Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Relationships and Change

This is not an easy post to write. It brings to mind too many situations in my own life that I’ve had to face on my healing journey.

I’ve been asked: What happens as we recognize our strength and resilience and capability? (Note that I say recognize because I believe that the strength and resilience and capability have ALWAYS been there—we just didn’t allow ourselves to see it and/or were told by others that we didn’t have these qualities.)

Answer: The dynamics change in most of our relationships.

So the next question is: What happens as the dynamics change in a relationship?

Answer: That depends on everyone involved.

Sometimes people can be happy for us and cheer us on as we recognize our self-worth. Others may feel threatened. If the relationship has been one in which the other person felt superior or had more power, that person may feel threatened or unhappy or not know what to do as the balance of power shifts to a more equal level. If the relationship has been one of mutual helplessness, the other person may get angry because if it is possible for us to change then maybe they will have to look at their life and realize they could make changes, too—and they are scared or unwilling to try.

So it depends. It depends on whether you and the other person can have honest discussions about the changes that are taking place. It depends on whether or not the other person can put aside his or her insecurities enough to be happy for you. It depends on whether or not YOU have the courage to ride out the other person’s emotional reactions. (Odds are you’ve had some time to adjust to the changes in who you are because you’ve been working on those changes--but the other person has not. He or she may be a bit shell shocked to realize changes are happening and the dynamics of the relationship are no longer the same.) It depends on whether YOU need time away from the relationship to figure out how and whether you want to rewrite the relationship.

If both people want the relationship to work out, it can--and it will inevitably change in the process. If both people are willing to be honest and to ride out uncomfortable emotions, it can work out. If the person not changing can see your changes as proof that it’s possible to be happier and use that as encouragement to make changes too, it can work out.

What if very real problems occur because of the changes taking place within you and/or how can you rewrite a relationship?

1) Have compassion. Whether or not the relationships survives, you will be able to handle the changes better and more easily if you can feel compassion for the other person, if you can see the good the person brought into your life, and if you can forgive both yourself AND the other person for any mistakes that are or have been made.

2) Recognize what matters to you. Value who you are. Relationships can be rewritten but they are successfully rewritten only when we respect BOTH what the other person wants and needs AND what we want and need. This will also help you know whether the relationship—whatever it is—can be salvaged or not.

3) Be flexible. Maybe how you’ve always done things won’t work any more. Maybe the other person will have ideas that wouldn’t have occurred to you but make sense now.

4) Understand that relationships aren’t perfect and neither are you or the other person. If you can forgive and accept yourself for being human, you will find it easier to hear what the other person needs to say. If you can forgive and accept the other person for being human, you are more likely to be able to ask for changes in a way the other person can hear.

5) Be willing to think long and hard about what boundaries would be healthy for the relationship. Make sure they are clearly articulated if boundaries have been an issue with the person in the past. (There are few things more confusing and difficult for a survivor of abuse than when boundaries keep changing or are unclear. It is far easier and better to say—or hear—a painful truth about what boundaries are needed than to constantly wonder which of your actions might cause trouble (and worry what kind!) or whether the other person is going to cross the boundaries that you need to feel safe.)

6) Be willing to walk away if you realize the other person is dangerous to your physical or emotional health. That may mean walking away temporarily in order to stay safe as you work either on yourself or on the relationship or both or it may mean walking away completely. YOU matter. Your safety and health and happiness matter. That doesn’t mean I’m advocating running away lightly. If you’ve done steps 1-5 then odds are by the time you get to step 6 you’ll know what you need to do and you’ll be able to do it not in anger but with love—knowing that no one deserves to be hurt. And maybe just by acknowledging how bad things are and that you are willing to walk away you will give the other person sufficient motivation to change. Maybe not, in which case you grieve and go and go on, knowing that you have a right not to hurt or be hurt.

In my own life, I’ve been able to rewrite a number of relationships with people I am so very grateful to be able to still have in my life. Other relationships could not be salvaged—not without someone (me or someone else or everyone) being harmed by maintaining them. New relationships have come into my life and I am grateful for them every day. Some relationships....I don’t know. I suppose you could say they are on hiatus as I wait to see who I am becoming and how they might be rewritten—if they can be.

