Our Need to Look Forward

 

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Signs of spring – asparagus, morel mushrooms, new potatoes and red onions. Yum!

I had brunch at the Browns’ house today on Dewey Lake. If you’ll remember, I spent a month in the little cottage by the lake when I first moved up to Michigan. But today was the last meal that the Browns would have in the big cottage on the hill. I’ve had at least 15-20 meals with them in the last two years. And dinner was usually followed by a boat ride on the little lake. And while I’ve been there for two years, they’ve been gathering at that spot as a family for as long as they can remember.

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One of my first mornings in Michigan on Dewey Lake. I feel like a different girl than I was on this day.

Kathy has since moved to California. Another sibling is renting a condo in downtown Saint Joe, and still another has an RV spot near Saugatuck. Their parents and a brother are buried down the street in Dowagiac. An era is ending for this family, and as we took one last walk down to the boat ramp, they all agreed they were ready for the next chapter to begin. What I thought would be a tearful day turned out to be a day of gratitude and acceptance.

 

I had to do a trail run today. I’m training for a 15K in September in Saugatuck which is part trail run, part street run and part dunes climb. It’s a tough one, and I’ve been building a base with strength training and street running. I wanted to run a trail that I knew, so I chose one in a state park near where I used to live. I’d run those trails in that park in every season and in every kind of weather.

 

Leaves and wildflowers were popping out in celebration of springtime. I hiked that trail this winter in the snow. It was the same but totally different. It is the ending of the winter in the woods and the beginning of spring. Nature is always looking forward. I ended my day with dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant having one of my all-time favorite soups. I’ve ordered that warming soup so many times on chilly days. It was comfort food when my marriage was falling apart. It, too, felt familiar.

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We didn’t talk too much about the past today even though I’m sure it was as much on their minds as it was on mine. There have been many nights that I’ve listened to Brown family stories at that dining room table. It was their Mother’s home. Her presence was palpable and yet I never met her. It was certainly fitting that they would say good-bye on Mother’s Day.

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The Browns found these old cookbooks in their family home. I’m glad this is changed!

Comfort hails from the familiar. Like nature, though, we have to always look forward. We have no choice in this. We suffer loss, and we let go. We set goals and leap forward. If we fall backward, it is usually a painful incentive to try something different. We are hard-wired for growth. And growth happens outside of our comfort zone.

When you look back on your life, what changes brought about the most growth? What are you afraid of changing now?

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Simplifing the Superhero

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My Memphis friend Gene in turned me on to the Optimal Living Daily podcast a few weeks ago. The one he mentioned was one on writing, and I thought it was pretty cool, but I didn’t listen again until this morning. Vacation is optimal living anyway, right? Justin, the author of this podcast, takes the best that he finds on the web about improving your life and compiles it for us to hear.

I managed to extricate myself from the bed this morning (the Monday after vacation) to get to the gym, and I didn’t want to think about the news yet. I spun through my podcast feed, and decided to listen to the Optimal Living podcast. This morning’s  message was about untethering yourself from your smartphone, and I found that interesting, but I really liked the one from Friday about redefining the superhero.

“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstdacles.”

~~ Christopher Reeve

I often beat myself up because I’m not out saving the world or adopting orphans. “What am I doing with my life?” I ask myself with a generous dose of shame. I feel guilty for working in corporate America instead of working at a nonprofit doing something that is meaningful for the planet or saving the animals that are rapidly becoming extinct. I donate money but shouldn’t I be doing something more substantial? I grapple with the reality that I need to take care of myself financially at this moment in time. What is more important?

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Justin got this redefining of superhero inspiration from Eric Weinbrenner. He says that dreaming about being a superhero is a distraction. The world needs something more basic and simple from us.

“The world doesn’t need guys with superhuman strength, it needs men who are willing to:

  • Take responsibility for their actions.
  • Step up and do what they can to make a difference in their communities.
  • Get off the phone or computer and spend time, face-to-face, with the people that really matter.
  • Refuse to be okay with the status quo. “

~~ Eric Weinbrenner

I’ve been praying about my own role in this drama we call life. As I turn this over in my head, I ask God to help me understand my role and whether I need to be doing more. Inevitably, someone will contact me to tell me how I’ve helped them with my writing.  In my heart, I know that sharing what I’ve learned with others on the same path is God’s greatest desire for me. I learned from the love and support and wisdom of those who struggled before me. Maybe writing doesn’t feel superhero-ish to me, but if my story helps one other person take the next step in improving their life, it could feel superhero-ish to them. And they can turn around and do it for another with their unique superhero talent. Sometimes being part of the chain is the best kind of superhero.

