#357 of 365 Ways to live Easier, Happier, & More Productive

When we sing, we literally send vibrations through our body and affect brain changes. Studies have repeatedly shown that people who sing experience less anxiety and have better quality of life.

My goal, for those of you who are curious, is to share a daily life lesson, tip, or hack. They are the things I want my children to know and the things that I teach to clients. They are the things that make my life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#357 Sing

As children, we sing songs to learn things and to just have fun. We sing with carefree voices regardless of our tone. We celebrate our birthday, our school loyalty, and our patriotism through song. As we move into our teens and young adulthood we tend to associate songs with events such as first dates, key dances (prom), weddings, and fun times.

I recall singing along with favorite songs frequently in my lifetime, particularly when I was alone and happy. I never thought too hard about how good I sounded. I was just in the moment, enjoying the music, and expressing myself in unison with the beat; mostly.

When we sing, we literally send vibrations through our body and affect brain changes. Studies have repeatedly shown that people who sing experience less anxiety and have better quality of life. Think of the last time you saw someone in a car singing along to a song, perhaps alone and yet seeming to be in the process of intense enjoyment. Singing can produce higher levels of dopamine and oxytocin – both brain chemicals that are associated with happiness.

After a particularly challenging time in my life had started to settle, I spent a long weekend alone finishing a list of abandoned responsibilities that had been badgering my psyche. I turned on some calming music and set about the tasks at hand. Before long I realized that I was humming along to the familiar tunes and stopped for a minute because I realized it was the first time – in many years – that I found myself singing.

It was one of those things that you didn’t notice was missing until you found it. It was a moment of realization that I recall because it was proof in my own mind that the changes I had just finished making were in part, survival for me. I was singing again.

I don’t have a nightingale voice. Indeed, one of my vocal chords was paralyzed during Thyroid surgery a few years ago and since then, any ability I had to carry a tune has been impaired. Our brains don’t care about tone – they care about the act of singing – the rise in happy chemicals. The point is to sing, with or without other people; with or without accompaniment; with or without the right lyrics…

Just sing.

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below.

Photo on Foter.com

A Letter to Myself Series – Age 30

This older version of you is laughing at how hard you tend to make things! EASE UP!! Chill out!!

Third in the series A Letter to Myself

I remember thinking that if I hadn’t ‘made it’ by the age of 30, my opportunities would be gone. For some reason, I had developed the notion that whatever impact I was going to have on the world, would have to have begun before the age of thirty. Consequently, that particular birthday was notably difficult as I hadn’t yet influenced the world in any significant way.

I greatly admire and applaud the energy that young people step out into the world with. I am in awe of the motivation and dedication new college graduates bring to their first job and far too often I see the light get sucked out of their spirit because life does not unfold the way that was anticipated. It’s another problem with expectations that we conjure along the way… our neglect of developing realistic aspirations or the ability to combat disappointment. If we are going to have one – we must have the other.

I’d like to think there is a way to encourage tenacity so that it overshadows disappointment; to promote endurance and patience in the pursuit of those amazing visions we have in our early years. It’s also important to allow for a change of direction because not everything is what we thought it would be and/or we encounter a split in the road that calls to us more strongly. Here is what I would want my thirty-year-old self to hear and heed…

Hey Lady,

Another decade in the dust and what a whoosie it was. I’m so sorry you had to endure those hardships but hey… look at you now! It’s like life is giving you another shot. See… in some ways it’s like adulthood is just beginning for you and truly… you have no way to imagine what is in front of you! In the scope of your life – you have just started.  All the stuff behind you – well, it sucks for sure but by now you know that good things can come from bad ones so keep that front and center in your life.

I am happy to see that you’ve realized that dreams get fulfilled even when they look differently than you had imagined – it’s only the beginning of that too! What I really want you to know right now is that there is so. much. more. Have I already said that to you? It’s really important to know that every moment is to be enjoyed so try and tuck away the fact that you have time to enjoy this!

