Out Of The Rubble, Into The Reconstruction

My happy place

A few months ago, my sister sent me a journal so I can practice some narrative therapy. Narrative therapy helps an individual become an expert in their own life through telling the stories they have carried around. Putting the stories of your life into writing gives meaning to your experiences and influences how you see yourself and the world around you. When my sons were younger, I used my blog as a form of narrative therapy to help me rearrange my negative perceptions about their struggles and create a better path forward for all of us. More recently, I’ve used blogging to tell stories from my childhood as a way to validate those experiences and increase my own voice and messaging around those pivotal events that shaped who I am. Through these exercises, I’ve begun to understand myself more fully. I am more aware of why I am the way I am and more capable of making adjustments in areas where I’m not fond of the trajectory I’ve taken. The process is helping me have greater self-compassion because I understand that my fears, coping mechanisms, and judgments didn’t originate in a vacuum. These behaviors arose to protect me. Now that I understand why they existed in the first place, I can begin to jettison habits that once protected me but no longer serve me .

One thing my sister and I have challenged each other to do is start some reconstruction. We are creating lists that outline what we like so we can recreate ourselves fully as the people we actually are and not the people we were told we were. We are rewriting our stories. That may sound odd or even disingenuous but, when you have spent your life in a pattern of reaction borne out of the fallacy that you are not an expert on your own self, you need to start with the basics to reclaim your identity.

Today my sister threw a gauntlet down. She sent me a photograph of a page where she has started listing things she knows she likes. To keep things equitable, I too started a list. My criteria? Things that make me happy or give me a sense of hope and possibility. Here’s what I have so far:

  • sunrises
  • dogs
  • a sunny day in the mountains
  • medium roast espresso
  • attending concerts
  • puzzles and word games
  • all types of travel, including long road trips
  • writing
  • cheese
  • smelling lily of the valley and lilacs
  • long, hot showers
  • deep conversations about faith, life, death, philosophy, space, current events, politics, or anything that avoids the pointless drivel of small talk
  • skiing, camping, hiking, cycling, kayaking, snorkeling, being active out in nature and not in a gym
  • documentaries and foreign films
  • anything with the flavor of passion fruit
  • the color of a green apple
  • lectures presented by experts in their field
  • Coca Cola and Bugles
  • the Buffalo Bills
  • hammocks
  • Wes Anderson films
  • wool socks
  • satellite radio
  • flip flops
  • down comforters

I will keep adding to this list in my journal as items come to mind. In the meantime, I know that being bold enough to enumerate here these items is the first step reclaiming my story. I know who I am. I know what I like. No one knows me better than I do. And I’m finished letting others dictate to me who I am.

Not Quite Ready To Graduate From Therapy Yet

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

It can be difficult to know when you are ready to step away from therapy, either for the short or long term. Some days therapy is incredibly useful, and others you may walk out feeling like it was a waste of money. After my session today, though, I am fairly certain I know when I will be ready to call it good for a while:

  1. When I can get through a session without thinking to myself, even for one quick second, “Eeesh…do you hear yourself? Blah…blah…blah. Who cares? Get over it and shut up.”
  2. When I can walk out the door as the session is ending without thanking my therapist and apologizing to her for making her listen to me ramble on for an hour.

I did both of these things today, and it troubles me that I am still struggling to be compassionate to myself for being human and having emotions and thoughts I need to work through and I’m still not believing I’m worth the trouble I put my therapist through, despite the reality that I am paying her to listen and guide me to a better place.

The good news is that I am no longer in the dark about these things. I know the areas where I have room for growth, and I’m not afraid to explore them and move forward despite understanding the speed bumps ahead. This proves that I have become more mindful, so there’s that.

Just keep swimming, Dory said. And so I shall.

Peace Lives At 32k Feet

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” ~Leonardo da Vinci

Is there anything better than the view from above 30k feet? There is something about witnessing the clouds through an aircraft window, rather than from Earth, that brings me a peace I can’t find any other way. It’s a reminder of how small and insignificant I am. A momentary note about how far we have come, an acknowledgment of our stretching our wings to be more, to see more, to achieve more. It’s a humbling view of the globe in a way that illuminates her possibility. It is freedom. Plain and simple. And I am grateful to be able to venture, to afford the luxury of seeing the world as so many, sadly, never will.

And when the sun sinks, setting the cotton-puff clouds on fire, and the stars begin to appear in the darkest sky imaginable, dozens at a time, there too do I find solace and peace in the heavens, closer than I have ever been to them.

Some people like to feel important, want to leave a legacy, and that is where they live. I feel most alive when I grasp my insignificance in the grand scheme of the planet, the solar system, the universe. That is where I can take my deepest breaths, feel part of something infinitely larger and more consequential than I am. Be detached from the world and in touch with the essence of the universe to which I belong, no greater or lesser than any life that came before or will exist after. I have no fear above the clouds. Only gratitude.

