Living: Walking Into Fear

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My family….having fun in Destin. I’m on the left.

I woke up in fear this morning. Right before I woke up, I had this bad dream about Momma. She didn’t die. She just disappeared. I went in a store and was shopping longer than anticipated, and when I came back to the car, the car was gone. My dog, who was with her, was in the parking lot. I woke up before I could find out what happened. You can be sure I’ll be calling her this morning when she gets up.

So, I woke up…….. filled with fear. Immediately, I started thinking about my age. I have a birthday next week. I saw my financial planner a few weeks ago, and I’ve been budgeting to pay off some bills the last few weeks – some expenses that were a result of living beyond my means. So, of course, in my fear from the dream, I start worrying about everything in my life that I have to fear:

  • Am I going to have enough?
  • Should I sell my house?
  • Can I really afford to have someone clean my house and take care of my yard?
  • What if I die soon? Are my affairs in order?
  • What if I have to buy a car this year?
  • What if I get sick?
  • What if I don’t get sick and live to be 100? How will I financially manage that?
  • OMG….how am I going to pay for health insurance when I’m retired?

All this is swirling around in my brain as I lay awake – terrified- at 3:40 in the morning. My dog gets up, and she thinks it’s time to get up and get moving. “I’m going back to sleep. We’re not getting up,” I tell her. Right??? My anxiety is ramped up so high that I toss and turn until 4:30. I know I can’t drink coffee. That will ramp my anxiety up even further. So, I’m sitting here with my green tea. I pick up my January 10 reading in The Language of Letting Go titled….you guessed it…….Fear. Good Morning, God. You do have a sense of humor, don’t you?

Melody Beattie’s message is simple. Fear stops us from moving forward in our lives. She tells a story about writing two chapters of a book, and she re-read it. It was horrible. She called a writer friend, and her friend reasonably told her, “Those chapters are fine. Stop being afraid. Stop criticizing yourself. Keep writing.” The book that she almost threw away eventually made it to the New York Times Bestseller List.

Me and Susan
Me and Susan

The message: My best is good enough. That’s really all I can do anyway, right? This morning, I have to get up, walk my dog in the rain, follow my budget, handle any emergencies, go to work and call my Mother. That’s the task that’s put before me. I need to minimize my caffeine and sugar intake today because I know my anxiety level is already high. Oh yeah, and I have to run 5 miles tonight and go to TRX according to my personal trainer’s plan for me. After that, I should definitely feel like sleeping.

My blog site WordPress.com offers daily prompts for writing topics. Yesterday’s prompt was: Your biggest fear is trapped in the room with you. What does it look like? I don’t know what it looks like. I certainly know what it feels like. I’m feeling it right now. I feel like I did when I was a little girl, and I was afraid that we were poor. What if we don’t have enough money? What if I lose my parents? What if one of them gets sick? Funny….this isn’t an unfamiliar fear…..the players have changed. Now, I’m in charge. But, the fear is still there…the same fear that little curly-haired girl had laying in her bedroom surrounded by Barbies and softball gloves. The room looks different, the curly hair is grayer, but the fear……the fear is the same. My best is good enough. Keep walking, little girl.

Okay, Cupid…..Let’s Do This Online

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I was reading through Freshly Pressed today to see what other bloggers are writing about, and I found a fellow blogger who posted about online dating. I was laughing reading it, and I realized that I haven’t written my online dating blog yet. I’ve written on The Balding of the Beaver (yes, that beaver), emotional unavailability, passive aggressive behavior and other dating topics but not online dating. How did I miss that? That’s the single topic that most of my friends kept pushing me to blog about. I think it’s about time!

My fellow blogger was making the point that men write their profiles in such a way that they are unbelievable, and they are searching for gorgeous supermodels who have great jobs, want kids, and like to spend all their time doing outdoor activities. Her point was that these things are unrealistic and contradictory. She is 30 and looking for men around that age, I assume. Wait until she hits the 50ish group on Match.com. First of all, 1/2 of the men look like old men. They don’t even try to look good in their photos. They take their wedding picture and cut out the bride and stick it on the site. Never mind that they were married 25 years ago. I would meet them in person and think, is this his Dad? Who is this guy?