Look at what a good mom you are. Through all those challenges, you stayed focused. Good for you – that had to have been hard. See… self-compassion isn’t that difficult! I want to encourage you to learn that now instead of later in life. You are going to have more children and I won’t spoil the surprise this time but they change you – they change everything about you – for the better. We’ll talk more about that when you turn forty but for now, know that there is much to look forward to.

Going forward, you will be served well to trust your heart more. It speaks to you frequently but you aren’t listening. Learn to pay attention! Yes, your life will be hectic and there will be less time for you to sit and be still – make it! Don’t let your ‘inner self’ take a back seat. You will always be a better mother, wife, and neighbor if you take care of yourself FIRST. It’s not selfish – it’s self-care and it would be better all-around if you don’t wait another twenty years to figure it out!

Oh – and let’s talk about your body. So… you’ve developed more body acceptance, that’s great. Now you have to take care of it!! You have some bad habits that need addressing – you know what they are. Again, make those changes now instead of years down the road and even though you ‘hate’ to exercise – please. Please. Please. Do it. If there is any single change that this older version of you wants you to change now – it’s this part. I know, I know…. Everywhere you turn people are telling you to ‘get healthy’ – it’s a buzz phrase for all of the 1990’s and it would be good if you could get on the bandwagon. If you don’t – you never will and your body… well, you are not going to like it!

I know people everywhere are giving you advice and like most everyone – you really haven’t listened. Are you aware of how stubborn you are? Why do you feel you must reinvent everything you do? Why not take advantage of the lessons people in front of you have learned? This older version of you is laughing at how hard you tend to make things! EASE UP!! Chill out!! You don’t have to do it all right. Let yourself make mistakes – try new things – experiment but don’t be hard on yourself. Let go.

You don’t physically change very much in the next decade but your whole perspective on life will change – it’s all good. As I said, motherhood changes you dramatically in really special ways and you will redesign your vision of yourself – that’s good too. Go with the flow – feel the vibe – the current – and relax on it. In part – it is your instinct… your intuition… and it’s authentic so it won’t let you down. Your only trouble happens when you are bucking the flow – did you hear me?? When you are not floating on your ‘authentic current’ – you will be unhappy. You eventually figure it out – but why wait??

That guy you just met… he’s part of your life lesson. No, he’s not going to die – you will be together for a long while but he is in your life so that you can learn. It will be up to you to find the lessons; the good and hard ones. It’s his children that bless you the most.

Keep going …

Me

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Who You Are

When I can see my imperfections and LOVE MYSELF ANYWAY, my ability to be in the world authentically is greatly enhanced.

The most common form of despair is not being who you are… ~  Søren Kierkegaard

One of the most common conversations I have in my office is the one that focuses on personal authenticity. It seems like a ‘no-brainer’ – “just be yourself” and some of us believe that we are – yet depression and anxiety live in the space between how we behave out in the world and how our hearts wish we would.

There are a couple of obvious examples that are stereotypical, commonly known – the Doctor’s child who is guided toward medical school but internally, yearns to be an artist or an accountant. Or the person who yearns for same-sex intimacy yet believes he or she is only ‘acceptable’ as a heterosexual.

I see problems with authenticity with people who believe that no matter what they do – it’s not ‘good enough’… perhaps what they are doing IS the best and authentic to them yet they are unable to recognize it as so.

We are so driven to meet standards from outside of ourselves. First – our family or teachers and then from our society or culture and then again, our partner/spouse and social circles. The struggle I faced as a kid to ‘fit in’ in terms of body shape and physical fitness was real. I grew up in the era of ‘Twiggy’ where pencil thin was in and my Victorian physic had been out for hundreds of years. Standards of education, socioeconomic class, sexuality, language skills… they exist in every realm of our lives and so we strive to meet them with little regard for the ‘truth’ or the sincerity with which we present those standards to the world.

Earlier this week a client was expressing frustration that interacting with a relative often produced a gross reaction, sending the client into throws of ugly and spiteful thoughts while she spewed derogatory remarks that came from an unknown place inside of her. “That’s not who I am”, she says. She emphasized that she didn’t like that kind of reaction and she really hated herself when it happened. “How do I make it stop?” she was pleading for relief of the ‘despair’ she experienced when she found herself tackling sarcasm and malicious sentiment, tit for tat.