What is your superhero talent? Does it feel like a superhero talent? Are you sharing it in a way that feels satisfying to you and could be meaningful to others?

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The Grief of Alcoholism

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I read this article yesterday from the New Yorker. David Sedaris writes about his zany, funny mother who was overtaken by alcoholism in her later years. She was the organizing factor in their family. But as the children left, she became more organized around the clink of ice in a glass. I was struck by the deep grief that poured out of his story.

He keeps asking why none of them ever said anything or did anything about her alcoholism. The disease stole her life long before her early death stilled her heart. But they were paralyzed to help her. Of course, in reality, she has to want to help herself, but often people help themselves when their loved ones confront them about the pain their addiction causes for others. Sedaris spends hours watching the show “Intervention”. I imagine he has his letter to his mother written indelibly in his mind. Instead, she slipped slowly to the grave.

Alanon has a book about the grief caused by alcoholism. People often think the alcoholic is only hurting himself or herself, but the family is impacted dramatically. Even if the drinker is more of a functional alcoholic, the loss is immense. There is the loss of time where the addict is not himself because of drinking. There is the loss of relationship because you are never sure how much any conversation is impacted. Is this what they really mean? Will they even remember it? There is the loss of presence as the alcoholic gives more and more time to the bottle. The list of losses is endless, and its victims are far-reaching.

Sedaris is haunted by the inaction of everyone in his family to stop the slow, painful loss of his beautiful, lively mother. He describes his confusion as he hears the clinking ice in her glass behind her slurred words. He can’t bring himself to say anything but he is enamored with those families who made the effort to intervene. “At least they did something” echoes loudly.

Just Start the Conversation

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On the way home from Chicago yesterday, I listened to a podcast about the The Lonely American Man. Suicide rates for men have spun out of control. Seven out of 10 suicides in 2016 were white males. Middle-aged men seem to be particularly vulnerable. (Statistics on suicide)

If you are interested, please listen to the podcast, but in a nutshell they say the lack of emotionally-connected male friendships and social support are killing our men. Our culture encourages men to shut down their feelings which cripples them in creating strong social ties. And many men depend on their wives and girlfriends to be social coordinators. If they lose that relationship, they then lose their community. And many don’t know how to start again.

I wonder how much of the frustration in our society would dissipate if people – and men in particular – had the skills and encouragement to share their feelings. One supportive conversation can defuse anger and stop an avalanche of fear. Our culture encourages us to bottle up our emotions or pretend they aren’t there, and that’s not healthy. It’s not good for individual health, and it’s very unhealthy for relationships.

I was in a training class this week in Chicago. In the past, the class would have bonded. We would have chatted at breaks and maybe even gone out to lunch together. Now, people head for their laptops or to a quiet corner with their phone. It felt lonely, and it’s not conducive to learning either. The instructor didn’t even do introductions at the beginning of the class, so I had no clue who any of these people were or where they were from. I finally got up the nerve to interrupt my neighbor and ask her about her passion for politics. On the last day I went to lunch with another woman in the class. It was the best part of the week. I felt a bit awkward initiating those conversations but I’m glad I took the risk.

The main point of the podcast mirrored what I experienced this week. You have to make it a priority to talk to people. It is really hard to make the first move. But if I don’t make the first move, I stay isolated. What if my next best friend is standing beside me in line this morning, and I never open my mouth? Even worse, what if that man in front of me is contemplating suicide out of loneliness and one friendly conversation might make a difference?

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Could you bring yourself to hop over that hurdle of fear, put down your phone and start a conversation with somebody today? What if you just experimented with it once a day for a week? It could help you feel more connected, but it also might make someone else’s day.

Never Look Back

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“Never look back,” my Aunt Iris said to me as a 35-year-old recently divorced woman. Right before her 25th Wedding Anniversary party I found out she had been divorced three times. There was no one else in my family that had been divorced that I could talk to, so this was a blessed discovery. When I asked my mother why she struggled so with marriage, she said quite bluntly, “She just didn’t put up with bullshit.” And the fifth one was the charm. She would stay married to him until he died many years later.

