Every Choice is Worth Your While


I am finally reading “Miss America By Day” by Marilyn Van Derbur. I have known about this book for a long time and never took the time to read it. I’m glad I finally am making the time.

I have found much of the book fascinating, but the part I read Friday night struck me full force. She did not remember the incest she experienced and had split her memory into what she called the day child and the night child. The day child was what everyone saw and the night child was her inner voice. A good friend watched her make decisions and realized she was self-destructing with the decisions she made, even though she did not realize it. He set about trying to figure out what was driving her decisions.

This caused me to reflect on entering my thirties.

I turned thirty at the end of my second year of seminary. I was in the process of getting a divorce from a man who was very kind, but did not seem to be growing at the same rate I was. He seemed stuck and no amount of encouragement from me seemed to help.

While in the process of the divorce, I met another man. He was not particularly nice. He was not particularly thoughtful. He was not particularly like anyone I’d ever even remotely considered dating. He was not a physically abusive person, but he certainly beat me down emotionally. He made it a habit of calling me ten minutes before I got out of class or off of work. I don’t think he understood the convention of time in the way that other people do. I also think he was checking up on me to make sure I was where I said I was.

I gave up many opportunities for this man who would never give up anything for me. He proved time and again that there was no compromising. He might have said that he would negotiate, but what that really meant is that he would leave it alone for a little while and then catch me off guard and he would keep badgering me until I gave in.

I was making so many bad decisions at this point in my life. To look back and see some of the things I was thinking about at that point is appalling to me! I can’t figure out what made me stay. I think the biggest thing was I was older than I ever expected to be and I didn’t know what to do. It was like I was testing life saying give me whatever bad and hurtful stuff you’ve got. I’m going to take it all. I took it and took it and took it and gave the relationship everything I had and it was quickly destroying me.

My life was so erratic with him. We kept moving. I’d get a job and he’d come up with some reason we had to move. I didn’t have much contact with my family or friends because I didn’t want to have to lie to them and I couldn’t tell them what was really going on. It was bad. I was miserable. I actually felt my heart breaking.

I know people were concerned about me. I wasn’t who I’d always been. I had two friends who spoke the loudest about what they were seeing. One said it was very hard for her to talk to me because she didn’t like to see how much he was hurting me. The other said, very plainly, I don’t care what you do, apply for grad school somewhere far away, get a new job. It doesn’t matter. Get away from him. Don’t wait. Do it now.

I didn’t get away right then, but I was definitely trying to figure out how. I did not want to self-destruct and I was doing it quickly. I had come too far to be taken so far back by someone who did not care about me, but only himself.

After I finally left, he still tried to contact me. He would call me at work, send me emails, comment on my blog. I will not be at all surprised if he tries to comment on this post. I will delete it without even reading it. I’m not making choices to intentionally self-destruct anymore.

My life doesn’t have a laser point focus and I don’t know 100% what I’m going to do, but it evolves. Jeff, the man I wish I’d known and had the opportunity to choose long ago, and I are a team. We make decisions together and talk about how thing affect us as a couple, not as a one-sided unit. This is a reciprocal, loving relationship, full of respect and love. It is so amazing, sometimes I can hardly believe it.

I cannot say why I was punishing myself with bad decisions. I think I did not know what to do. I knew how to make better decisions, I just wasn’t. I learned a lesson big time. I may not always make good decisions now, no one does, but I am making the best decisions I can instead of trying to self-destruct. Because I made it through the time of bad decisions, I now have the opportunity to make good life decisions with the best partner I could have ever asked for. I couldn’t have dreamed him, but I found him.

Have you ever made self-destructive decisions? If so, what caused you to stop? If you haven’t stopped, what might it take to make good decisions for yourself?

Remember, you are worth it!

Secrets and Confidences

Have you ever had someone come up to you and say, “Can I tell you a secret?” I always get a little nervous when someone asks me that. In high school, it was often an innocent secret, more like something told in confidence than a secret. It might have been something like, “I have a crush on Jean.” And what always follows a secret? “Don’t tell.”

