ENDURING BONDS


enduring bondsThe friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most.  I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me in the sunshine of my prosperity – Ulysses S Grant

Growing up in my family, forgiveness was never an option.  Although my mother often spoke the words “I forgive but I never forget,” I knew implicitly that her memory was sharp and every infraction was stored in her mental filing cabinet BUT she did not have the capacity to ever truly forgive.  She harbored anger and resentment towards me and my siblings for every misdeed, every step over the line, every sideways glance.  And, she taught us that crossing the line was unacceptable and unforgivable.  Misdeeds were punishable by a lifetime of resentment and isolation.  In my teens, it was commonplace for my mother to ignore me for weeks at a time as a result of an argument or her displeasure over my behavior.  Then, as the temperature warmed and the ice started melting, we would return to some form of interaction but there was never closure, never a reassurance that I was still loved.  It was erratic and black and white.  Today I love you, tomorrow I do not.  The next day, perhaps I will welcome you back.

As an adult, this behavior morphed into months, even years of disconnection.  Anger the beast and you will be frozen out, disowned, disregarded, unwanted, unaccepted.  She would surgically remove me from her life.  One day I was a beloved daughter and the next a pariah.  This pattern of behavior traveled throughout my entire family with my sister and I spending years not speaking to each other and then trying to reconcile, only to replay the same behaviors and fall out for many more years.  I had to give up.  I raised the white flag and surrendered because the emotional battle tested me beyond my limits.  Despite mastering the ability of turning myself off when the battles began, as I matured and began to try out more healthy dynamics with my own family and friends, I realized that the price tag for engaging in the impermanence of these relationships was too high.  I could no longer endure being bathed in the sunlight of the love of my family and then watching the deterioration that would ultimately result in rejection and isolation once again.  So, I walked away.  I cut the ties.  I ended the torture.  I realized that the good was not good enough to support the bad.  The risk was too great, the reward too small.

In a perfect world, I would have the ability to compartmentalize that portion of my life and, once I walked away from the dysfunction of those primary relationships, I would leave that behavior locked away in the room with them.  However, as a human being, I am a product of every piece of my life and my cells are infused with the shrapnel of all of my tours of duty, leaving me challenged to constantly be aware of my behavior and attempt to isolate every situation to allow it stand on its own legs rather than resting on the foundations of history.  Sometimes I am really good at that and sometimes I pretty much suck at it.

As I have shared before, relationships are challenging for me.  Trust is an enormous struggle.  I want desperately to have intimacy of all kinds but I have yet to figure out how to navigate through the rough seas that accompany that degree of closeness.  Even the most blissful relationships hit bumps.  No matter how much you try to pave the road to avoid them, there are potholes and speed bumps that appear – sometimes out of nowhere – that slow you down or test your driving skills.  For me, those tests often break me.  More often than I care to admit, I fall into the hole and struggle to get out.  I am challenged to figure out how to pull myself back up and can’t find the right way to ask my ally – who might feel like my enemy at the moment – for help.  I fall into that same black and white pattern of behavior.  I operate from my unconscious core.  For every time I think I have managed to rise above my roots, I find myself succumbing to my history.  I play out the same behaviors that I abhor.  I behave like the imperfect human that I am.

I can count on my one hand the number of people who I truly trust in my life.  The people with whom I have relationships that are worth fighting for.  The ones who can shatter me.  And those are the people I struggle the most with.  The level of vulnerability that exists in those relationships often overwhelm me.  The rules of engagement scare me.  They are etched in my soul and I grant them the power to love me and destroy me and hope that they will opt for the former…most of the time.  I know we will stumble and fall and I just hope that we can always pick up, hug it out, and move forward.  I pray that there is no winter of discontent, trapped in the forest, cold and abandoned.

