The Life Reshuffle…

IMG_5221

Divorce was the nightmare I didn’t remember in the morning until I was shoved into the front seat of the big screen called my life. It felt like being kicked out of the tribe, it felt like death — the death of my husband, my own death, my family, my community of friends, my home, my life projection, of my family’s collective innocence; it’s the death of every single thing I understood about who I was and what my life consisted of past, present, and future. Every memory, experience, decision, conversation, and even thoughts had to be reshuffled through this new reality.

The world you thought you lived in crumbles before your eyes yet no one else can see it. There is nothing to hold on to. The ones who haven’t been there don’t know (just like I didn’t know) and the ones that have, well most can’t look too closely at something that caused complete destruction once upon a time. This is called the hero’s journey, a spiritual transformation where the person you thought you were is hurled into the abyss to disintegrate. You didn’t get to choose your path because who the hell would choose that?

But, once you accept this new reality, you allow yourself to feel your broken heart, you finally get some choices once again. You get to choose to stay there decimated by the aftermath or fly out from the ashes like the phoenix of Greek mythology. The one glitch in the ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ argument is you get to choose how long to stay under the fray as well. It has been said that the phoenix can remain in the ashes for up to 1,400 years. It’s only been three years for me. It took forty-five years of layers to become the person I was before the earth spun off its axis, it might take some more time before I’m ready to fly once again.

You don’t realize those layers of certainty were holding you up until you are shaken to your core. It’s okay to start again. Grace and compassion and love for who you are, what you’ve been through, and the journey ahead is required. And, who knows, maybe at the end of this life there will be a special room with fancier snacks and a view for those who’ve had to fly through the abyss. Maybe. xo

“Divorce is far more than simply a change in family structure. It’s a reorganization of your entire life. Your entire self. It’s a massive transformation. A time when everything is called into question and nothing is certain. It’s also an opportunity. A crack in the bedrock allowing a change in course, an alteration of spirit. You can stay at rock bottom. Or you can choose to build.”

https://www.divorceforce.com/article/5-things-you-don-t-understand-about-divorce-until-you-ve-lived-through-it-by-lisa-arends

Please Hold On To Me: A Memoir (post 3)

jcc_0560

It feels like I’ve barely survived a natural disaster of calamitous proportions, seeking refuge from bitter winds, torrential rain, plummeting temperatures. My house a shelter, the last safe place. Although I’ve never been directly affected by hurricane winds and flooding or had my house crumble in front of me, I imagine those shattering situations to be better than what’s happening right now, regardless of how soft my couch feels, how lovely the vacations, or beautiful the view. All I’ve ever wanted is to go through life’s ups and downs with the person I love. I imagine we could get through anything, even a natural disaster, holding on to each other and our children but that is no longer the case for me.

It’s supposed to be us taking on the world, not us taking on us, as it’s been all too often in my life. The person who promised to hold my heart, and I his, changed his mind and got on the last flight out. I am left holding onto everything we built together – except his business but he credits only himself in that endeavor. I am ever grateful for the life we chose together and all that has been bestowed to me but I would trade it all to joyously raise my girls with the man I love and who truly loves me.

My parents were divorced. It was my dad who got full custody of my younger brother and me when I was almost five. The actual event was barely a drizzle raining down from Seattle skies. It wasn’t their divorce per se, but the constant drip of stress and smaller traumas that slowly poisoned my childhood, eighteen years summed up with one word.

For my generation, whose childhood spanned the 1970s and 80s, divorce is hardly remarkable. It happens so often; forty to fifty percent of couples break apart, a number that rose exponentially from less than twenty percent in the 1950s. Divorce is old news, hardly worth mentioning anymore. From the outside it’s just a light dusting of snow on the lowland hills, only a change in seasons – short-lived and life resumes once everyone is settled. “When are you going to move on, Janna, it’s over,” said one of my closest friends at the time, like I had food poisoning six months ago and keep making myself sick for attention. What? Although well-meaning, I’m sure, my friend’s comment speaks to our collective naivety of what it means to be forcefully extricated from the life you live, and imagined you’d live until your time here on earth is done. In the game of Life, you go back at least twenty spaces. I don’t have to choose my career path again, thankfully I took the college route, and I already have three pink pegs in my blue car, but I do have to go back too many spaces to be counted as a mere setback.

