The One Where She Finally Asks For Help

Rabbit Ears Pass Winter Wonderland, taken by my talented husband, Steve

Forgive me readers, for I have sinned. It’s been five weeks and change since I bothered to post anything here. While I couldn’t get my shit together to write, you may be relieved to know I literally couldn’t get my shit together for much of anything else either. It’s been fits and starts for me for years now, and I’m spent from trying to figure out how to start my engine again. It seems as the rest of the world is beginning to bounce back into some sort of trial, post-pandemic life and get going again, I’m still standing in the starting gate questioning whether I heard the gun go off. It might have. I probably wasn’t paying attention. I don’t know. What day is today anyway? What am I going to make for dinner? I’ve got no clue. Will I actually put on something other than pajama pants today? Probably not. I’m too tired to put in the effort for myself and I’m too tired to care about it.

What’s the point. It’s not even a question anymore. It’s just a statement.

I’ve come so far in my emotional journey, breaking down my life’s components, decade by decade, to help me understand how I got to be 54 without having any idea who I am. Still I am coming up short of knowing myself honestly and without filters. I understand how I got this way. I know exactly what led me here. There’s no undoing it. First I had to accept that my childhood was run by emotionally immature adults who used me as a foil for all their issues. Then I had to grieve the loss of the childhood I wished I’d had. Then I had to work my way through the traumatic memories to take away their sting. Then I had to accept my own part in remaining that lost little girl. Then I had to begin to make amends to myself and to others who I used to bolster up my assumed identity. And, well, it was all worth it, but I’m spent and I’ve been spent for years.

I found this today in an Instagram post by The Holistic Psychologist. I wish I had written it. I couldn’t find the words, but I am grateful she did.

A Letter of Forgiveness to My Younger Self

I forgive myself for the time I spent in survival mode. I forgive myself for the times I used other people, alcohol, and other destructive behaviors to avoid the pain I felt within. I forgive myself because I learned that closeness meant chaos and dysfunction, and I re-enacted that dysfunction over and over again. I forgive myself because I witnessed adults who couldn’t self-regulate, so I dissociated to not feel and not connect to other people. I forgive myself because I was left alone to deal with my emotions, so I became fixed on not being abandoned by other people. In the process, I abandoned myself. I forgive myself because I learned my role was to be easy and to be liked, so I betrayed my own values to gain that approval. I forgive myself because I allowed my mother wound to impact every relationship I ever had, then avoided responsibility and blamed other people for issues they didn’t create. I forgive myself for my past and know that through taking responsibility for my life, I give the younger version of myself a new future.

That sums up where I am now. That is how far I’ve come. I get it. I see everything. How I became lost and how I kept myself lost is no longer a mystery. But I’ve remained stuck here in this place, biding my time and hoping I would snap out of it. Here I still stand, waist deep in a quicksand of exhaustion and apathy. Going NOWHERE.

Because of this, I determined that if I can’t move forward on my own, I’m going to have to ask for help. This week I did something I never thought I would do (back in the old days when I was 100% certain I was someone I was not). I started taking an antidepressant because I need a push to start living again. Not just breathing and going through the motions, but actually living my life. Being present. Being invested. Being enthusiastic. Being healthful. Being observant. Being open. Being brave. It’s too early to tell if they are helping yet and, indeed, I might need a higher dose to stop my stalling and get on with it. But, it’s a step. A step I desperately needed to take. And I am hopeful. Hopeful that I will find that lost little girl and tell her to go for it, all of it, and stop apologizing to everyone for existing in her skin. Hopeful that someday soon I will be writing again, and through my writing I will find my way to the beautiful me I’ve never known yet long to meet.

When You Don’t Like What You’re Seeing, Change The Filter

Yesterday I did something I don’t normally do. I hopped on a bandwagon. In this case, the bandwagon was the controversial Lensa AI app. Twenty-four hours ago, I didn’t even know the app was controversial. Hell. Forty-eight hours ago, I didn’t even know becoming an artist’s rendition of yourself via an app was a thing. I had only recently glimpsed a headline about the popularity of trying these lenses and then saw a post on Facebook from a friend who had tried it out the previous day. My decision to see what the fuss was about was based solely on the idea that it might be fun to see what images of me the app would come up with. I suppose downloading an app and then uploading my photos to it without understanding more about the technology was foolhardy. I didn’t understand what I might be getting myself into. Perhaps it was a little naive, but I’ve been home alone for ten days with little human interaction, so I was looking for something to distract me from myself. We make a lot of our dumbest choices out of boredom or curiosity. If I were a cat, I would have exhausted all nine of my lives seventy times over by now.

