Monday, September 21, 2015

Michaelmas time

Michaelmas is coming, and the morning chill is accompanied by mist hanging on the ground. Later the day turns warm and we must peel off the layers of clothing we grabbed earlier to comfort us. This is a predictable yet entirely unanticipated aspect of seasonal weather.
Michaelmas is supposed to be the season of courage, of finding the strength to confront your inner dragons. This morning, I meditated on the fact that it is also that when a winter comes-in relationship, job, health, friendships-that I can trust myself to figure out what to do, and not allow anxiety to set in. i can rely on my own warmth and the strength of spirit to guide me. The cold does come to us,and sometimes even from us. My having courage will rest on my ability to trust that no matter what happens, I'm ok. Life is still good. Courage can arise from trust in my capacities and in spirit, instead of being driven by a compulsion to assuage my anxiety. Cold comes but I've been able to handle it! I'm not weaker than I was three years ago. In fact, I'm stronger.
Still, grief lingers and rubs her head against my shoulder, bruising me in still-tender places. I have dealt with her too, and strengthened those tender spots.
Despite being in touch with pain...I understand I can handle it. This is an act of courage for me.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Search for Family

My last course I took was in Eastern Religions. Besides learning about Gandhi (and being reminded of how important spinning was to him ) and Buddha and rich, wonderful things like the Mahabharata and Upanishads, one of our assigned books was "The Accidental Buddhist". In that book I read a passage that really struck me with its truth.
"In Buddhism we talk about the mind that abides nowhere. The homeless mind, the mind that's not attached, the mind that's not dependent on a home, or a country, or a nation, or money, or job, or status, for its essential identity. And a lot of what I get from talking to people in their 20s who come into Buddhism is a sense that they literally do not have a home. Their parents are divorced, there is a sense of tremendous fragmentation in families. I talk to kids coming into Buddhism who don't know where their mother is, don't know whether she's living on the East Coast or the West Coast, haven't seen her for twelve years or something. We have these amazing stories that we are all aware of. In a way it is a very sophisticated, very evolved understanding. They take one look around and see that their last shot for any kind of security or equanimity is inside, because everything around them is falling apart. Their families are falling apart, their society is falling apart, and they see that they can go with it, and just fall apart too, or they can try to pull themselves together, and the only place to go is an entirely interior place. There is simply no outside place, they can get absolutely no footing outside. There is no sense of family, no sense of community."
I understand this completely because for years, I have searched for a whole family. I have been wrestling for some time with my most cherished desires for family, this dearly-held dream, and how it is not to be for me. Sometimes I do wonder if the notion of family we have in our culture is irretrievably broken, given the number of divorces with children. Are we expecting too much? Are our notions of family archaic? My own parents' divorce was completely justified and needed to happen. However, I did not divorce myself from the dream of an intact, supportive family, and this dream has haunted me through two more marriages. I tried to set things right, and ended up with the same deep disappointment in marriage and sometimes,even men. Listening to my own 20-year-old daughter's song she wrote about not having a home, I was flooded with guilt and sadness for all of us. My own four children will share this loss with me...this feeling of homelessness, and will have to struggle to find a home within themselves.
The  Story captures this lonely, homeless feeling in their exploration of divorce and gender roles within their song "Angel in the House." They write: "My mother moved the furniture when she no longer moved the man" "She listened to the angel, she said to flatter, she said to coo, she said it don't matter" and in one phrase they sing, "it's back to the wheel, back to the fire, and onto the high wire"
Back to the wheel...back to a primitive state where all that exists is your essence. You are forced to rely on yourself. It's sink or swim. It's get out on the highwire and learn to balance.
 It's fighting the dragons of courtrooms and people who make you their scapegoat. It's protecting your kids for all your might. It's learning the terms...the rules of engagement....the devaluing and well, reduction, of something-someone you dearly loved, this desire for family, into a file in the courthouse. Yes, there sits your family in an ugly courthouse file. To see your passion, your dearest dream, your foundation, your identity as wife and mother annihilated and reduced is an immeasurable loss.
We of the divorced set try to kid ourselves and our children by saying they have TWO homes now...isn't it nice? Ugh. There is a mountain of their own unsettled grief that they will have to come to terms with, and my concern is that some may learn all too well how to please the adults but cannot quite find themselves.The exception are the adults who can put aside their differences and consciously focus on  giving the children a good life.
 I deeply grieve having a sense of wholeness in my own kinfolk. I feel the weight of the fragmentation and the disconnection. And then, I have to believe "family" is a phoenix. What will rise from the ashes is not the rebirth of the notion of family I have bought into all these years,the cultural picture,  but it will be wider, more inclusive, and will require me to rely on people and resources in a different, more expansive way. I already have a very real and beautiful and sincere and supportive community that very much serves as family.
This is a phase of grief for me. I have finally mustered up the courage to write about it, and feel a sense of closure coming. As always, it's all going to work out and everything is going to be ok.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