There is a search feature on Match.com where you can search for “mutual matches”. This means that you both are looking for similar things. I use that feature a lot. I seem to find quite a few guys who realistically look like we might have some of the same interests. The other search feature is “men looking for you.” Everytime I try that search, it pulls up a list of serial killers. I’m not kidding. I told this to a friend of mine, and she thought I was joking. I showed her when she came over to my house. OMG…she said…it’s true. They have no teeth, haven’t bathed in weeks, and look like Charles Manson. WHY ARE THEY LOOKING FOR ME? One guy that was “looking for me” was from Arkansas. He was looking for “a woman with her own Harley and preferably, a bass boat.” Yeah……sign me up.

I was on Match.com for a couple of years. I’m taking a hiatus right now, but I’ll go back. It’s actually been a pretty good experience. It’s entertaining to say the least, and I’ve made a few good friends in the men I’ve met. The guys tell me that the women lie a lot in their profiles. Many are surprised that I’m actually who I say I am. One guy said one woman he met posted a picture of her sister. When he met her, and she looked totally different and weighed 200 more pounds than her photo, she got really angry that he walked out on her. He said, “even if I was attracted to her, she lied to me. What else is she going to lie about?”

The “loser” women I’ve heard about are typically looking for somebody to support them, remodel their kitchen, drive them home when they are drunk or pay for their dinners, nothing more. These poor guys get their hopes up and get used. There actually are some nice guys out there. Many are shy. I’ve met so many that are just out of really long term marriages, and they are so shell-shocked about dating that they literally tremble. I feel really sorry for those guys. I spend the first part of our meeting just trying to help them feel at ease. One guy could barely put a sentence together he was so nervous. When we left, he told me he wanted to see me again. I told him that I just really didn’t think we had a lot in common. I hated those times when I had to say I wasn’t interested to somebody that was so fragile. But, I don’t believe in pity dating.

I met a guy who was an airline pilot for FedEx. This was before I worked for FedEx. He told me he was a widow. His wife had died of cancer. I told him I was sorry for his loss. He told me how his friends had advised him to get on with his life. It was time for him to start dating again, they told him.  I asked him how long it had been. He said…..30 days. What? I wanted to run out of Starbucks when he said that. He barely had her buried, and he was out dating. OR……more likely, he was lying. Whatever the case, I wanted no part of that.

I would meet men for coffee and see if we clicked before I’d go out for a dinner. Usually I’d know within the first 15-20 minutes whether I was interested in seeing them again. The men I met stated that they  liked camping, running, biking, hiking or other assorted activities. But, when I asked them how often they go, most hadn’t gone in years. I met a guy at the Peabody downtown for coffee. In mid-sentence of him telling me about himself, he says, “You know what I value? I value the woman having an orgasm before me.” I was so stunned that I just hissed, “I CANNOT believe you just said that to me. That was the most inappropriate thing I’ve ever heard. I hardly know you.” He immediately started apologizing, but the damage was done. The meeting was over.

I signed up for one of the free sites on a whim. That was a mistake. I never did meet anyone of quality on that site. I’m sure there are some, but I didn’t meet them. I did meet one guy who texted me a movie of himself and …..well…..himself. It was totally unsolicited, and he got a no-nonsense text back….lose my number, pal. That was enough of Plenty of Fish.com. There may be plenty of fish on that site, but they stink.

Online dating is a great place to meet people, but it’s not easy. You really have to be willing to be rejected frequently. People would ask me how it was going. “I’m kissing toads” was always my answer. You have to be willing to work at it and take some risks. You have to be willing to hold your heart in check until you really get to know these people. There are some people out there that are not who they say they are. But, most of the guys are just trying to find their way. Most are guys who are lonely, maybe hurt, maybe still pining over an ex-wife or girlfriend. Some are jerks, but they are fairly easy to spot. They are self-centered, want sex right away and will disappear if they don’t get it. Some are just as disillusioned as I am with the dating scene. They just want to find someone for a companion, someone to care about. The guys who have been single all their lives…well…there is probably a reason for that, I’ve found. It’s almost not worth the time. If you’re brave….if you want something interesting to do…if 2013 is the year of living dangerously, I say, go for it. They are always running a special.

