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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.

 

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.

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.

It’s A Sad Sad Situation

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Whether or not you’re a fan of Dennis Prager, I once heard him compare relationships to bank accounts. Something along the lines of some people are savers, and they will make deposit after deposit but rarely make a withdrawal. Some people will put just enough in to open an account and establish some credit and then will bleed you dry until you finally drop the hammer on them. He made the comment that those people were the definition of being “morally bankrupt”.

As helpful as that was, I’ve used the concept of triage in relationships, particularly friendships, especially those where there is an element of mentoring going on.

It’s not just about pouring resources into someone or something. The person or situation has to actually be ready, willing and able to benefit from those resources. By my way of thinking, if I continue to use resources for someone who isn’t ultimately benefitting from them, I’m actively stealing from others who may well be able to use what I have to offer.

As an empath, knowing when to call it quits has never been my strong suit. Having some kind of metric to help me make these decisions about gifts and help and relationships has been incredibly helpful. My instinct is never to say no to a wounded soul, knowing that sometimes it’s the person who says yes that makes the difference. I can’t say this metric has stopped me from making that first attempt, rarely is someone so far gone that I know they are beyond my help. It has taught me to be more measured in my approach, and more watchful for the ensuing response.

I’ll admit, I still struggle with this conceptually. On some level it feels heartless to be that… calculating about the welfare of others. But I have extremely limited resources, and as far as I can tell, the people who are pulled back from the brink usually turn into healthy givers when they get their own house in order. So the most efficient and effective plan is to give to those you know can be returned to solid ground. Thinking about the long term chain reaction helps soothe my empath soul a little bit, and keeps me focused on the long game.

But walking away is never going to be easy or natural for me. It’s at best a well-practiced skill.

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.

You Were Always There For Me When I Needed You Most

I get a ping, and after some roaming around the block and a few false starts, an unspeakably handsome Englishman (who shares a name with my youngest, and I share a name with his daughter, hello Kismet!) gets in. He tells me we are picking up his friends.

Two more shockingly adorable young brits get in the car and we’re off. And I’m about in heaven because they could just chatter the whole way to their hotel and I’d be happy as a lark.

But the delicious accents aren’t all that’s worth telling here. Nor were their very notable looks. They were charming, highly intelligent, and funny, with such impeccable manners that they were simply a joy to have in the car.

Me, being the bigmouth that I am, I was full of questions and they were for the most part very talkative. Particularly the young man in the seat next to me.

Being from LA, and hearing them talk a bit, I had a suspicion they were musicians and had played one of the larger venues that night. They were also much closer to my son’s age than mine, and I mostly listen to passengers’ music if any, so I’m not really conversant in what the kids are listening to these days.

Finally I couldn’t take the curiosity anymore (major violation of native Angeleno standards, but when in Denver… was my rationale), and I asked, “so what band/performer?”. The young man in the front seat says “well, that’s ….. …… back there, innit?”. And I gasp “no”… and they go “so you know his music”? And I say “that song” and they go “that song” and proceed to tease me about my utter lack of knowledge about his music (in a completely charming and friendly way, no malice intended).

Inside I’m kicking myself because I can’t remember the name of that damn song. Because I’ve got it saved on Pandora, I love it, it’s breathtakingly beautiful and for someone who’s spent her entire adult life married to the same man, only to have her entire world crumble to pieces… That song is both too hard for me to listen to, and in those moments when I feel stronger and happier, I listen and I believe again in love. I believe that people really do feel as I feel and that all can really be right with the world, and that the heartache I see too often around me doesn’t have to be the norm.

But I couldn’t remember the title because every time I hear it the tears flow freely from my eyes and I’m too busy experiencing it to worry about things like remembering words.

Which, let me tell you, that’s a rare occurrence for a singer. Usually we’re all about those words, yo.

There aren’t many songs that impact me with quite that level of emotional intensity, and here I felt like I left this young man with the impression that his music was unremarkable, when nothing could be further from the truth. That song destroyed me in the most beautifully epic way the very first time I heard it.

I’ve been kicking myself ever since.

Talent like that truly deserves to be honored, even if it violates my LA “code”.

And young men that remarkable in every possible way deserve to know they are admired, even if it’s by a lady old enough to be their mother.

