Merry & Bright

December 24th: Merry & Bright

I am not a religious person by any means, but I must confess, I do love the story of Christmas. The idea of Jesus being born, sent here to right things by a God who loves us all so much. What a beautiful thing to believe. Although I will probably never be one who buys the story myself, I am not opposed to rejoicing for those who do. I do believe God loves us this much, I’ll give you that.

I love the older traditions as well- Winter Solstice celebrations and Yule; a candle lit on the longest night of the year, rejoicing in the return of the sun, recognizing the wheel of the year as it turns. The fabled Wild Hunt, feasting and celebrating with ale and meat and all sorts of merriment.

I love the idea of Santa Claus, too! A twinkly eyed giant in his plush red garb lined with fur, flying through the night sky on a golden sleigh weighed down with toys, laughing with joy as he urges his magical reindeer on through the night! What’s not to love about that?

I love Christmas trees sparkling with light, glimpsed through windows as you drive home in the evening. I love tinsel and snowmen, angels and elves. I love presents wrapped beneath the tree and Christmas carols in the background as cookies bake in the oven. I love snuggling up on the couch to watch movies I’ve seen a hundred times, and seeing my daughter check the calendar each day to make sure the big day is getting closer.

I love all of these things. And this year, for the first time in a long time, I have found myself in a spot where I am able to recognize that I love these things and enjoy all of it. I know how lucky I am, trust me. I have had my fair share of years that were stressful and overwhelming, years when I was dead broke, or heartbroken, sick, messed up, selfish, or any other thing you can think of. I know how hard it can be. Which is why I am so excited that this is not a year like that.

Camryn is nine this year. She still wholeheartedly believes in all the magic of Christmas; she feels it in her bones. I don’t know…this could be the last year for that. So, I am going to enjoy every moment of it, and be grateful that I am present and aware of what a gift that is. As a matter of fact, that might very well be the best thing I get this year, and if it were the only thing, it would be more than enough.

I don’t care too much for presents anymore. I have so much, and if I need something, I can generally take care of it myself. What I want cannot be wrapped up in paper and sat beneath the tree. I want my kids here with me, just hanging out. I want to see the excitement in Cam’s eyes as she wakes to find the cookies gone and sees the stockings full and presents that weren’t there the night before. I want to share her joy and be filled with the contentment that only being with the ones I love most can give to me.

My wish for you this Christmas is that you find your way to the magic of this time of year. Whatever beliefs you hold dear, may they be enough to fill your heart. I hope that you can share your joy with someone who needs it, and if you have none, may someone share theirs with you. And if this year is particularly hard for you, I want you to hang on and remember- there will be years that will be much, much better for you down the road. I can almost guarantee it.

Love

December 13th: Love

Seems like, lately, I have needed to get the day behind me in order to look back and grasp the overarching theme that it held. Sometimes I know, right at the start of the day, what I am supposed to write about…others, as recently, I need to figure it out in review.

Yesterday was all about love for me. You know…my life is rich with love. I think, perhaps, it has always been that way, but I was just too busy with my worries, my inner battles, my self-obsession & self-consciousness to get it. It was right in front of my face, and I was blind to it.

And now…I am not. I see it, and I am awestruck. I don’t know a better word to describe it than that. Absolutely in awe.

I’m searching for the right way to explain to you the place where I find myself, and it’s hard. I talk a lot about healing and gratitude, change and growth. What I hope you understand is that I am telling you my story in real time. I am discovering as I go. I am finding new truths, glimpsing these beautiful things, getting struck by new wonders, every single day. I am just now learning so much of this.

I am a really late bloomer. I was stuck in a certain pattern for many, many years. What I am learning now is that my little efforts to be more…just, more– reward me in ways I could never have imagined. Because I had no expectation of getting anything back, maybe. Maybe that’s the trick. Again, circling back to what I touched on the other day, the more I give of myself, the more my heart is filled.

Today, it is overflowing. I love my life. I love my children, so, so much. I love my friends. And I love myself. I am so grateful that I found the things I needed to save myself, so that I could live this life.

