TEN TIPS FOR MAKING THE MOST OUT OF THERAPY

There are as many different types, styles, and personalities of mental health professionals as there are people.

People go to therapy for various reasons certainly. Some are coping with stress or anxiety; others with depression or grief. Couples may seek counseling for infidelity, communication, or intimacy deficiencies. Perhaps others may go to bolster self-esteem and/or confidence.

No matter the reason, there is a distinct difference between those who get the most out of the experience and those who decide that ‘therapy didn’t work’.

Here are my tips for getting the most bang for your buck.

Find a therapist you like.

Obviously, you won’t ‘know’ the therapist but it is imperative that you feel as though you connect to that person. You will be sharing your deepest self with them and a certain level of trust and comfort is needed for you to experience the kind of vulnerability that will ultimately help you. It may take a couple of tries with a few therapists to find one. Be patient and persevere through the process. Most therapists will refer you to someone ‘different’ than them if you let them know it’s not a good fit.

Be honest.

A therapist can only work with the information they receive. If you don’t lay all the puzzle pieces on the table, you are wasting your money and their time. If it is too difficult to throw it all out there in the beginning – say that. Let the counselor know that the story is hard for you to open up about but you hope to tell the whole of it as time goes by. We are trained to be patient and guide you gently to the truth.

Keep a Therapy Notebook.

And take it to your appointments. You only have an hour and in that hour your therapist may share some important information with you. It’s difficult to remember everything when you get home especially if the session was emotional. In addition, there may be ‘homework’ and you’ll have more success if you know exactly what is recommended. If you can’t write in the session for some reason – when you get to your car – write down your thoughts; as many as you can while it is fresh in your mind. In addition, keep the notebook near you in between sessions so that you can write down thoughts and/or questions you want to discuss at your next meeting.

Do the Work.

Not only is it important for you to do the ‘homework’ but you only spend an hour (on average) a week with your counselor. What are you doing the other roughly 150 – 180 hours in between therapy appointments? It’s vital for you to *think* about your situation, your growing opportunities, and the ideas / suggestions that your therapist makes after you leave the office.

Read.

There are thousands of books about various mental health topics and a few of them are excellent in each subject matter. Your therapist has one perspective that is beneficial and either supporting it or gaining another by reading is often valuable. Many counselors recommend supportive reading, so ask. Read, underline, earmark, highlight the parts of the book that resonate with you – ignore the parts that don’t. Not every paragraph or chapter applies to your particular scenario so don’t let the parts that you don’t connect to rob you, deter you from the parts that speak to your heart. Furthermore, if you find you are stuck on something, make a note and bring it up in therapy; perhaps it is a point that you can pull apart and digest in session.

Keep Going.

One of the biggest mistakes people make regarding therapy is that they stop going when they begin to feel a little better. However, lasting change needs reinforced and cemented into place. Clearly, the frequency of sessions can decrease as you improve but maintaining change is a supportive process and your therapist is the key support person.

Be Patient.

Change takes time! Sure, you want to feel better now; we understand. Realize though that true change, the kind that lasts longer than a few weeks – happens slowly. In many ways, you are learning a new language; a new way of being. Chances are your situation didn’t evolve over a short time span and so it’s irrational to think that it can change right away.

Be Kind.

Going to therapy is one of the best ways to practice self-care. You are making time to look at yourself and make a change. That’s great! It’s incredibly important for you to express internal kindness – be a friend to yourself – throughout the process. Many, many people struggle from time to time because no one is perfect and no one can go it alone ALL the time and stay healthy. Make learning to love yourself part of your growth.

Get Support.

Let your peeps – those who know and love you – know about this important step you’ve taken to feel better about yourself and your life. Again – no one is without some element of hardship or challenge from time to time. Working to make positive change in one’s life is an extremely respectable step.

Offer feedback.

Therapists don’t know everything. Sometimes, we hypothesis as we collect information from you and our suggestions don’t work or need to be reworked. Let us know what is helping you and what isn’t. If we make a recommendation and it feels really ‘off’ to you – say something. Our job and our passion is to help you feel better.

There are dozens of different therapeutic ideologies that counselors practice from. Some are solidly positioned inside one frame (i.e., Psychodynamic Theory) and others are eclectic – pulling strategies from a variety of platforms. There are as many different types, styles, and personalities of mental health professionals as there are people. For the best result – first and foremost – find someone you like!

