Sunday, December 27, 2015

Guest post-The Little Red Hen

This post was written by my soul-sister Laura Byrd. Thank  you Laura for your wonderful writing and I hope you all enjoy!

The Little Red Hen is one of my favorite children’s stories.  Just like some of my other favorites, when I reflect further on its meaning, I understand more about the value of the story.  One night while reading, I asked my children what they thought about the little red hen eating her bread all by herself.  One son said, “good for the little red hen, she does not need to share with them.”  My other son said, “Aw, she should share her bread with them anyway.  They look so sad watching her eat that bread.”  That was the start of many conversations in which I became acutely aware of their stark differences.

To me, this is a story about takers.  We all know them; always looking around for what they can get from a situation or what they can take.  They have little awareness or concern for the impact they or their actions have on others.  They have a real block to having any insight into themselves but every once in a while they will express a desire to change.  This can be a seductive glimmer of hope until it becomes clear that it is only because there is something they believe they can take in return.  Expressions of this desire to change become short lived; especially after someone finally figures out they are dealing with a taker.

I appreciate and relate to my child’s sensitivity when he said, “Aw, she should share her bread anyway.  They look so sad watching her eat that bread.”  Unfortunately, I feel less worried about my other child who said “good for the little red hen, she does not need to share with them.”  He will be better equipped to handle the takers of this world.

Some argue the takers are people who utilize government assistance.  In my experience, takers are way too savvy to resort to such measures of taking.  The takers I’m referring to are much more dangerous.  They prey on people’s sensitivities and often blame those from whom they take.  One could also argue that our economy has been built on the savvy of such animals; paying manual workers minimally yet blaming them for utilizing necessary resources.  The culture of poverty is real and does include an entitled attitude, but let’s be clear. The real takers are the ones who have the power to create a new culture and choose not to.

This story is dedicated to all the little red hens.

There once was a little red hen.  One day she found a grain of wheat.  The little red hen asked some animals she thought to be friends, “Who will help me plant this wheat?”
“Not I,” said the cat…”unless you plant it next to this tree that I like to climb.”
“Not I” said the dog…”unless of course you plant it next to the cat’s tree.”
“Not I” said the pig, carefully taking direction from the others.

The little red hen thought the cat must really love her to take such interest in where she planted the wheat.  The dog seemed so cheery, she must also know of the cat’s love, so the little red hen planted the wheat next to the cat’s favorite tree.

The little red hen watched the wheat grow.  Soon it was tall and golden.  She asked her friends, “Who will help me cut this wheat?”
“Not I” said the cat…”.unless you pay me for my time.”
“Not I” said the dog…”unless you pay the cat.”
“Not I” said the pig as her knees wobbled in fear.

So the little red hen paid the cat for cutting the wheat.  She was so busy cutting the wheat herself, she did not notice that the cat just lounged in his tree watching her cut the wheat all by herself.

It was time to make the wheat into flour.  “Who will help me take this wheat to the mill?”  asked the little red hen.

“Not I” said the cat…”unless you clean up your house.”
“Not I” said the dog…”unless you clean up your house and put my furniture in it.”
“Not I” said the pig…”unless you do exactly as the cat and dog say.”

The little red hen was starting to read and talk to other hens about the situation that saw things differently.  They told her to be careful of the cat and dog and even the pig and not to lose herself or her wheat when dealing with such animals.

So the little red hen decided to take the wheat to the miller herself.  The miller ground the wheat and put the flour in a sack for the little red hen.

Now it was time to bake the flour into bread.  “Who will help me bake this flour into bread?” asked the little red hen.

“I will” said the pig quickly.  So the little red hen and the pig baked the bread together.  The little red hen was comforted by this since she had started to learn that both the cat and the dog’s behavior were not loving at all but controlling and abusive instead.  “At least the pig is a real friend” thought the little red hen.

The entire time the pig and little red hen baked the bread together, the pig tried to convince her to do as the cat and dog said.  She sympathized and even agreed with the little red hen about how it felt to live under the thumb of both the cat and dog, but made it clear she would not speak up for her.