Here is what I know: I did not get here by myself. Without the love and kindness of so many people over the years, without the help of people who didn’t have to give it, but chose to, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this right now. Though it may have seemed a wasted effort to them at certain times, I am telling you right now that every bit of it mattered. The cumulative effect of the kindnesses shown to me built a bridge that carried me here. I will never forget that.

Love is the ONLY thing that means anything at the end of it all. Love is at the bottom of every smile, every kind word and gesture, every selfless moment, every hug, every tear. Without love we would never laugh, we would never bend, we would never grieve. Love is never wasted. It is the whole point of this human experience, and I hope you remember that. I hope you believe it. Love changes everything it touches…which means you can change anything by loving it. Wow. If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.

Turning Points

December 12th: Turning Points

I just got home from seeing my therapist, whom I adore and respect, and who I’ve been seeing regularly for over five years now.

Tonight, I finally told her the story of my life- the part that happened before all of the things that led me to her. The part before the drugs and the craziness and the dysfunction. I told her the story of my childhood, what it was like to witness domestic violence on a more and more regular basis. How helpless I felt, the way I was so often frozen with fear.

Five years, and tonight was the first time I’d thought to mention any of that to her. There was more- things I won’t talk about here because they are too personal- yep, even I have certain limits. But I told her all of it. I didn’t mean to…it just came up.

I cried a little bit. It’s hard for me, when I think about that little girl that I was, having to cope with the terror I felt. I would sometimes go to bed at night wondering if I would wake up in the morning, or, if I did wake up, if I would still have a mom. I’m not exaggerating at all- this is the truth. I look at it now, from this perspective, and it’s like I’m watching some other little girl…and I wish I could save her.

But you know what? I did do that, didn’t I? I did save her, in the end.

For a while, I had some pretty shitty coping mechanisms, but…it’s no surprise, when I think about it. The funny thing is, I didn’t even think I was hurt by it. I didn’t think it mattered. I thought “Hey, it’s over now, it’s in the past, I’m fine.” And I didn’t really think about it after that.

I have shared my story with other people before. Often, they would say “It’s a miracle you turned out as well as you did.” But I just shrugged it off. First of all, I didn’t think it was a big deal. Second of all, I didn’t think I’d turned out very well.

Tonight though, it hit me. I finally saw it. I finally understood the amazing truth. I am a goddamn miracle. I really am. I fought so very hard to be this woman sitting here, writing these words. I just didn’t know…I didn’t know that’s what I was doing. I had no idea what I was really trying to overcome. And when it became clear to me all of the sudden, I was so amazed at what I had accomplished. I honestly don’t have the words to describe it to you.

Tonight was a turning point for me. I had no idea it was coming, and I didn’t expect it, not this one, not ever. I suppose it is yet another gift of my perseverance, my desire to heal. I have no idea what else may show up, what other gifts might come. I just know that I am so grateful. So very, very grateful.

What I want to share with you right now is this: keep going. When it is hard, and when it is easy. When it hurts and when you feel nothing. Wherever you are in your journey, whatever you are seeking, whatever you are healing, processing, grasping or releasing…keep going. Right around the corner might be the turning point you never saw coming. Five minutes from now, you might see yourself in a completely different, lovely way. Keep going.

I Almost Forgot (AGAIN!)

As you can imagine, and I’m sure plenty of you can relate, I have been very, very busy today!

I had a regular work day, had lots of housework to finish up, then my mom came and we visited here at my house for a while before going out for dinner- I seem to have forgotten to buy food that didn’t directly involve Thanksgiving, so…And I am not one to be going to the grocery store repeatedly.

I am hitting the sack, gonna finish up this book I’m reading, snuggle with my kiddo, and get some rest. Tomorrow will be hectic.

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, make sure you get some rest tonight. Prepare yourself for family interactions, if you’re having them tomorrow, and remember that your loved ones are only human- just like you. If they are hard to be with, try to remember that someday you might not have them around and you’re gonna miss this stuff. Be grateful for whatever you do have, and know someone, somewhere, would probably love to be in your shoes.

And for the LOVE OF GOD, leave the politics off the table, unless you are all on the same page. Life is just too short for that stuff. Wait until Friday to alienate everyone you love. LOL.

Talk to you tomorrow, kids.

