Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Giving thanks

I've been writing here for over two years and faithful readers know where I am now, where I'm headed - well, as much about that as I know, anyway - and where I've been. Last week was Thanksgiving, and while I don't spend the month of November publicly posting what I'm thankful for on a daily basis, I have been thinking a lot about my many blessings this month. This seems like a good time to enumerate a few of them.

First, I am thankful to be here. Not just here, in this blog, or here, in my home, but here, in the world. I am thankful to be alive. There have been times when I doubted I'd make it this far, and it is very cool that I have. I am grateful to God for every minute, and that I have learned to inhabit each moment so that I am really living, all the time. That leads me to...

Second, I am thankful for the lessons I've learned. My therapist tells me that our hardest trials teach us our best, most needed lessons, and that life keeps sending the right people our way until we learn what we need to know. So I am grateful to have had the people in my life who have taught me my most-needed lessons. It was hard, but worthwhile, and I am a better person for it. Thank you.

Third, I am thankful for my children. I have two lovely daughters and I couldn't be more proud of them. Erin is incredibly intelligent and witty; she challenges my intellect and my social justice principles and never lets me just slide by. Laura is also very smart, and she is open-hearted, loving, and hilarious. She brings laughter to my life. They both bring me joy and I am grateful to be their mother and to have the opportunity to teach them some of the lessons it took a lot of time and trial for me to learn.

Fourth, I am thankful for my job. I am employed by the most incredible church in the world and am loved and nurtured by a stellar cast of co-workers and a beautiful Christ-like congregation. I don't know what else I could say about that except that I love each of you and am so grateful to work with and for you.

Fifth, I am thankful for my family. I think most of you don't really understand me, but I always know that each of you loves me. I love you, too, just the way you are.

Sixth, I am thankful for my friends. I have truly been blessed with great friends. Some of you are people I have known most of my life. Some are people I only know because of our connections via computer - but real or cyber, you are gifts in my life. I am happy to go through my days knowing you support and love me, and I am privileged to do the same for you. Some friends are more than friends; I don't have a name for that concept. Family isn't right...maybe Superfriends is best. Superfriends - and I trust that you know who you are - you bless my life. I hope I have blessed yours.

Seventh, I am thankful to serve and love God. Words can't convey how I feel here, so I won't try. But thank you, God. Thank you.

Raise a glass with me and give thanks for the good in your life; recognize that what seems difficult or painful often brings joy in the aftermath, the same way storms precede rainbows. I am thankful for these and many other blessings, no matter what guise they might wear.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Words, actions, and what lies between

November is a month of contradictions. We in the Western Hemisphere enter it in a glorious blaze of autumn gold and we leave it grey and dreary. Somewhere between Indian Summer and Pre-Winter, the trees release their last pretense of modesty and stand, starkly naked and shivering, to face the cold. The world turns toward the death that must come before renewal. But, being human, we don't long tolerate the bleakness of impending winter and dying autumn. We dress November in trappings of Thanksgiving and Christmas-to-come. We engage in a frenzied whirl of activity. We celebrate with friends, co-workers, and family and we make the gaiety last as long as we can because behind the carnival masks, we recognize the skeletal trees and grey skies for what they are: heralds of winter's little death.

A few years ago, I lived through a November bereft of celebrations and joy. Cold terror and desperation threaded through the days which seemed to drag on endlessly. There were days that should have been wonderful - my daughter's thirteenth birthday, Thanksgiving with my family. All the good those times should have brought was sacrificed on the altar of surviving an abusive relationship. Daily assurances of his love were punctuated with nights of threats, physical violence, and sexual coercion. I believed in his love for a short while, but the words of adoration became meaningless lies in the face of his actions, which spoke nothing but hatred. What lay between those two extremes was a decimated battlefield that was my life.

People ask why victims of violent relationships stay, why we don't escape. I answer that chains aren't always visible. Violence creates fear and fear exerts a powerful amount of control. When someone shows you by his actions that there is nothing he won't do, no line he won't cross, there is no reason to hope that you will somehow escape unscathed, or even alive. Finally there comes a time of understanding that you don't really have a choice anymore. You could die if you stay. You could die if you leave. Do you risk your life for freedom or for continued bondage?

I chose to be free. A difficult year followed; there was stalking, damage to my property, and constant fear of reprisal. I began to rebuild myself and my life, but I did not understand how deep the devastation had gone, how damaged I really was. It has only been the in the past few months that I have learned how desolate my inner landscape had become. Without knowing how it came to be, I found myself again in the ruin that exists between the two extremes of words of love, and actions of disrespect, indifference, and careless self-gratification. This time, I didn't need to escape; I needed to purge. I needed to learn a lesson about my own self-worth and how to claim my life and my heart for myself instead of giving them away. I needed to heal.

Learning who I was became the goal. I had to learn how to value myself before I could allow myself to be valued by others. Always before I felt that any praise or happiness in my life was a cheat; I felt unworthy and was always afraid that others would see and exploit my flaws. In acknowledging the way I had given up my personal power and the poor choices I made, I regained my ability to discern what is good and right for me, and to believe that I deserve happiness, kindness, and respect. Slowly but surely, I let truth replace the lies, and I began to reclaim myself.

I stand now on the edge of what used to be a wasteland. It is November - the trees are bare and the wind is cold. Drifts of fading leaves litter the ground. But there is beauty in the barren trees and brittle, frosted grass. There is the promise of life in the naked limbs. Standing stones may be battered by the wind but they welcome and radiate the sun's warmth. The shards and ruins have been cleared away and this place - my life - has been reclaimed. It is mine. I may choose to share it at some point in the future, but I will never again give it away or fragment it for someone who cannot be trusted to speak the truth, and act upon it. I did not risk my life to stay in bondage - I risked it to be free.

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Testimony to Imperfection

Because the relief of pain is built into its perception, I search within and remember when:
     I did not use my power;
     I did not see;
     I resisted change;
     I was afraid of excitement;
By these admissions I ask for the help that I long for, the cure that I need, and the insight to change.

Life is fluid. When we put up barriers to its native motion, life tends to overflow, to flood, to destroy. Maybe it is human nature to hoard life, to try and imprison it so we do not face loss. In the same way we tend to hoard love, to erect safe houses to contain love, to build structures around our hearts to keep love in - and sometimes to wall love out. By confining the flow, we rob life and love of their inherent power. We become misers, clinging to what we feel we cannot live without; people, memories, behaviors, feelings. Because we are unwilling to spend or share what we hoard we cannot benefit from it. We cannot enjoy it. The very thing that we love builds up in turbulent weight behind whatever dam we've created to hold it back, until the barrier breaks and we are washed away.

