A Slow Burn … and … The 2016 Christmas Chronicles!

It was such a slow burn.  It was so slow that it was almost imperceptible for years.  At times, I could vaguely feel the heat and on occasions I certainly sensed some scorching … but generally, I didn’t take much notice. I simply fanned all the flickers firmly out of my awareness.

It was an implicit and somewhat insidious pattern of behavior that developed so early on in my life.  My gaze was focused outward … my attention turned towards others. I was perpetually hurrying and scurrying to warm others … to make sure they were happy … endlessly endeavoring to earn their love and affection.  And I unwittingly thought that my efforts were keeping me warm too.  And, I guess they did … to some small degree … but those flames were also singeing the edges of my soul. Parts of me were slowly burning out.

strong-but-exhaussted

As a child growing up in a pretty dysfunctional home, I had erroneously assumed that if I could ensure that others were warm, cozy and happy (only ALL of  them) … they in return, would keep me warm and cozy too.  It didn’t always turn out that way. In fact, for the most part, for the better part of my recollection …  very few folks have actually noticed if/when I was left shivering. Not that anyone knew how I really felt. I always put a smile on my face regardless of how I was feeling. It might have been wiser to simply ask for help … but then again … the ‘strong’ ones don’t tend to admit when they we are cold.  No, we’re “fine”.  Arghhhhh.

Source unknown

As I discussed in another blog, part of the problem was A Tragic Misunderstanding on my part, but it’s always harder to see the picture clearly when you are inside the frame … even if you are a master’s level counsellor. Gah!! After decades of discounting, deferring and/or dismissing my own needs, I got to the point where I could no longer ignore the unfavorable build up of cold ash that was slowly stifling my spirit and snuffing out the bright light of my internal flame.  I was doggone depleted. And my usual efforts to toss another log at my internal flame flicker were simply not enough to re-ignite it anymore. I realized I wasn’t going to be able to warm anyone unless I took time to rekindle the embers of my inner spark.

Yes … as some wise soul pointed out … ‘you can burn yourself up trying to give light to others.’ And so … I decided I needed to take a break from my usual way of showing up in the world … both professionally (as a counsellor and life coach) and personally (as a wife, mother, daughter-in-law, friend etc).  I needed to take some time away from tending to others (in general), and instead, focus upon finding more ways to warm my own charred spirit. I decided to call it my ‘sabbatical’ … because a sabbatical is when you take time away from your usual responsibilities in order to focus upon something else or learn something new.  I spoke about it more specifically in another blog entitled  The Gift of Personal Renewal.  Yes. I seriously needed to unlearn my default pattern of putting myself last.

In my profession, we are schooled about the increased probability of “burnout”, “compassion fatigue” and/or “vicarious trauma”  As a result, I have always protected myself from these potential perils by ensuring I get enough sleep, eating nutritiously (well — mostly!),  exercising my body (walking, yoga) and other forms of ‘self care’ (massage and reflexology and solitude) …  but it had gotten to the point where the drains on me personally from 2015 through 2016 were reducing the benefits of these professional safeguards.  Ultimately, they were no longer adequate nor sufficient to nourish my soul.

So, for my sabbatical, I opted to amp up my own self-care considerably. And, in an effort to optimize my efforts towards personal renewal, I also decided to opt-out of doing things that had  typically become my responsibility.  That included Christmas! Yes. I decided to surrender the extra responsibilities, obligations, expectations and work load that had become an inherent part of the Season for me. If I am going to be totally transparent, I recognized that over the past 20 years Christmas had been losing its luster for me. I was feeling increasingly burdened by the duties I put upon myself to deliver a delightful Christmas experience for my family. And, even more than that … I was seriously wondering what it be like to have Christmas magically unfold before you.  Yes … I was aching to have someone else doing all the fussing and bothering in order to make it merry and bright for me.

I explained myself and asked my husband to take a turn and do what I do every year. It felt like a bold move … but I reckoned that it wasn’t entirely unreasonable for him to shoulder the responsibilities … for just this one time … out of our 40 Christmas celebrations together.  And, if the whole truth be known … part of me needed the break, but another part of me wanted him to get a serious sense of how much time and energy it takes to make it all jolly every year. In fact, I laughed out loud when I read the following on Pintrest because it pretty accurately described my hubby’s level of involvement as, year after year, Christmas magically (i.e. easily and effortlessly) rolled out before him.

dad-has-no-idea

After my mom and dad split up when I was twelve, my mom did the very best she could on our welfare budget … but I always dreamed of enjoying those Hallmark holiday celebrations that I was convinced all the two parent kids were having.  And so, year after year, I have been wholeheartedly invested in creating the kind of Christmas for my family that I had always most wanted myself. Yes, I was determined to make my dreams for the ideal Christmas come true for them … year after year after year. 

And so, over the years, I had developed numerous heart-warming traditions for our little family. I joyfully adorned every corner of the house and decorated the tree with unparalleled zeal and stuffed all the stockings for our daughters (and eventually their partners) … each with their own special color/pattern of Christmas wrap. I carefully selected and wrapped gifts for each of the teachers with oodles of ribbons and bright, beautiful bows. I took the lead role in organizing our effort to anonymously deliver gifts to the doorstep of someone we chose for the 12 Days of Christmas. I also mailed out five or six dozen handwritten and personalized Christmas cards on our family’s behalf. I spent hours dipping hand-made chocolates (both dark and milk) in a variety of flavored fondant (peppermint, almond, coffee, maple walnut, rum & butter, peanut butter, etc) along with Olympian cremes (rolled in toasted coconut or chopped nuts) as well as  soft, chewy caramels and licorice toffee individually wrapped in red or green foil too. I boxed them and wrapped up the lids in festively colored paper and completed the presentation with a legend identifying all the flavors. And they were deelicious!!  I artistically iced, at minimum, 12 dozen homemade Gingerbread cookies (in various Christmas cutouts) for sharing in our annual cookie exchange. And, every year, I made a double batch of the shortbread recipe that became our family favorite (from the cookie exchange!).  I often bottled up home-made Baileys and, for many years, I created huge shortbread wreaths to give out as tokens of my appreciation to honor my friends.  Sheesh … I even have an old pic of those yummy gems!

shortbread-wreath

It was also very important to me to spearhead my daughter’s understanding of the true Christmas spirit as one focused upon ‘giving’ rather than just ‘receiving.’ To that end, I helped and encouraged them to fill ‘Shoe Boxes’ for the less fortunate.  And, in an effort to pay it forward from my own childhood memories, I always faithfully donated to ‘Toys for Tots.’ I always tried to get things done early in the season (October  or November) because I had to commute 80 kilometers/50 miles (often on crappy winter roads) to the nearest city.  And … I had figure out how to surreptitiously purchase all the gifts with my three little gals in tow (childcare was not an option). Somehow I pulled the wool over their eyes so the ‘believers’ didn’t catch on … year after year after year.

