Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Letting the Light In

A friend read this recent post of mine here and inquired, "Does that mean the bigger the wound, the more light?" I had to ponder that one. My friend continued, "In theory, it should let in more light, but we humans curl ourselves around our wounds in the mistaken belief that we can protect ourselves from even more pain. In truth, it makes it harder to heal, and perhaps harder for light and peace to enter."

I gave her words some time to sink in, and I realized that she was right. In the past, I have been too afraid to probe the depth of the pain, unwilling to let the sadness turn me inside out, certain that the tears would never stop once they began. In retrospect, I suffered mightily, not so much from the loss, the heartbreak, the missed opportunity, but rather from not being willing to explore, accept, and ultimately release those emotions and turn them over. Buddhist author, Pema Chodron, has a line I love: "Never underestimate the inclination to bolt when hurt. Stay. Unhappiness lies with exiting, with pointing away from the discomfort."

Over the years, my practice has matured. Today, rather than curling myself up, I am able to allow the pain, almost invite it, if you will, to have its way with me. Funny thing is, when I simply allow the pain, or the anticipated feeling of pain, to wash over me, it dissipates rather quickly, on its own, without a great deal of fanfare and/or damage. Fearing and holding on to it is what causes my suffering. My friend commented further, "It takes courage to deal with pain that way, especially if the wound is deep, there is often a fear that if you allow it free rein, it will consume you or shatter you into a million pieces." I have learned that the pain is more toxic, more debilitating, the longer I allow it to live, unchecked, in my psyche. Face-to-face with my fear of the pain, it often leaves with a faint trace of its "much ado about nothing" former self, supplanting light where darkness used to be.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Practice Makes Perfect

There is a spiritual component to learning to wait, and waiting well takes practice. I knew the first night I moved into my Rumford, RI home three years ago that I had miscalculated the emotional fallout from leaving Providence's eastside. I felt disconnected from the neighborhood where my children had come of age, and I was unaccustomed to driving everywhere. I also knew that the move made financial sense, and so I became willing to stay. Through the waiting, I lived my life. I opened a studio and my business thrived. My faith deepened. When I happened upon a third floor loft overlooking downtown East Greenwich (that would ultimately become my residence and growing practice) earlier this year, I knew that God's plan for me was infinitely greater than anything I could have imagined. When that same benevolence whispered in my ear, "Earth's School Of Love," over a year ago, I had no idea where spirit was going to take me, but I heeded my inner promptings, took a few risks, and today I am living a creative life that is deeply satisfying on many levels. Who knew? Again, God's plan for me surpassed anything my mortal mind could have conjured up. Thus, I have come to believe that being single is not a curse, but rather God's way of readying me for the best that is surely yet to come. I date. I do the footwork, but I no longer get wrapped up in the outcome. In sharp contrast to my non-sober life, I no longer need a man to fill the spiritual hole deep inside me. I'm content. I'm free. I'm open to the possibilities, but I've learned to trust my instincts (that when someone shows me who they are, I believe them the first time), to recognize that all that glitters is not gold, that while dating a nice guy is essential, dating a nice guy with purpose, passion, ambition, and healthy relationships, is a requirement. My downtime this past year has revealed that there are worse things than hanging out at home, alone, on date night. I'm no longer lulled into participating in any relationship that doesn't foster spiritual growth. As my sponsor reminds me, I choose to remain single.  In Single for a Reason, blogger Mandy Hale writes:

"I haven't met Mr. Right, and I deserve better than Mr. Wrong. I am fiercely independent, and I won't apologize for that. I have high standards, and so far, no one has met them. I would rather be a woman who is single than one who has settled."

On my one-year anniversary in recovery, I separated from, and ultimately divorced, my third husband. Up until then, I had sought the safety of committed relationships in order to avoid dealing with the soul sickness within me. Sober today, the buck stops here. No human power can fill that God-shaped hole. I am responsible for loving myself before I can hope to love anyone else. On most days, I am willing to bring my imperfect, work-in-progress self to the table. I invite others to join me, but my reasons for attending the banquet have changed. I don't need to be fed, and I can't and won't do that work for anyone else. If you tell me you've done the 12 steps, I'll presume you did more than read them off a banner on the wall (unless your actions prove otherwise). When I ask you what you're passionate about, please be a lifelong learner who stays tremendously interested (and thus, interesting). Finally, if you lay your financial immaturity at my feet, don't expect me to be amused or interested. I don't expect a perfect partner, but I do expect a partner who is perfect for me. Meanwhile, I practice. And practice makes perfect.

