Thinking Inside the Box

20180623_124724Long before I ever had a laptop, back in the day when I was tapping at keys on a typewriter, I kept various writing notes in a decorative box, the kind you find at a craft store for keeping photos or other treasures in.  While I was raising young children and my writing time was limited, it got my creative juices flowing just to take the box out and hold in.  I always knew I’d get back to my work-in-progress when I could steal time again and often that was enough to keep me satisfied.

My daughters have grown and moved out, and like Virginia Woolf, I now have A Room of My Own in which to muse and write and pile up essays and book chapters on my laptop. But despite the space and all the technology available to me today, I have not outgrown The Box.

My box has changed in size and type only, having now upgraded to one I found at Staples that fits my 4×6 index cards full of notes, quotes, and ideas. It comes with matching dividers and an adjustable follow block, keeping all cards upright and orderly. If one can fall in love with a box, I surely have.

I store essay and blog ideas, memorable quotes, notes from books I’ve read, and anything else that may inform my writing.  For jotting down notes away from home, I simply carry a little green index card holder, one that easily fits into a purse or a book bag. Notes from this can be transferred into the box later. 20180626_105010

Why not just store all these notes digitally? Because I often read in bed and want to be able to write on a 4×6 card rather than record info onto my laptop. But mostly because, whether working on an essay, blog or book, I want to be able to move the cards around, rearrange them while I am referring to them, build the piece I am working on.  Having so many tangible ‘moving pieces’ to work with gets me to the finished product, the whole thing, in a way that feels so satisfying to me. It’s all part of the creative process.

I see my oldest daughter, now a mother of two babies, struggle to find time to create.  I recently reminded her of her art journal, of the importance of getting her ideas down on paper, of not letting them fade away like a poignant dream that can no longer be recalled.  Whether in a box, a journal, or digitally, capturing our ideas in a way that we can easily refer to later, is half the fun and half the progress.20180626_145743

Place holders of inspiration. Nuggets of information. Parts of the whole, pieces of projects, even with small pockets of time, bit by bit will bring the dream into focus.

 

 

Childhood Trauma and Adult Health

pexels-photo-264889.jpegChildhood trauma, if not healed and released, is very likely to lead to significant health issues in adulthood.  It is time to call BS on the beliefs that keep us from healing, such as:

Time heals all wounds.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.

Leave the past in the past.

The past can’t hurt you anymore.

Groundbreaking research in neuroscience, psychology and medicine tells us that childhood trauma shapes our biology– our brains and our immune system- in ways that predetermine our adult health. The more adverse experiences, the higher our chances of developing heart disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases, fibromyalgia, alcoholism, depression, etc.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences quiz consists of ten questions regarding childhood traumas such as:
*Being verbally put down & humiliated

*Being emotionally or physically neglected

*Being physically or sexually abused

*Witnessing one’s mother being abused

*Living w/ a parent who is depressed, mentally ill or addicted to alcohol or other substance

*Losing a parent to separation or divorce

You can find the quiz here:  ACE quiz

The higher one’s ACE score, the greater the risk of disease. According to research, scoring 4 or higher can shorten your life span by 20 years!

 How Do We Heal?

Education:

Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology and How You Can Heal by Donna Jackson Nakazawa

Running on Empty by Jonice Webb, PhD

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk

Trauma Release Process by David Berceli

Mind & Body:

Healthy Diet

Exercise (including Trauma Release Exercises)

Yoga

Energy Healing

Meditation

Mindfulness

Expressing and Connecting:

Talk therapy, speak about the secrets, tell your story

Write, draw, art therapy

Eventual forgiveness

Awareness and education are the first steps along the path to healing. No one wants to live in the past, but the truth is that the past is living within us.  Until we address our histories and then commit to healing trauma, we are essentially neglecting ourselves, mind, body, and spirit. Time does not heal all wounds. But courage does.

 

 

 

 

God, Are You My Mother?

If I were to look at my life through an old fashioned movie reel, there’d be two frames that’d stand out above all the rest, and in stark contrast to each other. The first frame would show the worst thing that ever happened to me: being torn from my mother at the age of four. The other frame would be the best thing: the day I met God.

