Happy Birthday to My Husband!

To my dear husband, on your birthday:

You are my best friend, lover, champion, and rock.  On this day, I wish you only the best, and if I had a magic wand, I would wish you only good things for the rest of your days.  You deserve that.  Most of all, I wish that you knew how much I love and appreciate you.

I love our life together.  I love that you built our house, and that together we were able to design and decorate it.  I love that you value my opinion, as I value yours.  I love that we travel together and are good companions, no matter what we do.  I love that you care for all the children as if they were your own, and I love that mine will call you for advice and support, because you are always kind and helpful.  I love that you love our granddaughter as much as I do, and will love the next grandchild just the same.  I love that you can be spontaneous, and are always open to laughter.  I love our laughter.  And even though you will never admit it, I love how responsible and mature you are.

There is no gift that I can give you that expresses the depth of my love for you.

Enjoy your day, knowing you are loved.

Abuse and Money

I arrived home from school one day to find my mother sitting in a corner trembling, her face face blotched red and swollen from crying.  “Mom?”

The eyes that stared back at me were distant.  This was not my mother.  I took stock of the situation.  It was 3:15.  My little sister would be home from school in half an hour.   Dad would be home at 4:30 and expect dinner on the table.  Nothing had been started yet.  I dropped my books and got down to business.

“Mom.  You need to talk to me.  D is going to be home soon, and we have to get dinner on.  What’s going on?”

She nodded slightly.  “I can’t do it anymore.  Your father……..”  Her voice trailed off, but she didn’t need to say anything.  I knew how brutal my father could be.  I heard daily how stupid she was, and how she never cooked anything properly, even though that was her only job.  I wanted her to leave him, too.

“I’ll do whatever I can, Mom.  In two years, I can quit school, and get a job.  I’ll support us.”

Was that a faint smile?

“We’ll make it work, Mom.  We’ve got each other.”

Reaching for the pots and pans, I added, “Now what can we get started for dinner?”  There would be hell to pay if dinner wasn’t on the table the moment my dad walked in.

* * *

At twelve  years of age, I learned that money was what kept my mother in an abusive relationship.  It never occurred to me that she had the option of getting a job; she was a stay at home mom.  Five years later, we would go through a similar scenario, only then I was already living on my own, and had enough sense to get her to a lawyer.  In the end, my father convinced her to stay.

Years later, I would find myself a stay at home mom, with a husband who controlled the purse strings.  Like my mother, I felt powerless, and inferior.  Unlike my mother, I left anyway.  I braved poverty in order to find my worth.  Nevertheless,  I struggled, seldom able to give my children the material things they craved.  I felt guilty, worthless, inadequate.  After six years, I had a serious talk with God.

“God,” I said, “I want to make a difference in the world, but I can’t do it if I don’t even know where the next meal is coming from.”

I tried affirmations:  All my needs are always met; there is enough for everyone.

Eventually, things turned around. Yet, my relationship with money has not yet healed.  I want to be able to say the money’s the money, the way my new husband does.  I want to be able to see money as a means to an end, and not the end of my means.

My attitude towards money still needs work, but I am ready for change.

(Image:  empoweringparents.com)

 

What Is Right If Everything Is Wrong?

My father ‘borrowed’ his brother’s identification and enlisted in the war effort at the age of fifteen.  He told me once that it was an opportunity to escape home.  He trained as a commando.  His mission was to go into enemy territory, scout out where they kept their ammunition, and get out without being caught.  His instructions were to swallow a black pill (cyanide) if captured,  and kill any soldier he should encounter, in order to keep his unit’s operation covert.  He did not carry a gun; gun’s were too noisy.  He was trained to kill with either a knife, that he kept strapped to his leg, or his bare hands.

He knew exactly how to render an enemy immobile, and apply pressure to end their life.  I know, because he practiced on me.

He never let me forget that he was boss, and he could snuff me out in a moment.

He would do it in a state of drunkenness, in front of his male friends.  He’d twist my body in such a way that if I moved, I would surely break an arm, or a leg.  He’d hold me there, humiliated, angry, and make me tell him I loved him.

