Is it you or is it me?

Do you ever walk away from a conversation feeling worse about yourself than you did before the conversation?

I do. Sometimes. When this happens I ask myself, “Was that them or was that me?” Was I being thinned skinned, as my mother told me I was or were they being superior, mean, passive aggressive?

Yesterday I reached out to a co-worker by asking her some “How are you questions?” I listened to her answers, nodding, laughing. I felt interested. I was getting her. Then she asked me a specific question about myself concerning an issue that was public enough  for her to know some details. As I responded, she interrupted with a moralistic sounding interjection. What I heard her saying was…if only I had thought like her I wouldn’t be in this jam.

“Wow I was stupid. I should have known this. She did. That’s because she is a better therapist than me.” My mind was racing.

I began to give her more details, hoping my explanations would explain my decisions.  I was grasping for her understanding. I was feeling increasingly pathetic. The more I told on myself the more I seemed to reinforce her “take” on my situation. I finally stopped talking. Defeated. I walked away not liking myself as much as I did before we engaged. I walked up the stairs to my office with heavy feet.

Since this was not my first I-am-inadequate rodeo, I knew what I needed to do. Over the years I have developed coping strategies for this kind-of-thing.

  1. I decide I never liked her anyway. I call on my best-junior-high-mean-girl to internally trash talk her. My adolescent self believes this will make me feel better.  It never does.
  2.  I decide I better get busy being a better, stronger, more successful version of myself. I’ll take a class. Read a book. Dress more sophisticatedly. Share less of my vulnerability. I usually just feel tired at the end of this option and take a nap.
  3. I eat some chocolate. I haven’t found a down side to this.
  4. I call a trusted friend to vent hoping they will agree that she is just not that nice. I love it when my smart, loyal, accomplished friend says, “Yeah I always thought that of her too. You poor thing. I think you are wonderful.” For a moment I feel victorious.
  5. I ask myself what got touched in me that I am reacting so strongly. This one is the hardest and the least fun…”Really? Do I have to look at myself again? Do I have to get honest about me? Damn!” Sometimes it helps do combine this one with #3.

So after quickly moving through #1, #2, skipping #3 & #4 — since I had no chocolate or time to call a friend — with a sigh I moved into #5.

I remembered the book The 4 Agreements by Miguel Ruiz. The 2nd agreement is Don’t Take Anything Personally. The premise is that what others say is more about them then me. That we all come from our own projections that are a result of our view of the world. The stories we make up.

This was comforting. I realized that my co-worker had her own reasons for commenting the way she did that had nothing to do with me and everything to do with her experience. I no longer had to be angry at her or quickly read a self help book.

Not taking anything personally is liberating.

But, it may not be the finish line.

If the relationship is significant enough to me I realize I need to say something about how I felt as a result of what was said. Even though I am not taking it personally I may still feel bruised. So coping strategy #6 is talking to the person about how I felt when they said what they said. (I lied, this one is harder than #5.) It takes courage and trust in the relationship to be strong enough for vulnerable honesty.

Deciding when to speak up and when to let-it-go is a constant process of discernment.

Chocolate makes this easier…

 

 
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You will be okay…

Many years ago, when Jena was young, her dad and I spent an overnight in Pittsburgh. She hated when I went away. She called me at 10pm, missing me. I talked with her and with Barb, our babysitter/nanny/pseudo grandmother/family friend. Jena decided she was okay and would go back to bed. At 11pm the phone rang again. I used my best soothing voice to reassure her and to remind her that we would be home the next day. She settled down, her breathing softening. She said she thought she could fall asleep. I told her I loved her and we hung up. At midnight the phone rang again.

You get the picture. I tried every thing I knew to comfort her. Barb did the same. Each time we settled Jena, an hour later she was upset again, calling. Finally at the 3am call I was exhausted. “Jena, you are going to be okay!” There was silence on the line.

“Oh. Okay. Why didn’t you say that before? Night Mom, see you tomorrow.”

