Guest in Your Heart / Writing

Open NOT Broken

Month: January, 2014

When the It You are Trying to Get Over is Your Life

For my horse daughter, in this Year of the Horse, with her permission.


Self-Care as a Second Language

I have a friend who fills out the gift tag option when ordering products online – for herself! When her item arrives, it comes with a love note, from her.


Another friend, who I went to Alaska with for six weeks during college, wrote herself letters. She put pen to paper before we even boarded the plane. When she received it mid-way through the adventure she told me she had done because explaining she anticipated she might be lonely.

You what?

In both instances, when I first heard about their practices, I thought, WACKO… I didn’t say the word but am certain the puzzled look on my face expressed how odd I thought each one of them was.

“You might not want to share that with people” is what I thought. Maybe they didn’t know it seemed selfish and strange and kind of pathetic.

It’s years later and I wonder not about their choices but about my response.

Clearly they were both ahead of their time. Now, there is a language for self-acceptance, self-compassion and self-love. But these friends weren’t doing online exercises with Brene Brown or reading Cheri Huber’s book There’s Nothing Wrong With You No Matter What You Think. No, they were attending to, nurturing and doting on themselves because they learned or taught themselves to relate to themselves in loving ways.

It seemed so crazy to me at the time. Then, I was barely conscious of the way I talked to myself. I’m not sure I would have even understand what having a relationship with yourself meant.

“It’s o.k. to talk to yourself,” My Great Aunt Jean used to say, “As long as nobody answers.”

Writing notes or letters to yourself seemed too close to answering. And maybe it scared me. But why?

After all, I was a journal writer even way back when. It wasn’t the notes, per se, that struck me as strange, but the planning and ahead and admitting needs and taking steps to meet them. It was how they each gave attention to their comfort and delight. They acted so deliberately, with intention and without shame. They recognized and admitted their needs and wants.

As a kid, I was told if you asked for a piece of candy from the candy dish you couldn’t have it. Asking was rude. You had to be waited to be asked. Pretending not to be staring at the white rooster dish wondering what was inside was the goal at my great-grandmother’s house. Trying not to obsess about or drool over the chewy caramel candy in a glass bowl at my Nana’s was hard.

If you could wait you might be rewarded. If you got greedy or impatient, if you asked or admitted what you wanted… Game over. You lose. Don’t ask. Don’t expect. Don’t want. Or if you do, at least don’t say so out loud.

What was a candy dish for if not for sharing candy?

I learned to be coy about getting needs met and owning up to them. The only thing worse than being needy was seeming needy. That was weak and weak is bad.

However, waiting to be asked and pretending you didn’t care a bit about your needs or wants was more dignified and restrained. Strong even. If you could go a step further, say “No thank you” even to something you wanted, that was strong, almost regal and triumphant.

It’s not like anyone said it in words. But that is the message I got. Denying the self and overriding desire was admirable. And what makes me think of it now, isn’t the past, but the cold.

Wednesday, my daughter headed with her guitar to the door wearing only a sweatshirt. It’s seven degrees out.

“Put your coat on” I say, “It’s cold.”

“It’s just across the street.”

And the truth is, I never put my coat on, even when it’s seven degrees or below zero. Same for my mittens or a hat. And I don’t carry an umbrella and I judge the light weights who do. A remote starter? No way. All of those things are for wimps. Who has the time or the money and can’t be cold (or wet) for a minute or two?

And maybe I’m even a little proud of myself when I tough it out. But why?

I’m not happy to have taught this to my own daughter. Not proud. I don’t want her to think self neglect is better than self-care. I don’t want her to shiver in the cold for even a few minutes. It’s not tough. I want her to be know how to make herself comfortable even in the elements. But I haven’t shown her that I’ll do that for myself so now she’s copying me.

I don’t know if I will ever write myself a love note when I order a package or mail myself a letter before boarding a plane. However, I’m going to start wearing my red mittens and maybe even a matching scarf.

I want my daughter to know that her needs are not optional. Life stretches our tough muscles plenty without us trying to go without or make due with less for “practice.”

It’s one thing to give a pair of mittens to someone who needs them more. That might be noble or virtuous. But to leave them on the counter, by the door, where they are warm when my hands are cold, that’s something else.

That’s WACKO!

Silence Protects Abusers

Silence Protects Abusers

What if every survivor of sexual abuse picked up the phone, called their abuser and confronted them like this woman did?

What if we confronted perpetrators over the phone, hit record and then You Tubed the response? That would be a lot of signals carried by cell towers, countless phones ringing in living rooms, offices, schools and churches.

90% of the 25% to 33% of adults sexually abused during childhood know the perpetrators. They aren’t random criminal monsters but teachers and relatives, ministers and coaches we often know by name who were our caretakers as children. What it we all had recorded proof that our own families and friends and larger society could not dismiss or minimize and would have to confront directly and immediately?

We might live in a different world and one safer for children.