“Yes, Dad.”  I would say, teeth clenched, breathing like a trapped animal.

“What?”  He’d pull tighter.  “I don’t think that was very convincing.”

“I love you.”  I don’t know who I hated more, him or me.  I felt so cowardly.  Inwardly, I plotted revenge.  He might conquer me in the moment, but not the long term.

How long he held me there, depended on how much pleasure he was deriving from the moment.  He said he did it because he loved me.

“Your father loves you,”  my mother would echo.  “He’d never really hurt you.”  I was not reassured.  She said the same thing when he attacked her verbally, and psychologically.

She said the same thing when her brother tried to slip me his tongue.  “Your uncle fancy’s himself a ladies’ man.  He’s harmless.”  Even when his own daughters accused him of sexual abuse and refuse to see him, she defended him.   “Boys will be boys,”  she’d say.  “The woman has to control the situation.”

I was twenty-eight before I told her the reason that I disappeared when I was fourteen was because I had been abducted and raped.  It took me fourteen years to build up the courage to tell my mother that when men behave inappropriately it is wrong.  That they alone are responsible for their crimes, and that women are not to blame.

“I’m sixty years old,” my mother told.  “And I’ve never told anyone.”

“What, Mom?”

“I always thought it was the girl’s fault.  I don’t why I thought that, but I just did.  I knew my mother would say so, so I never told.”  She was only six, and riding in the backseat of her family’s new car, when her uncle took her little hand and made her fondle his penis.  Her parents were in the front, but she didn’t say a word.  She thought she did something wrong.

The abuse did not stop there.  “My mother would make me visit my grandparents, even though I hated it.  Grandma would be working in the kitchen, and she’d tell me to go and keep Grandpa company.”  ‘Keeping Grandpa company’ meant climbing into bed with the old man.  Mom didn’t explain any further.

The same brother that tried to french kiss me, was also a problem growing up, she confessed.  She’d just shoo him away.

Her younger sister wasn’t so lucky.  Their grandfather dragged her out behind the barn one day and raped her, while the rest of the children stood by helpless.  Only the youngest son grabbed the shotgun and threatened to kill the old man.  It was an empty effort.  Years later, the family would shun that aunt for her inappropriate sexual behaviors.

A child may be born with an innate sense of right and wrong, but it is not long before she learns to question her own instincts.  How do you unravel the corruptly tangled web of abuse and denial?  How does a child who has not been protected from wrong, learn to trust in right?

For me, it has been a slow dawning realization that words have no meaning.  A man can say and promise whatever he wants, but it is action that speaks the truth.  Holding your child in a death grip to prove your prowess, is not an act of love.

Calming Breath

Imagine being able to clear the clutter of your mind; to set aside all your thoughts, worries, obsessions, and just breathe.  Imagine letting go of all the tension in your body; setting aside pain, and discomfort in favour of just being.  Imagine the noise and distractions of everyday life just floating through you without sticking; your awareness not blocked, but heightened.

Through the practice of meditation, I have experienced this feeling of being suspended, at peace, in a state of harmony.  It is calming, reassuring, refreshing.  Reaching this place offers renewal, and at times, a sensation of bliss.  It is amazing how, no matter how stressed, this state of being offers such relaxation, that it shifts perception.

Breathe deeply, slowly, and let your exhale carry the tension out of your body and mind.  Take your time.  Let thoughts flow in and out.  Perceive them, and let them go.  Everything that is important will be there later.  Affirm it.  It’s safe to set all thoughts aside.

Let your in breath fill you with clear, calming energy, washing over you, helping the out breath carry away the tension.  Give your self permission to relax.  Empty yourself, body, mind, and spirit.  Surrender to the nothingness.  Suspend your grasp on reality.

Just be.

Hints for success:  Practice the same time each day.  Create the opening.  It doesn’t take long, it takes discipline.  Practice in the same place, establishing a routine.  One of my teachers suggested taking 2-3 minute intervals throughout the day where you stop and breath consciously.  She said she would find a tree, and focus on that tree, imagining what it would be like to have roots that run deep into the earth, and branches that reach high into the sky, and bend with the breezes.  She described it as strong, but calm, centered in peace.

