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Day 169 “Intention and Results”

Every so often, life has a way of taking over, and sending me spinning off balance.  These are the times where I reset goals in an attempt to regain equilibrium.

Now would be one of those times.

So I take inventory and line up my priorities once again:

1.  To work 90 minutes per day.  (Even though I am still technically on holidays, a teacher’s workload is intense, so I can always work.  Here, I am trying to minimize it so it doesn’t take over.)

2.  To spend 60 minutes per day writing.  ( I see writing as a luxury because I do it mostly for self-serving reasons, therefore; I tend to undervalue it and it is the first to go.)

3.  30 minutes of exercise per day.

4.  Choosing to eat healthy foods that support my well-being.

Number four is the clincher.  I have some food allergies and a lot of sensitivities, so eating properly becomes really important for my health.  Why then, is this goal so difficult to keep?

The intent is good, but what is it about food that makes it so difficult to control?  If I had the answer, I would be rich, especially in this age of health and weight consciousness.

Yesterday, for example, I ate a healthy breakfast, and an equally satisfying lunch, and had planned my dinner ahead of time.  I ended up being out longer than I expected, and felt the temptation to grab something “snackish” to fill in the gap, but I managed to hang on till dinner.  Then the cravings started.  I wanted something sweet to compliment dinner – a habit that dates back to childhood.  So I ate the remainder of a chocolate loaf.  I didn’t stop there.  I had an errand to run and thought about stopping to pick up a chai tea latte, overlooking the fact that I had eaten dessert.  I talked to myself about my goal, and settled on coming home and making a low-fat latte.  I enjoyed my treat, and felt sated, but then remembered that there were potato chips in the cupboard.  I convinced myself that a bowl of chips was better than eating from the bag, but of course, I wanted more.  I was far from hungry at this point.

The resulting indigestion and inability to settle down for a good night’s sleep was not a new experience.  Neither was telling myself that I won’t do that again!

The results speak for themselves.  As much as I want to think I am conscientious about what I eat, I remain overweight.

What is the food replacing? I ask myself.  What function is it serving?

A number of things come to mind.  First, I am an emotional eater.  I eat when I am upset, but I also eat when I am happy, especially if I have accomplished something and am proud of myself, such as keeping on track for an entire day.  It is easy to see where this habit derives from by watching my grandchildren.  Food is an easy way to console and celebrate.  I have no doubt that is how my mother handled me.

Sometimes I eat to suppress needs.  Now this is getting personal, but because of Thor’s condition, there has been no sexual intimacy for some time, yet the urge remains for me.  Potato chips have been my go to food when feeling lonely for a long time.  I know it, but still go there.

Overeating creates a cycle that is difficult to break.  I feel good about myself, I self sabotage, I eat junk, I feel bad and indulge more.

There is also the problem I wrote about the other day:  instant gratification vs long-term gain.

I have no self-control in the instant.  If there are no chips in the house, I can usually talk myself out of the need for them, but if they are on hand, I have no self-control.

Why is it so difficult to shift my focus to long-term gain?  Herein lies the complication.   In order to be able to commit to something in the distance, I have to be able to believe in the future.  (Boy, this is tough stuff!)  Truth is I stopped believing in the future a long time ago.  I have chosen, instead, to live for the moment.  That way, I have convinced myself, I won’t have as many disappointments.

As a child of parents who were never able to follow through with promises, I first learned the pain of disappointment, but it didn’t end when I left home.  I chose partners and built relationships that repeated the pattern.  And then I took over.  I proved again and again to myself that there is no gain in setting my sights on the future.  The future is too intangible and unpredictable.

What I failed to tell myself is that not all of the future is foreseeable or predictable, but planning ahead (in the moment) can help prepare the way.  Choosing not to eat those chips in each moment helps secure a healthier self in the long run.  Eating the chips, conversely, will ensure that my goal is never met.

If I ever hope to see results from my intentions, I will need a new, and responsible attitude.