I was dumbfounded as I snapped my cell phone shut for the last time that night. Why hadn’t I said that before? I had spent the entire night consoling, convincing, and conjoling her that my being away for a night was not a big deal. I had tried to come up with solutions, distractions, even bribes.

But what she needed from me was to acknowledge our separation was a very big deal to her and to assure her she would survive it. She needed me to know something that she was unable to know…that she would be okay.

Sometimes that is all we need. To have a trusted other hold our strength when we can’t find it. We have all been there. So far in with no visible way out. Our minds tell us we will always be stuck in this scary place. We lose ourselves and our hope.

Recently I spent time with a friend who had been sick for 3 weeks. She was exhausted, angry and afraid she would never be well again. I told her, with maternal assurance, that she would be well again, that it was just really hard for her to trust that right now. Her smile spoke her appreciation. Some part of her knew that, but it was buried under her current panic. The same was true for Jena. Some part of her knew she would be okay. I simply reminded her.

And that is sometimes that is all we need.
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Seeing myself through another’s eyes…

I feel chronically busy. And never done. My TO-DO list keeps growing despite my check marks of completion.

I have a low grade anxiety as I triage. Each task feels urgently important and well passed its intended finish date. When I do take action — sorting through 10 years of bank statements, retirement accounts, bills, etc., to de-clutter and reclaim the spare room/office I have longed for — I torture myself by mentally rehearsing my unfinished project inventory.

I try soothing my over-active mind, as my 2008 Capital One statements cut into my fingers leaving painful paper cuts, convincing myself that I am doing exactly what I should be doing. One thing at a time, I coo. Unfortunately I don’t believe myself.

The other day I found the CD of a workshop my friend Kathleen and I did in 2006 with Christine Page, MD. In this weekend workshop Christine led us through a kind-of psycho-drama using each participant’s astrological charts. It was fascinating, disturbingly accurate and very insightful. Christine recorded each persons session for later listening.

Eight years later I found the CD in my sorting. I slipped it into my car’s sound system as I headed out for the day for a bit of easy listening. I forgot how much I hate the sound of my recorded voice.

I began to remember where I was in my life in 2006 — separated for 2 years, pretty much single parenting and beginning to experiment with dating. The uncertainty and fear I felt back then filled my body as I sat at a stop light. It was a tough time.

In this tender moment my voice from “Christmas Past” came through the car speakers. I heard myself disclose that I believed when I got everyone and everything taken care of — my kids, my marriage/divorce, my eventual move to the city–then I could have the life I wanted. When everyone else was happy and taken care of, then I could be happy.

Hearing this, as I accelerated through the green light taking myself to the next place on the list, I had an aha moment. My kids are good and are taking care of themselves. My new husband is low maintenance. I have moved to the city and am settled. So what’s my problem? According to my 2006 criteria I should be at peace with myself.

Unfortunately, wherever-you-go-there-you-are. I realized in this come-to-jesus moment that I recreated my belief system with new criteria. Now I tell myself, when I get the house completed; the kitchen refurbished, hard wood floors installed, the deck enlarged, etc., then I can have the life I want.

Apparently in my world there will always be more TO DO.

Kathleen called while I was writing this post. I shared my aha moment with her. She listened and laughed as only an old, dear friend who knows you well, can. She told me about me through her eyes. I liked the woman she described. Talking with her helped me see that I have the life I want. I am writing, working a vibrant practice, traveling, enjoying Tom, my kids, my friends, taking advantage of the cities many blessings and slowly getting my home in order.

But even more importantly, she helped me feel better about me. Seeing myself through her eyes let me off my own hook of never enough, never done.

Perhaps if we see ourselves through our loved ones eyes we will hold ourselves with more compassion. Is this true for you?

XO

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I Make Myself Smile.

I have a friend that talks to herself as she settles into any comfie chair. “Okay”, she says making little noises of satisfaction as she readjusts herself, “This is good.”

Initially I thought this was very odd behavior. Doesn’t she know I can hear her, I asked myself with a less than veiled judgement? Is she talking to me? Is she crazy?

