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 Free School #3

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 Free School

I was in the third grade at Middlebelt Elementary School, a public school, when my father apparently had a disagreement with the principal and the principal told him he was crazy. This was not the first time somebody called my dad crazy, by the way, but this time the situation got heated and my father told the principal that he would be removing his children from school. So, what is a hippie dad to do – take his kids to “the Free School”, of course.

The Free School was a school that basically didn’t have any teachers, per se, but definitely had a few adults roaming around keeping an eye on things. There was also no teaching going on, there was just this honor system type style of “teaching”. They gave me a math book and told me to complete the pages when I felt moved to do so and then I was to place a check mark on the board when it was complete. Thank goodness for the check marks because the inner pleaser in me had to know that somebody knew I was doing the right thing.

I don’t recall any art or music classes, but we did swim once a week in the city pool and watch movies. And then there was that one “naked massage” class where two naked hippies walked into the room with a massage table and told us they were going to “teach” us how to do massage – now they decide to teach us something! They asked for volunteers and my siblings and I, with wide-eyes, declined.

I don’t recall why we left the Free School, but I am fairly certain it had nothing to do with the naked massage lesson. Looking back, I don’t think we even told our parents. We went back to public school and were understandably behind and a little embarrassed, but like every experience there is a gift.

I learned to trust my instincts when I was not comfortable in the massage class. This was one of my first memorable experiences of feeling my instincts deep inside my gut and trusting it.

I learned self-reliance while taking it upon myself to learn math even though I did it to please others, another lesson I learned over and over later in life. I needed to know how to rely upon myself just two years later when my father passed away, and so the Free School was simply the practice I needed for “the big show”.

Finally, I learned that there are all types of people living in all types of situations and one is not better than the next, just different. This lesson prepared me for having to go to ten different schools with a generous mix of cultures in each. As a result, I generally feel pretty comfortable talking to just about anybody. I’m grateful.

Get your Ugly Face on!! #22

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

Get your Ugly Face on!!

Feelings come up and we ignore them, push them down, smile and pretend like everything is A-Okay because everybody around us “appears” so happy, except they aren’t.  I recall vividly stuffing my feelings down as early as 5 years old with my drug of choice; cake batter. The following 35 years or so I spent eating as a means of avoiding feelings. I became an expert at numbing myself the minute I started to feel “badly”; cookie dough, brownie batter, hmmmm…I’m sensing a theme.

I remember Byron Katie, an amazing teacher of mine, saying that feelings come up to say goodbye. It is so true! I think crying gets a bad rap. Crying is one of our greatest, and most underused tools we have to help us heal our grief and grow to our potential. I think many of us, me included at times, think something terrible is going to happen if we cry, like our head is going to explode or we are going to break down, never to return to normal, but in fact, it’s the exact opposite. It is the one thing that can bring us back to “normal”. I haven’t done the research yet, but I am pretty sure nobody has ever died from crying. If we take the time to nurture ourselves, and find a quiet spot to go every time we needed to cry and just let that shit out, we would feel so much better!

I ptheholidayrefer to be alone when I’m crying, making crazy ugly faces, boogers coming out of my nose, mascara running down my face, and frankly people get uncomfortable when they see others cry.  If I’m watching a chick flick while my kids are at home they have a radar for the exact moment I’m about to cry, and they call me on it every time!  It really takes the fun out of it. Sometimes I know I need a good cry so I’ll purposely turn on a chick flick to get the tears to start flowing.  The Holiday is my 100% guaranteed, I’m going to cry for sure, movie. Music is another amazing tool for helping me to cry if I’m feeling stressed and I can’t cry.  MacKenzie Bourg from American Idol is my top choice for music these days. Something about his voice is so beautiful it just gets the tears rollin’.

Crying actually feels good, similar to that of laughing, especially when you’re finished and your face goes back to normal.  I noticed this after I lost my daughter.  I cried as much and as often as I could because I noticed that the more I got out, the better I started to feel in between the sad days. The way I see it is “the closest distance between two points is a straight line”, point A is the loss, point B is feeling better, crying is the straight liScreen Shot 2016-05-23 at 11.57.37 AMne (avoiding feelings is Mount Everest).

