Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas to New Year's Day

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is always a time of quiet and reflection for me. The shopping and baking and decorating are all done and I can relax and enjoy what feels like a moment suspended in time.

I like to look back. Once upon a time, it was looking back in frustration and anger at myself that I hadn’t done things I thought I should have gotten done. These days, I look back remembering the moments of joy, celebrating how far I’ve come, how much I’ve grown—and the possibilities ahead of me.

These days I’m at peace knowing that if I listen to my heart and that intangible SOMETHING that seems to guide me, then I know all will be well. I’m at peace, able to know from (hard won) experience that no matter what things look like in a given moment, something good can come of it—and is most likely to do so if I cherish who I am and believe in myself and just relax into whatever the challenge may be.

I know that sounds odd. We’re taught—most of us—that things are supposed to be difficult, we’re supposed to strain ourselves to achieve success, and that if we don’t chastise ourselves for every perceived failing, we’ll never get anywhere! (And if you read here, you may well have also been taught that YOU couldn’t possibly do it anyway!)

What I have discovered is that the opposite is true. I’ve discovered—and thank God I have!—that the path that feels easiest, the one we’re most drawn to, is likely to be the best. When we are happiest and most relaxed is when we are most likely to be able to think of things that will actually work! When we believe in ourselves, accept who we are and work with our natural strengths and accept and allow for the weaknesses as part of who we are, that’s when we are most likely to succeed.

Note: When I say take the easiest path, I do NOT mean doing nothing! That may seem like the easiest path but in the long run costs us the most. Instead, I mean asking ourselves: If I took a step, an action, made a choice, what would be the easiest and feel the most natural and right for ME? Never mind what anyone else would do or what would be right for them—what’s right for ME?

As you look back, what are the moments from this past year that make you smile? How can you create more of those experiences in your life in the coming year?

When you look ahead, what are the possibilities that make you smile? Hold those images as vividly as you can in your mind for that’s what will motivate you to take the steps to make it happen.

All of you are a blessing in my life. One of the things that makes ME smile is the possibility that maybe, just maybe someone’s life will be easier or happier or the person will believe in him or herself just a little more because of something I’ve written.

I hope the year ahead brings all of you so very much health, happiness, and success at whatever you want most! Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas--Both Merry and Otherwise

Christmas is a complicated time for many. It is for me. My father died on Christmas Eve. Given the intensity of my feelings—both positive and negative—that cannot help but impact how I feel at this time of year.

The funny thing is that I always forget. I wake up on Christmas Eve depressed and grouchy and at first I always wonder why. Then I remember. And realize how it’s affected me for days.

Once I remember, I can make my peace with it. I light candles. I let myself remember the love. I remind myself I have overcome the effects of the damage he did. I let him go with love, honoring what he gave me that was good and wishing he had not been such a damaged, hurting soul himself. I bless his spirit and pray for its healing even as I blow out the candle I lit for him.

And then I go on with Christmas.

This year, I had a quiet Christmas with my daughter and then put her on a plane to see her friends. We are closer now than I would once have believed possible.

Christmas used to be difficult. I would feel as if I was walking on eggshells, sure I would forget something essential, or that a fight would erupt in my home. Then one day I realized I could create new traditions, that I didn’t have to do what everyone—or even anyone—else did. I could choose what was right for me. I could let it be imperfect and know that was still okay. I could take time to remember good moments of the past year and smile. I could count my blessings instead of my fears or sense of lack. I could send ecards (thank heavens for the internet!) to people who were important to me to whom I hadn’t sent physical cards. I could take time for moments that made ME happy—no matter what my family was clamoring for me to do.

I hope that today—and every day—brings you at least moments of peace and joy. And I hope that the year ahead brings all of us health, happiness, and much success.

Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ourselves, Version 2.2

Someone asked how one makes changes when one doesn’t know where to start. I have an opinion, of course. I believe the answer is always moving in the direction of smiling more often, having more fun, and feeling genuinely good. Not the momentary good of splurging on something we want or eating some treat. I’m talking about the kind of feeling good that lasts.

It’s taking a good, hard look at ourselves and seeing when have we felt truly good about ourselves—and doing more of it. It’s listening to that inner guidance that says: This is right—no matter what other people believe we should think or say or do.

It’s making changes by making sure we like what we’re doing. Example: If your goal is to get out more, start by asking yourself what you really enjoy doing. If you don’t know, decide to experiment knowing that if some things don’t work out, that’s okay. Set up rewards when you do something that’s hard for you—rather than beating yourself up if you don’t. If your goal is to be more giving, choose ways that will make you feel good—no matter what anyone else does or doesn’t do—rather than because you think it’s a cause you should support. If you’re trying to get yourself to do something you think you need or should do, ask yourself: What might make me WANT to do this? How can I make it fun—or if it can’t be (think going to the dentist), then what could I do afterwards as a reward that would make me smile or laugh?

What does all of this have to do with becoming a better person? Everything! If you stop and think about it, odds are you’ll realize that every time you’ve done (or not done) something you regretted, it was because you were afraid. If you’re smiling, anticipating something good, or laughing, it’s hard to imagine also being afraid. If you KNOW you can create moments of happiness for yourself, then the actions or words of others have much less power to intimidate you and you’re less likely to do or cling to things (or people) that are not healthy for you.

I know that in my own life, the times I’ve made the worst mistakes, taken actions or said things I regret, it was because I was afraid. When I feel safe and happy I don’t do that. I don’t need to. The more I’ve discovered my own strength, the more I’ve found my ability to create happy moments in my life, the easier it is to do new things, to be kind toward others, to love people and—when necessary—to let them go and truly be able to bless them. And the lovely thing I’ve discovered is that as I change what I do, others change how they respond to me. I don’t have to twist myself into a pretzel to be who someone else wants me to be and at the same time I can let them be who they are—which means I’m less likely to trigger the other person’s fears and they can be kinder and more accepting of me. I’m discovering that neither I nor anyone else has to be perfect to be worth knowing and caring about and wanting to have in my life.

It’s a process, of course. One I get better at with practice. And as you can see from my recent blogs, I don’t always succeed—at least not instantly. But I recover more quickly these days.

It’s not how most of us were raised—to look for ways to be happy and appreciate ourselves. We were taught, most of us, to believe that anything worth doing had to be difficult. I believe just the opposite—that the safer and happier we feel, the faster and better we’ll do whatever it is we want and need to do.

Here’s hoping that each of you are able to find lots of reasons to smile this week and to appreciate the best of who you are.

Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Poison Apple of Self-Pity

Rereading my last post I feel the need to reiterate that it wasn’t and isn’t about self-pity. Self-pity is like a poison apple. It may temporarily taste good but it’s still poison.

The reason to look at things like what I wrote about last time is to learn to recognize patterns. OUR patterns. What mistakes are WE making? What could we do differently in the future? What different results do we want next time around?

Example: So much of my unhappiness could have been avoided if I had simply asked people if they had said what my ex claimed. Or if I hadn’t cared what other people were saying. I love what Wayne Dyer says: “What you think of me is none of my business.”

And that’s the key. We need to find a way to value who we are—and if we don’t like something then change it. Then we are not vulnerable to what anyone else says or thinks because we know that no one can be liked or valued by everyone. Ultimately, it’s the only thing that matters. No matter how much someone else likes or approves of us, it won’t be enough if we don’t like ourselves.

Now, I’m starting from a position of belief that every person is worth loving and that finding that ability to love oneself is the best insurance that one will neither abuse anyone else nor tolerate abuse. It is in finding our own strength and value that we find the only emotional anchor that really matters in the long run. A good therapist can help us let go of the lies we were told and see the good in ourselves that we cannot see without that help. And ideally we internalize those things so that we believe them whether or not anyone is around to tell us. (Note: We also are then far more likely to surround ourselves with other people who see the good in us.)

In a way it comes down to results. Do we have a right to feel self-pity? Of course! Will it get us what we want? No, because it makes us hostages to what others do and say. It reinforces our sense of helplessness.

I believe that the only way we find both the courage and wisdom to make changes that will make our life better is when we believe it’s possible. And that means focusing on our strengths and our ability to change what we don’t like. It means being honest with ourselves and if there are skills we need that we don’t have, choosing to acquire those skills—whether it means doing research, taking classes, talking to people who know what we want to learn or ....whatever it takes.

I look at the things I wrote about in my last post and know already things I will do differently should I ever find myself in a similar position in the future. But I don’t think it’s likely to happen because I’m not likely to ever feel trapped or without options. I’ve learned to know myself too well to believe that ever again. I’m too well grounded in liking myself to care whether or not someone else understands or approves of the choices I make or who I am.

Why look at the past at all? To recognize and let go of any lingering lies about myself or the world around me (including friends) that I may not have realized I still held. To notice what my past pattern of handling something was so that I can plan for how I want to handle things differently in the future. (After all, if we keep doing the same thing, odds are we will get the same results and I’m still rewriting my future.)

I can look at the past and look at what has been good and know that those things go on my list of what I’d like to have in my life in the future. I can look at the things that didn’t serve me well and ask myself what would be better.

