“The women in my small group at the writer’s workshop were writing about trauma and stuff. I tried to tell them that there was a lot of that.” This comment from a man I met at the beach who is a fellow writer. The difference being, he writes fiction. I don’t. His inference was that there was already enough writing about trauma. I say write that shit because there is so much trauma to be written about and the writing and the telling will heal the writer and some of the readers. The message I want to convey in my stories about the things I have survived is that of survival. And you can’t hear enough about that. This is a tough world. And survival is part of living in it.
We met because he was talking about an annual writer’s workshop here in the Florida panhandle that happens every year. One that just wrapped up and that I was thinking of attending next year. Several things I heard him say provoked me. To be fair, I think he was coming from a place of wanting people to succeed, and by that I mean sell books, but I heard some rules around that and I am not sure that I want to plug into a formula to sell. I want to write what I am meant to and then let the results or any monetary success happen. Or not. “I tried to tell them in our sharing group that their writing was a little manic.” What does that even mean? Do I really want to go to a workshop to be told what someone who writes about sea monsters thinks of my work? Aren’t my opinion and that of the source of my words the ones that really matter? What is my motive in going to a workshop anyway? Don’t I already have a style of my own? Or am I looking for a magic formula to sell, sell, sell. And maybe get my ego stroked to the tune of $1000 to me.
I am a creative person. And a bit of a rebel in that. What I mean is, when I paint, I resist “rules”, like complementary colors, proportions, blending colors. I like to paint what is in me, which, so far, is two-dimensional whimsical, bold, and colorful, whether on furniture or on canvas. It sometimes happens that my instincts for what colors and patterns to combine fit some of these formulas. But it is not because I set out to do it. It is because I am true to my own creative expression. Most of the time. I just want to leave my mark of happy colors or inspiring words in the hope of brightening up the places in the world that need it. Like maybe your home. Or your heart.
The same is true of my writing. And I have been moved to write a book because when I share with others the good side of the things I have survived, they thank me for sharing. Say I give them hope. That I say what they want to in a way they can not find the words to express.
When I shared this with my fellow writer standing in the parking lot with the Gulf of Mexico playing back up as its angry waves crashed upon the shore, he was a bit dismissive, as if to say, “It’s already been done. And too much at that.” He also noted that these were women he addressed. Not sure if that was significant to him, but I wonder if he would have noted if they were men.
He challenged me to go home and write a story for an hour. Then put a bunch of stories together in a book. I entertained that for a minute thinking I probably should because, after all, the suggestion is being made and if it is true that there are no coincidences, it must be true for me. If I use that logic though, then the gallery owner who looked at my paintings and said that I should go online and practice to get good at mermaid bodies and faces so I could sell would have been the right thing to do. If I wanted a career cranking out paintings for Kirkland’s or Home Goods, I would do that. But I don’t.
The good news is that I have my own relationship with my work. And allowing others in needs to be done selectively when I am holding tight to my own convictions. Maybe I won’t sell any more art furniture or canvases. Maybe I won’t have a bestseller. Maybe there won’t be a book at all. I have only been able to write eighty-some pages so far because the subject matter is tough.
Here is the real truth about the block I have entertained up to now. Telling my story could potentially be cathartic, so that would mean parting with some of my baggage of grief and loss. Even though shlepping these bags gets old, it is what I know. It is in my muscle memory to remember that I grew up in a home bereft of nurture and rich with neglect, suffered from alcoholism and anorexia, marital abuse and mental illness, lost a baby, a house, two breasts, and two husbands, and more, I think I fear what I will do with my hands when I really let them go. But all of this is possible if I stay true to myself and what my instincts move me to write. Paint. Create.
There is also the possibility that I do sell a book. That there is abundance beyond belief in so doing. Just typing these words is a challenge because I am owning the very real possibility that my life may one day no longer be small and as I write, my hands want to grab that baggage instead, like a security blanket, but I refuse.
There is a movie called Finding Joe on Youtube about the influence of mythologist Joseph Campbell on our culture. In it, are testimonies of Deepak Chopra, Mick Fleetwood, inspirational author/teacher Allan Cohen, professional skateboarder/entrepreneur Tony Hawke and others about finding your bliss and living it. The message here is one of how we are all tigers and that there is an abundance of food for sheep that we are offered, but very little food for tigers. I intend to feed my tiger and encourage you to do the same. Whatever you do that you love, that lights you up, that makes you feel young again, that brings you joy, DO MORE OF THAT. Bake the cake from scratch. Try the new recipe. Take the pictures. Plan the trip. Write the poem. Play the instrument. Make the move. Life is all about practice. The only thing stopping you from practicing yours is you.
And now I am going to take my own advice and get back to my book. This time, I will put my trepidations and hesitations in my suitcases under the bed so that I can get on with letting go. I suspect it will be awkward at first, but I am confident I will find something to do with my hands.
It is 2:30 a. m. I have been awake since midnight, in spite of the Trazadone I took at 9 p. m. that usually secures a good five or six hours of sleep for my tenacious brain.
I just finished a three day street art festival. I literally made art on the street, alongside some significant talent. To say I was humbled would be an understatement. I am new to the art community here in Florida, and had much hope for a three day fun filled art rich experience. Thankfully, the last two days brought much of that. But if I put aside my “How shall I present this through the fake filter of ‘I want people to think I have it together on social media’ appropriate”, I decided to get real. After all, it’s Mental Health Awareness Month and I have been at times painfully aware of my mental health or lack thereof for most of my adult life.
When I was thirty, I was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder, type 2. My experience in the years since have been rich with creativity, agitation and a significant depression and anxiety. Through medication, a spiritual practice, a little yoga, beach life and a sturdy support network made up of therapists, psychologists and fellow travelers, I have survived a lot. But the story I want to tell here is about the favorite medicine for what ails my beautiful brain. Creating art.
This art festival was one where every artist was given a 10’ square of pavement upon which to art. I was ecstatic because I am currently obsessed with beach umbrellas, so I submitted an image and they signed me up.
About a month ago, I was diagnosed as being in an acute depressive episode. Always a mixed thing to be told. Like “Yay! I feel like shit and now I know why.” But also, “Fuck I am a mental case. My life will certainly go nowhere.” That last one is what happens when thoughts go through the filter of depression. Fortunately, I found a stellar new psychiatrist who put me back on a medication that has a great deal of success addressing these “bipolar depressions” for me in the past. Latuda. The cost to me, however, would be $500 out of my not deep pockets. But there is a God and that God put me with a helluva head shrinker who called my first month of success back on this drug “robust” and who has assured me that one way or another, I will have this medication, if I have to get samples for all of the two years until there is a generic available.
To try and make the samples go farther, she gave me a mg that was twice my RX so I could cut them in half and get more out of each one. Bad idea because these are time released, hence cutting into the protective coating that allows for the gradual release meant to happen over twenty four hours set me up for one rough Friday afternoon. In fact, I had been taking them cut in half for about a week and as I reflect, this marks one of several nights where I should be asleep but my brain has had me up and painting or writing or talking to my friend in England who is awake because it is five hours later there. So Friday, I had anxiety and panic like I have not seen since three years ago. Not fun. Creative, but not fun.
On Friday, I took my medicine with lunch and when that cut pill decided to explode, I went to hell in an hour. At 1:30pm, I got in my car with all of my supplies loaded up for this three day art festival.
On the drive there, I began to not feel grounded in my body. As if my car was on the road, but I was not there. Like disassociation on steroids. It is not a safe feeling. I got to the venue, parked my car and called a friend. The panic was erupting in me and there was not a damn thing I could do, except ride it out. I wanted to curl up in a ball in the backseat of my car, but that would not have done anything to help. Instead, I pushed my way to put my car into drive and drove through the beautiful shopping center where I had happily been for shopping just days before. When I parked my car, it was getting worse. And when I got to the info. booth to check in, that was as far as I got. I knew that there would be no unloading of supplies or meeting of new artist friends. Nope. I would be doing triage on what felt almost psychotic. The plan was to check in, find my space and commence to chalk art. Instead, I stood there, looking like someone who felt good, being someone who did not.
I looked at the event coordinator and said, “I am not feeling well. I am going home. I will be back tomorrow.” Words I did not believe to be true.
For the next four hours, I lived in hell between my ears. I called my doctor reporting that I was in a panic state and felt that the medicine was to blame. I called several friends, one who stayed on the phone with me while I drove home from the venue, moral support on the other end in Texas saying “Take some deep breaths. I am here with you.” When I got home, I could not wait to get inside my house. I felt like a horse running back to the barn for safety and security, things I felt I would never know again. Thoughts included, “I really am too much of a mental case to ever be a contributing member of society.” But fortunately, I have support from people who tell me that feelings are not facts and not all thoughts deserve to be believed.
When my doctor put me on the Latuda, she informed me that the bipolar label would have to go back on my chart, unless I’d rather pay $1300 for this drug that had been so helpful when I had better insurance that afforded it for $150 a month in the past. My bipolar label had always been a source of shame. So much bad stigma with that label. Arts and entertainment does some terrible things in their portrayal of manic depression in movies and books. It is a complex diagnosis with many sub diagnoses and somewhere along the way, I managed to get it taken off my chart.
