The Struggle

Not one of us if free from the distortion that occurs after birth. We only experience varying degrees and intensities.

“The capacity to learn is a gift; The ability to learn is a skill; The
willingness to learn is a choice.”  ― Brian Herbert

We are born into this world in perfect form. We are innately able to express ourselves, we smile, eat, sleep, burp, and fart at will. And then we learn not to.

For the first two years of our lives we are taught to walk and talk and then someone – perhaps many – tell us to sit down and shut up; and we struggle to make sense of it.

We are told to eat everything on our plate and then not to be fat; and we struggle to make sense of it.

We are told that our parents love us and then they leave or don’t pay attention; and we struggle to make sense of it.

We are told that love is wonderful and then it hurts like hell; and we struggle to make sense of it.

We are told that sex / sexual touching might be bad but it feels physically good; and we struggle to make sense of it.

We are told we can by one segment of society and that we can’t by another; and we struggle to make sense out of it.

We are told that Santa is real and then find out that he is not; and we struggle to make sense of it.

We are told that white lies are acceptable but dishonesty is not; and we struggle to make sense of it.

We are told there are laws and then we break them without consequence; and we struggle to make sense of it.

We are told that marriage is forever and then we divorce in anger; and we struggle to make sense of it.

And along the way we just do the best that we can.

Most of us.

We are born pure of heart, perhaps believing in unending possibilities and then we are told, we learn… something else.

It’s not anyone’s fault specifically as each of us has faced the same fate. We are all born into a mold of prior teachings that bends and shapes the beginning of our personal story until we have sculpted a cast of our own with the addition of social and cultural contradictions.

Essentially, we are all … each and every one of us … bent out of shape from our original, perfect form. Designed individually by the things we struggled to make sense of; the things that we observed and interpreted.

This is the foundation, the cornerstone of personal growth.

Learning how you came to think and understand the things that you do.

Why was it that you disagreed with your parents but your sibling acquiesced? Why did you learn to feed your feelings while your mother was a beauty queen? How did you learn to motivate yourself even though your father never held a full-time job?

We are products of our family life, social environment, town culture, and national philosophies. We come to believe that what makes one of us ‘right’ makes another of us ‘wrong’ when in fact it only makes us DIFFERENT.

Not one of us if free from the distortion that occurs after birth. We only experience varying degrees and intensities. We only differ in the shape, color, and size of those variants.

Not one of us is exempt.

The secret here is an absence of judgment. An understanding that we are all the same in that we are bent – broken – and twisted by our backgrounds, our heritage, and our experiences. We cannot possibly acknowledge that our extent of understanding is “the” best, “the” right, “the” optimal interpretation of life.

Once we allow for our differences and truly honor the fact that what makes me different from you is the way we were bent… we can begin the process of compassion and acceptance. We suddenly see one another as perfect human babies that are composed of the same material but shaped by different forms.

Like spoons.

The same molten metal is forged into any variety of individual and unique pieces. Each one of them intended for a slightly different use generating almost endless possibilities. And yet they all seem to serve a distinctive purpose and are enjoyed by a variety of populations.

We seem to accept that there are so many types of spoons without question; without judgement.

What would your life be like if you stopped to consider that the person you are angry with is bent? What about the person with whom you are disappointed? Have you considered that they may be formed into a shape that may be painful to exist within?

Have you thought about your own bends? Are they working in your life? Do you need to hammer out a few kinks? Can you accept that the forces at work as you were originally being shaped may have been bent and broken; making it impossible for you to exist without needing a few repairs?

Can you take responsibility now for those corrections?

You are where you are. Your shape is your shape. Anything that happens now must happen because you are aware and deliberate about making change.

Be what you want to be. Take the time to know your shape and learn how to bend in the way that makes life work for you.

 

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Victims of Choice

Sometimes we can only choose the ‘lessor of two evils’ – the least ‘sucky’ option.

“And in life, it is all about choices we make. And how the direction of our lives comes down to the choices we choose.” Catherine Pulsifer

What are you doing right now? Why are you doing it? Are you content? Is it what you want to do?

I am always talking to clients about choices. Making choices was the topic of one of my last posts as I talked about my own choices and how I was blatantly reminded of my need to accept responsibility for them.

In order to accept culpability for our choices we first must acknowledge that we have actually made one and this is where it gets sticky. You see, in just about EVERYTHING we do, we make a choice – either consciously or subconsciously we make a choice and yet, sometimes they are hard to see; to accept.

