A Self-Care Plan for Hillary Clinton

       Self-care can be a fantastic flower pant suit!

       Self-care can be a fantastic flower pant suit!

In an article in the New York Times by Marisa Meltzer, December 10, 2016 Soak, Steam, Spritz: It’s All Self-Care  wrote that Google searching for information on self-care “peaked in search interest popularity from November 13 through November 19, the largest increase in the last five years.”   

I read the article with interest as I am a bit of a self-care expert as well as a self-proclaimed “Dr. Kevorkian of Dreams”.  As I read about how folks were seeking methods of self-care, I wondered if Hillary was one of the people googling for guidance and if so, I had some guidance that might help her with her self-care in a more significant way than a bath, a meditation practice and/or an aromatherapy spray.    

As we all know, Hillary’s life did not work out as she had planned. Like so many of us, Hillary, invested time, energy, resources, and a whole lot of money into making her dream a reality. While I dare not compare myself to Hillary, I do know a lot about disappointment on a major dream. I spent almost ten years, 100K, and went through a whole lot of pain, poking and prodding in order to have a much longed for baby---and all the prayers, pain, effort and egg stimulation led to an extremely disappointing outcome---I never had a child of my own. While my being childless, not by choice, is not even close to being in the same ballpark as Hillary not winning the presidency, my loss motivated me to learn a lot about the subject of life after loss. I have interviewed many people who gave up dreams of a career, a business, a marriage and a dream home--- there is a common pattern and path to go from their grief to their next happy.

I have compiled a super abbreviated self-care playbook for Hillary, and/or anyone else who is struggling with life not turning out as you planned, whether that be due to not winning the election, not having a long dreamed of child, a marriage falling apart or not getting the house of your dreams----whether or not the address is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 

1) Call the time of death on the dream
This one isn’t so easy but it is vital. Accepting the reality that the dream is over is hard to do.  There are stages of this---starting with the behavioral (no longer acting on trying to make the dream a reality) to eventually moving into motivational death (losing the motivation), cognitive death (not thinking about it all the time) and eventually having emotional death (not having the same intense feelings about the dream).

This is hard to do when people on the sidelines keep insisting that you need to keep trying and that you should “never, ever, ever give up!” and that there is indeed a way to turn it around. Now I am not in anyway making commentary about what Hillary should or shouldn’t do, I am just saying that it is indeed an act of self-care and important in moving on, to say to yourself and others---I am done with this dream, I accept this reality. One of the most difficult things I ever did was accept the reality that I was never going to have a child of my own; it was also the beginning of a new life. My life began the day I stopped trying to conceive.   

2) Grieve the dream
Allow yourself to feel all you feel. Cry. Scream. Yell. Let it out. Have a private temper tantrum. Stuffing your feelings and pretending you are fine is a sure fire way to not move on. We live in a culture where we aren’t so okay with grief. We judge people who are down for feeling so---but as a therapist, as a fellow griever of a dream, I can tell Hillary and anyone else who is grieving a dream that it is absolutely essential to allow the grief. Don’t let people push you to feel something other than you feel. No, you might not want to cry in public or on CNN, but you need time and space to have what is a total normal reaction to loss: sadness and anger.

3) Expect the ugly stepsisters of emotion to show up
There are emotions that are going to show up as you are grieving the dream that aren’t socially acceptable. We aren’t okay with people feeling anger and envy---but these feelings are a normal part of the grief of a dream. When we reject these feelings and beat ourselves up for having them, we are likely to trigger shame. For example, let’s say that Hillary had a whole lot of icky, angry and resentful feelings while she watched Mr. Trump get sworn into office---would you blame her? I don’t think you would. I wasn’t able to go to a baby shower for five years after giving up on my dream of being a mother, and Hillary has stoically RSVP’d to attend Mr. Trump’s swearing in. I would just invite Mrs. Clinton to expect that the ugly step siblings of emotions to be attending with her and to give herself a break for every less than magnanimous thought she has.

4) Get support
While there aren’t a lot of support groups for people who lost the election, no matter how obscure your demographic of grief is, there are people who will understand. It is a comfort to know that you aren’t alone in the grief. For Hillary, Al Gore might be a source of comfort—he knows this pain. For the rest of us, seeking a support group, therapy or any place where we can process the lost dream and fully allow our grief is important.

5) Don't too quickly get into a new dream
People love to tell us when you fall off the horse to get back on. Stay off the horse for a minute. When you are in active grief is not the time to make big decisions. Run again? Not run again? It isn’t the time to decide. I see again and again that when folks try to minimize their pain by too quickly mobilizing into a Plan B that they often exacerbate their grief.

6) Tell people to keep their clichés to themselves
 It is likely that Hillary will here some of the following: "That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, “Everything happens for a reason”, “Every cloud comes with a silver lining”.  You have my permission Hillary, not that you need it, to tell them to keep their clichés to themselves and let them know that sometimes “Sh*t happens!"

7) Understand why you wanted it so much
I think Hillary has this one down, her vision was clear. But for the rest of us, it is important in moving on from an unrealized dream, to figure out just why we wanted that job, that relationship, that baby so darn much. Figuring out the why of the want is an important element of moving on from a lost dream.

8) Make space for your "Next Happy"
When we have done all of the above, having really given space for the grief and figured out why you wanted it so much, then it is time to start noticing where your energy is going, and what you want to do that isn’t so much a dream, but rather an interest. Letting yourself want something again and not too quickly turning it into an all consuming passion---lightly allowing yourself to want is how happiness starts to sneak in after the death of a dream. I was convinced that I could never be happy without what I wanted most, and I was wrong---and countless people I have interviewed who, like Hillary, had a single consuming passion for a single outcome, when forced to let go of that dream went on to a happiness they never could have imagined (even if for a time they thought they would never be happy without it)---it just takes time to get there, and it is unlikely she would reach that phase by January 20
th.


 

Two Letters to Self-Care: N-O!

Friday Flower Self-care tip:  Notice your 'no'. How many times today have you found yourself saying 'yes' to things you really want to say 'no' to? Start by noticing how many times a day you are saying 'no' to yourself by pleasing others.

Friday Flower Self-care tip:  Notice your 'no'. How many times today have you found yourself saying 'yes' to things you really want to say 'no' to? Start by noticing how many times a day you are saying 'no' to yourself by pleasing others.

Yes and I used to have a problem, 'yes' liked to sneak out and take the place of 'no', or 'maybe', or 'let me think about it'.  Yes was friendly, agreeable and everyone liked it when it showed up, it was like a golden retriever puppy. But 'no', no one wanted my 'no'. 'No' never made people smile or happy or give them the impulse to pet you or give you a treat.

“Would you?” “Could you?” “Can you?” “Will you?” All of these perfectly innocent sentence prefixes would put me into a panic, the way some might panic at heights, small spaces or the news that a hive of bees had taken nest in their walls.

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Very often after being asked, I knew the answer was anything but the affirmative no. “No, I don’t want to go. “No, I don’t have the time. “No, I would prefer to do anything else in the world than go to a hockey game.  “No, I really don’t have the time to do this huge favor for you. “No, I would rather clean toilets than go to Nascar. But I wanted to be nice and I didn’t want to hurt their feelings and so my voice would raise an octave or two to a tone that was unrecognizable to most humans, something between a dolphin squeak and a dog whistle, “Yes, I would love to!”, I would effuse. And then, just as soon as the insincere but seemingly nice yes had been uttered I would descend into a world of regret.  I would, depending on how insincere my yes was, be consumed and possessed with “Why the hell did I say that?” 

I would then go with one or two ways. Way #1 isn’t so embarrassing, way #2 is so awful and ego dystonic that I find myself dreading to write the sentence---so let me start with way #1. Way #1 was just dread, regret, and recrimination and self-attack for saying yes to something I didn’t really want. There are some yeses that I still, decades later, cringe at and have to watch how long I let myself review them, as they have the quality of a dangerous solar eclipse to my soul and if one looks at these types of “I should have said no” too long one can be blinded and see nothing but shame and soon are stuck in a dark world of shame and regret---I do not advise looking too long at regrets not spoken such as “No, I don’t want to go out with you and I most definitely don’t want to have sex with you.” The other way, Way #2, was, that I would say yes and then I would spend all my free time, giving up hobbies and sleep, trying to get out of the obligation. I would talk about it with friends, lovers, and therapists, “I said ‘yes’, now how to get out of it?” Then wise, mature and high-minded people would advise me, “Just tell them the truth.” That advice seemed absurd to me as: “You should definitely get a perm” or “It is probably best not to study for finals”, and “No, definitely don’t save for retirement--- just play the lottery.”

You see, I had somewhere gotten it into my noggin that to be good, kind, nice and affable was more important that answering the question honestly. I had learned that the way to be liked was to be accommodating. Wanting to be nice had me being nice to others and not so nice to me.  And it never occurred to me that the cost of all this niceness, deception and insincerity was cruelty, self-harm and the antithesis of niceness to myself. But for so long I got the message from myself and a handful of others, that I didn’t matter that I just ignored the fact that all of this yes-ing was hurting me.

My therapist, Oprah, and all the self-help books I read continued to encourage me to speak my truth and that if my answer was 'no' that I should actually say it. It all made a certain amount of sense. But how?  How does one say no? I remember hearing author Anne Lamott say, “'No' is a complete sentence.” I loved the concept that you could say no and that was enough. And some other wise person informed me that if I couldn’t say no then I never really could say yes, that both my yeses and noes were usually not real or authentic, I didn’t know what they meant and yet I liked it.

