I’ve Made Friends With My Skeletons

“…I have in the last year emerged on the other side with a small army of loyal skeletons ready to bask in the light.”

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I’m starting this year with that whole “clean slate” deal for the first time here in 2017.  And I’m able to do so with a little (OK, maybe a lot) of help from my friends.

I have spent a lot of my youth and adult life living a duality.  Working to mirror on the outside what I thought was expected, that which would keep questions from being asked: I was happy, smiling, smart, shy, responsible.  I kept my temper in check.  I was a good example.

All the while, inside I roiled in pain, anger, fear, and darkness.  I was constantly worried the truth would come out, that when it did I would prove to be unlovable.  I lived my life in near panic.  I considered suicide as a teen, became a cutter to deal with the emotions I couldn’t deal with or express.

The idea, and then the reality, of becoming a mom was my saving grace.  Sounds cliche, I know, but it’s true.  It was the one thing I was sure I would do well.  It IS my skill set.  My Trinity makes all that I have been through a lesson for their benefit, something to spare them from.  My silver linings.

As I have slogged through some truly awful, dark, and dangerous times, I have in the last skeleton-familyyear emerged on the other side with a small army of loyal skeletons ready to bask in the light.   They are facts and facets of my life, but they no longer chain me down.  (They do, however, make some people really, really uncomfortable).  The more the light bleaches the rot from them, the more I realize that I would not be who I am without having survived them.  There can be a certain peace found in seeing beauty in that tragedy.

The first to emerge was the the admission that the “perfect couple” that the outside world saw did not, in fact, exist.  I suffered from financial, emotional, and mental subjugation.  I had lost myself in a quest to protect my littles, given up my sense of self and self respect to keep them safe behind closed doors.  Eggshells and fear were the constant companions. Let’s call him Uno.

the-truth-will-set-you-freeSkelly made his way out when I refused to deny being sexually assaulted as a teacher.   I suffer from PTSD from that experience, and it brought back to the forefront issues from past abuses.  I regained a sense of power through counseling and from introducing Skelly to the world.  I was (am) a sexual assault survivor, and I am damn proud of what I have managed to live through.

I think the most frightening one to come through the closet door, the one who had needed the most coaxing, has been Lily.  She has suffered the longest in silence, the one that was the most afraid to come out to the light.  From the moment she listened to “want to see what my mom did last night?” (made cookies? a new hairdo?  danced?) at 8 and then realized that she was mired into a 3 year reign of sexual molestation, followed by 6 more years of daily bullying and torture with “if you don’t do X, I will make sure (your mom, dad, neighbor you idolize, friends) knows what dirty scum you are.  Then who will love you?” It wasn’t until this summer that I was able, with the innocent comment of my youngest to coax me, to bring Lily out, to introduce her to my parents and tell the story.

I can’t express to you the freedom I have felt after flinging that closet door open fully.  And I don’t want to make it sound like it was some easy process, and that you should find it so.  It was agonizing, to be truthful. It has taken years.  And I had the help of counselors, family, and wonderful friends to see me through the  process.  To hold my hand and assure me at each step that I was, indeed, still worthy.  Still loved.  Each hidden truth that escaped, big and small ~ each thing that cracked the facade of who I had built up as that image I thought I had to be, has been terrifying; gut wrenching.  But as I have torn down that outer layer, bit by bit, the person I have discovered, that core of Me, is someone I am proud to be.

Through Lily, Uno, Skelly, and others that now dance in the sunlight, I became the person I am.  Though I would never wish these experiences on others, I learned strength, resiliency, faith, and compassion.  I recognize pain in others and aim to help soothe their suffering.   I have been able to give my pain purpose and can look back and see how it has served to help others already.  And that makes their sunlit romps and dancing all the more enjoyable!

To anyone on a similar journey, May God Be With You, and please know that you are not alone…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hot Cocoa Therapy

When a cup of hot cocoa and a random act of kindness work together to warm your heart…

I have mentioned in previous posts that depression an I have a rocky relationship, its like a sneaky shadow ninja that lurks around the periphery of my little world.  Once it can find some small crack to bleed through, it latches on to dim not just the sun, but the moon and stars too.  I’ve gotten better at sensing the infiltration, repairing the cracks, and lighting candles to combat the darkness.  Just like all of us, I’m a work in progress.

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Holidays can be particularly difficult.  Last Christmas season I had to talk to my children about how it was going to be a pretty lean time, and that under the tree wouldn’t look all that impressive.  My kids are wonderful, it didn’t matter to them, they were just excited that we would be able to wake up together and have a special breakfast.  Their total acceptance and support of me was both one of my proudest parenting moments and heart shattering.  And I felt the crack.  And it was a big one.  Damn ninja didn’t even have to sneak in this time.