We are left standing on a flood-plain of devastation, picking through mud-slick ruins and searching for what we once treasured. But the truth is that we placed value in externals - we laid up our treasures in the wrong places. We gave away our own sense of worth - we placed value in others and forgot to value ourselves. We are taught that we should always put ourselves last but we fail to recognize that when we devalue ourselves, we are devaluing the image of God that we carry at our core. Christ admonished us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We forget the second part of that commandment and buy into the idea that if we devalue ourselves we are somehow doing God's will. Christ's words call for a balance within us - a healthy amount of self-love from which we can recognize that our neighbors share our humanity and so are worthy of respect and kindness. If we cannot value our own humanity, how then shall we value that of another? We violate our own worth and because this creates emptiness, we struggle to fill that emptiness - with love, life, work, or excitement; with sex, food, drugs, or alcohol; we lay up the treasures that these things bring us until our walls are finally broken and we are drowned by the deluge of what we could not release.

We violate that which is Eternal when we violate ourselves; for our failures of truth we ask for honesty and courage:
     For acting out of fear of looking at ourselves deeply and honestly;
     And for using honest self-examination as a substitute for changing ourselves.
     For paralyzing ourselves by thinking we could not change;
     And for using these prayers as a substitute for real change.

There comes a time when we awaken to ourselves and realize that there is no substitute for change. We discover what it is we must release because it is the thing without which we cannot imagine life. For some of us it may be an addiction, for others, a person - a belief - a behavior. We struggle with the knowledge that we must let go. We grieve while we still possess whatever it is that owns us. We try to imagine living without it and we can't, or if we can, that future life seems pale and purposeless. But here we are, crushed by the weight of that which we once treasured, in a desolate landscape overrun with what we once loved. We must change, lest we die.

We go through the process of excision; we separate ourselves from what we believe sustains us. We find a new sustenance within ourselves, a well of strength from which we draw. We go about the work of restoring and repairing our lives. We bring order from the chaos. In the wreck we often find sparkling bits of treasure that remind us of what it was we loved. We rescue these from the mud, clean them carefully and place them on a shelf. These relics of the past form a crooked road-map that helps us know exactly where we are today.

We evade that which is Eternal when we evade ourselves; for our failures of truth we ask clear vision:
     For those times I turned a deaf ear on the cries of children;
     And for those times I turned a deaf ear to the small child within me.
     For those times when I believed that I was alone and there was no point in reaching out to others;
     And for those times when I believed that my temporary helplessness was permanent.
     In recalling this pain I experience it, I heal it, and I commit myself to replacing it with joy in the coming year.
We learn to be present in the now - the past is worth an occasional glance, and the future is a place of hopes that are yet unborn. This moment we are in is what we have; this body we own is where we live. We accept that confining life does not allow us to live abundantly. We understand that only by releasing that which we love can we ever truly have it. We learn that truth is worth more than illusions of happiness and that those who cannot love us when we are true cannot love us at all. We accept; we understand; we let go. Life becomes too big to contain behind walls. Our hearts - our souls - grow proportionately. We live.

(Words in italics are taken from Appetites: On the Search for True Nourishment, by Geneen Roth - they are listed by the author as being taken from the Al-Chayt, which is a testimony to human imperfection.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Love and Compulsion

Love and compulsion cannot peacefully coexist. Compulsion leaves no space for love; compulsive behavior crowds out loving behavior. The object of our compulsion becomes the object of our affection. The people and things we love or value fall away and we are left with this compulsion upon which we depend. We deny that the compulsion is harmful, wrong, or damaging. We convince ourselves we have control because admitting that the compulsion controls us means we must change our behavior and abandon what has given our lives meaning or brought us comfort. In the face of our need we make poor decisions that impact not only us but those around us. Sometimes the impact is negligible; sometimes it is profound. We end up alienated from the people we love. This has the effect of forcing us deeper into our compulsive behavior and feeding our dependency. In our twisted thinking, we have been abandoned by our loved ones. We do not see that we have pushed them away. We do not acknowledge that we chose the compulsion over the people we love. So we lose our friends and our family, but the compulsion is still there bringing us comfort. We wonder why anyone would ask us to give up this thing on which we rely. It is our only constant! Why would we want to give it up?

Drug and alcohol use, disordered eating, gambling, overspending, hobbies, hoarding, and sex can all become compulsions. There are others but these are probably the most recognizable. Until we can see the detrimental effects our compulsions have on us and others, we will be unable to make healthy choices for ourselves. We will continue to put compulsions between us and the people we love – we build a wall with our behaviors to protect us from the vulnerability inherent in giving and receiving love. Slowing or stopping the compulsive behaviors is not enough. The root of the impulse must be exposed and explored; otherwise, the compulsion surfaces whenever the pain is triggered, and those of us who suffer from compulsive behaviors know how easily that can happen in the course of living.

I have suffered with compulsive eating for much of my life. Though it has been a long time since I actually binged, the compulsion is still there. I often struggle with the desire to binge. There are times when I feel that my consumption of food is out of control, even when it is reasonable. My thinking around this compulsion is so warped that it is difficult for me to know what is appropriate. In the same way that a person with anorexia can look in the mirror and see a bloated, distorted body, I can look at my food consumption for the day and distort a normal amount of food into a binge, which makes me feel guilty, ashamed, and out of control. I have labored for so long under the belief that I can’t make good choices about food that I don’t trust my body to tell me when it is hungry, or to know what kind of nourishment it wants. I have been working for the last month to relearn my body’s cues related to hunger with help from my therapist and several books by Geneen Roth. This mindful approach to living inside my own skin is working well; Ms. Roth’s guidelines are reasonable: eat what you like, eat only when you are actually hungry, and stop eating when you are no longer hungry. Pay attention to your food and don’t eat while distracted. Note how hungry you are before you eat and after you eat. There are some other directives, but these are the core.

Now that I take time to think about the emotions behind the compulsion before I engage in it, I find that sometimes I am not hungry when I think I am. Instead, I’m angry or lonely, sad or anxious. Sometimes I'm simply tired. There are better ways of dealing with emotions than burying them in food. I am learning that my emotions won’t kill me. The pain behind most of these feelings is pain that has already happened. I can acknowledge it for a few moments and then move forward without engaging in compulsive behavior as a way to cope.