Aside:  I learned to meditate when my children were babies, which meant that the only place I could get any alone time was the bathroom.  Meditating in the bathroom established a correlation that still exists today.  Some of my best inspirations happen when I visit the bathroom.

(Image:  quotesgram.com)

Creativity and Self Definition

I dream that I am walking across an open field.  The landscape is barren, and dry, and a wind storm is whipping up, with low menacing clouds.  I am headed to the farm, where I raised my children, and where my ex-husband still lives.  I am living in the city, in the basement of  a raised ranch with hand-me-down furniture.  While the apartment is bright, because of the high windows, it is still a basement.  I am walking against the weather, despite the weather, because I want to finally settle something with my ex; call a truce.  He is processing wood – putting it through a machine and creating little piles of wood chips and lots of sawdust in his large open shop.  He keeps working and ignores my presence.  My mother arrives in a car and has a present for him.  My older sisters show up also.  They are in the main house primping, and trying to show me how to make myself more attractive.  I just want to clear the air, but there are too many distractions.

I always say that creativity is the process by which we define and then express ourself.   In the dream, I am influenced by the women in my family, the inclement weather, and an ex-spouse who is preoccupied.  I chuckle at the dream’s image of my older sisters preening, as growing up it was impossible to find a mirror that was not taken over by one of my sisters.  It was part of the reason I chose to be a tomboy; it was easier than trying to get bathroom time for grooming.

In my family, women were expected to be pretty, under educated, and submissive to men.  My older sisters were both beautiful, and took secretarial skills at school, leaving after grade 11, so they could get a job and find a man.  I did not fit this mold.  Taking after my father in looks,  I had a receding chin, and wore glasses.  I was also ‘gifted’ and aspired towards a university degree.  I was outspoken and pro women’s lib.  My mother told me daily that no one would ever love me; she worried about my future.  I felt my mother’s legacy fulfilling itself, when my second, and former husband told me he had never loved me after seventeen years together.  I left that marriage believing that I was unlovable.

I thought I had worked through all that.  I am in a relationship now with a husband who constantly demonstrates his love for me.  So why, in my dreams am I going over old territory?  And what does this have to do with creativity?

Maybe the dream is reminding me that if we define ourselves within the context of our environment, then we are limited.  If we are to expand our sense of self, we must be able to see beyond the landscape of our past.  In terms of health, my mother has had numerous issues, including three rounds of cancer; my oldest sister suffered illness all her life; and my next older sister is debilitated by schizophrenia.  None of them escaped the limitations of victimhood to experience either successful careers or relationships.

I believe that the purpose of dreams is always to bring positive movement in our lives.  This one left me feeling hopeless, unwanted, unseen or heard – much like my childhood.  I need to envision a new reality for myself.  I need to create new possibilities instead of searching and re-searching the experiences that will never serve to define me as anything less than inadequate.

(Image:  wallpapers-kid.com)

Relief

The verdict is in:  there is no cancer!

Relief is immediate.  I find myself breathing easier.  I feel lighter.

So, what was that about?   Months of uncertainty, unknowing, like a cloud hovering over each day.  Dare we plan….?  What if…..?  What about…..?  The questions were there, but unanswerable.  Just as quickly as it arrived, the cloud is gone.  The sky is clear again; life is back to normal.

But I am not the same.  I am more aware.  I more aware of how important my love ones are to me, and that I let them know.  I am more aware of how fortunate I am to be working at a job I love, but that my health and well-being comes first.  I must look after myself.  I am more aware that as I grow older my body is less forgiving, and it needs my care.  Health is not a given, nor a promise; it requires work and commitment.

I was lucky.  Not everyone is.  I have been given another chance.  I’ve got some personal work to do.

 

Navigating Intuitively

In 1997, the annual Therapeutic Touch conference was held in Vancouver, and to my great delight, my then husband encouraged me to attend.  The conference was to be held over a weekend, but as I had a friend living on Vancouver Island, I decided to extend my stay. Two others wanted to join, and while I said they were welcome, I wanted it to be on my terms – outside of the conference, I wanted no set agendas, or schedules.  I wanted to be fully open to the experience, and whatever presented itself; to let my intuition alone be the guide.

