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)))))),