Wednesday, November 16, 2016

pause

I had tried to write a blog each day in November, but the election threw me through a loop.

Last Wednesday I deleted Facebook from my phone. I haven't read much of the news. Everybody wants to talk about it, but every time I think about it I feel overcome with fear, disgust and depression. I don't want to talk about how pissed I feel, I don't want to go out and protest. I don't want to sign petitions or try to understand. I just want to ignore it. For my own mental health, so I can wake up in the morning and not feel like I am living in a dangerous foreign land, so I can focus on what is right in front of me, in the moment, not an impending four years of terrifying social and political unrest. Simply existing sounds good.

Currently, I'm existing in Hilo Hawaii. I brought Dan and Liz here for Dan's birthday, today. We arrived Monday the 14th, and we leave Monday the 22nd. A full week of slow moving life. Lots of reading and sunbathing and walking in the warm rain and filling ourselves with delicious Hawaiian meals and exploring volcanoes and hiking and taking pictures and stargazing. Pausing. Observing life. Being a witness to the natural world. Cycles. Listening. Getting back to a place of wonder and curiosity.  Smiling at strangers. Slapping mosquitoes. Going to bed early and waking up early to kiss and drink coffee in bed. Watching the cruise ships go by from the patio. Following the funny business of the geckos. Outdoor showering. Being in the absolute stillness of the moon rising over the eastern horizon. Listening to the rap battle of neighboring roosters.  Falling asleep to the deafening call of millions of coqui frogs in unison. No makeup. No hairspray. Just freckles and a sense of adventure. Celebrating my amazing companion and giving my daughter a new world to explore.

Silently and slowly grieving. 

I don't think I'm going to get back on Facebook for a while. The weight of where I am in life and love finally feels light and manageable. I am resilient and strong. I know what I need to do and what to focus on, and lighting my torch and picking up a pitchfork ain't it. 

I am going to spend some time and invest in my physical health as my mental health picks up muscle mass. I am going to spend more time in creative spaces where life and love flow through me and out towards the universe. Expansion. Growth. More writing, more hula hooping, more painting. More kissing. More being present. Picking up weights and putting them down. Picking up speed on my bike. Picking up more work. Picking up more skills.

Living strong. Moving on.


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Do-Over

If you could push a button and go back to a place in your own personal history and start over from there, with all the wisdom you have now, would you?

I think most of us would say, "No, I've gotten to where I am because of the struggles and I fought hard to be where and who I am today."

But as I sit here typing this, and my house is a disaster, my 15 year old is pissed at me for grounding him, my credit is shot to hell, I have two failed marriages, an estranged family, and just feeling overall frustrated, it's pretty tempting to push the button and start over.

I have fought hard to be where and who I am today, and most days I feel good about who I am. When I'm not riddled with self-doubt, shame, fear and insecurities, I feel like a pretty amazing person. I genuinely like who I am. I may not be a super engaged friend, or a disciplined mom, and in general find myself to lean towards codependency in relationships, but the power and strength of who I am underneath all that makes up for it.

My big regret in life so far has been that I never took the time to develop who I was as an individual, and invested in adventures and challenges as a young adult. I wish I would have traveled more, or gone to college unencumbered from the weight of a family. I wish I would have been more self-aware before I got married and sucked into the church. I wish I would have healed more from my childhood before having my own children.  In that regard if I could go back and start over, I think I would feel more whole now. I think I'd be a better, more attentive and disciplined mom. I think I wouldn't have to deal with the same shit over and over again in my relationships. I think I would feel less codependent and more confident. I think I'd be braver and stronger and healthier.

I know it's not too late, and I'm doing a lot of thinking about how I can work on all of that now, being 42 and having a house full of kids and a new relationship. But it's hard when I don't feel like I have much time for myself, and the chaos of life keeps me barely functional.

I'm grateful for the life I have today, regardless. I'm healthy, my kids are healthy, everyone knows they're loved and we all have plenty to eat and have lots of fun. Even if I can imagine having had a better future, there's nothing to do to change that, and I don't like the idea of living in regret, but pushing forward to make the next 42 years exactly how I want them. That's the beauty of being a more self-aware adult. I get to make the decisions for me and my future. Hopefully those decisions are more about me, and less about the fulfillment of joy for everyone else.


Sunday, November 6, 2016

Stuck in Time

When I think back over the course of the past few years, it's easy for me to identify certain events, aha moments, or experiences which tapped into my acute stress response. My fight or flight. That trauma-source place where your primitive senses take over and you take up your armor or your sword.

It's that place in my brain that gets lit up in response to a trigger of threat, real or perceived. That neuropathway is well-trodden and heavily used, and because it's an automatic response, when that freight train gets chugging down that track, it's nearly impossible to stop.

