White rabbits, Roman gods and finding my feet…oh my.

White rabbit.

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White rabbit.

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White rabbit.

Unknown-1Yes, I know, it is a strange way to start a blog. However, as the first post of my new blog, I thought I would take advantage of the superstition. It’s an English thing, I think. On the first day of the month the first thing you are supposed to say upon waking is: “White rabbit. White rabbit. White rabbit”.  Supposedly, by saying this nonsensical ode to Buggs  the first thing in the morning you will guaranteed a good month. I don’t really believe in such superstitions, but as it is the first of the month and the first blog post I thought I would throw in three rabbits for good measure.

janus_smallAlso, in honor of new beginnings, I thought  welcoming Janus to my blog might be a good thing.  “Who’s Janus?” you ask, “isn’t that Tony Soprano’s sister?”, and “why are you welcoming her, and not me to your blog?”. Fair question.  Janus is not a she but rather a double-headed Roman mythological deity…and as they say ( who are “they” anyway?) always say, two heads are better than one except when it comes to inviting him to a wedding and you have to order two dinners for one person and the price of catering “per heads” gets all cattywompus and complicated; I digress.

The first reason I invited Janus to this first post is that in Roman mythology he was the guy you wanted to invite to grand openings to bring you luck. Supposedly if you gave him a little honey, incense, and a gold coin or two he would help your new venture succeed. So, I thought, since this is a new beginning that it wise to welcome him to be a sort of guest blogger—if you will in lieu of the aforementioned honey, incense and cash outlay—in hopes that he helps me in this venture. Okay, for good measure here is some honey, incense and currency. You happy, Janus?

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More importantly,   Janus is the Roman god of new beginnings and endings ( hence his month is January, the first month of the year when we tend to reflect on what the previous year was and look ahead with anticipation at the next year) and this is a new beginning for me and it is only right that he be here. This double-headed diety has the unusual talent of being able to look forward and backward at the same time which can be helpful when you are starting a new venture, especially one that is also marking the ending of another( it is also a useful skill set to have as a therapist—we are always looking at least the present and the past as a means of making sense of the now).

Whenever I start something new, even if it is just reading a book or watching a new film or undertaking a new venture, I tend to take note of how things start. I tell myself, “notice this, this is the beginning. The beginning has clues and this is a new beginning. The beginning has information about how this is going to end. Pay attention lady, this is Chapter One.” Each ending deserves to be acknowledged, no beginning is possible without it and hence should be given at least enough respect to check in and ask: What did I learn from that experience and from its ending? When I look back at LBR I see how much it taught me and I dare not use this post to take an inventory of all that it gave me and taught me…but it is an inventory worth taking.

And as I begin this blog, I find that new challenges and angsts and anxieties are peaking their heads up like … white rabbits or Roman gods, if you will.  I am noticing that as I write this first blog post, at this url, that it feels odd and a little uncomfortable and that I have yet to find my feet.  But that is normal, new things don’t feel natural or easy or effortless—they are new and that is why anxiety is to be expected. Let me say that again, anxiety is an expected companion of new beginnings.  As James Hollis says, “ Anxiety will be our companion if we risk”—and new beginnings are a risk. It took time for me to learn that…that anxiety would always show up when I was beginning something new. Now that I know it, I now welcome anxiety and expect it to be part of the deal. So, hey, anxiety, welcome to my new blog.

I’m noticing that blogging here, for today, kind of feels like that feeling when your beloved grabs your hand and has it the wrong way round, and you have to let go of his/her hand and switch your digits around until you are holding hands in a way that you don’t have to think about holding hands anymore.  For me, my thumb has to be on top in the handholding dynamic. otherwise my entire consciousness is possessed by a “THIS IS TERRIBLY WRONG” feeling that will not be ignored. When we are first doing something new it often feels this way. This is not unusual or some sign that you are doing the wrong thing and that you should turn back…it means you are used to things the way they are and that now you are doing something differently—and that can be a very good thing. And while  it feels awkward  for me to blog on another url, I know this feeling will pass and I will get over the hand holding feeling and stop switching my thumbs around in an attempt to get back to the known/comfortable and in time this new space will have its own, yet different, new normal.

