Category Archives: endurance

Starting Overs

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I read about this wonderful project in Oregon,promoted by Oregon Humanities,called “Dear Stranger.”  Participating had a pull on me and I immediately knew I wanted in.  The very thought of exchanging a letter with a stranger fluttered my heart.  I was excited to find my own truth in this project and I am equally excited to hear my stranger’s story or remembrance, his/her  interpretation of what ‘start’ means.

Below is the letter I wrote to my stranger:

We were told to write about starts.  First starts, second starts, good starts, bad starts.  Naturally I began to think about my starts.  It caused me to pause and examine the “starts” I remember.  What was significant about them?  What emotions were present?  How did I grow and what was gained?  Lost?  I’m not yet 40 and, yet, my short life has seen its fair share of starts.  An abundance of starting overs.  Some by choice.  Some be the choices of others.  Some in which I felt empowered.  A trailblazer.  An adventure seeker.  Others in which I felt powerless, helpless, and bound by fear.

As I write this, I’m recognizing that I was never powerless.  I was never without choice.  I have always had choices in how I responded to forces beyond my control.  Forces sometimes so mighty, so loud that the only choice was to start over.  But I got to choose how that starting over would look.  What path it would take and whether I would choose to hate it, resist it, allow the power to jade me.

I have certainly resisted at times.   I have suffered deeply for not accepting what is.  I have suffered for trying to protect and cocoon all I owned and what I believe I owned.  In these starting overs I have seen that ownership, control, safety…these are illusions.  We never truly own, control, or create safety.  We simply believe we do.  I don’t say this out of bitterness but quite the opposite.  I say this because I have seen freedom in the letting go of all I wanted to possess physically and emotionally.  I’m free to acknowledge life circumstances for what they are.  Mostly outside of my control. Oh!  The freedom in that knowledge.

I have found that ‘starting overs’ are gifts.  If we welcome them, move with them, invite the lessons that lie within.  Stop wrestling with them. Surrender.

Truly each and every day is a starting over.  Each day we can choose how to flow with new beginnings.  Right now, if I fully invite my starting overs into my life, I believe I’ll continue to grow in empathy, love, and kindness.  And, so, I do just that.  I invite starting over in my career.  In my husband’s career.  I accept the challenges with my children and choose to love them deeper tomorrow.  I accept the financial struggle and uncertainty that comes with two years of unemployment.  I acknowledge my feelings and emotions and I appreciate the opportunity to know them more intimately.  I cherish the starting over with my husband.

Daily starting overs.  Each day new opportunities.  New growth.  I guess I’m truly grateful for this life, for the ability to choose, for the endless days of beginning again.  This breath always new, therefore each breath is, in essence, starting over.

*Deep Sigh*

Death of Ego

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I am in the process of dying.  It’s a slow, agonizing death.  One in which ego dies first but ego is fighting to remain.  It is not weak and it battles. Each moment I have to consciously slay the beast that has defined me.  It arrives challenging me to lose this moment.  It threatens me with stories of the future.  It weighs me down with a past that I cannot change.  Ego belittles me with destructive thoughts about me.  About the one I love.  It taunts me with the lies that I’ll never be good enough.  It whispers to me in its seductive voice, “you’ll never be good enough.  Be better.  Be more.”  It steals The Now.  At times, I give it freedom and I allow Ego to distract me from The Now because my present is too painful to sit in.  Fantasies of future and memories of past are more comfortable than present.  But even those distractions do not remain for long because Ego destroys any peace.  It does not like to co-exist.

What Ego does not realize is that I am in control.  I am dying and Ego is dying with me.  I have taken a mirror as my weapon.  A breath.  An inhale.
I breathe in.  I see Ego reflecting back at me.  I am aware.  Ego slithers away from awareness, retracting back in to the shadows.
I breathe out.
Death
Peace
I am me.  Present.  Pain.  Capable.  Empowered.  Aware.  Goddess.

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Be the change that you wish to see in the world ~Gandhi~

Gandhi said it best in this quote and it’s always spoken to me more on a global scale. By global, I mean that I’ve always sought to serve others, be respectful, be kind, be genuine, be honest, raise responsible, aware young boys and trust that the world would return those same qualities. A what we give or put out is what our world will aspire to be kind of thing.