As my compulsion fades, I find more room for love. My particular brand of compulsive behavior came between me and loving myself rather than me and other people in my life, so the love that is increasing is self-love. I trashed my own body with my compulsion. I made myself unhealthy. Perhaps I was trying to make myself as unlovable as I felt. My body was like a hoarder’s house – cluttered with the detritus of my compulsion. It has been three years since I lost over 130 pounds – I have kept almost all that weight off, but without addressing the root of my compulsive eating, that won’t remain true. In the same way an alcoholic can stop drinking for a while, I can stop bingeing for long periods of time. But the urge is there – the unhealthy attitude is there – the desire is there. The causes of my behavior are deeply rooted in the past. The pain is valid. The fault is not mine. But the responsibility to find help and to heal does belong to me. It is in understanding and remaking the beliefs that drive the compulsions that I will find healing.

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Long Way to Go

It is hard to believe that I have completed another trip around the sun, but here I am - forty-one years old, give or take a few days. It feels almost eerie to be this old. OK, I know - forty-one isn't exactly ancient. But bear with me; I'm making a point here. Survivors of violence often feel a sense of a foreshortened future. Since I was a teenager, I have expected to die young. I really never thought I'd get to be twenty, much less thirty. And when thirty-five came around, I was pretty shocked. So shocked, in fact, that I aged myself another two years! I went around for a couple of years telling people I was thirty-seven. It wasn't that I meant to lie about my age, I just lost track of where I was. The year I turned thirty-eight I was not surprised to find myself in a life-threatening situation. After all, I never imagined I'd live to see forty.

It was the night of November 14th, 2009, when I stood in my abuser's kitchen after he had just tossed a plate at me, thrown his glass across the room, and ripped the silverware drawer out of the cabinet. He grabbed my left shoulder with one hand and held a knife in his other fist. A six-inch long blade might not sound like much, but when you expect it to plunge into your throat any minute, it looks pretty impressive. I'm not sure what stopped him from stabbing me at that moment; it certainly wasn't me. I didn't fight with him, didn't struggle, didn't try to take away the knife. All I did was look him in the eyes and say, "I'm not afraid of you." And strangely enough, I wasn't. Fear came later - the next desperate month was spent in a welter of fear. But in that threatening moment, I didn't feel anything at all.

Of course, this is not healthy in any way. I should have been afraid. Any sane person probably would have been. By the time this happened, he had already sexually assaulted me and had been verbally and emotionally abusing me for months. I knew he had a terrible temper. I had seen him destroy my belongings and throw pots and pans and books across the house. I had heard him threaten to rape other women, kill me, and then commit suicide. I had seen the hole in the wall by the front door where he had put a glass through the sheet-rock because he was angry at me for dating someone else after we broke up. I think I wasn't afraid because I honestly believed that I was meant to die young. A violent death seemed like the strange fulfillment of some long unspoken prophecy.

All this disclosure begs the question of why - why I believed I would die young, and why I am still surprised that I'm here today. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder seems to be the most logical answer. It is a feature of PTSD for survivors of violence to have a sense of a foreshortened future - Criterion C7 states that the surviving individual may not expect to have a marriage, a career, children, or to live a normal life-span. (DSM IV Diagnosis and Criteria: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, 2012).

So here I am, forty-one years old, and feeling like I am very far behind on my life's goals. I think time got away from me because I kept expecting to die young. Sometimes it seemed like making efforts to accomplish things just wasn't worthwhile, because I wouldn't live to reap the rewards anyway. Logically, I know that this is a ridiculous mindset. No one knows when or how they will die. I certainly don't want to die - I am not suicidal and I do not take unnecessary risks with my life. About five years ago, I started making plans for a longer life than I used to anticipate, even though the incident I mentioned above only happened about three years ago. I often still experience disbelief that I am alive at this point, but have begun to live my life in a more forward-thinking way. I will graduate college with my BS in Human Resources this coming January, for example. Sure, it took twenty years longer than I originally thought it would, but I'm getting there. I'm also figuring out how to be a healthier person, one who is PTSD free, who is healed of codependency, and who truly believes that she deserves to have a happy life with good, solid relationships. And I'm looking at ways to give back to other survivors - ways to bring light out of the darkness of my own past. As one of my friends used to say, "It's all good!" - at least, it can be, if you live purposefully and work to make it good.

So I am celebrating myself this month. I made it to forty-one! How cool is that? I've come a long way and have accomplished a lot - even though I get frustrated at the pace sometimes - and I hope I still have a long way to go.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder DSM-IV Diagnosis and Criteria. Retrieved July 30, 2012 from http://www.mental-health-today.com/ptsd/dsm.htm.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Little Anni

Many native cultures once believed that we carry with us a piece of the spirit of those we love, and that they have a corresponding piece of our spirits with them. When we lose someone we love, our souls yearn after them because they are a part of us. The same holds true for animals we love - we share their spirits and they share ours. Grief for our animal companions is very real and must be honored, just as their important roles in our lives must be honored.

When I was thirteen and going through an extremely difficult time, my dog Rowdy was a tireless comforter and companion. I couldn't tell anyone about my pain, but he sat on the back porch with me and leaned his head against my shoulder, bearing silent witness to my tears and listening to my hurts, offering unconditional love as only an animal can. My heart broke the day he died, and though it has been twenty three years since I lost him, I still remember his loyalty and the joy he brought me, and I still miss him. I think I always will.

My very good friend Eve lost a beloved companion animal today, one who had been her mainstay during times of deep suffering and hardship. The grief is just as great and just as real as if her companion had been human. Little Anni carried a part of Eve's spirit with her, just as Eve carries a part of Anni's. Anni's deep love for her human companion was visible and almost palpable. She never failed to give love and support during Eve's darkest moments. Her contribution to Eve's life is worthy of honor and praise. Anni was a beautiful creature with a pure, giving, loving heart, and she will be sorely missed.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

We Remember

June 6th is D-Day. We spend time today remembering the troops who stormed the beaches of Normandy and turned the tide in World War II. There was so much loss of life that day - I find it difficult to wrap my mind around. Allied casualties have been estimated to be around 10,000 soldiers. During the months of April and May of 1944, around 12,000 soldiers were lost. This gives us some idea of the carnage that occurred that day. Though the invasion happened 68 years ago, we still remember. We mark the day with prayers and occasionally, solemn ceremonies. The folks who lost family members might gather to talk about the brother or uncle who never came home. The pain may have faded, but the horror never really does; we remember this anniversary and in remembering, we quietly celebrate the freedom that was won by those soldiers' sacrifices. We remember, and we are grateful.

