Artist’s Way: Paying Attention

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I started The Artist’s Way course again. I had such great success with it the last time, and spring just feels like a good time to begin again. So, last week I started with Week 1. Week 1 helps me identify the reasons why I don’t embrace my creativity. I had great success with my Morning Pages and even went on an Artist’s Date to get some stickers and fun things to decorate my journal.

Today, I started with Week 2. Right away, I was caught by the below sentence:

It is important to remember that at first flush going sane feels just like going crazy.

~~ Julia Cameron

This week’s lesson helped describe the crazymakers in our lives. They are the people who want to sabotage you in having your own life because they are either jealous or scared of living their own lives. Misery loves company, so they have all kinds of ways of distracting you from being your very best self and trying new things. I’ve had a few crazymakers in my life, and I’ve probably been a crazymaker at some point in someone else’s too. Life – and relationships – are just messy like that. But often we enjoy the sabotage that the crazymaking brings because it keeps us from getting out of our comfort zone and trying something new.

Three Oaks, MI – Loved the Rain Garden!

Her antidote to the crazymaker is to “pay attention” to your life. It sort of reminded me of my Alanon journey. After all, an alcoholic is a King Crazymaker. Drama abounds to get your off course. She had an Aunt with an alcoholic crazymaker, but her aunt minimized his effects on her life because she paid attention to everything little thing in her life. She wrote letters that outlined everything that was going on in her life and included the minute details about the weather, what was blooming and what was going on in her mind. By paying attention, she lived a full life and focused on what was in front of her rather than what was trying to pull her away.

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So, I headed out tonight to “pay attention” down at the beach. I left my cell phone at home and used a camera so I wouldn’t be distracted by social media. I’ll just leave you with the photos. I took one photo tonight that was an accident, but I kind of like the way it looks. I was trying to make a video of the waves and the beach, but I didn’t bring my glasses. I kept pressing buttons and couldn’t see what was happening. I had about 20 pictures of my feet from different angles. So, if you decide to head out to “pay attention” in some way, you can leave your phone but don’t forget to bring your glasses.

What got my attention in St. Joseph….

Have a great week, y’all! It’ll be Friday before you know it.

Channeling My Inner Icelander: Longings

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I spent another day yesterday riding the sugar roller coaster. “Just stop eating it,” you say. “It’s bad for me,” I say. “It’s poison,” say the books that proclaim sugar as the downfall of our health as a country. “It’s an addiction,” say the psychologists and substance abuse counselors. “It keeps you company when you are lonely,” says the addict on my shoulder. “It hugs you when you are scared,” says the devil. “And it’s just so, so sweet,” says my addicted, pleasure-seeking brain. Sugar’s energy sucks the life out of me. Its initial calming effect leads to an unrelenting anxiety. No matter what, I always end up laying awake at night in the middle of a blood sugar crash cursing myself for my dependence.

Today, I vow, will be different. For some people, I assume sugar is not what it is to me. But, for many, I can see that they struggle with the need to eat it for stress relief and comfort. I can see it because it literally shows up on us in anxiety, inflammation and weight gain. As stress levels rise during this time, you can literally see people “puffing up”. I feel helpless in my own spiral. But I know that it is not hopeless. I have been here before.

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Yesterday I read an article in the Atlantic about the stunning success Iceland has had in breaking the cycle of drug and alcohol abuse in its teenage population. When the country became alarmed at the addictive spiral of its youth, the country decided to get to the root of the problem instead of trying to manage symptoms. You can read the article here, but the goal was to teach teenagers to handle stress in proactive ways by working with their bodies’ natural body chemistry. As humans, our body chemistry helps us relieve stress if we “lean in” instead of “numbing out”. Some of get stress relief by increasing our energy and soaking in our endorphins. Others need to slow down to quell anxiety. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. Meditation works as well as dancing all night long. It just depends on who you are.

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I actually know what works for me. It’s a combination of meditation, exercise, eating right, real connection with others and reading spiritual material. So, when I got up this morning I made my tea without sweeteners and cracked open Ronald Rolheiser’s book Holy Longing. In the introduction, he talks about this longing that we have inside us as humans that is never really satisfied. This desire drives us. It drives us to seek God. It drives us into an anxious state when we are unoccupied. It drives us into all kinds of addictions and modes of escape. We are always in a state of unrequited desire. We have moments of peace. We never have a lifetime of it.

Twelve step groups say addictions of all kinds are an attempt to fill a God-sized hole with something else. We just keep trying and trying to find comfort but it never works. We need more and more to keep that elusive peaceful feeling. We all have different “solutions” to our anxiety. While I pound sugar to get that “high” I like so much, another engages in angry arguments to help them feel smarter than others. A credit card buys all of the things that comfort others. A momentary comfort is experienced in the numbness of substance-abuse. The credit card bills come due, our relationships unravel from the arguing and substance abuse, and my blood sugar crashes from the sugar. We are always left with the remorse and the emotional fallout. Peace – from those things – is elusive.

