Musings

Celebrating singleness

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Today is February 14th, the dreaded Valentine’s Day.

Not many people really enjoy this holiday (if they were being totally honest). And if you are trying to recover from an abusive relationship, it can be painful and depressing.

While many single women might be feeling lonely or forgotten, desiring some male attention, I am celebrating singleness.

Singleness to me means:

  1. Independence
  2. Self-determination
  3. Focus on self-care
  4. Healthy selfishness
  5. Choices
  6. Freedom

I grew up watching Hollywood’s version of the male/female relationship, one in which a female waits for a male to find her desirable so that he will choose her. Validation always came from a male, and was something which women needed in order to feel valuable. This is the perfect set-up for an abusive marriage.

Desirable women were portrayed as glamorous, sexy, and alluring. Marriageable women were portrayed as quiet, demur, and subject to the wishes of fathers and suitors. Women were presented as virginal, sluts, or eccentric.

But let no one misunderstand: the independent ones usually ended up alone.

Now 56 years old, I feel that I am much wiser, and, at the least, much more discriminating. I critically evaluate attitudes and cultural norms found in entertainment. I have worked to discard many of the values that I picked up from such influences.

On this Valentine’s Day I can declare that I am happily, almost giddily delighted to find myself single and alone (relationship-wise — I have a house filled with male offspring).

I am not mourning the loss of my marriage (anymore). I am not feeling sad and alone (anymore). I am not beating myself up because my marriage failed (anymore). And, most of all, I am not feeling abandoned, discarded, rejected or unloved (anymore).

I enjoy my own company and thinking my own thoughts.

On this Valentine’s Day 2017, I am celebrating my freedom to choose where I go and what I do. Instead of this being a holiday that focuses on romantic love, for me it is more of an independence day.

I think I’ll buy myself some flowers. Daisies, I think!

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Just breathe

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Graphic I created in the early days of my separation.

This is not as easy as it sounds.

Breathing is an autonomic nervous system function. It is mostly involuntary. It is supposed to occur without thought or determination (unless you are a musician or athlete).

Most people don’t think about breathing at all.

And yet, I found myself at the beginning of my journey out of a really bad marriage not only breathing shallowly but not breathing at all.

I caught myself holding my breath, often.

I have suffered from anxiety since I was a child. Unidentified until well into adulthood, I eventually learned to manage the symptoms by thoughtfully controlling situations and my responses that caused the most stress for me. And while I would experience heart palpitations occasionally (usually not during a stressful situation, but when I was relaxing), I had never struggled with hyperventilation.

When I became ill in 2006 and did not recover as expected (or told by doctors that I should), I faced an entirely new level of anxiety. My anxiety toolbox failed me.

Part of the problem was that I had been successfully handling nearly all of my family’s details from paying bills to doing all the shopping to even educating our children for over a decade. I cooked, cleaned, shopped, provided 24-hour care and education for our children, and then companionship to my husband when he was home. None of these responsibilities was taken from me when I became ill. Being task oriented, this caused me a lot of stress.

My husband ignored my health struggles, merely waiting for me to get well so I could do everything again; most household tasks were not completed. I still had to do the grocery shopping even with extreme fatigue. I could no longer cook. I would fill the grocery cart with frozen, packaged and processed foods that my children and I could easily throw in the microwave and conventional oven (really bad choice). Even when I ordered take-out, my husband wasn’t available to stop by on his way home and pick it up. He worked later and later as the months and years passed.

While I knew what needed to be done, I was not able to rise to the challenge any longer. I suffered. Our children suffered. Life fell apart.

One day I had had enough.

I had spent over a year sleeping on the couch because of my husband’s loud snoring and constant movements during the night. My only hope of any sleep at all was on the couch. And yet, he would often come home between 11 p.m. and midnight, stomping up the stairs and burping (he always burped when he walked up the stairs onto the main floor of our house). It didn’t matter if I was trying to sleep; he always demanded attention when he came home. And no, he didn’t offer to let me have the bed so I could get one good night’s sleep. Not once.

One night he came home late as usual and found himself locked out of the house. Now, I fully admit that I handled that all wrong. It wasn’t even legal. Had he spoken with an attorney, he would have been fine, but he refused to hire an attorney for anything (or any other professional). Remember, I was sick and tired, literally. My mind didn’t work properly anymore, literally (neuroborreliosis).

And so began the final and permanent separation that marked the true end of my marriage.

