Tag Archive | happiness

Life, love, lemonade, and letting go…

I love the writing of the late Nora Ephron.  Her writing style is clean and crisp, not forced and flowery.  I especially love her personal essays.   They are honest, funny, perceptive, and often profound.   I can read them over and over again and still take away something new each time.  I love that, too.

The quote below is from an essay she wrote called Moving On.  In the essay she talks about falling in love with an apartment and the many rationalizations that she uses, not only to justify the cost of getting into the apartment, but for staying for a decade despite poor conditions and numerous rent hikes.

lemonade1

Finally, once her rent is raised by 400%, she instantly falls out of love, and finds a new place that feels like home just as fast.  These two sentences sum up so much of my life, both in terms of relationships, and many other things, as well.

I was raised to be strong.  My mother was a strong woman who had endured much and she tried to form me into her own image.  “You’re stronger than that,” she would say when I was having a tough time and it was showing.  Stronger than what, I now wonder?  Was I to be stronger than a team of oxen?  Stronger than what, exactly, is still my question.

But I am a good learner, and life provided many powerful experiences, so I got stronger and stronger.   I could, and would, endure almost anything.  It was a point of pride.  I was persistent.  I persevered, no matter what the circumstances might be.  I endured and I tolerated like few can and I rarely complained about it.   Again we go with the pride thing, as you can easily see.  Of course, all of this enduring and persevering and sticking it out and being strong almost killed me, but that was beside the point, wasn’t it?

When I left my last marriage, I swore that I would never allow myself to be in a relationship that was so unhealthy that I had slipped into a place of tolerance that is beyond all reason.  I would never tolerate such conditions and treatment again.  I would be grateful and happy and free, even if I was never in a relationship ever again.  For the most part, that has been true for going on four years now.

But then I had to go to prison.  Going in, I was determined that I was going to do prison like a champ and come out better for it.  Guess what?  I did prison like a champ and I came out far better for it.  Coming out of prison, I was determined to thrive and succeed and be completely open and honest about my past while continuing to move forward.

Within five days of my release from prison, I had found a little cottage in the woods to rent, and my little boy and I were soon moved in, and I was working, and parenting, and making it through a nasty divorced, and smiling all of the while.  Every day was like a gift.  I danced in the living room every night.  I was in love, or so I thought.

I didn’t mind having to use a sled to haul groceries and laundry down the luge run of a road.  I overlooked all of the many ways that my landlords deceived me.  I tolerated the hot water heater that allowed for a three-minute shower, and when the entire place molded last summer, I did my best to clean it up, and move on, despite my mold allergy.  I rationalized, I tolerated, and I endured.  I was a trooper, because I do “trooper” well.  In short, I fell back into old habits.

Fall of last year came, and I renewed my lease when my hopes of a better place fell through.  By the time winter hit, the bloom was long off of the rose.  The long promised new hot water heater never arrived.  It was impossible to remove the entirety of the mold in that place.  The road was poorly maintained, and I still did not have a blessed smoke detector after asking for one over four times.

My friends and family were constantly encouraging me to break my lease—that I was within my rights to do so, but I kept on enduring, mostly because I had no idea where the money for a new place would come from.  My car had also broken down again, and my little boy was in the middle of a school year.

At the same time, though, I began to finally assert myself with my landlord.  That did not go over well, and soon I found that I was being evicted.  I knew it was wrongful, and that I could fight it, but after I finally wrapped my head around the whole mess, which took a couple of weeks, I finally saw it for what it was—a rescue from God.

My tenacity and desire to persevere is so danged strong that God often has to give me the old 2×4 upside the head treatment to get me to let go of something, or someone, that he wants me nowhere near.  And so this buttercup bucked up, started a fundraiser online, and had first, last, and security deposit for a place provided in no time.

We are now living in a home right where I had been praying for years to be, on our lake, once again renting from good and honest landlords from the past.  After a year and a half in a cottage so dark that it was debilitating, we are enjoying light every day, and space to move around,  a huge  yard, lovely gardens, and the ability to stick our feet in the water and dig our toes into the sand anytime we like.

The front yard.

The front yard.

Our constant congestion, coughing, and for me, asthma, is gone now that we are away from that bloody mold.  We no longer sound like a couple of chronic lungers. That place was killing us.  We are happy, filled with joy and gratitude, and truly free.  My little depression has lifted.

The living room.  See all of that

The living room. See all of that

Life has left me with a highly developed ability to make lemonade, but I simply do not tolerate citrus.  It gives me terrible reflux.  I am done making lemonade just because I can do it especially well.  Yes, I will stay positive, and I will remain resilient, and I will look for the good, and live in gratitude of God’s grace.

The sitting area

The sitting area

However, I refuse to endure anything less than what God has finally shown me that I deserve.   I deserve all good things, including love, and I am now finally strong enough to be vulnerable enough to ask for help, let down the walls, and allow myself to be loved, by God, and by all of the beautiful people who surround me.    I am finally open enough to allow myself to be deserving of goodness, not simply enduring.  What a blessing!

Our lake!

Our lake!

To end this, having not written in so very long, I would like to thank all of the people who have nominated me for various awards, including the Very Versatile Blog Award, and The Shine On Award, a couple of time for each!   Thank you so much!