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It is so hard not to look back. I fail miserably at keeping my head in the present marching boldly into the future. But I’ve learned that rehearsing finished conversations, trying to revive dead relationships and replaying past events doesn’t make life any better. When I find myself doing it, I try to turn it around by asking myself if I want to keep investing my time in a mistake, or if I’d prefer to invest in my future. The present is all I have, and the future is a result of this moment. The past has no return unless I’m using it as a “lessons learned” review.

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Whether it’s a man, a woman, a bad financial deal, a screwed-up workplace, an unfriendly community, bad habits that don’t serve you, people that don’t have your back or it’s just time to move on, take some advice from Jo Dee Messina and my Aunt Iris, never look back. 

In the Effort to Move Forward, We Die

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I have been in a pensive mood this week. A lot has been going on in the world and in my life in the last month. And life moves forward. You have to roll with the punches and embrace change. There is no “pause” button. But I can sometimes find a pause by increasing meditation, getting off social media and listening to my heart. That’s what I’ve been doing, and I’ve been thinking about life… my life specifically and collective life generally.

At one point in my life I used to wonder if this was all there is to life. Those times were hopeless and were empty of connection and purpose. Today, I find myself overwhelmed by all there is. There is so much. There is so much hope and fear and anger and love. It’s hard to process it all. Our culture is changing. And I have to accept that cultures change when they need to change.  In my opinion, we’ve screwed it up. The party’s over.

I listened to a podcast this week from Invisibilia, one of my favorite podcasts. The Personality Myth episode is about a man who had been in prison for most of his life after raping a woman. A woman worked with him on a project many years after he was incarcerated and was very impressed with him as a person. When she found out why he was in prison, she struggled with how to rectify the two seemingly different people.

It made me think about how people change. I remember the young woman I was in my 20s fueled by alcohol and ambition. In my 30s, I tumbled into a depressive state that seemed insurmountable. The woman in my 40s had no confidence and swirled in desperation in an abusive relationship. I started to get my mojo back in my late 40s and in my 50s I’ve come into my own. If I woke up in one of those other bodies today, I don’t know if I’d recognize myself. And, yet I know that those women are all part of me.

This morning I read a story about a promising young woman who developed schizophrenia in her 30s. She ended up dying on a street corner in New York after living on the streets for a number of years. The people who knew her and loved her in her highly functioning days struggled with the reality that her life had ended up so destitute. And, yet, there was hope in her life and a connection with others that never ended. She always wrote. She read voraciously. She remembered with astounding accuracy the people who loved her. I imagine if someone had outlined her life’s trajectory to her in her early 30s she would have thought they were insane.

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Life does not have a normalcy. There is no real status quo. We are either changing or we’re dying. This idea that things were better in the past is lunacy. Believe me when I say the good old days may have been good for a privileged few, but for most of us the good old days were filled with abuse at the hands of power, discrimination and a hopelessness that things could ever get better. We will look back at this being the good old days.

When I can be objective about what’s going on right now, I am hopeful. I think it’s time for a new generation to take over. The Baby Boomers have made a mess of our world, and my generation was so powerless in its wake that we did nothing to mitigate the damage. My young friends in their 30s have a completely different vision of how the world should operate, and I feel hopeful that they can undo some of the damage we have done. This generation will have their own set of problems to be sure, but maybe at least they’ll do better than we did. I hope one day we look back and say that all of this mess was just one more step in moving forward.

 

There Are No Words

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Here we are again. There are just no words.  Actually, there may not be enough words. I keep wanting to write, but I can’t process it all. And I’m not just talking about the immediate crisis of the Parkland shooting. The complex processing that I can’t adequately express in words started with the Harvey Weinstein stories and the resulting cascade flooding the news cycle.

I walk in circles where people heal their wounds, so I know the silence around abuse. I have heard loud and clear that the abuse is horrible, but the silencing by others who should be protecting them is often much worse than the event itself. Women – and men – whose lives and relationships who are ravaged by the impacts of early abuse of any kind tell their mother, their father, the authorities to only find that they are not believed. Or maybe they are believed, but they are told to keep quiet. It’s just too INCONVENIENT to confront a spouse … or an uncle … or a friend … or a teacher.

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So now we have a tsunami of words that have been silenced for far too long. Then we have the horrific doctor here in this state who systematically abused children and young women in his care in front of parents and others because his words describing his “technique” was unfathomably legitimized. Yes, there were complaints, but those words were explained away and covered up. Every one of these women’s lives will be horribly impacted by this abuse but most of all by the silencing of their voice by the people who should have protected them. I LOVED hearing their words to their trusted perpetrator.

