Author of Breasts Don't Lie

Archive for the ‘personal growth’ Category

What Mom Taught Me About Love

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No one can say that us kids had an easy time of it when my parents were married. They were bitter enemies sniping at each other across trenches filled with their children. Daily we were hit with shrapnel. But we tried to love each other – each in our own way – distorted, ugly, and always with a bitter wariness.

One of the days that I felt the most loving towards Mom was an Autumn afternoon in Mobile. My parents had been divorced for three years, and we were living in a rental complex of townhomes. The townhomes were okay – close to most of what we needed, Mom had the only car. A Ford Pinto station wagon that surprisingly never exploded. The three of us kids rode the bus to school and hitched rides to what we needed. In a pinch, we could call a cab. Mom had set that up for emergencies.

That warm afternoon, I walked back from high school. The front yards in the complex were green, and some of the renters had planted pansies around their doors. The splotches of color drew my gaze until the put-putting sound of the pinto came into earshot.

I looked up to see my mother in the car with her boyfriend, a man from New Orleans that I had not liked, not been especially kind about, or really paid any attention to apart from the brushed-off idea that maybe, yuck, my mother was having sex with him. I was seventeen, and the thought of my 43-year-old mother doing it was disgusting.

Through the windshield, I saw them. He was driving, but his other hand was draped across her shoulders. His hand brushed her hair. She smiled at him and took a bite from the orangey paper of a MacDonald’s hamburger in her hand. The car ambled at a sedate pace down the road. I watched them, starting to dredge up the dislike I had for the man. But I couldn’t do it. Something in me grew up, Mom hadn’t smiled in a long time. She was smiling up at him, and he was smiling back. They were happy.

Something clicked for me that day. I wanted Mom to be in love and happy like that as much as possible. She had been miserable most of her life. There was enough adult in me that I could wish her love’s happiness.

I wish I could say that I was graceful and good-natured about the relationship after that incident. No. I was still a narcissistically and empathically challenged teenager who wanted things her way, but gradually something loosened. My younger siblings did not see things my way, and she ended the relationship. A year before she died, she told me that he was the love of her life.

Now when I see people smiling, happy, in love, I want to clap. Hoorah. You did it. Great job.

This Valentine’s day, let’s celebrate each other’s relationships.

Share your heart.

(Image by http://www.morguefile.com)

Times, They are a Changing

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Usually, after Yom Kippur, which finished at sundown last night, I feel encouraged to go out in the world and do good deeds, fight the good fight, and so on.

This year, I want to go back to bed, eat chocolate, binge on Netflix and cry. I’m in a shitty transition time – it’s not fun, and I’m not fun to be around … I’ve become a bit of a grump.

I don’t think it’s age. I think this is just a shitty time – waiting for a hip replacement, knowing it knocks out long-held dreams and dreading the months of recovery.

So last night, I cooked. I broke all the Jewish dietary laws in one swoop. I made pasta with bacon, onions, peppers, and shrimp, covered in cheese. It was good, even great. Exactly what I needed. I had two helpings and waited for divine retribution. Nothing happened, not even indigestion.

This unholy culinary twitch was triggered by a supposedly innocuous statement by a dental assistant. After balancing a series of pointy sticks on my chest, she asked about the hip replacement. I was trying hard not to cry. Then she started with “God never gives you more than you can handle,” and continued with the equally moronic statement, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”

What a crock of shit.

Tell that to the people whose homes have been flooded.

To a couple who lost a baby.

To a person who has been mugged, assaulted, beaten.

Yeah, go ahead and try smothering them with platitudes. See what happens.

These well-wishers dismiss the pain, the existential despair, and suffering of being human and thoughtful. Being a person is difficult – thinking, empathy, feeling, navigating your world and the world of others takes energy and kindness.

So for the new year, I am going to work on kindness – giving more into the world by acknowledging when people, myself included, are in shitty places. I’m not going to deny people their pain. Maybe I’ll make them some pasta.

 

 

A Brit Celebrates 4th of July

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As a Brit, most years I have mixed feelings about the 4thof July. But this holiday, I want to take a stand for patriotism. I want each person on this planet to pledge deliberate patriotism.

For whatever country you align with, pay attention to what is happening in your area, your country, the world.

For whatever country you align with, put in your two cents’ worth of opinion.
You may end up unpopular, but we are no longer in high school.

For whatever country you align with, stand up for the highest values in your nation.
Even if that means respecting the right of a citizen taking a knee.