Travel is where I find oxygen. Travel is what unites me with all the other living, breathing entities on this floating ball. Some say there is nothing like coming home. I say there is nothing like leaving home because that is where I find myself,

You Don’t Know Him

Photo by Sergio Rota on Unsplash

As I was driving home after school drop off this morning, a guy in a lifted Ford pickup was tailgating me. Because of the vehicle he was driving, I’ll admit I had some preconceived ideas about him and what kind of person he must be, especially because he was tailgating. But, I have been working on not being quite as judgmental and giving people the benefit of the doubt. In situations like the one this morning, I try to remind myself that I have no idea who this person is or what might be going on his life. I remind myself his aggressive driving behavior is not my business. I take a deep breath in, wish him well on his journey, and try not to stare at him with daggers through the rear view (which I am sure he could see since he was that close).

He did eventually pull around me and, due to traffic, landed directly in front of me instead. This provided an opportunity to see his myriad bumper stickers. He had a Marine Corps license plate, so I thanked him mentally for his service. Then I noticed his Blue Lives Matter sticker, an automatic rifle sticker, and a Let’s Go, Brandon sticker. I took another deep breath. These things for sure told me that this guy and I would not see eye-to-eye in a political conversation.

In these situations, when I am even further inclined to judge someone I don’t know a thing about other than what their bumper stickers say, I like to play a little game with myself. I imagine something about them that would make me change my mind about my negative thoughts. So, today I imagined this gentleman owns three rescue pups and visits his grandmother in the Memory Care Center every Sunday. For good measure, I imagined the reason he was tailgating me was because he was late on his way to a parent-teacher conference for a daughter he adopted out of foster care. I don’t know him. This could legitimately be his story. Who am I to say? I don’t know him from Adam. Hell. His name could be Adam.

I mean, it’s probably not. And he probably does hate Joe Biden and think masks and vaccines are for sheeple, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a decent person with many redeeming qualities.

My point here is that we’ve put a plethora of superficial determiners in place that allow us to dehumanize each other and make each other perceived enemies, which is a lot to do to people we don’t know at all. We can try to be better. We can at least give each other the benefit of the doubt. We’ll be wrong part of the time. Sometimes, the jerk tailing you will be exactly who you think he is, but sometimes he won’t. Sometimes he will be more complicated and not just a caricature that can be conjured up based on some bumper stickers, a lifted truck, and poor driving habits.

When The Words Don’t Come But Growth Does

What I have managed to accomplish while my brain has been on hiatus

The past week has been a blur. It seems my head hasn’t had the bandwidth for writing blogs or even thinking, really. I’m overwhelmed. Somewhere between the continuing pandemic, the transitions happening in our family, the addition of a furry ball of love with four short legs and sharpy teeth, and the annual stresses of the holiday season, I find myself a little out of sorts. I think I need a long winter’s nap or a two-week, solo, all-expenses-paid vacation to Bora Bora so I have time for my brain to snap back into place.

If there is good news about any of this, it’s that despite all the craziness I am finally at a place in my life where I know it’s okay to be off. I know I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to be cranking out insightful, meaningful pieces daily. I’m allowed to struggle on occasion, to not know what I am thinking, to take a mental break to deal with the business of life and put up a Christmas tree and drive my son to the airport. The last time I wrote my blog every day, I did not acknowledge these things. I made apologies for what I felt was sloppy work. I’m not about that anymore. I’m not here now saying mea culpa to you. I’m here letting you know where my head is right now. I’m telling you that I care about writing, but I also care about honoring my mental and personal space. So this means I am making personal progress and achieving growth. Yay, me.

I even took time to dress my puppy for a photo

Sometimes we have to make compromises in life. Lately, the compromise I’ve been making is less time to write so I can take care of my family and myself. I’m hoping to have some space in my life and my head soon so I can go back to writing about things that make me passionate. For now, though, enjoy the photo of my cute puppers in a holiday bandana because sometimes a post with a photo of a corgi puppy in front of a Christmas tree is the only good we need in the world.

Walk This Way

Mondays are my therapy day. On Mondays when I do some EMDR, I spend most of the rest of the day exhausted, filled with thoughts, and emotionally raw. Today was that kind of Monday. So, while I am still processing some of what I worked on in therapy today and plan on writing more about that soon, for now my brain needs a little break.

