Becoming the Real Me

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Someone going through a very tough time recently messaged me this question:

“How did you get past the rumors and people smearing your name during your divorce?”

And when I first read it, I sort of laughed. Because it was one of those moments when something is pointed out that you only knew to be half true. Like if someone were to say, “What’s it feel like to be fat?” and here you only thought you had a gained a few unnoticeable pounds.

So while I knew my divorce had been talked about and judged– and so had I– I was also convinced it wasn’t nearly as bad as I imagined. (Oh, sweet blissful ignorance, how I love thee)

And so I told her the truth.

I used to cry. A lot. At the unfairness of it all. At the injustice of it all and the envisioned misrepresentation. I used to cry because my feelings were hurt. To think people who didn’t even know me well– or at all– were judging me and my decisions. Or worse yet, people who DID know me well. To think they were judging my divorce and my story. They walked in on a chapter and read a negative review without reading the whole story, and it stung. Bitterly.

Regularly, I would call my mom or best friends who would offer comfort and encouraging words. Often I would text my sister who would respond with fiery fierce words to remind me of who I am and how far I’d come.

And of course, like it does with most things, time and space began to soften the blows and toughen up the bruised and tender skin, which grew a little thicker,in the best possible way. 

But I had to let it go.

That’s the real answer.

I had to let go of everything people thought they knew about me and my life.

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I had to accept that my truth was enough. It was enough for me, and for my family and my friends and the people who know me and love me. I could never control what other people would hear or think or believe; I could only live my own truth.


But there’s a second part to the answer.

I had to be brave enough to keep becoming the real me.

I was regularly shamed for “changing”. But I think maybe it’s not so much that we change. Maybe, instead, we just become who we were always meant to be.

And I am becoming who I was always meant to be. 

The difficulties in my life and in my marriage didn’t create the new me; They helped carve out and uncover the Real MeIn such a hard-fought, ongoing and treacherous battle, I am digging out The Real Me. And I am proud of her.

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There is no shame in evolving. The real shame is in fighting so desperately to stay the same when everything around you is beckoning for change. For growth. For expansion. For freedom. If you’re still the same exact person you were twenty years ago, with the same thoughts, the same habits, the same beliefs, have courage. Take heart. Have the guts to uncover the real you. If there were no fear, no expectations, no system to conform to, who would you actually become?

For most of my life I lived within a community that valued sameness. There was so much safety in all the ways we agreed with each other; In our speech, in our values, in our dress, in our lifestyles. And it’s not that I didn’t prescribe to it at the time, but I outgrew it. The outside of my life no longer reflected the inside- which has got to be the shortest path to unhappiness.  A golden cage is still a cage.

I started to value my own thoughts and feelings and intellect.

I’d been conditioned to think so many of my thoughts and feelings were wrong, when it turns out, they were essential.

After my divorce, when I was free to dig deeper, to explore, to be authentic– come what may, expectations be damned– beneath all the layers of religion and dysfunction and heartache and loss, there was a weathered but solid and beautiful soul underneath. It’s as if I unearthed the foundation of my personality. And it has been the perfect space to rebuild myself and my life from the ground up. It is steadfast. It is strong. It is mine. It is the Real Me.

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I want to tell the woman who messaged me that after I publish this post, I will get a hate message or two.

But I rarely cry anymore. Instead I get back to creating my life.

Loving and enjoying my kids so hard I think I’ll burst. Laughing every single day with them ’til we can’t breathe.

Loving God. Saying ‘Thank you’ and ‘Help’. Meditating, reading, journaling. Searching for Him and everything divine in the Universe.

Treasuring my family and my friends. Having a beer. Dancing in my kitchen.

I think of Elizabeth Gilbert, (Author of Eat, Pray, Love, and her newest masterpiece, Big Magic) who says, “If people absolutely hate what you’ve created? Just smile sweetly and suggest— as politely as you possibly can— that they go make their own f*cking art.”

That’s the real me. I am making art with my life. And in my soul. And it takes my breath away. It is the happiest and saddest I have ever been, but nothing could be lovelier because it’s real.

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Somehow, You Just Do

just do

Death. Illness. Accidents. Break ups. Broken Hearts. Bankruptcy. Betrayal.

Think of the last REALLY hard thing that went on in your life.

{Or maybe, like me, you’re still in the middle of something really hard.}

But now think back to all the really hard things you’ve already made it through.

