Down the Rabbit Hole

June solstice? Already?! I nearly missed it. Seems I slipped into a hole a few months ago and one thing after another drove me deeper into the darkness. I wish I could say I had fun or that I lost weight or I won…anything. Nope. But I did learn a few things.

I confirmed that I’m not ready to die; I still have unfinished business and I still have some fight left in me. I learned that people cannot get rest in the hospital, laying in a bed or sitting in a chair watching your spouse lay in the bed. I validated the fact that after all these years I still love my husband and want to stay married even though he aggravates me more than once each day.

The biggest surprise came in understanding and accepting the fact that once in a while I need to put myself first instead of last. Okay, maybe more often than once in a while. It’s going to take me some time to create new habits. Awareness and acceptance are the first step.

On this longest day of the year, I see the light, and I’ve made my way up from the depths to the rabbit hole opening. I’m even putting my head out. Wave if you see me.

Six or Half Dozen

Six. A finite number. Definitive. While it’s more than one, it’s a singular entity. Six. Complete logic and order. Monochrome. You know exactly what you’re getting. Six.

On the other hand, half a dozen is ambiguous. Do you have exactly six, or do you have a little more than five or slightly less than seven? There are multiples with half a dozen. Is there chaos? Were there more and now you’re on the downslide? Or are you on the upswing, gaining more and more? Assumptions are made with half a dozen, but they depend on the context. Do you see potential or failure? And while one person may assume a positive grouping in half a dozen, another might see a doomsday prediction. Dichotomy. Half a dozen.

I asked for six. Half a dozen were served.

November Thanks #25 | 3 Gifts Ugly-Beautiful

A thirty-day exercise in pausing, reflecting, appreciating, and giving thanks for simple things.

box of rocks

There was a time when I found myself in a therapist’s office, searching for answers about life. Stuck and unable to move forward or back, I had spun in circles for months before connecting with this particular therapist. She made me think so hard at times my brain hurt. She reminded me how to feel. But most importantly, she helped me find my true self. The time came for me to “graduate” and move on. And at my last appointment with her, I held out my hand and showed her half of an ugly rock. The round, rough edge was facing up and the cut half was flat against my palm. And I held it out and told her, “This is how I think I looked and felt when I first walked in your door. And with your guidance and support, you helped me believe in myself again. I am no longer ugly.” And I turned up the flat side of the rock to allow the crystals to shine. She was so taken aback by my presentation that she had tears in her eyes. The geode was my present to her, so that she would always have a reminder of the work she does to turn something ugly into something beautiful. Whenever I see a geode, I am reminded of that moment and all the challenging work I did to put my life back on track. Sometimes it’s a good thing to be reminded of how far we’ve come.

amethyst_geode

In a few days we will dust off all the boxes of Christmas decorations and get our tree set up. Like most moms, I have a box filled with some special ornaments made by my daughters when they were very young. There’s a picture frame made from Popsicle sticks and a school photo of the artist. I think she was in third or fourth grade. There’s another picture frame made of cardboard shaped like a wreath with elbow noodles glued to it, spray painted in gold. There are paper cutouts colored in crayon with a string attached to hang them on a tree. For years my daughters didn’t even want to take these items out of the box; they were embarrassed by their primitive artwork. But they have finally come to appreciate the decorations for what they are…a gift from a child so special that a mother saved it for a lifetime.

I know I am supposed to name three gifts, but my brain has ceased to function. I have a lot on my mind lately and I haven’t been able to sleep. I keep waking up at four in the morning and cannot go back to sleep. At night, I’ve tried my best to stay awake until ten o’clock thinking I’ll sleep until six in the morning for sure. Not to be. No matter the time I go to sleep, I’m waking up at four. And my eyelids are like curtain shades tonight. I cannot keep my eyes open even as I sit here typing. Going to sleep now.

November Thanks #16 | 3 Gifts Hard Eucharisteo

Every year I watch friends post daily thanks on Facebook during the month of November, and this year I thought I would accept this “giving thanks” challenge. I’ve been following a posting that instructs you to Count 1,000 Gifts, taken from Ann Voskamp’s recently published book by that name.

I don’t have the book and I haven’t read the book but I’ve managed to get along fine so far this month, until today. I had no idea what Voskamp meant by “hard eucharisteo” so I went back to her website and did some research. She defines this phrase as “hard discipline to lean into the ugly and still be able to give thanks, find joy, find grace.” In other words, a moment when it is painfully hard to give thanks, but you still do (translation: character building). I thought long and hard on this and decided to focus on the three most ugly times in my life. As it so happens, the order in which they happened in my life is also the degree of ugliness.

Without a doubt, the worst, most ugliest, most hard eucharisteo of my life occurred during a span of four years, when I was twelve to sixteen years old. At the age of twelve I learned my mother had cancer. Two years later she died. One year later my father was diagnosed with cancer. One year later he died. Whatever trajectory my life had been on up to that point, it was completely knocked out of kilter. The very basic foundation of the person I was at age eleven was forever changed by the time I was sixteen. The deaths of my parents have influenced—directly or indirectly—every decision I have made, every action I have taken, and many of the relationships I have formed. And the common thread that runs through my life as a result is an overpowering belief that I am a survivor.