I am not good with “Don’t tell.” Tell is what I seem to do. Secrets are usually things that flourish in the darkness of not being told. Confidences often have been exposed to the light, or will be. Perhaps that is a subtle or futile distinction on my part. But I think it is an important one.

If I had gone into counseling or pastoral work, I would have had to disclose to each person I talked to that I do not keep secrets. If someone came to me and said, “My wife is beating me,” I would be morally obligated to report that. If they came to me and said, “I just got engaged!” That is a confidence I could surely keep.

Secrets and coincidences have many things in common. After they are revealed, the people formed by each both can say, “Oh! Now that all makes sense!” If someone is planning a surprise birthday party for a friend or loved one, everyone in on the confidence may be acting a little strangely before the party. After the party, there is an explanation for everyone’s behavior.

A secret is much more insidious. No one may ever know why everyone is acting strangely. Or they may never know that the behavior is strange because it is always the way people acted and everyone involved in the secret acts as they have always acted. For example, survivors of sexual abuse learn patterns of behavior, such as don’t ever be alone with Uncle George. When the survivor has children, they never let them be alone with Uncle George, but they never say why. It becomes part of the family dynamic, but unless the secret is told, the pattern can never be changed and the story can never be told. To tell means we have to see and we have to change.

Many people do not want to see. And many more people do not want to change. And as survivors, we are taught that our actions were shameful. We are the ones who did or did not do the right thing. It is completely untrue, but it is part of the lesson we are taught in order to keep the “secret.” Sometimes, we keep the secret at all costs. We split ourselves, we medicate ourselves, we are terrified by every sound, every creak in the floor, every breath. But we do not tell.

Our health suffers. Our life suffers. Our friends, children, family and even pets. But we do not tell the secret. Sometimes we have covered it up so well, we do not even remember. People around us who know the signs of sexual abuse may suspect, but we are so good at keeping our secret that if they asked, we would laugh in their face.

It is the same if one grows up in an alcoholic home. Many people do not see the alcoholism in their own homes because they have not seen anything else. It is what they know and it is part of the secret they all keep. Keeping the secret punishes and rewards all those involved in it. By keeping it, we can all keep up the semblance of normal we have come to accept. By telling it, we are asking everyone, including ourselves, to change our behavior.

I have learned some secrets in my life. I do not like them and I really do not like keeping them. I have also come to understand that sometimes a secret must be kept, at least for a time.

And I have also come to understand that a secret isn’t always mine to tell. In that situation, I encourage the person holding the secret to keep telling it. The first time is surely the hardest, but once it has been told, life is seen with new eyes. It allows for the wound that has been covered and hidden to begin to heal.

What suggestions would you make to help people keeping secrets turn them into confidences?

Why We Sometimes Go Back

Life can be complicated in my head, at times.  Especially when emotional memories get involved.  It’s very easy for me to find myself trying to deal with a knot of thoughts and emotions and memories, very similar to the way my necklaces used to get tangled when I was a girl.  As an adult, I’ve learned not to yank in frustration on a tangled necklace because it just makes it worse, and I guess I’ve also learned that when memories, emotions and thoughts start to tangle that I need to slow down and seek assistance in sorting it out.

I see a therapist on a regular basis for just such assistance, and it came in handy recently.  I found myself considering the possibility of inviting a former friend back into my life even though I know this person is not good for me.  I was really upset with myself and needed to talk to someone about why I might be considering “going back” to an unhealthy relationship.  If nothing else, I needed to talk to someone about it because the longer I didn’t, the more I was starting to yank and pull at the memories, then the thoughts and next the emotions, making the knot worse.

I started out by telling my therapist that I had been having thoughts and memories about a particular person from my past and had been thinking of opening lines of communication again.  I told her how upset I was with myself that I would entertain this thought, since even though I had lots of good memories about time spent with the person, I knew that the abusive elements were still there and would inevitably cause pain, which is why I had closed that door in the past.  I said to my therapist in tears, “Will I ever be safe from myself?  Why would I consider re-inviting this person into my life?”

What happened next was amazing.

