Tag Archives: co-dependency

The Definition of Kindness

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This teabag wisdom is perfect for me right now. Perhaps for you too? So many women are taught to ‘be kind’ and put others first. ‘To understand before being understood’ is a great concept for people who tend to be self-centered. But those of us who give till it hurts, by putting others’ needs before our own, don’t need this mantra.

Co-dependency is a sickness. It’s learned, usually from a very early age, within a family dynamic. But society as a whole (especially in the South) can push women to support, volunteer, and basically put way too many others’ needs first, at the detriment of their own dreams and sometimes their own basic needs. So many women and yoga teachers (lol) are co-dependent or are people-pleasing helpers. It’s great to be compassionate, but it’s not great to be taken advantage of, is it? So the Universe will keep sending the exact experiences we need to learn important lessons to help us grow into stronger more self- compassionate people who stop letting in, or doing bidding for, pushy or selfish takers.

Breaking old habits is hard. Finding strength to calmly voice myself, set boundaries, or walk away when I am de-valued—no matter what my timing may be—puts me on the right path to self compassion. Most often, in a situation that arises when a person goes back on their word, in work or in friendship, I don’t speak my mind directly due to a fear of confrontation, or maybe an underlying feeling of not being worthy. It’s irrational. It’s likely linked to how I was raised where direct confrontation wasn’t allowed without some sort of punishment. So I often don’t respond immediately when I should, and a few days or a week later, when I have time to think about it, I re-group and find the courage to address a situation. Often that’s in writing. Maybe because I hate fighting and shut down. And maybe because some manipulative or dramatic people might start crying or complaining or making excuses for their bad behavior and I might not finish saying what needs to be said. Other times, I have this knee-jerk fear of being yelled at or hit, which is also irrational. (I’m working on it.) And the Universe keeps sending me situations and people where my ‘kindness is taken for weakness’ like the Rihanna song.

But I’m determined to work on my throat chakra and speak more clearly and directly the moment things go awry, as it shows that I value my time and myself and even the person causing me anxiety if I speak boldly and give them a chance to respond. So, the moment a client says he will not pay me for services rendered and agreed upon and accepted, for instance, I need to speak up and invoice again. The minute an agreement isn’t honored, or a contract not adhered to, I need to speak up clearly and calmly. When someone doesn’t follow through with a promise or lies to me, in friendship, I need to speak up. And if that isn’t received kindly or respectfully, I need to walk away. It’s as simple as that.

Walking away can be so hard when strong feelings are there, but I was reminded today during a conversation with a good friend at the studio, that we lean towards what we are comfortable with. I’ll explain. My friend lamented that so many women still seek bad boys, just like in high school. But I thought about it and said, “No, they seek what they are used to, what feels familiar. When they realize that what feels like home isn’t always good for them, they change.”

Think about it. The man whose mother was overly critical will likely feel at home with, and date, a critical, bossy woman. It’s the same as the gal who might have been verbally abused, or witnessed abuse in the home. She might become attracted to a difficult man who is hot and cold and not always kind. She may become focussed on changing him, understanding him, or earning his love—reflecting unmet childhood needs.

But once people ‘get it,’ they really get it. Maybe the Universe gives us experiences so we can feel those unmet childhood needs and then release them by ‘getting it.’ Once I ‘get’ that someone’s proclaimed love isn’t healthy if their love is neglectful, controlling, confusing, dishonest, shut off, or whatever the case may be, I allow myself to ‘get’ what true kindness is—what ultimately I believe we are all attracted to on a deep soul level.

True kindness is priceless. It gives space to those in your life to be themselves. It gives space to yourself to explore your dreams, speak your mind, be seen and heard and accepted, exactly as you are. True kindness is about strong action, not words. A person that shows up for you, is there for you, who listens without trying to fix, or control or manipulate, is a gift from the Universe. When we value ourselves, we value the uniqueness of others more, honor agreements, are more respectful, and are more accepting and open.