One of my teachers and mentors was also living in Vancouver at the time, and as it turned out would be on the island during our stay.  Em agreed to meet up with us.  We needed a place to stay.  J, who lived on the island, scouted out a cottage we could rent for cheap.  It was November, so very off season.  She found a three bedroom that looked like it would accommodate us.  We were excited.

We flew into Vancouver and rented a car.  By late evening, we were in Victoria.  We decided to stop for the night.  S and I were up early the next morning, ready to explore.

“What does it mean to follow your intuition?” she asked as we set out on the deserted streets in search of an open coffee shop.

“Some teachings believe that Spirit speaks to us through omens and signs, but most of us miss this guidance in our day to day living, as we are too focused on schedules and obligations.  I just want to see what happens when we open to guidance.”  A large black bird squawked from its perch across the street.  We both looked.  “Like that bird, for example.  What would happen if we followed it?”  On cue, the bird flew a short distance, then stopped.  We followed.

S and I were going into business together.  She already had an established business, and I had a vision.  I wanted to create an environment in which people could find help in times of need, but I didn’t want it to be clinical, or formal.  We were thinking a book store, with added services. We shared ideas as we continued to follow the bird, who seemed to be enjoying the game.  He would fly only within sight, and wait for us before journeying further.  Eventually he stopped just outside a store front.  The store was called “The Pomegranate”.

“I like it,”  I exclaimed.  I had just read something about pomegranates, and how some scholars believed the original apple in the Garden of Eden was actually a pomegranate.  I shared this with S.

She told me in the Jewish religion, the pomegranate was a symbol of the many ways man can serve man.  She said the pomegranate has multiple seeds (over 100) and that each seed was representative of a different act of service.  Our discussion became lively and animated.  We walked on, our harbinger forgotten.

When we returned to the hotel, L was ready to move on.  We loaded up the rental vehicle, and headed north.  L would drive, S would occupy the passenger seat, and I would be the backseat driver, listening for ‘signs’.  With its combination of mountains, trees, rock, and water, it is difficult not to feel inspired on the island.

I tried to pay attention not only with my eyes, but also with my other senses.  We hadn’t travelled far before I felt a shift in my physical perception.   I asked L to pull over.  My companions looked at me expectantly.  Not sure what I was experiencing, I explained that I felt something different, a sensation of depletion, as if the energy was being zapped out of me.  We got out and looked around.  Not much to see. I pointed in the direction where I thought the sensation was coming from.  There was some big machinery there; it looked like it might be the beginning of construction.  We asked a passerby, who responded that the forest was being clear cut here.  What a shame, we thought.

We drove on until I suddenly felt my heart begin to flutter, as if it had taken flight.  “Pull over,” I announced.  “I feel like soaring.”  We got out and looked up.  Three eagles were circling high above.  We watched in speechless reverence.

Our next stop was close to the inner channel.  I suddenly felt playful, bubbly.  “It’s in the water!”  Sure enough, it was.  A lone dolphin was jumping in the waves.

“This is fun,” L said.  “But I’m getting hungry.  Where does your intuition say we should eat?”

“Wendy’s,” I blurted.  A chorus of groans erupted.  We had driven past a number of quaint towns and cute little restaurants, and fast food was the last thing on our minds.

“Surely, not.” L protested.  I shrugged.

Wendy’s came into sight.  Reluctantly, we pulled in.  I made a beeline for the washroom, while L and S got in line to order.  Inside the bathroom, I had the sensation of the earth moving.  Something was here, but I had no idea what.  “This is the right place.” I told the ladies when I caught up with them.  They rolled their eyes.  We pushed through the crowded restaurant to find a seat, and were nicely tucking into the food when I heard an unmistakeable laugh.  Em was here!

Across the room, seated with her back to us, was a middle-aged woman with a long grey-black braid down her back – Em.  We embraced and laughed at the serendipity of meeting in this restaurant, when all of us avoided fast food. Em was visiting friends and would be meeting up with us on Miracle beach later in the week.  She travelled by motorcycle, and preferred no schedules.  We would see her whenever.

