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. 

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.

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.

Blame, Shame and Guilt…a Big Fat Waste of Time and Energy

I have several friends who live in a lot of unnecessary pain because they still have serious resentment, anger, rage or even hate towards their ex-spouse.  Some of them still blame their ex for things that happened during their divorce, and things that continue to affect them and their kids today as a result of the divorce.  Some feel guilty because of their actions, i.e. leaving the marriage because they weren’t happy, rather than toughing it out and staying for the sake of the children.  Some of us feel guilty because we think about how much we need a break from our kids because being single parent can be tough, but a thought like that can bring on the guilt, for women in particular.  Some of them even feel shame for their behavior such as cheating or not being emotionally available for their spouse and kids when they had the opportunity.  In any case, all of these emotions suck the life out of them on a daily basis.

For these folks that I’m referring to and in most cases, it’s best to forgive.  You may ask “How can I forgive such a horrible…?”  Forgiveness is not about letting the other person off the hook.  Their deeds are their business to deal with when they see fit.  Nobody gets to escape their own karma.  We have absolutely no control over their actions, but we do have control over ours.  So lets stay in our business for a moment.  You can hate them again in a minute.  In the meantime, consider this…forgiveness is for you and your well-being, NOT theirs.

Close your eyes and go inside to the feeling that you are having towards the other person.  Is it pain, anger, tightness in the chest, queasiness in the stomach?  Do you think that they can feel that feeling?  NO they can’t, only you can.

You are burning a hole in your stomach over a feeling you have for another person.  Nobody is worth sacrificing our health over.  If you forgive, you get the benefit of removing that gunk from your system, and as a result you stand a chance to be a healthier person as well..  With that junk inside of you, you get ulcers and other dis-eases.  I’m no doctor, but I know from personal experience that I feel far better when I forgive others than I do when I stay angry at them.  It’s common sense.  So do it for you!

Forgive them as they are human just like you.  Human’s make mistakes, just like you.  They did the best they could with the information that they had at the time, just like you.  That’s all we can ever do is our best.  We learn all the time and have the opportunity to better the next time, but for now we know what we know and not a drop more.

Sometimes we are dealing with a truly nasty person, I realize that.  Being nasty is all they know.  They don’t know how to be a nicer, happier, consciences person today, but maybe they will tomorrow, and maybe not – their business.  They are doing THEIR best, not yours.  We always want people to live up to our standards, and we let our ego get in the way by thinking things like “I would never do something like that.”  The reality is, they would and that is their business, stay in yours.

What’s the big deal about GUILT?

Guilt is simply a wasted emotion that drains your energy.  If you feel guilty about something, what does that accomplish? NOTHING!  You feel bad inside and nobody else even knows, typically, and what if they do, there’s still no point?  Nobody wins when somebody feels guilty.  I can’t think of one good reason to feel guilty, it doesn’t change a thing.

There is a second part to this equation.  When somebody does something wrong they deposit negative energy into the universe.  At this point, it is in everybody, including the universes, best interest to move forward and find a way to make things right.  This is the optimal use of your energy.  The worst thing you can do is to feel guilty, creating even more negativity for our universe.  You are creating double the negative energy, and let’s face it folks, we need all the positive energy we can get right now!

So just to be clear, if you do something wrong, use your energy to fix it, not to drown in pain and sorrow feeling guilty.

What about shame?

Shame is the same idea.  If you do something that you consider to be wrong or negative, feeling shame will not help you, it will only drag you down.  Once you get that huge rock of shame on top of you, theoretically, it is much harder to find the energy to make things right.  You are weighed down by that heavy energy that you needlessly placed there all by yourself.  At this point, you will likely blame somebody else for the way you feel, but it’s always all about us, we create it all, so don’t even go there.

Shame too is a double negative.  If we do something we aren’t proud of we can either use our energy to make things better for the people that we hurt, or we can go down the long dark road creating more negativity.  It’s your choice.

Blame is the number one sin, against ourselves!
Somebody does us wrong and we are fighting mad.  We blame them for the way things are based on their actions.  I get it, they did something wrong, of course we blame them.  It’s their fault, right?  Maybe, and maybe not.  Does it matter?  Once it’s done, it’s done so what is the point of blame.  Blame is an excuse for holding onto anger towards another person.  As long as I’m blaming you I get to stay justified for being mad at you, even if you did it 2 years ago.

I know what you’re saying “But it is their fault that they cheated, that we lost our house, that the kids don’t speak to me anymore, that we had to get divorced and things are hard now.”  I know, it’s their fault.  So what?  What the heck does that even accomplish to know, nothing!  So now what are you going to do with that information?  We have 2 choices, either forgive them and let it go knowing that it is their business and their karma, or we can hold onto it and let it fester inside of us for 50 years.  Hmmmm….fester or freedom, good health or disease-hard decision.