When the bread was baked, the little red hen took it out of the oven.  It looked delicious.  “Who will help me eat this bread?” she asked. 

“I will” said the cat, as he lounged in his tree overlooking the wheat.
“I will” said the dog, as she busily prepared a very pristine nest in the cat’s favorite tree.
“I will” squealed the pig; relieved that both the cat and dog had finally agreed to help the little red hen.

The little red hen was at a crossroads.  Would she share her bread with those animals or eat the bread herself?  The little red hen sat by the fire as the cat, dog and pig pressed their faces to the glass window outside.  She knew they were takers yet somehow still grieved the loss of them.  She longed to return to the days before she found the grain of wheat and pretended not to know the truth. Slowly, the little red hen began to eat the bread all by herself.  She ate as she noticed the anger well up inside of her as she thought about the cat lounging in the tree, taking her wheat while refusing to work.  She felt so empty and found temporary comfort with each piece of bread.  She ate as she remembered earlier times as a child when she felt so sad, confused, and rejected.  She ate as she felt the fear about not being able to protect other little red hens from such animals.  And she ate as she looked at the faces of the animals pressed to the glass window.  When she finished eating she felt so full she thought she might burst.

The little red hen slowly began to feel all those same painful feelings; all the anger and sadness, confusion, rejection and fear.  Overtime she ate less bread and even managed to use the wheat as a source of income for herself.  She found herself ministering to other hens, sharing her story and her pain.  Other hens began to open their eyes to the truths in their own lives.  They felt much comfort from the little red hen who was now filled with so much love and compassion.

The little red hen often wondered if life would get better.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015


When I was a little girl, I remember going out to eat with my family. I was five years old, chatty, and like most five-year-olds, enjoyed taking the hand of an adult and gamboling alongside. To this day, I love that picture of children beside their parents, smiling and happy in their own world.
And their world is good. Adults are to be trusted. They have none of the hardness of the world and all the softness of a hopeful heart. That day, when we left the restaurant, I took the hand of a man I thought was my grandfather. I chatted happily and walked off with this man, not even looking up to notice this wasn't my grandfather until I realized his silence. In that brief moment, I was embarrassed and scared and ran back to my family, who had been watching and wondering what I was doing. They laughed, I sought hugs and comfort and found my grandparents.
Last night, in celebrating the solstice, I took a friend and we arrived late to the bonfire among rather magical mist and stones. We separately, and hurriedly, wrote on a small slip of paper what we wished to let go of...what no longer served us...for this coming year. I didn't hesitate, since an aching awareness has been coursing through me for some time now. I was aware that my situation, my being made an enemy and scapegoat, had reordered everything I thought I knew about people. I realized the places where I had given the benefit of the doubt, where I never believed that people could deliberately be so cruel, where I deemed them wounded instead of angry. The awareness that people exist who actually enjoy the suffering of others is a painful grief, a loss of hope for all of us.
The current rash of cruelty towards fellow human beings in the news seems far away and detached from my own life. I cannot feel as one with people who are hell-bent on dominance, punishment, and destruction of life. But there was a war and it happened in my own circle, in my own life; it keeps going, and it broke me in a way that I have struggled to explain and process ever since.
I used to say it would take a crowbar to open my heart, and that was for good reason. I still cannot fathom exactly why someone would betray a once-beloved to such a degree, what river of anger never ceases to flow, what causes such an extreme compulsion to dominate and control, indeed, to show, on all levels, how you simply do not matter, not even as a mother, what motivates someone to make an enemy out of a co-parent. I cannot understand how the moments of my own life are so casually distorted to fit the purposes of a controlling, angry man and his family. I am condescended to, judged to be lacking credibility simply because I am the narrator of my experience. Whatever the cause of their vitriol, the river flows on, seeking to flood and wreak havoc, and I must adjust.
It made me afraid, this betrayal of trust, this turning of love into hate, this faking of a relationship. If I could so completely be drawn in and, well, utterly duped by a person and a family...if I could give my love and my whole self to a relationship and the building of a family only to be turned against, mocked, and cruelly betrayed...what hope is there?
And so I adjust by returning to the softness of my heart, toward finding compassion for myself, and opening myself to the compassion of others. I realized that my heart is still tender, but the tenderness could be loved, could be open to love. I could not let the lack of integrity of a group of people, whether it is a group hurling their venom towards me, a group seeking to destroy those they do not agree with, punishing an ethnic or religious group, or shooting innocent children in a school, keep me from holding on to hope. These blights on humanity do not define humanity, and someone declaring themselves my enemy does not define me or name my life in any way.
I wrote "fear" on the slip of paper, folded it neatly, and placed it into the fire. I will be open, soft, and vulnerable, in the right places. I will be fearless in my voice, will take chances, will love this hardened, broken world with all my heart and will seek to not add to the brokenness of the world through my own blind spots and humanity, will allow my huge love for my children to be infused with resolve.
Goodbye, fear. I slip my hand out of your hardened, gnarled fingers and into the soft hand of courage.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Gift of Compassion