Here’s hoping that each of you are on your own path to creating the life you want to live. Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs)))))))),


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Seeing the World As It Is

For many of us, I think we learned early not to trust our own perceptions. We learned not to notice lies. We learned to believe things were better than they were. Because that’s how you survive in an abusive home when you’re a child. And it’s not always a bad strategy as an adult. When we see the best in others, sometimes that’s what we evoke. But not always...

I suddenly found myself remembering this week times my ex-husband may have lied to me. Times I ignored what would have been red flags to someone else. ("If I were unfaithful would you want me to tell you?") I found myself remembering what (acccording to him) other people supposedly said about me—and that I didn’t have the courage at the time to ask them if it was true. (A friend supposedly upset with me that I was getting divorced. My therapist supposedly agreeing I’d make a really, really good liar—and maybe I was one. Another friend supposedly disparaging my writing. My in-laws supposedly worried about my mental health.) And so it went. For years. Only a chance comment to a friend this last visit back east to see my son made me realize he hadn’t simply misunderstood what she’d said, he’d outright lied about speaking to her at all the day he claimed what he claimed.

I recount all this not to bash my ex. Or to suggest that it’s good to hold onto old grievances. Not at all. What I am suggesting is that not seeing the world as it is can sometimes hold us back from making changes that would improve our lives and that believing lies and being afraid to challenge them can keep us trapped and isolated—usually because those lies in some way resonate with our own fears. As always--it is the assumptions we do not think to challenge that trip us up!

So once again it’s a question of balance. I believe it’s good to recognize that there are wonderful people in the world and at the same time learn to recognize that some are not. It’s good to pay attention to the signals we’ve been trained to ignore so that we recognize when someone isn’t trustworthy. It’s good to recognize and let go of our dependence on the opinions of others and belief in lies we’ve been told—especially lies told to us by abusive people in our lives.

Looking back, I know that what stopped me from challenging the things my ex said was the fear that if I did so and they were true, I might have to walk away from people who were important to me. As long as I didn't ask, these things I was so afraid were true might not be.

How do we get past this kind of fear? By expanding the circle of people we know. By risking making new friends and new connections. By discovering that we are both strong enough to manage on our own and that we are also people others might want to know.

It’s all part of this journey we’re on.

Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Saturday, December 08, 2007


I’ve been tagged and so I’ve been having fun answering the following questions:

A ~ Available? Yes
B ~ Best friend: really tough to choose and don’t want to hurt any feelings
C ~ Cake or pie? Pie.
D ~ Drink of choice: coffee
E ~ Essential thing used every day: toothbrush
F ~ Favorite color: teal
G ~ Gummi bears or worms? bears
H ~ Hometown: Buffalo, NY
I ~ Indulgence: Chocolate (or is that a necessity?)
J ~ January or February? Hmmm. Tough one. January for new beginnings but February for rare lovely warm days.
K ~ Kids and names: Not sure what this is supposed to be. My kids? I don’t name them on my blog.
L ~ Life is incomplete without: good friends
M ~ Marriage date: 1974
N ~ Number of siblings: 2
O ~ Oranges or apples? Depends on the season but I suppose apples have a slight edge
P ~ Phobias/fears: heights
Q ~ Favorite quote: "The past does not equal the future.”—Anthony Robbins
R ~ Reason to smile: sunny days, good friends, my children, funny movies, chocolate, kindness
S ~ Season: spring
T ~ Tag three people: I like these things but a lot of people don’t so I don’t like to tag them.
U ~ Unknown fact about me: I like country music for the stories the songs tell and the inherent optimism in so many of them. (examples: I Hope You Dance, Unanswered Prayers)
V ~ Vegetable you don't like: brussel sprouts
W ~ Worst habit: staying up too late
X ~ X-rays you've had: shoulder, mammograms, dental
Y ~ Your favorite food: chocolate
Z ~ Zodiac: Virgo


I’ve put up my (artificial) Christmas tree. Haven’t decorated it but will do that a little at a time, smiling as it takes on a festive look. I like creating new traditions for myself and letting go of old associations with this time of year.

I’ve stocked environmental “logs” for my fireplace for the colder weather we’re supposed to have in a few days.

I’m still...processing my visit to see my son and all the emotions tied to that. I know some of my fears for my son are tied to some of my own experiences as a child. I know that some of my fears are due to hurting as I see his opportunities diminishing. I know that I need to balance what I think I’m supposed to be able to do with reality. I know that maybe what’s needed is to think so completely out of the box that I think of possibilities I (and others) never have before.

I believe deeply that in every challenge is inherently an opportunity or blessing as well and so I am asking myself that most powerful of questions: What good could come out of this?

Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Home Again

I’m home again. Literally and emotionally. And yet echoes of my trip back east remain. How much of one’s life does one give up to try to save another? What if it is one’s adult child? How does one know when changing what is can’t be done? How does one sort out emotional blackmail from real probabilities? How does one make peace with what may have to be?

On the plus side: This time I could say “no” to the convoluted schemes. This time I could refuse the emotional blackmail. This time I could see things I hadn’t grasped before. With and about my ex-husband. But...the questions about my son are still there. The issues are still real. The grief is still raw.

Life doesn’t always come with simple answers. Despite my optimism I know that all too well. My own life is the only life I really have any control over. I know that too. And yet...and yet there is a part of me that wants to heal other’s hurts—even when it’s someone who has hurt me. Even when I know that the odds are I won’t be able to help someone see how they are hurting themselves. There is grief in having to let go and fear in letting go that one is letting go too soon—that if one were just clever enough, just had a little more patience, just loved a little more unconditionally the person could find their way.

But then that’s how we grew up, isn’t it? Trying to fix the hurts and pain so that our parents could stop hurting us.

So the question becomes: Is this the same kind of tilting at windmills or is there really hope of getting my son to change his behavior? And how far do I go trying to make it happen? What will happen if I can’t? How much of my ex’s dire predictions are true and how much an attempt to manipulate me?

As I said, difficult questions and emotions.

Here’s hoping all of you are having easier weeks than this one was for me. Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs)))))))),

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Quick Note

Just a quick note to let all of you know I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth!

I’m visiting my son who has down syndrome and lives with my ex-husband. It’s been an....interesting...visit. Yes, that’s the word. Let’s call it interesting. Better than some alternatives I might choose. It’s a short visit but no visit that involves interacting with my ex-husband is ever simple. There is always miscommunication, differing expectations, and echoes of regret that things are the way they are. Even so, this has been one for the record books.

Still, I got to see two friends, one of whom is recovering from advanced breast cancer. It looks as if, against all odds, she’s beaten it. And that’s a reason to celebrate.

I no longer live with chaos every day. That’s a reason to celebrate.

Every miscommunication is getting resolved. That’s a reason to celebrate.

I’m seeing my son. That’s a reason to celebrate.

Each time I visit, I process another level of emotions about my marriage and that’s a reason to celebrate.

I’m able to step back, watch old fears surface and let them go or see the situations in new ways. I’m able to shake my head at the scared, unhappy person I used to be and see how much I’ve changed. And that’s a reason to celebrate.

Right before I came here, a friend emailed me a prayer I love and that I must admit I’ve repeated to myself frequently on this trip. It goes something like this: God protect me from all harm, seen and unseen, and let me do no harm to anyone including myself. (I’m paraphrasing the actual prayer because this is the form that resonates most with me.) And that’s a reason to celebrate.

This isn’t an easy visit. It’s one of the hardest in some time. And things don’t look as if they are going to get simple any time soon. And yet...I’m able to step back and let it unfold as it will. I’m able to trust that I can and will handle whatever the outcome of the latest chaos will be and that good will come out of it. And that’s a reason to celebrate.

I hope that all of you are okay and I apologize for all the blogs I haven’t had a chance to read or respond to right now. Know that you are all in my thoughts and prayers.

Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs)))))))),

Monday, November 26, 2007

Post Thanksgiving

As I think about this year’s Thanksgiving, I’m struck by how much has changed for me. I found myself thinking about the steps it took to get to this point in my life and how scary those steps were to take. Each one seemed terrifying at the time. But each one led to greater things than I could have imagined. Ten, fifteen years ago, I couldn’t have imagined my life looking the way it does now or feeling the way I feel now. I sure as heck couldn’t have seen any possible way to get to this point.

And that’s encouraging. When I look at current challenges in my life, I can remind myself how far I’ve come and that I will find a way to deal with these challenges and that the outcomes are likely to be better than anything I could imagine.

Oh, I still have moments of panic, but they don’t last long these days. And I see more to be happy about than not.

One of the turning points, I think, has been going from seeing myself as a victim of the actions and needs of others and of fate/circumstance/etc. to someone who chooses how to live her life. It was going from feeling helpless to seeing myself as always having choices and ultimate responsibility for my life. Once I could believe that I could manage all on my own, possibilities became visible that I literally hadn’t seen before.

And that’s why the abusers in my life worked so hard to make me believe I was crazy and/or wouldn’t ever be able to manage on my own. Because on some level they knew that once I realized these things were a lie, they would have no more hold over me. I might tell—and others might believe me. I might leave.

