My Journey of Acceptance

“Until lions start writing down their own stories, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.” ~ African Proverb

Accepting all aspects of my life is difficult. Mental Illness and Trauma. They are real, present parts of my life. They are hard to acknowledge and accept.

These are real illnesses and I experience them on a daily basis, both emotionally and physically. My brain is altered, so I see the world in a unique way. My memory and concentration are far from sharp. I am always in a state of high alert, regardless of any real threat. My sleep can be affected by nightmares, often coming without warning. My stomach is tight the majority of the time. My breathing is quick and shallow in its “normal” state, so I constantly have to make a conscious effort to breathe deeply at all times. My muscles ache, I get headaches easily.

These are some of the main symptoms I experience. Thankfully I have strong self-care skills (and even stronger medications) that provide relief. Yet, like with any chronic illness, I need to be on point with my symptom management to keep it under control and prevent more intense episodes.

How do I explain my illness? I’ve accomplished a lot in my life, so expectations are high for me – the ones I set for myself and the ones set forth with my job and other “adult” ventures. When I can’t perform at the level people expect, I’m questioned.  But it’s not me – it’s my illness. I just wish there was a way for this to make sense to others. Because right now, my experience is not something easily explained. If I ask for help, I’m seen as weak. If I say I’m stressed, I can’t handle it. Like I’m making this a choice. Believe me – it is not a choice at all.

Maybe it is my fault. I did accomplish way more than is typical for people like me, with similar histories. I have a masters degree from an Ivy League university. I have a demanding, high level career. My relationships with my husband and daughter are stable and loving. Many of my fellow survivors continue to live in chaos, with continuous abuse, trauma, and substance use. I have severe and persistent mental illness. Like many survivors. But I guess since I’m not homeless or violent, it’s not viewed the same. And I fully acknowledge these vital differences. I am truly blessed to not struggle with poverty or an addiction or violence.  For reasons that are truly beyond me, I was able to create a high functioning life among the chaos I have endured. Odds say I should be much more similar to the the clients I treat. Odds say I most likely could have successfully committed suicide by now. How I managed to not just survive, but thrive, is a mystery and a miracle.

So maybe it is my fault.

Since I don’t “look” mentally ill, people don’t expect me to be struggling at all. I get it – there are days I forget my struggles until they pop up in my memory, triggered by some random event. I’m functioning. I’m thriving. I’m integrating my life and living healthy and happy. That is the goal for anyone in recovery. I’m doing it.

I’m also always going to be reminded of my illness, of my syndrome. I must always practice self-care, as a means of dealing directly with my ever-present symptoms, and also as a means of preventing them from getting too overwhelming. Like exercise, the moment you stop, get too complacent, that’s when the results stop.

The moment I laugh and seem more myself, I’m thought to be “cured.” I wish it were that easy. It’s a struggle of understanding, for everyone in my life, including myself. I am becoming my authentic self. This includes being humorous, serious, emotional, relaxed, silly, dynamic. I can be all of these things at once. I may be struggling with a present trigger, yet I may turn to humor to help me relieve the anxiety. This can be confusing to myself, and certainly to others. Yet it’s all part of me being authentic, and integrating all the complex sides of myself and my recovery into a daily life that makes me happy.

I need to be consistent. Diligent. On point all the time. It’s exhausting and hard to accept. For me and for others. My journey of self-discovery and acceptance is life long. I am blessed to be on this amazing journey.

More thoughts on this difficult journey of recovery and acceptance:

Acceptance?

When

The Cheat Sheet

 

Melancholy – A Poem

Rain drops

Slide along the window

Where sunshine once shone through

Warmth and light abundant

Now gray and damp and somber

 

Flowers closing

To the wind and gray of today

Not dying, not yet

Waiting, eager

For the sun to nourish again

 

Clouds gather

Block the sun

The light is still there

But darker, less promising

 

Darkness throughout

Consuming, engulfing darkness

No shadows cast in any direction

No streams of light trying to break through

Just black

Thick, insistent, heavy emptiness

 

Is this temporary or just reality now?

Hope says the sun will shine

The rain and clouds will move along

The flowers will burst open again

The shadows will dance among the light

Tomorrow, soon

Just like they did yesterday

One and Done: Further Away

Mia and Sophie walkingAfter a long, extra snowy winter, Spring has arrived.

Our windows gladly open, all heavy jackets retired, the warm, bright sunshine feels familiar and foreign on our skin. The trees are blooming. The colorful flowers are pushing through the cold, wet soil to share their beauty once again.

Our world is waking up from a (way too long) slumber.

