Boundaries, Breakups and Christmas – December 28, 2014

Well, since I last wrote my life has been a roller coaster ride.  I am not even sure where to start with this blog. In my last post I talked about the “boundaries conversation” I had with my boyfriend, G. Well, after that conversation, we did agree to break up. In the next few days following our break up, some friends of G decided to intervene because they could see how amazing we were together.  They each sat G down and had a chat with him about his situation with his ex and shared how they would feel if they were in a similar situation and, if they were me, they would not be okay with how things were with the ex.  It apparently gave G pause for thought.  One friend actually offered his home and G was going to move out that Monday.  The reality of him moving out was a blast of reality for both of us.  We started talking and G seemed to take to heart what he heard from his friends.  I thought we could try to move forward with his new understanding and decided to try to make things work.  A few days later, G got really sick and ended up in the hospital.  Given that my girlfriend, Liz, just died with similar symptoms to G, it was particularly stressful.  Anyway, after 5 or 6 days in the hospital, he started to feel better and was released.  In that time, I was there every moment I wasn’t sleeping or at work.  During that time, guess who started (or rather, continued) to call and text and G continued to take her calls and texts. His ex.  So much for the “understanding” I thought he had.

Along came Christmas and G was out buying presents for his ex’s entire family and G asked me to go with him to take presents to the grandchildren (where his ex lives) and to spend Boxing Day with her children and grandchildren.  I realized that this ex thing was never ever going away and he was not going to set boundaries with his ex. I had finally hit my saturation point and I decided to end our relationship once and for all. My body was telling me loud and clear with numbness and asthma symptoms (I don’t have asthma) that I needed to deal with this.  So, last weekend, G moved out the weekend before Christmas.  It was both really hard and a huge relief.  I had my home back, my sanity back and I no longer had his ex in my face, but I also lost my best friend and lover and the future of us together that I had imagined died in that moment.

Christmas was a challenge.  As I have done many years, I spent most of it alone which was both hard and healing.  I had my son home Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, which I loved.  The rest of the holiday I spent in contemplation.

In that contemplation I realized a few things.  One, that I am stronger than I give myself credit for.  I set my boundaries and stuck by them! Two, if I see something as a red flag in a new relationship, I need to pay more attention to it.  On the other side of the coin though, I realized that sometimes you only see how important these red flags are in retrospect so I can’t beat myself up too badly.  In my relationship with G, I learned how much I can love and trust someone and how much I can also be hurt by opening up to someone that much.  In my pain, I am also learning to sit with my feelings instead of running away or numbing out.  Christmas Day and Boxing Day I sat with my feelings – good, bad and otherwise. Some moments were not easy, but I survived.  I learned that my faith is very important to me and it is the only way I could make it through this without running away.  I learned that you can explain things to people but you can’t make them understand it. And I learned that I have so much love and support, some from people I never expected to receive support from.  I had people who were there to listen, who were willing to take the risk and talk to G to try to help us stay together, who were there to make me laugh and who were there to help me make my house a home again and reclaim my space. I have learned how much a broken heart can hurt and I learned that even though it hurts like crazy, it’s not fatal.  I also learned what it feels like to be loved by someone who saw my perfection.  I learned what it feels like to have a partner who was also a best friend.  And I learned that sometimes trying my best is just not good enough. And if a relationship is going to work, there can only be two people in that relationship.

I am looking forward to 2015. I have no idea what this year has in store for me.  I am hoping to finally get my coaching business off the ground.  I have learned so much lately that will be such a gift to any of my clients going through a crisis.  I am hoping to get my writing career going because writing really does fill me up.  I am hoping there may be a healthy relationship in 2015, if that is in the cards.  I am hoping that the first solid relationship I will form is with myself.  I am hoping that I can decorate my home and really make it an expression of myself instead of a mish mash of hand me downs that is purely functional like I have done to this point in my life.  I am filled with hope for an amazing year.  And regardless of what happens, there will be moments of joy, moments of challenge and moments of great satisfaction.  And all of it will be perfect and in the right time.  In 2015 I will accept the moment as it is, whether it is a pleasant or unpleasant moment.  If I learned anything in 2014, it is that fighting what is only creates unnecessary stress.  Everything happens in the perfect time and I am planning on being grateful for all of it.

I am glad Christmas is over but I am so looking forward to New Years. It is my most favorite holiday of the year.  I wish you love, happiness, joy, peace and prosperity in 2015! Let’s see what 2015 has in store!!

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Boundaries – November 22, 2014

One of the things I have struggled most with in my life is boundaries.  As a people pleaser and having low self-esteem, boundaries were not really something I was good at.  I would set them but then proceed to let people blow right past them.  I have grown a bit as time has gone and made my share of mistakes in relationships.  Good lord, there have been some train wrecks, but the one thing I have finally started to learn is boundaries.  Now boundaries are tricky things because, for me, it’s drawing a line in the sand.  You set the boundaries, you articulate your boundaries so the other person is clear on what they are and then (and this is the part that makes being an adult suck) you have to enforce those boundaries if the other people do not respect them.  That was the piece I never seemed to get for most of my life – the enforcement.  And the deal with enforcing boundaries is you have to know that if the other person chooses to not respect those boundaries after you have discussed how they have crossed them and that you are not budging on those boundaries, then you have to be willing to walk away.  And that, my friend, is the position I find myself in this week.

