#222 Let Something Go

Sharing 365 life lessons, tips, or hacks; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#222 Let something Go

What kind of excess baggage are you holding on to? What are you trying to manage and/or control that isn’t within your realm of change? What do you continue to think about that has been over and done for a while now?

One Story

Pick one of the things you thought about as you read the above questions and write it down. Write down as many details of this thing you want to let go of as you can think of. The goal here is to imagine or remember it clearly – but from a distance; with limited emotion as if it is a story that belongs to someone else.

Destroy the story

Once the story is complete, take the paper in your hands and crumble it up, tear it into pieces, or burn it (safely of course). Embed the action of destroying this story into your mind – taking time to be very present and mindful of the paper’s destruction. Imagine that the story is evaporating, fading into fog, and becoming blurred.

Open Hands

As you dispose of the paper (or ash) – do so with great intention and acknowledgement that the story is now gone. As you move the paper into a trash receptacle and drop it… see your open – empty – hand. Fingers open, holding nothing.

Visualization

Visualizing this process of elimination, destruction, and emptying of the things we ‘hold onto’ is a powerful way to let go of unwanted thoughts, memories, and pains. Once the activity is completed, you can replace the unwanted memory with the memory of eliminating it. Your mind will ‘remember’ that you’ve destroyed this undesirable thought. It may be necessary to remind yourself that you’ve gone through this process and make the connection by observing your open hands.

This technique can be very powerful for those times when you make the decision that it is time to…

Let something go.

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

Such Diffidence

Continued from Going to the Mountain

“It’s not what you are that holds you back, it’s what you think you are
not.” ~Denis Waitley

The experience seeing one’s self, intrinsically knowing it is ‘you’, but not because you look like what you do in the mirror, but because there is a sense of familiarity that only comes from seeing your reflection, is surreal. There was no doubt in my mind that I was experiencing this vision in the first person. I sensed that the hands I was looking at were mine even though they were smaller and denser than the ones I was used to seeing. I was dark skinned, the color my mother would turn after a summer by the pool, a rich brown color. I was standing in the sand, outside, and the air was warm. I was wearing something rough in fiber but I couldn’t really identify what it was. There were small round buildings in the background with thatched looking roofs. In the distance, I could see a tall, dark-haired man and he was walking toward me. Again, I felt a sense of recognition, a realization that the large hunk walking toward me was my husband, my mate. He didn’t get close enough for me to look in his eyes but I knew that he protected me, that he loved me. I felt it. And then it was over.

In a group, large-scale regression you don’t get much more than short blips before the hypnotherapist is bringing everyone back to current time, to reality. There isn’t an opportunity to investigate the memory, only to experience it. It was the second time I had been regressed and I was absolutely amazed at the explicit cognizance it evoked. The vision in my mind was as genuinely real as the memory of what I had for dinner the night before. And yet, there was a part of me that was skeptical; a small part of my psyche that wondered about its validity. I stayed true to my self-promise that I remain open to all possibilities and allowed the doubting thought to pass by.

Dr. Weiss taught us that it wasn’t necessarily important whether or not our memories related to literal events, but to be open to what the memories were representative of… what insight they offered about our life here, now. Since we simply cannot prove their authenticity – or lack thereof – it is important to contemplate their relevance. I considered the short recollection I experienced and what was most dominant in that memory was how at peace I was. There was an overwhelming sentiment of comfort and of being loved. Why did that matter to me now? I couldn’t help but wonder and it set the stage for the rest of my week-long foray into regression work.

