Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve. It's supposed to be a momentous time—changing over to the new year. And I suppose I do find myself reflecting on this past year and the changes I want to make in the new year. I'm not making resolutions, though. Instead, I'm looking at the stories I tell myself and asking which ones I might want to rewrite.

I know, of course, that I want to rewrite any that begin with the assumption I'm stupid or incompetent about or can't do something. I know that I want to rewrite any that set limits on what's possible for me. I want to rewrite any that say I can't have love or happiness or prosperity.

I find myself thinking about all of this now because very soon I will be going back east to see my son in his new environment, in the group home. I know that it's important to think carefully about what I will tell him about this big change in his life, the story I will help him create for himself.

What are the stories you tell yourself that you might want to rewrite as we enter this new year? I'd love to know and to know what happens when you rewrite them.

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

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Bittersweet Time of Year

Usually I love this time of year. Yes, there are some childhood memories that aren't pleasant from this time of year but there are more of those memories where Christmas would remind my parents of who they wanted to be. At least for a short time my mother would remember that she wanted to love and make us happy. My father would grin as he brought in and set up the tree. We would go sledding or out to the slopes to ski.

This somehow feels different not having my son with me on Christmas. That's been true for several years now but....this year feels different. Because now he's in the group home and it feels like he's more distant than he was before. That makes no sense, I know, but...this year as I wrapped his presents and even now as I write this I find myself crying, grieving the loss of how I wish things could be.

I haven't begun my Christmas cards though the packages have been sent out. And I spent this morning with my daughter as she searched for the right present for her brother and dad. We made plans for her to come over for Christmas eve and I was reminded how lucky and blessed I am that this is possible. Of course, knowing that she might switch graduate schools and leave the area is another potential loss and one that hits hard on the heels of my emotions about my son and the group home.

Don't get me wrong. It's a wonderful group home. And I know it's a chance for him to grow up in new ways that could make his life easier. And if another graduate school will be better for my daughter I will be happy for her. But it will be a loss in my life to have her go.

It cheers me up to see my tree, though mind you it's a challenge getting my dog Sophy to understand the round things on the tree are NOT balls for her to play with! cards will go out late, but that's nothing new. I'll cherish the time I have with my daughter on Christmas eve and Christmas day. I'll talk with my son over the phone. And I'll acknowledge the anniversary of my father's death on Christmas eve by lighting a candle and remembering the times he was able to be a good father. I'll remember, too, the hurt that caused him, in turn, to hurt me—a reminder of why it's so important to find ways to love and accept ourselves so that we do not repeat the harm our abusers did.

A mixed bundle of emotions, this time of year. I suspect it's that way for most people.

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

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

10 Honest Things

Mile191 has been kind enough to give me an award. Thank you!

With this award I'm supposed to list 10 honest things about myself.

1) I'm a coward. It gets better all the time but my first reaction to something new is to be scared. I always have to take deep breaths and reset my thinking before I can do them. The good thing is that once I do them, I have more evidence that I can do things and I don't need to be scared.

2) I get impatient with my kids. I want my son (who has Down Syndrome) to realize that if he followed rules, his life would be easier. I wish he had all the freedom in the world to live the way he wants, but that is not his reality. I get impatient with my daughter when she goes in circles worrying about making absolutely sure she makes the right choice about anything. The irony is that I know this may be at least in part due to watching me do that as she grew up.

3) My house is nowhere near as neat as I'd like. It's far better than when I was married but it's not at the level I'd like it to be.

4) I love playing video games, especially games like Zelda.

5) I hate cold weather and ice and snow. I grew up in a cold climate and my ancestors are from cold climates but....I'd much rather have warmth.

6) Even though I have a lot of published books, there are times when I don't feel like a “real” writer. The one thing that helps is that most published writers I know also have those moments of self-doubt.

7) I hate confrontation. I suspect I always will.

8) My dog gets to sleep on my bed and I feel safer having her in the house.

9) I wish I could spend more time with my kids even though I know the greatest gift I can give them is the freedom to create their own lives.

10) I believe that deep within us is the courage and resilience we need to heal. I believe that by reaching for moments of joy in our lives, we nourish that courage and resilience and in accepting ourselves we have the best shot of becoming the people we want to be.

And now I'd like to pass the award on to:

Clinically Clueless
Jumping in Puddles

If, that is, you want to play. And I'm sure I'm forgetting people I really should add to this list.

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


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Stories, pt 2

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. I think that especially in times like this it's important to stop and list what we're grateful for. It's a tangible reminder to ourselves that even in the midst of chaos or trouble, we do have moments of joy, things that do—or could, if we let them—make us smile.

I've needed that reminder this past week. Today it becomes official—my son's move into the group home. And it's a good one. I was very impressed when I visited it—and I kept expecting to find things that upset me and was surprised when I didn't. He will finally have a chance to learn the social and behavior skills that could make his life easier and happier.

Still, it's a big change. And my son is scared. And it's hard to separate my emotions from his on this—even when I know in my head it's the best possible thing for him. Nor does it help when my ex-husband starts obsessing over who will have the right to handle our son's money (SSI, any paychecks, family gifts, etc.) because his fears trigger old patterns for me. We're telling ourselves stories, each of us, and it isn't helping.

I'm pretty sure this will be good for my son. He tells me the place is nice and he likes “hanging out with my guys.” They have lots of activities and seem sensitive to the needs of each resident. But he's scared. So I reassure him it's normal to feel scared when there's such a big change but he's loved and it will feel like home soon—if he lets it. And that he can and should tell me if there are problems. With luck, I'm giving him a story that will help him adjust. One that leaves room for him to let me know if there are problems.

I couldn't sleep last night and realized around 2 am that part of what I'm feeling is guilt—that I couldn't give my son everything he needed myself. And I realized that perhaps I've been punishing myself for that “sin.” More stories. Stories about what kind of mother I “should” be and stories about how I should treat myself if I fall short.

The irony is that by doing so I made myself less resilient and I had less energy to do things that might make the transition easier for my son. I realized that if I did things that made me happy, I'd probably be over my cold by now and I'd have more energy and more creativity with which to reassure him. And I'd be happier. Win win.

Which took me back to the story our culture tells us about life—that we have to suffer if we make mistakes, that we shouldn't be too happy, that if we fail to meet expectations we have no right to be happy, etc. At least, that's the culture I suspect many of us grew up in. And I know it's false. In my writing classes and coaching I teach that finding the easiest way, the way that brings us joy is actually the most effective. That's true in writing and it's true in life—even if it did take me way too long to figure it out!

When we are happy, when we accept ourselves, then we can be open to feedback and advice. When we are happy, when we accept ourselves, we are likely to have the energy and desire to help others—and to be able to accept them as they are. When we are happy, when we accept ourselves, then we are most likely to be able to be the kind of person that best fits our values, to live our lives in good and honorable ways.

But somehow I forgot. Not consciously but on the level I didn't realize I was making these assumptions and creating the sense of guilt for myself. As I say so often, IT IS THE ASSUMPTION WE DON'T EVEN KNOW WE'RE MAKING THAT TRIPS US UP. I'll make a conscious effort to do things that make me happy and focus on the good things in my life. And remind myself of all the reasons this change in my son's life IS a good one. Not that I'll stop checking with him that everything is okay and letting him know he can tell me if there's a problem. But I'll remind myself of all the reasons I came away from the group home knowing what a fabulous opportunity this is for my son. I'll try to notice the stories I'm telling myself and let go of them—especially the ones that don't serve me (or my son) well.

Here's hoping all of you are able to see the blessings in YOUR lives and find ways to be happy—every day! Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),


Monday, November 24, 2008


I've been thinking a lot this week about stories. Not the kind I write, but the stories we tell ourselves about other people's words and actions. We can't help it—that's what people do, we try to make sense of things and we do it by making guesses about what the other person might have meant by what they said or did. Or we tell ourselves stories about how people OUGHT to treat us.

The problem is that so often we make the mistake of assuming these stories are truth. This is a problem because the stories we tell ourselves are often what determine how we feel and how we act toward others. And how we act toward others, in turn helps determine the stories they tell themselves and therefore how they treat us. Which means it's easy to get into a downward spiral if we—and they—tend to tell negative stories.

Even worse, the stories we tell ourselves are often based in our own fears about ourselves. It may never occur to the other person to see us as stupid but we may tell ourselves a story that assumes they do—IF that's one of our fears. On the other hand, if being stupid is NOT one of our fears then even if the other person IS trying to say we are, we either won't hear it or we won't care. Because we know on such a deep level it isn't true. But any time we tell ourselves a negative story that touches on one of our fears about ourselves we are reinforcing that fear and making ourselves unhappy—while the other person goes on their merry way.

That's the thing. The stories we tell ourselves rarely have any impact on how the other person feels—but they have a huge impact on how WE feel.

I've been thinking about this as I watch people—including myself—prepare for Thanksgiving and I listen to the stories being told. I hear expectations of being treated badly or anticipation of levels of harmony that aren't likely to play out. I find myself wondering what would happen if each of us just went forward. No stories, just waiting to see what happens. Maybe WE would act differently—and therefore get different results. Maybe WE would think of new ways to respond if someone did treat us with disrespect. Maybe it would free up our energy to be able to either ignore trouble or to walk away from it—or to choose new traditions entirely.