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Signs That You are Becoming an Authentic Person

I am always wary of books and such that offer promises of happiness, or whatever, in three, or five, or even seven easy steps.  Do you notice that easy steps usually come in odd numbers, but you never see nine, eleven, or thirteen easy steps?  After seven easy steps, you will see a jump to ten easy steps, because ten is a number that even those of us who hate numbers can like.  Odd numbers are good up to seven, it seems, and then we move into the realm of ten or twelve steps.

As an aside, odd numbers are also best for any kind of floral or table or candle arrangement.  You will have to trust me on this one.  If you want to give someone a balloon bouquet, pick three or five balloons, never four or six.  It just will not look as appealing, and that is your Suzy Homemaker decor tip for today.  Odd numbers win when it comes to most the most appealing decorative arrangements.

Have enough faith that you can be authentic and still be loved.

Back to the topic we go now.  I do believe that happiness is an intentional choice that you have to make every day, and that you will probably have to do a lot of work to make it an ingrained habit.  You may have to change the way you see things, and react to things.  You will have to turn those negative messages in your head into positive ones.  You will probably also have to change the way that you view yourself, treat yourself, and care for yourself.  You will have to learn to reframe life circumstances and interactions with other people.  You will have to let go of blame and grudge hold and the need to always be right.  You will have to be grateful as much as possible.  You will have to be forgiving.  You will have to get rid of old, worn out, ineffective, coping mechanisms and trade them in for new, healthy ones.  None of that stuff happens overnight.  It takes a lot of work, and willingness, and many more choices, and action, and actual change, over and over and over again.   It cannot be accomplished in three, five, or even seven easy steps.  It is an ongoing process.  Sorry for the bad news so early in the week!

The good news is that the really super cool thing about making the choice to be happy is that, along the way, you are apt to discover your authentic self, and unlock the door, and let the real you out of wherever you have been hiding yourself.  Again, you will not wake up one morning, look in the mirror and exclaim, “Oh, look!  It’s the authentic me and I look mah-vel-ous!”  It did not happen that way for me, anyway.  If it happened like that for you, I would love to hear from you because that must have been one great day, and I love to hear about people and great things happening to them.

Finding my authentic self took a lot of work, and years of peeling off layers, and digging through a lot of muck and garbage until I found the core of my personal pain.  Once I found that core– that pain– I brought it out from down in the depths of my soul and I carried it up into the light of day and then I released it.  That did not happen in one day, or even seven, or ten days.   It took a while, with rest stops along the way, and missteps, and back steps, and the Texas two-step.  Finally, I did it, though.  However, I suspect I am not fully there even now.  I do know, with completely honesty and clarity, that I am far more authentic today than I was a year or two ago, and do not even ask me to look back to three or five or seven years ago.  Gads!

If you have been sitting there reading this thinking that I am fixin’ to tell you how to become a more authentic person in three, five, or seven easy steps, I am not.  No-can-do, I am afraid.  After all, I barely know you.  We have only just met!  It would be highly presumptuous of me to think that I know the road anyone must follow to become authentic.  We are all unique.  Your road will be different from mine, and besides, I really do not recommend my route to anyone, even if I do not care for you a whole lot, because it was rough.   No, what I plan to do is give you some signs that you are becoming a more authentic person.  I do not know at this moment in there will be an even number of signs, or an odd number, so we will find out together!

1.  The first sign for me was that I truly was happier more of the time.  Because I was finally being true to myself, I was happy with the choices that I was making, and with the people who were in my life.  Good choices, good people, all good.

2.  I found that I had stopped caring what other people thought of me.  I am who I am and I worked hard to get to me, so as long as I know and feel that I am being true to myself, and am adhering to my beliefs, and enforcing my boundaries in a kind fashion, it is okay if you do not like me.  Frankly, most people do like me, and that is lovely, but I am all good with the few who do not.  I do not need to be liked by everyone anymore.

3.  I am far more honest.  Now, we all know that active alcoholics lie a lot.  It is the nature of the disease beast.  Also, as Dr. House points out, everyone lies.  However, there was a time in my life, even when sober, that I would lie because I was afraid people could not accept the truth, or that I would somehow be punished if I told the truth.  As I have become more authentic it would seem that I have also become more firm in maintaining my integrity, and I also put on my big girl panties, too.  I have no reason to lie now.  Sure, I may still be inclined to tell you that your butt does not look big in those jeans, but so few people ask me that question, it is a fairly moot point.  If I tell you that you look nice, I mean it.  I do not do false flattery anymore.  Also, if I “liked” your blog post, I did actually read it.  The flip side of this is that I have a far lower tolerance for dishonesty in others that I care about and trust.  I love myself too much to allow myself to be treated that way anymore.

4.  I no longer always need to be right.  As the adage goes, “Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy”?  I would rather be happy so I do not need to be right all of the time anymore.  I also feel very little need to become defensive when someone points out that I may have behaved in a manner that might not have been particularly wonderful.  Instead of arguing, now I simply acknowledge the truth, and say, “You’re right.  I am sorry.”

