How I Learned to Love Other Women

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When I was growing up I was different.  I don’t know any nicer way to say that. My mind was always in different places than other kids I knew.  Kids thought I was weird.

When I was 4, my parents decided to pack us up and move back to the small Southern town I was born in.  I felt like I’d moved to a foreign land.  For a year after the move, when I went to sleep at night I dreamed I was still in California with the family I had grown up with until the move.  My dreams were always sunny and cheerful, I was still at my old preschool, and everyone I loved surrounded me.  In reality, I was now in a strange place, where people talked funny, all these strange people called me family, and other children thought I was the weird one.

There are so many directions I could take this post, but right now my thoughts are on what I learned about other girls during my years growing up.  I could start listing them, but honestly it sounds like one giant list of stereotypes that I hate about girls .  I don’t believe all those stereotypes now, because I know how we are fed them.  But this was the 70’s and 80’s and there was no push for awareness and media literacy in a small Southern town in the Bible Belt.  So what I learned was that I was different, and other girls did not like that, therefore I did not trust them.  I did not generally keep a large group of trusted girl friends.  I was more a serial best friender.

In college, I joined a sorority. Suddenly I had a group of women who I “belonged to”…we had fun, until my different came out. After graduation, I lost track of most of them for almost a decide.  I became a professional, a mother, a grownup.  In a city where I knew no one.   When you’ve spent your whole life believing that you are different, and different is bad, it is not easy to put yourself out there and find friends.

Because by this point in your life, the voice telling you that you are different and that is bad is not the voice of another little girl who thinks it’s weird that you walk around singing all the songs of  “Annie” while wearing a walkman.  It is not the voice of the young woman who told you that a good person would never place their child for adoption, even if they are still in high school.  It is not the voice of college  women turning their backs on you over a personal argument with your best friend.  The voice is now your own, and the sound of it is deafening.

BUT  WAIT!!!  This is not the story of the ride down, but the story of the journey back up! These are things I have learned in the past few years:

  • Those other voices didn’t matter.  The one that finally took me out was mine.
  • That voice is nearly impossible to change alone.  So you…
  • Surround yourself with people who you admire and you learn. And in the process you…
  • Learn that more people know exactly what it feels like to listen to that voice and feel different, which means you are not as different as you thought.

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That last one, that was the big one.  When you learn that you are not as different as you thought, you begin to look at people in a new light.  Once you are no longer concerned with whether people are judging you or your choices, you stop judging yourself and others quite as harshly.  When you let down those walls you built up, the magic happens.  When you support other women, you find that they support you.  When you speak kindly to other women, they are kind to you, and you learn to be kind to yourself.  When other women are honest and let you in, you let them in to know the real you. The one you thought was so different.

And one day when other women tell you they love you, you believe them.

Today I am filled with gratitude for the women who love me.  I am grateful that these women have taught me how to love myself more.

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On Turning 41

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drseussbdayToday is my birthday. I am 41! Not 29 and holding, not 35. Forget “a lady never telling her age”: I AM FORTY ONE AND I LOVE IT!

When I was younger, I dreaded turning 40. In fact, when my mother turned 40, I planned her birthday party. I ordered the cake. White frosting with black letters and decorations. “Lordy, Lordy… Mama’s 40!” I bought black tulle and we made little veils to wear over our faces, mourning her youth. I thought I was so clever, egged on by her cousin who is a year younger than her. We all had a good laugh. I wonder now did she know then what I know now? Did she laugh because she knew better, or because she didn’t want us to see that she still feared 40? I don’t know, but last year I did apologize for it. Funny how time does that…changes perspective, points out what truly matters.

40 was a big year for me. A year of many firsts. I met my son, for the first time since he was born and was adopted. He is now 24. Last year was the first birthday I’d known where he was, who he was. The rest of the year was filled with firsts for us. First time I’d been able to tell him Happy Birthday. First Christmas. First time he came to meet all the family. First time my daughter met her older brother. All those firsts were enough alone to make 40 the best year of my life. If 40 was the end, I would have been happy.