As is ALWAYS the case when I judge another, within 2 weeks I am eating my words and doing the very thing I criticized. So as I fell into the couch after a particularly long day and overheard my murmuring, “Okay. Alright. This is good,” I couldn’t help but smile at myself. I was humbled.

What I judge in others I will meet in myself.

This comeuppance also happens when I use the words ALWAYS or NEVER. As in, “I would never do that,” or “I always do this.” When I hear these words pop out of my mouth I have learned to TAKE THEM BACK. (Notice I didn’t say always.) I say, out loud to myself, and to whomever I have made my pronouncement, “I take it back. I take it bad. I take it back.” Three times seems sufficient.

I know I will do it or say it. I will make that wrong turn and scare a pedestrian. I will thoughtlessly take up the whole locker room bench, spreading my stuff out as I change. I will carelessly say something that hurts someone. And…I will talk to myself.

Now I talk to myself regularly. I like it. I enjoy hearing my thoughts outside of my head. It feels strangely relational. Caring. It makes me smile. It also makes me wonder if this is early dementia. Or aging. I didn’t talk to myself when I was younger. I didn’t fart as much either.

The other day I was unloading the back seat of my car, strategically organizing my computer bag, lunch bag, boxes of kleenex and purse onto my shoulders and under my arms before I crossed the street to my office. Once I was equally balanced on both shoulders, like a well-packed mule, I stepped into the street.

When I reached the middle of the street, where PAT buses fly, I heard myself say, like a parent speaking to a child, “You didn’t even look before you stepped into the street.”

Silently I answered. “But I listened. I didn’t hear any cars coming.” I said it like a defensive adolescent.

I cleverly responded, aloud, “But what if an electric car was coming. You can’t hear them.”

I had me. Good point. Lesson taken. I smiled, acknowledging this verbal exchange between me and me in the middle of the street. I also looked around to see if anyone had heard me. Thankfully I was alone.

If a woman talks to herself and no one is there to hear, did she make a noise?

ALWAYS,

 
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You call me a Bitch…like it’s a bad thing…

27 years ago, in the Chicago Airport, I wanted to get home to my 6 month old son. My X and I were on a layover gone bad. The ticket agent informed us that we were not leaving any time soon since the plane to Pittsburgh was indeterminately delayed. This was not the answer I wanted to hear. I needed to get home to Landon.

I instinctively pulled myself up to my full 5-feet-10-inch height and leaned over the counter, closing the distance between myself and this unsuspecting man’s face. I informed him, in a dangerously quiet voice, tears in my eyes, that I had a son I needed to get home to and I WOULD be leaving soon. Very soon. And he was going to make it happen.

He did. He found a flight that got us home late that evening. Maybe he was glad to get me out of there. Maybe he was a dad and understood my panic. Either way he sent me home.

My X, Landon’s father, called me a Bitch for speaking to the ticket agent that way. I was infuriated by his lack of support that expressed itself in his name calling. I was also a bit ashamed of myself for acting badly to that nice man behind the ticket counter.

Two years later, when our son had a febrile seizure, the doctors insisted on doing a spinal tap. Hearing Landon’s terrified screams from the procedure room, as he was being held down by a team of nurses, I got-in-the face of another man, the doctor. Holding his white jacket lapels–mostly to steady my weak knees, I breathlessly asked if the spinal tap was absolutely necessary. He said it was. My X later told me I was (again) being a Bitch.

I did not intentionally try to be the B word. I knew the rule; If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all. People wouldn’t like me if I was not nice. I was clearly aware, thanks to my moms early training, that it was my job to keep everyone happy-especially her. So I learned the act of pleasantness.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of one of my favorite books, Women Who Run with the Wolves, tells the story of being asked why she had to get so loud and angry when something negatively impacted her. She responded along the lines of, “Well, you don’t hear me when I am quiet.”

Why does an assertive woman get called a bitch? Why is standing my ground considered bitchiness?

