It all started with a carrot and a friend

Nearly six years ago, I sat on the cream colored couch in my Florida home, wondering how to lose the 35 extra pounds I was carrying around.  Clueless about the ways manufactured foods affect emotions, energy, cells, and the entire ecosystem, I only knew that my clothes didn’t fit, I was sluggish, and seemed to be at the mercy of anxiety, depression, and mood swings. I had tried the South Beach Diet and quickly tired of ricotta cheese inspired treats.  I had tried low fat cheese, yogurt, milk, and candy.  Influenced by the millions (billions?) of marketing and advertising dollars pumped into the food industry, I tried a diet version of nearly all of the processed food that I loved. I didn’t eat much, it tasted fake, and I felt awful.

So on this particular afternoon, I walked to the fridge, reached inside the vegetable crisper, and grabbed a carrot. “Carrots don’t contain fat,” I thought.  “So I’ll just eat raw vegetables when I’m hungry.”

Despite growing up in a home where nutrition and exercise were valued, where my mom fed us raw veggies for snacks and juiced them for us way before it was cool, I mostly used vegetables as a complement to meat in my diet. Looking back now, it makes me giggle that this was the first time I had thought of vegetables as a viable option for weight loss.

Over the next year, I transformed.  I met my friend, April, and she taught me so much about owning my health through proper nutrition and exercise. After struggling through fibromyalgia, she also had about 35 pounds to lose, so we embarked on a journey of wellness together.

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I devoured knowledge like I used to devour fat free candy. I read the China Study, The Eat Clean Diet, and learned about whole foods, preservatives, antibiotics in meat, and the effects of food on my body and on the earth. April and I shared recipes, cooked together, shopped together, and we began working out together.

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Whole foods were making me feel different, so while I didn’t entirely disregard my initial motivation for losing weight, my focus shifted to the way that food made me feel.  I learned that being well wasn’t entirely about what I didn’t put into my body, but equally about what I put in. My mind was sharper, I had come off of anxiety medication, I had more energy, and one day I pulled a pair of shorts on and they literally fell right back down to the floor. Curious, I stepped on the scale for the first time in months, and discovered that I was 35 pounds lighter.

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Wellness became a life-giving passion for me, and like any big life change, some people in my life didn’t like it. I became concerned about the impact of the food industry on the environment, I stopped eating meat entirely for a couple of years, I was asked if I was anorexic, since I’d lost so much weight.  Some people sneered at me over the church dessert buffet when I quietly chose not to partake, some people made passive-aggressive comments about my choices. But my family and close friends were thrilled for me and saw changes that far outweighed a mere diet change. I developed a love-affair with life that started with weights, which eventually lead me to yoga, which lead me to a quest for some real emotional healing, which lead me to a therapist and some pretty drastic changes.  That’s a story for a different day.

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So now, I sit here in Sweden, with an amazing and exciting opportunity to rebuild my life. The images above seem so far in the past, though most of those pictures were taken in 2013, and one at the start of 2014.  I’m happy to be here, but I’m unhealthy again. I am at least as unhealthy as I was before. During my crisis, nutrition went out the window and I focused, rightfully, on surviving.

I’m choosing not to be hard on myself for my nasty diet choices. Last night, I purposely left my house and bought myself a brownie after dinner. My body craves sugar, saturated fats, and McDonalds french fries because that is what I’ve been feeding it.  I’m feeding it good stuff too, but also, french fries.

Those who have known me a while can pick your collective chins up off of the floor now. 😉

Instead of shaming myself over the chasm that exists between my choices then and now, or my body then and now, or the fact that I know better and have done better, I will choose acceptance and love. I will set some healthy intentions, with the primary goal being healthy instead of losing fat. I’m going to focus on putting so many good things into my body, that the bad things get crowded out, which is a challenge for me here in Gothenburg. I’m still trying to make peace with what things cost (160 Swedish Krona for a BAG OF ORGANIC CHIA SEEDS?!?) I’m not currently working. I don’t have the same access to an organic food co-op, farmer’s market, Whole Foods, Publix, my favorite yoga studio, or my friend April.

