Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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As It Should Be

If you  have followed my blog over the last couple of years, it is no secret that I find dating to be a nightmare. Navigating and balancing all the dynamics is not for the faint of heart and I could give you names of thousands that would agree. When someone asks me what I am looking for, I used to say a full-time partner. Now I just say someone who I might want to go on a second date with!

We (those of us in the dating world) do a boatload of mental gymnastics in order to make sense of the nonsense that occurs regularly in the that world. Some of that is necessary because we all need to adjust our expectations sometimes. But every once in a while, something GREAT occurs and you have to shake your head at all the months/years of the stuff you put up with, thinking you were hoping for too much. Seeing as I tend to blog about the negatives, let me share some of the very refreshing things that I have experienced lately.

For example…

1. When you send a text to let him know you are thinking about him but you are worried maybe you shouldn’t have.

What you expect: You usually don’t get a response for several hours. Maybe not for a day or two. Or maybe they never text you again. Ever. Or you might be seen as needy, over-anxious, desperate, pushy.

Instead: He sees your text and he calls you because he wants to connect with you.

2. When you say something sappy like, “Happy Anniversary” and are worried maybe you shouldn’t have.

What you expect: “I don’t do anniversaries” or you might be seen as needy, over-anxious, desperate, pushy. Or they outright laugh at you.

Instead: He says thank you and tells you how much he has enjoyed getting to know you. He even talks about how much he is looking forward to continuing the journey with you.

3. When you tell him you wish you could see him more.

What you expect: He doesn’t feel the same way. He thinks you’re smothering him. He ignores you and continues to make you feel like you aren’t a priority.

Instead: He tells you has the desire to be with you, even if the schedules don’t allow it. But he “embraces the emotions” that you obviously both have that are causing the desire to see each other to begin with.

4. When you go to his house and hope maybe you can stay over (even though you can’t because you have a son at home).

What you expect: “I can’t share my bed with anyone. I can’t sleep if someone is here.” Or “I haven’t had anyone spend the night here in years. It is going to take me a long time to be comfortable with that.”

Instead:  He says, “You know, you can stay as long as you want. I just want you to be comfortable.”

I could write pages more of examples, but the point is, the “instead’s” are as it should be. I think I am finally at the point that I would rather have one week with someone like this, then weeks or months with someone who isn’t. That may sound like common sense to you, but there were times when the loneliness was so bad, I would have taken the bad over having nothing.

You don’t ever know how long something will last, but for this moment? It’s as wonderful as I have always dreamed it would be. Knowing I am respected and wanted does amazing things for my ability to get through the hard days. There are never guarantees for “forever” so you just relish each moment and day, and hope there are more. And more. And more.

 


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Mother Teresa

Once a week, I try to post a quote on Facebook. It’s just something to keep things active on my business page and I hope it will generate some thinking. I really loved this week’s quote. It came out of a book I was reading called “Hope Conquers All” which is full of CaringBridge stories.

“Do not think that love in order to be genuine has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired.” Mother Teresa

Love, love, love that. We need to love without getting tired.

I am the first to admit that I get tired. Often. I remember once at a spiritual direction session when Tim was still alive and I was dealing with a host of blended family problems, I was asked to move seats for a technique she was using. I don’t remember the actual intervention, but I do remember her saying afterward that she had an aha moment when she realized I was just completely exhausted. A simple thing like moving my seat became a burden because I was so emotionally tapped out. Tired.

I try not to complain, but when I do, I know I hear myself saying I’m tired. Tired of being alone. Tired of being the strong one. Tired of being the one people depend on. Tired of being responsible. Tired of being alone. Tired of being alone.

I was in a session yesterday with a lovely woman who has had a lifetime of burdens to bear. Family and significant others in her life have had hosts of issues like mental illness, severe addictions, etc.. She is tired. She just longs for someone to take care of her for a change. My heart ached for her. She is so worthy of being rescued, but there is no genuine promise to offer her that someone will eventually do just that.

Mother Teresa’s quote is profound. We need to love without tiring.  We don’t need miracles, we just need to stay the course. No fanfare, nothing fancy. Just keep at it. Keep going, keep trying.

And I don’t think it’s wrong to also hope to find someone in life who will love us without tiring as well. It’s ok to want it back in return.