One the one hand, my stress levels were reduced as I didn’t have to deal with the nightly disruptions to my sleep and constant demand for my attention. There was no more yelling and fighting.

At the time, I didn’t know that the separation was permanent. I kept hoping my husband would finally seek the help that I asked him to get for his control and anger issues. I wanted the marriage to work and for us to be reconciled. This is normal. Deluded, but normal.

While the separation removed some stressors from my life, it created an entirely different set.

My anxiety issues became worse.

And one of the symptoms that I experienced was changes to my breathing. It became shallow and rapid when I would think about my situation or what the kids needed (anxiety). Other times, it was shallow, almost tentative, and very slow. Most concerning of all were the times I caught myself holding my breath, not breathing at all. I would take a deep breath and then make myself breath slowly and deeply for a few minutes until I felt better.

I yoyoed between rapid, shallow breathing to slow, shallow breathing. Breathing should not be this much work, but it was.

The Importance of Breathing

Breathing does a lot of vitals things: oxygenates the blood, cells, brain and muscles, expels waste, and keeps the body’s CO2 and pH levels within the normal range.

Anxiety disorder can cause shallow, rapid breathing that actually reduces CO2 levels too much.

This type of breathing disorder can also be caused by infection. I got a double whammy, so to speak.

When Lyme spirochetes get in the brain, they can affect temperature control, mood, cognitive functioning and breathing. Autonomic dysfunction is common. Many people with chronic Lyme struggle with shallow, slow, and inadequate breathing.

On top of all this, I developed a heart arrythmia, eventually diagnosed as benign. It still scared me when my heart would feel like it was flopping around in my chest and I would nearly pass out.

My situation was more complex than most, but the bottom line is that living in an abusive marriage is stressful, and the separation process is even more stressful. Breathing can become an issue.

Just Breathe

If breathing has been an issue long enough, it may be necessary to retrain the brain and body how to do it properly.

Slow, deep breathing exercises may be the answer. On the other hand, slow, not-so-deep breathing exercises may be the answer. That is something that should be determined by your physician.

I actually set three alarms a day on my smartphone that said: Breathe.

I would stop whatever I was doing and spend one minute doing breathing exercises.

Here is a great article from Harvard Medical School on breath focus and breathing exercises that are designed to reduce stress.

harvard-deep-breathingWhether you struggle with anxiety disorder, a chronic infection that causes autonomic dysfunction, or are dealing with a stressful situation, breathing properly and effectively is vital to feeling well.

A sense of wellbeing is not possible if you are not breathing properly.

If necessary, set an alarm, put sticky notes all around your home and work space, or ask the people around you to remind you to breathe should they notice you struggling.

Focused breathing exercises might just be the answer.

Don’t forget: Just breathe!

My favorite things denied

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Container Garden – Austin, Texas

I was a poor single mom before my husband and I decided to get married. Even though finances were tight, I allotted a small amount each month for buying books and plants.

I had an outdoor container garden, backyard vegetable garden and beautiful houseplants. I had a decent home library that my mom started for me when I was a teenager; I got books for Christmas and birthdays. That collection grew as I found mostly used books at thrift stores and Half-Price Books.

I had been married less than a year when I  started to worry that something wasn’t quite right. But as a good Christian woman, I hung in there and stood by my man. I stood up to him when he began to be abusive toward my son, but although he backed off, he used manipulation and control to get back at both of us.

As time went by, I found my previous life filled with “my favorite things” under attack. It was subtle, but my husband used religious “leadership” and finances to justify his control over what I read, did with my time, and enjoyed. I wasn’t allowed to buy books, one of my true loves. I wasn’t allowed to spend money on gardening or decorating. I didn’t spend money on clothing, visits to the hair salon, or anything that took me away from the house and his scrutiny.

His mantra of “don’t spend money” shut me down at every turn.

My husband didn’t care whether I enjoyed any aspect of life as long as he was in control.

This is the definition of financial abuse: asserting control over a partner or spouse by denying access to money or his/her ability to choose what to spend money on at any given time.

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Kids wearing thrift store finds. St. Petersburg, Florida

As our family grew, I bought clothing for my babies at the thrift store and still felt guilty for spending money. I purchased used toys and household goods. I bought used furniture, but was only allowed to do so after a fight (because he tried to go back on a promise to me that I could buy new furniture after we sold a rental home).

After two decades of marriage and the denial of “my favorite things” I had lost myself. I was nearly destroyed.