To say divorce is unremarkable negates the impact it has on one million kids per year whose parents try to start life over, ending their connection to each other and often times to their family. If it’s your parents, your kids, your life, it’s shattering. Many times, the parent who doesn’t have custody feels the immediate heartbreak most acutely, the children not quite aware of what’s happening and the parent with custody can briefly forget within the routines of parenting, respite from the ache. A lack of awareness is a blessing and a curse. In my case, it was my mom who was pushed out and then gave up on being a parent to look for solace in new bonds and a new life free of guilt and shame and loneliness. But in most cases at that time and now, it’s the dad who is kicked out of the tribe – first in moving away from the family and then by emotional bitterness setting him up for failure in holding the connection to his children. Ultimately it’s the child, millions of kids, it was me, and now my three girls who lose the most.

We all have the one thing we say we will NEVER do, ever. We will do whatever it takes to avoid this horrible thing we experienced as a child. We will bound to the top of snow-covered mountains or crawl through a waterless desert, navigate the greatest storm in a rowboat but we will never let this one thing happen. This was my thing – never, never, never will I get divorced and put my kids in a situation where they question the love of either of their parents, where they have to grow up faster than they are supposed to. “Really, God? This is where I am going? This path right here despite it all?” I look up into the gray clouds to ask these questions daily. I am incredulous. My only solace is that maybe within our one tragic-awful-catastrophic-heart-shattering-calamitous-no-way-never thing is where we ultimately find wisdom, acceptance of life and ourselves, grace. Even so, it doesn’t seem fair but who am I to argue? I have to concede that this life is my life and, yes, I must move on as best as I can.

When I was young I felt responsible to hold onto my dad, my only available parent, but I was just a kid. Our deepest need is to be attached, to belong. The only power I had was to sit quietly and wait for him to hold on to me until I couldn’t wait anymore, I had to grow up despite the conditions. This one gut-wrenching year when my own marriage fell apart gave me the gift to go back in time to parent myself through my dad’s three divorces and loss of his fourth wife from cancer, to give myself what I’d desperately needed as a kid – to be held onto by both parents. This time I did have the power to change the trajectory for my girls. I had the power to hold them close so they didn’t have to choose to hold on to their parents or to grow up – two essential imperatives hardwired from the beginning and should never be mutually exclusive. It was my responsibility to hold onto my girls, and despite every raw instinct to keep them safe from the person who was hurting me more than I thought possible, it was my responsibility to keep them connected to their dad. No one, not even me, can replace a parent.

 

 

Write Now

img_4142

The time is NOW.

I have a business degree and had a successful marketing career I loved in another lifetime, but through the twists and turns of life (i.e. three children, a specific life set up chosen by mutual commitment–also in another lifetime–and an internal gauge that doesn’t allow more than one setting at a time), I no longer crave the fast-paced, hand-shaking, yes-hustling, suit-wearing, jet-traveling, conference-room-brainstorming world of yesteryear.

The passion I pursue is storytelling layered with why people do the things they do, how the times we live in and people we live with shape us; what it means to be one person in this big world and one person in our own small world. The first story I need to tell is my own and it’s the story of how I lost my parents through divorce, heartache, and growing up. It feels like a giant dough ball I keep kneading and pulling apart and putting back together. I have been working that dough ball for quite some time, along with the little thing called learning to write. It feels important. 

I had a good childhood but a lot went wrong too and I used to blame all of it on my parent’s divorce when I was four-years-old. My absolute worst fear ambushed me when I went through my own traumatic divorce a couple years ago. Juxtaposing my adult experience with my childhood was terrifying and I will have to write that book when I no longer relive those few years.

Alas all is well now, I landed that highjacked plane, but I have learned some things from my child eyes, two decades of obsession with understanding human nature, and watching my three girls during our family upheaval. The story I can tell is how divorce was done in the 70s and 80s is no longer the same today. My generation was the first to experience divorce en mass, where over a million kids per year lost a parent, and maybe two by their other parent’s grief, pursuit of new love, or working three jobs. The divorce rate shot up to fifty percent by 1980. It was a crazy time. Governor Ronald Reagan signed the No Fault Divorce laws in California in 1969 (one month before I was born,) our country’s social and political structures made seismic shifts toward chaos, and yet many young people still wanted to believe the Leave It To Beaver pace of life would hold them. It didn’t, as many can attest.