My Daughter

I am so proud of the woman my daughter is growing to be....with her permission, I am sharing her poem/spoken art. She already has a strong voice and is much wiser than I was at her age (she is 20)

Just because the roots aren’t visible doesnt mean they’re not growing 
you can never judge depth with only the surface showing
you cant see the dark part when the star is always glowing
go and find out how you feel when your feelings start exploding
the clothing never did keep my soul from feeling naked
the makeup never covered up the want to numb my passion
cause the pride i felt inside would try to blind me by distracting
a reality with fallacies that drowned me in the making
but a heart is never vacant if it learns to keep a craving 
for a love thats strictly given and prohibited from taking
a bond that money couldn’t buy with any kind of savings
a love that is immeasurable by any kind of rating
so i thought, but then the truth proved thoughts can be deceiving
when the only time you dream is parallel to when you're sleeping
i never did carry the love that you needed,
i believed that i could conquer the battle in your mind,
but half the time i felt like you were satisfied when i was bleeding
you wanted me unwise so i would turn to you for teachings
but theres one thing that you gave me, i know better i know bull shit
no single human soul can save me, it won’t make me feel the fullest
im not meant to feel degraded or unworthy or uncertain
with my hand among my heart i know exactly where my worth is
im not meant to feel objectified, I’m not for sale or purchase
i have no preference or type, because equally deserving
 went downtown to see the scene, i let my eyes record it all
it was a beautiful disaster, i was blessed to be involved
the day right after marriage rights, finally got resolved
love was finally freed from prison, it was finally one for all
i felt faith and i felt hope, until i started walking home
i saw a woman all alone, on the corner of the street
she looked cold and beaten down, she had bruises on her feet
i asked her what she needs and why she looked full of defeat
she stared at me right through her bruised and swollen up eye
she began to recite all the power in her mind she said
beautiful child, tame your holocaust inside
deny any form of fire, it's not a force to be played with
just as love is not a synonym for a form of enslavement
i was idolized and shot with pride i looked to him for my foundation
he spoke of a love that could’ve been a best seller
he told me not to be frantic because god knew what he was doing
god was happy he pursued me, he said it might seem quite confusing
but we're meant to be together
young and insecure, i was ignorant and blinded
so i hopped inside beside him and told him that i'd be riding
all my frightening thoughts were gone and before long the sun was shining
then the colds they came back out so full of thunder, full of lighting
he walked right up and touched me, his hand placed on my cheek
said no man should have your body till your finger has a ring
making love is not a hobby its a bonding type of thing
so for now just keep your clothes on till the bond can be guilt free
the words tasted like honey, but as time had come and gone
the fog cleared from the sky and thats when i found so much wrong
a hypocrite to say the least, like a preacher who’s un biblical
a mind ever so cynical red eyes revealed the criminal
you ask me for forgiveness, we need distance its not fixable
I’m human not invincible, love shouldn’t be conditional
sweet child hear me loudly when i say this is my past
understand that am recapping, but never going back
you are precious, you are fragile, you're an angel in disguise
so please only look through, but never adapt my eyes
his fist replaced his tongue, i was beaten i was bruised
i was fighting so unfairly, all while knowing i would lose
using your words as your weapon, i had nothing left to prove
you would slander you would slaughter i was bothered by the abuse
but more so i was confused, i wanted out i wanted gone
but you told me it’d be wrong when god had planned it for so long
you told me id regret it if i left where i belong
but a house with broken egg shells will never be a home

-Madeline Carnahan

Finding Peace

Two great challenges come as a result of my divorce:
-Finding peace and meaning in the struggle
-Forgiving in the absence of apologies and continued hostility