I also remember navigating the shopping mall chaos and standing as patiently as possible so our sweet little girls could leave their requests with Santa.  I will never forget the year that my two daughters both changed their minds (at the last minute!) about what they wanted for Christmas!!  It was during the Care Bear craze of the early 1980s and perhaps all the advertising had finally gotten to them. No one was more surprised than me when they unexpectedly asked Santa for Care Bears. What??  Unfortunately, by that point in the season, there was not a Care Bear to be found in any store anywhere on this planet!  So what was a doting momma to do??  I ended up purchasing an official Care Bear pattern and spent hours sewing up two facsimile bears … a ‘Cheer’ Bear for Tiana and a ‘Tenderheart’ Bear for Sherisse. I hoped they would look authentic and real enough to pass their inspection.

carebear-delight

Yep.  I clearly nailed it. The sheer delight on Tiana’s face tickled my heart clear down to my toes. We still have both those blessed bears in our grandchildren’s toy box. The years have not been kind to them … but for the very best of reasons.  I don’t think they get much, if any, attention anymore. I’m guessing our grandchildren think they are downright ugly … but …  I just can’t bring myself to get rid of them! And, although they were just homemade imitations of the store-bought Care Bears … there is no doubt that those ‘replicas’ certainly became real in my daughter’s hearts.  As Margery Williams stated in The Velveteen Rabbit:

[Real is something] you become. It takes a long time … Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off and your eyes don’t see as well and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.  But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly except to people who don’t understand.”

care-bears-collage

Oh my … the sweet riches of making Christmas’s past as merry as possible cannot be denied. I mailed off special care packages (dutifully heeding the Canada Post deadlines for delivery) filled with small tokens of love for my father and step-mother … usually a banana loaf or some homemade cranberry fudge … some hand-crafted ornaments … and maybe some pics of our growing girls to add to their grandparent’s ‘Brag Book’ (we had no internet/social media connections back then).  I made the annual wife-saver (eventually two of them – one savory and one sweet) preceded by warm gooey cinnamon buns (fresh out of the oven) on Christmas morning. I have typically hosted Christmas Day at our house for the last quarter century … ever since my Aunt Mil passed away … and so I’ve roasted the bird and/or the ham with all of the fixings.

We always spent Christmas Eve with my in-laws because it was my mother-in-law’s birthday. I leaned in to help as much as I could on Christmas Eve too because my mom-in-law was disabled and the bulk of the work fell upon her only daughter.  And, of course, the annual Christmas tasks were not complete until the turkey carcass was simmering in the crock pot and the homemade TV dinners were assembled into pie shells with all the leftovers (the brilliant idea of my sweet sister-in-law!). And then … I typically led the charge in cleaning it up … always grateful for whatever support was offered.  As I itemize all the ‘work’ I’ve invested in the Christmas preparation and execution, I have to concede that it has not been without a strong element of martyrdom sneaking in over the last two decades. And so, when I saw the following sign on a Facebook page of a young millennial, I could clearly relate … and … realized that it wasn’t just me that often felt this way.

exhausted-from-watching-me-do-everything

Little by little, over the decades, I have stopped doing most of it. We’ve grown in numbers and it’s just so much harder to ensure everyone is warm and happy. I have continued to fill all the stockings and decorate the house, make the meals and be attentive for when I needed to put out trays of appetizers.  These days, my husband roasts a Prime Rib in the smoker and my grown daughters contribute to the meal preparations and my sons-in-law help with the clean up and my oldest grand-daughter helps me prepare the ooey-gooey cinnamon buns.  And so, of late, my biggest concern has been that I’m typically bouncing up and down during the Christmas morning gift opening (to tend to things that needed doing) that I feel like I miss out on witnessing the joy as my family unwraps the gifts I have invested my heart into getting for them.

So, in 2016, I was eagerly anticipating simply sitting back and let it all unfold effortlessly in front of me.  There was a part of me that delighted in the thought that because Christmas was ‘on him’ this year, my hubby would have the opportunity to invest countless hours and oodles of energy into making it a Hallmark kind of Christmas for me.  I suspected that I would deeply savor the experience.  Yes.  I had a lot of hopes riding on switching things up. Ha. Ha. I can hear you all wisely wincing at the ‘set up’ I created for both him and me.

That said, I do hold some very special memories of Christmas past where I was on the receiving end of the fussing and bothering. One of my all time favorite memories was during the era that we were hand-making our gifts for each other (to resist the commercialization of the Season).  Anyway, I was reduced to tears the year that our daughter Sherisse handcrafted stockings for her dad and I!!  And then … she and her sisters filled them with gifts for us … so we could join them in our annual stocking opening!  It still remains one of the kindest and most meaningful gestures I can remember.  We continue to use those stockings and my heart secretly smiles with warmest recollection of their thoughtfulness every time I see them.

Another one of my other most favorite Christmas memories of the Season being made merry and bright for me is when my husband loaded up our little girls and drove 20 miles to pick out a fresh, live tree that easily reached our 10 FOOT ceilings.  It most majestically replaced the scrawny little five foot fake one we had been using!  Honestly, I remember it being the most extraordinary tree I had ever seen!!  The scent of spruce filled our home!!  I even had to make a whole schwack of red and white bows out of some ribbon I happened to have on hand because I simply didn’t have enough ornaments for a tree of such magnitude!  It was beyond my wildest dreams!

best-christmas-tree-ever-1988

And well … I dug up an old photo so I could show you.  All I can say is that the picture does not even remotely do any kind of justice to just how much that tree warmed my heart and nourished my spirit!!! I get toasty all over again just thinking about it. ❤

At any rate, it was quite interesting to turn the baton entirely over to my husband and wait for him to commence the merry making. Staying out of it and keeping my mouth shut was more challenging than I expected. He picked out the tree on the first weekend in December (as per our usual) and got it standing up in the house on the 6th.  It smelled quite beautiful.  I was heading out of town on the 8th and 9th … and … I fantasized that I would return home to a brightly lit and beautifully decorated tree. But …  no such luck.

I could have decorated it myself, but remember … I was on sabbatical.  And … I knew that if I did that I would have really resented my husband (for my martyring actions) because we had agreed it was his turn to make it merry around here.  So, as excruciating as it was to let it stand there dark and naked for over another week, I forced myself to dwell in the discomfort until he decided to do it.  And, I noticed … he chose not set himself on fire in order to meet our long-standing traditions and/or my expectations around timelines.  It was finally decorated 10 days before Christmas. christmas-tree-2016

He got it done while I was enjoying some sabbatical self-care  … I was getting a pedicure.  He really did a beautiful job of decorating it. And … he commented on how many marvelous memories came back to him as he dressed the tree with all the ornaments we have received from our girls and/or picked up over the years along on our travels.  Our tree really did look quite lovely!  It does not escape me though, as I write this, that the tree that most warmed my heart (with all the red and white handmade bows) was not anywhere near as ‘pretty’ as this one.  I guess it’s really true what they say … looks aren’t everything.