5.  I take full ownership of my behavior, be it good, or bad.  I apologize.  If the problem is squarely mine, I admit it.  I still make mistakes, I still do dumb things, I am far more human than ever, but that is okay.  People really seem to like people who are human and know it and admit it and own it.  It is more than kind of cool to be fully responsible for myself.  I do not need to blame anyone, nor am I looking for a knight in shining armor around every corner.

6.  I feel lighter—oh-so-much-lighter!  I do not have to carry around various masks and disguises to change the way I present myself to the vast number of people in my life.  I have nothing that I feel that I need to hide.  I feel bold, and colorful, and vivid, and free!

7.  You now get to be whoever you are, too.  I have no need to change anyone anymore.  I hate to see people miserable and in pain and unhappy and if you ask for my help or advice, I will give it, and if you choose another path, that is cool.  It is also cool if you choose not to change.  If you want to be unhappy then I have no right to tell you to be otherwise.  I am not inside of your head.  I do not know your hurts or your motivations.  I will pray for you, though, and you cannot stop me from doing that.

Looky!  It is an odd number!  It is a good thing, too, because had it not been seven I would have had to proceed forward all of the way to ten and that might have been stretching it.  For me, were I prone to doing stuff like cost/benefit analysis types of things, which I am not, the benefits of doing whatever you have got to do to continue to move closer to your authentic self would far outweigh the cost.

I still have a way to go yet.  I can still be too nice sometimes, if there is such a thing, and there is.  I can still hold back the truth to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, even though I am fully aware that I can present the truth in such a way that little harm will be done.  Each day I take another step forward, and that is all any of us can do.  Give me a little more time and I just might have ten signs of authenticity.  You just never know!

My Life is an Embarrassment of Riches

I have been doing a lot of thinking over the past day or two, and it has been a rather eye-opening experience.  (Yes, that is all of the smoke you have been seeing—my brain is smokin 😉 While I have known what I am about to tell you for a while, today I am feeling it all very intensely.  Sometimes it takes a while for important tidbits of information to make the long trek from my head all the way down to my heart.   As much as I am a true “feeler,” I am also highly intellectual, so I can intellectualize a lot of things for years before I actually feel, believe, and know them at the heart level.  I am having a full heart day today.

Today, I am feeling absolutely overwhelmed with gratitude, and love, and pure joy that is simply bubbling out all over the place.  I have the best life in the whole, wide, world.  I know that sounds rather cocky, but it is true.  For me, I have the best life I have ever had.  I am the most blessed person that I know, and I am also the most blessed woman alive today.  Again, I am fully aware of the cockiness of these statements, but for me, they are so inherently true that I literally ache inside with happiness and joy.

Look at that glorious sunrise! Look at those than less than stellar picture-taking skills!

I got out of prison, after a six month stay, on September 15, 2011, so it has been a little over a year now since my release.  While it became very apparent to me while I was in prison that the reason I had to go there had little to do with me, but something much greater that God had in mind, there was still a lot of fear and trepidation coming out of the prison doors.  On one hand I firmly knew that the rest of my life was going to be the very best of my life, and that was very exciting.  Over on the other hand, though, there was a lot of trembling going on.  I was walking out to a child and a car that I could not drive yet and a bag of clothing.

I had a place to stay with some lovely people, but I was technically homeless and penniless.  I was also walking out into the middle of a very yucky divorce and custody battle.  That was a very scary place to be.  I was not especially helpful to open the trunk of my car to get into some non-prison clothing only to find that mice had taken up residence in my car over the time I was away, and much of my clothing was ruined.  I have never cared for mice and this did nothing to change my opinion of them, I can tell you.  I craved a place to call home, but how would that happen?

I will tell you how that happened.  My adult children, anticipating my need, all pitched in and suddenly I was far from penniless.  I had enough money to find a place to live and to get some essentials, to boot.  No mother wants to take money from their adult children, but I knew that this was something that they wanted to do for me badly and it was my job to humble myself enough to accept their gifts.  Before I had even been out of prison a week, I had secured the perfect place for my son and I to live, with landlords that have been nothing but kind to me, even knowing my background fully.

Home!!

I realized this morning, as I prepare to sign the lease for another year, that we have been here now for a little over a year, with another year in front of us.  That is the longest we have lived in any one place since we left my marriage, and the house of horrors.  Do you know how good that feels—to have a home?  It feels absolutely wonderful, that is how it feels!  It also feels absolutely wonderful to know that in the three years since we left, we have never been cold, have always had running water, and a fully functional bathroom, and we have had those things every day since we left.  We had not had those things for a very long time prior to that.  That feels super fantastic, too, as does not having had to do a single load of laundry in the kitchen sink.  Last year, I got many random firewood drops from people just because they could, and they cared.  I was beginning to see that coming out of prison has not made my world smaller, it had made my life become much bigger than it had been in decades.

I had employment cleaning houses almost immediately thanks to a friend and word of mouth.  My writing career, which I thought would disappear while I was in prison, had only grown, expanded, and gotten better.  We have not wanted for one single thing in the past year.  New people to love and care for us were entering our lives at an amazing rate.  These are people who I can call at 2 a.m. for any reason, and sometimes I had to do that due to my inability to drive for 9 months after my release.  The people who I work for were more than happy to pick me up so that I could clean for them, but more than that, they we also happy to take me to the grocery store, or ER with a sick child, or anywhere else we needed to go.  My son now has many surrogate grandparents who adore him and spoil him and treat me like their own child, too.  Love was, and is, everywhere, and that is an intense feeling in the best possible way.

