusive.  I was shocked.  What the heck is she talking about?  I've never hit her or the kids.  I would think that I should hit her so she can see what abuse really is.  I talked to friends at work about it (all male) and they would agree with me.  What does she mean?

Then she started to tell me it was emotional abuse.  WHAT IS SHE SMOKING?  Emotional abuse?  What is that?  In my mind it was an imaginary thing.  I didn't really have emotions other than hate, anger and love.  I had never even heard of such a thing as emotional abuse and if there was such a thing then she was abusive to me.  She would not talk to me for days after one of my explosions.  She was always complaining about me.  ME, the guy who was working every day so that she could stay home.  40 hours a week and all I asked for in return was for my family not to trigger my OCD and let me be the king of the house.  It took years, but things started to get ugly between us.

Read more here.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

An Abusive Husband, part one

I have written very openly about the difficulties in my marriage, although it's primarily been on my other blog.  Many people have commented to ask if my husband knows that I write about him and the things he's done.  He does.  He reads almost everything I write; I hide none of it from him.  Sometimes the things I write are difficult for him.  It's not so much that he doesn't want people to know what he's done, it's that he's so sad that he did those things.  But he has read the comments.  He has seen how many people are grateful that I share our story.  He has felt their gratitude for sharing what we've learned.  He is proud that I have been able to help others.    And he is courageous enough to allow me to share the story of our struggles.

This weekend he surprised me with a grand step of bravery.  He opened his heart and wrote his story.  So that I could share it on my blog.  Because he believes it can help.

I know it was hard and am so proud of him.

I offer the first segment today.  Where the hate and anger come from.

I Was an Abusive Husband.  Really? (part one)

I've been married to MisssRobin for 22 years.  I've learned a lot in that time.  So, I've been reading her blogs and I love her writing.  I've decided to tell my side of the mess that is her life.

I was raised in a family of 4 boys and 2 girls.  I was raised with the idea that a man's house is his castle and the wife does what the husband decides after they have talked about it.  After all, I am the head of the house.  As a boy, we (including the girls) fought and wrestled with each other all the time.  I remember my dad saying, "If a girl acts like a boy, treat her like a boy."  So, I did.  I never got into a fist fight with the girls but I would have a hitting contest with one.

I lived in Los Angeles and when I was in 7th grade my family moved to Utah and things went badly for me after that.  We moved mid school year, so I was the new kid.  I didn't know the culture and was a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.  I went from being popular at school to being bullied.  I was assaulted by a gym teacher that same year and no one did anything about it.  I went to the principal, school counselors, my parents and no one did a thing.  I learned to hate.  I rebelled.  I hated authority.  I didn't do drugs but I did break rules and vandalized and stole things.  This didn't go over very well with my religious parents.

In my senior year, I found religion.  I had been raised in the Mormon church but it didn't really mean anything to me until that year.  I would skip every class at school but I would never skip my religion class (seminary).  It was the only class I ever got an A in, I'm pretty certain.

I started to trust again and the hate started to fade.  It was still there but now it just smoldered.  I decided to go on a 2-year mission for the church when I was 19.  I was raised to believe that if you live the commandments and did everything you were supposed to do that God would take care of you.  I was also raised with the belief that missionaries walked 2 inches off the ground because they were so righteous.

I saved up my money and entered the mission training center and discovered that missionaries are just a bunch of 19-year old boys and some of them didn't want to be there.  It made my time there really hard because when you go into the training center you are assigned a companion (another missionary) that you are supposed to stay with 24/7.  We were not to leave the grounds; my companion wanted to leave to go to the mall.  I had to make the choice of which rule to break and I was done breaking rules.

I figured things would be different when I got to my mission area in Oklahoma.  Things didn't get better.  My mission president was an ego maniac who would not listen to the missionaries' side of anything.  So if a member of our church would call him and say that we were watching TV all day, then we would get in trouble for that even though it wasn't true.  I felt very betrayed and the hate for authority returned.

Read more here.

Friday, November 16, 2012

I Hate Money

I hate money with a visceral hatred from the deepest darkest place in my soul.  If you mention the word money to me there is a place in my stomach that clenches and I want to throw up.  I hate money so much.

Money has been many things in my life.  Money has been power that someone else had and used against me.  Money has been a way for someone to control me.  Money has been a substitute for love when money was all my parents had to offer.  Money has been an elusive prize that teases and dances, taking one step closer and then running away.  Money has been an avalanche that threatens the life of me and my family.  Money is my enemy.

And I don't think this is the relationship I am supposed to have with money.  It's not the way I want to feel and think about money.  I am so sick of money controlling my life.

I grew up in a home where I don't remember ever not having enough money to meet our needs and then some.  It's possible my parents had financial struggles, but if they did I never knew about it.  My parents never talked about money.  Except when they fought.

My mom grew up very poor.  My dad didn't.  My mom likes to shop.  A lot.  To the point of an addiction.  My dad has money and spends it when he wants to, but I don't know how he feels or what he thinks about it.  Except I know he thinks she spends too much.  It doesn't stop him from giving it to her; it just gives him something to be angry about.  I have heard him complain and yell about money more times in my life than anything else.  I'm pretty sure money is his God.  And a way to control people.  He gives.  It seems generous at the time.  Then he calls in the favors you didn't know you owed; you didn't know you were agreeing to an undefined contract.  And the only thing my mom ever taught me about money is that my dad has plenty and doesn't give her enough.

He's good with money, but he didn't teach me anything about it.  Except that spending it is bad and smart people know how to manage their finances and if you can't be self-sufficient financially then something is wrong with you that you should be ashamed of.

Yeah, my feelings about my parents and money are kind of intense.

And then there's my marriage.  We've had our share of financial arguments.  We don't have the same approach to money.  And I'm pretty sure neither of us would claim to be really good with money.  But we're grown ups so we're expected to know how to do this.

We've been married twenty-two years.  My husband has been the breadwinner the whole time.  I worked a bit but just because I wanted to.  (My health no longer allows me to work.)  And in this twenty-two years my husband has been laid off or fired ten times.  The longest we went without any income was seven months.  We've been on food stamps.  Our children have been on government insurance and received free school lunches.  In fact, the government paid entirely for the pregnancy and delivery of one of our children.  We've gone to our church for food, clothes, and help with our mortgage payment and bills.  We've lived off our food storage and sold many things of value just to meet our obligations.  We no longer have food storage or savings.  We used these up and haven't been able to rebuild them.

And because of this history, because of the many times we had our electricity shut off because we couldn't pay the bill, I am scared.  Whenever we get paid I want to put the money away just in case.  I have trouble paying bills because I'm afraid that will be our last income.  What if I pay the bills and then he gets laid off?  Then I don't have any money and my family is threatened again.

