Seven months ago my boyfriend and I began renovating our “rescue” house. I moved in last month. The move went well minus a 26 foot U-Haul side swiping my boyfriend’s truck shortly after we parked at U-Haul. Yes. “Moving is an Adventure.” It’s amazing what one can do with a regular driver’s license. Decide the guilt or innocence of a defendant. Vote. Rent a 26 foot U-Haul. I embraced my inner Buddha while calming myself among the isles of boxes, packing tape, and blankets in the store. “You cannot avoid suffering. Don’t get freaked out.” I don’t think I quoted Buddha verbatim. However, I maintained composure until we settled insurance issues with U-Haul and hitched our trailer. Three very kind, young, and brawny men moved all my things. We finished by noon. I went to yoga. A pretty Zen move considering . . .
Then, I panicked . . . a little bit. My boyfriend traveled for work shortly after the move. I held down the fort with my sweet pup. However, I felt incredibly discombobulated. I didn’t sleep well. I questioned whether I drank a Starbuck’s venti Pike’s Place. My mind kept organizing, sorting, and arranging. Where should I put all my things? Why is my boyfriend holding on to all the novels he read in high school? (Seriously, seeing For Whom The Bell Tolls elicited painful flashbacks from sophomore year English – glorious piece of VERY long literature.) Making lists for Target replaced mindfully brushing my teeth. Ugh. I kept meditating and practicing yoga. I held faith that the emotional dust would settle.
One morning, I looked through a guided meditation app, Insight Timer. I found a beautiful meditation about accepting change. The narrator said, “Dear One, your calls have been answered. . . Pour beauty into all the cracks of fear.” Warm tears rolled down my cheeks, and I felt a weight lift. Four years ago, I landed in a tiny apartment, on a beautiful island, following a harrowing divorce. My prayer was simple, “Help me heal.” Booyah! Four years later. Prayer answered.
Even positive changes come with stress. When change arrives, it can feel like someone thrust an itchy wool sweater over your head. It’s scratchy and uncomfortable. However, maybe it’s exactly what you needed or asked for. In a few weeks it feels comfortable, cozy, and you look beautiful in it.
“Every experience, no matter how bad it seems, holds a blessing of some kind.”~ Buddha
I recently admired a photo of the Chicago skyline in the home of someone special to me, John*. He laughed and explained, “there’s quite a story to the picture.” He recounted his huge crush on, Ann,* while an undergraduate at Purdue. John described her approaching him after class and asking if she would see him at the local bar that evening. His heart leaped! All the months he patiently waited to make his move paid off. John’s imagination drifted to kissing this angelic beauty and having the girlfriend of his dreams. He tried to appear calm that night while sipping his beer and keeping an eye out for Ann. Then, he spotted her. She looked gorgeous. . . AND she had her arm wrapped around a guy. Ann approached him and his buddies. She said, “Hi John. This is William. I’m leaving with him, and I was wondering if you could drive my car back to campus.” John’s heart sank. After recovering from this calamity, he graciously took her keys, and said, “of course.”
John nor his best friend owned a car. Hence, they decided to make lemonade out of Ann’s lovely lemons. They bought a jumbo bag of Doritos and two Pepsis and motored to Chicago. Two hours later they pulled up to the Chicago skyline. John grabbed his camera and captured the beautiful photo now adorning his wall. He and his buddy drove home around 4am and cleared the Dorito crumbs out of Ann’s car. She was never the wiser.
A month ago, I approached my sweet Prius. The shattered driver’s side mirror desperately clung to the body by a sinewy cable. The door also suffered a deep gouge. The note secured under the wind shield wiper read, “Amelia, I am so sorry for backing into your car. I’ll repair it immediately. Your neighbor.” Tears welled up in my eyes given it was the second time my poor Prius suffered a pummeling. I walked into the rental car company late on a Sunday afternoon. They only had three cars available for rent a Ford F150, Dodge Charger, and BMW 3 series . . .given I don’t feel comfortable driving large vehicles, you know how this one turns out. A little blessing in the form of a 2016 beemer . . .(=
Where might you find that blessing in the middle of a heartbreak or a pummeled Prius?
*Names changed to protect John in case Ann ever reads this blog.
At the end of a long day, I whipped into my favorite grocery store. CLUNK! A loud noise reverberated from my front tire. Shoot! I squarely nailed the curb. I felt dumb pulling into the parking lot, and I hoped no one witnessed my misfortune. Spotting a fresh chocolate chip cookie in the bakery case lifted my spirits. Unfortunately, the low tire pressure light quickly dashed it. While braking at the stop sign, my car lurched to the right. Ugh, my front was losing pressure quickly. I pulled into my driveway to hear the painful hiss of my tire deflating.
I called roadside assistance while taking intermittent bites of my cookie. The cheerful operator assured me she could help. However, since my insurance policy did not include roadside assistance, the help would cost $53.00. Double ugh! I savored the last of my cookie while watching the mechanic change my tire. I ruptured the sidewall. My tire was kaput. I called my Dad for support.
Me: Hi Dad, I blew my tire hitting a curb. I feel stupid. I need a pep talk.
Dad: Well A, there’s another thing you need to think about. You probably threw out your alignment.