At any rate, I signed up for the app’s seven-day free trial, uploaded some selfies, paid $5.99 (come on, people, that’s the equivalent of one grande Starbucks oat milk latte) for 100 Magic Avatar images, and waited fifteen minutes for them to materialize. When the results populated my screen, I was fascinated. Some of the images were quite realistic, looking an awful lot like me in art form. Some of them were a little off, my eyes farther apart than they are in reality, my eyebrows higher, my nose straighter. Some of them were so far off I dismissed them completely. Still, it was a fun endeavor. I’m 54 and not getting any younger, so it was inspiring to see myself as a fantasy princess and a space warrior. I’ve never imagined myself like that. The images begged me to question why I hadn’t. Seeing myself in those images made me realize maybe I’m not as plain Jane as I have always thought. It might even be possible that I am, gasp, sort of pretty. I decided that the experiment was worth the $6. I downloaded the images I thought looked most like me, canceled my free trial, and deleted the app.

Feeling a little puffed up about how cool I thought the generated images were, I posted a small collection of them to social media. It took only five minutes before I got my first negative comment. Oh, social media. Aside from a family member’s house, where else can you go to have other people instantaneously judge your choices and question your intelligence? I chose to brush off the disdain and review the rest of the feedback. Overall, it was intriguing to see which images other people liked and disliked. A couple images I thought were only me-adjacent and not fair representations of me at all garnered quite a few likes, which confused me. Do people think I look like that? Do I appear that way to some people despite my own eyes telling me otherwise? Do they wish I looked like that? I couldn’t figure it out. Maybe they simply liked the artwork? A couple of the images I felt most realistically depicted my features and expressions were not liked at all. How does that even work, I wondered. That is what I actually look like (minus the airbrushing, mind you). Why did people not appreciate the images that most resembled me in real life? Those were the ones I was drawn to, the ones that made me look slightly younger and way more badass than I feel.

The experiment made me consider our self-perceptions. Having been raised in a decidedly negative household, my general self-opinion has mostly remained negative. I am fantastic at telling you what is wrong with me. Ask me what I do well and I’m stumped. Maybe that was why the images the app created enchanted me so. I looked at the woman in the artwork and saw a different side of myself, a stronger, braver, sassier me, one less afraid of her own shadow and more empowered. One who is really great at knowing what to do with her hair. Perhaps I was seeing the me I might have been earlier if I had figured out before now that I can, at times, be dynamic and inspiring.

The lesson I emerged with from this little experiment was this: when you’re feeling down, try viewing yourself through a different lens. There’s nothing wrong with you that can’t be changed by picturing yourself as the unique, bewitching, and formidable badass who forever dwells within you, even when you’re just doing the dishes or taking out the trash.

Unfu*k Yourself, Already

I read a book last week. Yes. A whole book. It was a short book, but still. The book was Unfu*k Yourself by Gary John Bishop. To be honest, I started listening to the book on Audible, enjoyed the introduction delivered with the author’s no-bullshit, full-on Scottish attitude and accent, and then got on Amazon and ordered a paper copy because I knew I would want to highlight passages. When it arrived, Mr. Bishop and I got right back to work. The book, as you can imagine from its cheeky title, offers suggestions for those of us who feel stuck on repetitive hamster wheel of self-sabotage. It’s a book about unsticking yourself.

As I listened, a few things became clearer to me about my life, the consequences of my upbringing, and my future trajectory. First, there was the admission that I’ve been spinning and getting nowhere for about four years now. There are several life situations that coalesced to create a quicksand pit from which I have not escaped. The specifics about them aren’t as important as the fact that I was able to name them, which gives me a concrete place from which to get to work. You have to know what stopped you to figure out how to get around it. Second, the book prompted me to do a lot of thinking about the areas of my own modus operandi that work against me the most often. The result? The behavior that most often holds me back is fawning. I am a people pleaser. This does not mean I succeed at it. It just means I attempt to make others happy by doing what they want. I regularly set aside my own wishes to avoid conflict, to ensure other people are happy and comfortable, and to be palatable. You’ll often hear me speaking Fawn-ese: I’m good with whatever. You choose. Whatever works for you is fine with me. Really. It’s okay. Don’t worry about me. I’m flexible. I don’t want to be a bother. It doesn’t matter to me. I’ve got it. No worries. I can make that work. These statements (a product of being raised to believe I am the world’s most sensitive, overreacting, selfish jerk) make me feel like I’m being generous and thoughtful to others. In reality, however, I often say them because I’m so used to deferring to others that 1) I don’t know what I want or like, so I don’t know how to ask for it, and 2) I assume that letting others get their way will make me worth hanging around with. The truth is that my fear of speaking up for myself often makes me grumpy. Who wouldn’t be grumpy when they take on more than they can handle and often end up doing exactly what they don’t want to do? Unfu*k Yourself is about getting out of your own way and moving yourself into a better future, and Mr. Bishop outlines some key things you need to do to bring that about. And he does it by not pulling any punches and speaking directly to the multitudinous methods people employ to hold themselves back. In fact, the way he reads the book in audio form you can just about hear his frustration. I’m fairly certain he is tired of having to point out to people that the path to their best life runs only through them.