We've had well-paying jobs (I say we even though they were his jobs) and poor-paying jobs.  We've had more than enough financially and not nearly enough financially.  We've happily worked together on budgeting and spending and fought like crazy about money.  We've tracked our money together and spent behind each other's backs.  And for most of our marriage I have been in charge of the money.  Which meant that even though he earned the money I felt the pressure to handle it well.

I am a smart girl.  I am good at math and organization.  But I still really struggle with money.  And it is still a source of shame for me.

But this thing has been a burr under my saddle for long enough.  I'm ready to kick this monkey off my back.  I'm ready to acknowledge that I don't know what I'm doing.  That I've been trying to figure this out for years and am still not getting it.  That I have serious psychological issues that I need to address.

I'm ready for the battle.  And I'm going to win.

Friday, November 9, 2012

When I Couldn't Do Laundry

I did some whites today.  It was kind of urgent; I haven't had clean underwear in a few days.  Tired on top of sick on top of tired led to me having no clean underwear.  As I loaded the washing machine I thought of how nice it would be to have clean underwear.  And this led me to a sad memory of a dark time.

I've never been a clean freak, or a neat freak, but I always made sure people were clean and had clean clothes.  For years.  And then I went off the deep end.

I've mentioned it before, the year and a half I spent in bed.  I haven't fully written about it for a couple of reasons.  First, my memories from that time aren't really clear.  And second, I'm ashamed of my life from that time.

Maybe ashamed isn't the right word.  I did the best I could.  But I am embarrassed about it.

I still don't really know what started it, why I could no longer function.  I was eventually diagnosed with major depression and we tried some meds, but nothing really helped.  I just had to wait it out and adjust my life.

The reason doing laundry today reminded me of that dark time is because of a moment.  It was the moment I'd worked up the drive and determination to get out of bed long enough to do a load of laundry and my ten-year old daughter was super excited because she was going to have clean underwear.  I went to my room and cried.

No child should ever go without clean underwear long enough to be grateful when they finally get some.

I knew the laundry situation was dire.  I knew they were wearing the same clothes day after day, or cycling through them without them having been washed.  I knew it.  I was sad about it.  It bothered me.  But I couldn't do anything about it.

I had a child come home and tell me no one would sit by them because they said my child smelled bad.  I wanted to write it off as lack of bathing because then it was only partially my fault.  They could mostly all bathe themselves by then.  But that wasn't what it was.  It was wearing dirty clothes over and over.  Including underwear.

It killed me.  But I couldn't do anything about it.  I don't know how to explain the paralysis.  I was able to get them up and off to school (most days).  I was able to feed them (most meals).  I did my best to keep the kitchen clean enough that it didn't smell bad.  And then I crawled back into my bed.

I was barely functional.  I often went a week without bathing.  Days without brushing my teeth.  Unless I had to leave the house.  Then I got cleaned up enough that no one would know.  Because that's what we do.  We kill ourselves to make sure no one knows we are having a hard time.

I missed a lot of appointments.  I missed my turn helping in my children's classes.  I dropped the ball and left people hanging.  I cared.  I was humiliated.  But I couldn't do anything to change it.

I had five kids, 2 years to 10 years, and it was all I could do to keep them alive.

My husband did what he could.  He was working a lot.  Before that I had done everything around the house.  Then I almost completely withdrew from life.  So far that I couldn't even help him see what needed to be done or how to do it.  I don't know how awful it was for him, how powerless he felt.  He wanted to take me to a doctor long before I let him.  I wouldn't let him tell family or friends.  I don't know how he feels about that time because we haven't talked about it.  I tried once or twice, but I don't think he wants to go back there -- even in thought.

I was with a group of women a while back who were talking about helping to clean out a house when someone in the neighborhood moved.  They talked about how dirty it was and how certain areas had probably not been cleaned the whole time they'd lived there.  They ridiculed and judged, asking how a person could live like that.  I said there must have been more going on in their lives that led to the house being that way.  I tried to get them to look at it a little differently.  But I didn't want to speak up too much for fear that it would draw attention to my life and my home.

I'm not a good housekeeper.  I never have been.  But it's gotten so much harder and so much worse since my health fell apart.  It's not that I don't see it.  It's not that I like it this way.  It's just that I'm doing the best I can do.  I'm meeting the responsibilities that have to be met and letting the others slide.  Which often means my kitchen floor doesn't get mopped and the toilets don't get scrubbed.  For a very long time.

So, please, the next time you see someone whose house is a mess, whose yard is overgrown, or who might be wearing dirty clothes, don't judge.  People don't choose to be dirty and messy unless something is wrong in their lives.

We're all just doing the best we can.  And we're grateful when we have clean underwear.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Trust the Forward Path

I will never be the same.  I want my old life back.  If only I could go back in time and do it differently.

It's so easy to find ourselves wanting things to be the way they used to be.  Especially when things are tough or we're insecure about who we are right this moment.  Why do we do that?  Why do we want to go backwards?

This is a forward life.  Time only moves one direction.  There is no going back.  Even if you can change your decision you haven't really gone back and undone anything.  Because you are different.  You have learned something from that experience.  Even if all you learned was regret.

Years ago my marriage was abusive.  I'd lived with it for years and told no one.  If anyone suspected it, they never said anything to me.  And then one day all my life experiences combined to make me see it and face it.  I finally told someone.  I finally decided to change it.

And my world fell apart.

Things got ugly.  Really ugly.  Suddenly my husband was accusing me of having an affair, threatening divorce, and even sleeping somewhere else.  As I melted down and became lost in my misery I said, "I wish I could go back and just leave things the way they were."

But I couldn't.  Because the truth had been told and because I knew too much.  Living with it in ignorance and hidden is quite a different thing than knowingly and openly letting it continue.

Lots of therapy for both of us later, my marriage is good.  We've both learned so much.  We've grown.  We've changed.  We are better individually and together.  Because we didn't go backwards.

Sometimes when I am feeling sorry for myself because I don't feel well, I long for the days of my youth.  I remember all the energy I had.  I remember all I could do.  I remember how fun and bright I was.  I wish I could be that me again.

And then I remember how shallow I was before.  How I knew a lot of facts but wasn't very wise.  How I had lots of friends but no one I could tell my deepest secrets to.  How I wasn't sure enough of who I was to open my heart and trust.

Life changes us.  Sometimes we focus on what we don't have in this moment.  Who we aren't.  And we don't see who we are or who we are becoming.

My life has gone through lots of yuck.  Sometimes I have cursed the path I've found myself on.  But always -- always -- I have found myself somewhere better.  Someone better.