Kindness starts inside. And I’m realizing that it may not look like what was shown to me in my youth. It’s not about volunteering all the time at my child’s school or outside appearances. It’s about modeling self-worth, self-discipline, mindfulness and closeness at home. It may mean I have to say no, and remit invoices and stop someone mid-sentence when they go back on an agreement in the future. (And hopefully, less of those experiences will be drawn my way.) It may also mean walking away, yet again, from someone I love whose love isn’t loving or kind. Because if I’m loving and kind to myself, I won’t accept being with someone whose behavior is neglectful or hyper critical or controlling—all making me feel bad about myself. Staying with someone who hurts me, is just a form of procrastination, as it thwarts me from stepping into my dreams and into the highest version of myself.

What I’ve come to believe is that any thing, situation, or person, who constricts another’s heart, is there to teach a hard lesson. When a person keeps returning to those things or situations or people, it’s soul-crushing. The action of returning to abusive situations or people says more than words ever could. It says I’m not worthy of better and I’m going to waste time with this pain and not be able to reach my dreams or live a peaceful life, being authentically me. It is self-sabotaging—even when the intention is one of ‘rescuing’ or ‘helping’ a loved one. Especially then. Even if it’s rooted in fear of the unknown, because that isn’t trusting the Universe to provide or feeling worthy of receiving healthy loving situations and people in our lives. We are all deserving of love, joy, friendship, support and respect, just for being alive.

 

I’m grateful for the lessons that I’m learning. I’m grateful even for feeling and seeing the pain of staying in bad situations and comparing that to the pain of setting boundaries and walking away from them. I can try to work with someone and cringe when I set boundaries and ask for them to honor agreements, or my time, but in the end, it’s what is necessary for me to respect myself and my family. And it’s the same with love. I can love someone dearly and still walk away. I can see their goodness and potential, but realize that they will continue to hurt me because of where they are in life. Walking away is actually harder to do when you still care, but in the end, no one can ‘fix’ another. We can only love each other and love ourselves. Walking away from who hurts (or bad boys, as my friend likes to judge) allows me to make space for someone and for situations that feel good, uplift, is respectful and where I’m valued.

I’m grateful for all of my mistakes and blunders as I try to find my way to a stronger, authentic, self-compassionate space. And thank GOD for the women in my life who are showing me what strong kindness is. You know who you are!

 

Here’s to Love, Light & Bad-Ass Kindness

 

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Navigating Boundaries

Why is it harder to set boundaries with some people than it is with others? Have you experienced this? For me, it’s usually with a particular friend or boyfriend who I am rooting for as they struggle with hardships. I can see their potential. I can see their goodness. I can see that times are just really hard for them, so, if asked for help, I usually say yes. Can you relate? But the longer I help someone in need and see the extent to their crisis or struggle, the less likely I am to speak up about my needs. When I swallow what I need and am always available to help someone, that person loses respect for me, ironically while they may be asking for even more of me. And if this goes on for any length of time, say a person doesn’t get better or can’t support themselves, or becomes aggressive, needier, or abusive, I’ve teetered into really unhealthy territory. I’ve crossed over into co-dependency, when I should have set a boundary. (Sadly, I’ve had therapy for co-dependency and read many books on the topics too. Melody Beattie’s Codependent No More is amazing btw!) Clearly, I still have a lot to learn.

With certain people I can start to feel nervous or guilty just trying to say what I need to say, or do what I need to do. That’s because a pattern got set of me always being there for them and now that I’m aware of it, it upsets the dynamic of the relationship, even if it’s an unhealthy one. These people trigger my upbringing because I can anticipate getting yelled at, guilted or manipulated or abandoned, or all of the above, as punishment for voicing my feelings. So fear of being yelled at or abandoned is real for me. Even though I wanted to avoid these two things in my relationships, for most of my life, I attracted them. (But that’s another post, maybe!) I remember vividly being yelled at by an ex-boyfriend because I dared to stop during a road trip to go to a Target to buy tampons. It was a busy Target, I admit. The lines were insane, plus I had to find a bathroom and then get a drink in order to take a few Motrin. With traffic being bad, I was likely 45 minutes off schedule for arrival. The inconvenience of me not arriving at our weekend destination on time in order to help him unload his car and help settle a family member, out-surpassed my cramping and desperate need to ensure I wouldn’t soil my clothes. I was yelled at in front of others when I arrived. I should have turned around and drove home that evening. Lets just say it was an eye-opening New Years Eve for me. I set New Year’s Eve intentions to follow my dreams without guilt or fear of abandonment. Who knew that one incident set me on a course to write my book and begin yoga teacher training? The Universe gives me the lessons I need, if I pay attention, and if I’m willing to open my heart, to change. I didn’t yell back at my ex-boyfriend. I just asked to go my room and I journaled, meditated and set my mind to stop neglecting my needs.