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We have the 18th school shooting this year. Eighteenth… and it’s not even the end of February. Parkland is the tip of the iceberg. And yet the rallying cry of some is that these children should not be speaking up. It is not their place. They are not old enough, wise enough to express themselves. These kids just lived through an event where they were targets of a man with a gun. Whatever age they were before this happened is irrelevant. They were forced to grow up real quick. Youth over. Life changed. Grown up.

I am sick of this silencing of people who have been abused. I am especially sick of white men in power who silence people with their money, their shaming and their lies. There is a cultural shift in this country going on, and it’s about damn time. I am horrified that there was a systematic silencing of women in the workplace who had to endure ridiculous behavior in order to work. I am saddened at the lack of compassion and understanding to the plight of children who have to fear gun violence in their schools. There are just no words that adequately express my feelings around all of this.

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This is who we are, America. Make excuses all you want. Marginalize the victims. Squash them if you can. We are one big dysfunctional family. Protect the perpetrator. Ignore the problems. Pretend we are normal. Keep the status quo. Do not feel. Do not speak. Do not tell the truth. I don’t know the answer to any of the problems we have as a country, but I know the path out is paved with words. Find them. Say them. Listen. It’s the only thing that has ever healed.

Wrestling Anxiety… I Win

I jolted awake. I could hear Buster throwing up in the next room. “Dammit,” I said. Poor Buster. I got up and took care of him and cleaned up the mess.

I hopped back in bed only to realize that I was wracked with anxiety. “Dammit,” I said more loudly. First I was pissed at Buster for waking me up. A flash of fear told me that I would never go back to sleep. I already felt the drag of the long day ahead with little sleep. My body railed against it. My brain assaulted me with fears of growing old, of not being able to pay my bills and of my imminent death. Living alone, my animals will die a horrible death of starvation because there is no one here to feed them. (I read that story in the news yesterday. My anxiety has a new toy.)

I thought of one of my girlfriends who has been losing sleep lately. I promised her that I’d send her some links to a yoga nidra to help her get back to sleep. I forgot. Surely she thinks I’m a horrible person, and her life is going down the drain, too, because I forgot to send her the salve for her wound. Now I’ll be friendless, too. The familiar tense muscles and racing mind carried me away on a runaway raft of fear.

I finally grabbed a limb. “This is not real,” I told myself. “This is anxiety.” It is a physical problem which manifests a cascade of mental bullying. Nothing had changed since I went to bed. And everything will be fine when I wake up if I ever go back to sleep. “Jesus, help me,” I whispered. “I’m in anxiety.” I gave myself a long hug and a reassurance that I loved her and would take care of her. Anxiety said, “Dammit, I was having fun.”

Once I named it, I was able to let go of the torrent of thoughts. If I don’t stop interacting with them, sleep will elude me. I didn’t want to do it, but I launched my Calm app and did a 25 minute deep sleep relaxation meditation. I was so tense it took the full 25 minutes for my muscles to release. I realized I might not sleep but I could always rest, and that was okay, too.

This is my anxiety. I can go through the list of things I’ve eaten this week that probably set this off, but it doesn’t really matter how I got here. I have to dig myself out. I didn’t feel anxious when I got up, but I know I could stoke that ember pretty quick.  So today will be a no sugar, no coffee and no white flour day. There will be no news until later in the day, and I’m listening to sweet Enya. I will meditate frequently. Breakfast was a whole-grain breakfast porridge with plenty of relaxing healthy carbs. A glass of kefir and a bit of yogurt coated my gut with probiotics. It was probably diet that got me into this mess, and diet will bring me out.

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Thank goodness it’s Friday, and I have a connected weekend ahead. There’s a chili cook-off in Saint Joe tonight, and it sounds fun. I think a night out on the town might do me good. Y’all have a good weekend. I hope to visit a new coffeehouse or two this weekend!

Resources:

Oh yeah, and if you struggle with anxiety, here are some things that work for me. You can also check out a lot of resources on this search. Share your favorites with me. Kick your anxiety out the door!

Seeking Comfort: It’s Monday

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In the January 22nd reading of Melody Beattie’s Journey to the Heart, she provides a perspective on comfort. She keeps one of her favorite blankies in her Jeep. She doesn’t use it to sleep with because she doesn’t sleep outside, but she throws it in her vehicle to remind her of how important it is to seek comfort.

