Jay’s Lesson

There were so many expectations, hopes, disappointments, and potential for rejection that it took more courage than I thought I might have for now.

Continued from Consider The Possibilities

Sometimes life doesn’t want to give you something that you want. It’s not because you don’t deserve it, but because you deserve more.  ~ Unknown

A few days ago I talked about dating again and mentioned meeting a great guy on an arranged ‘lunch date’. His name was Jay and we had a second date, and then a third. We met for lunch a few times as it was a better in both of our schedules. He had four girls but they were mostly grown or almost there. He talked about them like they were amazing, making me believe that he was an amazing dad and that excited me.

There’s always a question when dating after divorce about when to introduce the person to your children – if ever. I wasn’t especially excited to have the girls meet Jay but they were curious and so I didn’t wait long… they knew we were seeing each other and they knew I liked him. I told them the basics, what he did for a living, how many children he had and what I knew about them, and I shared the general details of how we spent time together. It seemed to be going pretty well and so I invited him to come out for dinner. Awkward!! There we sat, at the dinner table that we used to share with their dad. I don’t know exactly what they were thinking but I thought it was weird… to have a different guy sitting there having a conversation with my children, someone other than the man with whom I had been sharing them with for twelve years.

He was pretty cool though… as the father of girls, he knew all the right shows – had seen and could talk about – The Gilmore Girls. He was friendly and conversational, knowing just how to fit in and when to sit back. They thought he as ‘weird’ – as any teen / preteen would typically think and perhaps he was – a little.

We continued to spend stolen pockets of time together, each of us taking turns driving the fifty-minute span that separated us. We took a weekend and spent it on a boat that he shared with another family member and I learned that he took fish oil supplements. Good for him – bad for anyone that got close enough to kiss him. I’m not one hundred percent that it was the fish oil, perhaps it was another issue, but that man’s perspiration was one of the most unpleasant smells I’ve ever experienced. I’m not convinced he wore deodorant and even if he did, I’m not sure there was a perfume strong enough to mask his personal scent. I don’t mean at all – to be unkind, simply descriptive of an attribute that was marginally manageable.

I struggled as to whether or not it would be a deal breaker for me. How do you tell someone … they smell and not be rude? How can they not know? Is it highly intolerant or critical of me to ‘not’ date someone because of an odor? I realized it wasn’t all of the time and hadn’t spent enough time with him to decipher what prompted or initiated it.

When I graduated with my undergrad, he slipped into the mix of celebrants – in fact, he was front and center… something that I was really questioning at the time but didn’t know how to ask him to ‘sit back’. Sadly, I don’t have any photographs of that day without him in it. He escorted me home that day to my surprise party and consequently, met many family members and friends… in retrospect – it was Way. Too. Soon.

Jay was unapologetically himself and I loved that about him. I envied his ability to be authentic regardless of the circumstances and I made a note to investigate that quality / feature about myself. It was a new and exciting proposition for me – to just be me. He didn’t apologize for his peculiarities or idiosyncrasies – he accepted himself – completely and I noticed. I liked that about him. I wanted to be like that.

Jay wasn’t divorced yet and since – at that time – neither was I, it seemed to be a bond between us … our ‘almost’ ex-spouses were somewhat thorns in our environment. We had each been ‘separated’ for over a year but the divorce piece was complicated. He began introducing me to a couple of his daughters as ‘a friend’ and then braced for the backlash from their mom. We had custody of our children on the same weekends so that worked, but there is SO MUCH to navigate when you are forced to maneuver through a dozen different personalities just to spend time together. We were attempting to finalize our plans for the upcoming July 4th weekend – whether or not to take all the girls someplace, my kids, or his, and it was just too complicated. He was firmly planted in his community – and I in mine. To that extent, we were either unable to unwilling to compromise. We were on the phone one afternoon and he was unambiguous with his words “I can’t date you anymore, it’s too hard”.

He tried to explain that there were just too many complications with his wife, his girls, my kids, the distance… I recall being somewhat stunned as there was no warning. I had never realized that his skin was that thin – or perhaps (giving him the benefit of the doubt) there was much more under the surface that I had not been privy to. In either case, I could feel myself shut down instantaneously … here it was again – rejection. Oh well… at least I hadn’t let my heart out – had I? Nope… it didn’t hurt, not really – I was just surprised. I hadn’t loved Jay. I realized that I hadn’t even let myself consider loving him. It was fun to be liked, to be wanted – for a while.