Slow & Steady

November 23rd: Slow & Steady

Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge that I missed a day- already! And though I could formulate a million reasons why, the truth is…I just plain forgot. Lately, I’ve been writing in a willy-nilly fashion, sometimes in the morning, sometimes at night. I guess I thought I wrote something yesterday, but I did not. My friend Peter checked in on me to make sure I was okay (he thought I must be dead, I guess, since I didn’t write.) When he found out I was okay, he suggested that I write a piece about time travel, and I guess try to convince you all that I was writing from yesterday? I figured just admitting I forgot would suffice. But thanks, Peter! 😊

Okay, now, back to the other stuff.

So, today, I was given the rare gift of calm- a quality I know almost nothing about in any quantity at all. Sure, I have moments of it here and there, but today, almost all day, I have been utterly…calm.

I did not feel the pervasive drive to go, go, go that I normally do, but I wasn’t just sitting around procrastinating and feeling miserable, either. I actually got a LOT done, but all of the crazy pressure I normally put on myself was absent. It was great. I don’t have a clue why I felt this way or where it came from, but boy am I grateful.

And now that I know what that feels like, it will be easier for me to recreate it, you know? Looking around at my spotless (well, almost) living room, listening to the dishwasher do its thing off in the kitchen, and knowing that I did all the things I did today with not a bit of my frantic attitude ruining it. What a breakthrough!

Reminds me of that old story about the fox and the hare…well, not really. I can’t exactly remember that story fully. But I do remember the saying “Slow and steady wins the race.”

There might be something to that after all.

My hope for you, if you are reading this, is that you are given the gift of discovering something new about yourself. If you are, like me, a relentlessly driven mad-person, then I hope you wake up tomorrow and suddenly find yourself calm. If you are grouchy, may you wake up happy and joyful. If you are lazy and unmotivated, may you wake up energetic and ready to go. All of those things really are inside of each of us. Sometimes they just need to be discovered.

Gratitude

November 13th: Gratitude

Gratitude is very much like a muscle- the more you engage it, the stronger it becomes. And when you don’t use it, it weakens. I’m not talking about those out-of-the-blue moments that occur and fill us with gratitude for a specific thing or person or kind gesture, although those can serve as a catalyst to get the ball rolling.

Nope, I’m talking about cultivating gratitude for the mundane, everyday things we take for granted. The miracle of waking up alive and whole. The breath in our lungs, the warm cocoon of our beds. That first cup of coffee, the chaos of a morning in a house with children.

When I sit down every morning to pray and meditate, my prayer always begins with gratitude- thank you for another day. Thank you for my health, my children and their health. Thank you for this love in my heart and this beautiful life I get to have.

And sometimes, when I say these words, I am overcome. Sometimes I can’t help giving thanks while tears roll down my face because when I say that I am grateful, I mean it. I am not just grateful for where I am now, but I’m grateful for where I was and what it took to get me here, because it makes today that much sweeter. I am grateful for where I am because I know where I was headed. I am distinctly aware of how different my life could have been.

When I choose to live in gratitude, I am choosing to see what is right about my life rather than what is wrong. What is abundant rather than what is lacking. How far I have come instead of how much I still need to do. It’s really as simple as that. In this life, our perception of reality IS our reality. The way we speak and think and catalogue our experiences colors everything. So, when I say that cultivating a grateful perspective changes everything, I mean it.

Problems still exist. People still act up. There are good days and not so good days, and we certainly can’t control many things that go on. But we can control the way we view all those things. We can dig a little deeper, see the silver linings, recognize and find empathy for the pain in the bad behavior of others. We are free to enjoy the good days and find humor or lessons in the bad. We can surrender to the things over which we have no control and let go rather than struggle. We get to choose what is burden or blessing and find something beautiful even when our hearts break. That’s pretty amazing.

I could go on and on about gratitude, I really could, but the bottom line is this- without it, without the ability to appreciate the things you have now, you are setting yourself up for more of the same old thing. People become deeply attached to their unhappiness and dissatisfaction. They shoot down any suggestions or solutions, and when they do get what they want, it is never enough. There is always something wrong, something lacking, something painful. We ALL know someone, or several someone’s, like this.