My boyfriend of 9 months and I were amazing together.  My God, we had so much fun.  We could do anything and have fun together from going out to a restaurant to making a run to the dump.  We never ran out of things to talk about and we liked so many of the same things. We love guns, love log cabins, we are both affectionate and caring and he honestly told me he loved me and how beautiful I was every single day and more than once a day.  It was amazing.  But like any real life story, there is always that part of “real life” that you need to deal with.  My boyfriend was with a lady for about 6 years.  She has three grown children and 4 grandchildren.  She and my boyfriend owned a business together as well and were even engaged to be married.  The business went in to bankruptcy, the engagement fell apart, and they eventually moved out to separate homes. Unfortunately for me, they never actually broke up emotionally.  He was still acting just like he did when they were together – babysitting the granddaughter a couple days a week, giving them money and being at his ex’s beck and call whenever she wanted anything.  Same with her daughter, he would jump whenever she needed anything, whether it was money, help, etc.  My boyfriend and his ex talked or texted every single day multiple times a day.  At first I made it clear (boundary setting) that if the ex was going to be in his life everyday, that there were too many people in that relationship. We started dating and I fell head over heels and that is when I let my boundaries fall down.  I tried to be okay with it and for a while I fooled myself that it was okay, but eventually my body started to tell me otherwise.  I started to have numbness and nausea and ended up in Emergency worried that I was having a stroke or a heart attack.  Turns out no, it was my body telling me I was NOT okay with this situation.

Back it up a few weeks, we started having discussions about this whole ex thing the end of October.  There issues about him supporting them and issues around the daughter and his ex that I was not okay with.  We talked and then decided he would make some changes.  Fast forward to this past week and my body started to scream at me to pay attention.  I was NOT okay with things as they were and my boundaries were being trampled over. We had numerous talks about how I felt and I tried to explain to him why I had issues with this situation.  Finally last night I realized that I needed to push him to tell me where he was at with all of this.  I knew by pushing back and setting my boundaries that I either had to enforce them and be willing to walk away if it came to that or shut up and just deal with it.  Since my body was screaming at me, I knew Option B of shut up and put up wasn’t really an option.

So, yesterday we sit down and we have the “Boundaries Conversation”.  I knew going in it that I may not like how it ends and that if he wasn’t willing or able to accept my boundaries that I would have to walk away. I had one last shred of hope that he would see that I was serious (notwithstanding I had said in so many words that this ex situation as it was is a deal breaker) and we could figure out a way around this. I have to say, I was some surprised and disappointed to find out that I was going to have to in fact walk away.  It breaks my heart because we were so amazing together but I am also proud of myself because I stood my ground, was firm on my boundaries and didn’t back down, even in the face of losing something and someone who has meant the world to me.  I am also proud of myself for realizing and believing that I deserve to be in a relationship when I am first and to not allow something that is not right for me to go on and not say anything.  I had 9 wonderful months but I did not spend the next 9 months or 9 years hoping things would get better.

Yesterday my respect for myself went way up.  For once I am standing my ground, speaking my truth and not allowing others to disrespect me or minimize me.  Was it easy? Um, no.  I am still processing it and will for days to come. I think I am sort of numb at the moment.  I will process and distill the lessons from this situation.  There are a few lessons to be had.  I am going to think about it and most likely blog about it over the next while.  In the meantime, I can be proud of myself for finally standing up for myself and speaking my truth, for not allowing others to convince me I am wrong or unworthy and for being my own best friend.

Life is always providing us with lessons, even when we don’t particularly want them.  But you know, as hard as moments like these are, I am grateful because I come out of it stronger and better.

To boundaries!

 

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Love Thyself – November 11, 2014

to-love-thyself-is-the-beginningToday is November 11 and many feelings and thoughts come to my mind today.  Today I am thinking about the men and women who have lost their lives to secure our safety. I think about the families who have a hole in their hearts that can never be filled because they have lost a loved one to war.  I also think about those who have their loved ones back but now have the agony of watching them try to come to terms with the horrors of what they saw and experienced while serving our great country.  I think of the veterans who did what they felt was the right thing to do, made the sacrifices and now come home trying to cope with the pain and also trying to figure out how they are going to survive financially, emotionally and spiritually.

I also think of those who never served in a war but waged a war of their own in their lifetime.  They battled pain and abuse and now have a similar hole in their heart and soul.  This time of year I also think of my own father.  He battled undiagnosed depression, ADD, addictions and past abuse.  He brought with him a suitcase full of hurt and unhealed parts of his soul and heart.  The good or bad part was he was very intelligent and so was able to make his way in this world by putting on an act, doing what he needed to do to get by and struggling in his quiet moments.  The last time anyone really remembers him being alive was November 11.  He took his own life on November 18, 1983 at the age of 43.  He was 4 days away from his 44th birthday.  His battle ended that day.  For those of us left behind, ours continues.