I think initially, my response to feeling abandoned as a kiddo probably laid down the path. I responded to feeling abandoned by forming a belief that I wasn't worth fighting for. So now during arguments, or just hard feelings in relationships, I automatically fire up the freight train. Toot toot. Here we go again!

Once the train starts, I typically just have to let it run it's course. I do try to keep my logical brain fired up too, so that it can combat the illogical feelings of fear and rejection and unworthiness that my brain signals are firing to me. To be honest, it's easier to believe I'm a useless pile of shit than a magnificent creature worthy of wars and love. The voices inside my head that accompany those events are loud and believable. Assholes.

Fortunately, I've done some work in the arena of self awareness, and can recognize that my fear response is just that...a response. I don't have to see it through to take an action which would only reinforce that response. Instead, I try to take actions that combat that response. I remember I have relationships where I feel cherished and well loved.  I remember that I am only having that response because of an old and tender wound that occurred when I was so small and very illogical. And now I'm older and wiser and can calm myself down and move through the scary feelings like an adult who knows whatever happens, I'll be okay. And it helps to have a very strong belief in my general badassery.

But it's still hard when you're in it.

Having the awareness is one thing; stopping yourself from revisiting the old familiar pal of pain and playing with the devils in your brain is another.

It is actually really useful for me to see this process in action in other people. It gives me perspective, especially if they don't realize their train is crashing through towns and obliterating countrysides. Interestingly, when I encounter people with those extreme responses, they don't seem to recognize what's going on. Or they know it's happening, and they've been doing it that way for so long, they don't recognize there might be another way. They're stuck in time of that original injury.

When I think about the times I felt triggered in the last few years, I recognize I had the awareness, I was awake, but I didn't do enough to direct my life, and let my anger and emotions guide me to incredibly unhealthy places. Places I'm desperately trying to get out of now. Patterns of negative self talk, numbing myself, a general mistrust of others, a thickened veil of pessimism, anxiety, impatience, selfishness, walls for days. That's what happens when you stay in a toxic place longer than you should and you start believing the voices too much. 

Being in a healthier relationship is helping. I won't say it's completely healthy because I'm not working at full health yet, so that would be a false statement. I'll say I'm healing and growing and trying to stay in a place of objective observation. Noticing without judging. And being with someone who *feels* healthy is helping me be healthier, I know that. It feels safe, and my bulging set of emotional luggage is being properly unpacked through a regimen of self-nurturing, loving relationships, helpful books, positive reinforcements and just being more gentle with myself.

I recognize that I may never get rid of the little gremlins who were born in my darkest days as a youngster. But I can validate them by acknowledging they're there, tell them to be quiet, and order them to hand over the train keys. Sounds easy, right?









Saturday, November 5, 2016

Losing my mother

I wasn't raised with religion. I was always attracted to church and the idea of god, but it wasn't something that was a cornerstone of my upbringing.

I got married to Chip at 18, and Andy was born when I was 22.

After we got married, we quickly became involved with Chip's dad's church and Amway group, and were pretty immersed in that cult-like environment for about 5 years. When Chip wanted to go to college, he decided he wanted to step away from the church, and reluctantly, so did I. And after beginning to attend classes as well, I realized how brainwashed I had been about people who didn't believe like I did. My mind opened up, and so did my heart. What happened in the process is that we both stopped practicing or believing in god. We lost our entire friendship network and community.

My mom had gotten married around the same time that Chip and I did, and they were both deeply involved in the same church and Amway group as us. When we stepped away from all of that, it caused a huge rift in that part of my family. We decided to just not discuss religion or Amway, as a way to not compromise our individual belief systems, in order to keep the peace.

That worked for a long time, but when Andy came out as gay, and then Liz as trans, we slowly lost touch with them, and our communication became less and less frequent. My mom lived on the other side of the country for a while, so we never saw them. When they moved closer, to Montana, I thought maybe they'd come over and visit, but they never did.

I can't blame my mom solely for the lack of communication and distance in our relationship. I didn't reach out to her much either, with the busyness of life and also I knew she didn't approve of the kids alternative paths, and honestly I didn't want to expose them to the rigid dogma of their lifestyle either. So, we drifted.

The times that we did talk about the kids, or Reggie and me being in an open relationship and us both having girlfriends (that was a hell of a conversation!), she made sure I knew that regardless of her disapproval, she loved us all and wanted us to be happy.

When Liz found herself in a transportation pickle this summer coming back from Alaska, she and I looked for places where she could stay for 4-5 days until her scheduled return home flight. My mom had just moved to Alaska, so I asked her.

She responded with an email that basically said, she loved us, but she couldn't allow Liz to stay with them. Her beliefs were such that she feared judgement from god if she associated with Liz.

