Guest in Your Heart / Writing

Open NOT Broken

Category: Writing

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!

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.


The Verdict on Christmas

No, this is not a post about Christmas. Sure, my kid loved her holiday gifts, and we powered through with the stomach bug, and we played some fun games as a family for hours on end. Good stuff.

But, this speech, this amazing closing argument from a movie made three decades ago still makes me gasp and clap in the privacy of my own living room and act like other people do when watching sports.

This, to me, is the spirit of spirit, of the holidays, of the every day, of what matters. This is a big bite of the taste of awake that is like a transfusion to the heart, the opposite of a lullaby, a rev for your engine that may have been choking, sputtering or coasting in neutral. Aren’t you glad you know how to drive a stick and can feel the change of gears as you hit the gas?

Whatever your holiday or politics, if you volunteer, parent, are an activist in college, at the office or your neighborhood, here’s a little iron-filled fuel for an anemic heart.

Let the words stir you up. It’s better than Stomp, Riverdance and an old-fashioned type writer banging out noise. You can hear and feel the pulsing, the rhythm of the beats and the slaps, the power of the punch mixed with artful and precise pauses and slowed tempo so the delivery gets you everywhere.

Words, words, glorious words, not just because or to be snooty, but to arouse and soothe and stoke the soul towards activism and passion and truth-telling and justice. What could be more non-commercial Christmas.

It’s a big build – up, longer than the closing argument from the Verdict made in the 1980’s. It’s just so good, and today, to still be able to catch a movie on T.V., not planned or DVR’d or ordered but to just come across it, a few minutes in and have the hours to spare, that too is a delight and what holidays are for.

Lovely to luxuriate and it just makes me feel all Merry F’n Christmas and thank you Jesus (or Goddess) because the best parts of me are full and fired and gifted with presence….

And if you haven’t had a dose of that today, and you want one, go You Tube “Closing Argument to the Verdict” for the bonus of seeing and hearing Paul Newman, but here, I’m leaving you with the words.

I would love an ornament filled with quotes like this all over my tree.


Judge Hoyle: Summation?

Galvin: Well…You know, so much of the time we’re just lost. We say, “Please, God, tell us what is right. Tell us what is true.”

I mean there is no justice. The rich win; the poor are powerless. We become tired of hearing people lie.

And after a time we become dead, a little dead. We think of ourselves as victims — and we become victims.

We become weak; we doubt ourselves; we doubt our beliefs; we doubt our institutions; and we doubt the law.

But today you are the law.

You are the law, not some book, not the lawyers, not a marble statue, or the trappings of the court. See, those are just symbols of our desire to be just.

They are, in fact, a prayer,

I mean a fervent and a frightened prayer.

In my religion, they say, “Act as if you had faith; faith will be given to you.”

If we are to have faith in justice we need only to believe in ourselves and act with justice.

See, I believe there is justice in our hearts.

Sea Glass is the Ultimate Survivor

O.k., I’m testing out the PicMonkey tool on trying to make Pinterest worthy words and images. I’m not quite used to the format, but I am a collector of quotes, so I like the medium for that most.

Now, back to learning what original and “stock” photos to use, copyright for the words/ideas of others and basically playing.

sea glass seaglass with ocean , beach and seascape, shallow dof


War Within: Daughter of Homeless Vet Responds to Video

I passed through the seven stages of grief watching a middle-aged homeless man transformed by a haircut in the following video.

I’m crying at first and am surprised to feel moved. With just his hair wet and off of his face he begins to come to life and I can see him as a person who could sit at my dinner table. Will cut bangs reveal my father’s eyes?

My tears are replaced by annoyance as the hairdresser places dye on his hair. Why on earth would she do that? What about his roots? Will he be tracked down under a bridge or in a bar every six weeks for touch ups?  Why not get a dentist to help those black gums and rotting teeth?

Is this guy being taken advantage of for a feel-good clip? Do homeless people really benefit? I think I notice him smile as his hair is cleared from around his eyes. Does it feel good to be touched and nurtured? He doesn’t seem to mind.

He starts to seem, well, not bad looking. I mean better looking than a lot of the men on Match. Should I start hair styling for homeless men and find a future mate?