While some may argue that her behavior in that moment was indeed ‘part of her’, it was notably not part of who she ‘wanted’ to be. She saw herself as a kind person, warm and considerate most all of the time. She never wanted to represent herself as someone who could be enticed into a verbal warfare of inflammatory and debasing commentary. And so, when she gravitated there – for whatever reason – she experienced a sense of ‘inauthenticity’… that particular behavior was NOT part of the person she genuinely wanted to present to the world.

I remember taking family photographs the fall before Hubby and I were first separated. We met with a photographer, wore similar outfits, and snapped photos all over a local Civil War battlefield on a cool Fall day. By the time we got the proofs back, our relationship was feeling more strain and the pretending I was actively engaged in was becoming tiring. I looked at those photos and thought about how disingenuous I was in almost every one of them. There was a smile on my face and we posed well together, but Hubby and I were definitely NOT authentic. I didn’t feel the happiness that was represented in the picture – I knew it was a lie.

Sometimes we don’t notice or understand – there is no conscious awareness that we are living inauthentically. Several years ago, my family deserted me for a weekend, doing their own things – scouts, golf, etc… I found myself in the house alone for a whole weekend. It was just before Thanksgiving and so I began my Christmas crafting – making a disastrous mess out of the kitchen and dining area but loving the fact that I could leave my stuff out – and all over – without impacting anyone else. I never even noticed that time was passing. I was content, satisfied, at peace.

By the end of that weekend, I realized that I was ‘fed’ by utilizing my creative energy. I knew that about myself and yet, over time, I had allowed the opportunities for artistic expression to become unimportant, or at least very low on my list of priorities. I noticed how charged and full of enthusiasm I felt by Sunday evening; I was glad to see everyone when they came home. I had utilized my energy in one of the most AUTHENTIC ways possible and my psyche understood. I’ve never allowed myself to forget that experience and I always have something in the works. In reality, I had to open an Etsy shop in order to have an outlet from where to part with all of the ‘creations’ that I had generated. They are simple, imperfect things but they are made from a Zen place… at least that’s where my mind is when I am in creative mode.

Today, I am using that energy to write (and maybe fitting in a craft or two).

I believe that the most important part of being authentic is accepting ALL of you – the parts you don’t like, the parts you want to change, the parts that will never change, and the parts that you think the world will reject along with all the wonderful, amazing, and talented aspects of yourself. My life completely turned around when I understood that the whole of my person wasn’t all great – and accepted it. When I can see my imperfections and LOVE MYSELF ANYWAY, my ability to be in the world authentically is greatly enhanced.

I can’t tell you how many times in a session when I ask a client to say “I love you” to themselves – there is an emotional block or a strong emotional reaction. When we accept ourselves AS WE ARE and strive to present ourselves to the world bearing the values and qualities that WE aspire, we are living authentically and then… despair cannot exist. Learn to love everything about yourself – even the things you want to change. You don’t have to like them – only accept that they are there. Then – change begins and you can be WHO you are.

The Value of Introspection

When we look for answers, we have to look in the right place and we have to be honest.

“Very early, I knew that the only object in life was to grow.”  — Margaret Fuller

Yesterday, I finished the story of my life – the memoir I wrote by posting a segment every day for 90 days. I truly didn’t start out to write the entire story all at once. I created this blog with the intent of daring to share how I became me… perhaps it was naïve to think that I could do that without telling the whole story but it just didn’t occur to me that in the course of doing this that I would end up with a book. Yup… if I delete the superfluous stuff that isn’t really a part of my personal story – there are just over 80,000 words that I can convert into a book.

