Dear Old Dad…How to Survive a Turbulent Childhood

IMG_5841My father passed away when I was ten years old, and to say he wasn’t a perfect parent would be an understatement.  He was both drug and sex addicted, and was rarely at home.  When he was around though, he could be really fun and spontaneous; washing everybody in the neighborhoods hair in the kitchen sink, letting us soap our own windows on Devil’s Night, and putting my sister on top of the refrigerator when she stepped on a nail and then proceeding to soak her foot in cottage cheese.

And then there was the other side…

He could be incredibly volatile; screaming at us in the back seat of the car to “shut the bleep up” while he took a hit off of a joint (with the windows up), ordering my brother to go upstairs to get the belt out of his closet so he could whoop my brother (that had to be the longest walk ever), and losing his mind because after scrambling some eggs, he decided to get creative and flip the eggs in the air, and they went all over the floor (I’m not sure he thought that one out).  His behavior was erratic and we walked on egg shells whenever he was around.  He scared the heck out of me, and to this day I have PTSD-like symptoms when I’m around somebody who exhibits excessive mood swings.

He was far from perfect, but today I can say with confidence that he did his best. 

Now, it took me a very long time to buy into this “he did his best” concept.  It felt like a cop-out at first. “Why couldn’t he do better?” I would think to myself.  “He had to know better.”  “He had to know he was hurting us, and himself.”  “He had to know the drugs and his decisions were tearing our family apart.”  But in truth, he was a broken man who didn’t know how to do better or he would have.  His parents never taught him how to love, and when my dad was a very young boy his mother gave him and his siblings the responsibility of watching over their even younger brother, who sadly got hit by a car and died on their watch.  His mother blamed them, and there was tremendous guilt and shame in the family after he died.  It was clear that my father never found a way to forgive himself.

I felt a huge weight lift off of me once I understood where my father was coming from and why he acted the way he did.  I felt even better once I was able to forgive him because I knew in my heart he did his best.  And yet, I still felt a lot of anger and sadness around it, so of course, I had no place left to look but inside.

What were the stories I was still holding on to in relation to my dad? 

What were my expectations when it came to my dad?  (Expectations are something that often cause me suffering, so I knew there was something related to expectation at the bottom of this).

I’ve never met a perfect parent.  I certainly am not, my kids would be the first to tell you, but I can say for certain that I am 100% committed to showing my kids that they are loved. Unfortunately, my father was not quite as committed.   As a result, most of my life, I longed for the type of love I thought the perfect father would provide.  I longed to be loved by a father with great strength, who spent his days committed to his family and who would do just about anything to protect them.  I longed for a father who would give sage advice, who would show me I was loved, who would walk me down the aisle at my wedding, who would look at me with pride in his eyes the way father’s do when they’re watching their children, and most of all, who would show me that I’m worthy. 

I continued to experience anger and sadness until I was willing to look at these stories to see how they were holding these feelings securely inside of me.  What I came away with, after doing some digging, was that it was my job to love me, to know my worth, to be proud of myself, to trust in my own instincts and to know what’s best for me.  This was revolutionary!  But the more I thought about it, the more I knew that nobody else could possibly know what is best for me or give me what my own intuition naturally provides.  And once I took responsibility for my own life, I found great strength in becoming that provider and protector of myself and my family. 

One final step…I still wasn’t there.

Like my father, I still needed to forgive myself.  I needed forgive myself for believing the stories I told myself.  I needed to forgive myself for waiting around for somebody else to rescue me and guide me, when I already had all of the tools I needed to do that for myself.  I needed to forgive myself for believing that all fathers are perfect, all knowing and loving beings.  Most of all, I needed to forgive myself for believing that my father should have put his family first before his addictions and pain.  That was just not the reality – because he didn’t. 

Once I peeked under the hood of my stories, pinpointed my unrealistic expectations, forgave myself for my false beliefs, saw my father for who he really was and forgave my father, I felt free.  Ironically, this path lead me to be more forgiving of myself as a parent, because like my father, I am doing my best. 