The other side of this coin is that when we blame others it’s a great way to avoid looking at ourselves and our own contribution.  There is a saying “if you spot it, you got it.”  This means that if I am angry at you because you are greedy or thoughtless for example, then I need to look inside at my actions to see where I can find greed or thoughtlessness within myself.  It may sound crazy, but it is there 100% of the time.  Try it!  Sometimes it is in an area unrelated to the current issue but it’s there somewhere in your life, and you haven’t taken the time to seek it out to make it better, so it still bugs you when you see it in others.  That person has come to show you what you still have to work on.  They are your mirror.  What a great gift!  If we want to improve ourselves and we are sincere about it, all we have to do is look at the behavior of others that drives us crazy.  Once we spot it, we get to look inside and get real with ourselves.  It’s there, I promise!  Don’t give up or take the easy way out.  Keep looking.  You’ll notice once you find it, you no longer feel the blame towards that person or the stress associated with it.

It’s your choice.  You can either live with huge weights on your shoulders which we will call guilt, shame and blame or you can be free by forgiving and some old fashioned soul searching.  Do it for you, you deserve it!

Dear Corporate America, Lobbyists, Politicians,

Dear Corporate America, Lobbyists, Politicians,089

I’m writing to you as a concerned citizen. I’m concerned for future generations and the legacy we are all leaving for them. I’m sure to some this will seem obvious. My hope is to appeal to those who do not see it that way.

I realize from a corporate standpoint one needs to consider shareholders and profit margins, but to what end? What is enough? When will the shareholders feel confident enough that their investment is secure and that they can finally rest assured; $10 a share, $20, $100?

If we’re making decisions based solely on profit margin then the decisions we make will not support the well-being of the people who purchase those products and services, including you, your friends and family. I’m sure this fact has not been lost on you. I know for sure no amount of money will make you or any shareholder feel whole and happy inside. I know that deep down you know you are not exempt from the effects of all of these bad decisions any more than anybody else.

I am a mother who took a drug that was prescribed to me while I was pregnant and this particular drug company knew it was dangerous for babies in utero, and yet they made the decision to side with profit over the health of my son and so many other children. At 11 years old my son had to have open-heart surgery. There is no reason in the world that should have happened. I’m am curious to know, if that company had taken a vote with the shareholders and asked them if they would rather make an additional $5.00 per share or save the lives of children, what the outcome of that vote would be.

How about showing our children that honesty and integrity are the most important traits to cultivate. How about teaching them that the dollar isn’t the end all, because it isn’t. In fact, some corporations actually do set a good example and they are wildly successful! Look at Starbucks and Chipotle, they don’t compromise on standards or the well-being of humanity, and with little exception their stock prices have risen consistently over time. They are doing quite well for the shareholders, and I’ll bet they sleep very well at night.

How about showing future generations that they matter, they are our future after all, and they will be making big decisions on our behalf as we age. The younger generation is acutely aware that big business and politics don’t consider their education a priority, for instance. The decrease in funding and opportunities in schools is a clear indication that cannot be ignored. This fact is only heightened by the extraordinarily out-of-proportion defense budget that skyrockets as the education budget plummets. How can we expect our children to compete in this world and live to their highest potential when their opportunities are being depleted? There is no good reason for this. We cannot expect our children to respect us when we aren’t making decisions to their benefit, making them a priority.

To make matters worse, if you have ever spent time with a typical young adult from the inner city, you know the insurmountable odds they have to overcome to be successful. Education and nutrition, though, are two simple ways to afford these kids with an even playing field. We wish for less crime, a more civilized inner city, and yet we do not do the very things that would allow for it to happen; enthusiastically educate all of our children and provide them with the nutrition they need to be healthy and strong.

So, why is it that big business as a whole cannot seem to get on board with socially conscious business practices? How much profit is enough; $5 million, $10 million, $10 billion? And how do you sleep at night knowing the decisions you’re making are negatively impacting not only us, but you, your friends and family? If I had to guess I would bet you’re not sleeping well at all, and yes I’m talking to you. GMO’s aren’t only in my food, they are in yours too. Not only my friends and family are taking pharmaceuticals made by your companies, I’m guessing you are too – maybe ulcer medications, anti-anxiety medications, sleep aids??

You have to see the path you are creating for our children. People are far less healthy despite all of our medical advancements, and so many people are getting cancer. I recently had breast cancer, and I am an otherwise very healthy, clean living person. I went to an all-day meeting at the hospital that they have for new patients every Monday, and every Monday there is 10-15 new people diagnosed with breast cancer just in this one hospital! That’s outrageous. Daily decisions being made by big business and politicians are, without a doubt, significantly effecting our health and well-being. You cannot bury your head in the sand forever. One day it is going to affect you and or somebody you love. It’s not too late to turn things around.

