Friday, March 28, 2014

living in a Moment.

Yesterday's late March afternoon was unusual for the simple fact that Ben was home.  Most weekdays, it's rare when we are in the same place at the same time before 10 pm.

The girls were playing in the toy room, and I could hear their squeals and screeches as the ponies in their hands danced and jumped.  They had purposely dressed themselves alike today, in matching grey t-shirts and poofy skirts.  In between fighting, they have become very good friends.

I found myself laying stomach-down on the white comforter of our master bed, only feet away from Caleb who was sitting at the desk finishing homework.  In between helping answer his questions, I was reading a sentence here and there, desperately trying to finish the book I had started over the weekend while I was away on vacation.  I was determined to finish it--the pile on my night stand of half-read novels was getting too high.  Besides, I had been swallowed up by the characters and couldn't leave them until I knew what happened in the end.

It was right as I read the sentence when one of the characters in the book died, that Ben joined me on the bed, laying down the same way so the sides of our arms were touching.  He was texting a friend who needed advice about a car their family was buying.

Though I was engrossed in my book, I felt my senses becoming aware of my surroundings--something I usually tune out when enveloped in words on the page.  I heard the soft whirring of the ceiling fan, the light scratching of Caleb's pencil on his paper, the tick-tick-ticking of Ben's phone as he replied in text, and the girls' sometimes shrill but happy noises.  I felt the comfort of skin from my arm touching Ben's, and became aware I had absentmindedly hooked one of my feet around his, bouncing it up and down on the bed as I was reading.  I saw the afternoon sun coming through our bedroom window, softly enhancing shapes and shadows.

As my senses heightened to the moment I was living in, I remembered words from a television show I had once heard,

"You know how people talk about the Good Ole' Days?  I wish you could know they were the Good Ole' Days when you were actually in them."

I closed my book, laying still, focusing.  I thought of taking a picture so I wouldn't forget what was happening, but didn't want to disturb anything.  Instead I climbed on top of Ben, resting my head on his back, my cheek against his shoulder blade, wrapping my arms around him so they were in-between his chest and the bed.

I knew I had been caught up in the story of the dying character, but as I clung to Ben I faced the thought that one day I would not have the opportunity to wrap my arms around him, or help Caleb with his homework, or listen to my girls happily imagine.

"Well this is nice, what is this for?"  Ben asked about my sudden change in position.

"This life, that we've created together," I began, and stopped because I could feel emotion welling inside of me.  "We just have a really good life, and I'm grateful for it."  

I lay there quietly for a few minutes, letting the beauty of our right now consume me.  And then Caleb finished his homework, and the girls chased each other into our bedroom, and life began moving forward again.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

swinging and bending, part 7: the Book.

Read the first part of this story, here.  
the second part, here.
the third part, here.
the fourth part, here.
and the fifth part, here.
and the sixth part, here.


"Perhaps the most devastating psychic conflict the all-good child experiences is inauthenticity--feeling as if those who perceive her as good or competent are mistaken.  

The all-good child is the parentified child--trained to parent the parent.  All-good children are typically obedient and loyal, and may function as little therapists in their families.  

All-good children repress awareness of their true feelings and, consequently, are likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. Because they are preoccupied with the emotional state of others, they have difficulty experiencing pleasure.  Although they are acutely perceptive, they lack insight into their own psyche, and may be unaware of subtle depression.  

They.....may feel undeserving of a good life.  They feel as though they have already been given too much, and do not feel entitled to having more.  They may compulsively provide for others what they need for themselves.

Consequently, the all-good child is susceptible to emotional depletion because of the compulsive approval-seeking behavior.  They can feel overwhelmed with responsibility for caring for others, yet not deserving of being cared for themselves.  They have difficulty articulating their feelings and needs, and are extremely uncomfortable with recognition and attention.