Feel free to share and distribute as long as this source is credited.  www.ThisIsLeslyn.com – author Leslyn Kantner

 

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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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A Letter to Myself – Age 40

It was a decade of self-discovery and reinvention; a decade of loss and exploration

“40 is when your body gives your brain a list of things its not going to do anymore.” – unknown

My forties were a time of freedom; emancipation from worries about what other people were thinking about me. I often wonder why it took forty years for that to happen. Once I experienced the pleasure of this peace, I encouraged my younger friends to let go of their need to please and yet it was as if there was an automatic release valve… a disintegrating dam that was locked into place until the fortieth year unfolded. Inevitably, someone would call and share their own ah-ha acknowledgment of the ‘pleaser’ independence. Needless to say, it isn’t that automatic but there is relief as we mature and center our perspective.

My forties, the first decade of the twenty-first century, was filled with tremendous grief and personal development/growth that I had never could have forecasted. It is a true testament to the idea that it is impossible to predict the future and that anything is possible. It was a decade of self-discovery and reinvention; a decade of loss and exploration.

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What surprises me the most is how young I continued to feel… it wasn’t anything like I imagined when I was younger. In my head – I wasn’t aging – I was learning. Everything in my life seemed to be highlighted and slightly more enjoyed. Well, except for alcohol… drinking a lot wasn’t much fun anymore.

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I’m not sure I would change anything but if I am ever able to offer some compassion to myself, some words of encouragement or a gentle warning… here it is; just in case I am willing to listen.

Hey Lady!
Welcome to middle age. It’s really not bad, in fact – it’s great overall. In retrospect, your 20’s were for exploring, your 30’s for creating, and now your 40’s are for growing. You will be growing your family – hey, by the way – those kids, all four of them – wow. You did good. And… you will be growing. Yes, there will be some growing pains but it will be OK.
Some of your growing pains will be because you didn’t take my advice in your 30’s. (see my raised eyebrows?) I don’t want to say “I told you so”, but since we are one in the same… I did try to tell you.
Stand in front of the mirror. Where are YOU? Where did you go? While it’s a little sad that you disappeared for awhile, I know it was for your protection. Your kids are more self-sufficient these days and so you get to pay more attention to yourself – thankfully, you discover the benefit  of balance. I know you can’t imagine it but guess what? By the end of the decade you will have a graduate degree… yes ma’am, you go back to school, finally! Way to go! Don’t worry about it now – the details work out perfectly and you’ll do great.
Your marriage is a mess. It’s good that you are trying counseling, that ends up being a great decision and will impact you far beyond what you can now imagine. You need to ask yourself an important question… why are you allowing yourself to be so disrespected? You, at the very least, deserve respect! Everyone does. The behavior you are allowing in your life does not respect you as a woman or a wife. Get smart. Respect is at the very core of your need as a human… pay attention. Also, while you are looking – what is it exactly that you love about the man you are sharing your life with? Is it the man he is showing you he is? Or the man you ‘want’ him to be? Listen. Watch. Learn. The man you want him to me may not be the man he is… Be present.
Your mom is going to need you for a few years and then she will leave you. I’m only telling you so that you remember to take time with her. Ask her everything you want to know – don’t leave anything unsaid. She ends up in an impossible position and does the very best she knows how to do. She’s only human too… you may have to forgive her.
Speaking of motherhood… think about what you want your children to know. What do you want them to learn about the world, about themselves? You are largely responsible for setting the example – both to your son about how women should be treated and to your daughters… how will you teach them self-respect? You are going to make a ton of mistakes… some of them will seem huge and irreparable but like your own mother… you are doing the best you can – based on what you know – in that moment. That’s all you can expect of yourself. Ever.
When you know better – well, as the saying goes, you’ll do better. In the meantime – give yourself a break and keep doing what you know to do day by day – that’s it. That’s as good as it gets. Your intentions are good and you demonstrate respect in most everything – that makes the difference. Get up in the morning and be grateful for a new day. Go to bed every night and count the day’s blessings – every day has a few. Hug your children. Keep your family close. Be kind to yourself. Keep learning to let go.
Even when you don’t think so or don’t feel like it, there is a core of strength in your spirit and you are going to be using every fiber of it. Stay strong and remember that true strength is feeling even when you don’t want to.
I’m here.
Me.

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It Wasn’t Me – Or Was It?

