A rustle of leaves

I feel broken.  I don’t want to sit here and type this because it feels pathetic and like, enough already.  Get a grip, I tell myself.  But I can’t. I don’t have traction anywhere.  I’m slipping and skidding on this mess of a life that I created, that I allowed, that I chose.  Again and again I chose “try” instead of “escape”.  I convinced myself that there is shame in walking away, that it would be ‘giving up’ and that’s a bad thing.  I convinced myself that if we, he, I, could just get through this next Hard Part, things would be brighter, lighter, happier, safe.

Every time I told myself this.  And every time it’s not what happened.  Every time I walked through the fire swamp dodging things I told myself I could handle, battling things other people would have turned and run from, every time I believed.  Every time I had hope.

I had hope this time too.  But hope is a funny thing. Hope is sometimes a false prophecy, a thing that you believe not because you know it’s true, but because your wanting it to be true drowns out even the loudest protests of your intuition.  I’m good at that kind of hope. I give people chances, and second chances, and 72nd chances.  I believe that people are good… or I believe I’m only worthy of the kind of good they have to offer (which, turns out, isn’t really that good at all or the kind of good I really need).

I told myself that if I tried my very hardest, if I turned myself inside out and upside down, if I showed up perfectly, I could save this.  I saw myself as a life raft tossed out into rough waters; I was going to rescue him, rescue us, rescue our family.  But this thing, this category 5 life, it’s too much for me.  It’s too much for anyone.

I don’t want to say I’m giving up.  I never gave up.  I wanted this to work more than I’ve wanted anything in my life to work.  So no, I’m not giving up, it’s just that I have nothing left to give.


The trees all around me are finally letting go of their beautiful, dead leaves.  Leaves that once brought them food and energy have reached the end of their lives.  In the tree’s last breath of gratitude, she knows she can no longer hold onto them anymore.  She has to give herself time, without heavy, dead things sapping her minimal resources.   It’s time for the tree to acknowledge what she can give and what she can’t.  It’s time for her to slow her breath, focus inside herself, brace herself for the cold, harsh, lonely winter.  The tree lets them fall, one at a time, until her arms ache with emptiness.

The winter will be brutal.  She may become coated with ice, wind bending and cracking in her branches, shivering with loneliness.  But before she knows it, spring will come.  It always does.  She will be able to feel the warmth of the sun deep in her core again.  Life will churn in her, sap will flow in her veins once more, her roots will stretch a little further into the thawing earth, and new growth will sprout from her fingertips.  It hurts… the saying goodbye, the empty arms, the stretching and waking up again.  She will survive it, though, she always does.

I know spring will come.  I know it’s time to let these things, this relationship, drift gently away on a wind that I can’t control.  Still, I breathe sharp, ever colder air in my lungs.  I’m scared.  It doesn’t matter much that I know things will be fine eventually – it’s the time between now and eventually that feels treacherous.  I want to turn back, but there’s no where to turn.  Time stubbornly marches forward and I am compelled to march alongside, no matter how unwilling I am.

While I march alone in the darkness of this, I will hold onto spring like a talisman, a promise of thawing and warmth.  A promise of rebirth.  It may be the only thing that gets me through.


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With Intention

I didn’t choose any particular word that I wanted to set the tone for this year, but one seems to have chosen me.

Intentional… being mindful with my words, my energy and my actions… doing things with intention… not just because it’s the socially or culturally accepted thing to do… not because it will make someone else happy… and not avoiding things out of fear.

I have spent 40 years on a kind of auto-pilot, with so much of what I do borne of thought patterns and ways of being that were cultivated in an environment of uncertainty, conditional love, chaos and narcissism. Because my being is rooted in this tainted soil, living with intention is a lot harder than one might expect.

I’m not discouraged, not yet anyway.

This pull to do things with intention, to get off the co-narcissism hamster wheel, to live and breathe and think and speak in alignment with who I am, has far more to do with the upcoming culmination of my 40th trip around the sun than it has to do with the imaginary beginning of a new calendar year.

