My Dad.

How do we forgive our Fathers?
Maybe in a dream
Do we forgive our Fathers for leaving us too often or forever
when we were little?

Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage
or making us nervous
because there never seemed to be any rage there at all.

Do we forgive our Fathers for marrying or not marrying our Mothers?
For Divorcing or not divorcing our Mothers?

And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth or coldness?
Shall we forgive them for pushing or leaning
for shutting doors
for speaking through walls
or never speaking
or never being silent?

Do we forgive our Fathers in our age or in theirs
or their deaths
saying it to them or not saying it?

If we forgive our Fathers what is left?

– Dick Lourie

Maybe, it’s better to have painful ties with some of the people in our lives than no ties at all.I started this post months ago and didn’t know where to go with it. Then, moments ago, I left my dad sitting in McDonald’s waiting for the bus to take him home. He spent the weekend with me and my husband. My relationship with my father can be summed up in one sentence: It’s really fucking complicated. 

When I was in my early twenties my father spent several months in a psychiatric hospital in the city where I was attending graduate school. I would regularly visit him in the hospital. It’s hard to describe a psychiatric hospital to someone that has never been there. It’s even harder to describe it to someone who has never been there to visit someone they love. They are frightening places filled with frightened people. As a visitor, you must pass through several security measures, much like a prison, or boarding an airplane. Once inside, there is a disturbing cacophony of sounds and people aimlessly shuffling around.

A staff member would escort me to a dark and musty room filled with old audio/visual equipment. There my father would meet me. I jokingly referred to our visits as our “Tuesdays with Morrie” meetings. I’m not sure he understood the reference but that’s how it felt to me. I would sit with him and we would talk about life. He was wrestling with the realities of a schizophrenic diagnosis and I was indecisively moving through my twenties.

My dad could be a terrifying man. The first three weeks of his hospitalization, he didn’t recognize me as his daughter. He was convinced that his daughter had been murdered. He would look directly at me and call me an impostor. He was angry that someone would come to impersonate the daughter he lost. I tried week after week to visit and he turned me away. Until one day he walked in and sat down. He said he was so happy to see me.

Our minds are powerful beyond measure. 

Despite the best efforts of his treatment team, he still experiences audible and visual hallucinations. We talked some about what those look like today as we sat at McDonald’s. He said, “I hate that you don’t believe me” and I replied, “I know.” It’s incredible what a person can adapt to in terms of their reality.

I struggle with resentments, anger, sadness, and pain related to my relationship with my father but with all of that, there are redeeming moments. There are flashes of a well-intended father. For example, I didn’t know that I would have time to see him off today and when I walked into the restaurant his eyes lit up and he smiled. He asked, “Did you come to say goodbye?” I smiled, nodded, and sat with him and he told me he was glad I was there.

Some have accused me of loving my dad because he had financial resources. That allegation is absurd. There is no amount of money that would make what I’ve endured okay or forgivable. Thankfully, forgiveness has nothing to do with money. I’ve always known somehow that my dad really does love me. I can’t explain how I know this, I just do. In the end, it is what it is, and what it is, it is really fucking complicated. 

“We children of schizophrenics are the great secret keepers, the ones who don’t want you to think that anything is wrong.”
Mira Bartok, The Memory Palace

Love.

Hey! How Are You? Campaign.

“Now if you listen closely I’ll tell you what I know storm clouds are gathering

The wind is gonna blow

The race of man is suffering And I can hear the moan,

‘Cause nobody, But nobody can make it out here alone.” 

Gun violence hit my town this weekend. Not that it hasn’t been here all the while because gun violence happens everyday in my town. But, now, we are one of “those cities” where a man killed several innocent people just living their lives. At this time there is no known motive for his random murder spree. It was an unseasonably warm day in February and people were out and about as they should be in Michigan. I was out of town but woke to find that Kalamazoo was now one of “those cities.”