The struggle is to overcome anxiety and falling back into old patterns: denial, anger, acquiescing. Denial is SO STRONG. I cannot emphasize how hard it is for me, personally, not to want to go back into denial, not because I don't know about the issues, but because I don't WANT to see or know. I don't want to reduce my faith in people, so I try to deny harmful behavior. I think this is where the deep work happens. The parts of me that believe that offer such rich wisdom. To come out of this without being bitter, anxious, and cynical will be a miracle. And I will, with the grace of God, friends, lovers, and my family, take part in that miracle.
Forgiving is hard enough when someone actually acknowledges the harm they've done, and offers restitution, and shows remorse, but when they don't, it is damned near impossible. Damned near, but not completely. It is such hard work. I think you have to continually distance yourself and see how the faults of that person (or family) that hurled their judgment, criticism, lies, self-deceptions, blame, contempt, snobbery, name it...towards you, defines THEM through those actions. They aren't defining YOU in any way, although it feels personal and that is why it hurts so much. They are advertising their own anger and unhappiness. But it is hard when you care about a person and your relationship with them, only to be offered hostility and be made into an enemy.
So you will never hear from them, at least not in any meaningful way, that they are sorry or that they even hear how they have hurt you. Apologies and remorse just aren't for them.
Which is sad, sad, sad, for them and for you. That is just HARD to reconcile in your heart. They feel no remorse or sorrow or care for what they did to you and the families involved.  Forgiveness must be pieced together from your own sad, angry place. And what forgiveness is, is defined differently under those circumstances. Because it isn't fair, just, moral, or right to simply ignore another's humanity that way. What kind of person feels good about treating a fellow human with contempt and shame? It's a valid question, one worth wrestling with, one that will lead to healing and forgiveness.
It does not make you a victim. A victim has no choices. You have the choice to forgive in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. You were a target of someone's bad messages, behavior, lies, deception, abuse. Perpetrators rarely have choices about their behavior.
For it is a gift to let go of wanting or needing those people in your life, of wishing for their apologies, for some sign of their, to be blunt, humanity. It won't happen. And so, through that, you learn how to turn from that futile fantasy, and toward the reality of people who, like you, do feel remorse, who believe relationship is so important, who value you as a person enough to care about your feelings. It is so strange how uncomfortable it is at first, to receive this kind of good treatment.
So there are gifts that come from forgiving, even when it is impossible. There is that place in you that will never let these people into your life again, because to do so would be unhealthy, even for your children. You don't want your kids to witness more strange, demeaning behavior toward their mother. But you can let go of their power over you, and pray for them, and hope they find peace within themselves. It is a worthy overcoming.

 I found this article so helpful. Even though it uses the word "narcissist" it could be applied to many, many situations:

What does it mean to forgive a narcissist

Forgiveness means to free ourselves from the web of the narcissistic lies and triangulation and to stand up for truth and justice
Forgiveness means to give up and let go of toxic emotions such as anger, hurt, bitterness and resentment
Forgiveness means to recognize that this is not normal but a sickness designed to destroy our lives and poison our souls.
Forgiveness means to refuse to live as a victim of our abuser and to become an empowered human being willing to do what is right
Forgiveness means that we give ourselves the freedom to be all that we can be and to contribute to society all of the positive attributes that we have to give
Forgiveness means that we allow ourselves to feel and express genuine love, joy, empathy, compassion and humility: something of which they can never understand
Forgiveness never suggests or demands that the abuse be pardoned or that justice not be served but instead it empowers us to stand against it
Forgiveness means that we have given ourselves us something greater; which is a spiritual healing of deep psychological wounds
Forgiveness empowers us with the strength and love that we need to help others to know that they are not alone in the struggle to be free from the abuse
Forgiveness means that we are better people than they are because we have something much deeper and tender within us which is genuine love; real love and not this false self that they present.
Forgiveness means that we have peace with our memories and have turned the page on the past and onto the next chapter in our lives
Forgiveness means that we understand that they are incapable and unable to express genuine tenderness and deep love for themselves and for others thus being deprived of life's most important treasures
Forgiveness means that we have the strength and courage to show our loved ones; especially our children a better way of life
Forgiveness means that we learn to love ourselves and to let that love flow within us and expressed through us onto our children and onto others

Give yourself the gift of forgiveness today.