I had to be apart from my husband before I could begin to reconnect with who I really am: a nature-loving, book-devouring, independent woman. That is who I am.

The financial abuse continued during our long separation until my husband had a stroke. No, he didn’t see the light as he faced mortality. He got caught forging my signature on his tax returns for 4 years against my wishes and needed my signature on an old tax return that he had never filed. He felt justified by this behavior because he has been paying the mortgage and utilities on our home (where I live with our youngest son– he moved out of state and left us here with no way to move back near family) and gives me a small allowance with which I am supposed to buy food and pay for home maintenance, car insurance and repairs, cell phone, clothing,  and everything other expense that most people must cover.

He kept me and our youngest son in poverty. In four years, he had donated nearly $30k to churches while I had to go on food stamps so my son had enough to eat.

Abusers control finances in order to exert power over a partner or spouse.

And the only fix for this type of abuse is financial independence.

I tell all married women that I know that they should have their own bank accounts, retirement, savings, vehicles, credit cards, and their names on home deeds (this kept my husband from refinancing and taking out loans on our home–he needed my signature). You should own your own car — only your name on the title. Do not put your husband on your credit card accounts. Mine cancelled all my credit cards without notice to me (bank said he could do so because his name was on my account–I added him after we were married) and stopped the direct deposit of his paychecks into our joint checking account so I had no resources available and was completely dependent on him.

This advice goes for all women considering marriage, too. Plan ahead and maintain financial independence.

If you leave a job or career to take care of a family, put aside a set amount of money each month to cover what you would have in social security and/or retirement savings. Your goal should be to have at least $5,000 in savings (that is how much it costs to hire an attorney should you need to file for divorce) and a retirement account comparable to what you would have if you had continued working.

Continue to work even if it is 10 hours a week. Do something to maintain continuous employment.

And for goodness’ sake, do NOT give up your favorite things because your spouse complains or discourages your interests.

Take care of yourself, nurture your passions, and allow yourself to be a self and not just a spouse or marital appendage. You are your own person. Never forget that.

Happy Ending

I am back to loving books, nurturing my need to create and make beautiful things, enjoying digital photography,  and gardening, indoor and out, because I enjoy these activities.

Occasionally I even buy myself clothes and get my hair cut and styled. I enjoy a glass of my favorite wine, read a lot, and watch the movies and TV shows that I like. My bed is all mine. I don’t suffer sleep deprivation due to a snoring, restless bed partner (who refused to seek medical treatment).

Although I am still parenting a teenager, most of my life is on my terms. I will never give that up again.

I am committed to earning my bachelor’s degree and going on to graduate school because I want to. It is my desire, my dream.

I don’t have anyone telling me I am wasting my time or that I am wasting money on an education that I might never use. It is my dream and I am free to pursue it. That voice of control, denial and deprivation has no power over me anymore.

I am free to enjoy my favorite things.

 

 

 

My favorite things: wheels

Written Wednesday, January 4, 2016.
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Backroads of Connecticut are really fun!

I learned to drive when I was 15 years old. My mom taught me. My poor mother.

I got my driver’s license on my 16th birthday.
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My first car was a hand-me-down 1969 Plymouth Sport Fury, 383 V8, dual exhaust.

I quickly realized that a car meant freedom.

I was the only one in my group of friends who had a car, so we would all pitch in to buy a few gallons of gas to feed the beast and then go as far as we could.

As an adult, my car provided greater employment opportunities. I didn’t mind a long commute. I love to drive.

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My 1975 Honda Civic

After moving to the Austin area (Cedar Park to be exact), I bought a tiny Honda Civic. My dad’s Honda Gold Wing had a bigger engine than this little 4-speed. No air conditioning, no power steering, this car was, however, fun!

I drove that car all over the Texas Hill Country. I loved to explore!

I commuted into Austin for work before getting my own place in the Rosedale neighborhood. This car was a blast on the hills and curves when I took the back roads.

When this car bit the dust, I struggled for years to find another dependable car, or one that was as much fun.

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Mine had 10 years and 200k miles

A move to St. Petersburg, Florida and me without wheels left me feeling trapped and claustrophobic. I found an old, worn-out Oldsmobile station wagon, a monster with floaty suspension (and another V8). I paid $250 for that thing and loved it. I could load the kids (I was up to four) and go anywhere which we did, often.

When the kids were on the verge of making me crazy (which was quite often), we would pile into the car and go on an adventure. One of my favorite places was across the amazing expansion bridge that connects St. Pete to the mainland and drive around in the rural parts of west Florida or head to Tampa where we had a family membership at the Florida Aquarium. Having a car was necessary for my sanity!

