Looking back and thinking forward

Month: October, 2014

Changing the life script

Surely I haven't said everything there is to say? As I start writing I realize that, in fact, there is so much I want to write! Some of it is private though. About inner feelings and thoughts of one thing and another.

"Private?" I almost exclaim out loud. It is early morning and the house is quiet – even the cats are not stirring. So I contain the exclamation to myself. I have hardly ever been private on this blog. Indeed, I have shared my deepest feelings and fears. Lately, though, I am starting to want to keep things private.

"Don't give too much of yourself away," Ziva, one of my therapists used to say to me. "You give too much in the hopes of receiving the same amount from others. And then, when they don't reciprocate, you are disappointed, and it feeds into your life script about not being wanted."

I have been thinking about Ziva's words from almost thirty years ago. In those days, I never quite understood what she was talking about.

But, lately, I get it!


To my core.

I have decided to tell a different story to me about me. I am literally in the process of changing my life script. I have to, because the old one does not fit the me of now – not in any way. I laugh out loud, alone in the dawn light of my study. It feels right – the slipper fits! Oscar and Mimi sense my joyful emotion, and start running about the room in play – chase and catch, chirping and purring as they do so.

Timing is everything, and I have been traveling toward this moment for many years. Arriving doesn't mean the end. Indeed, it feels like the beginning of something fine.


Dare I say … happy?

I think I know the days, and moments even, when my journey began. There were catalysts and coincidences, and people aong the way, who opened doors, or gave me the tools to break down walls – some kindly and gently, and others, who through their conscious or unconscious mean spiritedness, rocked and shocked me out of comfortable delusion and denial.

And it fits too – as the season of reflection, forgiveness and gratitude is upon us – that I am genuinely grateful to them all.

And with this new story … I begin my countdown to Thanksgiving.

At home


Well, on Sunday was the Historic Germantown House Tour in which our home was one of 6 houses people had signed up to visit.

We did not know what to expect, so we decided we would put out about two dozen or so cookies for the visitors who would stop by. At eleven a.m. one of the organizers stopped by to drop off brochures, put balloons and a sign outside, and meet with the three volunteers (one for each floor). We told them all, all about the house – but they had already done quite a bit of research, and wrote a blurb about the house in the brochure, including the fact that Life Partner had made some of the furniture himself.
At 11:30 the first visitors arrived. Each volunteer was stationed on a different floor. As our organizer was leaving we asked how many people had pre-registered and she said 250, but there would also be walk-ins at the last minute.
Tom and I had settled on 36 cookies, and thought we had over done it! 
Well … let the wild rumpus start …
From 11:30 until 4:30 over 200 hundred people walked throughout our home. Life Partner and I did not get a chance to drink a glass of water, go to the bath room or sit down. We talked until we were hoarse. It was a phenomenal day! Everyone adored our home – many told us it was the best out of the six they had seen. Some told me that the word was out – everyone all over the place were talking about our house. Some would leave the other houses and rush over to see ours before they missed out! At one point a family came in with a photograph of the first woman who had bought our home in 1912 – a 43 year old woman named Maude Frick standing outside our house back in 1912!. It was his great grandmother! He brought us a photocopy. We were ecstatic!
Needless to say, Mimi and Oscar stayed in the basement and hardly showed their faces.
People were respectful, polite, intelligent. It was such a fun day! We were so proud and happy with our home. I was especially proud of Life Partner, who has worked so hard to make everything fit in so beautifully, and yet create a home we all love to live in. Indeed, many people just wanted to move in with us! In the middle of it, a photographer from the Philadelphia Magazine came in and took photographs everywhere – "oohing and "aahing" as she did so. 
When the last guest and volunteer had left, L.P. and I piled into the car, went out to our favorite local restaurant – and collapsed – laughing, exhausted, oh so happy! We had so much fun, and met all sorts of really interesting people.
And the cookies? Well, they were gone by 12:30!
A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Lost it

Writing for real

Quote of the day:

The book says, "We might be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us." Magnolia.

Validation is key when one has been taught a different reality to the experience. Constant and consistent validation has unlocked the frozen within, and helped it flow out into the open. Sometimes it has been more of a storm than a flow, I must admit, causing my body to react violently with all kinds of physical symptoms. Anxiety and fear accompany me calling out in whispers, and sometimes yelling in my ears making me feel as if I am going deaf. They warn me not to rejoice in this new found freedom: adulthood, maturity, mind of my own. They threaten to kill me by raising my blood pressure to heights the medical doctors raise their eyebrows at. These past two months I am learning to stare directly into the face of my fears. To hold still with them and explore the feelings in my body and brain. Like the cold grip in my chest, or discovering my eyes are wild and exhausted. 