Written by Angela M. Watts

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Inside Out-An IFS primer

So many times I am called upon to explain the form of therapy I practice: IFS, which stands for "Internal Family Systems". IFS rests on the assumption that human beings are multi-dimensional, which has led some people to ask me, "Is this like multiple personalities?" Well, yes, and no. It isn't like Sybil (I'm dating myself here!). Dissociative identity disorder is an extreme situation.
 I believe that we are inherently multi-dimensional and multiple. We have to be to carry all the roles we pull off in modern life. Multiplicity is even part of our common vernacular. People will say, "well, part of me wants to stay, and part of me wants to go." Many people recognize an inner child, and you can easily find articles that tell you how to deal with your inner critic, or any voice in your head, really.
IFS brilliantly structures those voices in your head by asserting that there is a Self, the seat of your consciousness, your core, your center- that is always calm, curious, creative, centered, compassionate, clear, courageous, and confident (the 8 C's of IFS). If these qualities are not present, then you are operating from a part, and you can strengthen your Self in such a way that you can uncover and get to know your parts and their positive intent for your life. In IFS for example, the inner critic is a welcome part of the inner family system, as is any part that seems to be negative. The goal is to create a connection with your parts, to nurture a positive relationship, so that one can lead from Self.
We spend most of our lives leading from parts, and often this works well for us, as it is the way we have adapted to our lives. When parts assume extreme roles and beliefs, though, then trouble can happen.
Disney's Inside Out illustrates this perfectly. In the movie we are led through a journey of Riley's parts. I am told that the creator of the film did not know about IFS, but there are plenty of discussions among IFS practitioners about the film and how beautifully it relates to IFS.
Riley's "Joy" assumes an extreme part and manages the other feeling/parts as a Self-like part. As Riley faces a crisis, Joy becomes frantic and desperate to fix things by going to rescue Riley's "islands", the way she organizes her life experiences. Joy positions herself to be the keeper of core memories and works hard to prevent Sadness from touching them and therefore, altering them forever. Gradually, as everything Joy is trying to control crumbles around her, she realizes that Sadness played an important part in Riley's relationships and helped Riley find comfort and connection. Joy relinquishes her extreme role and makes way for Sadness to be expressed. Riley can no longer use Joy to placate her parents, and in allowing her Sadness to be fully expressed, she is able to be comforted by her parents.
In IFS, we do have a Self that is an important part of one's healing journey. In Inside Out, Riley didn't really have a Self. I attributed that to the fact that Riley was 11, and since she is still growing and developing, her Self may have been expressed in different things like the tower that held everything together, or perhaps it is the very infrastructure of her mind...the Islands, the core memories: the way she organized and made sense of those. As adults, we can call forth Self energy to help us navigate our inner and outer worlds. I believe Riley will need more experiences in order for her Self to fully emerge and mature.
In practicing IFS as an adult, I have found my parts will express and present themselves in some creative ways. I have an inner child, sometimes a baby, a part that I call Housewife who wears an apron and explores my identity as wife (now rejected wife) and mother, an inner critic who can be brutal with me, a "numb" part who is like a bright light, a teenage part who is smart as a whip and can argue and rail at the world's injustices, a caretaker who likes to fix things for everyone, and several adult and young adult parts that bring life wisdom or point out roles. I've encountered other parts too in my healing process, and I'm still a work in progress.
IFS was the first mode of therapy I'd encountered that helped give me a clear path: that of being in Self, with all its attending qualities. IFS sees client and therapist as equals, and helps the client gain trust in themselves this way, and has a very specific way of organizing and dealing with parts. It has changed my life and helped me manage my responses and understand the responses of others.
I was very excited to see Inside Out because of my experiences with IFS,and the fact that I've promoted it socially over so many conversations. I'm pretty passionate about it. Besides being very IFS-like, the movie is good in that it playfully and creatively creates an awareness of what goes on inside of us, and in the end, models an acceptance of feelings. I laughed so hard (it seems there were a lot of jokes therapists will love in the movie) and cried just as hard. What an inspiring movie!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Single Moms

I was talking to a friend of mine today, a married friend. She said it must be nice to have time away from your children. I told her that time given in a relationship as part of a marriage is done out of a spirit of teamwork and generosity, but time "given" to you in a divorce is, in many cases, a punishment for all your years of sacrifice and being the mom. We launched into a nice discussion of what it is that single moms do with their time.
When single moms are away from their children, they  most surely do what their exes think they do: they feel such great remorse for not properly appreciating the God he was, for not worshipping his superior intellect, and for not always recognizing his obvious superiority. Oh how we weep and wail and writhe in guilt over what horrid wives and mothers we were. We were not good enough just like he told us!!! We really weren't!!! We (blubber, sob) HAD FEELINGS!!!! We HAD (sniffle) NEEDS. (wail louder with shameful guilt.) And worst of all, WE HAD THOUGHTS IN OUR HEADS. (dissolve onto floor sobbing to demonstrate the importance of this point and our endless guilt for daring to be a thinking person within a marriage).
We will be forever heartbroken that we could just not measure up.
The guilty weight is too much to bear so we must find ways to cope. I told her my personal favorite way was to take my laptop into the bathroom with a glass of wine and sob while I watch The Notebook.  Or grab a quart of ice cream and my phone on my way into the bathroom and eat while I sob and check out people's perfect lives on Facebook. Or lay in my bed with my pajamas and glasses on and sob without the help of technology or indoor plumbing like a Luddite. Luddite sobbing, I call it.
And then, suddenly, out of the blue, a friend calls and wants to come over. A friend who wants to comfort you! And then another, and another, and another. It is a call to action and to change out of our "fat" clothes. After making ourselves presentable, we entertain. Yes, single moms LOVE to entertain, because we have so much time on our hands and always have food in the fridge. If we don't happen to have time on our hands we will make time because entertaining is so much fun.