"Maybe you are grieving the loss of someone or something this week. In so many ways, we all carry both sorrow + joy, often at the same time. As we move into this week of Christmas, I pray we resist the temptation to dissect the mystery of our neighbor and instead practice a holy curiosity for the experience of others." -Emily Freeman

For many reasons, I find it difficult to write this. There has been so much to write about my journey, and the things I've learned, and sometimes this learning continues way too quickly.  Lately, I've had another wave of feminist awakening. Not since I read "The Alphabet Versus the Goddess" have I had such a strong reaction and arousal of anger at the condition of women.
I give credit to my Gender and Communication class. The textbook is outlining how language and social constructs affect the position of women. This fits right in to what I've learned with regard to abuse and abusive attitudes towards women. I think once anyone truly learns about how women are still not equal, one cannot help but become a feminist, which, in my opinion, is really a human rights stance and means you oppose discrimination of any kind.
I am always amazed at how cruel some people can be during a divorce situation. From my first divorce, I learned that the suffering situations of other people bring out all the well-meaning, good-intentioned, but often judgmental and overly biased opinions of others. These expressions can be very hurtful, and neutrality brings more harm than good. It's human nature to take a side. As a culture, we love performances. We routinely reward, collectively, people who perform Male Whiteness. We love it when people perform Religion, and Family, and Morality, and Politics. Knowing that a person has another side doesn't quite make sense to us. It causes us to challenge our tendency to put people on pedestals or label them as "good" or "bad". When people are so inherently divided, when they perform "righteousness" on the surface but behind the scenes are acting out "lying", "immorality", and "deceit", we must make a choice about that person, for there is not one person, but two very distinctly different personalities being shown. The show, of course, depends on the audience.
Einstein and Gandhi come to mind. These were great men, who by all accounts, had beautiful, spiritual things to say, and who effected great changes in the world. There is no doubt that they had a heart and a destiny. But Einstein had no heart for his wives. He was terrible at nurturing a marriage relationship, and even gave his first wife a cruel list of requirements for being with him. By today's standards, he was emotionally abusive. How could such a great man, who seemed to have such compassion and wisdom, also be abusive? The same with Gandhi. Perhaps his alienation from his family was based in cultural and spiritual paradigms, but nevertheless, he alienated his family and his sons suffered greatly in their lives.
In this day and age, with so much of the world seemingly falling apart, and so many hateful groups and countries and people proliferating, it is important that we start, on a grassroots level, to think. When we vote, we must think. What is the character of the person who we are voting for? Do his /her actions and words match up?
When we hear a friend's divorce story, we must think. Is he really a victim? Do his words and actions match up? Is he saying he wishes no ill will while inflicting a court battle? Is he saying she is a good parent while withholding the children? Is he saying he cannot pay child support when he is hiding resources?
I have put together a list of some of the things I see bystanders say in a nasty divorce situation, with an emphasis on empowering women who have experienced any kind of abuse, and encouraging empathy.
1. She did things too.
Yes, anyone who is in an intimate relationship will "do things". An abused woman starts to become extreme in her reactions due to the abuse.But she is only responsible for the things she did, not for any established pattern of abusive attitudes and behaviors.  People get the two confused. Any issues after a divorce: financial, parenting, communication, CANNOT be solved until abusive attitudes are addressed.  I am quite certain she TRIED to use all the communication exercises, to cajole, to compromise, to defer, to let go, to stand up for herself...she tried using both sides of the double standards for women's behavior. It didn't work. There is  nothing SHE can do by way of adjusting HER behavior to effect a change in HIM. That is just another way to help HIM avoid responsibility for his actions, and get away from his goal of power-over.
2. But he is so calm and nice, and she is so emotional. He must be right when he says she is crazy.
Congratulations! You've been duped. It's an ancient story: calm, controlled abuser looks better than freaking out, protesting woman. You are believing the side of him that is calm and controlled and cannot imagine that he can be abusive so her reaction looks out of proportion.