Now that I have introduced you to my mythological co-blogger for the day and  you understand my rationale for having him here, I  want to warmly and sincerely welcome you here and thank you for following me over from LBR. And if you are new here and don’t LBR from a  hole in your head then that is swell too—welcome to you no matter what.  No need to know what or who an LBR is in order to be here now ( not sure if my  two-headed Roman deity friend would agree with me on this but this is my blog and he just needs to mind his own beeswax).

On that note, this new beginning is almost over…Janus it is almost time for you to go. Chapter One is in full swing and the new beginning has begun. Dear reader, but please don’t you go so fast. Tell me what is  new for you?  How do you feel about your endings and beginnings? What chapter are you on? If you were to name this chapter what would you call it? Please, I would love it if you would say hello in the comment section and share a little about your chapter.  Seeing your comments will make me feel at home, so please make yourself at home.

Note: This post was set to publish on August 1st, there was a little snafu with the RSS feed and that is why you aren’t getting it until today. I apologize that the white rabbits arrived late.

Okay, I get what ‘regret’ is, but what’s ‘gret’ and how did it ‘re’?

I have been invited to host a panel on How to Live Child-free Without Regrets at the upcoming Fertility Planit 2014 in Los Angeles (Happily sharing the stage with my good buddy Lisa Manterfield and, the soon to meet, Lynn Newman).
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You can’t go home again

UnknownIt is Monday evening and I am on a non-stop flight  from Chicago to Los Angeles. I have just spent a long lovely weekend in Chicago. It is the first time I have been to Chicago in years. I could, I suppose, turn this blog post into a travelogue about my time in Chicago and tell you about what a lovely birthday I had and what lovely and generous friends I have—however that is not what this blog post is about. This blog post is about something else, something I am still in the midst of processing—something that I will discover as I write.

When I first planned the trip to visit friends for my birthday weekend I knew that there was something personally meaningful in it for me( even though that wasn’t the main reason I was going), as it would be the first time Keith would be in Chicago together.  If you are new to my blog let me catch you up, many years ago( six-years, I think) I left Chicago and in doing so I left behind my dream of being a parent and the dream I had of raising a kiddo there.  It was not easy to leave( understatement). I loved Lake Bluff.  I wanted to spend the rest of my life there. Only it didn’t work out that way. Having a kid didn’t work out. My marriage didn’t work out  either. I was, as you can imagine, not so happy that I didn’t get what I wanted most. Rather, I had a three-year hissy fit about it.

However, the last three years I have been completely hissy fit free. I am happy that it all worked out the way it did. I am extremely happy with my life and I have even come to love living in Los Angeles( proof that miracles do happen).So, even as I planned the trip and delighted with anticipation at seeing my friends in Lake Forest, I was, I think, hoping that going with him  back to my old home would show me that  I was completely immune to the pain of the past….and mostly it did.

As Keith had not seen my life in Lake Bluff I gave him the tour: this is where I lived; this is where I fell on ice; this is where I ate tomato soup; this is where I substitute taught; this is the lake. It’s not a tour many would endure but he loves me and knows I needed him to see the life that I’d had. During the tour I found that I felt surprisingly little. I think the best way to describe how I felt when I saw the set I had once imagined would house my happily-ever-after was nothing. We drove by the place where a picture of me had been taken when we moved away, a place that I had stood and sobbed, and seeing that site now I felt nothing. And as beautiful as Lake Forest and Lake Bluff are, and they are, they no longer looked like enchanted mythical lands that I had been forced out of. Rather, I could see the beauty without the longing. Somehow my healing, and the joy of my new life, I could see Forest and Bluff for what they are and not as an Eden I had been cruelly ejected from. It was, I can tell you, nice.

My dear friends ,who we were staying with, have two of the most beautiful, adorable, sweet, and kind children that you are likely to meet. Being with these girls was more enjoyable than our trip to the Art Institute or a dinner out in the city. And what was also lovely, lovelier than I can say, is that I could enjoy these beautiful and wonderful girls without feeling sad or envious or anything except delight and relish. I felt nothing but lucky for having these beautiful girls in my life, blessed to have wonderful friends, and spoiled to have the life that I do. This, my friends, is what healing looks like.