It’s been building, especially these past few months.  I find I have so fewer fucks to give – and the fucks I do have to give are genuine and deep and, well, intentional.

My ability to see the truth in the blinding bullshitstorm of this culture is improving.  So much of our media and healthcare system and political system is circus run by people who operate solely from a place of fear and narcissism.  No change will ever happen as long as the people in power, regardless of their moral compass, perceive they have something to lose.  That ‘something’ being money.  It’s astounding really.

Essentially I’ve decided I’m not going be a team player anymore; at least not in the culturally accepted ideology of “team”.  I’m going to do the best I can to be real, REALLY real.  To be honest about my struggles and my joys, but not be defined by either.  To honor, REALLY honor, who I am.  To be, just be, without excusing or apologizing for my imperfectness.

We are all imperfect.  All of us.  Every person on this planet is inherently fallable.  That is our humanity.  That is what makes us beautiful multifaceted prisms of light.  If we stay hidden in the darkness of fear, the fear of imperfection, we never get a chance to reflect the vibrant richness of our souls onto the world. We never get a chance to sparkle.

My intention is to stop apologizing for my humanity, to live fully, to accept and occupy this body completely, to own my thoughts and feelings, and to stop waiting for permission and looking for approval.

It’s time for me to sparkle.


“So don’t be afraid to let them show, your true colors,
true colors, are beautiful like a rainbow.” 

~ Bill Steinburg and Tom Kelly, sung by Cyndi Lauper


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I’m not well. In so many ways and for the past few days. It seems I have not yet learned how critical it is to put my needs at the top of the very long list.

When my body is screaming at me to stop and be still and take care, I need to listen very very closely. Today, I did not. Today devolved fast and hard and I had an epic unraveling the likes I haven’t subjected my family to in a long time.

It was ugly. Very very ugly.

I hate that this happens. With all the work I’ve been doing, especially lately, I thought I was in a good place. And I was. But I expect that good place to keep me there, to protect me from falling again.

It’s sort of like a relapse in a lot of ways; out of control, painful, and dripping with shame. Just without the dopamine euphoria of addiction.

I’m not addicted to melting down, though. When it happens I feel trapped, I feel powerless, I’m on the defensive and I feel stuck in this caustic, irrational mindset I can’t get out of. I feel like I’m circling the drain. I feel very much out of control. There is zero secondary gain.

I hate it so much.

I hate apologizing. I hate how it brings shame like bile up the back of my throat. I hate struggling so hard to keep myself together only to shatter into a million pieces throwing words like shrapnel.

I feel like I’m never going to be free, no matter how smooth the water seems, it can happen. So when, again, and how to I shield the people around me? How do I shield myself?

I know there are factors (germs, hormones, unrealistic expectations) that were dry brush and made this fire burn fast and hot. I know I deserve grace, too, but all I can seem to lay my hands on is more shame.


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Writers on the Storm


Nearly every time I’ve sat down to write my daily blog post I want to start by saying “I really don’t want to write today”. It’s almost true. I want to write, I just don’t know what to write, so because it feels hard, I don’t want to do it.  I know I don’t want to quit, but I also don’t want to disappoint anyone or have them skim my post and go, ‘meh.. next’.

Yesterday when one of my fellow NaBloPoMo’ers got tripped up and talked about quitting, she talked about the expectations of others, the fear of disappointment, and of not writing anything ‘good enough’.  So, basically, my life.  Which made me wonder – who is she doing this for? And of course, who am I doing this for?

I started blogging in 2005 because I saw one of my friend’s blogs go rather viral and saw how connected she seemed to other women, creators, bloggers, writers and mothers.  I wanted that.  I was dying for that. So I wrote and I hoped, but the magic didn’t happen.  I didn’t have whatever she had.  I moped about it, sure, but then I kept writing anyway.  I wrote because some of my family and friends read and it was a way to stay connected, I wrote because it felt good to have an outlet for my voice that had been quiet so long, and I wrote because it shined lights on scary places and showed me that whatever I thought was there wasn’t always so scary after all.