When I reached my mid 30’s something began to change inside of me. I stopped feeling guilty for my edginess. In fact, I rather began to enjoy it. I liked speaking up, even if the other person didn’t like what I said. I didn’t stop being kind. I did stop being nice. There is a difference.

Several years into this transformation my X, once again, called me a Bitch. I don’t remember for what. I do remember thanking him for the compliment; explaining that I had been working very hard to develop this skill and I was glad he had noticed.

The world needs more bitchy women.

: )
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Luv Ya

It’s quick. It’s easy. It’s casual. “Luv ya,” I call over my shoulder as I head out the door.

I notice when I choose this abbreviated endearment to express my love. I notice when someone chooses to say to me. I feel a bit empty. Not necessarily bad empty, just empty. Like eating fat free ice cream. It’s fine. It looks like ice cream. It’s cold. It’s just not that filling.

Even if I formalize it a bit more by saying, “Love you,” my emptiness lingers. I feel the missing “I.”

Try it yourself. Say, Love you. Now say, I Love you. Do you notice a difference?

I do. I feel me when I use “I” and I feel you when you say “I”. (DId that make sense? Hope so. I hope so.) When I say, “I,” I am owning what I say. I am in my words. I am in me. I am holding myself accountable. I said that. I meant that. And you know it.

Anytime I drop “I” from my sentence it changes the fat content of my message. “Miss you.”  “Understand.”  “Sorry.”

Recently, before heading out to do some shopping, I stopped at our local diner for a late breakfast. Two eggs over easy, bacon, no toast. Two pancakes. My favorite. A little protein to modify the effects of the sugar and white flour high/crash of the pancakes. I sat at the counter with the other single diners enjoying my urban life.

There was a young man sitting alone at the end of the counter. He was hard not to notice. He was not using his inside voice. His amplified banter with the waitress distracted me from my book. I wanted him to be quiet.

At one point his girlfriend texted him. Maybe his wife, but I hope not. He apparently was late for something they had planned and she was wondering where he was. He reported this loudly and jovially as he shoved a large fork-full of his hungry-man breakfast into his mouth.Unknown-1

After he swallowed, he shared his antidote for an angry girlfriend. He had clearly used it many times.  “Luv ya honey.” He was very proud of himself. He had the formula. “It works every time,” he confidently confided to the entire diner. “That’s all I need to say and she will be fine.” He went on eating and enjoying the company of the waitress.

I thought how lucky it was for me to hear since I had begun writing this post and wasn’t sure where to go with it. Now I knew. I also thought, how unlucky for this girlfriend to be taken in by manipulative words that sound like I Love You, but I imagine didn’t feel like it.

Perhaps that is the litmus test. Regardless of the I, or lack there of, do I feel loved when you say it to me?

Likewise, do I feel loving when I am calling over my shoulder my many variations of those 3 simple words? Do I mean it as a perfunctory sentiment? Do I mean it at all? Am I offering all the fat or 2%?

Just something to think about over breakfast…since I couldn’t concentrate on my book.

XO

 
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Let me call me sweetheart…

The other day I was on the floor stretching. I had a pain in my ass. Technically my hip, that tiny bugger of a muscle that is dead center on the hip bone. It can cause a boat load of trouble for being such a small thing.

Anyway, I was being very deliberate and patient with my stretch. The relief I felt was directly related to the angle at which I pulled my bent left leg my over my right hip. Straight to the right was not effective. Over and up toward my chest was the ticket.

Ahhhhhh. I held there for a moment. Breathing. In this pause I heard myself say, “That a girl. That’s it sweetheart. You’re doing great.”

I was speaking sweet nothings to myself. Wow, I was touched by me. How lovely and considerate. Friendly. Someone I would want to go get a cup of coffee with…

This self kindness has not always been my M.O.. There was a time, not so long ago, that I was rather hard on myself. I yanked myself around telling myself to keep-up; get-a-grip; that it’s (whatever “it” happened to be) my fault because I didn’t do it right, say it right, or plan well enough. I could be down right mean. Sometimes I even called myself names. (Sticks a stones can break your bones, but names can break your heart.)