June 6th is a personal d-day for me. It is the anniversary of a life-defining event that changed me forever; it is the anniversary of the sexual assault that occurred when I was 13. It has been 27 years. For many years, I didn't recall much of the incident. I think now that I wasn't strong enough to deal with the pain. Forgetting was a form of self-protection, much like the denial I struggle with in other areas of my life. I still sometimes question whether the pain is real, or whether I deserve to grieve or to call myself a survivor. For a long time, I didn't remember the date when it happened. Then, in 2001, I woke up on the sixth of June and I remembered. Since then, I have marked the anniversary with silence and solitude. I often try to do something I've been frightened to do. In 2002, I went hiking and climbed a huge boulder that jutted out over a sheer drop. I hate heights, but I needed to prove to myself that I could conquer that fear, if only for a few moments.

In later years, I have often had to work on June 6th and so could not have an adventure like the first one, but today I'm on vacation, so I left the beaten path on a lark and just drove. I ended up in Marshall, North Carolina. Going somewhere off-track and without any preparation is something I've been afraid to do for a long time. There's always that nagging fear that if I go somewhere out of the way, something horrible will happen to me. I know it is irrational. There is no safety in staying in one place all the time - there is no true safety anywhere. I know that I have to lay aside that fear and silence the voice that wants me to believe that I deserve horrible things. There was still a part of me today that was just certain that something awful would happen when I left the high-way. It didn't. I think that frightened part of me was shocked when I made it home, safe and sound.

Sometimes people don't understand why survivors mark our anniversaries. They think we are wallowing in our pain, or refusing to heal, or reopening old wounds. They don't get that we are mourning who we once were. We are grieving the loss of our old, false-freedom, our former surety that we were invincible, that nothing horrible could ever happen to us as long as we dressed or talked or acted a certain way. We are marking our loss of innocence. But we are also quietly celebrating the fact that we are alive now, we are well - or getting better - now. We survived. We are tougher. We are stronger. And if we are in a good place now, we can acknowledge that the younger version of us did the best she could. And really, she did all that was needed - she survived.

We remember, and we are grateful.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Do you play? We're told that we should spend a little time each day, just playing, just enjoying ourselves. For many years, I didn't play. I didn't have time to play! I was too busy working, keeping up with all the things no one else would do. If I wasn't at work, I was mowing the lawn or washing dishes or working in the garden or cooking or cleaning. Even if I did sit down with the television on, I usually had a basket of laundry so I could improve the time by folding and hanging clothes. Sometimes - once every two or three weeks, I might take time to read a book or watch a movie. And I inevitably felt guilty for doing so, especially when the book was done or the lights were back on and I could see the messes around me or the overgrown grass or weedy flower beds.

I played when I was a kid. I jumped rope. I played with my dog. I played frisbee with my sisters and brother. I went fishing. I spent a lot of time prowling around the woods or fields on the farm. I played with stuffed toys and made doll clothes and endlessly drew and colored pictures. I wrote poetry and read books and built elaborate villages out of the stems of horse-weeds.

Now that I'm an adult, the very idea of playing makes me uncomfortable. But even in adulthood, before I had children, I didn't have this kind of problem. I spent time every Friday with friends engaging in RPGs or cards or Pictionary. We'd watch movies all night long and then sleep until noon the next day. I had no problem slowing down or even stopping what I was doing just to enjoy myself. But when I had kids, everything changed.

I had so many more responsibilities. People with codependency tend to focus totally on their responsibilities to the detriment of their own lives, and I am no exception. I focused on my daughter; everything else in my life suffered. I stopped writing. I stopped reading - well, unless Little Golden Books count. I stopped watching The X-Files. I stopped meeting with friends, stopped playing - unless I was playing with her, and the way I went about playing was an awful lot like work.

Long story short - I forgot how to play. Part of my recovery from codependency is relearning that skill. I confess that I'm not very good at it, especially if there's work to be done around the house. Instead of finding a way to relax and be playful, I'll sweep, vacuum, mop, do laundry, mow, weed, or generally work myself into exhaustion. And because there is ALWAYS work to be done around the house, I seldom manage to get out and play. This is where a partner would come in handy - someone who would engage me in something fun and assure me that there's no need to worry about the dishes or the laundry. Then again, it's also true that I should be able to validate my own decisions. So I should be able to engage myself in play, and assure myself that the dishes will still be there when I get back. And they certainly will.

So the problem becomes how to play. I really have forgotten. I mean, I know how to be silly and goofy. I know how to stop what I'm doing and read a few pages or watch Supernatural - I'm really good at watching Supernatural, especially when there's laundry to be folded. But I don't know how to just go out with no goal in mind other than enjoyment. I don't go to sports events or plays or concerts. I don't go out with friends - most of my friends go out with their husbands or wives. I can play with my kids and I do, but the goal is to find a way to relax and play as an adult. So I research ways to play, and suddenly play seems a lot like work.

Things have to change. I have to find a way back - or forward - into playfulness. I need to build something whimsical into my days, something that helps me relax and renew my energy. Something that helps me recharge. I get so bogged down in day-to-day responsibilities that even when I'm off work, I'm thinking about work - or when I'm at work, I'm thinking about the next paper I have to write for school or how much dog-hair has built up on the floor and the fact that the faucet in the bathroom still leaks and I need to repaint the garage door and did I mention that I haven't cleaned out the basement in almost a year?

I need to spend a weekend just doing something fun on my own. I know this. I also know I can't trick myself into thinking that fixing faucets and painting doors is fun - that's cheating. The problem is that a few years ago, I moved away from my hometown and left my friends two hours away. I have friends where I am now, but not the kind of friends who call you up and say, "hey, let's go have fun." My friends have lives and established relationships and their free-time is already filled. Another problem is that I am such an introvert that I tend not to build the kinds of friendships where you can just go hang out. I'm solitary by nature. That means I need to find a way to have fun without involving other people. Anyway, who in the world would want to hang out with someone who has to Google "how to have fun as an adult"? By the way, if you ever Google those words, make sure you turn on safe search, unless your idea of fun involves handcuffs. Just sayin'.

Yeah - having fun sounds like a lot of work, and I'm already tired. Maybe I should just make plans to fix the faucet and paint the garage door. At least then there'd be something to show for the weekend.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


"To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself." ~Thich Nhat Hanh

One of the things I discovered - or maybe rediscovered - about myself during my forty days of truth is that I'm codependent. The term was coined back in the days when clinicians and psychologists first realized that the families of alcoholics seemed to exhibit a set of behaviors that included a loss of identity, trying to control the alcoholic, taking on responsibility for his or her disease, and ignoring self-care. The behaviors were so common among the families of the alcoholics that codependency was finally recognized as a stand-alone medical condition. Codependency is widely seen in the general population, and though the families of alcoholics are at higher risk for developing this disorder, it is also prevalent in people who have never been associated or involved with the addicted.