Our tree is in the living room, but we gather in our family room (near the fireplace) to open gifts on Christmas morning.  As you can see from the pics below, my idea of “decking the halls” is a little different than my husband’s.  I have to concede that his lack of interest in decorating the family room irked me a bit.  I really missed the lights … BUT … it was really interesting for me to observe, once again, that because he was very busy at work, he was not inclined to set himself on fire tending to things that I have always thought were essential.  In fact, for the first time in over 20 years, he also opted NOT to put up outdoor lights on the front of the house.  He did get some up in the backyard, though, and they looked gorgeous twinkling in the moonlight.

decorating

Once again … keeping my mouth shut and letting him do Christmas his way was much harder than I expected. Yes, with boxes of decorations left undisturbed in the basement, our tree was the SOLO sign of the Season in our house until December 21st … when the decorations unexpectedly doubled!!  We received a gorgeous glitter dusted poinsettia in a beautifully spirited ‘pay it forward’ exchange that one of our next-door neighbors inspired in our cul-de-sac.  Thank you for that Mandy!

poinsettia

46a-street-3

While I could have tendered this task over to my hubby, I jumped at the opportunity to savor the Christmas spirit tucked into that neighborly invitation myself.  I got directly into the car and headed downtown to pick up a little something to take over to the neighbor to our ‘right’.  Honestly, it felt so good to be doing something Christmassy.  And, as luck would have it, while I was at it, I ended up tripling the decorations in our home (and fueling my Christmas spirit!) by purchasing a Christmas wall hanging (that was 50% off!!).  The message completely captured my heart!  Fa la la la la … la la la la.

wall-hanging

Yes. It was becoming clearer and clearer to me that many of the joys I usually experienced during the Season were clearly tucked into the spaces between the holiday tasks and toilings!  And, I must share that watching my husband delegate the holiday tasks to others was also very eye opening for me!  He had no problem enlisting my three grown daughters to help with his stocking shopping. I actually felt a bit guilty because I certainly didn’t mean for their workload to go up because I had surrendered mine.  They reassured me, however, that they had quite enjoyed helping him out.

I did, however, secretly worry that their compassionate efforts to help their dad were somehow going to sabotage his appreciation for how much time and effort I actually invested in the annual merry making. I didn’t want them to make it too easy for him! I also suspected that daddy’s little girls might rescue the old boy with the cooking and kitchen duties too!  But, as it turned out … my three sons-in-law stepped right up to the plate and helped out immensely with ALL the cooking and cleaning.  I played games while they slaved away.

I had to silence the critic in my head that niggled at me relentlessly … suggesting I should get up and help. I reminded myself that I was supposed to be on sabbatical. And so, I tried to keep my thoughts and opinions to myself throughout the whole season. I did, however, pick up the donation for Toys for Tots. I didn’t want to risk it falling off my husband’s radar. I also printed out the sticky cinnamon bun recipe as well as the wife-saver recipe for him. As it turned out, though, he opted to make a full breakfast of bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs and pancakes instead.  It was absolutely scrumptious, and although it meant much more work and clean up on Christmas day, the boys did it the way they preferred.  And, guess what?  I just sat back and thoroughly enjoyed all their fussing and bothering and kept my mouth shut about how much quicker the clean up would have been with just one pan each from the wife-savers!

I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, at one point however.  I felt obliged to remind my husband that he also needed to purchase gifts for our eight grandchildren.  I’m not sure why that task caught him by surprise, but it did. Ultimately, he met up with a couple of his daughters  and they helped him choose some gifts that were really big hits with the grandkids!

Yes, he was doing Christmas his way.  Perhaps my biggest surprise was when he told me he was going to pick up some gift certificates for our son-in-law’s stockings for fancy hot shaves from Tommy Gunns.  He added, quite nonchalantly, that while he was at it, he might indulge himself in a hot shave himself.

Whattt???  The voice in my head balked loudly!How on earth was he ever going to appreciate how much effort goes into making it merry and bright if he was going to find ways to enjoy and nourish himself while he was at it??”

Yes. I know. It does not escape me just how ridiculous that sounds as I say it out loud. Bah. Humbug. I wasn’t sure whether to be cranky … or … to simply recognize that I was being seriously schooled in how I could very well have been seizing more peace and joy for myself all of these years!  Here I had been hoping he would get a deeper sense of how much elbow grease it takes to put smiles in the hearts of others … and instead … I was learning, over and over, that you are not required to set yourself on fire to warm others.  Gahhh.

All in all, though, I think he did gain a better idea of how challenging it could be … in the long run. There was a bit of a snafu with his efforts to stuff the stockings.  Because it had been so frigidly cold here, I had packed up a big bag with all my winter weather wear to keep in the car while traveling.  I’ll spare you all the details, but I discovered that my toque and mitts had been earmarked as stocking stuffers!  It was so darn tempting to not alert him of this error … to simply let the chips fall … and let my daughter find some of her mother’s old winter wear gifted to her in her stocking.  But I couldn’t keep my mouth shut on this one. I felt compelled to save him. Nonetheless, it’s a faux pas that will go down in history!

And … when it finally occurred to my hubby that maybe he should be stripping the beds and laundering the linens for our extra 13 overnight guests, it only took him a few seconds to reckon that the sheets couldn’t be that dirty since the last time our family stayed over.  Once again, I observed how he was not catching himself on fire to keep others warm. And, you know what?  Everyone slept fine … in those sheets that had not been freshly washed and dried and tucked with crisp hospital corners around the mattresses.

And so … I started to question myself: “Maybe … just maybe … I never needed to do all the fussing and bothering that I believed was such an essential part of Christmas??  Was it possible that I had been burning myself up unnecessarily?

And, in all honesty, I also have to concede that my lack of involvement was just not as nourishing as I thought it would be.  It is simply not my nature to watch from the sidelines.  And … I also recognized, just as the plaque I bought suggested, that much of the Christmas spirit is tucked into the moments between completing all the tasks.  I did offer to help my husband wrap everything … 64 gifts in all … 54 stuffers (9 for each daughter/son-in-law), 8 gifts for the grand-kids and one gift exchange item for each of us. It would have been torture to watch him fumbling with the gift wrap by himself with his fat sausage fingers.  It ended up being quite enjoyable … we cranked up the Christmas tunes and sipped on a nice Cabernet-Sauvignon while we cut and taped and chatted about Christmas’s past.