Life is too funny really. This time last year my brother and his family were visiting for the holiday’s and I was just chatting with my sister-in-law. We were gabbing about goals for the upcoming year and I had a book on my mind. It definitely wasn’t THIS one… I have another idea for a motivational book but I never started it although I am inspired now! So… I didn’t do that book but I did write. To be honest, I’m pretty proud of myself for sticking with it long enough to get it written but it’s not over. Even though there are a number of people who read every day – getting a book into print is a whole other story. I’m going to set it up to publish electronically first and prepare a manuscript. I’ll need some copy editors (hint, hint – hit me up if you are interested in doing that for me). And then – the Universe has to help. I can see it – I imagine it in my hand and if I am truly honest… I can imagine myself sitting at a book signing.

So there is a true conflict in my mind between being humble and modest about this accomplishment and being bold and inspired enough to imagine it being BIG…  Since I am such a big believer in the Law of Attraction – I am led to imagine it – to talk about it as if it is already so… to be so sure that it is – has already – become everything it can be. I am encouraged by my friends and family … the ones who read daily and compliment me. This week, someone said, “I didn’t know you could write.”

Well, me either. I knew I wanted to. I developed a strong skill while in grad school but those were academic papers. One of my professors was kind and when we eventually met – he told me how much he had wanted to meet the woman behind my papers. I thought he was just being nice. And then I started receiving compliments from people who love me. Thanks, guys. I love the way you motivate me. What I really need is someone from the publishing industry who thinks the way you all do. I am going to imagine that too. : )

 

So… I am going to keep writing – I love doing it and I’ve found that it is a wonderful way for me to relax at the end of each day. My thoughts when I first started were to focus on growth – on the way that we move through the world and why. I teach people to be introspective and I believe that everything is easier when we can understand. I believe I demonstrated that a lot in my story so here – I will continue to do it. I will use experiences from my life and from others to demonstrate how introspection leads to growth. I hope to have more ‘discussions’ in the comment section; if you can relate or if you have a question – let me know!

 

One of the things that I wanted to make sure and talk about was the final result of all the ‘health’ problems I had while still married to ex-Hubby. If you read my story, you might remember that I had Labyrinthitis and then went to the emergency room a couple of times with bizarre symptoms that included a distinct feeling that I was going to die. I wore a heart monitor and had a series of tests that produced nothing.

During grad school as I was learning about stress disorders, I was rather dumbfounded to realize that those incidents were panic attacks. I had never suffered from anxiety so I didn’t have a clue and not one of those doctors had asked me what was happening in my life. I think that if they had, they may have diagnosed anxiety; but then again I would have had to come clean about everything that was happening.  It didn’t occur to me to tell them – I had no idea it was related. The piece that makes it obvious is that after I made a decision to get a divorce – all of the symptoms DISAPPEARED. Nothing. I realized all of this in retrospect but its importance was tremendous.

That anxiety was my body sending me messages. I was spending far too much time trying to be the person that Hubby wanted me to be instead of who I really am. I was being inauthentic – disingenuous. I didn’t understand how trying to please him was moving in such juxtaposition to my spirit. Certainly, I was not aware of this discrepancy. My body knew, though.

When people with anxiety are sitting in my office, one of the first things I do is attempt to identify the life situations that might not be in accord with the clients’ heart. It’s rarely obvious and takes a willingness to investigate things that may not be acceptable in your mind. If they were, we wouldn’t be anxious about it!

Anxiety is a fear related reaction. It is born of dread, worry, and threat. We have to figure out the primal fear. I was afraid that if I wasn’t ‘who’ Hubby wanted me to be then he would cheat on me or leave me. Rational thought was overridden by the fear. The fear itself wasn’t what created the anxiety, though – it was the way that I coped with the fear. I engaged in behavior that ‘he’ wanted… I did what made ‘him’ happy – not what made me comfortable or felt right to me. The fact that I was coping with fear in a way inconsistent with my spirit is what activated the anxiety.

When we look for answers, we have to look in the right place and we have to be honest. Sometimes, I think that is the hardest part. Occasionally, if we are honest it is like opening Pandora’s box. This honesty means this… leads to that… which is impossible. Clients sometimes tell me that if they were to do what they wanted then they wouldn’t be in their marriage – or family – or job and leaving would be disastrous. Hmmm. Maybe they are doing what they want then… sometimes we only get to choose between two lessor items.