As a therapist, I listen to peoples worries and fears, and today there is a lot of worry and a lot of fear. It’s always the other city until it’s your city. Now, we are changed. We know on a gut level that these horrible things happen and they can happen where you live.

This is not a post about guns or mental health. I sincerely believe we’ve reached an impasse on those issues for now. I am suggesting another approach. I think at the heart of a lot of these issues is the lack of connection and feeling of belonging. We don’t take care of each other. We build walls, we pick sides, we distance, we assert ourselves but we don’t reach out. We don’t care. Or, maybe we just care about a few people for a few minutes at a time. Or, maybe you care a lot about a lot of people.

I am suggesting we try to care more. I am suggesting a radical increase in human connection. I want you to ask people “Hey, how are you?” and then  listen. Just listen without giving your opinion or advice. Listen without trying to fix something. Listen without waiting to speak.

Ask and then Just Listen.

Reach out and connect with the people you see in the world. Ask coworkers, friends, and family, “How are you?” and genuinely listen to what they have to say. Make it a habit to say “hello” and “thank you” to all the people you see in the world. If someone asks you how you are doing return the favor and ask them.

When you ask someone “How are you?” you are telling that person that they matter and what they think and feel matters. When you take the time to really listen to someone it is one of the best gifts you can give them. We are starved for good listeners and genuine compassion. We all need to know that we matter in this world.

I know this takes time and we’re all short on time but maybe it will help one person feel less isolated and more connected. Maybe if someone is struggling with something they will be able to share their struggles and feel a little less awful.

And, if someone is acting peculiar and they share something with you that makes you uncomfortable you can let other people know that this person is acting strange. In a lot of cases we need to mind our own business but sometimes we need to take action. There is a lot of research that suggests most people believe “someone else will call the police” or “someone else will contact the supervisor.” You are that someone else. Say something. 

But, we only know if something is off if we ask, pay attention, and then tell others.

In Kalamazoo, people did contact the police related to the the alleged gunman’s erratic driving and behavior. In fact, it’s good that people called 911 and shared on social media Law enforcement were able to stop the man before more people were killed or injured. Thank you to law enforcement for ending this horrible event as soon as they could.

I don’t think “Hey! How are you?” will eliminate gun violence but it might increase connection. And, when we feel connected we feel better. It’s the only logic I can map on to this crisis at this time.

“Alone, all alone

Nobody, but nobody

Can make it out here alone. ” 

– Alone, Maya Angelou

Love.

Grammar.

Dear Word Press and Email Subscribers,

My personality style does not lend itself well to details. Thus, I make spelling and grammar errors in many of my posts. I usually catch them upon later review and make the appropriate edits but that does not fix the email versions. This means that sometimes you end up with wonky versions that are beyond my ability to alter. I apologize for this.

I know it’s a pet peeve and distracts some readers. I hope you can forgive my brain.

All the love.

Casey/Sissy

Please Don’t Hit Me.

“There are generally three parties to child abuse: the abused, the abuser and the bystander.”
Louise Penny, A Fatal Grace

Recently, it came to my attention that a teacher from my former high school was charged with physically assaulting a student. A friend brought this to my attention saying, “He snapped.” I found myself reading the comments associated with the article posted on Facebook and read things like “I’m on the teachers side, she deserved to get her ass beat,” or “Someone has to teach this child right and wrong” but the worst comment was said over and over again, “My parents beat the shit out of me and I’m fine.

We know through decades of research that physical abuse and even “just” witnessing physical abuse forever changes the brain of a child (who then grows into an adult).

“Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) include verbal, physical, or sexual abuse, as well as family dysfunction (e.g., an incarcerated, mentally ill, or substance-abusing family member; domestic violence; or absence of a parent because of divorce or separation). ACEs have been linked to a range of adverse health outcomes in adulthood, including substance abuse, depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and premature mortality” (2009)

Naturally, some children are more resilient than others and not everyone is impacted the same or suffers the same degree of symptoms. But, the problem is that enough people suffer the life-long consequences of abuse that it is a public health problem.