Mid-week Share: The Powerful Art of Listening

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We had a newcomer in our Al-Anon meeting this week. She was in tears, and I so remembered that first day I walked into my first Al-Anon meeting. I was in so much pain. I was afraid. The only thing I could do was cry. I was so overwhelmed with my life, and what I needed to do. I was terrified of what I needed to do. I think I cried the entire first year I went to meetings. If I opened my mouth to talk, the tears started. It was such a relief to just let things out. I wasn’t listened to at home, and these people listened to me.

Listening is very powerful. At twelve step groups, no cross talk is allowed. What that means is that they will only listen to me share. No one can comment on my share, give me advice, tell me how to feel or anything else. There is a purpose in that. I didn’t really understand it at first. I realized the power of being heard after a meeting one day. I had shared about some problems in my marriage. A woman who was new to the group and didn’t know any better, came up to the meeting and made a comment to me about how “that’s just the way men are. You have to accept it.” I felt so much shame came over me. I had been vulnerable and shared something very painful, and then I was told to just accept it. I felt “wrong”. I felt stupid. I felt ashamed that I thought this was not something normal.

My second marriage was verbally and emotionally abusive. There was also a lot of control and manipulation around financial matters. To put it mildly, I was not being treated well. I had gotten so used to it that I didn’t realize how bad it was or how “small” I was becoming. It was beginning to kill my spirit. That was when I started going to groups. I joined a women’s circle that was affiliated with Woman Within, an organization that trains women on how to support each other and how to process feelings. Every other week for about three years, I met with a small circle of women and talked about what was going on with me and my life. I cried, I raged, I talked, and I laughed. They just listened.

I credit the listening with helping me see the reality of my situation. It was not anything any of the women said, for they never said anything unless I asked for advice or feedback. Having a space where I could talk without being cut off, ignored, yelled at or minimized allowed me to hear myself tell my own story. Because they didn’t stop me, I could finish my sentences. Because they didn’t give advice, I could sit in the puddle of my tears and feel my pain. Because they didn’t judge me, I could begin to make judgments on my own about what was happening in my life. It took a year and a half of doing this before I got sick of hearing my own story. I got sick of crying. I got sick of feeling my own intolerable pain. I got sick and tired of being sick and tired. The powerful woman from inside me started to stand up and take care of myself by setting boundaries, pushing back, and eventually leaving the situation when nothing changed. It was the listening that gave me back my power.

My own listening teaches me things. The things I learn and the things I hear from others change the way my brain is wired. After hearing people share about similar situations and similar feelings, I start to consider different solutions and ways of handling life. On my own, I only have one or two solutions in my repertoire. When listening to a group of people with the same issues, I have a whole host of solutions that may or may not fit my situation. When I listen, I feel less overwhelmed. I feel less alone. I feel normal-even sane.

But, it’s hard to just listen. I have a friend right now going through a lot of drama and chaos, and I don’t want him to hurt. I care about him, and I want the problems to be resolved. I give him advice to make me feel better. I know how bad that is, so then I feel guilty for giving advice. I do better the next time. But, it’s hard for somebody like me. I want to help. My heart is in the right place, but I have to remember the power of listening. Because, the ultimate goal is not to make me feel better, it’s to help another person find their own strength and their own way. My talking gets in the way of that.

Effective Ways to Listen:

  • Just keep saying, “Tell me more about that” and don’t respond with opinions or advice.
  • Repeat what they say in paraphrase and then ask, “Do I have that right?”
  • Ask them what they “feel” – try to stay out of the story-the story is just details.
  • Listen and ask, “Do you want me to listen, or do you want feedback?”
  • Pull up a chair, pay attention and ask questions.
  • Allow for silence.
  • Don’t hand someone a tissue if they are crying. Often people see that as a recommendation to “stop crying”.
  • Empathize by restating the emotion they are feeling or the one you imagine they might feel in this situation.
  • If I start getting anxious and wanting to fix the problem, I do some deep breathing and sometimes sit on my hands. I can’t talk without my hands..haha

Love, the Everlasting Fountain of Youth

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Mark and Denise…Love is the fountain of youth.

This morning I saw this picture on Facebook. It’s a couple I know who have been together about 3 years. I went to high school with both of them. I went to elementary school with both of them, I believe. In other words, I’ve known Mark and Denise a very long time. Someone posted a  comment about “young love”,  and it got a lot of laughs. “We can ‘play like’,  can’t we?” wrote one friend. Yes, we can, I think.