At first I was angry. She would let her granddaughter be stranded for 5 days because of the possibility that god might judge her for allowing her into her home.  Not only did she reject the idea for her own home, but she also stated that Liz wasn't welcome into my grandfather's home either. She did later text to tell me my aunt could use mileage points to get her a ticket home. I was so sad and disappointed, but on some level I think I knew she'd feel that way.

I took some time to respond, I didn't want to be angry or unkind, and I wanted to process everything and give the kids a chance to chime in with their thoughts. Liz didn't really care all that much, because of the absent relationship she and all the kids have had with my mother for the past 6 years anyway. It didn't feel like a huge loss, because...there was nothing to lose.

The bigger issue that we all agreed on was that there was a loss for me. And that loss wasn't something I was going to take lightly.

After talking with the kids and having some good heart to hearts with Dan as well as Chip, I sent my response to her. Essentially I said being transgender isn't a choice. That I don't think she understood what being transgender even *is*. As far as I know, she thinks Liz is a drag queen or something. I tried to explain it the best I could. Then I said that I wouldn't permit her to pick and choose which of my children she could accept in her life, and in choosing to ostracize my daughter, she is losing us all. Package deal. I tried to be compassionate, because honestly my mom isn't an evil, heartless person. She is brainwashed by a religion that tells her it's okay to reject her family because they don't believe the same things she does. She is devout to that believe. And she's honestly afraid for her mortal soul. Fuck, I can't blame her for that. The point I tried to make with her was that it was a choice for her to believe in god, and it was a choice for her to deny my daughter a safe place to stay in a time of need. Liz never made the choice to be trans. Liz makes the choice every day to honor who she is by presenting as a female. I would NEVER in a million years ask her to stop doing that because I felt uncomfortable/offended by it. Liz is a girl. Bottom line.

She has messaged me a couple of times, saying that she loves us.

I think I'm still processing it all, so I'm never sure how to respond. I did tell her I love her and she will always be my mom.

I'm still angry and incredibly hurt. I'm so disgusted by religion and how it tears individuals, families, communities and countries apart. I'm sad for her. I'm sad for us all.

I hope that eventually, maybe, she'll meet someone who is trans, and that will change the way she thinks of it all, and maybe she'll come to find out that it's not weird or harmful and want to have a relationship with us all again.

The real kicker for me is that she is MISSING OUT on knowing these beautiful kids. She is missing opportunities to connect and understand and love on them. She is missing opportunities to show them how beautiful and connective religion *can* be. How Christianity, unmolested, is really supposed to be about compassion, love, peace, honoring each other, being neighborly, and not judging anyone, because we are all "sinners".  Instead, she is missing seeing them sprout up and grow to be taller than her, she is missing their deepening voices, missing hearing about their art and music and jiu jitsu and astronomy and school progress and all their love interests. She is missing being an important and special person in their lives.  She is missing them growing up. They'll all be adults soon, and especially now, one right after the other, they are about to fly the nest in short order.  They are missing out on knowing her, her sweet calm, loving nature. Her innocence and nurturing presence. Her playfulness and amazing cooking. They are missing out on learning about quilting and knitting and hearing her stories of her own adventures of youth and travel and love and regret. They are missing her wisdom, her support. We had all of that for a long time. We haven't had that since Max was only 2, when they moved away. 

I'm grateful that she still has relationships with my sister's children. I'm glad they get to enjoy whatever benefits they might get out of those connections. I can't say I'm not bitter about our loss, but I'm choosing to fight to stay in a place of peace about it all, knowing I did the right thing for my children and our family. I'm trying really hard to stay in a place of compassion. But it's hard.

In so many ways, it almost feels like she died. I'm grieving the loss of the potential of my relationship with her, and the potential my kids had with her. Until she comes around to a place of acceptance, or at the very least tolerance...there's not room for reconciliation. I honestly don't see that happening.

This whole experience has given me a lot of perspective, and I've come to respect Chip's folks more, who are about as conservative as you can get, but even *they* wouldn't reject Liz or Andy because of how they live and who they are. It just goes to show, you can love and care for people and be in their lives, and still not agree with how they live.

I wish my mom could that.





Friday, November 4, 2016

Conscientious Connections

I remember when I first met Dan, I was in the process of a huge mental transition when it came to seeking out connections, which also became the foundation of my now profession, Date Coaching.

It happened when Reggie moved out and I was frustrated with dating. It always felt like when I went out on dates there was this expectation that the other person had of me, and terrified of disappointing anyone, I sought to meet it or exceed it. Totally inauthentic, and also a sad and empty experience for me.

After he left, I decided to spend a few months alone to contemplate who I was and what I wanted, and who I wanted to be with. I didn't want to spend another moment being someone's fantasy or a representation of their desires. I'm good at reading people, so it's an easy thing for me to do, reading someone, figuring out what they want, and then becoming that. I don't have to tell you it always ended up with my own unhappiness.