 

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Day 168 “Hidden Messages”

“I’m not as smart as you.  I’d probably be okay if I was smarter.”

“That’s not true, Mai!  You are very smart.”

“Do you really think so?”

My sister and I were doing dishes after supper.  I had come to visit parents and Mai, who lived just upstairs from my parents’ apartment, joined us.  Mai is paranoid schizophrenic.

“You got 96% in your nursing program.  Intelligence is not your problem.  You have a mental illness.  That is different.”

“I did, didn’t I?  I used to be a good nurse.”

“I’m sure you were.”

Mai would attempt to take her life at least once a year, resulting in the eventual loss of her job, and much of her independence.

“Do you want me to do the washing?  You must be tired.”  Mai set down her dishtowel and backed away from the sink.

“I am just fine.  We are almost done.”
“You’re probably just tired.”  Mai removed herself from the kitchen area of the apartment and sat down.

I realized in the that moment that it was actually Mai who was tired, but somehow, she was unable to articulate that, so she projected her feelings onto me.  It was an aha moment for me, and explained much of Mai’s behaviour.  I would notice it when we went out together.  If she would suggest that I was hungry, cold, or whatever, it really meant that she was.

“Mai is unable to speak directly to whatever is bothering her,”  I explained to my Mother later on.  “So we can’t take what she says at face value.”

“It must be part of her illness,”  my Mother deduced.

I agreed at the time, but then it became apparent to me that my Mother did the same thing.  Her hidden messages were not as easy to detect.

“How can you keep a husband and work full-time?”  she might ask me, which I would take as criticism.  Or, she would say:  “You were out having lunch with a friend, what about your husband and children?  What did they do for lunch?”  Such statements would grate on my nerves, until I decided not to take them personally and investigate what she was really saying.

“Did you ever want to work outside the home, Mom?”

“Oh, I would have loved to, but your father wouldn’t let me.  A woman’s place is in the home.  When I did go to work, it was only after I threatened to leave, but he never liked it.”

My Mother’s seemingly judgmental comments were actually expressions of regret for the limitations she felt in her own life.  Apart from not being allowed to work outside the home, my Mother also didn’t cultivate any personal friendships.  “My children are all I need,”  she would say.

My family, I came to understand, are masters at hiding the truth.  It warranted a look at my own behaviours and communications.

I am highly skilled in convincing myself that immediate gratification far outweighs longterm gain, thus my ongoing issues with weight (or should I spell that wait?).  Put a high calorie, non-nutritious snack in front of me, and I will go for it everytime – hungry or not.  I convince myself that I deserve this, or I’ll be good tomorrow, or that it’s just this one time, all of which are lies.  Thor is my co-consipirator in this process.  We support each other’s need to overindulge.

So what, I have ask myself, is the hidden message behind this behaviour?  And if I am to get honest with myself, what will that look like?

Clearly, I have work to do.

 

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Day 167 “We are one”

My first journal was a flip-the-page, week-at-a-glance calendar that my father gave me when I visited his office.  I kept it hidden under my mattress and wrote while huddled in my safe spot, between my bed and the wall.  I must have been six or seven because the sentences are very basic and I hadn’t learned cursive writing yet.  Most entries are one sentence:  Dad mad at mom.  Got an A on spelling.  Visited cousins today.

This rudimentary diary was enough to get me hooked, and then I started asking for proper ones.  Ones with little keys that I could lock, to safeguard my thoughts.

As the length of my entries grew, so too did my emotional expression.  At eight, I wrote about unfairness, and my growing anger at injustice.  Mostly, it was expressed like this:  Tommy said girls can’t play baseball.  Beat him up.  Got to play.  Leslie always gets picked first for everything.  Told the teacher that wasn’t right.  She let me go first.

The pattern that emerges through those young years is one of increasing isolation, as I discovered that I really didn’t fit in the world.  Time spent alone, and writing, increases.