I think middle-aged love is far superior to young love. Why? Well, because I’m middle-aged. When I was young, I probably thought it was gross for people my current age to be cavorting about, having sex and kissing in public. Yuk. That’s sort of the message we always got about middle-aged people, right? We should hide our affections because we’re just too old for that stuff. Imagine my surprise when I reached 40 and 50 and realized that love is love is love is love. It just doesn’t matter what age we are.

When we fall in love, our body creates all these crazy chemicals that basically, well….make us crazy. The good news is…..that doesn’t change with age. The bad news is….that doesn’t change with age. It’s about the only thing that doesn’t change. Our bodies change for one thing. Everything is looser, flabbier, overused, and well, succumbing to gravity. Luckily, that goes for both sexes. It’s not just a woman’s problem. The other thing that changes is everything. In our youth, we bring our parents and our upbringing into our relationships. We can’t help it. We haven’t worked through our “stuff.” In fact, most people don’t even know they have “stuff” at that point. In middle-age, your parents may be a part of the mix, but they are not as much a part as when we were young. The problem is there’s a whole different group of people that have joined the mix – ex-wives, ex-husbands, kids, step-kids and even, god forbid, grand-kids. It just all becomes more complicated.

I think middle-aged love is far superior than young love for a couple of reasons. Somewhere around 40 or 50, most of us figure out who we are. Our youth is spent pretending to be who we want to be. We build our relationships on that. When we find out that we’re really something different, something less than that in some ways and something far better in other ways, we usually look at that other person and say, WTF? Either the relationship makes it because both people can make it work, or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, we’re back on the playing field, but with a significant advantage. I know who I am – what I like and don’t like, what my faults and strengths are, what I can tolerate and what I can’t. It makes it harder to find a person to fall in love with because the criteria is more stringent, but, if you’re lucky to find it, it’s sweet.

Mark and Denise, my Facebook friends,  reconnected while they were both going through their 3rd divorces. So, we’ve got 6 ex-spouses in the mix. They were acquaintances in high school, but Mark thought Denise was “stuck up”, and Denise thought Mark was a trouble-maker. And, they were probably both right. We were kids. Who knows what we are? We’re just struggling to figure out our place, so we take on roles. They both were married and had a child by the time they were 18, so they started out early. In my opinion, they never got a chance to be single and young. That is lost forever. But, Facebook comes along a few years ago, and life presents new chances. Mark plays in a classic rock band, and he’s freaking cool for an almost 50 guy. And, Denise looks pretty darn good for a middle-aged woman. They are both about to be single for the 3rd time. Why not have some fun? And they fell in love in the process. It’s just sweet. And, they are very lucky to find love again.

I think anyone that finds love at any time is lucky. If I ever find it again, I’ll consider myself very lucky and blessed. As I get older, I realize how fleeting life is and the fragility of romantic love. When I was young, I didn’t appreciate it. There was so much life to live. Now, as I look at myself in the mirror, I see age walking all over my face. I see the future, and it’s a lot shorter than it used to be. I know that if I find love again, it may be my last time. First love is definitely sweet. I can imagine that the last love will be even sweeter.

When young people find love, it’s so easy to work out. Yes, they have financial hurdles and all that stuff. But, life is so innocent. They can blow off things and just find places to be together. They have energy. They don’t need sleep. They are in a building process where they may be excitedly thinking about kids and having families and building fortunes and careers. Everything is so full of promise. When middle-aged people find love, we are at a spot where we are starting to see our lives wind down. I can’t tell you how many guys I’ve dated that are nearing retirement. We are paying off mortgages. We are having health issues. We can’t see those damn iPhones without our glasses. We look at our bodies, and we don’t know how they got in the shape they did. If people have kids, some have done well, others are a mess. Retirement looms as a promise and a frightening time financially. Regrets litter the past and haunt us in the present day.

When we find love at middle-age, it IS the fountain of youth. Sex becomes fun again. No matter how old the body, it works…..and, if it doesn’t work, there’s stuff that’ll fix that these days.  Our eyes light up. We flirt. We giggle. We text dirty pictures, even if we have to put on our glasses to see them. When we find time to be together, it’s exponentially wonderful because it’s so hard to find the time. It’s much easier to be present. It’s much easier to love a flawed person when you know how flawed you are. The thing about love is it is life-giving. People in middle age know what that means. Because, we’ve had life taken away a number of times through death, divorce, failed relationships and other life failures.