A year or so after that, I bought a Mazda MPV minivan. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it was what my husband wanted me to have. It wasn’t large enough, really, for the kids and stuff.

I never liked that minivan.

When I was separated from my husband the first time, my MPV gave up the ghost for good. I spent a month searching for a replacement vehicle and found a really nice, used Toyota Sienna. My brother-in-law loaned me the money and I made payments for the next few years. This was the first vehicle that I bought driven, pardon the pun, by pure self-determination and not practicality alone. I know, another minivan. But this was the best vehicle I had ever owned — it wasn’t a junker, really old, or a basic model. It was loaded. It drove like a car, had a powerful 3.0-liter V6 and ran without ever giving me any trouble.

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2007 Road trip from Connecticut to Austin, Texas. Seneca Rocks, WV.

I took the kids on a 3,800-mile road trip to Texas and back in the Sienna, much of it on back roads through beautiful Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and then Texas. Yep, that mini-van represented freedom.

Then my 19-year-old totaled it when someone cut him off on the highway on his way to school.

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My next car is my favorite to this day: a 2003 Saab 9-5 station wagon–my first turbo. Yes, I like station wagons a lot. I had kids, a dog, needed to haul my trash to the transfer station and occasional bicycles to and from kids’ friend’s houses. I paid almost nothing for this very used vehicle, but loved it (still have it sitting off the driveway waiting for me to find the title so I can sell it).

This leads me to what I am driving today. I found another used Honda, an Accord this time. It has dings and scratches, and a black interior which I detest, but it is a dependable, decent car. It always starts and always takes me where I want to go.

See, my Saab quit being roadworthy at the beginning of 2016. I went without a vehicle for seven months. A friend of a friend sold me a very sad, poor condition Chevy S-10 pickup to use until I could scrounge up enough money to buy a decent car. Never buy one of these. Total junk. But it allows me to haul off trash and junk as we prepare the house to sell (when it is running, which isn’t often). This truck was all I had to drive until September when my 26-year-old son found me the Honda Accord.

I miss driving my Saab a lot (sport mode)! But I fully appreciate the freedom a dependable Honda Accord affords me.

This afternoon I am using that car to pick up my daughter and granddaughter from the airport in Providence. She will, in turn, use that car to visit all of her friends while she is here.

Knowing that my car is sitting out there in the driveway waiting to take me wherever I desire is glorious. Having wheels is definitely one of my favorite things.

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Texas Hill Country

My favorite things: reading

 

girl-reading-book-in-treeReading came easily to me in the first grade on an Army base in Italy. But I didn’t experience reading for pleasure until the summer I turned ten.

The Dade County (Florida) public library system had finally provided a real public library in the shopping mall for its bookmobile patrons, and I remember going in every Saturday morning, scouring the shelves for interesting fiction and going to the checkout area with my stack of 4-5 books.

I read propped up in my favorite tree, on the porch roof, on my bed, and reclined on one of our matching couches. I read a LOT.

That was the summer after my parents’ divorce became official. Reading was my escape.

It continued to be my escape as I read classics, also checked out from the public library in Austin, Texas all through my 20s.

One consistency, throughout all my years of reading, has been my love of the YA section. If reading is my escape, I don’t necessarily want to only read dark, gritty works that leave me feeling disturbed. Young adult fiction provides a nice selection of interesting books without many of the harsher elements found in adult works.

I see, feel and read about the reality of our world every day as a Twitter addict and news junkie. Again, reading is an escape for me. I am unapologetic about that.

I am drawn to fiction written for adults with dark themes such as murder, kidnapping and crime. I love stories with strong female protagonists struggling against oppression or difficulty. I despise romances.

After reading nonfiction and fiction written for adults for a few months, I will take a break and dive into some YA fiction for a time to decompress. It helps me find my happy place.

I love words. I love thoughts and ideas elegantly expressed in beautiful, well-written prose. I love an exciting story filled with characters that bring me along for the ride as long as they have substance. I don’t like too much fluff (literary junk food, as I call it).

I also love poetry written by women, and some men, who have suffered (another whole blog post).

This leads me to one of my prejudices: I prefer women authors to men because I do not believe a man can truly know what it means to be a girl or woman. I admit to this prejudice. I own it.