There is something I heard Wayne Dyer say: What you think of me is none of my business.

How much of our energy goes into worrying what others think of us? What if, instead, we could use that energy to do things that would let us like ourselves better? What if we were able to see people as they are—not in terms of whether or not they will validate us?

It's an interesting experiment, stepping back from the stories we tell ourselves and just...being. Just letting events unfold—rather than trying to anticipate them. I know this is a tough exercise for anyone who has lived in an abusive situation. Survival often meant being hyper alert and anticipating possible (probable?) dangers and situations. If, however, we no longer live in such situations, we might be better served by letting go of those defense mechanisms in most situations NOW.

I think it's going to be an interesting week. I'm trying to let go of the stories I tend to tell myself and see what happens when I do. I'm looking forward to discovering the ways my life will get better because of this new approach to life and my interactions with others. I realize, you see, what it's cost me to tell myself these stories in the past. There is real power in switching our focus from surviving/getting through a situation and in asking ourselves instead: What could make this a great experience for me?

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

Monday, November 17, 2008


I know I'm behind posting. Blame a bad cold to start with. Add to that contact with my brothers for the first time in a long time. One brother's house burned down. He and his family are okay but the house is a total loss. It is strange to feel all the emotions this evokes.

I grew up feeling responsible for this brother. Stopped my mother from throwing him against the wall when he was an infant and I was about 3 years old. Gave him the attention no one else in the family did. Only to have him side with my older brother at the worst of times.

I know my brothers were as trapped as I was. They made very different choices than I did about how to handle that reality. And to this day that hurts—and makes me wary of them, deservedly so or not.

I hurt for my brother and the loss he has suffered—even though I know he has a community of people who can and will help him. I ended up talking to my other brother because he, too, was concerned when neither of us could at first reach our brother to see if he and his family were okay and whether or not their home was.

I find myself still protective enough of my brother(s) not to want to specify what went wrong as we were growing up even as I know I'll never be able to trust either of them even now. I find myself angry that in many ways they have happier, more prosperous lives than I do given the past. I find myself thinking that while I do not want to be capable of making some of the choices they did, perhaps I can look at how they were able to get to where they are and whether there is anything positive I can use without violating my own core set of values.

It is strange feeling this empathy for my brother at the same time that I feel wariness and remember hurt. I am grateful I can feel that empathy. It is the lack of that capability that allowed my abusers to do what they did. I want to be someone capable of loving and caring about even those who have hurt me. (Though I am NOT going to choose to put myself in possible harms way just because I do!)

More to mull over as I drink hot tea and try to convince my poor dog that today is NOT a good day for me to take her for a walk in the windy cold outside.....

Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))) to all of you,

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Who Am I Now, pt. 2

I've been thinking more about this and truly appreciate everyone who has taken the time to comment on my last post.

I find myself thinking that part of the problem is the definition I have of survivor of abuse. The image I carry in my head that I don't even consciously know I do. And I'm thinking that maybe what I need to do is redefine that label—just as I've redefined other major labels in my life in recent years.

Part of it is trying to decide where to put my energy and focus. Trying to figure out what my sense of responsibility is telling me to do—and how that fits with where I would put my energy and focus if this wasn't part of my life.

I find myself looking for change in all sorts of areas of my life. I took off the slipcover on the couch so that it went from dark green to lightly patterned beige. I'm looking for curtains for a couple of rooms in my house—after being perfectly happy with just blinds for the past couple of years since I moved in here. I'm rethinking how I fix my hair and the clothes I wear. I adopted my dog just a couple of months ago. I find myself even changing what I choose to eat.

In other words, it's not just the question of being a survivor—and how I define that and how “visible I do or don't want to be. I seem to be redefining myself—and my living space—in lots of ways, without knowing why or where it's taking me.

I catch myself thinking: I can't, I can't. I stop and remind myself that probably I can—no matter what it is—that I have been very successful in the past in a number of areas.

I catch myself scolding myself for some mistake made in the past—and have to remind myself that it wasn't a disaster and was part of the learning process.

I find myself calling in my mind to people who have helped me in the past—wishing they could give me answers now. And I remind myself that mostly they listened and I figured things out myself. I remind myself that the choices I regret most are the times I didn't listen to my instincts—especially when I listened to the advice of others instead.

So I'm changing. That's a good thing. I'm just not sure where it's taking me—or why it's happening now. In terms of the question of being a survivor, I suppose I need to stop thinking of it as all or nothing and perhaps ask myself instead: How can I incorporate this identity into my writing and life in a whole new way? What options haven't I thought of? How can I use the positives to give me greater confidence than if none of it had ever happened?

Bear with me as I explore possibilities. I hope that each of you are having epiphanies of your own as you make your journeys—and discovering reasons to smile and laugh and know your own strength and capabilities.

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

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Who Am I Now?

For a while now, I've been asking myself the question: Who am I now? By what labels will I define myself? Which old labels am I ready to let go of? And as I ask myself those questions, I keep coming back to the biggie: Do I want to still define myself as a survivor of abuse?

It doesn't impact my life on a daily basis any more. It doesn't trigger shame or guilt—any more. It doesn't determine my self image or expectations for what I can do—any more. And yet....there is a part of me that says it's important so that I can stand for how far we survivors can come. So that I can speak to how deep the scars can go in children who are abused. That part of me says that if I stop seeing myself as a survivor, I'm abandoning other survivors.

So why not just keep calling myself a survivor? I'm not sure. On some level I worry that despite my denials, I am limiting myself in some ways by seeing myself in those terms—as a survivor who was deeply scarred even if those scars have pretty much healed now.

So I don't know. Do we ever stop calling ourselves survivors? Why or why not? I'd really like to hear all your thoughts on this.

There was a time I thought I'd write a book about surviving abuse. Now I'm not so sure it matters—that what I have to say would be of enough interest to anyone. There was a time I thought I could be a positive example for other survivors—now I wonder if that's just hubris because each of us has to find our own way out of the pain and past. I used to wonder if I had to make my experience mean something and now I wonder if it's enough just to be happy and discover where life takes me if I don't see myself in terms of being a survivor.

Note; There was a time when I would have been denying my experience if I had said I wasn't a survivor of abuse and it would have been because I didn't want to face all the memories and emotions and shame and guilt and despair. This is different. I'm at peace with who I am and my life relative to the abuse.

I'm not usually this confused. I don't know where I'm going with all of this. No doubt I'll explore it here as I explore it within myself.

I'd really like to hear your thoughts and how YOU look at this issue.

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

Sunday, October 26, 2008


It's finally feeling like Fall here. Of course, here it means highs still in the 70s and lows in the 40s and 50s at night. But it's a change from the heat of summer. Which means I find myself contemplating all sorts of changes now.

Warning: This post may sound Pollyannish. It isn't. It's very pragmatic. This approach is the one thing that's gotten me through incredibly difficult times in my life. If I hadn't looked at life this way, I wouldn't be here. It was the antidote to fears that kept me awake in the early hours of the morning. It was got me unstuck when I was paralyzed by the changes happening to and around me. It's the only thing I've ever found that consistently works no matter what challenge I'm facing. It has turned some of what felt like horrible days into some of the most important and—at least in retrospect—good turning points of my life.

But back to my post about changes. It can feel scary when there are so many changes happening. We've got political changes about to occur. The financial situation feels like it's changing just about every day. A lot of us have family changes taking place, too.

We as individuals get to choose how we will respond to change. Do we dive in and look for opportunities or do we try to hide from it or are we somewhere in between?

Change will happen. We can put our energy into worrying about it or we can put our energy into looking for the opportunities that change will bring us.

That doesn't mean we never grieve for what we're losing! Of course we do. At the same time, though, what if we looked for what could be good about our new situation? That question is a powerful antidote to fear. It's gotten me through some of the most difficult times of my life.

Take the economy, for example. That's scary for a lot of us—and with good reason. There's no question it's a hardship for many people. What about those of us who are not yet desperate—just really worried? What good could we bring out of it? Maybe a closeness to our families as we decide—as families—how we might cut back and ways to manage with less. Maybe we can turn to the elders of the family who lived through the Great Depression for ideas we might not think of ourselves. Maybe it's a chance to rediscover each other. Maybe it's a chance to figure out if there's something we'd rather be doing than our current job. Or maybe there's some other blessing. During the last recession, in one friend's case, being laid off meant she could be there for her mother who shortly after my friend lost her job was diagnosed with a terminal illness. She will be forever grateful that during those few short months before her mother died, she was free to be at her mother's side.

Maybe this financial crisis is a chance to sit down and look at what really matters, what are our true needs and what we've used instead to try to fill emotional needs by buying THINGS instead of facing the emotions.

It's hard to do any of this if we hide our heads in the sand until we hit desperation. But what if we embrace change early on and flow with it? What if we look for what could be good—and then act to bring that good about?

Wishing for all of us the wisdom and creativity to flow with change and grow from it. Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Week That Got Away From Me

I've just had one of those weeks that got away from me. You know the kind I mean. Just when you're ready to unwind and relax you remember you have a meeting—and it's one you want to attend. Just as you sit down to write a blog post the phone rings and someone you care about needs help with something. The dog figures out how to pull down the drapes. Or your kid says, “Mom, I think I might have a concussion.”