In one chapter, he discusses how we are wired to win. What he means by this is that we get what we set ourselves up for and expect. We are masters of the self-fulfilling prophecy. Spending your life bemoaning your history of finding the worst partners? You’re probably attracting all the wrong people because of something in your past. If you don’t fix what’s behind that curtain, you will keep winning at picking the losers to date. But, if you sift through the memories of your old relationships, perhaps you can pinpoint where they went wrong and do some work around your discovery so that next time you make a different choice. The bottom line is that when you’re wired to win, you can win at losing or win at winning. There’s a famous quote attributed to Jessie Potter that fits this idea: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” You can keep repeating your mistakes and blaming mysterious exterior forces that don’t exist or you can do the work, get your poop in a group, and do better in the future.

The chapter that I most needed to hear right now was entitled, “I am not my thoughts. I am what I do.” As a person who spends a lot of time in her head, thinking, rethinking, analyzing, overanalyzing, and reanalyzing those analyses, this chapter reminded me that I will never get anywhere good this way. I have to stop thinking and start doing. I’ve been unhappy with my fitness level. I can either sit on my sofa thinking about how I used to be in great shape and now I can’t seem to get motivated or I can haul my sorry ass off the sofa and put it on the seat of the Peloton bike and change my situation. I can whine about a relationship in my life that is dying but that I keep trying (unsuccessfully) to revive or I can decide it’s time to let it go and put my energy towards endeavors that may lead me somewhere I want to be. People who are successful have one thing in common. They stop talking and start doing. You can’t just hope things will get better. You need to look for solutions and then go out and do something to put you where you would like to be.

Now, I’m sure there are plenty of people who might read the book (or listen to the audiobook to enjoy the author’s delivery of it) and say, “Yeah. Yeah. This all sounds familiar. Nothing new here.” But that is kind of the point. If you’re still reading self-help books and saying they aren’t helping, maybe it’s because a book can’t change your life. YOU have to do that. And this book has some ideas about where you might want to start and why, if you don’t take action, you can continue to enjoy all the crap you feel life has handed you that you don’t deserve. If all I take away from this book is the mindset to get back to better health and get rid of relationships that don’t serve me, it will totally have been worth the paper it was printed on.

What was it Red said in The Shawshank Redemption?

“Get busy living or get busy dying.”

I am getting busy living. I will figure out who I am and what I want along the way.

Taylor Swift, Socrates, And My Brain Walk Into A Bar At 3 A.M.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” ~Socrates

Ruby asks me again if I’ve seen her keys

It’s 3:31 a.m. All the male creatures in our house are asleep. I am wide awake once again, sitting on the sofa in our living room. Beneath my feet, our fourteen year old border collie has settled temporarily, taking a break from her mid-night wanderings. In a minute, she will jump up and trot off quickly as if she just remembered she is late for an important meeting. She will get halfway across the room, stop, then look left and right, confused about where the hell she was headed. Ruby and I are simpatico lately. We’re either both deep thinkers with too much on our minds or we’re both losing our shit. Maybe these things are not mutually exclusive or untrue.

Aside from desperately needing the sleep, I don’t mind being awake in the middle of the night. I appreciate the peace. I find solace in the hum of the heater kicking on, the faint crash of ocean waves coming from the ambient noise app on my phone in the other room, the click of Ruby’s nails on the hardwoods as she trots around looking for the car keys she can’t find. I try to focus on my surroundings and stay rooted in the present because this is good practice. Mindfulness is the antidote for the poison of overwhelm. But the truth of these late-night, sleepless hours is there is something, perhaps many things, out of kilter in my life. In these moments, I become innately aware I am adrift. I’m on a flimsy, inflatable raft in the midst of a vast ocean, mere inches above multitudinous unknowns lurking just beneath the surface. I’m fine for the time being, but my situation is precarious. I’m one rogue wave away from drowning. My sleeplessness is a sign. It’s time to gather my shit in.

I attempt to pull disparate thoughts from my spinning mind to categorize and file them away so I can get back to sleep, but I might as well be trying to pluck tree branches and airborne chihuahuas from a churning, F4 tornado. The desire to right all the wrongs in my messy life at 4 a.m. is admirable, though ill-advised. In the back of my head, Taylor Swift sings my story:

“I should not be left to my own devices, they come with prices and vices. I end up in crisis, tale as old as time…It’s me. Hi. I’m the problem it’s me. At tea time, everybody agrees. I’ll stare directly in the sun but never in the mirror. It must be exhausting always rooting for the anti-hero.”