In adult relationships, they are often overcommitted and emotionally preoccupied because they fear disappointing others.  They simply cannot say no.  Minor mistakes can trigger a catastrophic plunge in self-esteem, and internalized anxiety prevents them from enjoying their accomplishments.  The emotional energy of the all-good child is heavily invested in avoiding mistakes that could shatter the foundation of the self.

If it were possible to x-ray the self of the all-good child, one might find a porcelain soul with tiny fractures.  Although outwardly appearing uninjured, a child with a fractured soul lives with an inner sense of fragility.  All-good children suffer silently, unable to articulate the source of their pain that is too deep and too old to identify.  Although a fractured soul cannot fully mend, the all-good child learns to protect it from further injury.  Defenses such as denial, repression, and sublimation keep awareness of their pain at bay.  

While all-good children need therapy as much as the no-good children, they are unlikely to seek treatment."


Late one night, in the summer of 2008, I shuddered as I read these words.

I knew this "All-Good Child" well.  She had blonde hair, blueish/green eyes and dimples.  She laughed easily and rarely cried.  She was there whenever anyone needed help, but could not ask for support because she could not even recognize her own needs.  She hated being on stage, or celebrating her birthday, or being the new girl, or announcing pregnancies--anything that put her in the center of attention.  Her emotions were based on the emotions of those around her--if they were content, so was she.  If they were sad, she was rushing to comfort, her heart breaking with theirs.  If they were angry, she was afraid, and tried to pacify them with either humor or kindness.  She did not know who she was as an individual, but I knew her.

She was who I looked at in the mirror every day.

I was staying at my dad and stepmom's home for a few weeks on our way from the group home in North Carolina to Arizona, where we would begin Ben's journey of doctoral school.  My brother Tyler had let me borrow the Book, one he'd been recommended by a therapist he'd been seeing for a couple of years.

"She said I might be able to find something that relates to my childhood, but I haven't read it yet.  See what you think and let me know," he said, as he brought it to me.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but started reading.  In less than 48 hours I finished the Book, underlining and highlighting entire sections of it.

I called my brother.  "Holy crap, Ty.  HOLY CRAP.  Have you even started this book?  I'm going to have to buy you another copy, I need to keep this one,"  I said over the phone.

I explained to him the Book had shaken me, in a most unexpected way.  I felt at times like the author had filmed scenes from my childhood and written about them.  In the Book, I read about my parents, about my siblings, about myself.  I read about my grandmother.  I read about who I had become as an adult, my weaknesses and strengths.  I read about my marriage.  I read what I would continue to struggle with as I aged, and I read that I would be the least likely of the entire group to seek therapy--because I viewed myself as a survivor of trauma and doing "just fine," instead of as someone who could not recognize my own needs and emotions due to stuffing them down for so long.

It was both validating and terrifying, to read the words of my life.  Validating to know someone out there really understood; terrifying to realize that now that I knew, I would need to do something about it.  I had never been to therapy before, and had attached the stigma I know so many attach to it:  therapy was for people with real problems, who are a mess, who can't cope, and the list goes on.  I wasn't fitting into any of those categories, yet I knew after reading this, therapy was something I needed to pursue.

This Book altered the course of my life, in many ways.  It continues to alter it, for the better.  Because of this Book, I was brought down a path of self-awareness that eventually helped me to find self-worth, learning to untangle my emotions and needs from those of others around me.  Eventually it is what led me to seek help when my lack of ability to believe I deserved good in my life created situations that threatened to take the things I loved most away.

And when my own self worth was finally planted and I could truly feel it, I finally had the ability to help others, with similar stories, find theirs too.

The Book started me on this journey, but it took years before I could reach the end of it, an ending that led me to much closer to Peace.  But there were much more difficult things I had to face first.....