But I do have some pretty amazing things right now. I have knowledge, a very supportive partner, creativity, and lots of time. April and I are doing our best to encourage each other from afar, and I am making some new friends.

Maybe I should just start with the simplicity of a carrot again and see what happens.

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Here’s my simple “carrot plan” to break some unhealthy patterns that I’ve developed.  I’m going back to the very basics.

Nutrition: WATER.  Lots of it.  Eat at least five servings of vegetables and greens, and don’t over complicate it.  If the most creative thing I can eat today is a raw carrot, then fantastic.

Meditation: At least ten minutes in the morning to start, and set an intention every day to direct my thoughts where I’d like them to go.

Exercise: 30 to 60 minutes of intentional movement every week day.  Doesn’t matter what kind.

Social media: none first thing in the morning, none before bed, use sparingly during the day. This is just kind of an experiment. I think social media is a fun and useful tool for connection, but I think it can be unhealthy. Did you ever believe that one day you’d devote an embarrassing amount of your precious time compulsively checking in to see what everyone from your past and present is doing at any given moment? I’d like to see how the quality of my life might change by loosening my electronic chain a bit.

If you want, you can join me with your own little carrot plan. There’s no time like the present. 🙂

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Mean girls, burn books, and hope

I have this friend, and like the sea of mostly terrible, but well-intended advice flooding my Facebook news feed in the form of “How To” articles, she thinks she’s helping me. But she’s kind of a mean girl. She picks me apart with surgical precision.

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She curtly acknowledges the good in me but highlights the ways I screw up.  She never lets me forget.

She tells me the terrible things that others are probably thinking about me, and plays out for me what they think of my choices.

She negates good things that happen in my life by cautioning me and warning me against trusting anything or anyone again.

She criticizes me every time I try dip my toe back in the water of using my gifts and talents for my pleasure or for the benefit of others.  She reminds me that based on recent tragic life events (see earlier post titled “The Gap”), I’ve demonstrated my failure to hold everything together.

It’s like she has a burn book dedicated to me.

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And unfortunately, she is a part of me.

I like to call her Polly Perfect, and she is the neurotic, feisty little diva living in part of my brain.  And before you start thinking I’m absolutely mad, I humbly offer that most of us have a bit of Polly Perfect living in our brains. Maybe you just don’t go so far as to give yours a name.

The thing is, she means well. We’ve hung out for about a year, and I’ve appreciated some of the ways she protected me. She essential put up a “closed for business sign” to the world and wrapped my wounds to stop the bleeding. The problem is that she protects from a place of fear. And now the scary things are gone.  Mostly.

She thinks that being hard on me will keep me from future screw ups and make me a better person.

She thinks that if she prepares me for judgement by getting into the brain of those around me and imagining the worst things they could say, it will somehow hurt less if they actually say them to me.

She thinks that cutting off joy will prevent me from feeling pain.

She fears that because I allowed others to experience the painful consequences of their own choices, instead of cleaning everything up at the cost of my soul, I am weak. She says that I should only try to reach goals, write, teach, share, practice yoga, eat well, inspire, or encourage, if I am 100 percent sure that nothing can go wrong, or that if does, I can at least fix it quickly so that everyone thinks I’m perfect at dealing with everything.

The other day Polly and I were walking down the street, and I was feeling exhausted by her incessant chatter.  She was going on and on about how I needed to start a new blog and take this one down.  She said there was nowhere good to go from here, and that I needed a fresh, clean slate. She said if I’m going to write (which I shouldn’t), I should focus on writing about my new adventure across the big blue, so that no one would have to read about the horrible, heartbreaking things that happened before I arrived here.  She said it would be better to avoid any judgement or criticism that might come from people misunderstanding my healing as disregard for what happened.