Instead, I spent a few months doing individual counseling, parsing my thoughts, recovering from the break up, writing, seeing a hypnotherapist (who ended up being an amazing counselor instead of what I hired her for), and also figuring out who would be the right partner for me.  This, in stark contrast to "how can I be the best partner for this person" mindset.

I was also interested in people's stories and learning more about life, other than what my little bubble had provided in terms of experience. I wanted to expand, and grow and take in the wisdom of others. In that vein I decided to take a different approach to dating. Instead of showing up as a mirror, or an avatar of desire, I showed up as a witness. I tapped in to my curiosity. I removed myself almost completely from the picture, in order to really be present and hear the other person. This felt less threatening and intimidating than an actual date, where I was used to being "on" and "perfect". I wanted to observe, to hear, to learn. I wanted stories and to break out of my sheltered shell.

This approach served as an amazing tool of connection. When you show up authentically to meet someone where they are, and can hold an empathetic space for another human being to share their story with you, it is profound. They are open, they are vulnerable. That allows you to do the same and be authentic in your own experience.

So I show up to this date with Dan, having been a few weeks into this new approach: just being curious with no expectations.

I thought his initial message was flirty and cute, but what I was really fascinated with was his passion that came across so strongly in his profile. I wanted to observe it in real time.

What ended up happening was, he walked up, and my heart dropped. I forgot all about being an objective observer. While I was still very much interested in him and his experience, (and what I learned through our conversation that first night was how similarly our experiences thus far had been), I also wanted him to know I was more than a curious observer. I wanted to share all of my stories with him, and I also couldn't keep my paws off of him in that tight red sweater showing all of his bulging muscles.  Being objective and curious is great when there's no sexual attraction...

Taking that approach DID help me connect more authentically with him, and to be honest, it's been revolutionary in terms of my friendships and everyday encounters. I think taking the curiosity approach does work in terms of authenticity because it invites genuine connection. Instead of approaching each other as perfect potential mates or just perfect people, you approach each other as fallible humans seeking validation, visibility, and a desire to be experienced. In that especially intimate space, if there IS an underlying connection, you've laid the groundwork for showing up as a unique individual, with your own specific desires as needs. POWERFUL SHIT, FRIENDS.

Curiosity is the fuel for connection. It releases the ego and allows for empathy to flow through us. It shuts out that judgemental voice that encourages disconnect and separation. In the end, we are all trying to find our community, our people, our special person. We aren't that much different than anyone else, only as much as our perceived differences try to tell us we are.

If you can put aside your ego and judgement and embrace curiosity, you might be surprised at the connections you're able to make.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Sethe Everette

"I am afraid.  The wild sting of hopelessness and despair that has become neighbors with my beautiful baby is terrifying.  I am afraid of sleep. When I close my eyes, I see other realities. Other possibilities that I don't dare to think about when I'm awake.  I feel panicked. Let me love you. Let me love you. Let yourself be loved so fully that it gives you hope and courage and bravery to allow the words to tumble from your lips, undefended.  Let me teach you how to have resiliency."

I wrote this about Sethe in February this year after she attempted suicide. She'd been dealing with some pretty severe depression, coupled with relationship drama and lots of anxiety and nightmares. I knew she was depressed, and she'd been seeing a counselor for about 8 months, but it wasn't enough.

She spent a week in a mental health unit at the children's hospital in Portland in early February, then three weeks later another 5 days after another scare. It was frustrating because she didn't want to feel suicidal, but lacked the coping skills as well as the mental health to know what to do to get better on her own. We hooked her up with a fantastic counselor, who after seeing her for a couple months, advocated for her to go to a residential facility to get more intensively help/therapy/coping skills before having her out dealing with the struggles of life.

She was there for 5 weeks. No internet, no phone, no contact with outside friends. We got to see her once a week for an hour, and talked on the phone once a week in addition to that. They got her started on new medicine, and she attended classes within the facility several times a day.

During her stay there, she went through an extremely hard transition; feeling isolated from her family, and dumped into this place with no say, while having to deal with the back log of stress and emotional pain of her depression without family and friends. She had to become extremely self reliant. When she came out, it took her and I months to reconnect.  I had to let her be angry and feel betrayed and give her space.

Initially she lived with Reggie at his place where she could have her own room, her own space, and ease back into daily life. She moved back home mid-summer, and a month later she got her snake.

The shifts I've seen in her have astounded me.  She went from this desperate emotional place where she'd shut down at the slightest nudge of stress. Now, she talks about her feelings and asks for space. Once space is given, she uses her coping skills to calm herself down and ground herself back to a place of openness.