I have read too many books about writing, purchased even more and I’ve been to many conferences and talks to teach myself how to write creatively. Turns out business writing isn’t so creative. I wish I could have just download the software since I already have enough school. Darn. Anyway, the time is NOW. I am starting this book and the above chart will mostly likely be the trajectory of my progress.

Let momentum be my kick in the…buns.

Stop. Listen. Rest. Repeat.

BW hammocks

Life is an ebb and flow…

When we forget and go full speed, with all of our energy, attention, and force without rest or compassion or grace for ourselves, we face what people call burnout. The flame is dulled, the fires of the heart numbed, and things start to go wrong… yet we keep g-o-i-n-g (why do we do that?). A weekend, a vacation, a kind-hearted friend, retail therapy, or even a run might provide balm temporarily but at some point deep rest will be required. We get a choice until it’s too late, until our body, mind, and spirit have spoken without answer for far too long and then the tsunami overtakes you without notice. It seems like everything that could go wrong does. Why does it all happen at once we say. Really we say. Why is it all happening to me we say. I can’t take anything more we say.

I prefer to do things the hard way. It’s just easier. When the tsunami hit I kept going despite body, mind, and spirit going under like a battered ship. This can’t be happening I said. I can fix it I said. Everything is going to be okay (meaning just like it was) if I just keep trying I said. It took almost 6 months before I let go; before I let the waves wash over me as I laid in the sand face down, barely breathing, choking on the lies, the unfelt cruelty, the waterlogged dreams I thought were my life.

And now I know how to listen to my voice and when I need deep rest. Now I know where to find stillness and how to float on the waves of my own spirit. Only now do I know how to give my whole self grace, stillness, love. It took more than a tsunami, hurricane and an earthquake to get me to let go — at least that’s what my astrology chart said for that year. If only I had known. 

Our lives are almost too much whether in celebration or grief, abundance or need, happiness or sadness, good fortune or bad. Listen to the sound of your own heartbeat. Listen closely and sufficiently. Allow for stillness often whether sitting in meditation, on a beach, in the mountains, by a river, a tree or in your bed.

And when it’s been awhile, an antidote to our abundant lives, that causes what they call burnout, is as follows:

“And the antidote to burnout is, symbolically, a return from adventures, from trials and tribulations, to the womb, to an inner sanctum where we can relax completely and finally, once again, experience vulnerable, wide-open love. Then and only then may a deeply feeling sigh of relief come, like rain on a parched field.” ~Waylon Lewis

Positive to Positively Authentic

Image

As Americans we say things like, Be positive, Don’t complain, Pull yourself up from your bootstraps, Move on, Don’t let it bother you, Don’t worry, be happy, Count your blessings, not your problems; all of these, full of wisdom and the path to a happy life. At times in my life, I have been the poster child for “Everything is AWESOME!” I read Stephen Covey, Og Mandino, and Dale Carnegie, and listened to Zig Ziglar tapes (yes, I said tapes.) I was in sales and marketing, which put me squarely in the Positive Psychology camp or suffer by comparison. After all, You are what you think. With a smile, twinkly eye contact and a genuine interest in other people, a person could be very successful. Follow the 10 Easy Steps to a Happy Life; I’m sure I read it and wired it directly into my DNA.

This was in my early twenties and in my late twenties I realized, “Wait a minute, some things in life are just not okay, not happy and certainly not good.” Being positive all the time and denying reality started to seem a little foolish and might get a person taken for a ride. Cynicism seeped in. It’s so easy because there are many smart people who will jump on that wagon in a snap. It’s one of those deals where if everyone is cynical together,we feel pretty smart, in a class all our own (some would call this the Ego Mind.) “We see the REAL deal and no one is fooling us.” During this time I had a boss who was still in the Positive Stage and, wow, she was so annoying. She was repeating the earlier messages on a daily basis like I had never heard them before. Ugh!