The word itself is a little misleading. The codependent is not necessarily equally addicted to alcohol or other substances, though that can sometimes be true. The word "codependent" was developed to describe the way people often enabled their loved one's addiction by providing liquor or other substances, by covering for the alcoholic, and by generally making it easier for the alcoholic to keep drinking. Now we recognize that codependency is about much more than just enabling addiction. Codependency has been defined as the art of making the relationship you are in more important than you are. Codependency can affect any kind of relationship - romantic, parent/child, child/parent, siblings, even friendships. Codependents are caretakers; overly responsible folks who take on all the work of a relationship while allowing the other person to skate by on very little effort. We put up with egregious behaviors in the other person. We allow the other person to violate our boundaries again and again. We cover for the other person's addictions (if addictions exist) or we make excuses for their mistreatment of us. We do everything for the other person and almost never ask for anything. When we do ask for help and the other person doesn't help us, we accept it because we don't believe we deserve help. We usually suffer from low self-esteem and sometimes stay in detrimental or even abusive relationships because deep down, we believe we are not worth anything better. Codependents get lost in other peoples' needs. We forget who we are. We forget what we enjoy, what we want, what we've dreamed of doing with our lives. Instead, our lives become singly focused on the person we love - we think about and wrestle with the other person's problems to the exclusion of nearly everything else. We struggle with our loved-one's addictions, we cry, we pray, we research and read and put together action plans to help our addict recover, all the time ignoring the fact that we are dying from self-neglect. 

I hate codependency. I recognize that I don't have the power to change the people I care about who suffer from addictions. I believe that recovery only begins when an addict realizes that he or she is responsible for changing detrimental behaviors and for getting help with the disease of alcoholism or addiction - or codependency! Yes, codependency works like an addiction - it is an addiction to a pattern of behaviors and reactions. I know that the only person I can change is me. But codependency whispers to me that if I just try harder, if I just give a little more, the other person will recognize exactly what they stand to lose if they don't change. Codependency is the devil on my shoulder that gouges me with its pitchfork and insists I can take the pain of living with someone who is addicted, that I am not worth better treatment and that my boundaries are meaningless. Codependency is also the angel on my other shoulder who insists that it is always right to put myself last and the other person first. It sings that song of self-denial, of selfless love, of complete and total self-depletion. It insists that I don't have needs or wants that matter. Never mind that I've taken on all the responsibility of making the relationship work; never mind that I give more time and effort; never mind that I've overlooked hurtful treatment, being ignored, and have had my boundaries trampled again and again until I believe I never had any rights. Never mind that I am completely lost.

Many years ago, my (then) husband told me I was codependent and I needed to stop trying to control him. Well, I never felt like I tried to control him, so I didn't understand what he meant. I never told him what to do and I never expected him to do everything I wanted. But looking back, I can see how I tried to manipulate situations so that he'd want to do what I wanted. It almost never worked. I spent a long time trying to get him to engage with me in our marriage; trying to get him to want the kind of life I wanted. I did most of the cooking, most of the cleaning, all of the laundry; I mowed the yard and worked in the garden. I made excuses when he wouldn't come to family gatherings. I glossed over the problems caused by his drinking. I even called in to work for him when he wanted a free day - which happened a lot in our early years together. I tried to want what he wanted me to and like what he liked until I could see that the harder I tried, the faster he was slipping away from me. The real problem was that neither of us wanted what the other wanted!  But I couldn't see that. All I could see was that I had made a commitment and by God I was going to stay and we were going to work things out if it killed me. It nearly did; I lost myself so completely that I couldn't even remember what I had liked or wanted before that relationship. I began to understand during the last five years of my marriage what being codependent really meant, and I worked very hard to change my behaviors, but I never really understood the root of the problem. The behaviors were the symptoms, just like drinking is a symptom of alcoholism. I needed to heal the codependency and that takes a lot more than just stopping certain behaviors. When I got my divorce, I felt healthy - I felt that I had left codependency behind forever. Was I ever wrong!

What I didn't realize is how we tend to repeat our patterns. My codependency is deeply rooted in my past and is totally enmeshed with the low self-esteem that stems from the sexual assault I experienced as a young adolescent. We all have unfinished business - trying to make relationships work with emotionally unavailable men and/or men with addictions seems to be mine. I have a high tolerance for completely inappropriate behaviors from my partner. So here I am, looking backward and seeing how I lost myself in my last relationship and trying to figure out how I can keep this from ever happening again. Therapy, reading, recognizing the wrong behaviors at the outset, setting and sticking to my boundaries - all these things will help. In the end, it comes back to personal responsibility. The trick is to take responsibility for myself and for no one else. The other person's pain, anger, and confusion is his own. I did not drive his behaviors. I did not cause his problems. I can't solve them, as much as I wish I could, and I do wish I could. 

Codependents are wonderful people, really. We love so much and so deeply that we are willing to give ourselves away. We are hardwired with the idea that loving someone means sacrificing ourselves for him or her. We give too much and we reserve nothing for ourselves. We only want to be loved and acknowledged as good. We hope the other person will give back to us the way we give to them, but they never do - probably because we tend to choose people who are emotionally or psychologically unreachable. Maybe our problem is that we've never been able to love ourselves as much as we love others. I wish there was a switch I could flip that would turn on self-love. I wish there was an easy formula that I could use to assure self-care. But like every other worthwhile undertaking, beating codependency is going to be hard work. Defeating codependency will mean admitting that I'm not perfect and I can't fix everything. Rebuilding my self-esteem and replacing external referencing with my own internal authority and the knowledge that I am good enough is going to be the key to my recovery. It will mean letting go of a lot of behaviors I've relied on and even letting go of people I love. Letting go isn't easy but it is necessary. At this point in my life, I need to make the same kind of commitment to myself that I've so easily and willingly made to the men I've loved - I will give to myself; I will take care of myself; I will honor my boundaries and not expect too much of myself. I will be kind. I will be caring. I will support all my endeavors and I believe in my ability to accomplish great things. 

Recovery from codependency is a little like being in a relationship with yourself. You become the focus of your efforts, instead of giving everything away to someone else. This doesn't mean you stop caring for and about the people in your life. It just means you put as much work into caring for yourself. Jesus said that we should love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves, but few of us realize that this implies we must also love ourselves. Maybe Alan Cohen said it better than I ever can: "Wouldn't it be powerful if you fell in love with yourself so deeply that you would do just about anything if you knew it would make you happy? This is precisely how much life loves you and wants you to nurture yourself. The deeper you love yourself, the more the universe will affirm your worth. Then you can enjoy a lifelong love affair that brings you the richest fulfillment from inside out." 