I walked out of my bedroom after that phone call and into Sara’s room. “Jay just broke up with me”, I told her. She looked at me with big eyes, wondering and waiting for more… “are you ok?” she asked. “Surprisingly… I’m good – it’s all good”, I say.

_____

On the drive home from the mountain I thought about Jay – what purpose did Joe have in my life? Why did we meet? I loved his authenticity. I needed to consider why it was such a strong element for me and how could I embody more authentic-ness? (um… duh – in every way!) I realized that Jay demonstrated that I could still get butterflies. Good to know. I also noted that I could be found attractive to a man. As crazy as it sounds, for someone with low self-esteem, coming out of a marriage to a man who preferred the company of other (many) women – this was somewhat of a revelation for me. I was desirable – at least to a guy who smelled like fish oil. I considered Jay practice but also acknowledged that dating sucked. There were so many expectations, hopes, disappointments, and the potential for rejection that it took more courage than I thought I might have for now.

I filed away the introspection about dating and organized my life. It was time to start grad school. I was excited with the idea of learning more.

Accomplishments

I was still five or six years away from being able to call myself a Licensed Professional Counselor.

Continued from Finally Free

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”  ~ Edward Hale

Now that Hubby wasn’t at the house when it was his time with the girls I had the house to myself. There is a certain confusing pleasure about having every other weekend to yourself. I didn’t usually like to be in the house when the girls weren’t – it was a big house, meant for family and walking by their empty bedrooms was almost disheartening. However, being a single parent is undeniably the most difficult job I’ve ever known and so, on those weekends, I recharged – rejuvenated my energy. I did homework and spent time with friends. I was usually fielding a few phone calls from the girls, predominately the youngest one who was more dependent on me but encouraged them to turn to dad – I wanted ex-Hubby to develop his own relationships with the girls and be the dad they needed on those weekends.

This goal worked in total conflict with my ‘control’ needs and my ‘fixer’ genes… it was a true learning process to ‘let go’ on the weekends he had the kids. I had so much to learn about letting go – even though I thought I had done a lot already. I practiced opening my hands and counted on my meditation routine to help me. I wrote … and wrote… I didn’t call the writing I did ‘journaling’ back then but that’s what it was… I was just writing the thoughts that came to my mind, emptying my head onto the paper. I think I had been trying too hard to journal something specific. I found that just writing from the mental prompt of ‘I’ve been thinking about…’ or ‘I worry about…’ was most effective in parlaying what was on my mind to the paper. I often burned or shredded the words I wrote as I was a little paranoid that someone would read them. I wasn’t yet ready to experience the vulnerability associated with letting others view my internal reflections.

It’s hard to be patient and allow change to take place when we are in a hurry to ‘be better’. Sometimes it feels like a cruel Universe joke to need patience when we perfectionists are generally ‘not’ patient people. It’s often coupled with the need to remember – bring into our constant awareness – our inability to change others. And then, there’s the frustration of recognizing that even if ‘we’ make changes, the entire situation may not… leaving us needing to either make concessions or decisions.

I successfully settled my grandparent’s estate but only after addressing a lawsuit that had been initiated by Abee and Emma. Receiving that announcement in the mail was mind boggling because it created a direct conflict of interest for me. Essentially, the language of my grandparents will was unclear and ambiguous regarding the distribution of assets – whether or not Mom’s share of the estate was to be distributed to her siblings or to her direct heirs. Initially, the attorney advising me stated her siblings but the lawsuit contested that decision and I had to hire another legal opinion. Essentially my sisters were suing for a share of Mom’s share – taking money out of the mouth of their less fortunate relatives. I will never understand that motivation but in the end, I benefited because the ‘third perspective’ ruled that it was to be distributed ‘per stripes’… Mom’s share would be split among her children. It wasn’t a ton of money but it felt weird to award myself part of the estate. Our aunts and uncle were rather salty about the ruling as it diluted their distribution and frankly, with one exception – they needed it more than we did.  I’m afraid to think what my grandparents would have said / felt over that whole ordeal.  To fight it further would have just wasted more money from the already reduced estate. We paid the funds out and called it a day but not without further splintering of our extended family.