At some point I moved on from the cheery-boss and just stopped caring. Positive. Negative. Whatever. I just let my thoughts roll. They generally liked to roll down hill. This is about the time Corporate America was revealing itself as a tad empty and also after September 11, 2001. Life needed to change and it certainly did with a move from New York back to Washington, no corporate job and a new (colicky) baby. Catapulted into suburbia, in a neighborhood of moms with babies in every home, life rocked into an easy balance between the good and, let’s just say, not so good. Moms bonded on the ‘challenges’ of said babies, but relished all the goodness these little people brought into our lives; no positive-negative decisions necessary.

Now in my forties with children/preteens, I have come full circle. I found that no one really cares if you are positive or negative, although people generally do not want to be around complainers. If you are one of those people, you may find yourself complaining to your dog or maybe on Facebook – and surely there will be those who sympathize for awhile, but gradually we learn people Like you better when you have something of value to say. Cynicism is everywhere. Cynicism is easy. Cynicism is worthless. What I have found is I am far happier when I dig in to find the beautiful, the kindness, the lessons and the love in life’s situations. Sometimes it’s really easy. I lived in the Rocky Mountains for a year where I hiked, skate skied, downhill skied, touched the river daily and was surrounded by people who did the same. Negativity? None whatsoever. It was easy to be grateful for literally everything in my life.

Then life took a hairpin turn catapulting me into the abyss. Suddenly finding the positive was no longer easy and the ugly followed me around like a Northwest cloud in November. Now what? I do know You are what you think, but this seemed insurmountable, like climbing Mt. Everest in a wind storm. Pretending Everything is AWESOME! was just plain ridiculous, yet I still have the DNA wiring that says to Look for the good, Pull myself up by my bootstraps, Move on, Forgive and forget is the only way to happiness, yada, yada, yada.

However, when faced with the absolute choice, balancing these two opposite views on life is the only answer and I call this Positive Authenticity; accepting and speaking your whole reality with deep recognition of our infinite blessings.

Positive Authenticity is understanding we all have both light and shadows within us. The balance of allowing others to know our challenges, humility, cracks in the armor, as well as communicating our resilience, courage, wisdom, and love of life. Mostly, it’s about knowing for sure we all have everything we need, we are whole and good and unique and the same. We are human.

 

The Love Experts

1000px-MeetMyFamily...LOL

The movie Frozen is my favorite. It just is. LOVE this movie. There are so many layers of truth in almost every scene – which is why it is the highest grossing animated film in history.

In scene after scene I saw myself as Anna from falling for the absolute wrong guy to going in after someone to my own detriment and even, struck in the heart and slowly freezing. Layers, many layers. My name is even quite close, don’t you think?

However, lately I have been thinking about the Love Experts, Christophe’s family, the rocks, the trolls. Actually, I think these are my people or at least who I aspire. Grounded and connected to this earth, to each other, this group of people do not concern themselves with the fancy people at The Castle or what they may be doing. Most would not call them “fun” or exciting, but instead honest, compassionate, and loving. They help those who, through a connection, find them where they are because they certainly don’t advertise their ability to play matchmaker or rid one of a frozen head and heart. They live simply in a quiet enclave in the forest and when strangers come, they remain rocks until they feel positive energy. These Love Experts have crystal necklaces but will never go to the Ball at The Castle; they would be excited to see you go though. They joke and laugh, are serious and loving and they probably bicker and roll over each other’s toes now and again. They are real, authentic and the masks that many at The Castle wear are nowhere to be found among the Love Experts.

Over the last few months I have been adding color, lots of color to our home; art (mostly kid’s), photographs, healing crystals, candles, flowers, quote cards, and even painting. I hear about parties or (certain) people doing fancy things with “ubèr-fancy” people. Anna would be so eager to go and meet as many people as possible and maybe even THE one. She might even be sad or jealous to not be on the guest list anymore. No, I am creating my enclave of love with my girls. Fancy anything doesn’t sound as good as snuggling in with my girls, our dog and cat, watching a movie, holding our new crystal rocks, with candles flickering… I trust that God will bring to me those who I should know in good time. Yep, I think I just might be a Love Expert…despite all evidence to the contrary! Ha!

Life at the Speed of Life

Harbor 2

This week I had two of my three girls home for Spring Break. Since they were tiny, we have always traveled to Sun Valley, Idaho to catch the end of ski season and the beginnings of spring in the Rocky Mountains. However, this year is the first year our family of five is a family of four and we are all feeling less like butterflies and more like a caterpillars ensconced in chrysalis. Staying home was a chance to do life at the speed of life.