 

But sometimes I cha-cha in life. I take two steps forward, think I’ve got the dance down, and land one thudding step back. It’s okay. I’m learning to set boundaries, even if I don’t say what’s on my mind always in the moment. Sometimes I opt for peace, especially if another person might not be open to hearing what I have to say without getting angry. I can set a boundary without saying a word. I can just distance myself, not always be available, not answer every text. (Folks in LA have that one down!) But it doesn’t feel respectful with someone I really care about. That’s when I often stumble. When I care, I can ask for space or a boundary by making excuses or justifications or apologies…In the end, it’s not necessary. As a good friend told me, it’s just a matter of me connecting to my heart that is saying I must check in and take care of me, my needs, my family. If a friend can’t respect that, or is angry, or confused about it and wanting to engage in a lot of dramatic banter, I shouldn’t justify myself or try to explain, or make it into a painful dialogue, no matter how much I love them. I shouldn’t have to. The lesson for me,is to speak my truth earlier, in the moment, regardless of how the other person responds. As long as I am kind and coming from a heart-felt place, it will all work out exactly as it is meant to.

If you can relate to any of what I just said, then this article “What are Healthy Boundaries” by Sharon Martin is for you. I love her list here, that I am re-posting, as it simplifies and clarifies what healthy boundaries should feel like:

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Hope Springs Eternal

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Every time an orchid re-blooms, my faith is restored. (And all my orchids re-bloom in my house.) I’m a lucky girl! My faith is renewed year-round! I’ve had this orchid nearly five years now. I do a little dance when a new stem starts to push through the roots and then an even bigger dance when the blooms begin to appear. Ask my boys. I point the blooms out to them EVERY single time. It sounds silly. But every time an orchid re-blooms I become super hopeful and feel that I’m on the right path. We all have the capacity to re-bloom. But it takes a little effort and a lot of self love. Here’s why:

First: in order to bloom or re-bloom, we have to know ourselves. So many of us really know what others want. If you are a good friend of mine, or another mom, you’re likely nodding. We know what our partners want and we try SUPER hard to give them what they want or BE what they want. Sigh…We know what our children need or want and we do double flips to provide that too. But stop.  What do you need to thrive? Do you even know what makes you feel good? Do you know what type of bloom you want to have? Purple? Yellow? White? What do you like besides taking care of others and trying to BE what others want? Are you on your to-d0 list? What conditions have to be met in order to thrive? (An orchid needs a little sunshine, but diffused is best, and some heat and humidity and a little splashing on the leaves from time to time.) What do you need? And I’m NOT talking about what another person can do for you. What do YOU need? What makes YOU happy? Daily walks in nature? Meditating? Singing at the top of your lungs in the car or shower? Driving for a long distance with a vista to FEEL free? Deep breathing to kickstart your happy hormones from your gut? (See This article for more info!) Cooking classes? Yoga? Jamming on the piano or guitar? Writing? Biking? More water? Less coffee? Less sugar? What makes you FEEL good so you can DO good?  What helps YOU become, well, more YOU. You see, when you try to BE someone else or please others all the time, you lose a little of yourself. Year after year of this, you may not even know who you are. See, what my orchids tell me is that it’s imperative to create the conditions to thrive—so figuring out what those conditions are is critical and NOT selfish. If you make your life ALL about other people and what others want, well, you may end up being an orchid in a dark room, dry and without the ability to bloom.