I know a lot of people who live by ‘should’s’ in their life – people who suffer from anxiety. Many of them are expectations that are not genuine to personal spirit – personal desire. Where do they come from? If they are not YOUR should’s… why do you attempt to fulfill them? It’s not an easy question to answer but it’s definitely worth asking and identifying.

I baked Christmas cookies today, not because I ‘should’ – not because it is part of the traditional expectation of people who have their shit together – not because anyone will be waiting for them -but because I ‘could’. I did it because everything else is ready and I wanted the house to smell good and I hadn’t done it in years really. No expectations… just a desire to do something that fit well into my life – and it was good.

Catholic Guilt

I had lost faith in Catholicism and was embarrassed by the guilt / shame that it seemingly propagated.

It’s necessary for me to take a post and go back a bit. One of the fundamental pieces of me that I’ve yet to write about is faith. What I currently believe and practice is the consequence of a tremendous evolution through the years and integral in the way that I have viewed myself, the world, and the challenges that have presented in my life.

Like the post I wrote about my dad, it is impossible to truly know or understand me unless you have perspective about my faith. I’ll begin to draw the picture here and then attempt to integrate it more into the ongoing discussion.

I was baptized Catholic at the age of 5 or 6. My mother converted and I’m not quite in focus about the details but I know that my Grandmother’s great friend was the mother of a priest who rose through the ranks of the Scranton (PA) diocese and was present at all of the important events of my religious life growing up. I always felt special because he was there, even as a young Bishop.

Growing up Catholic – as any Catholic knows – generates guilt. It begins – I think – with confession at the age of 7. In order to receive your first communion, you must attend confession where you ‘confess’ your sin of the week. Now come on … We were taught about sins… sins were ‘bad’ things. It implies that every week you are bad – in some way. (No wonder we are all screwed up). Keep in mind – this is what I HEARD which, may be a bit different that what was said yet I am not the only Catholic child that received this message – I assure you. So – I grew up believing that I was innately bad. F*** original sin.

I was a fair weather Catholic. We went to church when it was convenient and then my parent’s   divorce really made it complicated because it made everything ‘bad’. My mom stopped going to church or practicing faith in any way for the rest of her life. My dad was more deeply connected to his Catholic roots and found a progressive church – some really progressive  Christian brothers – and received an annulment (even with three living children) so that he could marry my stepmom – an extremely devout Catholic. By the time I was 16 – I had lost faith in Catholicism and was embarrassed by the guilt / shame that it seemingly propagated.

However, I was still deeply entrenched in the mentality that in order to be loved and accepted by people who mattered to me, I had to be a ‘good’ Catholic girl. Basically this meant that I taught Sunday school, grabbed a bulletin so that I knew what the Homily was about and then sat at Denny’s and drand coffee until church was over – then told my parent’s that that I had gone to Mass. So, this “good Catholic girl” was lying about going to church and racking up the guilt/shame cards by the decks!!

I was caught by the way… one of Dad’s clients noticed me by a picture that my “proud Dad” had shared and the client was like “oh yea, she’s a beautiful girl…. I see her at Denny’s on Sunday mornings all the time!” … Busted! Liars always get caught.

At 19 I was a part of something called SAGE – a movement of self discovery and awareness, very “New Age” kind of stuff that was before the whole New Age movement. I can’t guarantee my memory is completely accurate here but the essence of the experience is key. It was about SELF AWARENESS and AUTHENTICITY.  About letting go of pains and wounds, forgiving others, and cultivating LOVE in daily life. I fell in love with the presentation of those principles in harmony. I wasn’t yet aware of my own abandonment wounds to truly reach any deep issues but it was really impressive for some of the older adults who shared. I felt honored to be a part of their experience. I became really close with some of the people who shared the SAGE experience – an entire family of loving individuals who were more of an impact on my life than they probably ever knew.