At twelve, I get excused from regular English lessons to work on a novel.  Writing overtakes my life, and becomes such an intimate companion that I let go of the need for external friends.  I have stopped trying to fight my way into acceptance, and resigned myself to the fact that few people want to be friends with a nerd like me.

The summer of my fourteenth birthday, I learn that my father is a cross-dresser, and somehow I think that the world can tell by looking at me.  I start sitting at the back of the classroom, and journaling instead of taking notes.  My grades slide, but I discover the power of poetic expression.  I am a loner.

I never speak of what I have learned, but trying to process the information will be the topic of many entries for years to come.  Into adulthood, my daily writing consumes pages and pages, and I have now switched to three ring notebooks.  I have boxes of notebooks, labelled “Mom’s Crap” by my children.  I take them with me on every move: a piece of my soul not yet revealed.

It has only been in the past year and a half that I have ventured to share my writing with an audience, albeit unknown, through blogging.  Recently, I have received responses, and visited other blog sites, and to my delight, I have discovered that I am not alone.  There is a whole community of therapeutic writers like myself.  We write because we have to, because it is our passion, and our lifeline.

The internet has given us the opportunity to break through the barriers of our self-imposed isolation and helped us uncover commonality.

In the greater scheme of things, we are, after all, all one.

abuse · Family · mental-health · nonfiction · recovery

Choosing Self Love

The day was sickly hot, and my allergies were bugging me.  I just wanted to hunker down in the corner of my room and lose myself in a good book, but when I tried the back door, it was locked.  I knocked.  No response.  I knocked harder and longer.

The door swung open angrily, and my oldest sister yelled for me to get lost, slamming it in my face.

I knocked again, more persistently.

She opened again hissing at me:  “Seriously, V.J.!  You need to stay away, or Mom will kill herself.”

“But it’s hot and I don’t feel well.  Please let me come in.”

“No way!  Mom can’t handle anything else.”  She slammed the door again.  I heard the lock slide into place.  I slumped down on the step, thinking over what she had said.  Was it really possible for me to be the cause of my mother’s suicide?  The rest of the family, save for my Dad, were inside.  I was the only one locked out.  Was I really that bad of a kid?

That was the day I learned that I could be responsible for another person’s well-being.  I wasn’t yet eight years of age.

* * *

“I am not a very good daughter,”  I explained to the therapist I had been seeing.  I was thirty-seven and having difficulty with my own daughter, so I sought help.

“What makes you say that?”

“Well, I upset my mother and she hasn’t spoken to me for a week.”

“You think you are that powerful?”

“Pardon me?”

“You actually believe that you can influence how someone feels?”

I hadn’t thought of it that way.  “You mean, my mother’s reaction is out of my control?”

“Exactly.”

* * *

“My husband tends not to look after himself when I am away.”

“And how does that make you feel?”

Eighteen years later and I am back in therapy again.  Situational anxiety and depression is the diagnosis.  I feel like I have regressed.

“Guilty.”

“Why is that?”

“Well, if I was home I know he would be cared for.”

“So you are responsible for his choices?”

“No….well…..I guess that is what I am saying.  Shit!  How do I let this go?!”

“You will not always agree with the choices that your husband makes, but you can at least let him have responsibility for them.”

“That makes sense, so why is it so difficult for me?”

“It’s really about control.  Somehow you believe that if you can control the other person’s behaviour, then everything will be all right.  It never works, of course, but it’s a product of growing up in an out-of-control family environment.  It’s part of being a people pleaser.”

I thought I had dealt with all this years ago, and said so.

“The subconscious tries to heal those parts of self that are still wounded, so it repeats patterns.  The secret is in re-parenting yourself.  This need for control is a reflection of a childhood need that wasn’t met.”

“Like the part of me that thought she was responsible for my mother’s suffering?”

“Yes.  As an adult now, you need to offer that little person a different perspective.  What would you tell that little girl now?”