And first of all, Bravo, you Bad Ass, you.

Second of all, whichever space you’re in, I’m gonna guess there was a moment–even if it was just a millisecond– when you wondered how you would ever survive. A moment when you thought you never would. A moment when you swore this would be the one hard thing that was TOO hard. Insurmountable. Impossible. Impassable.

Sounds silly now. And maybe a touch dramatic. But it didn’t feel that way at the time.

You didn’t know how you were gonna do it. But somehow. Somehow, you did. Somehow, when it comes down to getting through, a day at a time, you just do.


This morning, I went for a walk. A legitimate walk. I awkwardly strained to wrangle my hair into a messy bun. (An impossible task just a week ago) I couldn’t manage a sports bra, but I pulled up a bandeau bra thingy and leggings. Last night, I asked my daughter to loosely tie my sneakers so I could just pull them on this morning and actually go by myself. (I sound like a toddler. There’s been a lot of that. Not good.)

Side note: Speaking of something else I can’t manage yet: Spanx. Over the weekend, I tried. I really tried. There was a dress I wanted to wear that needed a little…help. And there was a literal moment when I had to choose between potentially damaging my healing wrist with all the pulling and tugging versus the illusion of a flat tummy. I actually had to think about it. Because priorities. But since I  physically could not get them on, the decision was made for me. Dodged a bullet.

As crazy as it may sound, I was kinda scared to venture on this walk alone. (Although not as scared as I felt when I contemplated the idea of having to tell my mom I re-broke my wrist trying to pull on a pair of Spanx. AmIRight??) But there were two things: What if I get too far from my house and I run out of energy and can’t make it home? And the other one was the biggie: What if I fall? What if I trip on a curb or a banana peel or THE SIDEWALK?? Because apparently, these types of things happen to me. But the point is, I wouldn’t be able to catch myself. Then what? It might not sound like a big deal, but for me, it was.

I don’t want to be afraid. I don’t want to feel so fragile. I want to feel fearless. (‘She wants to be fearless. That’s cute’, my mom is thinking. ‘Hire a nurse next time.’) Good news: I went ahead on my walk and made it home just fine.

Today I was thinking about how far I’ve come. A few weeks ago, a three mile walk was unthinkable. I just wouldn’t have had the stamina yet. I was still spending a lot of time crying  resting, which takes up a lot of energy.

And then I got to thinking of all the other things I’ve lived through that I never could’ve imagined. 23 years of parenting. 16 years having lost my first husband. 4 years of being a blonde. 2 years divorced. Lots and lots of heartache and heartbreak. Just life. And most recently, almost 2 months of broken bones and surgeries and depression and recovery.

You can’t really understand at the outset, how you’re going to live through some of these things. But somehow, you just do. And then you kind of look back in awe of yourself. And feel sort of proud. You think,’I did it. I thought for sure, this is how it all goes down, but I’m doing it.’

So what is it for you? What are the things you thought you’d  never live through?

‘Cause guess what? You did it. You’re doing it. And so am I.

Life Requires Time and Space

Green Lake

I get choked up every time. Every. Single. Time. There is something about a morning walk or run through the tiny little park not far from my house. The sunrise reflecting off the water. The stillness of this tiny little corner of the world. The way the trees and branches hang out over the jagged little shoreline. And the dock. The lone, long dock looking like a pathway to somewhere else. Anywhere but here.

How many, many times I have sat on that dock wishing I were anywhere but here.

But not this morning.

This morning, I still got choked up. But this morning it was in gratitude. Gratefulness. I sat on that dock thankful that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be in life. Not because everything is perfect. I have finally learned perfection is not the goal nor is it possible.

But everything is okay. 

Better than okay. But in the very least, okay.

And what I’m learning now is life requires time and space. Kind of like the old adage, ‘Time heals all wounds’, but different. I’m not sure I believe time heals all wounds. But what I do believe is time and space help things change shape. Time and space give life a chance to sort things out. Time and space allow things to breathe a little and work themselves out.

A thousand times I’ve walked through this same little park.

I walked through it as a pregnant teenager, not sure how I would ever manage a baby at such a young age. Then I watched that same baby grow up and play baseball on those  diamonds. And now he’s 23.

I walked through that park as a young widow. I cried my heart and soul out on that dock. I could’ve filled Green Lake with those tears. I had no idea what life would look like or how I would go on. But I did.