As I allude to in one of my very early posts Sand Castles, I grew up with relatively low self-esteem. It was masked by my need to please and my theatrical character, the one that believed it much safer to be in the world as someone else… pretending to embody the girl detective character Trixie Belden, the teen heroine of my favorite series of books when I was young. It was a huge oxymoron – I put myself ‘out there’ as confident and outgoing but inside my own mind, I was – always – fearful of judgment, of not being accepted, or more concisely… of being rejected. If I was the one to rule the room, then I could determine who I had eye contact with, who I paid attention to and when I should leave, and under what conditions. If I wasn’t ‘in charge’ or the focal point, then it was possible to be diminished or to be rebuked and that was my biggest fear. If I was leading the conversation or presenting, it appeared as if I could command the room but if I was just there – just present – then my preference was to blend in and go unnoticed. In that way, I could observe and find a safety net; perhaps a corner or a like-minded person, or a connection with the person in command. It is the one thing that most people truly don’t understand, believe, or know about me as I’ve spent fifty years now attempting to hide that insecurity. I am a wallflower inside. This feature about me was validated years ago by an Astrologist; my birth (sun) sign is a Leo (describes my ego) but my moon sign is Cancer (how I feel inside) and my rising sign is Libra (how others see me).  If you have any interest or knowledge in Astrology, and you know me – this will make sense.

With this information, it won’t come as a surprise that the minute we were released for lunch, I bolted out of the auditorium for the safety of open space and anonymity. I kept my eyes down and walked quickly whenever people were around although I do always smile and say hello when I occasionally meet someone’s eyes. The family style dining room was daring me to break through my shy – or avoidant – shell. I made my way quietly through the buffet line with Vegan options (way before I even knew what a Vegan was) searching futilely for something fried and greasy as I also quickly scanned the room for the least populated table. I was cornered into eating healthy or starve. And just so I’m clear… if the choice was tofu or starve… I would meditate through the hunger.

People were nice and I am not ignorant or rude, so if someone sat next to me or if someone was already at the table, then I would at least say hello. I, of course, would be happy to answer questions and keep a conversation going but I wasn’t going to be the originator. It just wasn’t in me and as soon as I finished eating, I’d smile, encourage them to enjoy the day, and leave to find a bench in the sun where I could daydream or read. If only they had served wine with meals…

The rest of that first day was Dr. Weiss taking volunteers and demonstrating full blown regressions. We watched two or three experiences that were completely debriefed afterward and I was almost spellbound. It was captivating and immensely interesting and I just wanted to know more and more. One of the volunteers was a guy that had sat next to me all day. I discovered that he was there for the second time, having attended a year ago. He was a therapist with an interest in using regression therapy in his practice. He seemed like a nice guy, tall and attractive, but wearing a gold wedding band. Oh well. After his demonstration, I was anxious to ask him a few questions but as soon as we broke, he was bombarded by other people. I was just one of a dozen who wanted to know more. Instead of standing my ground and listening as the ‘group’ formed, I backed away and threw on my invisibility cloak, walked back to my room and spent my night alone.

I reflected all evening on how absurd it was for me to be there, in the company of so many kindred spirits and not take full advantage of their curiosities and knowledge. I woke up Monday morning – my birthday – resolved to do something about this quirky ‘shyness’ that I was embodying. I began to be annoyed by it. With renewed commitment, I attended breakfast and asked to sit at a full table with only one open seat. “Is this seat taken?” I asked as I pulled out a chair… it seemed that everyone was involved in conversation intently enough that I was barely noticed. Ok, “it’s ok”, I said to myself. I looked up and kept a smile on my face attempting to make eye contact with people close enough in which to spark a conversation but no one else turned or acknowledged my presence. This wasn’t going to be easy.

The Longest Day

Continued from The Tipping Point

“Those who are heartless once cared too much” – unknown

When my tears were spent, I stood up and squared my shoulders. I was finished. Done. Through. Right there – in that moment, I knew that this marriage was gone. I was no longer willing to spend another minute allowing myself to be disrespected in the manner that had been a hallmark of this union. As the saying goes – ‘fool me once, shame on you… fool me twice, shame on me’. This was the third time and this time, my mother could fend for herself…  It was time for me to think of me – the messages I was sending to my children, my daughters – about self-respect.

I had things to do today. I was scheduled to get my hair cut and then meet some friends for drinks. I thanked my therapist for being there, for allowing me to breach a boundary in the most unforgivable way and scheduled an appointment to sort this all out.