It's comfortable to be who we are.  The us we know.  It's scary to become someone else.  But each person we are is meant to be temporary.  If we remain that person for too long, the glory wears off.  The shiny us becomes dull. 

I have been reminding myself of this often recently.  Trust the forward path; it's never let you down before.

So I'm done sitting in one place longing for who I was.  I'm stepping into who I will be.

Monday, October 29, 2012

My Therapy Necklace

My first day of therapy was difficult.  I'd known for years I needed therapy.  I wanted to find peace, to settle my heart, to make the fear stop.  But I was scared.

I'd gone to therapy with my husband many times, as his coach.  I was there to help him in his battle against OCD and the toll it was taking on our family.  I liked his therapist.  I trusted him.  And he's the one I chose to see when I finally found the courage (or the desperation) to fight my own demons.

As my therapist explained it, that first visit was about assessment.  We take off the bandage, he examines the wound, and we see how bad it really is.  It starts with me telling my story.

I hadn't ever told my story.  Not all of it.  A few pieces to my husband, but that's all.  I had just lived with it.  Embarrassed and ashamed.  For so many years.

That first session was so hard.  I told my story.  Very linear.  Without much emotion, just facts.  I'd quit feeling about it a long time ago.  I wasn't anywhere near finished with the story when our hour was up.  (It ended up taking three full sessions to get the whole thing out.  Which ended up not being the whole thing because there was still a lot I wasn't ready to tell.)

But the session was over.  He said I'd done well.  He said you can tell how often a person has told their story by how long it takes them to tell it.  The more you tell it, the less detail you need and the faster it goes.

He validated that I was wounded.  He said I should be proud of myself and celebrate the good work I'd done.  I was clueless.  I don't celebrate well.  Definitely not my own accomplishments.  He suggested treating myself.  Again, clueless.  He told me some things others had done.  He suggested that I find a way to mark the moment because it mattered.

I told him I would think about it and see what I could do.  Thus, my therapy necklace was born.

I went to the charm store.  I found a charm to represent everything important in my battle for peace.

*  A simple black cord just long enough to position it right over my heart.  Tied in a knot so I can add or remove charms.
*  A charm to represent me, at the center of the cluster.  Initially this was very nondescript.  It was about an inch in diameter, circular like a washer, pounded dark metal, rough edges.  An undefined shape that each person could interpret differently.  Kind of like I felt about myself.  Undefined.  Interpreted differently by different people.  Nondescript.  This has since been replaced.
*  A charm that says PEACE.  This is what I'm searching for.  This is what the work is for.
*  A small book that opens.  On the cover it says My Story.  This was to mark the fact that I'd finally reclaimed my story as my own and chosen to tell it.  It's my story to tell.
*  A charm that looks kind of like a small metal tablet, rough edges.  It has a zodiac sign on it.  This charm represents the boy who repeatedly abused me as a child.  This is his sign.  I have done the work.  He no longer has power over me.  This is to symbolize my victory over that part of my past.
*  A charm of two clasped hands.  They could be seen as a handshake, but when I look at it I see one hand reaching down to grasp the hand of another and help them out of a dark hole.  Adding strength to the cause.  Lifting me up.  This charm represents all those who helped me in my dark times.  My therapists.  My ecclesiastical leaders.  My friends.  My husband.  My kids.  People in my group therapy class.  All those who made my burden a little lighter, sometimes just by believing in my ability to carry it.
*  A starfish charm.  This charm represents a special friend.  A woman I found at just the right time.  A woman who understands and reaches my soul because she has experienced much of what I've experienced.  She has an affinity for things of the sea.  She calms me in a way others can't.
*  A charm of my own making.  An amalgam of several charms connected to make one.  This charm represents the spiritual element to my healing.  It contains a star of David to represent God; a cross to represent Jesus Christ; and a bird to represent the Holy Ghost.  God is guiding me in this healing process.  He wants me to succeed.  Each member of the Godhead plays an important roll.  Without Them, I would not heal.  It helps me to remember that They are with me in my quest.  On this charm there is also a pair of hands in prayer.  This represents my grandmother.  She taught me to pray.  She was the spiritual strength in my life for so many years.  Without her guidance, I may never have developed the connection I have with God which facilitates my growth and healing.
*  And the new charm which represents me.  The old one broke.  Rather symbolically for me.  The undefined me was replaced.  I now have a charm I earned completing a religious program.  It brought me closer to God.  It helped me understand who I am and the role I am to play.  It helped me understand my value.  And it reminds me that I can do hard things -- because I am divine.

A black cord with a cluster of silver charms.  Probably less that $20 to create.  But priceless to me.

There will be more charms.  I have other things yet to overcome, demons to fight.  And my therapy necklace reminds me that I am powerful.  I am strong enough to face whatever comes my way.  And I don't have to do it alone.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Transitions Suck or Forced Early Retirement

Take your pick.  Either title works.

I am in transition.  Kind of stuck in transition.  At least, I hope it's transition.  I hope it's not my new life for keeps.

I worked very little before I got married.  I got pregnant almost immediately after getting married, was incredibly sick, and became a stay-at-home mom.  We made lots of sacrifices to live on one income so I could be with my kids.  My heart and soul were devoted to them.  As exhausting and difficult as it was sometimes, it was totally worth it and I don't regret a minute of it.

As my youngest child approached school age people started asking what I was going to do with all my children gone.  I joked that I'd probably sleep the first year.  After that I might consider working.  We're old fashioned.  My husband believes it's his responsibility to provide for our family and I believe it's my responsibility to raise the kids.  We've each pitched in a bit in each other's realm, but for the most part we took the traditional route.  My husband left my choices about what to do with my life after the kids went to school entirely up to me.  Work or don't work.  My choice.

Kindergarten was only a couple hours a day, just enough time for me to run errands and get a few things done.  But when our baby started first grade it opened up six hours a day for me.  I wasn't looking for work, but as it happens a wonderful job fell into my lap.  A job I was perfectly suited for and excelled at.  A job full of wonderful people.  A job that helped others.  A job that was very personally satisfying.

I worked there for three or four years.  There were ups and downs as I tried to merge my work life and my family life.  I got to a point where I felt like I had it worked out.  Balanced?  Maybe not quite.  But well shuffled.  I was happy and content and fulfilled.

Then my health fell apart.

Long story short, I had to make a choice.  I only had enough in me physically to work or take care of my family -- not both.  It was a traumatic time.  I didn't want to give up what I'd gained through work.  But my heart told me to go home.  Many other people could fill my position at work.  No one could take my place at home.

So I quit my job and went home.  I'd been a stay-at-home mom for about fourteen years before that job.  I knew how to do it.  The transition back should be easy, right?  Not so much.