Time and space.

I walked through that park and sat on that dock worried about my girl. How she would navigate some of the challenges thrown her way. In the next few months she’ll go to prom, get her license, graduate from high school and head to college.

Time and space.

I sat on that dock after my sister experienced several absolutely devastating miscarriages, begging God to please fix this somehow and give her healthy babies. Now they’re 2 and 4.

Time and space.

I ran through that park and collapsed on that dock during the toughest battles of my marriage, grieving everything I thought my life would be and wasn’t.

Time and space.

I sat there for 5 minutes this morning. Just to say thank you. Just to remind myself of all the times I didn’t know how things would ever be okay. And now they are. I know they won’t stay okay forever. I know there will be a lifetime of running through that park and sitting on that dock, wondering how things will turn out. But now I will take a deep breath. I will remind myself that time and space help life change shape.

And somehow, even if it takes a year, or two, or ten, everything’s going to be okay.

The Art of Offense and Apologies

Photo on 2014-08-11 at 15.45 #3The years before I got divorced, the year I got divorced and the year following my divorce, as you can seriously only imagine, have been rich with offense and apology. Constantly. Continuously. Exhaustingly so. And not just with the obvious principal players, but with lots of people in my tribe. And on the real, possibly more offense than apology. 

But isn’t this about how it goes for everyone? Relationships. Gah. Seriously. I love ’em and hate ’em all at the same time. There are a few people in my life that frustrate the hell out of me and I want to throw them off a cliff and then run to the bottom to catch them. Because I love them. But for whatever reason, we can’t seem to get an easy vibe going. Which means miscommunication. Misunderstood feelings. Unmet expectations. And Mexican stand-offs. (Sorry to the Mexicans. Sorry. It’s just an expression, yes?)

And so the offense/apology circle is a pitted and well-traveled path. But there are bits and pieces to it that get sort of muddy at times. And so this is what I’d like to offer:

The person who has done the offending

REGARDLESS OF INTENTION

Does not get to judge whether or not the offended person should be offended


 You should probably reread that. It might take a second or third look

{Feel free to sub out the word “offended” for whatever flies your kite: insulted, hurt, degraded, humiliated. We run an equal opportunity shit show here}

 And before anyone gets crazy, I’m strictly referring to one-on-one personal relationships here; Not to social media/political correctness/Merry Christmas and rainbow-flag-waving type of “offenses”. Those are a totally different type of headache. Like a migraine. 

The thing is this– If I’ve hurt you, whether or not I intended to, if I value our relationship and am seeking to live at peace with others as much as possible, then I need to apologize. Period. You get to feel what you feel and I don’t get to decide if it’s valid or not. Because truthfully, the thickness of our skin is as varied as the colors of it. Totally. Completely. Different. 

And how I see it

Is not necessarily how it is

It’s only how I see it

We, each one of us, are masterful lawyers at defending our own feelings and intentions, but incredibly tough judges when it comes to measuring someone else’s.

SorrySaying you’re sorry doesn’t have to mean you were wrong; Saying you’re sorry means that you want to take tender care of another person’s heart and feelings. Being an attentive, mindful caretaker is an important part of growing healthy, soulful, connected relationships.

And so if we can learn to live with this as a core value– to cause as little harm to others as possible– and apologize quickly and easily if and when we do cause hurt or harm, no matter how right we think we are, it will change the atmosphere we live in. And changing the atmosphere changes the world. And at the end of the day, I want to be a world-changer more than I want to be right. Do it with me?

5 Things (it’s okay) to Tell a Struggling Friend

images-17When people we care about are struggling, it can be so hard knowing the right thing to say or do. And even though pain, grief and loss are such a universal part of the human experience, for some reason we suddenly feel so awkward on how to handle it. There are lots of WRONG things to say and you can find those here or here. But to be honest, the worst thing to say is NOTHING. To ignore it altogether. To pretend it didn’t happen or that you don’t know about it. That. is. the. worst. For the love. Don’t be that person– use one of these instead:

1.  I‘m so sorry you’re going through this.”

“I’m so sorry you have to walk through this.”

“I’m so sorry this happened to you.”

“I’m so sad for you.”