“Well, I would sit down on that porch step with her and explain that whatever her mother was going through was not her fault.  I would tell her that her sister was coping with a bad situation, and that it was not related to her behaviour.  None of it was her fault.”

“That is a good start.  Can you see anything else that the child might be missing in this scenario?”

“Caring for.  I was hot and tired and needed shelter.  I probably needed some comfort too.”

“So how will you give that to her?”

I think this over.  Am I good at looking after myself?  Occasionally, but not always.  “Why is looking after myself so difficult?”

“You tell me.”

I look back at the little girl locked out of her house, and I suddenly know.

“She doesn’t think she deserves to have her needs met,”  I realize.  “I still don’t think my needs matter.  Others are always more important.”

“So who should you be responsible for?” the therapist asks gently.

“Me.  And her.  She needs me to take care of us.”

“Can you do that?”

“It’s the only choice that makes sense.”

(Image: hdimagelib.com)

Humour · mental-health · nonfiction · spirituality

Bathroom Inspirations

“Meditation will open whole new worlds for you,”  the psychic proclaimed.

“I know nothing about it.  How do I start?”  I was really just being polite.  Dragged to this session unwittingly – I thought we were going to be playing euchre – I didn’t want to burst my friends’ bubbles by telling them how skeptical I was.

“It’s really very simple.  Find a place and time where you know you won’t be interrupted, clear your mind, and focus on the center of your being.”

Really simple.  I decided to try it, since the woman had said a few things that hit home.  Maybe she was right about this too.

Step one turned out to be a problem.  I was twenty-eight years old, and pregnant with baby number three.  Finding a consistent time and place to practice meditation was a challenge.  If and when the girls did nap at the same time, I would use those moments to do laundry, prepare a meal, or try to catch a few winks myself.

“Make time,”  she had insisted when I told her about my busy schedule.  “It is up to you.”

I felt so inadequate as a spiritual being, and at the same time driven to prove I could do it.  I grabbed every minute of solitude that I could find.  I would learn to practice the art at the drop of a hat.  I would become super meditator.

The psychic was right.  I had profound revelations, and discovered a new source of wisdom from within.  It was amazing.

“Doing it in the same place, and at the same time, communicates your intent to the subconscious, unleashing the inner wisdom,”  she had explained.

It was true.  With practice, every time I went to my meditation place I would experience that connection, and sometimes even without seeking it, insights would flow.

Then one day, an amazing thing happened.  I was out for lunch with a business associate and we were trying to figure out a mutual problem.  Neither one of us could find a solution, until I excused myself and went to the Ladies’ room.

Clarity overcame me before I could even flush the toilet, and as I excitedly revealed the answer to my colleague, I marveled at how easily the idea came to me……in the bathroom…..the same place where I practiced meditation at home.

It seems that my subconscious mind is not particular about which bathroom I use.  Now I experience inspiration when nature calls.

 

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Day 164 “Standing on Tiptoes”

Julie Ann was born with one notable gift and one equally notable (to her, at least) flaw:  she could sing like an angel and she had a wandering eye.  Unable to care for her too numerous children, Julie Ann’s mother sent her to live with her parents.  Other siblings were farmed out to other relatives, until Julie Ann’s mother could get her life back on track.  Singing was the one thing that brought Julie Ann, and those around her, joy.  She joined the church choir, and the school choir, and entered little talent contests here and there, and everyone said the same thing:  “This girl is destined for fame.”

But Julie Ann didn’t think so.  Every time she looked in the mirror, all she could see was her hideous lazy eye.  Her grandparents had taken her to the doctor and they did give her corrective glasses, which she wore for awhile, but threw away when the children at school teased her so much, she couldn’t stand it anymore.  Instead, she decided to grow her hair long and wear it draped over that eye, so no one could see it.