It’s all his Fault!

It was the middle of the night, and I found myself crouched down next to the stove in my tiny kitchen, sobbing. My heart was aching like somebody was stomping on it with all their might. “He isn’t making me happy!” “I need to get out of this marriage, right now!” Incessant thoughts played on a loop running through my head. “It’s his fault I’m sad, he works too much!” “It’s his fault I’m angry, he doesn’t make enough money!” “It’s his fault our marriage isn’t working; he doesn’t tell me he loves me enough!” “I don’t want to face another minute of this pain he is causing me!” “How could he do this to me?”

“I wonder what would happen if I ran away and never looked back.” Except I was seven months pregnant, and running away wasn’t an option

Fast forward two months.

Wobbling my way into the hospital room, I was excited to finally meet my beautiful baby girl, Sydnee! I hopped up onto the bed (okay, maybe I didn’t hop), the on-call doctor placed the heart monitor on my belly, and with zero compassion, she told me my baby didn’t have a heartbeat. My world stopped. Everything I was so angry about that night faded away. Nothing else mattered.

So there I sat, healing from one of the most devastating experiences of my life and I couldn’t find anybody to blame. I was in uncharted territory. I couldn’t blame myself, I was a first time mom who had no idea what to expect before giving birth. I couldn’t blame Eric, what could he have possibly done to cause the umbilical cord to accidentally restrict Sydnee’s breathing. I couldn’t blame my doctor, I was in his office weekly and everything checked out when I was there. I couldn’t even blame God because, at that point in my life, I didn’t believe in God. For the first time in my life I was forced to consider that placing the blaming on others was just a series of stories I told myself to justify my bad behavior.

With nobody to blame, I had no other option but to look in the mirror. For instance, when I thought about how Eric didn’t make me happy, it finally dawned on me that maybe my mother was right when she told me that nobody had the power to make me happy or unhappy; that was my job. When I blamed him for not making enough money, and I looked in the mirror, I realized that we didn’t have enough money because I wasn’t working and I was over spending. When I blamed him for working too much, I realized he was doing so because I put so much pressure on him to make money. When I blamed him for not telling me he loves me enough, it became clear that it was me who wasn’t loving me enough; I was not taking very good care of myself.

As I started to turn all of these thoughts around, I began to see how everything I put on Eric was just him lovingly holding up a mirror for my benefit so I could see all of the things that were getting in the way of living my life to the fullest. Instead of berating Eric, I should have been thanking him, because the truth is, Eric was a loving, caring man, who only wanted to make me happy. And yet, I made it impossible for him to do the very thing I demanded from him. I didn’t love myself, and as a result, it was impossible for me to recognize love coming from him.

Once I made it my job to love myself, I no longer felt the need to blame Eric. Taking responsibility for my own shtick, rather than blaming, is the very thing that brings me peace. I know that every single thing that comes into my life is for my benefit to help me grow, not something that happens to me. It is within each of these experiences, that the universe is actually conspiring to help me grow to my fullest potential, whether I like it or not.

Tragedy isn’t the only road to peace, however, one does need to be willing to look in the mirror to get to the truth in order to find peace. Ironically, for me it wasn’t until after I lost my daughter, a heartbreaking experience, that I could see that I was responsible for everything in my life. Losing Sydnee brought me to my knees, and then to peace – one of the many gifts she left behind.

These days when I find myself starting to blame somebody else, I take a few deep breaths, look in the mirror and think to myself “Why is this situation/person in my life?” “What are they here to teach me?” Once I turn it around in my mind, I no longer feel the need to blame, and I place my attention on learning and growing. I can’t say it’s always easy, but with each experience the next one becomes easier.

k soulspring pic

Johnny Mathis #9

The greatest gifts in my life have come in the form of breast cancer, foreclosure, my drug and sex addicted father, who passed away when I was ten years old, my ex-husband, my children, Jake and Jonah, and their sister, Sydnee, who died two days shy of her due date.