If she has been abused, especially emotionally, she is going to look "crazy" since a hallmark of emotional abuse is an abuser doing just what you are buying into:"looking good while doing bad. Similarly, a woman can do everything she is supposed to do but make no mistake: a person she loved has declared war on her and made her into an enemy when she did nothing to deserve that designation. She is allowed to be angry about it. It's immoral, unfair, abnormal, and supremely ridiculous for him to launch attacks then blame her.
3. She should build  him up to the kids.
No, she should heal her wounds, be authentic to herself, and model for her children how a strong woman stands up for herself and does not allow abuse. Their father is not going to provide an example of how to respect a human being, ESPECIALLY if that human being is their mother, so she has to do it for herself and her kids. Dishonesty is never a good thing to teach children.  HE should be addressing his issues and stop attacking the mother of his children. HE should stop modeling "looking good while doing bad".  HE should figure out why he has an overblown need to make an enemy of his ex-wife. HE should stop modeling a double standard:" it's ok if I hate and bully my ex-wife, but if she says anything about it, she is being cruel to me." That makes no sense whatsoever and it is a terrible thing for a father to model to the kids. HE should step up to the plate and be the kind of father who respects the mother of his own children.
If she can't honestly say he is a good father, that is not the same as overtly telling the kids he is a bad father. She simply has to say nothing and just validate her children in ALL their experiences with their father, teach them how to stand up for themselves, appreciate the good things he does, and teach them how to set good boundaries.
4. Oh, it's both their faults. They both have their issues.
 Everywhere else in the world, someone is at fault and has to be accountable. But people want to remain neutral in a divorce so they say things like this. EVERYONE on this planet has issues, but that does not excuse abusive behavior. Abuse is never the fault of its recipient. Again, no issues can be resolved until the coercive control problem is addressed, and honestly, it takes a REALLY special, courageous man to admit his issues and work on them. Most of the time, you have to give up on these men because they will not and cannot change. It's deeply disappointing.
5. The courts would protect a woman. People don't get their kids taken away if they are good mothers, and courts don't give that much custody to emotional/financial/physical abusers.
Family court is not a perfect system. It is true that sometimes justice is done, but often, it is not. In family court, lies are not cross-checked, and often the sympathies and biases of the judge directs the verdict. There are many stories in the news nationwide of children being given to abusers and pornographers and child molesters simply because the woman opened her mouth to protest. People who work in family court say how stressful it is and how hard it is to make these decisions.
Hopefully in our lifetime we will see family courts that are trauma-informed, educated about abuse and personality disorders, and intolerant of financial and emotional abuse.
As the mother of daughters, I am passionate about teaching them how to be a strong woman. But we live in a world where sometimes, it is dangerous for a woman to speak up about abuse and injustice. women are more readily accepted if they perform Male Whiteness (see Hillary).
6. But he complains of how SHE is victimizing him.
This is called "manipulation" and this is where it helps to think it through. Don't fall for bullshit. The man whose parents bail him out of every financial situation, leaving him with the knowledge that no matter what, he does not have to be accountable, who uses family resources to pay for expensive court, stops working to avoid child support, and uses the kids to manipulate perceptions of him and to get to his ex-wife is not being a good father. He will pay for court but not tuition. He will take credit for the accomplishments of his children but not contribute to their success unless it is something he agrees with. If he plays on stereotypes of women as crazy, and twists his choices to appear as if he was the victim, he is going to get your support. Make no mistake, you are then being played. Don't allow yourself to be played. Listen to her side of the story so you can make an honest decision about where you stand. But don't be blindly loyal to dysfunction and inadvertently participate in his abusive attitudes.
7. He still loves her and that is why he is so angry.
No, he is angry because he has a continuing abusive anger problem, not a continuing love problem. Normal people do not keep going with their anger and scapegoating behaviors for years. He invests in anger and subversive attacks because he chooses to, out of a deep and overblown sense of entitlement. Chances are, anger is the only emotion he knows.
8. He's wounded, that is why he is angry. Hurt people hurt people.
This may or may not be true, but it still does not excuse his behavior. It would be like cleaning up after an alcoholic so they never have to face their problem. Everyone has choices about their behavior, and abusers choose to abuse. If he is wounded, then why doesn't he get help and stop hurting others out of his wounds?