I know that no isn’t a difficult word to say, it is not like it is otorhinolaryngologist, it is just two simple little letters. However, it took time and effort to learn how to say 'no'. It took time for me to learn that I am allowed to say 'no' and that I can still be nice, liked, and loved. It still isn’t always easy for me, and unlike Anne Lamott, it is rarely a full sentence for me---I often need to say something to soften the ‘no’ blow. But I can tell you that for me learning to say ‘no’ was a major act of self-care and has been life-changing. I have even mastered the “I thought the answer was yes but on second thought my answer is no”, which is the graduate level of self-care, self-kindness and truth telling.

'No' and I have become friends, and even though I sometimes bristle when I know that someone wants a 'yes' from me and that I simply can’t give it to them. 'No' may not be a golden retriever, but it is a self-protective pal that protects me from guilt, self-harm, self-neglect and a fortnight of “why did I say that?”And for that I thank it and have a metaphorical Milk Bone with its name on it. 

 

 

Saying Yes: How Yes Can be Self-Care

Friday Flower Self-Care Tip: Saying yes to self-care can feel indulgent and even selfish---however feelings aren't facts. Self-care is NOT selfish. Something as simple as asking for just a little help can be major self-care. Go on, just for today, ask for a little help and see how good it feels.

Friday Flower Self-Care Tip: Saying yes to self-care can feel indulgent and even selfish---however feelings aren't facts. Self-care is NOT selfish. Something as simple as asking for just a little help can be major self-care. Go on, just for today, ask for a little help and see how good it feels.

Have you ever really needed help, like really, and someone said, “Can I do anything for you?”  Would you like me to go with you and sit with you while your husband has surgery? Can I run this errand for you? Would you like me to come over and be with you for a while?  I am stopping at Starbucks, can I pick up anything for you? And you knew that the answer was really an unequivocal yes. Yes, it would mean so much if you could stop by with a casserole. Yes, I would like it if you came over. And even as every single thing in you wanted to say yes that there was something, some horrible, awful, part of you said instead, “No, I am fine. Thanks for asking, but I am fine. Don’t want to be a bother.”

I have had two friends in the last couple of weeks ask me if they could help and I could feel that “No, I don’t want to be a bother” voice wanting to decline their request. I could hear that inner monologue of worrying about inconveniencing, feeling needy, feeling like it was too much to ask and yet even as I heard the barrage of reasons I should refuse their kindness-- I also knew that I needed them. I knew that if I said no to them that I would feel sad, alone and have had a need go unmet that could have been met.

Yes, it is a pain in the ass for my girlfriend to drive across the Los Angeles freeways to come and hang with me for two hours, but the truth is that I wanted and needed to see her and she knew that when she offered to come over. If I said 'no' I would be rejecting a gift of her friendship by refusing her generous offer just because it was “inconvenient”(my words not hers). I am sure that if I were to ask my friend if she felt inconvenienced, that she would say no, that she too got something out of being there for me---that is what friends do for each other.  And I know for sure that if I asked her and she had said, “Yes, I would like you to come over.  Yes, I would like you to sit with me in the waiting room as I wait for my beloved to have surgery, that I would like you to sit with me, laugh with me, distract me from my anxiety", that I would have been there in a second without thinking twice. But when it is my turn to say yes I need help, it feels vulnerable and dependent and that is not my deal. However, by letting myself need others I am doing self-care for myself and for the health of my relationships (which are very much part of my self-care).

So often those of us who refuse the offers of kindness from friends and family, they are the first to be there for others. There can be lots of reasons why we don’t accept people’s offers—maybe we don’t feel deserving, maybe it feels vulnerable and scary to let ourselves need others, and maybe there is something deeply self-protective in not letting ourselves need. Some of us have learned in past relationships that we aren’t entitled to have needs, or that when we have,  we have been let down by people so we stop expecting anyone to be there for us. Maybe we have had people hold over our heads their acts of kindness and so we don’t want to put ourselves in that situation again.  So when you come up against a need that someone who is safe, respectful and who is authentically and genuinely wanting to be there for us, it can be important to assess, “Why am I afraid to say 'yes' here? Is there anything that I believe can happen to me by accepting this act of kindness?” and if there isn’t then it can be helpful to look at the past and see what we have learned about counting on others and how that is impacting what we can accept now. 

Here is the truth, and I say this as much for you as I say it for me, we are all humans and we all have needs and none of us, none of us are able to get through life without help from others—none of us. We are a species that requires others for our survival, interdependency is healthy and normal and to be expected. Yes, people sometimes go too far and they become dependent and codependent and they expect another to meet all of their needs---and that is a different topic for a different day---but that is not what I am talking about today.  What I am talking about and what I want you, me, and all of us to know, is that when people who care about us offer to do something for us, they as autonomous adults, are making a choice. We have to trust them to take care of their own needs and know that they wouldn’t offer to do something that they sincerely didn’t want to do. So, when someone wants to help and you truly and genuinely need that help----it is not only self-care to accept that help, it is working through beliefs that you need to be completely self-reliant and independent(and all of that is good stuff).

As I write this post, my friend is in her BMW driving cross-town. She is traveling four crowded L.A. freeways to come and hang out with me. When she asked me that simple, loving and genuine question, “Do you want me to come over?” I almost said 'no' , I almost went to the default, “I am fine. I don’t want to be a bother.” But I didn't do the default, instead I trusted that this friend wouldn’t offer something if she wasn’t sincere about it and so I let her come. Instead of saying no, in a few minutes when she arrives, I am going to say “thank you”. 

The Secret Formula to Self-Love

Friday Flowers: Fall is a time of shedding what is no longer enriching to make room for the new, what act of self-loathing might you want to shed this fall? We don't shed bad habits unless we replace them with new good ones. What one good habit would enrich your fall? And I'm not talking about adding a pumpkin spice latte. ;)

Friday Flowers: Fall is a time of shedding what is no longer enriching to make room for the new, what act of self-loathing might you want to shed this fall? We don't shed bad habits unless we replace them with new good ones. What one good habit would enrich your fall? And I'm not talking about adding a pumpkin spice latte. ;)

I wanted to call this post Tina Turner and Self-care, but this post has absolutely nothing to do with Tina Turner--- having said that I bet Tina Turner has a lot to teach on the subject. One doesn’t still rock “Proud Mary” at 77 years old and survive and thrive after an abusive marriage without learning a whole lot about self-care; that, however, is another fish to fry on another Friday. What I am referencing today is Tina’s classic anthem, “What’s love got do with it”, and by love, I am talking self-love and it has a lot to do with it.

In a land far away and a  time long ago (long enough ago that there was a scrunchy in my hair and I hadn’t even considered a career in counseling) I remember sitting on my therapist’s couch in a metaphoric pile of ashes, reviewing of all of my flaws, failings and imperfections in alphabetical order, and my therapist interrupting my tirade with the Captain Obvious interpretation of the day, “You don’t love yourself, do you?” My internal answer was a resounding, “No sh*t Sherlock” with a little valley girl, “no, duh!” thrown on top to punctuate the veracity of his no-brainer of a query.  Self-love? Ha! Laughable.  

No, self-love was not in my wheelhouse at the time. But even as I said no, that I didn’t, I sort of didn’t know what he meant by it. I didn’t really know how one did self-love. I mean generally, I knew the difference between those who expressed self-love in their behavior and those who didn’t. I could see when someone did self-love and someone didn’t---I just didn’t know How they did it. I saw self-loving people as inherently confident and I believed they had some kind of unexplainable magical ability to see themselves as worthy, how they generally didn’t talk crap about themselves, and had boundaries and self-respect. But how did that happen? Who the hell knows.  I didn’t. I thought it was something one did or did not have, kind of like dimples. I assumed that my messed up childhood meant that I wasn’t able to develop self-love, that it was a done deal and that I was cooked and doomed, and determined to be a non-self-lover just as I was right-handed and had freckles. Yes, I had read the books that told me that I could and should learn to love myself, but just saying “I love you, Tracey” didn’t do bupkis for me.

And this my friends, is where self-care came in. You, like me, may think that self-care and self-love are related, that if you went to Ancestry.com you could see that they are second cousins twice removed, but I would say they are sneaky synonyms of a sort---and sort of like identical cousins (if you are old enough to have seen The Patty Duke Show you might know what I am talking about here). My thesis, and I have facts, evidence and proof that it is true (I am a therapist), that continued and consistent self-care is a surefire way to develop self-love, even if you don’t have a drop of self-love right now----through consistent self-care you are treating yourself like you matter and when you do self-care daily, weekly, and beyond that, sneaky things happen.  By treating yourself like you would a beloved (through taking care of yourself, by being responsive to yourself, and by paying attention to your needs) you end up having boundaries, self-esteem, self-respect, and ultimately self-love. It doesn’t happen right away, but with time and consistent self-care, it will happen. I tell you this not just as a therapist, but as a previous non-self-lover, I know that self-care creates self-love, I know it as someone who went from feeling genetically and permanently incapable of self-love to someone who, warts and all, actually loves herself. In time my self-love, through consistent self-care, turned into self-esteem, self-confidence and even self-possession, these were all states of self that I felt sure I would never achieve.