Rage comes in and the nasty part of me wants to face bomb the video. I imagine talking to everyone who watches it saying, “He’s probably a drunk who stole from his kid’s piggy bank and beat their mother. Why don’t you get a video of her working while he is sleeping on the streets? And what about the kids he abandoned?”

I’m the daughter of a homeless veteran. But, as the feminists say, the personal is political. Men like this Jim, on every day but Veteran’s Day, seem to be considered litter on our streets.

How come people aren’t posting, “Thank a veteran for your freedom” when veterans are asking for better VA services? Since they fought for our freedom aren’t we responsible for their problems when combat causes or exacerbates mental illnesses and addictions? Do we want the uglier sides of serving to remain hidden, like decaying teeth, behind closed mouths and doors?

No matter what our views on war can’t we agree that veterans deserve at least basic rations?

Is it society we need to make over to highlight our own hypocrisy?

Maybe this guy’s transformation started from the outside and went all the way in. The notes say he’s getting sober. Good for him. The organization using the clip to raise funds is causing people to look at this man and this issue. They have raised close to $30,000.

It’s less than a week later. Are you still thinking about homeless veterans?

I’m not trying to change your politics. I’ve got enough emotions at war within. These are just the thoughts of a now grown daughter thinking of her homeless, alcoholic, veteran father.

Writing Through Your Divorce – Blog and Workshop

The above website published a piece I wrote which is exciting. One of the things I love about writing, besides the actual process, is the wonderful people I meet and resources and writing I learn about.

My divorce was final by the time I learned about the two woman who started this blog and “Writing Through Your Divorce” workshops. When I read this line, “for women who write to process” describing what they do and offer, I knew I found members of my tribe.

The Writing Through Your Divorce site is new. They respect writers and pay them (that’s still rare). Check out the other writing on their blog if you have time.

And if you or anyone you know is going through a divorce (or the end of long-term partnership) and might benefit from “writing through” the process – direct them to the website. I know it would have been a resource I would have loved.

Here’s a description of the women running the workshop and blog (from their website). Can you tell how fabulous they are?

Magda Pecsenye has been writing the parenting advice website since 2005, in which she focuses on problem-solving and integrating parenting with the rest of ourselves. She writes When The Flames Go Up, a blog about co-parenting after divorce, with her ex-husband, and writes a blog for Huffington Post Divorce. She has been one of Babble’sTop 50 Mom Blogs for the past three years, and has been interviewed and mentioned in theNew York Times, Globe and Mail, Parenting magazine, Parents magazine, and Redbook, and has appeared on Good Morning America and HLN Prime News. She writes and coaches parents about strategy and change, and consults on strategy, marketing, and media for entrepreneurs and small businesses. She lives in Ann Arbor, MI, with her two sons.

Deesha Philyaw is a Pittsburgh-based freelancer who writes about race, parenting, food, and pop culture. Along with her ex-husband she is the co-founder of co-parenting101.organd the co-author of Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Children Thrive in Two Households After Divorce (New Harbinger). She has appeared on CBS’s The Early Show, and her writing has been published in Essence and Bitch magazines, The Pittsburgh-Post Gazette, and The Washington Post. Other recent work includes contributions to the collections When We Were Free to Be: Looking Back at a Children’s Classic and the Difference It Made (The University of North Carolina Press) and The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage: True Tales of Food, Family, and How We Learn to Eat (Roost Books).  Deesha is an adjunct professor in Chatham University’s Master of Writing program, and she has taught adult writing classes at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.  In 2012, she received a Flight School Fellowship for artist professional development from the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts/Pittsburgh Filmmakers.  She is a remarried mom and stepmom to four daughters.


Beth O’Malley’s New Blog & Divorce: Adoption-Style Article

My soul sister friend, Beth O’Malley, is a national adoption expert and the author of Lifebooks: Creating a Treasure for the Adopted Child. She had a lifelong long career as an adoption social worker at the Department for Children and Families (DCF). She was adopted from foster care as an infant. She and her husband adopted a beautiful spirit over ten years ago. She blends her knowledge about adoption which is a blend of profoundly personal and professionally extensive and warmly accessible.

She has published workbooks for kids in foster care as well as children adopted from China. Her website is and she has just started blogging at – YAHOO! I am so glad because she has so much wisdom to share.