Give the gift of compassion this year. Ask yourself if you are inadvertently supporting an abuser, no matter how credible he sounds. Let a woman who has been vocal about her abuse know that you stand with her against his abuse and all acts of cruelty towards another. Ask her what she needs. Listen to her story for the hundredth time. Give the woman (or man) a huge hug for all she has been through!Blaming a victim of abuse, neutrality, and outright supporting an abuser is abuse in and of itself. Bystanders have the potential to do great harm or effect positive change.

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.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Unruined Heart

                                                        Mater Dolorosa: The Unruined Heart

The swords through your heart
are not the ones which caused your wounds,
but rather, these mighty swords of Strength,
were earned by your struggles through hard times.
Sword of Surrender:  to withstand this time of learning.
Sword of Veils:  to pierce the hidden meanings of this time.
Sword of Healing:  to lance one's own agony, bitterness.
Sword of New Life:  to cut through, cut loose, plant anew.
Sword of Courage:  to speak up, row on, touch others.
Sword of Life Force:  to draw from, lean on, purify.
Sword of Love:  often heaviest to lift consistently;
turns one away from war, to instead,
fall into the arms of the Immaculate Strength.

O Immaculate Heart of My Mother,
give me shelter in the beautiful chambers of your heart.
Keep me strong, fierce, loving, and able in this world.
Remind me daily, that despite my imperfections, 
my heart remains,
completely unruined.

- Clarissa Pinkola Est├ęs, from Untie the Strong Woman:
Blessed Mother's Immaculate Love for the Wild Soul

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Dishes and Anger

Washing dishes. Soapy water induces an introspective state, and can help wash off worry, dream into the suds, flow with ideas, and work through life's puzzles. But this time, I became angry. I have been reading Lundy Bancroft's "Why Does He Do That?" and it made me angry. It made me angry to have this awareness of abuse*, to know about where I was abused* and silenced. It made me mad to learn that abuse* is a choice and rests on a deeply ingrained overblown sense of entitlement on the part of the abuser.*