If you are equally confounded by self-love as I was and you don’t know where to start, you might want to start with this simple question: “If today I was to treat myself like someone I love what would I do differently?” If that leads to nothing, then start with something as small and simple as drinking water when you are thirsty, going to bed when you are tired, noticing how you feel, listening to yourself around your preferences and saying no when you mean it---these are all good ways to improve your self-care and ultimately your self-love. Trust me, self-care is much much more than that.  You will see how deep self-care can go when you’ve had a chance to read An Invitation to Self-Care, but if you know that self-love and you aren’t exactly pals, then just starting with some act of kindness is a tangible step in the right direction.

On other news fronts, I am super excited to announce my YouTube Channel!  Here is the first in my Vlog series about An Invitation to Self-Care, I hope you check it out. Also, please like the video, if you do, and subscribe to my Youtube channel! Thanks and take good care of you!!

An Invitation to Self-Care

This tale may sound like a modern fairly tale — an allegory, a metaphor – but it’s a true story that I see play out in therapy time and time again, and it is the reason self-care is the REAL secret to happiness:

Once upon a time there was a girl named Elizabeth. Her busy parents had little time to care for her, or for themselves, and she left adolescence sad, mad, angry, not knowing who she was or what she wanted. Her parents hadn’t cared for her as she wished, and so she expected other people to make her feel what she wanted to feel – a man to make her happy, a boss to make her feel important, and her mother to make her feel special. 

She hadn’t a clue what her needs really were or how to meet them. She would stay up, fueled up on caffeine and cigarettes, to meet the irrational demands 

of her boss. She ignored the heartburn and heart palpitations she had, claiming she had no time to go to the doctor and hoping that her workaholism would be rewarded by a promotion.  She ignored the snide comments her boyfriend made about her weight and his ogling other women, feeling that if she overlooked these behaviors and said nothing, he would love her forever and never leave. 

Despite difficult weeks at work, she would spend her weekend running around doing her mother’s bidding, doing errands for her, running to Target, and as a treat to compensate for herself she would pick up a bag of Cheetos and a bottle of Smirnoff, so as to finally be the favorite daughter, the role she never had.  In her mid thirties Elizabeth, and women like her, come into therapy tired, worn out, in poor physical health, and all because they have tried everything to get the love, admiration, and success that they so desperately wanted---everything, that is, but self-care. It never occurred to Elizabeth that the feelings and needs she so desperately wanted could be met by herself through self-care. 

 Now she does – and she has the apartment with a view of a park that she loves, a boyfriend who brings her joy, and a job that she loves waking up to every single morning. Or as Elizabeth explains, “It wasn’t until I started practicing dramatically different self-care, that I saw myself as worthy and not only did my life improve, but so did my relationships. You attract what you think you deserve. People treat you as good as you treat yourself.”

 When I got into practice as as a therapist, I began to see that the way forward for almost every patient’s problem (from depression and anxiety to codependency, low self-esteem, and unhealthy relationships) began with better self-care, but few of my patients had ever been taught how to do it either. A light bulb went off for me -- and I realized that we are a nation that doesn't know how to take care of ourselves because no one ever showed us how to do it. We love our gurus who show us how to be perfect at things like dieting, exercise and balancing a checkbook -- but we need someone to show us how to take care of ourselves every day, in every realm, in the grey areas when perfection isn't ever gonna’ happen.

 This is where my new book comes in, An Invitation to Self-Care: Why Learning to Nurture Yourself Is the Key to the Life You've Always Wanted, 7 Principles for Abundant Living! This book is the first-ever holistic look at self-care across every area of your life. In my new book, I look into why we don’t engage in self-care and how to truly; finally, and absolutely take care of yourself in every area of your life. Mileage may vary, but odds are very good that when you start improving your self-care that you will dramatically improve every area of your life and the relationships you have with other people. 

I can’t wait to share this book with you. Sadly it is not available until 4/4/17; however, it is available for pre-order now. To get ready for the book launch, I am going to be sharing lots here on the topic self-care. I look forward to going on this journey of self-care with you.

 Take good care of you!

Very sincerely,

 

A Post Without Piña Coladas

Lo the many years ago I dreamed of writing in Paris.  You know the fantasy? Sitting in your lovely garret overlooking the Île de la Cité,` and the great American novel comes flowing out of your fingertips. In Paris you are no longer you—no.  In Paris, you are the you that is a brilliant writer who is possessed by the muse. In Paris, you know nothing of writer’s block, procrastination or a desire to waste an afternoon looking at Alexa Chung’s Instagram.  In Paris, you write like Hemingway, Nin, Henry Miller and Rimbaud in a mélange more delicious than anything served up at Ladurée. In Paris, writing is easy peasy and bien sur brilliant.

Before I had even booked a flight on Air France, I remember my fantasy being punctured by an American writer who wrote a lot about writing in Paris.  It was Eric Maisel, Ph.D. the author of Writers Paris and his wise interventions that if you want to write in Paris,  you need to start writing where you are. Ouch!  I remember when I read Maisel’s wise “stop-using-Paris-to-procrastinate” words stinging hard.   I had, like many before me, fallen into "that in the perfect place/in a perfect circumstance, I will be able to do this thing I want to do and I will do it perfectly.”  I felt like I had been caught in a whopper of a delusion and felt more than a little embarrassed that I had fallen into such a doozy of a fanciful Francophile fantasy (kind of like that feeling when you realize you accidentally tucked your dress into your tights and have been walking around with your derrière exposed—not that I have ever done such a thing).

Eric Maisel bitch slapped me metaphorically with his ‘stop screwing around and waiting for Paris’ advice and because of his intervention,  I have stopped using the “when I get to Paris” excuse.  Thank you Eric! However, I have new versions of this insidious lie that could use some challenging. You know the lies.  Perhaps you have indulged in a few?  I need my desk to be clean before I can begin this project.  I need new workout shoes before I can take a walk.  I need the kitchen to be remodeled before I can throw a party.  I need to lose weight before I can start dating.  I need to clear out the garage before I can call the repairman.  I need to know everything before I can do anything; lies, lies, lies—all of them---a pack of lies.

I have imagined this day for a long time now, the day when I returned to blogging. It was a day when I had that big project done.  The day that I didn’t have other things due and I would have time, space and perhaps a Piña Colada in my hand.  Well, the projects are done and things due are turned in, but time and space and Piña Coladas are not in hand---but I am here anyway. I decided to challenge the lies and half-truths that I need things to be a certain way.  That there are ducks that need to be in a row, cats that need to be herded and Piña Coladas need to be poured, I don’t.  I don’t need everything to be perfect before I do what I want to do.

What needs do you tell yourself to come first that are simply not true? How about these? Workout when you feel like it? Not likely.  Write when you are inspired? Ha!  Be anxiety free before trying something new? No way, not possible.  Mastery before trying something? Lie. Perfection before self-love? Definite big whopper of a lie. These are all pre-requisites I used to believe and have all moved into the “Paris is the answer” file.

These phony-bologna created pre-requisites aren’t real, we make them up. Yes, first things sometimes need to come first, but we also need to challenge Paris, Piña Coladas and the need for ducks to be in a line. Call the handyman, sign up for the class, get on the dating service, love yourself now, throw the party and start writing while in Peoria. Don’t wait. Perfection will never come. Ducks will never be in a row, never---it’s not what ducks do.

Ever Upward to My Next Happy by Justine Brooks Froelker

There somethings I wouldn't wish on anyone( enduring infertility treatment that doesn't lead to the much longed for child is such a commonality), however it is also really nice to have friends who really gets it.  Justine Brooks Froelker is such a friend. We also have some other important stuff in common, we are book therapists and we both write about how to move Ever Upward to our Next Happy. I invited Justine to share her Next Happy story with you here and she accepted. Thank you, Justine! Justine Brooks Froelker is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator (based on the research of Brené Brown) with a private practice in St. Louis, Missouri. She is the author of her book and blog, Ever Upward, and an advocate for breaking the shamed silence surrounding infertility, loss and recovery. She also writes for St. Louis Health & Wellness magazine, The Huffington Post and appears regularly on the mid-day television show Great Day St. Louis.


 

justine_6111-1 The same concept, much the same path and similar outcomes all to forge in an eerily parallel story to a friendship I am beyond grateful for.

After trying to be a mom to no avail and choosing to redefine my own happy ending, or rise ever upward, I quickly found my fellow warrior in Tracey and her next happy. There are days that my comparison gremlins get the best of me and tell me that perhaps Tracey is far ahead on her next happy while I am still trudging through the dark in rising ever upward. And yet I know those gremlins do not speak my truth. Nevertheless, we both are women who shine the light on topics not many want to discuss or discuss in the way we have found to be healthy, albeit difficult.

My life circumstances have forced me to build a foundation of redefining my dreams and finding my next happy. Two back surgeries, a year in a body cast, failed infertility treatments and life without my own children are enough to make anyone bitter. However, rising ever upward means finding the dream and talent of counseling and psychology, defining my own happy ending and parenting the world.

My next happy has been seeking and practicing other ways to parent even though my dreams of becoming a mother in the traditional sense of the definition of a mother did not come true.