The problem for many survivors isn’t that they don’t know where their abusers are or how to reach them but that they feel shame for having been abused, for being unable to protect themselves or others, that they were guilty of, well, being children, innocent and naive, gullible and exploitable.

What has kept so many of us quiet isn’t that we don’t know our abusers it is that we do and we might have liked or loved, trusted or admired them even as we despised being molested by them.


When I was in my early twenties, I started therapy, talked about my abusive childhood and the frequent chaos and neglect. A few sessions in, the therapist handed me a claim for insurance and on it I was to write the diagnosis for which I was seeking treatment.

Instead, I wrote the first and last names of the three family members who molested me and handed it back.

“You can’t do that,” she said.

“But that’s why I’m here,” I said.

She nodded but explained how the insurance system worked and that a diagnosis was needed for me to get insurance coverage.

But car insurers looked at fault and determined liability so why didn’t medical insurers want a context? It made no sense. I pointed out how my perpetrators weren’t in jail or therapy and how my getting treatment wasn’t going to change their behavior.

I argued that from a strictly financial standpoint if abuse isn’t prevented, it’s going to keep happening, and it’s cheaper to find and treat the abusers than the people they abuse. Wasn’t it known that abusers abuse and will keep abusing. If it happened to me it would to many others?

Prevention 101 or so I thought. But part of the problem is how prevalent the problem is and how often it occurs. Doctors and therapists are child protection social workers may be the only ones who aren’t shocked or surprised by the statistics when it comes to childhood sexual abuse.

The general population recoils from any discussion of as though shaking the head in shock or disgust does anything to make our children safer.

As a new mother, not leaving my child at a lunch table alone in the Children’s Museum in Boston, my social worker friend laughed at my over-protectiveness. “You think something is going to happen to her here?” she said.

Even me, as a survivor abused in my own bed, home and my step-father’s car bought into the myth that the predator is some sneaky stranger in public and not the trusted coach, step-parent, teacher or priest. But it’s their familiarity which makes them dangerous and gives them access to the children they abuse.

In some ways I miss the indignation of my youth when I felt outrage on my own behalf and didn’t know that one in three or four of us have been abused and thought what happened to me, when known, would cause shock and action.

I look back at the twenty-two year old in therapy who knew that treating my anxiety was necessary but would only help me and do nothing to help prevent others from being abused. What happened to her as I aged? I miss her anger. Her outrage. The feeling that what happened to me was wrong.

Where was the outrage, not just for me, but for all survivors getting a clinical diagnosis for the crime of being children impacted by the violence committed against them as children? It seemed unfair to receive a disorder rather than a badge of courage for dealing with abuse when those that committed it weren’t in treatment or in jail?

I understood why it would be hard to speak up in families where abuse took place but why was the silent so prevalent everywhere else? The lack of general outrage injured me because it made me believe “it’s just me” and the “it’s just me” personalizing of a problem is what keeps so many shame-filled and symptom suffering.

In fact, the believing it’s just me is what made me lose my anger, feel even more shame and decide, I’m just not strong enough and too screwed up, messed up or impacted while others seem to manage better or heal more quickly, silently and better. Maybe it’s not what happened to me that is the problem, I bought into more and more over time and kept having to wrestle with but me, something in me that attracted the abuse, the same thing that makes it difficult to get over.

I spent more time analyzing and blaming myself and less time upset that abuse happened at all, to me but also continually, to children.

We can learn from Jamie Carillo who insisted on justice. When told, once she was ready to file a criminal charge against her abuser, it was too late because the statute of limitation had run out, she made a phone call on her own behalf and demanded accountability.

She got what every survivor of sexual abuse deserves and rarely gets: the truth to be known, justice served and support to be provided. But most importantly, she used her to voice to make sure this teacher couldn’t stay in her job with easy access to other children.

At my core, I knew what this twenty-eight year old must know, and that is that what happened to her wasn’t right or fair and needs to be kept from happening to any other children.

She didn’t say, “It must just be me,” but wanted to make sure others were safe.

I was not so brave.  I did not out my abusers. I did not file charges. I hated on myself and waged a war with my own pain. I joined the blame the victim culture and pathologized and marginalized myself.

I accepted a diagnosis in order to get more sessions back in 1992. “Generalized anxiety” would get coverage my therapist explained though post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was more accurate. I went with PTSD because I wanted to be honest. I didn’t want to lie or manipulate the system.

But I was mad and wanted to write my insurance company and tell them it felt unfair to be labeled when it is healthy to deal with issues and trauma. I didn’t. That was twenty-five years ago and it’s still difficult to be an incest survivor. There is a stigma to having been abused. No one is rushing to get the incest survivor bumper sticker even though. It’s not a resume builder or an asset for a profile.

Many survivors have problems with trusting, doctor’s appointments, child birth, parenting, sex, The Change and many issues related to the body, sex, intimacy and trust. However, we aren’t usually chatting openly about our survivor issues and the medical or psychological or interpersonal issues that result because that’s too “victimy” or shameful and who wants to be “negative” or clinging to the past?