The problem is that unless we OWN our actions, reactions, and behavior – we are giving someone else our power.

 

“The moment you accept responsibility for EVERYTHING in your life is the moment you can change ANYTHING in your life.” ~ Hal Elrod

In the last couple of posts I’ve made the comment to “own” you stuff… your thoughts, your actions, your reactions. What does it mean really to ‘own’? I find that just saying it may not be enough, I find that we often need reminded what it is to ‘own’ because we don’t necessarily live in a culture where taking personal responsibility is front and center. We easily fall into patterns of ‘blame’.

At the turn of the century, the Jamaican reggae singer ‘Shaggy’ came out with a song entitled “It wasn’t me”… he was being given advice to deny his responsibility even though he had been caught red handed. Even the music we listen to seeks to reinforce methods of circumventing personal responsibility. We watch crime shows and movies that demonstrate how to ‘Get Away with Murder’ and we see Oliva Pope ‘fix’ problems that high level officials don’t want to be associated with. While I realize that those are fictitious stories on broadcast television, they seep into our subconscious and weep on patterns of blame whenever there is a chance.

“I can’t be happy because he….”, or “if she would change, everything would be ok.”… I hear people saying these things weekly. My response is always – “what about you?” “What is YOUR role in this?” Relationships are BETWEEN people and so every soul in the interaction has some level of responsibility in the dialogue; some level of input in the collaboration. Relationships by definition, are never one sided. Consequently – even if the only contribution is a RE-action… every person is engaged.

What would it look like if we all took responsibility for only OUR own behaviors?

What would it look like if we all stopped and reflected on what ‘I’ could do better or more effectively?

First and foremost… we have to be aware of what we are bringing to the table. What is it that ‘I’ am contributing to this interplay?

  • Am I being antagonistic?
  • Am I being supportive?
  • Am I being defensive?
  • Am I listening well?
  • Am I validating?
  • Am I being clear?
  • Am I saying what I mean?
  • Am I contributing positively?
  • Am I keeping score? Playing tit for tat?
  • Do I maintain my composure? My tone? My voice?
  • Have I kept my promises or vows?

YOU must be so self-aware that you know – and can admit – your role in any interaction or collaboration.

You must be so self-aware that you can recognize when you are deflecting (changing the direction or focus) – “oh yeah? Well when you ….” Or when you are defensive… “well, I did that because….” And when you aren’t listening – by interrupting. People who interrupt are NOT listening well.

I use these examples because they are usually easier to comprehend when it comes to relationships… we can each see ourselves in an interaction with another and notice when we contribute to the exchange.

In addition, we are also responsible for our own LIVES… no – we don’t control many of the things that happen but we DO control and need to take responsibility for the way that we respond to our lives. We need to OWN the decisions we make in response to our lives. Each of our actions generates a consequence which, ultimately means that we must own part of the consequence.

Ben and Sally went out for her birthday. Ben bought Sally a bunch of ‘shots’ and Sally got drunk. Sally tells her friend – “Ben got me drunk last night”. Ummm… not really. Unless Ben poured the shots down Sally’s throat… SALLY got herself drunk.

Our decisions, our actions, our behavior – determine how we are viewed in the world… they determine how we think of ourselves and they each become a part of our history… things that stay with us, literally forever. Every action becomes a memory that is imprinted on our soul. So… no wonder we may not ‘want’ to take responsibility. No wonder that we may not want to ‘own’ something that has already happened – something that we don’t necessarily want to be there forever…

The problem is that unless we OWN our actions, reactions, and behavior – we are giving someone else our power. If I am a wife blaming my husband for his addictions or blaming the problems in our marriage on his demeanor… I am denying that I have the power for my own decisions… for my own change. I am denying that I have any control over my own life.

What do we need to take responsibility for? We need to take responsibility for our own life… for what happens in it. Did you just get fired? Why? Look at the questions I asked earlier … go through them one by one… could you have done a better job? Could you have been more communicative? Could you have put in more effort? If so… just acknowledge it. Yes –  your boss may have been a dick. The working conditions may have sucked but at the end of the day – it was more than likely the way YOU reacted to it… the way you responded that made the decision.