“Commit to the treatment, not the diagnosis” the words from my new doctor to me, as she was sensitive to the fact that I hated that label. I have that up on my bathroom mirror now.
It took four or five hours to come down from the horror of that med exploding in my system and I gave myself complete permission to bail on the art festival if it seemed too much.
Happily, when I woke the next day, I felt better and I had a new resolve to show up for my art. That is what this story is meant to be about, but all this backstory is an important part of the context.
It was Saturday. Day 2 of the event. I got in the shower, dressed and off I went. I spent the day meeting people, cheering people on, crushing chalk with a wooden mallet to mix with water as paint to begin creating my current obsession of beach umbrellas on the pavement.
And I returned the next day, too. During the festival, I felt a little like a fraud here and there, as I was surrounded by some real fine artists. But I reminded myself that my art belongs to me. It is my gift. It did not get given to anyone but me and my practice of expressing that, particularly since the end of my 24 year marriage 6 years ago, has been exponentially healing for my grief, depression and anxiety. I am sure I could find science to support this, but my personal experience is enough for me.
For over two years, I have practiced my artistic expression every Thursday like a religion. This kind of commitment is far better than the psych ward and the doors are unlocked too. I have powered through chronic pain, insomnia, kicking benzos that I took for sleep for many years and heartbreak all through the action of making art. The part of the brain where the ideas come from is like a comfy chair. I love being in it. It holds me quite nicely, feeds me ideas and relaxes my mind because when I get centered in creating, I am FULLY PRESENT. That is my sweet spot. If you love to paint or to draw or to write or to bake or to entertain, you know what I am talking about.
Day three of the art festival was Mother’s Day. Families were everywhere. Some missing members who had passed this last year. I was missing my daughter, who now lives 800 miles away after just being in the room next to me this time last year. Others appeared whole and complete in their Sunday best of fine linen pants and Lilly Pulitzer dresses of lime and vermillion greens with neon pink tassel accents. It was a handsome crowd. Artists and spectators alike. I got a call from my daughter to wish me Happy Mother’s Day. It was one in a series of hour long delightful authentic exchanges. The kind old friends have and admire at their close.
The event was coming to its end and there were cash awards to be given. I had a secret hope I might get one, but was only a little disappointed based on those who did get recognized. One was Elle Farquhar, a little girl who, like me, recently moved here from Oklahoma who stayed out in the hot sun to the end to make her art in spite of a meltdown that her mother reported. I could relate.
My favorite of all those recognized however, was one Danny Kocher, whose work was announced as a winner as follows: “And the next award goes to someone who captured much of what we have all been feeling during this last year in his illustration called ‘Anxiety.’ ” Danny created for three days in the hot sun with the help of his precious red headed niece to commemorate Mental Health Awareness Month.
I may not have been given an award, but I recognized my own success for the fact that I showed up and stuck it out to practice my art. And I’d have to say, that much like that mallet did to that chalk, I crushed it.
Special thanks to Jim Clark Photography for some of these stellar images iamjimclark.com
Meet my cat Atlas. He is 8 years old, weighs 9 pounds, has 1 eye, a scrunched up ear and bad breath, sometimes accompanied by a bad attitude. But for good reason.
Atlas is positive for FIV. Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is one of the most common and consequential infectious diseases of cats around the world. In infected cats, FIV attacks the immune system, leaving the cat vulnerable to many other infections. Although cats infected with FIV may appear normal for years, they eventually suffer from immune deficiency, which allows normally harmless bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi found in the everyday environment to potentially cause severe illnesses. Though there is no cure for FIV, recent studies suggest that cats with FIV commonly live average life spans, as long as they are not also infected with feline leukemia virus.
That means the odds of him being adopted were low, because while he is not sick now, he could be and that can be expensive, never mind heartbreaking. That also means Atlas can never live with or be around other cats.
I first saw Atlas on Facebook in November 2020. A friend was fostering him for Alaqua, a local animal rescue agency in the Destin, Florida area that offers a wide menagerie of animals-big and small, from barnyard to exotic to domestic. I think Dr. Doolittle started Alaqua, but I’m not sure.
I fell in love with Atlas at first sight. He is so photogenic and just damn cute! And I knew we were meant to be together. But I did not adopt him for over a month after I first saw him. I was afraid of what I did not know about the FIV and what that would mean for him and for me. I wanted us to be together only if we were a match according to the universe and God.
Before Atlas, I spent all of October loving Miramar, a puppy that I bought on impulse because I wanted another heartbeat in the house besides mine. I spent that month falling in love, every morning feeling like a mother to her as she would slither out of her crate, warm and soft, right into my lap. Miramar is a Cadoodle, aka collie poodle mix, aka gonna be way bigger and need way more exercise than this mature adult living in a third floor apartment could give.
With a broken heart, I surrendered Miramar, who now goes by Mirabelle, to a dear friend in Alabama who welcomed her into a five acre wonderland with three loving humans, two other dogs and lots of mud on a good rainy day. And I can assure you that the rainy day I dropped her off, my waterworks gave the sky a run for the money.
Atlas had his first night home with me at Christmastime, when my daughter Abby was here visiting from Tulsa, OK. “He bites sometimes.” Words from my friend who passed this little bundle on to my care. The actual scoop was that he had been a little cantankerous with the people at Alaqua, “bity” and “scratchy” and “cranky” were on his rap sheet.
Abby and I sat on the couch, just watching Atlas as he became familiar with his new surroundings and eyed us like prey. Abby was sleeping on the couch. “You better look out. He’s gonna get you in your sleep.” Her words to me as we had both received his bitiness in response to our attempts to love on him. “Stop that!” I said, as I went to bed. That night, I slept with one eye open. I figured that would level the field if it came to blows in the dark of the night.
Now, after months of living together, Atlas has become quite the contributing member of my little society, here in my apartment. He helps me with my hygiene and has several hobbies and interests.
Atlas is a foodie. He has opened his own Catfe, where he serves both human and cat food.
His hobbies include reading, going to the museum (in my living room), dreaming of going to the beach and playing with his balls. And he has several of those. Four fuzzy sparkly ones that he likes for night time fun when the bar is open.
He likes to play with his other three balls while we do yoga together on the living room floor.
Atlas is pretty Zen. Although he was pissed to learn that the polka dots were not willing to come down from my shower curtain to play.
He is a part time contributor to my art business, as he studies me when I work and I gotta say, he has a keen eye. Fortunately, you only need one of those.
While actual travel is not in Atlas’ future, that doesn’t stop him from trying to stow away when I take little trips. What he lacks in a second eye, he makes up for in tenacity.
Recently, Atlas has decided to date online. But I think he is a catfisher because he can’t actually be around any other cats. He just chats them up on CatMatch.com. Leading them on. Leaving Fluffy and Snowball in tears from his abandonment after chatting them up with empty promises of caviar and lox. His profile reads, “Fuzzy in all the right places, strong jaw, living my best (third) life, seeking tabby or persian who likes catnip and tuna by the fire.”
The truth is, (well this is all true), but the other truth is I love Atlas. I did not know if I could form another attachment after Miramar, but happily I was wrong.
Atlas has breath that make me have to look to see which end the smell is coming from because if the FIV, still bites on occasion, and has an affinity for my once smooth and new leather couch, but I treat him with compassion. (The couch is now known as “The Velveteen Couch,” because Atlas has loved on it.) I can’t imagine what he has been through since he was just a newborn orange fur ball on February 23rd 2012. The years have clearly been hard to leave him with an eye missing, a messed up ear and a disease that forces him into social isolation.
I identify with Atlas. I was living in isolation when he came to me during a pandemic. And I have had some tough times since I was first a newborn fur ball. But thanks to Alaqua, and a universe and God that seemed to want us together, we are having a delightful time.
It was a lively group meeting for dinner. Me, my good friend Anne and five lively southern belles who had come to visit the beach.
I met three of them in October when they were visiting from Mississippi and Texas. I formed a strong bond with one of them.
She was a classic beauty, much like my mother, kind of a Barbara Stanwick stunning. She also had to her credit birthing 8 children, being one of 13 herself and having a hand in raising some of them. Our walk on the beach last fall felt much like the mother I never had was with me. Whatever made me is generous that way. Sending custom made experiences to me, when I am not even looking. That is my proof that while I times I feel alone, in fact, I am not.
Two more Steel Magnolias had joined the original three here at the Emerald Coast of Florida. All but one had been cheerleaders together in high school fifty plus years prior and they were having a girl time get together at the beach.
We met at a Thai restaurant. It is one of those places where you take off your shoes and step down to be seated around the table in kind of a nook. There are two steps up. That is where you sit to remove your shoes. There is a bamboo wall dividing the sunken booth from the one next door, providing a private dining experience. You can’t see other customers and they can’t see you, unless they are passing by to go to the bathroom. The table is down and in the middle, surrounded by black leather cushion seats. No direct back support, but there are cushions along the back side, so I always park myself there.