In the fall I returned to school. I loved learning about human behavior and continued to be amazed at how much about myself I was learning. In many aspects, I used my own life as an observational laboratory for the information I was acquiring; a rich environment of detailed data. I also learned to research. One of my ‘classes’ was apprenticing with a professor who was conducting studies. I chose Dr. Brown, the professor who had taught me about emoting. Her area of expertise was how environmental and socioeconomic stressors affected children. My job was to search the bowels of EBSCOHost (the academic database of research papers) to find other studies to substantiate the work we were doing and/or to find measures that we could use in our work. As strange as it sounds, I loved this job! It was a little bit like looking for puzzle pieces and finding something useful or affirming was the reward. Additionally, I would see something interesting and read, read, read. I learned to love reading journal articles about the ways we think, act, learn, etc. Learning this particular skill – research – was particularly helpful when I got to Grad school.

It was also my goal this year to make decisions about Grad school. I had several professors urging me to go on… Another suggested I forgo the graduate degree and become a Life Coach. I knew by then that counseling was the direction I wanted to go and that I would more than likely just open a private practice. My state didn’t require counselors to have any – actually none – credentials as long as they didn’t put themselves out there as ‘licensed’ and so I didn’t ‘have to’ get an advanced degree but… who would go to a therapist that wasn’t educated?? I don’t believe that most people are aware of all the different routes there are to obtain counseling certification – I certainly did not. There are several designations that allow people to eventually qualify for state licensing. First of all, most states require at least a Master’s Degree either in Psychology, Counseling, Social Work, or Mental Health. Certainly, there are also doctoral programs in each of those areas as well as the newer Psy.D. – a Doctor of Psychology (as compared to a Ph.D. which is a Doctor of Philosophy), then there are licensing exams and post grad supervision. I was still five or six years away from being able to call myself a Licensed Professional Counselor.

Since I wasn’t entering academia, a Master’s would fit all the requirements. I didn’t want to take the Social Work avenue (LCSW) although many counselors have that designation. I wanted to focus on Counseling and clinical components within the Individual, Family, and Marital arena. The only program within driving distance for me consisted entirely of night classes. Being a single mother of three made that completely impractical. Even though Sara would be leaving for college in the fall, Erin and Em still depended on me and I didn’t believe that leaving them alone for three nights every week over a two-year period was truly an option. That left me investigating newer online Universities that specialized in Psychology degrees. I left no stone unturned in understanding accreditation and the rigid standards that my state expected their counselors to complete.

In the meantime, I finished my undergraduate degree – finally – at the age of forty-seven. I wasn’t the oldest person to graduate that spring but I felt like it. I managed to leave there with a 3.8 GPA, having received only two B’s. My family celebrated with me on a scorching hot May afternoon by throwing me a surprise party (that wasn’t really a surprise thanks to someone’s well intended big mouth) and I felt accomplished and happy roughly twenty-eight months after discovery day.

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.

.

Back to School

I discovered that professors will generally curve UP for students who are attentive, committed, and exemplify hard work

Continued from Love’s Journey

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” ~ Henry Ford

I believe that I survived because of meditation. It allowed me to ‘reset’ so that my emotions didn’t stay elevated. I eventually learned about stress and cortisol levels… that when we are experiencing extreme emotions (stress), our bodies create hormones designed to help us in that moment (fight or flight response) but our systems are not designed to support consistent levels of those organic chemicals. As such, it’s vital that we learn how to work with our bodies and reduce the amount of time that we allow stress to dominate our life.

I started school full-time in the fall of 2005 and while I was ‘the old lady’ in most of my classes, I loved every minute that I sat in class learning. Of course, I was in the front row and raised my hand twice as much as anyone else… maybe because I was asking all their questions too?? I started all over again with French and literally, every single person in that room had just graduated from high school, but me. It was there – in French class – that I learned the meaning of true humility. I embraced the experience and learned to laugh at myself as I tried to recall the vocabulary I had acquired twenty-seven years earlier. I formed a study group with a couple of gals in my Bio-Psych class where we talked a LOT about the behavior of rats and brain function… Dr. Gans was exceptionally  patient with me as I put three kids on a bus in the morning and then hi-tailed it thirty miles to campus.  If I didn’t time it ‘just right’, I would get behind school buses that stopped at every driveway for more than ten miles. The universe had my back most of the time but every so often, and twice on exam days (Murphy’s Law), I would be ten or so minutes late… entering right in the middle of her lecture kick off. It was pretty hard to ‘slip in’ when my seat was way up front.