If my husband is unfaithful, I can blame him for not keeping a promise but I am the one who needs to take responsibility for how I RE-act. Will I be vindictive? Seek to hurt him the way that I am hurt? Will I go deep into the uglies? Some of that will – of course – simply be a human reaction but if I go there – no matter my reaction – no one is putting a gun to my head and telling me how to behave. ANY reaction is one that I will have to OWN. I will have to remember that when I look in the mirror – it will be there with me.

Be aware – constantly aware – of what you are willing to carry with you – for the rest of your life.

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My March on Washington

There were more signs about Love and Peace and Hope than there was anything else.

A few days ago my daughter, who lives in Baltimore, called and asked me to make history with her by attending the Women’s March in Washington, DC. It meant that I would get up at 5 am, drive a couple of hours – walk all day in massive crowds – and then, tired… drive all the way home. Of course, I said “yes” – not because I was that invested in the march but because when your daughter ‘wants’ to spend the day with you… a day she will remember for the rest of her life… is there any other answer??

I say that I wasn’t all that invested in ‘the march’ mostly because I am not an overt activist. I have always chosen to change the world in ways that improved my little corner… working in my child’s school, raising money for the PTA, volunteering in my community, etc… I’ve not used my voice for anything on a national scale outside of casting my vote and so this was a first for me. I did not wear a pink hat – mostly because I didn’t have one – but even more so because I’m not a fan of the ‘p’ word and the hats were called p**** hats and even those the intention/message was important I didn’t want to promote the use of ‘that’ word. We didn’t carry signs because Sara was going to capture images and I was the photographer assistant; we needed our hands.

Getting to Washington proved to be a challenge and yet for Sara and I, the perfection of the mistakes and uncertainty made the adventure that much more memorable. This was the plan… I would pick her up in Baltimore, we would drive to the Halethorpe MARC station and catch the train to DC. We picked that location because the large downtown train station in Baltimore didn’t have the greatest parking. Well…. When we got to there we couldn’t find the entrance to the massive parking lot. It was a shame because it was practically empty. We weren’t the only challenged ones, the street parking was filling up fast and we saw people flowing into the station. One local resident, standing out on his lawn with a cup of steaming coffee (which I desperately wanted but was afraid to drink because I knew porta potties were my only option) let us know – in no uncertain terms – that we could (should) be parking there.

We were at the station in plenty of time to catch the 7:40 train but as we arrived, a woman in an official looking yellow safety vest was making the announcement that the train from Baltimore would NOT be stopping as it was completely full. It had filled in Baltimore. Crap. We should have gone to Penn station. The next train wasn’t for another hour… Saturday schedule. (MARC apparently has a good reason for not adding lots of extra trains for this historical event.)  She informed us that our best bet would be to drive south to the Greenbelt Metro station and take the DC Metro to one of the Washington Mall stops.

Sara and I took a minute to berate ourselves for just not going downtown in the first place and for a hot minute we thought about waiting for the northbound train – taking it back up to Baltimore and then coming south again… remember, I hadn’t had much coffee – which is the fuel for clear, rational thought. We opted for the southern option and headed down toward Greenbelt. It was an uneventful forty mile drive but the traffic was definitely building as we got closer to the city and there were an extraordinary number of busses on the freeway. When we got to the exit for the Metro station, it was blocked by a police car and there was a massive LED sign letting us know that the parking lot was full. Now, Sara had been telling me all along about how big this parking lot was “like a football stadium” she had said and so I was bowled over when we saw that it was full… As we drove by we could see what looked like THOUSANDS of people standing in line, presumably waiting to board the Metro. Holy cow, now what??

We went to the Marriott to get some coffee and use the facilities. There were lots of women there, many in pink hats and we asked a couple how they were getting downtown. “the hotel has a shuttle over to the Metro station” they said. We quickly described what we saw as we drove by just minutes ago, and then commented that it may be better to Uber down and get as close as possible. The two women we spoke to were quick to join forces with us and while we took care of nature’s calling – they arranged for a Lyft driver. It was going to cost much less per person than had we taken the train!

Our driver was awesome! SHE was happy to be making some extra money that day and even more so to be helping out in the way that she was able in the formation of such a historical event. We guided her into town, around traffic and she got us all the way into Union Station with very little delay. It was such fun talking to her and meeting our new friends (who were from Salt Lake City, Utah). We were counting our blessings at how the whole thing turned out… here we were without riding a train and/or standing in a line. As we got out of her car we were immediately swept up by the sea of people coming out of the train station, making their way over toward the Capitol building and it was both overwhelming and incredibly exciting to feel the energy of what it is to UNITE.