I still get stuck sometimes.  I left that old blog when some life stuff got very messy.  I waited quietly, so quietly, for a place to put my words again that felt like a safe harbor.  I go through dark phases where I hinge my worth as a human on whether or not people perceive me in a certain way.  I get it.

Everyone wants validation, to feel connected, and to feel like they matter; a lot of us look to find that through blogging. Except I realized, eventually, that when I try to write for someone else, I fail every time.  Every. Time.  But when I write for myself, I never fail.  It might be messy and disjointed, but I always get something, however small, out of putting words that I need to say down in black and white.  Those words might not matter at all to anyone else, but they matter to me.  Every single time.

When I made the committment to write and blog every day this month, I also made a committment to myself that I wouldn’t write for anyone even if every second of it was torturous and messy.

I’m writing to prove to myself that I can commit to this practice of sitting and putting energy into something so part of my core, but so often neglected, even when it gets hard. Especially when it gets hard.

I’m writing to convince myself that I can write shit and the world will not crumble.

I’m writing to show myself that I have to write through the storm in order to get to the sun.



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Weights, Measures and Humanity

On any given day, I completely and utterly love my job.  The work is hard, mentally and emotionally.  Nothing is really easy in the mental health field – people don’t seek out treatment because they have sunshine shooting out of their ass, that’s for sure.  Even so, I truly love the work because I get to be there and hold space for people when they are at their lowest lows. I get to be the ear they may have never had.  I get to shine a light they might not have believed existed.

But then there are days like today when it’s hard. Days when something about the person or the circumstances is too close and touches a nerve I didn’t know was quite so raw. It’s always my goal to find a way to engage the people I work with on their path to healing.  That might mean simply showing up for an intake somewhere or it might mean agreeing to inpatient psychiatric or substance abuse treatment.  Giving the person the opportunity to have autonomy and make choices empowers them to go in the right direction.  Usually.

And then there was today and a situation where the balance between keeping someone safe and maintaining their autonomy and personhood felt impossible to achieve.  All the risk factors were there.  But the willingness to get treatment wasn’t.  Every time I’m put in the position of having to take a person’s rights away in order to keep them safe, I take it very very seriously.  Today was harder than usual.  I spent hours back and forth between talking to the patient, talking to the people who care about him, talking to my supervisor, talking to our psychiatrist and talking to the ER doctor.  I was looking for a foothold, something that would teeter the balance heavily in the direction of safely allowing the patient to do what they wanted to do, which was go home.


In the end, I couldn’t.  In the end I convinced the patient to meet with a psychiatrist face to face, to get a second opinion of sorts.  In the end I put the decision in the hands of someone with a few extra, more expensive letters after their name.  In the end, even though the decision was never just up to me, I simply couldn’t tell another human that they were going to lose their right to choose.

Autonomy has become a very big theme for me spiritually in the last week or so. It cropped up when I was writing about my dad. It came up in therapy and I made some connections that, while uncomfortable, were spot on. I have never been, and continue to be, not allowed any autonomy when it comes to my relationship with my father. Because I have been wrestling with such ferocity in the last couple of years to simply be okay with and accept who I am, when that autonomy is challenged by anyone else, I react immediately. It’s no surprise that today, when I was charged with deciding whether or not a person got to keep their autonomy, I had a fairly significant reaction.

I came back to the office where my coworkers were joyous and gregarious – I on the other hand was bristling and short. I hated that they were unaware of the storm raging in me. I hated that I had been stuck with this case while they sat enjoying each other’s company. I set my things down at a desk that is far away from the normal cluster of cubicles and I started to cry. All the torment I was feeling came leaking out. I was rather shocked. But also not. What was really going on hit me as the tears came – I was identifying with this person, I was tormented by the decision I was part of, and I was feeling my own loss of autonomy at the same time.