Any variation of “I’m sorry” is a good place to start. C’mon. You can say that. It’s not that hard. This is the universal sympathy phrase for a reason. It’s easy to get out of your mouth. You should use it. And please don’t ever qualify this with a “But…” As in, “But I don’t agree with your divorce.” (That must be so hard for you. Because I lose sleep at night over whether or not you agree with my situation.” Smile. I’m kidding. Obviously.) “But you deserve it.” or “But I told you so.” No. Stop. Don’t do it.

2. “That must be so hard.”

“That must be awful.”

“That would be so hurtful.”

Validation is a gift. People who are struggling often keep apologizing for all of their emotions when it’s probably all very normal. In the midst of chaos and pain, it’s a wonderful thing to be told, “It’s okay that you feel this way.” When you tell someone, “That sounds horrible”, it’s not a sudden revelation to them. They already KNOW it’s horrible. But what you’re really saying is, “I see what you’re going through and I can see why it’s so hard.” Do this.

Important side story~

When I lost my first husband, everyone thought it would be helpful if I attended some sort of support group. Except there weren’t any support groups for 26 year-old widows. (What I really needed was a support group for 26 year-olds who had to attend a support group) Ultimately I ended up attending a group filled with– wait for it– people over 65. I was mortified. It only continued to point out the rarity and devastatingly “bad luck” of my situation. Except for one unforgettable moment that night. Everyone had to tell their story; Who they had lost and why they were there. As I listened to tale after tale of people who had been married for 50 years, people who had to discontinue life support and feeding tubes, people who had needed Hospice, it was my turn. And as I told of my husband being killed in a car accident and leaving behind myself and our two small children, the elderly gentlemen sitting next to me grabbed my hand, looked in my eyes, and said, “You must be in hell.” I wept with relief.

Finally. Finally someone was acknowledging exactly what it felt like. How bad it was. How hard it was. Naming it for me. To finally NOT hear that God must have needed another angel (more than my kids needed their dad??) To NOT hear that I was so young– I would surely find someone else (as if the true problem was the vacancy and filling of the position of husband and father). To NOT hear that everything happens for a reason (because there is no reason thorough enough that would justify this loss). Finally. Validation of the hell I could not escape. I never went back to that support group. But I also never forgot the words of that man. It was a healing moment in my grief.

3. “I may not completely understand, but I can sit here and listen.”

Most struggling or grieving people have a need to talk. And talk. And talk. If not right away, eventually. External processing is a powerful way of understanding and sorting out the jumbled mess of emotions locked up inside. No one is looking for you to have any answers or come up with solutions. And really, don’t. All you need to do is sit and listen. And then get used to responding with simple phrases such as, “That’s awful.” or “That sounds so hard.” Or even, “Mmmmm.” There are very few requirements to be a good listener– a little bit of time, a compassionate heart, and gentleness. Lots of gentleness.

4.  “What would be helpful right now?”…And then offer something specific. Or just do it.

Most of the time, people will add, “Is there anything I can do?” And in the middle of grief, it can be very hard to answer. Ideally, if YOU can think of something thoughtful and helpful (as long as it doesn’t cross any major boundaries), just do it. Or offer something specific that requires a yes or no response. “Can I drop off dinner on Tuesday night?”, “Can I do all the driving for baseball this week?” If none of that seems right, stop by for 5 minutes with a coffee, muffins, beer, a new purse, shoes, anything with a bow on it…Wait. Sorry. That’s maybe only what I would like. But. You get the point.

Another important side note~

Sometimes when my girls are struggling or sad, I say to them, “What would make you feel taken care of right now?” The answer can be as simple as a cup of hot chocolate, a nap, snuggle time with me or a quick date somewhere. I especially like that this teaches them to recognize what they’re feeling and then ask for what they need. And it teaches me, too. I think women, especially, are bad at this. Or maybe it’s just me. I’m bad at this. But my girls won’t be. They will know how to ask for what they need.

5. “You are not alone.”

Grief and loss. Pain and struggle. It’s all very isolating. The rest of the world is moving on while yours has stopped. It’s a very lonely place to be. Depending on your relationship,  it’s such a relief to hear someone say, “You’re not alone. I’m with you in this. Text me or call me 24/7.” And then, even if you have to set a reminder in your phone, YOU text THEM every few days with some love and encouragement. A friend and I stumbled upon a little code– when one of us is feeling really low, or thinking about the other one, and we don’t really want to talk or don’t really know what to say, we will text  ” …” And it just means “I have no words. I’m here. I’m with you.”