When I was packing to leave to come home today I was overtaken by tears. Keith saw my sadness and asked me a number of questions all with the intention of trying to make it better. When I said no to all his inquiries he finally said, “Do you want to live here?” “No”, I answered, “that’s not it. Of course I don’t want to live here, I love our home, our life, my practice. No, I don’t want  the snow and the ice and the cold. I don’t want to live in a long ago Eden. I don’t want to live in this place that is meant for families.”  I didn’t know what it was that I was crying about but I knew that  living there wasn’t it. These tears weren’t about wanting something, of that I was sure. No, this wasn’t what this was about. Rather, this was me crying for a past me, and for all the pain I endured … and the reality that this life that I had so long dreamed of would never-ever-ever be mine, and, yes, even though I am happy about that( SUPER happy with what is) there remains a sadness for what was never to be.

As I sit in the dark of the plane typing these words, I feel my eyes burn a little and I feel some residual ennui even as I happily anticipate going home( Pasadena, that is). Simultaneously, I feel something kind of like closure…only it isn’t exactly that( I make this disclaimer as I need to leave the circle open to the possibility of me spiraling around through this once again, if even if at a different level and entering from a different place). Yes, of course I will go back to Forest and Bluff again, but never again will it be the place that it was for me. Never.  It has fundamentally changed.  Now when I go there I will go there to  visit my friends, to play Mermaids with the girls and to see them graduate from middle school or for my friend’s birthday party, or maybe even for a conference….but I won’t ever go home again.  It is now NOT what I want. It is now what I wanted, it has moved into past tense and the lovely thing about that is that it allows for a future in which I can go back…only not back home.

“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame, back home to exile, to escape to Europe and some foreign land, back home to lyricism, to singing just for singing’s sake, back home to aestheticism, to one’s youthful idea of ‘the artist’ and the all-sufficiency of ‘art’ and ‘beauty’ and ‘love,’ back home to the ivory tower, back home to places in the country, to the cottage in Bermude, away from all the strife and conflict of the world, back home to the father you have lost and have been looking for, back home to someone who can help you, save you, ease the burden for you, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time–back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”
― Thomas Wolfe

A navy camisole covered with ants

Unknown-1Which, lovely you, would you prefer to move into your home—ants or  a tiger? Okay, don’t be so quick to answer. Take your time. Sure, a tiger could kill you, eat your furniture and, yes, it bares repeating, it could kill you. But have you ever been inundated by ants? Do you know the torment of not being able to leave out a cup of coffee, or even water, for a moment without risking your entire counter being overtaken. And then once you manage to kill all of them ( and do you ever feel satisfied that you really  and truly got them all?) then there is that horrible ants in your pants feeling in which you feel they are crawling all over you even if they aren’t. If a tiger came into my house I would simply leave and call the authorities and wait for them to remove Tony to the nearest zoo. But with ants you are on your own, lady. No gamekeeper is helping you with these  And they are so small, so plentiful and there seems to be an endless supply of them just ready to pounce on every surface should you dare to leave a single crumb on the counter.

Okay, not really talking about ants…I am talking A.N.T.s which is an acronym for Automatic Negative Thoughts. You know the thoughts that you don’t even realize you are thinking? The sneaky insidious and almost silent negative judgements you have about yourself that show up and stop you without your even realizing they have. I wish we could get a download everyday of all the thoughts we had in a single day. I’m sure there would be more ANTS in our transcript than there would be if we left a bottle of Aunt Jemima open on the counter.

The ANTs pop up and tell us things like:.

I always..

I never…

I can’t…

And those are just what I like to call “Black ANTs’. Black ANTs are a nuisance and cause a mess and can stop us, but they aren’t quite as pernicious, biting and stinging as the “Red ANTs”. Red ANTs are the kind that are self-esteem attacking and come from a serious case of self-loathing, these thoughts are filled with things we would never say out loud to another( okay, most of us wouldn’t most of the time)—things like “You are so_________( chose from the following uninspiring adjectives with which to harangue yourself) stupid, fat, lazy, worthless, ugly, etc. To have your day covered with red ANTs in which we are assaulted by  predictions of failure, judgement, attack and loathing is the kind of thing that could cause depression or anxiety or at the very least a psyche that is overtaken by cruel and biting commentary. I have been in a psyche covered with red ANTs and it simply no fun. Red ANTs weren’t however all bad…it was all of my red ANTs that tipped me off to the fact that I didn’t love myself and that I had introjected some serious self-attacks that I had learned from childhood and that I better seek out an expert in discovering where all these ANTs were coming from, how they came to be and that maybe I deserved more than there relentless and sadistic attacks that were infesting my life from ever being picnic like.