The seven of us took up most of the black cushioned area which felt cozy, or at least it had the potential to.
But this dinner, one that I initiated wanting the benefit of social engagement and what promised to be a lively experience with delicious food and spirited women was none of that for me. The experience was there to be had. But I was not there. My body was, but I was somewhere else. I was disassociating. Leaving my body to avoid discomfort. I knew it, too and I made great efforts to be fully present, but with minimal success.
It was like watching a television show. Something I have done lately to numb myself. And I did that in person last night. I may as well have been in a bubble. I was watching them, but I was avoiding eye contact when I did try to engage. And was acting a part really because as much as I desired to be fully present, I could not be. It was concerning.
Something had happened between me and the woman I had felt a maternal bond with. Something that she said to me the day before that triggered my experience with my mother and how she abandoned me while showing the world actions of a born again Christian.
My mother did some good things in the community under the umbrella of her churches outreach ministries, no doubt. She mentored a troubled teen, helping her find herself. She volunteered at a low income grade school, mentoring second graders. But what she didn’t do during that time, was be a mother to a daughter who needed help when the birth of her baby resulted in a disabling postpartum depression. For the first year of my daughter’s life, the first three weeks of which required us to be separated while I was hospitalized, I needed support to take care of me and my daughter. It was a rough year. And my mother was rarely there to help, keeping her schedule of ministering to others in the name of Jesus. The message I got was my needs for my mother were not as important as those of other families. Also, that God somehow supported this because what she did, was in God’s name. I am not saying that is what she said. I am saying that is what I internalized deep in my bones.
I have compassion for my mom. I think had she known better, she may have done better. But if my daughter were to go through what I did, I would make supporting her and her baby a priority and the fact that my mother did not do that for me while busy in the community ministry, frankly fucked up my head around God and faith and not feeling worthy of my mother’s love.
Back at dinner, we did the lean in funny group selfies and when I looked at the images that were caught of my facial expressions, I could see my disturbance in several. Almost a scowl. Not anger, but angst. Then, as I have been well practiced at doing most of my life, in the next few shots, I poured it on and smiled and laughed and those images were there too. But I know that the angst on my face was the only honest expression I had.
My friend Anne knows me well. She was seated diagonally from me, but it felt like a mile. When it is just the two of us, I feel safe to just be how I am and not feel like I have to be the fun one. A role I have taken on to survive at times or compensate for feeling insecure at others. We do play well at the beach, our inner kids one upping each other in imagination, but only recently I have let her into my heart, sharing some of my pain and trauma for which I seek relief.
That is a hard practice for me. To allow someone in to see my hurting, vulnerable side. The part of me that I have so much trouble embracing. The parts that feel unworthy of others attention, nevermind my own at times. Consequently, eye contact with Anne was uncomfortable too. I am seeing all of this upon reflection. In the moment, I was just floating around in my little invisible bubble, poking out of it now and then with a funny story or anecdote. It was exhausting. I struggled to listen to the conversation. I may have well been in my car in the parking lot.
In the days, weeks, months, years leading up to this dinner, trauma had been a main course. I hate that word, by the way. Trauma. It is overused, misused, misunderstood. Let me put it this way. Some shit went down in my childhood which formed me and which dictated my choices in adulthood for relationships and support people which only reenacted that shit from childhood. There were also some external traumas. Death of my father when I was 7, loss of my family as I knew it right after, breast cancer, sudden end of my 24 year marriage, just to name a few.
My body is screaming for attention. My complaints could wear the title of Fibromyalgia if I went to the right practitioner. I sometimes hurt all over, not just in my back or neck, but my legs and hands and feet too. Lupus is on the radar, according to my last blood work. My painful hips, have been charted as hip bursitis, a title, by the way, that I have renounced in the name of yoga and walking.
I am listening to the book, The Body Keeps Score, a book written by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk to show the correlation between the mind and brain and body in terms of its response to traumatic events. I am only at the beginning, but already this book has informed me that what I experience in the ways of body pain are symptoms of unhealed trauma that have set up camp all over my body. It is all just my body asking for attention to a problem that goes way deeper than the symptom of pain.
My breast cancer was born in the terror of the week of September 11th, as I lived in the trauma of that attack in my home for a week solid, marinating in the news and images, somehow relating on a visceral level. The tumor in my breast found in April 2002, was measured for how fast it had grown and based on the size, my intuition tells me that it got its start that week.
I have alot of therapy under my belt. Forty plus years of seeking relief or guidance for a world I was not properly prepared to navigate growing up. But none of that addressed the trauma beyond identifying and understanding what I experienced and on some level re-experience when things happen in my current day life to trigger the hypervigilence in my body and brain. Most of those years, practitioners were treating symptoms. Depression? Most likely largely grief at much loss, was and still is medicated. Anxiety? Same. Sleep? I don’t get any without medication. For now.
I am seeking help and have my first appointment for somatic therapy, https://therapy-mn.com/somatic-experiencing-ptsd/ to begin next week. I visited trauma work with a safe and compassionate practitioner last year at this time while I was still in Tulsa. One session in, and there was a rage in me that ran deep. I told myself I could not afford it, discussing it with the therapist. “Trauma is tenacious.” Her words to me, which I heard to say, “this shit is not going to get any relief until I get specific help to do the work.” My rationale at the time was, “I can’t afford this. I have other expenses and bills to pay.” I knew then that I would need to do this work at some point if I were to salvage whatever is left of my life in order to be present to it and to me. As it is, I struggle with disassociating on a regular basis, making jokes that St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things is my lover because I am always going to him to find my keys, my glasses, my wallet, my car. But it is not funny. Because I also lose my focus in my car. When I text and drive. When I drive while too tired to safely do so. I have been labelled with ADD too. And that accurately describes my struggle. But again, it is but a symptom, I believe of an underlying, untreated, unhealed problem. Trauma.
About a year and a half ago, I had such concern for my concentration and how it impedes my function that I had a thorough battery of two days worth with a neuropsychologist to look under the hood in my brain. My brain is fine. My score was off the chart for anxiety, however. Hypervigilence. In every fiber of my being. Fibermyvigilence.
When I moved from Oklahoma to Florida last fall, I knew that I would need to do this work if I was going to have relief and healing. So I told myself that after the darkness of winter, a time when I go dormant, (called by others seasonal affective depressive disorder,) I would get myself the help I need. And I am doing that. The rationale of not being able to afford it comes up in my ego, Elvira. She is so afraid I will send her packing. I won’t. But she cannot run this show anymore. I want and need more from myself than what she alone can provide. And as far as affording the therapy? Well, as a person who has a history of overspending, who has some recovery there that recent bouts of swimwear and fancy shoes have dented, I don’t see how I can afford not to.
I have also begun to listen to Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. (I have a friend who calls him This and That.) His teachings are famous in recovery circles that I have been in. For me, he is a warm fuzzy messenger of self love and self care. This is just one of his talks about how to deal with strong emotions. In it, he talks frankly of suicide. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOn-mOCKzrY&t=58s His teachings, gentle and simple work for me as I am new to the practice of loving and being a nurturing parent to my inner child.
So my spiritual support is all in place for me to do the work now. And I believe it is the timing that the universe dictated. Right on schedule. I have a support network of fellow travelers who are also recovering from childhood trauma that impedes their adult lives, an inner child mediation that feeds my soul and esteem, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3-haY5mbyg yoga and the beach, also good for my body and soul and now the trauma therapist to hold my hand for the next level of healing. I am grateful. I am willing and I am ready.
If this brings you any comfort or if you read this and relate on any level, I’d love to hear from you here or in the comments. It is my intention as I share here on my blog, to hopefully benefit others by so doing.
One last thing. Don’t give up. I have thought about it many times. And I am so glad that I didn’t.
I am writing this because you died today and dad died yesterday. Actually, as you know, he died 54 years ago and for you it has been 10. But the days are still right next to each other for me to go through without both of you.
I have been numb for both days. Until tonight.
I just got out of the shower and was thinking about you mother and how much I wish to feel something for you today. But I could not. And I don’t like feeling numb, as much as grief is no fun either because I know it comes out, eventually.
So I began to recall the day that you died. You were 88 years old. A shrunken version of your vital self. In that smelly nursing home, where your best friend told me last summer that when she visited you there and walked up to the desk to say, “I am here to see Phyllis Bunn,” she recounted that they pointed to a woman in a chair in the hall there, saying that was you and she said, “That is not Phyllis.” Because it was not the you that she knew and loved. Who was forbidden from touching her kitchen cabinets because your hands were always sticky from chocolate or candy. The you that when you were my current age of 61, you were a vital, stunning, vibrant, dynamic woman in the fashion world and community of Tulsa, OK.