Maybe especially by a lady old enough to be their mother. It is certainly my fondest wish that I’ve raised my sons as well as these young men were clearly raised.

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?

You’ve Got To Get Up And Try

About a week after my marriage ended, a new singles group sprouted in our community. The timing was in many ways a lifesaver for me, I was barely among the living, and I’ve met so many truly amazing people and had so many wonderful experiences. Some I almost wish I could skip, and yet, I needed them to remember what living even is. What can I say, every cherry has a pit. You just need to pay attention to the reality, not avoid the experience entirely.

Being a romantic at heart/incurable empath, I love watching new couples happen. It fills my heart to see love blossoming, and gives me hope that good things are still real, still possible.

But it’s not an uncomplicated road, not even during the best of circumstances. I remember meeting some friends at a happy hour, being my typically oblivious self, and I happened to notice two friends, who share a passion that completely informs their very clear vision for their future. I noticed him squaring up to her, his arm protectively around the back of her chair, and the unmistakeable look of admiration on his face, and I thought, wow, how often do two people who want so many of the same things in life even meet? Clearly he’s interested.

So I in my one-drink (Denver strong) addled state tried in my never subtle way to throw them together. And she, being badass and perceptive and as blunt as I am ripped me a new one the next morning. I told her what my thinking was. Unbeknownst to me, she had already expressed an interest in him, but she had every reason in the world not to trust love. We talked a bit and a few weeks later I learned they were a couple. My heart soared. Falling in love with someone who is that kind of kindred spirit doesn’t happen every day. Few people get to experience it.

Sometimes I worry that the realities of life and the world around them with destroy something so incredibly precious and beautiful. I hope not. Because love is nothing but growth opportunities interspersed with reality and occasional moments of unspeakable bliss.

This weekend I’ve been helping a new friend of mine navigate the heartache of missed opportunities with an old friend of mine. This new friend knows mistakes were made, and they are sincerely regretted. But sometimes you’ve gone too far and you can’t rebuild what’s lost.

So today I’ve been sobbing my way through one hell of an emotional hangover, because he fills a need for her that ordinary never will, and she inspires him to new heights. But we live in a world where if it doesn’t work we throw it away and move on. And I’m surrounded now by so many people who want love, but chase everything else.

My heart is breaking.

Sometimes I just want to grab people by the shoulders and make them face  what they keep choosing to turn away from.

Why You Look So Sad?

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My cousin held me tighter as we hugged and whispered “you look so sad”.

She’s right, I do, I thought later. The decades of a dysfunctional marriage had taken a toll, but the three and a half years trying to salvage it were a whole new level of destructive. By the time I saw her during a Denver vacation last summer I barely looked alive. There was no light left in my eyes, I looked as burdened as I felt. It’s a phenomenon that gets endlessly discussed on various support groups I participate in. Before and after pictures are often shared, hope for those still finding their way out, proof of progress for those who have a more distant perspective.

I couldn’t deny the reality of what she said but it still came as somewhat of a shock. I hadn’t seen her in years. I thought I did a better job of hiding it. I was grateful she said something, knowing that I have three pairs of eyes watching all the time, learning both how to be a partner and what to expect from one. If I didn’t find the courage to face the truth and value myself and my contributions, I was running the risk of them meeting the same fate. Knowing I was still building the path that would in some ways shape their future gave me the courage to advocate for myself, to ask for what I needed, and to not compromise my own welfare.

Over the last few months I’ve made it a point to try and look my best, to find the joy in nurturing myself again. I love playing with colors, even if I’m not always comfortable with it. So coloring my hair, indulging in the occasional mani/pedi, and a budding makeup addiction have been a way to invest in myself. Those investments had a measurable impact on my earnings (for the better), and garnered endless comments from my loved ones about how much happier I look.

I spent so many years convincing myself that spending anything on me was frivolous and essentially stealing from my kids. Of course, I was also unaware what the true root of our financial problems were. I believed what I was told, that it was all my fault and if I just sacrificed more and more everything would be fine. It became a way of life, and I have to admit, it’s uncomfortable still to spend money on myself. My first instinct is always to sacrifice what I want and need for the welfare of my family.

It’s another one of those unhealthy patterns I’d like to break. I’m hoping to learn to model better and more consistent self-respect for my boys. I need to remember the risk of feeling the need to ask them why they’re so broken someday is very real.

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.

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