My friend Denise said it best this morning about her relationship with Mark, “It’s not perfect, but it’s perfect for us.”  A younger person might pass it by dreaming of perfection. I know that perfection won’t ever happen. It never has, never will. I believe in love. Still do. I just hope that I’m not writing a blog about Senior Love when it happens. But, I guess I’ll be grateful for love whenever and wherever it is given to me. For love……. at any age…..is a rare gift.

Girl Talk: 1000 Miles in 2013….Join me!

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Last year, my girlfriend, mentor, running coach and fellow blogger Jessica set a goal to run 1000 miles in 2012. She made it on December 16. I never thought of setting a goal like that on mileage. I’m not sure where she got the idea, but my friend Gretchen who is just starting to run again, set that goal for herself in 2013. I asked her about it, and she said it’s only 2.7 miles per day or 19 miles per week. That’s doable!

I have plenty of guy friends who run, but I don’t find that we think the same way about running. I get most of my inspiration for running from women, and I typically have trained with women, especially when I trained for my first marathon. We just hang together. The guys I know get more into the splits, speed, time, gadgets, and competitive part of it more than I do. I know one guy that totally gets into the whole science and training his body for speed. Heavens...I don’t have the patience for that. I just want to be healthier, have fun and look decent in my skinny jeans.

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Running friends! Don’t you want some?

Jeff Galloway, the king of helping new runners start running, wrote a book called “Running Until You are 100.” He has some great books. They are easy to read, motivational, and his passion is getting new people running and keeping them running and ENJOYING it. He was an Olympian marathoner who continues to run marathons, and he’s in his late 60s now. His website is full of helpful information. His running plans feature his run-walk-run method. He believes, and I concur, that every time you take a walk break, your body recovers from the previous run. Since you are recovering while you are running, you end the run or race feeling great! It’s especially helpful for us older runners whose bodies don’t recover as quickly.

I have run 3 marathons (that’s 26.2 miles of pounding pavement) using the run-walk-run method. I went shopping after one of my marathons because I saw this great little tea shop during the race. In Chicago, I felt good enough the next day to go sightseeing with a friend in Chicago, walking the entire time. If you’ve ever watched people walk who’ve run a marathon the day before, it’s not a pretty sight. They can hardly walk the next day. Even if you don’t want to run a marathon, the run-walk-run method is a great way to get started running in a gentle and accessible way, no matter what age you are.

So, thanks to Jessica and Gretchen, I’ve decided to run 1000 miles this year! I know that when I run regularly, I have to take care of myself better. I have to eat better to feel better for my runs. I have to make exercise a priority. I have to sleep to recover. But, the good news is that I also sleep better, feel better, have more energy AND look better BECAUSE of the running! So, all of that just happens naturally with focusing on ONE goal.

I’d love for you to join me on this quest. And, don’t limit yourself to just running. If you’re just starting out or don’t want to start running,  make your walking miles count to 1000. You can get out and walk your dog for 3 miles a day (45 min to an hour) and make your dog happy and accomplish your goal, too. If you walk him or her three times a day for 15 min, you’d probably have it. You don’t have to do it all at once!

Me and Ashok in our first race of 2013 - the Hill and Dale 8 Miler...it was so much fun!
Me and Ashok in our first race of 2013 – the Hill and Dale 8 Miler…it was so much fun!

Possible combinations to meet your time schedule:

  • Run or walk 2.7 – 3 miles every day
  • Run or walk 4 miles five days per week
  • Run or walk 3 miles five days per week and 5 miles one day per week
  • Run or walk 2 miles per day during the week and do 2 walk/run 5 milers on the weekend
  • Any other combination that works for you!

If you do this, it will be a challenge.  I’ll bet you’ll look better, feel better and be in better mental health by the end of 2013. Who knows, you might even have some new friends! Maybe we can even get together for a race or two at some point. If you want to join in, let me know here or on my Midlife Moments Blog Facebook page. Forget all of those boring dieting and “need to exercise resolutions” and just focus on this one thing. Every journey begins with the first step! You can do it!