And then, a day or two later, I literally jumped at the invitation to travel into the city and help my busy daughters wrap their children’s stocking gifts.  I also toted them all home so our grandkids wouldn’t catch sight of any of them in transit to our house. It’s getting harder and harder to uphold the spirit secret of ‘Santa’ as they grow older.  In fact, my bright little 5 year old granddaughter reluctantly but earnestly admitted to her mother “I don’t trust you fully” as she skeptically questioned the whole notion of Santa. It was just no longer adding up for her.  It was an interesting year for my eldest grandson too. Even though, at eleven, he had already given up ‘believing’ … he became suspicious this year when he and sisters each received an iPad equivalent from ‘Santa’.  He reckoned that Santa might indeed have to exist after all.  As he shared with his mom, “I know you and Dad would NEVER get these for us!” Ha ha.

And so, in 2016, a believer becomes a doubter  … and … a doubter flirts with becoming a believer.  Yep.  These are all the priceless moments that catch your heart and make your spirits soar!  And … during my sabbatical, all of my perspectives were being challenged too. It was becoming so clear that the joys that are tucked ‘in-between’ all the toiling and tasking are part of what makes it all merry and bright. And I was learning that it was possible to do so … without catching yourself on fire.

I learned so very, very much during my sabbatical! “In the final analysis” (as I fondly recall my father often saying) … I learned that I was absolutely right: If I didn’t  fuss and bother to do it all, it wouldn’t get done ……… at least not the way I thought it should.  Truth. But … I also learned that perhaps it wasn’t all necessary in the first place.

Yes.  “In the grand scheme of things” (another dad~ism) …  I came to recognize that the multiple and myriad ways I had martyred myself over the years … with the intention of making it merry for others … was pretty much misguided and somewhat unnecessary.  Who knew you could have a completely marvelous time unwrapping gifts in an entirely undecorated room?  Ha Ha. And, although no one baked the annual shortbread cookies … we ended up enjoying all kinds of baking that had been gifted to my eldest daughter. She brought them home for us to share. And, it turned out that my youngest daughter ended up making the ‘Melt-In-Your-Mouth Eggnog’ cookies I had tasted at our staff Christmas luncheon.  These cookies might even de-throne the traditional shortbread as the best cookies for Christmas consumption.  Deeelicious!!!.

Recipe Source: Pintrest … slightly adapted from allrecipes.com and inspired by Parent Pretty

And, what became most evident to me during my sabbatical was that the things that make the season truly merry and bright showed up … our children and their children. Yep. Everything that was essential and important was present.  And, no one had to set themselves on fire to feel the warmth and peace of the holiday.   Oh … and by the way … the clean up is a snap when you most of your decorations are still in the boxes downstairs.

And so, another year has passed by so quickly … and … I am happily back in the ‘make it merry’ saddle again for Christmas 2017.  And, I am realizing that I need to put up lights in the family room because I LIKE LIGHTS.  Not because of some notion that they will brighten Christmas for my family.  I am recognizing that I need to do the things that nourish the spirit of the Season for me … and … drop all the rest.  And … I am, once again, thoroughly enjoying the ambiance created by the lights in the family room this year.

Yes.  My ‘sabbatical’ taught me a whole lot and was deeply transformational for me in terms of the way I am approaching Christmas this year.  I had hoped some of the lessons learned during my sabbatical would be for my husband … and … I think there were some of those too.  But, I see that the greatest ‘ahas’ were for me.  And,  for the first time in many, many years … the preparations don’t feel like a weighty, daunting task. I am greeting them with renewed enthusiasm and zeal.  I am realizing that there is absolutely nothing that MUST be done in any particular way.  And most importantly … I really like the way it feels to fully embrace the notion that I am not required to set fire to myself to have a very delightful Christmas.

And … I am reminded, as 2018 waits eagerly around the corner, that I can show up in a way that keeps me from shivering.  I can ask for help … I can let some things go … I can give myself and my own needs some priority. And not just at Christmas … but the whole year through.

May all our hearts be warmed during the 2017 merry making  – without any singeing of our souls  …  ❤ Karen ❤

 

 

 

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Boundaries are Sooooo Tricky …

 

In this very short but compelling  video clip, Brené Brown discusses the notion of living a B.I.G. Life.  Her research has revealed that the most compassionate people are the most “boundaried” people. She begs the question of what Boundaries we would need to erect in order to live in Integrity and be the most Generous in our assumptions of others (i.e. believing that everyone is doing the very best they can in each and every situation). Makes perfect sense … intellectually. And, I’d venture to say we’d inhabit a world filled with expressions of compassion/empathy/good will if it were easier to actually do this in our day to day existence!

But, boundaries are so darn tricky to execute.  It is so much easier to erect a boundary once you are PISSED OFF.  There is NO second-guessing about putting up a boundary once you’ve been hurt.  We may not even think twice at that point … and then … we erect it angrily and often self-righteously.  But the problem with putting up boundaries in ANGER is that the meatiest part of our message gets lost in the perception of ATTACK.  When you put up a boundary with someone because you are feeling violated … they feel your anger … and may not be able to hear your justification for erecting the boundary.

In fact, many people who have been chronically wounded in their prior lived experience struggle terribly in their attempt to set boundaries … because – they often approach the boundary WITHOUT the assumption that people are doing the best they can.  Their perceptions that people in the present and future will be out to get them just like the ones in their past shift the energy and intent behind the boundaries.  And when we are coming from that defended space, our boundaries are like fences erected out of barbed wire … rather than compassionate reminders of how we need and want to be treated.

And so, we must learn to set the boundaries before we could shoot daggers out of our eyes …to  set them proactively … not … reactively.  We must learn how to set them kindly and firmly.  And then … lovingly hold them in place for the benefit of all of those concerned.

And to do so, we might have to sit in the discomfort of guilt rather than the self-righteousness of resentment.  This is the trickiest part to navigate.  Many of us are more comfortable living with the resentment directed at others than inhabiting the guilt we might feel in our own hearts if/when we have our own backs …before we get mad at another. BIG lives do not just happen … they are consciously and courageously created.

May we all commit to living BIG … Karen

 

 

DONE and DONE-er: Resignation Tendered …

mom - heaven and hell

Source Unknown

Quite some time ago, I was chatting with a new mom and during our heartfelt and honest exchange … she dared to utter something that  I have heard on countless occasions in my work as a counsellor and/or parenting coach.  She said “I feel like I’m failing.”  In my compassionate attempt to save her from her own self-deprecation, I promptly responded saying, “No need to do that to yourself.”

That particular moment has always stuck with me because my response was unintentionally dismissive.  It failed to honor how challenging it is to negotiate the peaks and valleys of parenting and, ultimately, the pain of falling short of your own preconceived ideas of  how it going to look when you, too, claim the crown of motherhood.  What I wish I had said was this:

Yep … you are going to feel like you failed. Often.  It’s sheer hell.  And, you are going to feel the pride of success. Often.  It’s absolute heaven.  And, from my humble place of reference, the secret of surviving the inevitable roller-coaster between the polarities of agony and ecstasy is not gripping too tightly to either one.  It has been my experience that things seem to work out best when we can savor our victories (however fleeting they may feel) … and … stop ourselves from ruminating too long over the failures (however devastating they may feel).  I’ve learned that the best we can do is let it all come … and then … let it all go.   Be like a cork bopping along the seas of motherhood rather than trying to anchor yourself into any one place. 