As I look at my own life, it was nothing near as bad as my father’s life but my life was affected by his pain and his past.  It is an unfortunate reality that unhealed parents unwittingly pass along their own pain to their children.  My mother had her own share of unhealed parts as well which is probably what brought them together.  They saw something familiar in each other.  I know they tried their best, but sometimes your best still causes pain.  I know, however, by my conversations with my friends and my clients that I am certainly not alone.  I think we all have our suitcase of hurt that we carry around with us.  I have also learned that we have a choice in what we do with that hurt.  We can either unpack our suitcase and keep all that pain around and use it as both an excuse and a way to hurt ourselves and others or we can use that pain and the lessons that come with the pain as a way to heal ourselves and others.  We can heal our broken parts to create a beautiful tapestry of pain, healing, lessons and love. What I have learned is that it all starts with self-love and self-acceptance.  It starts with seeing the darkness and the pain and also seeing the love and the beauty and knowing that it is all necessary for us to truly appreciate all that life has to offer.

I realized recently how I have been unpacking my own suitcase of pain and using it to hurt myself.  I have gained weight recently.  My weight has always been my Achilles heel.  I have been judged much of my childhood by how I looked.  My father didn’t know that he needed to tell his daughter how beautiful and lovable she was.  He didn’t learn that the words he used to describe his daughter would be the voice in her head that she would use to either accept herself or reject herself.  And lately, wow, those words have come out to beat me with their fists.  I allowed it for a while, not even recognizing that is what I was doing. Those words and that self-condemnation are so familiar to me.  Then one day I realized what I was doing.  Why was I terrorizing myself? Why was I bullying myself? And I realized that my own suitcase was wide open and I was busy unpacking it once again.  I had allowed the darkness and the past to override the lessons and the healing.

The great part is that even though I periodically slip into those moments, I have also learned that I can use those pains and scars to create something very beautiful. Those pains and scars can become my “super power” so to speak.  My pain can be instructive and show me where I need to heal, to show me where I have healed already and to also be a blessing to someone else who is hurting and needing to find their way.  I can be their tour guide through the landmines of pain.  Our pain does not have to be our curse but can become our blessing.  Like the butterfly, he was once a caterpillar and only saw things from his vantage point on the ground.  Everything was a struggle.  And the greatest struggle came at the end when he was trying to become a butterfly.  I realized my pain was a reminder of how far I had come and that I need to reach out to others who are struggling, who are in pain and who don’t yet know the way.  I realized that loving myself was the first step.  For better or worse.  Fat or thin. Old or young. Successful or average.  It all begins with loving myself.  And by loving myself, seeing my pain and cutting myself some slack when I am imperfect, I can be that blessing to someone else who is struggling as well.  I also know that by reaching out to others, I help heal myself.

Life is painful. We have all waged our wars, either on the battlefield or in our minds and hearts.  We all are hurting, whether the scars show or not.  By loving ourselves we can also see the humanity and beauty in others.  My wish for this November 11 is that we can use our own scars, pain and wounds to reach out to first ourselves and then to others.  November 11 is a time of coming together to remember and to be in community and my wish is that we can use this time to love and support all of those who are hurting and in need of love and support.  My wish is that it starts with  you.  Remember, you are lovable. You are worthy. And the world is a better place because you are here and for that I am truly grateful.

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Nothing Personal – October 16, 2014

not personalAfter a conversation with an ex partner a little while ago, I had a realization about all the moments in my life where I have been hurt, abused, or abandoned – it’s just not personal.    It was huge for me because I have made all that has happened to me in my life very personal – the sexual abuse, the infidelity, the divorces, the emotional abuse, all of it.  In fact, my past experiences became my identity.  By making it personal, it took away my power and made me a victim.  By making it personal, I couldn’t heal and move past it.

My childhood was less than perfect, yes.  But here’s the deal – my parents were just people who at times were just batshit crazy and messed up.  They had their own issues, baggage and desires.  They made decisions based on what they wanted and needed and although their decisions impacted me, they weren’t personal to me.  I am not saying I was never considered in any of their decisions because I am a parent and I know all too well how many times you make decisions based on your child’s needs.  However, the decisions that resulted in my parents getting divorced and the abuse and all the weirdness and drama that went on were solely based on their own needs and desires and had nothing to do with me.  I was impacted by it and at times hurt by it, but it wasn’t done to hurt me.  It was like being in an accident – you may have been hurt but the damage wasn’t intentional, it’s just the consequence of what happened.

Likewise with my personal relationships.  I have had my share of failed relationships and I see now how I played a role in choosing those relationships based on my own needs and issues. However, I have also seen that some of the issues that I felt were my fault and I made so personal had, in fact, absolutely nothing to do with me.  I was affected by the issues and I made them personal, but I was wrong in doing so. I realized that all the time I spent beating myself up and telling myself I wasn’t good enough or lovable enough or attractive enough or whatever because of how things ended was a huge waste of my time, energy and emotions.  I am not saying I didn’t play a part in those relationship ending because it takes two to make it work or fall apart, but there were some issues that had absolutely nothing to do with me and I was not right in making them personal.

There are some valuable lessons in all of this.  Even in relationships that are working and great, I need to remember not to make anything that happens so personal.  I need to learn that some things people say or do just have nothing to do with me.  This frees me up from having to be offended, hurt or upset so often.  It helps me to see things from more than just my own perspective.  It helps me to open my mind to seeing things from a wider perspective.  I realize that instead of making things so personal I could choose to be curious and open up the lines of communication to have a conversation around what is going on for the other person.