The cool part of going back to school in mid-life or for any ‘non-traditional’ student is that the only reason we are there is … to learn. I found out that professors love us. They, of course, entered teaching to teach and we were there to absorb everything we could so it was a perfectly sound, symbiotic, thing we had going. I was serious and demonstrated it by preparing lists of questions, highlighting my textbooks, taking copious notes, and utilizing office hours before tests and after.

I became undeniably fascinated with human behavior. My appetite to understand why people do what they do was almost insatiable. Between the ‘self-help’ library that I was amassing and the academic perspectives I was acquiring, information was being absorbed faster than any other time in my life. All of a sudden, the prospect of browsing through Behavioral Journals became enticing rather than frightening as it has when I first sat through Statistics just a few months earlier. When I was compiling research for a paper on cognitive distortions or adolescent development cycles I would approach the customary sources and then get lost in a sea of collaboration and philosophies from psychology professionals all over the world. Thankfully, academic libraries are available online for registered students and it was fairly typical for a paper to take twice as long to research as it did to actually write for the simple excuse that I was easily distracted on topics ranging from the science of gratitude to deleterious effects of daily stressors and more.

Of course, I read hundreds of studies about dozens of topics but I easily got lost in the – then – relatively new ideas of Positive Psychology and Transpersonal Psychology. They were theoretical positions that moved beyond what we traditionally think of in terms of human behavior, the Freud, Skinner, and Pavlov postulations. Psychodynamic (Freud) and pure Behaviorists (Skinner & Pavlov) theories felt outdated, strict, and slightly contrite as compared to those who introduced the ideas of Transpersonal psychology; Carl Jung, William James, and Abraham Maslow. Indeed, I was so enthralled that I briefly considered bagging my life and trying to get into the University of San Francisco’s Consciousness Studies program. I was hooked.

“‎…the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” ~ C. G. Jung

I devoured as much as I could read about Humanistic approaches, especially those in the Transpersonal realm. It was amazing to me that the ideas and thoughts which I had been focusing on recently, the idea that Love was critical (in some way) to our emotional wellness, was being a ‘real’ thing and being studied all over the world. I’m not sure why I was surprised as I have a strong belief in global consciousness and frankly, it wasn’t exactly ‘new’ but here it was – hundreds of studies that validated the direction I was headed.

Wikipedia defines Transpersonal Psychology as a “sub-field of psychology that integrates the spiritual and transcendent aspects of the human experience with the framework of modern psychology” and elaborates “It is also possible to define it as a ‘spiritual’ psychology”.  It fit my ideology perfectly and became instrumental in the design of my approach as a therapist. Additionally, the field of Positive Psychology was beginning to garner lots of attention. Coming out of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia where Martin Seligman, known as the ‘father’ of this domain, was concentrating his research.  I was fortunate enough to have a professor that personally knew Dr. Seligman and was equally excited about some of the findings, especially in reference to ‘gratitude’. It felt as if I was approaching the epicenter of intention; the Universe was leading me perfectly into the place I was destined to be and introducing me to each element, each component that I would eventually need as I moved forward.

I discovered that professors will generally curve UP for students who are attentive, committed, and exemplify hard work. I tried to establish a thoughtful example. The girls and I would take turns sitting at the computer, typing our little hearts out as three of the four of us were knee-deep in homework most nights. Em was still in Elementary school and was an excellent student but the workload wasn’t yet all consuming. I’m sure that they would have been great students regardless of my personal scholastic efforts yet I’d like to think that I embodied study habits which, they carried on. With intense dedication, I managed to squeak out straight A’s.

Christmas arrived. It was going to be the first year as a partitioned family and Hubby was still living in the basement. I didn’t feel as though it was in the kids best interest to exile him, and I sure as H.E. double L. wasn’t going anywhere. By then, Frank was also living in the basement although he wasn’t home very much either. Christmas morning found us all – sitting in the den doing what we had always done. Hubby and I made it as normal as possible for the girls and managed to be beautifully civil to one another even though I knew he was going someplace else after all the gifts were opened. Perhaps that helped; I didn’t spend any time lamenting on how ‘normal’ it felt but rather used all the ‘tools’ that I had developed from my Positive Psychology studies. He did leave and I remember being only a little sad. The people remaining in the house were my favorite humans and I had everything I needed. I focused intently on gratitude and for the first time in a long time – I felt blessed.