Tag Archive | peace

Following your own path–How to be a socially acceptable non-conformist

Part of being an inspirational page owner on Facebook, for me anyway, is trying to convince people that they can become authentic and they will still be loved.  It means sending out messages, often in poster form, encouraging people away from that life of quiet desperation and towards a life of their own making, full of love, joy, and happiness.  I work very hard to plant seeds that give people permission to be themselves even if it means not totally conforming to what most of us seem to think society wants from us.  I am hoping to let people know that you can become a socially acceptable non-conformist, but few people seem to trust that.

Follow the road only you know exists.

I often hear, “I would love to do this, but…,” or, “I wish I could do that, but…”  These statements are always followed by why they cannot do this, that, or the other thing, and in the end if comes down to their fear of bucking what society and the media feeds us, telling us all what we should be doing, and wanting, and attaining.  It would seem that we are all supposed to be working ourselves into the ground, squeezing our families in when we can, and most definitely, we should be trying to please everyone even if it means denying ourselves.  I used to buy into that, too.  In fact, I owned the company.  I cannot buy into it anymore and I so wish that more people understood that life is all about choices, and we DO have them in nearly every part of our lives.  The real question is, are we willing—are we brave enough to make choices that others might not agree with, or see as a little too different to fit into their comfort zones?  Are YOU brave enough, if you are living a life of quiet desperation, to make serious changes, and not to follow the pack?

I have a friend who is in her mid 70’s and I do not think she has ever known real happiness and contentment.  She worked herself silly as a younger woman and stayed in a marriage that made her miserable.  She lives in a large, gorgeous, home that is decorated within an inch of its life.  You cannot find a single surface, floor included, where there is not some piece of brick-a-brack every six inches.  Her deck has lovely patio furniture with cushions that must be brought inside every time there is a threat of rain, and under the patio furniture are rugs that get soaked when it does rain.  She is constantly on the go, doing for others at the drop of a hat, never able to relax, or just to say “no.”

If she leaves the house without being well dressed and in full make-up, she worries that people will talk about her behind her back.  When she entertains, even a barbecue, no one can relax because she cannot relax.  She has a grandson who is an absolutely wonderful, kind, giving, and grounded young man and of him she says, “Yes, but he’ll never be rich.  Not enough ambition.”  What must I look like to her, I wonder?  I wonder, but the thing is, I do not care.

She looks tired or scared a lot of the time, and every night she drinks too much.  I know at this point in life chances of her changing are slim, but how I would love to see her relax and just find the joy in herself and in life.  I would love to see her just plain happy, and yet, I used to be just like her.  I was constantly on the go, chairing this committee, or that one, or serving on this board, or that one, or more often, all of them. At the same time, I was raising a lot of very young children, and married to a surgeon which meant frequent entertaining, and when I entertained, my goal was to out do those who had gone before me.

I had to be the best at everything and as much as I truly cared about all of the things that I was doing, the reason I was doing them was to feel better about myself.  I had been raised with the notion that perfection was the only acceptable result, and I constantly missed the mark.  It got to the point, shortly before we moved from the community in which I was the go-to person for most everything, where I was out of steam completely, but found myself yelling at my husband who had already moved, “I will not leave this town with anyone thinking I am anything less than perfect!”  He had suggested I drop a thing or two and I could not conceive of doing that.  And just like my friend, I drank every night after I got the kids to bed to ease the pain of another day of being less than perfect.

Of course, that desire to be perfect was a swell cover for many pains that were far deeper, and in the end, that drive to be perfect took me into some places darker than black, and deeper than any bottomless pit, and it very nearly killed me.  However, I had to be knocked down more than a few times before I became willing to make changes in myself, and how I lived, and to be true to myself, and my temperament, and to get to the core of the pain I was hiding from with the need to appear perfect, and the drinking, and the excessive activity.  It took a lot of work, and massive amounts of courage, and a real commitment, and a long, damn, time, but I have found a place where I fully accept myself and am happy in my own skin.  When you get to that place, anything is possible, but far fewer things seem attractive, necessary, or even close to acceptable.

It is no longer attractive to me to pursue perfection.  I would be lying if I said I was totally over the need to be perfect.  The word perfect is one of my favorite words to hear, especially when it comes to my cooking, or writing.  However, I can now easily accept the phrases, “very good,” and “nicely done.”  Before, those would have been seen as insults.  I no longer find it necessary to please everyone to the exclusion of myself, nor is it necessary to say yes to every opportunity that is offered to me.  I derive my sense of self-worth from within—from God and from how I operate in this world.  It is no longer acceptable to me to strive beyond what is healthy for me, nor is it acceptable to have things I do not need, buy things I cannot afford, live somewhere that is far too big, or act like I am anyone but me–the genuine, essential, flawed, imperfect, happy, joyful, me.