Polly essentially said that I should just show you the good things in a new blog. Or keep talking about the pain on this one. She said it must either be a comedy or a tragedy. Not both.

Many months ago, I wrote in my journal, “I am in shock. Standing in the middle of grey rubble all around me, hollow eyes, trying to somehow register the depth of destruction, and barely noticing the still burning embers.” That was a dark time, and I spent a long time there, which was necessary for me to able mend. I don’t think I could accurately describe what it felt like to literally not be able to function. Short term memory loss, lack of focus, unexpected bouts of anxiety and/or grief, triggers that cause flashbacks, feelings of alienation, shame, anger, and withdrawal. I have mourned so hard. I am still tending to some burning embers. I am so lucky that I had family, close friends, and a friend-turned-partner who stayed close to me, and didn’t judge me or withdraw from me when I acted or reacted out of my brokeness. Sometimes it was ugly.

But here’s the thing. I can’t stay in darkness forever. I wasn’t made that way, and thankfully, an old familiar friend is back. Her name is Hope, and she has helped me start living again.

Hope told Polly to take some Ashwaganda Root, practice some yoga, think about the positive, journal, trust, eat the colours of the rainbow, read a book, stop drinking so much alcohol, sit in a bubble bath, sip some lavender tea or water, and for the love of all that is good…relax her brain. (Hope in this instance might have been actually been named April, Dani, Erin, Randi, Katrina, or Dael…THANK YOU)

Hope says that it takes courage to allow ourselves to grieve, but also to move past loss, tragedy, trauma, betrayal, and failure.

Hope says that it is brave to choose to show up for life again and trust that it is worth the risk.

Hope says that I can forgive without fear.

Hope says that I can handle disappointment with grace.

Hope says that I can show up with my imperfections and still have much to offer.

Hope says to try again. And again. And again.

Hope says life…everyone’s life, includes degrees of tragedy and comedy. Hope and fear. Failure and victory.

Hope welcomed me back into my life.

I’m ready to start writing a new chapter, but not in a different book, because for me, this is honesty.  Here’s to hope.

 

 

 

 

 

A literal Note to Self. Because I really needed one.

Thank you for choosing to live. Thank you for treading water when it was tiresome, and everything hurt, and your soul was dehydrated, and you honesty thought your sanity might be slipping, and when it actually became appealing to sink into the dark hole beneath you instead. Thank you for being tender and sensitive instead of cold, bitter, or numb. I know that you are scared. I know you are still feeling tired and unsettled. I know that you want the stability of a home. Some space. I know that this season feels lonely and uncertain, even with people around you who love you. I know that trust comes hard these days. But you know what? You can trust yourself. In moments when you feel alone, you still have you. And you are worthy of trust because you have earned it. You’ve made right decisions at critical moments. Lots of them, actually. Though you choose to live life softly, you are not weak. You know when enough is enough, and when you’ve had enough, you make a move. Your capacity for bullshit is greater than most, and that is neither strength nor weakness…it can be both. I know that right now you feel like you’re lost, but I still see you. I recognize you. There are increasing moments where your beating heart remembers the privilege of the life it sustains, and delights in these precious and fleeting moments called living.

You are noticing things again. The choking, toxic, trauma-fog is starting to clear and things are coming into sharper focus.

You are feeling joy again. Not all moments, but more moments. And that is enough.

You can finally stand to listen to pain or tragedy around you with out feeling like you need to jump off of the nearest cliff. Not all moments, but some moments. And that is enough.

You are feeling delight.

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Experiencing peace while looking out over the water.

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Finding awe in the glory of a beautiful sunset.

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Restoring physical strength, and finding deep satisfaction of surrender in savasana.

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And you know what happens after the moments when the bright flame of fear dims, flickers, and burns out? An overwhelming sense of familiar peace comes to meet you. You’ve felt it, recently. It’s a deep knowing. This is where I recognize the undeniable aura that belongs to only you. Your essence. And it feels safe and secure there.