You got a late start “getting it right” as a parent. Something I always held compassion for. I am referring to the fact that you started a 12 step recovery program for the family members of alcoholics and became a born again Christian seemingly all at once at that latter part of life. You often said how bad you felt for our family that you did not seek the support of this recovery group as it was recommended to you some 30 or 40 years earlier. I get that today. As I have just begun a new support group too. This one dealing with the issues of growing up with an alcoholic or dysfunctional family system. And as a mother myself of a daughter of two very dysfunctional parents, I even have empathy for what you said you felt about regretting not starting to find that solution when your children were still children.
I went on there, standing in the bathroom, thinking how earlier today I spoke of you to a friend I was painting with, sharing that when you were taking your last breath, we were singing you out. With “Jesus Loves Me” I think. They say the hearing is the last to go.
I went on to think about how you would have been there for me when my marriage of 24 years ended, abruptly to me, just six years ago. That is when the feelings came. I began to cry, missing you, knowing that as I comfort my daughter in tough times like no one else could because I know what trials she has had her entire life, the same comfort came to me from you in those last 20 some years. You weren’t perfect. But you tried to make things right.
You were supportive during my many struggles with depression and anxiety. You did what you could when I could not care for Abby due to postpartum depression so severe that I was forced to leave her at 3 weeks to be hospitalized. You attended the support groups of NAMI, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill to learn how you could best be there for me.You were there as much as you could be when I had breast cancer. And this was what made the feelings come stronger. I began to talk to you, as I stood there in my robe, wet hair, body aching and heart a little too.
“I miss you mom. You would have comforted me when my marriage ended. You would have been sad and angry that more challenges were coming my way. You would have held me.” And the tears came, so I decided to write, fearing that I would otherwise distract myself. With something outside of myself. A movie, a cookie, a man. And while writing does delay the feelings of sitting to read until I am done writing, at least it has a healthy motivation. So here I am, typing away.
And now, as I continue to go through growing pains in life, particularly dealing with the year long imposed isolation as an extrovert living alone during a global pandemic, if you were here and still independent, I feel sure I would have come to your house, and laid on your couch where you would have rubbed my neck or tickled my scalp.
Your ashes are part of my stand up routine, something you would also approve of. Because you were there that first night I got up on stage over thirty years ago. Sitting in the back. Sounding like you were up front. Rooting for me. I referred to you as “my mother, the one in the back with the 88 teeth.” Because that was how big your beautiful smile was.
Here is how you were a part of the act. What I would do is go up on stage, and say nothing. Then, I would take out the cute little french provincial chair that your ashes sit on today, with a picture of you as a young ingenue, alongside a long strand of knotted pearls, your signature accessory. I would have added your infamous black high top Converse, but that would have been cumbersome.
After setting this up, I would take the microphone and begin my routine. “This is my mom. She died 8 years ago. Her ashes have been in my closet for 8 years. She was homophobic, so I decided it was time to get her out of the closet.” Some of the laughs were out loud, some were on the inside. But you were laughing the loudest. I would continue, referring to the ugly burgundy drawstring bag that houses the box with your ashes in it. “She would never be caught dead in this color. “ That killed. Pun intended.
This morning, when I walked into the bathroom, I had a surprise from my cat. He had taken the little diva character that I keep with your pictures in the living room, and dragged you into the bathroom.
Below are the pictures, followed by the text I sent out to friends who would appreciate my dark humor today, when I walked into the bathroom to discover the scene of his crime, along with the pictures: FYI-My cat’s name is Atlas. He has one eye, a scrunched up ear, a bit of an attitude and all of my heart. And while you weren’t much of a cat person, you would have loved him. Because he’s orange, the same as your old jumpsuit and orange flip lipstick and because he is mine. And by the way, a text is something people do on their phones because they forgot how to actually make a phone call.
(Text message) “So now Atlas has decided to play The Clue game.
(Please note dark humor to follow.) As you know, today marks 11 years since my mom died.
The little character you see resembles her as a stylish fashionista and is normally sitting in front of a photograph of her.
I’m guessing it was Atlas in the Bathroom with the Claw. I win.”
I just put on Diana Krall and set a thirty minute timer so I could give this proper time and be sure to get up and stretch. I bet you really hated the aging process. I am not a huge fan myself.
I’d like to add some pictures now and post it on my blog. I think you’d be proud of me today. Since you were a journalism major and our whole family has some expertise in writing, I never thought I had any talent mother. It was a lot to be the youngest by a stretch of years, surrounded by the stage performance, news celebrity, Emmy and Peabody award winning talents of my older siblings in my formative years. But I know that I do have it. And I intend to use it. To share my stories with others. In the hope that they are moved, inspired, encouraged or perhaps all three. I hope to be a published author one day.
I am glad I have taken this time to reach out. I was numb to dad’s death for most of the fifty years I did not have him. That letter got written last year. And boy, did those musty tears flow. All over the Village Inn on South Yale in Tulsa. They have closed since then. I’m guessing it was water damage.
It was mid morning on a gorgeous sunny Sunday in Miramar Beach, Florida. The sun was warming up. The breeze was cool. I was at the beach for my walk. There were quite a few people beginning to show up there, as Spring Break was in full swing on the Emerald Coast of the Gulf of Mexico. I’m guessing there were easily 3 or four hundred people along the mile of beach to my west, as I had intended to be walking there. I began to walk west in the dry, white crystal singing sand, the gorgeous emerald green water lapping to my left, the green and dark brown stained wooden chairs and umbrellas lining the way to my right, two by two.
I had only taken a few steps when I looked down to see something that made me quite sad and a bit alarmed. There was a large, beautiful black and white polka dotted loon there on the beach. At first, I feared it was dead. I immediately called Michele Phillips. my friend the full time Beach Ambassador on duty. Thankfully the bird was still moving. But it was obviously injured as there was a big chewed up spot on the lower back. I thought that a leg was injured too, but I later learned that loons are unable to walk on sand.
I am a Volunteer Beach Ambassador, as Walton County has organized volunteers and paid folks alike to provide a service to the beach visitors, both local and those who travel up and down the county’s 26 miles of Gulf Of Mexico beauty during the season. Some of the jobs of a beach ambassador, paid or volunteer include educating the four million plus visitors who travel here each year-about the area, what to do and not do to keep sea turtles safe, where to safely set up on the beach so as not to impede the lifeguards-just to name a few.
When I got Michele on the phone, I quickly learned that she had already had reports from concerned visitors hours earlier and that the loon had been on the beach for a few hours. The nearest agency who she had contacted had informed her that they were not going to send someone to pick this loon up, (the loon, which shall now go by the name Lou 2, because the name Lou was already taken, given to me as a nickname by a fellow ambassador.) but they gave instruction on how we could try and save Lou 2 and if we were unsuccessful, we could call them back.
I am partial to loons. For their name, their beauty, for the fact that they migrate to Florida in the winter and the fact that when they shed their feathers, they make me one happy polka dot feather collector as I have a half a jar of them so far.
When I came to Miramar Beach a year ago February to “live” for a month, making sure that the move I did make months later was right for me, I spent every one of those 29 mornings on that beach at sunrise. And when I found my first polka dot feather, I was ELATED! I paint art furniture and painting polka dots is one of my favorite patterns to paint. I get so into it that sometimes my mouth makes a weird clicking noise. I agree that’s weird. But I like my weird.
I even did a little research on Loons and I love the fact that the mother carries the baby on her back! I made some whimsical art, painting a loon and her baby, and I used some of the feathers for the baby’s wing.
As suggested, I wet my beach towel, wrapped Lou 2 up, walked into knee deep water, and floated the towel, hoping he would pop up and be on his way. My concern and sadness went to cheering and hope as Lou 2 came out from under and began to swim out.
My next task, which I felt both honored and so purposeful to do, was to watch Lou 2 to see if he was able to fly, as that was the goal, and report back if Lou 2 was unsuccessful at taking off. I just kept thinking of this story about starfish:
One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.
Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”
The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”
“Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf.
Then, smiling at the man, he said…..“I made a difference for that one.”
I began the same walk west that I had originally intended. This was a bit complicated, as by this point, families with lots of little ones were all over my path. Normally, I am just looking at my feet or where I am going when there are so many people. I am 5’10” and it would not be a stretch when I get my stride going for me to drop kick some cute little kid in a diaper suit who was darting from mom into the water. When they are low to the ground like that, kids are twice as fast you know.
So off I went, eyes glued to the black spot that had gotten ahead of me by riding the tide, briskly walking, trying not to lose sight. As the sun was reaching it’s high point, I realized I had no sunscreen and knew this was going to take some time, so I walked up to a mom who was at the water’s edge to my right. “Hi. This is going to sound weird. And I am not going to look at you when I say it. I am watching a bird we are trying to rescue and I have to follow it down the beach. I wasn’t prepared and I have no sunscreen, so would you mind sharing some of yours?” We chuckled as she offered and sprayed my back, while I stared at the water making sure not to lose sight of Lou 2.
I walked along, dodging kids and holes, eyes glued to Lou 2. About a mile in, Lou 2 began to appear bigger, which was not good news, as I had been watching multiple attempts at flight, wings trying hard to spread and take off, sadly followed by a white round belly as Lou 2 was struggling to stay upright.