The kids left for their biweekly long weekend with their dad, leaving me with great big hugs and kisses and I shut down for 4 of the next 5 days.  I became a virtual recluse, except for taking out Chassis for his daily walks, I isolated myself.  Shades closed, curtains drawn. Only went off the property to get groceries.  I just couldn’t handle the “Christmas Spirit” with its bows, pretty papers, and songs feeling like I was failing at it all.

By Sunday I knew I had to readjust, had to  mine for that silver lining.  I wasn’t really sure

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of the plan, but I knew I needed to get out of my house and out of my head for a bit.  So I decided I would head down to Saratoga Springs and walk the shops, if nothing else Broadway is a beautiful walk and I could treat myself to a hot cocoa with the $20 I had in my pocket.

It felt good to be outside in the fresh air.  It actually felt good to be surrounded by people and the entire vibe was happy, and I drank it in.  As I walked I noticed a young man leaning against the kitchen exhaust fan of one of the popular restaurants.  I smiled at him, thinking as the wind blew, what a brilliant place to stand to warm up.  I continued my meandering and window shopping, every step chasing that nasty little ninja from the recesses of my mind.  I stopped to warm up with a hot cocoa after finding a perfect little ornament for my mom.  I had found that acceptance of the situation, I had a plan, I found my center again.  I thought that was my silver lining.  But the Universe presented me with a far greater gift…

As I made my way back to the car, I noticed the same young man standing in the same spot.  Now, my mama bear hackles were raised.  Why was this kid still there?  It was cold, windy.  And he had to be cold, which made me cold.  As I crossed the street, I made a beeline for him.  When I started to speak, he looked up in alarm, until he heard the question.  “Hey there, you look pretty cold out here.  How about we go find a spot to go get a hot cocoa and warm up?”  I think it took him a full 30 seconds to reply, he kind of looked at me like I had 3 heads.  When I offered up the place I had just been, he actually asked if it was OK to go somewhere closer.  His eyes sparkled like my kids do when they beg for a stop at Krispy Kreme on our travels as he described how this place had these flavor shots you could add that make the absolute best tasting drink.  “If its OK, could I please get that? Its OK if you say no, they are just so good”.

The sparkle and smile transformed his face, that scruffy, slightly dirty, sad man returned to the boy he really was, probably 19 or 20.  So excited about a simple treat!  This young man had no idea what a gift he’d just given me, that genuine joy not only beat that nasty little ninja but sealed the crack!  Now to enjoy this. I smiled, weaved my arm into his as we crossed the street and said “Order anything you want, I have it covered!”

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The looks we got as we entered the cafe arm in arm were priceless.  My new friend offered to pull away, but I held steady.  His head dropped as we went to place our order and everyone stared.  The first question was “Eat in or To Go?” and I answered eat in *collective gasp* His head pops up, he looks me in the eye and smiles.  The cashier gives me a smile.  Then the cashier asked for the order.  “My friend is cold and thirsty, but he just loves your cocoa here.  Go ahead and tell them EXACTLY how you want it sweets.  And make sure you grab him a pastry, too (my new friend starts to protest) If he won’t choose one himself, pick the most expensive.”

“This is too much” my new friend whispers.  “Wish I could do more” I whisper back.  He picks out a pastry, gets his cocoa just like he wanted.  Watching him take that first sip was beautiful, he was in bliss.  I get him to a table, give him a hug and whisper God Bless.

I have looked for him on return visits.  Have not seen him around, but have heard that he is doing ok still.  I spent less that $5 on his snack, but what he gave me back that day is more than he will ever know.  The opportunity to offer compassion, dignity, recognition made ME feel whole and fulfilled, and all I really did for him was fill his belly and give him a legitimate reason to be inside and get warm.  His bliss over that hot cocoa is one of the candles I keep lit to combat the darkness, and I am forever grateful he allowed me to buy him a cup!

I think sometimes we forget that in helping others, we help ourselves.  We are a species meant to be connected, and today as you take the time to finish reading this, know that I am sending you a healing thought, a big smile, and a hug!  Blessings to you all, friends! 🙂

 

“Averaging” Your Happy

I started paying attention a whole lot more closely to those I interacted with, realizing that I had allowed a lot of people to come into my little world and really bring down my “Happy Average”

I read once that “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”  Can that really be true?   That was was a pretty sobering idea at the time; I was in a particularly stressful job situation (though many of my coworkers were lovely), I was mired knee deep, and still sinking, in a custody battle, and other than my beautiful babies, the truth was that those who would filled the other two slots in my average were not really happy, nor positive, folks.