None of this is unique to us as survivors. Every human being who changes and grows faces these kinds of issues. And the fact that these things are true doesn’t mean we should stop changing and growing! We have a right to be happy and to change and grow so that we can be. If we do, we will draw new wonderful people into our lives and perhaps help those we love find their own path to being happy as well so that the relationships we do rewrite become richer and happier and better for all concerned.

Blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),
April_optimist

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Heroes and Memorial Day

In my last post, I talked about the NY Times article and strength so maybe it's particularly appropriate to talk about heroes today.

I’m a sucker for heroes, I always have been. I want to believe there are people who will right wrongs and protect those who can’t protect themselves. I want to believe in people who will fight for what’s right—even if it means putting their lives at stake. Heroes can come in many forms--including those who listen and support us in our healing journeys--and I believe that each of us can choose to be heroes in our own lives.

But this is Memorial Day weekend. A time to remember and honor people who have served in the military and perhaps even gave their lives for our country.

I wish we didn’t have wars. I wish every weapon on earth could be dismantled. My heart goes out to all whose lives are torn apart by war. And I wish that people could see beyond their own fears to talk and work things out another way. I even know there are flawed individuals who have done horrible deeds while wearing a uniform.

But that does not stop me from honoring those who serve hoping to help, wanting to protect, who may have to face their deepest fears each time they go out on duty, and who sacrifice so much for their country. These are the men and women I remember and salute on Memorial Day.

As I said, I’ve always been a sucker for heroes.

Blessings and sending safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),
April_optimist

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Strength and Resilience

I just read an article that says—surprise, surprise!—that a sense of one’s own strength makes a difference in therapy and in life. That it is when we believe in our power to grow and to change that it happens. It was in the New York Times and is ostensibly about how we tell stories about our lives and that how we tell those stories matters. Underneath it all, however, the most important message I took away is that recognizing our strength and our ability to change matters.

Anyone reading my blog knows this is something I have always believed. I’ve said before that the ideal therapist is one who recognizes our fears and vulnerability and at the same time also recognizes the incredible strength and resilience it takes to survive abuse. Any successful treatment will make the client a partner in his or her recovery from the impact of that abuse and will encourage the client to see his or her own strengths and skills.

It is a dicey thing to balance letting go of the need to believe we can control the uncontrollable (something so many of us try to do) and at the same time begin to take control of the things we didn’t realize we had the power to handle.

It is a challenge to balance being willing to accept help that is offered and at the same time not forget that there is so much we can do ourselves.

In a sense, recovering from the impact of abuse is about letting go of the fantasy power and grasping our real power. It is about rewriting the messages from those who tried to make us believe we had no power or that we deserved what was happening to us and recognize that we no longer need to believe in the impossible because we actually can change what is real in our lives that isn’t working.

And all of that begins, I believe, with accepting responsibility to do whatever it takes to heal. It begins with accepting responsibility to feel what we feel but to think carefully about the things we actually say and do. It begins with deciding that we matter and consciously choosing to remind ourselves—every day if need be!—of all our strengths and capabilities if we start to forget. It is about taking responsibility for finding ways to be the kind of person we want to be and create the lives we want to have.

Nice to see an article about how acknowledging our strength makes a difference. It matters even more to know it in our own hearts.

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

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Why

I want to write today about why I focus so intensely on the choices we can make and the steps we can take to heal.

WE ARE THE ONLY ONES WHO CAN HEAL OURSELVES. We can find supportive counselors. They can advise and help to create a safe space for us to heal. Ultimately, however, we are the ones who must take responsibility for our lives and we are the ones who must do the work.

No one can do the healing for us. WE must rewrite the messages we took in. WE must find the courage and determination to change the patterns of our lives. WE must be willing to try new things and do what scares us most. WE must decide that we matter and that we will do whatever it takes to heal. No one can do any of those things for us.

It’s hard. It’s damned hard. It’s scary as hell, too. What is the alternative? To stay unhappy for the rest of our lives? To live out patterns where we are helpless and get hurt over and over again?

If we find the courage to take the steps to heal, if we are willing to do the hard work, if we will risk believing in ourselves and find ways to bring joy into our lives every day then we can be happy.