I have good days. Most of the time, I feel I am on the right path. Sometimes, though, while I’m sleeping, everything that has been running in background mode in my head pops up at once and overloads the system and I end up here. Deconstructing old trauma, adapting to life in an empty nest, managing a household, navigating health issues, raising a puppy, dealing with the manifestations of aging, trying to figure out who I am now and who I might like to be if there is a later, and accepting the incontrovertible truth that I have not been bringing my best self to the table for myself or the people I care about for years now, well, that’s quite a quagmire to wade through during the most opportune moments. It’s a bit much for the middle of the night. And it’s still going to be too much to face on three hours of sleep once the sun rises and I have to make an early morning trip to the grocery store ahead of hosting Thanksgiving at our house. Sigh.

While I can’t address my issues now and losing sleep isn’t going to make things one iota better, at least I can come here and let you know you are not alone. Most people are hurtling through life feeling frenzied and lost and imposter-ish. And the majority of the people you know who seem to have it all together? Well, they pull off that feat by living unconsciously, which, believe it or not, is worse than being painfully aware. Us up-all-night-with-our-thoughts folks may be sleep deprived, but it’s only because we’re honest and paying attention. So, I am here now to remind you and me to take heart. Today is another day in which we might still not figure anything out, but we’re alive and awake and that means we have lives worth living.

My Autobiography: In Five Chapters

Along my path to a healthier me, a me who isn’t stuck operating from the trauma responses I adopted as a child, I found this poem. It has been my goal post as I move through the stages of recovery.

Autobiography in Five Chapters by Portia Nelson

Chapter I

I spent most my life unable to move beyond Chapter I. I was self-unaware. With no understanding the dynamics that had been in play when I was a child had heavy consequences, nearly everything I encountered was a challenge for my nervous system. Normal interactions and situations triggered my fight, flight, or fawn defenses. Without those defenses, I would have collapsed in on myself like a dying star. I had no real idea who I was underneath the overthinking, perfectionism, people pleasing, boundary ceding, bullying, and negativity. Worse yet, I didn’t see there was anything unhealthy about my MO at all. I was stuck for a long, long time.

Chapter II

Six days before my 46th birthday, I was sabotaged in public by a family member. Because my eleven year old son had been used as an unwitting pawn in the scheme to humiliate me, something in me snapped. It was my roller shade moment. After decades spent repressing abuse I endured as a child, the window shade I had pulled down to protect myself from repeated trauma flew up. I could not unsee what had been lurking behind it. I was bumped into Chapter II, forced to acknowledge my past and reckon with my trauma responses and their repercussions. I couldn’t stop using them to protect myself yet because I still needed them. So, I kept behaving mostly the same way I always had, only now I was aware how unhealthy my reactions to every little thing were. I didn’t know how to stop them, but I knew they were wrong. Every time I caught myself in an epic overreaction, the shame was overwhelming. I read a stack of self-help books and realized I needed to start regular therapy. Through therapy, I faced my past. It was painful and slow going. Every time I hurt my husband or my sons because I could not control my responses, I felt like the worthless person I was told as a child I was. I was a skipping record, stuck in a groove, doomed to repeat my patterns.

Chapter III

After some research, I decided to shift to a new therapist who offered EMDR therapy, which has helped thousands of people suffering from PTSD see their trauma in a different light. I’ve spent most of the past two years in this chapter. It has been an endless cycle of acting out my old habits, catching myself, acknowledging my behaviors and thoughts are not helpful, apologizing to myself and others for my missteps, and then forgiving myself and trying again from a more mindful place. Sometimes I would react in a more healthy manner immediately. Other times I had to sit with the negative pattern I had repeated for 5-10 minutes before understanding how I could do better and then ameliorating the situation for myself and those I had been unfair to. I saw my progress and was encouraged, but I also knew I could be in this chapter for decades until I was skilled enough spot the hole before falling into it.

Chapter IV

Recently, and with some extra assistance, I’ve had some legitimate success walking around the trauma hole. I can bump myself out of my well-worn groove and react differently in the moment. I’ve made it to Chapter IV. I don’t live here full-time, but I am finally here. I catch negative thoughts mid-stream and I make a choice to walk around that hole. Holy shit. There is no way to explain what a monumental life shift this has been for me. While I still stumble into my old patterns a few times a day, I also stop them a few times a day. I’m owning my mistakes because I know I’m not expected to be perfect. I’m beating myself up less, looking in the mirror and seeing myself in a positive light more than a negative one. I’m stopping my inner bullshit before it gets loose. I’m holding myself accountable. Best of all, though, I’m holding others accountable too. I differentiate between a me problem and a you problem. And I am able to stand up for myself, walk away, and let someone else deal with their own inner bullshit. I no longer think I am broken or horrible or perpetually wrong. I am still working but I am more present. I am proud of myself.