The thing is…that’s life. There are people who have terminal illnesses or chronic pain or have suffered devastating losses who choose to have gratitude for what they do have and focus on the life before them. And there are able-bodied, healthy, perfectly fine people who cannot find one thing to be happy about and seem content with their misery. Well, let them have their pain. What a sad waste of time.

Today, I hope you can remember that you are in charge of your thoughts, your perspective, and your attitude. I hope you can hear yourself think and correct your thoughts when they start acting up. I hope you can feel overwhelmed with gratitude today, because life is really that perfect and gorgeous and good. I hope you can see it, and if you can’t…keep trying. You’ll get there.

Beginnings

November 9th: Beginnings

I love beginnings- the start of a new book (whether I’m reading it or writing it), a new relationship, the first day in a new house, when you are standing in the living room, looking around at the clean floors and the empty walls, deciding where things will go.

That’s probably why I love these early mornings so much, too; if I get up super early, I get just that much more newness out of the day. Time to decide what I can accomplish in the hours ahead, time to set myself up for the best possible outcome by meditating and honoring my creative pursuits, setting intentions and practicing gratitude- you know, all that hokey shit I’m into. Listen, I am practical, realistic, and honest to the point of being blunt, so I know how annoying and weird all this woo-woo spiritual stuff can sound. I also know that it works for me. And if it helps me, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t help you, or anyone else, for that matter. No matter what your circumstances happen to be, gratitude, meditation (or mindfulness), goals (or intentions), and creativity (or doing something that fills you with joy), when pursued regularly, will benefit your life. Take the spiritual component out if it makes you feel more comfortable, and you still have a worthwhile endeavor. Unless you are profoundly depressed, in which case it is basically impossible to believe that happiness will ever exist or even that it ever has existed in your life (I was gifted this knowledge by post-partum depression, circa 2010), or dealing with another mental illness that distorts reality, the practices I’ve listed are more than just mumbo-jumbo.

Mindfulness and meditation have helped me become aware of my thoughts and slow down enough to start to change them. Setting intentions and goals gives me direction and purpose. Being creative or doing something that makes me happy…well, it makes me happy. Joy is super important. And expressing gratitude underlines how much is going right, even when my feelings don’t match my situation. You can feel terrible, and still have so much to be grateful for.

So, back to beginnings- I love mornings, and Monday’s, my birthday, New Year’s, new moons, new months…all of those things. I’m a sucker for a fresh start. The start of something new is ripe with possibility, like the first blank page in a notebook.

But here’s the thing- you don’t have to wait for Monday to roll around to start over again. You can– hell, “Next Monday” is the second most popular day to start a diet, right behind “tomorrow”. The problem with next Monday’s and tomorrow’s is that they have a habit of staying just a little bit ahead of us, in the future. That’s why, even if it’s 2:45 on a Wednesday afternoon from hell, you can choose right then and there, to start over. You can take a deep, dramatic breath, super loud if you want- you can even slump down in your chair and scrunch your eyes shut or shake your hands like you are trying to dry them off, if it helps. Or, you can simply, silently decide “Okay, enough of this.”, and you can reboot. Make a small shift in your behavior or your attitude, and change direction.

And I say your behavior and your attitude because, of course, those are the only things you can control. You can’t keep your coworkers from bringing in piles of baked goods every day, but you don’t have to eat them. You can’t keep slow drivers out of the fast lane, but you don’t have to get enraged over it. You can’t stop life from happening exactly the way it does, but you can choose how you respond to it. Even if you have been grouchy and angry and miserable all day long and it’s eight p.m., you can stop right now and start over.

Today, I want to thank you for hearing me out. I know this was a little longer than usual, but I needed to share this with you. If you realize you are in the habit of being unhappy, you owe it to yourself to change that. If your thoughts are mostly negative, if your life is just this side of miserable, if nothing is working out the way you wanted…give yourself permission to start over. I’m not talking about running away, I’m talking about changing your perspective. Trying something different. We are creatures of habit, and sometimes we don’t even realize the impact our own thoughts and words and attitude have on our lives. I encourage you to pay attention. Think about it. And, whenever you need to, however it looks for you- don’t be afraid to start over. The beginning is wherever you want it to be.