I was angry for my daughters, and how in the world of men they are learning about abusers first hand, and blessedly quicker than I did. I was angry at how our culture inadvertently and sometimes deliberately supports abuse of women. I was angry at my own  confusion...about how the abusers I've had relationships with have had a "good" mask and somehow, in giving the benefit of the doubt, I wanted to believe that person was defined by their acts of good, and not their cruelty. But I came to the conclusion that cruelty and acts of relational destruction far outweigh a surprise gift, an attentive joke, a sincere conversation, or going out to eat. Those are just  ways for an abuser to avoid responsibility and to avoid having to acknowledge your humanity. I wondered why, when I'd received those gestures in the past, they made me so mad and in an "ah-ha" moment I realized it is because they were fake and their actions in no way made restitution or amends.
I was angry for my son, for most abusers are men, and an overwhelming percentage of them learn abuse from their fathers. I was angry at the prospect of a world that would allow him to abuse and have all these constructs and double standards in place to be able to blame the victim ("It's between both of them. She asked for it. She was too chatty/messy/gossipy/fat/worldly/etc. She exaggerates things. I can see why she would drive him crazy. They both contributed.Men are victims just as much as women {not statistically true, by the way}") I was reminded of the passage in Bancroft's book that told how this neutrality from onlookers is just as harmful to an abused woman as the abuse itself. Bancroft points out that people will oppose abuse in the abstract, but loyalty to family, even to family secrets and dysfunction, is strong. Denial is strong and binding, like metal link chains. And no one wants to believe a brother, son, friend, or trusted co-worker is an abuser. It is much easier to sweep it under the rug. I get it, I really do. It is very difficult to overcome these strong social forces.
And that makes me mad too. I have had trouble understanding why people would come to the side of an abuser and help him, instead of saying to the woman, "I see what he is doing to you and the kids and I don't agree with it. " Why is bad behavior so consistently excused?

"Acknowledging his abusiveness and speaking forcefully and honestly about how he has hurt her is indispensable to her recovery. It is the abuser's perspective that she is being mean to him by speaking bluntly about what he has done." (Bancroft, p. 287)

I thought of how one of the most powerful guiding forces within an abuser is this complete drive to avoid responsibility for their actions at all costs. I thought of how, since the majority of abusers are men, and they grow up being taught to be that way in their family, and then culture often doesn't hold them to personal responsibility, what kind of messages are we giving these men about their worth? Are we telling men they don't  have the capacity to fix their mistakes? That we have to culturally coddle their fragile egos when they mess up? That we must allow the attitudes of the entitled to go completely unchecked?
It made me want to show my son he is worth WAY more than that.
I had a metaphor for the end of a marriage as a car, where my partner gets out and slashes the tires, then blames me for the car being unable to go, and so he gets out and finds another car, and bills me for the repairs of the old car that HE damaged. In Lundy Bancroft's book, he gives this metaphor of abuse:
You live in a house with a beautiful old tree in its backyard. Your neighbor complains that the tree hangs over into his back yard. You offer to prune the offensive branches but he starts insisting that you cut down the entire tree. You calmly tell him this is your property and your tree and you will cut down what hangs over into his yard, but not the whole tree. Your neighbor starts to ferment and seethe and convince himself that you are wrong. One day, when he knows you will be out of town, he triumphantly cuts down the tree...the big, old, beautiful tree that shaded your yard now lies in a heap of stumps and leaves and branches. When you return, it is obvious who cut down the tree  and you are mortified by this senseless act. Your neighbor denies it but eventually is pressed to admit it was he who cut down the tree.
In this case, it is clear that someone destroyed property and restitution must be made. The man will have to answer to his neighbors as well, for they won't trust him. The man must make restitution financially, apologize to her and their neighbors, and take steps to restore her yard. She will never get back that beautiful tree. And he will not be able to come into her yard again.
I got mad that in cases of abuse, where a man can wreak havoc on a woman emotionally, physically, financially, and mentally, he will only rarely willingly admit he has participated in relational destruction; most of the time he will point the finger back at her, and therefore, excuses himself from personal responsibility.

