encouragement from beyond

during my organizing extravaganza, i went through my “memories box” to see if there was anything i was ready to let go of. contrary to the way my condo has been looking over the past year, i’m actually an anti-packrat. i have exactly one box of sentimental stuff, which is actually mostly full of journals. i’m loosening my militant stance on no hoarding, keeping more cards from friends on special occasions and different special items. still, i don’t keep much.

anyhow, i have always kept this funny little square tupperware box with a note from grama in it. she sent it to me when i was a kid with a little note she wrote inside that read, “This box is so full of love and kisses I could hardly close it.” i wanted to put the last envelope barb gave me inside the box with it, and saw that there was another letter inside. i don’t remember seeing this letter before, much less putting it in the box.

June 20, 1994

Dearest Lola,

Well, here’s the evidence of the great day! It’s up to you if you want to share them with anyone. I bragged about you and your class and your school yesterday to anyone who would listen to me. Now go ahead and get your education, and don’t fritter away your time or strength or attention on things that don’t contribute to your highest aims for your life. I never let anything interfere with my aim to serve the Lord in India. After I got there, I found it pretty lonely without a family around. But – at least I got there and served for awhile. Then, it seemed that I found fulfillment as a woman in being married and raising children.

So, go for it, whatever your goal is. Don’t forget you wanted to be like Marian Anderson.

I love you more than you can understand.

Your proud Grandma

this was right after my high school graduation. interesting that she mentioned Marian Anderson – she was one of the first successful black opera singers, and i portrayed her at a history night at school and sang part of an aria. last week when a friend and i were thrifting, i came across a Marian Anderson album.

in the 1940s, as a young single woman, grama traveled to india as a missionary. it was her life’s focus since she was about age 13. during that time, single female missionaries were neither common, nor really acceptable, so she had to be very patient and persistent. but she accomplished her goal, her life’s purpose. when she returned, she was over 30. i calculated recently and was surprised to figure that she had her children at ages 35 and 37. also unusual for that time.

i have always felt such a kinship with grama. we were very special to each other and loved each other so much, but there are just also many similarities in how our lives unfold, the paths we take. we’re not alike in the content but more in the focus, and the persistence, stubbornness, walking off the beaten path of life expectations. she was so courageous, and i’m so proud to be her granddaughter.

anyhow, what a sweet letter and pleasant surprise! it encourages me to know i’m just where i need to be, on the right path.

created instability: epilogue

epiloge – i love it.

so yesterday, i finally finished. and it feels so weird! i hadn’t planned to finish this months long cleaning and organizing process. i woke up too early (as per usual lately) and laid on the couch watching some tv and then just felt like i might be able to be productive with a small project. and it went on from there! about 3 hours in, i knew i was going to finish this today and it started to feel emotional. it’s this familiar feeling that i don’t know how to put into words. some kind of mixture of pride, gratitude, and disbelief. a little bit of fear.

it’s about cleaning the house but it’s about so much more than cleaning the house. with all i’ve been thinking through and working on lately… it’s about my willingness to move on. only in the last hours of cleaning the house did i realize how long it has been this way. it was clean last summer when my dad was here, though not necessarily organized the way i wanted. it was after they died that everything went into super disarray. stuff coming off the walls, piles piling up, the getting worse before it gets better. so committing to putting things where they belong, wiping off shelves, purging, deciding that some things don’t need to be perfect today in order to be clean and organized and therefore putting them away for later… this is about committing to where i am now, settling in, and giving myself the peace to let my energies go outward.

click here for the before pictures.

and here are the same spots, after.

i can eat here.  with 3-5 other people if i want.

i can eat here. with 3-5 other people if i want.

future site of game nights, movies with optional cuddling, laughter, and heart-to-hearts.

future site of game nights, movies with optional cuddling, laughter, and heart-to-hearts.

it feels peaceful. and i think it feels like the courage to move forward.

starting over

did you watch that show, starting over? i loved that show, i was obsessed. only 3 seasons long, it was like my light in a dark tunnel time of life. free therapy on tv. network tv. awesome!

this post is not about the tv show. but when the title came to me, i had to relate it back. who knew, during those dark times in my life, my first real severe and persistent depression, working as a server at a bar and drinking all night, sleeping all day, do it again… i used to watch life coaching and transformation in the form of starting over religiously. if i woke up around 1, i could see a little bit of passions, but i was for sure up by 2 for my show. i would never have fathomed then that i would pick myself up and put in the work it took to get where i am today. now i’m the therapist and i help others transform their lives. (and sometimes it really, really works!)

i’ve been taking a hard look at where i am today. i feel like i’m waking up. i’ve been in this focused terrain of various tasks/projects/obsessions/addictions for quite a long time. i’ve been looking at my busy-ness for a while now, wanting to understand the purpose. specifically i’ve been looking at the last 3 years. 3 years ago, i was enrolled in grad school, knew someplace inside me that drinking was not working anymore, and feeling kind of dissatisfied in my friendships. at least my day-to-day friendships. i felt like i was along for the ride, stuck, compulsive, powerless.

time passed. i wrestled with drinking and social life. after a long, drawn out, dragged out fight, i let go of alcohol. i immersed myself in my studies. friends fell away. some friends were surgically removed. some friends transitioned with me, doing new things and seeing me less frequently. i still have my best friends. i’m so proud of my good friendships! i feel incredibly fortunate. but they’re not generally part of my day-to-day, hanging out life. i generally hang out by myself. which was working for a long time. i’m content and unaffected alone. but it’s not what i want anymore.