So, how about working on creating good healthy foods for us all to eat, or drugs that actually make us healthier so we don’t get sick? How about instead of spending enormous amounts of money lobbying against things that are for the greater good of humanity (ex. GMO labeling) in order to create more profit for yourselves and the shareholders, you spend that money on making people healthier? How is this not an obvious course of action in light of the crisis our world is facing?

Our world is in crisis because of bad decisions made by people in power. I am begging you to consider being somebody who makes a difference in this world, but a positive one. Do things differently! Go against the grain! Be a leader our future generations can look up to and emulate! You have a choice every day in every decision you make.
Do you really want to leave a legacy of destruction? I can’t imagine you want your children to one day know the negative impact you had on the world. Or how about your grandchildren? Remember, the food you are producing and the decisions you’re making about pharmaceuticals are no safer for your family to take then they are for anybody else? And one day a doctor may tell them they need to take something and tell them that it is perfectly safe. Are you going to tell them it isn’t and that “you had to make the shareholders happy so you marketed that drug anyways, and you hope they understand” while you sit with them in the hospital during their cancer treatments or heart surgery?

So what’s it going to be? Are you going to leave this world a better place or are you going to be bullied by the propaganda that shareholders care more about the bottom line than the great good? Are you going to be a leader you and your family can be proud of or are you going to live in fear propagating more fear for a living? You can be an ass kicking leader, you just have to be brave and do the right thing!

I’m here if you need me.

Karen

My Cinderella Story Gone Wrong

Cinderella is one of the leading causes of divorce. If you don’t believe me, read on…

Most women grow up with Disney’s version of a storybook romance fueling their desire to fall in love, get married, have children and live happily ever after. Once we are a little older we continue on our path with movies like Sleepless in Seattle, Pretty Woman and The Holiday keeping our fantasies alive. We almost have no chance; we are pumped with romance not only in movies, but in novels, magazines and of course societal pressure to get married before we become old maids. What’s a girl to do? 

We finally meet a guy that seems worthy of our love and we get married. We plan a big wedding and get lost in the excitement of it all. Unfortunately, nobody really tells you that marriage takes a lot of work and dedication, they simply congratulate you.

I was no different. I bought into the whole handsome prince taking me away on his white horse nonsense and I liked it. It’s exciting to think about actually. I met my prince and he was a good guy. I had a ball planning my wedding. I got so busy planning my wedding that I forgot to pay attention to my relationship.

Several years and a few kids into my marriage I decided I wasn’t happy because my ex wasn’t the prince I thought he was going to be. In other words, he didn’t sweep me off my feet each day, tell me how beautiful I was and how much he loved me, buy me lots of big expensive gifts, fly me all over the world showing me all that life had to offer and oh yea, he didn’t help me with all of the extensive details required in running a household and raising little kids. Most of all, he didn’t “make me happy” like the prince is supposed to do.  Or so I thought…Looking back he was a great prince and he did buy me nice things, take me away on nice vacations and buy me a very  nice home to raise out kids in.  I didn’t see it though because I was so buried in my story that I couldn’t see my reality.

I saw those princesses dancing around and singing when they thought about the man they loved and I wasn’t singing or dancing. In fact, I was kind of depressed. I built up years of resentment that made matters even worse.

What I didn’t realize until a year or two after I got divorced was that I was the one who was supposed to “make me happy.” Go figure. All those years I blamed him for not making me happy and it wasn’t even his job. This is a common misconception in relationships on both sides, actually. We so often look outside of ourselves for happiness and in reality; the only person who can make us happy is ourselves. Unfortunately, it is often after the divorce that many people learn this lesson, if ever.

The man in cases like these is often shocked and surprised by the fact that his wife is going to leave him. He thought everything was going along fine. The house was clean, dinner was on the table and he had the house, the wife, the dog and 2.3 kids. He had no idea he was even playing the role of the prince, let alone what the job requirements were. How was he supposed to do the right thing when he didn’t know what that meant? He went off to work each day, working hard to provide for his family like every young man is taught to do. He is told by the men in his life that if he worked hard to get ahead and provide for his family everything would be great.

While I was married I lost my identity and my individuality. I got so busy trying to be the perfect wife and mother that I forgot to take care of me. I forgot what I stood for and what made me who I was. I spent the last 5 years figuring out what makes me happy and becoming the responsible party for making me happy. I urge you to take time after your divorce to “find yourself.” Figure out what makes you happy. Many women lose themselves in relationships and forget what is important to them. Do some exploring and figure out what you really want in a relationship before you get into another one? There is no point in getting into another relationship and making the same mistakes you made in the first one. What’s the hurry? Take some time for yourself and get to know yourself again. I’m willing to bet that you will like the person you find. The time it takes will be worth it because it will shape your future-don’t repeat the past.