Julie Ann grew tall, and despite her odd eye, stunningly beautiful.  Her long black hair fell in natural waves over her slender body, and she soon discovered that men found her quite attractive.  A pair of high-heeled stilettos worn with a short, tight skirt, made her legs appear to go on forever and effectively detracted from what was hidden behind the curtain of hair across her face.  At sixteen, men were falling over themselves to buy her drinks at the bars she attended, underage.

Julie Ann couldn’t get enough of the attention she was receiving.  She didn’t care how many women glared at her, or confronted her about luring their men, she felt powerful and no one was going to stop her.  Soon, she started flirting her way onto the stage, and here she really began to shine.  When Julie Ann opened her mouth to sing, rooms went quiet.  There was magic in her voice and an undeniable talent that would propel her upward.  At seventeen, she was the headliner performing in night clubs, and a couple of years later she was offered a recording contract.

She was on her way to stardom.

The little girl, whose mama had cast aside, was becoming a sensation.

Along the way, she had surgery to repair her eye.  Then she noticed that her breasts were a little small, and she had surgery to increase those.  Money was never an issue, because there was always some man eager to take up her cause.  A little enhancement to her buttocks increased her shapeliness, and then she discovered botox.  It seemed the ways in which she could improve her image were endless.

And all the while, she wore her trademark stilettos:  to the grocery store, the night clubs, even the gym.  No one would see her without them.  She traveled through life on tiptoes.  She aspired to be a super model.

Julie Ann’s obsession with her looks and sexual prowess soon overpowered her ability to sing.  In her own mind, it was her physical appearance, and not her singing ability that helped her gain fame.  She grew impatient when people asked her to sing.  She disregarded her agent’s advice that  she needed to focus on her singing more, and refused to do benefit concerts or charity events.  She lost her footing on the hit parade.  Other, younger, stars were willing to work hard to keep climbing.  They soon surpassed her.

Julie Ann didn’t seem to notice.

It wasn’t long before she was only singing for family again, and even then, she had to be goaded over and over before she would relent.  The pleasure was gone, and those who knew her well were saddened by what she had become.

Julie Ann showed up at my door one night, in the middle of a storm.  I didn’t recognize her at first.  The woman who stood outside, in the darkness, was shorter than me, with straight black hair that hung down to her waist.  She was wearing a simple housecoat and flats.  Her face was not made up and quite frankly, she looked like a lost little child.

“I’m sorry,”  I stumbled to recuperate.  “I didn’t recognize you.”

“I know,”  she said flatly.  “This is the real me.  Pathetic, isn’t it?”

“Not at all,”  I reassured her.  Not at all.

“How do you do it?”  she asked, getting right down to business.  “You don’t wear a lot of makeup, you could care less about your hair, and you never wear heels, but people still look up to you.”

I had to stifle a laugh.

“I guess that’s what makes us different,”  I offered.

“I want to be more like you.”

“Julie Ann, you are a very beautiful and talented woman.  I will never be either of those things.  I poured my energy into education, reading, and helping others.  Stardom was never in my cards.”

She plopped down on the bed and started to cry.

“People admire you.  People are jealous of me, or hate me for being better than them, but no one admires me.  No one wants to be like me.”

“I’m sure that’s not true”  Actually, secretly, I suspected she was right.  There is nothing warm and appealing about a self-centered woman.

“How much money do you spend a month on makeup and clothes?” she asked scanning my hotel room for answers.

“I don’t know.  How much do you spend?”

“I spend four hundred on makeup alone.”

“Holy Cow, Julie Ann.  I wouldn’t spend that in a year!”

“Don’t you care?”

“It’s just not my priority.”

“No one sees me like this, you know.”

“Why is that, Julie Ann?  What are you afraid of?”

“Everyone expects me to be glamourous.  They only know me this way.”

“How much time do you spend each day getting ready?”

“Three hours.  It takes three hours to do my hair and makeup.  Sometimes, I do it twice a day.”