We set off again, now convinced.  If we make room in our lives, and open up our awareness, Spirit can speak.  It was the beginning of an incredible week.  Our setting was aptly named: Miracle Beach.  The miracles for that week had just begun.

(Image:  www.hellobc.com)

An Unexpected Lesson

On April 15, 1978, I married for the first time.  It was also the day my eldest sister was diagnosed with leukemia and given one month to live – a year, if she had any fight in her.  I was nineteen.

As a young woman, I viewed life’s issues as black and white, and was often intolerant and impatient of others.  Now, thrown into a world of uncertainty, I was ill-equipped to cope.  Jo was a single mother of one, and asked for my help and support.  I vowed to be there for her, but had no idea what that would entail.

Even though we were siblings, my sister and I could not be further apart.  Eleven years my senior, Jo was born with a hole in her heart, a condition that saw her constantly in and out of hospital as a child.  At thirteen, on the brink of death, a new procedure, open-heart surgery, saved her life.  Much of our family’s energy and attention centered around Jo’s well-being, which was always a difficult task.  Coddled as a child, and setback by illness, Jo was temperamental, self-centered, and high-spirited.  If there was a fight to be had, she would instigate it.  She was reckless, impulsive, and emotionally immature.  At nineteen, she was unwed and pregnant.  She insisted on marrying the child’s father, but it didn’t last.  A string of bad relationships followed, along with several moves, in and out of our family home.  It seemed, Jo had a knack for creating chaos.

In contrast, although fifth born, I played the role of the responsible, sensible child, often trying to mediate calm in our tumultuous lives.   It was the natural order of things for Jo to turn to me for help.   I signed on as legal guardian of my niece, and accompanied my sister to medical appointments.  She underwent intense chemotherapy, and many times we thought we were losing her, but Jo would rally round again.

I learned from my sister, that life is often grey –  that uncertainty, and change are givens – and this rattled my sense of self-righteousness.  I felt inadequate and overwhelmed.  Pursuing education in the medical field was never an option for me, as a I was a fainter.  Instead, I sought understanding of the psychological and spiritual aspects of illness.  It would lead me to years of study and a career.

I don’t know how much I actually ever helped my sister.  She was never open to any of the ideas or approaches that I studied, and she never became any easier to get along with.  Her survival, fourteen years beyond the initial diagnosis, can only be attributed to an incredible fighting spirit and will to live.  She never changed.  I, however, was forever altered because of her.

I was with my sister the night she died, holding her hand as promised.   She was one of my greatest teachers.

(Image from Pinterest)

Adjusting Focus

At thirty-one, I suffered from acute anxiety depression.  Translation:  the amount of stress in my life overloaded my ability to function.  My mind snapped, and I was reduced to a blathering blob of human jelly – trembling uncontrollably and  unable to perform even the simplest of tasks.  I lost all sense of self.

While incredibly frightening at the time, in retrospect this a time of breakthrough.  The black abyss into which I had fallen was a wake up call to re-examine my life.  Obviously, the way I had been progressing was not working for me.  I needed to regain equilibrium.

In desperation, I sought inspiration.  I found it in one particular quote, whose author I have long since forgotten:

I turned to God when my foundation was shaking, only to discover that God was shaking my foundation.

Prior to losing my grip on reality, my life had been externally focused.

My oldest sister was dying of cancer, and opted to die at home, which resulted in my mother and I becoming her primary caregivers. At the same time, I had returned to work full-time in order to allow my then husband the luxury of finding himself career-wise.   Ideally, the plan involved swapping roles, but his search led him to uncover an insatiable love for racing, and I found myself juggling work, childcare, and homemaking.

In response to the unhappiness I was feeling, I strove to better myself by enrolling in a fourth year French course at the university, and pushing myself to become more physically active.

In short, I had taken on way too much.  I like to think God pulled the plug.

Alone in the bottom of my black hole, I discovered something miraculous – my faith.   I hadn’t given it much thought before, yet, there is was, like a faint beacon of hope, drawing me out of my darkness.  I realized that I did believe in God, and more than that, that God believed in me.   My doctor offered long term drug therapy, but I preferred to take God’s challenge, and build a new foundation from within.  A spiritual dialogue began.