We can’t necessarily choose what happens ‘TO’ us but unless someone is literally forcing you to do something against your will, you are choosing your behavior.

Learning how to make decisions, to choose, is an important skill; one we don’t necessarily give much effort or thought.

My mother was a believer that children shouldn’t necessarily have choices and therefore, my hairstyle at almost any give age was one that she either needed to practice (she was a salon owner) or one that would make caring for my hair easy. Needless to say, I had a perm most of my childhood.

Consequently, I tried to make sure that my children knew they always had a choice. It wasn’t that I allowed them to choose what they wanted, whenever. I wanted my girls to dress like girls (forgive the gender insistence here) and so when they were young I wanted them to put on pretty dresses and cute skirts when they went to school. As such, in the mornings, I would hold up two hangers; one with a blue dress and the other with a pink skirt and allow them to choose. If they wanted to wear their brown pants I drew their attention back to the choices that I felt were acceptable.

Forget for a moment that I cornered my daughters into stereotypical attire and reason with me that I was teaching them about choice. At least, that was my intent.

Sometimes our choices are only between things that don’t feel like options at all.

A few years ago, I spoke with a high school student who wanted desperately to go to prom but didn’t have a date. Certainty, one of the choices was to go alone and another was to ask someone and risk rejection. This teen didn’t want to engage with either choice; they wanted to be asked by a certain person who, reportedly had already accepted another invitation.

Because neither of the options available were acceptable to this student, they insisted they didn’t have a choice but to stay home – a conspicuous falsity. There were choices but they were very different from what this person ‘wanted’.

Not wanting what is available doesn’t mean that we are void of choice.

Sometimes, when none of the choices presented feel tolerable – we turn ourselves into victims.

Dee’s husband had an affair and she is having difficulty moving on in the marriage. She is suffering from anxiety now each time he leaves the house and is quite distraught with the life she is living. They have three small children and she has been a stay-at-home mom for years. Her only true work experience is in retail where she would only earn minimum wage. She strongly believes that her only choice is to stay in an unhappy marriage and feel miserable.

She feels trapped and helpless to change her situation.

Dee is allowing herself to be a VICTIM of choice here by believing she doesn’t have any.

Clearly, Dee can leave the marriage. No one is forcing her to stay. The truth is that when Dee considers all of the options available to her – she doesn’t WANT any of them. She is refusing to choose and so she becomes a victim of undesirable alternatives.

When we allow ourselves to feel like a victim, we become powerless.

Joe wants to get into shape. He is approaching fifty and knows he needs to drop a few pounds. He has developed anxiety because his father had a heart attack at age 55 and while Joe doesn’t yet have heart disease, he fears it is inevitable.

Joe is the breadwinner in his family and often works more than fifty hours per week. Between his job and family commitments, he eats on the run and never makes it to the gym.

Joe is making a choice NOT to prioritize his health although he argues adamantly it is not a conscious choice.

Fair enough.

But let’s be honest – when we say we ‘want’ something and then we don’t put any effort into making it a priority – we must not really ‘want’ it bad enough.

Sometimes we believe we ‘should’ want something and so we claim it but find lots of reasons that it won’t work for us or we just put it on the back burner and find excuses for it not happening.

It’s the Priorities.

In each example that I’ve presented, the individuals are allowing themselves to be victims of THEIR OWN priorities. They have options – just not options they wanted.

Well, isn’t that the way the world works much of the time. Things happen. Many things happen that we don’t want to happen but that does NOT mean that they trap us. Our power is in making a conscious decision about our priorities under the circumstances.

The high school student prioritized a particular date over going to prom.

Dee prioritized her current lifestyle over self-respect and happiness

Joe prioritized his work hours over his health.

Own IT

Why not just say “I must not want it bad enough”? Why not just admit that “I am choosing something different”?

Sometimes we can only choose the ‘lessor of two evils’ – the least ‘sucky’ option. If that is the case, then OWN it. Realize that you are still choosing.

You have the power to make the choice.

And you can ALWAYS choose your behavior.

Learn to be intentional

To be deliberate

To accept that your priorities determine how you choose.

 

 

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Our Choices are Lessons

It would be really easy to blame my choices on the bad information that I was given.

“Never blame another person for your personal choices — you are still the one who must live out the consequences of your choices.”   Caroline Myss

I am touched by the number of people who have reached out to check in on me. It appears that my delinquency in writing has been noticed and I am writing today – in part – to let y’all know that I am great – just crazy, crazy busy. I’ve been thinking about choices lately and I have an unscheduled hour today so I am happy to share some thoughts…

The actuality is that I still write a little every day. I have a half dozen blog posts started about various topics. I’ve been diligently working on editing my book and I am scheduled to attend a writing workshop in April to learn more about self-publishing. I have an outline started for a fictional story and I think about those characters quite a bit.