Well the last six months I’ve sort of sat myself knee deep (okay waist deep) in a self pity that I didn’t even recognize. While my goodness and good intents have not changed, my energy has. I used to trust. I don’t trust many any more. I used to be open and vulnerable and I’ve become scared and closed-off. I had gotten a good grasp on acceptance, happiness, enjoyment of the now. I’ve backtracked and I let the past and the uncertain future cloud the current beauty that surrounds me. Before I smiled freely. Now the smile is hard earned. Before I cared for my body with healthy choices and long runs. Today my body is a representation of the stress I have allowed to take hold.

February marks the 6 month anniversary of the event that changed our lives. And how fitting it would be that I would pick up the February issue of O magazine (something I never do!) and sit down to read an article that would positively impact my life. It was as though the woman (Martha Beck, Life Coach) behind the article reached out of the pages, slapped me across the face (in a good intended, best friend kind-of-way) and said, Amy, now is the time. Now is the time to step away from your funk, pull up your big girl pants, kiss the past goodbye, change your course, accept a new destiny, stop fighting the universe, and take charge. Be the change. A positive change. Yes, she really did say all of those things! At least I heard all of those things 🙂

I can’t control the past. I can’t control people’s opinions of the past. But I CAN control me and my representation of the past. The one thing I have not done is let go of the shame and hurt. The shame has dragged me down.

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The hurt has jaded me. They’ve aged me. Changed me. Converted me in to a burdened shell of who I am. After reading this article, shame had left. Gone. Pain felt strangely cleansing. They’ve had their time. Now is time for my true self to re-emerge. And I realized that what Gandhi says applies to my every day energy. I have to be the energy that I want to see in my own life. The energy I put out is the energy I will receive back. It’s not necessarily always applicable to a global change. By changing my energy I can change what I see in the world. And that is enlightening.

For six months, roughly 180 days, I have relived that first week of August. Every. Single. Day. When a few short minutes in the lifetime of minutes you’ve lived, change everything, it’s hard not to get swallowed by those minutes. To live in them over and over and over again. So much gone. So much vanished in to that everlasting black hole of time and space.

Black Hole in the universe

Reality is this, those were a really shitty 10,000 minutes (If I count that entire first week of August when things were literally changing by the minute). Reality is also this, I have lived roughly 18.5 million good minutes (give or take a few thousand)! 18 million!!!! Time to send those 10,000 minutes to the land of lessons learned. They’re nothing but a bit of chump change.

Because I would love all of us to appreciate the good minutes and learn how to ride out the not-so-good minutes I want to share a few key points from this article and how it so simply canceled my pity party and booked my Life-is-Pretty-Damn-Good-Party. No more looking back. Only forward.

If you’ve had a run of horrible luck, you can tell yourself you’re being tortured or punished. Or you can decide you’re being steered.

Mark and I have discussed this a number of times. We almost feel that we are fighting against what the universe wants from us or for us. We’ve always wanted and planned to do bigger and better things with our lives. Give back to our communities in substantial and meaningful ways but we’ve consistently allowed life and the pursuit of things get in our way. Now the universe almost won’t allow us the pursuit and we are deciding to be steered. Letting go is way easier than being tortured!

She-Ra, He-Man, and Teela

She-Ra, He-Man, and Teela…Masters of the Universe!(Photo credit: Han Shot First) 

Suddenly, everything’s shaking, jolting, falling apart. We have no idea what’s happening or why, only that all hell has broken loose. It gets worse and worse – until we wake up, see through our false assumptions to the deeper truth of our situation, and revise our life maps. This isn’t punishment. It’s enlightenment dressed as chaos.

Best line ever! “It’s enlightenment dressed as chaos.”

So the three steps Martha Beck suggests for finding your true self when you’ve hit a “rumble strip” on life’s highway is to 1) Hit the Brakes, 2) Put your mind in reverse, and 3) Find and follow smooth terrain. All straightforward and fairly simple.

When you feel so beaten down that you can’t sustain normal activities, it’s time to stop trying.

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Stop Everything!

Except what’s necessary to survive. Eat. Sleep. Go to the bathroom. Make sure your children, pets, and sick parents eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom. If that’s beyond you, ask for help. Not forever. Just for now.

We both have had stretches of time that looked a lot like this over the last few months. Luckily we make a pretty good tag team. When I’ve been up and cheery, Mark’s been in barely surviving mode. When Mark’s high on life, I’m sometimes too beaten down to sustain beyond eat, sleep, pee. Tag. You’re it. Our teamwork has helped us during those really dark moments when the only thing there is to do is survive that singular moment. Ride the wave of despair and nothing more. Fortunately, in the last few months we’ve had way more up days than down days. More sun than gloom.