Writing helps me reframe my thoughts, and I think I’ll approach today differently. With the awareness that I’m feeling a God-sized hole right now for a variety of reasons, I’ll fill it with time with Him and engage in my spiritual practices. I’ll abstain from sugar and let the withdrawal take me. I’ll find a way to connect with others tonight and express my true feelings. I’ll eat something healthy for breakfast and do a yoga nidra… BEFORE reading the news. For today, I’ll pretend I’m an Icelander and deal with the root of the problem.

 

Whatever Happened to Kindness?

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The other morning I got up to do yoga. My yoga space has a small window that looks out into the street. It’s on the third floor, so I get a bird’s eye view of the area. I was standing in Tadasana, and I saw what I first thought was a dog. I realized in horror that it was a deer. It was walking down the sidewalk in my neighborhood headed toward the street. What is happening to our animals? And why doesn’t anybody care?

I feel really sad this morning. It’s the first morning I’ve woken up in tears in a long time. I thought of the deer walking through my neighborhood. Tucked in my bed with my animals, I thought of the animals on our planet. In all of the hiking I’ve done in the last few years, the animals seem to be gone. There are few birds twittering. A sighting of an animal is now a complete rarity. Sure, in Louisiana there was evidence of wild hogs, and I see squirrels here. But where are the animals that I used to see with some regularity?

I texted one of my friends in Memphis yesterday. She admitted that she was worried about herself because she is so depressed and crying all the time over the state of the planet and, in particular, the political scene. She’s even thinking of seeing a counselor to help her deal with it. Another one said her anxiety is at an all-time high, and she doesn’t know what to do about it. All of my closest friends are struggling with fear about the state of the world, and I am, too. My only advice is to grieve the loss of what we think it should be.

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I feel this huge sense of loss that people really don’t care about human rights, the wilderness, animals and – most of all – kindness. Somehow we have lost the desire to be kind. Maybe that desire was never there, and I was just oblivious. That’s the major reason I got off Facebook. I don’t like the disrespect and meanness that is surfacing. I can’t stand to look at it. I never could watch violent movies, and I feel like our society has turned into one. It hurts, and when I say it hurts and saddens me, I get insulted by insensitive people who see kindness and sweetness as a weakness.

I’m further confused that this behavior is somehow getting lumped in with Christianity. Christ is so different than that. He held people accountable, but his overwhelming teaching was about love and kindness to others. And it seems so ironic that this “majority” wants everybody to become Christian, but this need to politicize their agenda turns people off the Christian religion. I just don’t believe that cramming a belief system down people’s throats does anything for attraction.

Words like sadness and kindness and compassion are treated with disdain. Fear and anger have become synonymous with strength and power. Name-calling and bullying are encouraged, and arguing is now a favored form of entertainment. For empaths like me – and there are many of us – words like torture and bans and power and gag orders hit our bodies with the effect of violence. And nobody cares.

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Our political system has become reality television. For 8 years, we watched as one party dug their heels in like 2-year-olds and wouldn’t play even though this country badly needed their assistance to pass policy that would sit with everybody. The scene now looks like a bunch of incompetents who don’t know how to do anything but grab power for themselves. Who is caring for our constitution? As long as we can have our guns, we don’t need the First Amendment anymore. We’ll just shoot the dissenters. If the law doesn’t suit us, we just change it so we can slam our policy in place. Power is the new black. Billionaires are the new public servants. And kindness and respect have been deemed useless.

I don’t know what’s going to become of us as a society. I am very fearful of what is going to become of our animals and fellow creatures that are struggling to survive. I am worried about the carelessness with which we regard our planet. I am totally confused about our culture’s willingness to mock and set aside the poor and the disabled. I am saddened with the way people are discarded or treated with disgust because they have different beliefs and viewpoints. The losses I’m feeling right now are overwhelming.

I don’t want to be on a soapbox this morning. I just want to ease this huge gaping hole of pain. I’m tired of being called names because I want to see a world filled with kindness. I want to live my life in compassion helping others realize their dreams. I want to enjoy nature and make a decent living. I don’t want to be rich. I don’t want to take advantage of other people. I want to leave the world a better place than I found it. I crave safety for everyone. And I’m afraid that dream – just like democracy – is just a fantasy imagined by fools.

 

 

 

The Raw, Frozen Shelf of Sadness

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I had lunch with a friend today. We both admitted we were feeling an undercurrent of sadness. My underlying low energy keeps me on the verge of bursting into tears. But, then I exercise or go for a walk or go to bed, and I’m fine. I think it’s the holidays and the expectations and newness of the landscape here. It could also be eating too much sugar which tends to spiral me into a low as well. I don’t know what it is. But, whatever it is, it’s there, bubbling beneath the surface in a slow, spiky ebb.