This means parenting my pets, all my chosen children in my life, my faith and my clients. Recently, it has also meant parenting through connecting with nature as I have become quite the accidental monarch butterfly farmer.

Finding unexpected parenting roles means choosing what my legacy is, even if not left in carrying on my husband’s last name, his athletic genes and my passionate personality.

I have also learned that my next happy must include the dark fog that can settle in through comparison and scarcity, especially as a woman who feels like she does not fit in much in our society. The fog that settles over me as I work as an infertility, loss and recovery advocate diligently shouting my story and trying to change the conversation.

Whether you call it your next happy or rising ever upward, it is a journey and not a destination. It will include many bumps, bruises, turns and even some deep dark pot holes you must dig your way out of.

The path is not our choice but how we respond and take this path to our happy is our choice. This is the work of both mine in Ever Upward and in Tracey’s Next Happy.

Choosing to live our lives from the place of love and to respond in ways that honor all of our story and not live from the place of fear and simply react to what has happened to us.

This is the work we all must choose.

This is the work of rising Ever Upward to define our Next Happy!

~~~

UnknownPlease check out Justine's new book, Taking Flight: An Ever Upward Coloring Book. Through coloring pages and journaling prompts, Taking Flight guides the reader through the miraculous life cycle of the monarch butterfly while leading the reader to draw parallels to their own life journey and struggles.

Clean your closet, change your life

Unknown-1I know I am late to the party on this one, but I did know about it for a long time---I just didn't think it was for me. I first heard about it a year ago when a friend mentioned Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying  Up: A Simple Effective Way to Banish Clutter Forever book to me while we breakfasted on French Toast, "I think you might like this book," my friend suggested. I nodded amicably and responded in my head in the same way as when acquaintances suggested that I might want to come to their Amway presentation.  A book on tidying up was not for me. Don't get me wrong, I love a tidy house; my house is clean and neat and, I suppose, was even tidy---that is with a few key exceptions. My drawers, shelves and closets were, shall we say, less than what Martha Stewart, my mother, or anyone who frequents Containers R Us might approve of.  Yes, I knew I could benefit from organizing, but I was a busy woman and color coordinated containers fell extremely low on the priority list. I simply wasn't interested. I had a particularly bad day where I felt ick, ennui, and like everything that could go wrong did go wrong. And there was a sense of feeling not as appreciated as I might in a situation that was totally out of my control. A friend of mine who has been  a fanatic clutter buster for decades and has long tried to get me to convert to her personal religion, suggested  upon hearing of my feelings gave me the following assignment as a means of ameliorating my agitation, "Get rid of ten things that you don't appreciate." On that particular day she could have suggested drinking pickle juice, doing the Hokey Pokey while listening to polka versions of the best of Metallica and I would have done it. So, I did it. And as soon as I got started I started to notice just how much stuff I was holding onto that I didn't like, that didn't resonate with me and that I no longer appreciated. It was obvious that there was some unciounsess and psychological issues in why I was holding onto much of this stuff. Just ten items and I could feel there was  a lot more to be done.

Five minutes later I downloaded Marie Kondo's book. An hour later and I was watching videos on Youtube on how to master Kondo's unusual folding methods, a half hour after that and I had learned to turn my tee-shirts into adorable little vertical packets and I liberated my socks from the cruelty of their cramped constraints. Two days later and I had touched everything in my closet to test, as Marie Kondo suggests, if each and every item "sparked with joy". The core of Marie's text is that we need to stop holding onto objects that we no longer love. She wants us to engage with each item and only keep things if we really-really-really love them, and not because "they were expensive" or they are a good basic, or maybe some day we will need them. As I engaged in this spark test I was astonished to see how attached I was to keeping a pair of pants that were itchy and made me feel frumpy and the reason I didn't want to let them go were that they were designer and that they weren't cheap. However, the offending pants were never ever worn and just took room in my closet, and their presence in my closet made me feel sort of guilty and bad; into the bag of things to donate they went.

7453bf147169f856ccf49d30ebf5e43dI will admit that I didn't follow Kondo's methods to the letter. I didn't take everything out of my closets and drawers and put them all on the floor. I didn't dress up as I tidied. I forget with great regularity to empty my handbag at the end of the day( Kondo believes handbags are happier if we let them breathe empty at the end of the day. Yes, I know, it sounds a bit wacky---but I know I am much happier if I take out receipts, rappers and deitrus that I accumulate during the day) and my shoes very often go unthanked( Kondo also believes in thanking our objects for their usefulness, which I can get behind as a kind of symbolic awareness of being grateful for what I have created in my life and not because I believe my shoes will be any happier or unhappier if I thank them not---I don't believe my shoes are capable of happiness. However, I do believe I am happier when I am appreciative of what I have). And, countering what Kondo says,  I don't really believe I will never have to do this again. Kondo says if you do this once you will never have to do it again, however, I believe as we evolve, change and grow what sparks joy in us will change and so we will have to keep asking the question. In three short weeks I have found some that things that sparked joy when I initially did this and now they spark something more like ambivalence and hence they have gotten the ax too.

the-life-changing-magic-of-tidying-up_quoteMy results that came from following the advice in this book were nothing short of magical. I easily donated 30 bags of stuff to Goodwill and got very clear on why I am holding on to things that I don't like( fear, guilt, and scarcity). My closets and shelves are so gorgeous that I have been accused of being a pod person and that perhaps the real Tracey has been captured by aliens. It has been almost a month and each and ever closet, drawer and shelf is as pristine as my first day of Kondosizing.  I cleared out my garage( a full day ordeal in 95 degree weather in which I let go of tons of stuff from childhood and pervious relationships that absolutely do not sparkle with joy), my kitchen, and bathroom and all that remains are things that I really-really-really love.

imagesPlease don't get me wrong, this is very hard work. Engaging with your stuff and facing your past and seeing how you are holding onto stuff you don't like is not easy. It was emotional to go though almost five-decades worth of stuff and be brutally and unflinchingly honest about what really brings me joy. The challenge, however, was totally worth it. The real magic that comes after all this tidying and spark testing is so extraordinary that I feel unable to adequately communicate my passion or enthusiasm for it( a second blog post on the topic is necessary, in which I will make the point about how in a way Kondo's  book is sort of a Next Happy book and that both books get you clearer about what you really really want and make you face why you are holding onto what isn't working. Stay tuned for a post on that) isn't about being tidy or having shelves that look like you have magical cleaning elves at your disposal, no, the real magic is that after I did all of this I realized that I was letting all kind of things into my life, my home, my closet, and even my mind, that didn't really spark for joy.  I had a lot of stuff that was making me feel the opposite of joy.  This process made me aware of the scarcity, anxiety, and fear that made me settle or say yes to what I didn't want.  And it made me want to only surround myself with things that I really and truly love, and to not say yes out of ease, expediency, or convenience.

Whether or not you decide to Kondosize your house, I do hope that you think about only letting things in your life that spark joy and letting go of what isn't working for you so you can get to your Next Happy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rQeR6s75Ss

My Next Happy by Laura Munson

lauraheadshot1-225x300I am delighted to have my friend, role-model, mentor, and fellow ex-Lake Forest and Bluffer here today to share her Next Happy story with you.  For those of you who don't know Laura, she wrote the New York TImes best-selling memoir, This is Not the Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness. I met Laura first through her book and I loved the book so much that it lead me to reach out to her and tell her so, we have been friends ever since. Laura has an incredibly inspiring story that is VERY much a Next Happy Story.  Life definitely didn't go as she planned and because she had the courage to let go of that life and move on, Laura definitely got to her next happy( spoiler alert: her Next Happy is  the Haven Writing Retreats that she created). I know you will find Laura's post as inspiring as I do, thank you so much Laura! Also, today is Laura's birthday---so please wish her a very happy birthday. Thrilled to celebrate Laura, her Next Happy, her amazing retreats, and her birthday with you here today. Enjoy! What if there’s a whole world out there waiting for you to step into, tapping its fingers and toes in anticipation? What if it’s been beckoning you for a very long time, courting you in your dreams, teasing you in snippets of conversation with surprise strangers who say things like take care or have a great day or how are you and really mean it, when some of the main players in your lives don’t? What if you are more powerful than you could ever imagine and your ability to be happy is just as vast? What if the thing that is keeping you away from your happiness and your power is something you can shake off and leave in the dust like a broken flip flop, even though it feels more like a cement boot? What happened to your dreams? And why aren’t they coming true? Why aren’t you happy?

Five years ago, my oldest dream came true. After devoting decades to the writing life in a small mountain town in Montana, tending my little family, I finally had a book published. It had a message that a lot of people wanted to hear, which grew out of my apparently-rare reaction to a marital crisis…and suddenly I had a career as a writer and a speaker, touring the country, doing big media, and speaking at large conventions.   I was scared and excited and deeply happy. I believed in my message: we can create a life that works no matter what hardships we face, by powerfully choosing our emotional reaction to our lives, truly embracing what it is to stay in the present moment, and taking responsibility for our own happiness.

In order to effectively be its messenger, though, I needed an affirmation to repeat in my mind and keep close to my heart. I chose this: I give myself permission to be exactly who I am and have it be easy. For the most part, it worked. Intentional words have a way of doing that. In that season of my life, I was happier and more grounded than I’d ever been. I was making a difference in the world doing what I loved, my marriage and my family were resuscitated, life was joyful.