I also believe strongly in things that are considered paranormal; spirits, out-of-body experiences, etc. In my BR (before Rocky) life, a friend and I were sitting up late one night – cold stone sober – talking about possibilities and spiritual potentialities. Suddenly, there was a disturbance in the room environment and we both noticed a circulation that grew from barely noticeable to almost person size. I stared in disbelief and realized that I was NOT ready to experience anything significantly different than what I currently understand. I looked away and it went away. Really – it was the late 70’s but we were clear minded – completely.

Rocky and I were married in the Catholic Church. On the ‘wife’s application’ there was a question I had to answer and certify that I would “submit myself to my husband” – there was nothing on the husband’s application in like. I’m not sure it is like that today – in 2016 – but keep in mind I am accumulating attitudes about spirituality that I am using in consideration for how I ultimately construct my faith. The Catholic Church is beginning to wear on my tolerance.

In its defense, Rock and I went to a couple’s seminar at our home parish on sex and marriage. It was now 1982ish and as is perceivably customary of the West Coast, progressive ideology was presented. We were taught that what happened in the bedroom between a husband and wife that was consensual and experienced in love was acceptable by the church.  Oh. Thank. God. I was immediately relieved for all those times that the missionary position just didn’t cut it. Thank you Church – for approving of my sexuality.

This is the foundation that the rest of my spiritual development is based upon. Some might argue that it is flawed but ultimately, it was strong.

 

Intentions

I am remembering that I – Leslyn – know my intent. I hope I am appropriately demonstrating it to you.

It can bum you out when your intentions aren’t, like, translated properly. ~ Kesha

Right Kesha??!!

I had lunch with a friend the other day and talked with her about my decision to write this blog. She’s known me for 20+ years and has shared many of my deepest pains. She’s actually the first one that allowed me to feel safe being imperfect – at least consciously. “What do you want to accomplish” she asked and I had an answer ready but I’ve been rethinking it these last few days. I’ve been digging deep to be sure that my motive isn’t attention seeking or purging prior hurts that I haven’t processed.  I believe I have done the work or at least all that I am aware of. If, through this process I discover that isn’t true I can stop and reevaluate.

I am extremely confident that my goal is to share HOW I got here, to this place where comfort and vulnerability coexist – at least most of the time – in an effort to demonstrate how others can take that journey themselves. If no one reads it, well then – it will be a well documented historical gift to my children and future grandchildren. They will ‘know me’ via my writing. I kinda wish I had that gift from my mother or grandmother but I know that both of them would have rather gotten run down by a train or dragged by a team of horses than to air any weaknesses or personal shames. After all, they were the voices I spoke of in my last post – the ones that encouraged me to ‘put on my big girl panties and carry on’ versus process a painful / shameful experience. My grandmother in fact, once attempted to teach me that I could stand on a hill and simply observe the beautiful green grass on the neighboring hill instead of tramping through the garbage dump in the valley to get there. “Don’t look” she would say – “it’s only garbage”.

Knowing how we became ‘who we are’ is paramount in understanding how and what to change – at least in my *humblest* opinion. I don’t have any pretty empirical evidence to support this claim and I haven’t recently researched specific psychological theories that point to verification for this perspective but in almost a decade of private practice and several decades of personal discovery, it is clear that true change doesn’t take place without attending to the origin of the problem.

In the early years of my journey, I would attend therapy to hear a counselor ask “what my ‘problems with living’ are.” I would explain how fearful I was that I was really unlovable that people didn’t ‘really’ love me. Sure guys wanted to have sex with me and for a few years I believed that meant I was desirable – good looking – pretty – sexy, etc. But we KNOW, I hope all females KNOW that is NOT true. It wasn’t true in the 70’s or the 80’s or ever…. Horney does not equal desirable. I wish females were born with that knowledge!!  What I soon discovered is that it takes a counselor interested in the INFECTION not the symptoms. Treating symptoms only is just asking for another flare-up down the road. It wasn’t until I found someone who DUG and forced me to look deep that I began understanding why I thought / felt the way that I did. Having said that – we all have to be WILLING to go deeper. I remember a therapist asking about my childhood and what it must have been like when my mother left to join the Army. I said ‘it was good. I got to play grown up and they were all better off.”  It took some time before we both really understood the dynamics and consequences of that decision.