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Yesterday, I took a hike at Saugatuck Dunes State Park. Once again, I was surprised at the number of people out hiking in the snow. One of the guys from the Meetup group in Grand Rapids met me, and we headed through the woods ending up on the beach beside Lake Michigan.

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Because of the waves and the surf, Lake Michigan doesn’t freeze in a solid piece of ice. The waves wash over each other, and tiny droplets freeze slowly. The freezing starts in the shallowest spots and builds until there is a very deep and wide ice “shelf” leading out to the lake. It has been warming up for several days, so I was surprised to see so much ice yesterday. The “shelf” which resembles a large iceberg covered in snow ran about 40 yards into the lake for as far as I could see on the lakefront. We even climbed up a large dune and took in a great view on down the shore. It was so beautiful and raw. Unless we had hiked that trail, we would have never gotten that vantage point. Such is the reward of hiking.

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Today, the sun came out, and the temperature rose enough to melt almost all of the snow around my house and down the street. Last night when Ashok went out, she had to wade through snow. This morning at 5:30 AM, she was walking on grass. She looked confused as she’s spent several weeks with no view of the ground. I felt sad that it was melted, but it was nice to feel the sun on my back and wear only a sweater when we took our daily walk. For the first time in awhile, I could wear tennis shoes, and we could walk on the sidewalks clear of snow and ice. It was easier, but it sure wasn’t as pretty.

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This reaction that water has to the Northern winter is so interesting to see. The ice and snow are tangible evidence that the temperature is rising or falling, and the form of it all is dependent on the winds that blow it around. And as quickly as it forms, it can just as quickly dissipate. It provides an ever-evolving landscape in the backdrop of my life.

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I really wanted to walk out on that ice shelf yesterday, but with the warmer temperatures, it was way too risky. You can’t see it in the pictures, but the “cliff” side of the ice on the water was probably 4 – 5 feet thick. I wanted to walk to the edge and look down into the water. Near the shore, the ice, snow, sand and water sculpted these beautiful patterns that were constantly evolving as the temperatures dipped and rose. Frozen boulders of sand and snow lined the bank. Ashok drank from the water in one spot and was surprised when she licked ice in another because she could see the water running freely below.

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My sadness feels a little like that today. It is sort of running gently underneath the surface. I don’t really feel a need to express it, but I don’t want to hold it in either. So, it trickles for a moment – surfacing before it ducks back under my emotional shell. I could pick at it or stick a stick through it, but I think I’ll wait. Maybe the writing will melt the ice, and I can freely touch its cold embrace.

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It helped to talk to Nancy today. There’s really nothing to do about sadness. At this point in our lives it is inescapable at times. Looking back provides context, and looking forward provides hope. But in the present we feel the formations caused by the collision of outside elements with our inner makeup and wounds. Sometimes it’s tastefully drinkable. Other times our emotion trickles gently under the surface with no reason to escape. Some days its rawness can be downright stormy. My heart searches for the beauty in all of it. For in every moment, the only truth is that “this, too, shall pass.” It would be a shame to miss a moment of it.

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Making a Path Through the Snow

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I’ve been enjoying the snow. I even enjoyed shoveling it. After all, it is exercise. Most of my activities don’t require upper body strength, so this is one of the few great ways to get an upper body workout while I’m NOT focusing on working out. My dirty little secret is I really hate working out. Even though I’ve done it all my life, it is a necessary evil unless I find a way to enjoy it. Creating a path through the snow to enable me to get out and about easily is very rewarding in itself. It’s one of those small accomplishments that makes me feel like I’ve done something.

I have felt it a little the last few weeks. A low level of sadness has crept in on occasion as I sit here at home with the knowing that winter has just begun. The act of getting out and being outside which is so good for staving off my depression will only become more difficult. I had this same feeling in July in Louisiana. While I love getting outside and enjoying what nature has to offer, my primary driver in being active is to keep my lifelong dance with depression at bay. I’ve been fairly free of it for over 10 years. I have short bouts and ups and downs but nothing like what I experienced chronically my first 45 years. I don’t want to go back there. It is my biggest motivator.

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It’s dark when I go to work, and it’s dark when I come home. Yesterday was so cold I didn’t walk Ashok at all. I felt trapped by the cold like I felt trapped by the heat in the summer in Louisiana. And I know that it won’t really be over until March or April. I have a ways to go. Thankfully, the single-digit temperatures are rising, and we’ll be above freezing for several days later in the week. I’m already acclimating, and 35 sounds – and feels – almost warm. 40 degrees is a heat wave in comparison to yesterday. I know that Seasonal Affective Disorder is real, and I know that it can kickstart something I don’t want.