Chapter V

A lot of people have lofty goals for their lives. They know what legacy they would like to leave behind. Me? I don’t concern myself with any of that. I just want to get to Chapter V and hopefully live there for a bit, with a reasonable level of control over my actions, some mindfulness, and a lot less reactivity. If I get to a place where my childhood trauma responses are a faint whisper or dull memory rather than a full-fledged fire alarm, I will have walked the path I believe I was meant to walk. My goal in this life is to recover, to do better for myself, my spouse, and my children, to break a cycle.

The light at the end of the tunnel is growing brighter. I know someday I won’t have to negotiate my way around the hole at all because I will have already walked down another street.

An Ongoing Exercise In Dismantling Self-Doubt

“You’ll never be a first class human being or a first class woman until you’ve learned to have some regard for human frailty.” ~C.K. Dexter Haven, The Philadelphia Story

This week, my therapist and I began working on my ever-present self-doubt. Self-doubt, I’ve only recently come to acknowledge, has played a big part in my life. It’s not that I always felt confident or comfortable in my skin or my actions. I didn’t. But, through trauma, I became so adept at pretending to be sure of myself that I honestly bought my own fiction. I maintained this alternate sense of self that existed completely disconnected from my true self. My persona was a cardboard standee I would place in front of people, somehow absolutely convinced that they took my bravado at face value and would never peer around the side of the 2-D cutout I’d presented to them to discover there was nothing there to back it up. In fairness, I think some people figured out that my insides didn’t match the outside I presented to the world long before I understood that I had been play acting for others most of my life. Their superpower was being comfortable enough in their own skin to recognize an imposter when they saw one. My superpower was pretending I was perfect when, deep down, I felt like shit scraped off a shoe.

In my therapist’s office the other day, we did some guided meditation to address my lifelong self-doubt. First we did a basic relaxation technique, starting with visualizing my happy place. From there, she asked me to conjure up a meeting place, a place where I would feel completely at ease. I envisioned a warm, cozy room inside a log cabin house with a fireplace, a plush sofa, and floor-to-ceiling picture windows through which my view was the surrounding mountains in their fall splendor. When I was good and comfortable in that mental space, she asked me to invite my self-doubt to join me there. Self-doubt, my imagination decided, arrived in a dark cloud that obscured the sun and dimmed the room, making it feel chillier. She asked me to give the dark cloud a name, so I named it after the place where my self-doubt originated in my early youth. I was required to sit with my self-doubt with a neutral mindset, neither allowing it to overwhelm me nor allowing myself to ignore it. And that’s as far as we got in my session before we had to end for the week, but even that small effort made me consider my self-doubt in a new way.

I wasn’t born with self-doubt. Self-doubt was thrust upon me at a young age, the result of incessant criticism, which led to an understanding I was not good enough or worthy of respect, attention, or love unless I did what others thought was best or wanted. Self-doubt is what I got when I tried and didn’t reach the mark others thought I should. It’s what happened when, instead of being told, “You’re human and humans don’t always get it right and that is okay,” I was informed, “You should have known better” and admonished “You’re embarrassing yourself.” I have since come to understand that my relentless perfectionism is a by-product of continually being told I could and should do better, rather than being gently reminded that life is a process and you learn and grow over time. I wish I had heard more thoughtful “Go easy on yourself, you’re trying” and less demeaning “Everybody knows THAT.” The perfectionism I ended up with in a useless attempt to be good enough for everyone else (in order to believe I was good enough in my own skin) was backwards.

The truth is when you feel good enough in your own skin, you don’t have to be perfect for anyone else to appreciate you. You live your truth and know that you screw up sometimes but you also get it right sometimes. From that place, you learn to forgive yourself and others for the crime of human frailty. It’s challenging to think of myself 10 or 20 years ago, when I was 150% convinced through my perfectionist mindset that I was mentally healthy the way I was. I was throwing down that cardboard cutout of a perfect me as reality and challenging others the way I had been challenged. It was misguided, but it was all from a place of deep hurt and misunderstanding. I didn’t know who I was. I only knew who others thought I should be. And so, with my own sense of self dampened and obscured, I became full of self-doubt that could only be lessened by my attempts to be perfect at everything and for everyone.

Self-doubt is insidious. I know it plagues even the most well-adjusted among us, but it’s such a pointless place to work from, whether that place be a waiting room we occasionally occupy or the impenetrable fortress we inhabit. I’ve come to the place where I can acknowledge it’s a shame that I didn’t get better messaging as I was growing up, but I’ve also come to believe it’s incumbent upon me to give to myself the grace and forgiveness and gentleness and kindness I did not receive back then. It’s up to me to lift that dark cloud. No one else can do it for me.