So, here I am – a middle aged woman who became a mental health counselor in after 40. I made that decision because it was the only way I could think of to find meaning from the pain that I had experienced in my own life (future posts). I believe that everything happens for a reason or at the very least that there is value in each experience. My goal in returning to school and investing in graduate school during a tumultuous time in my own life was to find a way to make that pain make sense. I believe that sharing some of those experiences helps people who are working to find their own way.  I share when it is appropriate during sessions with clients. I am often told how helpful it is to know that “they aren’t the only ones”. That sense of ‘universality’ is understated – in my opinion.

That’s why this blog has been in my head for so long… it’s the print version of what I share / do in my counseling practice. It will be the complete version – the whole story. IF it is helpful, great! If not…. Move on. I am daring here; daring to expose myself to the world in an effort to let people know that they are NOT the only ones. That personal growth happens from our pain IF we are willing to do the work. IF we are willing to see the garbage in the valley or clean out the closets where we have shoved our pains.

I have fear. Fear that I will be criticized and ridiculed for sharing deeply private thoughts and experiences. I have allowed fear to direct far too many decisions in my life. Here, I am pushing through fear of being mocked and unaccepted. I am remembering all of those people whose opinions truly count. I am remembering all of the people who have told me my story was helpful for them.  I am remembering that I – Leslyn – know my intent. I hope I am appropriately demonstrating it to you.

Like Lava

Nurturing those old wounds takes work. They are a constant in my psyche. It’s as if they run on a current of hot lava…

In these first couple of posts I am describing my childhood. In psychodynamic theory, it is in childhood – the experiences and relationships there – that form our personalities. While I don’t buy into the totality of that premise, clearly some of those things teach us about the world in which we live. They shape our understanding of what to expect and how to respond. I have shared information about the relationships I experienced with mom, dad and both step-parents. I briefly talked about the idyllic environment that encompassed the small town we lived in. I’m confident in stating that that strong foundation benefited me in numerous ways; shaping much of the woman that I am today.

However, there were *some* less-than-wonderful moments in those years. Ironically, many of them are the ones that are stand out memories for me. I recall going to the Fireman’s carnival and not having enough money to buy an ‘all night’ ride pass. My family struggled more than others financially. I recall the day our car was repossessed. I can still visualize it going down the street – being driven by a young man I had never seen before. My mom was embarrassed and attempted to distract us but I was just old enough to understand it meant we didn’t have enough money. I had to turn in supplemental forms so that I could get lunch ‘aid’. For the longest time all I wanted to do was pack my lunch in a brown paper bag like so many other kids.  I hated standing in that lunch line. It was in the basement with really short ceilings and pipes running along the corridor that sweat and dripped on us as we were corralled through the cafeteria. I felt like an Ogre standing in the lunch line because I was so much taller than other kids; I grew tall early and fast.

I was mortified in the 3rd grade as I wet myself while doing a homework problem at the chalkboard. I was wearing a blue leather skirt that was a favorite and when I got paddled for not making it to the bathroom, it stung that much more through the leather. Yes – paddled. In those days it hung on a hook right behind the teacher and it was used frequently. Yes – I pee’d my pants at 8 years old.  As I recall, I couldn’t do the math problem and had asked to use the girl’s room but was told to do the problem first. I was petrified of failure. I tried. I failed both with the math problem and making it to the bathroom.  Consequently, I was shammed and publicly punished.  Thankfully, that kind of behavior is now illegal.