The second-most hard eucharisteo moment in my life was the break-up of my first marriage. When I took my vows of marriage, I did so with the belief that I would be with this person until the day I died. Period. However, I was absolutely blind and naive and ignorant to the lack of control he had over his anger. For twenty years I tried to fix what was broke and in the end I was forced to realize that I was powerless, without any control over someone else’s emotions. The lesson I learned was that no matter how much you love someone, no matter how much you have invested in the relationship, sometimes you have to let go. Understanding that does not take away the heartache or the immense sense of loss. But it did provide a greater perspective and wiser insight when deciding if I wanted to marry a second time.

I experienced the third-most ugly moment in my life just six years ago. In July 2008, the company I was working for merged with another and my position was eliminated. By September I was without a job, at the same time that our economy tanked and the Great Recession took hold of everyone’s lives. I knew it would be challenging but never in my wildest imaginations did I think it would be thirty-four months before I would find another job. It was more than half the job I had had previously and the wage was indeed fifty percent less than what I had been earning. But after nearly three years without an income or medical insurance, I was grateful to have any job at all. The steadily progressive career path I had been on was cut off, as if I had jumped off a cliff. I doubt I will ever achieve that same job status again in my life. And our finances crumbled and we will never recover all that we lost. The experience was horrific and I learned many things, but the greatest lesson learned is knowing that at the end of the day all that matters is your family—spouse, children, parents, siblings. No amount of money can buy the love and support family provides when you have nothing to look forward to.

Doing a Happy Dance!

Brianna has been awarded her GED! She received a phone call last night from the testing center letting her know she’s completed and passed all the tests. The results and diploma will be in the mail soon. I asked her if she was happy or relieved and she said “very relieved.” The scoring took quite a bit longer for these last two tests and Brianna admitted she was growing more anxious with each passing day. “I’m finally done with high school,” she said, almost as if she didn’t believe the moment was real. I had to wonder how many times she’s dreamed of this, longing for it to happen.

Today I feel like dancing, like shouting to the entire world, “She did it!” I’m in awe of the overpowering joy I feel in my heart. This has been such a long journey, with so many ups and downs, twists and turns. Maybe now Brianna will believe in herself.

I’ll admit there were many times in the last five years when my belief in Brianna faltered a bit, but I never gave up hope. I truly believed she would reach this milestone. My only doubt was not “if” but “when.” At twenty years old Brianna is long overdue this achievement but the joy in my heart is so great that I really don’t care. It’s done!

Truth be told, this was just as much a learning journey for me as it has been for Brianna. I coached, mentored, encouraged, disciplined, prayed. I tried every conceivable idea I could think of. “You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink.” I struggled with powerlessness. I berated my parenting skills. I can’t count the times I wondered what I should have done differently—that number is infinite.

I don’t want to minimize the efforts of my other daughters, but the fact is they followed the “traditional” path through high school; one even finished early. Each daughter made me so proud with her achievements. But Brianna’s journey was not traditional and so great a challenge. She made so many bad choices and had to overcome them all before she could reach the finish line. The goal for each was the same—finishing high school—but Brianna’s accomplishment seems so much greater. To each her own.

Finally I can take out my big marker. Way to go, Brianna!

chart

Coming to Terms

I’ve been in a funk for several months. About four or so months ago I decided to get in to a counselor and work out whatever was going on. After about two months, it was apparent to me that the therapist was just biding time, satisfying my need to talk to someone. I wasn’t any better or any worse for that matter but my depression wasn’t debilitative, so I declared the conversations done and didn’t go back.

My husband keeps telling me I need to get on anti-depressants, and I keep telling him I’ve survived worse without meds so I can get through this as well. I just need to figure out what “it” is and come to terms with it.

So for many weeks I’ve been in a contemplative state, just rolling things around in my head, awake and in my sleep, waiting for some sore spot to stick out so I can focus on it. But I’m growing impatient. Nothing is calling to me. And in the last few days I’ve come to realize that maybe what “it” is, is an acceptance of sorts. Am I like the Jack Nicholson character who steps into a therapist’s waiting room filled with people and asks, “What if this is as good as it gets?”

Call it a midlife crisis, call it exhaustion, call it menopause. It really doesn’t matter what name anyone gives “it”, the fact is I’m in a funk. And I just need to accept it and my life, as it is, and move on. And anyone familiar with Twelve Step programs knows very well that acceptance comes only after admitting the problem. So what is my problem?

There are two at the very top of the list. The first has to do with my youngest daughter who recently turned twenty years old. When Brianna was about fourteen she got caught up in a bad crowd and fell madly in love with a boy who showed her things she shouldn’t have seen. It set her off onto a downward spiral of poor choices and bad experiences with no apparent “rock bottom.” No matter what I tried, I could not get her back on the right path. And sometimes even I got sucked into the vortex of that downward spiral. The good news is that Brianna is finally on the right path, with both feet firmly planted. She’s not taking forward steps as quickly as I want her to, but the fact is she is moving forward. About two weeks ago she took the final series of tests to get her GED and this week we should get the results. I am confident she will pass; she’s still full of doubt. I’m happy she’s reached this milestone, but I’m still not satisfied. What I need to come to terms about Brianna is that her life will never be the life I dreamed for her. Yeah, I know. It’s her life and she gets to live it. And I just need to let go. If she’s happy, then I should be happy that she’s happy. Sometimes acceptance is pretty easy on the surface, but thick as mud underneath.