And yet. It was so much more. 40 was also the year I let down some walls, showed some people parts of me I didn’t normally let show (see the rest of the blog if you haven’t). 40 was the year I learned to speak my truth and hold my head up at the same time. This was the year I decided that people are going to like me or not based on ALL of me, not just the pieces I worked so hard to craft into some acceptable version of myself. Not just the “me” I thought people would like. Because truthfully, that is so exhausting. I just can’t do it anymore. You either see me with all my flaws and glory and love me…or meh! I’m not your cup of tea. Which is ok, too. 40 was the year I decided to live.

What a year it has been! I am surrounded by people who are genuine, who like me, who I truly like and admire. I include myself in that group now. I didn’t always. Once in a while I forget. But mostly I know. If 40 did all that…

LET’S DO THIS, 41!!!

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All I Ever Wanted Was an Apology, and Someone to Care…

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Father’s Day has always been such a mixed bag for me.  My birth father was gone by the time I was a year old.  My mom met and married my step-father when I was three, and he adopted my older brother and me  shortly after.  She married him because she thought he would be a good father to us.

When I was seven, I can remember a day when we had plans to go to the county fair in the evening.  We were told to do our homework at daycare, so we would be ready.  On the drive home from daycare, my step-dad asked if we had done our homework.  I replied, “Some of it”, which apparently he heard as “None of it” and backhanded me in the face.  I remember spankings that happened like this: he would get enraged, I would try to run, he would grab my hand and literally hold me up by one arm beating me.

Those memories pale in comparison to “our little secret”. My earliest memories of being molested, I can pin down based on the house we lived in.  I was around 8.  I have no doubt that he planned to continue until he finally raped me, he pretty much promised me it would happen one day. But circumstances changed, and my mother was suddenly home during the day, and it all ended.  Those 2 years forever changed me and my world.

When I was 12, my birth father showed up on our doorstep drunk, wanting to see “his kids”.  I could smell the alcohol oozing out of his pores, and I thought he looked like a homeless man.  But he brought me a book of poetry, later I found a long poem he wrote about my mother tucked away in it.  It was never about giving me a gift, it was about him still wanting my mother to be his. After he left, my step-father made a call and had him arrested on his way out of town for DUI, then had him released with a promise to never return.  He never did.

When I was 14, I told my cousin about the molestation.  That started a shitstorm at home.  My mother thought I was just being an angsty teen, and believed her husband over me.  The therapist they took me to had to report, so we ended up in court where the judge decided I was in no danger living with my abuser.  I tend to believe his occupation of police officer had something to do with that.  So once again, my worst fears had come true.  I spoke my truth and no one believed me. No one protected me. Then everyone pretended none of it ever happened.  It was decades before I spoke my truth again.

In those decades, my mom and step-dad finally divorced when he cheated on her.  As my legal father, he continued over the years to press a relationship with me. Never admitting, never apologizing, always pretending… I have a brother 9 years younger than me.  I was supposed to pretend for his sake. He was too young…it was his father… always one reason after another.  Never a thought to the damage done to me, continuing to be done by hiding and pretending.  I went down some pretty predictable paths (in hindsight): teenage pregnancy, depression, dysfunctional relationships, more depression, suicide attempt, alcohol abuse, eventually drug addiction.

See, you can’t expect a child who experiences things like this to just carry on.  They don’t have the tools to know how to deal with their feelings.  When your entire little world around you is telling you that something didn’t happen and you know it did, where do you go from there? When you tell your truth and no one listens…you learn that your voice does not count.  But that truth is still inside you, eating away at your soul, taking over the voice in your head, telling you you are nothing.  All I ever wanted was an apology, and to feel like someone cared.

It took me traveling a long, hard road to understand that no one would ever apologize.  If I was letting him stay in my life with the hopes of one day receiving that apology, it was NEVER going to happen.  When my daughter was born, I’d had enough.  I decided that the day that he offered to let my 2-year-old daughter spend a weekend with him and his new wife anytime.  I pushed him to a safe distance, and when that wasn’t good enough for him he chose to tell people who had been my family all my life that I was a drug addict(left out the recovering part)  and who knows what else.  But that’s ok.