How can taking life less personally make you happier and more at peace? What could change or heal in your life by taking a step back and seeing sometimes it’s really not personal?  What could you learn about yourself by doing this? And how could this improve the relationships you  have?  Even though life feels very personal to each of us, much of what happens to us really is not personal.

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If Life Were Like the Movies….Or Is It? – September 26, 2014

cinderellaI had a song running through my head by Alan Jackson and the one line that got stuck in my head “If life were like the movies….”.  I started to think about that.  What if life were like the movies? And I realized maybe it is.  In the movies, generally, everything works out but what happens in every movie? The main character has to go through some sort of trial or problem.  No one is going to watch a movie if everything is rainbows and unicorns where nothing ever goes wrong.  Think about it – where does the movie get interesting? During the rising action and the conflict, the plot twists.  That is the best part of the movie.  We have to see how it ends and see how the characters resolve whatever happens in the conflict.  In the heat of the action and the conflict is where we are most engaged in the movie.  Life is a lot like that.  In order for us to learn and grow and for life to be interesting, we need the conflict – the parts of life that aren’t so pleasant or so easy to deal with.  It is in those moments we are most engaged with life and where the opportunity for growth is contained.  It is here where our greatness is found - in the conflict and the struggles.  And, as humans, it is those opportunities that we wish we could miss.  How often have you wished your problems away? We all do.  And yet – what if we chose to change how we see them, not as an obstacle but as an opportunity?

I am 49 years old and I have experienced the ups and downs that comes with life and I have witnessed my friends and those around me experience the same.  When I coach my clients I hear the same stories.  Everyone is fighting something.  Everyone has a story.  Everyone has been hurt, betrayed, broken down, disappointed, devastated by a loss.  That is life.  However, we all have a choice in how we react to what life dishes out.  We can choose to be the victim and let our problems bring us down.  We can use our past as a badge of honor and an excuse for not being or doing our best.  We can choose to make our past our identity and tell ourselves that we can never become anything else because of our past.  I am guilty of this in parts of my own life.  I identified with my past abuse and thought that because I was abused it was because I was worthless and didn’t deserve any better.  I believed the words spoken over me as a kid telling me that no one wanted to hear what I had to say and nothing I said was important.  I believed the feeling that I was invisible and a burden and lived many years feeling like I could die at any moment and it wouldn’t impact a single soul on this planet.  But I also learned that I don’t have to continue to do that any more.  I can choose different beliefs about myself, about others and about what I am capable of achieving.

I have learned that our struggles can also become our opportunities and that, like the movies, we can use those struggles to transform.  Think of our fairy tales – Cinderella for instance.  She had to deal with an evil step mother and step sisters who treated her like garbage.  She could have lived like that forever, being a slave to her family and then choosing a husband who also treated her like she was his slave, believing she wasn’t worth anything better.  I learned in my own life how much our struggles can be such a gift. When I talk with someone about a problem they are going through and I understand what they are feeling and talking about because I have been there too, that level of understanding I can offer is such a gift.  For instance, when I work with my clients who have been diagnosed with herpes.  When they are newly diagnosed, they are feeling scared, alone, in shame and many believe they have a bleak future.  When I can talk to them and tell them what what they are feeling is totally normal and that it doesn’t have to be that way forever, that I have been there myself and three years later am completely comfortable with my diagnosis and living a happy life in a great relationship, it gives them hope.  It helps them to see that what they are feeling right now is not the truth.  That life with herpes is not a sentence.  It is an opportunity.  The people in the herpes community that I have connected with have been such a gift.  I have met so many amazing, loving, caring, intelligent, talented, evolved people in this community who comes from all walks of life, connected by a virus and a desire to share, nurture and reach out.  I have formed such close connections that I never would have had otherwise.  When I talk to my clients who are going through a divorce I can help them calm down, focus on what they can do today and help them find the confidence in themselves to make those empowered decisions that will help them to not only survive their divorce but thrive.  I help them to see what part they played in the divorce and what parts they have control over to change so that they can create positive, loving, and happy relationships in the future.  I can help support my coworkers who have issues with change adapt to new technology because I have had family members who struggled with the change and I have experience helping them.  I have had deaths in my family through heart failure and suicide so I can help support others who are struggling with loss.  Each experience I have had can become a gift to someone else.

Like the movies, everything that happens to us is part of the plot.  There is a reason for all of it, otherwise it wouldn’t be there.  The Universe or God or the great storyteller would not have written that experience in to the plot line if it didn’t serve a purpose.  We don’t get a copy of the script of our lives but we can choose what direction the drama will take.  We can be the person in the play who goes through so much and yet comes out the other end stronger and transformed.  We can be the hero of our own life play.  It’s entirely up to us.  What would you like the denouement of your life to look like?