The total lifetime economic burden resulting from new cases of fatal and nonfatal child maltreatment in the United States in 2008 is approximately $124 billion in 2010 dollars. This economic burden rivals the cost of other high profile public health problems, such as stroke and Type 2 diabetes (Fang et al., 2012).

Simply put, it is never okay to physically strike another person. This is particularly relevant with children given the sensitive and emotional state of the developing brain. When I make this comment, I am often met with the response, “You’re not a mom you don’t understand that it’s sometimes necessary.” I will concede that I do not know the fear, frustration, and vulnerability associated with being a parent but I will not concede that I don’t understand. I say this because I spend much of my days reminding adults and children that they are safe and okay because they endured some form of maltreatment.

You see, when you hit a child for making a mistake they become fearful (and anxious) and not just fearful of you, they become fearful of everyone and everything. The child and adolescent brains are not rationale and logical. The brain does not finish developing until 24-25 years old (this is why you can’t rent a car and why your insurance goes down at that time). The child brain cannot make the connection that I colored on the wall thus I got my butt beat. The child brain says the person that is supposed to protect me just hurt me and how am I supposed to know (for the rest of my life)  who is safe. The connection may also be made that to be loved means to hurt. They may also grow up and perpetuate the same fear and pain on others.

“The life histories of 43 men on death row were examined in a qualitative analysis of the multiple intermediary factors in the cycle of violence. Severe and multiple forms of abuse were endemic in this sample of men. Abuse was typically multigenerational and almost universally linked to intergenerational substance abuse. After experiencing abuse, the majority of these men manifested extensive developmental problems, from severe difficulties in school to chronic relationship and occupational problems. For most, the transition to adulthood was seriously compromised” (David Lisak and Sara Beszterczey, 2007)

I don’t know what happened at my old high school. I don’t know the details and I don’t need to. The teacher should not have assaulted the child. Period. The child did not deserve to get hit no matter what she did. Period. No child, no person, no animal deserves to be physically assaulted ever. I understand that many people will disagree with this assertion for various reasons. This is a point that I refuse argue or debate.

If you were physically punished as a child, those events did influence you. For so many people, this is something they do not want to talk about or deal with. Culturally (and worldwide) we do a poor job teaching parenting skills. Most parents are doing the best they can with what they have in terms of parenting tools. But, as woman once said to me, you have to be willing to be vulnerable enough to still learn new things. There are a number of effective and healthy parenting interventions that do not involve maltreatment. In fact, spanking does not work! It may work in the short-term but it will only cause more problems down the line. Spanking, slapping, and hitting are not effective interventions. They do not work. 

What is most devastating, is that the children that act out the worst often need the most love. They just don’t know how to safely communicate that they need this.

“A growing body of research has shown that spanking and other forms of physical discipline can pose serious risks to children, but many parents aren’t hearing the message.

“It’s a very controversial area even though the research is extremely telling and very clear and consistent about the negative effects on children,” says Sandra Graham-Bermann, PhD, a psychology professor and principal investigator for the Child Violence and Trauma Laboratory at the University of Michigan. “People get frustrated and hit their kids. Maybe they don’t see there are other options.”

Many studies have shown that physical punishment — including spanking, hitting and other means of causing pain — can lead to increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury and mental health problems for children. Americans’ acceptance of physical punishment has declined since the 1960s, yet surveys show that two-thirds of Americans still approve of parents spanking their kids.

But spanking doesn’t work, says Alan Kazdin, PhD, a Yale University psychology professor and director of the Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic. “You cannot punish out these behaviors that you do not want,” says Kazdin, who served as APA president in 2008. “There is no need for corporal punishment based on the research. We are not giving up an effective technique. We are saying this is a horrible thing that does not work.” (Smith, 2012)

Love.

Dirty Four Years Old!?