Living: Taking My Tea Green

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I saw my first acupuncturist in 20005. I was trying to get in better health. In particular, I wanted to get off an anti-depressant that wasn’t working for me, and I couldn’t get off it without horrible side effects. I decided to try something different, so I went to East Wind Acupuncture in Chesterton IN where I lived.

I had met Laura when I taught some yoga classes at her practice. I wasn’t so sure about acupuncture. Insurance didn’t pay for it, and I didn’t want to pay for a service that might or might not be effective. But, I was desperate. My first consultation consisted of a lot of questions about everything from what I ate and drank to the appearance of my bodily excretions to how I felt emotionally. She covered everything. She even looked at the color of my tongue and said, “oh, yes.”

Her first recommendation to me when she told me my “liver chi was stagnant” was to cut out alcohol and coffee. Oh yeah…that would be easy. If you read my blog, you know my history with alcohol, and I was drinking at this point. I worked at Starbucks. My email address was “coffeefreak@hotmail.com”.

“I don’t know if I can do that,” I told her. I proceeded to tell her about my dependency on both substances. She told me she could help me a little with the acupuncture, but if I didn’t quit taking both of those substances, it wasn’t going to help my depression a lot. Alcohol is a depressant, of course. And, when coffee hits the central nervous system, it revs it up (causing anxiety), but then it spirals into an energy crash (depression). In my case she said the coffee was more than likely causing some of my depression.

She told me I could drink green tea. Yuk...I said to myself. I hate that weak stuff. I want my drinks to be strong, dark and bold. Green tea is a grassy little clear drink that tasted like urine as far as I was concerned.  Not that I’ve ever tasted urine, you understand. But, I was paying this practitioner, so I knew I had to try to follow her advice. I started cutting back my coffee to one mocha a day, and I drank black chai tea the rest of the day. At least chai tea when brewed strong has a lot of flavor. After a month, I started wanting just the chai tea all day. I drank that for several months, and then I only drank the chai in the morning. I found a green tea that I could stomach and drank that the rest of the day. After about six months from the date that I had seen the acupuncturist, I woke up, and I wanted green tea.  I was craving the much healthier, lighter tasting brew that didn’t hit me quite so hard.

I noticed when I drank green tea I felt clear-headed and alert but not wired. I asked my acupuncturist about that, and she said that green tea is not processed, so the natural caffeine hits your nervous system in the way nature intended. It’s not over-stimulating. I actually really like the way I feel when I drink green tea all day.

I have a love-hate relationship with coffee. I have several pounds in my pantry right now, and I’ve been drinking a lot of it over the holidays. This week I started having trouble sleeping, so I cut back on the coffee and saw my acupuncturist. This morning I woke up craving some of my Stash Green Chai tea mixed with soy milk. I took a cup on my walk with my dog this morning, and it dawned on me how good I felt after finishing it. I’ve got a hard head, and I like to override my common sense with my appetite at times. I doubt I’ll ever completely rid myself of the desire for a great cup of coffee. But I know that green tea is just about the healthiest thing you can drink. It’s got all kinds of antioxidants that fight all kinds of cancer. It’s got theanine in it which softens anxiety. It’s supposed to help with weight loss, too. See WebMD for a listing of all the health benefits.

One of my favorite green teas is Green Tea Tropical from Mighty Leaf Tea. When I want something earthy, I love the Genmai Green  from Stash Tea. It’s green tea combined with toasted brown rice, and I think it tastes a bit like burnt popcorn. Sounds weird, but it’s really good. My morning brew is Stash Green Chai brewed double strong and topped off with a healthy splash of vanilla soy milk. I’m having a cup now, and it’s not even morning. It’s delicious! And, with green tea, I’ll sleep like a baby tonight, and wake up ready for another cup in the morning.

Another Voice: Born in the Heart

Sasha in Moscow, December 2003
Sasha in Moscow, December 2003

This is Laura, Sharon’s sister-in-law.  My husband and I adopted our two children from Russia in December, 2003.  I wanted to share some of our experiences because of the recent, and hopefully very short-lived, policy closing Russian adoptions to Americans.  Many of you reading this blog may not know about the Dima bill (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/28/russia-vladimir-putin-adoptions-bill_n_2374291.html) , or maybe you’re wondering why it is such a big deal.  Families made by adoption are just as real as families made by biology.  And the tragedy is that children are denied a family because of this spiteful political decision.