Yes … I know … that is easy for me to say now that my children are all grown and parenting children of their own.  I can still clearly remember, though, planning it all out while I was pregnant for the first time … comfortably assured that my kids would never have snotty noses or melt-downs in public.  I even had the subscription to Parents Magazine long before I had the baby.  And then, all that glorious theory collided unfavorably with reality when I found myself lost at sea with ‘real’ children.  I remember how shocked I was by the shame and sheer exhaustion I encountered as my best efforts to do what the books said failed.

Oh my … as I reflect upon my experience of motherhood over the last 35+ years, I’ve had more than my fair share of epic failures. You’d think my schooling and work experience would have been fool-proof prophylactics for problems in parenting, but the seas get rough – even for the most well-schooled sailors.  A while back, I came across a “Letter of Resignation” in my filing cabinet.   It was in the scribbler we used for family meetings over 20 years ago. I howled when I read it!! In retrospect it seems quite humorous, but during that hellish time I was clearly DONE!  Or … maybe I had completely come UNDONE.  I was clearly drowning. Capsized completely.  Floundering desperately and gasping for some small breath to save me from the menacing undertow of raising three strong, independent girls.

I knew something had to change … and here is a wee excerpt from my feeble but six page attempt to right the ship:

Dear Family Members:

  1. I have had MORE THAN ENOUGH OF: 
    • (I had a very long list of frustrations … I will spare you the details).
  2. I am TIRED OF:
    • (I will also spare you the  lengthy but compelling arguments I used to defend my position)
  3. SO … FROM NOW ON:
    • if you want it clean – clean it
    • if you want to eat – cook it
    • if you cook it – I will  eat it too – but I will no longer cook with the family in mind
    • if I show up for meals, I show up … if I am not going to show up, I will call you … unless I forget
    • if you have laundry – wash it … do mine too
    • do NOT use the white towels – they are NOW all mine – that way I will know I have clean DRY towels
    • please do not ask to borrow another thing of mine … not. one. thing.
    • if it is convenient for you to use the van, fine, but if not … do NOT waste your breath trying to convince me
    • someone should assume responsibility for groceries – we will need them replaced
    • use your own mirrors in the morning please – I want mine available so I can use it when I need it
    • set your own alarms – and GET UP when they ring – I will be sleeping until I have to get up myself
    • please do your chores and I will do mine.  I will do a good job.
    • it would really be nice if someone would co-ordinate all the comings and goings and appointments for all the family members
    • I would like to spend $200 per month on golfing this summer … so sorry … you will have to go without your extra-curricular activities … it is my turn
    • I am charging  $20 for my black pants that were borrowed but not returned – PLUS $10 for the aggravation of not having them
  4. AS WELL:
    • Do not worry about how what you do affects the rest of us – we are all just individuals living under the same roof.  We would only need to concern ourselves with that kind of consideration if we wanted to be family oriented and supportive of each other
    • I will continue to work and pay bills BUT I expect NOT to be asked to do anything for anyone else if I have homework of my own to do 
    • You can ask for my help and I might give it – if I feel like it – or I might forget – but you will understand.
  5. AND:
    • I only mean some of this – can you guess which ones I will hold you to…?

Oy Yoy Yoy.  Wouldn’t you know it …  I couldn’t even get the darn resignation signed before the maternal guilt started eroding my sanctimonious indignation.  But, that’s how it is with mommy guilt.  It’s always hovering … surreptitiously snatching every small snippet of self-care and ruining our resolve!  And even funnier … I must have thought that adding that dash of uncertainty about what I really meant would leave them quivering quite uncomfortably as I tossed in the towel (well – all except for the white ones). 

I don’t recall how they responded.  I don’t even remember how long my resignation lasted.  Probably only until the next heavenly wave of motherhood washed up warmly around me, melted my heart and swept all that hellish resentment out to sea.

You’d think that by the time you are a grandmother to seven,  you’d be a fairly skillful sailor, right?  Well … a little bit ago, we were watching five of our grandchildren and on the fourth night of five nights, we were pushing the limits for the littlest ones to be away from their parents.  I had the two youngest in bed with me (sideways and upside down) and the two year old had been having a rough night.  We had barely slept between 1:45 and  5:50AM (not that I was clock watching!) so I thought a little distraction might help.  We got up in search of the kitty.  It was mere minutes before the one we had left behind snoozing soundly in the bed joined us … and then … without my awareness promptly awoke two more.

Being cranky, over-tired and wired up (and I am not just talking about me) prompted body checks in front of the TV,  jumping on the furniture, refusals to share, teasing until there were trickles of tears and toy tossing in sheer frustration.  They were doing the best they could (and so were their grandparents) but let’s just say, tempers were terribly tippy even before the pancakes were on the plates and the sun had a chance to peek up over the horizon.  Somehow, it all fell apart for me when I caught sight of one of them buttering the bacon.  For some reason, that was the moment that tipped me right over the edge … into the depths of the dark blue sea.

Before their very eyes, Grammy devolved from being calm, cool and collected into someone sputtering threats to detain them all, right there in our home … solitary confinement of sorts …. until their parents returned the next day. Their eyes got big and bigger … as my voice got stern and sterner.  Not a muscle  dared move until I finally exhaled and bit into my pancake.

Yep, epic fail.  Now, intellectually, I know that buttering the bacon is not immediately life-threatening NOR inherently dangerous, but emotionally, I was lost at sea and losing all logical grip and reason in that moment. Agony eclipsed ecstasy. And,  worse yet, I am supposed to be the GRAND parent.  You know … the ‘grand’ one who knows better. Argh. Double argh.

Bless their little souls and shattered spirits. They have such pure little hearts … and are made of good stuff.  I felt really bad when I came to my senses.  I hoped they’d find it in their hearts to forgive me. I earnestly apologized for losing my cool and I tried not to ruminate about it … too much. After all, I did buy them the foam blocks, bubble wands, pop guns, paint sets, window catchers  and a mega-jumbo canister of play dough.  We went to the pool twice and to the spray park once.  I even got soaked with them under the great big bucket that nearly levels you with the gallons of water it dumps on you.  No slight intended to Papa, but he wasn’t nearly as good a sport! Not even close on this one.  I got some of it very right.  Yes I did.

Fast forward about a  year or so: some of our grandchildren had spent the night. It was heavenly having them with us. We were all seated at breakfast … just laughing and savoring our time together. It was one of those magical moments of connection and I sensed we could all feel it.  And then, with a wee gleam in his eye and probably an instinctive attempt to preserve the ecstasy in the space, my eldest grandson judiciously cautioned “just don’t butter your bacon.” 