And so as I finish up the Harry Potter series of books today, I look for my next series of detective stories, murder mysteries, or fantasies, the kind not filled with profanity and graphic sex (I have to be in the mood for those kinds of books, and do read them, just not when I am reading to escape life’s dark times).

I will read nonfiction books about nature, wildflowers, permaculture, gardening, cooking, home renovation, Texas and other parts of the U.S. I will continue to spend hours each day reading news and articles about our world. And when I become disheartened, I will pick up a work of fiction or book of poetry and escape for a time until my soul quiets.

Sharing Literature

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At the Providence airport.

The first night my four-year-old granddaughter was here for a visit, I pulled out this huge tome of poetry with the goal of reading her to sleep. Laying in the special inflatable bed I bought for her when she was a baby (looks like a life raft), snug beneath a sherpa-lined blanket with her sweet-smelling long-blonde hair spread out on her brand new pillow and pillowcase, she was wiggly to say the least.

I held the heavy book beneath a desk lamp perched on the edge of my 20-year-old son’s desk (he gave up his room to his older sister and niece) and looked for poems that had funny themes and lots of onomatopoeias. I easily found one that set Charlotte giggling.

Each time she would try to sit up, I would stop reading and tell her I will continue when her head is on her pillow. She loved the poems so much that she willingly complied.

When she asked to see the pictures, I told her she had to make them in her head.

In less than 10 minutes, little Charlotte was asleep.

When I returned to the living room with this news, my daughter said she had never gone to sleep that easily in her life. Well, I did attribute it to a day spent in airports and on airplanes, but she loved hearing the poetry Grandma was reading to her from the “red book.”

When I think about girls in some cultures being kept from getting an education because of male dominance and/or religious doctrine, I see red. Every girl deserves an education, but most of all, each one should experience the joys of being able to read about a world beyond her own, and to escape her culture and reality when she wants. Girls have it quite hard in many parts of the world. We Americans often forget that.

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I will make sure my granddaughter learns to read well and is surrounded by literature even if I have to teach her to read myself (one of my superpowers, by the way).

And so I read because it gives me great pleasure and helps me escape the harsh realities of life. It is certainly one of my favorite things.

My favorite things: nature

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Sharing an heirloom variety nasturtium flower from my vegetable garden with my granddaughter brought me great joy!

As far back as I can remember I have been curious about nature, both flora and fauna.

Behind our little house in South Miami, when I was in junior high, I had a container garden. I had taken an old picnic table bench, a few pots, and soil from the area around our banana trees in the backyard.

I grew tropical plants, but also cultivated bonsai.

In our front yard, we had a huge ficus tree. One of my favorite things when I was between 8 and 13 was to climb among the tree’s dense foliage and hide. I loved looking down upon my family members knowing that they couldn’t find me.

But it was mostly the shade and cool leaves that refreshed my tired and stressed soul. This tree fed me in ways that food couldn’t.

 

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When I was in my 20s, we moved to the Texas Hill Country. I learned to enjoy day hikes and fishing. I loved to pitch my tent in one of Texas’ amazing state parks and sleep among the live oaks, cedar and hunting, scavenging amardillos.

When I was in my 30s I purchased my first digital camera. While I captured my children playing, climbing, jumping and celebrating holidays and birthdays, I as often pointed my camera at my garden plants, the plant life I encountered in my yard and on neighborhood walks, and the occasional egret, pelican and seagull (because we were living in St. Petersburg, Florida).

Many, many years later, I landed in Connecticut where I am still (but only until this summer where I will join my heart which I left in Texas in 1992).

Connecticut is beautiful.

I remember clearly the moment in October 1999 when we reached the state of Connecticut with a minivan full of kids, a cat, and our suitcases. I declared  that the whole state is like a park.

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My years here, though painful in many ways, have given me access to a level of nature I had never known before, especially when we moved to a small town to live on a few acres of land in the woods.

After becoming sick with Lyme disease and not recovering, I was reminded that nature could be cruel.

What I had once loved became frightening for me as I was reinfected with Lyme disease multiple times.

One day I just decided that I was going to go outside and walk in the grass again. I had hidden from nature for years  out of fear of reinfection.

I decided to grow a vegetable garden again. I planted some ornamental plants in the flower beds and began to spread wildflower seeds from plants that popped up around the property.

And I photographed it all.

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Yes, I found deer ticks on me, but I was sick already. So what?

My time in the garden fed my soul.

I took walks on many of the hike and bike trails in nearby towns.

My body ached, but my soul was nourished.