For whatever country you align with, tell someone what you love about your country.

For whatever country you align with, promise to learn about the country’s cultures.
Try a new food, a dance, a word of greeting.
Worship with someone from a different faith.
Attempt to see a dissimilar point of view.

For whatever country you align with, fight with all your strength for truth.
Dig it out. Dig deep.
Ask for information.
Start a dialogue.

In whatever country you align with, make your corner just that little bit kinder, truer, inclusive with your actions and your voice.

Patriotism does not happen one day each year and waving a flag doesn’t make you a patriot – patriotism is the continual struggle for what are the highest virtues of your country.

However uncomfortable, what are you willing to do?

Fear as the Dark Mother of Moving

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Yes, I am moving to Texas – the land of big hair and blue eyeshadow. I know, I know. But it’s my fear after spending ten of my formative years in Alabama feeling under made-up and under poufy-haired.

I keep thinking about fear, fear of moving, fear of my friends forgetting me, fear of loneliness from a general incompetence in making new friends, fear of the heat in Texas, fear that I am throwing out something important. The list goes on and on.

So, I went for a walk last night around Five Points late in the evening when the scraggly trees blend with the night sky. Total patches of the earth are black and vision-proof. I kept wandering the streets, shuffling my way along pavements occasionally stubbing a toe or tripping, bouncing off tree branches, feeling the spiders from said branches land in my hair, and working my way into a panic attack.

Like most Scots, when I’m worried, I walk and walk for a while, late at night, regulating my breath so the fear coalesces, snaking back into the dark edges to lay in waiting for the next time that it can grab me.

I can’t remember ever being freaked out about walking at night. I’ve walked this area for almost 20 years. I’ve survived the night of Dropping Spiders (one April evening I found three had dropped down crowning me with 24 legs – still makes me shiver). I have listened to the trains go past with the chug-a-lug sound, never changing in these two decades, and wondered about where I was going in life. I’ve sat on the swings in the park, surrounded by the toys of happily innocent kids and speculated if the wisdom gained is worth the innocence lost. In the dark, I have admitted my failures, where I’ve been mean or thoughtless, ignored then stared in the face my aging with the creeping vista of finitude, death. I’ve cursed and cried, laughed and said “I love you” where no one can hear me.

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I’ve met Kali, the dark mother, twice in one weekend walking these streets. During yoga teacher training, I walked my beagle-dachshund mix, PooPet, at 11:30 one Friday night. My doggie loved the darks holes, where the light had disappeared with the dipping sun and would scamper into places that looked fit for Moray Eels or Jack the Ripper. Nothing stopped her thirty pounds of courageous canine, but that night, we tromped along, meandering an uneven sidewalk when a silhouette stepped into the road. In a long robe, features obliterated, with a croak she whispered, “Don’t be afraid.” I remember opening my eyes wide, struggling to remain upright as PooPet jerked the chain to run behind my legs. When I gained my balance, the street was dark, leaves slithered in the breeze, and we were alone in the darkness. I didn’t think too much of it beyond, “Holy moly, we have weird ass people in this neighborhood.” But then the next night, walking the dog, another woman stepped into the light in the middle of the road. Even backlit I could tell that she was not the same woman. She lifted her arms toward the trees, and PooPet let out a bark that morphed into a whimper. The air stopped moving. I couldn’t breathe. Now I was seriously freaked out. PooPet was still, and for a moment, I could feel my blood move through my body, like I was being watered from the inside.

This Kali was formal, “There is no need to be frightened.” I think I said, “Uh, yeah, Okay.” At that point I was scared as fuck, running down that road to the safety of my townhouse. It didn’t stop me from returning to the training class the next day, but I was really, really, very alert between yoga poses.

Maybe that’s the way this is supposed to be. I am aware, actually frightened, that things could go wrong in a big way. But. I’m still going to move to Texas. My friends, come along for the ride but hold on. This will shake us up! Anyone up for a walk?

Om Kali Ma

 

Back Pain, Sex Books, and Responsibility

blog54         I did something bad, really painful to my back yesterday in yoga class. The muscles in my lower back seized tight like I had been digging graves or planting bulbs, you pick, for a few days. By 5 pm, I could barely sit at my desk, but walking helped, so I enlisted a friend, and we walked around Barnes & Noble bookstore for a good hour.