One might smallest just breathe logoask how losing a father at a young age, getting divorced, losing a child or having cancer could possibly be considered gifts. There is no doubt that these were very challenging times in my life, but once the dust settled, and maybe even during some of the later experiences, I was able to see the gift in each and every experience in my life.

Within each of our not-so-normal lives, we are faced with challenges along the way, nobody is exempt. These challenges show up for us to help us grow. Each and every one of those experiences leaves us with a “gift”. The catch is, we don’t actually get the gift until we are aware it’s there for us. Imagine a beautifully wrapped present hiding way up high in the closet, but you don’t know it exists. It only becomes exciting when you know it’s there and you have the chance to tear it open. The good news is it’s never too late to find them, we just need to open our minds to another way of seeing things.

My hope is that through this series of dysfunctional, crazy, funny, challenging and sometimes embarrassing glances into my life, you will learn to spot the silver linings in your life, unveiling these precious gems that have the power to bring you freedom and peace of mind.

I’m going to tell you some very personal details about my life and you will likely have thoughts of judgment, maybe anger at some point, but don’t stress out, just breathe. I forgive you. Xo

Johnny Mathis

Sixteen years old, big crush, butterflies and all – Johnny Mathis, not the singer, stole my heart. He was a happy sixteen-year-old boy with the wise eyes of an old soul. I can see his face so clearly as if I just saw him yesterday. We had a ton of fun together and felt like soul mates, at least that’s how I saw it. All of my memories of him involve snow, the kind of snow that flowed from the sky in a beautiful mist steadily coming down, including that fateful night – the last time I saw Johnny.

I went with Johnny to meet his family one winter night. I had never met them before because he lived with his aunt who owned and lived in a small hotel on 8 Mile (yes, like the movie) that they rented by the hour, day or week. We drove back to his place after a fun night of finally getting to know where Johnny came from, and as we stood by my car in that misty snow. It was such a beautiful night. Johnny asked me if I wanted to “come in and talk”. I’ll never forget his words, even in that moment it caused me to pause. Looking back, I probably should have known something was up because boys don’t ask girls to “come in and talk” at sixteen. I was leaving for Florida the next morning though and had to rush home to pack so I declined and headed home.

While I was in Florida, I received a call telling me that Johnny committed suicide. He hung himself. To say that I was shocked was an understatement. He was a really happy kid. I didn’t see any indication that anything was wrong with him. He didn’t have the perfect upbringing but most of the kids we hung out with didn’t.

This was one of the saddest times in my life. I couldn’t wrap my head around why he would do such a thing, especially since we had such strong feelings for each other – at least that’s how the movie played in my head. I cried and cried while I listed to the Commodores, a band we often listed to together, and eventually life went on. To this day, I still can’t wrap my head around it.

I will never know why he did what he did or how he truly felt about me, but I can clearly see the blessings in having overcome a tragedy such as this. I learned that just because a person has a smile on their face, it doesn’t mean they are happy inside. We have to learn to trust our intuition when relating to others. Our bodies tell us the truth whereas often our minds are driven by what is best for us. I hesitated that night because my intuition told me to stay, but I didn’t listen. I learned to trust my intuition in that moment and I learned to trust what I felt from a person not just the words coming out of their mouth.

For most of my life, I felt responsible for Johnny committing suicide. I could have stopped him if only I went in and talked with him that night, I thought. But the truth is, if somebody wishes to end their life, and their time has come, there is nothing anybody can do or say to stop those events, at least not permanently.

Through this experience, I learned that when somebody asks me to talk, unless I have some emergency, I sit and listen to what they have to say. I look into their eyes and just listen. We all need each other to be there, and it really takes very little effort to sit still and listen. In fact, it’s far more work to think of something to say then it is to listen. In truth, most people don’t really want advice, they know deep down what is best for them, and they just want to be heard.

Johnny taught me about love, fast cars, not to stay at motels on 8 Mile, and mostly compassion for others. He was one of my great teachers considering the short amount of time he was here with me. Definitely, no regrets.