The second thing at the top of the list is the fact that I am a spoiled brat. Seriously. It’s a very tough thing to come to terms with. Back in 2008, my husband and I suffered a series of setbacks that were out of our control and cost us dearly financially. Prior to 2008 we were both living the dream. Life was grand. Now, life’s not so grand. But the fact is, every day I manage to put food on the table and every night we go to sleep in a nice bed in a warm and beautiful house. We have absolutely nothing to complain about. And yet I complain, and I whine, and some days I throw a pity party. This is not the life I had planned, not what I wanted, and a hundred steps back from where I was five years ago. And when I hear those thoughts pass through my head I yell at myself, “Shutupaboutit already! Geez!” I hate that I cannot get over this. I am so angry with myself that I cannot count the blessings I have. I am so frustrated that I get full of envy and jealousy. It’s disgusting. I’m disgusting!

It’s November and so many people are offering their “daily thanks.” I desperately want to be among them, but I cannot see the forest through the trees. Sue enough I can think of several things I am thankful for, but it’s kind of a “glass half empty” frame of mind. My whole life I’ve been an optimistic person and have always been able to see the positive and never lost hope. Why is my glass suddenly half empty instead of half full? I used to dream big dreams, but they became too painful so I quit. And look where it put me. In a funk. Is this as good as it gets? And if it is, how do I come to terms with that?

Turning Points

I’ve had a rough week with my daughter Brianna, and today my mind went back in time and I was reminded of a moment when my dad was really angry with me. I was sixteen and it was late September and a bunch of my friends were gathering at Bob’s house after school. I wanted to be there too. My dad didn’t like Bob, but I’m not sure why. I truly think it was because my older brothers didn’t like Bob’s older siblings. I asked my dad if I could go and he said no. Uncharacteristic of me, I went anyway. And later that evening when I came home, my dad was furious with me—for disobeying him and for not calling to let anyone know where I was when I didn’t get off the school bus at home. My dad yelled at me that night. It was the first time he had ever done that and I was devastated. I knew what I had done was wrong and my heart ached with the guilt of having disappointed my dad. As it turned out, my dad and I never discussed that night again, and in my mind we never resolved our feelings. A little more than two months later my dad died. I carried guilt from that after-school outing through all of my life until last year, when a spontaneous email discussion helped me to finally have closure. You can read about it here.

In looking back on my life, I never considered that argument with my dad to be a turning point—the point at which a significant change takes place. In my mind, the death of my mom and then two years later the death of my dad combined into one major turning point. Everything about my life changed. Everything. Right down to my personality.

I was reminded of that argument with my dad in the midst of this tough week with Brianna. Yesterday morning I shouted at Brianna in much the same way my dad shouted at me all those long years ago. This argument with Brianna had been going on for a few days. With the help of modern technology, it had a longer than normal life through text messages on phones and instant messaging through the Internet. At one point in the argument Brianna extended it to include her three sisters by sending a Facebook message to us as a group. Now, as I write this and have some distance between me and this argument, I can smile about that. Imagine getting a group message on Facebook in which you’re thrust into the middle of an argument. You have no idea what started the argument, why such a trivial thing even matters, and how you got involved in the first place.

Kate, my oldest, brought a bit of perspective to the argument when she wrote about how she was holding a two week old baby with casts on both legs. It made the trivial argument seem so lame. Indeed it was. But each one of us knows that Brianna wasn’t really arguing about the trivial matter. What caused Brianna’s anger to rise was that she felt none of us were there for her when she needed us.

Feelings of abandonment are some of the most crushing feelings we can ever feel. Such feelings can be devastating and can take months, even years, to heal. It’s interesting for me to note that a majority of the turning points in my life occurred at moments when I felt all alone in the big, scary world. Sure there were family members around me and I had friends in my life but I didn’t feel they were really there for me. Maybe they thought they were helping or trying to help, but my feelings told me I was standing alone in the world. Because I felt I had no one but myself to rely on, and because I had this innate need to survive, I was forced to put one foot in front of the other and find my way. Maybe I am a stronger person for it. Maybe those moments wouldn’t have been such powerful turning points if I had had someone else to lean on and guide me.

Knowing today that my youngest daughter has those same feelings is tough to acknowledge. We live in the same house. We talk and interact every day. I thought I was helping and guiding. The last thing I’d want any of my children to feel is all alone in the world. It’s also tough to accept that I would yell at my daughter in the same way that my dad yelled at me, a moment that caused so much guilt and disappointment, that lasted most of my life. It was a turning point for me at sixteen. And now, it seems this new argument is another turning point for me. Will the argument of yesterday morning be a turning point for Brianna? Sure wish I had my dad to talk to about this one.