Me: Dad, that is the worst pep talk ever!
Dad: Sorry, A. (laughing) I just wanted to make sure you got everything taken care of at the tire place. You’re well. The car is well. All is well.
Me: That’s better. Thank you. Love you.
Dad: Keep me posted on what happens.
While standing at the tire shop service counter, I overheard another customer buying tire insurance.
Me: It’s well worth it. I’m replacing a tire today for free.
Customer: Did you pick up a nail or something?
Me: No. I stupidly hit a curb while turning into the grocery store.
Customer: I totally did that the other day! I hit a curb in total daylight and felt like a dumb ass!
The service agent told a similar story. My shame quickly faded, and I realized everyone has these mishaps. This obstacle reminded me I’m not alone. I should give myself compassion vs. criticism. BTW- Dad my alignment is ok.
What gifts have obstacles brought to your life?
This morning I received an exasperating email from a dear friend. She volunteered to help with her children’s school popcorn fundraiser. Her initial commitment involved collecting and counting money but quickly evolved to managing every aspect of this endeavor. She repeatedly reached out to other parents for assistance, including the PTA president. . .Crickets. . .Instead she received phone calls and email inquiries about when and where to pick up the popcorn. She felt tempted to reply, “go pop your own f’ing popcorn. I’m done!” Knowing my friend, she likely replied with something kinder after she concocted a revenge fantasy of pelting apathetic parents with popcorn.
Several years ago I received a lucrative contract to help an agency complete assessments which had spent several months piling up in a file cabinet. When I pulled the drawer open, I noticed some were already out of compliance and others would soon follow. I quickly realized I could not dig this agency out of the hole it created. I instantly felt anxious and worried. I contacted my supervisor who replied, “Amelia, this is not your problem. Go to work on time. Work hard while you’re there and leave on time. The fact that they need additional staff will quickly rise to the top. If you try to save them, they won’t take the needed steps to address their problem.”
I’ve carried this sage advice into subsequent work environments. Transferring it into my personal relationships poses a tougher challenge. I think women are particularly susceptible to rescuing others. Maybe it goes back to deep evolutionary wiring telling us if a tribe member is struggling the tribe will die! Regardless, the tribe will not perish if we do not assume others’ problems. I try to enlist people in my life to remind me of this fact. For example, I called my sweet sister a few weeks ago and before I even recounted my dilemma, I told her, “I need you to remind me this is NOT my problem. . .I can’t save everyone. I’m not Jesus.” To each compassionate, yet irrational point I made, she lovingly replied, “not your problem.”
Where in your life do you need to remind yourself, “Not my problem”? If you run around placing oxygen masks on everyone else, and pass out because you forgot to put on yours, THEN you have a problem!
A couple of weeks ago, I nearly sustained a concussion while pulling items off my closet shelf. Ok, this declaration is somewhat dramatic. The cardboard tube housing my Master’s degree (earned in route to my doctorate) fell and bonked me on the head. Yes, I did not bother framing it. I already had a terminal master’s degree and a doctoral degree adorning my office wall. I thought hanging this degree would appear excessively pretentious, “too much.” When I theatrically recounted my tube-clobbering story to a friend, he expressed shock that I let my degree hibernate in the depths of my closet for eight years. He said, “You earned it. Put it up!”
Why do girls and women fear being “too much”? Maybe it’s because we tell little girls, “keep your voice down . . .cross your legs . . . don’t get fat. . .don’t make a man look stupid . . . be nice . . . be sweet.” Simply put – “don’t take up space . . . don’t be too much.” For the longest time I feared anger – others’ and my own. I did everything I could to avoid it; and if I felt anger, I questioned its validity. The messages of “good girls are nice” and “angry women are bitches” deeply rooted themselves in my young cerebral cortex. Now, I realize the value of my voice and anger. When I confided my relationship with anger to a friend, he encouraged me to channel my inner Beyoncé. In 2008 Beyoncé released her album I am Sasha Fierce. During an interview, she explained her persona of Sasha Fierce allowed her to own her power in her performances and dealings in the music industry.
Today, I am making a vow to let my light shine and to channel my inner Beyoncé. I hung up my master’s degree. I give myself permission to be outraged about. . .
My male advisor in college telling me not to pursue a doctorate because it was “too hard”
Equally qualified women earning 78% of what men make
Being verbally harassed by a male security guard, filing a complaint, being told I would be informed of the outcome and never hearing a thing
One in five women being sexually assaulted at some point in their lives
Having dates thinking a good night kiss entitled them to be human octopuses. Too many times I squirmed my way out of these situations and said, “I have to go.” I was nice, and I should have yelled, “Get your f*&ing hands off me!”
Thongs being marketed to elementary school-aged girls
Having an unfamiliar woman at a baby shower ask me if I was going to freeze my eggs since I was in my late 30’s and not married
Young women being told to “be sexy” but don’t have sex
People telling my amazing friend, who suffered a heart-breaking miscarriage, that she was “lucky to conceive”
Growing up in a culture that tells girls they must be thin, heterosexual, married and mothers in order to have value
To all my amazing readers out there, I encourage you to speak up, speak out and let your imperfectly, beautiful light shine! Please feel free to add comments about injustices you no longer wish to be silent about.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson
While munching from a box of Tagalong Girl Scout cookies, I recalled my Girl Scout cookie-selling days. Notice I did not use the word “fondly” to describe this recollection. I had a short stint in the Girl Scouts. I entered in fifth grade and exited in sixth. The cookie-selling requirement and a budding interest in boys likely contributed to my short-lived career. I’m sure the cookie-selling experience was designed to instill confidence in pre-adolescent girls. All it infused in me was terror.