Friday, September 20, 2013

No Spiritual Bypass

I grew up in an alcoholic home, and as the oldest child, I predictably took on the role of caregiver for my soul sick, abusive father.  Somewhere in between the hurled dinners and verbal assaults at the end of every day, I would usher him into the living room, take off his work boots, settle him down on the couch, and pray that he would fall asleep before any more damage was done. As a result of my early training (and subsequent identification as an adult child of an alcoholic), it's no surprise that the boys I chose to fall in love with in high school and college were the ones who drank and drugged a lot, ran away from home, and/or came from the wrong side of the tracks. (Like my side of the tracks was so pristine.) My skill set provided me countless opportunities for hapless, misaligned rescue missions. I married the first boy that showed signs of willingness to improve. He cut his ponytail, registered for college classes, gave up the weed, and one spring day, he got drunk enough to buy me a diamond engagement ring. Sometime before our first wedding anniversary (and mercifully, before any children were born), a different boy caught my eye. A man, actually. An older man with a house, a sports car, a big job (or so the illusion went).  Without hesitation, I traded in my first husband for the next one, fully expecting to live happily ever after. And when that loveless marriage grew dim, I went back to my prescribed method of saving lost causes, and did it a third time. I paid a high price spiritually for all my rescue/be rescued excursions. Depending on anyone else for emotional, physical, or economic security, generates its own spiritual sickness. If I'm rescuing you, I'm playing God.  If I expect you to rescue me, I'm not trusting God. And in God's world---there's no such thing as a spiritual bypass. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Renaissance Soul

For many years, I beat myself up because I couldn't seem to concentrate, zero in on, be content with just one career path. I have, at various times in my life, been (and in some cases, continue to be) a teacher, a mother, a published author, a small business owner, a public speaker, a photographer, a floorcloth artist, a fashion designer, and a massage therapist. Whew! I used to experience great shame when my then-husband would lament, "Jeez, why can't you pick ONE?"

Why, indeed?

One day a few years ago, I picked up a book at the bookstore, The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One, by Margaret Lobenstine. Reading that book, I came to understand that I was not a lost cause. Far from it. I was a Renaissance woman with diverse interests, keen intelligence, wit, wisdom, vision, and more importantly, a zest for life! All of those interests, passions, and pursuits have brought me to the place where I am today. As Director of The Well Healing Arts Center in East Greenwich, RI, I am able to use all of these gifts to bring health and wellness to a community of women seeking a chance to explore, in safety, ALL of their interests, their passions. Through educational workshops, bodywork, movement, meditation, and other holistic alternatives, more and more women are discovering their own uniqueness, authenticity, and power.  Everyone of us is gifted. Don't be afraid to unwrap the package.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Vigilance Versus Fear

For most Americans, September 11 is a day of reflection, and I, too, pause to remember where I was twelve years ago when my safe suburban world was rocked with fear, confusion, and grief.  

With the first plane already on its unspeakable trajectory, I was running errands across town, and listening to Howard Stern on my car radio. I became aware (as did Stern) that something was very wrong in New York City. As black smoke billowed from the first tower, and the second plane ripped into the adjacent one, Stern could longer deny the fact that two planes do not crash of their own accord on a clear, sunny September morning. I tried, unsuccessfully, to reach my husband on his cell phone. As my panic grew, I instinctively turned my car around and headed for the high school where, without hesitation, I had my 14-year-old daughter paged and released. From there, we drove to her 7-year-old brother's elementary school a few miles away where I repeated the same scene. With two out of three of my children safely in tow, I drove home and settled them in the upstairs television room.  From there, I made the 40-minute drive to pick up my 9-year-old daughter who had just entered her first week of private school in Providence. As Lindsey and I drove south on I-95, I tried to keep my mounting fear in check as the final plane descended into the Pennsylvania field. For all I knew, our entire country was under attack by unseen forces, and my first and only response as a mother was to collect my children, assemble them in the safety of our home, and await whatever came next. For the rest of that day, and into the night, as details unfolded, I stood vigil over my young family.

At 26, 21, and 19 years of age, my children aren't children anymore, but I'm still their mother, and every cell in my body is programmed to protect them. As they have grown older and reached for lives of their own, my ability to protect them, to stand vigil, has had to mature. I can warn my daughters of the dangers lurking in mall parking lots. I can remind my son of the risks of hydroplaning in the high speed lane. But like that day twelve years ago, I must keep fear in check; I must remain mindful that, as scary as the world can sometimes be, irrepressible acts of kindness abound if we are willing to look for them. My middle daughter's thoughtful text to me this morning is a good example of kindness:

"Miss you.  Remembering 9/11.
Thank you for always looking out for me,
and being there when I need you.  Love you.  Lindsey."