When we understand that we can be happy on our own. When we understand that if we lose one person in our life we can find others to take that person’s place. Then we are no longer hostage to anyone—intentionally abusive or not. Then we can set boundaries. We can walk away from situations and people that are harmful to our physical and/or emotional health. We will see ways to create the lives we want to have. Maybe, in some cases, we can rewrite relationships so that we DON’T lose the person in our life who is important to us.

Dr. Phil likes to say that we (adults) teach people how to treat us. We teach them whether we will stand up for ourselves or whether we will do anything to hold onto them. We teach them whether we will tolerate their abuse and/or crazy ideas or whether we will say “no” and leave if it doesn’t stop. We teach people whether we believe we should be treated with kindness and respect or whether we think those are things we don’t deserve.

We get to choose. And as scary as that can sometimes be, it’s good, too. It’s the most empowering thing in the world to discover that we can change how things are by changing the choices we make and how we see the world and people around us. When we go from seeing ourselves as victims to seeing ourselves as incredibly strong and resilient and resourceful individuals—which we were to survive the abuse—then we open up whole new possibilities for ourselves.

How will you see yourself differently this week? What changes will that create in your life?

Sending blessings and safe and gentle ((((((((hugs))))))),

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gratitude and Survivors

I was going to write a traditional post about being thankful. I may still get around to it but...

Recently I spoke with my ex-husband and it reminded me of one of the things I do worry about with gratitude. If one only looks at the rosy side of a situation, one may not recognize things that need to change and/or leave a situation that isn’t healthy. I know that I stayed too long in my marriage hoping and telling myself I could find a way to fix it. There are occasional moments, even now, when I wonder if anything could have been done so that it could have worked out. (And then I get calls like the latest one from my ex-husband and I’m profoundly grateful again that I’m not still stuck in that situation anymore and dealing with chaos and emotional blackmail on a daily basis.)

I think it’s good to count our blessings. I think that if a relationship is in trouble, the only chance it has to work out is to begin by recognizing what’s good about it. I also worry sometimes that we survivors can be too loyal sometimes. We may stay in a situation or relationship even when it’s hurting us physically and/or emotionally and can’t be fixed.

My ex isn’t a bad person. There’s much to admire about him, especially in terms of the kind of person he wants to be. That doesn’t mean there isn’t distorted thinking, however. That doesn’t mean he sees himself or anyone else clearly. That doesn’t mean he was right for me.

So I’m torn when it comes to gratitude. All sorts of studies show the benefits of being able to see and cherish the good in one’s life. At the very least it helps us recognize that we can have good things in our lives, that it isn’t always all bad.

At the same time, I don’t want it to blind us to the need to make changes sometimes if we want our lives to get better. Discontent can sometimes be a gift.

So this week I’ve been grappling with the issue of how to balance profound gratitude for all that is good in my life and still seeing ways I might want to make it better. I’m grappling with how self-acceptance is the precursor to self-change. I’m grappling with the joy of all the good things I now have in my life and needing to make changes if I want to have more. I’ve even signed up for a 21 days to gratitude (free) program at this website: 21 Days of Gratitude

I’ll be curious to know how all of you feel about gratitude.

Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs)))))))),

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I’ve been doing a lot of coaching lately and it’s reminded me that no matter who I’m coaching about what kind of writing, what matters is the other person’s voice, the other person’s story.

My job isn’t to tell someone how I would write it better, it’s to help the other person see a way to write the best way they can,the particular story THEY have to tell, with their strongest, most unique voice.

And I find myself thinking how important it is that we each find our own voices. That we each find a way to say the things we need to say—whether to others or to ourselves.

I find myself thinking of my friend who stood up to her brother, the first time anyone in her family has. And I know that even though her siblings and her mother have turned on her, the nieces and nephews in that family are watching and seeing that it’s possible to say: No! This isn’t right! And they are seeing that it’s possible to take action.

We are shaped by what we say and what we hear, by the pictures we paint and the ones we see, by the things we feel or cause others to feel, by the ideas we think and when we help others to think in new ways. We shape ourselves and have a chance to shape the world in which we live by finding our “voices”—whether those voices are actual voices or written or painted or shaped into physical objects.

When the internet was first created people said it would isolate individuals, divide us, and stifle us. Instead, the internet has helped so many of us find new friends all around the world, create or join communities of people who share our ideas or passions or talents or joy or pain. It has given many of us access to resources we might otherwise never have known about. Sometimes it has given some of us the courage to make changes in our lives.

I believe in the power of voices. I believe in the power of one person to create profound change in the world. I believe with Marianne Williamson that we are not meant to hide our light under a bushel but rather to let it shine for all the world to see.

Here’s hoping that each of you finds or has found and celebrates YOUR unique voice. Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

New Experiences

You may (or may not) be wondering why I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been having a series of new experiences over the past week. Good experiences, for the most part, but definitely pulling me out of my comfort zone.

This is a good thing. And it’s been extremely uncomfortable at times. But the most interesting part of this, aside from the fact that I’ve gained useful experience, is that I’m finding myself thinking “out of the box” in areas completely unrelated to what I’ve been doing.

This is the advantage of doing things we’re not comfortable doing. Our comfort zone expands and we create new possibilities for ourselves in ways we can’t even predict.

Here’s hoping all of you have some lovely new experiences this week. I’ve to run because my daughter is coming over for assistance with some essays she needs to write.

Sending blessings and safe and gentle ((((((hugs))))))),

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hardwired for Optimism Except....

I came across an article the other day that talks about how human beings are apparently hardwired for optimism. Humans Hardwired for Optimism

As I read the article, I found myself thinking: Yes, but what about people who are abused, especially if they are abused as children?

And then I read Dr. Vitelli’s post about wild children at Wild Children and I found myself putting them together.

I found myself thinking that perhaps abuse is one of the things that can short-circuit the hardwiring for optimism. Perhaps abuse causes a break in the pattern so that the expectation of things going wrong replaces the expectation that things will go right. (And studies show this does happen. The most recent one says that events such as trauma, loss of a loved one, divorce, loss of a job, or a serious betrayal makes people less happy on a long term basis.) The result is individuals who may be afraid to take risks or do things their peers don’t hesitate to do—because those who were abused KNOW that things could go wrong.

So what does this have to do with wild children? Well, Dr. Vitelli cites research that seems to indicate there are critical periods that if missed mean a child cannot become socialized. I found myself wondering if perhaps something similar occurs when a child is subjected to abuse. There may be a similar effect to a lesser degree. But I also found myself wondering if it’s a critical period for acquiring the skill or a critical period for having sufficient motivation to be willing to learn the social skills.

This is a key distinction because if it is motivation then it might be possible to look at the situation differently and present motivation that would be different from what would work with a non-wild (or non-abused) child. It would mean looking for motivation that would be compelling in a way that would matter or make sense to the wild (or abused) child.

It’s also relevant for those who were abused as children because often social skills are a casualty of the abuse—both because of the abuse itself and because the family in which it occurs is likely to be lacking in coping and/or social skills (otherwise the adult would probably not need to abuse the child and the child would not be isolated and could find someone to tell who would stop the abuse). So many abused children don’t learn necessary skills as they are growing up AND lack the hardwiring optimism that would encourage them to try to learn those skills anyway.

I’ll freely admit that while I now tag myself as April_optimist, for much of my life that would not have been accurate. I thought people were cruel, Iexpected things to go wrong and had a hard time believing they wouldn’t, life was something simply to be endured.

I was just too blasted stubborn to give up.

So what does this all mean? Because you know I’m not going to present what seems like pessimistic information without having a solution! It means that we may need to consciously choose to be optimistic—even when it doesn’t feel natural or we have to work at feeling that way. It means perhaps choosing it as a strategy because studies show that it’s a useful approach to life and increases the odds of success and decreases the odds of depression.

It means choosing to never give up—no matter what the “experts” may say about the odds for a given person. It means we may need to consciously choose to acquire skills we didn’t get as children. And that means being willing to choose to go outside our comfort zones over and over again until we do acquire the social skills we didn’t learn as children.

That’s not easy. (I’ll spare you the descriptions of years of awful stumbles on my part as I learned.) But it can be done. IF we acknowledge that we need to learn these skills and don’t blame ourselves for not having the skills (or inclination) to begin with we can accomplish what seem like miracles.

It absolutely means being willing to stumble and make mistakes. It means finding ways to reward ourselves for trying. (There’s that issue of motivation again!) It means giving ourselves credit for what we do learn to do. It means loving ourselves as we are AND asking more for ourselves than we already have. It means having faith that we can learn the things we didn’t learn before. It means having faith that change is possible and having a clear sense of why we want to make those changes. It means allowing ourselves to feel the pain of what we don’t have so that the work it takes to get to where we want to be will feel worth doing.

Note: I am adamantly opposed to any method that involves purposely causing ourselves pain! I truly believe that is one of the most counterproductive things we can do. I strongly believe that the more we can build rewards and fun into any process of change, the more likely we are to follow through. (Just as I believe the optimal method for grounding ourselves in the present is to find things we are happy about that remind us this is NOW.)

The good news is that with each success—however small—IF we acknowledge that success, we gain motivation to keep going. We get proof that change is possible. We discover that things can be better than they were before. We begin to get addicted to being happy and having fun. We reprogram ourselves so that we regain much of the optimism that is hardwired into humans in the beginning and which got undone by the abuse—or even more recent painful setbacks such as a betrayal or loss of a loved one, etc.