Some may view me as lazy.  I know that I am anything but lazy.  Some may think that I need to acquire more things, or have more of what people think that everyone needs, like cable TV, for instance.  I do not want or need cable TV, nor does my son need anymore exposure to vile programs or inappropriate media stories than he already gets other places.  I do not need anymore things, or shoes to match this, or a handbag to go with that.  I now know exactly what I need and that is God, to love my family and friends, to work to pay the bills, and to write to honor God and the gift He has given me.  I have goals for the future that I pray will be a blessing to many, and dreams that I know I will see fulfilled.  God did not create me to be perfect, or run myself ragged in the pursuit of an illusion, or to deny myself and what He has placed in me.  Add a bit of solitude and quiet and my life could not be better.

I live a life so simple and honest that it is hard for many not to see it lacking in some way.  Yet, I know from what they tell me, that they want the same things.  It is just too scary.  The path to get there just looks too scary to take.  I had to go very far inside myself to find my path and it is only the right path for me.  Today, I encourage you to be brave enough to find your own unique path, even if it does not conform to what society wants for you.  Have the courage to go deep enough inside yourself to know who you are and what you really want and be willing to get rid of all of the rest, even if it hurts.  I encourage you towards a life of simplicity, joy, peace, and genuine happiness.  How badly do you want it is the real question?

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Love, attachment, detachment, and letting go

I have been enjoying a day of silence and solitude today, which has not been as silent as I had hoped, but without the distractions of music, or movies, or too much talk, I have succeeded in being able to listen and hear what I have been needing to hear.  I have needed clarity on the topics of love, attachment, detachment, and letting go.  These thoughts began as a tangled ball of hurt feelings and slowly I have been untangling the ball.  As the knots loosened, I saw that the feelings had to be sorted into different piles, and each pile needed to be named and understood before I could make any true progress towards my goal, which was letting go and forgiving and loving fully.

When we think of love, most of us would be quick to agree that in order to love someone there has to be an attachment to that person.  I am very attached to my children, and I love them deeply.  Siblings, friends, spouses–those people closest to us–we generally feel that in order to love them fully we need to have an attachment to them.  I certainly thought that, and yet I have been forced to realize that the notion of attachment and love may be leaving something very important and valuable out of the mix.  This became especially clear to me as I struggled to come to terms with the Biblical command to love everyone.  Most religions and spiritual disciplines teach something similar.  We are all in this together, and love is the goal we strive to reach.

Love and attachment do coexist in many good and healthy relationships, such as the parent-child relationship, ideally anyway.  The same is true with friends, spouses, siblings, and parents.  There has to be balance in the attachment.  If we become overly attached in unhealthy ways we might become clingy, or domineering, or unable to see and appreciate the person separate from ourselves.  There are those darned boundaries again that tell us where we end and another person begins.  Boundaries are unique within each close relationship, and they shift over time.  If the relationship is a healthy one, this adjusting of boundaries happens fairly easily, as we parents adjust and step back as our children grow older.

We learn to let go and trust and have faith that we have taught our children well enough that they will flourish as adults.  The attachment to the child remains secure, but a certain detachment must come into play if we are going to be able to love them for who they are, and allow them to grow into who they are meant to become.  It is not an uncaring detachment at all, and it is not easy at the start, but it is necessary to maintain healthy boundaries and love in the relationship.  It is respect at the very core of it.  Certainly, this form of healthy attachment-detachment adjusting is far easier with those we are close to, or maybe not…

What happens when someone you love hurts you?  What happens when a marriage fails, and the divorce is nasty, and love is replaced with more undesirable emotions like anger, resentment, and even hatred. The base of all of these emotions is hurt.  How do you love a perfect stranger who has repeatedly attacked you, or someone that you love deeply but who does not show you the same respect that you show them without some overlay of hurt or bitterness to muck up each attempt at forgiveness?  How do I love someone who has wounded me in ways I never dreamed imaginable?  How do I love these people fully, like the Bible tells me to, and do it with purity and compassion.  Here is where the tangled ball unravels, and the three separate piles become more clear.  Detachment is the key to loving someone who has betrayed you, abused you, or hurt you in any form.  Detachment is not an easy place to get to, though.