Our collective obsession to “be the best we can be”, “live out our passion” and “stay positive” has become a new way to push ourselves.  It seems softer than having to work ourselves to death for The Man, but it can have the same effect of driving us to succeed. We are not machines.

Even Elizabeth Gilbert realized that she was passion shaming people when she spoke about the importance of finding your passion and committing to it. After a confrontation from a fan about how shamed she felt after hearing her speak because she couldn’t name her singular passion, Gilbert realized that her path might have been different. She found that most people grow into their passion by the choices they make. Not everyone has the same driven life experience that she had. And both approaches are completely normal.

Gilbert says there are two kinds of people. There are the jackhammers and the hummingbirds. I like to noodle things. I try out new things to see if I like them. I see a shiny object, and I totally dig getting distracted by it. This kind of lifestyle brings me comfort. Yes, I feel a little unfocused at times. I give in to my depression on occasion. There are days when I’m not being true to myself. I wasn’t always this way. I was taught to power through and excel. I was raised on the mantra “be the best at something, or don’t do it”. And it about killed me. I am NOT a jackhammer.

I’m approaching Monday by easing into it. I’m curled up with my kitties and Ashok under my favorite blankie. I’m sipping green tea instead of coffee. In a moment, I will have some greek yogurt and granola with fruit. These are some of my favorite things. And I will probably be a few minutes late for work because I hate dragging myself out of my house in the morning. Luckily it’s not too cold, and I don’t have to shovel snow. I have time to seek comfort this morning, and I believe I will.

What brings you comfort? Do you spend time seeking comfort, or do you drive yourself? What feels better to you? Are you a jackhammer? Or a hummingbird?

 

 

Vulnerability Unearths Strength

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With a birthday that’s so close behind New Year’s, it’s hard for me to find a reflection point. I’ve already made a list of what I want for this year. I’ve already reflected on the past year. So, I searched for ways to celebrate your birthday on the worldwide web. That’s where all the answers are, right?

My search came up with all of the typical reactions to getting older. I care less about what people think. I sever or speak up in relationships that aren’t helpful. I am less attached to consumerism and “rules”. All of this stuff is true, but I don’t really want to focus on that. I wanted something more positive to focus on. I came up with this blog:

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A friend of mine recently pronounced on an online dating site that she was grateful for her sobriety and wanted someone that would celebrate that. After all, sobriety is hard work and a sign that a person would go to any lengths to make sure they are the best person they can be. That’s a positive, right? Pretty immediately she freaked out that she put that up there and took it down. But in the few minutes it was up, a guy – interested because of that confidence in herself – contacted her, and they have started dating. She doesn’t even remember what it said because she took it down so fast.

Ironically, in our culture, recovery from addiction is a stigma. Most of us have very little control over the hand we are dealt in life. Genetics define who is susceptible to addiction, our skin color, our  mental health, and our looks. People are constantly judged by all of these – as if they had any control over any of it. Many other issues are a result of our upbringing, where we grew up and the life lessons that fell in our path. Our path is not in our control, but our reaction to it is. But we are often judged by the obstacles that were put in our way – addictions, mental illness, poverty, attachment disorders – and not the way we have overcome it.

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I know this seems to have nothing to do with the gratitude blog that I read, but I am most grateful for my quality of being intolerant of emotional pain. Sure, it led me directly into numbing through early addiction, but it also led me out. When something is painful for me, I don’t tolerate it very long. And, luckily for me, I live in a world with plenty of resources.

Even in my twenties when I realized drinking was an issue for me, I picked up the phone and asked for help. This “shortcoming” of mine of being intolerable of emotional pain has helped me avoid lots of danger and to become a stronger person with resilience in the face of adversity. The simple act of asking for help has opened me up to communities of people who are strong and brave and vulnerable. I have no idea what my life would be like if I would have chosen numbness over connection with others, but I really don’t want to find out.

One of the best compliments I ever received was from a country friend of mine when I moved home. This big, tough redneck guy told me, “When the going gets tough, and everything goes to hell in a hand basket in this country, I want you on my team. You are a survivor.” I can’t be grateful for that capacity without being grateful for the hardships and tendencies that unearthed the need. As always in God’s world, it is vulnerability that ultimately strengthens us.