As I said, I’m an example of someone who lacked so many skills and learned them. I’m an example of someone who went from being terrified of life to being optimistic. I’m an example someone who made lots of mistakes along the way. But I got here. I’m proof that it’s possible. And I share all this in hopes that my example will give hope to others that their lives can change for the better too.

Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Overcoming Fear

Marj at Survivors Can Thrive is hosting a Carnival Against Abuse for October and the topic this month is fear. That’s something everyone is familiar with. It’s what drives all conflict and keeps people from doing the things they want to do. Healthy fear protects us. It keeps us from being reckless. Unhealthy fear stifles us and becomes a prison as real and damaging as any metal bars and concrete buildings could be.

So the question becomes how to deal with fear that works against us. Many of our fears grow out of secret, deeply buried fears and sometimes the best way to go is to face those fears—but not alone. If we do this, we need someone we trust to help us through it. But there is an immense reward for taking that risk and facing those fears. What we run from gains power over us, what we are willing to stand and face often dissipates in the light of day and even when it doesn’t, we’re far better able to cope with it if we face it than if we try to run away.

But that’s the biggie. What about every day fears? On a more mundane level, how do we overcome, get past, get rid of, or otherwise keep fear from disabling us and preventing us from creating the lives we want to have?

You just knew I was going to mention lists, didn’t you? I am because I believe that lists can be concrete talismans that help us cope with fear and self-doubt. are some useful lists to make and other things to do to overcome fear:

1) Everything you’ve been able to accomplish in your life.

2) All your strengths and capabilities.

3) People you can turn to for support, knowledge, training, protection, etc.

4) 20 things you can do in 2 minutes or less (each). (On a day when you’re feeling scared or overwhelmed, do 3 things from the list right in a row, as fast as you can. You’ll be amazed how much better, stronger, and capable you feel.)

5) Go through your closets, jewelry boxes, etc. Put where you can easily find them those things you have worn when you felt strong, overcame a challenge, etc. (These are positive triggers that can enhance your courage when you need it most simply by wearing them.)

6) If you’re scared, see if you can separate the part of the fear that belongs to the reality of the situation NOW and what belongs to the past. If you can figure out how the situation resonates with the past and recognize that part of the fear, imagine boxing it up and putting it on a shelf in the closet (or in some way separating it from the fear that belongs to NOW).

7) Do what you’re scared of anyway. Often we build up the fear in our own minds but when we do what we’ve been fearing, we realize it wasn’t so hard or scary after all. We discover a new strength, skill, larger comfort zone, etc.

8) For any challenge you are going to undertake, set up a reward for after you’ve done it.

9) Celebrate the courage it takes to do something—even if that thing would be easy for someone else.

10) Visualize yourself successfully accomplishing whatever it is that scares you that you want or need to do.

11) Practice deep, quiet breathing. This is even more powerful if you can hold a peaceful, safe image in your mind as you do it.

12) Collect empowering music. This can be music that evokes a feeling of being strong and capable or it can be music that is so soothing it replaces fear with a feeling of safety and calm.

13) Find an affirmation that works for you. It could be something as simple as: NOW I am safe. It could be something as complex as: I can figure this out and if I can’t there are people who can help me do so. They key is to find something that gives you a feeling of strength and courage.

Gee, can you tell this is something I’ve thought a lot about? Hey, I’m a slow learner! I spent much of my life being terrified of pretty much everything. Didn’t stop me from doing a bunch of stuff but still, it wasn’t a pleasant feeling.

I don't think fear is uncommon for survivors of abuse. After all, if you're in a situation for years, especially growing up, where at any moment, someone might lash out at you or hurt you, it's hard not to be afraid. The good news is that we can undo that conditioning. These days I’m pretty happy and rarely find myself afraid. Thanks to the ideas listed above.

Wishing for all of you that you find what works for you and that you are able to overcome your deepest fears and create the lives you want to have.

Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs)))))))),


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Feeling Less Worthy...

This week I noticed a feeling I hadn’t realized was still hanging around: that I was less worthy than...everyone else.

I had to stop and track it back to where it began: everyone in the family getting more to eat than me (and being told that’s how it should be), having to wear hand-me-down boy’s things when my brothers (even my younger brother) got things new, hearing for years that if there wasn’t enough money, only my brothers would get to go to college (with the implicit threat that if I didn’t do what I was told, there wouldn’t be), being told to wait on my brothers, being told over and over that their feelings mattered but not that mine ever did, etc.

I suspect, in one form or another, many of you reading this have gone through something similar. In one way or another you were told you didn’t matter as much as others did.

I found myself thinking of it this week talking with my friend whose brother attacked her. She is one of the warmest, nicest, most intelligent women I know and yet she, too, carries that implicit feeling that she’s worth less than other people because that’s what her family drilled into her implicitly and explicitly all her life.

It’s an insidious feeling because it’s often under the surface and we don’t even notice that it’s governing our actions (and reactions). When someone criticizes us—for any reason!—we may hear it as confirmation of what we were told growing up. We may be afraid to stand up for ourselves in relationships because we can’t believe the other person really wants to be with us. We may be afraid to parent with authority because we may think we aren’t good enough to do so. We may be reluctant to trust friendships or even if we do to turn to friends when we could use help or support because on some level we’re afraid that this is going to turn out to be the time they tell us they’re too busy or they get fed up and end the friendship completely.

So many lies grow out of that first one—that we are not as worthy as others. So many consequences. To have the lives we want to have we MUST challenge this belief!

1) We can imagine telling the child we were that those were lies—that he or she mattered and continues to matter as much as anyone else.
2) We can make a list of all the things we like about ourselves.
3) We can make a list of evidence we have that other people do see us as worthy and/or like us and/or value what we say or do.
4) We can practice tolerance toward others who do things we don’t like. Note: I am NOT saying tolerate abuse! It’s good to be able to know when something is abusive and take steps to stop the person or at the very least remove ourselves and those we care about from that person’s vicinity. But I’m talking here about everyday mistakes. I’m talking about people truly meaning well but getting caught up in their own fears or hurt and doing something that in turn hurts us. I’m talking about little day to day forgetfulness or being late or...whatever. Again, we can—and should!—decide to step away when these things become a problem for us. At the same time, IF we can accept others even when they make mistakes, then we will find it easier to accept ourselves when WE make mistakes. We can say that it’s not healthy for us to be around someone AND understand that they are doing the best they can.

To reach a point where we realize we are as worthy of success and happiness as anyone else is one of the most empowering things we can do. And it's a process--it doesn't happen all at once. But it's important that we work on feeling worthy because if we don’t feel that way, we will hold ourselves back, not take chances because our fear of rejection is so strong, and never let ourselves truly enjoy any success or happiness we do achieve. But if we can recognize that we are deserving of love and happiness and success, then we increase to an amazing degree our ability to achieve those things.

All of you out there are worthy of being loved, being happy, having success. All of you are wonderful, amazing people and I’m blessed that you come here to read my blog.

Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

PS Once again Mother Wintermoon and I seem to be synchronized. Here's her post on self-esteem .

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Smiley Face Over the Gas Gauge

I came across this a couple of days ago. Someone posted it on a loop I’m on. It’s from Esther Hicks and Abraham about how pretending to be happy when you’re not is like pasting a smiley face over the gas gauge. You don’t want to do that. You WANT to know if the gas tank is empty. In the same way, we want to know if we’re not happy because that’s how we know we need to DO SOMETHING.

I believe in focusing on what’s good in our lives. I also believe that discontent can be a gift IF we use it to make changes so that our lives become better.

I suppose it’s about balance. It’s about believing our lives can be good and celebrating the blessings in our lives AND recognizing when something needs to change.

It isn’t always easy to make changes. It isn’t always easy to accept that what we hoped for isn’t working out. It isn’t easy to take that leap of faith and let go of what we have not knowing what will replace it.

I’m not suggesting to run every time something goes wrong or to lightly throw away what may just need some renegotiating. What I’m saying is that if we go still and listen, then deep within us we know when it’s time to make a change. Deep within us, we can find answers IF we are doing so from a place of believing that we can and that one way or another, we’ll find a way to make our lives better.

Jumping in Puddles has posted on her blog about getting rid of deadwood and what struck me about her post is her strength and determination to be okay—no matter what.

It seems to me that the only way we get sufficient motivation to do the things that scare the heck out of us is by realizing how unhappy we’ll be if we don’t. The last thing in the world that we need in those moments is a smiley face over the gas gauge!

What’s often difficult is to be at that point where we feel discontent but we haven’t got a clue what we’re supposed to do about it. It can seem easier to cling to the smiley face or to the belief that life always feels this way than to sit with the discomfort and ask what it is we can do to make things better. Because if we don’t see a clear answer, we may believe we’re going to be stuck feeling this way forever and who wants that?

But I believe that if we can sit with the discontent and allow ourselves to acknowledge it AND at the same time trust that there is a way to make things better and that sooner or later we will figure it out then we are far more likely to find solutions.

I believe that each of us has within us the knowledge and the strength to make our lives better and better. I believe life is a process and that our best possible path is to keep growing and changing—and celebrate doing so.