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Maggie’s Trinity Selfie
My three kids are my world, they bring me so much peace and joy among their chaos and I know that they look to me to steer their own internal moods.  So that five people average really scared me.  I started paying attention a whole lot more closely to those I interacted with, realizing that I had allowed a lot of people to come into my little world and really bring down my “Happy Average”, but I really hadn’t quite figured out what to do with that knowledge yet.  But, the first step is admitting there is an issue, right?  So, I was on my way to figuring this out… and then my little world blew apart.  An incident at work left me without the ability to continue in that capacity, leaving me as a shell of my former self.   I gathered my children, my sister, and my one friend close and closed down.  For a quite a while.

I began counseling and was diagnosed with PTSD, not only for that current incident but it turns out that I had lived with it from the issues in my past.  One of the things that my counselor and I discussed was this whole idea of the average.  My fear at that point (I was really good at coming up with a list of them, but this was weighing heavy on my mind) was that was that I would allow my current fears and angers to sully my children’s chance for happiness.  He reminded me that I had a choice in who I allowed into my inner circle, that 5 was not a magic number, but a rule of thumb, and that being happy is a chosen response. This gave me back a piece of hope; I could make changes and rise again like a Phoenix as I regained myself.   I’d found my silver lining.

As I have progressed in my healing (an ongoing process, to be sure), I have realized that the “average” can be in flux daily, weekly, monthly.  I have learned to keep track of how I react to different personalities, those that I feel comfortable with and those that, for one reason or another, grate on me.   I may like someone, but if I need to limit time with them, I do.  Protect your happy.  When you do find those people, places, experiences that bring

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you joy, be sure to average them in, increase that happy for yourself.

I am learning to build those healthy boundaries now, and my experiences have provided lessons for my children.  Together we have reframed our outlook to search for the silver linings, seek the adventure in adversity, and ferret out the joy in each experience.  As I have extended out my circle to bring in new perspectives and new joys, so have my children.  In a quest to create the list of my best 5, I ended up creating a more whole, well rounded version of myself.

So, in honor of school staring here tomorrow, welcome back to math class … Happy Averaging!! 😉

Harvesting From Your Happy

That whole “Reap what you sow” works both ways, so planting good things allows you to harvest them in times of need.

There are some days, some weeks at times, when holding onto your Happiness can be a struggle.  Let’s face it, no matter how idyllic we would like to create the world we live in, there are times when reality just barges through that door, plants itself in the chair and kicks back with its mucky boots on your table.  It’s not that you are frenemies or even enemies, but to steal a line from Mickey Rourke in Barfly you “…seem to feel better when they’re not around.” Not the friendliest of house guests, once settled in and running roughshod over your Happy, Reality refuses all polite attempts to shoo it back out the door.

I have had my ups and downs with that clash between my little world and reality, that fight between what “should be” and what actually “is”.  Some have led me pretty far into received_10154495778800742the darkness, but with the help of counselors, friends, and family I have overcome and learned some valuable lessons that have helped me place breadcrumbs and candles along the path, should I travel there again.

Just like planning for winter or lean times, you can plan ahead for those times when it’s a struggle.  That whole “Reap what you sow” works both ways, so planting good things allows you to harvest them in times of need.    A few things I have learned along the way, things that help me plan for Reality’s visits and create a more hospitable atmosphere for us both are:

  1. We Create Our Own Happiness

I know this sounds cliché, but let that settle in for a minute.  Each and every one of us is responsible for our own happiness!  That is an incredibly powerful thing!!  It means that not only do you have the ability to change your general outlook, BUT THAT NO ONE CAN TAKE IT AWAY!!!  That’s right, think about it.   If you take responsibility for creating your own mood, finding the joy in your day, searching for a silver lining in each shitty situation… YOU OWN YOUR HAPPY.

  1. YOU Get To Choose Your Perspective

It’s a funny thing, when good things happen to you oftentimes you will find that there are the little annoying birds that fly around picking at the big beautiful harvest, trying to steal pieces of your joy in that moment.  I’m sure you have heard something like “don’t jinx it” or “this is great, but…”  And just watch the vultures circle if it isn’t a positive thing.  Remember how I just said YOU own that Happy?  Well, YOU own how you choose to look atreceived_10154514663160742 a situation, too.  Good or bad, YOU control how you react and what you can gain from it.  I spent a long time in abusive relationships where I gave my power away, allowing someone else to control my perception of my accomplishments and stumbling blocks.  When I made a conscious decision to regain that power, I realized I could choose to continue to look through their lens or start to examine MY life thorough my own.  I started to make a concerted effort to find the silver linings in each situation, basically harvesting the seeds of each experience for my Happy garden.  If you can find some tiny positive, even if its “I made it through today and will do so tomorrow”, you are taking power and regaining ownership of the situation.