I started laughing so hard that I nearly piddled in my pajamas … and … with their cheeky little chuckles, I could tell my blunder was forgiven, but not entirely forgotten.  Yep, bobbing along like a cork between the waves of agony and ecstasy … riding the tides between heaven and hell.  Best idea yet for anyone  trying to stay afloat in turbulent seas of parenting (or grand-parenting).

With humble appreciation for all that motherhood has taught me, Karen

P.S. If I ever get really, really, really brave … I will have to tell you about the time I ransacked my oldest daughter’s bedroom looking for my missing gold belt.  Eeegads …. THAT too is long since forgiven, but never been forgotten. My daughter and I have shared some good chuckles about that epic fall from maternal grace.  🙂

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Talking about POWER is like talking about AIR …

check your privilege

PRIVILEGE can be defined as the unearned access to social POWER based upon membership in a dominant social group.  In my opinion, talking about social POWER is like talking about AIR. We all know it is there and we all use it, but we have the luxury of ignoring/denying its critical significance until we are somehow deprived of it.  It’s somewhat insidious because although the element itself is not visually perceptible, the substantive effects of its relative presence or absence are highly tangible.

Without it, the personal distress becomes grave and quite palpable. For this reason, I think it is incumbent upon all of humanity (but particularly those of us who work in the human service disciplines) to be highly diligent in seeking out and acknowledging areas in peoples lives where, metaphorically speaking, the air is thin. I believe an integral part of that inquiry involves us becoming aware of the covert ways in which we, as professionals (from our oxygen rich standpoint in the mainstream majority) can unwittingly suffocate ‘others’ … or … view their shallow breathing as personal deficiency needing individual remediation rather than seeing their lack of oxygen as a reflection of a collective issue requiring systemic respiration.

When I check the list … I can see that I dwell in a very privileged space. I can’t check all the boxes, but nonetheless … I enjoy a whole schwack of benefits and social power that I didn’t actually earn. I can breathe pretty darn easily in this culture.

And so, in the presence of that knowledge, I have a choice.  I can use the power inherent in my social standpoint and professional position to disrupt any impediments to universal and equitable access to air … or … I can allow myself to be richly oxygenated by my privilege and assume no responsibility for the shallowed breathing of others. And if I choose the latter, I might be tempted to assuage my guilt by blaming the labored breathing on the gasping individual themselves – admonishing them for not inhaling deeply enough … instead of faulting a biased ventilation system that privileges some while it asphyxiates others.

In every moment … in every interaction … with every thought, word and deed … I am always making a choice.  I am either sharing the oxygen mask I have been gifted or  I am saving it for myself.  There is no neutral ground here.  Whether we like to admit it or not, those of us with the most privilege are responsible for the air quality. Yes. We. Are.  Because, we are the only ones holding the power to oxygenate it equitably for all.

So, each and every one of us has to decide whether we are going to be part of the problem or part of the solution. And, I have learned that I must keep a very close eye on myself … because it is so darned easy to take my power and privilege for granted. From my oxygen rich place in the dominant social majority, it is easy for me to take a nice deep nourishing inhale … and then obliviously … neglect to notice that so many others are woefully wheezing on the margins of my awareness.

May my personal and professional interactions with others be a breath of fresh air,  Karen

 

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[Guest Post]: No, I’m Pretty Sure I Rank Higher

I just had to share this post … from a thoughtful and compassionate writer … who speaks from a heart that clearly listens with love. She wisely and kindly offers us an open invitation to consciously abandon our seemingly compelling need to ‘one up’ in a mindless, maladaptive effort to empathize … or … minimize another’s pain when are in the depths of despair ourselves.

If a sentence begins, “Well, at least YOU…” you can bet your sweet bippy that it is a comparison that aims to show the speaker in greater need or pain than the listener.

“Well, at least YOU know some of the people at the party. I don’t know anyone.”

“Well, at least YOU have a job to complain about. I can’t even find work.”

“Well, at least YOU have a kid who tries to get good grades. I can’t get mine to care.”

star winner2

You get the idea. There are some people who always seem to need to rank higher on any “scale” of life being discussed. Kristen Wiig’s Penelope character from Saturday Night Live is the queen of “one-upping”:

YOU WILL HAVE TO CLICK ON THIS LINK TO SEE THE VERY FUNNY VIDEO OF PENELOPE BECAUSE NBC AND WORDPRESS ARE MAKING MY LIFE DIFFICULT.

Most of us are not Penelopes…

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I am not what happened to me …

not what has happened to me

I just came across a very heartfelt stream of consciousness that I recorded in an old journal. I was wrestling with my aversion to confrontation.  I was questioning why I got so anxious at the thought of disappointing others. I was pulling at the roots of my prior people-pleasing tendencies.

Here is what I discovered as I coaxed myself deeper into the subconscious inquiry:

Why am I so uncomfortable with contention or confrontation?

Because I don’t like it when things aren’t going well between people…

Why don’t you like it when things aren’t going well?

Because I am afraid people will leave me.

What am I afraid will happen if people leave me?

I will be alone and scared and have no support.

What will happen if I am alone, scared and have no support?

I will have to do things all on my own … and/or … reach out to strangers for help.

What if I reach out for help?

Then people can hurt me, when/if they don’t care enough about me to help me.

What if they don’t care enough to help you?

Then I will feel rejected.

What if I feel rejected?

Then I feel worthless and insignificant.

What if I am worthless and insignificant?

Then I am nothing.

What if you are nothing … ?

If I am nothing – no thing in particular, then maybe I can be anything.

Ha!   My stream of consciousness just took a sharp, very unexpected turn.   Upon deeper inquiry …. the blessings covertly tucked on the other side of my fear are rendered visible!  If I am no particular thing (nothing) ... then maybe I am at liberty to consciously create myself into something … and perhaps … that opens the doors for me to be anything.

In order to claim that prize, I can see I must be willing to step out of old patterns of belief and behavior. As Carl Jung so wisely contended “I am not what happened to me,  I am what I choose to become”. As a people pleaser, I developed a pattern of trading truth for safety.  In order to feel safe, I contorted myself into the most pleasing, sweet and endearing child … always.  All ways.  I can see that I did so (in order to minimize the probability of rejection) because I was often at the mercy of  leaning on a teacher, a friend’s parent, or a stranger.

BUT, that was THEN and this is NOW. I can choose differently.  I have access to resources and supports I never had as a child … and I can take care of myself.  Mostly. And, maybe … even more importantly … maybe at this point in my ‘all grown up’ life, it could be quite safe to risk be rejected. Perhaps, in being brave enough to risk the rejection of others, I could quit rejecting myself  by ‘going along to get along‘.  Perhaps that has been the greatest violation to my soul in my patterns of the past.  I have been unwittingly rejecting my Self when I trade truth for safety.