A few years later, everything changed. Sadly, my marriage needed to end, and this time even more was at stake: my financial stability and that of my children, my family orientation, my career. It was a mean season of post-divorce with all arrows pointing toward losing my house, public shame, and personal misery. The rug everyone warned me about was indeed ripped out from under me and I spun in the wind of chaos and fear. I give myself permission to be exactly who I am and have it be easy felt as far away as the rug which once supported me. Who was I exactly without my family intact? What was intact? Where was my power? Where was my joy? My gut told me that more than any time in my entire life, if I was going to find happiness again, I needed to mine the gold inside me. And my fear was quelled by the fact that I’d been such a “miner” for a long time. If I hadn’t been, who knows what would have happened.

So I asked myself a powerful question: What do I have of value that I can offer the world that would earn me a consistent living? Being a New York Times best-selling author doesn’t mean you are guaranteed financial stability. Speaking gigs required me to leave my children and they needed me at home in that time of uncertainty. It was time to get very very real. Or lose so much of what I’d created for myself and my children. What did I possess that people needed, in the same way they seemed to crave my book’s message and my speaking topics?

Hell-bent to find my gold, I deconstructed the questions from my speaking events and interviews. And I realized that the number one question I was asked had nothing to do with marriage or crisis. It had to do with Voice. Story. Self-acceptance. I had written my way through a difficult time, and other people wanted to do the same. There were people all over the globe dying to tell their stories, but they felt stuck and even desperate.

Over and over again I heard: “Why does my story matter? How do I find the words to tell it? Or the time? Is my voice even interesting or unique? Who cares anyway…it’s all been told before.”

Over and over I said, “Yes, your voice is unique! And so is your story! No one has the same voice or the same story—it’s not possible. And no one can tell it like you. It matters to the world because it matters to you!” But the lifeline that came so easily and naturally to me, was terrifying for most people to grasp…even though they wanted to, deeply. I longed to swoop up all those seekers, bring them to Montana, and teach them what I’d been practicing for years with all my might. To help them sit at that intuitive intersection of heart and mind and craft that is writing. To help them know what I know: The act of writing is a highly transformational and therapeutic tool, regardless if anyone even reads it!

In a moment of totally clarity I saw it: There was a serious hole in our human existence…and I knew a way to fill it. What if I actually did bring people to Montana, gave them the solace of the mountains, lakes, and rivers, communion with other seekers, and plugged them into a design that would have them find their voice, their stories, and set them free? What if I lead retreats? Not just for writers, but for anyone who wants to dig deeper into their self-expression through the written word. There’s not a soul who wouldn’t benefit from that!

And then the inner critic came in. What cred did I have? I’d never led a retreat. I hadn’t really been on many retreats. Montana was far away for most people. Why would they bother? But as I’d instructed so many to do, I remembered that the inner critic is just a scared child who needs a nap, and I cleared my head and came to my senses: I had something that the world needed. And any life-changing service to humanity is worth something in the realm of financial security. Maybe retreats could be my way to re-invention, to have time to write again, to be exactly who I was…and yes, have it be easy.

So I opened up my computer (and my heart), and a design for a five day retreat gushed out of me, as if it had indeed been waiting for me, tapping its fingers and toes. There was the gold! I mined all the things that made my writing practice work. There would be guided writing prompts that interrupted the inner critic and invited people to play like children in the themes and stories of their lives. There would be one-on-one mentoring with me. The chance to give and receive feedback on projects, at all levels and genres. There would be delicious nourishing group meals, and opportunities to get out of your head and into your bodies—long walks, yoga, horses—my three lifelines outside of writing that kept it balanced. There would be time to write in solitude. And lasting community long after the retreat in various forums and consulting opportunities. A workshop, retreat, and community all in one. Heaven. So I called it something very close: Haven.

Before my inner critic could wake up from her nap and tell me how delusional I was, I put it on Facebook: “Anyone want to come on a writing retreat with me in Montana?” And in two hours, twenty-four people signed up.

I had no place to hold Haven, no price point, no experience, and no team. Four months later, I was leading a writing retreat that would soon be ranked in the top three writing retreats in the country. Four years later, I lead eight retreats a year, have worked with almost four hundred people, and been featured on many radio shows and media venues for this powerful retreat experience that has changed lives over and over again. It has certainly changed mine. My life is stable. My children are thriving. And in it all, I fell in love with someone who meets me in a way I never knew possible. I am happy.

It came from asking myself a simple question: How can I serve the world by being exactly who I am? By mining what I have to offer? And offering it in the way only I can?

So…if you are staring down the barrel of a major life shift and the inevitable re-invention that must come from it, why not have your re-invention reflect your deepest truth, and your biggest dreams? Ask yourself: What makes me happy? How do I already show up for it in my life? How can I share that with the world? If you do…you just might find your way to a world of happiness…by being exactly who you are. You might find your Next Happy.

The Ghost of Shame

imagesI recently had an opportunity to visit an old wound, it wasn’t intentional and it sort of took me by surprise. You see, anymore, I just simply don’t get triggered, or hurt or sad when I see babies or pregnant people---I never imagined that I would get to this point back when I was trying to conceive.  I truly couldn’t dream such a place of non-hurt actually existed, and yet that is where I am. It turns out that the land of “I am happy for others when they conceive” is as real as you and me. I do want to say, for the record, that I don’t think I just got there---I think it took a whole lot of work to get to that place where it doesn’t hurt and I am grateful to have arrived. Okay, having said all of that, the other day I learned some joyous news, someone I care about is having a baby and I am VERY happy about that, I am over the moon. I truly and absolutely celebrate in their joy and want every good thing for them. And to be entirely honest there wasn’t the tiniest bit of envy, however something else happened a few short hours after learning the happy news. An old complex haunted me, like a bad ghost out of a Dicken’s novel, it was the “what is wrong with me?” ghost and it had something’s to say. If you have ever tried and tried to make something work ( a job, a relationship, conceiving, or whatever) you may be familiar with this ghost. Here is what this ghost says, not boo”, rather it says “There is something wrong with you, something deeply wrong that you couldn’t make this normal, natural thing happen that millions of others of people can do. If you were okay you would have had the job, the marriage, or the kid and because you don’t have it is evidence that you aren’t okay.” The emotional nature of this ghost’s unwelcome attack is shame, it goes straight for the jugular in its attack.

As soon as that ghost reared his ugly head I was taken a back, “Really?” I couldn’t believe it was visiting and yet there was something in his shame-based attack that stuck in my psychic craw. I sat at the intersection of ‘that is a really stupid attack and totally untrue, there is nothing wrong with you’ and “super good question, there is definitely something wrong with me”. I appreciate that I was at that intersection, and yes I could have done without the “there is something wrong with me” nonsense, however it is MUCH better to have the ability to reality test such absurdity than to believe it absolutely.

I reminded myself of some truths that made the ghost go away, “I didn’t conceive for lots of reasons that are medically based, none of those are about something being wrong with the core of me.” The ghost backed up a bit further and started to look like an extra on the set of Casper the Friendly Ghost. I told the ghost I wasn’t going to entertain him and I shared the ghost’s absurd claims with people I love, that always makes it go away. Its faulty logic never stands up to scrutiny when I share it with others.

How has shame tried to tell you that there is something wrong with you, and that is why you didn’t get what you wanted? What do you do when it haunts you?

I'll have grief with a side of popcorn

sad_films_make_you_overeat_-_popcorn_-_news_of_the_week_-_womens_health__medium_4x3 I haven't done a Movie RX for a while and that is not because there have been a dearth of movies to recommend, the fact is that I am sorely remiss in posting here and for that I apologize. Actually, there are some really great movies out that deal with grief, and feelings in general, in some outstanding  and unusal ways. To make up for my slacking I am going to recommend three films today.

First and foremost, if you haven't seen, Pixar's brilliant new film, Inside Out, you must immediately stop reading this blog and get to your local movie-plex. This film may become one of my most prescribed movies ever.   It is the best movie for making a clear, cogent and clever argument for the indisputable importance of sadness. The only problem with this movie is that it didn't come out before I wrote The Next Happy, and that is a problem only because I would have loved to have this movie to recommend to readers who are going through grief.  It makes the point so brilliantly that  all feelings are important, not just the happy ones. While seemingly this is a kids' movie---it also isn't. The messages of this seemingly fun movie are pretty sophisticated and not exactly easily accessible for kiddos. There are heavy, serious, and life altering messages in this film. Inside Out makes the very important psychological point that if you lose sadness you lose joy too and that sadness serves an important and healing purpose, for that reason alone I wish everyone had to see this movie.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=l8h_6uV7Yzs