There have been times when I pasted a smiley face over my gas gauge which was reading empty. Maybe that’s all I could do then but...I don’t ever want to take that way out again. Not now that I know how capable I am and that no matter what happens I will be able to come up with solutions to the challenges in my life. I bless the day I ripped the smiley face away.

So, if you’re pasting smiley faces over a gas gauge or two, you may want to ask yourself why and whether there is a way you could be happier and if so what steps you might take to get there.

Sending blessings and safe and gentle ((((((hugs))))))),

Saturday, October 13, 2007


I had an epiphany this week about clothes.

I always knew they were important. I knew we choose clothes to hide or reveal or to create illusions. I knew that often we aren’t even consciously aware of what we’re doing but that if we can become aware, clothes become a powerful tool to help ourselves heal, to protect ourselves, and to create an impact we want to create.

I would have said I understood all about clothes. This week I realized something I hadn’t realized before.

First, a little background. I'd been thinking that I might not need to buy any clothes this winter and that would be a blessing financially. And I was feeling just a little bit rebellious about that idea. Then I looked in my closet this morning and realized that some of the tops I felt so happy about when I bought them I now feel a bit blah about.

And then it hit me: Clothes are about (at least for me) possibilities. New clothes are about new possibilities.

After a while, clothes pick up associations for us. Those associations begin to outweigh the sense of new possibilities. That's why when life feels overwhelming or not good women often go shopping for new clothes. (And if we settle for what we don't really like in clothes then we're saying we'll settle for what we don't really like in life, too, right? If we make something ourselves and we hate how it looks, it feels like we'll hate what we make of our lives as well. If we like what we make, we have more of a sense that we can make what we want of our lives.)

I have a sense that a "cleansing" ritual for clothes I have might be a good thing.

I realize now why it's so important to get rid of clothes I don't like.

I realize why I'm holding onto clothes I've never or rarely worn that I love even though I almost never have a chance to wear them.

I always say that it’s the assumptions/associations we don’t realize we have that trip us up. Now that I’m aware of this connection for myself, I can consciously use it in a way that empowers me. Doesn’t mean I have to go out and buy new clothes. It does mean looking at them in a new way. It means remembering the sense of possibility I had when I acquired them. It means being really careful not to buy something just because it’s on sale but because I love how I feel when I put it on, I love how it looks on me.

Anyway, it may not be relevant to you but I toss my revelation out there just in case it brings some epiphany to you about how you feel about your wardrobe and what clothes mean to YOU.

Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Follow Up on Abuse

My friend is going to court today, facing her abuser. Her family will be standing with him. So I ask for your prayers that all goes well for her and that some kind of justice is served. Fortunately she has loving support to help her through this.

I understand the dynamics of people who stay in abusive situations. I understand the inability to believe things could be any different or any better. I understand the fear of being alone. And I weep for every person trapped by such fears.

Maybe that’s why I write this blog and give the workshops I do. Because I fiercely want others to know that things can be better. I fiercely want people to know that no matter how scared they are, there are ways to create the lives we want to have.

It doesn’t happen instantly and I’m not saying it’s easy. But it begins with that kernel of hope, that ability to begin to believe that things could be different, they could be better for the individual feeling trapped.

Saw a book the other day. Called The Hell I Can’t by Terry McBride. Now I haven’t read it so I don’t know if it’s any good or not. But I love the title. In a way, that’s been my life. People said I couldn’t do this or that and my instinctive reaction was: The hell I can’t! And I went on to do whatever it was they said I couldn’t do.

When I got counseling, I know the guy I worked with was afraid it couldn’t be done—that what had happened to me was so horrific there was no way to fully recover. Not that I asked. I didn’t want to hear the answer. Because I knew that no matter what he thought, I was darned well going to keep going until I got my life to where I wanted it to be. I knew it was possible to heal and I was going to do it no matter what any expert, no matter how much I trusted the person, said. And fortunately he trusted me enough not to try to impose his beliefs on me.

I don’t know where you are in your healing journey. I don’t know what words I could say that might be of the most help. I only know that I have to try. I have to keep presenting an image of what might be possible so that those who are still trapped in pain or fear might be able to grasp onto hope and find their way out of it.

So please keep my friend in your thoughts and prayers and I will keep all of you in mine.

Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Friday, October 05, 2007


I’ve always known it’s hard for survivors of abuse to see doctors. Some of the exams may throw a survivor into flashbacks of abuse. Just being there is a loss of control and that can feel scary to many survivors. But I had another insight this week....

I had to see the doctor. Nothing wrong, just a regular check up. So why couldn’t I sleep the night before? Why this sense of panic even though I like this doctor? Even after the visit, I couldn’t figure it out though I was of course calmer.

Then it hit me. A flash of memory of picking up on my mother’s fears about what the doctor might find, might notice, might realize when he examined me. The sense of terrible consequences if he did notice something wrong. The pressure to act as if everything was wonderful.

Mind you, things are pretty good now and I am healthy. There isn’t anything to hide. Which is what made the emotions so odd. And what finally made me realize I was having an emotional flashback. Not a memory of the experience but rather feeling the emotions all over again.

I suspect this isn’t uncommon. If we were abused as kids, there would have been adults who were worried about what the doctor might notice or suspect. There would have been pressure to say that everything was wonderful. There might have been threats about what would happen if we didn’t. And we may have emotional flashbacks to those feelings when we have to see a doctor.

I’m not sure why I didn’t make the connection before. Maybe because I don’t go to the doctor all that often. Or maybe because other reasons for the anxiety in the past were more obvious. At any rate, once I recognized the cause, any residual emotional flashback disappeared and I suspect doctor’s visits in the future will be much easier. So I share this with all of you in case any of you might have similar emotional flashbacks when you have to see a doctor.

Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs)))))),

PS Motherwintermoon, In her blog posted also about the issue of dealing with health care professionals.

Enola wrote about it, too.

Please check out both blogs.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


A friend of mine was beaten up recently by her brother. And of course her mother and sisters are trying to say it was her fault and it wasn’t so bad. Never mind that he tried to choke her. Never mind that he gave her a black eye and broken ribs. Her family is angry that she caused trouble for her brother.

And it makes me angry. I’m not there. I can’t do anything to help except support her from a distance.

She’s standing her ground. She’s taking the steps she needs to take—both to try to protect her mother and to keep herself safe. Fortunately she has a husband and children who love her and friends who do as well. We know she’s an intelligent, courageous, wonderful woman even if her birth family will never say so.

It reminded me yet again of several things:

1) Dysfunctional abusive families blame the one who speaks the truth and try to silence that person.

2) Abusers try to denigrate whatever strengths the person has. If the person is intelligent they try to make the person believe he or she is stupid. If the person has a gift for music they try to claim the person doesn’t or that the talent is a bad thing.

3) Abusers will lie through their teeth and have no shame about doing so.

4) Victims of abuse can be so caught up in the cycle they will side with the abuser rather than the person who is trying to protect them.

My friend is going to be okay. She’s got a lot of people who are reassuring her that she is a brave and wonderful person, that she did nothing wrong, and that we are here for her if she needs us.

But I worry about the abuse victims who don’t have that support network, who believe the lies they are told. This is why each of us must speak the truth—so that we drown out the lies of abusers. This is why we must support each other—so that we all have the strength to heal and to stand up to bullies when we can.

The good thing about all of this is the reminder that many of us are breaking the cycle with our children. We ARE protecting them. We are standing up to bullies on their behalf. We are teaching them to believe in themselves and know they are loved.

Some of the strongest, kindest, gentlest, wisest people I know are survivors of abuse. My friend is one of them. And so are many of you.

Sending blessings and safe and gentle ((((((hugs)))))),

Thursday, September 27, 2007

What I Hate About Being A Survivor

It’s Pity Party Day. See here for more details:
National Pity Party Day

I’m an optimist. I pride myself on that. I’ve worked damn hard to get to where I am and to be able to feel happy most days. But I don’t ever want anyone to think it’s easy. I don’t ever want to forget how far I’ve come. So I decided to write a list of what I hate about being a survivor:

People who minimize the abuse. People who say it wasn’t so bad.

The emotional landmines that can go off when we least expect them.

The push/pull between trusting (the wrong people) too much and being paranoid (with people who can be trusted).

The sense of shame that can be so hard to get rid of.

The sense of guilt that can be so hard to get rid of.

The lack of self-worth that gets in the way of being who we are meant to be.

People who minimize what happened and/or blame the victim.

The fear that surfaces at the most inconvenient times.

The jealousy of people who don’t have to struggle with the handicaps we have to get over.

People who don’t give a damn about anyone except themselves and think it’s okay to hurt others.


People who don’t get what resilience and strength and courage it takes to survive. Who don’t give us credit for that and sure as heck don’t recognize how extraordinary it is when we manage to do more than just survive.

People who don’t get how difficult every day things can be for us. Who don’t understand why we can’t do things the same way as everyone else.

No I’m not in a happy mood right now. One too many hassles in too short a period of time.