I didn’t, couldn’t, let it last. I quickly wiped my tears – there was no way I could explain why I was this upset over an average case. I got my long overdue lunch. I sliced my perfect avocado and scooped it into my salad. I set to work doing what I do – telling another person’s story, getting it ready for that psychiatrist so that he or she could see what I saw and hopefully make the decision I couldn’t. The right one. Whatever that means.


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Getting Unbroken

I feel curt and edgy today, like everything is sand paper and bullhorns.  It might be the elections, or the lack of sleep, or the client I could do nothing to help last night, who was yet another victim of a mental health system that dropped one too many balls when it came to her care.  There is still hope for her, today might bring a bed, might bring some new treatment options, might bring an opportunity for her outpatient providers and inpatient providers to finally get on the same page.


Those things might make be making my mood worse, but that’s not really what has me feeling raw.  I got vulnerable in those last two posts.  I talked about my dad who I rarely talk about and even more rarely write about.  Ever since I first gave myself permission to pour words on to pages, I’ve turtled when it comes to writing about him.  Just the thought of writing about him and our relationship makes my muscles contract, flinch, freeze; the walls go up thick, fast and impenetrable.  I know it’s time now, I know I have to, but all the reasons that have kept me from speaking my truth, telling my story about growing up the child of a narcissist – those are all still there, still as complex and still as sharp and scary as they ever were.

It is good, in the end.  It gets all of this out of my head and allows it to take on new shape and texture and perspective. When I allow this stuff to come out, when I bring it forth into my life again, it leaves tendrils and strings to things still unsettled.  I see and hear shadows and whispers of patterns not yet healed, patterns that may never be healed.  Even after chipping away at this like old paint, there are faint trails of color embedded in the grains that may never come out.

Some days I feel like I’ll never be rid of all of this, that I’ll never be free of the bindings of a childhood unlived.  As I write that, I want to be apologetic.  I want to say it wasn’t that bad.  I want to tell you that there was joy, because there was.  I want to tell you that my mom did a good job, because with what she had, she did. It’s just that the parts that were unjoyous, the parts that cut deep wounds, left deep scars that still pull and tingle when I move my life in a certain way.  Scars that I sometimes forget are there until I bump into them just so and I’m thrust into this place that I thought I’d moved away from.

It feels never ending.  I thought healing was a thing, something finite that once done, is done.  Instead, it seems like a cycle, a spiral out.  Some healing, some setback, some healing, some setback.  As we move out from that small, tight space, the more we heal, the fewer and farther between the setbacks.

None of this will ever just go away.  It will always be part of who I am, part of what has made me.  Instead of looking at these scars as ugly and disfiguring, maybe it’s time to hold them in my hands, infuse them with love, tattoo them with newness and light.  I need to accept that even when they are painted over with what I know now, there will be days where I will feel the ridge of those scars.  When I do, I will be reminded that although once broken, my body and heart have stitched their ragged edges back together perfectly into something more thick, strong and brave than it was before.


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Estranged, The Father Edition: Part 2

The absence of my father in the past couple of years has not meant the absence of awkward expectation or the immediate absolution of all the emotional garbage I carry around as the child of a narcissist.  Life delights in presenting a myriad of circumstances to constantly challenge and question that which we think we know.

There was the time this summer when he had acquired Easter Equine Encephalitis, which has a 1 in 3 mortality rate. My sister shot off a text to me to let me know, which sent me into a bit of a tailspin.  I got to look at what it might feel like if he was on his death bed.  What would I do?  What I did was… nothing.  Had he actually been dying, perhaps I would have tried to see him.  My step-mother didn’t even reach out to my sister until he was on the mend. And me?  I heard nothing from them.

I have to remind myself that I have not done anything wrong by them in my adult life, ever, except not meet a status quo that is ever changing and elusive. At almost 40 I continue to be treated as if I had just talked back or missed curfew when I was 16.  This treatment is so normative from them that I actually forget that I’m not ‘wrong’ as a person, they just perceive me that way.