Now the next two films you may or may not want to see, but both of them deal with grief and that is why I am so excited about them(Yes, I know that may seem weird). A Little Chaos is a film intended for those of us who love Jane Austen, Downtown Abbey and France. It is a film about a woman who is hired to help design the gardens of Versailles. Sabine de Barra, the heroine, played by Kate Winslett, ( spoiler alert!), lost her husband and daughter in an accident and she has some pretty significant Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. While I personally enjoyed the film a lot,  I am not sure everyone would( you have to like Versailles, period pieces, maybe gardening, and Alan Rickman to get full enjoyment).  The part of the film that perked my psychotherapist ears up particularly was King Louis XIV's  refusal to allow anyone to speak about death at court. There was a lovely scene where Sabine comes to court for the first time. She enters a chamber where there are only women and somehow the other women can see her grief, they start to ask questions and it comes out about the loss of her husband and daughter. The women share their grief with Sabine, their own stories of loss, it is a sort of secret grief support group that happened in the Louvre. The women found away to  find space for feelings and stories that have been forbidden and silenced, they have found a way to not feel alone in their experience. It was a gorgeous scene, to my mind, because it illustrates the point that we absolutely need a place to share our grief and the danger of keeping our sadness, grief and loss locked up and forbidden space. When we don't share ---we feel horribly alone in our pain and even stuck in it. A Little Chaos gets four stars from me for elucidating the value of sharing grief with others.  Beyond that, I was a little unconvinced by the love story, however the fact that it was in France made up for the lack of chemistry between Sabine and André Le Nôtre, the chief landscaper of Versailles. Actually I could just watch four hours of videos of Versailles and I would probably give it four stars, non-francophiles might be harder critics.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=ENSjt4naxlE

Trainwreck is my third Movie Rx for today.  Let me admit to you that I am not a gal who enjoys super crass humor. To say that Bridesmaids was not my cup of tea is to be so understated that it is like calling fuchsia "baby pink" or habenaros a "tad spicy". I just really-really-really don't like to be grossed out. I don't want to have to cover my eyes when I see people behaving badly, it just isn't a fun way for me to spend two-hours. However, the director, Judd Apatow, always brings some underlying psychological sophistication to films and for some reason I felt sort of compelled to see it. I was worried it was a big, bad, and soon to be regretted mistake. I have made some mistakes and gone to Bridesmaids like movies in the past and always wished I could have snuck out, and wondered what the hell I was thinking in choosing to see Burt Wonderstone or Identity Thief. However, even as there were many scenes that required me to cover my eyes and wish that I had ear plugs so I didn't have to hear some of the cringe-worthy dialogue, I really and truly loved the film.  I loved it for a lot of reasons. I loved how it openly turned some of the men/women clichés of romantic comedy around and how Apatow gives us clear insight into why Amy is a Trainwreck. And mostly, what I really loved, is how Trainwreck was a movie about grief.  Spoiler alert: from the beginning we see that Amy is grieving her dad's declining health. She is using men, alcohol and drugs as a way to not feel the reality of the situation.  As her father continues to decline, Amy moves into anger and attempts to alienate all that love her. Trainwreck has so much to teach about how we all can respond to grief( that is why it is funny, it is relatable) even if we don't do it in Amy Schumer fashion. However, for me, the moment that made the entire film Movie Rx worthy is how Amy's boss, played by Tilda Swinton, just days after the funeral, asks Amy, ( and I  am paraphrasing) "Are we still doing this? Grief? I tried it once and I just don't do it." I tried and tried to find the script to quote for you, and sadly you will have to settle for my paraphrasing until you go see it for yourself.  Happily Amy is shocked by her bosses callousness, however there are so many messages that all of us get around our own grief. "Really, you are still grieving this? You should be over this by now." In the film it is funny and shocking , in real life sometimes we don't question that absurd sentiment.  It is a sentiment that needs to be seen as absurd, Amy helps us see that.

I recommend Trainwreck for ADULTS who can tolerate very adult themes, and who don't mind covering their eyes, ears and psyches for little bits of grossness and vulgarity. As tough as a few of the scenes were to watch( yes, I watched every sex scene with my hands over my eyes---it is what I do when I am embarrassed for the character, it is worth enduring to get to the real message of how very hard it is to grieve, the sweet ending of seeing Amy dance, and the unexpected delightful of seeing LeBron James play a parsimonious sentimentalist.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=2MxnhBPoIx4

What movies have you seen lately that you would prescribe? What movies surprised you with deep life lessons that you didn't expect?

Don Draper and the Meaning of Life

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 9.52.38 PMYou don't need to watch AMC's Mad Men to find this post interesting( I hope, at least). That said, I very much hope you are watching this final season of this incredible show as it is especially psychologically compelling this season---so much so that I could barely contain myself after watching last week's episode, "The Forecast isn't Bright" and my psyche decided to literally dream the whole night about Joan, Don and Peggy; I only wish I could remember my dream.However, I can certainly remember the show . As the season and series is coming to a close, our hero, Don Draper is in the not so glamorous stripping away and losing everything phase of his hero's journey, and as he has just lost his ex-wife, his daughter's respect, all his furniture and now his apartment.  All of this loss is making Don wax philosophical, he is asking some seriously important questions. I believe that he is asking questions that we should, I believe, all be asking ourselves---these are Next Happy Questions.

You see, Don Draper, like me, is in the dream business, only his job in advertising has been to sell a dream, where I see mine as as therapist, to help people understand why they have the dream( both the daytime dreams of longing for something that we may spend our entire lives in pursuit of and the night time dreams that we often ignore as totally inconsequential). In my work, I want to help people figure out why they want the dream so much and to not simply accept their dreams as self-evenident and not worth exploring. I see all desires that are not meeting our basic needs as worthy of psychological exploration, whether we have a desire for a new job, a new car, cookies, or a handbag---all desires, I believe, have a deeper motive, such as for love, safety, security, validation, etc.

As Don is in the middle of losing everything he worked so hard to have, he has been given the task of writing a speech in which he has been asked to make the case for the future of his firm, this gets Don to thinking and asking questions of himself and others, questions about bigger existential issues than can be answered in a state of a union address at a company meeting in the Bahamas.   The big question of the episode that Don wants everyone to answer is, "What do you want and what do you want after that?" And, I think, more importantly is the question that comes after that is "and why do you want it? what do you hope it will give you?"

Don asks Sally and her friends what they want to be when they grow up.  He asks Ted what he sees for the future. He asks Peggy what she wants:

PEGGY: I’d like to be the first woman creative director at the agency. DON: But say you get that. What’s next? PEGGY: I’d like to land something huge. DON: And then? PEGGY: Have a big idea. Create a catchphrase. DON: So you want fame. Yes. What else? PEGGY: I don’t know. I’d like to create something of lasting value. DON: In advertising? PEGGY: Yes. DON: What else? PEGGY: I don't know DON: Yes, you do. PEGGY: Create something of lasting value. DON: In advertising? (He laughs). PEGGY:This is supposed to be about my job, not the meaning of life. DON: So you think those things are unrelated? PEGGY: I didn't know you'd be in a mood. Why don't you just write down all of dreams so I can shit on them.

Only, the truth is, Don isn't trying to shit on her dreams. Don knows all about dreams come true. He had all his dreams come true and none of them lead to the feeling, the security, and the love that he had imagined they would lead to. Don, I believe, actually cares about Peggy and, I believe, he is truthfully wanting to disabuse her of chasing dreams that might be equally as illusory. I also think he is hoping that Peggy or Ted or someone, anyone, would give him a goal, a dream, and sell him on it and get him back into believing that there is something out there that will give him the feeling he so very much wants. I understand Peggy's reaction, she wants to hold onto that dream and believes it will give her happiness and is angry at Don for making her look at the larger reasons for why she wants those things. She will not answer his questions.  So, now I ask you:

So, what do you want?

What else do you want?

What do you hope that having that thing will give you?

These are not only Don Draper questions, these are the questions I ask of people in The Next Happy. Knowing what you wanted out of something will help you get clearer about what you really want and it will actually increase your likelihood of getting it, and when I say "it" I am not talking about the dream, I am talking about the quality you hope the dream will give you.

p.s. I have to talk about that picture above, that is Don facing the emptiness. Those two empty chairs, facing them. He is facing an empty apartment. He is facing empty relationships and empty work. I believe that if Don figures out what he really wanted from those things, grieves the loss of the dreams, and gives himself time before jumping into a rebound relationship or rebound goal that he too will find his Next Happy. If only I could send the book back to 1969.

Movie RX of the Week: Departures

One of the many gifts of The Next Happy is that now people want share movies with me: movies that they think I will like, movies that they see The Next Happy themes in and movies that helped them through hard times---and it is awesome. I love how we can see ourselves in movies and how they work as a kind of collective dream, whether we analyze the story or not, movies impact our psyches.  That is why in the book I recommend movies to illustrate the points I make. Happily people are really enjoying this finding the films helpful, and are sharing their movie suggestions with me.  As find more movie that are helpful and healing,  I will share them here and create a Next Happy master list of  movies that will help you when dealing with loss, grief, sadness, letting go of the life you planned, moving on from what isn't working, and getting to the Next Happy. I hope you share your film suggestions with me and that you enjoy the list as it continues to grow. This week's film suggestion is a film that might not be your obvious Friday night date film. However, this is VERY much a Next Happy movie and one that I recommend highly. Departures is a surprisingly gorgeous movie about a guy who had achieved his dream of playing cello in a symphony and then lost it. Daigo, our hero,pragmatically and stoically accepts this death, quickly sells his extremely expensive cello and makes plans to return to his hometown. He is  super pragmatic about this decision and seems more okay about it than I might expect him to be ( we later learn that he has some experience from the past to prep him for loss). This is not a film in which the hero has a hard time giving up on his dream,  he decides, I think, within the first ten minutes of the film that this dream is as dead as the octupus he throws into the river.Hence, this is NOT a film I am recommending to help you decide to let go of a dream( for that I would recommend The Wrestler) rather I am reccomending this film to help you see the importance of being gentle, kind, and patient when dealing with death of any kind, including the death of a dream and the resulting feelings that occur after the loss.