So, I am seeing that the ultimate gift in risking rejection is the opportunity to be authentic and real.  I can go along to get along … or … I can be real, raw and truthful to my Self.  I can do one or the other, but not both simultaneously.  So, let’s bring on the confrontations … eeek.  I say that knowing that they give me a chance to step out of old patterns … and … claim the opportunity to be something closer to the real me … 🙂

There is so much light hidden in the dark … if we dare ourselves to look deep enough,  Karen

P.S. I wrote this journalling years ago, and drafted this blog quite some time ago, but I never posted it.  It’s likely no co-incidence that since then, I have taken several bold opportunities to be real and risk being rejected.  It’s actually been quite an interesting ride … I think I’m going to hold on and keep doing it.  Much to my surprise, being ‘real’ feels really safe in a whole different kind of way … really.  Nothing could be better than stepping out of old patterns from the past.

Owning Our Voices …

Source Unknown

Source Unknown

She has found her own voice.

I am glad that she has because otherwise she will always resent mine.

She is so empowered by it that she will be likely to overuse it in the beginning.

That will cause some pain.

I hope it doesn’t take too long for her to quit singing solo and appreciate the harmony of a duet  … or … the absolute magnificence of a choir.

It serves no good is she has no voice, but it serves no good if hers is the only voice she cares to hear or appreciate.

There is a place for all our voices as the melody comes together … the music is flat without the depth of the tenor or the pitch of the soprano.

It is the difference in our voices that create the awe and wonder!

May she learn to enjoy the beauty of her own voice without rejecting the ones who want or need to sing along.

May I remember to be so willing and wise myself, Karen

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“You are not what you look like … “

not all wounds(With gratitude to Annie Oddflower for this amazing graphic!)

I feel like I’m going out on the skinny branches with this blog.  I’ve been deeply shifted by my introduction to Brene Brown’s impressive studies on ‘the power of vulnerability’ and Glennon Doyle Melton’s brave commitment to ‘shameless truth-telling and hope spreading’.  As a result, I am inspired to admit that I’ve been hiding my authentic Self behind a shiny facade of perfection, performance, and people-pleasing (but only for most of my life).  It turned out that I got to grow up on ‘the wrong side of the tracks’ (so to speak) and, since then, I have invested considerable effort and significant energy into ensuring my dignity and character were, as much as humanly possible, safely beyond reproach.

Nonetheless, despite my very best efforts to out-run my past and confirm my worth, I’ve been described as “fake” (Ouch).  I’ve also had people tell me (yes, right to my face):

·         “You’re the kind of girl we love to hate”(painful) …

·         “I don’t know you and I don’t think I want to” (excruciating)…

·         “I didn’t think I could ever be friends with someone like you” (encouraging-ish) …

·         “You are not what you look like” (criticism or compliment … ??).

Lately, I’ve been secretly flirting with what life would be like if I accepted Glennon’s scary invitation to “drop the cape” and meet her on the messy side of life. You know … actually risk letting people see the less thanI’ve got it got-it-all-together’ me.  But, honestly, since  I am a counselor, I SHOULD have it all together if I am going to presume I might support others in doing so, right?

So, the other day at work, while exchanging pleasantries over our coffee, a most lovely colleague of mine unsuspectingly asked about how it is that I always look so ‘put together’.  In that moment, I heard that small, still voice within me wildly proclaiming  “here’s a chance to ‘drop the cape’ Karen”.  Dang it!  I guess I should have expected that the Universe/God would lovingly conspire to help me grow into the next best expression of who I wanted to be in the world.

Anyway, with my consciousness frantically grasping for courage, I responded by saying “Do you really want to know?”  “Yes” … apparently she did.  Hoping she’d change her mind, I repeated “Really?”  She said “really”.  So … to the best of my anxious mind’s recollection, I think I said something like:

I’m honestly just trying to out-run the ‘better-thans’.    My father was an alcoholic who struggled very unsuccessfully to keep us all from sinking.  My mom was diagnosed as manic depressive (bi-polar) – and became addicted to several prescription drugs (with all the shenanigans that THAT involves).  Both of them were doing and saying things that shamed and humiliated me as a child … often.  After my parents divorced, I was raised on welfare and ended up in foster care three times.  Most distressingly … I felt like my friends and their parents were watching (and judging) the entire debacle called my childhood.

Kids can be honest (OK, maybe even mean) … so I intuitively sensed the good parents liked to keep their children away from troubled families like mine. Clearly, I had no way to save face when the police arrived at at my house or when my mom landed in the loony bin (both more than once).  It just stung too much to actually admit it, so I put a perpetual smile on my face and committed to never let them see me hurting. I resolved to someday become someone I could be proud of … someone like my amazing classmates Susan or Janice or Margo.  These girls were never ever mean to me, not even a little bit … but I always felt incredibly ‘less than’ in their presence.  They were kind, smart, athletic, beautiful AND rich (at least from where I was looking!). They were everything I ever wanted to be …

Somewhere along the way, I must have decided that if I looked and acted like them, then maybe no one would be the wiser about my shoddy roots.  So, I began dressing immaculately, behaving impeccably and earning straight ‘A’s … clear through to my Masters Degree.  Perhaps unconsciously, I figured that with perfection and performance I could fly under the radar and avoid any chance of further shame and/or humiliation.

So, as I honestly shared with my coworker, the truth of the matter is this … appearing “put together” was simply my fear-based and well-intended attempt to feel safe … to measure up, to be liked and to feel accepted.

But here’s the thing. I still got those kind of comments (like those listed above) that belied my ongoing attempts to carve out a safe place to dwell.  It wasn’t until I did some deep inner work through Debbie Ford’s Courage Coaching Program that I realized the ugly truth of it all. It turns out that in my sincere effort to escape and out-run the shame I felt in the presence of those ‘better-thans’ … I was unwittingly showing up just like like a ‘better-than’.  I had become what I most feared.   ARGHHHHH.   I was completely gob-smacked to know that in my protective effort to escape feeling ‘less-than’  … other people might be experiencing me as attempting to be ‘better than’ they were.  Eeeek … no wonder I got those kind of comments!  Whoa …  I felt sickened to the core with this painful awareness.

So, here I am on the skinny branches …with my protective cape tossed to the ground. I am publicly acknowledging that the real reason I have been inclined to appear ‘put together’ is because I am scared spit-less not to.  I am terrified that you might get a glimpse of the REAL me … a shame-filled girl who just doesn’t feel worthy of your admiration or respect.  Yep … this is the me most people don’t ever get to see.  Aside from my best girlfriends,  my husband and my precious community of certified integrative coaches, no one really gets to see the part of me that is wounded and hiding – hoping no one will look beyond the facade (on one hand) … BUT … (on the other hand) needing  desperately for  someone to consider that terrified little gal as someone worthy of their love and acceptance.