Let me repeat what I’ve said before and is at the core of what I believe: The best thing any of us—any person can do—is to make time and find ways to laugh and smile every day. It can be little things. Flowers on the table. A movie that makes us laugh. A lovely flavored tea. An afternoon playing sports with friends. A moment of shared laughter with a friend.

The more we find ways and reasons to smile, the easier it becomes to believe we can and deserve to be happy. The more we break the patterns of our lives in small ways, the easier it becomes to break them in larger ways. The more we rewrite the voice that says we’re only allowed to do what we’re supposed to do and replace it with the message that it’s okay to laugh and smile, the easier it is to let more and more happiness into our lives.

Warning: If you have an abusive person in your life, do not let them see you being happy! Find safe ways and places to do so. And begin to plan how to SAFELY get out and away from the monster. No matter how familiar and safe it feels to be with what you know, you do not deserve to live that way! If you think the monster is capable of changing, the most likely way for that to happen is to be gone so that the person has the motivation to change. If you decide to go make SAFETY your highest priority!

Back to my main point. We cannot wait around for someone to “save” us. We must make the choices and take the steps that will get us where we want to be. Part of that is finding the support we need in order to do so but most of it is choosing how we will live our lives and the people we will choose to become.

It’s funny. As a kid, every daydream I had was about being a hero and saving people. Now, as an adult, I realize that each of us must be the hero of our own lives. Each of us must save ourselves.

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

April_optimist

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Carnival Against Child Abuse

The latest blog carnival is up and I want to put the link here so everyone can read all the great posts.

Carnival Against Child Abuse May Day May Day

None of us is an island. The safety of all children is the responsibility of all of us.

I truly believe in the ripple effect of actions we take as we reach out to protect others, to share compassion and help, or simply practice random acts of kindness. We may not be able to protect or help everyone but each of us can do something. And when we do, we may make a difference in ways we never see or know.

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

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Mothers Day

If you had a wonderful mother, I’m so glad for you!

This post, however, is mostly for those of us who had less than wonderful mothers. Mothers who even if they wanted to be good and loving mothers didn’t know how. Mothers who may have been outright abusive. Mothers who may have blamed us for what was wrong with their lives.

This is, in short, for all of us who gag at saccharine Mother’s Day cards and platitudes.

I had a mother who used to tell me I was crazy and should kill myself before anyone found out—and then she would tell me in detail how I should do it. I had a mother who blamed me for every problem she had with my father. I had a mother who...

I had a mother who was hurting inside. Who hated herself so badly she had to hate me as well—because I reminded her of herself. Who never learned what love was herself. Who tried to do better than had been done to her. Who hurt me deeply anyway.

I tell you this so you will know where I’m coming from. I tell you this so you will know that I KNOW how toxic some mothers can be.

It’s important that you know because I want to talk about finding a way to forgive and love our mothers anyway—and ourselves.

LET ME BE VERY CLEAR—FORGIVING SOMEONE DOES NOT MEAN WE MUST CONTINUE TO PUT OURSELVES IN HARMS WAY! For the last 15 years of my mother’s life I did not see her or allow her near my children. I did not feel safe making any other choice. At the same time, I consciously chose to forgive her—knowing that what she did came out of her own pain and her own self-hate. I forgave her knowing that it was something I had to do for myself. I could not hold the hate and anger inside and still be loving toward my own children.

We need to acknowledge the anger—and the magnitude of any harm that was done to us—and at some point we need to let it go. We need to forgive so that WE can heal inside and turn that energy to making our own lives better and happier. We need to forgive our mothers for mistakes they made so that we can forgive ourselves for the mistakes we make—and learn to do better.

I wish that all of us had had loving mothers. Many of you reading this did and I am so glad for you! Many of you did not and if you did not I know that it may have caused you to believe you were worthless because mothers are always supposed to love their children, right?

If you were not loved by your mother or if your mother was abusive, I want to say—as emphatically as I can—IT WAS NOT YOUR FAULT! If your mother could not love you or hurt you it was because of pain and hurt and self-hate within HER. YOU deserved to be loved and cherished and valued!