Friday, May 18, 2012

All That I Am

Sometimes things happen that leave us questioning who we are, where we are on our path, and everything we thought we wanted or were meant to do with our lives. I had a moment like that this week. Something happened that left me questioning whether I am meant to help survivors of sexual and domestic violence. It left me wondering whether I am strong enough.

For many years now I've felt that the purpose of surviving the things I've lived through was so I could help others who have suffered. Then something happened and I realized how vulnerable I still am and I wondered who I was to think I had anything worthwhile to offer. Who am I to say healing is possible when I am still so wounded and weak?

I felt like a complete hypocrite, like I had been lying to myself about all that I am, all that I ever was, and all I intended to be. Tuesday morning was a very low point and by noon I was ready to give up the idea of serving survivors, speaking again, or getting my masters' degree and becoming a therapist. I felt broken and I really considered giving it all up - the blog, the work, the dreams. All of it - all that I am.

Then something else happened. At that low ebb, I received affirmation from an unexpected source - a lovely gift from a beautiful friend. She made me a wall hanging that represented a woman breaking free from the prison of her own mind, and she wrote me a letter telling me how much she appreciated my work for survivors and telling me that I am strong.

I didn't feel strong. I felt shattered. But her words were uplifting and healing at a time when I needed it most. I was reminded that I am not alone and that I don't always have to be strong. There will be times when I am vulnerable; the key is to surround myself with people who will not take advantage of that, people who respect me and will honor my boundaries. It is okay for me to have moments of fear,  sadness, pain, or doubt. I can admit those emotions and move forward anyway. I don't have to be perfect.

How freeing it is to realize that and to feel - maybe for the first time - that all that I am is enough. Thanks, my friend; you know who you are. Your gift to me means more than I can express.

Friday, April 27, 2012

She's a Survivor

My forty days of truth during Lent led me to make some important admissions about myself and my life. During that time, I started a new writing project, which I call my Truth Journal. On the first day, I wrote for two hours straight and then went to bed, exhausted, but feeling as if I had emptied my system of some kind of insidious, slow-acting poison that had been making me progressively sicker and more tired. Even though Lent has been over for almost a month now, I am still writing in my Truth Journal - not always daily anymore - but regularly. A part of that truth-telling led me to admit and understand that I had reached a long barren stretch in my healing and that I needed professional help to progress. So I began seeing a therapist, and in our session yesterday I came to understand that I need to work on healing and accepting and loving the person I was when I was sexually assaulted. That girl is still in there somewhere, thirteen years old and frightened, alone, and confused about why she became a target of so much hatred and violence. I couldn't let her speak then; I couldn't deal with her pain. Acknowledging that pain and the self-loathing that came from the assault is something I will have to do before I can get better.

Yesterday, I spent some time reading my Truth Journal and looking for clues about what the girl inside me needs, what she's saying. I didn't expect to find her, but she was right there, on the first page, in the first entry:

"I don’t know what to say. No one will read this so it doesn’t matter. I hate my life.

No, that isn’t true. I hate aspects of my life.

No, that isn’t true. I hate myself.

Because I hate myself, I hate my life. If I liked myself, I would like my life. I am the part of my life that is wrong.

Why do I hate myself?

Because I'm weak."

I went on to dig into these sentences and find their meaning. I think of myself as weak because of the assault, this life-defining thing that happened to me when I was thirteen. And it was more than one event - it was a chain of events; day after day of being touched, molested, harassed, and bullied. I told teachers and my mother, but no one did anything to help me. Then I lived in the shadow of that event for almost twenty years before I was able to even confront it and begin to heal. And because this happened to me - because my freedom and my choices were taken from me and my body was violated I felt permanently damaged. I was still in an egocentric stage of development and I wondered what I had done that caused or created the assault. As the years passed and I learned more about sexual violence and its causes, I began to understand that I hadn't done anything wrong; the people who hurt me were the ones who were wrong. I accepted that and I began to heal. 

Then came the abusive relationship. I wondered again what I had done to attract this kind of attention, to become the person who would always be battered and used. A part of me - that wounded girl who still lives inside me - believed that this was all she would ever be. She believed - believes - that this is what she is worth, and so she hates herself and her life. She is the one who longs to be loved and wanted, to be thought of as good and valuable. She is the one who can't find this validation in herself and so seeks it from others. She is the one who goes into relationships and gives everything, right away, so she will be loved. And she keeps on giving everything and asking nothing, thinking that this is what she is worth. Nothing. She has no rights. No one cares if she hurts. She is not worth intervention or protection. 

I see her, and I know what she needs - love, acceptance, and peace. I'm just having a hard time giving that to her. The truth is that I hate her too - she's reaching out across the years and she's trying to control my life, and she's weak and she's needy and I am tired of dealing with the issues she creates for me. I have been at war with her - with myself - for a long time. I have fought and kicked and struggled with her, but she's a lot stronger than she thinks; she's a survivor. She isn't going to settle for less than she needs, and I need to give it to her. I have to find a way to love and accept this part of myself, and to put her to rest once and for all.

I often say that in healing we need to find the hardest thing - what ever it is we dread most and of which we are most afraid - and do it. So here's to working on my inner child; it is the part of healing I hate most and have refused to do. I hope I can find a way to bring her peace.

Monday, April 16, 2012

This story keeps getting better

This weekend was the long-awaited Clothesline Project that I mentioned in this post I made on March 30. It was an incredibly good day. The weather was perfect, the location was wonderful, and the people who participated were awesome. I was privileged to spend about 15 minutes speaking to folks about how we live in a culture that promotes sexual violence, what the real cost of that culture is in human terms, and what we can do about it. The speech is here, if you care to read it. It drew from several posts on this site and also tells my own personal history with sexual assault and domestic violence. But no printed words can convey what it meant to me to speak to those folks and connect with a woman on the back row who nodded her head in commiseration and understanding when I talked about how I lost my ability to plan and dream after I was assaulted. No printed words can tell you what it meant to me to have two very good friends attend and offer their support. No printed words can express how I felt when a lovely, white-haired woman who was there to hear her grandson's band perform got up out of her chair and came over to shake my hand and congratulate me for speaking out.