I headed to my hair stylist, approximately a thirty-minute drive. I had first met him two years back after my hysterectomy when I realized that I had the same hair style for twenty years or more. I had researched stylists in the area and his name came up as one of the best. My primary interest was finding someone who could look at my face and determine – for me – the best hairstyle based on the shape of my face and my hair texture. In past attempts, a stylist would ask me what I wanted, ‘look through a book’ they would say… well – that’s like buying a pair of panties that I like from the Victoria Secret catalog and then being pissed that they don’t look like ‘that’ on my bottom!

Michael had cut my hair that very first day – trimming at least eight inches or so – and gave me a new look. It was something completely different and I loved it… I’d been going to him ever since. Funny that this particular day I was seeing my hairdresser, the proverbial therapist…

I recall being there and obviously emotional. There is no hiding this kind of emotional devastation even if I had wished to. When he asked me, what was happening, I put forth an avalanche of verbal expression, detailing each minute of the morning with explicit detail. It was a safe place, a location where no one knew me or my family, and I was free to exhibit any amount of animosity that popped up in the conversation. I was incredulous. I was beginning to get pissed, pissed at Hubby, pissed at Abee, mostly, pissed at myself. For a while, I forgot all the spiritual development that had been a part of my recent life and moved back into this rudimentary human reaction space. I wasn’t focused on forgiveness or spiritual growth, just the pain of my immediate experiences and it was raw.

Michael listened, like any good therapist – hairstylist and proposed blonde accents to spice up my look. Thankfully, that meant another two hours at the salon and I was grateful for the diversion. I didn’t care what he did, sex me up – spice me up – make me look younger… it didn’t matter. What did matter, was my plan. I needed to create a plan.

I never planned to divorce my husband. Years back, the first time I had discovered infidelity, our business was young, I had a newborn baby and our finances were just budding. Today was different. Our children were older; our business was established and we were much stronger financially. This was better than at any other time before, to think about leaving our marriage and believing that I would be ok. I had never finished a bachelor’s degree. I had taken a voluntary second place, a submissive posture with our business in terms of production – running most of my earnings through Hubby’s position because of the tax advantages. On paper, I was worthless except that I owned an equal fifty percent of our company. Otherwise, my resume demonstrated twenty years of partnership but no production quotas to support successful claims.

We were earning good money so I knew that it would all be ok, that it would work out, but there was a moment of anxiety when I realized that I had not personally produced a dime in income for more than ten years. I needed to put a plan in action but I had no idea where to start. I sat there with foil protruding out from my skull thinking carefully about what I must do next. I knew that first and foremost – I was finished with Hubby. There was an absolute in my heart, an unequivocal finality in regards to the future of our relationship. We would co-parent… that’s it. There was no denying that we had four children to raise. Even though Frank was in college, we still had three girls, the oldest of which was about to begin high school.

Oh. Our girls. What would I say to them? The breadth and width of Hubby’s betrayal is his story… not mine to tell but it clearly would have an impact on our family. I had to find a way to frame this morning’s experience in a way that could be digested by adolescent girls. I was willing to take the fall, to say that I was no longer willing to be in a marriage where I didn’t feel valued. I could say it in a way that didn’t disparage Hubby but still honored me. Why in the hell was I concerned about his favor??

“A heart can only take so much pain, and although it won’t shut down, it will begin to shut out.” ~ unknown

There were a gazillion thoughts swirling through my mind as I sat in Michael’s salon; some of which made sense, some did not; some were rational, others not so much. My defense system kicked into high gear and I formulated several automatic responses in anticipation of greeting Hubby later that night. I was going to stand my ground – we are done. Period.

My hair turned out fantastic. I was blonde from ear to ear and by any measure, the cut was sassy and the color was sexy. Michael was good at what he did and perhaps a little impartial to me, protective of the perceived injustice that existed in Hubby’s behavior.

I finished up the day at a restaurant / bar in a small neighboring town where one of my good friend’s and her friend – an acquaintance of mine – were catching up. I was exhausted, completely spent and somewhat unwilling to relive the melodrama of my day. I just needed to laugh, to think of something neutral, to escape the reality of my life so that’s what happened. We talked and laughed about kids, life, and busy schedules. It was good to be with friendly faces but I was wary of the impending confrontation that I knew was looming in front of me. I needed to go home.