This is also time for the neighborhood kids to welcome the return of their scooters and bicycles. Mia eagerly joins the activity. She springs back to life outside. Able to ride and play without worrying about ice or frostbite.

We live on a quiet street with many little kids. The whole area becomes filled with kids and activity.

This Spring I realized something new. I realized I felt more comfortable letting her ride further and further away from me. From our front porch, we can see down the length of our quiet street. When we first moved here 2 years ago, I would walk along-side of her as she went to the end of the cul-de-sac. Last year, I would walk half way down the street and she would ride ahead. The distance was increasing each year, without me fully realizing it.

Now, this year, Mia is getting older and her confidence on her scooter and bike has increased. I feel even more comfortable watching her play at the safe distance from our front porch. I rarely walk along-side her anymore. Occasionally, I’ll join her if she gets stuck, or she wants Sophie the Pug to ride along with her. Mostly she is racing her friends down the street or making up silly games. It is so sweet to watch her riding and playing and laughing.

When I first realized this, it felt strange and confusing. I felt a mix of pride, trust, nervousness, and realization of her growing up. She’s been riding like this now for a few weeks and it’s still a new feeling for me. This is so symbolic of our baby growing up. Letting her go, while ensuring she is still in sight. She may be feeling the same sensations. Or she’s just having way too much fun with her friends to be thinking deep thoughts like me.

Spring is a wondrous time of year. Life begins, life awakens. Our Mia blooms more each Spring. We watch her flourish and her confidence builds. She will continue to move further away from us each Spring. For now, I will relish every moment of watching her play and grow and thrive.

Parenting is a Competition?

I’ve never enjoyed participating in competitive sports. Too much aggression and intensity. Too many extremes. Win or lose. No in between. I thrive in the balanced calm of the “in between”, so I didn’t quite fit in with competitive sports.

Cut to a clip of Breakfast Club, when Andy, the Jock, is impersonating his father, shouting at him to “WIN! WIN! WIN! We don’t tolerate losers in this family!” This is my vision of competitive sports. Of course, all of my views can be captured with a John Hughes film clip. Isn’t this true of every Gen Xer?!

I digress. Another quirk of a Gen Xer.

Parenting seems to be a new form of competitive sport. We’ve all seen the term “Mommy War”, yet this phenomenon is sometimes too broad. Too impersonal. As a competition, some parents get into personal debates about who is being a better parent. It becomes more specific than “working mom” versus “stay at home mom (SAHM)”, to members of these categories comparing specific behaviors and mantras. For example, I’ve seen various SAHMs debating about the use of electronic devices with their kids, not in a supportive “here’s how I do it, how about you?” manner, but more of a “this is what I do and it’s best and no one can tell me different and if you don’t do what I do you are wrong!” manner.

Sure, maybe I’m embellishing the drama a bit. But that’s what makes me view it more as a personal competition than a broad war.

We’ve also seen some of this competition play out in the media. Case in point, Gwyneth Paltrow. She made the controversial statement that 9-5 working moms have it easier than working actors. Seriously. Mackenzie Dawson, a working mom, used satire to deal with this statement in an open letter to Gwyneth. Several weeks ago, another mom posted a picture of her children engrossed in electronics, calling it her “Rock-Bottom Mom Moment.” Browsing through the comments, it becomes clear that many moms have moments like this and many would not consider any of these moments to be “rock bottom.”

It’s disheartening to me that many moms (and dads) feel the need to engage in a competition. That they feel the need to explain their behavior to others who they fear may quickly judge them for their sub-par parenting. Or, in the case of Gwyneth, a mom feels she needs to compare herself to other moms to gain some sort of sympathy or inclusion in the mom-club. It’s very strange that some parents engage in the comparing and competing and one-upping.

My first thought with all of this is “does ANY parent really have that much time and energy to spend engaged in this type of behavior?” And for those who do, what is the motivation for this? What is the goal? Are these parents fixated on the notion of the “perfect” mom, dad, caregiver?

Newsflash – the ideal of the “perfect mom” is just that, an ideal. It does not exist. There is no such thing as a perfect anything, including (and especially) parenting. Yet, clearly some parents are striving for the medal of perfection. They seem focused on sharing moments that seem oddly unattainable or even desirable. Even if giving your kids iPads to distract them truly is a low point in your parenting world, why broadcast it that way? It drips of competition, as if to say, “if this is your usual, than I feel sorry for you because this never happens to me, it’s a last resort.” It’s these types of images and moments that perpetuate the competition.  These parents may or may not be striving for perfection at all times, but they certainly seem to be engaging in a competition. It’s quite amusing and sad all at once.