Reversing off the rumble strip:

…key assumptions are clearly marked with intense negative emotions: fear, anger, sadness. Such feelings are big red WRONG WAY signs. Back away from them. Try throwing your mind into reverse right now. Think of the worst, most hurtful thing that’s happening in your life. Now, think of a way this horrible thing might be good.

Phew, that was a heavy step. But there is good. I’ve discovered who has my back, no matter what.

Rumble Strip Sign

I’ve been able to move forward with really positive support around me. We moved to the PNW! We have wanted to do that for awhile but were too chicken to take such a big leap. We bought an RV and have been out enjoying grand adventures as a family. Our core unit (the 6 of us) has become super close and there is an abundance of love in this home. I’m getting paid to write! That never would’ve happened if I had the luxury of staying complacent. There’s a lot of really positive to be seen even with those few bad minutes as part of the equation. The good in those minutes is that they forced change.

Finding the Smooth Road:

At the point when someone sees through a false assumption, the road of life suddenly turns smooth. Instead of crazy bad luck, bits of strangely good luck start showing up. They’re small at first, inconspicuous. Never mind – slather them with attention.

I love this! There’s so much good. Some of it super small, but when you slap some gooey positive attention all over that teeny bit of goodness it starts to seem like some crazy golden universe nuggets.

If you stop everything you think you should be doing, surrender to what’s actually happening, reverse your assumptions, and steer toward the glimmers of light that appear as your old beliefs shatter, the small miracles will turn in to big ones. Eventually, your good luck will seem as incredible and mysterious as your bad. Once more you’ll be asking, Did I do something to deserve this? Only this time, the question will arise from a sense of overwhelming gratitude, not overwhelming pain.

Good Luck Bad Luck

Good Luck Bad Luck (Photo credit: Stewart Ho)

After I read this article, I spent one more day fighting against the universe and then I surrendered it all. Not one more day like this. Not one more day. And you know what, since that release I feel whole again. I feel like Amy is here. She’s found her way back and I’m ready to shine on during the next 50 years of my life…or 26 million plus minutes. I’m enlightened and am the change. My change.

I’ve Been Life Coached!

Every Win is Deserving

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As parents I think it’s very important to celebrate the tiniest of successes.  We too often spend our quiet moments rehashing all the ways we’ve failed our kids or the many ways our kids are not measuring up. We find ourselves in the negative space of mommy guilt that is lightyears from a truthful voice of reason.  It’s time we reject the adverse voices and instead beat the drums of triumphs. Even if that drum is mouse-sized and hardly audible.

In the spirit of finding my positive zen, I am letting go of misplaced mommy guilt.  I am a damn good mom even if every moment is not fairytales and roses.  Even if some days are epic fails.  Even if I can’t always see that truth through the messy house, the fighting kids, the crapping dog, the unemployed husband and my own crazy madness.

But today I can see.  The successes are always there.  Whether or not they are elevated is my choice.

Drums to Beat:

Boy #1:
Yesterday was the agonizing IEP meeting and with new teachers, a new school, and even new state requirements I have to admit I was more than dreading this appointment.  When you raise special needs children you deal with a lot of disappointments and you have to fight to get your child’s needs met way too often.  There’s a lot of dead end roads.  So even though this triumph cannot be owned by him it is very positive progress and definitely a win.  In this case we celebrate the fantastic staff who see my son for all of his possibilities instead of all of his downfalls.  We celebrate the fact that there are people who are already working with him and developing plans to help him succeed.  We celebrate the awesomeness of our new state and the fact that they are providing all of the tools he needs (no out of pocket expense to us!).  Every headphone, ball chair, fidget, pencil…Covered!  And they were already on top of his state testing so he has one-on-one testing next week and can use all his manipulatives (including calculator) for the math section of his test.  So while the success was not by his own doing we still celebrate because he has a team of people leading him to a plethora of future successes!

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Boy #2:

This child is a math whiz.  It’s insane the way he can manipulate numbers and make sense of anything numerical.  But reading has been another story (haha see what I did there?). It has been a struggle and this is not a child who appreciates a struggle.  Enter a move to a new reading class and 3 weeks later we are celebrating the click.  Reading finally clicked!  He is now devouring books and has a whole new confidence.  Woot Woot!!!!

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Boy #3:

His successes are harder to measure.  By the world’s standard he’s highly successful.  He’s smart, reading is easy, math makes sense, he’s athletic, people like him, yada yada.  But I don’t want to measure success that way.  What makes us successful is so much deeper than what can be measured.  I want to celebrate the moments that he lets me in to that closed up world of his.  So this week I’m screaming YAHOO at this picture taken while sledding over the weekend.  I know he let his guard down a little bit when he posed for this shot and that is worth millions more than any success proved by a piece of paper or standard.