While the holidays are less fraught with dread than they once were, there is still uncertainty.  The last two years he has sent gifts to the kids via my sister.  I don’t want them.  Not because I don’t appreciate them, but because I would far prefer he buy himself a couple boxes of insight and humility.  It would mean so much more if he actually took the time to be part of my family instead of constantly expecting me, us, to come to him, to pony up to his expectations only to be guaranteed some kind of slight or hurt.


A few years ago, when my sister and niece first moved in with her boyfriend and his 3 kids, we had Christmas with my dad and step-mother at my sister’s house.  I only had 2 kids at the time.  The Man was newly living with us. The kids were opening their gifts from my father and step-mother.  There were lovely necklace and earring sets for my niece and my sister’s ‘step-daughters’ and big, expensive Nerf guns for my oldest and my sister’s ‘step-son’.  And for my daughter, the beautiful heart that she is, so loving and accepting of any and everyone – they got her a cheap $10 baby doll from the junk toy section at Wal-Mart.  My throat feels tight even thinking about it now, almost 5 years later.

My daughter did not grow in my body but she has been mine since before she was born.  I was part of the planning, conception, pregnancy and her birth.  I was the first person to see her perfect, rose bud lips, to rub the vernix into her skin while they helped her to breath, to touch and hold her while my ex was in recovery, to feel my heart ripped out when they whisked her to the NICU even though I was hot on their heels.  I spent every moment in that NICU until they finally discharged her to be with us.  I am her mother in every way possible for me to be.  Their $10 gift can’t take that away.  Their ignorance can’t evaporate my love for her.

She was 4 when this happened.  She didn’t notice.  My sister did.  My sister slid extra gifts her way, gifts that were from my sister, because that cheap $10 doll was the only thing her ‘grandparents’ got her that year. Because of that, I didn’t even notice right away. But she’s 9 now.  She would notice.  I would notice.

So, their gifts? I don’t want them. Anything from them, however detached from the source, is dirtied with judgment. Anything they have to give, that they’ve ever had to give, doesn’t come from a place of altruism and love. They don’t know us and they don’t even really try.

How do I set that boundary without being seen as a ‘ungrateful’? As that question comes into my consciousness the answer follows close behind – ‘you can’t’. They will always see me as not enough – not grateful enough, not pleasant enough, not pretty enough, not silent enough, not like them enough. That line is too heavy to tow, it always has been.

When I even think about communicating with him I start to get tripped up. I pre-apologize for how my words might sound, try to side-step land mines that may or may not be there, do the dance. It’s that same dance I said I wouldn’t do anymore, couldn’t do anymore. I’m not responsible for how he feels. That’s big. That’s a hard thing for a child of a narcissist to understand because we’ve been so conditioned to the opposite. Never being allowed autonomy, and being shamed for attempting it, is incredibly damaging – and I’m learning, that damage has been a stain on my heart for far too long.

When I was a child I was conditioned to believe that my voice didn’t matter, that I was only worthy of love if I put myself into a box whose shape was always changing. As an adult, I continued to choose to live within that narrative. I’m finally learning I don’t have to, that the perceived safety of silence and quiet are preventing me from living fully, and am actively working to change that.

I’m only responsible for my own feelings, my own behavior. I can set boundaries with love and without judgement.  What other people then do with that is up to them.  I will never be able to control the destiny of someone else’s happiness.  That, too, is up to them just has my happiness is up to me.

I don’t know if I’ll set the boundary with him this year and say “no thank you” to gifts. I don’t know if I have the strength to do it and still maintain my integrity, my autonomy. I might only have the strength to, again this year, let things unfold as they will. Whatever I choose – and yes, doing nothing is a choice – I will work hardest at being okay with it because regardless of what my father or anyone else thinks, I’m okay just as I am. I have to believe this in order to survive.


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