With each of the people in my inner circle, I have tripped.  We have battled, sometimes in a bloody fashion.  We have hurt each other, we have broken each other down and, in every case, we have relented, recognizing that there are few people who come into our lives to touch us in such a meaningful way.  We acknowledged that our connection, our love, our bond was too valuable, too precious to allow to be destroyed.  Several years ago, I fell hard with one of them.  I watched as a relationship slipped through my fingers.  I sat by idly, playing out the same tune that was the soundtrack of my childhood.  We fight, we hate, we ignore, we isolate, we cut out the disease and never look back.  However, this time it was different.  There was no disease.  There was no reason for hating or ignoring.  There was a disruption.  There was discomfort.  But, unlike my own family, this time there was so much love at the foundation yet, unfortunately, I was unable to feel it or see it.  I was incapable of honoring the value of the relationship.  I operated on auto-pilot and handed the wheel over to my demons.  I walked away not looking back and assuming this was another stitch in the pattern of my life.

One of the aspects of life that inspires me is the belief in a greater power, a greater force that guides you through life.  If you have the ability to tap into it and listen hard, you will find the truth for your life.  After I walked away from this relationship many years ago, I started paying attention.  The pain of the fracture was so great and the loss so significant that I knew I needed to learn.  I knew I needed to understand more.  I realized that part of my challenge was that I was not traveling my journey with consciousness but, instead, unconscious acquiescence.  I looked for familiar clues and traveled the road following a trail of breadcrumbs.  Instead, I needed to brave a new path.  I needed to wander into the woods and find a new trail that took me where I wanted to go, not back to where I had come from.  After this relationship abruptly exploded and, once I took the time to lick my wounds, I decided to wander off into the forest and find my way.  And miraculously – or perhaps, appropriately – my travels took me on some windy roads, visiting a lot of destinations but led me back to where I was supposed to be.  Right back into the warm embrace of this relationship.  Right back to the love and comfort that so eluded me because I was operating from an outdated guidebook.  When I allowed myself to open up and explore the truth of what makes me happy and who I want to be, I knew that this void was not one that could be filled by anything other than the real thing.  I knew that this relationship was far too important to be disregarded or discarded.  It needed to be mended.  It needed to be reconciled.

Unlike my previous endeavors with my family, I confronted my fears and trusted that I could be honest.  I pushed past my steel armor that protects me from emotionally engaging and allowing myself to get hurt and put my vulnerable self on the front line.  I tried on some new behaviors and the payoff was rich.  I learned, I grew, I was rewarded with a prize that I already had but did not understand the value of.  I was – I am – grateful.

Last night I sat with my friend, ensconced in warmth and love.  I looked at her and her family and knew, deep in my soul, that this was where I belong.  I felt the energy that exists in only the most magical of places.  I understood, perhaps for the first time, that forgiveness is possible.  That it is ok to trip and fall and the courage it takes to ask for a hand, when the correct hand is being outstretched, can be met with acceptance and love.  I looked at her and her family and knew that they had carved a place in my life and in my heart that could never again be eradicated.  We had tested our relationship.  We hurt and struggled and found our way back to each other because that is where we were meant to be.  Like a good marriage, we fit together like puzzle pieces.  There was no pushing or shoving to make the pieces meld together.  They seamlessly connect and the picture falls into focus clearly and beautifully.

I regret the time we were apart.  I will never forget the pain or the disappointment that accompanied the break.  Yet, I will cherish the power of our bond.  I will be forever grateful for the learning and the healing that came not just from the reconnection but from distancing me from my past.  I am buoyed by the confidence that my cells can be cleansed and I can, even at 46 years old, adopt new beliefs and behaviors and that I am blessed to have my precious inner circle to help me along the way.  I feel loved.  I feel thankful.  I feel happy.

To my friend, I offer a toast.  Here’s to the highs, the lows, the love, the pain, the bounty that comes from sharing a life together.  Watching our children from those early days of infancy to their adult lives when they share their families with us.  Here’s to dancing at their weddings, snuggling with their babies, rocking in our chairs as our hair grays and our hard edges soften.  Here’s to starting our day with bloody marys and ending with a glass of champagne to toast enduring friendship.  I love you.  And, bring on the bumps.  We can handle them.