We met at a workshop about the home study process for adoptive parents. We had seen each other at events at Wide Horizons for Children where she was a vendor and I helped plan cultural events. Since then, we have been friends and our daughters, born only ten days apart, have yearly cookie baking and summer outing and crafting sleepover traditions which are yummy and fun rituals for all of us. 

The reason I’m mentioning her here, on my blog, is because she has asked me to write for her newsletter about divorce from the perspective of an adoptive mother. I have and share that piece below:


I never planned to be a stay-at-home mother. I was a feminist who earned the same as my husband when we decided to adopt a child born in China. Our daughter Kai’s attachment needs trumped my politics. I stopped working, woke up many times a night to feed her bottles and soothe her terrified cries which lasted for years.

I needed to differentiate myself from the staff people who had been in the orphanage, show her what it means to have a loving and available mother available who is responsive. Her secure attachment was my priority. There would be no passing her around like a hot potato at family events, no babysitters each week or weekends away without Kai. We lived to protect, feed and nurture her physical and emotional development. We didn’t believe in letting her cry it out – ever.

So when her father and I decided to divorce during her first year of kindergarten, not only did I feel like I failed at marriage, but at being her adoptive and attachment parent. Adoptive parents aren’t supposed to divorce. Our babies come into our lives already having experienced loss. We are supposed to love, heal and nurture not re-traumatize or be the cause for tears.

At therapy, with an adoption specialist, I agonized. How can I do something “right” for me when it feels “wrong” for my daughter? But trust between her father and I was shattered. Adoptive parents aren’t supposed to have addictions, mental health issues, trust issues and remnants from childhood trauma still unresolved – they do. We did. Our children might have anxiety, depression or attachment disorders but not us.

We didn’t know how to reconcile our failings (which is how they felt) because adoptive parents are supposed to be make life better, not worse, supposed to have answers – not questions. No one expects divorce but adoptive parents feel a unique brand of guilt because our children have already lost their birth parents, their first parents and we know the profound loss, the transitions in foster care, orphanages or homes.

We had devoted five years to Kai’s growth and development, learning about malnutrition and being a bicultural family. Adoption conferences, books and magazines filled my “free” time as did organizing a cultural play group. But I couldn’t keep my marriage or Kai’s family together. It didn’t make sense. 

We tried an in-house separation, sleeping in different bedrooms, considered buying a duplex or building an addition to remain under one roof while apart. Nothing worked. Trust was shattered between us and we didn’t want our tension to be a skunk perfume so strong it could be tasted, so overwhelming it was hard to breathe or pay attention to anything else.

Together, at the therapist’s office children’s blocks were on the floor, Korean art on one wall and photos of families on another, we got coached on how to talk to our daughter, what to say and not say, what to do and not do.

Don’t get a dog too soon to try to replace Daddy. Don’t be Daddy Santa Claus and only do fun things when she’s away from home. Cry enough to show feelings but not so much you frighten or burden. And of course, reassure her that you will always be her parents, together or apart, and that she was blameless.

On our dining room floor we all sat and her father and I took turns with sentences. I explained Daddy was moving out. He said he would be close by and see her often. We both told her none of our “grown up problems” was her fault.

“Why would it be my fault?” she asked. That sentence was the one ray of sunshine that warmed. There was little else to celebrate. Kai pointed out “perks” to our divorce saying, “It’s just girls in the house now,” or “Can I have the extra close?” She seemed more bewildered than sad.

There were school concerts and Halloween, then the holidays to get through and spring cleaning. My camera worked and I took photographs as I had done each year of her life. I’d load the pictures on Snapfish but put off developing them. Photos of her father and me on the first Christmas morning with strained smiles as she opened gifts. He had showed up at 6:00 a.m. and stayed through lunch. The intentions were good. The photos were not frame-worthy.

There were photos of events I attended without Kai because she was with her Dad. Her absence all I could see. The time she waved to me from the booster seat in the back of her father’s car the first time she went to sleep at his apartment is an image I will never forget. Her hands out the car window waving to me and mine out the kitchen window waving to her. They couldn’t reach or touch. When the car rounded the corner I sobbed. No cameras. No witnesses. That is stored in the solitary confinement of memory.