I’ve written about the worst thing many times. My mother loss is the soul wound that I’ve tried to patch up, wanting to be whole with all my might. Page after page, I’ve been trying to piece myself back together. It is a labor of love, using whatever love I can muster up for myself. That I was taken from my mother, that is painful for people to read. But bad things happen and people believe it. It is true. My mother loved me. I loved her. She was good and I was told to believe she was bad. She was alive and I was expected to pretend she was dead.  It has been scary to tell my truth, but how could I not tell it?

But the good thing, the best day, the day that I became whole, well that has taken me over fifteen years to even contemplate writing about.  I recall that day with  just as much clarity as the worst day; so much clarity in fact that it is almost blinding to my senses when I recall it, even now.

Why didn’t I write about it sooner? For one thing, what if the telling makes it less real? What if I am giving something away that was meant only for me? But also, there is only so much I can expect people to believe.  It might sound unbelievable to some, especially those who don’t believe in miracles.

Which brings me back to God and the day I met Him. Or Her. Or perhaps more accurately, All That Is.  Creator.  Higher Self or Inner Being.   I am not a particularly religious person in the traditional sense. I don’t go to church. I’ve never read the bible. But when you think you’ve been broken, eventually you turn to God to fix you. I prayed, I meditated,  I did God my own way, which was privately, quietly, and with my whole heart.

Then one day God showed up like a Mother. I mean he showed up in a Very Big Way. I had gone to bed the night before distraught over something, the details of which are not important, but that had everything to do realizing I was not  yet whole. I felt desperate to be whole. Desperate. I could not undo the past. I could not fix myself. I had all the material things I needed, and I had true love in my life.  I also had my writing, my passions. But I still had that gaping hole where my wound was and that night I really felt it. That night, I lost hope that I could fix myself, so I turned it over to God. I turned my un-whole self over.  I recall that I  surrendered, completely and intentionally; I am talking Jesus take the wheel surrender. And then I fell asleep.

The next morning, well, how can I tell you about this? How do I frame it?  I was new.  Real.  Whole. And so very alive.  I remember it all so clearly, so I will tell it clearly too. There were five feelings, or knowings, – there were five things that I awoke to find myself being – without even trying. There were just these five ways of being that took me over. Nothing at all was new on the outside, but I was suddenly different on the inside.

Presence  I was completely in the moment. My mind was not on the past or the future. I remember the phone ringing and not wanting to answer it, because I absolutely did not want to be pulled out of the present moment. I was totally, completely, there, mind, body and spirit. Instead of overthinking, worrying, and analyzing, I was simply being. I spent much less time in my head, and more time in in my body where my heart dwelled, where my feelings could flow through me. Instead of thinking, thinking, thinking, I was living. Life was now.

Joy  I was completely satisfied with the moment. Whether I was doing a jigsaw puzzle with my children, or taking a walk alone, it was joyful. I had no craving, no desire for something different. I was enjoying life in the purest sense of the word.

Love  I was filled with love for myself and others. I was overflowing with love. I was love.

Self-Care  I recognized and met my own needs, moment by moment, simply, and directly. When I was hungry I ate. When I was full, I stopped.  When I was tired, I laid down.  I exercised moderately and without fanfare or much planning. I just did it.  And I accepted my body completely, knowing I was giving it whatever it needed, without obsessing or even thinking about it, really.

Belief  I knew that anything was possible. I had met God. God was within me.  My self-imposed limits vanished. I knew that the more I “let go”, and allowed myself to be guided into right action, the better chance of achieving whatever I wanted.
And that is it. That is all of what I felt, and all of what I became that day that I met God. I was living, not in my head, but in my Whole Self . I was whole and it felt amazing. But before I lead you astray, I must confess something.

This did not last.

IT lasted a few days, or a week at most. And they were the most glorious days. But slowly, my doubt came back. My distracted mind returned. I judged people again, including myself,  and I neglected my own care, or expected others to meet the needs that were mine to meet. Bit by bit, I gave my power away without meaning to. My ego woke back up.  I got busy and overwhelmed. I didn’t pay attention. I didn’t check in with my Self. I started to lose my way again.

 

But  the really good news is that I know what to strive for now: To be more present, to find joy in my life every single day, to love and care for myself and to find the best in others. To believe that all of this is possible. Every. Single. Day. 

My dreams are possible.

So are yours.  