And I knew that no matter what happens in life, I must never again stay away from nature, because it is definitely one of my favorite things.

 

My favorite things: evening out with sons

On December 15th, I told my sons, 23, 20 and 16, that on Friday the 17th I would like to take them out to eat and then go Christmas shopping together.

On a normal day, I am lucky to get a grunt in response to questions and, if I am especially fortunate, eye contact.

Following my announcement, I got eye contact, verbal affirmation that it was a great idea, and a promise to be available.

It took a little bit of coordination to include my 20-year-old because he worked in Rocky Hill at the time, the opposite direction from where we typically shop and eat out.

Three of us headed to Waterford at 3 p.m. to get ahead of the Friday evening Christmas  horde. My 23-year-old was in contact, via text, with his younger brother letting him know where we were as we shopped.

We visited Books-a-Million first (great place to find interesting, unusual gifts) and Best Buy next, where my tall 20-year-old caught up with us. I saw him out of the corner of my eye and immediately smiled.

We were together.

We talked with a salesperson for a bit about the differences between XBox One, Playstation 4, Playstation Pro and Nintendo’s new gaming console that will release in a few months, then spent a few minutes looking at PC gaming peripherals.

I bought a hard drive docking station so I can access my collection of old hard drives. We headed to Buffalo Wild Wings for an early dinner.

It was approximately 5 p.m. when we arrived at a very loud restaurant, from the music, not people talking; the place was practically empty. I asked the host if there were any quiet tables. Thankfully, there was a side room where music was not piped in where it was bearable. I was there to spend time with my sons, not listen to bad music.

Since it was the first time for two of us, it took us quite awhile to figure out how the menu worked. It is unnecessarily complicated. Seriously.

We ordered three appetizers and drinks. I had to hit the ladies’ room, so I asked my 23-year-old to order me something dark or amber from the menu. He knows what I like.

When I returned, it was only a few minutes before my delicious amber ale arrived.  Yum.

The best part of the evening was that I was sitting with my sons around a table with fun, tasty, high-calorie food at hand. I didn’t cook any of it, and we shared everything. Stuffed mushrooms, fried mozzarella, spinach artichoke dip–we were all reaching over one another to taste everything, sharing dips, passing baskets and chattering away about unimportant, nonserious topics. We were all happy.

We were together away from a chronically messy house, distracting technology, and work.

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My three sons with me at the mall.

After dinner, we hit Bed, Bath & Beyond. We spent at least 10 minutes in the coffee making appliance department where I was looking for a stainless steel carafe (they had one kind only — ONE). I bought some replacement stoppers for my wine keeper system, got a wonderful massage in one of their display chairs, and enjoyed time with my sons.

Next, we walked all the way to the other end of the mall to check out what fun stuff FYE had in stock.

At my 23-year-old’s recommendation, I picked up Kubo and the Two Strings. Wow, what a wonderful movie!

We looked at all of the licensed merchandise, discussing which TV shows, games and movies were successes and which were failures.

Blu-ray in hand, we left the store.

And suddenly, everyone was exhausted. We are a family of introverts. Four stores, two in the mall, and over an hour at a loud restaurant had worn us out. We headed home.

Several times during the evening, I thought to myself that this might be the last time I go Christmas shopping with these three sons. My two oldest sons and daughter weren’t there because they have very busy lives and two of them live 1,800 miles away.

I enjoyed that evening while it happened and will treasure the memory the rest of my life.

Spending time with my grown kids is definitely one of my favorite things.

Conflicted Father’s Day

Father's day ecard from American Greetings

Source: Father’s Day ecard from American Geeetings

I remember one time sharing a moment with my sister. We both discussed how difficult it was to purchase a Father’s Day card for our dad.

All those cards about dad being there when we needed him, his sacrifices for the family, and all that love!

Don’t get me wrong, my dad was an amazing person. He rose from a childhood of extreme poverty to become a Naval officer and fighter pilot.

He flew thousands of people safely across the country and even across oceans as captain of a major airline.

He had cool toys like sailboats, houseboats and ski boats as well as motorcycles and convertibles.

Being with my dad was an adventure. But it was his adventure in which we occasionally were allowed to participate, always on his terms.

When he finally divorced my mom, he left us in Miami far away from extended family because that’s where he had wanted to live after he got out of the Navy.

He didn’t leave Miami immediately. He stayed for a few years because that is where he met his second wife (my first stepmother of three).