When I got there, Hubby was sitting on the couch, watching television. I hadn’t spoken to him since earlier in the day when I told him I wanted a divorce. I suspect he had realized at some point that he had left his email account open, that there was a lot of evidence to suggest that he had significantly betrayed everything our matrimony vows embodied; so much evidence. He was regretful, remorseful, and repentant. I sat down on one side of a very large couch to listen. He stretched out and put his head on my lap after commenting on how much he liked my hair. He cried. I sat there quietly and still.

My heart was stone cold.

Breaking for Gratitude

“If a story is in you, it has to come out.”  ~ William Faulkner

A letter to my family & friends:

I started writing 46 days ago in an effort to finally expose my voice. I never imagined that I could have taken it this far yet I’ve always felt that I had a story to tell; a lot to say. The whole reason I became a therapist in mid-life is because I wanted the pain I’ve experienced to have value (more to come on that). I use many of my own life lessons with clients in private practice and I know that they have been received with respect and openness. Mine is only one viewpoint on the spectrum of possibilities but if offering it to someone can somehow mitigate trouble on their own journey then mine will have been purposeful.

I have been greatly humbled by the support I’ve received over the last seven weeks. Almost daily, I’ve received messages, emails, and text messages demonstrating love, respect, and admiration. I accept it with gratitude. I am honestly excited to realize that I have accomplished the task of writing over 50,000 words in a relatively short time frame. Frankly, the words have come easily. I can attest that they have come without pain or intense emotion – concerns that have been addressed by people who love me. E suggested that it was God’s work that I could write such honest script without feeling the deep emotions I describe – perhaps it is. I have felt them – I have processed them – I have honored them. It is my life – the memories are vivid in most circumstances and I cherish the lessons they have provided.

One of the wonderful parts of sharing this on Facebook – as my sister-in-law recently stated, is that it has given people who may not have shared various parts of my life, insight into how I became the woman I am. It fills in a lot of blanks. Yet, I have made the decision to continue my quest to publish daily but NOT to advertise it on Facebook. The main reason is this: I feel I am becoming attached to the comments, likes, and engagement on Facebook rather than the story itself. That’s not my intention and so it is better for me to ‘simplify’ and just publish. Those who read it will read … those who will benefit, will. This story gets worse before it gets better and now is a good time to rein it in, so to speak.

I have remained vigilant with my children who have been amazingly supportive even though it may be difficult to know that their mom has experienced hard times. I know it has been hard to hear my perspective about their dad, also a person they love and yet, they were there and so this information is not new to them. They are such immense blessings in my life. Being a mother is the single most amazing thing I do. I am only a human being – a real person – who continues a journey of imperfection and discovery. They know this and honor me despite my flaws. Harlan, whom you will get to know …  is likewise, amazing. Loving me, yet reading every day about my love for someone else in another era … he inspires me and I hope to be able to honor him with my words when I write about the current period of my life.

I know that I talk about some really hard topics. I want to open the door to hard conversations! My entire adult life was negatively affected because I didn’t think that I could talk about hard things without being judged. Let’s change that! I respect everyone’s right to believe / think individual thoughts – different than mine. I want the same respect. I am not intentionally pointing a finger at something as WRONG or BAD nor RIGHT or GOOD – as I am directly opposed to using those labels – we are DIFFERENT. That’s all… we are different. We won’t truly have the facts about what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – at least in religious or spiritual terms until we meet our maker and then – this discussion becomes a moot point. My goal is peace, not fear, or judgment. I hope you will be open to that concept as well, going forward.

I may turn this story into a book – a memoir. There is clearly enough information but I am not sure if there is a global need/desire for another ‘pain promotes personal growth’ story. It will take a fair amount of work to edit, submit, and promote the eventual 300+ pages of a book and I continue to ask myself – who cares?  Yes, I am full of self-doubt and insecurity – every time I push the ‘publish’ button I feel that typical / normal fear of ‘so what?’ I imagine it will be like a full-time job to make a full-on book happen and I’m not sure I have the time or energy unless I am convinced that people would buy it. I have a couple of other projects sitting in the wings of my life and so… time will tell.