I didn't have little kids any more.  The world I left and the one I returned to weren't the same.  I was kind of lost.  Still lots to do in the morning and after school but so much empty time during the day.

Which should sound beautiful and appealing and free.  But it's not.  Because I don't feel well.  Really ever.  So I have six hours a day trying to force myself to do something even though I don't want to get out of bed.  I'm still searching for a purpose.  I would love to have a schedule and plans.  I would love to volunteer or create or make a dream come true.  But each day I don't know if I am going to be able to get out of bed.  I can't plan my day because I don't know if I'll be functional.

I keep thinking I'll find a routine, a rhythm to my life.  I'm still searching.  It's been five or six years.  I spent the first three or so going to doctors and doing everything I could to feel better, hoping in the back of my mind that I could go back to work some day.  Expecting that one day I would feel good again and go back to being the over-achiever I am in my heart.  I still go to doctors and try to feel better, but I now accept that I won't have that life back again.  This is the life I have now.  I need to figure out how to live it and feel fulfilled in it.

But I still feel like I haven't found my footing.  I still spend too much time floating from this distraction to the next trying to find what fits.  Bored and frustrated.  What works one day doesn't work the next.  One day I have a little energy but my mind won't work clearly.  The next day my mind is okay but I can't see well.  And then there are the days that I don't get dressed until just before my kids get home from school, having spent the whole day in bed without actually noticing that time passed.

I'm trying to create a life that fits me.  But I still struggle to know who I am now, in this new form.  I'm still wandering.  Hoping I'm still in transition.  Hoping I'm not just lost in my own life.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

My Kind of Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was a boy.  There was also a girl.  They grew up doing the best they could, feeling their way through this world, just trying to figure life out.  They had friends and family.  They liked some of them a lot and some of them not so much.  But they were each important because they each helped shape who the boy and girl would become.

One day the boy and girl were grown up.  They didn't need their parents the way they had in the past and wanted to be independent.  After dating other people they finally found each other.  He liked her right away;  she didn't think he was as cool as he did (or the other way around).  But eventually, after spending lots of time together, they fell in love.  They each decided the other person was the neatest person they'd met and chose them to be their partner forever.  They got married and began creating their own home.

Life was good sometimes.  Other times it was sad.  Sometimes they fought.  Sometimes they forgot they loved each other.  But they worked hard to stay together, trying to remember how they'd felt in the beginning, remembering that they had chosen each other.

She stayed home with the kids because she wanted to.  He worked because he felt like that was his responsibility and was proud to do it.  But when he lost his job and couldn't find another one, she worked and he cared for the kids.  (Or the other way around.)

They each did lots of work the other one didn't notice and appreciate.  They each irritated the other.  Sometimes on purpose.  They also both learned to forgive.  And to be sorry.

There were lots of wonderful times.  There were also lots of hard times.  Sometimes he rescued her.  Sometime she rescued him.  But usually they rescued themselves.

Most of the time they were glad they'd chosen to walk life's roads together.  Sometimes they walked holding hands.  Sometimes not.  Sometimes he walked further ahead while she stopped to catch her breath.  And sometimes one of them wandered off the road a bit.  But they always either found their way back or one went looking for the other and guided them back.

They got old.  He got sick.  She took care of him.  She wasn't super well either.  Then he got so sick he died.  She was sad.  Really, really sad.  She missed him a lot.  She thought she would never be happy again.

Little by little, the light came back into her heart.  She found happiness again.  Not in another man or a job or anything, just in herself.  She found that she could be whole just by herself.  Or, at least, pretty darn close.

She had friends and family.  She continued to live.  And she thought of him a lot and was grateful for his part in her life.  She still missed him, but it didn't hurt so much.  She was grateful for that little ache in her heart because it meant she'd loved and been loved.

And one day she just didn't wake up.

And she was happy because she was with her partner again, her best friend.  And she'd missed him.  And there was so much more life ahead of them, just in a way they didn't know before.  A brand new adventure for them to share.



This post was inspired by the Ruby Gloom episode Venus De Gloomsville.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

I'm NOT Writing a Book

Because I don't want to.

I know a lot of bloggers are.  I know many bloggers blog for this very reason, to work toward publishing a book.  And when I started blogging there was a part of me that hoped to be discovered and pursued by publishers.  A tiny, dreamy part.

Being pursued sounded nice.  Being wanted is cool.  But what comes next?  Okay, that part holds me up.

Right now I just don't have the burn to write a book.  It's not inside me itching to get out.  I don't ache to tell a story, at least not one I can't tell through blogging.  And that matters to me.  Writing needs to come from my gut.  I need to need to tell a story.  Or it's just not a satisfying and cathartic experience.  And that's what I want writing to continue to be for me.

I would love to have my words touch everyone, reach every corner of the world.  I really would.  But I don't think writing a book would make that happen.  I think writing a book would make my words and thoughts and experiences less accessible to those who may benefit from them most.

A book intimidates many people.  A blog is easier.  A book costs money.  A blog is free.  A book becomes too much about me.  My words are for everyone.

And as much as it makes my husband crazy, I don't want to be paid for my writing.  Yes, we could use the money.  Yes, I'd like to feel like I contribute something to our family budget.  But not through writing.

Writing is from my heart.  It's spiritual.  It's how I offer a piece of myself to the universe hoping to make it a better place.  I believe charging for it would cheapen it.  Would tarnish it.

Which is funny because I don't feel this way about other writers.  I have bought many books over the years and (almost) never felt like an author sold out because he/she put their writing into a book.  I've never felt writing had less value because it was bound and sold.  I don't look down on or judge people who make money off their writing.

It's just not for me.  I may change my mind some day.  But today, my words are free.  And I offer them to you.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Simple Joys: My Bowl

My posts have been heavier lately because my life has been heavier.  And while nothing has really changed, I need a little bit of light.  Just some light writing about things that bring me joy.  So I decided now would be a good time to begin a series I've been pondering.  A series about simple joys.

A while back I wrote about finding minimalism and feeling like I was finally home.  Since then I've written about not liking stuff, getting rid of hundreds of books, only keeping one set of dishes for each member of the family, and what to do with all the trophies.  In my efforts to minimize I have taken thirteen trailer loads to the dump or the thrift store.  It's felt great.  And, yes, there is still so much to do.

But one of the best things about getting rid of stuff is what I keep.  Deciding what matters to me and what doesn't.  Letting go of emotional attachments that are more guilt than love and everything kept just in case.  The things I intentionally keep bring me joy.

One of these things is my bowl.  It's ceramic.  It has about a three cup capacity.  It's deep.  It's good for a small bowl of cereal or a big bowl of stew.  It's the only bowl I use.  And it brings me so much joy.  Every time I use it.