My younger girls are what I call Pioneer Girls (my preteen is a pioneer-girl-in-training, I call her my book girl) because they like to get their hands dirty and would prefer anything that has to do with real life than the entertainment most kids would go for. We had a ball sewing blankets and pillows, baking, gardening, cleaning our house, bike rides to the park, play dates with friends, and a few movies thrown in for extra snuggling on the couch after sleeping in and hanging out in our PJs for at least half the day. It was balm to my soul. It was life at the speed of life for all of us.

This year has been one of the most difficult (okay, actually the MOST difficult) years of my life, but at the same time has been the most peaceful, filled with extraordinary ordinary moments that have changed my perspective on life forever. Instead of breakneck speed of shuttling three kids to, well, everywhere, traveling and keeping everyone in a family of five happy (not easy when one was hell bent on being unhappy), our lives have now become grounded in our tranquil home with candles, flowers, flute music, healing crystals and art, lots of art. Sometimes the activity schedule gets disregarded, school breaks are spent at home and our lives are now filled with color, kindness and love.

The vibration of life has changed dramatically. I am noticing all that is quiet and lovely. When you slow life down to quiet, your inner self can come out of your head and you notice all the people who are doing the same ordinary, beautiful things you are: taking their kids to school, going to work, the grocery store, walking their dog, planting flowers, reading the newspaper, helping their parents or grandparents, nursing a hurt knee or teaching a child how to ride a bike or fix a flat tire. You revel in small conversations with the woman at the check out counter or the veterinarian or the man helping you at Home Depot. Kind people living life at the speed of life, who go home to their families, make dinner, go through the mail, let down their shields in the only real place that any of us can; at home, our sanctuary.

Thanksgivings for a Beautiful Life

Image

Twenty-eight things I am grateful for:

1. My three sweet, kind, exuberant, beautiful daughters. My forever family…

2. My Village, my Tribe of moms, friends, mentors, guides and confidantes that have provided the safety net, for me and my girls, that I have relied on this past six months.

3. My family whom I have spent my whole life celebrating life’s most treasured days.

4. My home, filled with life memories, is my sanctuary of love, serenity and goodness.

5. My dog, Sage and cat, Apple, who follow me around the house just to be close and remind me that a heart connection to others, furry or not, is all that matters in life.

6. My camera for the thousands of photographs I have taken to keep every life experience fresh in my memory. This will be helpful when those memories are not as easy to come by…

7. Music that fills my soul with peacefulness and reminds me that we all feel the same emotions but come by them individually.

8. Beautiful, colorful art, especially of nature.

9. My body that has allowed me to do everything from ski down double black diamond runs, jump out of an airplane to carrying three beautiful babies for 9 months inside and another year in my arms.

10. The experiences of growing up in the Pacific Northwest, four years in the fast-paced NY Metro area to the serenity of the Rocky Mountains hiking, skiing and living in the original North American ski town.

11. Books, books, books, and my infinite curiosity to read as many as I can. Without question, books are the foundation of my life.

12. Facebook for reminding me that the Universe is both large and small, that I am not alone in the world and have many kindred spirits…

13. My life experiences that have given me courage, resilience, curiosity, compassion for myself and others, ambition, and most importantly, the ability to love and be loved.

14. All four of my grandparents who have and continue to teach me the meaning and purpose of life is not found outside home but instead, right in the middle of everyday life among family and friends.

15. The sounds of happy children playing.

16. Peaceful mornings spent with a cup of coffee (with cream and cocoa), a book and happy girls.

17. My new car complete with streaming music, although Taylor Swift gets way too much airtime.

18. To be a stay-at-home mom while my girls are little. I am equally grateful to have spent more than a decade in my career and for the opportunity to resume my career shortly.

19. The opportunity to go back to college for an MFA in Creative Writing.

20. That God has been by my side directing my path for my whole life. He has given me very clear signs (crystal of late) that it is time for a new direction.

21. My GIRLS! (I know that was number one but, oh my goodness how grateful I am!)

22. Traditions, whether birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas or Halloween. As a younger person I didn’t always want to follow the crowd but the older I get it becomes so clear how those traditions comfort and bind us together as one.