Let’s step back to my fifth grade year – very bad haircut (mullet-esque), massive overbite, and a growth spurt that left my legs disproportionally longer than my arms. Oh, did I mention I was shy? Hence, I lacked the Girl Scout cuteness and gregarious that equated to high cookie sales. My mother and father were both introverted; hence, they had no desire to assist me with door-to-door sales. Fortunately, my extraverted and cute best friend down the street agreed to accompany me while I pedaled my wares. The sales transactions went something like this . . .
Me: (knock, knock)
Scary Adult: What do you want?
Me: My name is . . . um . . . . Amelia. I am a Girl Scout from Troupe 2818, would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?
Scary Adult: What kinds do you have and how much are they?
Me: I have Thin Mints, Trefoils and . . . (with a quivering hand, I unfolded and displayed my order form).
Scary Adult: You mean I have to order and pay for the cookies before they arrive?
Me: Um . . . yes.
Scary Adult: No, thanks. (Door slam)
Me: (Tears start pouring down my cheeks).
Heather: Don’t let her bother you. She’s mean and stupid. Let me do the next one.
Me: (Sniffle, sniffle, wiping snot on my shirt sleeves) Ok.
Heather: (Knock, knock)
Nice Adult Lady: Hello, can I help you?
Heather: Hi, my name is Heather, and this is my friend Amelia, who is a Girl Scout. I’m helping her sell her delicious cookies. She has all types of yummy flavors, and she is selling out fast. We want to ensure you get some too. How many would you like to order?
Nice Adult Lady: Which one is the best?
Heather: All of them are delicious mam. I recommend one of each. (Flashes big toothy grin).
Me: (Gives big buck-toothy grin and holds up the order form).
Nice Adult Lady: Well, then I guess I will order one of each!
Heather: Thank you mam. We very much appreciate your business. You won’t be disappointed!
Me: How did you do that?
Heather: You just have to act confident and people will believe you!
Thanks to Heather I actually earned a Girl Scout cookie patch and a little dose of confidence that year. I also went on to get a better haircut, braces and a growth spurt which allowed my arms to catch up with my legs. I also made a vow that when approached by gaggle of Girl Scouts at the grocery store, I will always buy from the shy one in the corner. Then, tell her that she’s going to grow up to do wonderful things.
For better or worse, we live up to the expectations that we and others set for ourselves. Whenever the doubt of my Girl Scout cookie days creeps in, I remember Heather’s words of wisdom, “just be confident.” Eventually, my thoughts and behavior align with this intention. Where in your life do you need to remind yourself to “be confident”? Who can you enlist for support if knocking on the door alone seems too scary?
I apologize for the tardiness of this post. Ironically, the day I planned to post this blog, I got sick. However, I am delighted to share this piece with you by my dear friend and guest blogger Taylor. My response to Taylor’s piece follows below. Enjoy! ~Amelia
I have lived with back problems for many years. If I am not careful, I can easily agitate old wounds and truly injure myself. Yesterday, I was leading a class on crisis intervention and slipped on a slick floor (And yes, I am aware of the irony in this situation). I immediately knew that the minor slip was going to create some stiffness and pain later. However, I had no idea what the extent of it would be. In preparation for what was sure to come, I went through my stretching routine, took some meds and iced the area of concern.
Only a few hours into a restless sleep, I was awoken by an all too familiar shooting pain in my lower back and legs. I got up, took another hand full of ibuprofen and tried to go back to sleep. With little hope of actually resting, I decided to get up and try to stretch a bit. As the night creeped forward, I could feel the magic of the ibuprofen waning. I went to the medicine cabinet and pulled out the big guns which quickly put me back to sleep for a few hours. When I woke up again, I managed to get to the shower and partially wash the nightly grime off my now stiff and achy body. Toweling off was an exercise in futility as my body groaned at every attempt to bend beyond a few degrees. Breathless and fatigued, I made one final effort to dry and clothe myself. Unable to even get my underwear on, I simply collapsed under the weight of this damp, naked cleaning tragedy.
Now, at this point, I don’t know if it was the stress, the ridiculous nature of the circumstance, or the muscle relaxers, but I couldn’t stop laughing. These were no ordinary run of the mill laughs. They took on a maniacal quality that drenched me in a feeling that was otherworldly. I felt disembodied yet somehow grounded to the moment. Each heaving laugh, was married to a pain so intense, I started to sob uncontrollably. What made this whole situation worse, was that I started imagining what the text would look like if actually had to call someone to help me. “So Amelia, how good of a friend are you? Well, I was wondering if you could come over and pull my underwear up over my bulbous backside? Also, there is some homemade ice-cream in the freezer if you want it. Thanks.”