When Daigo, after giving up on his dream, goes back to his hometown he doesn't get the obvious job, teaching cello to would-be musicians, rather he takes a job at what he initially thinks is a travel agency. However, this is not a place where that kind of "departure" happens---this job is  working as an undertaker's assistant. Daigo is initially extremely resistant to this work( as most of us would be) and he never-ever imagines he could be happy doing such work, he is more than a little unsure about accepting the job and even more mortified when he learns all the job requires.

Happiness sneaks in for Daigo ( I am not going to spoil it for you---I really want you to see it) and as great as it is to see a film about people finding their  Next Happy, what I really loved about this film, and what was so very unique,  was the important point this film makes about taking time, tenderness, and care when dealing with death and the transitional time after death---to lovingly, gently, tender, respectfully and ceremoniously make space for the time of transition and not to rush it or be brusk about it. Daigo teaches, with each reverent and loving detail of caring for the dead, that what has died is important and deserves to be sacredly witnessed. When we have had a death of a dream, a job, a career, a realtionship, or anything, we often want to rush through it and cover up the loss, and bury the resulting feelings, this movie discourages that rush.

As I watched the film I found myself wishing that someday, long in the future, that when I die it would be in Japan, or that I would, no matter the location, be treated so lovingly and tenderly when that inevitable time comes. Truly, I was surprised to discover that watching this kind of care made death seem a little less scary, if such  love and respect were present with us as we were no longer here. I know that might not make sense, but that is what I felt as I watched it. I also believe, that if we were to treat the death of a dream, or any loss, with as much tenderness and time, we would likely get to our Next Happy a whole lot sooner. Rushing through, being in a hurry to burry feelings, and not honoring what were loss, I believe, is likely to lead to more denial.  Paradoxical, no?

Not everyone in Daigo's life understands his love of work, and not everyone in our lives will be patient with us if we take time to grieve what we so very much wanted, but Daigo teaches that it is important to do it anyway. He lost friends and more, for sticking with this work that many regarded as dirty and disrespectful. We might get the same push from those around us, "hurry up and get back to life" we may hear in a myriad of ways. Departures teaches the value of taking your time even if others aren't okay with it.

You may, as you read this, be surprised that I found this film uplifting, but it is---and in some ways this movie feels like a love story to me; this film, I believe, celebrates both life and death, in an entirely singular way.I am so grateful to have found this movie and only wish I had seen it sooner, it makes me even more appreciative of being reverent and patient when witnessing our own grief experiences.  I hope you find it as meaningful as I did.

A couple of warnings before you watch it:

1. If you have recently had a death in your family this could be an especially hard film to watch, or it could be especially comforting. Be compassionate to your own reactions and if it feels too hard then stop watching.

2. I would definitely advise you not to watch it while eating a bucket of fried chicken. If you watch it you will know why. Don't ask, just don't eat chicken.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdauCndFMZA

Monsters in our head

46b81fe6d290017abe8cf4402e509ae7Wednesday evening when you were making dinner, watching a movie, doing homework or prepping your taxes I was in the midst of one of the ultimate and highest forms of misery known among modern man; I had a root canal. Yes, and as you expected, I am here to tell you it was horrible, terrible, rotten, miserable, painful, excruciating, and horrid. I'd use more words to describe it but the pain of it has made me a bit lazy and I feel that seven adjectives should give a you pretty good sense of my experience. By Thursday morning I was feeling fine-ish, no more excruciating pain. However, by Thursday evening I could no longer eat solid food and I spent  the night awake in the kind of pain that makes rational adults consider a do-it-yourself guillotine kit. Enough about my tooth pain, it is the psychological part of this event that I really wanted to share with you. I noticed at the height of my pain that I would instead of coo kind words of compassion to myself I would instead amplify the horror by asking myself the most horrid and irrational questions. I asked things like, "What if this pain never-ever-ever goes away?", "What if this lasts forever and you can never eat again?" Huh, what the heck? What kind of awful question is that?Obviously, if this pain endured I would have to see the dentist again and he would do something about it. And, actually, that is exactly what I did. This morning I went into the dentist and he addressed the pain and gave me antibiotics.

As horrid as this experience was ( and it was), it was me and that horrible line of questioning about "what if?" that got me into a totally agitated and irrational state and almost had me in tears. I had poured fuel on the fire and the results were not surprisingly hot, heated and smokey. Happily, within a few moments of asking the question I was able to assess these thoughts for their irrationality, but sometimes that can be hard to do. Sometimes our 'what-if" questions masquerade as concern, as opposed to the anxiety producing fear-monsters that they really are.  And very often we don't answer these kind of questions, seeing them as almost unanswerable and rhetorically terrifying. These kind of anxiety prompting inquiries activate a sense of hopelessness, despair and panic in us---just as they are intended to do, much like "what if that sound in the basement was a robber" or, back from childhood, "What if there is a monster under my bed?".

The best thing to do with, "what if this horrible thing happens?" questions is to not leave them dangling in your mind but to answer them squarely. "Okay, so what if that terrible thing really does happen? Let me give you an answer to that question, if this terrible thing were to happen then there would be a series of things I could do,"  I gently soothed the fear, "if there is a monster under the bed we could scream for our parents, call 911, ask for help, see a dentist, phone a friend--something can be done." Something about coming up with a plan calms the fear-monster, even though the plan is far from detailed. And then I remind myself that I have imagined monsters many times before and they have never never realized, they have never been under the bed when the morning comes. With a simple plan of action the monsters were now out of my head.

Fancy Pants ( Clothing for Personal Growth)

images-1The other day I made a big move in my work life that was way outside of my comfort zone and it felt like a major leap that someone else would make, not a leap that little old me would make, but leap I did just the same. Post-leap I got hit hard with a big wave of "I am in big trouble feeling". It was weird, I wasn't sure exactly who I was in trouble with---but I knew for sure that the feeling was crappy and that I didn't like it and that i wanted it to stop post-haste. When I did a scan of who exactly might be upset with me I thought of my signifigant other and yet that made abzolutely zero sense. I tried to brush off the feeling of "big trouble", only I couldn't. And the rational part of my brain assured me that no one would be upset with me for succeeding. Having done that, I still felt crappy, but tried to shrug off the icky-sticky-yucky feeling that lingered. A bit later I shared the events of the day and the resulting feelings of ick to a good friend who has known me forever. I marveled, "why on earth would I feel like I am in trouble?", expecting the question to linger in the land of rhetorical and unanswerable questions. However, immediately, my wise friend texted back, "Remember ___________________",( name left out to protect the anonymity of the soon to mentioned ick-arouser), "well, he used to tell you 'Don't be a fancy pants, don't get too big for your britches!'" My friend continued, "So, even though he isn't here, you know he would not be okay with this kind of big leap in your life and so you are prepping for his reaction." She was totally right.

This long ago and far away family member was big on calling me a "fancy pants" if I was ever to do anything that made him feel like I was surpassing family norms, which obviously seemed threatening in some way. And even though I intellectually know it is good, okay, and fantastic to be growing, leaping and expanding, that message of "don't become too big for your britches", the old message still haunts me, only it doesn't haunt me so much that it is stopping me.

What I have decided to do is to literally find and buy a pair of fancy pants just to own it , "Why, yes, I am indeed a fancy pants and these are my fancy pants." Such fancy pants may not be made for literal leaping, but these leaps are made for gold lame, psyche restructuring, limit lambasting,  personal growth,  and not so much about lycra or Lululemon.

There is more than "One Direction"

imagesFirst, let me admit something, I am old and I didn't know who Zayn Malik was before he left One Direction( sorry Zayn). However, now that I know who he is I will admit that I am a bit smitten. No, this is not a sad cougar moment, this is a person who adamantly and whole heartedly believes that sometimes the best direction for our life is to stop what isn't working, let it go, grieve it and move on to our next happy. Now I know there are ten-zillion Directionators who would totally absolutely disagree with me, but the truth is that I think he is a Next Happy role model and much more so now than he was before when he was going in a direction that wasn't right for him.

In an interview in People Magazine Zayn is quoted as saying, "It is crazy and wild and a bit mad.... "(B)but at the same time I've never felt more in control in my life. And I feel like I'm doing what's right – right by myself and right by the boys, so I feel good."

In my work as therapist I often hear people sharing their fantasies of what life would be like if they achieved their big dream and rarely do I hear people taking about the dark-side of the dream, no...life is all rainbows, champagne, and  unicorns.  Only, no matter the success or achievement, life never works out as we imagine it. And sometimes once we get what we most wanted we realize that we were really after something else. It sounds to me, from the extremely little I know, that this young man has made a very difficult choice, a choice that wasn't easy  and yet a choice that was right for him. I applaud Zayn's courage to be true to himself and leave a path that isn't for him, it couldn't have been an easy choice.

I also want to point out that very often we believe there is only one way to be happy, and that it is to get what we wanted most. I am guessing that at some point, the success of One Direction is likely what he wanted---or maybe not. But let's get back to you and me for a moment, I know that I believed the only way I could only be happy is if I had a child. Guess what? I was wrong. There were other directions for me, unexpected directions, that have brought me happiness I could have never anticipated;I feel sure the same is true for Zayn.