I talked with my client yesterday about how she probably would identify with my fantasy for a significant other. My ideal isn’t being swept off my feet, or some fabulous vacation. The vision is in my kitchen, with someone who just says, “I’m here.” And then they stay. They love without tiring.

Thanks for your amazing life and example, Mother Teresa. And thanks for that profound statement. When I feel my fatigue, I’m going to remember that statement and let it inspire me to keep loving.


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Love Hurts

I’ve had another down week, but when people ask me how I am doing, I am saying, “fine.” I guess that’s because I am. There is nothing in particular wrong, but sometimes depression takes the form of a dark cloud that just kind of hangs over you. I’ve decided after reflecting on events, that is comes down to the fact that when you choose to be invested in people, (I mean REALLY invested) that pretty much guarantees that you will experience some gut wrenching pain at some point (or several points).

I’ve been told more than once (and recently reminded) that I just care too much. I know it’s true, but I don’t think it is something that will ever change about me. Sometimes it’s the maddening romantic love where you care about something that hurts you. You wish you could stop caring, but it seems beyond your control. It reminds me of the movie “Bruce Almighty” where Jennifer Aniston lays in her bed at night and just weeps with the prayer, “Please God. Please let me stop loving him.”

But there are many other loves. Loving your child, loving your parent, a friend, a client. Could be anyone. Sometimes there is love you cannot walk away from. No matter what happens, you are committed. Often this is family. On our wedding day, Tim and I wrote our own vows. I hadn’t had Frankie yet, but my vows talked about how I knew there would be a difference between any biological children I had and my step-children. But I vowed that as much as I was humanly capable of, I would minimize that difference to the best of my ability. Tim’s death never changed that commitment to me.

This week I have just had to listen and see and observe people around me who are hurting. Sometimes, people choose a path of destruction that is miles wide. Sometimes it does no good to try to intervene. Maybe an attempt would actually make things worse. Let me just say when you love someone, it hurts and aches deeply to be aware of how much they are hurting themselves and those around them, but remain powerless to stop it or do anything about it. Your heart just breaks as you watch.

My brother, Dad and I had another appointment this week. This time, there were no jokes and giggles. Dad was having a bad day. Sometimes the Parkinson’s just gets to him. It’s not life-threatening, but every once in a while I get hit between the eyes when I realize just how much he has changed. This predictable, stable, larger-than-life man now shuffles his feet. He may trip on the stairs. He may be dizzy, confused. And the worst is when he realizes it and just looks at me and says something like, “I just don’t feel right today.”

I wouldn’t trade this part of me for anything. I want to love deeply. I want to care too much. But sometimes I just have the need to also cry or yell out that it really sucks. Those moments I think erroneously that I would give anything to trade in my soul for someone who is a bit more calloused and selfish. Wish I could just not care and wash my hands of responsibility.

Those moments fade. And I take the whole package. I will love and care. And I will hurt and ache. It’s the price of connection and I am willing to pay it. Maybe it’s not that I’m willing. I doubt I could be anything else. It’s as involuntary as breathing for me I think.

Hmmm… I guess it’s another example of the paradox of bittersweet.


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The Extra Mile- Is It Worth It?

Henri Nouwen said the following:

“Do not hesitate to love and to love deeply. You might be afraid of the pain that deep love can cause. When those you love deeply reject you, leave you, or die, your heart will be broken. But that should not hold you back from loving deeply. The pain that comes from deep love makes your love ever more fruitful. It is like a plow that breaks the ground to allow the seed to take root and grow into a strong plant… Yes, as you love deeply the ground of your heart will be broken more and more, but you will rejoice in the abundance of the fruit it will bear.”

This has always been my philosophy. I may not have been able to articulate it as such, but I think it is the way I have usually lived and conducted my life. Several years ago when I was introduced to the Eneagram and discovered I was personality type number four, I was given another layer of understanding. Fours will take agony over nothing because it makes you feel alive and not invisible. I had more words to articulate my personality and philosophy.

The last couple of years though, I find myself questioning whether or not I want to continue to make decisions based on the “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” theory. I’m not talking only about romantic relationships, but the way I have approached every aspect of my life. Give with all my heart because that is who I am. That is how I am wired.