These are the moments that truly test your resolve. Who did I call on to help me? Well, I called no one. Now this is not to say that my friends wouldn’t have come to my rescue if I needed it(And laughed their asses off as they would have surely retold the story a million times). In fact, the knowledge that support was available was enough to push me into action. I pulled myself up off the floor, kicked off the underwear that was trajectory wrapped around my ankle and went back to bed for 8 hours. I awoke in a bit less pain, but with a renewed sense of resiliency. Even in the toughest of times, we can surprise ourselves with the strength that resides within. Indeed, I had climbed the mountain of Motrin and seen the promise Lumbar support land.
– Taylor F. Alvarez
Had you texted me, I would have come, found myself consumed by your infectious laughter, pulled up your pants and then eaten your ice cream. Why is it that we hesitate to reach out for help during times when it is abundantly clear that we need it and others would love to provide it?
Like Taylor, I too live alone. Several months ago I contracted strep throat. I knew I was in for a turbulent ride when the chills hijacked my body despite wrapping it in a wool jacket and blasting the space heater. Miraculously, I negotiated the last three hours of work, crawled into my car and made my way home. In a zombie-like state, I trudged up the stairs to my apartment, opened the door and collapsed on the couch. Several hours later, I awoke to darkness and the realization I lacked the energy to move from the couch to the bathroom. Tears rolled down my cheeks as my sweet dog licked my hand to say, “I would help if I could.” I prided myself on fierce independence and now I truly needed help. For a few minutes, I threw myself a fabulous pity party. If only my ex-husband had done x,y & z I would not be alone right now. I quickly realized this party sucked and I best bounce before I woke up with a misery hangover. I picked up my phone and began scrolling through my contacts. Relief washed over me as realized I had several amazing people in my life who would come to my rescue. I would only be alone and dejected if I chose to be. I called a friend who graciously brought over coconut water and a thermometer. She also called to check on me the following day. Love is all around us. We just have to invite it in and trust that we are worthy of it.
Hello Everyone! Happy New Year! I realize it’s been . . . ahem. . . a couple months since I last posted. Upon reflection, I initially framed this sabbatical as a time of self-growth and actualization. Then, I went home for the holidays and realized I have a long way to go in this department. During my hiatus, I summoned motivation to re-enter the blogosphere. I signed up for a “Get Published Now!” class. Unfortunately, and ironically, it was postponed until next week. However, I am undeterred!
When I returned home from the holidays, I surveyed my cozy apartment. I thought, “I have too much s*#t in here.” I am by no means a pack rat, and I keep my space fairly neat. However, my gaze gravitated to items I no longer needed. Following my divorce I moved my sectional sofa and over-sized chair into a tiny, new living room. I knew the chair overwhelmed the space. However, it matched the sofa, technically fit, and served as my splendidly imperfect dog’s favorite napping space. I rarely sat in it (or dusted under it for that matter . . . eww). I knew it needed to go. I considered consigning it, but this option seemed burdensome. I decided to email my local friends and inquire if they were interested in or knew of someone who could use the chair. A few minutes later I received an email from my yoga instructor. She shared that one of my classmates lost everything in a fire Christmas Day. I made contact with this classmate who expressed interest in the chair. When she saw it, her eyes filled with tears. She commented that it looked remarkably similar to the one she lost in the fire. That evening some friends came over to pick me up for dinner, and we had some time to spare prior to our reservation. They kindly helped me re-arrange my furniture which made my living space open and inviting. Moving the furniture independently would have likely resulted in an exorbitant chiropractor bill!
A couple of days later my sweet sister told me she had a pretty rough day and just desired a hug. On her way to the metro station, she saw a homeless man outside her office building. She had seen him several times, and he never asked for a handout. She stated she felt called to give him a few dollars and wish him a good day. This deed resulted in her missing her usual train. However, while waiting on the platform, she unexpectedly spotted a friend who greeted her with a big hug. She would have missed him had she caught the earlier train.
Love finds us when we make space for it and give it away. What things do you need to let go of? Make space for? How can you show your love today? (Commenting on my blog is one way if you’re struggling here. . . or calling your Mom . . . the possibilities are endless.)
I often recite the Zen saying, “No snowflake falls in the wrong place,” when my life misaligns with the one I envisioned. Yes, I repeat it . . . um . . . often. During the height of my perfectionism I functioned as a snowflake air traffic controller (SATC) – closely tracking each snow flake, carefully identifying the safest landing spot and doing my best to prevent mid-air collisions. Needless to say, this job quickly grew exhausting. Snowflakes fell where they desired despite my best pointing efforts. Honestly, during some of my scariest whiteouts, I found no comfort in this saying; but rather, found myself saying f@#k the damn snowflakes! It’s cold. I’m uncomfortable, and I’m out here alone. However, the winds eventually let up. I looked up and saw glistening snowflakes slowly, gently, swirling and dancing in the air. When I shifted my focus to the snowflakes vs. the ground, I could finally see the ones which landed square on my nose.
During a recent phone call with my mother, she reminded me it’s part of the human condition to vacillate between enjoying the snowflakes and focusing on their landing spots. Whew! What a relief to know that I’m not the only one!