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Boy #4:

Another one of our boys very close to needing the services of a special-ed team.  Kinder started off pretty rough and he had a hard time adjusting to a full day of working on the ABCs, numbers, friendships, art…you know, all the expectations of being 6!  Mad amounts of praise for him as he hasn’t given up and this week he actually made huge progress with the recognition of alphabetical sounds and his snap words!  Way to go!

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We are far from perfect but perfect would be uninteresting and pointless and leave us nothing worth celebrating. So here’s to the failures and successes that make each of us and each of our triumphs mad props worthy!

Marriage After Religion

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It’s been two years since Mark left Christianity and not much less than 2 years for myself.  Prior to leaving religion we were constantly told how much people admired our marriage and our commitment to each other.  We were asked to lead marital class after marital class in our churches and often mentored newly married couples.  Even after leaving the church and religion people still approach us telling us how much they look up to us as a couple.

Ah, I wish I could say the last two years has held the same amount of admiration and bliss for us as it has been perceived by others.  While leaving religion has been absolutely the best decision for me, for Mark, and for our boys I can’t sit here and pretend that it hasn’t come with a shit load of difficulty.

A Godly MarriageIn religion you have a set of rules that you live and die by.  You have a community of peers that are there to encourage you, mentor you, and give you tools to adhere to the rules that god has set for you.  You have the guilt and shame factor that comes in to play when you break any of those rules by lusting, coveting, lying, cheating, stealing, etc.  You take pride in having been two people now formed into one flesh, leaving your parents and cleaving to your partner.  Women know that they are ultimately to submit to the patriarch (husband).  And the husband knows he is to provide.  Divorce is not an option unless your spouse is beating you or cheating on you.  Porn is considered a taboo sin and often lands a man in church run therapy sessions for sex addicts.  And, sadly, you have a false sense of security that your marriage is great because you are doing all the things god has asked with a few failures but those are quickly hidden and never discussed for fear of judgement.  And while many christian marriages appear to be happy and godly, many of them (at least the ones I have known) are really just maintaining an appearance of godly.  Many men are hiding their porn use and when their wives eventually find out they are subjected to shamefests that rival republican/democratic debate practices.  Men (and women) are hiding their true sexual desires and fantasies and resorting to biblical standards of vanilla and missionary.  Always pleasing to the third man in the sky who is ever present in their lives.  Again anything outside of the black and white rule box including questioning areas of grey is often unheard of and leaves so many people stifled, confused, and inhibited.  But they are safe there and it becomes a really really comfortable place to reside.  And in the end if you do start to question your marriage, your vows, the what ifs, you can always fall back on the belief that god chose the two of you for each other.

Remove the book, the rules, the community, because god said so lines, the lifetime of black and white and the shit hits the fan!

We left our bubble and after spending so much time questioning everything about our religion the questioning moved on to everything outside our religious walls.  They just shifted from ‘is there evidence to support this’ to
Is divorce wrong?  Is there even such a thing as right and wrong?  As a society why do we practice monogamy?  What would an open marriage look like?  A threesome?  Is pornography really harmful and bad?  Are all drugs harmful?  Are some safe and in what amounts and circumstances?  What fantasies have we suppressed?  Where do we land on abortion? Gay rights? Spanking? Politics? Lying? Secrets? Individuality? Expressions of self? Boundaries? Evolution? Strip Clubs? Prostitutes? What do we want to teach our boys about religion(s), masturbation, sex, relationships?  How do we define our integrity and morality?  If there is indeed no heaven and this moment is all we have will we regret having only been with one partner?  Having not experienced everything under the sun?  Will we lie on our death bed knowing that we lived a genuinely good and happy life?  What is happiness?  What are our natural biological drives and emotions?  How much do we fight against what we see as harmful?  How angry do we get?  When do we let the boys experience church?  Which relationships do we let go of?  Which relationships do we maintain?  Do we even maintain ours?  Is it important enough for us to stay together for the kids?  What does a voice really sound like?  How do I know I’m not being duped or controlled again?  How do I find peace within myself?  What are my new boundaries for myself and my marriage?  How do we respect each other when our answers are not the same?  What do I share and what secrets are good to keep?  Are secrets ever good? Is it possible to share all of oneself and experience intimacy rather than judgement?

