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Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves

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I remember the day my sister was born like it was yesterday.

I had just moved in with my Dad and Stepmom. Theoretically she was supposed to have been born before I moved in, but school was in progress, and she was making her entrance when she darn well felt like it (if you know my sister, you know that getting her to do what she doesn’t want to do is nigh on impossible).

So a day after I moved in, I sat on the floor at Mama’s feet, trying not to cry. I failed. Miserably. I wasn’t always the best at showing it, but I loved Mama dearly and seeing her in pain (no matter how skillfully or gracefully she bore it) was too much to bear.

For a kid who once asked Santa for a younger brother, having a baby sister wasn’t exactly all I’d wished for. She cried. A lot. Life got louder, the house got more chaotic. There was a lot less playing with cute baby than I thought, and when I did get to, it was less playing and more, yuck.

I was an utter ingrate as older sisters go.

Still I was utterly enamored.

Mama and our Dad divorced and we were not in contact again until my sister was 16. I was the married mother of a toddler, and even then, I was awestruck by her. In many ways, she was more mature than I was, and certainly had herself more together than I had yet managed.

As I’ve navigated my way through the complexities in life, particularly in the last 5 years, she has been my role model. Always reminding me what it means to be fierce, something she got in spades from her Mother. I don’t know that I’ll ever have the strength or resilience either of them have. I know I don’t have the drive, although it’s a skill I’m trying to learn, and they are my most dependable examples. I completely lack her confidence, or self-esteem. I often joke she’s the belle of the ball, and I’d swear on a stack of bibles she knows everyone in her town.

I’m still a work in progress, and she’s one of my main sources of inspiration.

As I look back over the last year, I’m amazed at how far I’ve come. I owe more of that to her than I’ll ever have words for.

Just Call My Name, I’ll Be There In A Hurry

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My Stepmom is 11 years older than me. My baby sister was born when I was 11. The symmetry of that always gave me chills. Her magnificence at such a young age did as well.

I can’t say that I was an easy child to parent, let alone to stepparent. How she handled everything I threw at her, intentionally or simply by virtue of being the hot mess of a little kid I was, I don’t really know. I know that she gave me a stability, moral compass, a sense of integrity, and a strong work ethic that I had never been so consciously exposed to before.

As much as I try to carry forward my mother’s legacy, I am always quick to say that I wouldn’t be who I am without my Mama.

We lost contact for so many years, and then thanks to a fluke/blessing I found her. Even then, it was not an easy road to finding the bond we now share. I was still trying to heal, trying to grow up, and trying to figure out life. She had been through more than any human should endure.

But she’s my rock. And for all the years I felt motherless, adrift, broken, it is the most incredible gift to know that I once again have a port in the storm, a safe harbor, and someone who unfailingly and unflinchingly has my back.

That she is someone my Mom so adored and respected is all the better. And Mama is always careful to never replace my Mom, to simply love me as her own.

Of all the blessings life has granted me, none mean more to me than my family.

I’m so lucky to have her in mine.

Will They Tell Your Story

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You’re going to get a very complicated picture of my Mom, here. My childhood was hell for the most part. She was a (very functional) drug addict (there are a lot of people who will refute that. They didn’t live with her). She was violent at times (same). Erratic and unstable (same, same).

She’s also one of the women  I admire most in my life.

My Mom could revive anyone and anything, like raising Lazarus from the dead.

She was brilliant and insightful and… fearless? On the surface, yes, but so many people’s fearlessness is born of their fears, much like a narcissist’s ego is born of their weakness. But she was undoubtedly courageous in the face of nearly every assault. There were no red flags about people that were big enough to keep her from trying to connect with them, extend them a hand, or simply share a moment with them.

I could write books about all the people she helped in ways ephemeral, and more concrete. My most poignant memories of her are of the times she would veer from our plans because she saw a heart in need. At the time I was always annoyed. Now I try my damndest to carry on her beautiful legacy.

She had infinitely more patience, grace, wisdom, and openness than I will ever have. I’m jaded and mistrusting and I don’t really like to let people too close to me. I’m learning and growing and want nothing more than to fill the enormous hole she left in her wake.

I fear that I’ll never come close, but it’s never stopped me from trying.

One of the things I’ve embraced from her example is to speak great truths with great love. The last years she spent working, were on a small military base mainly tasked with the production of weapons of war. An ironic job for a long-haired, pot-smoking, rabidly pacifist hippy. She had no compunction at all taking the officers on base that she worked with to task for the failings she railed against in our military. And these big, strong, uniformed men listened. With great respect and significant fondness.