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Photo by Sara Kantner

There were all kinds of signs. Some were anti-Trump, many were pro-women’s choice, some were specifically for equality. I’ve read that the crowd in Washington, DC is estimated to have been over six hundred thousand. I never had a vantage point that allowed me to view the entire mall area. In fact, most of the time we were simply in a sea of moving people – and for part of that time it was – quite literally – full on, packed, body to body, people. We accidentally got ourselves over by the main stage – behind the American Indian Museum – in a hive of human beings that were so tightly packed together I finally understood the mechanism that activates panic in claustrophobic’s. Not for me. We spent an hour moving ourselves across the mall to the northwest side. After four hours of standing, walking, and watching… we started the march toward the Washington Memorial. When we got a chance to look across town – down the side streets, it was apparent that people had overflowed from the mall onto Constitution and Pennsylvania avenues. They filled Madison, Jefferson, and Independence… all moving west toward the Monument and President’s park. By then… I was over the crowding. I was cold… the weather report had not fulfilled its promise to reach 55 degrees… and I was sore from not sitting for more than five hours. It was time to find coffee… food… and warmth!

We kept moving until we found a street with moving traffic… hailed a cab and went to meet my youngest brother for an early supper.

It was amazing.

It was heartwarming.

It was breathtaking.

It was enlightening.

It was empowering.

It was more, too.

Sara began her day by intending to visually document the March from the perspective of mothers and daughters – motivated in part by her presence there with me. Certainly, one of the most inspiring parts of the March for me was how many children were there. THEY are the future of this country and they were experiencing firsthand how to respectfully demonstrate – how to use their voices. There were NOT just mothers and daughters… there were fathers and sons… entire families. These children were learning how to disagree in a loving spirit… I saw it with my own eyes. There were more signs about Love and Peace and Hope than there was anything else.

Yesterday inspired me, it was impossible to leave Washington without an imprint of that experience on my soul but it was more than that. We were not alone in that city… if you are connected you already know that many millions of people marched in over 30 countries and in every single state. How inspirational is it that people across the world came together unilaterally in support of simple humanity?? Literally…. Across the entire world. My deepest hope is that we all continue to use that spark as only the ignition of continued support for global human dignities.

This March was NOT about the American president. It was about HOPE that the Universal progress we’ve made regarding basic human integrity’s will be sustained and promoted throughout the world; at least THAT is why I marched. THAT is the lesson I hope those children took home and THAT is what I will continue to promote if only in my own little corner of the world.

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No Such Thing As Perfect

…the intellectual side of me knew there was no such thing as ‘perfect’ but… that never stopped me from attempting to achieve perfection.

Continued from Penetrated Composure

The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.  ~ Anna Quindlen

We got through the holidays and it was time to take the Disney Cruise that the girls and I had been planning for the last year. It would be the first true vacation for us as a divided family. Hubby was up early that morning to say goodbye to the girls and helped us load the suitcases into the car. He was being gallant and I suppose, a bit melancholy about the fact that we were embarking on such a fanciful adventure without him. I started the car as he buckled Emily’s seatbelt and I heard him pronounce, “I love you all” while he shut the door firmly.

I shook my head because it was a frequent comment and yet, I didn’t relate to being ‘loved’ in the ways that he demonstrated. There were still a number of discussions about whether I really ‘wanted’ a divorce, if I ‘wanted’ to split up our family, or if I really ‘wanted’ to throw away all that we had built. Each conversation left me a little drained and sometimes questioning my decisions but when it came down to the end – every.single.time. – I knew that I had spent too many years living in a relationship that was not respectful. I knew that I was different, stronger, more aware and convicted about the direction I wanted to grow now.

The girls and I flew to Orlando, took a bus to Cape Canaveral, and boarded one of the Disney Cruise ships. None of us had ‘cruised’ before so we were all equally enamored with the glitz and grandeur of the ship, the view from the upper decks, and our stateroom with towels folded into swans. There’s something truly spectacular about the way Disney does things and we didn’t know what to do first. It was a week of ‘marveling’. We marveled at our meals, at the shows, at the activities, at the Caribbean port calls, and at the fireworks display over an open ocean as the light lit an infinite expanse of waves. The girls had each joined the Disney clubhouse for their appropriate age group and so I had a fair amount of quiet time, reflecting time. I used much of it to fortify myself as I meditated and wrote some of my thoughts. I was certain that my life was moving in the right direction and knew that I needed to organize a plan. I work better when I have a blueprint – an idea of what’s next. I like to think that I am flexible enough to allow for change but after everything I’d been through, controlling for emotional discourse was my new ‘normal’ and so I set out to consider what it was ‘exactly’ that I wanted my life to look like.