Everything turns out okay but....the week gets away from you.

In a way it was a blessing. It reminded me to always double check what someone says—rather than just getting upset. It reminded me that much of what I often worry about turns out okay. Why put energy into worrying before I have to? And it reminded me that sometimes it's better to laugh than get angry. (The drapes went right back up with no damage.)

I was reminded that there are all sorts of possible ways to handle things and that there is rarely only one that's right. It reminded me that I can choose which one serves me—and those I love—best rather than automatically acting and reacting as I have in the past.

Here's hoping you're all having great weeks and they're not getting away from you! Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs)))))))),


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Long Week

It's been a long week and I know I'm overdue to post. Sophy needed medicine again and again it made her nuts. Thank heavens I'd seen online that this was a possible side effect or I'd have really been worried about what I was getting into with her! Once she was off it, she settled right back down again.

And my son is getting nervous about moving into the group home. It's a great group home with a really caring and well trained staff. But understandably he's nervous so I've been fielding lots of calls from him.

My daughter is talking about moving after this year—away from the city where I live. I know she needs to do what's best for her and I am sooooo grateful for the time we've had living near each other but...I'll miss her if she does go. I've been listening to her fears, too, and her elation that so many people seem so eager to help her find the right place. But then she's brilliant and unusual—far more so than she realizes.

My latest writing class....well....fewer students than I hoped are ready to spend the money to take it.

I've also been having dreams—and mine are never subtle. I dream of marriage and in the dream it requires giving up my purse and my luggage (my identity) and discovering the guy is abusive as well. I dream of everyone else eating food (which represents love) and being the only one not to have a seat.

As I said, my dreams are never subtle. They highlight for me assumptions I didn't realize I still have and that I will need to consciously dismantle. Probably by imagining what it might be like if I did have a loving partner who truly valued me.

That's one of the high points of this week, by the way. Researchers have discovered (duh!) that having or being able to imagine something which signifies safety or happiness near one gives a person the incentive to keep going forward and fight depression.

Since I always suggest that we wear clothes that make us feel happy or strong or safe and ditto for wearing jewelry or the objects with which we surround ourselves and since from the time I was a small child I would imagine situations and people where and with whom I would be safe and/or happy....this makes perfect sense to me. As I said above, DUH!!! Who needs research to discover these things? And yet I'm glad for that research. I like the confirmation that I've been on the right track all along.

Normally I'd focus just on this last thing—what we can do to feel better and the proof that it works. But this week I'm tired. This week to let you see that being an optimist doesn't mean there are never any challenges.

So how does one handle all of the above? I look for solutions to the things I can do something about—like the assumptions I still seem to have about relationships. For the things over which I have no control, I ask myself: What good could come out of this? What can I learn from this? What are the changes I might want to make in my life or my interactions with others? Is there something I can do to help make the transition easier for my son? Are there things I want to do with my daughter before she leaves the area? What kind of training do I want to work on with Sophy? If there is any kind of gap in my life, what steps do I want to take to fill it?

In other words, instead of ignoring things or putting energy into feeling like a victim I'm choosing to be proactive. I'm reminding myself that there are always choices—even if they aren't the ones I want the most. And I use my imagination as a way of looking for new possibilities and keeping myself from getting mired in negative emotions. And now there's even research that says that actually works.

Sending all of you blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Laps and Trust

As Sophy climbed into my lap one more time this week (and she is not a small dog!) I found myself thinking: Don't we all wish, sometimes, that we had a lap to climb into where someone bigger would hold us and make all the problems of the world go away? But just as Sophy isn't really a lapdog, most of us aren't going to be able to find someone who can do that for us either. Which means that we must be the ones to create the lives we want to have and to look at how we want to be in this world NO MATTER WHAT ANYONE ELSE SAYS OR DOES.

That's both the scary thing and the empowering thing—we have both the ability and the responsibility to make choices about our lives. We have both the ability and the responsibility to choose what we will focus on. We also have both the ability and the responsibility to seek out advice and help when we need it—knowing that ultimately it is we who must choose how we do—or don't—apply that advice and help.

I found myself thinking about that this week as I have watched some friends panicking over the financial crisis. I couldn't help thinking they had waited perhaps too long to ask for advice that might have helped them avoid the personal financial crisis they are in now.

Not that I can point fingers. In fact, I suspect I'm noticing because it reminds me that for far too long I didn't dare let myself believe I needed anyone's advice or help. After all, I had learned early and well that there was no one I could trust better than myself when I was growing up. My family was too dysfunctional and no one outside the family to whom I went for help seemed capable of grasping what I tried to tell them or if they did the advice they gave only made things far worse. Heck, adults were coming to ME for advice—and screwier yet, they were taking it! So if I hadn't believed I could figure it all out myself, I think I would have given up. I would have figured there was no point in even trying. In other words, I'm like many survivors of abuse who grew up trusting only in myself and my own capabilities.

Oh, I learned early how to seek out people who would be somewhat nurturing toward me. But...ultimately I never trusted them to be smart enough to be of help. It took years, far longer than I wish it had, for me to get to the point where I risked asking for help or advice and listening to anyone. It didn't always work out well when I did, but ultimately being willing to try led me to the counselor who saved my life. With his help, I found a way to let go of the past and become who I am now.

There are still moments when I realize I'm pushing away resources that could be useful. There are still moments when I have to remind myself that not everything rests on my shoulders. And then I look at Sophy. As clever as she is, as much of a survivor as she has shown herself to be, her life is happier and more fun because she's willing to let me help her and be part of her life. She's safer because she lets me set boundaries and show her better things to eat than dead birds and bugs and leaves.

It is, as with everything, a question of balance. We cannot abdicate our responsibility for our own lives and at the same time we pay a very high price if we are not willing to listen when that's the appropriate thing to do. We don't need to—and shouldn't—blindly take the advice of others! It is our lives, after all. But we gain if we are willing to learn from others. Wouldn't it be a better world if everyone was?

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

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sophy and Challenges

Yes, I'm still learning from Sophy. One of the things that's clear to me is that while she likes to climb in my lap and she likes hugs and being petted, what she needs from me even more is to have me keep her safe.

I know she'd love to eat dead birds or chase rabbits and birds we find on our daily walks. But that wouldn't be a good idea and could be really bad for her health—especially if she dashed into the road, not understanding how dangerous that could be. Just as I had to keep my kids safe when they were growing up—even if it made them angry with me—I have to keep Sophy safe. What she thinks she wants isn't necessarily good for her.

I also need to be careful not to become hostage to what she wants and needs. I have to remind myself it's okay to take time for myself to do things that are important to me even if she's not happy being left home alone. And gradually she's learning that I always do come home—sometimes sooner than she expects.

I'm learning to let go of some things. To accept that there will occasionally (less and less often now) be “accidents” and that some things might get damaged as she and I learn what limits need to be set and precautions taken. And that ultimately life is sometimes messy but the joy that comes with having Sophy far outweighs these little setbacks.

As the rest of the country seems to spin into panic over the financial situation, Sophy helps me keep focused on the things I can take care of and to let go of what I can't. That's a very useful lesson right now. She reminds me that there's no point in wasting my energy trying to change what I cannot change—whether it's companies failing or Sophy's need to chase birds and rabbits—and to focus on what I can do—whether it's make sure I pay my bills on time or keep her on a short leash when I know there are likely to be rabbits and birds which could cause her to suddenly try to take off chasing them. Doesn't matter how much harder it makes my life that something is happening—the only useful focus for my energy and attention is on what I CAN do to ameliorate the situation.

And she makes me laugh. Every day. Several times a day. She reminds me that no matter what is going on in my life or the world, there are reasons to smile or laugh—if we look for them—and that when we do smile or laugh, it helps to nourish our resilience and ability to cope with those things that might otherwise knock us down.

Here's hoping you have someone or something that makes you laugh every day. And that you are finding ways to do the things you can and to let go of whatever might be out of your control. Sending blessings and safe and gentle ((((((hugs))))))),


Here is Sophy reminding me that there are some things one just cannot change--no matter how much one wishes one could. Like fitting through an opening that's waaaay too small....

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Unexpected Hassle

I'm a bit behind on everything. I discovered this past weekend that there are things one needs to watch out for with dogs in warm climates that one doesn't worry too much about up north. Sigh It was a weekend of cleaning everything washable and shoveling unpleasant medicine down her throat. But the medicine worked and apparently I caught it right away and we're back on track.

I'm finding—big surprise!—that the more consistent I am, the clearer the boundaries are, the calmer and safer Sophy seems to feel. Gee, does that sound familiar anyone? I've come to realize that efforts to be too soothing and kind can misfire badly so that neither she nor I benefit. Does that sound familiar? She is supposed to be a year or a little over that. Perhaps. But clearly, emotionally she's younger—probably due to being swapped around a different bunch of homes to be fostered so that she still has huge abandonment issues though that's getting better, too. Again, sound familiar anyone?