Thank you for crying when it hurts and laughing when things are funny. Your sense of humor is one of my favorite things about you. Thank you for not judging your sad or happy. Thank you for letting youself being angry, anxious, and irritated when you just simply are, and for knowing that it will pass. This is living in truth. Don’t worry, life will steady. So many opportunities lie in front of you. Be grateful for them, and unapologetically, take them. I love you. I believe in you.

Love, Me

Okay, so this might have felt weird to read, but that usually doesn’t stop me from sharing things. I’m just kind of a strange bird. Anyway, last month I was having an evening of complete despair and I was doing a stellar job of ripping myself apart in my brain. It wasn’t one of those “call a friend” moments. It wouldn’t have helped for someone else to encourage me, because it wasn’t about what anyone else thought of me…it was how I was viewing myself. It was one of those moments where I needed to view things differently, but still from my own perspective. I am so damn hard on myself sometimes. I suspect that you are too. Anyway, what I ended up doing was writing a letter to myself. I desperatly needed my own compassion, because I’m my worst critic lately, so to hear kind words from myself was a high prize. It allowed me to let myself off the hook. And don’t we all need that sometimes?

Making Friends with Winter

I arrived to Gothenburg when everything had just begun to wind down from the summer and early fall.

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Chilly weather was moving in and nature was preparing to rest from blooming and producing fruit.

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Greens faded to yellows, then faded to browns, and finally dropped dead to the ground.

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I’ll tell you a secret.

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I have always been afraid of death. I won’t even watch a movie if I know that someone dies at the end. No thank you.

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So when I got here and stuff started dying, I really didn’t love it. As a life-long Florida girl, I’ve never experienced seasons. Florida is green almost all the time.  Blooming, colorful, passionate, and hot.

And that’s how I saw myself before everything unravelled. Full of life, fun, vitality, health, and laughter.

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Then things changed. People were still thriving around me, alive, buzzing, moving, doing. But for me, every task felt like a hike up those stairs.  Getting up, working, eating, grocery shopping. Things I barely thought of before.

So then I arrived here in Sweden and it began to get dark early. Like 3:30 in the afternoon early. I only had one relationship where before I had many, it was cold and often grey. Everything looked dead.

At first, I thought I had made a huge mistake in coming to this particular place for renewal.

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I wrote in my journal “What is wrong with me and where did joy go? I have intimate knowledge of the unpredictability of life, and a cozy relationship with grief. I don’t know what to do and I feel defeated. My once strong body is weak and my once full, beating, passionate heart now beats just softly enough to sustain me. My tears that once felt cleansing and strong, now feel weak. Like sadness itself instead of a response to sad things.”

Then one day I went out and walked up those steep stairs, and looked around.

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At the top of the stairs, I went through this archway and sat down on some very cold concrete, which looked over the city.

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I began snapping pictures and as I switched to my zoom lens, it occurred to me that the nature around me wasn’t dead.

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Nature is so wise and experienced that it knows that to survive a drastic change in climate it has to pull vitality in close, and let the fruit fall off. It isn’t really concerned with how it looks to the outside world. It knows that if it ever hopes to bloom beautiful again, it has to first just survive.

I’m not so different.

My soul responded to the opportunity to come to winter and rest because it knew what I needed to survive. My soul is wiser than my head sometimes.

Beauty, flowers, family, friends, familiarity, passion, drive, and warmth are truly delightful things and I miss them. But had I not come to winter, my strong will to delight fully in life would have tried to brush over my sadness. I would have tried being a solid, fruit bearing, strong tree.  But my grief deserved space and a voice to be heard.

So winter and I are becoming friends.

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I’m learning (and I have a very good teacher), that it’s as healthy and necessary to rest as it is to nourish my cells with a big, green juice in the morning. Yes, my body is softer. My mind is a little bored sometimes. My skin yearns for warm sunshine.