At the end of a mile, Lou 2 washed up at the feet of the crowd along the beach in their green chairs. I called the ambassador and was advised to sit tight, watch Lou 2 and keep onlookers at a safe distance. Poor Lou 2 had to sit helpless in the sun with all those people looking at her one more time, people who were helpless to help. The agency from earlier now said that they could not come, my understanding was that the loon was not a bird in their jurisdiction of protection and while I understood, I was frustrated for Lou 2. It wasn’t his fault that the universe was directing Lou 2 to Florida and the Gulf to migrate in winter.
Fortunately, Michele made contact with the state, told me they were sending someone and back into action I went. I had borrowed a towel from the umbrella vendor who willingly loaned it to the cause. My towel was soggy and a mile east, hanging off the back of a green chair I had not rented, along with my keys and my clothes. This was not a naked rescue. I was wearing my suit.
I was instructed to wet the towel, wrap Lou 2 up, and walk that mile back to get Lou 2 to where the state would be arriving for pick up. I was nervous. Would I get bit? Would I drop Lou 2? I stopped thinking and went into action, gathering a posse of support. A dad, who was moral support and phone valet to carry my phone said yes when I asked for someone to help if I could not make the whole walk back. His teenage daughters came too, and did a lovely job of grabbing my things from that green chair on our way down.
I wetted the towel, wrapped Lou 2 up, and began a brisk walk, intent not to cause Lou 2 any more trauma than had already ensued. Dad and his daughters followed behind, dad saying how he was just talking about needing to get more steps in.
When Lou 2 squirmed, I was happy and nervous. Happy at the fight still left, nervous that I might drop the towel. There were moments of rest when I was calm and concerned, hoping Lou 2 was only resting. And just a few steps into this last mile trek, I began to silently repeat this prayer, “God, grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” This calmed me and also made the baby sized creature I held cradled against my heart feel like a part of me. I had imprinted with Lou 2.
The final step now was again, to wait. It was easier because there was help on the way and now Lou 2, that big brave feathered friend and part of my heart was now resting in the sand under a nice big umbrella out of the hot sun. Side by side, Lou 2 and I were enjoying the rest of the shade.
The woman from the forest service arrived to take Lou 2, at which point I told her I loved her, and Lou 2 and asked to please be kept informed as to the outcome.
It was not the Sunday I had planned, but I was so grateful I got to be a part of that 3 hour adventure. No Gilligan or Skipper, but count me as the millionaire because the value of the experience was infinite.
I will come back and let you know what I hear beyond this text that came in today. In the meantime, send out love and light for Lou 2 please. Thank you.
Update: It has been nine days since I last heard how Lou 2 was doing. I am happy to share the following text from the woman who brought him to be cared for. Yay!
I got high yesterday. It had been a tough day emotionally, one in a series of many. I did not plan it. I started my day feeling emotionally spent from having made some tough decisions. The kind that sap so much mental energy, I think I can’t move my body.
I used to misinterpret those kinds of days, when I was emotionally fried to mean I could not do anything physical. I would intend to do 3 exercise classes in a week, but then at the end of a workday from a dissatisfying job, I would tell myself I can’t exercise, not realizing that that was a lie. In fact, exercise was not only possible then, but I did have the physical energy, I just didn’t know it. That was 30 years ago. Now, I know that mental fatigue does not mean that my body cannot move. I am fully committed to walking 2 to 4 miles most days, in spite of the heavy emotional ones that leave my brain feeling like mashed potatoes.And I am always better for getting out there and moving my body.
After a morning phone call with a friend where I could hear exhausted chatter coming out of me, all the while my gut was saying “You are too tired to talk. You need to rest,” I caught myself. I told my friend I felt like I sounded like what tired animals look like when they pace aimlessly around in circles and she said she could hear that in my words. I hung up, revised my ambitious plan for the day to look more like gentle self care and self compassion. After all, I had just come out of several weeks of trolling online dating for hours on end. No wonder I felt so wiped out. I was.
I needed to go to the grocery store, and the beach was out because of rain, so I saw an opportunity to go get some paint for a custom order rocker I have to paint. And I wanted to attend a new support group online at six thirty in the evening. Perfect! A couple of errands, cook myself dinner, support group, a little TV, then bed.
But that is not what happened. I got through the first errand picking out some yummy colors for a rocker I was painting for a client in Memphis when an idea came out of nowhere. “Let’s go look at shoes!” That sounds innocent enough. My rationale was that I do need shoes for walking in the summer, as well as some inserts in my current walking shoes. But the energy was not there. And you don’t have the full context.
You see, I have a history of shopping and overspending to avoid dealing with reality. It goes hand in hand with an eating disorder and alcoholism, if you want to categorize it by addiction or disorder. Along with that, my most recent addiction of online dating to excess, you now have a better picture of my challenges. Or, the main moles whose heads pop up in my game of Whac-A-Mole.
Alcohol has been out of the picture for 36 years. But you can’t not eat and you can’t not spend and you can’t not have relationships with people, so those have all been to excess for me in the past thirty some years, talking turns rearing their furry little heads. The food has had a tremendous amount of work put in by me and that disordered eating, which has twice required treatment is most of the time in remission. The relationship/aka online dating obsession has only been a thing since my divorce five years ago, after a 26 year loveless marriage so that is a new mole, relatively speaking and as my previous story indicates, I have disconnected the power to that little furry guy just this week.
My mother was in the fashion industry. She worked for the chic women’s magazine Women’s Wear Daily in New York City, right out of college with her journalism degree in the 1940’s. Her last business which closed in the 90’s was a high end dress shop, serving the wives of wealthy monied oil barons and the old money of Tulsa, Oklahoma. She did fashion shows on private jets. Served wine in the sitting area outside of the dressing rooms. All of the nurturing that she had to offer went to her business. None of it came home to me. And many nights, neither did she.
My brother and sister were adults out on their own. I was in high school and I was home alone. Alot. My mother had her own problems, namely acting out promiscuously with married men and bar hopping to get attention. It was very important to her that she be seen. She had gotten used to that when she met and married my father in New York City, where he was a dashing handsome celebrity in show business. They were a beautiful couple, hob nobbing with the show business elite of radio and television and music in Manhattan in the 1950’s, so after my father’s untimely death in 1967 at the age of 42, her party, the one with the silver spoon and the Stork Club and Big Apple came to a screeching halt.
Her store was the only place I really saw her much. It was clothing for women, which did not fit my adolescent form in high school, but she would not buy me much from stores more appropriate for me, so I was stuck with pants that pooched where I didn’t have hips because that was what I got.
Over the years, I developed her love for clothing and fashion and pattern and texture and color, and I learned a lot from that exposure. In some weird way, the clothes I got from my mom, were a form of love in my experience, so it makes sense now as I write this that I would become a compulsive shopper, as I was groomed for it really when that actually WAS love from a mother who did a poor job of giving it otherwise.
I walked into the shoe store with the best intentions of just trying on some shoes for beach walking and getting some inserts for my sneakers. It was dark and rainy outside and I had just enough time for this quick stop before heading to the grocery store and then home. This is where the high comes in. Most of the time, when I go into ANY retail store, I pray this prayer, “God, please make this a sober shopping experience.” And for good reason. Because for me to walk into a store full of pretty things with a 1,000 open line of credit on a card and not say a prayer for protection, I can get and have gotten into some serious debt over that. Especially when I have been upset or emotional. And I practice what I call sober spending as a rule as a means to do just that. Be sober with money. Some people would call it being financially responsible. That works for them. For me, it’s sober spending.
Before I share what went down yesterday, I’ll share another episode of, let’s just say, me getting shitfaced on shopping at Chico’s. Chico’s is a women’s fashion store, similar to my mom’s and was at one time my favorite place to go for clothes. On this occasion, I was freshly wounded from the surprise ending of my 26 year marriage one night in my living room some weeks prior. I had dropped my daughter off to go to a concert in Oklahoma City and decided I would take myself out to dinner and shopping while I waited. And when I say my life blew up, I mean it. I thought my then husband and I were working things out when all in one 24 hour period, I learned that no only had he relapsed in his alcoholism, but he had been paying for sex and acting out in a full blown sex addiction, spending tens of thousands of dollars in the process for at least 6 years right under my nose, which had been up in the cloud of denial for that entire time. So, needless to say, I was hurt, and perhaps fit the description of a woman scorned.
So as I am putting my pile of merchandise on the counter that had to be 14 items stacked, I am vomiting this all to the woman ringing me up. Just like she were a bartender pouring me shots that just happened to come on plastic hangers.
“And then he…” me having inappropriate oversharing “this happened to me” tourettes all over her because that was the best I could do at the moment. Thing is, Chicos hires women my age for part-time work, so she was commiserating with me that she had had the same experience and the woman in line by me, who may have well been swivelling on top of a red leather trimmed in chrome bar stool said this to me. “You know what some women in your situation do, they go out and buy a ‘Fuck You’ Lexus.” Believe me, had that been an option, I would have. But that money was gone, so clothes it was.