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Find your Voice – September 25, 2014

Right how I am really thinking about life and what it all means.  My partner, Glenn, is sitting with his mother in palliative care as I write this.  I have known this man for close to 8 months and I have never been loved in such a way as he loves me so I can appreciate how much love he must have for his Mom.  He has nothing but good memories about growing up in his family.  Not that they didn’t have their share of problems, but they always had love and they always found ways to laugh.  They may not have had a lot of money, but they never lacked for love.  Now, here he sits with his Mom at the end of her life.  I can’t imagine what is going through his mind right now as he watches her die, remembering what she has meant to him and grieving the loss.  How does he come to terms with the idea that soon his Mom will no longer be a phone call away? How does he even wrap his head around the idea that soon the woman who gave birth to him and raised him will soon no longer be here?

Death comes to all of us, whether rich or poor, famous or not, Elvis or Mother Teresa.  It is something that is the same for everyone.  So in between birth and death, what happens and what exactly is meant to happen? Death is something we understand on an intellectual level but our own death seems to be something most of us can’t seem to wrap our heads around.  And as I ponder this I look back on my own life and wonder what it is supposed to be all about.  What exactly are we supposed to do during the dash between birth and death? And I ponder my own life.  God knows I have made my share of mistakes and bad decisions.  I have been at the mercy as a child of other people’s mistakes and bad decisions and I have been hurt as a result.  But in all that I am seeing I have a choice.  I can either blindly go through life, being a victim to everything that has happened to me, beating myself up for all the things I felt I did wrong and just trying to get through the day, counting off days but never really living with any purpose or I can choose to use everything that has happened to me and the strength I gained as a result to really live an amazing life.

I have been afraid to be fully me, using my past as an excuse for not  putting myself out there, using my past to beat myself up and using the scars from others to make myself less than. Like most people, I have dreams. There are things I have wanted to do for literally years and yet here I am, still getting ready to get ready to maybe some day do something that will mean something and live out my dreams and purpose.  So, what’s stopping me? I was listening to T.D. Jakes this week and he talked about the idea that it is not what other people say that holds you back but what you say to yourself.  I realized that yes, I have been holding myself back from living my dreams.  I have been using the past as an excuse for why I can’t do this or that, using my fears as an excuse for not taking a chance and using the idea that I don’t know enough, don’t have enough education, qualifications, talents, etc. to do what I have always wanted to do.  I have worried about the opinion of others and I have looked for permission from the world to just be me because somehow being me is not okay.  I try to be what I think everyone else wants me to be.  I constantly look for permission to speak, to be me and I cringe at the idea of putting myself out there and having someone not agree with 110% of everything I say or do.

Now, as I get ready to head out to New Brunswick to support Glenn and his family as they prepare to lose their Mom, I am seeing how stupid all that fear and waiting really is.  What the hell am I waiting for? Why do I need permission to be me? Who gives a shit if someone doesn’t agree with me? Or doesn’t approve of me. I am in good company.  Look at Jesus, Mother Teresa, Joel Osteen, Martin Luther King, and the list goes on.  They are doing or did great things in this world and yet they have people who have criticized them, persecuted them and found fault in what they did.

So, what are my dreams? To be honest, part of me is still afraid to even articulate them.  A part of me still says “who do you think you are?” and “Who the hell is going to listen to you?”.  So, here it is.  My dream is to be an author.  I want to write to inspire people, to help people like myself who may be struggling with fear, insecurity, who have lived with pain, abuse, shame and to help them reclaim themselves.  To help them say “Fuck You” to the fears and their past and all the things that hold them back and keep them from being who they are meant to be.  I want to help them to see the beauty and the strength that is in them and to help them see that we’re all fucked up in some way and that is what makes us so perfect.  It is those hard times, those moments of fear and regret that make us truly human and help us grow so that we can be of service to others.  I want to run retreats and create spaces for women to come and to find their way.  To create a space for them to clear their heads and find their own answers in the midst of chaos in their lives.  To find themselves and their voice maybe for the first time.  I want them to see the beauty and the strength that is in them that has been there all along.  If I could do that, then when I am at the end, when I am laying in that bed with my son sitting by my side, watching me take my final breaths, then I can die knowing that I came and I did what I needed to do  and that my life had purpose and meaning.  If I can die knowing that people are healed and whole because of my own struggles, then I die knowing my life was absolutely perfect.

What are your dreams? What is holding you back? What are you telling yourself that is not allowing you to be truly who you need to be? And how much longer are you going to let those voices in your head hold you back? This life has an expiry date.  Die with a smile on your face knowing you squeezed every last bit out of life while you were here and lived it your way and on your terms, because to do otherwise is just a shame.

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Herpes and Other Blessings – September 18, 2014

Picture this.  You wake up one day and you have this discomfort “down below”.  You have no idea what it is, but you know it’s uncomfortable.  You try a few home remedies, thinking maybe it’s a heat rash, hemorrhoids, pimples, something…. You may or may not suspect what it is.  If you do, you have now found religion because you are praying for something that can be cured with penicillin.  You go to the doctor, they do their examination, take their swabs and send them off to the lab.  But you are feeling okay because you had a recent STD test and all was good. So, you’re okay, right? Well, the doctor calls you back in. They come in to the office and they say the words the change your life forever “You have herpes”.  Suddenly your brain goes numb and all you can hear is Charlie Brown’s teacher.  You don’t really hear much after “you have herpes”.  You leave in a daze.  Until you get home and the news sinks in.  Shit! I have HERPES.  And then the panic sets in.  What the hell does that mean? Am I now celibate for the rest of my life? Is this pretty much the end of my dating and sex life forever? The doctor probably gave you no information or incorrect information.  You have no clue what this means for your life and nowhere to turn.  It’s not like you’re going to call your best friend up “Hey, I have herpes and I’m scared”.  Not likely to happen. So, you’re alone, you’re scared and you’re trying to find some answers.  If you’re lucky, you went on the internet and found a good support group.  If not, you are left scouring You Tube and Google looking for answers and seeing pictures of the worst case of herpes known to man.