I promise this – ThisIsLeslyn.com will continue to tell ‘the’ story until I catch up to current day and then, I will share musings and nuggets from my practice, my continuous personal growth, my ideas, thoughts, my life, etc.  I will be thrilled if you feel compelled to follow along – and share with people who may benefit from hearing the messages. I am open to any and all comments that offer support, encouragement, or constructive criticism – in fact, they motivate me to keep on daring greatly.

Again, thank you for reading – you honor me.

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Learning to Hope

I was crazy thankful that my first baby was a big baby. He didn’t feel quite so delicate that way. As can be the case in military families, the timing wasn’t really good. It was September 30th and since Rocky was leaving for Japan the beginning of November, we had scheduled 30 days leave to move me back East so that I could have a support system, new baby and all. As I nested prior to the baby’s birth, most everything was in boxes and ready to be moved into storage by the time we got him home from the hospital. Anything that needed to be moved with a truck had been done by Rocky and a few friends while I was in the hospital.  I came home to a mostly empty apartment although they had saved all the couch cushions to create what they assumed would be a comfortable sleeping space for a brand new mother. Um-hm. None of them comprehended – in any form – the consequences of a four degree episiotomy (look it up). Nor did they consider that I would be up and down every two hours from the lowest position in our apartment. I may have been better off attempting to sleep standing up. It took some time for me to experience gratitude for the fact that our furniture was appropriately stored and I didn’t have to worry about it.

The baby – also called Francis Marion Rockefeller – and may I digress just a bit to discuss the name Francis. It was a ‘Rockefeller’ family name. For my husband, it had shifted sideways a generation (from his Uncle Frank) so that the name could be carried down-line and let’s just say that I had absolutely no choice in the matter. There was no annotation of numbers (i,e., the III or IV) but I was always told that there had been someone in the family with that name since the civil war. I have no documentation of that fact but it always made a great story. I came from William’s and Patrick’s and Edward’s. I had trepidations about the name Francis. When I met Rocky (obviously a nickname he garnered while in the Navy) he talked about how he loved his nickname.  I actually shortened it to ‘Rock’ pretty quickly and he would tell me it made him feel strong. Funny what a name can do. My step-dad was Francis a.k.a Frank. Rocky’s family called him Francis – Frank’s family called him Francis – Neither of them were Francis to me. What in the world would I end up calling my son?? It’s funny that he turned into a Francis for me…. Within days of his birth it felt natural and authentic. I had my own Francis. Years later it would get really confusing again but for now, everyone was distinguished with a name unique to them – for me at least.

So Rock and I are parents. He is leaving the country and we have to get from San Diego to Cincinnati, OH where my dad and stepmom have  loving prepared space for us to hang while Rocky is overseas. Ten days after giving birth we all pile into a little Ford Pinto and head across country; an infant, a male cat, and over 30 stitches in my bum. I sat on a donut and moved sparingly. I know we stopped in the (then) tiny little town of Texhoma, Oklahoma for the night and checked into a classic Route 66 style strip motel.  It may have been our second night on the road, I can’t exactly recall. It was THIS night however that stands out in my mind clearly. Francis (the baby) was hungry and crying. My milk had come in – my breasts were rock hard, my nipples were cracked and bleeding, and I needed to sit in a pool of warm salty water. I hurt, the baby was hungry and needed to eat but I couldn’t cope with the notion of allowing anything near the petrified coconuts on my chest. Rocky felt helpless and was getting mad at me for not knowing what to do It was 1983 – the world before cell phones – long distance was expensive and collect calls required someone be home! He simply needed advice from a woman who had experience because in a matter of days I had become a tired, restless, and hurting, bitch.

My mom was finally reached and she suggested that I sit in a bathtub with warm wet towels draped across my milk factory while offering to nurse the baby. I can only imagine what it must have looked like just two weeks postnatal. THAT was love…. For better or worse. The baby finally latched on while I cried and we got through the night. By late the next day we were in Clay Center where I finally had some experienced help (thanks Grandma R) and rested. We begrudgingly left the cat in the good hands of Gpa. We moved on to Cincinnati. It was great fun to watch my father turn into a Grandfather and we settled in just a few days before Rock left for his tour of duty.