It has been a wild ride. And I am not sure it's over yet. But, for some reason this morning I sense it will be over soon. The storm, I mean.

Then, perhaps, the river of emotion will flow more smoothly, and not alarm me so. For they are my feelings, and they are real. For they were my experiences, and they were real. As a close friend said to me recently, "You don't have to absorb that stuff any longer. Return it to its owner.

This past weekend, I picked up my trusty copy of Alice Miller's, The Truth Will Set You Free, and was reinforced. She writes:

most of us are indeed on our own … but we would benefit tremendously from having someone to talk to about our childhoods particularly when we get older. As our physical strength fades, and we lose our youthful vigor, we are particularly susceptible to flashbacks to a time when we were helpless children. And that may be what makes us cling to a bagful of tablets in much the same way as we clung to our mothers for the help we urgently needed … we need an open door to our own past, an opportunity to take its very beginning seriously.

Indeed, taking myself seriously has been the hardest part for me. I often find myself telling a story about how someone hurt me, and giggling as I describe the events, as if it was funny or trivial. Again, Alice:

Laughter is good for you, but only when there is reason to laugh. Laughing away one's own suffering is a form of fending off pain, a response that can prevent us from seeing and tapping the sources of understanding around us

In fact, taking myself seriously makes me anxious – for, growing up I was laughed at and teased for things I deeply felt or believed in, forcing me to take them underground: like loving my father, feeling spiritual and questioning if there is a God, becoming involved in a youth movement, becoming a yoga instructor, becoming vegetarian … on and on. Nowadays I know that the people who made fun of me had their own denials of pain, blindness to their own childhood fears and traumas. But still it is a challenge to take my own pain seriously. 

As an early childhood teacher educator, I feel an urgency to help teachers understand how children learn to defend themselves from pain. Indeed, lately, I feel that this is my calling – my quest. Recently, I wrote an essay on "spanking," for Asbury Park Press. I was amazed and dismayed to read the comments from people saying that spanking was good for children, and that it had worked for them. In my despair at the unkindness of these comments, I turned again to Alice Miller:

All a beaten child remembers is fear and the faces of angry parents, not why the beating was taking place … the child will assume he had been naughty and merited the punishment. What kind of beneficial pedagogical effect (is there) in that?

So, all those memories we block or deny because they were too painful to bear as children – we continue to hold onto them believing that we must have deserved it. As one of my students wrote to me years ago, at the end of taking my course in applied child development: "You don't have to hurt me to teach me." For her it was a revelation, as she had been hurt emotionally and physically very much as a young child.

Giving up the denial and illusions that have protected me all my life has been the most difficult part of therapy this past year. Embracing my right to my feelings, and validating what I experienced as a young child, while deeply healing, is enormously frightening for me. At the same time it is allowing me to give up being a victim to my life, or a masochist. I am starting to believe, for real, that I no longer have to absorb any hurtful stuff any longer, and can, instead, return it to its rightful owner.

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Activist


Wouldn't we all just love to leave the past behind? Especially all those painful and uncomfortable memories. I have been working very hard at that through therapy, reading books and poetry, and even in writing this blog. Getting to know myself in order to lay down the burdens of the past, and walk ahead into the light free and clear. What a mission! What a goal! People write about it everywhere – sing songs and wax lyric on and on. Being in the moment – here and now, not looking back or thinking forward. Ah yes. Noble ideas indeed. Freedom from pain and discomfort seems like the loftiest, most rational goal of all. Facebook is packed with slogans that invite and encourage us to do just that – leave the past behind.

Lately, though, I realize how futile this struggle to free myself from the past is becoming. Indeed, I think it is impossible. Unrealistic. An illusion that gives me hope and comfort thinking that it is a possibility at all. For, the more I understand how our brain functions, and how, as very young children, we store our earliest emotional memories never to be erased – I realize that leaving the past behind is impossible.

Repressed and buried emotional pieces – traumatic or otherwise – will forever rise up at the oddest moments when we least expect them, and interfere with present situations. The trick is in recognizing and welcoming them when they occur. Understanding they are forever part of who I am, and who I have become, I might greet them and, if I am able, make peace with them. Indeed, integrating and accepting them as part of me makes me the complex human being I am. Negotiating with those memories I learn when they are helpful warnings, or if they block me from opening up. I realize I don't have to forgive everything, nor should I forget some things. I have a choice if only I allow myself to accept that the past is always a part of me. 

I always thought there was something lacking in me because I seemed unable to forgive and forget all, and just let go of the past. I worked so hard to achieve the impossible, and then reinforced the feeling of failure over and over again.

As I start to release myself from these illusions, I am able to accept myself as being a human being like everyone else – eternally struggling to be free, when, instead, we could be facing and integrating our shadows into who we are forever.

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Coming of age