Thursday, March 6, 2014


It's getting to the point where I'm no fun anymore

I am sorry

I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are

You make it hard

Remember what we've said and done and felt about each other
Oh, babe have mercy
Don't let the past remind us of what we are not now
I am not dreaming

I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are
You make it hard

--"Suite: Judy Blue Eyes"

Crosby, Stills & Nash

aside from ben's school, there have been other difficult things going on in the past couple of months.  writing honestly?  my dad is going through his second divorce.  unlike my parents' divorce seven years ago, this one came as a surprise, and (also unlike the first one) was finished swiftly.  i know that how it appears on the outside isn't necessarily the truth of the inside, but my brother, sister and i were very surprised--and devastated.

after years of my childhood spent in an unwanted front row seat of a somewhat fractured and chaotic marriage, i found myself ready to see both of my parents start over--beginning with a new person, hoping this time would be different.  coming from a fragmented family made me peer through leery eyes as to what this new picture would look like, but i was willing to be open, and try.

what i found on the other side was the gift of getting to know some new really amazing people... most importantly, my stepmom.  brenda has this incredible capacity to immediately love and accept others, without judgment, question, or conditions.  because of her,  i was given the ability to heal pieces of my heart broken long ago, ones i thought could never be healed by another.

though i understood that this decision of divorce was made with a lot of thought and prayer, to hear that she and my dad were no longer going to be together terrified me.  truthfully, it still does.  i don't know what a fractured-family-from-a-fractured-family looks like, and i'm worried.  about my dad, about my siblings, about our relationships with those who have become a significant and important part of our lives for several years.

as i was driving caleb to school this morning, a song from my childhood came on ben's classic rock station on the radio.  i turned it up, yelling back to caleb, "i love this song!"  and started singing along.

immediately i was flooded with happy memories as a kid with my dad in the family car, beating his hands on the steering wheel like it was his own personal drum, belting out harmonies with a smile on his face as he sang these same words.

I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are

Something inside is telling me that I've got your secret
Are you still listening?
Fear is the lock and laughter the key to your heart

And I love you 

in my memory, i could see my young father, probably around the same age as i am now.  he was full of music and corny jokes, even amidst the havoc in his life.  i imagine that he visualized his life in his 60's as a time of stability and calm, watching grandchildren grow as he retired and looked forward to hobbies, traveling, and family barbecues.

right after we learned of the divorce, he spent a couple of weeks with us here.  through him i saw such a strong desire to feel hope again that was palpable.  it was difficult to know how to help or what to say.  i was also working through my own complicated feelings, but because i love him and wanted to be supportive, i tried to put those on the backburner.  i wanted to tell him everything was going to turn out alright for him, but i was no longer sure.  i worried he would sense my hesitancy, so i hugged him and told him how much i loved him, and that he could come back whenever he needed.  as i watched him drive away, i felt hollow.

after dropping caleb off this morning, i sat in the car in our driveway and continued listening to the song that reminded me of my young father.  the tears came, and i let them.  i cried for what has happened, for all he has lost, for his present day that looks so unlike what i'm sure he had idealistically pictured his story to become, for the choices he's made in this life that require him to start over yet again.

Tearing yourself away from me now you are free
And I am crying
This does not mean I don't love you, I do, that's forever
Yes and for always

I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are
And you make it hard

between this and the roller coaster of ben's school situation, the month of january shook me up, leaving me feeling separated and tossed into the wind to be scattered around.  the month of february helped me find and gather my scattered pieces, and march is already helping me to patch myself back together, preparing for wherever the wind tries to carry me next.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

what matters most.