I joined a Virtual Boot Camp with my friend Jessica “the Bitch” Sprenkel about 6 weeks ago. Exercise is key for me in staying clear of the heaviness of depression. I wanted to stay home last night. It was bitterly cold. My body urged me to stay in and just relax. But my mind reminded me that if I missed Monday’s workout, I’d be behind for the holidays. And I knew that if I started letting the cold get to me in December, I’ll be behind the 8-ball by spring. I pulled myself together and did what I needed to do. And I feel so much better this morning.

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Another piece of my mental health puzzle is being social and connected. I am an extrovert, and I need interactions with people in order to keep my energy bubbling. I’m in between now. My besties in Louisiana – while only a phone call away – are not available for coffee or lunch or a walk in the snow. And I don’t have besties here yet. I have some great possibilities, but I’m working on building community. I got on Meetup.com this week and signed up for a Christmas party with one group in Grand Rapids, and a Christmas Eve hike with another outdoors group. Meetup is awesome because it’s an open invitation to meet people. It was critical for me to meet like-minded women in Louisiana, and it will be for me here.

I watched this Ted Talk last night about getting control of your free time.

I loved her ideas about thinking about how you want your upcoming year to look in advance. That seems very motivating to me. I used a similar process when I thought about moving here. What do I want my life to look like up here this time? The last time I was here I was so focused on finding a man that I lost sight of the experience. Now that I am comfortable with being single and know my interests, I can focus on experiencing this area in a different way. That’s why I signed up for ice skating lessons. I want to LIVE here. I don’t want to “make it” through winter.

My exercise, spiritual practice, ice skating, dressing comfortably for this weather, hiking and making meaningful connections are my “paths” to live through the winter. I could trudge through the ice at my door, but I’d rather exert a little extra energy – and maybe even build my adaptation muscles – by clearing the way for success and happiness. By this time in my life I know the formula.  Nothing is 100% guaranteed, but I’m in much better shape to make a difference at work, build meaningful relationships and remain healthy if I take care of myself.

What are the things that you need to do – the paths to good health and happiness – for you? Do you find it hard to do them? How do you motivate yourself?

Chasing the Gerbil: Detachment

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I’ve been around quite a few surly, angry people in the last couple of days. The holidays bring out the best in us, don’t they? Yesterday I walked into a room, and, if looks could kill, I’d be dead as a doornail now and probably beaten to a pulp, too. It was so over the top and unwarranted that I wanted to repeat my Mother’s favorite phrase, “Your face is going to freeze like that, honey.” But all I could do is laugh inside. I don’t even know this person’s name and really didn’t recognize her face. What could I have done to make her so angry?

I was so thrilled to open my “Language of Letting Go” and see that my favorite reading of all time was slated for today. Melody Beattie has a way of talking to me in her writing that gets to me on a deep level, but I remember how this particular reading resonated with me when I was in my second marriage. I was insistent that my ex had to stop treating me like he was. (Take a break and read the reading here.)

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The synopsis – for those who don’t want to read it – is that the Beattie family had a gerbil. The little critter got loose one day, and they couldn’t catch it. It lived for months on the loose in the house. The whole family – and Melody, the codependent, in particular – was adamant that this couldn’t happen. They could not live with a gerbil on the loose in the house. Every time it ran by, they screamed at it, lunged at it, chased it and tried to catch it. The gerbil would run and hide. Finally, Melody saw it one day and started to lunge at it. She just let go. She decided if that critter wanted to live on the loose then so be it. She was tired of being obsessed by it. Ironically, when she stopped chasing it, the gerbil walked by, sat down right in front of her and waited for her to pick it up. Detachment works.

Detachment, for me, is the greatest form of sanity. Sometimes I’m not able to detach, and I wring my hands, get irritated, obsessively worry and rant about whatever situation “should not happen”. If something happens, it can absolutely happen. It did. That woman had no right to look at me that way, and she shouldn’t be doing it. Well, she did. It happened. My ex should not talk to me the way he did. Why not? That’s who he was. And it happened. The only choice I have is to get myself out of the way of that behavior so it doesn’t bother me. Was it harder to detach from a surly husband than that woman I hardly knew? Yes, of course. But the principle is the same. They are who they are. I can be in their space and be affected or just let them be who they are without obsessing about how to change their behavior.

This week I committed to practicing yoga and meditation before I go to work. I feel much more grounded. The after effects of my practice give me a few more seconds between an event and my reaction. In that few seconds, I have a chance to decide if I need to be bothered about something and react. I can’t explain it. That’s just what yoga and meditation do for me. And today, I’m reminded about that gerbil. I don’t have to make someone stop behaving the way they are. I just have to detach.

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What are you chasing relentlessly thinking it should not be happening? What would happen if you just decided that if it’s happening, it must be okay for it to happen? How much saner would you feel if you accepted that it was “not ideal” but in the realm of normal? Would YOU feel better?