Luckily there are more and more parents who are not engaging in this competition. Those parents with strong senses of humor and no hidden agenda, who share tips and provide support. They are the ones who don’t judge another parent’s style, but rather watch to see if they can learn something new. To me, these parents embrace the imperfections of parenting and tend to be lighter and more inclusive about the whole thing. It’s refreshing. Those are the parents I gravitate toward.

When did parenting become a competitive sport? I, for one, have decided to watch from afar, with no intention of getting on the field to “WIN!” Thankfully, I’m in good company out here.

Words – A Poem

Words

Beautiful, artistic, intrinsic words
Written, spoken, sung, read
Any and every way

I crave these words
Each word enters my being
Sparks memories
Sparks emotions
Sparks points on my body
I am understood

Words envelop me
Surround me
Comfort me

I rely on words
Simple letters coming together
Creating complicated significance
Touching and digging
Caressing and soothing
Changing my mood instantly

Words are my identity
Words are my voice
My value, my outlet

Words set to music
Lyrics, with melody
More senses involved
Words flood over me
Like a calm, intense wave
Power, emotion
The words mean so much more

Words are magic
Crafting life
Altering existence
Shifting meaning
Igniting an array of senses
With every new captor

I enclose my life in words
Crave the meaning of them all
Play with new combinations
Wait for the response from my senses
Delight in the power and peace they bring

Words
How expressive they make me
And connect me to life

Observations from a (Former) Sugar Addict

Food. Much of my life has involved a strange, complicated relationship with food. Mostly foods that are sweet.

It has been over 7 years since I was instructed to drastically changed my diet. Medical doctors, psychiatrists, social workers, and nutritionists all agreed that my diet was a huge contributing factor to my many health and emotional issues. I’ve had to break off my relationship with unhealthy (aka, crappy) food. Mostly, it was sugar, in all of its forms, that I had to kick to the curb.

Like anyone struggling with an addiction, these past 7 years have been filled with long stretches of sugar-free dedication, followed by an occasional binge of anything sweet I could find. Thankfully, as the years wore on, my cravings and binges became less and less. Now, they are all but gone. I barely crave. When I am presented with something sweet, like during the holidays, I am able to have some small tastes of those items that are worth it to me (like natural pumpkin or sweet potato pie, with natural vanilla ice cream) and I’m satisfied. Those overdone confections of too-bright icing with dozens of edible sugar shapes, in addition to sprinkles, icing flowers, powdered sugar, and glazed sugar? My stomach and mind has rejected them so completely that they have no effect on me at all. I even got a little queasy writing this sentence. Success!

Now that I feel solid in my sugar recovery, I am very aware of just how pervasive sugary foods are  in our culture. We are surrounded by a sweet overload.

The biggest offense is how the food industry has recreated sugar in 947 ways, give or take. Natural sugar, cane sugar, brown sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), glucose, sucrose, maltose, lactose, saccharin, stevia, aspertame, xylitol, sucralose, and others.

Don’t be fooled by HFCS, which, to me, is the worst offender. Sure, some will say it’s “natural” since it is a form of sugar made from corn. Yet, the process used, and the corn produced, is anything but natural. Unfortunately, HFCS is in many MANY things. The good news is that some top brands have become wise to the negatives of HFCS and are going back to using the real thing – sugar. Kudos to them.

Do we really need all these versions of creating a sweet taste? Of course not. It’s become all about achieving the sweet (albeit, fake sweet) with as few negative side effects as possible. The most crucial side effect is calories. Develop something sweet with no calories = WHOO HOO! The problem, of course, is that while there may not be calories, there are chemicals. Chemicals that most likely have long-term side effects that we aren’t fully aware of yet.

I will gladly consume a few bites of real sugar, calories and all, than consume any fake sugar with questionable chemicals.

Another trend I’ve seen lately is the food industry taking a healthy item, adding the fake stuff, and trying to pass it off as healthier than it actually is.

Case in point – Greek yogurt.

When I changed my diet 7 years ago, my nutritionist recommended Greek yogurt. Back then, I had to go to search the dairy section for this rare form of yogurt. Most often, I had to go to several stores. Only one brand existed, and it was not in the yogurt section. It was plain, it was authentic, and it only had a little real sugar added.

Now, Greek yogurt is everywhere and every brand has their own version. This is seemingly a good thing, as Greek yogurt is very healthy with a ton of protein and little fat. Yet, unfortunately, many brands translate the real thing into a fake-sugar overload version that is far from authentic.