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SECOND: Reinvention and change can have surprising, exciting results. First, we have to try to find the right spot for ourselves. And it can take more than one attempt…I so get that! ha ha! The first chakra is all about this. Muladhara is the root chakra. We have to feel rooted, secure, in the right soil, with the right conditions, i.e. family, with the right support, friends we trust and who accept us, with the right positive tribe, etc. to be able to feel confident enough to thrive, grow, reach upwards and keep striving for our goals and dreams. (All my yoga classes this week were on this topic.) This amaryllis bulb was placed in my dining room near the glass doors after Christmas 2014, as I read it needed a lot of light to re-bloom. For a year it didn’t bloom. A few months ago, I planted it underneath my potted tree outback thinking, well, maybe diffused light is better? AND it was! How wonderful that the week I am traveling to a new place to write, I get this send off! Maybe my new surroundings will spark some exciting growth for me? … (And you’ll notice that my plumeria and a sprig from something I don’t even know its name, is also beginning to bloom.)

What can you change up to inspire some growth? Maybe it’s something as simple as getting a new vista. Walking in a different direction. Taking the stairs at work. Driving a different route. Saying yes to a new experience or a new friend. Setting a boundary when something or some one doesn’t feel right. Maybe you need to speak your truth and walk away from something or someone that hurts. Sometimes I have to experiment to find out what works for me, what feels right to me and where I can thrive. This I know for sure: When I focus on doing what ‘seems good’ to others, or when I ‘think’ myself into a relationship instead of ‘feeling’ my way, I don’t honor myself because I don’t know myself and I put others first, yet again.
I can’t thrive in those situations. I land in a place where I just don’t feel rooted, or where I can establish roots and grow.

These are just some lessons from the beautiful flowers in my home. There is a deep richness and infinite knowledge in them that I’m reminded of everyday.

Have a beautiful week! Take a few moments to embrace your infinite light. Embrace your potential! Make a short list of five to 10 things you need to thrive and foster the growth of your awesome self. There’s no one like you. And that’s amazing.

Love & Light,

Laura xo

 

Who’s In Charge Around Here, Anyway?

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Don’t you just love that line? I used to hear it from customers when I was a hostess at a 4 star restaurant in Manhattan. While in grad school, I worked four nights a week at a famous restaurant in New York—where some customers would become absolutely irate if they didn’t get their regular table by the window, or if they had to wait a few minutes, or God forbid their favorite dish was no longer on the menu. I remember that time in my life like it was yesterday— as I’m fairly shy and love to people watch. I was soaking up my city experience as I wrote my first novel. The bartender, a Russian actor and co-people watcher, and I would compare notes at the end of the evening over a glass of Sambuca. We swore we’d write a screen play someday—especially after members of the Russian mafia started meeting in the back room to gamble. (But that’s for another post.) Day in and day out there were so many compelling stories. Like the Eastern European couple who came in every night. They never spoke to one other, but the husband would periodically bang the table, to which his wife would respond by cutting her husband’s food or pouring his wine. Every week we’d get a Wall Street businessman on a hot date who would show up and yell and scream and insist he had a reservation—which, of course, he didn’t. (But his ranting and raving always garnered two free drinks at the bar.) Then there was the man who brought his mistress every week on a Wed and would give me an extra $100, so I wouldn’t mention it when he brought his wife every Saturday. (I split his tip with the wait staff.)  You get the idea. Manhattan restaurants are the perfect fishbowl, or cesspool, to watch human nature in action. Most of what I witnessed each week was a huge dose of ego mixed with the illusion of control.

 

And it is an illusion. In Manhattan especially, money—or the image of wealth—can buy you a table by the window, or a kiss on the cheek by the owner of a restaurant. It may even “buy” you a hot date with someone wrapped up in creating, or having that image. But it is hardly authentic power. Even the most powerful, (and by that, I mean the commonly accepted definition of accumulating wealth or being a decision maker in business or government) can be brought to their knees. Think about it. So much of our lives is completely and utterly out of our control. We are humbled again and again by the sheer force of nature—by earth quakes, hurricanes and floods. Every day disease, accidents and addictions tear apart lives and families. There is no control over when or if these types of events will strike us.

 

This is widely accepted. What is not typically accepted, however, is our lack of control over one another. I see it everyday—even in laid back Southern California. This I know for sure: we are all powerless over what people may do or say. Yet, why is it that so many of us still strive to ‘help’ our loved ones, or change them, or expect them to be or do things differently? Why can’t we accept each other for who we are—no more and no less? Why is acceptance so hard?