“The good news is that she is one of the nicest people in the universe. The bad news is, that’s because she always does exactly what she pleases. An Aquarius female is rebellious, headstrong, and contrary. She can be selfishly independent and exasperating, especially when she is running through the house screaming, “freedom!”
Hazel Dixon-Cooper

I love birthdays. I love any reason to celebrate someone or something. One of my favorite birthday messages was written to me in one of those “pass it around” cards. The message read: I’m glad you were born. I thought that was a wonderful thing to say to someone. So, I’ve since stolen the expression and I sprinkle around on other people’s birthdays. I was going to do one of those 34 things I’ve learned in 34 years but I don’t know that I could genuinely compile that many items. However, I would like to reflect on some of the lessons life has brought to the table over the years.

What have I learned in thirty four years on this blue orb? 

  1. Being a genuinely nice person makes all the difference in the world. In fact, people are more likely to listen to whatever you have to say if you are speaking kindly.
  2. You can’t get what you don’t ask for. This goes for anything and everything in life. Happiness in any form is not going to show up at your door. You must seek out the life you want. Be brave.
  3. And, hearing no is not the worst thing that can happen to you. It does sting. But, when the sting wears off, try again.
  4. Remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can and sometimes the best you can involves doing nothing. Seeking perfection is emotional self-harm.
  5. The key to healthy communication is listening. This involves really paying attention to what another person has to say. The next most important thing is to ask questions and be curious. Doing both of those things well, leads to healthy relationships.
  6. Slow down, especially when you want to speed up. Taking a pause between thinking and acting can change your life. 
  7. Say thank you all day. It trains your brain to be happier.
  8. People need people. We are not wired to do this alone (unless you are a sociopath). Take care of your relationships. You need them.
  9. No one has it all figured out. As a therapist, I see behind the curtain all day. We are all a mess and it’s fine.  There is no such thing as a grown up.
  10. Apologize. Genuinely apologize. Take responsibility. It may not fix the situation but it is important nonetheless.
  11. Smile, and not in the cat call kind of way. Smiling tells your brain to feel better.
  12. If you accept your life as it is, right now, you can change it. If you spend all your time thinking you deserve something better or you got a raw deal nothing will ever improve for you. Feeling entitled will make you miserable and lonely.
  13. Extending compassion to yourself and others is essential to a healthy life. We all struggle. We are all imperfect. Don’t make it a habit to beat yourself up.
  14. But, have boundaries. Do not let people treat you poorly more than a few times. After a few times, a precedent is set.
  15. Forgive yourself and others. It provides peace of mind. However, forgiveness does not mean you get to be part of my life again.
  16. Defensiveness and righteous indignation will destroy your relationships and make you miserable.
  17. Learn from your mistakes. It is best to suck it up and accept you screwed up than to deny responsibility.
  18. You don’t have to tell everybody everything. You are allowed to keep parts of yourself to yourself.
  19. People will gossip about you and it’s no big deal. When I gossip about parts of your life, I am actually sharing more about me. We make sense of ourselves and the world in relation to one another. For example, I own a hundred and twenty year old home and I know people have said “Why would they buy a money trap like that?” That statement says everything about the kind of house you want and nothing about my decision to buy that kind of home. Or, when people say, “I know she’ll regret not having children.” Again, this says that children are really important to you and maybe you couldn’t image your own life without them. The gossip about me isn’t really about me. 
  20. Tell the people you love that you love them. We are not mind readers. It needs to be said out loud as much as possible. Don’t take each other for granted. Water relationships with love like a thirsty plant. If you don’t, the love will die.
  21. Life is devastatingly and gloriously brief. So, let go of all that does not bring you joy.
  22. Answer the phone, respond to emails, and respond to texts. If you don’t respond people will stop reaching out.
  23. The world is scary from a birds-eye view but on a human to human level we are not so bad. I’ve been in enough classrooms, prisons and psychiatric hospitals to know that most people are not monsters. Most scary people are just scared. There are some monsters but not enough to lose sleep over.
  24. If Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia could be best buddies you can find common ground with most people.
  25. With that, some people will leave your life even if you really want them to stay. And that has to be okay. Sometimes they come back and sometimes they do not.
  26. Tell the truth or be quiet. At the very least, be honest with yourself. A lot of people end up living lives they don’t want because they failed to do this.
  27. If we want to change the world, we need to teach children to love and be loved. 
  28. Lastly and most importantly: Love always wins. 