There is a stigma that goes with having genital herpes and yet few people know the facts.  Facts like 25% of the population has genital herpes.  Of those 25%, 80% don’t know they have it.  Genital herpes can be HSV I or II but is more commonly HSV II. However, if it was passed on by oral sex, it is HSV 1.  And, few people know that at least 80% of the population has HSV 1. Think of all the people you know.  How many have had cold sores on their face? And yes, if they give you oral sex, there is a chance they will pass herpes along to you.  The virus has been around since time and eternity. If you have had sex with 4 people, you have most likely have had sex with someone who has herpes, whether they know it or not.  And although condoms are a great idea, they are no guarantee.

But, here’s the deal.  Herpes has a good side to it as well and I am so grateful for it.  And I am not the only person to feel that way.  And here’s why.  Because I know I have herpes, I know my body.  I know when I am going to have an outbreak and I am able to take suppressive therapy.  I will have “The Talk” with a new partner and when we are talking about herpes we are also talking about other things so we each have a clearer idea of what we are getting in to.  I am not going to have “The Talk” with just anyone, so it gives me time to get to know someone first.  It makes for a great filter.  It also builds trust because the person I have The Talk with knows I care about their health and that  I have integrity and honesty.  They know if I will have The Talk, knowing they could reject me, then they can trust me to be honest about other things as well.  And I get to see what someone is like as well by their reaction.  Even if they decide they don’t want to take the risk, how they deal with my disclosure tells me a lot about their character.

Herpes does not need to be a bad thing.  In fact, like many things in life, it is what you decide it is going to be.  You can decide to be a victim or you can decide to use that experience to help build your character and to grow.  There are many resources out there.  If you or someone you know has herpes, the do not need to suffer alone.  A great start is Herpes Opportunity.  There is a great community of people there and many resources to draw from.  http://herpeslife.com.  I am also available as a coach if you need someone to talk to.  This diagnosis could be the beginning of an amazing journey.  It’s all up to you.  It can either define you or refine you.  Your choice.

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Life Happens – September 7, 2014

Life happensIt has been a while since I have posted because, as my title says, life happens.  My partner and I have been been sick with the flu or whatever it was since the middle of August.  This weekend we are finally both feeling a lot better, thankfully. In the big picture, it is really no big deal though.  Over the last few weeks I have come to realize that “life happens”.  I have seen my friends and people who have joined my journey struggle with “life happens” and I am so grateful for my life.  I am also grateful for those people in my life.  Every single one of them is a blessing to me and has something to teach me about life.  It is through our shared humanity and struggles that we come to realize how blessed we are and that we are part of a life that has so much meaning.

I got a call a few weeks ago from a friend who is struggling with various health issues.  She and I have known each other for over 20 years.  We met through work.  She has always been there for everyone.  She worked for a lawyer who never appreciated her and didn’t give her the respect or kindness she both earned and deserved.  Despite his lack of humanity, she always showed up to share hers.  She always showed up and went above and beyond for her employer.  She also always showed up and went above and beyond for everyone in her life – her friends, her family, and casual acquaintances. Now she is struggling and I don’t know how her lawyer is reacting to her absence but I can guess.  Let’s just say I don’t give him a lot of credit.  However, she is still the same amazing, loving, caring person that she always was but she is struggling.  And in her struggle I send her my love, my healing energy and my gratitude for her friendship and example.  Hers has never been an easy life and yet she has never let that change her beautiful heart.

I have friends struggling in relationships with people who don’t appreciate what they have in front of them, searching for “something” outside themselves and missing what is right in front of them.  They don’t get that what they are searching for is not going to be found in the arms of someone else, in the purchase of a new truck, quad, trailer, motorcycle, etc. It is found by dealing with your own stuff and appreciating the gifts right in front of you.  In those moments of struggle and betrayal for my friends though are moments to be grateful for because in those struggles they are learning, growing, becoming more confident and more whole.  No matter how things work out, they will be okay because of their attitude, their love and their decision that this will not be the end of them.  Even in those moments they can choose to be grateful and grow.

I also have friends and acquaintances who are struggling with herpes.  I know this struggle all too well.  It’s something that happens to 25% of the population. However,  80% of those who have herpes do not know they have it.  The 20% who do know generally struggle for a while trying to come to terms with what it means for their future lives and relationships.  It’s one of those “life happens” things that are not always easy to wrap your head or your heart around.  However, I have found in my own experience, that herpes can also be one of the best things to ever happen to someone.  That may sound really odd but it’s true from my experience and the experience of many I know.  Contracting herpes has allowed me to see all the parts of my life where I have been struggling.  It has been the magnifying glass on everything in my life that I struggled with and through examining all that it brought forward I was able to heal many parts of myself.  I found strength, self confidence and, ultimately, the love of my life because of it.  I have met so many amazing people and looking back I am absolutely grateful for that “life happens” experience.