The day was good. The event was great. The work was life-affirming. Does it get any better?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Forty Days

"Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home." ~ Matsuo Basho

This was Easter weekend, and that means Lent is over. The long fast is done, today was the feast day and Christians everywhere celebrated a risen Christ. The folks who gave up coffee or chocolate or meat or sex can now enjoy the breaking of the fast and the end of abstinence. Those who took up a holy practice such as prayer or servanthood can lay it back down if they so choose. For the past few years, I have not chosen physical abstinence for Lent, but emotional or spiritual abstinence. This year, I chose to give up lying to myself.

If I had known how hard, how scary, how life-changing it would turn out to be, I never would have had the courage to give up self-deception. But I am fond of saying to myself and my daughters that we should always do what we are most afraid to do. So I spent the last 40 days telling myself the truth about my life, about my relationships, about my needs. About myself. Ever heard that saying, "the truth hurts?"

It does. Forty days of honesty has been like lancing a new, infected wound every day. It has meant seemingly endless self-examination. It has meant admitting that I need help healing from my PTSD. It has meant facing the unhappiness I've been feeling and mining for its source. It has meant releasing someone from my life without knowing that the person would be safe or happy or healed. It has meant acknowledging the long-lasting guilt I carry for the dissolution of my marriage and giving that resentment and hurt to God in a ceremony of smoke-and-fire carried out a thousand miles away. It has meant admitting that my own foolish pride keeps me from telling God my wants and my hurts and accepting that his forgiveness is more important than my own.

Now Lent is over. Easter is here. Christ is risen and the stone is rolled away. I can go back to my old way of coping; I could turn from the cold truth and seek sanctuary in the many warm, comfortable lies in which I have wrapped myself for so long. In a way it seems safe, but wouldn't it be like turning around and picking up the shroud, walking back into the darkness of the tomb? The purpose of Lent isn't only in sacrifice - the purpose is that we rid ourselves of that which keeps us from being in relationship with God. The purpose is that we emerge on the other side of the wilderness as different people; honed, tempered, with our wounds drained and healed, and our souls so intertwined with Christ that we do not know where we end and he begins. I stand on the edge with so much possibility before me and all the past dark behind me, and I know which way my feet should - must - take me.

Life lies ahead, not behind.

Friday, March 30, 2012

A Better Story: Speaking Out

On April 14th, I will be speaking at the Clothesline Project in Bristol, Virginia. This opportunity came at a pivotal time for me. As some of you know, during the season of Lent I have given up lying to myself as a part of my efforts to live a better story. Total self-honesty has presented a real challenge! But in telling myself the truth, I also found myself understanding my own motivations better, and as a part of that, I began to pray about my work with and for survivors of intimate partner violence and sexual assault. When I told myself the truth about how healing it is for me to share my story with others, I began to pray for more opportunities to do that. The next day, I received a message from the RAINN Speakers Bureau, calling for members to assist the Bristol Crisis Center with their Clothesline Project, which is designed to break the silence about and raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual assault and domestic violence in our area.

The event will take place at the farmers' market on State Street in Bristol. There will be music and refreshments and booths with resources for those who attend. Survivors will be encouraged to make tee-shirts that relate in some way to their experiences with violence. We hope to form a living clothesline of survivors and their friends, who will put a human face on the epidemic of domestic and sexual violence. It is easy to listen to statistics like "one in four" or "one in three" and just ignore them; after all, they are only numbers. It is much harder to look into the haunted face of someone who has suffered and continue to ignore that suffering.

I am proud to be a part of this project and to help others heal by showing that it is possible to reclaim your life after violence. It is another part of my story that is worth telling, worth remembering, and worth sharing. Keep watching this space - the story is just beginning.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Better Story

I bought a Kindle Touch a couple of weeks ago, mainly because I have limited storage space for books in my small house, and I refuse to give away or trade any more of my long-cherished volumes. Okay, so one could successfully argue about how many copies of The Lord of the Rings or Stephen King novels any person needs, but that isn't really the point. The point is I that love books - I love to read - but my busy lifestyle and limited space dictated the need to come up with a better solution or just stop reading entirely. Hence, the Kindle. The first book I purchased for it was Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Last summer I received a copy of Blue Like Jazz for my birthday, and I fell in love with Miller's casual narrative style and his deeply personal relationships with God, the world, and the people who inhabit it. A Million Miles quickly became a book I just couldn't put down. In it, Miller talks about what it is like to be given the opportunity to edit one's own life and how that opened his eyes to the idea that he wasn't living a very good or meaningful story. He began to live more purposefully, using some simple elements that he learned about what makes stories interesting. As I read about Mr. Miller's unfolding experience, I realized that I, too, had a similar revelation a while back, and that it had - for a time - changed my life.

About five years ago, I sat at my kitchen table with a cup of coffee and decided that my life had no purpose because I had been waiting for things to happen to me instead of making them happen for me. That realization made it possible for me to lose 130 pounds and go back to college as a way of reclaiming my life from the chaos and distractions that had taken over. I had lost my purpose. I had lost my way. In understanding that I could determine my own experience, I found or possibly forged a path that actually led somewhere. In the years since then I have once again become lost. Reading A Million Miles helped me remember what it felt like to live with purpose, to create a worthwhile story for myself.

This realization and remembrance dove-tailed perfectly with this year's Lenten sacrifice, which is to stop lying to myself. Until I promised to give it up, I never understood just how many lies I tell myself in the course of a day. I tell myself that my personal decisions only affect me. That is a lie; the people I invite into my life and the choices I make regarding relationships affect my daughters almost as much as they affect me. I tell myself that I am somehow responsible for getting others to make beneficial changes for themselves. That is totally untrue; if there is one thing I learned from marriage, it's that you can't change another person, and you are not at fault when they refuse to help themselves. I invalidate my own pain by telling myself it doesn't matter that I hurt - it doesn't matter that I'm lonely, that being a single parent is hellishly hard, that some relationships are causing harm rather than joy. I insist to myself that I can handle the stress of full-time work, full-time school, and full-time parenting on my own with help from no one. I tell myself that relationships can be rebuilt even when trust is gone. I demand this level of perfection from myself because I think I should be that perfect, damn it!

But the truth is, no one is that perfect. No one can gracefully or successfully manage a life like the one I tell myself I should lead. The truth, now that I am forced to admit it to myself, is that I am tired. I am sad. I am lonely. I need a break. I need help. I need support. I need to be able to trust for relationships to work. I need the space to be imperfect and to know that it is okay if I go to bed early sometimes, if I miss a meeting occasionally, if I can't meet someone else's needs or demands, or if I go down to the absolute last minute on a homework deadline. A better life-story would allow for these moments. A better life-story would build in fail-safes and support-structures that would take some of the stress and pressure away. A better life-story would still be filled with conflict but would also provide incentives to overcoming that conflict on a journey toward some meaningful goal, not just more of the same day-in, day-out cycle of struggling to stay level and then collapsing with exhaustion at 10:30 every night. A better life-story would acknowledge the wonder and beauty that God brings to my existence just by the fact of his never-ending presence and love.