We were able to spend some weekends and holidays with him. He was a fun dad for the most part.

He had an apartment on Key Biscayne for awhile after he sold his sailboat. After he bought a turquoise-colored houseboat, he lived there. He went through a brief ski boat phase (I think that was between sailboat and houseboat).

Eventually, though, he decided he liked California better than Miami. I don’t know if he offered to move my mom and us kids to Texas where my mom’s family lived. I don’t think so. I had no grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins close by. I met them a few times on rare family vacations to Corpus Christi (which is near where my parents had met and been married).

I grew up  in a single-parent home with a completely committed mother who worked very hard and gave us all that she could. We didn’t really want for anything, but my friends’ families moved to larger homes as they grew older while we stayed in the tiny starter home my dad has chosen for us in 1967.

My dad almost always paid child support. I know there were a couple of pilots’ strikes where he had no income, but he was not a deadbeat dad at all. He was just not a very involved dad.

He paid for my  braces and auto insurance. He even helped me out after my first husband and I got married, even though he disapproved of the whole thing.

He never went to any of the football games where I performed at half-time with my school’s dance team. He never helped me with my homework. He wasn’t there to teach me how to drive (though he let us steer while he was driving on occasion). I couldn’t call him up and ask for his advice about anything. He called us when he was ready to see us.

Bottom line is that I didn’t have a daddy. I had a dad with a full life that on occasion involved his children.

I have thanked my dad for what he gave to me and my siblings. He did more than a lot of fathers do these days. Dads get a lot of credit for being part-time dads (moms who are ambiguous about their roles are judged much more harshly).

I spent years wondering why my dad didn’t really like being around us much. I rationalized his nontraditional fatherhood by remembering that his dad abandoned his family; he didn’t have a good role model.

As an adult, I chose to accept a tenuous relationship that continued to be on his terms.

One time my father called the day before he was planning to be in the Connecticut area (he often visited friends on Long Island without contacting my sister or myself). He wanted to meet me someplace at 1 p.m. the next day. This one time, however, I was several years into my struggle with chronic Lyme disease, and was in the middle of a flare-up. I didn’t have the strength to drive anyplace and sit through a couple of hours in a restaurant. I said no. That was the last time I saw my dad. He never called to see me again.

So, while I wish Happy Father’s Day to all of the dads who have chosen to embrace their roles and be there for their kids, I continue to be conflicted about this holiday.

 

 

 

 

Wounds that don’t heal

IImprisoned Spring by Arthur Hacker (1911)Heartbreak and loss come in many different forms: the death of a loved one, rejection by a lover or spouse, abandonment by a parent.

As a wounded woman, I know what it is to hurt.

I won’t bore you with tales of woe from my childhood, but all was not well at home.

By the time I was a young adult, I had been exposed to some pretty bad stuff, much of it a result of our male-dominated culture (exposure to pornography, sexual predators young and old, and male criticism of my female form and personality).

I was bullied by other girls, all older and bigger than me. I was also bullied by my family.

By the time I was 21 years old, I had what was termed”a serious chip” on my shoulder.

Believe it or not, I was judged harshly because I was not all smiles and compliance all the time.  Because I tried to fight back. Girls shouldn’t do that, don’t you know.

I knew the world was screwed up even when I was young, but I never knew how to express my concern. It festered. It fermented. I didn’t understand my discontent.

By the time I was in my early 20s, I wore a pretty hard, protective shell designed to keep me from getting hurt.

And then I found a church that promised “inner healing.”

Was there a chance that I could be freed from the pain that I worked so hard to keep hidden away?

I found a husband who was supposed to be loving, caring and a positive expression of patriarchy.

I believed that in this relationship, those wounds would finally begin to heal. I was in a safe relationship, a safe place, finally.

I let my guard down and exposed many of my wounds to this man.

I trusted him.

He used his power to control instead of love.

This is not a cautionary tale. I am not advocating the growth of dragon scales as a way to protect oneself. We can never truly love others if we don’t allow them to love us. And no one can love us if we don’t let down our guard.

From a psychological point of view, I am most likely dealing with abandonment issues exacerbated by fear of rejection. In a nutshell, when my father left me and my family when I was 7 years old, it affected me profoundly.

Back in the late 60s, it was not common for parents to divorce. I grew up in what was called a “broken home.” I carried that shame with me everywhere.

Thinking back, when my father was home there was an awful lot of yelling and fighting. I’m pretty sure things got physical. I don’t remember much. I liked the quiet better.