The whole fam-dam-ily, Christmas 2011

I had all seven of my children with me last Christmas.  I think it was the best Christmas of my entire life.  I will have all seven children home this Christmas, too, plus my new son-in-law, who I love.  I get all weepy just remembering seeing them all walk in the door last year.  I got all weepy then, too.  I love them so much, and they are the best children on the planet.  Smart, accomplished, yes, but much more importantly, they are kind, loving, generous, and funny as all get out!  They are all also safe after Hurricane Sandy, and all I can say to that is Thank you, God!  I love you so much!

My lovely daughter and her husband.

My oldest daughter got married last summer.  She was the most beautiful bride in the history of mankind.  Her wedding will go down in history as the most perfect, fairytale, wedding the world has even seen, and she did it all on a tight budget, too!  My son-in-law is the best son-in-law any woman has ever had, or ever will have—that is until my younger daughter gets married, then I will have the two best sons-in-law God ever created.  The wedding was a blast, and another chance to have all seven of my kids all in one place.

Don’t bug me! I am on vacation!

My little boy and I had a three-day vacation at the beach this summer.  It was a gift to us from one of the women I clean for who owns a little cottage with the most spectacular view in all of  Maine.  It was the best, and first, vacation he and I have ever had together.  We caught tons and tons of crabs who promptly ran back into the water, but when you are seven years old, that just never gets old.

Last night, I took my little zombie trick-or-treating.  There was no random, pick a neighborhood and go there, element about it this year.  We had many stops to make and we had many people we had to see—people who would have been so disappointed if a zombie had not shown up at their doorstep, or their floor at the hospital.  When you are a kid with a ton of surrogate grandparents, you get some surrogate older siblings to stand in for the siblings who are not around to go with you on Halloween.  Life just gets richer and bigger and swells with so much love that I feel like I might burst right open.

Be very afraid!!

Best of all, among all of the glorious, wonderful, fabulous things I see, I see one very happy child.  I see a child who has been through so much in his little life and he has triumphed over it all at the tender age of seven.  It was a hard-fought battle, but everyone sees the triumph now.  His principal at school sees it and tells me how happy he is this year.  He comes skipping off of the bus every day.  He is making friends.  He tells me all of the time now that he loves life.  I think he had the best Halloween of his life last night.

One very happy zombie!!

Last year at this time, I was still very much getting back on my feet.  I did not know what the world would think of a woman who had just gotten out of prison.  I started learning quite quickly that, amazingly, the world could and would think no less of me.  In fact, my world has grown in ways words cannot express, all because I went to prison.  Soon after I got out, I wrote a three-part series for Yahoo! Shine! about my prison experience.  I wrote it fearlessly, as if called to do so.  However, when I shared the first article, the fear did hit, for as many people who knew where I had been for those six months, there were many more who had no idea where I had been.

I did not know how all of those friends would react.  Those people who did not know read that article, and rather than turning away from me, I was hit with a love avalanche unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life…love and admiration.  I think it goes without saying that I have the best friends and family in the entire universe, and more and more keep coming!  The avalanche never ends, but who would want a love avalanche to end, anyway?

Once or twice in the last year, I have had someone who is just getting to know me say something like, “Oh, what a terribly tragic life you have had!”  When I have heard this, inside I was shouting, “Oh, pah-leeze!”  My life is not tragic—not one bit.  I have had some pretty intense life experiences, but God has taken each and every one of those experiences and He has woven them into something magnificent.  My life is an embarrassment of riches, and I would not trade a single one of those crummy experiences for anything in the world.  If that is what it took to get me where I am today, then all I can say again is, “Thank you so much, Lord!  I love you for everything!”

I am the single most blessed woman alive.  You can try to fight me for the rights to that title, but I am not giving it up!  I worked hard to earn that title.  In my world, I am the most blessed woman alive. You can be the most blessed person in your world, and I hope and pray that you are!  You earned that title, too!

Joel 2:25-26

25 “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
the great locust and the young locust,
the other locusts and the locust swarm[a]
my great army that I sent among you.
26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.

Coming out of the closet…

I bet you all are thinking that I was going to tell you that I am gay, right?  No, I am not going to tell you that, not that there is anything wrong with that, to quote Seinfeld.  There is absolutely not, but I am talking about something entirely different here.  I am talking about my face, which I have been hiding from you all using that worn out, stolen off Google images, avatar thing.  As you will note, the avatar is gone.  What you now see is the real me.  Go ahead.  Drink it in then shake off that stunned feeling!   It is even a very recent picture from July of this year, not something from, say, 20 years ago, which was tempting because I have a real stunner from 20 years ago.  This is the real face of OneHotMessage.  Considering everything I have put it through, as well as the rest of my body, it has held up quite nicely.  Perhaps all those years of drinking acted as a preservative and pickled me to some extent.  I guess that makes it all well worth it, right?  Saves on Botox, too, not that I would be inclined to use that unless I could afford it.  I do not frown much anyway, so I would more go for some sort of lift, but I digress.