There is something about the heft of it.  It's kind of heavy.  I like that.  It feels solid in my hands.  It has a wonderful little chip in it that serves as the perfect place to rest my thumb as I hold it.  It is kind of a dark blue with a snowman head -- wearing a hat and a scarf and a big smile.  It also has white dots scattered sparsely around the bowl.  Raised dots.  I love texture.  The added texture of those dots on my bowl makes me happy.

One day it will break and I will have to fall in love with another bowl.  That's okay.  I've found that the fewer things I own the easier it is for me to love them.

For now I have it and it brings me a ridiculous amount of joy.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

My Current Crazy

This one's tough.  I want to be honest and express what I'm struggling with while still treating the subject delicately.  I don't generally do delicate very well.

While I do believe my current depressive state is biochemical, it comes closely on the heals of a rather big stress storm.  And I have to be careful talking about it because the center of this storm is my mother.  No matter what she's been or done in my life, she deserves to be treated with respect.  I will try to honor that.

But I also deserve to share my story.  Sharing my story when it is closely entwined with hers is tricky.  Here goes.

My mom lives a few miles from me.  She and my dad are still married and living together.  I'm not really sure why.  But I gave up worrying about that a long time ago.

My mom went off the deep end when I was born.  Not that she didn't want me or blames me, but that's when her mental health tanked.  She had an emotional breakdown.  Long story short, she ended up addicted to Valium for several years.  So much more to the story, but that's not mine to tell.

She beat it.  They stayed married.  Life went on.  Again, lots of history.

Jumping ahead to where we are now.

I am the only daughter.  My whole life my mom has told me how important I am to her.  How I am her refuge.  That we stand united amidst the men.  (Kind of against the men, but that's another therapy session.)  For most of my life she's considered me her confidante.  Her closest friend.  The one who understands her.  That's a heavy burden.  Please don't do this to your children.

I've written about some of the other parts of my home life.  It was not a mentally healthy environment.  In order to heal and figure out who the heck I was and who I wanted to be, I've had to distance myself from them over the last few years.  Even though we live in the same town, I could go a month or two without talking to them.  It's not usually that long, but sometimes.  We pulled back from family events, putting in an appearance but leaving before I got triggered.  It's taken a lot of work and a lot of therapy to get to a place where I felt healthy with them.

But recently my life got a shake up again.

Over the years she's struggled with her emotional health.  I've watched her try this and that to make it better.  I've watched everything fail.  I've watched her mental health get worse and worse.  We are now at a point where she can't be in the room with others for long unless it's silent and dark.  She is no longer capable of listening to more than a sentence or two from anyone else.  She has bad ADD and struggles to stay on topic; she often can't finish a sentence.  She can't sit still.  When she's at my house she sits, gets up and moves, sits again, gets up and moves.  Over and over.  And she talks and talks without getting anywhere productive and without hearing anything we have to say.

She's 70-years old.  She's still married and he is healthy.  I didn't think I'd be put in the position of being her caretaker so early.  We're not quite there, but it's close.  She wants to put me in charge of things but also accuses me of trying to be in control.  She says she wishes she'd had a mom like me but tells me how much I'm like my dad who she can't stand.

Current situation.  On many meds and hormones.  Takes them as she feels she needs them, kind of close to as prescribed but not really.  Very much self-medicating.  She goes to her room and won't come out when my dad is there.  She waits until he's gone for the day before she comes out.  She leaves and stays gone all day, practically living out of her car.  She won't come home until she knows he's gone to bed.  She's a compulsive shopper and hoarder -- which leads to the many money fights I've been hearing about my whole life.  Her rooms (apparently she needs more than one room to herself) are so full there's about a foot wide walking path.  She's put wallpaper up to cover her bathroom mirror.  She's hung dark blankets over her windows with masking tape.  She has a mini-fridge, microwave, toaster, and food in her room/bathroom/closet.  She almost never eats at her house unless it's junk food in her room.  She's on a backward sleep cycle.  She never sleeps before 2am.  She doesn't function in the morning.  And she sleeps on the floor of her bathroom or walk-in closet.  Not on a mattress or anything, just a thick rug.  And she recently told me she has bad cataracts and needs to have them taken care of but hasn't felt well enough.  Because of the cataracts, night driving is very difficult for her.  But she keeps doing it anyway.  Her need to get away is apparently greater than her concern for her own or others' safety.  I have expressed my concern.

My dad knows most of this but has lived with it so long he just accepts it.  I think he feels helpless.  Theirs is not a good partnership.

She's recently been coming around more, leaning on me more.  She'll show up at our house and talk for several hours two or three times a week.  I feel held hostage in those moments.  She's asked me for prescription meds (I didn't give them to her).  She tells me things and wants me to keep them secret from my dad, from everyone really.  She's shown up at the church a few times while I was trying to perform my calling.  She's very needy and has no friends.  The only people she has in her life on a regular basis are me, my dad, and my adult niece who lives with them. 

On the bright side, I've had plenty to talk about in therapy.  My therapist has helped me define what my responsibilities are and what they are not.  He's helping me set boundaries.  I will no longer listen to her tell me everything awful about my dad for hours.  I will change the subject or leave.  I will no longer let her take over my life.  I will give where I should but draw lines as well.

She says she's going back to therapy (at my suggestion).  And her primary care doctor (who is a pediatrician -- don't get me started on that) says she has to get in to see a psychiatrist and an internist within the month or he won't see her anymore.  He's worried about her psychological health.  Yeah, me too.

I'm trying to keep my out-of-state brother informed, because I don't want to carry this information alone.  I am leaning on others.  And I've done great with boundaries the last week or so.  But it is a heavy burden that's likely to get worse before it gets better.

And heaven forbid they finally do decide to divorce!  I can't imagine what my life will become if that happens.

So please forgive me if I let you down recently.  Or if I'm not up to getting together.  I'm doing the best I can.

And I'm so scared of turning into her.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Today is a Down Day

A dark day.  A heavy, painful day.  One of those days when I feel like I am walking through tar and it's so hard to pick up my feet to even take a step that I want to just lie down and curl up and sleep in the muck. 

Every task weighs a ton.  Nothing matters.  A day of hiding and isolation.  A day of knowing what's healthy and not caring.  A day of avoidance.

A day of feeling held captive by biochemistry.  At war with my own body and mind.  Fighting not to lose myself.  And losing.

Nothing is wrong.  There is no great tragedy in my life, no new crisis.  I'm  just quietly sinking.

It's not that I don't have hope or that I'm not happy.  I know it will pass and that I have a wonderful life with much to be grateful for.  But I am also so sad.  And lonely.  And hopeless.  It's like the hope and happy of my life are a bright outfit I'm wearing, but I am also wrapped in a heavy, dark coat.  So heavy I can't take it off.  So heavy I can't function with it on.