  1. Stay In The Moment

As a society we tend to live our lives anytime but in the here and now.  Yet the only thing we actually have any control of is NOW.  How we choose to react, to focus on in this very moment, and whether to put that positive spin on it are all within our power. I will admit, this one is probably one of the hardest for me.  Yet the work I have put into changing my focus has helped me deal with my panic attacks more effectively.  Definitely one of the things I harvest frequently.

  1. Celebrate Your Happy

I have filled my walls with pictures of my kids and I, documenting memories of trips and mini adventures where we captured our joy on camera as a reminder of good times.  We have made lake and ocean water jars to bring a piece of our home state to our relocated one.  We have small and silly traditions, both at home and when we travel to keep us in touch with particularly happy memories.  If something made you joyful, celebrate it, joyfully, publicly, and often!  You will find that its infectious when you do!

While this list may not be instantly life changing, these concepts were incredibly helpful once I moved from the nice pasted smile and polite head nod to really examining their worth for my life.  No one will ever have all the answers, but hopefully something here sparked an idea that will help you pursue your own garden to have in times of need.

Happy Planting!

Purpose To The Pain

Pretty amazing what that change in perspective can do for you. When you change the lens you look through, the whole picture takes on a new look.

We have been learning a lot about the addictive power of negative thoughts this week, and frankly given the power that positivity has had in my life, it is hard to admit that I am still one that can easily be drawn to that dark under current all too easily.

As Doreen and I have been prepping for our 30 Days of Happiness event, we have been holding many conversations, looking over research, and frankly having quite a few revelations about ourselves.  The amount of “Aha!” moments I have had in the past week and a half have left me a little dizzy and slightly off kilter, to be honest.  But this journey we are taking into self discovery is pretty amazing, and realizing that intuitively we have been able to find ways to cope with life’s difficulties in ways that have preserved our hope has been eye opening and rewarding.  Hopefully, you are recognizing those same bits of self wisdom in yourself, too.

Something that struck me was the idea that 50% of our happiness is determined by our genetics.   A full half of how happy we will ever be comes not from our level of success, the money we make, the people we surround ourselves with, but from our own unique gene pool.   In my case, I have some great genes to work with and I am lucky for that.  But I also have family traits that include depression, addictive personalities, grudge holders, and Debbie Downers.

I have worked really hard to look for the good in each situation presented to me, to find that one thing that I can use to build from.  At first it began as more of a “Fuck you, I’m going to prove this can’t break me”, which has it’s merits in survival mode.  And then it began to morph more into “If this is how it is, and I have to live with it, what can I get from it?”  Today I “mine for the silver lining” and my kids and I refer to everything, good times and challenging times, as “Adventures”.  I made a conscious decision to change my perspective, to look for the blessing inside the curse.

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Truthfully, this process of changing perspective started with my mother when I was a child. I guess I presented outwardly as a bubbly child, would play with my brother and friends when we were out, but after a long day of childhood adventure when my dad would arrive home and ask how our day went, no matter how many great things we had done or experienced, I focused on the one bad thing of the day.  Instead of “We spent the day with our friends playing at the farm, climbing on the hay and feeding calves and then decorated cookies after lunch”, my dad heard “I stepped into a puddle and got my new sneakers dirty”.  This became a pattern, and my mother was worried that this would be my life.  She was  reminded of her own mother, who would focus on the bad things of the day.   So she instituted a new rule at dinner, I could still tell my “daily tragedy” but I also had to tell three good things that happened that day. She told me one of her great moments of success was when I stopped at a puddle in the parking lot, pointed to the oily layer on top, and said “Mommy, look at the pretty melted rainbow!”  Pretty amazing what that change in perspective can do for you.  When you change the lens you look through, the whole picture takes on a new look.

My backstory includes being molested as a child, surviving rape, and several abusive relationships.  I viewed myself as a victim, as dirty and worthless for a very long time.  My low self worth from the early traumas made my choices in relationships continue a pattern that would reinforce that self view.  Receiving professional help through counseling helped me to change my self portrait from victim to survivor.  By changing my own perspective, and accepting that these events have worked to forge me into the woman I have become, I have experienced an explosion in self growth.

Because I no longer feel that I have to hide from my past, I have become a mentor to several young women who have suffered similar issues, grown deeper friendships, have grown closer to my Mom and Dad (telling them the truth recently after hiding the molestation for over 30 years), volunteered with organizations working with Veterans and children in the hopes that I can give a “purpose to my pain”.

My strength has come from my struggles, and the fact that I never lost the ability to search for that silver lining.  My hope is that we can help you this month discover your happy, make the most of your genetic 50%, and help give you some ideas on how to mine your own silver linings!