Giggling, I walked around the store, limping the gauntlet of back pain, circling literary fiction, then teen picks, over to poetry, and past the enormous display of 50 Shades of Mediocre Writing, More Mediocrity, and finally, The End of Mediocrity (until the author does some actual research into consensual sexuality versus stalking and rape). My friend was standing in the sex section.

You know.

The section of the bookstore that we want to peruse. But are frightened or plain embarrassed to be seen having interest, prurient interest in a topic that has been part of the NC legislature’s tussle over the last year.

Grow up folks; even the pearl-wearing and the seersucker-suited government is talking about sexual issues.

My friend looked pretty comfortable. We picked out books by their cover to be disappointed with the lack of pictures and the downright clinical tone of the books. When did sex become so dull? Well, I am living in NC, and it is a national chain of bookstores.

It wasn’t always that way. Ten years ago I took a similar jaunt to B&N to pick up some books for clients (counseling knows no shame thankfully). It was the middle of an afternoon in the middle of the week. I walked over to the shelves marked SEXUALITY, pulled a few books, tucked my skirt under me, and sat down with the books on the floor.

Within a ten minutes, a few people had walked by, walked by again, and then walked up to me.

“What you looking at?” asked a man.

“Books,” I said.

“Books about what?”

“Books about sex.”

“Oh.”

A few people skittered away. Fast feet and heads down. A few souls stayed.

“What do you think about this book?”

They sat down on the floor blocking the aisle. We started comparing covers. Yes, the cover of a book is crucial. (I like the hot pink and yellow book titled, ‘Hot Sex: How to do it.’)

In thirty minutes, we were a circle of people, different genders, different ages, different skin colors. And we were having a thoughtful conversation about what we look for in a sex book. Pictures, some humor, explicit information and directions, more humor, and permission to explore this important part of our lives.

“It’s great Barnes & Nobel has employees like you,” a woman said.

“Yeah, I’ve never felt so comfortable talking about sex.”

“Um, I don’t work here,” I said.

“Well, you should.”

“Who are you then?”

“Just a reader like you. Interested in sex.”

We unashamedly laughed, giggled, and snorted. Under the bright lights of the bookstore, we talked about the meaning of sex in our lives, how we wanted books that reflected that interest and employees that were knowledgeable and unafraid.

So what has happened in the last ten years? How did we end up with HB2? Why are we mute as our reproductive rights are being legislated away and programs are being defunded? We do not blink an eye as art, in its different forms, is rigidly censored. Art, the conscience of the culture, meant to confuse and inform and disturb us but we settle for sofa art – some image asking nothing of us.

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I think we are fucked, and not in a good way. What are you going to do about this?

Trumpatized – Canada Is Not The Answer

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I have been finding snatches of time in the day to cry since the election. A friend called it being Trumpatized. A great term combining Trump and traumatized, the cause of the trauma and the condition it is triggering. My reaction, disbelief and grief and anger over the election, has to find little crevasses in the day. Last Wednesday, I cried through Kathleen’s yoga class. I am pretty sure I was not alone. I cry between sessions and in sessions with some of my clients as they tell how they have been triggered back to memories of traumatic events from their past.

Right or wrong, whether you voted for him or not, Trump has reawakened many people’s past memories, snakes of violence jerked out of hibernation., and caused people to wonder about the moral development of the country. I can’t answer these questions.

I can give you some ideas for comfort through this time –

  • Get enough sleep – not too much and not too little. Your neurotransmitter level will thank you.
  • Eat warm and easy-to-digest foods – carbohydrates are helpful, soups, stews, chilis, tea.
  • Stay away from too much caffeine – it will further agitate you.
  • Keep your alcohol level to a minimum – flashbacks and memories seep in when guards are down and alcohol lowers the brain’s guardrails.
  • Be active – it will help you keep things in balance, regulate your nervous system, and get you out of your house (where I am likely to brood …)
  • Dress warm – it will calm your body so it doesn’t feel under siege.
  • Respect other people’s property – march and protest but this is not a time to riot nor recreate Kristallnacht.
  • Cry, find places and people who can accept your response.
  • If you can’t get out of bed or still feel numb, see a therapist. It’s okay to get some help.
  • Try not to re-Trumpatize yourself with on-going news shows and articles.
  • Turn off your blue screens one hour before bedtime to give your brain a chance to settle down. This decreases the frequency of nightmares and allows for more restful sleep.

(Holiday meals are not the time to bring up your differences. Everyone has someone dear to them who voted in a way opposite to you. Don’t spoil this time.)