 

I aim to feel this way every day now and I fall short, every single time, but sometimes I get close. And God always meets me in the middle.

 

Perhaps I was meant to tell you about the day I met God.

Maybe the story was never mine to keep.

It does not feel less real, now that I’ve given it away, now that I’ve told you about this.

It feels more real.

And I feel more real.

I am whole, just like you. I was all along. I’d just forgotten.

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Memoir Excerpt

This excerpt of my memoir-in-progress was published in Mothers Always Write this week.  I told this story at a Boston Moth live storytelling event and after taking first place, I went on to perform it at the Moth GrandSlam the following year. It is the story of reconnecting with my alienated mother. The Stranger I Call Mother

Parental Alienation is a form of pathology in which one parent alienates the child from the other parent, typically after a divorce. I have been writing and speaking on this topic as a way to spread awareness and education and to be a voice for the alienated child.

More information on Parental Alienation can be found here:  Dr. Craig Childress blog and here: Dr. Childress on Parental Alienation Dynamics

If you or someone you know has been cut out of their child’s life, please educate yourself on this pathology. Do not assume the parent has done something to deserve this alienation. It is important to understand that a child rejecting her parent is a sign of the brainwashing that occurs in the child psychological abuse that is Parental Alienation.

 

 

Decluttering Christmas

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I hope I reached you before the frenzy swept you away. Chances are, the holiday madness doesn’t have you in its grip quite yet. And just what is The Madness? It is Everything You Must Do in order to have a great holiday. It is fulfilling grand expectations, your own or those of someone else.  Does the thought of that grab you at the sternum and trickle down to your gut? Does it excite you or hit you with a twinge of dread?

If you are anything like me, you are plenty stimulated without the extra holiday hoopla, thank you very much. Here’s my suggestion: Change the goal from having a fabulous holiday to having a mediocre one. Mediocre holidays are much gentler on the psyche. Declutter your Christmas. You know the saying, what goes up must come down?  The holiday mood- anticipation, excitement, chaos. It all has to come from somewhere and it has to go somewhere when it’s over! The time, money, and energy it takes to create an amazing holiday is likely siphoned out of your daily life, leading up to the festivities. Afterwards, the crash.
What if you decided not to steal from  whatever it is that makes your daily life good?  Your exercise routine, time with loved ones, alone time, your creative endeavor – whatever it is that keeps you sane and happy- you could guard with your life. Because every ordinary day IS your life.
Here are just a few things I am not doing in preparation for Christmas:
          Baking
          Sending out cards
          Going to a mall
     Here is what I am doing:
          Downsizing my tree to a mini one
          Making a simplified shopping list and sticking to it
         Going to yoga class
         Writing
Women have been complaining loud and clear about the mental and emotional clutter we carry that is causing all sorts of stress and fatigue. Then when the holidays come, we take on more. I don’t see many men stressing over decking the halls, do you?
Stop.
Simplify.
Rejoice.
Which brings me to this: Maybe you welcome the chaos.  Maybe you prefer not to simplify your holidays, and you make that choice with a happy heart, and skillfully, too. If that’s the case, then I think you are amazing. I bet you are one of those people who multitask with ease. That is not me. While writing, I might forget to take the pumpkin pie out of the oven. If I am deep enough in thought, I may or may not notice if the smoke alarm goes off. I really shouldn’t do two things at once. But the upside of that is, I can be really present for the one thing I am doing.
I look forward to strategically placing a few holiday decorations in my home. I love candles and clear Christmas lights and fern across my mantel. I want to be with family, with some good food and a few presents. I want to enjoy them before the holidays too, though. And after. No rushing, no stress, no frenzy, no crash.  There’s something to be said for being a holiday underachiever.  I’m saying No to the high of an amazing holiday season, and yes to the peace of a simpler one.
Merry Christmas!
Happy Holidays!
Peace.

Podcast: The Heart of the Alienated Child

Alas I have launched my podcast, The Heart of the Alienated Child. I have created this podcast as part of my contribution toward the solution to the family pathology of parental alienation. There are so many alienated children today who have no voice in which to speak of their truth and their suffering. I am grateful for this chance to be a voice for them.

*You will also find Episode One and all future episodes on the podcasts section of this website. 