 

My best guess is that it’s hard to accept that someone you love, say a child or a sibling or a lover, is making toxic choices or doing things to harm themselves or others. Or, maybe it’s just hard to see someone change or grow in ways that make it hard for you two to still be close. Maybe once acceptance settles in and there’s no attempt to change, there’s nothing left but to drift away or detach with love. I think that’s the fear. It’s hard to let go.

 

So instead of letting go, so many of us cling on and hold tighter and just get dragged away from our center, or let others control us. In relationships, especially when I was much younger, I allowed others to try to change me or wield control over me. I have no idea why. Have you experienced that too? The family member or boyfriend or girlfriend who constantly criticizes  or nags or belittles in order to get you to change something about yourself. Maybe it’s about a career choice, or what is eaten (or not eaten), or about spiritual beliefs, or liberal views, or what is worn, (or how little is worn) or any other habits someone disapproves of, etc. It all comes from a need to control. It comes from one person thinking they know best. Or it comes from someone else’s jealously and a need to keep another reigned in. Maybe it comes from insecurity? Fear? Or selfishness? Or perhaps it comes from a person who expects to get what they want, even if it’s at another soul’s expense. I don’t know.

But maybe it isn’t always so cruel. I’m not completely innocent, but my attempts to ‘help’ others likely stems from a bit of naivete, or the hopeless romantic in me. I know I’ve tried to help others who are hurting from addictions or who say they are desperately trying to change and ask for help—even when doing so hurts myself. Slipping into co-dependency is easy to do, especially when love is involved. And it can become a type of control, even if misguided and well-intentioned.

 

Even so, I feel sympathy for those in relationships with subtle, or not so subtle, attempts to control one another. You know, the ones who constantly nag, cajole, manipulate, guilt, demean, belittle, demand, shame, blame, complain, etc. in order to get what they want. Some even resort to yelling or threatening—all to get someone to do something—stop doing something—or be someone else.

Sigh.

 

I thought of all these type of relationships as I struggled to think of something meaningful to say last week when I taught the first yoga class in a 12 step yoga workshop I’m participating in. If you’re a member of one of the 12 step groups, than I don’t need to tell you that the first step is admitting to being powerless over alcohol and that your life has become unmanageable. Well, that’s a bitter pill for some to swallow and for others, especially those who are not alcoholic, it may feel just wrong. I get that. I’m not an alcoholic, but have family members and loved ones who are. I  know how powerless it can be to live with those who are out of control. But when you think about it, we are all powerless over so many things. If you just take out the word alcohol, and input the words “over others” the first step is for everyone. Your life will become unmanageable if you’re still trying to control others.

 

And for those who have grown up with alcoholics, married one, or dated one, or ‘helped’ friends or siblings with the addiction, I don’t need to tell you how hard it is ‘to let go’. When life is always unpredictable, one strives to find stability, to help, and to control—often at the expense of personal goals, the ability to be spontaneous, to feel joy, to trust, to let go, and especially to ‘go with the flow.’  

 

That last line, which I hear often in yoga classes—”to go with the flow”—is a goal of mine. With that in mind, I decided to talk about my Outward Bound experience in last week’s yoga workshop on powerlessness. By 21 years of age, I had experienced WAY too much violence in my life—against me, against friends. I  had lost some very special people in my life. I was also a crime reporter in college covering murders and rapes and began to feel overwhelmed by fear and a sense of powerlessness. At the same time, I struggled to help take care of my mother who was slipping into depression after my father left.

 

It was a hard time for me, to say the least. With that in mind, I dropped out of school, worked full time for six months to pay for and go on a hard core Outward Bound. I wanted to wrestle my fears and gain confidence. Boy did I ever. And it happened while navigating class 4 rapids on the Chattooga River in Georgia. For three days all of us had to navigate this river in order to get to our next destination. For many in our group, comprised of many male athletes, this was the most challenging part of our experience. I guess because my life had been so insanely out of control for so long, learning how to navigate rapids came naturally. And, it seemed easier. There was a method to this madness. I learned my C and J strokes to control exactly where I wanted to go. I learned how to read the river: shallow areas were to be avoided.  Dark areas were the currents that would carry my canoe through the sweet spot of the rapid. I came to enjoy it. It was invigorating to struggle, navigate, and then to ride the current of the rapid. This was one challenge that my 100 pound self could do! It felt great.