But I’m learning contentment. And my joy, as it comes back, is real. The smiles are true.

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I’ve actually had a great time in this beautiful city.

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I even got to participate in my first snowball fight!

Here are our “claiming victory,” poses.

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Here’s my first snowball.

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And my victory, which I will admit was a cheap-shot.

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My shivers are a reminder that I am alive.  I’ve pulled in tight, and I don’t have to impress anyone with pretty blooms. What a gift.

“Nature looks dead in winter because her life is gathered into her heart. She withers the plant down to the root that she may grow it up again fairer and stronger.” Hugh Macmillan, “Rejuvenescence,” The Ministry of Nature, 1871

God Jul och Gott Nytt År

Similar to the lovely ladies trying to impress Juan Pablo Galavis with their sweet Spanish skills on this season of The Bachelor, I used Google translate to find out how to say one phrase in Swedish.  That’s because I am in Sweden and I’m trying to be very cultural sounding. God Jul och Gott Nytt År means Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. So there you go, and that’s pretty much all I’ve got so far.  Okay, maybe I know a bit more than that, but not much.

Part of healing and gaining perspective for me has been physically getting away.  I’m not sure if I could have gone farther, but I had a special opportunity to come, so I did.

Without doubt, this was right for me. My body and my heart are resting for the first time in a long time.

Really resting.

On Christmas Eve, I went to a service at a very old church, here in Gothenburg.

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We speed walked there in the rainy cold at 11:30 at night, but for me it was well worth it.

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This was my first Christmas away from my family, and even though I couldn’t understand a lick of what the pastor was saying, being there was significant to me. Also, the pastor was female. I liked that.

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I thought of last Christmas, and the one before it. The melody of traditional Christmas hymns was moving, and I cried a little in my heart. I looked at the beauty around me, carefully constructed so long ago. I glanced at the person sitting beside me, who has navigated a significant part of the last year with me. I thought of how many things I still have to be grateful for.

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Would you check out that ceiling?

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After the service I went to where there was a large, iron candelabra at the front of the church. As I lifted the wick to the hot flame, I thought of the past year with a heavy heart.  I felt my heart squeeze a little tighter.

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As I knelt and placed my glowing candle in the sandbox at my feet, my chest burned a little warmer. A familiar sensation washed over my body and finally softly reached my lips. Peace.

Heart healing is a slow, hard, and sometimes painful work, but I am looking forward to the hope of a new year.  I’m not naive enough to think that the simple turning of a year has magical powers to fix cracked things, but every day allows a new opportunity to live in the present, to accept what was, laugh more often, and maybe even to have a dance party or ten in the kitchen. It’s hard not to have a dance party to 90’s rap.  I’m just saying.

The Gap

Most things will be okay eventually, but not all things will be.  Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes, you’ll hold on really hard and realize that there is no choice but to let go.” Cheryl Strayed

What I would like to do is not fill in the gap. Ignore the questions and move on. I’d like to bury the last 12 months under the present, and fake life-long amnesia about that part of my story.

But I can’t.

Trying to hide unprocessed pain from ourselves is like trying to ignore the scent of a decaying, parasite infested carcass. The stench is grotesque, and impossible to ignore.  It always ends up infecting the present and makes it stink. So I’ll write, because writing has always been how my heart translates to my mind, because I’m the best person to narrate my story (thankyouverymuch), and because I have learned that a camaraderie of adoptive families (and often their extended families) exists who are quietly journeying what it means to love kids who have been hurt profoundly. The orphans.

These are the parents who deal first hand, day in and day out with the consequences of the abuse of power against abandoned and hurt children. They are the ones who are often internally struggling and exhausted, and externally revered. They are the ones who understand that sometimes love isn’t enough, though our culture doesn’t fully understand this truth. It’s a breeding ground for shame. In fact, I have shamed myself to the max, inflicting invisible blows to my heart over how things have turned out. As if telling myself that I have no business ever being happy again changes what is true. No, the truth is that making myself continue to pay every day doesn’t make anything better for anyone. I dare to hope that my life can be fragrant and beautiful again. Dr. Brene Brown says that “owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we will ever do.”