When she died, they held a small memorial for her on base. Not quite the protocol for a civilian, but in spite of their differences, they cared, and they wanted to send her off with the respect she deserved.

I don’t really think in terms of my own legacy.

I’m too busy trying to grow hers.

 

How A Young Heart Really Feels

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We used to hang out at lunch, a whole huge group of us. I was introduced by my best friend.

It took him a while to talk to me, but pretty soon we spent most of every lunch sitting together.

It never occurred to me he might be interested. My best friend had kind of a thing for him, and she was everything I wasn’t, beautiful, smart, a good student, Catholic. They went to the same church, they had known each other for years. In my mind, they were perfect for each other and he in no way deserved the mess that was me.

Whether he deserved it or not, he wanted me to be his.

I said no. For months. Partly some girl code kind of thing. Partly feeling unworthy. Partly fear.

I finally told him he had to let her know he wasn’t interested, and then yes, I’d go out with him.

He wrote me letters literally every day. The three of us went to dances, we all went to summer school and spent a lot of time together. When he didn’t have to work he’d walk me home, hang out after, until he had to leave (or bolted out the back door the times my Stepdad came home early).

One night someone crashed their car into my house. He walked over after a long day at work to comfort me. I often couldn’t sleep because of the whole crazy Night Stalker thing going on at the time. He wrote more notes, lent me tapes of our favorite music to listen to while I fell asleep.

I never, ever, deserved anyone who treated me as well as he did. I’ve joked a time or two that he dodged a bullet, and he snarks back that he was a naive idiot. And yet in some ways he’s the model of what I hope to find someday. That’s really the only thing that would make a relationship worth it again for me. I give too much. I don’t hold back. I don’t know how. And I have a full life that I love, so compromising isn’t remotely interesting. On some level, I’m not sure I believe in love like that anymore. Or maybe I just don’t believe I can have it again.

My Christmas Dreaming

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Christmas has always been a treasured holiday for me. It hasn’t always been a happy one. My parent’s split on Christmas, my Mom and I almost never celebrated it, but I love it all the same.

I was a choir girl; and for choir kids, Christmas starts in the fall, in preparation for winter concerts. So I love the music, but also the baking, the lights, the magic, the pageantry. It fills that part of my heart that longs for dreams, romance and beauty.

As an adult, I’ve often hopped in the car to drive while listening to music. Singing at the top of my lungs as the dark road stretches ahead does me a world of good. It’s therapeutic. Cathartic. There is little that cheers me more than a travel mug full of something steamy, a container full of homemade Christmas cookies, and a collection of my favorite holiday music. It’s something that became a family tradition (one that sadly waned when we lived on our farm).

So when my first son was due on Christmas eve, I couldn’t be more excited. I felt like he was the most precious gift I’d ever receive (turns out he was one of three of the most precious gifts ever).

I spent many weeks before his birth driving around while listening to music and looking at lights, dreaming of the day I’d finally hold him in my arms, feeling a certain kindred spirit with Mary. I battled fear and confusion and insecurity my whole pregnancy, knowing that learning to be a good parent would be an uphill battle for me. Those drives brought me peace, and gave me a measure of courage to face what lay ahead.

And they provided enough inspiration to help me dive into the whole parenting experience.

Whenever I go on these holiday drives now, there’s always a part of me that remembers the joy, the intense love, the overwhelming protectiveness…I look back fondly, and  smile with immense pride at the young man that wee babe has become.

He exceeded my wildest dreams so effortlessly.

Hold Me Down Like No One Else

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As my marriage was falling apart, I became friends with a good friend of my high school boyfriend. He was in recovery, rebuilding his life like an utter badass, the likes of which I’d never seen before. He’s smart, charismatic, educated and so very smooth.

He’s also honest and genuine and open and has a heart bigger than the Grand Canyon. He loves his kids with a ferocity I can’t really put into words, and he speaks with such fondness, respect, and grief about his parents. He’s also probably the coolest cat I’ve ever “met” in my life.

I needed his guidance as my world crumbled, his steady hand on my shoulder. I needed his shoulder to cry on, and it was there, whenever I reached out. I needed regular doses of clarity about the nature of addiction, and more than the occasional truth bomb. He provided all that and more; unfailingly.