Recently, I gave myself an attitude adjustment after I found myself engaging in intensive SATC work. It helped that this modification involved grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s and carting home dark chocolate-covered almonds. When I pulled into my driveway, I saw my amazingly beautiful and optimistic 83-year-old neighbor and her son. She moved cautiously with her right hand tightly clenching her walker and left hand extended towards me. Her crystal blue eyes twinkled when she smiled. I took her frail, soft hand and commented how delighted I felt to see her. She told me I looked beautiful. (She also told me I looked beautiful on days when my hair was messily piled on my head, and I had a bag full of dog poo in hand.) Her son gently interrupted and explained they were going to the emergency room. My lovely neighbor’s health was visibly declining, and I knew this gorgeous snowflake would eventually melt. I hugged her, and she said, “I love you” to which I replied, “I love you too.” We were both keenly aware it could be our last meeting. I kissed her on the cheek as her son gently placed her in the front seat of their minivan. I waved as they pulled away and then immediately began to sob. I was not ready for this snowflake to melt or drift, but my SATC skills held no power here (or actually anywhere for that matter). A couple days later I spoke with her son who informed me she was weak but in good spirits. He explained they celebrated her birthday in the hospital. Then, he showed me a picture of her sweet frail body in a vast, sterile hospital bed. She wore a gorgeous, radiant smile, tiara on her head and a wand in her hand. Truly, a precious queen in her own right. As I write this blog, she is recovering in her home across the street. I am grateful I can enjoy this stunning snowflake a little while longer.
I have traveled alone – a lot. Given I am the youngest of the family, and the only one who lives on the west coast, I go to them. Given my recovering perfectionist status, I still exhibit “type A” travel traits. Yes, I have a packing checklist. I store it on my computer and ceremonially print it out prior to each departure. I commence packing two days before my trip, and I use packing cubes. If you do not have packing cubes, I highly, highly recommend them. eBags pays me nothing for this endorsement. Packing cubes allow one to rifle through one’s suitcase at lightning speed to procure a swimsuit or clean pair of underwear. I also bring a water bottle and quickly fill it once I pass security. I continue to marvel at folks who gawk at it and remark “Wow, how do you get THAT through security?”
Speaking of security, it is a rare event that I make it through without a TSA agent touching me in a way that warrants fine wine, a five star dinner and some smokin’ hot chemistry. I remember leaving Vegas in my new, designer jeans. You know, the ones with the awesome metal designs on the pockets which make any woman’s pancake butt look voluptuous. Note — never wear these jeans through security, ever. Evidently my derriere posed a threat to national security and required a physical pat down. The female TSA agent kindly asked if I wanted to do it in private. Given the early hour of my flight, I needed my double soy, latte stat. Hence, I opted for getting felt up in front of the entire procession of passengers. Interestingly, I have supposedly posed a threat to airport security by . . . wearing a large watch, pony tail, nothing (just kidding), and dangly earrings. I strive to practice thoughtfulness when I go through security. I remove any object which will activate the metal detector. I willingly choose the back scatter machine even though the picture is leaving little to the screener’s imagination. I limit my baggie of liquids to the quart size bag. Honesty, I ‘ve witnessed many a passenger coming through with two gallon freezer bags. One woman brought in a full bottle of Kai body spray. Honestly, I was jealous. Have you smelled that stuff? It is amazing.
I am known to take VERY early morning flights in order to arrive on the east coast at a reasonable hour. (Do I love my family or what?) Hence, my first order of business is to find a large cup of java. Then, I find intellectually stimulating reading material. Ok, I am going to be f’ing honest with you folks. I bring The Week and use it to disguise People. Don’t judge. I know many of you have done the same thing . . . Did you know the stars are just like us? They go to Starbucks and pump their own gas. Who knew? Cross country flights give me plenty of time to read, watch movies . . . I experienced a minor myocardial infarction when the wifi signal disappeared in the middle of Gravity. That movie was intense.
My flight to my sister’s place was relatively uneventful, and I exited the aircraft only to feel water dripping down the back of my legs. In my hurry to deplane, I overlooked securely fastening my water bottle. The bottom of my backpack was soaked. I ran to the bathroom and urgently blotted it with paper towels. It was like trying to soak up Lake Michigan with a cellulose sponge . . .no bueno. I panicked. Not only did I have a wet back pack. I had a wet bottom. Desperate times called for desperate measures . . .thank God the bathroom had a Dyson airblade. It’s not just for drying hands anymore. I will leave the rest to your imagination and assure you I left that bathroom dry . . . Using an object for a purpose other than it’s original function is the definition of creativity ya’ll.
I spent several days visiting my sweet sister and Dad while attending a conference. Then, I returned to the airport where I am happy report I made it through security without a patting or wanding. My first plane left on time and so did my second! However, after one hour on the tarmac we taxied back to the gate due to a mechanical problem. Ugh. This event presented me with quite a dilemma. I bought a box of gourmet chocolates for a friend who offered to pick me up at the airport. Given the delay, the decent option was to graciously thank her and say, “I brought you these chocolates.” However, I needed self-soothing after several hours in Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport with VERY limited vegetarian food options, no dessert and travel stress. I ate the dark chocolate, and I must admit it made me feel immensely better, so did the salted caramel, hazelnut ganache and pinot noir truffle. . . Currently, I am one hour away from home in a full-blown sugar coma. I look forward to landing . . .to tail wags and licks from my splendidly imperfect dog and crawling into my splendidly perfect bed. Good night.