But it doesn’t always feel brave to tell things that are dark. Things that cast light on the tragedy of humanity rather than make you feel warm, fuzzy, and inspired. Things that make you literally sick in your gut. Things that feel like failure, and don’t turn out how they should. It feels naked to tell this story. Vulnerable. I’m scared that you won’t understand my decisions, but I trust myself to be okay if you don’t, because this is only a small glimpse, and I don’t feel compelled to share every single horrible detail just to justify myself. One thing that I have learned is that it’s really impossible to judge someone else’s decisions unless you have literally walked their path.  I have also learned that the ones who have walked your same path, or who have walked along side you while you walk it…they are the ones who can meet you with empathy and understanding.

The last year has been the most heart stricken year of my entire life. I thought that the ending of my marriage was the climax.  I knew that my life would be very difficult as a single mom to my emotionally hurt adopted kids, but I had every hope that we would get divorced, co parent, and eventually both find equilibrium.

False.

I don’t want to share details about my divorce because I have never publicly bashed my ex-husband and I’m not going to start, but because it’s relevant, I will say that since the end of last December, I went it alone as far as parenting my kids and in decisions about them.

And from that point, a cacophony of chaos ensued.  A mazy, dark mess.

My youngest son (8) spun out of control to the extent that it became physically dangerous to the community (school peers), me, and my oldest son (11). He was involuntarily baker acted twice in two months, my family and friends became scared for my physical and emotional wellbeing and recognised that things were out of hand. The administrators at his school, who had been very compassionate and helpful with him became very concerned for his schoolmates and for my family, and were urging me to seek more specialized help for him.  His trauma therapist, and regular therapist felt that we (my son and I) were in immediate danger.  I was missing so much work because of things like weekly therapy appointments, weekly psychiatrist appointments, different evaluations, meeting with teachers and administrators, school suspensions, Baker Acts, and calling every resource I could imagine. I had used all of my vacation and sick time towards those efforts, and when I was at work, my days were constantly interrupted with calls. My employer, who supported and did more for me than I could have ever imagined, and way more than was required, lovingly asked me to consider taking a 30-day leave of absence to stabilize my home. They said that above all else, it was very difficult watching me try to shoulder it all by myself while working full-time. I decided to take the leave and started reaching out for additional help in every place that I knew of. I had already, over the course of the last three years, consistently and proactively taken advantage of various forms of counseling for both children, as well as behavioral specialists, trauma therapists, and had twice enlisted the help of a targeted case manager via the state agency that we adopted the boys from.  I started to seek a part-time residential treatment center, because as a close friend told me “one hour of therapy a week seems like trying to stop the bleeding from a gaping wound with a band aid.” Literally every facility I found told me that his behaviors were too severe for their facility, or didn’t take his government insurance.

As doors continued to close, my hope diminished.  I felt lost in the dark without a guide.

Nearing the end of my 30 days there were still not any good solutions and I began asking his mental health professionals to approve of and help me find full-time residential care for him so that he could receive specialized therapeutic care, and create some safety and stability in my home.  I really needed to be able to work again in order financially sustain us.

Nothing.worked.out.

We needed intervention in the form of a miracle, and literally right at the last moment, hope arrived on the end of my phone. The CEO of an amazing non-profit organization that I had reached out to as a desperate last effort, heard our story and called me back to say that they would step in on behalf of my family. Without their compassion, knowledge, empathy, and resources, I honestly don’t know what would have happened to us.

My youngest son went to stay with a gifted, strong, and amazing woman who has a team and who has made it her life mission to work with children like mine. You might guess that she has also walked my path. With him squared away and receiving help, I thought we would finally be able to have some normalcy. So the next week my leave was up, and I went back to work. My sister had graciously come to me and offered for my oldest son to stay with her family so that I could decompress.  I was starting to become depressed and since he truly was always helpful, compliant, honest, and kind, she said he would be no trouble at all. I thankfully agreed, thinking it would be good for him to have some time with his cousins, and for me to get upright again.