Listen to Mustn’ts, child, listen to the Don’ts.
Listen to the Shouldn’ts, the Impossibles, the Won’ts.
Listen to the Never Haves, then listen close to me.
      Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.

A poem by Shel Silverstein

Signs of (mid)Life

Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

While my dental hygienist, Betsi, was preparing her torture tools for assault on my teeth and gums this morning, I spied a hummingbird moth out of the picture window in front of me. I don’t see them often, so I got up from the chair, still wearing my purple paper bib, to get a closer look. It was hovering around clusters of small, late-summer flowers. I studied it for a few seconds, noting the striping on its body and the speed at which its wings moved to keep it aloft. Betsi told me she sees them in the flowers outside that window on occasion. I told her I hadn’t seen one in a couple years. I sat back down, put on the cheap, protective sunglasses she handed me, and tried to settle into my happy place for the cleaning. I kept thinking about that moth, though.

This evening, when I went to take the trash out, I noticed from the corner of my eye something buzzing at the garage window. I am not a fan of any sort of insect in our house or garage, but I am especially not a fan when they are large or noisy enough to draw my immediate attention. I’m even less of a fan when I am the only one at home to deal with them at the time. I walked closer, already planning how I would aid in its necessary exit, and discovered it was another hummingbird moth. How odd not to see one for years and then to see one twice in one day. I opened the garage door, turned off the lights, and waited for my light-seeking visitor to fly away.

I’m not superstitious. I don’t believe in destiny or fate or soulmates or divine intervention of any sort. But I do believe in the power of life’s chaos and the doors it opens. If you are really paying attention as life swirls around you, you begin to notice life offers directional signs. We don’t always see them because we aren’t always looking. I have been guilty of not paying attention to them most of my life. For decades, I went along in my inner bubble, fully convinced I knew who I was and where I was going. I was wrong, though. That false image of me burst eight years ago and, since then, I’ve undertaken the tedious process of observing my behavior, questioning it, ameliorating it, or at least acknowledging it on some level, and learning from it. I’ve also started noticing my surroundings more and paying greater attention to my senses, especially my intuition. Intuition helps you to see signs.

With the second appearance of the hummingbird moth today, my curiosity led me to read up on it. I learned that hummingbird moths are considered a lucky omen. A swarm of them is said to have been seen flying across the English Channel on the day of the Normandy landings in June of 1944. I also read:

“A moth represents tremendous change, but it also seeks the light. Thus, moth spiritual meaning is to trust the changes that are happening and that freedom and liberation are around the corner.” (Dictionary.tn)

So, there is my sign. I saw a hummingbird moth today, on two separate occasions in two different locations, during a time of tremendous change in my life when I find myself looking for the light. I’m going to consider this a good omen. I’ve been wondering since we left the boys at school a few weeks ago how I would get through the transition from stay-at-home parent to, as my friend, Kathy, prefers to label it, “lady of leisure”. This morning, I woke up still curious about my future plans. Then, a couple moths told me to trust the changes and know that freedom and liberation are here. All of a sudden I’m not so worried about what I will do next month or next year or next decade. Yeah. Life is different now, but different doesn’t have to mean bad. What if, and hear me out on this, what if my next twenty years are my best years? It could happen. I’ve been surprising before.

Oh. And I still don’t like bugs. But I’ve decided moths are more okay than the rest.

Bringing New Life To An Empty Nest

I fell off the blog wagon this summer, partially due to life (son’s graduation, travel, house maintenance, family priorities) and partially due to feeling too emotionally scattered to write. I never run out of opinions to share, but I do run out of energy to deal with the jumble of unrelated thoughts in my head. Overwhelm. That is what does me in. To write, you need mental space and time with your thoughts. And because it was such an emotional summer for me as I careened towards the empty nest my husband and I now inhabit, I checked out. Focusing too long on the grief in my heart was not where I wanted to be, nor where I felt I should be as my youngest embarked on his exciting new adventure. I kept telling myself I would break down and navigate the tangled web emotions I was cycling through in background mode in due time. I suspect that time is coming soon.

What happens when you have too much time and a label maker

In the meantime, though, I have been celebrating the good. Our sons are moved in at school, settled into their study routines, and making the most of their college experiences. Thing Two’s transition has been seamless. I don’t think he missed one orientation workshop or opportunity to make new friends. Thing One has been reunited with his college sweetheart, and all is well in his world too. A thousand miles away, we are finding empty nest life kind of refreshing, honestly. Sure. It’s quiet at home, except for the barking of our sporty dogs, but we’re finding ways to distract ourselves. We’ve begun the digging out from underneath the clutter that accumulates when you spend 21 years putting your nuclear family ahead of everything else. We’ve also been meeting up with friends for long-overdue dinners and trying new things, like pickleball. We have relished peaceful nights picking shows we want to watch and enjoying them with a glass of wine and a couple chocolate truffles. So, all things considered, we’re settling into this new phase of life, to quote Larry David, pretty, pretty, pretty good.