Before job interviews, dates, and performances, well-intentioned friends and family members will tell you, “just be yourself.” What happens after years of adapting and shaping yourself to stay in connection with those you care about? We all do this. If we don’t, we risk losing connection with those responsible for our care. For example, if your parents frequently sent you to your room when you expressed anger, you likely stopped expressing anger to maintain connection with them. Currently you may fear losing connection with your romantic partner or coworker if you express anger. Hence, truly being you comes with risks . . . and benefits.
Personality theory asserts our traits and temperaments take root in early childhood. As a young child, I loved to create. One could find me drawing pictures, writing stories, making up poems, singing, dancing and performing (I had a fabulous baton twirling routine btw). I created the Happy Club – a non-profit organization devoted to promoting happiness everywhere. I had a monthly newsletter, contests, and a prolific membership roster (i.e., my entire family). Given the Happy Club began prior to the proliferation of PCs, I delighted in folding my newsletters, stuffing them in envelopes, writing out the addresses and toping them off with a stamp. My parents also delighted in the fact that this task occupied me for hours!!!!
Like most children, I loved receiving attention from my parents. I have fond memories of dancing to “Build Me Up Buttercup” with my mom in our living room, and my Dad letting me dive off his shoulders in the pool. I also earned a reputation for being “sensitive.” Woah, don’t you just love it when someone calls you “sensitive?” It’s kind of like when a friend looks at a picture you’ve spent hours painting and says, “that’s . . .um . . .different.” I wore my heart on the sleeves of my Smurf t-shirts. I cried for hours after I accidentally lost grip on my Pink Panther helium balloon, and it floated away forever. Sadly, when I was miserable, I ensured everyone was keenly aware of this fact. (Please know I always buy my parents lovely gifts for Mother’s and Father’s Day.)
Too bad a user’s manual did not accompany my birth. My parents were a product of the baby boomer generation which encouraged them to keep feelings private. Holy moly, what happens when the universe awards these parents a child who wants to share every feeling with them all the time? . . .They develop ample opportunities to develop patience AND this child gets sent to her room . . . a lot. She engages in letter writing campaigns with her parental unit via passing notes under her bedroom door, “Dear Mom and Dad, I hate you, sweet sister, Pooh [the cat] this hole [sic] house and the hole [sic] universe! No good night kisses! I mean it!” Doesn’t this note just make you want to pick this child up and smother her with kisses? (Surprised I became a blogger?)
I feel confident my parents will tell you I “mellowed out.” This mellowing involved developing a frontal lobe which inhibited my urge to share every single emotion the moment it developed. It also involved my learning which parts of myself to keep out of connections with others in order to sustain the relationships I longed for. Paradoxically, this strategy resulted in me feeling disconnected within these relationships. It also led to an addiction to perfectionism. Perfectionism is quite attractive. You can masquerade around like you have your shit together and others often believe it. However, it leaves you feeling like an anxious imposter and lacking satisfaction with your achievements. Actually, it kind of sucks. This said, a lot of children and adults gravitate to perfectionism when variables in their environment are not predictable. It soothes. However, like a log that you grabbed onto when you fell into a raging river, it’s hard to let go off when you reach calm waters and no longer need it.
During my years of heavy perfectionism consumption, I expended a ton of energy molding and shaping myself into what I thought was expected, good and desirable. I graduated from college early. I earned three graduate degrees. I met a successful, athletic and adventurous guy. We moved to California and found great jobs during the middle of the recession. We got married. Honeymooned in Hawaii and bought a beautiful home in a well-desired neighborhood and adopted a sweet dog. However, if we’re f’ing honest with ourselves, we can tell you that although we loved each other dearly, we entered our marriage from a place of fear. (Yes, making decisions out of fear typically is not a good idea.) We feared that if we somehow failed to live up to societal standards of success that we would experience disconnection and be alone. Hence, having someone to hold onto in the midst of this storm was attractive. However, if you add another person to that log in a raging river, the odds of both of you drowning increase . . .
Currently, I am reconnecting with myself . . . recognizing that my sensitivity is a gift that allows me to be quite intuitive and present to those I care about. I pick up on feelings quickly and will wrap my heart around others’ emotional wounds until they can stand on their own. I am focusing on playing, creating and connecting. When I bring my whole self into a relationship, I can give and receive fully. During times when perfectionism taunts me and trys to convince me I am an imposter, I ask myself, “what would eight-year-old Amelia do to feel better?” The answer is always she same. She would write, create, dance, sing, and connect with others. So I . . . blog, work on a manuscript with a dear friend (more to come soon!), play guitar, sew, throw living room dance parties, karaoke with my dearest (and truly talented friends) and look for opportunities to authentically connect . . . one of my favorites is sharing a hug with my dear, 83 year old neighbor, who is honestly the most positive person I know. Oh yeah, I also occasionally eat cupcakes with sprinkles, my eight-year-old self would have totally digged that!
If you find yourself struggling with the question of “seriously, who am I?’” I encourage you to play, create and connect.
Yogi: So what are you up to tonight Amelia?