Sometimes I cry for other reasons like because I’m proud of somebody, or because I’m really feeling grateful about something, or because a Hallmark commercial comes on. In any case, it all feels pretty good if I let it come up and take its natural course.

Life has its challenges, and in spite of that, we walk around being strong, with a stiff upper lip, dusting our pants off and getting back up, and singing “I will Survive”. But sometimes, we just need a good cry. We need to really feel whatever is going on inside of us and let it all come out. Our bodies carry the stress inside and its giving us signals all the time to do something about it, and we ignore it. Until, if you’re like me, you wake up one morning with breast cancer, and then you think “Shit, I should have listened to my body and let that shit out!”

Ooooommmmmm… #7

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

Oooooommmmmm…

When I was ten years old, I vividly remember coming down the stairs to leave for the dentist office before school when my mom told us that our dad died. I don’t recall crying or even really feeling anything in particular. My dad was not exactly “present” in our lives, physically or mentally.

Despite the hippie upbringing, when my dad died we really didn’t talk about it. It was business as usual; back to school, play with friends, etc. We definitely didn’t go to therapy. It was 1975 and sweeping things under the rug seemed to be modus operandi. We did however go to TM, Transcendental Meditation, we were hippies after all. We learned how to mediate and even got our very own secret “Mantra” – a word one focuses on while meditating. To this day my siblings and I laugh about how we have never told anybody our secret mantra, joking about how we all probably have the same one. Maybe that’s only funny to us though.

While the whole “meditation thing” seemed really weird when I was ten years old, and definitely didn’t replace much needed therapy, but I am grateful today because I have a regular meditation practice that I can’t imagine living without. Meditation along with yoga keeps me sane, most of the time. It’s my happy hour, my anti-depressant, my unconditional love for me. It allows me to slow the thoughts down and choose my reactions. I notice when I don’t have time to meditate or do yoga for a while, it becomes challenging to tame the monkey mind, and I see the crazy mind coming my way; overreacting, believing the stories, making assumptions, etc.

Meditation simply makes me feel good, better than any drug I’ve taken, and I’ve taken a few in my day. My kids ask me why I don’t drink or take drugs, and the truth is because nothing makes me feel as good as yoga and meditation.

Don’t Miss the Bus!!! #5

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

Don’t Miss the Bus!!

For most of my early life, my mom was a stay-at-home mom. I remember how she and my aunts would spend their days together drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes while all of us kids played. It was a pretty great set up. Everybody had everybody else’s back and kept them company so if the kids got out of hand there was a united front.

After my dad died in 1975, when my brother, sister and I were roughly 8, 10 and 12, my mom had to go to work and became a hair stylist. She also lived a fast life during these years – the beauty shops back then tended to be known to draw the party crowd, especially after hours. It was a fun time with fond memories for my mom, I’m sure. No judgment, I’m happy she enjoyed her life.

The only problem with mama’s late nights was that her elementary-age kids needed to get up for school five days a week. I’m not sure how we did it, but somehow the three of us got ourselves up, dressed, fed, and to the bus every morning while she slept in. She has always loved her sleep, the more the better.

Now there were those few occasions when we missed the bus. This was the ultimate sin in our house. We had to wake our mom up to get a ride to school, and she was not happy! “I’m sleeping! Can’t you get a ride from one of the neighbor kid’s parents,” she would say. It was a rare occasion and a memorable one for all of us, which is why it didn’t happen often.

Most days, I’m grateful that it worked out that way for me and my siblings. It gave the three of us a camaraderie that we wouldn’t otherwise have had. It taught us to work together, and quietly, so we didn’t wake our mom. It also taught us a senses of responsibility for ourselves which we may not have necessarily discovered otherwise.

It also taught me that even when I don’t feel like getting up at 5:45 a.m. to get my kids off to school, I do it anyways because I know how much it means to have somebody be there for me.

I have no doubt that my mom loved me and that she always did her best, and to this day she still loves to sleep in.  Shhhhh, Mom’s sleeping.