“What would you do with your time, if you didn’t have that routine?  Three hours is a lot.”  I rattled off all the things I did with three hours being a mother of three.  Julie Ann had a young son; I couldn’t help but wonder what he did during her coiffing.

“Easy for you to say,” she stormed.  “Your career doesn’t depend on it.”

I don’t know what Julie Ann expected to gain from me that evening, but it seemed to me that we got nowhere.  I gleaned an insight into her bizarre daily rituals, and she seemed to convince herself that she was more important than me, and therefore, justified in her life choices.

When she left, she swore me to secrecy about what she really looked like.  “I don’t want anyone to know I’m this short.”

Julie Ann is an enigma to me.  She is gifted with the most incredible voice, and the physical beauty to match it.  As an outsider, I would say she had it all.  Until that night that she graced my doorstep, I would have thought that Julie Ann was above me; superior in so many ways.  Our moment of intimacy shattered that illusion.  Maybe Julie Ann just needed the opportunity to rediscover herself.   Maybe she saw in me the inspiration to be different.  Maybe she was considering what life would be like if she wasn’t always standing on tiptoes.

Whatever her reasoning, Julie Ann did not leave empty handed that night.  At some point during our brief exchange, she had managed to “pocket” something of mine.  I wouldn’t discover the loss until later that next morning, as I went to leave.

Julie Ann had taken my shoes.  My practical, sensible, comfortable flat-soled, shoes.

 

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Day 163 “Time Travel”

My granddaughter’s arms reach up above her head, her tiny hands each grasping one of my fingers.  She takes a wobbly step forward and then pauses to gaze in the glass counter beside us.

“Buh”, she says.

“Pretty”  I respond.  The cabinet showcases an array of colourful china cups.  “Keep going.”

She takes a few more precarious steps and stops again.  Thus we entertain ourselves while her mother and aunt shop for antiques.  My girls arranged this little getaway as a celebration of my fifty-fifth birthday.  Their brother would be joining us later for dinner.  The site of our gathering is a quaint, tourist attraction, noted for its shops and market. I am amused at some of the items on display: mementos of bygone days.  Hard for me to see the value in what was once common place, and overdone.  I mean, really, could blue mountain pottery be making a comeback?

Annie stumbles and I catch her up in my arms, wanting to move on from this aisle where everything is breakable.  That’s when I hear a familiar voice – one I haven’t heard for years.   I turn and catch site of a childhood friend.

“Beth!”

We embrace, and I call in my children to share in the encounter, proudly introducing the newest member of the family.  Beth and her husband join our little entourage and we wander out into the street in search of a place where we can catch up.

Our conversation comes so easily, as if there has been no separation of years.

Annie, close to needing feeding, cries out for her mother.  Beth and I simultaneously remember another time, when Annie’s mother was a baby, and would accept comfort from no one but me.  Beth’s husband makes a comment about my nature, a dig rooted in our teenage years when he teased me constantly.  I feel like I am fourteen again.

It is a surreal moment.   I have journeyed down many paths and crossed many bridges in my life, and in an instance I travel back forty years.

The meeting lingers with me for the rest of the day.  So many thoughts and emotions swirling inside.

I always loved Beth.  Her gentle nature and practical approach to life balanced my dramatic, frantic self.  There had been three of us in those teenage years, and despite our hopes and dreams, I was the only one to go on and have a family.  Beth and her husband chose not to have children, and our third friend never even married.  None of us could see back then how things would turn out.

I kept in touch with Beth in the early years of marriage and children, visiting every six months or so, but as my children grew and our lives became more complicated, I let the relationship go.  As I did with many of my close friendships, I created a distance that would protect me from rejection.  Today’s encounter reminded me that the people who know me best don’t care about my faults and failings.  I have worried for nothing.

A chance meeting today propelled me back in time, looking at my life from a new perspective.  Yes, there has been strife and regrets, but there has been so much more.  My family is a testament to that.

Time travel:  it’s good for the soul.