What I am learning in my 49 years on this planet is this – life happens. To all of us.  We get sick, partners leave us, cheat on us or die.  Health issues come up. Finances don’t always work out the way we planned.  Children move out.  Friends betray us.  Shit happens.  And in that I have seen that we have a choice.  In all of it we have a choice on whether we are going to let it destroy us or whether we are going to have the attitude that life happens, we made the best of it, take the lessons and decide to be happy anyway.  There are no rule books or definite answers to any of our experiences in life.

I leave you with a video of Viktor Frankl.  He wrote the book “Man’s Search for Meaning”.  He was a concentration camp survivor and he believed life has meaning no matter what the circumstances.  I would highly recommend reading his book.  Here is the interview: Viktor Frankl Interview

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August 18, 2014 – Staring at the Closed Door

MinnieToday I was watching our cat Minnie Mix and she was staring at the closed bedroom door. She just can’t stand that she is not allowed in the bedroom and so will scratch at the door and meow and will actually open the door if we don’t lock it.  There are two other doors that are wide open, one being to the spare room and yet she sits at our bedroom door staring and fighting to get in.  It got me thinking to how many times in my own life I have stared at the closed door, ignoring all the open doors around me.  I see it as a metaphor to my life. How often have I wanted something so badly and thought it was behind the closed door when in fact the door was closed for a reason and what I needed was in plain sight.  I just needed to stop looking at the closed door to see it.

How often have you stared at the closed door, wanting what is behind it, sure that it is exactly what you need when in fact that door was closed for good reason.  Maybe your husband left you and you kept thinking that your life was not complete without him in it and you tried everything you could to convince him that you were who he needed to be with.  Maybe you were in a relationship with someone who just wasn’t right for you but you were afraid to be alone so you settled and stayed with him, afraid that you would never find anyone and be alone.  Maybe you stayed in a job you hated but you didn’t want to take a chance in a new career or a new firm.

I have learned in my life that there are reasons and seasons for everything and everyone in our lives.   People come in to our lives sometimes just to teach us a lesson or we are in their lives to teach them a lesson.  Once the lesson is learned then we need to let that door close and stay closed.  And it’s perfectly okay.  Many times when life takes a turn for what feels the worst, there is a reason and much better things lie ahead if we have faith and courage and take each moment as it comes, watching for the open doors.

I can give you an example from my own life.  2011 was a year where there was a lot of closed doors in my life.  My son moved away to live in the residence at university.  I had been a single mom since he was 7 and he and I were close.  I actually didn’t have a name to most people, I was “Joel’s Mom”.  Anyone who knew Joel didn’t actually know my real name, I am sure.  I had raised him to be independent but when he moved out, it was a lot harder than I had realized it would be.  My identity as “Joel’s Mom” and all that that meant walked out the door.  Now who am I as Brenda Walker? How do I live as a person without the “Mom” identity?  A few weeks later my husband made some choices that caused me to close some doors.  I went from being what I thought was happily married to being “separated” in a matter of two weeks.  So, my identity as Mrs. Garrett also walked out the door. Slam!! Then about a month later, I discovered I had herpes. *SLAM!!!!* That slamming door took me about a year to get over.  I kept looking at all the closed doors and wasn’t sure what I needed to do.  I just knew where I was was not a happy place.  I spent a lot of time reflecting, processing, healing, taking courses, going to seminars and eventually I started to see some doors opening again.  I adjusted quite well to being Brenda Walker, single woman.  I really got to know and like myself and started to really enjoy being single and being free to do whatever I liked.  I came to terms with the herpes and actually saw how it was such a blessing because I learned so much about myself and about other people.  I had connected with an amazing community of people who helped me heal on so many levels.  I met some amazing people who I formed friendships with.  I became so much more confident in who I am and started to really appreciate all I had to offer and I realized for the first time my own self worth.  I was also able to see how herpes was an amazing filter to help me make better choices when it came to picking potential partners.  I was able to take more time and be more discerning with who I gave my heart to.  All this lead me to meeting the most amazing man who adores me and shows me parts of myself I didn’t even know existed.  He shows me daily all the many ways I can contribute to this world and we have so much fun together.  None of that would have been possible without the closed doors of 2011.  With those closed doors came learning, healing and growth.  And being where I am now in 2014, I am in such gratitude for 2011.

Wherever you are right now, whatever your circumstances, know that even if your life looks like a lot of closed doors, there are reasons for it.  You can choose to take your eyes off the closed doors and see what opportunities lie all around you.  There are many lessons to be learned, opportunities to be taken if you just have the eyes to see it.  Trust me, nothing is an accident and if you have the faith that somehow good will come from what you are going through, eventually the good will come.  Keep your eyes off the closed doors and watch to see what can happen.