(stock photo)
Sometimes, entertaining gets out of hand. 
(stock photo)
Once we clean up the empty beer bottles and pizza boxes and get rid of everyone the next morning, we jet off with one of our boyfriends to stick our toes in the sand at some undisclosed beach, for just a day or two. Because it's nice to have your cocktails delivered to you at the beach since you have been so tired from all your crying and The Notebook and ice cream and pizza and friends coming over. You need pampering. 

these are my toes, almost ready for polish.

Then we come back to our lives and our jobs and make sure our house is clean for the kids' return and whew! That was something. Real life concerns, like feeling more divorce guilt and choosing which boyfriend to play with this week must take over.
 Between going to school full time, working full time, planning dates and juggling boyfriends, perusing online dating, talking to your lawyer, managing your robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul method of budgeting, dealing with children's issues alone, and getting ready to entertain, it's such a dream living this life of ease. At the end of another day of excitement and glamour single moms relax by collapsing from exhaustion.
I hope my friend isn't too jealous. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015


When I moved into this house, I had no idea what I was getting into. My house was a mess and still needs all kinds of work. It is  liveable and passable and we are so very happy to be here, but it is stressful too for we need a roof and windows and HVAC and big things like that. And summer just started and my dryer broke again (hello again clothesline!).
Back in January, we got a really strange and threatening letter from a neighbor. A not-very-friendly neighbor who did not sign their name. And this neighbor wrote that dogs "disappear" in our neighborhood. She (or he?) was essentially hating on my dog, who is a friendly, wandering type and not to be seen with her tail still and tongue in her mouth. Oh no, she is completely without guile, unless she is protecting us, and then she puts on airs. But at any rate, someone threatened my dog.
This led me into all kinds of doubts about the kinds of neighbors I had and what kind of place have I chosen to bring up my kids? I was sold on my half acre in the city with a dead end at the back end of the yard and the front of the house facing a dead end street. What better place for kids to roam and explore?
Then spring came and with it the kinder neighbors who encouraged me to report it, start a seed swap, get the neighbors together, and otherwise give me hope that this place is good. I have been too over booked to invest in gatherings but it is always  on my mind.
And the neighbor that helps me absolutely KNOW this place is good is Butch. When I first moved here, Divorceageddon was still going on. And it's still going on (just substitute "divorce" for "song" in that annoying song, "this is the song that never ends....yes it goes on and on my friends!!!). Pair a hellish situation like that with a girl who doesn't like to accept help and it's no good. I had to give up and accept help. I had to face down my own stubborn insistence that if I am given the opportunity to show you how strong and pleasing I am, you will like me. A people pleaser to the core. And it doesn't work. Butch knew this. He saw what was happening under my friendly smiles and waves, that I could fall apart and having needs just like everyone else. You may think I am exaggerating here by calling Butch an angel, but I firmly believe God puts people in your life for a reason. And if you don't believe in God, sometimes you just have to concede that there is SOMEone taking care of your messy existence. He has been an angel to me for certain.
Butch offered to mow my lawn, and I had to accept. Besides, taking care of me pleased HIM. Over the past almost-two years, Butch and his wife have very much been our good neighbors. He mows for me,  I sew for both of them, sometimes cooking. He has taught me very much how to relax and lean on someone. There is a time to be leaned on as well. Sometimes I even  borrow one of his five lawnmowers and mow both of our sizeable lawns and that's nice too.
Last week, I had a friend come over. I will blog about her later and she knows about it. Butch met her, as he's met so many of my friends and my children's friends that come and go here. He rode over on his lawnmower, eyes shining with mirth, to tell me he was in love with her (he's kind of a flirt that way too.)
I've learned a lot from that sweet man next door, mostly about how to be a friend and neighbor. Through all of what has happened these past few years, I have to continually remind myself that outside of the ugliness of others and the heart's pains, there is a flow of life, of humanity, that is sweet to taste of. Like discovering this in friends, I am blessed to have very real, non-judgmental neighbors, ones who will  mow your yard,, ones who need you just as much as you need them, ones who will bring you into the flow of beautiful life.