Episode One: The True Position of the Alienated Child

The Whole of Writing

It was a busy and fulfilling spring with opportunities to speak in New York City and Boston at the Erasing Family Documentary fundraisers. In addition, I was invited to attend and speak at a meeting at the Massachusetts State House, and got to meet Dr. Childress, a psychologist renowned for his work in the trenches of parental alienation.

Now that I am back in my writing cocoon for now, I have taken inventory of what needs to be done next. If I take that all in at once, I am completely overwhelmed and feel certain to fail at accomplishing anything further at all. So I prefer to break it down in clear, manageable chunks and write it out. Here it is, along with my accompanying thoughts.

  1. When I first began writing my memoir, I included italicized entries at the beginning of each chapter. This entries were my present day thoughts. Partway through, I doubted this format and stopped adding those. After taking some space and time from editing this memoir, and doing some deep thinking about how to approach what is left to do, I have gained some clarity. I am putting the present day entries back in to the memoir, but focusing them on healing from old wounds, choice by choice.  This feels right to me, so onward I go.  Also regarding this memoir, I need to add my latest speaking engagements into my proposal, and start sending this updated version out into the world of literary agents. Secretly, (or not so secretly anymore) I’ve hoped that an agent or publisher would come find me, and I think that any writer who is putting herself out there in the world has every right to hold onto that hope, but we mustn’t depend on it! So onward with the tedious task of proposal writing and “hooking an agent” with dazzling queries and all of that. No matter how I come to find mine, I know she (or he) will be the perfect match for me and my writing. I cannot wait to meet!
  2.  I am preparing to create podcasts for anyone dealing with parental alienation. I am approached a couple times a month, usually by email, by a parent who is desperate to know what to do to reconnect with their child.  And recently an alienated father has sought my help in urging a trusted family member to somehow  bridge the ever increasing separation from his children “before it’s too late”. What I typically offer these people (who always seem like the kindest, most loving people who are absolutely deserving of their children) are suggestions for resources such as the blog and You Tube videos of  Dr. Childress, along with hope and my own thoughts and feelings and experiences from the point of view of the alienated child. Occasionally, we speak on the phone and I’ve gotten to meet a small number in person at various meetings or events. And nothing will replace those coffee dates I’ve had with a couple of heartbroken but amazing alienated moms who I now consider friends. But I’ve decided that it might be helpful for many, and in some cases more efficient, for me to create podcasts addressing the issue. As much as I would like to whip these up quickly, because there is urgency in this, I am feeling a bit compulsive about saying the right and true and helpful things so that the podcasts stand the most chance of being effective.  I want the first one or two to address the bystanders- the family members and society at large- the people who cannot change the alienating parent, but who may be able to do seemingly small things that could ultimately help the child and the targeted parent. I will also have episodes specifically for the targeted parents, and beyond that, I am not sure..maybe adult alienated kids (though I know the challenge in getting them to listen- or even know that this is relevant to them!) For those of you waiting for these podcasts, thanks for your patience, and I am on it! I will post them here for anyone to listen to and share as they wish. To the parents suffering (and I’d add to the kids too, but I doubt they are reading), I love you. I care about you. Even when I write about lighter things, because it is for the greater good that I keep my own heart light enough to move forward, you are on my mind and in my heart. You are all amazing because you keep showing up to life and putting one foot in front of the other, and you are always trying.
  3. Lastly, my oldest daughter and I are coauthors of a new blog, Highly Sensitive Material.  Mother is the common thread that is woven through all of my writing. The early loss of my mother (a living death if you will), did not stop my desire of wanting to become a mother myself, not at all. Somehow I knew it was part of my destiny and in fact the universe seemed to offer up all the love and resources that I would need to stand a good chance at this endeavor and maybe even heal at the same time. I think that the alienation from my own mother planted the seed in my mind of : For God’s sake, whatever you do, be a good mother.  Sometimes, oftentimes, this worked well, but I think if I am being honest here, I’d have to admit that  this is at least partially a fear-based thought. I am calling bullshit on the old adage What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  What didn’t kill me made me doubt my self-worth with every mistake. What if the whole point is to choose love more and more, including for ourselves? Maybe even especially for ourselves so that we can give it away. In my perfect re-do, I would have done all of my healing in early adulthood, faced the fear and the demons, and kicked-ass with personal growth. If that had been true, I would be amazing by now, at age fifty! I would be nearly perfect! And I wouldn’t have just been a good and loving mother, I would have been a perfect mother! But alas, this fantasy of mine must be set aside for the truth in all its imperfections. That is what my memoir is and that is what this blog, Highly Sensitive Material is about: Truth. It’s an honest, creative project that includes my life as a mother.