We didn’t write away to Chinese Consulate for Adoption Affairs seeking permission to parent expecting we would do child support calculations one day. There were no books or pamphlets on how to divorce adoption-sensitive and attachment-style. We struggled to factor in the needs not factored into any state formulas or parenting plans. Could we keep her home and school life consistent as her family changed? Would I work full-time or part-time? How much of her schedule would we disrupt?

Divorce is not ideal. It can be painful and messy – and she’s not even a teenager. It isn’t an experience, like a surgery, that has a clean end date. It took time to accept our new normal, four years before I could get old photos printed, organized and into albums.

The heaviness of my avoidance finally lifted. I realized not all the photos had to be turned into scrapbook pages with hearts and smiley faces. Kai didn’t need a four-year gap in the visual archive of her childhood because some of the images were difficult. It felt right to capture memories and experiences of our whole family life so she will have them for later. Space and nothingness won’t be used to deny reality.

Once, Kai said she was going to write a book called “My Divorce” for other kids. I wanted to correct her, to tell her kids don’t get divorced, don’t ever get divorced from their parents. But how could I say those words to her? She had lost her birth parents, country and language before her first birthday. Parents can be lost and sometimes forever. It was her divorce too. It was the end of a family life she had known.

We are not the family we were, the one we dreamed we would remain, but Kai’s father and I adore her when together or apart. We swap Christmas lists and co-host her birthday parties. We sit together at school outings and sometimes grab a meal together. We share stories and concerns, celebrations and report cards. He has the keys to my home. I have the keys to his apartment. Both places Kai calls home.

We are doing our best to nurture, co-parent and provide stability. We are “doing” divorce as attachment-aware and adoption-sensitive as possible.

Memoir Writing: This is Why

I love this piece by Beverly Donofrio about memoir writing in yesterday’s New York Times. She captures why so many of us write memoir. Her crime-fighting abilities may be better than average but she is inspirational.

Now I must go order her books.I do have a Kindle Fire but still I favor the actual 3-D book.



Sometimes You Get an Actual Sign

An edited version of this is coming out soon in Elephant Journal this week. Also, you know those people who write short and get to the point in 3 paragraphs or less? I’m not one of them.

Walking a new beach in a super heightened discovery mode (like a dog just let off leash); I came upon a sign, in the form of drift wood with a magic marker message. I took a picture. It says: even if you are lost, you’re here now & that’s good enough.

signI’ve been lost. I’ve been lost not even knowing I was lost. Have you? Has life served you a fresh dish of WTF? Are you still eating the leftovers?  

Being lost is familiar to me. Loving people who are lost has been a favorite hobby. Believing being here now is enough is a radical concept I’m only beginning to embrace.

I had a conversation just last week with my friend Jen about this subject and how, for most of my life, I have been auditioning for the part of human. I have lived with this idea of myself as a decent,whole and accomplished woman. I was her wanna be, her almost but her not quite there yet. In my mind, I was a totally potentiated self entirely “over” my past, with no scars from the ugliness of childhood and absent any untidy emotions spilling out. This imaginary self was what I used  daily, as a hammer, to beat the hell out of my actual struggling and imperfect self.

The former me would have laughed at this driftwood sign, would have stood in the sand and said, “It’s not enough to just be here. You need to make a difference, make a mark – you lazy four-eyed fuck.” This yelling would have been at myself just in case I was in danger of believing the world would offer any pillow and tempt me to put down my guard. I would have thought, “You can’t just take up space on the planet.”

Jen not only understood she could relate and shared how she too had been trying to perfectly execute her roles as mother, daughter, sibling, friend and spouse. She wanted to be “good” above all and to get life “right.” She wanted to exceed the expectations of others. She was proud of what a hard working soul she was, how good she was at helping, giving and exerting A+ effort. We both prided ourselves in anticipating the needs of others and were gifted at judging ourselves for personality defects and character weaknesses.

We didn’t see ourselves as people pleasing, co-dependent or even acknowledge how afraid and exhausted we were. We saw ourselves as activists; sensitives willing to make life easier for others because we were tough and others were in need. Dire need. It was an identity and a lifestyle so deeply ingrained we thought it was who we were and would always be. We didn’t know exactly what we were trying to accomplish or gain. But the desperate and excruciating effort of wanting to be productive and caring had a self-denying relentlessness that became a machine that never stopped to rest. It operated on autopilot without having a destination.