That is water in the wine glass, just in case you were wondering 😉

When I began this blog, I was hiding.  I was not hiding from myself, but at the very first, I was hiding myself from family and friends.  Could people accept the real, authentic me, if they knew who I was??  I was not entirely sure that they could…  Then friends and family began to figure it out, which was an amusing period of time, I must say.  Every day or so, I would get a message on Facebook from a friend, “Hey Annie!!  Are you OneHotMessage??  I love you but I didn’t know it was you!!”  Like that, over and over again, people were figuring it out, and people were more than okay with me as me.  That left me hiding from my ex-husband and his family, most specifically, his current girlfriend.  They are relentless.  They found me months ago and have left many lovely, little calling cards which will never see the light of day, not on this page, anyway.

The other night, the one person I was hiding from went on a rampage all over Facebook-land while I slept.  She went from one inspirational page to another to another to another posting rubbish about me, using my full, real name, and the name of my first husband.  I like my first husband!  He has been very good to me.  We had me over last Thanksgiving when my little boy was with his father.  He sends me Omaha Steak gift packs at Christmas.  He even took in my little boy while I was in prison.  If he has never said, “I am sorry for all of what I put you through during our marriage,” he really does not need to anymore.  His actions speak way louder than words and I am good with that.

Anyway, a huge line had been crossed, and behavior I was ignoring could not be ignored anymore.  Do not mess with my Facebook page owner peeps!  Those peeps are my friends, and they had my back in a huge and amazing way, all while I slept.  It is comforting to know that people all around the globe are looking out for me so that I can sleep soundly at night.  I love my Facebook page owner peeps a lot!  Don’t you dare be all up in their grill, or I might have to be all up in your grill….that’s probably a line from a movie, but it fits.  So, I called the police, because Facebook could really care less if someone is stalking you and harassing you, and amazingly, the sheriff that I spoke with did care!  And he did take some action! ” Wow”, I said to myself.  Yes, I do talk to myself.  You may as well know that about me, too.

After I got all the documentation to the police department, I was rather worn out, so I took the night off from thinking.  Today, I turned my brain back on and a comment a friend had made to me kept ringing in my ears.  At my age, that could be almost anything, so I dismissed until this evening, when it was quiet, and I could be certain it was not sudden onset damage from too much vacuuming.  The comment was this, “See how much power you still give her, even though you ignore her?”  Her, being the not-so-sweet-girlfriend.  Yup.  I see.  I totally see that as clear as day now and I am not giving her another drop of my power, and baby, I ain’t hiding from anyone ever again!  (Unless, it is like some deranged ax murder that pops out of the bushes down here, or some creditor from my less than stellar financial past. )  I have been to prison and survived!  I am a prison chick now.  Ain’t nobody gonna scare me off from being me, or showing my face anymore.   Fo Shizzle, as one of my kids might say.

So, this is me and I love me.  My name is Ann LeSuer.  I am a real person who is well-loved by many and who is afraid of no one, except for the aforementioned collections people, but I really do not have much to fret over in that department now, either.  Another friend told me yesterday that I need to show my sense of humor more on my blog.  Apparently I am a riot.  It is hard to be a riot and talk about really deep and serious issues, but I will give that a go, too.  She said my sense of humor was “pure fold.”  I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about until she corrected herself.  “Pure gold,” she said.  That is my life in a nutshell.   Loving, caring, accepting, friends far and wide, family, God, everything.  I have got the full meal deal and it is pure gold.  Here I am now looking out at all of you with my own face, through my own 53-year-old eyes, and you are all pure gold, too!

The art of just being—Safe in your own skin

Several weeks ago I sprained my ankle.  I have a trick ankle–(I have always wanted to call some body part a trick whatever ;-)–but the only trick that this ankle does is to randomly give out from time to time.  This ankle has given out so many times in my life that I have lost count.  The last time it had happened was two and a half-year prior, and before that three of so years prior, only that time the trick had me tumbling down a flight of stairs and left me with a foot broken in two places.  Of course, the break took priority over the weak ankle, so I never mentioned it to a doctor, nor had I ever treated it properly when it is sprained.  This last time though, I quit what I was doing fairly soon after I had hit the ground, and instead of trying to carry on as I normally would have, I told my client I could not finish.  I went straight to the store and bought two bags of frozen peas, some ibuprofen, and an Ace bandage.

Once I was home, I wrapped the ankle, took some medication for the pain and inflammation, and I elevated my ankle and iced it every two hours and I did this for four whole days.  It was a bad sprain.  My son was with his father that week, so I could actually take care of my poor ankle the way I knew I should have been care for each and every time.   I learned a lot during that time I was laid up.  In the past, I had always hated being laid up.  I am a mover and a shaker.  I had a friend who once told me, many years ago, that even when I was sitting perfectly still, it was as if I was vibrating.  I chalked that up to being a high-strung, expressive, high energy person, and to some degree, I believe that is true.  But these days, I am not strung nearly as high as I used to be.  These days, I can just be.