Truth is, I love living my life that way. I’m actually proud of it. I got the extra proverbial mile. Okay, let’s face it, I go thousands of extra miles, as a mom, step-mom, therapist, family member, friend. When I was very young, I remember my mom saying that I give so much of myself, which is fine until I expect others to give back the same. When they don’t I get crushed. She understood me from the very beginning. And it’s the line in Henri Nouwen’s quote about being rejected, abandoned, or left by death that gets to me. I love giving passionately. That is, until it hurts. Then I question the whole way I conduct my life.

In my practice, I have often gone beyond the normal expectations. I will do a home visit if someone has lost their license, has a bad back, or suffered a particularly difficult trauma. I have given several free sessions for different circumstances. I have attended weddings, funerals and other meaningful events when requested to do so. I don’t charge for those extra phone calls between sessions or for letters to be written. And I do it because I want to. I do it because it is how my heart beats. Then I do something- less than perfect, or not what is anticipated, or whatever it may be, and the client gets angry or upset, and drops out of therapy. It may or may not be accompanied by a torrent of harsh words. I know professionally that this happens. But regardless of any intellectual knowledge I have, it still knocks the wind out of me. Years of going out of my way and doing all the extras are forgotten because one ounce of upset negates several tons of love and compassion.

Or perhaps it is my family. As a step-mom, I vowed on my wedding day to seek to love my non-biological children as much as any biological children I had. I know there is a difference, but my goal was to minimize that difference as much as was in my power to do so. And anyone that knows me, knows I have kept that vow. Of course I’ve made mistakes and I’m far from perfect. But I have been there. I have sacrificed and interrupted my life innumerable times. I have given on some occasions, far more than any biological family members have given them. I have opened up my home dozens and dozens of times to my husband’s FORMER wife and her family over and over again in order to make things comfortable for the kids. And I don’t mind… that is, until I get hurt or attacked or whatever. Then I wonder if I should make different choices.

I could go on and on but you get the point. I am challenged all the time by my professional peers, counselors that care about me, friends that love me- that perhaps I need to not always go that extra mile. Disappointment and hurt are part of the human condition and are inevitable. But is it possible that it might hurt a little less if I haven’t gone so far beyond the call of duty when it happens?

I don’t have any answers. I just keep wondering and thinking and wondering and thinking about it. But part of me also wonders if it is a futile exercise. The bottom line is, I don’t know if I am capable of living any other way. Sure, we can tweak things a bit, but overall? I’m not sure I know how to relate to the world in any other way but the intense way in which I do. I can provide evidence of ways that I have been a bit more self-protective and held back a bit so as to learn from the lessons I have encountered in my life. But overall? I will probably always love deeply like Henri Nouwen says.

I have met a few people who have chosen NOT to allow themselves to love deeply. They will not risk it. They just won’t. I adore them, but know I will be kept at a certain distance. It makes me sad, but then I have to admit, they seem happier than I am on a consistent basis. They are more alone, but they also don’t experience the aggravation and hurt as often. If I am totally honest, part of me is even envious of them. I wish I could distance myself and protect myself more.

Again, I’ve made some progress. I’m slowly, slowly learning how to be slightly more judicious in how I put myself out there. But the bottom line is, you never know when you invest how it is going to end. Just like with being an advocate, you don’t know when you will be successful so you just have to keep trying. And I will keep trying to take better care of myself, but in the big picture, I will probably keep loving deeply and keep praying for that fruit to show itself. Sometimes I just need a different perspective to see the fruit that is there, but sometimes there just isn’t any there to see. Somehow, I will seek to love deeply, but maybe more smartly too.


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More Purpose

Last week I wrote about purpose. This week on Facebook I posted a quote from my psychology magazine. Today I noticed that the headline of the article reads “Fulfillment of Purpose.” Hmmm…

I am going to repost that quote and add another from the same article by Mark Hubble, Francoise Mathieu, and Scott Miller. The article is talking about the purpose of therapists. “In the end, we don’t fulfill our purpose by providing caring, empathy, and compassion, no matter how lovingly extended. We do fulfill our purpose, however, when we consistently engage in the kinds of therapeutic practices that objectively promote the client’s improvement. Further, genuinely and demonstrably helping people improve is the entire point of therapy and, in the end, the best of all ways to show that we really, deeply care.”