Really, most of these lessons have been discussed on the blog before. This list feels more like a table of contents than a new post. I suppose I operate from some general themes.

What has life taught you?

Love.

“So there was this woman and she was on an airplane,
and she was flying to meet her fiance seaming high above the largest ocean on planet earth.
She was seated next to this man she had tried to start conversations,
but the only thing she had really heard him say was to order his Bloody Mary.
She was sitting there and she was reading this really arduous magazine article about a third world country
that she couldn’t even pronounce the name of.
And she was feeling very bored and despondent.
And then suddenly there was this huge mechanical failure and one of the engines gave out,
and they started just falling thirty-thousand feet,
and the pilots on the microphone and he’s saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, oh my god… I’m sorry” and apologizing.
And she looks at the man and says “Where are we going?” and he looks at her and he says “We’re going to a party.
It’s a birthday party. It’s your birthday party.
Happy birthday darling. We love you very, very, very, very, very, very, very much.”
And then he starts humming this little tune, it kind of goes like this: 1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4″

Bright Eyes, At The Bottom Of Everything

Meet Joe Black.

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”
Mark Twain

I tried an intervention this week and I wanted to share it with my lovelies on this beautiful snowy morning. But first, I will provide you with some context for the intervention. My life has been visited by much death. From an early age, I lost grandparents, aunts, and friends. In September of my senior year in high school, three young classmates died in just three weeks. This was followed by more untimely loss in years to come.

In fact, one funeral I attended was so traumatic that I swore off funerals for several years. It was just too much to see my peers lying in coffins. The Grim Reaper is never far from where I sit. I know all too well that each moment is borrowed and The Reaper could cash his check at anytime.

This was never more evident than when I worked in cancer care. For almost two years, I worked with patients living and dying with cancer. This was coupled with two traumatic losses in my personal life. In therapy we talk about once you know something it is really hard (if not impossible) to unknow it. I know that I will die. I know that every one I love will die. Interestingly, knowing this has not been a burden. Without a doubt, knowing this has been one of the greatest gifts of my life. Death keeps it all in perspective. 

There is a Buddhist proverb that asks, “Imagine a bird on your shoulder every morning asking you if today was your day to die, would you be okay with that?” I can’t remember a day in the recent past where that question has not come to me. Most days the response is: I think so.

The Grim Reaper Intervention.

Imagine that right now The Grim Reaper has arrived to take you to the other side. However, the Reaper is feeling generous today and he offers you a deal. If you can persuasively argue why you should get more time he will consider your argument. And, depending on your argument you may get a year or several more years. It better be a good argument.

For those of you with a faith system, I understand that Heaven doesn’t sound like a bad place to land but consider with me all that you have here on Earth that has yet to be said, done, and resolved. If you go now, you’re gone from the people and places you love. 

As you argue, he asks:

“But why haven’t you done that already?”

“Why aren’t those things important to you now?”

“If you love them why don’t they know it now?”

“How do I know that when I leave you won’t go back to the way things were?”

“But you waste so much time worrying about nothing, why should I give you more time to waste?”

Remember you are pleading for your life. 

How would you answer? Do you deserve more time?

So far, it has been an interesting intervention in practice. I strongly believe that a constant awareness of death forces us to live. It is always there whether or not you want to face it. I suppose because I have experienced so much loss I have worked through most of my fear of this. I encourage you to consider your own mortality. It is the most intimate relationship in life. 

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieve it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. – Dylan Thomas

 

Love.

Cover image taken from: https://www.etsy.com/listing/205345446/sleeping-with-the-fishes-funny-lil-grim

My White Guilt Is Showing.