I'm probably repeating things I've said before. But it's useful to understand that there are consistent patterns because a) it encourages us to look for currently dysfunctional patterns we might be playing out and to create new and healthier patterns in our lives and b) it takes away any guilt that we feel what we feel and need what we need.

Fortunately Sophy seems to be a very quick learner. She's also brave. Even after a bath that left her shaking with fright the whole time, she willingly came back into that bathroom later in the day to see what I was doing. Which means that if things have scared her in the past, she can learn to get past them now and discover they don't always have to be scary. (I'm not saying she'll get to like baths, but I'll bet she doesn't shake nearly as much next time.)

I don't know if I'm making a whole lot of sense. I've had a ton of work suddenly land in my lap this week and that combined with the extra work with Sophy has my head spinning. Hope that all of you are having discoveries of your own and reason for laughter because in the end, the more reasons we find to laugh, the more we realize that NOW we can be happy.

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

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Hurricane Missed Me

Just a quick note to let anyone know who was worried that Hurricane Ike missed where I am completely. Not even any rain out of it! Meanwhile, I'm dealing with Sophy having stuff she probably picked up in the shelter so...lots of laundry loads, trying to give her a bath and get foul tasting medicine into her and deal with her reaction to said medicine.....

Hope all of you are doing well. Sending blessings and safe and gentle ((((((hugs)))))),

Thursday, September 11, 2008

9/11 and Hurricanes

We might be getting a hurricane here. We'll know more a day from now. Meanwhile, it brings back memories of the year my daughter started college. She was trying to pack, her dad and I were frantically trying to keep up with the water seeping into our family room from the hurricane outside, and we didn't know if her flight would even take off in the morning.

A couple of years later, 9/11 hit shortly before my daughter was supposed to go back to college. We had family and friends in NYC. We talked about her options to get out to college if the planes stayed grounded and we talked about life and what mattered and of the grief we felt over all the lives lost in the twin towers.

If the current storm continues to head our way I'll bring in all my potted plants and anything else that could be tossed around by high winds. I'm ready if we have a few days without power.

When I think of 9/11, when I read about or experience things like a hurricane, I remember not just what went wrong, but also the things people do to help each other in such times of crisis.

Every crisis is a chance for each of us to rise above our fears. Each crisis is a chance for us to look at our lives and decide what matters most. May we always remember the lives lost on 9/11 and may we always celebrate the courage and concern for others that we also saw that day.

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

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

More Lessons Sophy is Teaching Me

You'd think that would be a short list. Well, maybe not if you've ever had a dog. But I'm surprised at how much Sophy is teaching me.

This past weekend my daughter brought a friend with a dog over to meet Sophy. The two dogs got along fairly well though there were some rough spots. At first Sophy was a bit too aggressive then when the other dog snapped at her she got very, very submissive. When my daughter brought out one of Sophy's toys (I'd put them away) for the dogs to play with, Sophy got very, very upset at the idea of the other dog having her toy.

What I realized was that Sophy must have encountered some very aggressive dogs in her short life. And my heart hurt for her—knowing what it's like to not be sure how to interact in ways that are neither too aggressive nor too submissive. It took me longer than I like to remember how to figure out what was appropriate.

I also realized she may never have had anything that was truly hers—that couldn't or wouldn't be taken away from her. I understood what that fear was like, too. And that desperate desire to have some things that were one's own to keep just for oneself.

I understood that cringe reaction when someone's hand came too close and she was afraid she would get hit.

I understood in the way she kept climbing into our laps, her desperate desire to find someone who would represent protection, safety and love and never, ever being abandoned again. And I recognized that desperate desire to please in hopes of gaining that safety.

I bought a retractable leash and discovered she's better on walks now than she was when I used a short fixed leash. She can run ahead or back and explore and keeps coming back to me in between. When she was on a regular leash she always pull too hard, as if afraid otherwise she'd never get a chance to explore all the things she wanted and needed to see and smell.

I don't feel that desperation any more. I know I'm safe. I know that I can have things I love that are mine and if for whatever reason I lose one or more of them that there will be others just as good. I know now how to be at ease with almost anyone. But I remember. And so I am taking care to make sure Sophy can feel safe, can feel loved, can know that her things are hers.

What it did for me was highlight the expectations I once had and echoes of those expectations I might still feel in certain situations. It reminded me that I may still limit myself needlessly at times because of what once was my reality—if I don't consciously challenge the assumptions I still carry inside.

Watching Sophy duck a Frisbee rather than running to catch it, I see how fear robs one of joy one could be having playing.

When Sophy dashes out the front door and into the street before I can catch her, I realize that her fear of being abandoned causes her to do things that put her in harms way—and I am reminded that I need to be sure that a fear of being abandoned doesn't cause me to act equally dangerously.

I know that in the days ahead, the time I'm taking to help Sophy feel safe and secure will pay off. And I am reminded that the time I take to make sure that I feel safe and secure is just as important for me.

Here's hoping all of you are able to find ways to feel safe and secure a little more than you have before. Sending blessings and safe and gentle ((((((hugs)))))).


PS Here's a picture of Sophy in front of the gate she's pulled open at one side....

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sophy and Life

As Sophy and I learn to live with each other, I find myself thinking what a good match we are—both intelligent and resilient and capable of love despite all odds. And those were very long odds. If there is anyone who can understand her fears of abandonment, it's a survivor like me. If there's any dog who could make me laugh enough to overlook some of the challenges, it's one who can stand up on her hind legs and figure out how to open a sliding patio glass door with her snout and front paws. (I was too startled and laughing too hard to think to take a picture!)

Sophy is reminding me that too much self-sacrifice isn't good for either party.

She is remind me that clear rules and boundaries are easier on everyone.

She is reminding me that play is an important part of the day—all through the day.

She is reminding me that one can be loving and still speak up for oneself whenever necessary.

I'm sure as heck getting more exercise since I got Sophy!

She's reminding me that we can defy the odds. We can choose who we will be no matter what our backgrounds might have been and learn to get past old hurts to trust when trust would seem to be impossible.

Here's hoping you have someone or an animal in your life who reminds you of things like this, too.

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

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Yes, I'm still delighted with Sophy. I love discovering how clever she can be—and how sweet. We've had a tussle or two over who is alpha but we're getting that sorted out too—in a loving way. Gently. With firm boundaries but not anger. I see her exploring issues of safety and abandonment and am glad that I can provide her the love and safety she deserves.

As I've watched various things happen this past week, I find myself thinking that one good thing about being a survivor is that we are—I think—far more likely to be willing to question our own assumptions and to look for ways to grow and stretch our comfort zones.

I have watched my ex-husband's family fuss about my daughter coming to visit her grandmother and have talked with her about how we cannot change anyone—we can only choose who we want to be and act in ways that are consistent with what we value most. We've talked about not letting the ideas of others limit us and stepping back, taking a deep breath and trusting that we will find solutions.

I've watched my daughter play with Sophy and seen what comfort that brings both of them.

I've talked with friends who are going through difficult moments and reminded myself of the costs of being dogmatic and angry and the power in being willing to let go of those things and trust that each day the path will reveal itself.

As I've interacted with Sophy and looked for ways to successfully integrate her into my life, I've noticed that when I start to get upset, it all gets worse and when I am willing instead to let go and love, I can figure out what will work best—for both of us.

There is power in choosing who we want to be and how we want to live our lives. There is comfort in knowing we are living in a way that is consistent with what we most value.

Now for a Sophy story. You knew there was going to be one, didn't you? Today I left Sophy alone for an hour—the longest since I brought her home. Put her in a room with a gate at the doorway. Came home to be greeted AT THE DOOR by Sophy. The clever girl had figured out how to pull the gate open on one side (it's only pressure mounted) and slip through the opening. Now since there were no accidents and she hadn't gotten into or damaged anything, I wasn't as upset as I might have been. If anything, I have to keep from laughing at how clever she is. She was extremely pleased with herself, I might add, and who could blame her?

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

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

My New Dog

Well, I have my new dog. Since she came from a shelter, there's no way to be sure what her parentage might be. She's probably about a year old and weighs 45 pounds—bigger than I thought.

I grew up with dogs. At times they were my greatest refuge. At the shelter they told me this one is “needy.” Maybe. She did want to play at 4 am. On the other hand, maybe what she needs is just to know she's safe. She's lying on her fleece blanket sleeping as I type.

One of the good things about adopting a 1 yr old dog is that she's pretty much housebroken. I've housebroken puppies before and am just as glad not to have to deal with that this time.

It's odd to have to change how I do things. And a part of me resists that. But another part of me is glad knowing that it's really important to shuffle our schedules and do things new ways. Plus it's sooooo soothing to pet a dog! And nice to get unconditional love. I have no doubt that in a week or two we'll settle in nicely and I'll know how long I can leave her alone and how much exercise she needs and she'll know what she can do and what she can't.

After waiting what seems like forever, everything happened very fast.

Here's hoping you have some unconditional love in your life this week! Sending blessings and safe and gentle ((((((hugs)))))),

Saturday, August 09, 2008


First, no word yet on adopting the dog. Silence there.