While it is hard to admit,  I hope I can stay this brave…. and … keep letting people meet the REAL messy me.  I hope so, because in all honesty, I truly have been fake.  I’ve been hiding behind my cape of perfection and performance and people-pleasing.   It is absolutely true,  I admit it  ….  I am not what I look like.

Yikes … maybe all those ‘better-thans’ from my past weren’t either.  Not all wounds are so obvious …

With heartfelt humility, Karen

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Better … Because of You Debbie Ford!

everything-shapes-us-kelly rae robertsWith gratitude to Kelly Rae Roberts for this lovely graphic.

The first time I heard the chorus in Kelly Clarkson’s hit single  Because of You  I caught a tear sliding down my cheek as my thoughts were high-jacked from  whatever I was doing in that moment to my less than Hallmark childhood. 

Because of you
I never stray too far from the sidewalk
Because of you
I learned to play on the safe side so I don’t get hurt
Because of you
I find it hard to trust not only me, but everyone around me
Because of you
I am afraid

As I tried to dodge the discomfort brought on by hearing those heart wrenching ‘truths’, I knew exactly who I’d been holding accountable for my ever cautious and hyper-vigilant approach to life. I credit blame my dad the most … but … my mom gets nailed quite often as well.  The shame and neglect of my early years has shaped my overly ‘anxious mind’ and unfortunately, it takes a whole schwack of energy to manage the various worries, uncertainties, reservations , doubts, qualms and fears that persistently and unpredictably pop into my awareness.  When uttered in the past, my husband would shake his head in stunned disbelief as my neurotic ramblings effectively sucked any potential for joy out of the moment.  Pretty soon, I just quit sharing them out loud …

As long as no one could hear the alarm bells going off in my head … I think I appeared pretty capable, confident and successful.  Most people who know me would probably be very surprised to hear this. I managed my fears as inconspicuously as possible but, it wasn’t until I was introduced to the remarkable work of Debbie Ford about 12 years ago that things really changed for the BETTER!  I had no idea how powerfully this would shape me …  

I have been so profoundly shifted and transformed by the last dozen years of training and learning with/through The Ford Institute for Transformational Training.  Who would have thought that this journey would invite me to make peace with so much!  Yes, we are undoubtedly shaped by the negatives in our lives, but we are also shaped by the positives! (Not that it always feels so positive in the process of tackling this kind of personal growth!) 

As I write this now, I am aware of another tear sliding down my cheek.   Debbie Ford transitioned on February 17th, 2013 … but … my amazing mentor, teacher and guide touched so many lives in magical and miraculous ways!  Fortunately, her body of work is vast and her legacy will live on in the hearts of so many!!  Thank you Debbie for loving me enough to hold me in my highest … to bravely risk my wrath and call me on my s*#t … to hold me through the ugly cry … to laugh with me as I finally surrendered my need for control and learned to lean in. 

Thank you for inviting me to stray from the sidewalk … to trust myself  enough to step out of the fears that have caged my soul and courageously reach for the untold possibilities beyond my self-limiting beliefs.  Because of you, I have learned to embrace my vulnerabilities with love and acceptance rather than trying to resist and suppress my fear-filled mind chatter. Because of you …I am now a part of an amazing, loving, supportive family of Certified Integrative Coaches. Thank you, thank you, thank you Debbie Ford.  

If I could sing like Kelly Clarkson, I’d write you a song, because I have been profoundly shaped by knowing you!  I truly am so much Better … Because of You !

With deepest gratitude, Karen

 

The pains of our past …

~ Skruffi ~

If you can imagine, this gorgeous cat had been abandoned and abused and was near death when we rescued her over 10 years ago. We didn’t think she would make it through the night, but she defied the odds. We called her scruffy (because she was so horribly beat up), but watching her thrive despite her dire circumstances, we decided to spell it ‘Skruffi’ because it seemed to better honor her incredible inner beauty and determined spirit.

Although she has physically healed, the painful experiences of Skruffi’s past left her very scarred and emotionally wounded. Although we adore her, she cannot let us ‘hold’ her.  She so fears being controlled by anyone else, that she robs herself of the joy I am trying to share with her when I pick her up to cuddle her.  I only want to love her and please her … and she could enjoy it so much … but she denies herself the joy I am offering to her.  But she has no idea …

As we say in the coaching/counselling realm,  Skruffi is in her ‘story’ … the story of an abusive past that tells her the world is not safe. She brings that story to her now … to our home. It is not the reality here, but she can’t see that …  so, instead, she confirms and recreates her own perceptions that the world is not nurturing, by bringing her fears from the past into this moment.  She is not able to allow the love and affection that is available in this moment to nurture her … which it would … if she could let it.  I have often wished she would TRUST me just long enough to enjoy the love and nurture I am offering her … but she can’t let herself.  What an insidious cycle!  

If Skruffi could be conscious of her position in time (i.e. not subconsciously imposing her past upon her present), then in the moment that I would pick her up and bring her close to my heart, she would be able to remind herself that it was “not safe” then, but this is now … and now IS safe.  She could then open herself up to reap more love and affection than she could ever imagine.  But she cannot because she is not conscious of her own perceptions. She is living in a past reality … an illusion of current danger … a story of  “I am not safe”. 

And … as humans, we get caught by the pains of our past just as unwittingly!  We need to be vigilant about the notions we are entertaining and notice when they take us out of NOW and back to an unfavorable THEN.  Personally, I have a lot in common with Skruffi.  Given my parent’s inability to meet my needs due to their own struggles, my upbringing did not feel particularly secure.  It was fraught with experiences where I felt rejected, neglected and abandoned.  I interpreted it all to mean “I don’t matter”.  So, NOW, whenever I perceive anything that looks, feels, sounds, seems like any of THAT energy, it can take me right out of NOW and back to the painful emotions attached to THEN. For example, if my husband forgot to take out the garbage, it’s not that ‘he just forgot’ … it’s that ‘he doesn’t really care about me’.  When I am ‘in my story’, the pains of my past hijack the innocence of the present moment.  Just like with Skruffi.

But paradoxically … I must also acknowledge that my “I don’t matter” story subconsciously inspires me to seek ways to prove that my presence on the planet does matter.  The ‘gift’ of this story is my unfaltering desire to make a difference in the world.  It propels me to create social change, to help others, to leave the world a better place because I walked the planet.  It fueled my desire to become a counselor and life coach … to start my own business … to bright my corner of the world and to help shift fearful perspectives by writing blogs like this.  So, in addition to managing the pain my story sparks, I must also give thanks for it.

In the final analysis, the pains of our past come bearing both gifts and challenges.  Gifts  … when we can consciously find ways to use them, rather than them subconsciously controlling us. What if  we chose to use our triggers to remind us that we have momentarily fallen into the PAST, and looked at them as wake -up calls trying to get us back on track to the PRESENT?

With gratitude for my story … and  …  ongoing efforts to stay out of it, Karen

 

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