“When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” — Audre Lorde

The idea of white guilt has been heavy on my heart for a long while now. It is now seeping out of my pores and onto the paper because it can no longer be safely housed inside my head. This is how many of these posts come to fruition. This post is different than any other post because it requires me to lay myself bare in ways I only do with the safest people and you know who you are (thank you to you, thank you, thank you).

A training opportunity was posed to me last week regarding the theory of “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.” As a therapist, I was automatically interested, as this was not a syndrome I had any reference to or for. I sat down to watch the lecture and felt my body squirm in the chair. The presenter, Dr. Joy DeGruy outlined with exceptional academic precision the premise and empirical evidence supporting the theory. As a researcher and clinician, I can attest to the fact that her theory is sound and based on solid evidence.

Thus, resulting in M.A.P.:

Taken from: http://joydegruy.com/resources-2/post-traumatic-slave-syndrome/

How is it that this theory escaped my nearly 13 years in academia and several years post training? Well, I’m white. If that sentence makes you uncomfortable, I encourage you to explore that with yourself. In fact, it should make you uncomfortable. Pain is the catalyst for change. The problem with white guilt and white privilege is that we often deny it exists because it feels bad. It feels gross to think that power and privilege result in poison water, violent death, poverty, mass incarceration, drug wars, poor education, lack of employment and so on and so on and so on.

I can hear so many of you reading this post and saying “slavery was so long ago, get over it,” “I’m not racist,” and “all lives matter.” And, all of those statements might be true. However, we are products of our environments and many of our environments are saturated with insidious messages of prejudice and discrimination. We don’t always know that we are actively perpetuating stereotypes or prejudice because it is the acceptable way to interact within our social groups.

We don’t know until someone points it out and again that hurts and we feel shame. In those moments, it is easier to get defensive and/or deny the problem than it is to sit with the ickiness of our preconceived notions and change our opinions. Overall, we feel entitled to never feeling bad or shame and this is evidenced by the high rates of substance abuse (aka, avoiding my feelings). We’re also conditioned to think we are the good guy and it is the other that is flawed. Again, it feels bad to acknowledge that we might be party to discrimination: But, I’m the good guy!

But, what really makes you the good guy (or gal, or non-specific) is to listen. To consider that maybe the other has a point. That maybe hundreds of years of oppression that continue today negatively influence particular groups of people. Maybe the lessons you learned in your social group were wrong. Maybe instead of getting defensive you pause and consider our common humanity.

Maybe, fear leads to anger and anger leads to rage. Maybe the best thing you can do for someone in an oppressed group is listen and extend love and compassion: AND BELIEVE WHAT THEY TELL YOU ABOUT THEIR EXPERIENCE. Let’s stop denying another person’s pain, fears, sadness, and anger.

I know that when I hurt and I share that hurt with someone and they dismiss me, it feels awful. I can’t imagine how that would feel on a global scale over the course of hundreds of years. I know that when I tell my partner I’m scared, I need him to say: What can I do?And, most of the time I just need him to be with me. Maybe that is what is desperately lacking across the racial divide? Maybe, we need to listen, validate and share time and space.

Yes, I feel guilty, icky, sad, ashamed, defensive and disappointed but I can sit with those gross feelings and validate how you feel. Yes, I wish that the influence of slavery was over and we were a post racial country. It would feel a lot better for me if we all had a fair chance. But, we don’t – we just do not. So, when you tell me how you feel, even if it hurts me to believe you-I believe you. Because it’s not about me, it’s about you.

Love.

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” – Harriet Tubman

“I have observed this in my experience of slavery, that whenever my condition was improved, instead of increasing my contentment; it only increased my desire to be free, and set me thinking of plans to gain my freedom.” — Frederick Douglass

A Flogging.