As my ex and I neared the end, I was so utterly shattered, I barely felt human. I was lost, broken, out of fuel. I didn’t feel real, I didn’t know where to go, what steps to take, and I was sure they were bigger than I could ever manage. Every time I thought I was a lost cause, he breathed life into me again. Sometimes simply by turning to me when he needed a friend, but mostly by giving me hope to cling to when I could find none.

I’ve tried in vain to tell him how grateful I am, how much I admire him, the debt I owe him and can never repay. I try to find words for the immense respect I have him, how much he restores my faith, enriches my life, makes me laugh, cry, think, dream. Words fail. There’s really no encompassing or describing what he’s meant to me.

It’s not hyperbole to say that I’m not sure I could have survived it all without him.

I often feel like I can never measure up as a friend. I’m juggling too much and dropping too many balls, and I lean on the people I’m closest to a little too much. They’ve saved me from certain destruction more times than I can count, and for someone I barely knew, he stepped up in a most remarkable way.

What could I ever offer him to show the magnitude of my gratitude?

Simply offering my friendship in return feels like a feeble effort.

‘Cause I’m Broken

Sometimes, realizing the magnitude to which you are imperfect can be the most freeing experience.

I have struggled with my weight since puberty, a progressive issue that grew worse every year, no matter what I did.

At a young age I struggled with cognitive issues that also grew worse.

It wasn’t until my 30s I had an explanation for those two (seemingly) disparate issues.

I spent so many years feeling ashamed of the ways I was different, like a failure for not being able to be less different, afraid of the price I might pay for my failure to conform.

Once I knew that these issues weren’t my fault, and that I could positively impact, but never remediate them, I was almost instantly freed from so many burdens they brought along for the ride.

I speak so often, and in such glowing terms, of the many women I admire. I always longed to be more like them. Learning why I struggled the way I did set me free to learn to be fierce in my own way. I no longer had to keep trying to live to someone else’s standard, I was free to be the best me I could be.

It changed my life for the better. It granted me such peace of mind. It gave me the drive to serve others in any way I could manage.

Thing is, I know I’m not the only person to have this experience. So it begs the question, why do people feel such intense pressure to be something they aren’t? Why aren’t we encouraged to accept and love ourselves as we are? I know some of it is marketing, some of it is old ghosts, some of it is peer pressure. But many of those are influences we can avoid if we wish, and certainly we are capable of ignoring them.

Why don’t we?

Why do we buy the lie that we aren’t ok? Aren’t good enough? Aren’t worthy?

And how do we stop the madness?

Nevermind These Are Hurried Times

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People have such a hard time simply being present with someone else’s pain.There are a multitude of socioeconomic reasons for this. Essentially, we avoid pain, and we have been avoiding it as long as humans have existed. Avoidance of pain is a biological imperative, sure. An unavoidable survival instinct. But we humans overcome many instincts in order to participate efficiently and effectively in modern life. So why do we struggle so when it comes to experiencing or witnessing pain?

There’s nothing like experiencing pain (first or secondhand) to trigger a massive bout of cognitive dissonance. We “move past”  hurts and injuries; illnesses and loss. We do as we are told and put them behind us. Leaving the past where it belongs. There’s some wisdom to that, but it’s only part of the equation. If we don’t first learn whatever we can from those moments, they are wasted. We have failed to take from that experience the power to help ourselves and others in a time of crisis.

But there are no classes and precious few books that really tell us how to help someone actually heal. There is pop psychology and there are platitudes and the things we think we should say because they seem to make sense at the time, but which may in fact be horrifically invalidating or in other ways harmful.

So people fall back on the simplistic and the trite and they run for the nearest exit. They rationalize away the impact of their reaction because they aren’t sure what else to do or how to handle things differently, so they just put it out of their minds. Just as previous experiences with pain have taught them to do.

But all that pressure to say the right thing is usually misguided. Often just saying to someone “I wish I knew what to say but I don’t, no words seem equal to the magnitude of what you’re experiencing, but I’m going to stay right here with you and be present with you and take care of you in whatever way you need until you tell me it’s time to go” (or some truly meant variation on that) is more than enough. Often it’s the thing that can actually bring a moment of peace, comfort, and feeling loved and nurtured. Sometimes those are exactly the wrong feelings and the offer will be rejected. And that’s ok, the person is not rejecting you, they are asking for what they need. So you simply offer “please, reach out, ask for what you need, and I’ll be on my way now” and then you leave.