 

Others didn’t have the same experience. The basketball player from New England, for instance, kept freaking out, standing in his canoe and tipping it over. And, to add insult to injury, he kept standing up in the river. You can NEVER stand up in a class 4 rapid river. I kept screaming to him to float, lift his feet. He wouldn’t listen. By the time I, or someone else steered toward him, his legs were bloody. He never listened and let his fear overcome him. By the third day, his legs were so mangled that medical assistance had to be called and he wasn’t able to play any games for the first two weeks back. Likely, he was used to calling the shots, making them, and being in control. His need to stand and stop the river was real.

I, on the other hand, was used to living in a completely out of control world where nothing I did mattered. I couldn’t stop a crazed shooter. I couldn’t stop a boyfriend who tried to kill me or himself. I couldn’t stop a rapist from almost killing a friend. I couldn’t stop a family member from drinking and making bad decisions. I couldn’t change the fact that a semi hit two friends head on. Nope. None of it could be changed by one single thing that I did, or didn’t do. Navigating the River, on the other hand, was like being given directions, or a map. That, I could handle.

 

Funnily, on the last day, my canoe partner, a large football player, jumped up when a big spider fell into our boat. He literally catapulted me out of the canoe. It was like a cartoon character of Olive Oil flying into the air, then crashing into a rock. I had a shiner for 3 weeks that turned from black to purple to this really groovy color of yellow and green all around my left eye. Again, so much is out of our control, isn’t it? But, hey, for three days, I had navigated that river and steered us through insane rapids and smiled crazy-ass smiles as wind blew through my hair and the current carried us down stream. I loved every minute.

After four more days of navigating mountains with only a topo map, I returned home, went back to school, took an internship in London, and began working at a newspaper with a renewed sense of just what I could accomplish. Basically, I was learning the serenity prayer: “God, grant me the courage to accept the things I can not change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”

We can all learn our J and C strokes and the signs of the river in order to navigate our own canoes to take us where we want to go. It’s my metaphor for living out of fear and paying attention to what we can control: ourselves. We can control what we think, what we say, how we treat others, how peacefully we live, what we eat, how we take care of our bodies, etc. And we can take baby steps to follow our dreams. These things are in our control. They pave the path to authentic power.

 

There will always be things that we are powerless over. Maybe there will be those in our river flow who are careless—who fall out of their canoes and stand up in rapids, or who just don’t pay attention to the rapids they are being pulled in to. We can warn them and try  to help—but if we pay too much attention to saving them, we may neglect our own currents, our own destinies, and drift way off course. If we become obsessed with someone else’s welfare, we’re likely to get stuck in the mud bank, or dragged into rapids, or worse, crash. Conversely, there may be those who suddenly catapult us out of our canoes. But you know what? We have the choice and the ability to learn to float, to lift our feet, and to trust that the river will carry us safely until we can get back up and back into our canoes to begin to navigate again.

 

I know I write the way I talk—I meander and tell a long yarn, as many southerners do. If you read to the end, you should earn an award for patience! My final thought is this: here’s to navigating to the sweet spots of all of our rapids—to the ones that propel us through the chaos and to the soft currents that allow us to float, breathe deeply and enjoy the wind in our hair.

xoxo

Finding Strength, Keeping Kindness

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Photo by: Laura Roe Stevens

I’ve come to realize that I’m learning so many lessons during this painful four year journey as a single mom navigating divorce. I know so many of you can relate to what I’m going through, sadly. While I don’t want to talk about the particulars of my roller-coaster ride,  (which is a long story) I can tell you ,that even when I’m incredibly down, something inside me has started to shift. Maybe it’s the wonderful life/spiritual coach I had last year. Maybe it’s my yoga. Maybe it’s the meditation. Likely, it’s all three. But I’m *finally* realizing that I have needs and they need to be recognized and respected in order for me to ever garner any respect from anyone else. While I’ve said this before, it’s slowly starting to sink in that always putting someone else’s needs first, while swallowing my own—or trying to smooth things over after someone hurts me, instead of speaking my mind—doesn’t work.