“Your sacred space is where you can find yourself over and over again.”
Joseph Campbell

This story starts out with the best of intentions as I suppose many stories do. My partner is the most thoughtful gift-giver. He should rent out his services. It’s incredible the way he pays attention to the smallest of details and arrives at a gift that brings me to tears every single time. This is neither a complaint nor a brag. It just is who he is.

This year I attempted to be just as thoughtful. I searched the internet for an album that he wanted and was hard to find: The River by Bruce Springsteen. I found said album and a few others that I thought he would enjoy, and ordered them for Valentine’s Day.

And yes, we celebrate Valentine’s Day nearly nine years into our relationship. A holiday based on Love is just my thing.

On Saturday, the items were set to arrive but we were away from the house all day. I forgot to check for them when we returned home. When, I woke on Sunday I went hunting. The internet said they were at my house but the items were nowhere to be found. Immediately, I panicked.

Our neighborhood is next to a not so good neighborhood (assumptions are bad news)

I thought for sure the items were stolen and I burst into tears. I was on the warpath to find these items. This was my year to be thoughtful! We filed a police report, we went to local record stores, I filed a report online to get my money back. But, the worst part, is that my day was ruined. I desperately wanted to give him these gifts.I somberly watched the Super Bowl (Beyonce slayed!) and slinked off to bed. I was a grumpy muppet all day.

This morning my mail carrier called  having received word I reported the items stolen. He told me to check my backyard, next to a back porch (a decorative porch we never use or look at). There, on the porch, were the records. Mind you, never once in three years of living in this house was a package ever placed in that location. But, nevermind the details.

Wonderful, right? Yes, but I can’t help but think of how reactive I can be when things don’t go the way I planned. As I reflect today, I could work on not letting events derail me so much. I could be more patient and wait to see how things unfold. It is more important to me to be a good partner as opposed to a vengeful monster, which is how I spent my day yesterday. I mean, how thoughtful is a gift if I’m ranting and raving about it?

The records will spin tonight and my sweet partner will not “I told you so” to me, as he often could. I think he knows I spend enough time flogging myself for my emotional reactivity. I definitely don’t need help.

This is when self-compassion is the hardest.

I should of… Why didn’t I… Of course…

Always learning, right?

Love.

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”
Aristotle

I Don’t Trust You.

“You see, you closed your eyes. That was the difference. Sometimes you cannot believe what you see, you have to believe what you feel. And if you are ever going to have other people trust you, you must feel that you can trust them, too–even when you’re in the dark. Even when you’re falling.”
Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie

Trust is one of those words with a million meanings. But, how do you build and maintain trust? Simply put, you show up for the other person on a consistent basis. Trust involves demonstrating to another person that you see them and hear them. Sometimes this involves saying to the other person, “I’m here for you” and then actually being there for them when they reach out for you. Trust means that you believe what they think and feel matters and you will do your best to support them. This involves saying, “This is important to me because you are important to me.”

Time and time again, researchers assert that trust is built in sliding door moments (John Gottman & Brene Brown). A sliding door moment is when your partner asks you to come look at something and without hesitation you look at what they want to show you. A sliding door moment is returning a text as soon as you are able and returning a phone call (even if you’re tired). Trust is built through these sliding door moments, brick by brick, over periods of time. Trust is the safe feeling of “I know you’ve got my back when I’m down and out and when I’m reaching for my dreams.”

There is a universal fear of being a burden on someone and when we are dismissed we are more likely to move away from that relationship. This means, trust is eroded in these sliding door moments as well. If I reach for you and you ignore me or don’t respond part of the trust in our relationship dies. If I ask for for verbal support or acknowledgement and it is ignored or minimized more trust dies. And, eventually, there is no trust left. The relationship then becomes surface level if anything at all.

Interestingly, when I was working with cancer patients, I found that once a person was diagnosed many friends and family vanished. I came to realize that many people don’t know what to say or do in moments of suffering or tragedy, so they do nothing. This is catastrophic for relationships. Or worse, friends or family think that the person doesn’t need them. That’s so seldom ever the case.