 Zayn explains, "I did try to do something that I wasn't happy doing for a while, for the sake of other people's happiness".  Ultimately he couldn't betray himself, "I feel like I've let the fans down but I can't do this anymore." Zayn goes on to say, "It's not that I've turned my back on them or anything, it's just that I just can't do that anymore because it's not the real me." Sometimes when we give up on something it may not make sense to others, people may have a whole lot of feelings and opinions about us doing what is right for us---but even if that a million screaming and crying and heartbroken girls, at the end of the day we have to do what is right by us and that may mean stopping what looks like a huge success and/or stopping short of succeeding.

And even when we make the right choice, to stop what isn't working for us, there is likely grief. To call the time of death on a dream, to choose a new direction, is a death and one that has to be mourned and given time to heal. I hope that Zayn has people in his life who understand how hard this is, how ambivalent he may feel. Very often people around us won't allow us to feel sad when we have made the choice, but the truth is, even thought we have, there is grief about the loss. Should Zayn come to me for advice, I would advise him to give himself time to heal this loss before he jumps into some rebound activity. I am sure his business people might be giving him just the opposite advice, but trust me Zayn, it is much better to heal and not quickly jump into something just to push the grief away.

What "One Direction" have you stopped pursuing? Have you received backlash for your choice? Please share, who knows, maybe Zayn will read this and you will be helping him.

Thank you!!!!!!!!

Dear Friends, Unknown I am thrilled-thriled-thrilled and  gobsmacked to announce that my book, The Next Happy: Let Go of the Life You Planned and Find a New Way Forward, is a best seller!!!! It was released on Tuesday the 3rd and is already on amazon.com's best-seller list in multiple categories. As of today it is number two on the Hot New Release List. I cannot possibly thank you so much or helping to make this book a success, I am more grateful to you than I can ever say.

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If you don't yet have a copy and would like a chance to win the book please be sure to visit Life Without Baby who is generously hosting a book giveaway. And, of course you can buy a copy( or ten copies;-) from all booksellers. It is available in both paperback and for e-readers.

10410960_440426076108037_7281810480212072748_nAlso, if you would like to hear an interview of me talking about the book you can go here or here. More interviews soon to come, check out the schedule here. And here are a just a few reviews, in case you are interested, by After Party, Silent Sorority and a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

I also want to announce that I will be holding a free webinar with Hazelden on March 26th.  You will need to register in advance if you are interested.  Please put April 6th on your calendar if you are in the Los Angeles area, that is the date of my first book signing---more info soon to come. And so ends the promotional stuff!

My intentions with this book have always been to give permission to let go of what isn't working and to offer a roadmap to the next happy. I am ridiculously happy that people are liking the book and finding comfort in it.  Again, truly,  thank you so very much. I apreciate all your support, encouragment and for checking out my book---none of this would have  ever happened without your support. I am extremely grateful and am in more than a little shock. Actually, truth be told, I am in total and absolute shock and am not at all sure that I am not dreaming.

Again, thank you!!!!!!

Very sincerely,

Tracey

 

Star Wars had bad hairstyles, and more importantly it had some very bad advice

UnknownI am not, in this blog post, going to talk about Star Wars, so stay with me people. Rather, I am going to talk about his much quoted advice of an ancient alien with unusual syntax( subject-object-verb). His advice to Hans Solo, Princess Leah, and their merry band of robots was “Do or not do, there is no try”, and Yoda is not the only alien, or person to give this advice. I hate to quibble with a Grand Jedi Master, as he seems like a nice enough alien, but I think he was wrong on this point. You see, I think that the “no try” advice is problematic, and I think this is especially problematic after any kind of loss. After a loss of some kind we quickly want to move on and find something else to replace it, filling the void and masking the pain, and it certain instances like with a job it can make logistical and practical sense to do so. However, even then, we are hopefully able to take a moment to at least try the job on in our mind and not just jump in it out of desperation ( I do understand there are of course, times when that isn’t practical, and that financial responsibilities require otherwise). But if there is no risk to life and limb and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs have all been met, then I would suggest that you take a minute, try on some stuff and not be so quick to commit. When there is a void after a loss we might not really know what we want other than not feeling the loss and this is where we can have a tendency to get rebound jobs, rebound relationships and rebound life-decisions-we-might-not other-wise-make-if-we gave-ourselves-a-moment.

Here is how this philosophy of “no try” can be detrimental: Dating: “It isn’t okay for me to date a lot of people, I need to hurry up and find the one. I need to be in a committed relationship and this one is in front of me so I should take this.” Very often we make that last part of the internal statement a kind of quieter repressed blur, we may not want to know that we are doing this.

Career: “ I need to have a bliss, a passion, a single-minded vision. I need to be absolutely sure and single mindedly focused on making this career happen. I am tool old to be trying something new. It is too late for me to try again. I can’t take a risk, I have a degree in business so I can’t do something that is not in my wheelhouse.” If you feel this way please watch this lecture by Cal Newport or read his book. Bliss and passion are great, as are goals, but they are things that can develop and are not always love at first sight.

Choices: “ I need to know right away if this is the right thing, I can’t try stuff. I need to be absolutely sure. I don’t have time to try. I should know. I should be certain.” Well, if you don’t know you don’t know, give yourself a minute to find out what you really want. Let both sides of the choice be conscious in your mind and let yourself sit in the tension of those opposites. Let your self try on one choice and then another and find our what really fits for you.

Clothes: “I have bought those jeans before, I am not going to try them on. I am just going to buy them.” Clothes sizes vary, even within the same brand. I am only half joking here, it is truth and it is a metaphor. Just because something fit before it doesn’t mean it fits now. You have changed. Their pattern maker has changed. Take the time to try it on. No ‘to buy or no by, there is no try’, take the time to try. Yes, I know, Yoda never said that. Yoda wasn’t much of a shopper.

My “try” story Two years ago today-ish, I decided to “try” to write The Next Happy. Now, let me be clear what I mean about “try”---I didn’t not work; I worked a lot. I wrote a pitch. I went to a conference. I pitched the book. I got an agent. I did everything the agent told me to do. There was a lot of work in this “try” attitude of mine. When I say ‘try’, I mean that I was relaxed and easy and kind of chill about trying to make this happen. ‘Try’ for me is more about giving it a shot but still working hard on it and being a little more detached about the outcome. Yes, of course, I wanted it to happen, which is why I kept doing stuff to try and make it happen. The difference between this and the focus, tenacity, and “it must happen” attitude of a goal or a vision or a “I must have this” I had around trying to conceive was a world a part, no, actually, it was a couple of universes apart.

“Try” is like trying something on in a dressing room. Goodness gracious, you don’t buy a swimsuit or a pair of jeans without “trying” them on. It would be super unreasonable to expect that you would have a perfect fit or a perfect pair of jeans without trying them on first. You could, but you would likely be pretty disappointed. You need to see if it fits before you commit( the ghost of Johnny Cochran is haunting me).

One of the gifts of grieving my dream of having a baby was that I didn’t have a whole lot of energy for “BIG dreams” afterwards. I was tired and depleted by that big dream and I didn’t have it in me to dream again. I somehow knew that it wasn’t wise to immediately jump into another dream and so I started to just try stuff on and see what happened and follow where my energy was, and I didn’t need that energy to be bliss, passion, certainty, clarity or vision. It could be just a simple feeling of wanting to read something or do something or take a class. There was no longer big attachment to the outcome and, let me tell you, that was a big relief. It feels so nice to be able to pursue an interest or a hope and not have it consume me in the way having a baby did (all my eggs in one basket and all my happiness dependent on that one thing did not make me happy). I am much happier trying stuff and seeing what happens, and ultimately being okay no matter what happens.

So, I apologize Yoda, we will just have to agree to disagree on this one. And to you, dear reader, may the force of try be with you.

Pantheon of Paradox: Jennifer Louden on Self-Care

I am delighted to announce a new feature that I will be hosting on my blog which I am calling "The Pantheon of Paradox". In this series I am inviting authors, thinkers and innovators to share the paradox they have brought to the world. The paradox we are starting with is the idea that you can be more productive, more creative and even efficient by engaging in self-care. I know, I know...this is so counterintuitive to our "more is ALWAYS better" idea of what it takes to succeed. Many of us still hold to the bad, sad and self-destructive idea that you have to drain yourself and live on four-hours of sleep, a vat of coffee and deny yourself sunlight in order to achieve what you are after. Yes, it is shocking but true, the better we care for ourselves the more we can accomplish. JenLouden_2013-5-cropped

Jennifer Louden is THE authority on how self-care can make us more productive. Jennifer helped start the self-care movement with her first book, The Woman's Comfort Book. She's written five more books, including The Woman’s Retreat Book and The Life Organizer that have inspired more than a million women in 9 languages. Jen has spoken around the world on self-care, written a national magazine column, and even sat on Oprah's couch talking about the power of retreats. She believes self-love + world-love = wholeness for all. 

Her book, "The Comfort Queens Guide to Life" is part of what I am giving away in my Self-care/Comfort Contest( be sure to enter!!). Please enjoy Jennifer's video on the importance of self care, and be sure to check out her website. Thank you Jennifer for this wonderful video and thanks for being part of the Pantheon! Also, thank you for your extraordinary books that have been an important self-care references for me.