When I was at the height of my cyber-bullying experience I read a lot of articles on the topic so that I could better understand it, and in order to write an article myself.  One of the best things that I read told me that, while documenting everything, to take a giant step back and to become an observer of the person harassing me.  To be an effective observer, I had to detach from my own hurt.  Once I was able to do that, I saw that the woman harassing me treated everyone the same.  She lashed out easily at anyone who had the slightest disagreement with her point of view.  She often perceived that certain comments were “calling me stupid,” when nothing even close was said.  She had a hair-trigger when it came to feeling slighted, and becoming angry and aggressive.  In short, I learned that her behavior towards me truly was nothing personal.  It was just how she viewed and attacked the world.  This information was liberating is a rather smug, “Well, she is just a miserable person…” sort of way.  I stopped observing and documenting, but I had not reached compassion, love, and forgiveness yet.

To get to that place, I had to detach even further.  I had to step so far back that I was in her shoes.  I had to look at what her life must be like, and feel like.  I had to look at who she was in a relationship with, and what she was going through with her children, and grandchild.  When I looked at her life from inside her shoes my heart hurt.  I am a mother, and I know what it feels like when there are serious issues with a child.  It is scary and it hurts like hell and you blame yourself in some way or another.  I had to look at the grandchild and his behavior that so troubles my son—such anger and aggressiveness at a very young age.  Grandma has to cope with that, and that sort of behavior doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  I felt sad for her in a profound way and I finally reached a place of compassion for her, and the entire household.  With compassion comes the ability to love–the kind of love that the Bible teaches.  It does not mean I want to play in the same sandbox with her, but I no longer harbor any ill will towards her.  I love her for the hurting person that she is and that feels a lot better than anger and lack of forgiveness.

Unfortunately, I have had to use the same process recently with someone infinitely closer to me–someone who I love dearly and always will.  I had to step back and observe a lifetime of behavior on both of our parts.  I had to step back even further to get into her shoes, and feel the anger she feels, and the fear, and the sadness.  I know why she hurts, whether intentional, or not, and I know that her pain is deeper than the wounds she inflicts on me.  I have great compassion for her, and I have forgiven her.  At the same time, I have compassion for myself in a new way, and suddenly a fourth pile comes out of the mix, and into that pile goes expectations.

I would, and have, moved mountains out of love for this person.  Because I would, and have done that, I expected the same from her.  Not everyone loves like I do.  Not everyone is willing to move mountains, or feels that they even can.  I had to release my expectations–detach from them–in order to let go of the hurt and love her fully.  She can only love as well as she is doing, like my mother could only love as well as she did.  I cannot expect more.  I can expect respect, and if that is absent, I will let go with love.

Throughout this process of detaching, and observing, and stepping into another person’s shoes, I was certain that what I was doing was detaching from each individual.  To be sure, there is some truth to that.  However, today I realized that what I had really had to do in order to get to the place of love, compassion, forgiveness, and letting go was to detach myself from my own ego and pride.  I had to tie each piece from each one of the four piles together, roll the ball up neatly, and name it what it truly was–pride and ego.  If I had not detached myself from my own hurt ego, I never would have been able to step into their shoes, find compassion for them, and finally love and forgive them for who they are.

My pride and my mouth have been two of my biggest defense mechanisms when hurt.  I have been chipping away at both bit by bit, but these experiences have taken me forward with a huge leap.  I can step away from my ego and my pride and I can love and forgive as God wants me to do.  I have not given up myself in the process.  Quite the opposite, like the Grinch, I feel as if my heart has grown three sizes today.  It is a wonderful, peaceful, gentle feeling.  The silence has truly been golden. The sun will be setting soon, and I will be lighting my candles.  I am full of homemade bread and soup.  I have nothing to defend tonight.  I am free to love fully from whatever distance I choose.  I thank God for that freedom.

The fine art of pampering…

To begin with, when I said that I would be blogging less over the summer, I certainly did not think I would go this long between posts, but it has been a wild ride of a summer so far!  My daughter is officially married two weeks as of today.  She is also back from her Caribbean honeymoon.  The wedding weekend was perfect and the wedding itself was like a fairy tale, only better, because it was real.  She was a gorgeous bride and my son-in-law, who I adore, was a very handsome groom.  Best of all, I had all seven of my children in one place at the same time, which is rare these days.  My 7 year old was in heaven all weekend, flitting from one sibling group to another.  Everyone had a splendid time, and there was no “anyone-zilla” moments at any time.

Could they look any happier or more stunning? No, they could not.

Can you believe that I took this picture, and the one above? No one else can, either…

 

A professional “First Look” image by Susan Shek. (susanshek.com) If you live in the NYC area and need a wedding photographer, she is the woman for you! She did a fabulous job!