Years of therapy has happily removed the red ANTs out of my life—for the most part. However, I might, on a good day have only two or three of these unpleasant or unwelcome reflexive thoughts from the past that bite,sting and leave me feeling wrong. That may sound like a lot to you lovelies who have an internal monologue that sounds like one part self-help-motivational lecture and one part Snow White. Mine however, thanks to growing up in a home with a poisonous pedagogy that was in the business of shame inducing set my default tone to an internal drone of dread. Even to this day, after all that therapy, when things go to hell and I feel weak and tired and am experiencing a trigger from my past, well, that is the ant equivalent of laying down a coat of Karo syrup, powdered sugar and, to top it off, a big gob of marshmallow goo and then I just watch those red ANTs go marching in and they are fat and happy and are at their most powerful and potent to take me down.

The trouble with black ANTs is that they can be so small and sneaky that we almost don’t notice them, they can hide in my psyche and go undetected. They hide in the cracks between the neutral thoughts, happy thoughts and down right giddy and positively predicting thoughts ( these last ones were once thought to be extinct. However in the last three-years I have discovered a rare breed of them that does particularly well in my psyche these days. Even still, the blacks ones sneak through my filter by not being loud and obnoxious or alarm activating the way they were when they are the red kind. Thanks be to God the years of therapy and clearing out my internalized voices from childhood has made red ants few and far between and there is enough self love that should a red ANT sneak in there is a neutralizing blast of self-love that interrupts and says,”Um, excuse me…but that ain’t called for and you aren’t welcome here.” And the self-love will tell me why it isn’t nice to talk to me like that and how I deserve better and it takes the red ANT out. Ain’t self-love grand?

Let me boil down the events of the week into a more ego syntonic euphemism( which is a short and elegant way of saying that I had a crappy week that I want to spare you the details of). It was the kind of week in which I could have gotten over taken by a colony of red-fire-death ants that could have taken me down. However, the inoculations of self love, the support of dear friends who love me and kindness of strangers who barely know me yet resounded to my pain in the way we would hope from people and all of this love managed to get the red ants out of my psyche.

I was, up until yesterday, feeling good and cocky about surviving this humdinger of a week with nary a red ANT bite to show for it. It was then that I became aware of a sneaky batch of black ants that had moved in. It went like this,( we are now in Tracey thought land: Ooh, this camisole hurts. I should throw it out. No, you shouldn’t. You just bought. You should keep it. But it hurts. I know it does. Take some Advil, that will make the pain go away. Okay, I will. Silence as I take the pills. Then the thoughts return. That’s stupid to have a camisole that is so ill-fitting that it causes your shoulders pain. You should throw it away. No, seriously, you just bought it. Yeah, but it was only $5 at Nordstrom Rack. It’s now worth the money. But its $5. Okay, so ends the transcript of my thoughts. First off as I look at it the conflict seems absurd and there seems only one right choice. I can also see the automatic reaction and acceptance to my suffering for money. As hard as that is to see it gives me something to look at and see if I make massochistic moves out of economy. If I do that then I need to reevaluate my personal economy system.

The good thing about ANTs is that if you pay attention to what you are thinking they will allow you into the rules you make, schemas to which you are attacked for no good reason, and maybe how you have internalized the rules of family members and they are acting as ANTs in your head. ANTs leave clues about where they came from and what they want, you just have to engage with them to find out about them.

I am keeping my eyes open for other ways I self-loathe when it comes to my self-care. The messages that these sneaky and subtle ANTs tell me are: “It doesn’t matter that you are tired, cold, overwhelmed, hungry, thirsty or in pain. Your needs don’t matter.” These are some destructive ANTs that would advise me to take Advil before they would advise me to take off the stupid top.These are a bread of ANTs that came from lack of care I got as a kiddo and it made me take crappy care of my physical being. The message of those ANTs is “you don’t matter.” Only I do. So I am throwing away that stupid $5 camisole from Nordstrom.

Having said all this, do you think you’d prefer the tiger now?