I knew when I had been talking smack on myself because after a day or so I would feel like shit. My breathing was shallow, my shoulders were tense and I didn’t like anybody, especially myself. Hanging out with me was not fun.

But on this particular day I caught myself unawares; being kind, gentle, and encouraging. I was moonstruck.

Now I call me sweetheart. I ask myself if I want to keep up. I remind myself instead of getting-a-grip, I need to let-go. And, if it is my fault I apologize, then move on.

Perhaps I was my pain in my ass.

Go figure.
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I was touched…

Tom and I spent the night in Boston on our way to Cape Cod. Boston is a city I have flown into and promptly driven out of, but not a city I ever explored. So as a late anniversary celebration we used a gift voucher for a free night at the Ritz — that story later — and took in the sites of Boston.

After an afternoon of walking, we cabbed it from the harbor back to the hotel. Tom has been nursing a plantar fasciitis foot and I a sore knee from too much high heel dancing at my step daughter’s wedding. Also, it was hot and we sweaty.

Tom immediately asked the cabbie to open the windows. Please.

As we drove thru the crowded, spaghetti noodled streets of Boston I rested my arm out of the window, my hand on the sill. I was glad to be sitting. We slowed to an intersection preparing to turn left. On the sidewalk, waiting for the white lighted person signaling it is safe to cross, was a group of people. I barely noticed them until a 20-something-year-old man/child stepped out of the group and extended his hand toward the taxi…and me. At first I thought he wanted to get in.

Something in his movement told me he wasn’t looking for a ride. What he was intending was to side five with me. High five only sideways.

I instinctively reached out my hand to him.

Our palms met. Gently. Softly. Quite tenderly.

I have touched strangers before. Usually it is by accident, bumping into them, hitting arms or shoulders resulting in one of us apologizing for our clumsiness. We did not, you see, mean to touch one another. Earlier that morning I tried not to touch a stranger as we bobbed and weaved attempting to get out of each others way in the narrow hotel hallway. Our politeness securing our distance.

But this was different. This was intentional. We reached for each other. We meant to touch.

I felt something in this moment of contact with this total stranger. It is still with me.

I felt/feel hope. I felt/feel the simplicity of a moment fully lived. I feel the impact of being reached for by another. I feel the power of reaching back. I feel hope for us as a culture when we can reach out and touch each other for no other reason but to make contact.

I don’t know anything about this guy. Does he live in Boston or like me was he just visiting? Does he like his life? Does he have a girlfriend? Is he studying something that excites him? I will never know the answers to these questions. I will most likely never see him again. I probably would not even recognize him if I literally ran into him.

And, if I did, I would probably excuse my gracelessness.
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To speak or not to speak, that is the question…

Last night I told a friend that she had lost too much weight and wasn’t looking good. That her diet and exercise plan had gone too far.

Several years ago, after I had lost 25 pounds, a friend told me a similar thing. She said I was looking frail. I was as incredulous then as my friend was last night. She didn’t see herself as too thin. Neither did I.

I loved my size 6, flat stomach, easy to fit into any outfit, body. I felt sexy, powerful, in control. I did miss my boobs, however. I was never what you would call a well-endowed woman at my almost-B-cup-bra size, except for when I was pregnant and breastfeeding which doesn’t count because everything else was so big it was all proportional. But, in my minus 25-pound-stealth-self my girls had reduced to their adolescent AA bra size. I figured it was a small price to pay…no pun intended.

Saying the hard thing to a friend takes courage and love. It is a bittersweet gift to offer. When Trudy said it to me, I felt loved and trusted. She believed in me and in the solidity of our friendship to say the difficult truth.

So what do we not say?

And why don’t we say it?

Certainly I worry my loved one will be hurt, or mad, or reject me.

What I said last night came from a place of love and concern. There was no judgment or hidden agenda I was working out. When that is true, I feel safer saying the tough thing. When that is true it is also easier to hear the hard thing, as happened with Trudy. I felt no guile from her.