Yesterday was not much different in that I was emotionally spent, for different reasons, but still raw and hurting. I walked into this brand new store, full of fabulous shoes, handbags, beach apparel, well lit and displayed, literally out of the dark of the storm into the light, and there they were. My bartender and the servers! The manager and two clerks who had no other customers, plus the owner, who happened to be there with his wife. I turned on and connected to get off before I even got near the register. Just looking at the funky artistic designs of the bold, colorful shoes in snakeskin, leopard, sapphire blue, metallic and combinations of all of these. When I tried on the first pair, the owner, or, should I say the dealer, spoke to how great the shoes looked and said maybe I should be a shoe model for him.
My ego grabbed ahold of that like a shot of tequila and went to town. What should have been a twenty minute stop turned into over an hour after I virtually created a position for myself in his store as someone who would essentially lurk around customers, getting a read on the one who might be receptive to buying if I saw them hovering at a display, slipped into the back to grab a pair of what they were looking at to wear out and show them, “this is how they look on,” it was brilliant. And the owner was all over it. I gave him my number, after extolling my retail history resume and upbringing, bragging how I knew when to leave customers alone and when to cater, sharing my lesson learned from my mom, who used to nag me to try things on, saying, “go on, try it on, you can’t tell until you try it on,” which was accurate, and he was literally going to create a spot for me. So I left, elated, but only as long as the light from the store’s door closing behind me still reflected upon me. By the time I got in my car, and after calling my neighbor still flying to tell her what happened, I hung up, my mood began to rapidly deflate and by the time I got home, the high was gone, replaced by exhaustion, no groceries, an overpriced to go order and me too spent to be on that support group meeting online. Instead, I checked out on the couch with Netflix and girl scout cookies.
I don’t want to abandon myself anymore, so today I succeeded in not doing so. I got my groceries, spent the afternoon sunning at the beach and fed myself a nice dinner. So tonight, I committed to myself that I would write this instead. And I love me more for doing so. Now, I can watch a little Netflix and go to bed feeling good about getting to the grocery store and being there for me and with me.
I am sitting on my couch on a Monday afternoon. It is raining outside here in Florida. 70 degrees. It is March 1st. I don’t know why I am writing but I am. I am binge watching the same Netflix show of seven seasons that I first began in October as a way to cope with so much alone time during this pandemic isolation. I am at the end of season seven for the fourth or fifth time, I have lost track. It is called Offspring, a show complete with hot Aussie men, a dysfunctional family, sunshine, laughter and tears and quite alot of wit and poignancy, but I got bored after sleeping through an episode or so, so here I am typing away.
I was feeling lonely and started to do what I used to do which was look to social media to fill the void. I got as far as my Facebook page, where I updated my profile picture, knowing that by so doing, I could get some likes and loves and maybe if I am lucky, some comments. Those are the brass ring you know. I mean, anyone can hit a like or a love but an actual comment. Someone actually ambulating their fingers and going to the trouble to make words out of letters, well, that just feels so…empty really. In the long run. Because this is what happens next, for me, and this is the reason that I have abstained almost entirely from Facebook since the middle of December.
Now, I have set myself up for more loneliness, not less. Because now, I have a choice to make. I can go back to my Facebook to see if anyone has seen my new picture and then see if I have had any likes or comments. And then I can spend time living in my head wondering if certain people I find attractive have seen my picture. Or, whether friends have missed me or not. In the past, it inevitably ended up with entire evenings lost in scrolling, reading posts, being outraged at some, tickled at others, touched by a couple of memes, but ultimately coming away feeling spent, tired and MORE lonely than when I signed on and those hours spent scrolling are never coming back to me. Because I have used something outside of me to try and fill me up, when what I am actually doing is abandoning myself in the process.
Social media!?! It really isn’t social at all. At least not in my “I live alone in Pandemia and I am single” experience. Because since the time I have left Facebook, I have only heard from a small handful of the over 1400 friends on my account. Admittedly, there are probably about half of those who are only friends for business reasons. We have a code where we friend each other and then like each other’s business pages to grow those business pages and hopefully grow those businesses. Facebook algorithms give business pages more exposure when they show a higher number of followers and fans.
I am not judging or criticizing any of those people who I have not heard from. It is a two way street. Just observing my behavior that leads nowhere good.
Today, I decided to do something different. I know people who say that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is insane behavior. And I want to feel better, not worse. So that is why I am telling on myself here because who knows, maybe I am not alone in my behavior. Wouldn’t it be ironic if by posting this story on the social media apparatus of my WordPress blog page people relate and take some kind of comfort in knowing that they are not weak or flawed or unloveable, all feelings I have had today backed by the gray rainy sky that blocks my solar mood altering sun from me.
We are coming up on the one year anniversary of Covid 19 taking life as we knew it, and hermetically sealing it, or in some cases, us in, leaving REAL social interaction in some cases potentially dangerous to our health. I am so thankful that I have remained well from that sickness.
The sickness I have had has been loneliness. Actually, loneliness is not a sickness, but I have some shame admitting mine. My response to my loneliness at times, is seen by some as sick behavior. I am just going to call it learned behavior. The other social media that I have gone to at times looking for something outside of me to make me feel less lonely is online dating sites. While I do have a valid desire for a loving romantic partnership, I have a pattern there. I start out telling myself that I can do so in moderation. Just sign up for one app, only check it every so often, maintain balance in the rest of my life and before I know it, weeks go by, four dating sites are downloaded on my phone, hours of my nights spent scrolling through pictures of men looking for…something outside of myself to fill my void, entertain me or take away my pain. There have been several dates. First and last, all in ones. I can’t believe I am admitting this on paper, but truth is the only way for me. And the truth is that I don’t want to feel discomfort or grief or loss or boredom for that matter and these are things in me asking to be felt.
I have a support network in place set to catch me when I need to be comforted as I purge losses that I have distracted from in any number of ways. TV, food, shopping, men, women, your life, world news. It is far more exhausting to distract at this point than it is to just sit with the feelings and let them come out. But I still fight just holding still.
I am having to unlearn some bad advice, or better described, “programming” I have subjected myself to for a very long time and took to be gospel truth. For many years, I have heard the terms, “fake it til you make it,” and “act as if”- two of the worst bits of advice given by people who don’t know what else to say when someone is really in need of dealing with some really uncomfortable feelings. Advice typically given by people who can’t be with their own uncomfortable feelings, so it just trickles down like a bad infection to many unwitting eager for relief listeners. I tried it. It doesn’t work.
For me, it only caused me to believe that I was somehow flawed for having anger or fear or grief or loneliness. And I have them all. At some point or another. Because I am human. I still have shame even writing this here. But I want to be over this.
So as of this moment, I am not cruising Match.com or Bumble or Tinder or Hinge or Plenty Of Fish, which, by the way goes by POF.com and would be better named POFFOT.com, (plenty of fish floating on top.com), and yet I go there. Desperate. But I want to bring a more whole me to whatever relationship I have coming, which I sometimes trust the Universe is preparing for me.
To be fair to me, and to anyone out there, I don’t bring a healed person to the table, so I am going to do some more of that before I get out there again and I really hope that I allow my daily walk of life to be the source of people I date because online dating leaves me spent. And not in the sweaty, fun way. I rationalize going there by saying “It is hard to meet people out in the world” which I find to be true, but I also find meeting people who I have anything in common with online to be difficult as well. Maybe more so than if I just give it up and see what happens. At the store. At the beach. Who knows. Clearly, I don’t and my way certainly isn’t working.
Honestly, I don’t feel like I am very available right now. I tell myself and others that I want a meaningful relationship and I do. But if I am completely honest with myself, I don’t have a lot to bring to the table right now and I don’t want to lose myself in someone else or use their attention as a distraction for feelings that I am trying to avoid. That is not fair to them. And not good for anyone. Just writing that here is scary because it means getting more intimate with me.
So that is where I will be. Hanging out with friends, open to timing other than mine to fulfill that heart’s desire because I have done nothing but wear myself out, lead people on, lie to myself and spin my wheels. I have caught myself saying “he’s a game player.” “He’s unavailable.” “He’s all talk.” That all may be true, but guess what? I am the common denominator. The laws of attraction are at play here and that tells me that these things are all true of me too, or else why am I attracting this type of man, so I am stepping back.
In the meantime, I have art to create, words to write, a one eyed cat who needs and gives love, a beach to comb, sun to soak up and being to do.
(of a celestial body) obscure the light from or to (another celestial body).
1. an obscuring of the light from one celestial body by the passage of another between it and the observer or between it and its source of illumination. “an eclipse of the sun”
2. a brand of chewing gum.
I met him on a Saturday night. I was home watching a movie when I swiped right and so did he.
I was stunned by him because he was 20 years my junior and while I have often found men in their forties attractive, this was the first time one had indicated they were attracted to me. I have to say, that while I get more years as I breathe more days in a row, my spirit is getting younger and my libido is one of a teenager who had unrequited hormonal expression because that is my reality.