The Age of Aquarius #1

The greatest gifts in my life have come in the form of breast cancer, foreclosure, my drug and sex addicted father, who passed away when I was ten years old, my ex-husband, my children, Jake and Jonah, and their sister, Sydnee, who died two days shy of her due date.

One might smallest just breathe logoask how losing a father at a young age, getting divorced, losing a child or having cancer could possibly be considered gifts. There is no doubt that these were very challenging times in my life, but once the dust settled, and maybe even during some of the later experiences, I was able to see the gift in each and every experience in my life.

Within each of our not-so-normal lives, we are faced with challenges along the way, nobody is exempt. These challenges show up for us to help us grow. Each and every one of those experiences leaves us with a “gift”. The catch is, we don’t actually get the gift until we are aware it’s there for us. Imagine a beautifully wrapped present hiding way up high in the closet, but you don’t know it exists. It only becomes exciting when you know it’s there and you have the chance to tear it open. The good news is it’s never too late to find them, we just need to open our minds to another way of seeing things.

My hope is that through this series of dysfunctional, crazy, funny, challenging and sometimes embarrassing glances into my life, you will learn to spot the silver linings in your life, unveiling these precious gems that have the power to bring you freedom and peace of mind.

I’m going to tell you some very personal details about my life and you will likely have thoughts of judgment, maybe anger at some point, but don’t stress out, just breathe. I forgive you. Xo

 

The Age of Aquarius

Born in the 60’s to two beautiful, free-thinking hippies, life was anything but “normal”. Our jet-setting parents, who resembled movie stars, had big parties, big hair, took us on fancy vacations and exposed us to a fast-paced way of life. Not your typical hippies, I suppose.

We regularly attended public school – except that one time which you will learn about later. Oy veh.  We performed dance routines on the lawn for our parents with the neighbor kids, we rode our bikes all day until dusk, and we spent our days doing what most typical kids did back in the 60’s and 70’s. Looking back, it’s pretty clear that our lives were “different” than most of the kids on our block.

Believe me when I tell you I had plenty to be potentially embarrassed about growing up. I could have walked around in shame because my family looked and acted differently, but over time I was able to see the blessings that came with being raised by hippies. I learned to see my life through eyes of appreciation, freeing myself of shame – a very harmful substance to store in one’s body.

This “peace/love” world taught me to be open-minded and accepting of all types of people and circumstances without much effort. “Live and let live” was the mantra of their generation and in our house. Imagine a world where everybody accepted everybody else for who they are and with love for their neighbor. The world would be a very different place today. I’m proud of this gift I was given at a young age, and to this day strangers regularly approach me and tell me their stories effortlessly as if they have known me forever. I feel truly blessed that people feel safe to share their lives with me.

Having been raised by two parents who were “otherwise focused” taught me to be low maintenance and independent, too. I see how hard people work to keep up appearances and how they rely so heavily on others, and I am grateful to have learned to take care of myself without needing material objects to make me happy. This made things much easier when I lost my job later in life and had to downsize my life considerably.

Our parents teach us in many ways, and some of their best lessons are in the form of what not to do. I learned that a life of partying and drugs was not the life for me by watching others using drugs in excess. I may have had a completely different experience in another family, but I cherish my past and all of its dysfunction…I have no regrets.

Just Breathe…

The greatest smallest just breathe logogifts in my life have come in the form of breast cancer, foreclosure, my drug and sex addicted father, who passed away when I was ten years old, my ex-husband, my children, Jake and Jonah, and their sister, Sydnee, who died two days shy of her due date.

One might ask how losing a father at a young age, getting divorced, losing a child or having cancer could possibly be considered gifts. There is no doubt that these were very challenging times in my life, but once the dust settled, and maybe even during some of the later experiences, I was able to see the gift in each and every experience in my life.