It took root in childhood. The details aren’t necessary except to say, though different, we each experienced and survived two or more of the following: Abuse. Abandonment. Neglect. We didn’t become addicts or criminals. We weren’t materialistic or blatantly narcissistic. Our pain was mostly internalized. We appeared to be kind, responsible, sweet and upstanding. We were the type named to guardians in wills, go-to people who could be counted on for advice, rides or loans. We would never be caught doing anything dishonest or “bad.” If all of those ways of being had given us pleasure and were the deepest expressions of who we were meant to be – so be it. But they weren’t. We were anxiety ridden, trying to justify our existence, to prove we were worthy enough to take up space and air. 

Jen recently found a note she had written to herself that said “I feel guilty for even being here on Earth.” My mantra used to be, “Who cares if you feel bad, who have YOU helped make feel better today. Why don’t you focus on that?” I tried to bully myself into mattering.

We didn’t see being human as a birthright. We didn’t see ourselves as lovable or even likable. We were terrified that who and how we were was deeply flawed, wrong and bad. We were trying to “sell ourselves,” not just to others, but to ourselves. Despite our desire to break family cycles, and how good we seemed to others, we were cruel to ourselves. We abandoned our own desires, abused our bodies and neglected our needs.

The reason I bring Jen into this is that she, like me, didn’t question her way of being in the world until life exploded at midlife. We both thought we had paid our dues in childhood and would be spared future hardship. It wasn’t until “the plan” failed that either of us drastically changed. For both of us, it took major relationship betrayals and shocks to wake us up and force us to re-examine ourselves, lives and assumptions. It took career changes, moves, depression, divorce, post-traumatic stresses and varied heart breaks to teach us we needed to learn how to be there for ourselves. It took seeking, creative discovery, self-exploration and endless lifestyle adjustments to begin making new lives.

We realized being good wouldn’t protect us from life’s hardships and being “bad” didn’t cause bad things to happen. Those were old childlike beliefs that helped us survive childhood. We thought: If we are better, life will be better. If we are good, life won’t be bad. If life is bad, we must not be good enough.  Do better. Be better. Try harder was the antidote as though it had ever worked. It wasn’t true in childhood and it’s not true as an adult. Pain, change and loss are part of life. There’s no outrunning or outwitting those experiences or emotions without shutting out joy, love, creativity and adventure.

Our lives look less white picket fence but we both feel more honest, connected to ourselves and authentic. We are kinder within, more supportive and gentle. We both agree we would rather be disliked for who we are than loved for who we are not. Still, the process of reclaiming the abandoned self can be painful as hell. There are many people who loved us better before, when we met their needs more and our own less. Others feel abandoned or betrayed, that our lives and priorities have changed, that we’ve gone “off” script and we no longer match their image of who we are. Some see us as going from self sacrificing to self absorbed. They aren’t wrong.

They loved the only version of us they knew. It’s harder to embrace a more honest and complicated person who is less predictable and apologetic. than it is to be with someone who tries to anticipate your wants and needs before you even verbalize them. It’s a big adjustment.

I still believe in changing the world and caring about others but it’s not an activism born of self hate. What can I offer the world if I’m not at peace with myself? In the past, I tried to “earn” love and support doing some unspoken exchange, hoping giving myself away to others meant they would give me back to myself. That version of caring used to seem kind to me. Now, it seems manipulative, controlling and a way to avoid the intimacy of being real when adult needs conflict. I don’t want to do that anymore.

The shattering of the life I had was necessary to unearth my deepest self hidden a few decades deep. One part of me feels young and new, like a baby bird, still wet and pushing out of a cracked egg eager to explore. Another part of me feels ancient – filled with trust and gratitude as though my deceased elders are on my shoulder saying, “Don’t spend your entire life too afraid to take risks or make mistakes.”

Maybe what I’m going through is common at midlife or post transition. Maybe it’s a new level of healing as I shake off old survival skills in favor of finding new ways of living. I’m not sure it matters. There’s a cosmic rightness to it all I’ve not felt before which is why the words on the beach written by a stranger meant so much to me. I am grateful for getting a sign, that sign, because, “Even if you’re lost, you’re here now and that’s enough.”

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