Just take a look at the labels. Most of the new versions are loaded with HFCS, or some other version of fake sugar. The ones with “fruit” are the worst. It’s rare that the fruit is real; it’s more likely a version of fruit jam with many other unnatural flavors and artificial colors. Neon colors. Blueberry flavored anything should be a purply-blue color; not a neon, never to be found in nature, bright blue. Just sayin’.

Thankfully the original brand that was the only one years ago is still there and that’s the one I buy. There are vanilla and honey versions (naturally flavored, with nothing else) which Mia likes too. She (and I) also like to take real fruit and mix it in ourselves. This brand does tend to still be tucked at the end of the dairy case, overshadowed by the bright colors and clever marketing of the other brands.

Sugar is a real addictive substance. Some people have said that cutting back on sugar is incredibly difficult, perhaps more so than quitting smoking. I would agree with this statement. Sweet substances are everywhere. For some reason, American culture doesn’t just like things sweet, we need them to be SWEET TO THE EXTREME. Our culture of excess. I used to drink soda (never diet; the HFCS version), buy a big gulp, and bask in the coating of sweetness in my mouth. Did you ever notice that it actually does coat your mouth? That you can still taste the soda on your tongue long after you took a sip? I used to like this; now, I realize this is not a good thing at all.

As I cut back, I would take a sip of soda and feel overwhelmed with the sweetness. It was a sort of strange tingling sensation that my mouth and stomach immediately rejected. Seriously, when you begin to cut out sugar, especially the fake stuff, your body adjusts. You don’t need as much sugar to get a sweet satisfaction. Thank goodness.

I am now at peace with my relationship with sugar. I have overcome my addiction. I am no longer tempted by the colors, the icing, or even the sprinkles.

Related Pieces:

Dear Food, We Need to Talk

Oh Sugar, How I Love (HATE!) You

Namasté and the Lotus Flower

If you have ever taken a yoga or meditation class, you most certainly have heard the term Namasté. It is often used as a greeting, a farewell, or both. It’s traditionally accompanied by a slight bow, with both hands pressed together in front of your chest, with your thumbs pointing to your heart. It’s a powerful gesture with deep meaning. However, some people toss it around flippantly, without fully knowing the powerful meaning.

Here’s what it means: “I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwells. I honor the place in you which is of love, of truth, of light, and of peace. When you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me, we are one.”

An intense meaning for one word.

Namasté is used in Hindu and Buddhist practices. Buddhism embraces yoga and meditation practices as a way to achieve enlightenment and perhaps nirvana.  Some Buddhists believe that nirvana can only be achieved in death. So full enlightenment becomes the goal. Enlightenment involves learning how to rise above the suffering of the world to be one with the beauty of the universe.

The Lotus Flower is a stunningly beautiful flower that grows in muddy waters. It has a long root that extends through the water to anchor in the muddy pond’s floor. This flower emerges from the muck around it and shines. A gorgeous light among the darkness. In Buddhism, this flower symbolizes the journey a person takes to rise and bloom among the mud and achieve enlightenment.

In Buddhism, all humans are born among suffering. Suffering is an essential aspect of all human experiences. It is through suffering that we learn what is important. It is how we gain strength and knowledge in who we are. The goal of enlightenment is to make sense of the suffering, let go of its hold upon us, and become one with the truth and peace that is the true representation of the universe.

Clearly these two concepts are related. They are the most prominent symbols of Buddhism. One a greeting, the other a gorgeous flower. Both powerful in their beauty, simplicity, and meaning.

I have been connecting so deeply with these concepts lately. Having studied Buddhism and practiced yoga and meditation for years, I have always felt such a strong connection to the universe. I feel the most alive among nature. To look up at the stars, gaze at waves crashing, feel the air and sunshine on my face. A beautiful flower blooming.

It is remarkable that a wondrous flower can bloom within muddy waters. For a lotus flower to burst among the obstacles around it. For it to dig deep to find the nourishment it needs to thrive.

It reminds me of the first small flowers of spring. Those purple and yellow buds that pop above the slowly melting snow to prove that the earth is not going to be asleep forever. The cold, dark winter does have an end.

These are the ways the universe speaks to me. These are the divine.

I am open to the divine in all that is around me. I am open to the divine that is within me. If a lotus flower can maintain its gorgeous color among the muddy darkness, there is hope for all of us. For us to fight through the suffering and rise our faces to the sunshine.

I will continue to embrace these concepts in all aspects of my life. Remind myself of the lotus flower when there are obstacles or struggles in my way. Continue to grow and blossom within the universe. I will embrace the meaning of Namasté with every person I meet. We are all part of the divine universe. We are all on our own journey toward enlightenment.

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