One thing has recently become clear to me in this journey I am on. When you’ve spent your life kowtowing to other’s wishes, plans, and ideas for and about your life, it takes a lot of effort to step away from those people and bring your subservience to an end. I thought for many years that I could extricate myself slowly and deliberately from relationships with those who were holding me back without affecting other people in my life. It was a ridiculous thing to ask of myself, but boundaries can be difficult to negotiate. If you are trying to extract yourself slowly, you are likely doing this because you are looking out for someone else. You don’t want to hurt anyone. You don’t want to ruffle feathers. You don’t want to cause trouble for someone else. But what is the cost to you when you are acting against your best interest to make situations easier for someone else? Sometimes you need to choose the nuclear option and immediately disengage without worrying about the fallout because that is the fastest way to get yourself safe. Besides, once you decide to be free, you want your freedom to begin now and not eventually. The hardest part for me about walking away from people who don’t and can’t have my best interests at heart was the feeling that I had to explain myself to others by answering their questions. Why wasn’t I speaking to my parents? Were things really all that bad? And then, one day, it hit me. I don’t owe anyone an explanation about the steps I take to protect myself. I am on a break from my relationships with my parents while I get my head in order, and that is all there is to say about that.

Freedom from negative relationships and abusive cycles is not a luxury. It’s not a frivolous thing that you should put off because you don’t want to trouble anyone or make anyone uncomfortable. Taking steps to secure your mental peace and physical well-being matters in the short and long term. And if that means you have to block contacts and upset a few people, that is the price of taking back your life and your power. Don’t let anyone talk you out of it or talk you into doing the “right” thing (which is only the right thing for them). Look out for yourself. The people who care about you will understand. The ones who act troubled or inconvenienced by your choice have done you a favor by identifying themselves. Don’t give them another minute of residency in your brain.

Life is short. If you’re lucky enough to be able to discern what is holding you back, jettison it. And then walk on.

Keeping Bad Days In Perspective

I don’t know if it’s the time change and the early darkness or the after effects of a difficult therapy session or the puppy’s over-the-top energy today or just the fact that it’s Monday, but today has been a day. I feel like I’ve been chewed up and spit out and then chewed up again, swallowed, regurgitated, and left on the pavement to dry. I have tired on top of my tired, despite having slept well last night.

Days like today, though, make me grateful more than anything else because they remind me that some of my less than optimal days are still light years better than the days many people live. I mean, I think it’s fair that we all have the opportunity to whine about trying times, but it’s important to keep it in perspective. Life offers different levels of struggle. As far as I know, I am healthy. I have a thoughtful, loving spouse, two sons who work hard and constantly strive to grow, a beautiful home filled with everything we need and a ton of things we don’t need but appreciate nonetheless, two sweet puppies, loyal and supportive friends, a functioning and comfortable vehicle, and money to buy whatever food we need. My “struggles” today were more about frustration and exhaustion than anything else, and that’s a fortunate position to be in.

I don’t want to be a drama queen. I’ve taken the first step away from that by eliminating from my life people who cause that type of reaction in me. The next step is walking away from the drama I create in my head that doesn’t need to exist. One way I am working on that is by practicing gratitude. So, tonight, I am grateful that I managed today as best as I could. If I’m given another day, tomorrow I can wake up grateful that I get to try life again and use what I’ve learned today.

I’m Not Crazy For Wanting My Nuts In Order

“Just because you are a little squirrelly, doesn’t mean you are nuts.”

The day has gotten away from me. Most days I keep this blog in mind, trying to plan for what I will write since I promised myself I would write something every day for a year. Most days I have an idea long before 10 p.m. Today, I was so busy I forgot about it completely until 10:40 p.m. I was up at 7:30, fed the new fur baby, did a training and play session with him to wear him out. Once he was secured in his pen, I threw some clothes on and drove Thing Two to school before shopping at Costco and then rushing home to let the fur baby out once again. Then I did some cleaning to welcome my mother-in-law back for her four-month stay in her home downstairs. Immediately following that, I ran to Walgreens (which ended up having too long of a line at the pharmacy for me to get through in time) and then drove back in the opposite direction to pick up Thing 2 from school. I escorted him home, dropped off one car that needed gas, got in another one and drove an hour to the airport to pick up Thing 1 who is visiting for the weekend to meet the new puppy and see his grandmother. After circling the airport a couple times waiting for him, he hopped in and we made the hour-long trip home for a quick dinner. Then we ran back out to Walgreens, which was still too busy, so we went grocery shopping and got gas for his car. When we got home, we exercised the fur baby again, and I finished up some holiday decorating. Now it is 11:08, and with puppy finally worn out, I am writing so that I might actually get to bed before midnight so I can wake up at 6:30 and face another busy day.

Fall is a good time for accomplishing tasks with winter on the horizon and quieter days at home ahead. Our fall is even busier this year because we are in transition, welcoming house guests and helping a high school senior get through his final year, cross-country season, and the college application process. Add a brand new puppy to the mix and you have the foundation for Crazy Town. This is what motherhood is. Still, I would rather be busy than bored when the weather is still warm. It’s a good time to be out and about, taking in the beauty this season of change both in the weather and in my life. I know someday the days will pass more slowly and life will become more routine. So, I am all about reveling in the busy-ness, while looking forward to the day when I can collapse on a sofa, watch the cold weather blow in while I leisurely sip my coffee in front of the fire, and enjoy all I have worked so hard to secure.