Most of my friends were having sex in high school and I was off somewhere wondering what that was all about. No one was endorsing me to explore my sexuality when I was younger. And what was modeled for me was done by my mother, a widow who got her sexual needs met inappropriately with strangers and married men.
From high school forward, I struggled to find a way to show up for a sex life. It was excruciatingly frustrating. I had to get good and drunk the first time I had sex at 21 and got pregnant right out of the gate. I had a brief marriage to him, while the child was lost to miscarriage.
From that point on, I was very attractive and painfully shy, a lethal combination which presents itself at 5’10” to some as being disinterested or unavailable, both of could not have been further from the truth. There was one brief fling with a man 10 years my senior that took care of a long dry spell sexually, but it was not unusual for me to go years at a time with no sex life.
For my adult prime years from age 30 to 55, I prostituted myself for the house and the yard to someone I never had any sexual chemistry with. Ever. We didn’t even consummate our marriage on our wedding night and for the last six years of our marriage, we slept in separate bedrooms.
My swipe right connection struck me as different when in his exchange he actually used the words “I’m lonely.”
That was so refreshing to me. A man who can own his feelings. Not something I have seen much in my time of latent dating which began at divorce and age 55.
I have been shamed after telling some of the people in my life when I am feeling lonely. “You just need to love yourself.” “When you truly love yourself, you will no longer feel lonely.” “You just need to get good at being with you.” These comments, usually uninvited, come from people who are not alone. They have a relationship with a significant other-a husband, a wife, a partner, a lover. Here’s what I say. Fuck them. And their unsolicited input.
So I find myself living alone with this amazing woman. Tall, pretty, sexy, sensual and funny as hell and she wants to have a relationship with something that’s not purple and doesn’t require batteries.
We talked back and forth and the conversation was flowing nicely. Not once did he “go there.” There being where amateurs go getting graphically sexual before really knowing about each other. I had a friend once who said the ones who go to sex right out of the gate are princes and that it takes a king to know when that should be a part of the conversation. Personally, I prefer the terms used by Javier Bardem’s character in the movie Eat Pray Love when Liz says she is sick of people telling her that she needs a man. “My dear, what you need is a champion.” Exactly.
The chat flowed nicely, when sometimes they don’t go past “Hi.” “Hi.” He was fully present for getting to know you chit chat which went on for most of an hour until I told him I was calling it a day. He said goodnight back to my goodnight and I went to bed.
When I woke up, he had messaged me saying it was his birthday. He then said, “May I call you?” A little thing, but the chivalry in that small gesture was so sweet to me. Especially from someone just 41 years old. When I answered the phone, he said “Hello Lucinda” in a voice that made me bend over silently saying to myself “oh my God” because it was so sexy. And I kept doing that throughout our short conversation. He asked me if I would like to go to lunch. I said yes, but I did not feel like travelling. His home is just over an hour from me so when I asked if he would come to me, he said sure. He also asked if I would be willing to travel to him if we decided to see each other. I said yes. I picked a beautiful restaurant with outdoor seating right on the beach of the Emerald green water on the Gulf of Mexico. The only thing between us and the water would be white crystal sands. It is stunning.
I made him a little birthday gift from the things I have to make art with. An old vintage military metal toy plane with the paint chipped of except it still had red, white and blue stars, one on each wing, and wheels that turned. He was a flight instructor for the Coast Guard and had shared that he had ambition to become a commercial airline pilot. (I didn’t have a commercial toy plane, so this one would have to do.) With that, I placed a red drink umbrella and a small glow in the dark star. I wrapped it up in crumpled silver tissue paper and tied it with a bow of plain string. I was really excited about this date with this guy. That was on a Sunday.
Sadly, that lunch did not happen because his kids got dropped off a day early with no notice, so we had to delay our first meeting.
On Monday, we planned a do over date. Same beachfront restaurant for lunch for a week from Monday, provided he was able to take the day off. He was travelling an hour to honor my request that we meet on my turf and frankly, I wanted to be close to home in the event that the passion and excitement we shared talking to each other proved to be there in person so that I could bring him home with me.That, and the scenery where I live is considered to be some of the prettiest beach in the world. What woman would not want that to be the background for a tryst with a young, healthy hot man!?!
On Wednesday I got a text asking me what I was doing. He said that he was rained out at work and would be off for the day until his kids came home from school. He asked if I’d like to meet for coffee which ended up becoming lunch and of course I said yes, excited that we had an opportunity to meet sooner. In the flesh.
We were both eager with excitement. So we decided on a halfway point, about 40 minutes drive for each of us, as he only had a few hours. We met at a restaurant. As I pulled in, I knew I was right behind his truck. Just being that close made me really excited. And we hadn’t even gotten out of our cars yet.
I was nervous, but I had already expressed that prior to meeting, telling him that I had not had a date in several months. “Don’t worry.” His words to me. And worry was not anywhere near me, as we hugged hello. He, in an oatmeal colored wool sweater, typical attire for someone in New England. None of that polyester knit. Just real sturdy wool. And he was that.
I carefully chose what I wore. A soft fitted olive heather green long sleeve tee shirt with a boat neck that showed my pretty neck and shoulders. That and some nicely fitting jeggings, open toed sandals revealing my multi colored mermaid manicure on my tanned pretty feet. They are magic so that when I get in the water, they allow me to swim for miles without coming up for air.
When he hugged me hello, I practically shoved his present into his hand. “Here, take this.” I was nervous. We walked into the restaurant and after surveying the place for a social distanced table where I felt comfortable with a lunch date during a pandemic, we parked our stuff at a table near the window where there were no people within well over the six foot guideline and went straight up to the counter to order.
We stood there in line, and I felt like an adolescent, excited and stimulated to be standing next to him. If we had been magnets, we would have been stuck shoulder to shoulder, the attraction was that strong. I felt him scan my body up and down with those great big gorgeous green eyes as I looked on to order, sneaking a peek with my peripheral vision. And oh my God, did I hope he liked what he saw because for me the attraction was palpable. My next thought was “Please God, let this be mutual,” followed by, “and if it is, we may blow the top of the building of my third floor apartment on our upcoming date.”
I learned that his mother was from South America, his father from New England and that he himself had lived much of his life abroad, including much of his education prior to joining the Coast Guard for his career there. And let me tell you, this man was refreshing to me. I could sense something in him that I am guessing came from his mother. A softness without shame or false bravado. And a passion that exuded from his saucer like big green eyes and face full of dimples that lit up when he smiled.
First, he opened his birthday present and as is my practice, I had to narrate and explain. I love to give gifts. “The plane is the best I could do to represent your ambition to be a commercial pilot. The umbrella is so that you won’t get a sunburn at the beach and the glow in the dark star is meant to serve as the symbol that all of the difficult things that are going on in your life right now will one day be in the rear view mirror. (He was about to finalize a difficult divorce, something I knew about first hand.) He thanked me, then devoured his lunch.
He leaned all the way across the table towards me, his broad, sexy shoulders all in, as he asked me about my art. I was literally taken aback, and I leaned back at this body language that seemed to indicate an interest in my answers and the one who was giving them.
It bears mention at this point to say that this experience was happening in the midst of a pandemic that had a year under its belt which for me, as an extrovert, has been something of a challenge with the forced isolation that comes with prudent concern for health. I had just begun to add back certain things to my life that pre covid didn’t seem like a luxury. I went to my first movie in nearly a year. The theatre only had about seven people in it, yet the experience was almost a sensory overload as I have adapted to all of my movies at home with my one eyed cat Atlas. And as for eating at restaurants, that was newly added back too so just seeing people out, albeit in sparce numbers as if picking up the pieces of a social life after an apocalypse seemed new and strange.
Distracted by his everything, I suddenly forgot how to talk, and as I fumbled for words like “paint” and “pictures” and “I like to,” I told him I didn’t think I was describing my art very well. “You are doing fine.” His words to me as the thoughts I wasn’t sharing were the fact that his strong folded hands that led to his wrists with dark and gray hair that led up his sleeves to his broad forearms that went up his sleeves to his broad shoulders, which were aimed right at me made it hard for me to think.
He was done with his food, smiling at how good his steak sandwich and french onion soup was. He had boasted “I’m hungry!” upon meeting and all I could think was me too. Famished for human touch. Specific to that of a man. I had hardly touched my food. I struggled with how to manage all of the sensations. Hunger, lust, chemical explosion and the sound of his voice. “How do I work the straw in my drink?” was just one of my concerns at that moment.
I wondered, did he feel what I felt, so in the middle of someone’s sentence, I have no idea whose, I said, “So how do you think this date is going?” followed by, “I think you are really cute and I am very attracted to you.”
His response at first was to smile simultaneously with his big eyes and his pretty mouth, as if I had tickled him. Then, he leaned in, looked at me and softly said in that bend me over voice, (wait, I almost forgot where I was, because I was reliving the moment-sorry.) He was looking at me so I was looking back and his big green eyes and my big blue eyes were making some serious big turquoise when he spoke the words “You are a very pretty woman and I find you very attractive.” I had no options but to be with that feeling of being washed over by the sound of him. That loses something in black and white, so I will describe the experience or the feeling that I had when he spoke. It was as if we were the only ones there and if my side of the mutual chemistry that had just been confirmed could have spoken, it would have said, “Crawl across this damn table and ravage me right now.”