Here’s the kicker – you need to do something. As I see it, we have three options –

  • Do nothing – that will keep you at war with yourself – only so many ostriches tolerated in this world.
  • Work to promote your beliefs – join a group, start a group, volunteer for a group.
  • Accept the results with grace – promote coming together with as calm a presence as you can.

You can do one or some combination of the three. But do something – the first option leads to feeling impotent which leads to violence against yourself and others. (Oh, and please don’t move to Canada.)

The choice is yours.

 

Boys to Men

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“Boys will be boys.” This primitive rationalization is reactivating long stored, sometimes barely remembered wounds in women and men.

When I was a teenager, my family didn’t have much money. Mom was a single parent to three expensive kids. As a teenager, I wasn’t very forgiving nor understanding of my mother’s struggles to keep me in clothes, clothes that my friends were wearing, and clothes for special events. So when I had an opportunity to go to a winter formal fraternity, I wanted a new dress. I had applied to this university; in my mind, it was important to make a good impression. So I pestered Mom.

She bought a dress for me. It was soft gray with a slight Japanese-flavored print of a bird on a limb floating across the long skirt. The top was gathered into a modest vee-neck. Why do I feel the need to defend the neckline? I have a vague memory of standing before Mom, twirling around with my hands spread. Both of us were smiling. I felt beautiful in the dress. The dress was carefully packed and I tootled off with friends to the university. The car ride moved along highways flanked with bare trees but nothing dampened my excitement.

Saturday night, I put on the dress and went with my assigned escort to the winter formal. My long hair was pulled up to show off another gift from my mother, a pair of dangling pearl earrings from my namesake aunt Trudi. The night was cool and I draped a swirl of ruffled material around my shoulders.

This is where the memories become strobe-like. I remember drinking with my escort. He seemed nice and quite gentlemanly. We danced – I loved to dance and he was willing to have fun. We laughed at nothing in particular. When the formal party was finishing, he said he would take me back to the dorm where I was staying with my friends but did I want to stop by an after-party? Sure. We walked into the frat house. The room was silent but filled with a group of boys, men from eighteen to their early twenties. I watched my date look at a man a few years older than him sitting in a chair. I had an urge to throw up. I remember feeling so small in my long party dress. My escort turned to me, reached to touch me, and I punched him. He went down and stayed down.

(The summer before, an older friend taught me how to lift weights and how to throw a punch. I will always thank him for those lessons. I wonder if he knew.)

Trying not to wretch, I looked at each boy, young man in turn. “Anyone else want to try this?” I asked. The boy, young man in the chair got up and left. The others followed him. To this day, I have no idea how I had the strength to do this.

Somewhat drunk on alcohol and high on adrenaline, I ran back to my dorm. My beautiful dress and my aunt’s earrings stuck to my body with sweat, I banged on the doors to have someone let me in. I don’t remember who let me in.

Before getting in the backseat for the drive home on that Sunday, I told a friend what had happened. He asked, “Are you sure? He seems like such a nice guy.” Continuing to stare at him, he said, “Boys will be boys.”

I didn’t say another word for the six-hour drive home. Grabbing my bag, I burst into my home, dropped my bag by the stairs, and looked for my Mom. I was proud of myself, terrified of what I had escaped, and confused by my friend’s response. I have a distinct memory of saying, “Mom, I punched a guy. Knocked him out.” Mom looked at me with her mouth open as I demonstrated my fighting stance.

“What are you doing?”

With that question, I picked up my bag and stumbled up the stairs to my room. Unpacking, I threw the dress in the corner.

At school on Monday, I kept my mouth shut afraid if I opened it that I would start screaming or throw up. After school but before anyone else got home, I took a pair of scissors to the dress. I sliced it into pieces so small that no one could have told what it had been. I ripped apart every seam. I shredded every bird. It took hours. The room was dark when I finished. The earrings were locked in my jewelry box.

A couple of years later, the disbelieving friend asked me out. The memory of that dress flooded in and I stood him up. I’m not proud of my behavior. I wish I had told him why I couldn’t go out with him.

“Boys will be boys.” No. This statement infantilizes males. This statement scares women into evasion and collusion. For thirty years, I have been a therapist helping people heal horrific experiences. Then things, people, events occur reactivating the traumas. The 2016 political campaigns have opened old wounds, wounds that we thought had healed. Wounds like mine.

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