I get better.  Over and over again I get better.  And I start to believe I am healed.  That I have finally found the way.  I finally know the behaviors and thoughts that will keep me afloat.  And then something grabs my ankle and pulls me under.  I'm walking along strong and turn the corner to find the big, black dog growling at me.  Before I know it he's knocked me to the ground and is chewing on my face.  All I can do is curl into the fetal position to try to protect myself.

And that's where I am today.  Curled up, trying to stay alive.  Trying to stay me.


I'm not in danger.  I'm not going to hurt myself.  I just need time to lick my wounds.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Weak People Need Therapy

This is what my 15-year old son said to me.  Something happened and I joked that he would need therapy for it.  That's when he said it.  And he meant it.  He would never need therapy because he wasn't weak.

I was struck.  I didn't know what to say.  His 21-year old sister did.  She turned to him and said, "Do you have any idea how rude what you just said was?  Especially to someone who goes to therapy?"

He didn't.  They argued about it for a bit.  I just left the room, trying to sort out my emotions.  Not really upset but definitely unsettled.  Not because his statement implied that he thought I was weak, although that didn't thrill me.  I was unsettled because his statement showed a real lack of understanding and empathy.

After thinking about it for a week or so, I'm trying to chalk it up to immaturity.  He's a 15-year old boy.  He really isn't expected to have much empathy at this point.

But I am doing everything I can to raise him to be a good man.  A considerate husband.  A caring father.  Including going to therapy.

That's one of the biggest reasons I'm in therapy, to know better how to raise my kids.  To know how to help them be good people who are happy.

Because this is something most of us aren't taught growing up -- how to parent.  We learn through modeling, through what we see around us, primarily in our own home.  And when we learn abusive parenting at home, it's tough to know any other way.

Growing up, my heart told me that the way I was treated wasn't right.  Honestly, that it wasn't how God wanted me to be treated.  I deserved better.  Everyone deserves better.

But I didn't know how to do any differently.  Early in my marriage a lot of my behavior with my husband and children was so much like how I grew up.  I had the mentality that it was important for a child to submit to his parents.  That if a child balked at what he was told, he was to be put in his place.  That I had to break their will if I wanted them to be good people.

Even though I was a lot more gentle and involved than my parents generally, when there were behavior problems I still reverted to what I'd experienced.  Way too often.  Partly because I wanted my parents to see how well behaved my children were.  Because I thought having children who always do what they're told was a sign of good parenting.

Luckily I found a better way.  I spent less time listening to my parents' tapes playing in my head and more time listening to my heart.  I spent a lot more time on my knees, asking God to help me do better.  And I went to therapy.

Therapy has changed me.  It's made me a stronger person.  It's helped me trust my heart.  And it's taught me so many truths about how to have healthy relationships.

And it's made me a better parent.

I talked to my son about this a few days later.  I told him he'd hurt my feelings; he was genuinely sorry about that.  I told him I was doing everything I could to help him not experience what I experienced.  I told him going to therapy was one of those things.

I told him he needs to work on thinking before he speaks.  I told him that as he grows I think he'll find I'm one of the strongest people he knows.  And I told him I hope he never needs therapy.

Because then I'll know all my therapy paid off.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

If They Don't Mean to Hurt You, Is It Still Abuse?

As a teen it seemed like every show on TV had an abuse theme, either the main theme or secondary.  I think the 80s were some kind of waking up period for the world.  Here's this awful thing and you need to know about it.  Like that.

And on TV, abuse was easy to recognize.  You could always pick out the villain.  He was charming in public and a monster behind closed doors.  If he was nice to his victim, it was just to manipulate her into what he wanted.  It was all so black and white.

But in real life it's not always like that.

Sometimes someone's behavior hurts you so much.  You know they love you and weren't trying to hurt you, but they did.  And when you know they didn't mean to hurt you it's easy to overlook it.  It's easy to say it doesn't matter.  It's easy to forgive and move on.

Sometimes you see their suffering and excuse their behavior because of it.  If she weren't struggling so, she never would have said those things.  She never would have called me that.  She never would have made me feel so worthless.

And after a while it becomes the norm.  It's just who they are so you accept it.  You know you can't change them so you just take it.

But guess what?  That's not healthy.  Just taking it isn't okay.  It will destroy you.

I'm big on identifying motivation.  I try to look for why people do what they do.  And I generally assume they didn't mean to.  Maybe it's because when I am mean I don't usually mean to be.  We tend to ascribe our motivations to others; it's human nature.

So if someone hurts you.  A lot.  Over and over.  But they didn't mean to.  Is it still abuse?

Yes, it is.  Even if they're sorry.  Even if they're not.  You can try to reason it away.  You can excuse it all you want.  But it's still abuse.

Because sometimes abuse isn't about intent -- it's about results.  It's about one person putting their own emotional needs above yours in an unhealthy way.  It's about crossing boundaries.  It's about using another person for your own benefit.

And it's about how it makes you feel.  When you've spent years in abusive relationships, sometimes you don't see it.  You sit and take it and later you crumble.  The crumbling is a sign.

Sometimes you see the crumbling as a sign that you aren't strong enough.  That you aren't kind enough.  That you aren't forgiving enough.  That's not what it's signaling.

You are crumbling because you are wounded.  Because what was done to you wasn't right.  And whether anyone else noticed it or not, it was still wrong.

And you can learn from it.  You can learn to protect yourself.  You can set boundaries.  You can refuse to see people.  You can leave.  You can make excuses.  You can even lie to protect yourself. 

When you are young, you are sometimes helpless and trapped.  When you are an adult, you aren't.  Unless you are actually chained up, you can get out.  It may not be the ending you were looking for.  It may not be easy.  In fact, it will probably be the toughest thing you ever do.  But sometimes you have to leave.

But if you stay, it's your job to protect yourself.  You can spend all the time in the world blaming the other person.  Saying it's their fault.  And you would be mostly right.  But you won't heal.  You won't heal until you see that little glimmer of power that you still have.  You won't heal until you take back control of your life and your own emotional health.  You won't heal until you refuse to be a punching bag.  Ever again!

It takes time.  It takes practice.  And you might have to learn over and over again with multiple people.  But each time you set a boundary and stick to it, demand that it be respected, you will be stronger.  More whole.  More healthy.   Better able to face the next day.

And you are worth protecting.  Say it over and over to yourself if you have to.  If that's too hard right now, just remember that it's your job.  You are the only person on this planet whose job it is to keep you safe your whole life.  Sometimes it's easier to think of it this way.