VULNERABILITY – PART 3


Trapped_inside_my_mind_by_rebecki[1]“So many bad things have happened to them that they can’t trust the good things. They have to shove them away before someone can get it back.”  ― Wally Lamb

One of the things I most value about my life right now is the fact that I have surrounded myself with some really deep thinkers.  I have opened myself up to others who are willing to tilt their head, step back, walk around a little and dig a bit deeper to get a different perspective on themselves and others.  They are bold and brave and daring enough to go below the surface, knowing that drowning is always a possibility.

One of those people is my friend Kim who I met through the coaching group I started at the beginning of the year.  Kim is an outlier.  She walked into the group with her hard shell firmly intact.  No smiles, no warmth, no gratuitous platitudes to set the tone.  She simply made her way to her chair, locked and loaded, and observed.  In return, I never felt any pressure, any need to step up my game.  I soaked her up and, in full consciousness, made the decision to pull her in.

I am intrigued by people like Kim.  I am fascinated by those who have complexities and layers that allow me to go diving deeper and deeper.  Those that require me to fill up my oxygen tank for I know I will be down for a while.  The individuals who allow me to explore them in order to explore myself are the ones who catch me in their nets.  They engage me, provoke me, inspire me, frustrate me, challenge me and, ultimately, move me.  They change my life.  Always.  Unfailingly.

The first day of our coaching group chills ran up and down my spine when Kim spoke.  That is not a very common experience for me but one that I know to pay attention to.  It was not the sound of her voice, the cadence of her speech or, quite frankly, even the words.  It was the soul behind it that I was reacting to.  I implicitly understood her and my brain was sending me clear messages telling me to pay attention.  And I did.  And I continue to.  Yesterday, Kim, a reluctant but brilliant blogger, published a post that convinced me that she has a wire tap into my brain.

For months now I have been struggling to source the root of some very destructive anxiety.  It has been surfacing and meddling with my well-being.  Reluctantly,  I looked at it, invited it in and then, ultimately, begged for it to leave, to no avail.  My recent bout with the anxiety has taken many shapes and forms.  It has ranged from generalized stress, sadness, loneliness, fear, abandonment all the way to irrational conclusions about some critical aspects of my life.  It has had my mind working overtime, set it into overdrive and catapulted me into the air, soaring into the darkness with no parachute, no soft landing in sight.  The most frustrating aspect to this anxiety is that I have been working so hard to pull myself up and allow myself to be more open, to embrace vulnerability and experience a deeper level of intimacy with others in my life.  And, in retrospect, I fear that this vulnerability that I so willfully incorporated into my life has turned on me.  I suspect that allowing myself to walk around without my shield, my protective armor, I exposed myself to the elements and put myself in the direct line of fire.

It’s a complex balance for me.  Vulnerability allows me to experience the fullness of my life.  It allows me to feel my emotions deep in my bones.  It offers me connection points with others that I so desperately crave.  I feel courageous and energized by my ventures down avenues that would have previously been closed off for me.  On the other hand, being vulnerable removes the safety mechanisms I have spent decades building, keeping me safe from my own feelings, my own very fractured psyche.  My shell has allowed me to lock away all that is scary, hurtful, dangerous.  It has given me a way to live what I believed to be a meaningful life without being constantly derailed by my own self.  It has provided me with a pathway that kept the wolves at bay rather than having to run, always looking behind me to determine how far I needed to go, how fast I needed to move for safety.  Well, that all seems great but, of course, all of this is smoke and mirrors.

It’s all bullshit.

At the end of the day, there is no way to straddle the fence.  Either you are in or you are out.  You can’t be vulnerable and hang on to your armor.  You can’t really experience those emotions while quickly suppressing them, shoving them down when they disrupt your balance, sending you toppling over.   Those are the moments that count.  Failure is the pathway to success.  Falling is the only way to learn how to get up.  For me, the missing link in all of this is trust.  The connective tissue between vulnerability and solace is the trust that when you do get hurt, when you stumble, when you screw up in a way that seems so fatefully unrepairable, that you will be able to pull yourself up, stand tall and all will still be intact around you.  You will still be breathing, you will still be able to stand, you will still be loved.