The process of international adoption begins with many, many forms and a mountain of paperwork to complete.  Financial information, tax returns, medical information, marriage license, birth certificates, a social worker completes a home study.  Applications to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (now the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service), fingerprinting with the FBI, background checks must be done.  And once everything is completed, each piece of paper has to be notarized, and then specially authenticated and sealed by the State office.  This authentication is called an “apostille” and it costs between $10 and $25 per seal.  The irony of the amount of time, expense and effort that goes into the process to “prove” yourself to be a fit parent when others can just have a baby was not lost on us.  I vividly remember months and months of effort to gather all the required documents.  I brought the pristine file of papers to the State office to be apostilled, and found a sweet woman who was eating cheese puffs at her desk.  I almost couldn’t bring myself to give her the file.  I couldn’t risk an orange smudge!  All that hard work!  She smiled and said she would have the forms completed within 2 hours.  I held my breath, and left her office.  And when I returned, my still-pristine documents were waiting for me, each one enclosed by an official form, and each embossed with a gold seal.  They were perfect!

An example of an apostille
An example of an apostille

Once the documents were all apostilled, they were sent off to be translated into Russian, and submitted to the Russian regional court.  So then we wait.  Adoption has been described as “pregnancy without a due date.”  Once everything was submitted, there was nothing to do but wait for them to contact you.  Fortunately, we received a letter from our region within a few months telling us that we were welcome to come and “pick out” our children.  This was great news, but how exactly does one pick out a child?

We booked our flight, packed, and brought toys for the children.  Excitement turned to panic in the airport as we waited to board our flight.  What were we doing?  Flying halfway around the world to a country where we couldn’t read or speak the language??  The panic subsided as I began to trust in what we spent over a year preparing for.  And the discoveries of traveling in an exotic country were priceless: On Russian airlines, every meal comes with smoked salmon, and they allow smoking in a compartment at the back of the plane!  The way to say “I don’t understand” in Russia sounds approximately like “Ya nee pah nee my you”.  This phrase came in handy when we pretended not to understand that we had to pay an overweight baggage fee.  The frustrated lady who could not speak English finally just waved us on.  The taxi drivers in our region could not understand my attempts at pronouncing the name of the hotel (and told me: “Ya nee pah nee my you”, ha ha!), but I was able to write down the name of the hotel in Russian, and they got it.

They have the same face! :)
They have the same face! 🙂

Soon after we arrived in our region, we went to the children’s home, which is the name of the orphanage for children from age 4 to about 10.  We met the orphanage director, and she brought about 15 children into the room and gave us a chance to interact with them.  We brought plastic Mardi gras beads and doubloons and passed them out to all the children.  One boy dropped his doubloon, and another boy with a crossed eye picked it up and gave it back to him.  How sweet!  That same boy with the crossed eye was asked to sing, and he sang a Russian song that made our adoption attorney cry.  Our hearts melted.  We asked about him.  Was he available?

Many Russian children are placed in orphanages when a parent/family cannot afford to keep them.  Often, the parent does not relinquish the child, maybe in the hopes that they will be able to take the child back when their situation has improved.  However, children that are not relinquished cannot be adopted.  Available children in orphanages are placed into a database, and for two months can only be adopted by Russians.  After that two-month period, the children are then available to be adopted internationally.  Our cross-eyed boy was available, and we started the paperwork to petition to adopt him.  The workers at the orphanage said that my husband and our son “had the same face” because they looked so much alike!

We next went to the baby’s home, which is the orphanage for newborn children to age 3.  We met many beautiful children again, and got to hold and cuddle with so many.  I tried to be as objective as possible, but just didn’t know how!  I had expected that we would adopt two boys, since there are more boys available.  However, I distinctly remember when they brought in a little girl.  All of a sudden, I just knew.  I reached out to hold my daughter.  It was meant to be.

The bonding process had begun, but we had to wait another 4 months before we were able to return to Russia to go to court to petition to adopt our children.  It was supposed to be shorter, but they discovered our son’s picture had not been posted on the Russian database, so we had to wait longer.  During that waiting, I had a dream that we were in Russia at the orphanage, and there was a party with many people.  I took my daughter and hid with her in a closet so no one would find her before I could bring her home.  I was so terrified of losing her!  And I worried that our son, who was older, didn’t understand where we were and why we weren’t coming back for him.  My heart breaks when I think of the families that were in the process of adopting children and now have that process terminated.  How can you leave your child/ren behind?