He was gone for 6 months. In that time, an infant changes daily. I was so sad that he may miss even a minute of it so I invested in a Polaroid camera and took daily photo shoots of FMR Jr. They would get folded into a letter that professed love and sorrow for the distance. I stamped, and mailed one every day.  Eventually I learned to date them on the outside because he usually received them in a stack. To keep him motivated to come back to me, I added a personal Polaroid from time to time. ; )

Sometimes I think it was then that we really fell IN love with one another – those letters were our hearts poured onto paper. They were absent of defense mechanisms and blaming. They lacked rhetorical pieces of our brokenness and focused solely on the ways in which we supported and cared for one another. For a solid six months there were no arguments, no conflicts, no power struggles; we simply shared ourselves in the most vulnerable of ways.

We started to plan the rest of our lives and shared hopes, dreams, and aspirations. We began to develop a clear vision of what we hoped for our lives to become. We wrote letters to one another that were clear in intention and specific in our picture of the future.  The map to the rest of my life was being drawn.

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I split the time he was away by spending half with dad in Ohio and then the final three months in Virginia with mom. I loved being back on the East coast and fell in love with the Virginia Beach area. Rocky and I came up with a post-navy plan. He would only have 30 days of his Navy commitment left when he returned and we agreed to move east – all the way. We counted down the days with each letter. I washed windows in big houses with newspaper and vinegar for months as I earned enough money to get back to California so that I could be there when he got back Stateside. I made enough to fly out there and rent a trailer on the Camp Pendleton beach for the last month of his service. It was a surprise. He didn’t know I would be there and I was able to watch as he got off the bus – perhaps a bit envious of other family members running up to their loved ones – and then he saw me. I remember it as a movie moment, a bit sappy, probably cheesy, but everything I wanted it to be; surprising, joyful, and romantic.

We were three again. We had persevered. We still wanted one another – he came back to ME. His desire for me had withstood the test of separation and time (six months is a life-time at the age of 23). I began to believe that dreams can come true, that families can be happy, that life was fair. I was learning about hope and counting on it.

Silly me.

Prince Charming

In the years after high school I sowed some oats and experimented with life.  I explored love, travel, and a few illicit substances before it was all said and done.  I received a couple of hard knocks as men took advantage of my kindness and naiveté. I worked hard but spent a lot of money while I discovered slot machines and cocaine. I was enrolled in college but never took it seriously enough to make decisions about my life or grades that counted. I changed majors three times over five years and never finished.

I had graduated from high school in California and stayed there after my parents relocated back east. I was finished with moving around. For the first time in a decade I had established friendships and felt a sense of belonging. I was self supportive and made the decision to rescue my sister after she finished high school (her story to tell).  I rented a two-bedroom apartment and brought her out to live with me. My work with the railroad kept me on-the-go to the extent that I was gone more than half the time each month. Frankly I don’t remember much about that time except that we fought about dishes and who would be doing them. I experienced a reality of being stone broke. It took everything I earned to take care of us both.

I turned 21 and felt old. In an effort to bring some light and fun into my life, my sister arranged a blind date for me. She was dating a Navy guy from a local hospital base who had three roommates. Apparently, she invited them over to our apartment with the agreement that I could choose one for a date. I was getting ready for the evening when I heard commotion in the kitchen and as I entered the main living area I was aware of three young men. One of them – the only one I really noticed – had his back to me but oh…. What a view. He wore white flared pants and a camel colored short sleeve shirt. He was the tall, blonde, and broad shouldered. Even from the rear, there was no doubt in my mind that I was interested and immediately attracted. It was a visceral physical attraction. When he turned around and smiled, I could barely breathe. This blonde god was the kind of man that would never, ever, be interested in a gal like me.