I struggle to trust.  I don’t have faith.  And therein lies my battle.  Trust is my demon, the monkey on my back.  I can look you in the eye, hear your words, feel comforted by your love and then turn around, walk a few steps and it all slips away.  Then, slowly, I implode.  I begin the dreadful descent, watching helplessly as I fall, deeper and deeper, afraid to ask for help, never calling for a strong hand to pull me up.  How can I?  I do not have the trust that you won’t extend your arm and then pull it away just as I reach for your grasp.  Contrarily, how can I expect others to dive deep with me if they do not believe that I trust them?  What guarantees am I offering if I am ready to bolt at any instant, fueled by my belief that all relationships are transitory?  While I do not believe that I serve up my cold, stone, hardness for most to see, the ones that matter the most get a bird’s-eye view when I am free-falling into the abyss of mistrust and anxiety.

So, I say this.  I need to be vulnerable.  I need to experience all that life has to offer.  I need to keep my heart exposed to capture those incredible moments that come along only when you are open and willing to accept them.  Sure, that is actually the easy part.  I can do that.  It is the moments that follow, when the after-glow begins to dim, when the darkness sets in that really matters.  In those times, when there are no fireworks displays, when all I have is the distant memory of the meaningful moments, can I simply be buoyed by the trust that it was all real and not simply a shooting star to be seen just a few times in life?  Can I have faith that not everyone is going to hurt me the way I was so traumatically hurt during some of the most critical years of my life?  Will I be able to believe that I am worthy of being loved, consistently and completely?  Am I brave enough to stare my mistrust in the face and send it away rather than welcoming it in because it is a familiar face.  I know what it likes to drink and eat.  It is an easy guest.  Until it shows it true self.  Once we move beyond the pleasantries, mistrust will decimate me.  It sets out to destroy every piece of my foundation.  It takes its jackhammer and loudly and painfully drills holes through my core.  Its disrupts my footing and drops me into the hole.  Do I have the strength and courage to look it in the eye and tell it that I need to make new friends?  It is time for us to part ways?  Will I be able to see the sheep in wolf’s clothing that appears before me looking like comfort and solace, familiarity and understanding?  I know that is the true test of bravery and of willingness to change.

I have been walking around for months, for years, for a lifetime with a steel cage protecting me from the rest of the world.  When things get tough, I pack myself up and move on.  I rarely unlock the doors and let myself step outside to see what the air feels like, smells like.  From my distant perch behind the bars, I assess every situation and test the water using a long stick rather than my own fleshy toe.  The heat can never scald me because I will never get close enough to be damaged.  Yet, I am setting fires all around me, scorching my flesh.  In my locked cage, I am cutting and bleeding, safe from the danger that lies outside.  When I see smoke in the distance, I know it is time to escape but somehow I seem to miss the heat that it is right under me.

I wonder what it looks like to look inside my prison.  Can you see through the walls?  Is there a cement enclosure or am I sitting in a glass house?  Are my endeavors obvious to all who care to observe or have I discreetly masked my masochistic tendencies?  When I am in full battle with the demon of mistrust, I lose all perspective.  I have no idea what is obvious and what is happening so loudly inside my mind.  When I am kicking and punching, struggling to stay afoot, I lose all peripheral vision.

Yesterday, when I read Kim’s post, I could feel her own battle.  I heard her inner voice comforting her, telling her it was ok to be guarded, to be locked down and I felt her overwhelming desire to set herself free, to find a new pathway.  That moved me.  It hit me in the face like a wayward baseball, soaring at 100 miles per hour.  It made contact, right between my eyes, shattering my skull and opening up a new space – a space ready to be filled with love and gratitude.  A space desperate to absorb the love and support that sits waiting for me.  I can see it.  I can really see it.  But I am afraid to touch.  I am afraid to reach out and embrace it.

Because, what if….