Abuse isn't always easy to see.  But if the same person keeps hurting you over and over, protect yourself.  Whether they mean it or not doesn't matter.

It's not okay to hurt people.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

My Collapse-in-the-Shower Moment

I've been putting off writing this post.  I'm anxious about it.  I worry I won't capture this important experience properly.  That you won't understand.  And I'm scared to find those feelings again, to be in that moment of intense pain and fear so I can write it.  But I must.  It needs to be told.

Seven years ago my life was very different.  I was working.  A lot.  My kids were younger (7, 8, 10, 12, 14) and involved in many activities.  My husband and I were in therapy.  I was just going through life, trying to stay afloat.  My husband finally saw that he was abusive and was trying to change.  He was questioning the church and trying to decide if he believed in God.  I was learning how to set boundaries and choose for myself.  I was trying to figure out who I was.  Who I truly was and who I wanted to be.

And then I got a headache.

I'd had headaches before.  Bad headaches.  Headaches that lasted for days.  A headache that made me go blind.  And headaches that weren't severe but just made life hard.  Headaches were nothing new.

So when I got this headache I figured it would be like the others.  I would wait it out, treat it with Excedrin, and eventually it would go away.  But it didn't.  Some days it was so bad I couldn't work.  Some days my vision and dizziness were so bad someone else had to drive me home from work.  Some days it was more subtle and I could go on.  But it was always there.

After a few weeks, my husband started to think I was faking.  He even said so.  No one has a headache that long.  You're just using it as an excuse so I have to do everything.  I'm so sick of this stupid headache excuse.  Yeah, me too.

After I'd had it six weeks, two of my toes went numb.  This made me nervous.  When you get a headache that doesn't go away that long, there is a tiny tickling in your mind that says, "What if it's a brain tumor?"  That tickling got stronger.

I told my husband.  He freaked out and immediately made an appointment for me to see the doctor.

We went to the doctor together.  He did a regular work up.  Then he did a neurological screening.  Looking for signs that it might be a brain tumor.  He didn't find anything that pointed that direction, but he was bothered by how long I'd had it and the numbness in my toes.  He talked to me about migraines and said that's what he thought it was; they can cause numbness, too.  He gave me some meds to try and said if it didn't break in a week I needed to come back.  After this appointment Bill said, "At least I know you're not faking."

It didn't break.  I went back.  He repeated the neurological screening.  He still didn't find anything, but he was concerned.  He suggested we do an MRI. 

By this point I was getting nervous.  My headache should have broken by now.  I'd never had a headache like this.  What if this is for real?  What if it's a tumor?

We couldn't get in for the MRI for a few days.  Waiting for that was so hard.  And that's when it happened.

It was the night before my MRI.  I was taking a shower so I'd be all ready in the morning.  And all the walls I'd been putting up to protect myself and my family from the fear came crashing down.  What if it is a tumor?  What if it isn't something that can be fixed?  What if I die?  What about my children?  What will happen to my children?  Although he was finally aware of being abusive, my husband was still mean a lot of the time.  He was learning to be more kind, but his natural tendency was still to strike out when he was stressed or angry.  What would happen if I wasn't there to protect my children?  If I died, they would be alone with him.  Who would protect them?  And I knew he no longer believed in God or going to church.  How would my children remain close to God?  How would they be taught all they needed to know without the gospel in their lives?  How would they know how precious they were to God and how powerful they were and what they should do if I wasn't there to teach them?  I was living with a man who'd made our lives hell for so many years.  These children were his.  I didn't trust him alone with them.  How could I go away and leave them to him?  This is too much for them.  How can they go on without me?  He would put the older ones in charge, make them assume many of my duties.  They would no longer be able to be children.  This isn't fair to them.  It's too much.  If I'm not here to guide their lives, they could become lost.  My death would push my husband to a very dark place; what if he takes it out on the children?  What if he goes into a depression again?  How will they deal with it without me?  How will they get through it?  Who will take care of my children?  Who will love them?  Who will make sure they know they are God's children?

The weight of all of this overwhelmed me.  I crumpled to the floor of the shower in a ball.  Hugging my knees.  Rocking.  Sobbing.  In so much emotional anguish.  In so much pain for my children.

I began to pray.  I wanted to beg to be spared, for my children.  I wanted to plead for my life.  But that wasn't the prayer that came to my heart.  I knew the prayer I needed to offer.  And it was the hardest prayer in my life.  I couldn't do it.  I couldn't say it.  I knew I needed to, but I just couldn't.  The wrestle in my mind and heart was great.  I fought with all I had.  Until I could finally say it.  And mean it.

"Please.  I want to live.  I want to raise my children.  I want to protect them.  I want to love them through the difficulties of life.  Please.  But . . . thy will be done.  If it is not to be, if I am not to live, I know that they are thy children.  I trust that thou wilt love them and protect them.  I know you want the world for them, too.  I know you love them in a way I can't even understand.  As much as I love them and want to stay, I trust thy will."

Meaning it was so important.  In that moment, I fully surrendered my will to God in a way I never had before.  I understood that all would be well even if I weren't to live.  I understood, more than I ever had before, that He watches over and cares.

There was still some fear of what would come.  But there was also an underlying peace.  A knowledge that my children wouldn't be alone.  An understanding that if I couldn't be there, He would bring others into their lives who would meet those needs.  He loves them.  He watches over them.  They are His.

And to this day, that is a knowledge that gets me through.


Update:  My husband went to therapy for a long time.  He's doing much better.  He still slips occasionally, but we both know how to handle it in healthier ways.  There is no tumor.  They still have no answer for my headache, but all tests indicate it isn't life-threatening.  Yes, I still have it.

Friday, August 10, 2012

I Can Strengthen

When I first got so tired that I went to bed for a year and a half, I kept thinking it would get better.  I kept waiting to feel better so I could get back to my life.  While it did improve, it never went away.

And when I got my headache it was much the same.  I kept expecting it to go away so that I could get back to being productive.  So that I could do all the things I wanted to do.

The fatigue has been with me for eleven years now.  The headache for seven.  There are days that are a little better and days that send me to bed.  Mostly I'm tired and hurt all the time.

If you'd told me at the beginning of either of these that I'd have them for the rest of my life, I'm not sure what I would have done.  Having hope that they'd get better helped me go on.  Having hope that I'd get my old life back made it worth trying.

But I'm at a point now where I don't think I'll get better.  I think these will be with me forever.  And even if they won't, they are now.  This is my life now.  And I can't just sit around waiting to get better before I do something with my life.

That's been a tough one.  What can I do?  There are so many things I used to do that I can't anymore.  And there are so many things I wanted to do that I never got the chance for.  It would be really easy to get angry or depressed at my situation.  And sometimes I do.