Not a single thing went wrong the entire wedding weekend.  You see, my daughter is a planner, unlike her mother.  She had everything organized so beautifully that it was seamless.  She gave me the role at the wedding of the “go to” person, something that I excel at, and I carried that role through the reception, happy to do it.  It was a weekend to remember for a very long time to come.  NYC is gorgeous in the summer, if not a little hot…

My daughter is not just a top notch organizer, she also is caring and generous, so I felt more than a little pampered during our stay in NYC.  My two daughters, the little bro, and I stayed together in a lovely suite with a full kitchen and all the amenities one could need.  On the day before the wedding, Emily took her matron of honor, her sister, and I out for manicures and pedicures.  What a treat!  During the pedicure phase, the technician was massaging my feet and asked me if I’d like a 10 minute foot massage.  Oh, it felt so heavenly that I jumped at the opportunity, and it was during this divine foot massage that I found myself fighting back tears.

These tears were not the emotions of a mother about to marry off a daughter, but of a woman realizing that despite her dedication to self care, she had forgotten entirely about the fine art of pampering one’s self.  It wasn’t self pity.  It was like life–my life for the past 12 years–passing before my eyes, as if a small part of me was dying.  I think it was the part of me that felt it needed to be punished.  In those 10 minutes, I saw, and felt as much as I could in the middle of a nail salon, what the last 12 years had been like for me as a woman.  I saw the drinking, and the rehabs, and the relapses.  I saw jails, and prison.  I saw a very bad marriage, and leaving it on my 50th birthday.  I saw the death of my brother-in-law and moves.  I also saw the healing of myself and my son and my whole family post the drinking, and the incarcerations, and the abuse of my marriage, and I saw sustained sobriety, love, peace, and a very happy life.  What I did not see was me taking the time to ever truly pamper me in that time period.  Like the weeks preceding my daughter’s wedding, I had spent 12 years moving steadily from one thing to the next to the next with little thought for niceties for myself.

Rest assured that I do not go without goodies entirely.  I have a friend who spoils me with things regularly, and my children spoil me with gifts on the three major Mom holidays—Christmas, Mother’s Day, and my birthday.  I want for nothing, except for the things that only I can give to myself like the nightly bubble bath I took for most of my life, or doing my own nails nicely, or giving myself a facial, or putting a few “Me” movies onto our Netflix queue.  No one can do those things for me, and those things are my idea of pampering, simple as they are.  How could I forget something that I used to be quite good at, like slathering myself with lotion any chance I got, or having matching undie sets?  Lack of time and money are not excuses.  I had been neglecting the one person who I need to take the best care of and that person was me.

As I mentioned, I am quite good at self care.  I eat an impeccable diet, and have my BMI well within a normal range now.  My blood pressure is normal, and I went off of my statin with my doctor’s approval and lowered my cholesterol to within normal limits in three months time.  I exercise, I have a regular bedtime and wake up time, and all of my female tests are perfect.  My body is in fine shape.  I take care of my mind by reading, writing, and playing Scrabble, I take care of my spirit by listening to music, dancing, and again, writing.  I take care of my soul by praying for an  hour every day, reading the Bible, and the devotional masters from past centuries.  I took care of my emotional needs by getting the help I needed to heal from a lifetime of trauma.  As a result, all past psychiatric diagnoses have disappeared, and I have rewired my brain to the point where I need no psych medications and have never been happier, or more at peace.  Self care is work and it takes practice, but it pays off greatly in the end.

However, self care without pampering is like cake with no frosting. The cake may be good, but it will be lacking the fullness of its delight without the frosting.  What good is a well cared for mind, body, and soul, if you do not pamper it from time to time even in the most simple ways?  I have begun again to build the habit of pampering into my life.  Being a single mom makes it harder, but not impossible.  I started yesterday by dressing up for no reason.

I have begun my nightly baths again, and bought a pumice stone for my feet.  Yesterday, I did my nails and instead of the usual messy, slap dash, job that I do myself, I took my time and made it a half day event.  I used a base coat and let it dry fully, two coats of carefully applied polish, well dried between applications, and a top coat.  I didn’t try to do a million other things with half dry nails, and what do you know?  My nails look like they were professionally done.  This morning, I gave myself a decadent kitchen cupboard facial, with a sugar and lemon juice scrub, a cocoa and oatmeal mask, and a coating of olive oil.  It took all of 30 minutes.  My feet have been moisturized twice, and do they feel happier for that small effort!

Sometimes it feels like life is about putting out fires.  We run from one fire to the next to the next to the next.  At some point, we think, “Okay, I have finally got this.  I have achieved balance.  All of the fires are under control.”  Inevitably, something comes along to show us that we have not quite “won at life” yet.  I thank God for that–for the continual opportunity to learn and grow and to make adjustments, even if the lesson that needs to be learned is a repeat of something that I used to know.  Relearning to pamper myself regularly is a lesson I know I am going to enjoy.  I hope you all will learn to enjoy it, too.  Thank you Emily for helping me to remember to pamper me, too!  Now, you all go do something nice for yourselves!