And believe it or not, it helps. Easy. Small. Simple. Gentle. Kind. You can do it.

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Another Round of “What Not to Say to Your Struggling Friend”

e4fdff0a1508f0c5e69dcbc04de02a21But wait! There’s more! In my aggravated haste, I missed some of the BIGGEST offending phrases! BIG as in WAY too awful to be left out! If you missed the first list, check it out here. And listen, we’ve all been guilty of being in a tender spot with a struggling friend and not known what to say– myself included– but there are still some things better left unsaid.

So  please…Join me for another round of “What Not to Say to Your Struggling Friend!”

God has a better plan

Sighhhh. Of course He does. That would be just like him, wouldn’t it? How sweet. And maybe next week or next month, or next year, I will see that and find peace in that. But today, right now, I wanted THIS plan. MY plan. And I’m sad and disappointed that my plan did not work out.

God must have something really special in store for you

I am totally calling bullshit on this one. I have heard this line for 20 years. Maybe He does, maybe He doesn’t.  Because maybe–just maybe–this is just how life goes. Sometimes, really crappy things just happen. And the only reward for living through it is…living through it. (Which, you know, IS a big deal, but still…)

Don’t Cry

Don’t tell me what to do. K. Thanks. Because I am crying. And when you say “Don’t cry”, now I feel like I have to fake my behavior because you’re uncomfortable. People cry. We all survive. Trust me. I would’ve drowned by now.

Someday this will all make sense

Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. Today, it doesn’t. Today it sucks. Can we please just acknowledge the suck of today?

And finally…(but certainly still NOT a conclusive round-up!)

Things could be worse

SIGH……(I’m yelling now) WELL OF COURSE THEY COULD BE WORSE! Let’s now list all of the ways things could be worse. I don’t even know where to start. It’s long and involved and ranging from the house burning down to starving children in Africa. The only way you can use this phrase– THE ONLY WAY– is if you look at your very, very close friend and say it JUST LIKE THIS, “Shit could be worse. I mean, you could have bad hair. Or ugly feet. Or no style. On top of everything else you’re going through.” And then, after that, buy her a beer. Because you both know you’re kidding. Period.

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{A perfect example of what NOT to say to your friend.}

I loved hearing YOUR input on the first list! If you’ve got more, lemme have ’em!

And I promise– A list of helpful, validating, gentle things to say is on its way…

 

 

5 Things You Should Not Tell Your Struggling Friend

images-151. Cheer Up

Really? Cheer up? Thanks. Because I never thought of just “cheering up”.

2. You shouldn’t feel that way

That’s so weird. Because I DO. So. One of us is wrong. Feelings are NOT wrong or right. They just are. It’s what we do with them and what actions they illicit or inspire that give them dynamics. You are allowed to feel what you feel. You have wide and varied reasons for feeling what you feel. You do not need to defend them or explain them. Period.

3. Here’s what you should do…

Big. Heavy. Sigh. Thanks. I know you mean well. Really. But your suggestions for fixing my life are unsolicited and not helpful. And, whether or not I’ve already considered your solution, it’s usually not that simple. And if you’re a Christian and you proceed to tell me what the Bible says when I am smack in the middle of my pain and my process…Lose my number. There might be a delicate time and place for that– this is not it.

4. You think THAT’S bad….

I know. I KNOW what you went through. I get it. I get that your situation is/was/will be ten times worse than mine. But pain is relative. Your pain doesn’t make mine better or worse and vice versa. Pain is pain. And it hurts.

5. I thought you were over this.

Great. Now I’m not even struggling right. My timing’s all off. Well I’m not over it.  And I wish I was more than YOU wish I was.  Sooooo….when I get over it, I guess that’s when we can be friends. If you don’t hear your phone ringing, that will be me. Not calling.

Believe it or not, I’m smiling as I type this. There’s no resting bitch face, there’s no animosity or bitterness regardless of how snarky I sound. (Um. Okay. Maybe just a teeny bit. Working on that…) I have been guilty of ALL of these and I hate myself for it– but I’m human. We all are. It’s just that I know so many people struggling right now who just get railroaded and corrected and shamed for their personal process of grief and recovery. Which is kinda like pouring salt in the wound. It hurts.

What would YOU add to this list?

Next Up: 5 Helpful Things to Tell a Struggling Friend