You see, my daughter has the most wonderful father.  Through him, I learned what a father’s love really looks like.  I am so grateful to know my daughter will NEVER have to deal with the things I did.  Today when Father’s Day rolls around, I celebrate this.

I no longer need an apology.  I no longer need to feel that someone cares.  I care.  That is all I ever need now, to know that I am worthy of caring about myself.  I finally decided that I was worth cutting him off completely.  I have my voice, and no one will ever take that from me again.  This is my truth, and if someone can’t handle my truth then that is their problem. I don’t write this for pity, for attention, or even for revenge. This is me, caring for me.

 

another good post by Danielle Paradis:  http://m.xojane.com/it-happened-to-me/it-happened-to-me-i-took-the-advice-to-call-my-father-before-it-was-too-late-and-he-told-me-about-how-cocaine-makes-him-horny

 

Happy Mother’s Day To My Son’s Mom

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Today is the first Mother’s Day I’ve ever heard my 23 year old son say the words “Happy Mother’s Day!”  This picture is the last time he was in my arms until the past year.  When I was 17, I made the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life: I chose his parents to care for him because I knew they could give him the life he deserved.  This was not an easy decision, and it was one that haunted my life for the next 22 years until we were reunited.

The first year was the hardest.  Every few months, I received pictures of my son.  I lived for those pictures in the mail, but they brought me joy and sadness at the same time.  I saw him growing, changing, and obviously loved.  I wondered if I did the right thing, if his parents loved him, and if I would ever see him again.  I also wrote letters, that I never mailed, that I carried with me everywhere I moved over the next 22 years.  Separate letters to him and his parents, maybe more for my own sanity than for them.  When I read these old yellowed pages of paper, I wish I had mailed them during that first year.  The first year was the window of opportunity, because the agency cut off contact after a year.  Those were the rules.  Not too many years after, the agency closed.  When I reunited with my son last year, I found out that his mother became sick with cancer when he was in high school and died as he was finishing high school.

I mourn this woman that I never got to meet.  The missed opportunity makes me sad.  I never got to tell her all the things I wrote in those letters.  They always started with gratitude.  I loved his parents for loving my son. When I had to leave the hospital on Christmas Day, in the midst of my tears and sadness I was able to find joy in the thought of his parents getting the call on Christmas Day to come meet their son for the first time.  Their love for him was the only thought that kept me sane at times.

Today, on Mother’s Day, I’d like to summarize most of what I said to his mother during the first year of his life.

  • Thank you for loving my son enough to make him your own.  You are his parents now, I have entrusted him to you.
  • Please teach him as he grows that I made the only decision for him that made sense at the time, and that the only reason I was able to do so was because I loved him more than life itself.
  • Never for  a moment think that I will ever come back into his life expecting to replace you.  You are his parents.
  • Love him always, even when he makes mistakes. Especially when he makes mistakes.
  • Teach him to love people.  Surround him with love.
  • When you kiss his boo-boos, teach him his ABCs, hug him when he’s sad…know that you are having the moments that I will never have.  I love you for that, even though it makes me sad.
  • One day I hope you will love him enough to encourage him to meet me.  I am a part of him, he is a part of me.  I will never have all those tiny moments you will enjoy with him. But I do hope to meet him one day.
  • Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  The letters are peppered with thank yous.  I meant every one of them.

I looked forward to the day I would get to meet her, and she could tell me those things that only a mother can tell about a child.  I wanted to hear stories about him when he was little.  I wanted to be able to look back through her eyes and see what I missed.  I had 22 years to sit and think about all the things I wanted to know from her.  I wanted to make sure she knew how much I appreciated her.

I missed that window of opportunity to tell her these things, and yet… When I first contacted his Dad, he was immediately receptive to talking to our son and finding out if he would want to meet me.  Our son is one of the sweetest, kindest young men I’ve ever met.  He grew up surrounded by family who loved him.  He loves people, especially elderly people.  He loves animals.  His parents always told him he was loved, that his birth mother must have been unable to provide for him but loved him enough to trust them with being his parents.  I didn’t need to tell them how to raise him, they did it perfectly.  My gratitude pours over for this woman I will never get to meet.  All I can do is love her for him now.