I really am a squirrel. I am just trying to get my nuts in order before winter arrives.

Exorcising The Ghosts Of The Past

What I used to record portions of the Live Aid concert in 1985

In the days before the Internet and FaceTime and Zoom and texting, people wrote letters. A stamp, a pen, and a piece of paper were all you needed to share the contents of your mind and heart with someone who was worth the effort of your time and questionable penmanship. As is the habit for many people, I saved quite a few of the letters I received over the years from friends and boyfriends. I kept them in a box that once held my cassette player (back in the days when cassettes were a thing). Over time, that box got rather stuffed with random correspondence. I didn’t open it very often to read its contents, but I dragged it with me each time I moved. It would relocate from the top of one closet shelf to another, from apartment to apartment. There was something about knowing those letters were there if I ever wanted to trot down memory lane or perhaps clarify a memory that had become distorted or foggy.

When my husband and I got engaged and decided to move in together, he was helping me move boxes into my car when he came across that one. He asked me why I was bringing it. After all, if these letters represented relationships that had long since gone defunct, why was I clinging to them? I honestly could not give him a suitable answer. If I’d said I was keeping them for sentimental reasons, that would only make the box more of an issue in our relationship at the time. I didn’t know how to respond. In the absence of a viable response, he asked me if I could add them to the dumpster along with the wooden case holding 100 cassette tapes I no longer needed since he had a CD player he was willing to share. I acquiesced because he had never asked for anything from me, we were getting married and he was my future, and it seemed like a small sacrifice I should be willing to make for someone who had never been anything but kind, loving, supportive, and patient with me. With a pang of disappointment, I lobbed them over the wall of the dumpster, turned around, and tried not to look back. I was twenty-six then, he twenty-four.

In the years since, we both have felt deep regret over that event. He has felt horrible for asking me to toss a box of papers because he felt a little jealous about its existence. I have felt anger at myself for not defending my right to keep them because they were harmless mementos from my youth. But there is no unringing that bell. They are long gone. So now we just carry around the shame regarding that missing box instead of carrying around the box itself, which we have both agreed is so much more emotionally cumbersome than that damn box ever was.

This decision, made in our youth when we were not emotionally mature and had no real experience to gift us with greater perspective, has laden us with invisible baggage that we have hauled for decades. It’s something he doesn’t like me to mention because he feels just that bad about it, but I don’t blame him because the box is gone. I blame myself for not being self-aware enough to tell him it was part of my life I wasn’t ready to jettison. But it’s time for us to unload our disappointment in ourselves and the choices we made when we were younger and not able to see so far into the future. Seriously. Who can see twenty-seven years into the future when they aren’t even twenty-seven yet? The guilt and shame we feel needs to go. That box has long since been replaced by countless wonderful memories and experiences as our life together has been filled with love and fun and two absolutely-perfect-in-nearly-every-way adult sons, not to mention dozens upon dozens of cards and notes we have written to each other and saved. Therefore, I am declaring it time to move on. I may not be able to read those missives again, but I have something much more important. I would never trade my current life, our family, our shared experiences for those pieces of paper and neither would he. It’s way past time for us to toss the shame and self-flaggelation in the dumpster and move forward.

Thought Experiments

Every night we take a walk with our thirteen year old border collie, Ruby. I like to think it’s the high point of her day. Often the walk is just Steve and I, but sometimes we can cajole the boys into coming along. Tonight we got to enjoy their banter. Luke was world building, designing a college. He calls these imaginings “thought experiments.” Joe was, of course, bickering with him about some of his ideas, and I had to jump in and tell Joe that he doesn’t get to tell Luke his ideas are misguided. I’ve been telling him that for as long as Luke has been his brother.

We often walk the same route. We look for the toads that appear after dark. Tonight we saw a tiny one and a big boy we decided to name Chonk. The moon was full and small clouds glided in front of it intermittently. At one point, the moon had a cloud handlebar mustache.

When the world is crazy, these walks are my zen. Ruby has done her best to keep us going out into the world, even and especially during a pandemic. For thirteen years, she has been our constant keeper. She reminds us how lucky we are to be a family, to have each other, to have someone looking out for us.

Times are changing, though. Joe goes back to college soon. Luke is applying for colleges now too. And, sadly, our beautiful puppy girl is nearing her unfair end. Our days on this earth are the same as the clouds floating over the moon tonight. They’re sailing by, indecipherable from one another, here and then gone.

I said these walks are the high point of Ruby’s day, but they’re actually the high point of mine. They remind me of all the good things still left after childhood’s end.