I had mixed feelings when I read this. Often times I am amazed by the way my personal life dovetails with what is going on in my professional life. This is one of those times that as I read those words, I can’t separate how I feel as a therapist, with how I feel as a client myself, or how I feel as a human being in general.

The ultimate goal is progress, change, growth. When I run groups, I stress that. We are here to support each other, but if we aren’t working toward change, then you are paying for a bitch session. Come and spill your guts, get validated, but then let’s talk about how to move forward.

When that happens (i.e. we have an “aha” moment and actually move forward) in therapy or in life, it is very gratifying and satisfying. Knowing that things actually “work” is a great experience. But what about when we are stuck? And what if that statement is even wrong? Being “stuck” implies that you should be moving forward. What if we are just meant to be where we are? What if right now is as good as it gets? There also seems to be wisdom in that Eastern thought of contentment exactly where you are.

I recently had a talk with one of my clients about this before I read the article. I’ve been seeing her over ten years. I’ve been seeing her husband less than that, but still for several years. They were having one of those repetitive arguments where they both had good points. He said, “We’ve been talking about this for years.” She looked at me, shrugged her shoulders, and said, “I got nothing.”

I was listening to them, thinking the exact same thoughts. They both have good points. I don’t know that they can/will change. I have no idea how to help them past this one. (Wasn’t a life-changing argument, just one of those annoying living with each other things.) I looked at them, shrugged my shoulders, and said, “I got nothing either.”

And they pay me!

Later, she and I were talking in her individual session. It was one of those conversations about angst and the circular problems of life. You do everything you can, but fundamentally things don’t change. I could totally identify with her. I said that sometimes I feel like I would do her a better service if I referred her to someone new who had more wise things to say other than validate her frustrations. She emphatically told me that she would end up walking away from a therapist like that. One of the reasons she has continued all these years, is because I am genuine and real, and she feels like I really get it.

I’ve been seeing my therapist for 15 years. People ask me sometimes if I should change it up. I guess what I’ve concluded is that even if my life doesn’t radically change, I feel good for that 50 minutes I am there. He knows me inside and out. He challenges me and tells me things that are hard to hear sometimes. But overall, it just feels better to have a compassionate ear.

All that flies in the face of what that article says. I guess I don’t fully agree or disagree. I think ONE of the purposes of therapy IS to deliver compassionate care. But another very important purpose is to help people change and grow. I guess that is the bigger purpose. Perhaps the steps to get there require the caring.

In my own life, and my professional life, my purpose is to grow and change, by providing compassion and love. And when the change is slow or non-existent, and I am left with people who care, I prefer not to think of that is failure. Sometimes that is as good as it gets. And if you truly have that love and understanding, that is pretty damn good.


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Julia Cameron: Openhearted

Gratitude card of the day: Openhearted

“I am blessed with a hospitable heart. I welcome new souls in my family of souls. I open my heart to new companions…As I welcome new life, my heart blossoms with new flowering.”

I would have to say I think I have an hospitable heart. I have never heard that specific term, but I think it’s pretty appropriate. I have spent lots of time trying to help other people see that your heart is meant to be shared. Love is about what you give away, not about what you guard and protect. The heart is an organ that grows with use. The heart’s capacity to love only gets greater the more it is exercised. Contrary to reason, it doesn’t get used up.

There is another side, though. If I have erred in life, it is sometimes for not protecting my heart enough at times. Once, a friend said to me, “That person is bad news for your heart.” It was very, very effective. I don’t think in those terms on my own. It just expressed something to me in a way that hit me differently. Very rarely am I “bad news” for someone else, but I spend little time considering whether people might be “bad news” for me. Anyhow, I told her she was brilliant and I wouldn’t forget that phrase. People, in and of themselves, are rarely bad, or even bad news. But they may be bad for MY heart. I guess I say that to balance myself. You can’t just rush in and give your heart to anyone and everyone. You have to be responsible with your choices.

Even for someone like me, having a hospitable heart and opening up to new companions can be very scary. I do it, but sometimes I almost panic. The new flowers can’t blossom, new life can’t be born without risk. But let’s face it, it’s still risk.