Twenty-three years later, with the threat of the c-word over my head, I find my equilibrium challenged once more.  I have not forgotten that God uses nudges as reminders.  I need to find balance again.  The dialogue continues.

(Image:

The Beginning

An image from my dreams has been haunting me for some time, mostly due to its oddity.  The image is of my chest, with nipples akimbo.  Why would I dream such a thing?  I could not fathom the answer, but I did become self conscious afterwards, always checking myself before going out.  I saw a woman once who had nipples so misaligned that it was hard not to notice.  I was afraid to ask, but judging by her general physique and character, I assumed it was a breast enhancement that went terribly wrong.  That would not apply to me.  I have no cosmetic surgery in my past, present, or future.

Then last night, after waking out a deep sleep with heart pounding and a burning thirst, I caught sight of myself in the mirror, and what should I see, but one nipple pointing north west and the other lost in orbit  – my dream image!  So was my dream a premonition?  If so, what was the message?

December 13th I had a lumpectomy.  In late June, my doctor sent me for a mammogram, after noticing it had been many years since the last one.  Not long after the routine examination,  I received a recall notice.

“Don’t worry”, the message said, “in 9 out of 10 women, it is nothing.”

I assumed it was related to the length of time since my last one.  No real borderline for comparison.  Re-examination day came.  They wanted to do two procedures: a spot screening and an ultrasound.  Unlike my first visit, which was in and out in a surprisingly short period of time, I found myself waiting and waiting after the initial procedure.

I asked if they had forgotten me.  A nurse assured me they had not.  Instead, she invited me into a private room and handed me a pamphlet.

“We would like to do a biopsy.”

There was something about calcification, but it was unexpected and so I didn’t ask any questions.  Never a fan of needles, the thought of having my breast punctured overwhelmed me.

One of my professed philosophies is don’t worry until there is something to worry about.   The threat of a sharp object invading my delicate area was real and immediate.   I worried about that.   The appointment was scheduled for two weeks down the road.

My daughter was due to give birth any moment.  I worried about not being there for her.

A cancellation four days later, saw me headed for biopsy without the time to fret.

“Your doctor will have the results in 10 days” I was told.

Two days later, my doctor advised me I needed to see a surgeon.  She said the finding were “suspicious” and the area needed to come out. I would be seeing the surgeon on October 31st.  Trick or treat.

I ran into a close friend who had been going through the same thing.  Her doctor said they would just monitor her more closely.  I liked that solution.  I decided I would be a “wait and see” also.

In the meantime, I had a beautiful new granddaughter to occupy my thoughts, and I had just started a new job, at a new school.

Then in mid October, my beloved mother-in-law suffered another in a long line of health setbacks, and did not recover.  She passed away on the 23rd of October, and we held a memorial “cocktail” party in her honour the following weekend.

By the time October 31st came along, I was physically exhausted, and emotionally spent.

My ‘wait and see’ approach was met with a chorus of “Absolutely not!” from both the surgeon and her resident.  Nor was I to be allowed to put it off till summer vacation.  December it would be.

“Any questions?”

I couldn’t think of one.  My mind was flooded with concerns for work, Christmas, and our annual trip to Mexico.  What would happen to all of those?

Try as I might, anxiety got the best of me.  I threw myself into planning for Christmas, finishing up work, and cooking for post-surgery.  I found myself becoming irrationally temperamental, losing patience easily, and tearing up without warning.

“It’s not like having a toothache,” my husband reassured me.  “With a toothache, you call the dentist, and know what will happen.  There is no certain outcome here.  It is fear of the unknown.”

I wear a sports bra now, 24/7.  It supports the area and helps with the healing.   Without adjustment, it also pushes my breasts into awkward positions and creates an image similar to my dream.

So what was that all about?  Did some part of me, with some warped sense of humour, try to warn me in advance?  Was the intended message that this would be the worse to fear?  Or that there are worse things to worry about than whether or not your breasts line up?