I have a feeling I will be dealing with some gerbils running loose in the house today. I think I’ll just let them run – or scowl or rant. They can do whatever they want to do – and probably will. Eventually they’ll get hungry or tire themselves out, right? I’ll just try to focus on how cute they are. We’ll see how it goes.

Duality of Right and Wrong

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The older I get, the less I seem to know. When I was in my twenties, I had an opinion on everything. In my mind, I had it all sorted out as to what was good, bad, wrong and right. The lines were pretty solid, and I took them as rulers to live by. My experiences were so limited due to my time spent living that I wrote my rule book according to what I’d been told.

I chose a reading this morning in Meditations from the Mat about duality.

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The irony is that we can’t define wrong without defining the concept of right. In my early days, I was dead set that divorce was wrong. I saw it as a lazy way of getting out of problems, and I looked with judgment on anyone that took that route. And then it happened to me. All of a sudden, the sharp contrast of that duality between right and wrong lost its laser focus. My life, as well as my beliefs, unraveled.

I finally understand how painful that decision was. Sure, for some it may be a lazy way out, but I know for me it was an extremely difficult choice and not one I took lightly at all. I actually had no idea whether it was “right” or “wrong”. I just knew what I had to do. And plenty of people shared with me how wrong I was to do it. Others just stayed away not understanding my choice. I was left with a solid circle of friends who were formerly divorced. Many of them had never even mentioned it. It was one of the greatest learning experiences of my life – but not fun at all. I know why God hates divorce. It hurts like an SOB.

Many of my beliefs have fallen throughout the years about “right” and “wrong”. My words have become softer and more nuanced. Most people have issues that unfortunately get worse and more ingrained over time. Some of those issues are created by things they’ve done to themselves, but many are created by biology or upbringing. I find myself being more compassionate that judgmental. The exception is when I’m hurt by the behavior. It takes me awhile to reframe things that cause me pain because I have to sort through that to find compassion.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t have values and that anything goes. I try to live by that old “golden rule” to treat others as I would like to be treated. And, honestly, that’s one reason I try to be compassionate. I have my moments when I’m not very nice. My faults and issues flare up on a fairly regular basis, and I hope that others will understand that I’m not perfect but that doesn’t make me a bad human being. It just seems civilized to look another person in the eye and respect them for who they are.

Along with compassion, I set pretty strong boundaries. I respect the fact that you want to be controlling and verbally abusive, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to put myself in your path. I limit my closest relationships to those that are trying to be respectful of others, and I tolerate or avoid the rest. It’s not a high-minded goal, I just sleep better at night when I’m under less stress. And being in relationship with people with deep issues causes a lot of chaos. I prefer serenity.

My priorities have changed throughout my life. It used to be important that people saw me as fitting in or doing things “the right way”. Now I focus more on relationships and enjoying life. I try to get in touch with how something resonates with me inside and act according to that compass. If I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep for thinking about it later, I might better bite my tongue. Life is short, and it’s getting even shorter. The lines are fuzzier, and all of a sudden I have realized that the man behind the curtain is just a pissed off child. Everything looks different at midlife, and I kind of like it like that.

 

My Wish for You, My Single Friend….

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I wrote this blog for a friend who was newly single a couple of years ago. I watched as she navigated her break-up with her significant other. I supported her as she went through the initial stages of grief .. anger .. bargaining .. denial … depression … acceptance. I let her talk … and cry .. and vent … and held her in my heart as the fear … that fathomless fear …. of being alone crashed into her world. She is now settled into her single life and doing amazing well. At the time, as a single woman and a writer, I seemed to her like a guide that could help her embrace being single and have a full life regardless of whether or not that space in her bed is ever filled again. I may seem like a guide that does it with grace, but know that everything you feel, I feel. Being single … like being married … is not an easy path. But I’ve come to know that it’s not the path of singleness that is so hard, it’s the path of life. I woke up this morning wanting for all my single friends some things that I also want for myself. So I feel like reposting this for all of my beautiful, courageous, and wise female single friends. This one’s for you….

P.S. I love my single guy friends, too, but I only have my experience as a woman. I think a good deal of this will apply to you, too. Embrace your feminine side!

I wish for you, my single woman friend, COURAGE. Courage only comes from walking through fear. It is not a quality that is born in you. It is a quality that is developed over time. It is an act of feeling the fear and doing it anyway. You had the courage to end what wasn’t working for you, and in countless conversations with divorced friends, I have discovered that ‘leaving’ even a bad relationship is one of the hardest things we humans ever do. You already have the courage to walk through that and come out on the other side. The muscle-building has begun. Keep developing that muscle by trying something new today… and everyday. Walk a new way to work. Call someone who interests you and ask them for coffee. Go on a trip by yourself and discover the beautiful joy of seeing a new place with only the filter of your own eyes. Tackle a personal issue with the help of an advisor and feel the joy of overcoming your own problems on your own without the distractions of another person’s reaction. Courage is not the absence of fear. It is feeling the fear and walking through it anyway.