The cruise came to an end far too soon but we were refreshed and ready to go back to school. I had missed the first week of classes which I didn’t think would make much of a difference but when I walked into my French II class and tried to introduce myself to the professor, I knew I was in trouble. He spoke about as much English as I did French and told me I had an assignment due in the morning. Oh boy. It was the first and last time that I cheated. I had to write a paragraph – in French – about what foods I needed to buy at a grocery store for a recipe that I had chosen. I hadn’t yet learned the ‘food’ vocabulary that was needed for this assignment and so I typed it out in English and used a translator to convert it to French. I turned it in on time but when it came back, there was a distinct, English F at the top of the paper. I immediately knew it was going to be a long semester.

Learning French became my new passion; I had never received a failing grade before and I wasn’t going to let it happen again. It was during this time that I became acutely aware of my propensity for perfection. It was something that others had commented on in the past and of course, the intellectual side of me knew there was no such thing as ‘perfect’ but… that never stopped me from attempting to achieve perfection. It was a personal challenge.

And then I discovered the term ‘unrelenting standards’ – a schema of maladaptive coping styles proposed by psychologist Jeffery Young… essentially validating the existence of perfectionism within me. I never cared whether someone else was ‘perfect’ but I can admit to believing that there was ‘a’ way that things ‘should’ be done which established an expectation. Most often, that expectation was applied only to myself and yet – when someone like me is part of your environment, there is often a perception that my ‘standard’ is required by everyone in the circle…

I had a friend who gently and kindly reminded me constantly that perfect didn’t exist and that I may have to be “ok” with an A- or B+, or to give myself a break if I was frustrated with the lack of time to be all things to all people. In addition, through one of my psychology classes, I understood finally that ‘should’s’ were not all that healthy… we often don’t stop to think where our should’s come from and frequently, they are handed down from old family customs that don’t apply because of newer technologies; from society and social constructs that no longer exist; or from dysfunctional learning patterns we adapted to survive as children. Louise Hay, the author of You Can Heal Your Life, aptly suggests replacing the word ‘could’ with any should that is in your vocabulary. In doing so, you are empowering yourself with action instead of moving in a direction that may be dictated by some external – uninformed – place. I share this advice with clients on a regular basis and there is always an ‘ah ha’ moment as they consider where should’s exist in their life that may not need to be there.

I wasn’t sure why I thought I ‘should’ get all A’s… Undoubtedly, I wanted to set an example for my daughters who were students and had several years yet in front of them. In addition, I knew that for people to take me seriously as a middle-aged woman, it would be helpful if there was some ‘evidence’ substantiating my efforts, but mostly… I wanted to know that I could do it. I was proving something to myself as much as anyone else. I wasn’t always convinced that I was smart or capable. I did things that had required intelligence but, I never had a good measure of how strong it was. As a college student, I was under the impression that my grades were a good indicator.

To further impress upon me that total excellence was essentially unachievable, I questioned one of my professors who continued to give me a 99% on the weekly reflections we were required to do. “What do I need to do to get 100%”, I would ask “there are no markups to tell me what was missing”.  “That’s as good as it gets” he replied. “Perfect doesn’t exist.” He went on to tell me that if I wanted to be a good therapist, I needed to adjust to the idea that I would never get there – and “get comfortable with imperfection” he encouraged. It wasn’t a concept that I easily adapted.

Most days, if I was busy with schoolwork or taxiing the girls from one place to another, life was good. As long as Hubby and/or Abee weren’t front and center, my life and emotions were manageable. I was getting through the days and weeks with less and less discord as time went by. One evening in early March, the phone rang and my Aunt was on the other end regretting to inform me that Grandmom had passed away. She was eighty-seven and had congestive heart failure so it had only been a matter of time but… she had been unable to reach mom – who… was in Cabo San Lucas visiting a cousin. It was supposed to be the vacation of a lifetime as that cousin had mega bucks and was treating mom to yachts and mansions.

Life was about to get serious again.

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