In addition, it is tax time and when you own your own business, collecting the information necessary to complete a return can be challenging. Some people are fantastic at recordkeeping and organization. I am mediocre at best, which is generally fine except for every February when I start thinking about taxes. This year has been more intense because I’ve stepped in and helped Harlan get things together because he is thinking about retiring and we are organizing all the information needed to profile why his business would be a great investment for someone else.

Now that the girls have moved out semi-permanently (I assume that Em will be back for a bit next year after she graduates) I’ve been slowly cleaning out and organizing the upstairs spaces. Several weeks ago I thought it would be a good idea to get some estimates on updating the second floor bathroom which is covered in tile including decorative one inch squares that are forest green. I remember the popularity of that color in the 90’s and I respect that some people may still enjoy the tranquility it can promote but for me – it is too harsh. The bathroom in general reminded me of a 1950’s psychiatric hospital. It needed attention and I started obtaining quotes for a remodel.

One of the people who came by dropped a price that was irresistible and so we gave him the go-ahead to remodel; basic stuff – new fixtures, wainscoting, paint. In the meantime, my accountant called to let me know how much I owed the IRS and it was a number much – much – lower than I had anticipated. YAY!! Great News!! One of the first things I thought of was dang… that Gratitude thing really works!

It turned out that the man refreshing our bath was quite a handyman too so I went through the house and made a list of all the things that we had been placing on the back burner. Most were little things, broken this – malfunctioning that… I was happy!! In our household – Harlan worries about the big things. He focuses on making sure that our roof is in good shape and that the furnace is maintained. I worry about the little things and perhaps ‘worry’ is overstated but you know… if the color of the switch plate and the switch itself don’t match – I notice and every time I turn on the light – well… I notice. Certainly, changing a switch plate is a no-brainer but it was the switch that needed changed and I don’t do electricity.

Dan the Dude – as I call him – became my buddy as Harlan and I made lists of things for him to do. After a week, it was apparent that he knows what he was doing and Harlan was firmly on board with the idea of having Dan tackle the things that he no longer had the energy to do. It was exciting to feel such a strong and vibrant sense of accomplishment.

Things were getting done around the house; we had a number of doctor’s appointments who provided some encouragement about procedures that may offer pain relief for Harlan; I was making great headway compiling detailed information about Harlan’s business and creating a nice presentation for it; and my practice schedule started to explode. And then, I went to pick up my taxes.

As the accountant reviewed the prepared documents it was obvious that something was amiss… this was the first year in more than a dozen that I had opted to use professional help so I know a bit about how my return should look. When he gave me the information over the phone about how much I owed, I thought “Holy cow! Why did I wait so long to pay someone else to do this?” – thinking that he obviously had some knowledge about how to lower my tax obligation that I had been missing all these years. Well… nope, he didn’t. It seems that he simply wasn’t paying attention and failed to notice the income information I had provided – using only the 1099 that Square.Inc (my credit card processing company) had sent – missing over HALF of my income.

*deep breath*

As I warned myself no to have a heart attack and pointed out his error, he humbly apologized and entered the correct numbers. My amount due – more than When yWtripled  – which would have been ok if it had been in the hundreds, but… it was in the thousands. Suddenly, I realized that I was going to have to call Dan the Dude and put a halt to anything that he hadn’t already started. Bummer. I was having so much fun with that list!

And then I laughed. I had to laugh because I know better. I’ve been doing taxes long enough to know that I had estimated my need closely. And… I’ve lived long enough to know better than to count my chickens too soon! I knew better but I chose to ignore what I thought I knew. It was a choice.

That is why I am thinking about choices.

I could spend energy complaining about how I am a victim of the accountant’s mistake. I could lament about how crappy it is that now I can’t have Dan the Dude complete the things we want done. It would be really easy to blame my choices on the bad information that I was given. But that wouldn’t be honest.

I am responsible for the choices I make. In this case, I relied on someone else to provide particulars but I was the one who failed to verify the data; the one who jumped the gun. And that’s how it goes sometimes. I am able take responsibility for this error and chalk it up as a reminder. Leslyn… in the future, validate what you know.