For me, my daughter's remembrance of that day, and her take-away sense of safety and self, remind me that there's a huge difference between vigilance and fear.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Into Action

Chapter Six ("Into Action") of our textbook, Alcoholics Anonymous, tells us, "Once we have taken this step, withholding nothing, we are delighted.  We can look the world in the eye." The literature is, of course, referring to the freedom we experience upon completion of Step Five in our program of recovery ("Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.") That freedom, however, that ability to look the world in the eye, never felt more powerful than it did on Labor Day this year for me.  As an equine massage therapist, I, along with a human practitioner, combined our skill sets, and set up a tent at the Rhode Island Equitation Finals in East Greenwich, Rhode Island to massage horses and riders.  No stranger to the world of competitive horse showing (my daughter, Lindsey, a nationally-ranked equestrian in the late 90s, actually won the Junior Mini Medal in 2004 when the finals were held at Peckham Farm, across from the University of Rhode Island), I hadn't been to a horse show since 2007.  Lindsey was the consummate competitor, naturally gifted, graceful, and kind in spirit.  Not so her mother.  I was a hardcore show mom, and I made few friends among trainers, spectators, and other family members on the show circuit.

Gearing up for this year's finals, I anticipated running into several of the local mothers and trainers I undoubtedly harmed with my attitude over the years, and I was ready and eager to make those long overdue Step Nine amends.  Of the six individuals I greeted with a smile and outstretched hand, all leaned in to hug me, inquired about my family, my work, my life.  My heartfelt amends were graciously acknowledged and accepted.  (A few even sent me Facebook friend requests which I gratefully accepted.)  At the bottom of page 83 in the Big Book, we are told, "If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through.  We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness."  Leaving the horse show on Labor Day, my side of the barn aisle swept clean, I was reminded that the promises will always materialize if I am willing to work for them.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Spiritual Deadheading

My best friend in high school, Nancy, had a green thumb. Her house, and later her college apartments, were resplendent with all manner of hanging and potted plants. I particularly admired her ability to grow coleus---especially the big, bold, eye-catching, serrated varieties. Back in the 1970s, my alcoholism was just gathering momentum, and I was more preoccupied with where my next drink was coming from than with watering and maintaining houseplants. Nancy, on the other hand, had a knack for nurturing green things, and under her care, they flourished. Routinely, Nancy pinched off the purple buds protruding from the centers of the leaves. "What are you doing?" I wanted to know, fascinated and puzzled at the same time. She patiently explained deadheading to me. By definition, to deadhead means to remove a plant's spent flowers. To do so, channels the energy away from seed production into further flower production.

Decades later, deadheading has become a metaphor for an important tool in my spiritual arsenal. I have learned (the hard way) that holding on to anything out of fear blocks wisdom and spiritual growth.  To grow I must be willing to relinquish the fear of "what if." If I quit this job, will I find another?  If I end this relationship, will I find another mate?  If I move to a new community, will I make new friends? Being fearless today, I don't lament dead flowers.  I don't lament the people, places, and/or things that have had their glory and weren't meant to last. Like the coleus and other greenery flourishing on the fire escape of my little apartment today, I must be willing to discard the old and await the new. Experience has taught me that with faith and courage, I can channel my energy into spiritual production instead of atrophy. What/who are you clinging to today? What seeds can you channel into flowers?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Inside Out.

There was a time, not that long ago, when my outside---those external things that the world recognized me for---my marriage, my residence, and my job, looked pretty impressive indeed. Successful, handsome, entrepreneurial husband. An award-winning, historically-restored homestead with a center chimney for Santa to slide down every December. A circular drive with a new luxury vehicle parked in it every year.  Exotic vacations to faraway lands. Boxes of designer clothing that would arrive weekly on the backs of rumbling UPS trucks. Shoes. Lots and lots of shoes. (Ironic, considering that I've been a barefoot/sandal kinda girl all along.) A freeform, in-ground pool. Professionally landscaped and manicured acres. A potting shed with a wood stove hook-up. A second home in the mountains. Horses, barns, pastures, and a riding ring to rival any Olympic arena. All the trappings of an upper middle class, successful married life. To any outsider looking in on the charmed world I actively built and inhabited, it looked like a modern-day fairy tale. But like the alcohol I used daily to self-medicate, self will had run riot, and in reality, the stuff just created a bigger wall between me and God. My inside suffered mightily. My family imploded. My marriage failed. No amount of home improvement, world travel, and fancy parties was ever going to fill that God-shaped hole deep within my heart. Our literature refers to us this way: "The alcoholic is like a tornado roaring his way through the lives of others. Hearts are broken. Sweet relationships are dead. Affections have been uprooted." For me, recovery didn't come because of the things I lost. Recovery came because I could no longer deny the fact that my inside and my outside worlds simply did not match. Today, I bring my imperfect, spiritually evolving and authentic self to every part of my life. What you see is what you get, folks. That smile on my face? The way I am willing to look you in the eye? My eagerness to engage with you, grab a coffee, share heart-to-heart?  Yup. It's the same honesty and openness I extend to newcomers, trusted friends, family members, clients, and here on the page. If you are willing to bring your authentic self to the table, I promise to bring mine. And if you can't, or won't, don't be surprised if I see through your outside to the inside waiting to be released and recognized.