If you had a wonderful mother then I hope that on every day, not just Mother’s Day, you tell her so. If you did not, I hope that you are able to imagine cherishing and loving the child you once were. I hope that you are able to bring people into your life who DO value and cherish you. I hope that you are able to imagine, sometimes, what it would have been like to have had a mother who could love and cherish and protect you. Because when we can imagine what that would have been like--and believe that it IS something we deserve--then we know that we truly are finding ways to heal.

Blessings and sending safe and gentle (((((((hugs)))))))),

April_optimist

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Tightrope

In a sense, we survivors walk a tightrope.

We need to affirm our own strength—AND be willing to accept the help and support and wisdom of others.

We need to believe in ourselves and our abilities to heal—AND be gentle with ourselves and acknowledge just how much damage abuse did and how hard it is to overcome.

We need to be open to love and learn how to trust—AND we must be willing to set and respect boundaries and protect ourselves from further harm.

We need to believe in good in the world—AND acknowledge just how deeply we were hurt.

No one “just gets over it.” That’s not possible. The hurt of abuse goes far too deep. What we CAN do is rewrite all the lies we were told, the beliefs we took in that limit us, that hurt us, that keep us from having the lives we want to have. We can affirm that the past does NOT have to equal the future. Nor do we have to be who we were.

So we walk a tightrope—holding onto hope as we move forward, step by step until we get to solid ground where we KNOW things can be better, where we KNOW we can be happy, where we KNOW that we are strong enough to achieve whatever it is we want to achieve—because it is happening in our lives NOW.

With luck, we find companions who will make this journey with us--treating us with kindness and respect, acknowledging our strength and courage and wisdom (because it DOES take strength and courage and wisdom to survive!)AS WELL AS understanding the hurt and fears we carry inside.

I’d like to share with you something someone sent to me:

http://www.meditativemovies.com/MayYouBeBlessed.htm

It is a short video and embodies so much of what I wish for all of us.

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

Friday, May 04, 2007

HOPES AND EXPECTATIONS

First, I had a great time with my friend. It’s good to have people with whom we can be ourselves and know they will accept and love us—even if we’re not perfect.

Second, I want to talk about why I write this blog. I write it, I think, out of anger. Anger that when I began my healing journey all I could seem to find were experts who said we can never get over being abused. They certainly didn’t offer a roadmap to how one could.

I hated that. I was angry that it seemed as if the professionals were giving up on us. I wouldn’t accept that I was going to have to live the rest of my life scared, hating myself, desperately unhappy, filled with shame and guilt and believing I didn’t deserve to live.

I swore that somehow I was going to find a way to heal—and that if I did, I would do whatever I could to give hope to other survivors. I swore I would share the things that worked for me.

I’m glad I didn’t know then how hard it would be or how long it would take. I’m glad I didn’t believe the experts who seemed to be saying it couldn’t be done.

I know the power of expectations, you see. I’ve read the studies. I’ve seen it firsthand in the lives of people I knew. And it makes me angry when I read any expert say we have to live with the pain forever and we can never get over it!

Will we get to a point where we’re perfectly happy? Probably not—but no one does—no matter what their background might be. What we can do—the hope I try to share—is that we can create a life in which we are happy, where we can believe in ourselves, where we know that we have within us the strength and courage to grow and heal and become the people we want to be. That’s more than many so-called “normal” people ever achieve.

And so I created a kind of manifesto in my own mind for us survivors:

We deserve to be treated with respect.

We deserve to be allowed to have hope.

We deserve counselors who will whole heartedly work to help us reach a point where we believe in ourselves and in happiness.

We deserve to be full partners in any treatment program we undertake.

All parts of ourselves deserved to be loved and accepted and helped to be happy. No part of ourselves should have to carry a burden alone.

We deserve to be treated with kindness as well as respect.

We deserve all these things from OURSELVES as well as from others. And sometimes that’s the hardest part—to treat ourselves with kindness and respect. Sometimes it’s hard for us to let ourselves believe in our right to be happy—or that we can create the lives we want to have. But that’s the goal.

So if I sometimes seem na├»ve in my optimism, I’m not. I just fiercely want other survivors to know it IS possible to heal. I want to offer the hope that wasn’t there when I began my healing journey. And I want to help provide the roadmap I so dearly wished I’d had when I began.

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