Second, my daughter (and I) just found out her grandmother (my ex-mother-in-law) has Alzheimer's. No one told the grandkids. Don't ask me why. My daughter is scrambling to find a way to go visit her grandmother before classes start in the fall. And furious that no one told her sooner. The family seems surprised she thinks it's a big deal or that she wants to come and see her grandmother NOW.

Silences. No matter what the reason, silences hurt. It's too easy to misunderstand why no one spoke or shared information. It's upsetting not to be given the option to act—because one didn't know what was going on.

Silences hurt when no one tells about abuse.

Silences hurt when there is a secret that keeps someone from helping or spending time with a person who is slipping away.

Silences hurt when no one knows why.

Silences hurt even when no harm is meant.

It's easy to recognize the silences that hurt US. The greater challenge is to recognize those silences on our part that may hurt others. Sometimes we think it's a kindness. Or we're afraid we'll say the wrong thing. Or maybe we just feel overwhelmed.

This week has been a reminder for me that regardless of our reasons, silences can hurt. Sometimes silences ARE necessary. I know that all too well. It's just good to be consciously aware of the choices we make and the potential pitfalls when it comes to silences.

Here's hoping there are no hurtful silences in your lives now or ever again. Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),


Monday, August 04, 2008

Dogs and Emotions

You wouldn't think getting a dog would bring up so many emotions. Well, one expects emotions such as excitement, some concern about what having a dog will entail, etc. I found something else, though, when I started seriously looking for a dog to adopt over the past week or two.

I'd been thinking about it for some time. I assumed I wanted a collie or a sheltie but kept thinking it wouldn't be fair to the dog when the summers get so hot here. (We've already had over 40 days where the high was over 100 degrees this summer and since it's only the beginning of August we can expect quite a few more. Dearly as I love collies and shelties I can't help but feel it would be selfish of me to have one here.) But...maybe. Did I want to find a breeder or rescue a dog from a shelter? There were financial, ethical and breed specific issues to consider.

I started looking. The only dog I found that I liked—and she is such a sweetheart!—is probably a spaniel pointer mix. (Maybe. Since she's in a shelter, no one knows for sure.) Great! threw me. I found all kinds of emotions welling up. When I stepped back, I realized that having collies is tied up in my mind/emotions with the situations I was in when I had them. My collies were my refuge then and there were reasons they were the only kind of dog my family would consider.

Not getting a collie meant challenging assumptions I'd had for so long—and didn't realize I had.
Not getting a collie also meant letting go of that part of my life and stepping into new possibilities. Which should have been a no brainer GOOD thing! But our minds seem to be wired to fear new possibilities—at least mine is. I had to consciously choose to remind myself that this could be great in terms of freeing my mind to see lots of things in a new way.

Not getting a collie felt like betraying the ones I'd once had—especially once I admitted to myself that they hadn't been perfect and/or that maybe I didn't want some of the challenges that go with caring for a collie.

I went 3 times to look at the dog. The first two times it was as if I was afraid to let myself get attached to her. And so many ways she's a perfect choice. There's something about her. She's a sweetheart. Even though she comes from a shelter, she was fostered for 6 months (since she was a puppy) so she's socialized to a large degree. She's trained to walk with the person holding her leash—rather than tugging them over (the way my collies sometimes used to do). She's not too large, she's not too small. She has the calmest temperament of any dog I've ever owned. And did I mention that I can take her for walks without her trying to pull me over?

But I wanted to be sure I'd truly fall in love with her—because every dog deserves to be loved. I waited to be sure I could welcome her with joy into my life.

And now I've finally put in the application. Assuming it gets approved, I may have her home by this time next week. (They will spay, microchip, test and vaccinate her before I get to take her home. That's AFTER they process my application and assuming they approve it.)

I didn't expect the emotional stuff all of this brought up. At the same time, I'm thrilled to be able to let go of leftover limiting beliefs I didn't know I had. I share this with all of you because knowing that things can bring up unexpected emotions when we least expect it makes it easier to cope—at least for me—when they do. And hey, you're my friends so I figure it's good to share my happiness with you, too! And I am happy that soon—I hope!— I'll be bringing home my new dog.

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

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Getting Over Emotional Hangovers

Jumping in Puddles asked a great question: How do we bounce back from emotional hangovers?

The first step is recognizing this is what's happening and that we don't have to feel this way—we have a choice.

Second step is doing what I call emotional aerobics. This means:

1)Reminding ourselves of every situation we have been able to handle, every success of our lives, every strength we have, every reason that exists for us to believe we can cope with what is happening.

2)Doing things that make us smile and therefore reminding ourselves that NO MATTER W HAT we can have moments of joy in our lives.

3)Asking what good could come out of the situation.

When we do these things we are reminding ourselves that we are not hostages to anyone else or any events in our lives ANY MORE. It is how we choose to handle the challenges that arise in our lives that determines the quality of our lives.

I know that's hard to believe when we're in the middle of a difficult situation. Believe me, it took conscious effort and daily aerobic emotional exercises to cope with the chaos of my visit back to NJ. And even so it took me a week to shake off all the effects—in large part because until the emotional hangover lifted, I didn't even recognize that was what was going on. Even so, doing the 3 steps above made a huge difference.

I didn't get mired in fear based thinking. I didn't retreat to old behavior patterns with my ex or with my son. I didn't give in to depression. I did manage to find some things to bring back with me. I did manage to be upbeat with my son and set appropriate limits. I did manage to cope with the crises that kept arising—without getting drawn into doing things my ex asked me to do that are no longer appropriate (like finding and buying 4 new tires for his car).

Remembering that we DO have choices, that we can create moments of joy, that we can choose how we respond to situations is immensely powerful AND the key to bouncing back from emotional hangovers.

Here's hoping all of you keep bouncing back from any emotional hangovers you might be facing! Sending blessings and safe and gentle ((((((hugs))))))).

PS Check out what Keepers has done with some of the sayings from my Survivor's Manifesto!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Emotional Hangovers

Well, I've figured it out. Emotional hangovers last about one week after I get back from NJ and dealing with my ex and the old house. One week to shake off those patterns into which I sometimes fall. One week to shake off the self-doubt and depression. One week to remember who I am NOW and how good my life is NOW. One week to shake off the regrets and self-recriminations.

Now I can get back to my work whole heartedly. Now I can put my mind to really looking at what I want to do and have in my life. One week to be back to laughing and feeling good.


What triggers YOUR emotional hangovers—and how long does it take YOU to get over them?

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


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Hopes and Dreams and Fears

One of my deepest fears for my son, when he was born, was that he would end up in an institution where he would be abused. His behavior issues in the past ten years woke fears I'd once put to rest. can imagine the mix of emotions I felt when I went to look at the group home while I was in NJ last week.

It was wonderful. It was everything I could hope for, for my son. It is a place where he can be safe and grow and let go of old habits as he gains new ones that might actually serve him well. No matter how good a mother I could be, I can't give him the opportunities he will have there. It was good to be able to put aside that fear.

Now...hopes and dreams. A friend of mine likes to say that hopes and dreams die last. I thought I'd put mine to rest. And this visit sure reaffirmed I was right to divorce my ex. But....I came back grieving. Grieving for the knowledge that I can't grow old with the person who watched our children grow up with me, the father of those children, a person with whom I shared my life for 30 years. Even if I find someone else, that person won't know those years, those challenges, those triumphs and the moments of despair.

It's painful to grieve. It would be worse to pretend I didn't feel these things. Knowing and grieving will let me move on to the next phase of my life more completely than if I didn't.

Let me be clear: I do NOT feel sorry for myself! I had the courage and wisdom to get out. I had the skill to do so in a way that left me options. There just was this piece of grieving that I didn't know still needed to be done.

So I'm back home. I'm catching up on things I couldn't do while I was gone. I've been grieving and now I'm starting to look forward rather than back. Because now I can. I have choices. I have time and space to work on creating the life I want to have. Including maybe getting a dog—though I haven't found the right one yet.

But I move cautiously. It would be part of my nature to do so even if there hadn't been so much abuse in my life in various forms. I am wary of old patterns. I am still feeling out what it is I want—and what it is I believe I can have. And I am rewriting any beliefs I discover that no longer serve me.

Here's hoping you are all rewriting the beliefs that no longer serve you—and discovering what could make YOU happy. Sending blessings and safe and gentle ((((((hugs)))))),


Friday, July 18, 2008


Some things I realized this past week. Some are liberating. Some make me cringe—except better to have the self-awareness and know so that I can be on guard against playing out those patterns in the future.

I wanted safe. I married my ex because he wasn't intimidating. Only there isn't much safe about someone who lets you drive on the freeway after midnight in a car where the tire was down to 12 pounds of pressure earlier in the day. Or who creates constant chaos. (Did I mention he also “forgot” to tell me about the broken pipe in the laundry room and I discovered it when my son did laundry and the floor flooded?)

I also tried to be the "easy" wife. No drama, no hassles, only a partner who would be of value. I didn't realize he'd value me less, not more because I did.

When I was married, there was a payoff in the chaos. People felt sorry for me and angry on my behalf. And I felt safer because if I didn't want to do something I could use the chaos as an excuse.

I want and need calm in my life. I no longer want chaos.

I can walk away from the house knowing I was wise not to try to keep it.