Last year, my spiritual coach advised me to read Robin Norwood’s book Women Who Love Too Much. She feared that I would not learn the lessons of co-dependency that had been instilled in me since childhood. And she’s right. In graduate school, I saw a therapist who treated adult children of alcoholics and I became quite aware of how watching a co-dependent parent always cater to an alcoholic, trained me to put my needs last. When I watched a co-dependent parent always forgive after being repeatedly hurt, I learned that being treated badly is normal and to forgive divine. I ‘got’ the pattern with this therapist. I saw that when I was neglected and ignored by my alcoholic parent, it showed me to always watch for his moods, his needs, and to stay quiet and to rarely voice my own. I didn’t feel important enough. And when you don’t feel special, it’s hard to fight be treated with respect and as an equal. Deep down, I didn’t feel that I deserved it. (I mean, who else would tell their husband to take a new job that paid less and required him to work 2 weeks/month abroad while I’m at home, after an international move, with a 5 month old colicky baby and a sad 7-year-old. Seriously, it’s nuts.)

Putting husband, friends, children, work, first is something I was taught, like many women. But the underlying message screams: ‘I’m not worthy.’ It’s something that I never admitted consciously, but subconsciously, it was there. Depak Chopra calls it ‘conditioning’ based on how we are treated in childhood and by significant others. Norwood explains that we are not what these messages tells us, but we can’t feel any other way unless we recognize it and work toward ‘reconditioning,’ through yoga, meditation, saying positive attributes, therapy, etc. So, basically, it takes time.

After therapy in graduate school, I swore I would never put myself in that situation and I went years without dating. I had the two month litmus test, even back in undergraduate school, which meant, I broke up with someone after two months. The reality is that I was scared I’d give too much and give up on my writing dreams and myself. And I had good reason to be scared. I fall back on what feels comfortable, what feels like home. But that’s not a safe place for someone like me.

So, the lessons continue.

This past weekend was a low point as I was terribly lonely and exhausted after working at an insane pace (which I am actually grateful for!) and juggling the needs of my attorney with a settlement we’re trying to wrap up, and my sick four-year-old who was often at home instead of school.

I needed some R&R. My boyfriend had a needy friend and father to contend with and their own agenda. So, at one point, I let my older son play with a friend, walked my little guy to the beach in the stroller. He was so tired he fell asleep and I just laid in the sand. I listened to the volleyball players and the laughter and I tried to shut out all the negative messages that started back up regarding the divorce and focus on my breath. And I prayed. I prayed for strength and kindness. As simple as that. I prayed to be strong enough to stand up for what I need and believe in, while also being kind. It is possible to be both, don’t you think? I can voice my needs and be firm in situations that involve my children , yet remain true to myself. I can focus on what is healthy and positive while walking away from what is toxic, in a kind, loving way.

So, even though I didn’t have a sitter for the weekend, I kept my thoughts at this level. I dragged my boys to yoga on Sunday morning and left them in the lobby with yummy snacks and video games. I worked out and prayed for strength and kindness with one of my favorite teachers and let my boys see the healthy vibe of the yoga environment. There has to be a way to get through all of this madness with healthy boys, and a sense of self-respect.

I may never be able to stay still and calm in the midst of a storm, like Buddhist teachers try to do (See my post Zenful Reminder at Bedtime), but I can anticipate the storm and watch myself carefully. See, there is a storm approaching for me personally and its likely to come to a head at the end of the month. My goal is to stay strong and not lose my cool. As a very wise friend told me yesterday: “You can be self aware and not selfish. You have to respect yourself if you want respect.”

Baby steps.

Why Can’t I Embrace Time Off?

In my own way, I really do know why the caged bird sings. And I know why the bird stays too—even when the cage door is open. It seems selfish to take more than a quick flight around the room. No, the bird comes back to where she’s comfortable and finds beauty in her surroundings and in how happy her singing makes those in the house. Even when those in the house barely notice her and come and go as they please—she knows her role and knows that, somehow, the beauty of her singing and her reliable presence is helpful to those she loves.