What I have learned, the hard way, is to keep my mouth shut when I feel I am harboring ulterior motives. That never goes well. The other person always seems to sense my duplicity. And as loudly as I may defend my honor, we both know the truth. My intentions were not honorable.

That is, perhaps, the question to be asked when choosing to speak or withhold. What are my motives? Am I speaking from a place of compassion and concern? I once read that it is our responsibility to speak from our hearts. That we cannot control how the other hears or receives what we say, but we should be sure where our message came from in ourselves.

I know I feel much better about myself, even if the other is hurt, when I am clear I meant no harm. That being said, I may still need to make amends despite my best intentions. It is my responsibility to do that also.

Saying the hard thing is an act of courage and love. It is also the true measure of a strong relationship.

I also told Tom last night that he couldn’t wear his plaid shorts and printed shirt, even if the blue’s matched. I did have ulterior motives, we both knew it, accepted it and laughed about it; concurring that at our age, mismatched hipster-dom simply looks like old age.
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Will you make the coffee…sweetie pie?

Tom and I drink our coffee in bed each morning. We use this time to talk about the day ahead, plan vacations, up date grocery lists, book get-togethers with friends, finish fights from the day before or sit quietly saying nothing. It is our morning ritual.

We take turns making the coffee. He likes his coffee stronger and with more caffeine than I do, so we custom blend our freshly ground beans, using separate ceramic cones, to make our first cup of morning joe.IMG_0026

This morning was my turn.

I put the water on, filled the cones with precise scoops of caffeine to decaf ratios, filled our mugs with hot tap water to warm them — something I learned from my dad — and sat down to meditate.

Last year, when I was taking my meditation class, I meditated every day. Sometime this year I stopped. I don’t know why, exactly, especially since I felt better when I began each day with mindfulness. Less bugged me, I moved slower and seemed to get more accomplished, and life made more sense in some bigger picture way.

Strange how we drop the things that support us. At least I do.

So recently, while on vacation walking the beach in the early morning, I made a resolution to begin my meditation practice again. I make resolutions two times a year. Once at the New Year and then again on vacation, when I am my-best-relaxed-self.

In keeping with my vacation promise, this morning as the water heated, I sat myself down, straightened my spine, yielded to the chair beneath me and took some slow deep breathes.  I began my meditation practice, again.

My mind cleared.

What a relief!!!

I maintained this for about 3 seconds. Then my to-do list took over. I took another deep breath, found my spine and let go into the chair, again.

So it went for the next 10 minutes.

Mindful awareness. Breathe. Clear mind. Relief.

Then… I need to remember to call about Jena’s student loans. Oh, and I want to get some more flowers for the pots on the deck. And I need to call Susan. I should get up and write this down. No, you are meditating. Don’t get up.

Breathe. Release into the chair. Ahhhh, I love this feeling. I should do it more often.

Do I want to get another dog? I miss having a pet, but none will be like Jeff and we are gone so long during the day, but I think small dogs can be left longer and their poop is smaller, so if they had an accident it is easy to clean up…

OMG. Breathe. Clear mind. Release.

The water kettle began to whistle.

I slowly left my spot, feeling a bit refreshed and proud of myself for following through with my promise-if only mildly successful- and brewed our morning coffee. I carefully carried the full mugs up the steps to the bedroom.

As we sat sipping our coffee, Tom looked over at me and said, “ You look beautiful this morning.”

I startled. “Really?” I asked, aware of my bed head hair, unwashed face, and sleepies in my eyes.

“You’re glowing.”

“Really?” I am not very articulate in the morning.

As I moved through my day, feeling the residue of mediating, I wondered if what Tom was seeing was my few moments of internal quiet, my breath reaching the bottom of my lungs, my bodying giving-in to the support of the chair, and my spine lengthening to open my torso.

I never thought of meditating as a beauty regiment.

It’s another good reason to keep it up.
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