Instead, since there were other people there and getting naked in public is frowned upon here in Florida, we reviewed how much time we had left before he had to be home for his kids to come home from school, so I suggested we go for a walk.
We went to a nearby park and walked along a path in the woods. We were shoulder to shoulder, I had borrowed a warmer jacket from him that he had in his truck and I was cozy next to him. He shared about his family, much like a young teenager on a date with raging hormones. He would be a freshman and I would be a senior, but as far as desire we were both honor students. We talked about playing tennis together. His voice even smiled when he shared about his plans to live on a lake in Maine, where his great great grandfather had worked in a lighthouse. Such a sweet man.
When we got back in his truck, he said “Should I take you back to your car?” I said, “I don’t know, how much time do you have before your sons get home?” He said he had about two hours. Taking me sounded good. However, to my car was not how I would complete that phrase.
At this point, the only contact we had had beyond the hug hello was brushing up against each other as we walked. Now, it was intentional. He reached over and gently took my hand, massaging one finger at a time. He had said he liked giving massages and he knew that my shoulder had been bothering me, so as awkward as it was with the console between us, he worked his way slowly up my arm. Then, he leaned in. And kissed the back of my neck. All of it. From one ear to the other. Just writing this makes me feel something. He asked if I would like to come to his house. I told him I wanted to have more time together the first time after which he said he had wanted to get a room with me. If only he had said that earlier.
We sat back in our seats as he asked me what I liked with a man as if to say what is your favorite color, intent in his listening to my reply. And I gave it. He told me what mattered to him. About how he liked to touch. And be touched. It was innocent and sweet and sensual and a bit erotic. “I think you should kiss me” I said, as he sat up in his seat. He was reaching for the gum in the console. Eclipse. I giggled nervously as he did so. He said he wanted a first kiss to be remembered as tasting good. So I grabbed some gum for me. And we kissed. His gum and mine were eclipsed by what was happening in the middle. And I wanted more of that.
When he took me back to my car, a difficult conversation was had. I kissed him goodbye and I got in my car. I could feel his eyes watching me as I walked across to get in. We exchanged a wave and he drove off.
Two more days before what was to be the official first date. The one I so looked forward to as holding the possibility of an entire day enjoying each other publicly and privately. Instead, that difficult conversation continued and that date never happened because of it. There would be no next date from there.
And while I was sad, I was also rewarded by the entire experience. There was communication from the word go, honesty and thoughtfulness too. There was sexual tension fed by pandemic imposed touch starvation. And there was a younger man desiring an older woman who desired a younger man.
You see, while I have confidence, it is not constant and when it comes to affairs of the heart, I can sometimes be the last one to know that when I walk into a room, I am seen.
I gave 26 years in the prime of my life to a man my age who I did not love that way and who did not love me that way. And now, I am ready to claim some of the sensuality and passion that never got expressed when it was meant to.
I work to trust the universe and my instincts and the laws of attraction with my heart to bring me the lover or lovers I am meant to have when I am meant to have them. Since my marriage ended six years ago, I have had several experiences in relationships and in each case the relationship was more loving than the one before and if this progression is any indicator, I really have much to look forward to. In the meantime, I’ll just buy more batteries.
Last night, when I went to bed, I told God that if I died in my sleep, I would be okay with that. And then, I woke up.
Today, I find myself alone. And hurting in ways that are hard to express and even harder to experience. I try and practice prayer and meditation, as my spiritual life has become a greater priority than ever. With age, and awakeness being the great motivators.
I find reading difficult, so I rarely do it, but a couple of years ago, a friend said to me when I was in the throes of grief, that the book, “Your Holiness,” by Debbie Ford was important. For me, it was exactly that. The author, Debbie Ford, a woman who had recovered from addictions to alcohol, drugs, men and money and served many in her spiritual service work, died an untimely death from a rare cancer in her fifties. The date of her death was Feb. 17. An anniversary that I share as that is the day I got sober from alcohol. It was chilling to me when I saw the date coinciding. I feel that she has communicated with me from the afterlife because her book has spoken So loudly to me. A miracle really, as I have rarely been able to take in words from a page that could leave any lasting impression.
On this day, as I crack the book open randomly to see what it has to say to me, I find this prayer, that I had yet to read. (I find that using a highlighter to illustrate the words brings them into me when just black ink on white paper fails to do so.) It was just the right thing at the time.
I am back in touch and in some cases, in touch for the first time with much grief. At 61, and after 40 years, give or take, sitting across from therapists, I have all the knowledge from the neck up about the losses in my life. And it is a long list. Some come with trauma. All, as they are screaming to be released, hurt to express, but they have to be heard if I am to stay on this planet and if God continues to wake me up like today.
As the prayer states, “Let the wings of angels lift me out of earthly problems,” I really don’t have many earthly problems when I think about food, shelter and clothing. All needs are handsomely met. Right now.
My acute needs are to express the grief that has set up camp in my neck and my shoulder and my hips and my throat when swallowing my food is difficult.
I lost my father at age 7. I lost any semblance of family that remained shortly thereafter. And I wasn’t even ten years old yet.
It’s funny. Now that I am writing with the intent to share here for whoever reads it, I find myself guarding my words. Not everyone is worthy to know my truth in its entirety, but still, I am moved to share because frankly, I have survived yet another bout of hurting so bad I did not want to live.
Living alone, with no one to touch me, and I mean almost ever, because it is not safe to just hug people like it used to be for the very real pandemic and its risks, I am touch starved.
It has been nearly a year since my routine of seeing people in groups, several times a week, where I got multiple hugs, has been drastically curtailed. Before the virus, I might see friends four or five times a week for support groups, fellowship, making art, sharing meals, having parties, going to parties, always with hugs hello and goodbye. Things I choose not to do today because I don’t want to get sick. I have a compromised immune system as it is.
That kind of lack, like a drip of water on a rock, for long enough, is going to leave a mark.
I do have two friends who are cautious that I feel safe to get hugs from and I am now getting monthly massages, but as a friend who went to Harvard put it, “This shit’s hard.”
So I literally am at a point of do. Or die. The do looks like diving into the deep end of a support group where grief is not only honored, but where the members are willing to sit with my uncomfortable when those grief purges come. And I need that. I need the company of another, albeit by phone or on Zoom, to be present with me as I express my sadness. Because while others can do this on their own, with just their Higher Power as witness, I am not them. And my inner wisdom knows the depths of the losses I have had that need to come out through the tear ducts and my voice in order for true relief and healing and they need to be witnessed by whoever made me and safe people. Both.
As this prayer so beautifully expresses, I have angels. Upon whose shoulders I can rest my head virtually as I sob into my phone and my black and white polka dot happy bedspread, adding accents of black mascara. Sobbing like the little girl inside me who just needs to be heard. And she is. Being heard by others who have been brought into my life at precisely the right time so that I don’t have to go there alone ever again.
I do know that people cannot be my God, or Higher Power, or rescuers. But those people I have found, who listen without judging, who validate without fixing, are put there by whoever or whatever made me, are walking me towards a new and improved definition of a Higher Power.
From the grief and loss and trauma that comes with losing a father at age seven and losing a family shortly thereafter and losing over thirty years to looking outside for the love I had inside in the “hims” of the world, all the bullies I put in place because that was my comfort zone, the men who invade my space physically and verbally because that was my grooming with a promiscuous mother, the cancer that took much from me and left me scarred in its wake, the food that was a comfort until it became a tool of self harm, the alcohol that took me to unsafe places at vulnerable times, and for all of the time I have lost abandoning myself to the many distractions of this world, and for all of the self hatred that had no place to go until now to really get healed, well, the length of this sentence speaks volumes to what is crying to be expressed.
So, sometimes just doing right now and the right nows that follow that, is all I can do. I rarely make plans anymore because I want to live an organic life. I don’t set an alarm, and I can set a goal for my day, and intentions, but the results are often so different than what I thought, like now, writing this to share with you, I am just going with my spirit and how it moves me.
I still hurt, but it is lessened for sharing. In a way, I really am dying. My old self is dying off and getting a replacement. The real me. Been there all along, but she got alot weighing her down. I trust that as I do the work, those spaces left vacant by old, crusty grief and nasty trauma will be filled with light and air and energy and joy.
I hope if you find yourself reading this in that place of wanting to give up, that you don’t. My own history has proven that all of these painful times do pass. So please be encouraged that the same is true for you. And if your pain is so great that you can’t find a way out, at least make one more call to speak your truth.
Others may not be listening where you have tried to be heard. Others may not know what to say. Others may say things that only make your pain worse. But you are worth one more call. And then, if you still want to check out, you can.
But I believe you are still here for a reason. You may not know what that is right now, and you may be as old as you have ever been and felt nothing but struggle, but I see you. And you matter.
Also, I love you.
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