Within each of our not-so-normal lives, we are faced with challenges along the way, nobody is exempt. These challenges show up for us to help us grow. Each and every one of those experiences leaves us with a “gift”. The catch is, we don’t actually get the gift until we are aware it’s there for us. Imagine a beautifully wrapped present hiding way up high in the closet, but you don’t know it exists. It only becomes exciting when you know it’s there and you have the chance to tear it open. The good news is it’s never too late to find them, we just need to open our minds to another way of seeing things.

My hope is that through this series of dysfunctional, crazy, funny, challenging and sometimes embarrassing glances into my life, you will learn to spot the silver linings in your life, unveiling these precious gems that have the power to bring you freedom and peace of mind.

I’m going to tell you some very personal details about my life and you will likely have thoughts of judgment, maybe anger at some point, but don’t stress out, just breathe. I forgive you. Xo

Ain’t Nobody got Time for That! #6

The greatest gifts in my life have come in the form of breast cancer, foreclosure, my drug and sex addicted father, who passed away when I was ten years old, my ex-husband, my children, Jake and Jonah, and their sister, Sydnee, who died two days shy of her due date.

One might smallest just breathe logoask how losing a father at a young age, getting divorced, losing a child or having cancer could possibly be considered gifts. There is no doubt that these were very challenging times in my life, but once the dust settled, and maybe even during some of the later experiences, I was able to see the gift in each and every experience in my life.

Within each of our not-so-normal lives, we are faced with challenges along the way, nobody is exempt. These challenges show up for us to help us grow. Each and every one of those experiences leaves us with a “gift”. The catch is, we don’t actually get the gift until we are aware it’s there for us. Imagine a beautifully wrapped present hiding way up high in the closet, but you don’t know it exists. It only becomes exciting when you know it’s there and you have the chance to tear it open. The good news is it’s never too late to find them, we just need to open our minds to another way of seeing things.

My hope is that through this series of dysfunctional, crazy, funny, challenging and sometimes embarrassing glances into my life, you will learn to spot the silver linings in your life, unveiling these precious gems that have the power to bring you freedom and peace of mind.

I’m going to tell you some very personal details about my life and you will likely have thoughts of judgment, maybe anger at some point, but don’t stress out, just breathe. I forgive you. Xo

Ain’t Nobody got Time for that!

College, 1985, I met a boy – a high profile sort of guy. He showed an interest in me and I was impressed with myself that such a guy would be interested in little old me. So when he called and asked me to come and spend time with him, I jumped at the chance. After only a half hour or so he told me to leave. It felt cold and embarrassing, but I ignored the feelings. A few days later the same thing happened. He called, invited me over and then told me to leave fairly quickly, like he was ordering me around. I felt very used and hurt, and yet I showed up for round three.

Something in me was certain from the very beginning that this was not a situation that would allow me to maintain my self-respect while participating in this “relationship”. It was loud and clear, the feeling in my gut, one I would eventually come to realize again and again, was my intuition, and yet I didn’t listen. I started hearing my thoughts tell me that I wasn’t worthy, a familiar meme. I bought it, for a while.

But then one day I realized I didn’t have to participate in this exchange. This boy may have initiated the game but I allowed him to and I agreed to play. The thing is, nobody can treat us poorly without our permission. There is no question he was not a nice guy, but I allowed him into my life and I allowed him to disrespect me because I kept going back for more. All I had to do was to avoid the situation and say “no, thank you,” but I didn’t.

This experience, like all experiences, had nothing to do with him. This was my opportunity to stand up for myself and find my self-worth, a lesson I have learned over and over throughout my life, and frankly still struggle to overcome.

Shortly after my third visit, I recall thinking, “I’ve had enough and nobody will ever treat me like this again,” and nobody ever has. I had to dig deep to find the strength inside to learn self-respect in that moment. I had to be the one who decided that I deserved better in order for me to grow that day and receive the gift of self love.