With all the newly regained downtime, though, I’ve been doing some reflecting. Our satisfaction with our journey in this life comes down this: we make choices, and our ability to negotiate our expectations about those choices versus the reality those choices bring determines our general level of satisfaction. We chose to have children. The expectation was , if all went well, they would eventually move on to create their own lives, make their own choices, and navigate their own expectations. That has come to fruition, and we are grateful for it. In the aftermath of their departure for their own adventures, Steve and I have new choices to make. What do we want our lives to look like now? What will we choose to prioritize going forward? Yes. There is some grief in giving your children to the world, but there is joy there too. The most important thing I can do is recognize my choice in this moment. I can choose to feel superfluous now that I’ve retired from 21 years as a full-time parent or I can choose to find my next adventure. I can wallow in the vastness an empty and clean house or I can find something new to occupy the space left in the boys’ absence.

To that end, may I introduce Puppy-To-Be-Named-Later, scheduled for a late October arrival.

This little guy

Life is full of decisions. There will be plenty of time to imagine my next career move later. For now, though, I will fill our empty nest with puppy breath, tiny barks, and dog hair and I will occupy myself with frequent walks, potty training, and breaking up raucous scuffles. It might just end up feeling like the old days, when our sons were young and needed me, all over again.

A Day In Santorini

Santorini. Thira, if you prefer. Even if you don’t know her name, you recognize her from photographs of her whitewashed cave houses intermingled with striking, blue-domed roofs set against the Aegean Sea. She is iconic. Her stunning towns sit on the clifftop precipice of an ancient, sea-filled caldera of a volcano that erupted in 1620 BC. She is a photographer’s dream because it is nearly impossible for her to take a bad picture. I was over the moon when my family agreed to take a cruise to visit a few Greek islands because they have long been on my wish list. And the morning our ship floated into the caldera, my family and I were on deck to take it all in.

Approaching Oia

Our first stop was Oia. The English pronunciation of this village name is Oy-a, but the Greek pronunciation is Ee-a. Either way you say it, nothing can prepare you for what awaits you when you arrive. All the photos you have seen pale by comparison. The white buildings provide a stark contrast to the sea below. The outer streets of Oia village (although it’s hard to call them streets when there are no cars) are lined with restaurants and shops. We found shop after shop with Greek ceramics, clothing, and artwork, along with the requisite touristy shops with more standard souvenirs. The Greeks are open to some respectful bargaining if you want to try it out.

It’s only when you head south, closer to the caldera, that the view opens up to the sea and you gasp. It is everything you thought it would be, but you know your photos won’t adequately portray what you are witnessing.

You traverse narrow, cobblestone pathways, winding up and down past hotels and personal homes, separated from passersby with colorful gates or doors. This is not the place to bring large, wheeled luggage unless you’re sure you will have someone to help you with your bags. Most lodgings possess patios with sea views, and some have shaded trellises or small plunge pools so guests can keep cool. As you stroll by vacationers casually lounging on their sun-soaked patios, you suspect that the lack of privacy is a small price to pay for the privilege of staying here. No one seems to be bothered by the looky-loos. How could you be?

Oia is a selfie paradise. Around every corner is another gorgeous backdrop. Hubby snapped this keeper of me.

Can I stay? Please!

Our next island stop was to a local winery. We sampled a white, a red, and a sweet wine made from sun-dried grapes, along with some Greek mezes. All of this with a view. We quickly purchased a bottle of the sweet wine to carry home. It’s port-adjacent, and that works for us. We also picked up some boxes of baklava and Greek candy to try because it seemed prudent.

After finishing our wine samples and devouring our snacks, we headed to Fira, Oia’s big sister. Oia is the sleepier of the two main cities people visit on the island. While she has her fair share of shops and restaurants, it’s Fira that is known for nightlife. We were only there for the day, so nightlife was not on our radar, but shopping and food were. Fira, like Oia, is comprised of carless walkways meandering up and down in between plentiful shops and restaurants. So many choices and so many stairs! We were grateful it wasn’t raining because those cobbled walkways and stairs would be a slippery nightmare in the wet. Luckily for us, it was a sunny, warm day with not a drop of rain in sight. Welcome to summer in Greece.