It was love at first sight!
It was love at first sight!

Fortunately, in our situation, our adoption was approved by the Russian court, and we were able to bring our children home.  We traveled halfway around the world to find them, but we knew them as soon as we saw them.  They were born in our hearts, and I am grateful for the miracles that took place for us to have the privilege and responsibility of being their parents.

Mid-Week Share: Step 8 – Principle of Willingness

One of the beautiful statues in the garden at Hale Kai

Step 8: Willingness

Making a list of those harmed before coming into recovery may sound simple.

Becoming willing to actually make those amends is the difficult part.

will·ing

adjective

1. disposed or consenting; inclined: willing to go along.
2. cheerfully consenting or ready: a willing worker.
3. done, given, borne, used, etc., with cheerful readiness.
Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Notice that this step does not say we have to make any amends. There’s a reason that it doesn’t say that. The reason, in my opinion, is that it’s hard enough to become willing to make amends to have that be a single step. Who wants to be willing to make amends to people who may have hurt us or didn’t do what we wanted them to do? It’s one thing to realize my part in the mess of my life. It’s another thing entirely to be willing to walk up to another person and own the mess that I made – particularly if I know they might be angry, hurt or never want to see my face again. That takes a whole different level of willingness.
When I got to this step, my sponsor wisely reinforced the fact that I don’t have to make any amends to take this step. I just have to become willing to make them and make a list of the people I harmed. I already had this list written in my fourth step, so the task of making the list was easy. It took a little while, though, to really feel I was willing to prostrate myself and own up to my own contribution to the broken relationships in my life. For quite a few of those relationships, they had harmed me, too. But, that was not my mess to clean up – that was theirs.
I love the definition above for willingcheerfully consenting or ready. Haha…I don’t know if cheerfully would describe my feelings toward making amends, but I needed to be consenting. This is actually a biblical command. God tells us that “if our brother holds something against us” go make it right before we come to Him. That’s a paraphrase, but that’s what this step is all about. How often do people actually do this? Not very often, I’m afraid. So, why do people in recovery who have a difficult time with relationships in general have to be willing to do this?
I’ll tell you why. All of this stuff was eating me alive. Things I’d done to harm others and areas where I failed to live with integrity caused me to feel a great deal of shame. Shame is different than guilt. Shame says I’m not a good person. I’m a failure. Guilt says I did something wrong. It’s not a judgment on me because we all do things wrong. In order for me to get the shame monkey off my back, I had to deal with my actions the way I would deal with something I did wrong and merely felt guilty about. I’d fix it; I’d apologize; I’d change my ways; I’d make things right. Shame keeps me stuck and unwilling because it all seems way too insurmountable for somebody so bad to be a person of integrity.
This particular step really taught me how to let shame go and see my shortcomings as things I could clean up. What a relief! To just find the strength of character to become willing began to awaken my soul to the possibility that I could clean this thing up, and I could live differently. Talk about a gift. It was like lifting a dark shroud off me and letting the sun start to trickle in to my heart. You know how it feels when you feel overwhelmed with things that you have to do, and you finally make a list of what needs to be done? It always seems a lot less daunting when you see it written in a list. That’s what happened in Step 8. I started to see that I could do this!
That’s why people in recovery have to be willing to make amends. The task of rebuilding our lives seems a bit more manageable, one step at a time. Otherwise, we stay in a heap of shame and debris and are paralyzed by the sheer weight of it all. Whatever addictive substance or action we’ve used to keep us in the dark starts to seem inviting again, and it will kill us. That’s why Step 8 is important. That’s why it is important to be in a state of willingness. Willingness is the key to taking the next right action – in this case, making amends.

If you ran today, won’t you participate in this virtual 5k? You can mark one goal off your list today!

RUNMEM

What better way is there to start off a new year than with a run?! One mile, one block, a marathon, an hour, to the toilet (not sure how everyone’s partying went last night….) – where ever you run today, send me a picture and an email about it so I can put you on the blog tomorrow and we’ll see what a community of runners there are!

Email the pic to jlsprenkel@gmail.com and a short description of where you ran, how far and what the weather was like.

Happy 2013 y’all – it will be great!

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2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 12,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 20 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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