Yes, I’m a survivor and a thriver. Yes, I’ve created a pretty good life for myself. Yes, on the whole I’m happy most of the time. NOW. But I’ll be damned if I’ll let anyone minimize what it took to get to this point. I’ll be damned if I’ll let anyone criticize me because I don’t do what they do or what they think I should do. I’ll be damned if I’ll let anyone push me around ever again.

I’m nice. It’s who I choose to be. Because I recognize that everyone hurts, everyone gets scared and almost all hurtful things done are done out of fear. But heaven help anyone who mistakes that niceness for me being a potential victim. If they do, let’s just say it won’t be a very pretty sight.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Standing Up to Bullies

How many times have I stood up to bullies? I’ve lost count. I know I was doing it before I was 3 years old, stopping my mother from harming my baby brother. I’ve stood between raging men and the women and children they were trying to terrorize. I did it again this weekend, standing up to someone who is beloved by many but was choosing in that moment to try to bully them, albeit with words not fists.

I’m tired of bullies. Tired of people who think that because they have money or authority or people love them, they have the right to impose their will on others.

I know that in their own minds, bullies believe they are justified and perhaps even heroic. I understand that deep down they are acting out of their own fears.

I’m still tired of bullies. And terrified of ever being one myself.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Whines Redux

I laughed when I read the comment about having a pity party because there are sure as heck days when we feel like having them, aren’t there?

Anyway, I thought I’d give you an update on my recent whines....

My back is much better. And when my daughter came over yesterday she moved the rest of the boxes out of the room they’re in. Some she took with her, some are in a better, temporary spot. And she actually remembered to wish me a happy birthday (albeit a week late).

We played Nintendo together, too. Who knew she was still using a system I bought her almost 20 years ago?

We’re still figuring out this new relationship. Neither of us quite knows where it’s going or exactly how to do this but we’re both working on it, both wanting it to work. And that’s light years better than how things were for a while.

I’ve been playing with my new camera, too. It’s lovely to be able to do so. It’s lovely to see that I can record sound and short videos. I’ve been toying with the idea of putting up some workshop material in video form and this may be a way to do it.

And my computer is back to working just fine again.

So....lessons learned?

1) Doing things that are outside my comfort zone expands the comfort zone. (Getting the camera.)

2) Focusing on the positive increases the odds of a good outcome. (Had I yelled at my daughter we would not have ended up with such a nice evening.)

3) Speaking up is a GOOD thing. (Had I not asked her to come get boxes and move the rest, it wouldn’t have happened.)

4) If I didn’t choose to advocate for a new kind of relationship between us, it wouldn’t happen. Because I am, it can. Relationships are not set in stone. They can change and grow IF both people want them to.

5) When I can’t do something for one reason (back hurts too much), then it’s time to do something else and focus fully on that rather than focusing on what I can’t do. It can be a time to explore new possibilities or just be still and good things can happen or it can be time and energy that accomplishes nothing except to get me more upset.

This week was, as every week can be, a learning experience on so many levels for me. Feels weird to say it, but on the worst day I also found myself smiling at what I felt like I was being nudged by the universe to learn.

I will, however, admit that I’d just as soon this coming week doesn’t bring quite so many opportunities for learning experiences.....

Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

My Day to Whine

Meant to post sooner but it’s been one of those...challenging, yes, that’s the word, challenging...weeks.

Tried moving some of my daughter’s boxes from my “classroom” to the spare room and did something to my back. Now it hurts to sit or stand or walk. It will get better, of course, the more I move around. So I am. And gritting my teeth the whole time. But it does make it hard to concentrate or work on the computer. And speaking of computers...

My computer has been doing something weird all day so that it takes forever to do anything. I presume it’s updating or downloading or something in the background but it means everything takes forever. (And yes, I run anti-virus software and spy ware blockers and this is just something that happens every so often—usually before my computer decides on its own to shut down and restart due to updates so....)

Then there’s this camera thing.... I bought myself a camera. Great, you’ll say. And it is. Except...I find myself wondering why I didn’t buy myself one before or during my cross country trip when it would have been nice to take photos of places I had always dreamed of seeing. And I find myself reluctant to take it out and use it. I find myself realizing how intimidated I have let myself become by the fact that my ex-husband had his fancy camera that I was never allowed to use and a good friend and her husband both saw themselves as professional photographers so how could any pictures I took compete with that?

Funny how we can have old messages running in our heads that we don’t even realize are there!

Add to that some...interesting, yes, dynamics this past week and you can perhaps see why I’m running so late posting to this blog.

All of this will get resolved. None of this is more than a temporary challenge. And once I get over my hesitancy about using the camera I know I’ll be delighted that I have it. It’s all just...a bit much today.

Well, time to get up and move around some more. Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Yesterday was difficult. It always is for me. Even today I’m finding it hard to forget what it was like six years ago. I remember the fear for loved ones and friends in New York. I remember the months of worry over mail in my state that was tainted with anthrax.

What happened six years ago has shaped national policy since then. It has had an impact on our freedoms. It has affected our national and personal sense of safety.

Listening to stories of that day still has the power to bring me to tears—as much for the heroism and courage shown by so many as for the deaths. And that’s what I prefer to focus on: the message that even in the midst of the worst moments some will find the courage to help others. Some will find a way to survive. People can open hearts and minds in such moments and for a long time afterwards.

Horrible things happen. We who read and write blogs like this know that. I hope that what I write is a reminder that good things happen too. We cannot always choose what happens to us but we can choose what we do with those events.

I’m a writer. I teach workshops. One of the things I say over and over to fellow writers is that it isn’t the events that happen to our characters that matter nearly as much as how our characters deal with the challenges in their lives. This is what distinguishes one person (or character) from another. This is the way we create the lives we want to have—by seeking out the good, by offering hope and help to others AND TO OURSELVES.

I wish 9/11 hadn’t happened. I hope that we never forget the loss but that we also never forget the courage of so many that day and the way people came together in the days afterwards. In those moments we knew we were all more alike than different, that we were united in tragedy. I hope that we as individuals and as a country can find a way to create that unity again—without having to have another tragedy to do so.

Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs)))))),

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Believing in Ourselves, pt. 2

Over and over the comment comes up (here and elsewhere) that it’s so hard to believe we’re worth loving or taking care of or are good enough.

And I think that’s what scares us the most—that if we look, we’ll discover we aren’t. If we don’t look, maybe we can pretend a little longer that we might be.

It colors everything we do and all our relationships with other people.

If we aren’t good enough:

1) How can we take chances in our careers? How can we believe we’ll really succeed?

2) How can we risk letting anyone else close?

3) How can anyone possibly love us and if they do how can we believe they aren’t somehow flawed?

4) How can we trust we won’t be hurt?

5) How can we do new things if we don’t believe we can do things right or well?

6) How can we look at and acknowledge the things we want because if we do it will hurt so much when we can’t have them and how can we possibly have them when we’re so unworthy?

7) We may tend to punish ourselves—before God or anyone else can do so and maybe do it worse.

8) We may walk on eggshells with people trying to make it up to them for having to deal with us or we may try to be perfect so they don’t get fed up and say we’re too much trouble and abandon us.

9) We may tolerate abuse—overt or covert—because we assume that’s how things will always be for us and maybe that it’s even what we deserve.

None of the above is likely to surprise anyone reading here. I post it to remind us all of what it costs not to find a way to value ourselves. And that’s just flat out unfair to the child inside who got hurt—maybe very badly—at some point in our lives. That child inside deserves to be loved and cherished and protected.

It comes down to responsibility. We have a responsibility to protect that child inside us. No matter who has done what to us in the past, this is NOW and it’s our responsibility to make sure no one hurts that child again—not even us.

That means making a conscious choice to make a list of things that make us smile—and do them EVERY SINGLE DAY.

That means making a conscious choice to treat ourselves with kindness and respect even when—no, ESPECIALLY WHEN we don’t think we deserve it.

That means making a conscious choice to learn how to protect ourselves from bullies of all kinds—verbal and physical. (Again, I strongly recommend Take the Bully by the Horns, by Sam Horn.)

That means making a conscious choice to challenge the old messages, the distorted beliefs we’ve carried around way too long.

And I know it doesn’t happen instantly. Heck, I’m writing a story right now and there are moments when it cuts like a knife to my heart to realize something my heroine sees about herself and her life that I hadn’t known I didn’t know about my own.

I’m still learning. I’m still growing. I’m still discovering those hidden pockets of self-doubt. (And I don’t know any human being who doesn’t have them.) It’s like breaking a bad habit, the habit of seeing ourselves as unworthy. The only way that happens is to replace it with a new vision of ourselves and opening ourselves up to the possibility that it could be a very good one.

And the good news is that every step we take toward doing so, no matter how tiny, makes it easier to take the next.

Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Taking Care of Ourselves vs. Taking Care of Others

Jumping in Puddles had a good point in a comment she made about my last post. She asked about taking care of others vs. taking care of ourselves. In fact, I was a little surprised that all the comments referred to our ability to make others feel better even though the bulk of the post was about believing in ourselves.

The thing is that it’s easier, in some ways, to focus on helping others. It means we don’t have to look at our self-doubts or fears. It’s so much easier, too, to see how others could do things differently than to see what other choices we could be making.