And that is why this woman’s You Tube confrontation has gone viral and is so jaw-droopingly brave. She delivered her own justice and broadcast it without apology. She protected others from being victimized and reminded survivors everywhere that we are not alone. She told the truth and it made a difference. She gave us a real-life example of what not taking on the shame of the abuser looks like in action.

And that’s why, today, you’ll find me running victory laps around my living room, jumping up and down and high-fiving the computer screen watching this video.

Jamie Carillo’s words and actions have made me braver and my bravery is important because abusers love shame and they silence. Silence protects them.

But they don’t need our protection. Our children do. Remember, 1 in 3 (or 4) are being abused still by people they know in their homes and schools, churches and families.


For more on preventing childhood sexual abuse:

Note: I didn’t write alleged abuser because in the telephone conversation the woman accused of abused acknowledged that it happened, was wrong and said as a school administrator she herself involves law enforcement when the same accusations are made.

Storm Photos on CBS

O.k., I’m no photographer. I’m not being modest, I know real photographers who take the shots, know the mechanical settings and who make a living or a serious hobby from that art.

I am not one of those people. But, the bench at the end of my street was memorable yesterday during high tide and none of those photographers was to be found.

So, I took a few shots and a neighbor told me to send them to the local news which I did. So they are here, with other AMAZING shots of a storm and cold weather we won’t soon forget.

The neighbors I live by, but don’t always party with, gathered in front of my fireplace last night to drink in relief (and booze). We made it through the cold, the shoveling and hopefully the worst blizzard of the year.

One of my friends, on Jan. 1st said, “2014 is already way better than 2013” to which I say, “Here. Here.”

Who Are Those Crazy People on the Coast?

coastal lifeMe. I am one of those crazies by the shore.

My green CRV is a flood car. It was purchased at this time a few years ago when my blue Subaru was totaled in my driveway by being immersed in salt water. I learned one “dip” in the ocean and the engine is no longer reliable or safe – even if it starts once dry.

When my house flooded I was not as strong or stoic as my coastal friends and neighbors. Ask my sister who drove me around to get a new car and the loved ones who had to listen to me complain about feeling rattled raw. The flood cost me $15,000.00 and I was unprepared, having grown up in the city where terms like flood zone and storm surge were never used.

When my heating system needed to be hung from the ceiling, my a/c and washer and drawer moved to higher ground, the water heater replaced, the financial and emotional toll was heavy. I had a young daughter and no car, heat, hot water or cash.

The worst part was wondering, “What if it happens again?”

Years later I still look for items, like hiking shoes and remember, “Oh yeah, the flood. Gone.”

Yet I didn’t sell my house. Moving was out of the question for me then and still is now. To relocate, because of storms that might hit once a year or decade, is to reject something central and necessary to my life, which is how much I love the ocean, my home and neighborhood.

Can I, instead, with storm-savvy planning become more storm resistant, more resilient and less prone to damage? storm protectionCan I get flood insurance to cover the structure if not the contents of my home?

Until my 40’s, my favorite word was safe. A close second was good. If I could be both safe and good, I thought, I had arrived as a full-grown successful adult ready to die and be welcomed in Heaven. It was a perfect plan, except, I wasn’t happy. It’s hard to feel vibrant and safe or open while guarded.  

So let me take a moment to appreciate storms, even the ones I pray are less severe than predicted and don’t hit too hard. It’s not that I want to lose power or a hot water heater. I don’t. Still, I know storms are valuable. They make you clean the basement, find your flashlights and appreciate a good fire. But it’s more. The big ones help you to know what you love and see the dead weight you carry and must let go of.

I’m nervous about flooding and glad I have flood insurance. I’m not out surfing in below zero temperatures or pretending there’s no blizzard.

Instead, I am saying, to the ocean, I choose to see your beauty and respect your power. Even as your wind is blowing I embrace you, knowing you have lessons to teach me.  Because isn’t it true for you as well even if you are on dry land? Hasn’t your heart, been totaled on contact, at least once by love? Still, wouldn’t you risk falling in love again even though the falling part is scary? I would. I will. Safe isn’t always best.

It’s the same with Mother Nature. I know she’s got the power to do serious damage, and has, but I love her and remain loyal. Sure, her ferocious power scares me at times. It sounds as though the wind could flip my roof like it was the top of a garbage barrel. I’m nervous.

But this isn’t daily life. Most often, the ocean welcomes me, lets me walk on her shore and receives me unconditionally which is the bigger truth of coastal life.

I hope my basement stays dry and if the water comes, it recedes quickly. Either way, another storm will come – and pass – and come again. We can’t control Mother Nature, Love or Life – no matter where we live.  I love my ocean and I won’t turn from her even when she is bitter and cold.

coastal 2If I let a storm run me out of this house and life I’m saying that the other meaningful and wonderful 364 days of the year in this house and neighborhood don’t matter and can be sacrificed to fear.

And to me, that seems more dangerous than the risk of flooding.


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