But mostly, I am grateful.  I have learned so much.  I have learned to slow down.  I have learned to say no.  I have learned to do the important things and let the other things go.  I have learned to listen to my body and take better care of it.

But that's not the best part.  The best part is I've learned that I am more than just what I can produce.  I am more than what I have to offer physically.  I have other things to give, other ways to serve, other ways to be of value.

And one of the best things is, I've learned how to better strengthen others.

In the past my service to others was always physical:  make them dinner, help them clean, take care of their yard,  take some of their work upon myself to ease their burdens.  It was good service; it was heartfelt.  I am glad I could do all those things.

My service now is different.  Now I listen.  I spend time with people.  I share my heart.  It's less obvious service.  You can't see something I cleaned or made.  But I can feel their burdens lighten.  I can see them ready to go back into the fray.  They are stronger when our visit is over.  And so am I.

There is great power in being able to do something for someone that lifts their physical burdens.  It matters.  But there is also divine power in strengthening them so they can lift their burdens themselves.  I'm so grateful I've had the opportunity to do both.

Monday, August 6, 2012

My Dream Car is a Truck

Over the last few years I've watched several friends excitedly buy a new car.  Exactly what they wanted.  Eyes dancing with joy.  Truthfully, I just don't have this experience with cars.  I don't think a car has ever made my eyes dance.  I did like watching the joy their dream cars brought them.

As I was driving down the freeway a while back, a nice car drove by.  I have no idea what kind it was.  I wasn't really paying that much attention, I just appreciated the aesthetics of it.  And it sparked a thought.  If I could have any car in the world, what car would I want?

Let me first say all I've ever wanted in a car is for it to run and do what I need it to do.  Get me and mine and our stuff from here to there.  That's it.  We currently own four cars (remember, I have five kids, ages 14-21).  One isn't running or registered.  All of them have multiple things wrong with them.  They are all either hand-me-downs or gifts from my parents.  As long as they run, I don't care what they look like.

We haven't had a car payment in years.  I hate having a car payment.  We have no plans to buy a car in the near future.

But if the universe suddenly wanted to give me the car of my dreams, this is what it would be.  It would be a Chevy pickup from the late 70s or early 80s.  It doesn't matter what color or whether it's two-toned or not.  A few dents would be nice.  It would be partly rusted out, maybe even a small hole in the floorboard.  The shocks would be somewhat worn so that we could really appreciate the bumps on unpaved roads.  It would be a stick shift that sometimes took both hands to get into reverse.  The bed would be dented and dirty from hauling anything and everything.  You'd have to really slam the tailgate to get it to close.  The windows and locks would be manual.  And since this is my dream car and it can be whatever I want, it would have a rebuilt engine that runs smoothly and gets great gas mileage, working air conditioning and heating and seat belts, and new tires.

Thinking about this took me back to all the trips to the livestock auctions on Saturday mornings, all the rides through the canyon, all the times I had to get out and open or close the gate, and the smell of hay mixed with manure while hauling horses.  The good times with my dad.

Completely impractical but oh, so nostalgic.  Isn't that what dreams are supposed to be?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Why Do You Apologize?

You did something stupid.  It was hurtful.  And now you feel bad.  So you apologize.  And your apology is rejected!

*  Maybe it is openly rejected, "Oh, yeah.  Right.  Sure, you're sorry."  Dripping with sarcasm.
*  Maybe it is accepted on the face of things, but the person still holds a grudge and punishes you every chance they get.
*  Maybe you get no response.  They heard you.  They just won't acknowledge you said anything at all.

So now what?  If you're like most human beings, now you get irritated or even angry.  You offered a sincere apology.  How dare they not accept it?  How immature of them!  How un-Christlike!  And you walk away feeling superior.  You did your part.  They were too childish to do theirs.

But have you ever asked yourself why you are apologizing?  I think our reasons for apologizing change all the time.  And understanding why you are apologizing gives great insight into the way you react afterward.

Sometimes we apologize because we feel genuinely sorry.  Sometimes it's an attempt to get out of trouble.  Sometimes it's because it's what we think we are supposed to do, even when we don't feel sorry.  Sometimes our mom or wife or friend pushes us into apologizing.  Sometimes the person we've offended demands an apology and we offer it out of fear.  Sometimes we're too tired for the fight and just apologize hoping to end it.  There are more reasons we apologize than I can list.

When I say I'm sorry I should mean it.  It shouldn't be about getting out of trouble or doing what's right.  It should be because I saw the hurt I caused, realized I was at fault (either partially or entirely), and want to make amends.

And this is why I don't make my kids apologize.  When they were little I taught them to say, "I'm sorry."  Even when they didn't feel it.  And once they were old enough to say, "But I'm not sorry," the conversation changed.  We discussed other people's feelings, how our actions affect others, and repentance.  Their apologies began to hold greater meaning.  They are 14-21 now.  When they hurt each other they are often not sorry.  In many circumstances I could still bully them into apologizing.  But I won't.  I will chastise and teach.  And if they are unwilling to try to make up for being hurtful (usually because they aren't ready yet), they won't be allowed to stay in the room with the rest of us.  And maybe I will apologize to the person who was hurt because my child misbehaved.  I won't claim the offender is sorry.  I will say I am sorry for their behavior.  Because I am.  Sometimes they later apologize; sometimes they don't.  But when they do, they mean it.

And sometimes, even after all this, even with a sincere apology, forgiveness doesn't come.  The hurt individual stays angry.  And I am okay with that.

I think a sincere apology stands on its own, with or without forgiveness.  If I offer it with my whole heart, I am more concerned about healing a wrong I have committed than being forgiven.  Sometimes it takes a person a while to heal from a hurt.  If I am getting angry or bitter with them because they aren't accepting my apology as quickly as I think they should, how sincerely concerned was I about hurting them?  If I love them and am truly sorry I hurt them, then I have to step back and allow them the time they need to heal instead of demanding that they get over is so that I feel better.

Too often we don't allow people time to process their feelings as deeply as they need to.  We rush things.  We want to feel better now!  You need to forgive me so I can feel better!

Forgiveness is important and I accept an apology as quickly as I can.  Sometimes that's immediately.  Sometimes it takes time for me to heal.  A few minutes.  A few days.  Sometimes longer.  I appreciate the offer of an apology, but I won't fake healing.  I won't pretend I'm over it when I'm not.  Very few things offend me, but sometimes I am hurt.  Often by a repeat offender.  I won't cheapen myself by quickly saying it's all okay when it's not.  My feelings and pain matter.  If I don't value them, who will?

Doesn't everyone deserve that same freedom?


My post was inspired by this post, by Beth Ann at It's Just Life.  Thanks, Beth, for making me think.