In most cases, all you really have to do for someone is just be there. Just show up (not necessarily physically but that helps). Maybe because we’re scared or overwhelmed by what’s happening to someone we care about we disappear. Sometimes when things improve for people, the vanished friends and family resurfaced and could not understand why the relationship was forever altered. When you don’t show up, or at the very least acknowledge someone, you demolish trust. In some cases, it is destroyed forever.

Trust means being honest about what you can and cannot do for another person. If you feel overwhelmed or scared, tell the person. It is better to acknowledge your own limitations than to disappear. This honesty may preserve your relationship. It is okay to not know what to do for someone you love or to not be able to be there for someone you love but you must communicate these limitations out loud so the person knows what’s happening.

Trust is also built in moments of success and joy. Because of the competitive nature of our culture, we often struggle to celebrate the successes of people around us. We perceive their success as our failure. In doing so, we erode the trust in the relationship. Trust is built in moments of joy and success as much as it is built in moments of sorrow. In these instances, trust means that I can call you with an accomplishment and your response will be something like “I’m so happy for you” or “I’m so proud of you.”

When you consider that trust is built in these micro-moments throughout our days and lives, I ask you: Are you trustworthy?

“We’re paying the highest tribute you can pay a man. We trust him to do right. It’s that simple.”
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

The Courage To Love Like This.

“What time is it? Can you at this moment look in the mirror and be all right with it?… Are you doing what you want to do right? Have you located your passion as if this was your last night on earth?

I draft some of these posts weeks and/or months before I publish them. I wanted to finish this book before I published this post. In the meantime, a friend of mine started a book review blog and you should check it out here. She’s a brilliant writer and critical thinker. And, her reviews may help you decide what to read next.

I love to read non-fiction (memoirs, psych theory, science, essays, etc.). I do fancy a few fiction novels a year (particularly those written by my friends). But, when I know the writing is real lived experience, it feels different. Not better, not worse, but different. Ultimately, I believe there is a lot of truth and realness found in fiction. We all want to know that good wins over evil, we all want to know that love prevails, and we all want to know that we have a reason to hope.

These themes are found in the Bible, Greek Mythology, Shakespearean Plays, Nicholas Sparks’ Books, The Hunger Games Series, Star Wars, and X-Men. I think one would be hard pressed to tell a unique story. Across time and cultures there are some basic truths related to the human condition.

“Do you see why I miss him? I call out, to no one. Will I remember everything? What am I meant to keep?”

But me? I want to know how real people survive and thrive in the face of struggle. No doubt, my pull to these memoirs is the product of facing my own struggles and professionally helping people manage their life challenges.

“In all marriages there is struggle and ours was no different in that regard. But we always came to the other shore, dusted off, and said, There you are, my love.”

I just finished: The Light of the World: A Memoir by Elizabeth Alexander. This book was on a number of bestseller lists and recommended with the tagline “If you only read one memoir this year this is the one.” I followed these recommendations and now I am knee deep in tissues holding onto my partner for dear life. I am not going to ruin the book for you (save for the excerpts shared in italics throughout this post). I want you to share in the experience. I’m recommending this book because it tells a true love story.

“I think, I will keep mornings free for the rest of my life so I can go back to bed and hope to meet him there.”

This book asked me: Do you have the courage to love your partner wholly and completely. Do you have the courage to be vulnerable and risk being torn apart by the love that sustained you?

“Perhaps tragedies are only tragedies in the presence of love, which confers meaning to loss. Loss is not felt in the absence of love.”

I feel compelled to share the questions that came up for me as I read her story/their story. Are you loving your partner, your friends, your family entirely and completely right now? If this was your last moment with any of these people would it be what you wanted it to be? Do you have the courage to live with that level of awareness? Is it too much pressure to live life this way? Isn’t it true, that this moment could be one of the most important moments of your life and it is impossible to know this until it passes? 

“He was a bottomless boat and the boat that would always hold me.”

Love.