Ultimately, though, the quality of our lives depends on our ability to help ourselves. It depends on our ability to face those fears and find a way to let them go. It depends on our willingness to consider new ways of doing things and to challenge the assumptions we may not even have realized we were holding onto.

The truth is that even if what we want most in the world is to help others, we can’t do that unless we begin with ourselves. If we don’t take care of us, we’ll burn out. If we don’t find a way to accept ourselves, there will be a level on which we resent accepting others. If we don’t treat ourselves with kindness and respect, we’ll sooner or later resent treating others with kindness and respect.

It goes back to making the lists of things we like about ourselves. It goes back to making sure we do things that make us smile—every single day. It goes back to treating ourselves with kindness and respect even if—especially if!—no one else around us does so.

I believe in all of you. I hope that you’re all able to believe in yourselves. Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Believe in Yourself

As you know, I'm a writer. Every time I coach, every time I teach, every time I write, I am reminded how important it is—and sometimes how hard—for us to believe in ourselves.

It matters to profoundly so to writers because we often spend months or sometimes years working on projects, not knowing if anyone will like it or not. Even if we sell it to an editor, there’s no guarantee that people will buy our books. It’s hard sometimes to hold onto faith in ourselves—especially if we were not raised to believe in ourselves. That’s why I talk about it so much in my workshops.

It matters just as much to anyone who has been through trauma. Without knowing what the outcome will be, we have to risk stepping out of our safe zone to face things that feel as if they could overwhelm us, destroy us if we risk looking at them. And yet, if we don’t, we can’t let go of them.

I believe that the best thing we can do as we work to face issues in our lives and/or past traumas is to in a sense fortify ourselves first. When I worked with a counselor to process my horrific and abusive childhood, each time I went in to see him I would go through several steps:

1) I would remind myself of every success I’d had in my life—and tell myself that I could do this too.
2) I would remind myself of my strengths and reasons to believe in my gut instincts about things.
3) I would remind myself of all the reasons to trust him.
4) I would remind myself that ultimately my life was MY responsibility—that I had to make the choices that would make my life better or it wasn’t ever going to happen.

When I give writing workshops I ask people to make a list of all their successes. It’s even more important for all of us who have had difficult times in our lives or come to feel there are things we can’t do. So I’m suggesting that YOU make a list of every success you have ever had in your life—big or small. Keep that list handy and add to it with every new success. And when you hit days where you wonder if you can cope with some challenge life has handed you, pull out that list and remind yourself that you do have the skills to do so.

I do believe that within each of us is the ability to cope with whatever challenges appear in our lives. I also believe that when we can hold onto that faith in ourselves, we are more likely to succeed simply because the brain functions better, more efficiently the calmer and less afraid we can be. Believing in ourselves is a very powerful tool.

By the same token, believing in someone else and helping that person to believe in him or herself is a powerful and wonderful gift you can give. Think about it. Odds are the people you remember most vividly (in a positive way), the people you would do anything for, are people who believed in you when you needed it most. You never know when it could change someone’s life because you said, at the right moment, what they needed to hear.

I believe in all of you. I believe that each of you has within you the power to heal whatever pain is in your lives. I believe that there are good people out there ready to help if you risk reaching out to them. I believe, too, that each of you deserves to find a way to be happy.

Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),
April Optimist

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Comfort Zones

One of the advantages of having my daughter nearby is that I’m being jarred out of my routines. I’m finding myself doing things I otherwise wouldn’t do. And that’s a good thing.

Anthony Robbins talks about how when we step outside our comfort zone to do new things, our comfort zone expands to then include those new things. He’s absolutely right. When I’m following routines, I’m not growing much. When I do new things I am. I’m discovering more things I like—or don’t like and then I know, more things I can do, more places that now become familiar. In short, I have new possibilities in my life.

The thing is, we don’t need to wait to have someone prod us into making changes and stepping outside our comfort zone. We can make ourselves a promise to do one new thing every month. We may like it so much that we’ll choose to do one new thing every week—or perhaps even every day.

I suggest this as a gift we give ourselves because there is such joy in discovering new possibilities and having an expanded comfort zone. We can begin with small steps. In a way, it’s like exercising. If we haven’t been doing it and jump in and try to do an hour at a time, odds are we’ll give up very quickly. On the other hand, if we add just five more minutes a day to our schedule and then add another five each week, then pretty soon we’ll have built up to that hour and our bodies won’t feel strained. This is especially true if we choose to do things that are fun for us. Same thing with stepping outside our comfort zone. If we build into the experience fun and/or a treat, we’re much more likely to keep doing it and wanting to do it.

Wishing for all of you some wonderful new experiences this week. Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Friday, August 24, 2007


My daughter is in town. She’s moving here and has already found an apartment. For years I felt like I wasn’t a good enough mother and tried so hard not to “infect” her with my flaws. I felt I had to make it up to her that she hadn’t gotten a better mother.

Since my divorce, I’m doing things differently. I told her she had to treat me with respect. I told her we were rewriting the relationships. It’s been a bit rocky at times but getting better and better over all. Since she arrived this week, I’m enjoying the chance we have to be together and not fight. I’m enjoying being able to interact with her and just being me—without worrying what she’ll think of me or my house or...anything else about me. It’s nice to have reached this point of feeling “good enough” just as I am.

It’s a nice surprise to discover this is possible. It’s a nice surprise to see how well we can get along now. It’s a nice surprise to have her ask if something is okay rather than assuming if she wants me to do something then obviously I will. It’s a nice surprise to be able to talk with her about things that in the past would have started a fight. It’s just flat out nice to have her here in town.

She is a visible reminder to me that dreams can come true as she pursues her dreams making choices that are right for her—no matter what the rest of the world might think. It’s reassuring to see that she can walk her own path and not only succeed by doing so but succeed brilliantly finding more choices available than if she had followed conventional wisdom.

It’s reassuring for any of us who don't find conventional pathways right for us--for whatever reason. It’s reassuring because I can see what a difference self-confidence makes. It’s reassuring because I can see how taking chances and moving outside one’s comfort zone can pay off.

There have been lots of surprises this week and I’m glad for each and every one. May all of you have wonderful surprises in your lives too. Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),


Monday, August 20, 2007

Resolving Conflict

First, my apologies to anyone who worried because I didn’t post for so long. I hate feeling under the weather at any time but especially during the summer!

What I want to post about today is resolving conflict. And I know that conflict is hard for survivors of abuse to deal with. Many of us grow up hating conflict and wanting to avoid it at all costs. Unfortunately, that approach can lead to becoming victims of further abuse and/or relationships that never become real because we’re too afraid to let the other person see us as we truly are.

I’ve said before that conflict arises out of a clash caused by fears. Today I’d like to talk about a very specific fear and one that I think triggers some of the worst conflict and one that if we understand it we can use to resolve conflict in a way that is most likely to be win/win for everyone.

I’m talking about conflict triggered because someone’s self-image gets threatened.

Bullies do this—either instinctively or consciously. They zero in on how we see ourselves and do everything they can to undermine our sense self-worth—often by attacking those things about which we have the most self-doubt or by trying to make us believe we’re not good at what we really are or that it’s a bad thing. Which is why we avoid conflict—because we’ve been hurt by bullies who trashed our sense of self-worth and we don’t want to risk having it happen again!

Attacking someone else’s self-image is the quickest way to start a fight or create permanent bad feelings. The quickest way to make a new friend or create good feelings is to understand what someone values about him or herself and—IF we can do so HONESTLY—reaffirm that we see and value that quality in them.

What all of this means is that once again our optimal strategy is to work on boosting our own self-esteem. We can do so by reminding ourselves often of all the things we do like about ourselves and rewriting the messages we took in as a result of the abuse. We can understand that at every point in our lives, we did the best we could—then—and that if we don’t like the choices we made—then—we can make different ones NOW. And if necessary we can make amends for past mistakes. We can walk away from bullies who try to trash our sense of self-worth and learn techniques to deal with bullies for those times we cannot or are not ready to walk away.

If we feel good enough about ourselves, we can be open and honest with others. We can face conflict far more easily if we know that we can stand up to bullies and that even if the other person has a legitimate grievance with us, we are capable of growing and changing and becoming more and more the person we want to be. We can risk rejection if we know that while it might sting, it won’t shake our sense of self-worth because we know clearly who we are and we like that person.

And if we don’t like who we are, we can make a list of who we would like to be and then small steps we can take in the right direction for each change we would like to make. Taking action, any action, will make us feel better—if we choose steps we can achieve AND if we give ourselves permission sometimes to stumble along the way. We can look for people who believe in us, even when we have trouble believing in ourselves and who will encourage us to become the best we can be WITHOUT berating us for where we are now.

Ultimately, the words anyone else says hurt us only to the degree that they resonate with our own fears and self-doubts. If we can set aside that issue then when we are in conflict with someone we will be able to step back and decide:

a) Is this a relationship we really want or need to have? If so...
b) What does the other person value about him or herself and can we reaffirm it to defuse emotions so that the issue can be settled on rational terms?
c) Is there a way to frame a solution within the context of the qualities the other person values about him/herself?
d) What words and actions are consistent with the person we choose to be REGARDLESS OF WHAT THE OTHER PERSON SAYS OR DOES?