Nothing could prepare us for the next sinister blow.

He was there for five days before we found out that he, on multiple occasions, molested one of her four children, and had propositioned two others.

Can we pause here for a moment and breathe together? Because as an aunt, sister, and mother, the molestation of my sweet little 4-year-old niece by my son took the breath from my lungs, the light from my eyes, and broke my already exhausted heart in a million pieces. This is one of the many memories from this year that I fear will always be etched into my heart and mind like a hand print in dry cement.

I’ll never forget the panicked call from my distraught sister telling me what her husband had walked in on my son doing to their daughter. My legs trembling beneath the white dress I was wearing for my work event, the dryness in my mouth, the numbness in my hands, the warm fear in my cheeks as my mind registered what she was saying.  I remember asking her to contact the police, which she had already done, and telling her I was on my way.  I called my therapist and then a close friend on the ride to their home, because I just couldn’t be alone with the weight of what was happening.

As I pulled onto my sister’s road and neared her house, I felt dread. Her home, a place so familiar to me where we gathered as family so many times, where I sat with her sipping coffee and sharing laughs, suddenly felt like the scene of our own private nightmare. I remember seeing my son in the back of my mom’s car with his head in his hands, realizing in that instant that I never knew the depth of his trauma, and simultaneously feeling vomit well up in my throat.  I pushed it down, swallowing hard, trying my damnedest to beat disgust down with empathy. And then? My heart burned hot with anger towards him every time my eyes beheld my beautiful, innocent niece or my brokenhearted sister. I won’t forget my sweet mom’s shoulders shaking as she silently sobbed in the front seat. She, like the rest of my family had accepted, encouraged, freely loved, and nurtured my boys with all of their hearts.

In that moment, I felt like it was all my fault. And I felt bamboozled. My whole family did.

I’ll never forget the police in the driveway, or hugging my sister tight.  Wishing I could turn back the clock and take it all away. Apologizing over and over to my brother-in-law, and knowing that my words had absolutely no impact given the acts done to his little girl.  I’ll never forget the ride to the police station, with my son in the back seat of my car. Dumbfounded about what to say, but knowing that whatever he received from me in that moment would leave a mark for better or worse. I asked myself what I wanted him to remember.

So I turned around, and told him the truth. I cried as I told him that I felt sad and angry about what he did. I told him that children don’t typically do this unless its been done to them by someone also. I pleaded with him to tell me who did it to him. I also told him that this didn’t have end his story. That he could choose differently and not let this define his life, but only if he chose to deal honestly with his own abuse. I remember telling him that there was nothing unforgivable. I tried to say the right things but my stomach turned with sick each time my mind went to my sister and her family.  I won’t forget sitting in the interview room at the detective office as my son admitted to what he had done to my niece…and learning that there were other victims.

I’ll never forget vaguely recognizing that I still needed to figure out dinner after the interview, pulling through the Chick-fil-A drive through on the way home, feeling like I was very much on a different planet than the cheery sounding person at the drive thru window.  My mind was racing about how to behave towards the person in my backseat, I recognized that this was way over my head, and I was scared, if I am honest, about being in my house alone with him.

I’ll never forget learning two days later, that my youngest was sodomized by my oldest.  I had to ask the mental health professional explaining this news to me what the word “sodomizing,” actually meant.  I have never experienced such shock or grief as I did in that moment of understanding. When my youngest was out of the house, my oldest needed a new victim…enter my niece. At once, so many things made sense about the behavior of my little boy.  I thought of his charming face, and big brown eyes enduring rape and molestation at the hand of his older brother.  Too scared to speak out. No wonder he hated his brother so passionately. I remember wondering why, in all the times I asked if he had been hurt in that way…why didn’t he just tell me?