Anyhow, I think to oversimplify, people generally fall in one of two categories when it comes to this. They will either die erring on the side of not moving enough, not risking enough, playing it safe. Or they will die erring on the side of too much movement, risking too much. Every one of us will make mistakes, it just matters which side you fall on.

For 48 years, I’ve known I’m on the latter side. I won’t have stood still enough, slowed down enough. The last couple of years I wondered if I was jumping to the other side. But so far, looks like I will keep my hospitable heart. When I err, it will most likely be on the side of investing too much, trying too hard, risking…

But you know what? I think I’m okay with that! In fact, I may even be proud of that. “I am blessed with a hospitable heart. I welcome new souls in my family of souls. I open my heart to new companions…As I welcome new life, my heart blossoms with new flowering.”

Warm greetings to all the new folks in my life, in whatever space you come in (personal, professional, students, clients, etc.) I’m keeping my heart open to what you bring- the bitter and the sweet- and I hope you open your heart in return.


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Madame Secretary

I only watch two TV shows- The Big Bang Theory and Madame Secretary. Pretty opposite ends of the spectrum. I don’t usually get to watch either one of them when they air, but “on demand” works fine other than having to sit through the commercials. (Yes, I am the only woman in America that does not have a DVR.)

This morning while Frankie was getting ready for school, I was finishing watching this week’s episode of Madame Secretary. They are all usually pretty riveting, but this one was an especially dangerous story line. There was an explosion I wasn’t expecting so I jumped and let out a small scream. Then I was teary-eyed. Frankie thought it was hilarious. He’s such a guy. “Mom, it’s just a TV character. It’s not real you know.” Simple for him.

He got on the bus and the next ten minutes I full-out cried for the rest of the episode. Didn’t even bother trying not to, I was just so moved by the story and the characters.

I love that show. Mostly, it’s because I love Elizabeth. She is the Secretary of the State. Now I know less than nothing about politics, but I find it fascinating anyhow. The politics are interesting, but the real snag for me is her persona. She is a brilliant- I mean brilliant- kick ass woman. She takes no shit, thinks outside the box, and comes up with solutions that are no less than genious. Yet, she is still somehow completely feminine and warm.

I love her marriage. Her husband is total eye candy. (That never hurts.) But they have the coolest marriage. They are total partners. They can completely disagree sometimes, but most of the time they are on the same page and they back each other.

I love their kids. They have three and one of them is usually in some sort of crisis. But I love watching the five of them mill around the kitchen. In this episode, she was saying goodbye to them. No one but the husband knew that she was going on a dangerous, life-threatening mission. He stood in the corner, watching his wife kiss her kids goodbye, knowing full well that she knew full well that it might be her last interaction with them. It was ridiculously intense.

It was nothing crazy. But the way they walk by their kids and just touch them, the way they can give them a hug… I’m so incredibly jealous. I wonder if Frankie even has a thought in his mind when he watches a scene like that. I wonder if Colin ever thinks twice about it. Because I do. Our home is NOTHING like that. There is hardly any interaction, no family time, and most certainly no touching or affection. If I even brush up against Frankie, you would honestly think I burned his skin.

Now in a way, this show is so totally unrealistic to 99% of the population. We don’t work in the White House. We don’t work in the CIA. And yet, I feel like I’m totally at home watching them. They all seem so completely normal. Not perfect, because that would just make me mad that another media message is going out to sell the impossible dream. They all fight, have conflict, etc.. But at the end of the day, you totally respect the adults, and their kids respect them too.

This particular episode, our heroine survives (of course!) but what was moving was watching all of the different characters see her come safely home. There were no words, just music. But words weren’t needed. Her beloved staff sank into relief. Her husband gets the phone call that she is safe and he breaks down sobbing with his kids. Shit. I’m crying again, writing about it.

There are lots of good people in the show. She isn’t the only one. But seeing the impact she has on everyone around her, knowing how highly respected she is, knowing how deeply loved she is- she is a worthy heroine to me.

I think that is why I love it. In one way, it touches a deep sadness inside of me. But in another, it makes me want to keep fighting. Damn it, that is possible. And I want it. A truly loving partner, kids that love me, the respect of my co-workers and peers. Knowing I make an impact on the world. I may not ever get it, or maybe just not all of it, but I’m going to go down trying! That’s the kind of woman I aspire to be, the kind of life I seek to have.

Great show… you should watch it.