His kind of attractive looked past girls like me. Even though I had an average figure and corrected my ‘bucked-teeth’ issue with orthodontics and dental surgery – my body image and self value was still strongly tethered to the original version of me. I felt an immediate sense of disappointment as I recalled the thousands of rejections that had previously taken place (in reality it was probably dozens – felt like thousands).  The other two guys were great but I put them all in the same category – too attractive to be interested in me. I felt disappointed but attempted to have fun as I knew Al was excited about ‘hooking me up’.  The tall one – the one that had first caught my breath – asked to lie down at midnight. He explained that he had an oral surgery procedure the next morning and was unable to eat or drink anything after midnight; he might as well sleep.  I directed him to my room and carried on. An hour or more went by… I was curious. I walked back to my room, opened the door and looked in on this human hunk who was lying in my bed. He looked up.“You know – it’s not just any man who gets to sleep in my bed.”  I felt brave. He invited me in. I sat on the edge of my bed and talked with him until it was obvious that everyone else had quieted down and was ending the night. He kissed me or maybe I kissed him or we just simply moved into one another in some romantic and wanton way. I believe I heard trumpets or something coming from the heavens. I knew that I wanted to kiss him again over and over and over. I was certain I didn’t deserve him. I hoped he wanted me. It was a beginning.

Truth be told, I was immediately in love. I was in love with the idea that a man who ‘looked like him’ would be *at all* interested in me. I lived in fear that he would wake up and notice the fat buck toothed girl I really was. When, just a couple of weeks (like, literally – two) after meeting, he casually discussed getting married someday – I said yes! Let’s do it. He moved into my apartment, turned 20 and picked out an engagement ring that I helped to pay for.

I gradually fell in love with the family attributes he embodied, the way he allowed me to feel special and beautiful, the insecurities he trusted me with. It was the first time that I understood I was not the only one who felt unlovable. He felt that way too – even though he was physically beautiful. An ah-ha moment…. Beautiful people could feel unworthy. He was Francis Marion Rockefeller (Rocky to me) and he was my prince charming. He was the vision of everything I had ever hoped for and it was rough. We were so very young.  We were both so broken in our individual ways but we didn’t know it. There was such a void in our awareness. In an effort to fulfill the Cinderella story, we got married and began a life together. We vowed to cherish and to adore without understanding the meaning or value of that commitment.

rocky1

It was SO MUCH work… which, feels like an understatement really. Neither of us was emotionally ready for the commitment of marriage and yet, we were drawn to one another in a way that felt constantly passionate and romantic. There were ‘eye’ moments…. The kind you see in movies where everything stands still and nothing exists except you both – there – in the moment. There were evenings of dreaming and hoping and planning the rest of our lives. There were fights about money, lots of adventure, and card game weekends with friends. We got a cat, went fishing, ate guacamole, and discovered strawberry shortcake in a way that only happens when one is pregnant.

rocky3Our son was born just weeks before Rocky was scheduled to leave for a six month tour of duty to Okinawa, Japan. He showed up after 9 hours of labor weighing in at 10 lbs 9 oz; not bad brewing for a first time mom. There are so many funny stories to tell about that day but leave it to say that neither of us had ever experienced a more joyful moment.  Parenting became us. We pulled maturity out of our asses and bucked up to the occasion of accepting the role of mom and dad. This was the moment, the single most important moment of our lives up to now. It was the moment that we understood commitment and honor and hope in a way that had never shown up before. It was the moment we unconsciously decided to get our shit together. We looked at each other and knew that our ‘forever’ had just been dedicated. Or so we thought.

 

Sand Castles

In my sophomore year of high school my mom and step-dad had to relocate to the metro DC area so that mom could obtain some specialized medical care for an at-risk pregnancy. She spent three months on bed rest before my (half) twin sisters were born. In an effort not to have us change schools AGAIN – we, my brother and I (sister Allysen was living with dad in California) went to stay with our grandmother until the school year was finished. It entailed come unique transportation arrangements since she did not live in the district we attended. They made arrangements for me to be picked up at an intersection of a state highway that a teacher drove for her commute. It was rural Pennsylvania and the term intersection is loose. There were a couple of roads there actually, the state Highway, a county road leading into a town of a few hundred, and a dirt road that was predominately farm access. It was the dirt road that I travelled to meet this teacher.