Wishing for all of you the ability to value and love yourselves and see within you—and others!—the best that each of us can be. Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs)))))))),


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Build From Our Strengths

We can focus on the problems in our lives and try to force ourselves to deal with them or we can focus on our strengths and go from there.

What’s the difference? Well, if we begin with the problems, we’re putting all our energy into the problems and may feel as if we’re butting our heads against the wall and getting no where—especially if our problems involve other people we have no control over.

On the other hand, if we focus on our strengths and creating a sense of faith in ourselves, then we begin to see possibilities to make our lives better. We can put our energy into changing what we can change and making a small space of happiness around ourselves. This in turn builds our resilience and courage and we can take small steps to do things that might scare us a little and discover we have the ability to do them in spite of our fears. That expands our circle of comfort and happiness and ability to do even more good things and find even more reasons to feel good about ourselves.

Mind you, we need to guard that space around ourselves! No one must be allowed to try to take it away from us. No one must be allowed to undercut our faith in who we are. That may mean keeping to ourselves what we’re learning. That may mean taking the time to remind ourselves of all the reasons we do have to believe in who we are and what we can do—so that we don’t depend on the feedback of others to believe it.

We can, from that small space and those tiny steps begin to change the entire world in which we live so that more and more of the people around us begin to see what we can do and support us in creating the life we want to have. We may find new opportunities opening up before us. We may discover more and more things that make us smile and laugh.

If we begin by focusing on our strengths and the reasons we have to be proud of ourselves then we are far more likely to find ourselves tackling the challenges in our lives and coming up with solutions that work. The bonus is that it feels good and we will be much happier and likely think of things we otherwise never would.

It’s all about how we look at ourselves and the world and what we choose to focus on. We don’t have to go by the old rules or anyone else’s ideas of who we are or what we should do with our lives.

Our optimal strategy is NOT trying to please people who think we’re unsatisfactory to begin with but rather to find people who value what we most value about ourselves and situations where we shine because we’re doing what we love.

We each deserve to be with people who think we’re wonderful just as we are. We each deserve to be surrounded by people who respect us and want to know what we have to say. We each deserve to love ourselves.

This week think about your strengths. Make a list—even if you only keep it in your head—of all the reasons to believe in yourself. Make another list of things that make you happy, that make you smile—and do several every single day! Picture giving yourself the love and support that maybe you never had before. And watch what a difference it makes in your life.

Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs)))))),

Saturday, August 11, 2007

After Being Safe

We all want to be safe. And if we get there, we want to stay there—especially if safety has been in short supply in the past! The problem is that if we try to stay too safe, we lose out on possibilities and we fail to grow. In the long run, that can lead to not being as safe as we’d like to be.

What can we do? Well, each day we can choose to do one thing—no matter how small—that is new or different for us. Or we can take one step—no matter how small—toward dealing with something that scares us. We can choose to ride out the fear long enough to expand our comfort zone.

Note: I am talking about doing things that will enhance the quality of our lives NOT taking crazy or self-destructive chances!

Some of the things that scared me the most (in no particular order)—filing for divorce, going off to college, traveling across country by myself and not knowing where I would end up, getting married in the first place, raising children, getting therapy, buying a house on my own after age 50, getting up and giving workshops in front of lots of people—have turned out to enrich my life the most, even when they didn’t work out forever.

I didn’t take any of these steps lightly! I did my research, I made careful plans, I used due caution, and I took the leap of faith even when people around me thought I might be crazy. I don’t regret any of the things I dared to do—even when they didn’t work out. Nor do I regret the little things that scare me that I’ve chosen to do anyway.

Part of it, of course, comes down to sheer stubbornness. I feel as if I lost way too many years of my life to abuse and then to trying to live with that abuse before I found a way to process and then let it go. Too many people (bullies) in my life tried to make me believe I was foolish to even try to go after my dreams or do the things that mattered to me or even dare to hope that anyone would ever want to know or like me!

These days I want to catch up and truly LIVE and get to do the things I didn’t do before. Not rashly because I doubt I’ll ever be able to let go of the cautious streak that is so much a part of me but with open eyes and using all the skills I can muster to succeed—or at least keep from getting hurt too badly.

It’s great to feel safe. It’s also great to choose to keep on changing and growing and daring to do the things that matter to us or can enrich our lives. That’s one thing I won’t let anyone ever take from me again.

Wishing all of you a little wonderful adventure and daring in your lives and sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs)))))))),


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Wanting to be Safe

The irony is that I believe one reason so many people are vulnerable to bullies is the desire to be safe and/or the fear of being a bully oneself.

If one grew up with bullies and doesn’t want to be one, a person may become “too nice” or afraid that standing up for oneself must mean being a bully instead. That’s where Sam Horn’s book is invaluable. (See previous post about Take the Bully By the Horns.) She offers tools and strategies so that one can stand up for oneself without becoming a bully in return.

But let’s set that aside for the moment because I’d like to talk about how wanting to be safe can make us vulnerable to being bullied. It can be physical safety we’re seeking or financial or even emotional security—or all three. If we believe the other person might be able to keep us safe, we may tolerate physical or emotional abuse because we believe the person will keep us safe from worse abuse. Or if we are afraid we cannot support ourselves financially, we may tolerate abuse because the alternative scares us so much we can’t make ourselves leave or even just stand up to the person and ask for the kindness and respect that we deserve. If we are terrified of being alone and/or unloved, we may tolerate anything to have that emotional fix—especially if we don’t know it can be any other way or if that’s what feels familiar.

Or it may be that we don’t realize at first what’s happening. Perhaps the person says the right things or the relationship seems to be okay. And then the person does something we don’t like—but it’s a little thing. And we tell ourselves, well, that’s not so bad, I can live with that. If the other person is a bully, it confirms for them that we will tolerate abuse and the bully may begin to escalate. Perhaps not, if that little bit is enough to keep us in line and/or satisfies the bully’s emotional needs. But if we start to change or the bully needs more satisfaction, then the actions we dislike may start to escalate and each time we don’t speak up or walk away, it’s more proof to the bully that we will tolerate abuse.

(Some bullies will kill rather than let their victims get away and if so, the person being abused must not minimize that possibility and must take extreme precautions to protect himself or herself! I’ll give a disclaimer here similar to what Sam Horn has in her book. To paraphrase: I don’t have all the answers, I don’t know YOUR specific situation or what’s best for YOU. I’m sharing my own personal thoughts. If you are in a potentially dangerous situation the help of professionals may be essential. Safety is ALWAYS the first priority!)

In any relationship, when the dynamics begin to change, others in the relationship will resist. If the other person is a bully it can become outright dangerous! Be aware of this and take all possible precautions!

The best time to stop bullying is in the beginning. Instead of believing that if we are nice enough or helpful enough other people will like us and not hurt us, we can shift our thinking to understand that bullies will resent us if they need our help. Bullies will resent us if we are so nice that other people like us more than they like them. Bullies will take advantage of the behavior we value. Bullies will take niceness and not speaking up as proof that we are good victim material. IT WILL NOT KEEP US SAFE! Nothing we do to try to appease a bully will keep us safe—no matter what we are willing to give up trying to make it happen.

What will keep us safe?
---We can learn how to take care of ourselves so that we do not feel someone else must do so for us.
---We can learn to nicely but firmly speak or stand up for ourselves when someone does something we don’t like. In other words, we can learn to set limits.
---We can recognize that bullies who are not willing to give up their bullying tactics will keep hurting us and may not be capable of truly loving us. And if they can't, maybe we want to look for people who can love us and treat us with kindness and respect.
----We can tolerate kindness and respect until it becomes familiar and feels “normal” to us rather than seeking out the treatment we may have believed all our lives that we deserved.
---We can find a way to realize that we are and always have been worth loving—especially if we let go of any bullying tactics we may have learned to use over the years.

Do you see a pattern here? It comes down to becoming a person we like and respect and want to spend time with. It comes down to learning to trust in ourselves and our ability to keep ourselves safe.

If we treat ourselves with kindness and respect, we are far less likely to tolerate anything else from anyone else—or to treat anyone else any other way.

As we change how we see and treat ourselves, we inevitably change how others do so as well. This is the most important and powerful thing we can do for ourselves!

Mind you, I know that change doesn’t come all at once. But things don’t have to be all or nothing. We can begin to work on the skills we need to take care of ourselves and be safe. We can begin to treat ourselves with kindness and respect. We can begin to ACT AS IF we expect and deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. We can learn to say “no” to small things in unimportant relationships so that the small things do not become big things and we begin to see our own patterns and the patterns of others in such situations. If one thing doesn’t work we can experiment until we find what does.

I'm not saying it's easy. I know how hard it's been for me to integrate these ideas into my own life, my own understanding. I look back and cry for the person I was and wish I could go back and help her know it didn't have to be that way. But I can't go back, I can only go forward and share with all of you what it took me so long to learn in hopes that it may shortcut a little of your journey.

Note: Again, if you are dealing with a bully, be aware that the potential for escalation always exists and make escape plans (from the relationship or situation) before taking any action that might provoke trouble. (Sam Horn talks about how to decide what level of response is SAFE and appropriate in various situations.)

Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),