We had gotten a recommendation from a local for a specific restaurant and decided to give it a shot. The restaurant was aptly named La Scala (Italian for The Stairs), so we had to go. The restaurant, like the one in this photo, had a lovely patio with a view of the sea. We were early for dinner so we were seated immediately. Our server, a lovely, young Greek woman made our night. Even if the food had been horrible, which is most certainly was not, she would have made our choice worth it.

Once she got us settled with beverages, she came to take our orders. As you can imagine, most Greek dishes sound Greek to us, and Luke was the first victim who had to order. He ordered traditional Greek Moussaka but, unfortunately for him, he pronounced it “MU-sa-ka.” She pretended she didn’t understand what he said, which made him repeat the mispronunciation. She looked at him and said “mu-SA-ka.” Then she gestured for him to repeat it. Terrified, he paused, and then correctly repeated after her, which earned him a kudos from her. When it was Joe’s turn to order, he wisely said, “I’ll have what he’s having.” She had a great laugh over that. All three of my companions ordered the Moussaka, while I tried a Greek pizza that came recommended. Steve and I shared a Santorini salad, which is a decidedly better version of a Greek salad you might find in the US, if you love capers, which we do. When the server came to clear our plates, she looked at Luke and asked if he enjoyed his….she paused to give him the opportunity to pronounce it correctly. He looked at her, laughed, and affirmed he did and left it at that.

When we left La Scala, we headed to the Santorini cable car in Fira for our trip down the cliffside and back to the tender that would return us to our ship.The sun was setting on our day in Santorini. And what a sunset it was as we prepared to say goodbye.

And when we had returned to our ship and decided the day could not become more magical, in the darkness as we sailed away, it did. Who knew Santorini, so beautiful by day, was just as incredible by night.

Life At Sea

Endless sea and sunset

Before I jump into the activities and adventures we did and had in our ports of call, I thought I would clear up the notion of a Sea Day. Until I took my first cruise, the idea of days at sea with nothing to do troubled me. I thought I would be bored. I assumed days floating at sea would be a waste of time and money. Many of my friends who have said they would never take a cruise vacation claim the “wasted days at sea” as their reason. I get it. I felt the same way until I had a day when I had nothing to do, no one to answer to, nowhere to rush off to, and the freedom to do exactly and only what I felt like doing. How many days do adults get like that in their busy lives? Not many.

A day at sea allows you to truly relax. It does not mean you will lack for things to do. Many cruise ships are like floating theme parks with water slides and zip lines and climbing walls. Cruises on Celebrity are aimed more at an adult crowd, though, so their sea day amenities are more about pools, spa treatments, casino time, and fine dining, but the lack of children tearing through the passageways and screaming and splashing at the pool more than make up for that. Cruise directors load the day with potential activities for those who want more and are looking for distraction. There are lectures and art classes, wine tastings and friendly on-board competitions (passenger versus crew pool volleyball and putting tournaments, for example). There are movies and games and ship tours too. At night there are karaoke sing-offs, live music performances, theater shows, comedians, and plenty of opportunities for dancing. If none of that appeals, you can read a book or nap in a deck chair facing the sea or play cards or watch for sea life. We enjoyed searching for dolphin pods and seeing them race and jump and flip alongside the ship. If you get bored at sea, you have no one to blame but yourself.

One activity that costs extra but is well worth the investment is a behind-the-scenes ship tour.Our tour took us through the galleys and into the belly of the ship where food is stored. We learned about how the ship processes recyclables and waste, does epic amounts of laundry, plans their shopping, and stores the food for the journey. On our ship, there were 1500 people employed for food preparation and service alone. We learned about what cruise life is like for those who live on the ship and work in its service. We visited the engine room and learned about what powers the ship and keeps it running smoothly and on time. The final stop on the tour was to the bridge where we learned about what training the captain and officers undertake for their careers, as well as how they bring these huge ships into port. It was fascinating.

When we finished our ship tour, we grabbed some lunch, gawked at the desserts, and then went to a wine tasting with premium wines and cheeses. After that, we sat on deck and enjoyed the view and the peace and each other’s company until it was time to dress for dinner and head to the Raw on 5 restaurant for Joe’s birthday dinner choice….sushi. We topped off our day with some silent disco because why not?

If the notion of a sea day or two on a cruise, where your every need is catered to, vexes you, perhaps it’s time to reassess your priorities. Do you not deserve a day where you don’t have to cook, clean, or care for anything or anyone other than yourself? Have you not earned a day or two with no obligations and thoughtfully prepared, delicious meals served with whatever cocktail calls to you? Come on. Live a little. Become reacquainted with yourself. When the sea day is over and you wake the next morning to find yourself in another exotic port of call, rested and ready to explore, you realize this is why you took this vacation. You’ve let yourself go in the best way possible.

The silent disco is a vibe