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August 14, 2014 – Stigmas and Shame – My Confession

Stigmas – why do you think they need to exist? What makes one condition or experience something to be shameful about and yet another situation or condition to be  acceptable? What makes a cold sore on your face perfectly okay but genital herpes, caused by the same virus, to be stigmatized and something to hold shame about?  Why is it socially acceptable to have migraines but socially unacceptable to admit you are depressed or have suicidal thoughts? Why is it socially acceptable to proclaim your love for the opposite sex but not socially acceptable to some to love someone of the same sex? With the suicide of Robin Williams screaming from the headlines of every newspaper and newsfeed, with all the discussion and speculation and opinion, it got me thinking more about stigma and shame.

From personal experience and as a coach, I know that we all have things we feel we need to hide from the world because of shame and the fear of the social stigma associated with it.  Why does society need to stigmatize certain things?  Instead of judgment (which comes from non-acceptance of something within yourself) how about coming from a place of understanding and acceptance? What kind of world could we have if more of us tried to understand instead of judge.  If more of us accepted each other’s humanity and didn’t need to label or judge because we are afraid of associating ourselves with whatever we deem unacceptable or shameful.  And why does it even need to be shameful?  Perhaps because we hate being vulnerable so we make things we fear shameful.  I invite you to watch Brene Brown’s talk on shame: Brene Brown Shame.

So, what makes me feel vulnerable? What keeps me up at night? What holds me back from truly living from my passion?

  1. The first is my feeling of never feeling like I am “enough”.  Thin enough, smart enough, talented enough, capable enough, enough enough.  And when I try to determine what “enough” looks like, I can’t come up with an exact description.  It changes with every insecurity that crosses my brain.
  2. My next point of vulnerability is that I have been married – three times.  Yes, three times. Would I change that? No.  Why? Because of the lessons I learned, the love I shared and the person I became as a result.  Do I enjoy bringing it up when I meet a potential new partner? Um, let’s say no.
  3.  Okay, speaking of relationships and things I hate bringing up, how about herpes? Yes, good old herpes. The virus that never goes away and has been around for centuries.  The virus that a good portion of the population has but most (about 80%) don’t know they have it and those who do, have to disclose to those who most likely do but just don’t know it.  There is huge stigma around that common virus.  I have come to realize that the stigma is retarded and I don’t buy in to it but it’s never easy for me to bring it up in a new relationship, all the same.
  4. Another thing that I don’t share with everyone but is a part of who I am is child abuse.  It was a reality in my life and I don’t feel shame but it is still a point of vulnerability for me because there are still people who look down on someone who has been abused and either blame them or judge them.
  5. My career as a legal assistant is another point of vulnerability for me which may come as a surprise to some.   I feel vulnerable because I have always felt I was capable of so much more and the lawyers, in my experience, like to make legal assistants feel like second class citizens and I totally bought into it until recently.  I also felt less than because I do not have a university degree or a “career”.
  6. My mothering skill were a source of insecurity for me as well but if you talk to my son, you’d hear from a young man who honestly feels like he can’t relate to anyone who has had a tough life and has offered to let me raise his future children because “I did it right the first time”.  He is in his third year of university as a mechanical engineer with something like a 3.6 GPA.  I must have done something right.
  7. My housekeeping skills – ahhhh – that makes me feel vulnerable.  My house is comfortable” but my ability, or lack thereof, to decorate a home and keep it spotless (whatever the hell that is) leaves me feeling like less than a woman.
  8. Depression and suicide – those are two friends that show up now and again.  Fortunately for me I have friends with whom I can share my feelings of hopelessness and regret and have someone actually listen.  They may not be able to help, but they listen and sometimes, that is all that I need.
  9. My weight and my appearance – dear lord that is something that I have struggled with all my life.  I have been ridiculed, made to feel less than and mocked for how I look both for my weight and my looks.  For most of my life I have felt huge and awkward and clumsy and simply ugly.  I now have a man in my life who tells me several times a day how beautiful I am and instead of arguing, I thank him and thank God for having someone who can show me parts of myself I haven’t seen and to show me my own beauty and worth.  For once, I feel enough in someone’s eyes.  And by him showing me parts of myself I have never appreciated or loved, I am starting to actually believe it for myself.

Given what I have learned by talking to people, I am not alone in my vulnerabilities.  I know there are many people who share some of what I struggle with.  Maybe it’s you.  But doesn’t it just make us human and real?  Do you ever feel inspired by someone who comes across as having their shit together and never struggling? By someone who is perfect and gorgeous and talented and never looks in the mirror and wonders if they are good enough or smart enough or capable enough? Who inspires you? The people who fall down and yet still get up and try again tomorrow.  The people like Nick Vujicic, Brene Brown, my Grandma Simala, the client who has had her husband walk out on her and leave her devastated only to find herself a year later stronger and more capable, happy and living a life full of joy. These are the people who inspire us and make us see that maybe we can achieve what we aspire to.  These are the people who help us see that through our struggles we can become what we dream of and who can show us our humanity and make us realize that we all share very common feelings, insecurities and vulnerabilities and that shame is such a waste of energy.

Today, I invite you to be vulnerable, even in small ways.  Let people see those parts that you try to hide.  Create the space to be vulnerable and real and let’s help dissolve those useless stigmas and shame that keep us apart and in judgment.  They don’t serve anyone and only help to isolate and take away from who we are.  It creates a disconnect among us.  Today, allow the world to see who you truly are - imperfectly perfect and human.

 

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