So today, on the first Mother’s Day that I got to hear my son say “Happy Mother’s Day”, on the first day ever that he told me “I love you” before hanging up the phone…

Happy Mother’s Day to my son’s Mom.  Thank you.

 

Eff you, I won’t do what you tell me!

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When I was 9, my favorite cousin got a small part in the movie “Annie” and I was beyond thrilled.  We grew up together, had lived together when I was younger, and I worshiped her.  On top of that, she was coming out to visit from California around the same time the movie would be released in theaters.  So I got the soundtrack on cassette tape and for the next few months could not be seen without my handy Walk-man glued to my head.  I sang those songs everywhere I went and knew every word by heart (still do!).  My 9 year old heart was filled with love, joy, and “The sun’ll come out tomorrow!”  No, I did not know at 9 that maybe my singing out loud sounded awesome with my background music, but that no one else could hear it.  All they heard was a 9 year old singing at the top of her lungs.  Sadly, the reviews were quick and harsh.  “Your sister is weird.  She is always singing to herself.”  “You need to stop singing all the time, people think you’re strange.” It didn’t take long before I would barely sing above a whisper in the car with my own family.  For the record, I was not tone deaf and I didn’t totally suck at singing.  I once got a standing ovation from one of the cutest older guys in high school when I sang at an assembly.  He was forever one of my favorite people after that (from afar), but that is not my point.

Children do not judge themselves harshly until they are taught to do so.  Living in a small town, with a family full of boys and small town thoughts taught me those lessons early on.  My uncles never missed a chance to pick at me, whether it was for poking out my lip and pouting or having the audacity to be knock-kneed and a tad chubby as a child.  My grandfather meant the world to me, but he was a man who related to others by teasing and joking.  Apparently I was just too sensitive, because I frequently took the teasing to heart.  Perhaps they did not know that with every joke, with every teasing word, I was taking mental notes about myself.  There was no “love yourself, be yourself” movement in small town South Carolina in the late 1970’s.  Just “fit in or stick out”, knowing that sticking out was the last thing you wanted to do.

I remember playing with the girl across the street one day.  We decided the ditches on either side of our street were amazing places to hide and pretend to shoot the cars that came down the road with our sticks we imagined to be guns.  We had a blast!  The next day my brother came home from school and told me that a classmate told him they saw me “writhing around on the ground when they rode by, as if something was wrong with me.”  What does a child learn when it feels that every person around her is judging her?  She learns to judge herself.  Harshly.  Bitterly.  She learns that who she is, and what she does, will never be good enough.  People don’t seem to realize that the one comment they make may just be the latest piece of criticism, tossed on the top of the pile of all the other criticism a person receives.

In my teens, I adopted the bravado of “I don’t care if you like me or not”…all the while constantly judging myself while daring others to do so.  My best friend thought I kicked ass and was fearless.  Some found me unapproachable.  Inside, I was still that little girl feeling like no one would ever truly know me or love me for exactly who I really was.  In stereotypical fashion, I looked for that approval and love in all the wrong places, and eventually exited my high school years and that small town completely broken and lost.  What does one do when you believe that who you are is not good enough and just wrong?  Well, you decide that you don’t want to be yourself anymore.

So began the long process of losing myself.  Things I enjoyed and loved about myself before the age of 18: I wrote poetry, I loved theater, I enjoyed singing.  Ok, scratch that mess. My goal when I left home and started over was to be “normal”.  Yes, I know how messed up that sounds now.  I know that “normal” is not some yardstick to be measured by.  But this is how I learned to hide who I really was from other people, try to fit in, do the things that everyone else did even if I found them inane and just plain ridiculous.  I met a boy.  The first night we went out, we stayed out all night long in his car talking.  He was fascinated with me, and he was “normal”.  I was thrilled!  We started dating, and we did normal things.  His family was wonderfully normal and warm. Of course, I sized them up quickly and presented them with a version of myself that they would find acceptable.  Over the years, I didn’t seem to notice that every time I inched out of that box I put myself in, he showed his displeasure with me.  By the time it ended suddenly and unexpectedly, I had wrapped myself up in his version of life and given myself a whole new set of rules to judge myself by.  The end result was a 21 year old me who barely breathed without him approving it, moved to a new college due to him, and was again left feeling that no matter how hard I tried I was never going to be enough.