I know that even if I were the best mother in the world, there are things my son will gain by being in the group home that I could not have given him.

I know that had I gotten custody, my son would not get into a group home for several more years—if ever.

I was reminded how much happier I am where I am now than where I was living for so long.

I can watch my ex with his girlfriend and be happy they found each other. And know that I feel no regrets over choosing to walk away.

I only had a chance to contact one or two old friends. Even in these friendships, I could see patterns I am choosing not to repeat in new friendships here. They were what they had to be when I was married, but as I change, as I grow I can choose different friends and healthier friendships.

It is neither wise nor useful to see myself as having been a martyr. There were choices I could have made. I didn't make them because I was too afraid. Trying to be safe is sometimes the most dangerous thing we can do.

In the midst of all this, a friend died unexpectedly. She hadn't even been sick. I got back here in time for the funeral yesterday. It was a reminder to LIVE, really live—not just endure.

My daughter is coming over for lunch tomorrow. She wants to help me find a dog to adopt. I will cherish the time we spend together and be grateful for her presence here in town while she gets her PhD. And I will know that the best gift I can give her is to see that at any age one can make new choices, at any age one can change and grow, at any age one can create a healthier and happier life.

Here's hoping that each of you are creating the lives YOU want to have.

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

Monday, July 14, 2008

Theater of the Absurd

It's pouring rain which means the carpeted family room is about to start flooding.

There's no umbrella in the house and my son has to get to the bus to get to his day program.

The downstairs toilet is overflowing any time water goes down the drain in any other part of the house.

And my ex isn't answering his cell phone so I can ask:
a) Where are the umbrellas?
b) What plumber does he use to clear out the drain from the street to the house.

Add to that not telling me the tire on the car was low on air and you have a pretty good picture of what my life was like all the time for close to 30 years. I call it the theater of the absurd.

Now, one way or another I'll manage. I always did. If I can't find out what plumber my ex uses I'll just go down the list in the yellow pages. (Though a plumber who knows the recurring problem would save time.) The tire got plugged. If need be I'll drive my son to his program. And to hell with the carpet flooding, if it comes to that.

As I said, this gives you an idea of what my life was like for so many years.

I am so grateful that it is only occasionally that I have to deal with this kind of chaos any more. It reminds me how and why I felt overwhelmed for so many years. It reminds me, too, of old patterns and the need not to fall into them again.

Being a martyr isn't nearly as useful as taking action to deal with whatever one needs to deal with—AND getting away from someone who creates perpetual chaos. (Not having the problems in the first place beats the sympathy one gets from having to cope with chaos.)

I no longer assume the problem is me (because who would be crazy enough to do this kind of stuff....I MUST be missing something).

I don't waste time trying to analyze his motives. Doesn't matter. He is who he is and not likely to change. If there's something to deal with, I deal with it.

I give voice to my unhappiness now—rather than trying to smooth things over or pretend they don't matter. These things do matter. I matter.

I CAN MAKE CHOICES. I can make choices about how I handle things now, while I'm here, and I can make choices about what I will do in the future.

And in a couple of days I can go home. Away from the chaos.

What is YOUR theater of the absurd and what choices could you make that would make your life easier or better? What are the patterns you might want to change about how you act and react to situations?

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

Friday, July 11, 2008

Alice in Wonderland

When I go back to the old house to see my son, I never manage to successfully anticipate the form the weirdness will take. It makes for...interesting visits and I always feel like Alice in Wonderland. Well, except when I feel like Sisyphus trying to roll the boulder up the hill, over and over again....

This visit is no exception. As I like to say, my ex has been very good about making sure I couldn't possibly second guess my decision to divorce him.

That said, it's interesting to see how, each time I visit, I'm less likely to get sucked into the chaos. I'm quicker to recover after I get sand bagged. I'm more able to say to my ex: No, I won't do that for you. I'm less likely to freak out and start screaming: Are you out of your freaking mind?????

Ahem. Sorry about that. Seriously, it's always a good reality check for any fantasy “what ifs?” that I might have been having. It's a reminder that things really were as chaotic as I remember. It's a reminder that while I might wish all I want that things had been different, there's no way they were going to be. NOT because he or I were bad people but because the dynamic between us was destructive to both of us. Even the counseling we tried couldn't change that.

And seeing my son and trying to work with him, reminds me why the fantasy of how I wish things could have been with him wasn't going to happen either.

In any case, it's all a reminder that one can't go back, we can only go forward. We can only ask ourselves:

What's the best choice I can make NOW, in THIS moment?

How can I be the person I want to be in THIS moment?

What do I want to accomplish? What's the best way to do that—if it's possible?

All we have is THIS moment. And in this moment we have the power to choose who we will be. NOW. We can't control the outcome of what we do or how anyone else will act or react. We can choose whether or not we will act in alignment with our highest values.

One of my highest values is love and empathy—perhaps because those who abused me were so self-focused. What I have come to know is that it's okay to be loving AND protective of myself as well. Being loving does not have to equal being a doormat! Knowing that I can protect myself means I don't have to scream at my ex when he fails to be protective. (As in discovering he had me drive his car alone with my son after midnight on a freeway when he knew a tire might be very, very low on air.)

So I will spend this week with my son, loving him and helping him get emotionally ready for the group home. I will let go—as much as I can—of how I wish things had been. And I will honor how far we've all come. (And catch up on reading blogs when I get back home.)

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


Sunday, July 06, 2008

Claiming Our Power

We survivors are accustomed to thinking of ourselves as victims. And we were. But....what if....we have more power NOW than we ever realized?

No, I'm not crazy! Really! I swear it! Mind you, had anyone said that to me ten years ago, I'd have run the other way—sure they were making fun of me or crazy or totally out of touch with my reality. And yet, today, I really believe it's true.

What do I mean and how can it possibly be true for all of us?

1) We have the power to choose how we think about situations in our lives.
We can choose to look for the good we can bring out of every situation in which we find ourselves. We do not have to just think about what's bad about the situation. And in looking at the good we can bring out of it, we empower ourselves to move forward.

2) We have the power to choose how we will respond—or to choose not to do so.
We can consciously choose whether we will fight or talk or take quiet action. We do not have to keep playing out old patterns or react to life. We can choose to be pro-active.

3) We have the power to decide we will believe—about ourselves and the world around us.
We took in messages, growing up and because of the abuse that probably do not serve us very well any longer. We can choose to challenge any that hold us back from becoming who we want to be and having the kind of life we want to have. We do not have to hold onto the shame and guilt. We can place it where it belongs—with our abusers.

4) We have the power to choose how we see ourselves.
We can choose to see ourselves as strong, capable, competent, wonderful, joyful human beings.

What if all of that is true? What if we really do have that kind of power? Then we go from being victims to being thrivers.

That can be a scary thought if being a victim has had any kind of emotional or real world payoff for us. And yet, if we choose to see ourselves as powerful, capable human beings then possibilities open up for us. We are likely to draw into our lives emotionally healthier people than before. People who can love and support us and see us as the wonderful human beings we really are.

If it's too hard to see these things as true NOW for you, try it as a What If game. What IF I had the power to choose....? What if I could be strong and capable and able to choose my reality?

I know that as I go to stay with my (down syndrome) son this week I will keep asking myself: What if it all works out wonderfully well? What if I am able to let go and say good-bye to a house that once held so many hopes and dreams for me? What if I am able to be strong enough to truly wish happiness for my ex-husband and all that is happening for him now? What if I am wise enough to know the right things to say and do with my son so that his transition to group housing does go smoothly? What if I am fully aware of how much stronger and wiser I am than I ever knew when I was still married?

Every survivor's blog I visit, no matter how much pain is on the page or how evident the feelings of helplessness sometimes, I also see incredible strength and resilience and a beautiful spirit. It's time for all of us to claim that wonderful truth—that no matter what anyone has ever told us about ourselves, we are joyful, beautiful, courageous and wonderful spirits here in this world and we are profoundly fortunate to have the internet so that we can connect with each other.

Wishing for each of you a true sense of your very real power—this week and always. Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Monday, June 30, 2008

Who Am I?

I suspect that's not a question we ask ourselves very often. We are far more likely to focus on who we think we should be. I wonder how many of us have ever sat down and written out who we are, what we like, etc. If we haven't, I suspect it's because we're afraid that we won't like what we discover or that it won't be good enough.

I still remember my shock, a few years ago, after my divorce, when I realized that my ex-husband's opinions notwithstanding, maybe it was okay to like using an automatic coffee maker!

What if we started with the proposition that whoever we are is okay and that our job is to figure out how to create a life that supports and empowers who we are—not who we think we should be? What if we asked what sort of schedule would best suit our natural body rhythms? Our preferences for working alone vs with others? What if we asked ourselves whether we liked creative freedom or being told what to do? What if we asked ourselves what kind of people we LIKED to be around? What if we asked ourselves what level of intimacy suited us? What if we asked ourselves what would make us happy?

What if we truly believed there were no right or wrong answers—only information that could let us create happy, productive lives?

What if....?