Occasionally, my grandmother was unable to pick me up in the afternoons and I was relegated to walking the 3.5 miles home. No, really…. It’s true. And no….. it wasn’t uphill both ways and yes…. I had shoes. I actually loved those walks when the weather was good. I recall singing Karen Carpenter songs and making up poems. One of them won a poetry contest at school. I still remember it.

As the autumn leaves turn to red

Lay your sleepy soul upon the bed

Close your eyes and go to sleep

Listen to the Willows weep

Nestle down all snug and warm

If you chill reach out your arm

Let me hold you extra tight

Before we kiss and say goodnight.

I’ve never forgotten the words to that poem and no, I don’t recall any special significance from it. I was probably missing my mother. I’ve had people say that it reminds them of death….. In future years if ever an English professor somewhere decides that there is some amazing underpinning of sorrow here and decides what it must mean, please know it is beyond my conscious understanding.

The other memory that stands out from one of those long walks is the profound understanding that I was “too young to feel this old”. I was fifteen and had assumed primary responsibility for my 6 year old brother. In all of the moves, the one consistent element is that he and I were together. Our sister often chose to live with the opposite parent and it was only a year or two out of our entire childhood that we all shared the same home. Along the way people would say “take care of your brother” or “you are such a big girl” and “it’s nice to count on you”. I became that girl – the one whom everyone depended upon. The idea that I may fail or let someone down became unacceptable to me. I began to thrive on people’s reliance on me. I became Miss Responsible while I lost my childhood.  That day I realized I was “too young” I didn’t know why or how it had happened exactly that I “felt too old” – I just knew I did and I didn’t believe that my thoughts about it would be taken seriously or accepted. I knew I needed to be dependable.

Perhaps on some crazy deep plane I was somehow in touch with the idea that my youth was escaping, my innocence waning, my adolescence disappearing and that is the source of the poem. Perhaps there was some subliminal pain that was unable to rise to the surface except metaphorically in that collection of rhyming words. Is that where art comes from? Should I have paid closer attention? Should someone have noticed? Nope, adults in my life were on auto pilot, coping with their own stuff – looking across the valley and choosing not to see the garbage there.

By the age of 15 I had learned and deeply engrained into my psyche the need to please – to be dependable and responsible – to take care of others. I had demonstrated so greatly that I could meet the needs of other people that *I think* people assumed I knew how to meet my own. I’m not sure I was aware that I had personal needs. How does a young person become aware of their needs if someone isn’t guiding them and teaching them about emotional and physical needs and about healthy methods of self care?

Some might argue (in fact, I often have a mental debate/war ensuing in my own mind) that learning dependability and responsibility are admirable attributes and actually, they are. However, there are UNHEALTHY behaviors that arise when we forget to set limits, to listen to our own needs, and fail to use our voice in fear that someone will feel disappointment. We learn to keep secrets where truth would meet displeasure. We develop perfectionist personas and fears of failure. We become slaves to positive response and most importantly, we fail to learn how to COPE with the idea that it is impossible to please all people – all the time.

That was me by the age of 18. I had become a complete and total people pleaser without skills to manage negative responses in a healthy manner and so it began, like a drippy sand castle…. one situation after another, the fears of disappointment and the inability to handle failure. Mental messages that slowly accumulated into a distorted perception of self.  There was my ‘inside’ self and the identity that I portrayed to the world. I had allowed a constant state of disconnect to exist in my mind between the person I felt like on the inside and the person I allowed the world to see. When people looked at me, they saw a confident, strong, smart, motivated, determined, and fearless young woman.  That was my outside – the part that people were proud of; teachers, parents, friends, siblings, employers, neighbors. I was a ‘good girl’. And, while those qualities are definitely there, the 12 year old girl who missed her mom and wanted to ride bikes and play hide and seek ‘til dark also existed and she was at war with me. She wanted to come out and be taken care of. She needed love and compassion. She wanted to cry in the lap of someone who didn’t judge. She needed to learn how to disappoint without risking total approval.

Merging my inside and my outside happened, but not until a storm blew in and washed wave after wave over the well fortified castle.

 

 

 

Intentions

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

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