But I will hold on hope
And I won't let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I'll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I'll know my name as it's called again
--"The Cave"
Mumford & Sons

i feel like i closed my eyes to blink, and opened them to realize february has come and gone.

i can finally write freely about the past few months with ben's school, because it is over.  we both did the best we could, and gave it everything we had.

ben's ability to match and leave on internship by this summer has been denied, the process of all of it hitting every angle it possibly could;  mental, physical, emotional and even--maybe especially?-- spiritual.  the hits have not all been delivered negatively however, there has been so much good we have seen and felt, and will not deny that.

we are here another year in arizona, and though there was disappointment about not being where we had hoped when it came to this already-lengthy process of school, prolonging the finish line even further, i was surprised at the amount of peace i felt when the decision was finally made for us.

i have learned many lessons during the past 5 years of ben's doctoral program....but i think the most important lesson for me has come in this last trial of our life in limbo for months, decisions made out of our control, then denial of our hopes, and it is this:

stop waiting for happiness.

i've felt many times through grad school as if i've been enduring some sort of punishment, waiting for it to end so i can finally begin---but begin what?  this is the question i've been asking myself, trying to shift the paradigm that the rest of living my life has to be put on hold.  having babies, traveling, my return to school, taking up yoga, becoming more social--these were all things i've been terrified of or avoided because i was waiting for this period of our lives to be over.  i was waiting for help during dinner and bath times, waiting for someone to sit next to me at monthly boy scout meetings, waiting for date nights, waiting for someone to pack up the picnic i had prepared for the day trip with the kids, waiting for someone to laugh with over late movies under blankets on saturday nights.

to be honest, i've been waiting to get my husband back.

a couple of years ago i realized how lost i felt without ben.  it was at this same time i realized how lost ben was in school.  being an introvert and marrying an extrovert had perks i hadn't understood until they were taken from me and i was left to my own devices.  suddenly i found myself a shy homebody who felt trapped in her own life, sweating in the heat of arizona, caring for two kids with an unexpected third on the way, mostly flying solo in parenting, socializing, taking care of the home, and other areas.

i blamed what i could for this entrapment--the stifling heat, the advisors who viewed ben having children and a wife as a liability, the full-time overnight jobs he worked, being without a car, having no family close by, our extremely limited budget, having friends who had their own lives and didn't need to be bothered....the list went on.

but i learned {the hard way} that i was the cause of my own suffocating.

there are always options.

i just continually chose not to see them.  it has only been the past couple of years when i began to start viewing life differently, realizing i could be whoever i want to be, living however i want to live.  even with these options before me, i purposefully chose this life, with these circumstances.  there is so much good here, so much love, and so much ability to be happy that i hadn't even tapped into.  this was when i started choosing happiness within this life, and stopped waiting.

i stepped out of my comfort zone to a job that has been financially helpful, i started reaching out to others for social things regardless of whether or not ben would be there with me, i got to know a lot of babysitters in the neighborhood so i could set aside a few hours in the week--even if all i did was go grocery shopping on my own.  i began more proactive and intentional parenting, and proactive and intentional time as a couple with ben.  and when i felt myself emotionally carrying more than i could handle, i signed back up into group therapy for an automatic safe place to emotionally release when i needed to without unleashing my often-overwhelmed self on the three innocent little people i adore who didn't deserve it.

i have no idea how long school is going to take for us to be finished with it.  i have no idea if, once it's over, ben will be able to find a normal 8am-5pm job, or will have to take what's offered.  and heaven forbid, what if the time away from his family is even more demanding than school has been??  what then?  i need to know i'm going to be okay, regardless.  not just okay, but happy.

and the good news is, i actually am happy--more so than i have been in my life, ever.  and more fulfilled as a mom and a wife because i'm more fulfilled as an individual.  i'm not waiting anymore.  

so the internship not happening this year, was it disappointing?  sure, it wasn't ideally what i had hoped for.  i'd really love for ben to just be done with school.  but was it devastating?  not even close.  we have a really good life inside the walls of the Pink House, even in the often stifling heat.  what matters most is here.  the rest of it--whether it's a doctoral certificate or all of the other outer layer things that can feel so important sometimes, those are the distractions to take my focus off-kilter.

we find ourselves readjusting, once again.  and although it's our third extra year of graduate school, and the finish line feels further from our reach, this time we're readjusting with smiles on our faces, looking forward to what this extra year has to offer us.