She started public school this fall, facing down her social anxiety like a fierce lioness. She found resources at school in the counselor and staff and teachers and a few trusted friends. She's not afraid of being seen or being vulnerable anymore. She talks to us, she trusts her counselor and sees her every week, opening, growing, sharing, learning, coping. She tells her counselor when she deals with scary stuff that she doesn't feel comfortable sharing with me. She is reconnecting with her dad, and slowly trusting him again.

She has befriended some sweet girls in our neighborhood. She shaved her head because she didn't want to be reliant on her hair for her self confidence.  She lets her arms be visible.

To call her fierce is an understatement.

I know we still have a long road ahead, and she will experience triggers and speedbumps and we will probably deal with frustration around that.  But I'm not so afraid anymore.  She lets herself be loved and cared for, and she's reaching out, and reaching in, in healthy positive ways. She has a snake and a rat to care for. (She's such a good mama!)

She is so much braver than I could have imagined. Her growth and recovery has been an absolute inspiration to me, and I'm so proud of all of her hard and amazing work to open and unfurl and come into her own power and strength.

She is awake, she is alive, and she is thriving.  In a lot of ways I'm grateful for the experience. I'm so grateful she is healthy now. I think this past year was a cocoon period for her, and I can see her emerging into a blinding and brilliant source of light in this sometimes dark world. She is made of glitter and grit, this one. I'm pretty sure she's going to change the world.

*If you are a parent struggling with a depressed or suicidal kiddo, please reach out to me. You aren't alone*

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Calm Peace of Chaos

"In chaos, there is fertility." ~  Ana├»s Nin




Chaos is when you're waiting in the car to take your kid to school, and the minutes tick away while he's in the house finding his shoes and then s l o w l y putting them on. You'll be late again.

Chaos is when your dryer breaks and you can't do a load of laundry for the 6 people who live in the house without going to the laundromat.

Chaos is the discovery that you're out of coffee. In the morning.

Chaos is the school phone calls, meetings, report cards, homework, complaints about the math teacher, bus fights and lost lunches.

Chaos is thinning hair and thickening thighs.

Chaos is spending everything you made that day on groceries.

Chaos is 30000032 miles a year behind the wheel, driving to work, sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, driving to kids friend's houses, driving to doctors appointments, picking up sick kids from school, taking them to counseling and playdates and derby practice and jiu jitsu training, delivering them to the mall for dates, cramming them all in the car for family date nights. And back home again. Over the speed bumps, down the hill.

Chaos is dirty dishes everywhere, overflowing garbage, expired food in the fridge, and where the hell are all the spoons?!

Chaos is the "Is it poop or is it chocolate?" game, and sniffing for verification. 

Chaos is having a carbon footprint of 1389 tons of CO2/year. Eco guilt.

Chaos is when you are lusting after your boyfriend but you can't keep your eyes open. Or you're on your period. Again. Or kids keep bursting through the door.

Chaos is when you drink too much because you don't want to think too much. Headaches and regret.

Chaos is literally my neighborhood right now. Kids screaming at each other out in the parking lot. Are they playing or fighting? And how come the dogs are all barking? Where are their parents?

Chaos is checking out, or checking in somewhere else when you'd rather be home.

Chaos is divorce papers that get sent back because they weren't completed correctly.

Chaos is the constant and relentless political drama that is our country, one week from an election.

Chaos is social media, rigged elections, pipelines destroying sacred land, arrogant and gun toting white supremacists, Russia.

Chaos is old fears, nagging insecurities, seasonal depression and trust issues.

It's easy to get completely swept away by the sheer and utter chaos that life is, out in front and in the background as white noise. I even feel it when I sleep, I typically dream of daily stressors and wake up even more exhausted.

Within the chaos, the moments of frustrations and business of life, I find moments of clarity where I am absolutely and blissfully grateful for the mess, the noise, the emotions, the fears, the tears.

It means I'm busting at the seams with a gorgeous and amazing family.

It means I can keep the lights on in the house I make rent payments for.

It means I am learning how to give someone my trust again, as well as my heart and hoping for the best.

It means I'm getting older, and each day I get a little better at living and embracing who I am, not who I want to be.

It means I have priorities, goals and am moving on.

It means my kids are active, safe, loved and well cared for.

It means my kids are growing into strongly opinionated, independent, self-actualized people. It means they are out in life, rubbing up against the reality of conflict and learning how to deal with it.

It means I have lots of room to grow and heal and learn about myself.

It means I'm paying attention to world and local events and I deeply care about building a strong future for my children.

It means my life is bursting with love.

Yes, the chaos is loud, the nightmares are a drag, the mess is unrelenting, there is never a pause on the task list. But I make time for stopping: witnessing life: noticing the leaves changing, the kids laughing, the cloud animals, the facial expressions of strangers, the smiles, the glorious first sip of coffee (once I finally get it to my lips). I make it a point to take baths, to flee the city for an occasional solo hike,  to lose myself in a book, to connect with friends, to lock the door and wrap myself up in my lover.