I could go on for another 15 years, but I think I’ve laid it out enough. If anyone had any question, this is a blueprint for an eventual breakdown, addiction, and hitting a spiritual bottom before realizing that the problem really was never me.  Even realizing this doesn’t fix it.  It is a daily struggle against those inner voices.  You can’t re-train almost 40 years of learning to judge yourself overnight by just realizing that it was wrong.  It is a constant effort to transition from where I am to where I’d like to be. I can’t go back and fix that little girl.  The only thing I can do now is move forward, and discover who it is I really am.  And those inner voices?  Well, sometimes you just have to tell them to suck it!!

 

I am just one person.

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Today was a pretty rough day in my house.  Our 3-year-old cat died from a sudden and rapid kidney failure.  We realized last night she may not make it through the night.  Sadly, my daughter was tired from an outing last night when we came home and fell asleep before we realized there would be no chance for her to say goodbye.  This cat was special to the two of us.  She was found abandoned before her eyes even opened, and together we bottle-fed her and nursed her into a healthy, albeit very devilish little kitty.

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So, when my daughter woke up today, Maddie was already gone.  I watched my 12-year-old sit on the floor with her pet and stroke her soft  fur.  She quickly made her a necklace of bright-colored string and tied it around her little neck.  She lovingly touched her with tears flowing the entire time.  She said her goodbye in her own way, and it was heart wrenching to watch as a parent.

When I logged on to Facebook, still feeling pretty sad, this was the message that awaited me from a friend: “Just so you know: you are one of the nicest people I know, and you have made my life better just by being in it.”  This friend had no idea what had been going on in my house, in fact I hadn’t talked to him in the past few days. It was just random.  One of his friends had posted the status “Just in case you need to hear it today: go out of your way to make someone’s day. Give them a simple compliment and watch their day turnaround.” and he decided to do just that.

This reminded me of a meditation from last week.

Just for Today – October 13

“Words cannot describe the sense of spiritual awareness that we receive when we have given something, no matter how small, to another person.”

Basic Text p. 100

Sometimes it seems as though there is so much wrong with the world that we might as well forget trying to make a difference. “After all,” we think, “what in the world can I do? I’m just one person.” Whether our concerns are so broad that we desire global peace or so personal that we simply want recovery made available to every addict who wants it, the task seems overwhelming. “So much work to do, so little time,” we sigh, sometimes wondering how we’ll ever do any good.

Amazingly enough, the smallest contributions can make the biggest difference. To gain more from life than an ordinary, plodding existence requires very little effort on our parts. We ourselves are transformed by the deep satisfaction we experience when we lift the spirits of just one person. When we smile at someone who is frowning, when we let someone in front of us on the freeway, when we call a newcomer just to say we care, we enter the realm of the extraordinary.

Want to change the world? Start with the addict sitting next to you tonight, and then imagine your act of kindness multiplied. One person at a time, each one of us makes a difference.

Just for today: An act of kindness costs me nothing, but is priceless to the recipient. I will be kind to someone today.

When I read this meditation last week, I thought about all the friends I have who are making such a difference right now.  I have some pretty amazing friends in my life right now who are fighting to make this world a better place.

Sometimes it DOES seem like we’re banging our heads against the wall.  Other days, like the one in this video, are just amazing.  Sometimes when I think about the incredible friends I have and the things they are accomplishing, I think that they must have something I do not.  I think they are making a difference and I wonder if I am capable of that.  This meditation reminds me that making a difference doesn’t have to be global.  Sometimes you just need to be that one person who makes a difference to one other person. 

Today, my friend was that person.  “Just so you know: you are one of the nicest people I know, and you have made my life better just by being in it.”