Really, most of us didn’t have great examples of how to handle our own pain, let alone someone else’s. So why don’t we talk about this more? Why don’t we have these discussions? Why don’t we share and problem solve and tweet tips and tricks on how to be a loving and supportive human the way we share financial tips or makeup tutorials or game walkthroughs?

This issue is the key to solving all the greatest ills we need to solve in our world.  Empathy is truly the force that makes the world go round.

Falling In Love Is So Hard On The Knees

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If you’ve ever fallen in love with a narcissist, you are intimately familiar with that rush, the relentless yet skilled release of love bombs finding their target. It’s an emotional blitzkrieg; boom, boom, boom, as you fall back under the force of an unyielding assault. When the action pauses just enough for you to gather your senses and survey the new landscape, you realize you’ve fallen hard. And you really can’t see much beyond that. It’s a heady feeling, but like any mind-altering drug, there is always a hangover waiting in the wings.

One would think that the hangover would be enough to create a narc-proof barrier. But like alcohol, love bombing is designed to prey on our weaknesses while simultaneously soothing our wounds. It’s that double-edged sword of injury by association and nurturing that makes love bombing so nightmarishly effective. Just as there are few people who can look back on their life and claim only one hangover, one emotional eating binge, few can claim only one relationship with a narcissist.

The sad truth is, if you’ve had multiple romantic entanglements with their kind, you’re probably an empath. And as an empath, your reward for being exceptionally loving, giving, nurturing and compassionate is to be surrounded by more narcissists than your average Joe.

Most people who have worked in the child welfare arena have heard the term “broken picker” casually thrown around. I once used to nod knowingly, but now I hear the term and it makes me cringe. I don’t know why people tend to want to blame the victim, but we see this in so many areas of life. We laud bullies while blaming the bullied. We don’t hold the narcissist accountable, we blame the loving and kind person who fell for their onslaught of lies and manipulations. Empaths aren’t any less able to detect malevolence than the average person. In fact, a skilled narcissist will fool nearly everyone in their orbit, at least initially. Empaths aren’t targeted because of their ignorance, they are targeted because they don’t give up on people, and thus will endure behavior that other people who are more self-focused will not tolerate.

Narcissists need an endless supply of fuel to simply exist. Without it they will collapse; a most pathetic sight to behold. So they will put on whatever mask their empath du jour most wishes to see.

Is it any wonder the empath falls so quickly and so hard?

Too Many Times I’ve Held On

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I know the mood has been a little… saccharine up in here. One of my biggest fears in starting this blog was knowing my Pollyanna tendencies, and my reticence to explore the darker sides of the world we live in. It’s not that I’m ignorant of it or intend to deceive but that dark side is something I struggle with. I can acknowledge that we all have one; but as an empath, as someone who has suffered a great deal; as someone who has spent her whole life reaching out to others, wanting to help healing, wanting to see the good in people, wanting to breathe life into that… talking about the ugliness around me is hard. I don’t really know what to say. That’s just not my wheelhouse.

I knew from the get-go there’s no authenticity here if I avoid it entirely. But avoid it is exactly what I’ve done.

But the one theme I keep bumping up against, is why do so many people immerse themselves in gossip, small mindedness, and judgmental attitudes, and then complain when those very same things come back to bite them in the ass?

I have a saying: if someone will be ugly with you, eventually they will be ugly to you.

I’ve recognized that for years, it’s as simple as “cheaters gonna cheat, liars gonna lie”, etc. So why do people live like this isn’t a thing?

I get that sometimes people need to be alerted to the fact that a wolf is lingering in their midst (although most actively reject this knowledge, which I’ll save for another post). That’s not gossip though, it’s not being ugly. But unsubstantiated musings? Unfounded hypothesis? Talking about someone else’s dirty laundry without getting their side of the story or attempting to verify actual facts? Or worse, laughing and taking pleasure in someone else’s misery?

I don’t get it. I don’t experience any pleasure at someone else’s misfortune. It pains me greatly. I don’t like to see anyone suffer.

I’m not sure if it’s fear of loneliness, or insecurity? I’m not sure if people feel so bad about themselves that diminishing others is the only way they can feel ok for a moment? Or if they think their unwillingness to participate will leave them marginalized?

I don’t know, but I’m always a little relieved when those people walk out of my life. I don’t really know constructive ways to handle the conflict and on some level there’s a part of me that feels like I’m being judgy. But there are some real world costs for the whole mean girls bit. I’m not okay with that, at all. Ever. So when those people walk out of my life, I’m not in any way diminished.

I’m grateful.

 

 

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