So this is what I’ve come to ask myself, day by day, in my writing and my life.  Is this choice out of love? Out of fear? Am I being truthful with myself? With others?  Will I ever get over feeling responsible for the reactions of others? And the fear-will I just act in the face of fear or will the fear go away some day?

My writing is my humble gift to the world, that makes me whole. It’s like putting myself back together, page by page.  It’s an act of love. Love can be scary. 

MOTH GrandSLAM story

I told this story live at the March 2016 Boston MOTH GrandSLAM.  After decades of being alienated from my mother, this is a window into our attempts at reconnecting. 

***

When my mother called me last September, I was surprised by how easily I still recognized the sound of her voice.  When I was four, my father had thrown her out of our home and out of my life.

My mother became like a family myth, an outcast who people only whispered about when they thought I couldn’t hear.

I saw her once when I was a teen. I didn’t dare tell my father.

I saw her again when I was in my twenties, a mother myself. She met my daughters who were babies then. For the next year we engaged in an awkward attempt at reconnection. We looked so much alike, yet we were strangers.

I had no idea how I would integrate her into my life, the life that did not include her, that in fact was very much built on her absence.

Besides, my father was still in my life and I didn’t know how to tell him I was reconnecting with my mother.  I could not find the words.

So I had pushed my mother away, because this seemed like the safest thing to do.

Devastated, she said “I think your father is controlling you just like he controlled me”.

“Well you’re the one who left me with him”, I snapped back.

Not long after this aborted attempt at a reconnection, she moved to Arizona

And then twenty years slipped by, just like that.

 

But last September she flew up to Massachusetts because her mother, my grandmother, was dying.

On the Wednesday before Labor Day weekend, she called me.  I asked about my grandmother and about my mother’s flight from Arizona.  I was eager to settle on a day that I would come see her, knowing this might be our last chance to reconnect. If not now, when?

I offered to drive to my grandmother’s house the very next day, on Cape Cod where my mother was staying.  She agreed, and then we hung up.

The next morning I went through my closet…what does one wear when they haven’t seen their mother in twenty years?

It was a beautiful, sunny day driving to my grandmother’s house. When my mother answered the door, I thought how lovely she still was.  And she was real, not a myth, not my imagination, Not someone to forget. She is my mother.

I saw my grandmother that day too, and my aunt, also casualties of my parents’ divorce; that whole family had been erased from my life.  Now they embraced me, welcomed me as if I had finally come home.

My mother and I walked and talked of the weather and of my grandmother’s end of life. We talked of my daughters, all grown up now, and of family resemblances and of the ocean and of her quiet life in Arizona.

I wanted to talk about the stolen years, to face everything head on, but I knew that even after all this time, her pain was still raw; I saw it in her eyes that filled with tears at the slightest mention of the past.

I can feel her regret that is so vast it could swallow her; I think her grief might turn her to particles, to the dust in the desert she lives in.

I want to say I wish you would move back to Massachusetts. I want to spend spend time with you, to make up for all the lost years.  I want her to know my husband and our daughters.

I want my mother back.  I don’t want her to live two thousand and five hundred and seventy-two miles away for one more day.  But I don’t say this.  Instead I ask “Don’t you miss the ocean?”

When it was time for me to go, we hugged goodbye and both said how happy we were to have had this day.   We agreed that we both wanted to stay in touch, but we made no promises, no unrealistic mention of all the time we would spend together, knowing she would fly back to Arizona, to her life there.

*We talk on the phone sometimes now.  We are still getting to know each other.

I usually keep the conversation light, because I know that’s what she needs.

But the last time we talked, I did bring up the past. I told her I needed her to know something. I said “I know you meant to bring me with you when I was four. I know that was your plan. You told me so back then. You were preparing me to leave with you; I remember”.

..There was a long pause…and some tears.  She was relieved that I knew this .

I love you she said. I always have.

I say I love you too. And then I ask about her day.