I had no problem at all laying in bed with my foot up for hours while I read.  I greatly enjoyed laying on my couch just thinking while I iced my ankle.  I felt relaxed and I feel comfortable with just being and I felt more than comfortable with taking care of myself properly.  I felt at peace.  It was lovely.  Of course, I had a lot of time to think and I realized that even two years ago I might not have been able to give myself this  type care.  In fact, I am certain I would not have been able to, and three years ago, there would have been no way I could have held still for even twenty minutes to ice my ankle.  What had changed after a lifetime of moving and shaking?  I finally felt safe in my own skin, and I finally felt safe to be myself fully, and that has only happen in the last year or so.

I thought back to three years ago.  It was shortly after I had left my marriage and I felt happy and free, but I was not relaxed.  I loved where my son and I were living, and I was making life changing choices, but I was wound so tightly that, in retrospect, I am surprised I survived.  I kept having random panic attacks that just came out of nowhere, like the great heart attack that wasn’t a heart attack incident on Thanksgiving night of 2009.  My kids had been home, and we had enjoyed a splendid evening, and a wonderful meal.  With the exception of my little boy, they had gone off to their Dad’s, and I was downloading pictures when I began to have chest pains.  I finally called 911, and there was an ambulance ride, and my adult sons came back over to fetch their brother, and in the end it was all anxiety. As I told the ER doctor, “I think I really just need a good cry.”  After my EKG and lab tests were fine, he agreed, and sent us all home.

The stress of that time still floors me when I think about it.  I had left a hideous marriage with nothing but a child and  duffel bag of clothing.  I knew I was going to prison and I knew I had a horrible divorce to look forward to getting through.  On the outside, I looked fine, but on the inside I was terrified and stressed beyond what most people could handle.  One night I was knitting and I realized that I was sitting perched on the edge of the couch.  I then realized that I never sat back.  I could not relax enough to do more than perch anxiously on the edge of the couch.  When I laid my head on the pillow at night, I had to consciously relax my neck enough so that my head was actually on the pillow, not hovering over it.  Amazingly, I thought I was doing really well at the time, too.

Now I have survived the divorce from hell and all ended well.  I survived prison and while in prison, I got to the core of my pain from age 5 forward and I uncovered my authentic self and have learned to love, respect, appreciate, and care for her—for me.  I know now that the all of that high-strung, ever-moving, vibrating person was me working as hard as I could, with all the power that I had at my disposal, to contain a lifetime of unexpressed emotions and pain.  I certainly expressed emotions, but not the ones that needed to be expressed, and I certainly felt pain, but I drank to cover that up so I could go on for another day holding everything in and functioning to the best of my ability.

Those two years prior to going into prison were like transition in labor.  Things had kicked into high gear, and everything that I had been repressing was screaming to get out, but there was no safe place yet.  Prison was the safe place where there were two very safe people to guide me through the birth of myself and the pain that accompanied the birth.  Now I have no problem just being.  When I work, I work hard, and I move fast, but a lot of the free-floating, hard to contain, frenetic energy is gone.  I do not have to work anymore hold in pain, or sadness, or anger.  It is gone, for the most part, and anything new that crops up is dealt with promptly and easily.  I can and do take care of myself now.  I have no problem setting limits, and it is becoming easier for me to say “no” when I need to say it.  I feel safe because I know it is me who keeps me safe with proper boundaries, kindness, and self-love which is something I denied myself for a very long time.

When I had returned to work after my sprained ankle one of my clients said, “Well, you had a nice little break, didn’t you?”  The comment came from a woman who cannot care for herself to save her life, and the comment was intended to induce guilt.  In the past, I would have felt the need to defend myself, or to justify my actions.  This time I said nothing because I knew I did not need to justify caring for myself.  I just glanced at her, smiled, and kept working.  After a bit, she said, “You really needed to do that, though, didn’t you?  You needed to take care of yourself.”  I replied, “Yes, I did.”

I need to care for myself every day and I will continue to do it, even if some do not understand.  I am safe in my own skin.  I can just be now and that is a miracle.  The true beauty of it all, though, is the fact that now that I allow myself to be me, and I care for myself, everyone else gets to be whoever they are and that is okay.  The only person I have to live with 24/7 for the rest of my life is me.  I get top priority now and by ranking myself that way, everyone in my life benefits greatly.  What a blessed thing it is just being me–finally.  It was well worth the wait.

Taking Out the Trash–Thoughts on Asking for Help

About ten days ago I was on my way to clean a house when my friend, El, from Running for Hell with El called me.  As we chatted, I told her that I felt blocked in some way, but I just could not put my finger on what it was, or how to clear it.  She agreed with me, saying that she had sensed the same thing in me and she told me when she had been there herself she wrote her way through it.  We ended the conversation and I went in to do my cleaning.  I know the family that I was cleaning for very well and was happy to see their grandson there.  He has been very good to us over the past year.

Stop holding onto what no longer serves you.

I was downstairs dusting when something hit me out of the blue and caused me to pause in my tracks.  You see, in my lovely screened porch at home I had a huge pile of trash that had overtaken the porch.  Back when I could not drive, it was impossible to get to the dump, and when someone dropped over it seemed less than hospitable to say, “Thank you for dropping by.  Would you mind taking a bag or two of trash with you when you go?”  Many people had offered to help me, but those offers kept falling flat with no results, so I became afraid to ask for help and went into paralysis mode.   My molehill of literal garbage had grown into a mountain and I had no idea what to do with it all.  I hid it.  I walked past it as quickly as possible.  I stopped cleaning out my refrigerator because I did not want to add to the pile.