I heard a lot of stories from both of my parents over the subsequent years well into my adolescence when I finally reached a point where I couldn’t take it anymore. I eventually refused to see my father anymore. That estrangement lasted for about two years.

I got pregnant. I got married. I had a baby. I got divorced.

I needed the quiet.

When it wasn’t quiet, when there was conflict and discord, my wounds opened up and all the pain came flooding back.

Here’s the thing: we all have wounds. My wounds are probably nothing compared to someone else’s wounds. That doesn’t matter.

We are talking pain levels here and tolerance for pain.

In life, the good times are supposed to outweigh the bad times.

Everyone suffers. Everyone struggles. Everyone has pain.

The real issue is how much pain and how often. Does the pain ever stop? Are there respites from the pain?

For some people, the answer is “No.”

I didn’t understand the insidious nature of chronic pain until a few years ago after contracting Lyme disease from a tick bite. I ended up one of the small percentage of people who experience long-term symptoms. Mine include chronic fatigue and chronic pain. I know what it is like to live with pain all the time.

The physical bite site, the terrible wound that I had from that tick bite, did heal after three weeks of antibiotics. The cause of the initial wound (about the size of a softball) moved away from the bite site and penetrated deep into my body’s tissues and even my brain. There was no healing.

Too Much Pain

The other day, I woke up and realized that I didn’t have any noticeable pain in my body. I breathed deeply and smiled. What a happy day. I want more pain-free days. Who wouldn’t? I thoroughly enjoyed that day. But such days are rare.

There is more compassion for those who suffer from physical pain than emotional pain in our society.  If someone has a back injury and must take opioids, no one holds it against that person.

For those who suffer loss and are wounded by it (and how can one not be wounded by loss???), healing is supposed to take place over time, but there is an expectation of some conclusion where the person affected finds relief and can move on with no more symptoms of grief.

For most people, grieving a loss takes time and the support of loved ones. In most cases, the pain of the loss lessens until it is merely a memory with occasional bouts of suffering that abate after a day or so.

What happens when grieving doesn’t end? Sometimes the wounds just don’t heal.

What happens to those who never stop feeling profound and unbearable pain?

There are many different endings to this kind of story.

Many can find relief through mental health services: therapy, medications and lifestyle changes. For some people this works.

Some end in the body giving up and the person fading away (yes, people can die from a broken heart). Some end in self-destructive behavior that results in death. Some end in suicide.

For some people the wounds just don’t heal. For some people the pain never stops. The thought of living a life of never ending pain is unbearable.

But wait…

 

Even though many wounds don’t heal, there is hope.

And it starts with taking back one’s power…

2014-05-04 19.24.15

I wouldn’t have seen the double rainbow if I hadn’t gone outside

 

 

The silencing of [abused] children

I saw this in my Twitter feed this morning. Of course, it intrigued me as I am focused on silencing behavior right now.

tweet wapo silencing children

This story by federal prosecutor Sarah Chang exposes society’s role in the silencing of abused children.

“Psychiatrists say the silence conveys their sense of helplessness, which also manifests in their reluctance to report the incidents and their tendency to accommodate their abusers,” Chang wrote as an explanation for why children in the videos she watched were often silent, showing little emotion.

It makes sense that these children would feel helpless. The very people who are supposed to care for them and keep them safe are the ones accused of abusing them. What power do children have in such situations?

But why do so many of these wounded, betrayed children remain silent?

But in reality, a voiceless cry is often the most powerful one.

Their abusers are master manipulators. Threats of losing even the abusing parent to prison is often enough to silence a child. That parent might be abusing that child, but he or she is the only parent that child has.

Fear of further loss silences victims.

Chang goes on to describe law enforcement officials, prosecutors and defense attorneys who judge victims based on their emotional responses to questioning.

“Silence can be the most devastating evidence of sexual abuse; it can be the sound of pain itself,” Chang wrote.

Some people close to me have suffered sexual abuse as children. Disclosures were made to me in confidence, in quiet times and in privacy. There was no emotion.

There was shame. There was self-condemnation. There was self-blame. There was little healing to be had because they just didn’t want to talk about it.

What was my part in this silent suffering? Did I bring up the abuse at a later time to offer further comfort? I must be honest and admit that I didn’t. I did not know what to do.

I carried some of the pain with me from that day forward because that is just how I am, but I don’t think I helped even a little bit.

Does society silence the abused? That is a very good question. What do you think?