As a writer, I ask myself that question all the time about the lives of my characters. But it's an equally powerful question to ask about my own life. In my writing, I can't know what will work with a character until I know who they are and how they feel and what is going to suit them and what won't—no matter how much they try to make something fit that won't. In my own life, I'm trying to step back and figure out exactly who I am and what best suits me—rather than doing what I did for so many decades which was to try to be who I thought I should be and who other people wanted me to be.

This may sound like a selfish thing to do but in the end it gives the greatest odds that we and the people we bring into our lives may actually be able to be happy.

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


Monday, June 23, 2008

A Survivor's Manifesto

Survivor's Manifesto

I'm in one of those moods so here's my Survivor's Manifesto. If I repeat myself, it's intentional:

1) Don't judge where I am. You don't know where I started or how complicated my journey has been.

2) Don't pity me or assume I'm fragile or flawed. I may very well be stronger, more resilient, courageous and creative than you are.

3) Respect the courage it took to survive.

4) Respect the resilience I've shown becoming who I am in spite of the abuse or trauma I experienced.

5) Respect the creativity and intelligence I used to survive.

6) Expect the best of me AND believe that ultimately I can do anything I choose to do—including fully heal.

7) Don't assume my emotions are a flaw.

8) Laugh with me.

9) Don't give glib answers or ideas. I KNOW deep down what I need to do next.

10) Don't freak out on me, no matter how horrible it was, I DID survive.

11) Don't minimize what happened or ask me if I want a book on Christian forgiveness. If it felt
bad to me it was. I'll forgive if and when I'm ready to do so.

12) Set limits that protect you and understand that sometimes I won't know what those limits should be—BUT I CAN LEARN.

13) Accept the boundaries I set. You can negotiate but don't cross those boundaries unless I agree.

14) Understand that I won't tolerate bullies.

15) What matters is not what you intend but how it feels to me.

16) I'm not a patsy. I may go extra far to be nice and keep things calm, but try to take advantage too much or disrespect me and I'm gone.

17) I'm just as smart, courageous and resilient as you are and maybe more so.

18) Just because you don't get it doesn't mean I'm wrong!

19) I'm always questioning my assumptions and working to change and improve my life—are you? If not, don't ever be condescending or act as if you're superior to me!

20) If you want my trust EARN IT!

21) Just because you don't want to believe it could happen to nice people or in families like yours doesn't mean I should stop telling the truth.

22) Treat me with respect. I don't care who you are or what your credentials might be or what success you have achieved in life. I'll stack my courage, resilience, strength and creativity against yours any day.

23) I am the expert on who I am and what I need. You may not believe that and sometimes what I say or do might contradict what you think you know but there is no way you can have as complete access to who I am and what has happened to me as I do. TRUST ME.

24) Trust me to know what I need to do next.

25) Trust that I am doing the best I can every day of my life.

26) Trust that I can and will heal.

27) Trust that finding joy in my life is the surest way to my creating a happy, healthy life—NOT scolding or blaming or otherwise feeling bad.

28) If you want to help, TRUST ME.

29) If you want to help, BELIEVE IN ME.

30) If you want to help, encourage me to see my successes and strengths NOT focus on my weaknesses.

31) Never, ever encourage me to wallow in my pain! I don't care how angry I get, remind me again that you believe in me and that you believe I can heal NO MATTER HOW BAD THE PAST MAY HAVE BEEN.

32) What seem to you like weaknesses may actually be the foundation of my strengths.

33) Treat me with respect and kindness and trust and look for the best in me because that is what every human being deserves.

Wishing for each of you reading this post respect, kindness, trust, and people who believe in YOU.

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

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day

I realized at a very early age that I was going to have to look for parenting role models outside my family. I knew even as a young child that neither of my parents were who I wanted to be like when I grew up. And over the decades I found myself making note of those qualities I thought made a good parent—and tried to adopt as many as I could as I raised my children.

Some of the qualities of a good father (or mother, for that matter...):

1) Sees and nurtures the best in the child—and helps the child build on those strengths.

2) Encourages the child to believe in him or herself.

3) Loves deeply and gives of himself AND sets good limits on the child's behavior.

4) Helps out the child whenever it's a good idea AND knows when to step back and allow the child to discover what he or she can do on his/her own.

5) Admits mistakes and knows how to apologize.

6) Cheers on a child's success AND knows that surviving failure can be just as important and sometimes more so and helps the child know that failure is NOT the end of the world but only a beginning to the next steps forward.

7) Teaches the child financial responsibility, how to handle credit and the value of deferred gratification.

8) Reads and reads to his child and encourages a love of learning—whether book learning or life skills.

9) Encourages a child to be true to him or herself AND to think about others as well.

10) Sets an example of moderation in all things.

11) Is willing to be silly and play like a child.

12) Is willing to be a grownup and make the hard decisions when that's what's called for.

13) Cares enough to set limits and hold to them.

14) Shows the child how to be as safe as possible in a sometimes uncertain world AND encourages that child to LIVE, really LIVE even if that sometimes entails risks.

15) Understands that the harm a parent does goes far deeper than any harm anyone else can do just as the good is better than anyone else can do--AND HE CHOOSES TO DO THE GOOD.

I have known some wonderful men in my life. It wasn't just luck—I looked for them. Because I knew that I didn't want to live afraid or believing that every man would be abusive or hurt me. I am profoundly grateful to those men who helped me feel safe or helped me to grow to become the person I am now. Some of those men have done both. Some have been friends or married to friends and it was/is a joy to watch how loving some relationships can be.

Today I honor all those men who have been truly loving fathers—or tried their best to be.

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


Monday, June 09, 2008


When I teach writing classes, I always tell students that the most important factor in the success of writing is the quality of the questions we ask ourselves before we begin. The same thing is true in life with any challenge we face. It was true this past week as I was making a dress for my daughter to wear to a friend's wedding and it's true for me in looking at the changes ahead for my son—and by extension my ex-husband and myself. The result in my daughter's case is that she has a dress she says is the nicest thing she's ever owned. The result in the situation with my son is that I can look at the situation, look at my emotions and acknowledge what I'm feeling without being overwhelmed by it, and I can look ahead to see ways I might be able to make the process go more smoothly for all of us.

It begins with being honest with myself about what I feel. It means acknowledging the emotions I wish I didn't have as well as celebrating what's good about the whole situation. It means looking head on at guilt and grief and asking myself whether or not the feelings are useful, based on valid or erroneous assumptions, and asking myself what I can do to address them.

When I was telling a friend about the upcoming changes, I found myself saying to her: I thought I'd have more time to figure out how to be the mother I wish my son could have had.

Think about the layers of emotion in THAT statement—many of which my gut reaction is to run from! But by stepping back and looking at those layers, letting myself feel whatever I feel, I can begin to take it apart, level by level. If guilt surfaces, I can look at ways I was a superb mother to my son—and acknowledge where his father might have had the greater strengths. I can look at the assumptions behind the guilt and realize that no one is ever a perfect parent and ask were the choices I made the best given the circumstances at the time—and discover that for the most part, the answer is yes. I can ask myself if guilt serves me or my son or the situation—and realize that it gets in the way of doing anything useful. And so I can let it go—at least for the moment.

I can look at the emotions and note the one that echoes my deepest fear when my son was born—that some day he would be helpless in a situation where he would be abused because he didn't fit in. I can ask whether that fear is a valid one. I can ask what steps I can take to make sure it doesn't happen—and what steps to suggest to my ex-husband (who will be living much closer). I can ask myself what I can do to help my son with the transition so that his behavior is less likely to trigger frustration and anger on the part of anyone supervising his housing situation—whatever that turns out to be.

I can create a list of questions my ex-husband can ask as he and our son tour group homes (starting this week!).

I can ask myself what actions will help ME with the transitions ahead—including scheduling a slightly longer visit in July and planning to go more thoroughly through the house to make sure I bring back with me anything of mine that I left there that I truly want—in case my ex-husband sells the house quickly.

I can remind myself to ask: What good will (or could) come out of this? And then I can celebrate the answers.

Questions are powerful tools. For one thing, they take us out of the level of emotions and into the mind where we can look at the thoughts and assumptions behind the emotions.

Wishing for all of you wonderful, useful questions this week! Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Sunday, June 01, 2008


Someone recently posted a comment to Changes and I reacted very strongly. I asked myself why I cared so much. So what if this person was mistaken?

And then I realized it was about respect. I don't mind questions or people disagreeing with me. That gives me a chance to rethink my position and/or clarify the reasons I believe what I do. Either way, that's a good thing.

What I'm referring to is something else. If I feel I'm being scolded or patronized or generally treated with disrespect, there's a good chance I'll take your head off. I'll do it nicely, but I WILL do it. (Note: I want to make clear that I absolutely believe the person posting meant to be helpful. In no way do I believe he meant to be hurtful or malicious. At the same time, I do believe it minimized what I am dealing with. In other words, it was ignorance rather than malice.)

At any rate, my response was something fairly new for me. All my life I've jumped in to stand up for other people. I've put myself physically between abusers and those they meant to harm. I've spoken up for the right for others to be treated with respect. I've done so even when I knew it would cause problems for me.

But it's only recently that I've started standing up for myself this way. It still feels strange. I still worry that I might be overreacting or too harsh in my response. And yet I realize that it's progress to stand up for myself—rather than seething in private. (Healthier, too. A recent study documented serious health consequences for people who swallow their anger.)