grad school took over my life and my attention and my energy for a little over 2 years. as i was finishing, my aunt got a terminal cancer diagnosis. shortly after we enrolled her in hospice, my grama’s nursing home made the recommendation that she be enrolled in hospice as well. i remember that day. my aunt and cousin came down to the nursing home to meet me and sign papers. barb was in a wheelchair, which was so strange. she was weak. but her mind was still alert. so we sat at this sterile table in this sterile lounge area and talked about hospice. that was the first time i noticed my new tic. i felt myself rhythmically tapping my leg with my fingers, compulsively, subconsciously at first. i still find myself doing it when i accidentally get deep into a disturbing memory of these times.

so the end of school was the beginning of caretaking. caretaking and waiting and wondering and terror was another darkness. but i was the strong one who took care of business and made them feel comfortable, and in my aunt’s case, empowered. i suppose the role is what kept me above water and able to move forward. there’s this sense of unreality that made me able to keep moving. shock was a protective factor even then. sure i cried, and i premourned. barb and i had lots of talks about what was coming. she cried about how sorry she was that she was leaving us. i comforted her. i sat with grama. i went through the motions and tried really hard to feel it all, and i did my best.

and caretaking led into the horrific shock of death. they died. and with all the preparation and saying what needed to be said, and in the end praying for the end of their suffering, there is no greater shock and void than when they are suddenly gone.

so i mourned. and mourning is the most incredibly lonely thing in the world. you can have loved ones around you. they remember her, too. they are feeling their own pain. but in grief it is very hard to connect, to match up your timing with someone else. to feel the same specific brand of grief at the same time as the others. so blogs became very important to me. i dealt with grief in an obsessive way. i went to work and did my job and came home and read grief blogs. and cried. and wrote grief blogs. and cried. and got angry. and went numb. and read some more. and kept crying. and was alone.

grief is never over. i believe that in my experience, connecting with it willingly, actively, assertively… helped. i allowed it. and i still allow it when it comes. sometimes i say, “not now,” and i come back to it later. i am not afraid of it. i know it will not overtake me. my will to keep living, keep growing and moving forward is strong. they gave me that.

something else was this tyler perry movie. it was a filmed stage play, set in a nursing home. my mom had it and made me take it home and watch it a few weeks ago. there was a storyline with a young woman who compulsively visited her alzheimers-stricken mother for 9-10 hours a day. madea has a little teaching moment with her at the end when they wrap all the storylines up. she tells this young girl that she is overemphasizing one part of her mother’s life. that the end is just a small part. you can remember the good times and try to let go. i’m not capturing the loveliness of it, but it helped me a lot. focusing so hard on the end of life. so i’m trying to focus more on the good times, of which there were many! and when the bad times and the end come up, that’s ok, too. but i’m trying harder to hold the good times longer.

so i find myself here, today. i’ve been thinking a lot recently about dating, getting into a relationship, having kids someday. i’ve been doing a lot of personal work on clearing out old emotional relationship baggage, and getting very clear on what i’m looking for. i had a friend in town who is thinking about this, too, and we talked about how we can be more pro-active, but also how we want to expand our social circles. i’ve been writing about that over the past couple of days, and it feels good!

for most of my life, i have been kind of pessimistic, a yes, but… kind of person. i feel like in doing these clearing exercise, in thinking about the people i love and the life i want, i finally have turned a corner on some of my self-protective focus into a more connection-oriented outlook. sometimes it’s so wonderful to be a therapist. i talk to people about their lives, and their thoughts, and their social issues and beliefs. the person that i am cannot talk to people about these things all day and not take it to heart, not self-reflect. i get to see patterns of self-protection and why people do that, and i also get to know and advise, therefore saying it out loud, affirming it: there are more kinds of people in the world than the ones you grew up with and repeated. i finally believe that to an extent that affects change.

i’m developing a vision of the kind of life i want, which includes dating and relationships, but also friends, social circles, specific kinds of people with like mindsets, communities, events, where i want to be, what kinds of things will make up my day-to-day life. i want the fullness. it’s becoming more clear in a way that makes the steps to that life light up in front of me. it’s not just going out, it’s being social, connecting and learning and making decisions. which is not necessarily an epiphany, but i’ve been closed down for a long time. in particular, the last 3 years.

so 3 years ago, i had a best day-to-day friendship with a girl who was also prone to negative focus, harsh judgments, and unhappiness. we brought out the worst in each other. we drank heavily. our social life was sometimes fun, she was impulsive and up for anything. so i also got myself into some situations i didn’t want to be in. she was boisterous, loud, engaging, demanding, charming to some, overwhelming to others. and i lived in her shadow. we understood and accepted each other in the darkest times, and at the time, to me, that meant a real friend.

3 years ago, i went with whoever invited me. weirdos glommed onto me and i wasn’t assertive enough to choose wisely who i wanted close to me. i worked in a deeply shitty job, hung out with people i didn’t really care for, and drank myself stupid on a regular basis. it felt like life was happening to me and i had no control.

3 years ago, i dated a few times a year. the year before i had broken up with my last boyfriend for boring me to tears. i wasn’t too incredibly picky because i had never really examined what i wanted. or for that matter who i was. so i’ve had dating spurts, but knew without a doubt that i would rather be alone than be with someone with whom i had to compromise what i liked about myself and my lifestyle.

3 years is a long time to learn and reflect and change. i don’t think i’ve ever been more clear, proud, in-tuned, and accepting of myself. i’m ready. and i’m grateful! i’m coming out of a point of view that saw myself as weird and problematic, defective that i could spend this much time alone and not have a lot of people in my life. but today i’m thankful. because now it’s time to rebuild from a place of clarity. i’m not 36 and stuck with a relationship and social circle that i fell into without thought and intention. i am far from powerless about the type of relationships that will color my life from this point forward. i am here, today, knowing and accepting myself, thoughtful and clear about what kind of life i want, and able to begin to rebuild from here.

i’m starting over.