It was avoidance of the highest degree.  I was afraid to ask for help because I had needed to ask for help so many times the previous year that I did not want to feel like a burden again.  Yet, no one had ever told me I was a burden…  They had been telling me that they missed that time we had together with them shuttling me around.  Suddenly, as if I had been overtaken by some other force, I bolted up the stairs, sat down at the table with the grandson and blurted out, “Matt, I need help!”  I explained my situation, and his grandmother waved us off in his truck after we had grabbed some black garbage bags and work gloves.

Getting the garbage bagged up and into the truck was messy, smelly, business.  It was all in kitchen trash bags, but things had started to get into the bags.  Some bags leaked all over us and clear through our work gloves.  I picked up one leaky bag that had a stench that could only be one thing.  I tried to assure Matt that we do not throw out our own bodily waste, but the smell was unmistakable.  As Matt kept telling me he had seen, and cleaned up much bigger messes, I thought back and realized that while our cat had not used the litter box in over six months, at some point I did have to clean her litter box regularly.  Bingo on the smell, and damn to the dawning of just how long I had been hiding from my garbage all because I did not want to ask for help yet again.  As we prepared to leave for the dump, I ran inside and gutted the contents of my refrigerator, and grabbed clean clothes and shoes.  We took my trash to the dump, and back at grandma’s house, I changed my clothes and washed my other clothes and shoes while I finished cleaning her house.  I already felt so much lighter and while I knew I had a big clean up job once I got to my own home, I was excited!

Once home, I munged out the porch area, which was no easy task, but it was fully cleaned, floor washed and all, by the time my son got home from school.  He was happy to see the change.  I then embarked on the refrigerator clean up, which was relatively quick and easy, then I washed that floor.  After my son left to go with his father that evening, I took the most blissful shower, knowing that I was actually filthy for a change.  It felt so good.  I made dinner and celebrated by dancing in my porch that night and sitting out there and looking at the stars.  I went to bed truly exhausted and sore, but happy…really happy.

The next day, as I was driving along I found myself doing something I had not done in some time.  I was noticing the beauty all around me, and proclaiming it out loud to myself.  I passed a few trees starting to turn for fall–“Oh, those are so beautiful,” I exclaimed out loud.  As I passed this or that I kept hearing myself commenting out loud.  “Oh, I just love that!” popped out, and “That is so neat.”   On it went as I drove back home.  The block was gone and what was being blocked by my mountain of garbage and my fear of asking for help was my true and natural ability to appreciate all of the beauty in life.  Let’s face it, who would not be blocked in some way by a mountain of garbage they were pretending did not exist, yet we do it all of the time.  Be it literal garbage, or the metaphorical garbage that we let pile up in our lives, most of us do it.

We hold onto the past far too long.  We nurture anger, hurts, grudges, and tolerate bad behavior in others far after those emotions and people have anything to offer us.  We get so stuck and so blocked by all of the garbage we carry around inside of ourselves that we find it impossible to move forward in any meaningful way.  We feel tired all of the time, stressed, unhappy, and we stop seeing the beauty all around us because our view is so tainted by the garbage we are working so hard to ignore.  Trust me, it takes a lot of work to ignore garbage, be it literal, or metaphorical.   It can suck the life right out of us, but we avoid it, and we are afraid to ask for help to get rid of it because we do not want to be seen as weak, or less than perfect, or we do not want to burden anyone, or a combo platter of the three.

Yet, we were created to be relational beings.  We were created to help each other, and we were created to make mistakes and have emotions that we need to share with others so that we can fully get rid of them.  I know how much of a blessing it is to me when I can help someone for no reason other than to help them.  I had forgotten what a blessing others get by being asked to help.  Whenever we fail to ask for help in getting rid of our garbage we are withholding the chance for another to bless us.  That other person could be a friend, a clergyman, or a counselor.  It makes no difference what their title is, or their role in your life.  If you are avoiding a mountain of garbage that is obscuring your view of the all of the beautiful things in life, ask someone for help.  Life is simply too absolutely gorgeous to waste a minute more trying to hide from your garbage.  Take a chance.  Be bold.  Be a blessing and bless someone else.   Ask for help and take out the trash.  Whatever you have allowed to become a mountain is water under the bridge but it continues to block your view.  Get rid of it.  The view on the other side of the mountain is magnificent!

The illusion of safety… My very personal thoughts on 9-11, eleven years later.

Today is the eleventh anniversary of the tragedy of what we all call 9-11 with full understanding of what those numbers mean.  It was the day that we in America learned that we were not safe in a cocoon, as we had believed we were.  We learned that terrorists could attack us on our own soil.  We learned that the world was a scary place and that hate was all around us.  It had been there all along, we were all just in our happy little bubble, and that bubble got popped horribly that day.

Many responded with love and a sense unity, even in the face of utter shock, pain, and disbelief.  Other went straight into anger and hatred.  I firmly believe that being angry at something evil is a natural response that has its place.  Hatred is never good.  I think it was far more upsetting for me to see people who I called friends screaming in rage at the “rag heads,” than it was to realize that America had been attacked.  It was easier for me to know that other countries held such hatred towards America than to see and feel the hatred in those close around me, for as much as America’s bubble had been burst, my own, personal, illusion of a bubble of safety had been shattered beyond repair.