23. The abundance of opportunities, comforts, and love that I have in my life.

24. My soft, fluffy bed with six pillows, pillow top mattress and book light.

25. Flowers of all kinds in a garden, window box, vase or wild on a mountainside. In college I used to spend $25 a week on groceries that included a bouquet and magazine. I still love to come home and unwrap a beautiful bunch of flowers to set on my counter.

26. Bob, for giving me the time and space to figure out who I am and what my purpose in life was meant to be. Most of all, for giving me the life to which I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

27. My GIRLS!

28. My beautiful life.

We Belong Wherever We Are

Image

You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you. ~Frederick Buechner

My family has lived in Small Town, Idaho for one year. How do I summarize the experiences of each of us as a collective? It is impossible, even as just one part of the whole. What did I learn? What am I taking with me? What added to my spirit moving forward?

I belong. I understand this simple fact with a depth I hadn’t known before living at the base of the Rockies for one year with my husband and three girls. Like the branch of a Willow tree I have been bent in ways that cannot be straightened. I have been stretched, molded and shaped this year by the place, the seasons, the people who have come upon my path and most of all, by the four spirits who have been chosen to walk with me.  My family.

For several years, Bob and I contemplated moving to Sun Valley. I resisted because it scared me. I grew up in the vast strip-malled suburbs of an airport pass-through town and found the anonymity comforting. I could come and go without anyone noticing. I could spend days without anyone knowing where I was or even wondering for that matter. I could get in my car and drive to the water, mountains or to Seattle on a whim. What would I do in a small town where there is one road in and out, the same people at the grocery store, school, church and post office? Would they like me? What if they didn’t? That was the fear – what if the people that I saw everyday didn’t like me. What if I didn’t fit in? What if I didn’t belong?

It is hard to say what erased that fear once I put my feet in the Big Wood River, but it never materialized. Gone. I took one step at a time up the vast trails surrounding the Valley in nature, in beauty, in acceptance. The grasses, wildflowers and Aspens didn’t care how long I have lived here or whether or not I was staying. They whispered, Welcome.

As summer transformed into fall and then winter, my girls started school one mile from our house. Happy, curious children smiled and asked, “Do you want to play?” The teachers asked, “Can you help?” We became part of a wonderful church community. We asked, “How can we serve?” This is a ski town so naturally there are a lot of people that like the outdoors and having fun while they’re at it. I joined two women’s ski groups where I found many lovely ladies who asked, “Do you want to hike…ski…bike?”  Wow. All that is needed is to show up. Show up with an open heart, an open mind and a sense of adventure. You can choose to join the collective energy or not. I chose to belong.

Although we committed to one year, tough decisions needed to be made. In my youth the choices were 1) the hard road but opportunity for big pay off; or 2) the easy path with the promise of the status quo. Of course, I always chose the hard road or the hard road was chosen for me, not sure which one. It is in my DNA, the pioneer spirit. I think I have finally grown up because the answer did not speak to me. Both options are good but the criteria for choosing did not line up. After a childhood of not belonging—perception is everything—I finally felt connected to this Earth, to humanity here in Sun Valley, Idaho. This connectedness did not have anything to do with friends, acquaintances or groups that accepted me, but instead a deep understanding that I am a part of the collective consciousness. I am a part of my family and they are a part of me. We are connected like Aspen Groves growing along the rivers and streams that stem from the tops of mountains and the rain clouds overhead.

The call to return to our roots is stronger than I thought possible. We need to return to where we were planted among our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and ancestors. The mountains, the Aspens whispered to me this year. The strength and fortitude of nature showed me my purpose. I have been realigned to the sun and upon leaving will never be the same. Never again will I wish or search to belong. I have learned that I can just show up with an open heart and an open mind. God will do the rest. He told me on the hiking trails in the summer time and while soaring up the ski lift in the winter. Welcome.

“Go where you are celebrated, not merely tolerated.” Letter to the Dean.

“Go where you are celebrated, not merely tolerated.” Letter to the Dean.

Dear Dean of Clinical Psychology, Thank you for the thoughtful letter regarding my experience in the interview process. I am very happy to know that you and the admission committee in the Clinical Psychology Department reviewed my application and found … Continue reading