In this scenario, I learned to trust my intuition which has served me very well since, even though if I’m really honest, I don’t always listen. If I start to get that same nagging feeling in my gut now, it’s my wake up call telling me that I need to pay closer attention to the people and the circumstances I am allowing into my life. It keeps me on track, allowing me to walk in my integrity.

Lyin’, Cheatin’ B’ #14

The greatest gifts in my life have come in the form of breast cancer, foreclosure, my drug and sex addicted father, who passed away when I was ten years old, my ex-husband, my children, Jake and Jonah, and their sister, Sydnee, who died two days shy of her due date.

One might smallest just breathe logoask how losing a father at a young age, getting divorced, losing a child or having cancer could possibly be considered gifts. There is no doubt that these were very challenging times in my life, but once the dust settled, and maybe even during some of the later experiences, I was able to see the gift in each and every experience in my life.

Within each of our not-so-normal lives, we are faced with challenges along the way, nobody is exempt. These challenges show up for us to help us grow. Each and every one of those experiences leaves us with a “gift”. The catch is, we don’t actually get the gift until we are aware it’s there for us. Imagine a beautifully wrapped present hiding way up high in the closet, but you don’t know it exists. It only becomes exciting when you know it’s there and you have the chance to tear it open. The good news is it’s never too late to find them, we just need to open our minds to another way of seeing things.

My hope is that through this series of dysfunctional, crazy, funny, challenging and sometimes embarrassing glances into my life, you will learn to spot the silver linings in your life, unveiling these precious gems that have the power to bring you freedom and peace of mind.

I’m going to tell you some very personal details about my life and you will likely have thoughts of judgment, maybe anger at some point, but don’t stress out, just breathe. I forgive you. Xo

LYIN’, CHEATIN’ B’

For many years after I was divorced, married/unavailable men were attracted to me, one after the other.  One Guy in particular was dating me and another girl, and I found out because she sat next to me in a bar and started telling me about her boyfriend.  The universe was looking out for me that day!  This frustrated me and so I spent a lot of time figuring out why I was attracting unavailable men. Self-worth was at the top of my list, but I have that subject covered in a future blog. For purposes of this blog, I want to explain why, from their side, they were attracted to me.

I heard almost the same story from each of them about how they were like roommates with their spouse, how their spouse was no longer interested in having sex with them, how they had separate bedrooms, loveless marriages, too many finances to split, and how they were staying together for the sake of the kids.  I could see it coming a mile away.

Friends and family joked about how I was “too friendly”, and how men misunderstood that as flirting. Eventually, I stopped looking at men in the eyes when talking to them, and I stopped really listening and giving them any attention to avoid getting into that situation again. I took 100% responsibility for all of it because I believed that my being too friendly must have been the reason this was going, until this morning when it dawned on me what was really going on.

If we know that everybody that we come into contact with is our mirror, that they are here to show us what we need to see in ourselves in order to grow, then it stands to reason that I was their mirror.

These guys would tell me their wives no longer love them, and that they were stepping out on them because they needed to “feel love”, for example. In reality, what I (the mirror) was showing them was not that their wives weren’t loving them, but that they weren’t loving themselves!  I recall how most of them weren’t taking care of themselves; they were settling in their lives, not nurturing themselves, not living their dreams, not making the money they hoped to make, not eating healthy, not getting any exercise or playing the sports they love.  They were letting themselves down.  They lost themselves, and in the process they saw it as their spouse leaving the relationship, when in fact they left the relationship with themselves long ago.

Of course, each of them blamed their spouse, as I did mine for so many things.  Thank goodness I realized just how not to blame he was for anything in my life. (Blog about blame coming soon).  Ultimately, we are responsible for everything that comes into our lives and how we respond to each of those things. Now I take 50% of the responsibility because somewhere deep down I’m sure I was flirting on some level, even if it wasn’t intentional.

And, of course, the same is true for a lyin’ cheatin’ woman.  The good news is, if we know why we are doing it, we can change our behavior. Otherwise, we are just unconscious to our actions and we will continue to seek outside of ourselves for love when the only place we can really find love is inside.