In 4th grade we had to line up and get our statistical data recorded by the nurse. It was also a type of cattle call. We were herded into the hallway in lines of boys and girls. We would move first to someone who collected our cards where a parent had carefully printed our names and addresses, names of parents and siblings. We were required to be measured for height first so shoes had to be off. I recall having holes in my socks. We moved quickly in fear of reprimand to the scale where someone would weigh us and yell the number across the hall to another person who recorded the information. That year I crossed the threshold of 100 lbs. Yes, when the average 9 year old girl was around 70 lbs, I tipped the scale over three digits and they announced it to the entire student body or at least those in the hallway. I’m quite sure by the end of the day, everyone knew. By 8th grade people would simply tell me that if I lost weight, I’d be pretty. I learned I couldn’t be pretty the way I was.

As if that wasn’t enough, I had inherited my father’s jaw structure. My upper pallet was extremely narrow forcing my teeth forward across my lower jaw bone; commonly referred to as bucked teeth. They were the subject of ridicule from peers throughout my childhood.  In our 5th grade classroom the social studies workbooks were typically stacked on a cabinet against the wall and distributed by a student whenever that subject was about to be taught. Our names were on the front and one child was responsible for moving throughout the room handing them out.  Typically, the name would be read and a meeting would occur where the transfer took place. One by one they went out. Suzi, Katy, Tommy, John, and then…. Someone had scribbled out my name and written “Buck-tooth” … my name couldn’t be read through the scribble and so the question was delivered loudly and hung in the room for an eternity…. “Who’s buck-tooth?”  The room got quiet and one by one, student’s eyes moved in my direction and the room broke out in mocking laughter.  I wanted to die. I wanted to room to swallow me up and hide me. In that moment, I hated that my parents were poor. I hated that I was different. I hated that I was there in that room. It was in that moment that I learned how cruel the world could be; that parts of me were unacceptable and could be the brunt of agonizing laughter.

These petty experiences as an 8, 9 and 10 year old were sparse and seemingly isolated yet their impact superseded amazing childhood joys in ways that are difficult to understand. Today, we label much of that behavior as bullying and abusive. There is no doubt that they significantly fashioned parts of my SELF concept. It seems that no matter how supportive and loving my family and friends were, these insulting moments were defining. I learned that the world beyond home could be humiliating and emotionally unsafe.

As I write, read, and edit I can hear voices – well not really, not actual voices – but thoughts or comments in my head that say “get a grip, kids can be brats” or “seriously, you had a great childhood; get over it already”. Somehow I also learned to devalue the pain of those experiences. I learned that they should be dismissed. I hear judgment in my mind instead of compassion and empathy for that young girl who hurt. I suspect that people told me to “never mind them” or to “just ignore them” – advice that supports dismissal versus empathizing and processing the hurt. Essentially, somewhere down the line I was taught to ‘avoid’ the feelings – set them aside. In fact, I recall that my mom’s way of dealing with negativity was to box it up and set it on a shelf in a (mental) closet. I’m sure she taught me that. Now that I think of it, mom’s closet was pretty full and disorganized.

I share all of these details not to solicit pity or compassion because really, you probably can’t say or do anything that someone in my life hasn’t already tried. It’s always been up to ME to process those experiences in a positive way it’s just that I was never taught how as a child. Actually, we –as a culture- aren’t very good at teaching emotional processing (I guess that’s why I have a good job these days). We spend a lot of time telling one another (and sadly our children) to “suck it up”, “get over it”, “move on”, etc….. When what we could be telling them is that emotions are REAL and they are NORMAL and that THEY JUST ARE. We actually encourage people NOT to feel. We tell them that feelings are bad, wrong, or ridiculous instead of validating their existence and then teaching or encouraging evaluation and processing.

Nurturing those old wounds takes work. They are a constant in my psyche. It’s as if they run on a current of hot lava through my soul and occasionally erupt – sometimes violently in an explosion but more often seeping through cracks in a way that slowly burns whatever is in their path. Sometimes I feel like a gatekeeper, running from vent to vent attempting to coral or channel the flow so to limit the damage. The idea that I am vulnerable to public humiliation because of the way that I look or because of an embarrassing accident or due to how much money I have, continues to be challenging but here I am…. Staring it in the face and daring greatly.

 
Photo credit: schizoform via Foter.com / CC BY