 

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I wish for you FINANCIAL SECURITY. It is so easy for me to feel that because there is one income, I can be shortchanged in that department. It is also easy to fall into the trap of thinking that couples have the softer way with money. But, over the years, I’ve learned that another person can wreak havoc with money and drain you of any hope of ever having financial security. I know people who, after their spouse dies, are left with mountains of debt instead of the comfort of being supported in their grief. Being married is no guarantee of financial security. In fact, with two people who may have serious medical conditions as we age, the risk may be even more that some catastrophe may strike that will wipe you out financially. So, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that money would be more plentiful if there were more of it coming in. That’s not necessarily the case. I wish that you will feel the joy and the freedom of being the breadwinner of your home. You may not have as much money coming in as you’d like, but you are the sole decision-maker on how to spend it. You can budget without fighting about it, and you can spend lavishly on yourself without complaint. I wish you the blessing of feeling financially secure in the fact that God provides for us, and, if something happens that is financially devastating, know that you have friends who will support you in the struggle.

I wish you STRENGTH. The one thing I miss is strength. I miss the heft of a partner who can open jars, help me load my kayak and carry kitty litter. As women, we are not as strong physically as the opposite sex. I hope that you find alternatives. I hope you find a male friend who giggles with you when you bring your jars to him to open. I hope that you find a great gay boyfriend who will help you move. I hope you learn much more by the act of asking for help than you do from struggling on your own. Go to the gym and do strength-training. Practice Power Yoga. As you look into the future and fear the weakness of aging, I hope you realize that muscle atrophy is a choice. It’s not inevitable. And you already know how strong you are inside. In the area of inner strength, I will argue to my death that men are the weaker sex. It is the surfing of emotions that builds the inner strength to navigate the trials in life. And, you, my dear, have endured childbirth. The strength required for that task should be envied by muscleman everywhere.

I wish you PASSION. Yes, the only lover you have may be yourself at times. I wish that you will discover that passion is not reserved for those with partners. Count your blessings that you don’t have to endure the torture of making love to someone who no longer desires you. Many walk that path day after day. The meaningless embrace of ‘going through the motions’ is way too prevalent, and you no longer have to feel the sting of rejection during the very act that should be connecting you to your lover’s soul. You can create the atmosphere you want .. feminine and sexy. You know what feels good. Your mind can take you places you’ve never been with no regrets. The heat of another person may be missing, but I hope that you can even find that in a way that works for you. Remember that passion doesn’t only happen in the bedroom. Passion is that feeling that overcomes you when you take in a breath-taking sunset after a beautiful dinner that you provided for yourself and took the time to prepare to your own delight. Passion is discovering something new about yourself. Passion is embracing the life you have and accepting no limitations. Fall into your sensuality, find ways to increase your energy and let yourself feel ….. EVERYTHING. Become the best lover you ever had.

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Most of all, I wish you LOVE. So often we think of love as romantic love. I’ve written about love before, and many people think I’m always talking about romantic love. I forget to qualify it because I finally see romantic love as only one kind of love, and I also see it as the most difficult one to have. It’s so easy to lose when the day to day act of living gets in the way. There are so many types of love out there, and there is so much of it. We live in a sea of love, but we don’t tap into it because we are so desperately focused on romance and partnership. There is love in family – even family of choice. Build one if you don’t have it already. It is more important for single people to build a family of choice because we have to rely on them more. There is no ‘default’ help. We have to ask for it. We have to walk out the door, get on the phone and, heaven forbid, ask for help. Invest in building that community. Spend a large portion of time creating new friendships, hanging out in the places you feel supported and deepening your current relationships. It is an investment that pays off exponentially. Even married women need these communities. The absence of one can be the biggest barrier to leaving an unhealthy relationship. Give that gift to yourself. Tap into the unending love of God. Do what works for you spiritually. You have the gift of finding your own spiritual path without having to negotiate that with a partner. You choose the direction. Follow it. The love is right there waiting for you. If you want romantic love, I hope you get it one day. But, I hope that you focus on love. I hope that you learn that all of the love you need is provided by you and God and your community. Knowing that, you won’t settle for counterfeit that turns into endless pain.

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My friend, being single is not an easy walk, but I also know that being married can even be more difficult. It’s definitely more complex. BE SINGLE. Don’t BE Divorced. Don’t BE ‘in between relationships’. Learn what it is like to BE single in an authentic way. Be comforted in the fact that you are much more in control of your happiness than if you were coupled. When you wake up in the middle of the night with that hammer of loneliness beating on your chest, please realize that it is only a feeling. You are not alone. Your bed may be empty, but your heart is full. That is so much better than having a man lying in your bed on the other side of a cavern so big that your heart aches at the sheer size of it. Embrace your life. The spaces beside you will be filled. They may be filled for moments instead of years, but it’s not the duration of the connection that matters – it’s the depth. Invest in yourself, and, if, by some chance you want to step into a partnership again, you will be the kind of woman that manifests endless love not endless want. I want that for you, my friend. You are so deeply loved … and you are not alone. Know that behind those eyes of many married women who you think pity you is a different feeling altogether. Many are thinking … OMG, I wish I had your freedom… your COURAGE … your PASSION … your STRENGTH … your FINANCIAL SECURITY … and, yes … your LOVE.