That's life. It's a beautiful juxtaposition. I like the dance.

I just wish there were more coffee.







Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The story of a name

I was named after my step-mother, Amy.

My parents lived in Alaska, where they were married for about 7 years. After having my sister and myself (I guess he always loved the name Amy), their marriage fell apart and he moved back to his hometown in California. He rekindled his romance with Amy, and soon they were married. By then, Amy had already had three children. My father ended adopting her youngest daughter.  Eventually the two had a child of their own, my half brother Jimmy.

As a young girl, as soon as I was able to travel on my own (7 or 8),  I would go down and visit them each summer.  With two Amys in the house, sometimes we had to differentiate between the two by designating "Big Amy" and "Little Amy". Big Amy never liked that. She didn't like much about sharing our name, nor did she like my sister or me.

My dad worked during the day, and my step-mom was a night shift nurse, so she would sleep most of the day. When she wasn't sleeping, she was in her room with the door shut, reading or watching TV. She'd typically come out at some point, sternly order me to do a chore, and then retreat back into her room until it was time to leave for work.  The relief of her daunting presence was bliss. When my dad would come home in the evenings, we might go together to play tennis at the college, or work on the yard, or just talk around the dinner table. During the times when my step mother was still there for dinnertime or on weekends, she would warm up, defrosted by the presence of her husband. Sometimes she'd appear to approve of me and treat me kindly. I remember one time during a fun evening of laughter and connection, I asked her if I could call her "Mom". She said "no". I think that was the first time I felt expressly rejected by her.

When Jimmy was about 3 years old, I woke up one morning to find the glasses of water I had kept my contacts in overnight had been emptied. When I told my step mom about the missing contacts, she told me that Jimmy had probably drank them, and for the next several days, I was ordered to follow him to the toilet, and dissect his poop to look for my contacts.  I'm not sure why I complied. At this time I was old enough to understand this was completely inappropriate. But I was scared of her, and intimidation can cause people to do things they wouldn't normally do. FYI: never found the contacts.

My visits with my dad lessened over the years, primarily because of my strained and harmful relationship with Amy, but also because as I grew up, I became more aware of the hurtful relationship dynamic that he and I had, and I decided in a move of self preservation, I'd cut ties.

Amy means beloved. It's meaning literally means love. I've clung onto that for the longest time, and rested in that meaning, rather than feeling resentful over the association of someone who has been so hurtful to me. But it feels sour, stale and false now. I've outgrown it.

Willa came into being after a weekend of celebration of a dear friend's birthday. There were two Amy W.s, so I decided to go by what I had started to nickname myself, Willa. I think it's a play off of the name I loved growing up, Willow. And now it's a little bit of a play off of my last name, Wilbanks. I started this blog as Willa, years ago. I desired a fresh start, of my own creation. Little of this, little of that.  All ME. I adore that I have friends who have called me by Willa since that weekend. I've been a little shy about using it very much until recently.

The more I use Willa, the more free I feel. I don't feel the connection to Big Amy, and that feels like a very big weight off of my emotional shoulders.

I feel the same about my maiden name. I don't desire the connection of using my father's last name, it feels like nothing but painful memories. The burden of a sad history.

As both of my previous last names were my husband's, and my second divorce will be finalized soon, I find myself at a little crossroads of sorts. Create my own new last name, or adopt one.

To be honest, on our first date when Dan first told me his last name, I was a little envious. What a badass name! In the past 10 months as I've gotten to know Dan and who he is, I feel pretty proud at the prospect of having that connection to him and his family. He is one of the most amazing humans I've ever met.

Who knows what will happen in the future, maybe he'll end up being my 40's husband, or maybe he'll be my forever boyfriend. Or forever husband! I know that whatever happens, he will always be a person who inspires me, helps me heal and grow, shows my children and me unconditional love and support, and possibly be my best friend til the end.  His name feels like a worthy back up to Willa.

So, I'm honored to call myself Willa VanDetta.

It's poetic, whimsical, edgy, totally unique, and absolutely me. I'll get it changed legally pretty soon.

It's funny about name loyalty. When I named my children, I expected they'd be those people forever. But, people change, they change their personalities, they change their minds, they change their styles. Sometimes their gender isn't what you thought it was.

When Zach became Liz, I felt a sense of loss. It was hard to use her new name. I was what felt like, in mourning for a period of time. I lost who I thought was my son. My Zachypoo. That was hard. I'm pretty stoked to have another daughter, though, and I love the way she spells it.

Now Sophia is Sethe and Max is wanting to go by Ian (MaximilIAN), which I guess is more practical than Maximum Smash, the name he desired for a while. Although I will say, what an awesome derby name!