From the time I was a child, because I had experienced so much trauma, and had never felt adequately protected by those who were supposed to be protecting me, I had built for myself a world where everyone was good, and kind, and loving, and worthy of respect and trust.  While this was a totally unconscious mode of operating, it served its purpose, which was the creation of the illusion of a safe world full of safe people.  Living in a world of my own making allowed me to continue to feel safe and secure in spite of repeated traumas.  I guess that might be seen as the good side of it.

However, the bad side was that this illusion of safety all around me left me wide open for repeated abuse at the hands of unsafe people.  I would forgive, and forget so well it would come as a completely surprise to me each and every time the same person did the same damned thing to me yet again.  Others in my life would say to me, “Does this surprise you?  That he did that?”  Yes!  It absolutely did surprise me time after time!

I had become so adept at disconnecting from my own experiences, and from all traumatic events, that they would literally vanish from my memory almost instantly.  This illusion of a safe world that I had created for myself made me deaf, dumb, and blind to the bad behavior of others, while sinking so deep into the shame of my own bad behavior that my world nearly became one of, me= bad, everyone else=good.  At the core was me, and my pain, and my shame, and I was surrounded by a very thick, many layered, wall that served to protect me by distorting my perceptions of life events so severely that it was like looking out at the world through a small slit deep within a dark bunker.  What I saw through that slit in my bunker was a bubble gum and rainbow world of my own creation.  I was safe.  I was protected.  In my dreams…

On September 11, 2001, that bubble I did not even know existed blew apart.  In the aftermath, my relapse, already in motion, though I was sober at the time, took off in ways that still mystify me, though far less now, than then.  Back then, I was exposed, and angry, and there was a part of me that I was unaware of who said, “Screw it.  If I am not safe here in America, I am safe nowhere.”  My drinking took off like a wild-fire fueled by high winds, and suddenly I was doing things that were the polar opposite of safe.  I was driving drunk…something that would have appalled me before, and appalls me now beyond words.

I was not just getting drunk and finding myself driving.  I was getting in the car with the intent of getting drunk while driving.  As much as it pains me to type this, as much as it disgusts me to remember that time, I now know that, finally, a lifetime of anger was beginning to come out in a very extreme, and very sideways way.  I know I did not want to hurt anyone else.  I am not certain if I even wanted to hurt myself, but some damned part of me was hell-bent on destruction.  I thank God every day that I did not kill anyone else during that time, or myself, for that matter.  Of course, I got caught time and again, and this led to arrests, and jail time, and a halfway house, and finally sobriety that was nothing short of deliverance—pure divine intervention–in the midst of my awful marriage.

As ugly and awful all of it was, it was necessary.  The walls were slowly being broken apart, brick by brick, and my view began to widen.  The disconnect remained, but I became fully aware of it.  It was while I was in prison, with the help of two wonderful women, both specialists in the areas of trauma and addiction, that the walls came down completely.  I came to fully see the illusion I had created, that safe, happy, pretty, world that was supposed to protect me, but in reality had left me so unsafe in more ways that I can explain.  Then one day, while spending time with one of these wonderful women, these words came out of my mouth:  “I am safe.  I can protect myself.”  At 52 years old, I finally realized that I could live fully in the world, as unsafe, and ugly as it may seem at times, and that I—me–I could protect myself.  To me that was the revelation of a lifetime.

A year later, I know now that most of us have some form of an illusion of safety, and in reality, the concept of safety is always an illusion.  We can wear our seat belts, and lock our house and car doors, we can wear helmets and pads, and eat well, and exercise, and watch our children very closely, and still, safety is an illusion.  At any moment, within a second, something—anything–can happen that will shatter our illusion of safety.  I pray for protection for my children and friends and loved ones every day, and yet I know that should I forget to say those prayers until noon on a certain day instead of saying that prayer as soon as I open my eyes, that God has still been protecting my loved ones without me uttering those words.

I can protect myself, but only up to a point.  The reality of it is that it is all in God’s hands and it always has been.  There is no other way I would still be alive were this not the case.  I still wear my seat belt, and watch my child, and say my prayers, but in the end, God’s plans are bigger than mine and I am happy to have it that way.  I know that safety is an illusion, but I absolutely refuse to live a fear based life.  In so many ways, knowing that there is no real safety, expect in the arms of God, has allowed me to live a much fuller, happier, and far more carefree life than I have ever lived before.  I no longer am ruled by what others think of me.  If I want to dance in my living room, I dance.  I will never be a huge risk taker, no matter what my arrest record might lead some to believe, but I refuse to wall myself off from the world again.

Yes, I can protect myself in an intelligent way now, but what my intelligence, and my heart tells me to do most of the time is to love as much as I can, and feel as much as I can and live as freely, openly, and peacefully as I can.  I am who I am.  Love me or hate me, I know God loves me.  Like Cramer, I am going commando now.  I am out there in this not-so-safe-world, and loving every minute of it!  God has got this.  I am at peace now.