Me: Oh, probably hanging with Frankie on the beach and then staying in for a movie.
Yogi: How long have you and Frankie been together?
Me: Seven years. It’s hard to believe. Time flies.
Yogi: Wow, the seven year itch . . .that’s quite a milestone in a marriage.
Me: (Totally mortified now realizing this yogi thinks my dog is my spouse and further realizing that I talk about my dog like he’s my spouse.) . . . um, yep.
This conversation nudges me, rather violently thrusts me, into the world of online dating. One of my dear friends, Sarah, met the love of her life and soon-to-be husband on a popular online dating site, so I think at least I can find a date or two. I visit lovetownusa.com (ok, not the real name of the website just in case there is really a lovetownusa.com and it’s a disreputable, vulgar “dating” service) and take the bazillion question survey that guarantees I will find the love of my life. Honestly, it takes me three weeks to complete it. Once I finish it, I have the lovely fortune of receiving my “unique personality profile.” In addition to including multiple blanket statements about all my fabulous qualities, it also lets me know about my following “growth edges”:
- Others might be afraid of your “new-fangled” thoughts. (Please send me a comment if anything on this blog appears “new-fangled.”)
- Some people may think you’re wound too tightly and may secretly want to see you lose control or relax a little bit. (Ok, maybe there is some merit to this one given I am a recovering perfectionist. However, I have thrown some very wild living room dance parties in my day . . . maybe I will actually invite others to join me at some point.)
- Some people may be threatened by your openness or find you too much to compete with. (Seriously, why would someone with three graduate degrees be too much to compete with? Did I mention I won a Nobel Prize?)
- People who spend most of their time on themselves may feel embarrassed around you. (Ok, this one means I am super nice. . .and I certainly hope narcissists feel embarrassed for talking about themselves too much around me.)
Yep, reading through these sparkling qualities certainly instills a sense of confidence as I create my profile and upload pictures for male “it will take less than three seconds to determine if you are worth clicking on” scrutiny. Yuck, yuck . . . vulnerability forms a lump in my throat . . . AND prevents me from activating this profile for three months. . . The many crazy book recommendations (e.g. Why Men Marry Bitches, Date Like a Man, and How to Get the Guy) and advice (e.g., don’t tell men what I do for a living, consider freezing my eggs) from well-intentioned folks certainly do not help either.
I decide to take a leap and activate my profile as the calendar speeds forward to “singles awareness day” (aka Valentine’s Day). I upload the lovetownusa.com app to my phone and make the brilliant decision to accept push notifications. Then . . . (insert crickets chirping) . . . absolutely nothing for two days. My worst fears confirmed . . . I am divorced and now undateable . . .I will grow into the elderly woman who dresses her dog in tutus and sunglasses and pushes him around in a dog carriage . . .at least I don’t have to worry about cleaning my apartment or making sure I own cute underwear . . . it’s all over now. . .
Then, I wake up to seven notifications on my phone . . . Jason sent you a smile, Rick, Richard, Ryan, Jeff, Jeffery and Geof want to get to know you better. Instead of jumping up and down like a squealing middle school girl, I feel utterly overwhelmed. I look at Jason’s profile and the thought of going through five more feels like drudgery. How do I keep these men straight in my head? Lovetownusa.com also has the lovely feature of showing you all the people who decided to look at your profile and NOT communicate with you. Why in the hell do I need to know this fact? What purpose does this serve? Enlighten me. I delete the app from my phone, go about my day, go to bed and wake up at 4am with a vulnerability hangover. Brene Brown, vulnerability and shame researcher, made this term famous in her second TED talk. According to dictionary.com, when something is vulnerable it is capable of being wounded or hurt. After going through an intensely painful divorce, entering the world of online dating renders me vulnerable. I call Sarah for support.
Me: I just earned an F in online dating.
Sarah: There are no grades in online dating, unless you found a dating site with which I am unfamiliar.
Me: Is there a way I can do this without being vulnerable? My head hurts. Do you have a cure for a vulnerability hangover?
Sarah: Yes, do that which you fear.
Me: You mean I actually have to communicate with some of these men?
Sarah: Yes or you can just hole up in your apartment with Frankie.
Me: Frankie is safer.
Sarah: True, but Frankie also licks his feet and his butt.
Me: Good point. I will respond to some of these men.
Sarah: You should also reach out to some of your matches.
Me: Seriously? This is so much work . . . I think I would rather go back to middle school and be a wallflower.
Sarah: Hang in there sweetie. I am really proud of you. It takes a ton of courage to step back out there again when you suffered a deep and excruciatingly painful heart break. Take it at your own pace.
Me: Thank you. I love you.
Sarah: Love you too.
I start responding to these men. Lovetownusa.com requires users to go through several levels of “piloted communication” before delving into the world of email. Slowly I find myself getting excited about some of the conversations, thinking I might meet some nice guys . . . it’s fun getting to know new people . . . until one just abruptly stops communicating with you! Unlike a totally normal and rational person, the recovering perfectionist in me tries to personalize my first “email drop.” I try to challenge her critical voice by coming up with perfectly plausible reasons why he stopped emailing me such as . . .
- He got trapped under a heavy object and is doing everything possible in his power to reach his computer to email me back.
- He was kidnapped by aliens.