There is certainly a lot on my mind regarding this topic of abuse and abusers. I recommended "Why Does He Do That?"to a friend and she read it too. In the book, Bancroft mentions how when he wrote the book, he did a search and review of college courses and he could not find one course on abuse. Perhaps types of abusers and abuse dynamics are taught in other parts of college courses, or as part of training for therapists. Yet judging by how difficult it is to find therapists who understand the dynamics of emotional abuse and Cluster B personalities, I would say this isn't necessarily so. I've been blamed by a therapist for someone else's abusive behavior and learned a hard lesson that not all therapists can recognize emotional abuse and couples therapists have the capacity to do more harm than good.  Luckily, I was able to process this incident with higher-level clinicians who confirmed that the attitudes of that therapist were indeed victim blaming. In my local support group for women and men who  have endured severe emotional abuse, we speak of how difficult it is to find good therapists who can guide healing from the trauma of abuse. My friend was so impacted by this book she said every woman and man should read it, and I have to concur.

As I mentioned, my own daughters are in the dating world. One of my daughters is learning through experience how to recognize abuse. Her situation was not dangerous and she has set good boundaries for bad behavior and she will talk to me about it, openly. It is so important to listen to and validate the experiences of  our daughters, indeed, of all women.
I search my mind constantly for what to do about this problem in our culture. It seems so large and overwhelming. You know, abuse is at the root of so many troubles. So many. It isn't a case of someone doesn't like someone else. It is rarely that simple. It is that someone has deliberately harmed another. It is someone mindlessly living out the system of abuse they have been taught in their family, refusing to give up their cushy attitudes of entitlement that allow them to shirk interpersonal responsibility (and gaining supporters for their cause), or trying to lift themselves up through demeaning others. Or all of those. Either way, it is destructive.
I know for me, I have done my homework (extensively) and can name the abuse and types of abuse  that I'm dealing with. But not everyone has that context and I still encounter a lot of victim blaming and neutrality(which is another way of adopting the abuser's perspective; neutrality supports abuse). I also encounter, in much greater proportion, a lot of validation and support. I am sure some people have gotten tired of hearing about my situation, yet most have shown me the greatest love and grace. I hope to give back for what I've been given.
One day, I think we will look back on emotional and other forms of abuse and our cultural support of the entitled and see it all as barbaric.
I end with this quote from Gertrude Stein that I am currently loving and identify with:

It is funny that men who are supposed to be scientific cannot get themselves to realise the basic principle of physics, that action and reaction are equal and opposite, that when you persecute people you always rouse them to be strong and stronger.
Gertrude Stein

*When I refer to abuse, I am not just referring to battering. That is one type of abuse. Abuse can be emotional, financial, sexual, or physical in nature. Many women who have been physically and emotionally abused report that emotional abuse is so much more damaging because it is harder to pinpoint. 

For further reading:

Sunday, May 3, 2015


We've been camping every year for 6 years now.
Even when I was married, I camped solo with kids. Our first trip, we knew nothing, and in many ways, we still don't! But really, what is there to know? Bring extra blankets ALWAYS. There's always Miguel's pizza. Spend lots of time fire-gazing and hike when you feel like it. Explore a creek. That's about it.
When Davis was younger, we started out at a campground that became "our" campground because it had:
1. a creek
2. trails with caves
3. a bathroom with showers
4. close proximity to the skylift and Natural Bridge
Since then, we've branched out. With Davis being six now, we are setting our sights on doing some back-country camping. No fires allowed and my picky eaters will have to learn to love trail mix rather than our typical "glamping" breakfast of eggs and, this might sound funny, but gluten-free waffles fried in butter. All of this is made possible by our trusty iron skillet.
Other things we are looking to do is some bouldering. Since the Gorge really only has a couple of places to boulder, we are going to have to slowly dive into top-rope climbing. I think it can happen!
This past weekend, other than a Derby party, we chose to forego Derby events and get out of town. We found a new favorite campground which was perfect except for the noise of traffic (how does one get so far away they can't SEE a road but it is so loud it interrupts sleep? And who are all these people traveling the backroads of Kentucky at 1 am?)
Here are some random pictures of our camping trips over the years. Mostly they are Cumberland Falls and various places at the Red River Gorge. I want to say in praise of camping, being in nature like that truly heals your soul. It is a church out there, just waiting for you to be humbled in the best, most beautiful way.  (my favorite picture is the one of Davis looking over my shoulder. He is so darned cute!)