Isn’t it funny how easy it is to believe what we ‘want’ to believe? How quickly we throw our knowledge aside to satisfy our ego? Our wants? For me, this wasn’t a *dangerous* lesson but it quickly could have turned into that if I didn’t have backup resources or other income opportunities.

And so, I am grateful for this lesson and its reminder.

When Darkness Knocks

He does an amazing job but I watch him and I am sad and pissed and helpless and scared.

“If you want to find happiness, find gratitude.” ― Steve Maraboli

In the beginning of the year I started a gratitude challenge on my Counseling Facebook page. Each day since then – except for two – I have listed three things I am grateful for that day. I’ve tried not to replicate anything, which has been hard because every morning when I am writing them I am always grateful for my coffee! Certainly, at first it was easy as there are many obvious pieces of my life that I am always thankful for … a roof over my head, a warm room, comfy pillows, enough food, etc.

I’ve noticed as the time goes by however that unless I begin duplicating items, I must stretch my awareness a bit and it has been interesting to extend my awareness beyond my immediate surroundings to include the sound of my wind chimes and birds chirping. I am so grateful for those things. Not only do they represent the fact that I can hear but they are pleasant sounds and by noticing them, I also notice how they resonate in my body – my spirit. They create a nice sensation; pleasure.

It promotes more consciousness of people smiling, friendly service, and kind hearts. It stimulates my recognition of generosity, helpfulness, and benevolence, which are all contributors to the experience of happiness. Indeed, I believe I’ve felt a little bit happier than usual despite the negativity that tries to inject itself into my life.

It’s one thing to be a mental health counselor and experience the sadness, frustration, and negative emotions of clients – that’s my job and I am sufficiently capable of keeping it away from my personal psyche. Along the way, I learned the art of allowing clients to dump their stuff in my office without feeling as though I needed to pick it up. I rarely experience a derogatory impact of my clients affect. Don’t get me wrong… if there is something deeply sad – a client who lost a child or someone so deep in their own pain that they are suicidal – I feel sad but I don’t hold it. I can walk out of my office and leave it there.

It’s a whole other thing to live in an environment that is frequently heavy. Our political climate is currently stressed – no matter one’s affiliation – every day there is some element of drama pumped into our consciousness and we are exposed to exhausting bickering, draining our enthusiasm and confidence.

I am still adjusting to the whole ‘empty nest’ experience. While I quite enjoy the clean and constantly straightened atmosphere of my home, there is an eerie silence here that highlights the absence of my family. I miss the anticipation of hearing the creaking steps as one of the girls would come home from work at midnight or the sound of the shower and blasting music in the morning as she prepared for her day. I am blessed that they stay in contact with me via Face time or regular phone calls but it’s entirely different from the smell of their perfume lingering in the air.

And then there is the reality of Harlan’s illness. Coping with fatigue is one thing but coping with pain is another entirely. Every day is filled with the blessing that he can still work and concurrently filled with the reality that he does it battling the effects of chemo and the relentless pain of bone lesions. I see him getting tired. He does an amazing job but I watch him and I am sad and pissed and helpless and scared.

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I don’t like those feelings yet I know they are real and appropriate. They exist like fleas that jump on me when I walk in the door and every time I think I have fumigated their existence with my coping skills, they find another entrance or they are simply re-birthed into our experience. The early spring weather allowed me the opportunity to open the windows and replace the dark sad air with fresh spring hope and then it got cold again. I can feel the air thicken and so I walk outside where the sun is starting to stay longer and a bit brighter.

I live by the motto that there is something good in every single experience; not only on a global level but day by day. What is good about today? The gratitude challenge that I am conducting forces me to pay attention, to look beyond the obvious, to deny those damn fleas too much of my blood. It helps to push the pendulum back, to balance the scale, to make life tolerable.

When I am sad that he is hurting, I am grateful for his doctors. When I feel helpless to fix it, I am grateful to hold his hand. When I am disappointed that we aren’t bike riding, I am grateful to sit next to him on the couch. When I am frustrated that he goes to bed so early, I am grateful that his body heat warms the sheets on my side.

Please know that this is a ‘work in progress’ and I am – in no way – perfect in my efforts to find the silver lining every. single. time. But I keep trying. My daily expression of gratitude is one of the ways that I am working to create balance and a stronger sense of happiness in a time when darkness is constantly knocking on our door.

Won’t you join me? Hop on my HCC Facebook page and add your own three things. The more positive energy we can put forth in the world – the better.

 

If you liked what you read just now, please SHARE it with friends and family by using one of the buttons below (Facebook, Twitter, Email & LinkedIn) and know that I am grateful for your effort.

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