- He hit his head and completely lost his memory.
- He contracted a flesh-eating virus.
- He witnessed a horrible crime and entered the witness protection program.
- He realized we may be distant cousins . . . two fair-skinned, red-headed, very attractive people . . .it could happen.
- He was killed in a zombie apocalypse.
- The possibilities are endless . . .
I also must cope with being asked on dates! In my neurotic online dating state, I neglect to contemplate what I might do if one of these guys actually asked me out. I initially respond by saying things like, “Thank you so much for your interest in my profile. It’s been fun getting to know you but I think I’m not the best fit for you. I think we’re in very different places right now” (i.e., I’m neurotic and you’re not). Or “I would love to keep getting to know you via email before connecting in person” (this response was often met with an email drop.)
I need a break from lovetownusa.com and decide to turn off new matches while I travel to Texas to attend Sarah’s engagement party. I keep communicating via email with three men and this load feels manageable. Communicating with two of the men feels like “work”; however, I have fun communicating with one of them. He invites me to meet up for drinks to which I agree, then I delay for a week with a lame excuse about a cold and work conflict. However, I realize curling up with Frankie on the couch, while comfy, has minimal power in decreasing my vulnerability hangover. The only cure is to . . . Go.On.The.Date!
In consultation with my fashionista co-worker, I decide on an outfit, get dressed, do the hair and make up thing, hop into my car and head to a swanky downtown bar to meet my date. I step into the elevator and push the button for the bar level, the door opens, I step out, and I see him at the bar. I walk up, extend my hand and say, “Hi, I’m Amelia.” . . . My vulnerability hangover begins to subside. . .
To Be Continued. . .(What can I say? I have to leave ya’ll hanging so you’ll come back to my blog.)
Many of you likely read about Gweneth Paltrow’s and Chris Martin’s conscious uncoupling on goop.com. Marriage and Family Therapist, Katherine Woodward Thomas, coined this phrase and defines it as, “a break up that is characterized by goodwill, by generosity, and by respect. It is a process that leaves both parties valued and appreciated for all that was shared. . .and it is where two people are really striving to minimize the damage they do to themselves . . . and then to each other. ” Family therapist Dr. Sonja Rhodes notes, “. . . couples confront their irreconcilable differences by looking into themselves instead of blaming their partners. Each partner takes a reflective, conscious stance toward what role he or she has played in the dissolution of the couple. This is actually a pretty radical point of view when you consider that when nearly all people talk about their divorces, there’s always some element of blaming their partner.” In the midst of feeling hurt, abandoned and rejected, it is all too tempting to cling to the ways in which our partners wronged us. The process of turning inward and acknowledging we made mistakes leaves us, particularly perfectionists, feeling terribly vulnerable. Kuddos to those who muster this type of courage.
Public comment disparaging Gweneth for not saying “divorce” angers and saddens me. The reality of divorce is excruciatingly painful even under the best of circumstances. I would have gladly welcomed a publicist to craft a meaningful, positively-framed statement (not to mention flattering photo) to distribute to my family and friends when my ex-husband and I decided to “consciously uncouple.” Given I was deep in the throes of perfectionism in my marriage, I worked hard to make it look “perfect.” We depicted a story-book picture on the outside despite a bed of molten lava bubbling up beneath the dreadfully shallow surface. My ex-husband and I loved each other, lived in an attractive home in a much desired area of town, had good jobs, belonged to an extravagant “sports resort” where I could swim in a sparkling, heated pool alongside former Olympic athletes, and spent our weekends on the beach. By societal standards we had “arrived.” Honestly, we arrived to a place where neither of us were growing and the fear that if either of us stepped towards a more authentic life the surface would open and the lava would swallow us whole. Eventually, the lava came with an undeniable force and power that neither of us could reign in. We fought for each breath while trying to continue the tasks of daily life. Given we painted a false picture to ourselves, family and friends (hell, we had all the happy couple pictures on Facebook) the news of our divorce shocked all those we cared about. I felt like a failure on so many levels and knew confessing my imperfection was the only way to save myself. I called my sweet sister (SS):
SS: Hi Amelia. How are you?
Me: (Violently sobbing) Not good. . . something bad happened with [ex-husband] . . . my marriage is over. I need to be with you. Can I come visit?
SS: Come . . . just come.
I flew across country to my sister and told her the true story of my marriage and wept and wept. Though the pain of this loss permeated every ounce of my being, I felt a weight lift. Now someone knew my anguish and imperfections and loved me deeply anyway. My sister’s love and support gave the courage to commence the daunting task of telling family and close friends about the death of my marriage. I encountered, “I can’t believe this” followed by “I’m so sorry you have to go through this. I love you. What do you need?” I feel incredibly blessed that those I so deeply cared about held my head above water, without judgment, when I feared I might drown.
At times, I still experience shame when I tell people I’m divorced. I try to practice self-compassion and remind myself that 50% of the population, including many people I love, trust and respect are also divorced. To be quite honest, the next person with whom I decide to “consciously couple” will gain a much better version of Amelia than the one my ex-husband knew. She is quicker to admit mistakes, laugh at them, and savor the present moment without worrying about when the sky will cave in. (She also has a splendidly imperfect blog!)