When we let ourselves to choose our names, and when we allow our children to have the space to name themselves, there's an ownership and a power that is claimed by the creation of that name. None of us had much of a say when we were born about what our names should be. The concept that a certain name doesn't fit anymore, or it's been grown out of, is pretty radical, but it happens all of the time.

Names are engraved in our hearts. But it's the people that own them that we attach emotions to. Once you let go of that loyalty to the name, it's incredibly freeing. I am proud of myself for choosing a name that makes my body tingle with happiness every time I say it. I am proud of my children for choosing names that are meaningful and powerful for THEM.

I'm just glad I never got their names tattooed on my body. :P




Friday, November 13, 2015

Resiliency is my super power


As I’m traveling through these first few months of separation from my husband, I find myself forced to deal with many special and unique challenges of being single. The loss of our future together, the absence of my “person”, getting used to being alone, being a single parent, having all new financial and family responsibilities, etc.

I’ve never really done this before. After my first marriage ended 11 years ago,  I was able to stay home with the kids because they were still so little and I just couldn't afford the childcare. Now that the kids are older and I have the ability to provide for us, I’m becoming extremely aware of what single working parents have known all along. This is an extremely challenging life circumstance.  There is a new and sometimes crushing pressure to provide stability, not just financially, but physically and emotionally, having to pick up the slack for the missing partner. Even though the missing partner is still very much present in our family, he is living apart from us, and his involvement is limited.

Everyday when I wake up, there is this moment where I forget what’s happening, because everything feels familiar. For a moment, I am comfortable. I feel safe. Then reality comes crashing through my consciousness like a naked Miley Cyrus on that damn wrecking ball. The familiar walls crash around me, and I remember. I am alone.

I am alone.

That statement is enough to bring pretty much all of us to our knees. We aren’t meant to be alone. We are meant to have loving partners and strong ties to our community, big families and close friends. While it’s true that I do have friends and community, not to mention a house full of boisterous and amazing kids, I am unpartnered. And that is terrifying.

There are a gazillion terrifying things that happen in our lifetimes. There are people in the world who are literally fleeing for their lives, refugees of war and famine. There are people facing financial crises, joblessness, homelessness, illness, death of loved ones, cross country moves, births, mental illness, breakups, etc.

There’s just no way to get through life without facing something that scares the shit out of you. Any major life change provides us with the opportunity to feel an unholy amount of fear and uncertainty, but also the opportunity to feel hope and courage and faith. And all of those things, at the same time.

So what is the one thing that sees us through these major life challenges and get us through to the other side, where security and comfort and safety resides?

It takes resiliency.

Life can beat you down. We all get our teeth knocked in at some point, sometimes, many points during our lives. There’s just no way around it.

At these crucial points in our lives, our belief systems and personal stories really come into sharp focus. We can fall into the comfortable lull of victimhood, we can find things to numb the pain of our reality, or we find something to hold onto. A mantra, a song, a poem, a quote, a memory, a hope. This thing serves as a sort of mental life raft that we cling to, that we use to pull us out of bed each day to face the unknown. It keeps us sane and driven during times of intense conflict.

When I visualize the word “resiliency”, I see a person with amazing elasticity, physically able to bounce right off of the ground like the earth is a giant trampoline and the person is made of rubber. They trip, they fall, they get pushed, they crash. Maybe they’re clumsy, maybe they aren’t really paying attention to the cliff they’re about to walk off of, maybe someone’s pushing them off of the cliff. Either way, they don’t get obliterated. They simply bounce right off the ground, and perhaps without much grace, but always consistently, land back on their feet. Maybe it takes them a second, or a minute or 2 years, but they eventually land back on their feet.

It really bothers me when people say I’m strong. I know what they mean when they say it, but it doesn’t feel accurate to me. I am resilient. I don’t feel strong. The thing about resiliency is that you don’t have to be strong. Or courageous, or graceful, or in control.

Resiliency is simply the ability to retrieve all of the bits and pieces of you from a fall, and to put yourself back together, and keep going. It doesn’t mean you’re perfect, in fact, it creates space for failure and mistakes. Because each time you fall, you know, without a doubt, you’ll be okay.

In order for resiliency to really take hold, you have to really have something that gives you hope.

For me, at this point in my life, it is the hope and awareness that while I feel lonely and isolated and sad and grieving my losses, it is temporary. I won’t be alone forever. I will find love again, and it will be more amazing than I can imagine right now. I also fill my brain with positive messages. From books, podcasts, articles, talking with friends, meeting new people, etc. As someone who easily falls into the depths of victimhood, I must actively search out and practice flexing and building my resiliency muscles. I am the creator of my life. I can have successful relationships, provide for my family, find healthy ways to deal with the stress and loneliness of life.

It all comes down to one personal statement of truth, that you must believe, while also looking directly into the face of fear, doubt, pain, rejection, sadness, loss. Even if you don’t have any proof that this statement is true, you still know it is.