My therapist started to gently loosen the tied knots and helped me untie them.  And in the process, I learned something invaluable.  We talked over what had been going on the last few weeks.  It has been a long, hard winter.  The harsh temperatures and endless weather have in many ways isolated me.  I have always loved getting together with close, comfortable friends and laughing, sharing and enjoying.  The difficult winter has significantly reduced these opportunities.  A few weeks ago, I realized that winter will be over soon and I will be able to start inviting friends over to enjoy the new fire pit on our deck – something I haven’t done with my new friends, in my new home – something I did a lot of in my previous home with the former friend.

Memories are stored associatively.  I guess I knew that, but didn’t understand its impact.  My therapist helped me see that one memory can have several associated tags.  Thinking about fire pits and friendship naturally also opened up my memory files about my former friend, which in turn opened up other associated memories.  It wasn’t as simple, or as complicated as I had thought.  I hadn’t just started thinking about re-connecting with an unhealthy past relationship.

I can’t tell you how understanding this suddenly made me feel safe and confident in my own healing.  I really have come a long way and I now surround myself with healthy relationships.  I had been far too quick to judge myself, or conclude that there was some unfinished business that I needed to return to and deal with.  What had transpired over the last few weeks was just the natural way memory works.

More importantly, it was a reminder that I need to listen to what I am needing and honor that.  I need friendship, silliness and deep conversations.  I need nights on the deck with a fire and a glass of wine.  And I can’t wait until it’s warm enough to make the new memories.


Soaring Soul

Friday night, Jeff and I got to see The Chieftains. If you do not know The Chieftains, first let me say that I’m sorry you do not and you should immediately go and find them on Google or Youtube. In reality, I know they do not suit everyone and that’s okay. You are entitled to your opinion.

I do not know when I first heard The Chieftains’ music. It must have been in college because I wasn’t allowed to listen to anything but country at home. When my sister and I lived in California in 2001, we had the opportunity to go and see this amazing group. I said at the time that I would see them again if I ever had the opportunity and I would pay whatever amount of money necessary to do so. That is a bit of an overstatement, but they fill me with a delight I am not sure I can describe.

As with all music, the sound is often what greets you first. If I were an audiologist, or some specialist in sound, I could walk you through the complex interactions of notes, music, nerves, brain processes and other feelings that make the experience of music so amazing. All I can describe for you is my experience of music, and particularly, music from The Chieftains.

The stage was small, and we were not far from the stage. The group of musicians enter, there were seven to eight of them on stage at once. The music starts. It enters my ears, as one would expect, but after that, it becomes an experience that differs greatly from most other musical experiences I have ever had. After my ears, the music goes right to my heart. It causes it to swell and float. I suddenly know how the Grinch felt when his heart grew three sizes. My heart expands and in the process, pulls open the rest of my senses. The music plays around in my brain, and tickles my sinuses, pushing me to the brink of tears. Then it moves again and flutters at the back of my eyes. This time, it pushes out the tears that have already formed. Then it jumps back to my heart and snags the attention of my soul, which then does its own little dance.

The songs are not always sad. They were often in a language I do not understand. Some of them, I’m sure if I understood, would be hilariously funny, just because of the tone in which they are done. And some are sad. They are songs of war and loss and home.

The original members of this group are getting physically old. The four members who have been together the longest, Paddy Moloney, Seán Keane, Kevin Conneff, and Matt Molloy have an impressive 52 year history together. Actually, the group has been around since 1962. Only Paddy Moloney is original to the group. Their spirits, however, still soar with their music.

I think this description of my experience pales in comparison to what it actually was like. I’ve written before that I’m doing some genealogical work. I think this is what I’m looking for – I’m looking for my link to a place that feels like home, where my spirit sings in the great chorus of the ages.

The Chieftains are friends with American astronaut, Catherine Coleman and she borrowed a flute and tin whistle from them and took them to the International Space Station. This video is not the same one we saw Friday night, but it is still amazing. I hope you find it interesting, if nothing else. Imagine, a small tiny whistle and a 100 year old flute going all the way to space.

I would love to hear about the music or places that make your soul soar.