Now I am NOT advocating going out and ripping apart everyone you meet! I still think it's important to consider the impact of our words and actions on others. It is still important to put myself in the other person's shoes—and try to see things from their point of view.

That doesn't meant I'll tolerate abusive words or actions. That doesn't mean I'll put up with injustice. But in my response, I will do my best to speak and act in ways that are consistent with the person I choose to be. I will condemn words and actions—not people. I will remember that each of us acts and reacts out of our own circles of hurt and vulnerability—and desire to feel better.

The comment also reminded me of the very real gender differences between men and women and how we react to and handle things. A bit of advice for any guy out there reading this: YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT THE WOMAN YOU ARE SPEAKING TO SHOULD FEEL. You don't. We process things differently. The more you respect what we do feel, the easier—and faster!—we can move through it.

TRUST US! We may not be able to articulate our reasons the way you can, but that doesn't mean we're wrong! Trust and respect us and we are far more likely to trust and respect YOU.

Wishing trust and respect for everyone reading here and sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs)))))),


Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

After I posted my last blog post, I went to read other blogs and immediately got reminded how much more difficult challenges others are facing. My prayers are with all of you.

And today, of course, is another such reminder. I've never had to go to war (though some might argue my childhood WAS a war zone, it's still not the same thing). I haven't lost a family member to war either. I've been lucky that way.

Today I want to take a moment to salute those who have gone to war—both those who died and those who came back changed because of what they saw and did and what happened to them.

My generation was the last to face the draft. It's hard for me to imagine the courage it took to go to war when there was a draft and the courage to choose to go when one doesn't have to go—as young men and women are doing every day now.

It was good for me to be reminded how lucky I am and that however huge changes may feel to me, there are others dealing with much more difficult issues right now. That doesn't mean our own issues don't matter—because they do—only that it's good to stop and realize the ways we are fortunate and to honor the courage others show in coping with the challenges in their lives.

Today we honor those who have had the courage to be in the military and do what they can to keep us all safe. And to pray that soon this world finds a way to exist in peace so that no more men and women--of any nation--have to go to war. That we find a way to resolve disputes without fighting.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


I was going to write a “Valuing Self pt. 3” and talk about how it matters that we value ourselves because it's in the moments we fear we aren't good enough and/or we will be rejected/abandoned that we are most likely to do or say things that hurt ourselves and/or others. That's what I was going to write about. But...

But this week I heard that my son with Down syndrome may soon be placed in housing. And that's a good thing, I think.'s churned up all sorts of emotions for me.

Will the housing be good enough?

Will my son be able to adjust?

Will he be happy there?

It also means a lot of other changes. My ex-husband will almost certainly sell the house where my kids grew up. My links with the state where I lived for over 20 years are disappearing.

Odds are that my ex-husband will marry since it's our son who his girlfriend didn't want to deal with.

There won't be many more times I go and stay in the house with my son (while my ex-husband is elsewhere).

I know. In the grand scheme of things, none of this is terrible. None of this is unexpected. None of this is even, necessarily a bad thing.

But all of this adds up to profound emotional upheaval for me.

Let me be clear: I don't begrudge my ex-husband happiness. I'm glad that maybe my son is moving to a new level of independence. I hope a new setting will help him grow. All of this could be good.

It's just a profound emotional upheaval for me.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Valuing Self, pt. 2

Everyone wants to be loved and accepted for who they are—just as they are. And everyone is afraid they won't be. That's true whether someone has abuse in their background or not. It's true for apparently successful people just as it's clearly true for those just scraping by.

And yet we have this tendency to berate ourselves for needing and wanting validation—as if it wasn't part of the human condition and something everyone needs! Babies who are not loved enough literally die—it's called failure to thrive.

So why are we so reluctant to accept this part of ourselves?

Well, first a lot of kids, even those not in classically defined abusive homes, often get the message that they shouldn't be so needy, shouldn't cling to their mothers (or fathers) so much. The message may be explicit or implicit (in the body language, voice, or facial expressions of adults around them). But that speaks to the fatigue adults so often feel—not to the very human need we all have to connect with others!

As adults, if we feel needy, we may act in ways that we HOPE will elicit validation from others. The problem is that it rarely works and often means we push away the very people we hoped would stay connected to us and provide us with validation.

If we're lucky, we're able to explicitly say to someone important to us: Hey, look, I know it's silly, but it really helps if you TELL me that you care and that you believe in me. really helps if you SHOW ME that you care and believe in me. (The tricky part is that often the other person tries to show us by doing what would make them feel validated and cared about and that does not necessarily match what actually works for us.)

Now the other person may not do what we ask. If they are abusive they will use it against us and that's a good sign to get out! Or it may be a request that seems to that other person inappropriate—or more than they have the energy to do. But simply by asking we are validating ourselves. We are saying we matter. And we begin to discover what we can and can't ask for—the boundaries of the relationships around us.

Ultimately, we're best off if we can give ourselves the validation we need and then connect in other ways to those we care about. And this is, in a sense, the goal of therapy—that we reach the point where we believe in ourselves enough to provide all the validation we need. But how do we do that?

This is one reason I believe so strongly in doing things like making lists of what we like about ourselves and reasons we might have to believe we can accomplish what we want to accomplish. This is why I believe in building on small successes to create bigger ones and celebrating what we do.

If we begin by looking at our (perceived) flaws, we may never get beyond that point! We will feel like failures to ourselves. On the other hand, if we begin with what we LIKE about ourselves and our STRENGTHS, then we have something to build on. The more we love and accept ourselves, the more we discover about who we are AND WHO WE CAN BECOME.

I wish I'd been able to say to a person in my life a few years ago: Look, I know it's silly but it would really help just to have you actually say these words, every so often: “I believe in you and you're doing fine.” Then I probably wouldn't bug you with so much email, hoping what I write will (without me having to explicitly ask) get you to say it.

I wish with another person I'd been able to say: What's really going on?

I wish with my ex-husband I'd been able to truly be myself—rather than trying to be who I thought he wanted me to be. My marriage probably would have ended sooner but I'd have had more of my self-respect intact when I left.

But we can't change the past. What we can do is look at where we are now and if we are not valuing ourselves—ALL of who we are—we can practice, even if it's for short moments at a time, accepting who we are. We can look at the things we like about ourselves and past successes and begin from the point of who we are and what will make our lives better and happier. And instead of calling ourselves idiots or weaklings (or whatever else our favorite chastisements may be), we can practice reminding ourselves that we are strong and resilient and creative and capable and survivors.

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

Friday, May 09, 2008

Valuing Self

Everyone has different aspects to their personality. It just tends to be more extreme for victims of abuse. Some abuse victims become multiple personalities, others of us just...compartmentalize.

I was thinking about this after watching the movie: The Three Faces of Eve (which my mother made me watch growing up—perhaps because she “lost time” a lot when she was in college). (If you're MPD you probably don't want to watch it. Even as a kid, I was appalled at the idea that "success" might be getting rid of 2/3 of yourself!) But it got me thinking about times I've suppressed part of who I am. Did it as a kid to survive, of course, but I was also thinking how to get through my divorce, I had to in a sense suppress the part of me that liked being married/in a relationship. And at another point after that, something happened and I suppressed the kid part of me that had needed to cling to the other person involved.

See the thing is, there's always a cost when we suppress parts of ourselves. That needy kid part is also the part of me that can love unabashedly and is able to reach out to other people without fear of getting hurt. That part of me that liked being's tough to move forward and even consider another relationship if one is suppressing that part of oneself.

And I realized the hurt that happened when I suppressed the needy kid wasn't so much because the other person's words or actions were so damaging. I doubt he even had any idea there was this needy a kid inside me. No, the real damage happened because my reaction was to suppress that needy little kid. If I'd reacted by soothing and valuing that part of me, I doubt the experience would have been so distressing. If I'd been able to soothe and value that part of me beforehand, the fiasco might never have occurred and/or I might have been able to continue to reach out to others as easily as before. Mind you, I couldn't see it that way at the time. At the time, I blamed that part of me for precipitating a crisis that hurt not only me but the other person as well.

But I see now what a mistake it was to try to suppress that little kid inside after that fiasco. Just as I see that rather than suppressing that side of myself that liked being married/in a relationship, I'd have been better off cherishing that part of me and focused instead on why a different relationship could be better.

The goal is always, it seems to me, to value and integrate all the aspects of oneself so that they all work together. Victims of abuse or not, we are not served by bashing any part of ourselves. We are best served by accepting and nurturing who we are—rather than trying to shoehorn ourselves into someone's image of who we should be—even our own images of who we “should” be. We are who we are and the more we accept ourselves, the easier it becomes to explore new possibilities—and perhaps grow in ways that enrich our lives and bring us greater happiness. Plus, the more we love and accept ourselves, the less likely we are to ever hurt anyone else.

I don't know if my mother was MPD or not. I do know she went to her grave desperately unhappy and hating herself. I feel profoundly grateful that my life has taken a different path and that I am able to be happy.

Here's hoping that each of you is able to love and cherish all of who you are. Sending blessings and safe and gentle ((((((hugs))))))),