And the questions just keep coming and coming and coming.  It’s an endless cycle of learning, exploring, challenging, and that can be a very scary place in a marriage.  It often feels unsafe for me.  I’m a person who is challenged with anxiety issues and severe fears of abandonment.  So to hear Mark talk through some of his questioning and to hear his thoughts that have always been hidden or silenced because of my judgement and the church’s judgement can send me spiraling in to the ugliest woman full of nasty insecurities.  And what do I do when I fear the worst and can’t find my footing?  I fight!

Mark is a man who struggles with ADHD and the need to always push the envelope.  He also is really struggling with anybody controlling him.  He feels he has been controlled and manipulated for most of his life and now wants to control his own life.  And what does Mark do when he feels others are trying to control him?  He fights!
And so just as my anxiety and fear of abandonment can cause me to unjustly turn Mark in to my enemy and I can slaughter him with false accusations and assumptions, his fear of being controlled can unjustly make me out to be a raging nag or cause him to toe the line of safe just so he feels he has his independence.  As you can see the polarizing stances of one needing independence and often losing sight of partnership and the other stance wanting to bail out before the ultimate imagined abandonment happens, causes some serious conflict.  Neither one of us feels completely understood or safe.  And the scale has become unbalanced.

It was much easier for someone like me to feel safe when there were rules to guide me and someone watching me from up above.  I work well under that kind of pressure to perform.  This newfound freedom with my own regulations is quite frightening and intimidating and at times I find myself desiring to once again hide under the confines and restrictions of religion.  It feels safer there because it’s what I have always known.  Outside of it the world and it’s lawlessness is quite frightening.
I can’t speak for Mark and how religion probably felt safe at times for him too but I have a pretty good idea in the ways a box helps reign in a wild stallion like him.

Randall Sellers  Untitled Landscape with Man and Two Women, 2005  

So leaving religion and remaining married has been a painful and arduous endeavor.  I have been quite shocked at how difficult it has been.  I’m not sure we would’ve survived at all if one of us would’ve remained in christianity.  I’m not sure how any couple ever manages living in a home with completely different ideas about life and the afterlife.  And for now that is where we have landed.  We’ve landed with an agreement to focus on what we have in common.  To focus on all the ideas we actually agree upon (because there are so many).  We’ve agreed to continue working with our therapist (who is superb I might add!) .  We’ve agreed on the urging of our therapist to actually talk less!  Yes, she says we are the first couple she’s EVER had to demand that they stop talking about tough subjects.  I have started on medication for my anxiety and find that it’s remarkable what happens when your mind is not making up stories about your spouse all the time.  I can actually hear what Mark is saying and believe that he loves me.  In my anxiety I hear what he says and immediately translate that in to a way he’s going to leave me.  For example, if he says “A threesome would be awesome!”  I hear “a threesome is something I need to have and I won’t be happy til I have it.  You are not enough for me”.  On medicine I hear “A threesome would be awesome” and recognize that sure at times I’ve thought that could definitely be sexually stimulating but that does not mean I need it, want it, or desire anything beyond the fantasy and Mark probably doesn’t either.  I recognize that threesomes and a committed, monogamous, loving marriage are not really conducive to one another.  Bravo to those who can pull it off though.  I’m way too jealous and possessive to share my husband.

Right wrong..!I’m starting to get glimpses of hope that we can land on different spectrums of what is right and wrong and still love and respect one another.  We can have different opinions without hurting one another.  We can share our fantasies, our questioning, our fears and our desires without being fearful of the what ifs.  We can still be on the same team.  Differences do not have to be deal breakers and partnership is a gift in this life.  To have someone who loves me so deeply and to whom I also return that love is actually a really safe place to be.  We just need to recognize how beautiful what we have is.  And that is just going to take some practice and some work.  I know I’m up for the challenge.

For Better…
Or Worse…

Do I think we will make it?  I do.  But not without a few more big battles and not without a mutual respect.  But I think we are nearing the end of our trauma and wounds will soon begin to heal.
Even through all of the pain and fear I can say that our marriage is deeper, richer and way more genuine than it has ever been.  Religion caused too much hiding and too much power over one another.  We lost ourselves and our individuality or if we didn’t lose it we never had it.  Our intimacy is much deeper and secrets are fewer.  There’s a passion and desire for one another that has been stifled for too many years.  We have a friendship that is uncharted.  We laugh together. We cry together.  We dance, we sing, we challenge, we flirt, we scream, we battle, we resolve, we see, we accept and we persevere.  Because of that we will not only survive marriage after religion but we will make it the best damn partnership a couple could desire.

Amen!