I read that in Vietnam (and probably elsewhere) Buddhist worshippers release caged birds to improve their karma. In theory, this sounds wonderful. But I doubt that it’s a wonderful feeling for the birds. A picture I saw of a Buddhist releasing three birds spoke louder than words. Instead of flying away, the three birds crashed into one another with their wings barely opening widely enough for flight. It’s not easy to just take flight away from all that you have known, is it?

Now that my cage door has been blown apart, I see how ridiculous living for others all the time truly is. It’s okay (and healthy) to do things for yourself. It’s okay to take flight once in a while just because it makes you happy. Taking flight is scary for some of us. Doing things for ourselves can seem selfish. Especially if we are the person who fixes things, who kisses booboos, who makes sandwiches, checks homework, listens to woes and gives advice, and who lives daily for the crazy schedules of playdates and homework and dinners, and sports events and mommy-and-me classes. That’s the good stuff, right? It seems to give most of us (I’m talking the co-dependent us) more pleasure than our work—if we work outside the house. And it’s tougher than most work too—at least the two- and three-year-old tantrums are. When you’re the person who supports others, it’s hard to support yourself. (You know who you are: you’re the one who remembers birthdays, writes thank you notes, sends presents, plans parties, playdates, activities, camps, Dr. visits—all between other work duties you master. You’re the one who feels guilty taking time for yourself to exercise or get a rare manicure—as your goal is to make others happy and pleased and not to think about yourself, right?) So where do you exist when all of that is cut off? Where are you when that fades to black? Sound familiar?

I wrestled with all of that after my husband left at the end of 2009. But since he lives in Europe and I care for the boys pretty much 24/7, they kept me insanely busy and not able to focus too much on this question. Back then, I was just making it day by day and trying for force myself to eat and keep going. That’s how it was in the beginning with a baby and an 7-year-old to take care of. Flash forward two years and you’d think that I’d have overcome this crazy guilt I have about taking time for myself. To be fair, I have really been taking strides that started with baby steps and I’m getting there. At first, I felt insanely guilty about putting the baby in daycare so I could write (I’m a freelance writer) and get a break. After a year of separation, with me weighing in at 90 lbs and getting little to no sleep due to my insanely sleepless toddler, a good friend urged me to put my little guy in a small, family-run daycare so I could pursue my work and get a break. I did and within a few months landed some great freelance writing gigs. I was able to grocery shop without drama. I wan’t driving for an hour to let the baby sleep since he doesn’t nap at home. I was able to take a run and eventually joined a gym. Taking a pilates or a yoga class felt crazily selfish—even though I went months without a day off to sleep in. Why I felt this way is such a long story including a family history of co-dependency and an upbringing in the South where ladies who do-it-all and support their man are still highly admired.

But all of this is part of why the rare, cherished time-off from the kiddos, can be extra-ordinarily and oddly, hard for me to adjust to. The summer holiday for my kids with their dad should be a time for joyous celebration, right?

I should be thinking: Hurray! I’m finally going to have some time to myself!

And I am excited about that. I’m so looking forward to being me, traveling, writing and reading and just being a woman and not always a mommy. But a large part of myself is also wondering if my kids will put on sunblock or whether they’ll remember to say their prayers/gratitude lists at night or whether they’ll have fights that I can’t help them with, or if a tantrum might push someone over the edge, etc. Seriously, it’s so sad. Even as I write this, I wonder about my sanity. I am the quintessential co-dependant woman. There, I said it. So now, I guess I’ve become the co-dependant single mom who is having a hard time adjusting to the fact that she’s going to be away from her boys for a full MONTH. I haven’t had a week off since last Christmas and I think the last two days off was three months ago. So, yeah, I guess I’m due.

Why, then, am I not jumping up and down with glee!? It’s scary to take flight. It’s frightening to venture out and try to reclaim life outside of motherhood. I’m grateful for the chance, but hesitate at the door.

Any advice out there, my soul-sister, single moms? Seriously, any words of wisdom will be greatly appreciated this week as I say goodbye to my little guys.

Lots of love,

L. x