Telling myself the truth means I have to admit that I am responsible for the shape my life has taken. It also means remembering that once upon a time, I told an incredible story full of conflict and the overcoming of it; a story of personal success and deep spiritual gain. Once, I lived in a better story. I can do that again, if I choose.

So here's to you, Mr. Miller. Thank you for reminding me that there is something more - that God wants more for me - for all of us - than empty experiences stitched together with threads of meaningless distractions. Thank you helping me realize that I do have the power to write - and to live - a better story.

The next installment will be coming soon.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What Truth?

Lately I've been feeling depressed. I’ve been blaming it on a whole host of different issues, but as each of those things changed or dissolved away with time, the unhappiness has continued - even grown - until it is the most prevalent emotion I'm experiencing. I’ve been walking in circles, trying to determine what is wrong and why, but the unpleasant truth has been sitting on my shoulder the entire time, whispering in my ear. I have ignored it, denied it, eschewed it, and disdained it. I have capitulated, listened to it, acted on it, and then decried my decisions. Finally, I have determined that I can no longer deny its authority or silence its voice. Truth is truth. Truth is; it needs no explanation, no definition. It requires only action, and it must be acted upon even if those actions cause pain.

The realization that I cannot continue this way has me thinking, and I have come to believe that most of us live in a perpetual state of unreality and denial of our own making. This refusal to hear truth’s voice is what keeps women in unhealthy relationships, makes men believe that they are defined solely by the work that they do and what they accomplish there, and makes teens believe that suicide is the only solution for their pain. It is what enables the alcoholic to drink too much and then drive. It allows the meth-user to look in the mirror at her ravaged face and broken teeth and still go out to buy one more hit. It leads governments to trillion dollar deficits. It leads nations to tragedies like Oklahoma City and 9/11. Friends, we cannot continue to deny our truths and expect our world to prosper or our lives to change for the better.

Let me tell you a story about someone who began having some health concerns as she got older. This woman was having dizziness, bleeding, black-outs, and a lot of pain and tenderness in her lower abdomen. She refused to see a doctor. Instead, she told herself this was normal for her age and she ignored the problem for two years. Then she began having headaches and memory lapses, pain in her upper abdomen, and uncontrollable coughing. She started to cough up blood and finally went to see a doctor – after tests and x-rays she was diagnosed with terminal cancer that had spread to her lungs, her pancreas, her liver, and her brain. It had likely begun in her uterus, but by the time it was diagnosed it was so widespread that there was just no way to know. She was diagnosed in early summer. By August of that same year, she was gone. This is an extreme example, but it shows what can happen when we continue to deny the truth.

What truth are you denying? What voice is whispering its reality into your ear? Do you need help giving up smoking? Has your drinking gone too far? Are you in the right relationship for the right reasons? Do you need to look for another job? Do you need to think about retiring? Those headaches might be more than just a need for better glasses. Maybe you need to come to terms with your eating disorder, your weight, your depression. Maybe you need to spend less time thinking about others and more time thinking about and taking care of yourself. Maybe it’s time for you to seek out a community of believers and understand that faith really does grow stronger when you do. Maybe you need to allow yourself the space to ask hard questions and seek answers. Maybe it’s time to admit that you just can’t do this by yourself anymore. Maybe it’s time to accept God’s forgiveness and grace.

Whatever your truth is, it is time to accept it, examine it, and own it. Stop living in denial; see and accept your reality. Let's commit to living in the here and now, not in the someday/somehow. Truth is, and it must be acted upon if you are ever to be your whole, authentic self.

Monday, January 9, 2012

It's a Brand New Year

It's a brand new year. Like 99% of you, I've been thinking a lot about what I am going to do with it. For a variety of reasons, I am not the type of person who makes New Years' Resolutions. Not that I don't have any resolve - quite the contrary. I dislike the term, though - it has become cliche; it is just another way to say "here's something I really need and want to do that I have no intention of following through with." And all of you who know me know how big a pet peeve that is, right? If you say you're going to do something, then do it. If you have no intention of doing it, then don't say you will. The same applies to me. I don't say I will do things that I have no intention of doing.

So I have no resolutions - just commitments, goals, and plans to achieve them. A great way to make sure I actually keep those commitments and reach those goals is to tell people what they are. This makes me accountable and introduces what I like to call the GUILT FACTOR if I don't do what I said I would do. I don't like feeling guilty any more than the rest of you, but I know me and I know that guilt is a very effective motivator.

This year, I am making the commitment to myself not to settle for less than I need in any area of my life. That's pretty broad-based, isn't it? Here are some examples to help explain what I mean by that: Shoes. Time. Tithing. Relationships. Work. Food. Activity. Church. Giving. Healing. Spiritual growth. Daughters. Still confused?

Okay - I admit, that's pretty cryptic. Let's break it down. Shoes - I'm not buying cheap ones. I'm also not spending a lot of money on shoes, for a couple of reasons - one, I just don't care about things like that. Two, I have a limited budget. So the plan is that if I need to buy shoes, I'll buy good quality ones that may cost more at the outset, but which will far outlast cheap shoes. A good example is my waterproof hiking boots - I paid $80 for those boots three years ago. They are used every week. They are in incredibly good condition even though I wear them often and I hike in them once every ten days. They were a great investment and a good example of not settling for less than I need.

As December faded into January, I tossed around a lot of commitments I could make, but not settling for less than I need seems to cover them all. I am committing to a high quality of life for myself and through myself, for others. This means fewer evenings spent stressing over things I can't change and more time spent with my daughters. It means healthful food for my body instead of fast-food or junk food. It means really living into my tithing, participating fully in my church groups and in worship, and not wasting the time I have on things that are superficial. It means admitting to myself that I really do know what I want from romantic relationships and not settling for less - and it may mean letting go if it becomes apparent that my needs cannot be met within the parameters of the relationship. It means knowing and owning the truth instead of living in denial about it; it means admitting to myself that sometimes things don't work out, even though we may desperately want them to. It means proactively working for my own healing and admitting that I may need help in some areas, then finding that help. It means being more physically active and not wasting my time doing things that don't bring me joy, harmony, or happiness.

So here's to the new year - 2012. May it be blessed - and may I be a blessing to others as I live in and through it.