Thank you.  I needed that today.

 

Things I suck at…and how I’m still ok despite them

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I promised a friend that if I decided to start a blog, that in between the serious posts we could talk about how we are just not together enough for some things and yet we still survive. So many people have this idea of perfection in life and when we fail to meet those horribly high standards we set for ourselves, the result can be a bit depressing. So today let’s talk about how those things don’t matter much in the long run, and how we are still here surviving despite those things.

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Laundry. My old nemesis.  To be clear, I know HOW to do laundry. I am actually quite good at the various skills involved in doing laundry.  I know how to sort clothes, empty pockets, get stains out, use different settings for different types of loads, etc… I even was schooled as a young child on the correct ways to fold different types of shirts.  I COULD be a laundry goddess… but I am not. I always have good intentions, but it seems I can never quite follow through.  There is always a basket of unfolded socks and underwear lying around, as if I expect them to march in a line to the dresser, do a triple flip and land folded in the correct drawer.  To this date, I have never seen this happen.  If I ever do, I promise you will be the first to know!  Then there are those days that I get clothes all the way to the point of dry and then completely forget about them. You know, the old “use the dryer as a place to store clothes” days.  The good news is that a 12 year old’s skinny jeans do not tend to wrinkle, and if they do the wrinkles smooth out when they are stretched on in the morning.  The worst days are the ones when you wash and forget.  The worst one ever, my child was 7 and had a white bathing suit with colored hearts all over it. When it came out of the wash, those were not the only colors all over it and some colors were growing in front of my eyes.  That has never happened again.  Hey, at least I am teachable!

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Junk mail is the bane of my existence.  Ok, really ALL mail.  Even email.  How hard is it to bring the mail in the house, toss the junk mail, open the real stuff and move on?  Apparently harder than I ever imagined.  I have one of those cute little mail organizers hanging on the wall with 3 sections to hold mail.  I swear I could walk in the kitchen right now and find a cable bill from 3 years ago stuffed in one of those slots.  Let’s face it, those things are useless to some people.  The slots are too small for some envelopes, you actually need a schedule to clean them out, and after a few days they just look junky and are full.  I am one of those people.  Sadly, so is my fiance.  Perhaps we need to start scheduling monthly bonfires to invite friends to.  Solve your mail problems AND makes s’mores. I could get on board with that.  Don’t get me started about my email situation.  I literally have thousands of unread emails.  I think I’ve seen a few refer to email bankruptcy.  This sounds like a great idea, purging your email all at once.  If I actually made the time to do it.

Grumpy Cat

Clutter. Let’s be clear, I am not talking about trash and dirt. I do not hoard, we don’t eat in our bedrooms, and we are not unclean or unhygienic.  I accepted long ago that I will never have THAT house, though.  The one that looks like no one lives there? The one that could be shown off every single day of the year.  But just once, I would like for the coffee table to clear itself of the random things that take up residence on it.  I often think it would be so freeing to just go stark minimalist on everyone here and purge the house.  No one would know it from looking at my house, but I am quite the perfectionist.  I have a vision in my head of how I would like a room to look.  The problem occurs when I look at the reality of the room and realize I don’t have enough time to create that vision and decide not to bother.  I’m working on this. I swear! The old “take 5 minutes to pick up SOMETHING” has been in place for a while.  The problem is that my family can do more damage in 5 minutes than I can pick up.  So we have clutter.  And I just really don’t care.

clean house

I guess the point to this post is that we all have things we are not good at.  We get these images in our minds about how we SHOULD live, how an ideal life should be, and how we should be able to accomplish it all.  It’s easy to look at areas where we don’t meet those sometimes impossible standards, and judge yourself as a failure.  Lowering those standards doesn’t mean you fail. Sometimes it’s all about prioritizing them.  Most days I’m happy that my kid went off to school in clean, unwrinkled clothes and isn’t the stinky kid at school.  I never claimed to be, nor wanted to be the domestic goddess.  I know that drives some people crazy, and to those people I extend an open invitation to come do it all themselves. Knock yourself out!

What things are you not the best at?