Fill Your Fillings, Gurl!

 

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One of my friends in Memphis used to say “fill your fillings, gurl!”. I always giggled but usually I was so sad when she said it that it was hard to laugh too hard. Every time I get down in the dumps I hear her sweet voice reminding me to “fill my fillings” … and I do.

I grew up with the notion that I needed to put on my big girl panties and deal with whatever life dished out. That was fine when life was dishing out a C when I wanted an A or my boyfriend of the month went out with my best friend. It was an effective way to cope and get on with life. But, just like every other coping mechanism we pick up when we are a kid, when the problems get bigger and rapid-fire, those coping habits fail. At some point we realize we are overwhelmed, sick, suicidal, crazy or addicted to something…. or all of the aforementioned. At some point the coping mechanism becomes the problem that triggers the fall of the dominoes.

I had several ineffective coping mechanisms. I wanted to be perfect – or to be seen as perfect – to avoid criticism. I got angry when things didn’t go my way until so much didn’t go my way that I was angry all the time. I ate sugar and drank alcohol to cope with fear and sadness. I spent money when I felt alone. At some point, there are consequences to all of these behaviors that begin to overshadow the consequences of just “filling my fillings”.  I didn’t know that, of course. It’s not like I said, “I am afraid to express my anger, so I’m going to eat this whole bag of Dove candies.” It took a couple of therapists, a few workshops, a twelve-step group and many friends before I unraveled the truth that stuffing my feelings was making me sick.

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There’s a lot of research pointing out that repressing your feelings will give you heart disease and some cancers. I’m not a medical expert, so I’m not going to focus on the medical conditions that can be caused by repressing feelings. I’d rather tell you my experience. I do “fill my fillings” today. So, I have the experience to say what life is like before feeling my feelings and after feeling my feelings. I’m somewhat of an expert on my own emotions.

Right after my first divorce, I was visiting my friend Lorna in Knoxville. I struggled with depression, and so did she. On top of the depression, I was experiencing grief from the loss of an 11-year marriage. I now know that I was also repressing almost every bit of anger and sadness that I had ever felt because it made other people uncomfortable for me to be sad or angry. As a side note, my repressed anger that eventually turned into rage was my core issue in both of my marriages. Had I dealt with this sooner, I may have had more marital success.

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I couldn’t hold it in any longer, and I blurted out to Lorna that I was just so incredibly sad and depressed that I felt like I couldn’t function very well. I expected the usual, “oh, you’ll get through it” or “you have nothing to be sad about, you have a wonderful life before you.” Instead, she said, “Come here….”. I walked over to her, and she motioned for me to sit beside her on the sofa, and she put her arms around me in a big hug.  I cried the tears of a million years of sadness. My tears had never felt so welcome, and they poured out all over her like a summer rainstorm. I will never forget how I felt in that moment. I was accepted and loved and supported in my pain. The feeling was so profound I feel it right now – 25 years later.

It would be a long time before I experienced that kind of acceptance again about expressing my emotions. I saw a therapist in Michigan because I was still stuck in my lifelong cloak of depression. I broke down one day and told him that I just couldn’t take being depressed anymore. The weight of it was killing me, and life was so hard when I had to literally drag myself through it everyday. I was so sick of fighting the disorder that grabbed me when I was a teenager and seemed determined to suck the life out of me. He told me to quit fighting it. Huh? “Quit fighting it,” he said. “When you are depressed, just accept that you are depressed. Everybody gets down. It’s normal. And do 20 minutes of exercise every day.” I realized that when I fought it I was beating myself up for not being able to pull myself out of it or for being so weak that I had it or one of a hundred different failures. All of these self-perceived failures brought on a dark cloud of shame. Acceptance let me release it.

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It would take years and lots of talking and tears before I finally got to the end of my depression. I learned that when I stuff my feelings, they don’t go anywhere. They sit inside me and require feeding in order to keep them from eating me alive. So, I have to feed them food … or alcohol … or new clothes … or any one of a hundred things that abate the hunger for a moment. I was never content. Meditating was miserable, and sleeping was impossible. As soon as my mind got quiet, my anger or fear pulsed up and increased my anxiety. If I tried to do something fun, my sadness would sit on my shoulders like a huge boulder weighing me down. I had no energy; I was constantly irritable; I got colds all the time because my immune system was on overwhelm. I was never content…. and I really wanted to be.