At this time, I don’t want to discuss where my kids are in any detail, or my parental status.  I hope you’ll be satisfied with understanding that they are not in foster care again, they are both safe, cared for, and receiving quality help from qualified professionals who are helping to heal their hurts.

If there is a silver lining, it’s that my youngest is no longer a target, enduring rape as his version of normal. That my oldest was caught by my brother-in-law so soon, preventing additional abuse to my sister’s family. That knowing what I now know of my oldest, who presented as a very compliant, honest, innocent, and fun-loving child, I’m thankful that many children have been saved from his sexual violence. I’m thankfully that he has opportunity for healing for himself. Maybe his future will be different. I am thankful for the family that I have, and their unconditional love and support, which came at a high price for them too.

These days, I’m trying to tell Should’ve, Could’ve, and Would’ve to take a hike. There are so many thoughts I have about how this might have played out differently, signs that I couldn’t have understood, things I wish I could change or take away, but I can’t. I’m still grieving all of the loss, as is the rest of my family, but I’m not going to feel badly anymore about my physical or emotional limitations.  It’s time to heal.

Shame, shame, shame

So I logged into WordPress for the first time in a long while, and found this post that I wrote back in May and never published.  Many things have changed over the last six months, and yet the essence of my thoughts and struggles with shame and courage are  still relevant. Especially as I finish up a long-ish update I’ve been working on to answer some questions I been receiving but haven’t been ready to answer before now regarding my family.  So in the meantime…

Have you heard of Brene Brown? I promise you won’t miss the 20 minutes of your life you spend here:

I was first introduced to her work through my therapist about two years ago, when she invited me to participate in a “shame group,” using Dr. Brown’s curriculum. Understanding how shame and vulnerability work in my life have been life changers for me. And I mean real change.  Allowed me to risk judgement and failure for the sake of knowing others and being truly known. Allowed me to risk loving deeply. Being who I was created to be. Not perfectly…but increasingly. Perfection is a dirty word.  The dirtiest. The “F” word has nothing on the “P” word. We just don’t always have our crap together.  And isn’t that okay? Everyone has a different standard of perfection, and if we are living our lives striving to be perfect for everyone, we are doomed to think that we fail all over the place.  Every. single. day.  We are always letting someone down if we live that way.  I got a little handout from work recently, that said that based on my personality type (INFP, if you care), one percent of the world views the life the same as me. Well then.  I should just stop right here in trying to please everyone…right?

And I think that’s where I’ve been losing track of myself lately.  I’m just me. And over the past couple of months, my life has been stripped. Stripped of some material things. Pets (except Hogan), dual income, the comfortable monotony of everyday life…like coming home, making dinner, taking kids to sports, being a wife, teaching (and practicing in community) yoga, and not having to make an effort for companionship. My son’s violence has escalated into a place of crisis, I’ve missed a ton of work because of it, and I’m navigating unknown territory with heartbreaking decisions to make for him. I feel myself turning off my emotion, or turning it on in full force.  Being super buttoned, or super free.  In my inability to do everything, and having to admit that I have physical and emotional limits, shame has ever so slowly crept back in.  Shame whispers “you are a failure.”  Too open or too closed. Too spiritual or not having enough Jesus (I feel some writing coming soon about this). Shame whispers that I am not enough.  Or that I’m too much.  Shame causes me to hustle for worthiness.  Shame eventually hardens my heart. Shame keeps me wondering what someone else thinks about me.

So yeah, it’s time for some things to change.  Where went my courage to live imperfectly? Where went my…courage?  In general? All I know is that I need to send shame packing, so today I’ve been thinking about who I want to be on the other side of this transition. I can’t fully control the difficulty of my days, but I do get to choose how I lead myself through them. So my plan is to be a little less. Yes, I said less. Not more. Being less has always brought me to center. Allowing things into my life that add to the beauty of it, and being okay with letting the rest go.