“I can do this. And I’ll be okay”

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Give and Take

Since I was a child I've been a people pleaser, a server, a helper, an emotional fluffer for my friends and an overall do-gooder. I was pure in my heart and the very definition of innocent.  I would feel huge amounts of compassion for everybody, not just the good people, but the robbers and bad guys and people who hurt other people. I used to pray for them every night. I used to think, "If they could feel MY love, they wouldn't be bad anymore. They just need love, that's all." I wasn't a perfect child but I was definitely blinded by my own sweetness and assumption that everyone was doing the same.

I have made a life out of making myself as useful and needed as possible, thus securing my value in the world as someone who supports, heals, rescues, empowers and embodies compassion. I had children as a way to secure those values. Who needs anyone more than a baby needs it's mother?

Growing up and having more life experience handed to me in the way of abuse, being taken advantage of, being used, being abandoned, being treated like shit, I have witnessed time after time how many people are in need of my kind of love, and are happy to receive it while not understanding how to give it back. Or maybe they just can't. Or don't want to.

And as much as I've been hurt, I know that I will never stop being The Caregiver. It all sounds glorious and wonderful but the flip side to this is the harsh reality of martydom and victimization, or how I like to call it: Current Reality.

And I think I can trace it all back to my abuse, when another person's deranged desire took precedence over my safety.  The one person who was entrusted with my safety and care was the very person who betrayed my innocence and destroyed my sense of self in the process.

From that point on, I continued my caregiving almost as if on a bloodthirsty quest to earn back my own personal power and worth by a life of service and wild adoration of others.  Guess how well living on the coat tails and self sacrifice works. No comment.

I've done so much personal work over the past decade, and I think the missing and perhaps final piece to my life's work of being made totally whole, is to learn how to take care of myself first. To establish myself as a person worthy of all that love and care I give others, and to give it to myself freely and without regard for anyone else.

It's a beautiful thing if you're with people who can reciprocate those services and feelings, but more often than not, people are caught in their own trances of life, not paying attention to the nuances of my requests and subtleties of my needs. And yet I hold them to that standard. End result is a feeling of rejection/pain/hurt/dismay.

One of my greatest challenges is speaking up. I can fight to the death for people I love (hell I do it for anyone off the street!), and I can tell them that they are being hurt/used/abused/taken advantage of, but I will sit like a frog in a pot of warm water as it's heating up for years and years without finding my voice to say..."Hey, its a...getting kind of hot in here..."  Finally did at the end of my first marriage and it was the best feeling in the world. 

Lately, I have found myself totally at my wits-end and frustrated by the realization that people don't express to me my own significance in their lives. I feel unimportant to them. That's not my damaged self-worth talking, that is a product of making myself as small and agreeable as possible to everyone around me.

I have made myself tiny and insignificant. If I present that to the world, how can I expect anyone to treat me any differently? 

All along, I've been beating people up in my mind, assuming that they don't care about me, crying my eyes out wondering why people won't exhibit the same level of care that I give them. And it finally occurred to me the other day: you teach people how to treat you. If you teach people you don't really care what happens to you, naturally, they won't either.  It is only when you step into your personal power and make your needs and boundaries and desires known that people stop and question their relationship to you and change to honor those boundaries and needs. And then if they don't change or honor those requests, you can go forth with all of the information.

The big AH FUCKING HA moment came last week when in the middle of a deep and dark depressing head space, I asked "how can I get people to make me feel more important to them?" And then I thought about that question...something didn't feel quite right about it. I know I can't "make" people do anything, and if I did, that is called manipulation and I don't want that either. I want authentic care giving, love, value and passion. I always say if I have to ask for someone to treat me a different way or give me something I desire, it's not authentic for them. You should already be giving that treatment out of the burden placed on your heart to do so.

But what if people are so consumed with their own lives that they aren't thinking about you and your needs right then? What if people just get lazy and complacent and assume you'll be around forever? What if they are doing something that hurts you and you never tell them? What if they think everything is honkeyfuckingdorey and the truth is you're miserable? I feel like the burden should be on ME to let them know MY truth and stop expecting everyone else to inherently know.

Maybe my boundaries and expectations are not common sense. Maybe I need to tell the people I love that in order for me to feel special/important/loved and cared for, I need A, B and C. Maybe each and every time I advocate for my self worth and value, I am in fact taking ownership of it instead of letting it be tossed to the whims and delights of others to do with what they will. Maybe that is the core of self love and significance to the self. Maybe I teach people how to love me so that I can have truly loving relationships that are full of juicy reciprocation, mutual adoration and respectful care taking.

Maybe in being able to speak out for what I need and want, I stop being a victim and a martyr and stand in my own power. Maybe in loving myself first, I become a caregiver AND a caretaker. And maybe I fucking deserve that, dammit! :D