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Today, I feel my feelings when I’m sad. I have a handful of friends that know that sadness is really, really okay, and they will hold me through my tears. That same handful of friends will play the role of the object of my anger so I can safely get it out and express myself without losing a job or embarrassing myself. I know how to journal and figure out what boundaries I need to set if someone is making me angry or hurting me. Meditation and yoga allow me to be quiet so I can feel what is bubbling up – even when it’s really small.

The difference in then and now is huge. I have days of sadness instead of one long lifetime of chronic depression. My sadness used to be a huge boulder that I carried around. Now, it is a boulder but a manageable one. I can put it down or make it dissolve slowly with tears. I rarely have rage. I do get angry, but my anger is an indicator that I either need to readjust my thinking about something, or I need to set a boundary. I haven’t had a cold in years. If I can stay clean of caffeine and sugar, I sleep like a baby with no sleep meds or supplements. I have energy for my ever-evolving passions. My lows are less intense, but my joys are exponentially more enjoyable.

When people started telling me to feel my feelings, I didn’t understand what they meant. I thought I was feeling them all the time. I was in pain all the time. I had to get the gunk cleaned out by allowing myself to fall apart before I could do the regular housecleaning on my feelings. It was a long, slow process, but I’m so glad I did it. I found this article today that might help you if you want to start “filling your fillings,” but you don’t really know what that means.

A Technique for Feeling Painful Feelings

In a way, I’m asking you to feel bad for awhile. And, if you need me to, I’m happy to support you in doing so. Contrary to popular belief, feeling your feelings will make you healthier, stronger, happier and more content. Give it a try…. fill your fillings, gurl! Your tears and anger are welcome here!

 

Meeting Jesus with Whiskey on My Breath

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This morning in my two-minute commute to work I was listening to the Bobby Bones show. He was playing “Whiskey on My Breath” by Love and Theft. I came in right in the middle of it. The refrain really grabbed my attention, and I sat in the car to listen to the rest before going into the building. After it was over, Bobby went on and on about how much he loved the song, and he kept playing the refrain over and over. I was glad he kept pushing redial.

Stephen and Eric, two of the Love and Theft band members, have personally experienced alcoholism in their families. You can read about it here. Eric decided to give up drinking as a result of family members drinking themselves to death. The song was written as a result of their own personal experience.

Alcoholism is a family disease. It spans generations and causes codependency among family members, an inability to connect at an intimate level, controlling behaviors and all kinds of psychological disorders. It doesn’t just affect the alcoholic. The damage continues for generations until somebody gets help…. and not only the alcoholic needs intervention. In fact, sometimes the most affected and dysfunctional ones are the family members. It’s sad and devastating to see lives wasted because of this disease – and it is a disease – when there is so much help available today. Denial helps nobody and harms everyone in its wake.

I came into the office and watched the music video. I remember those mornings waking up and wanting to stop the roller coaster caused by my drinking problem. I was a binge drinker – never a daily drinker – and I never drank in the mornings unless it was a social occasion. But, still, I knew where I was headed if I didn’t stop. I’d seen it all too often, and I was smart enough to realize early on that it would be harder to stop if I allowed it to continue. Blessedly, my first husband set a boundary, and I stepped up to the plate at age 26 and got help. The video shows this guy cleaning up and everybody has smiles on their faces, but it’s never that easy or quick. It is a lifelong process. But, OMG, is it ever worth it.

So, I’ll be looking up Love and Theft this morning and probably downloading some music. I’m also wishing that anyone who is waking up on this Monday knowing that they have to quit will take some inspiration from this music and this old gal. I know somebody must need it, or I wouldn’t be compelled to pen this. There is help available and there is abundant life without alcohol and drugs. It’s not easy but it’s a helluva lot easier than the path you are on. You can do this, but you can’t do it alone. I’m praying for you right now, and God must be on your side because he’s pressing my buttons this morning.

How to get help for alcoholism

If you are affected by a loved ones drinking, click here.

Whiskey on My Breath by Love and Theft

I woke up with a pounding head
With a bottle laying in the bed
There was a little, a little bit left
So I picked it up and I killed the rest

Oh I know I’m going to heaven
But I can’t go with me like this
I need to pull myself together
Before then
No and I ain’t afraid of dying
But what scares me to death
Is meeting Jesus
With whiskey on my breath.

I lost her and all my friends
Broke all but one of my Lord’s 10
But Jesus died for all my sins
That’s how I know I’m getting in

Oh I know I’m going to heaven
But I can’t go with me like this
I need to pull myself together
Before then
No and I ain’t afraid of dying
But what scares me to death
Is meeting Jesus
With whiskey on my breath

Oh I know I’m going to heaven
But I can’t go with me like this
I need to pull myself together
Before then
No and I ain’t afraid of dying
But what scares me to death
Is meeting Jesus
With whiskey on my breath
Is meeting Jesus
With whiskey on my breath