Creative Therapy

I haven’t been writing.  I mentioned that in my last post, The Wound, as well.  People ask why, and I have to be truthful… I have been immersed in serious, soul-searching, life-renewing therapy.  It’s intensive.

My therapist:

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The truth is, my writing is deeply rooted is some pretty painful places… I don’t know how to do it without connecting to the very center of that raw ache, and without naked honesty.  And for so many reasons, I just haven’t been capable of it for a large part of 2014.  But when it is simply too much to write the words down, I run straight into the waiting hum of my Pfaff. I have been holed up in my attic, cutting up beautiful fabrics into small pieces, and putting it back together to create something new, born of something else.

There is something so safe and so true in this act, I have found myself spending most of my time here.  Making dolls.  And purses.  And quilts.  And little snack bags.

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Often, with the meditative act of pairing one scrap of fabric to the next, I feel as if I may be stitching my own self back together.

It is amazing how finding the perfect fabric for the perfect head of doll hair can be a method of reconnecting myself.  And in that, I have had experiences in the last six months I never could have imagined.  Joining artist groups, sewing banners for a parade, painting rocks for a town wide treasure hunt, trading owl bags and quilts for facial cream and artwork, selling at holiday shows, being on TV.

http://www.wfsb.com/story/27353715/handmade-holidays-weha-artists-emporium?autoStart=true&topVideoCatNo=default&clipId=10836890

I used to believe that being creative was the same as being blonde.  Or green-eyed.  Or tall.  Some of us got dished out a whole lot more than others in the genetic pool we sprung from.  I must have waited in the tall girl line, and forgot about creativity….

Not so.

We have all been born out of creative energy… it is our life force.  Spirit.  God.  The very essence of who we are is this creative source.  Some were born with a deep sense of that energy within, and some have not fostered that connection.  Somewhere in their childhood, that place was snipped free, and we “uncreative” ones became untethered from the source.  Its tragic, and not without repercussions in our lives, to feel separate from the source of our humanity.

This may sound a little woo-woo to you all… and don’t worry.  Me too.  It’s coming from a woman who has spent a larger part of 10 years trying to scrub all things “spiritual” from my world.  More likely to spell out the word G-O-D than any choice four-lettered expletive.  And I have spent most of my childhood as well as adulthood actively rejecting all things Martha Stewart… including dyed wool felt and cotton batting and quilting thread.

Those eye rolls and f-yous are a part of my spiritual crisis now, and some of the reasons I am sewing up piles of little dolls and snack sacks. IMG_6769IMG_6770

I can revisit that later.  For now, I am relieved to just be writing a few hundred words.  And to feel that some part of my Self was stitched back together in the piles of fabrics and spools of thread.

So check out my goods… what has sprung from the therapist’s chair.

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Message me if you want any, or check me out at

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=oa.302818606570850&type=1

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Disney’s Maleficent: How to Protect your Sleeping Beauty and Prince Charming

 

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adjective:

doing evil or harm; harmfully malicious

This past weekend Rick and I led our three little girls, popcorn in hand, to see Maleficent in all her red-lipped, menacing glory.

Maleficent was the quintessential villain that haunted my childhood dreams…those huge black horns,  green evil spells, spindly fingers and deep, wicked laugh…  She was just so unrelentingly vicious, and her unchecked malicious intent left its mark on my young psyche.

Hence, I couldn’t  resist bringing the girls to see my animated fears come to life.

 

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Disney did an amazing job, and all five of us loved her story.  I did not realize going in, that so much of the original story of Sleeping Beauty would be retold.  But most of the characters in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty also appear in Maleficent, making it a retelling of one of my childhood favorites.

When we got confidently settled into our seats, my four-year old with her blond pigtails and dimpled elbows sat on a booster seat next to me. And when she looked at me with her innocent, wide eyes I wondered what the hell I was doing, letting her watch this:

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I was that parent.  Ah, another opportunity to humbly swallow old judgements.

I pulled her into the bathroom, and while she washed her hands, I quickly explained that Maleficent was actually a mommy named Angelina Jolie. After her job pretending to be scary, she puts down her horns and pulls on her jeans and has dinner with her kids.  Just a mom.

I am happy to report that this strategy worked beautifully, as during the first scary/intense moment in the movie, Stella leaned in and whispered, “This mommy is really good at pretending!”

No one was scarred for life, and we all felt like clapping at the end.

There was just one part that made my toes curl and stomach clench.  One part in which I held my breath and felt totally conflicted.

 

Sleeping Beauty is kissed by the prince.

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Newsflash, I know.

Now, I do greatly appreciate the rewritten version.  In Maleficent, the prince at least hesitates.  He shows some misgivings and even protests, claiming that he and Aurora have just met, and they can’t be in love.

 

All good things, Disney, all good things.

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But he caves under the pressure and insistence of the three fairies, and Prince Phillip kisses the slumbering Aurora.

 

Knowing my little girls were watching this part bothered me much more than the fiery rages of Maleficent or the scary snarling animals.

 

Here’s why.

Disney’s Sleeping Beauty was released in 1959.

Disney’s Snow White was released in 1937.

Two movies, made a long time ago, portraying a man kissing a sleeping woman. Now, I realize that this kiss was an essential part of Sleeping Beauty’s story, and the retelling requires some revisiting… But in a movie theater with my three young children over 50 years later, a man kissing a sleeping woman simply re-romanticizes this action, making it modern and legitimate today.

The kiss still appeared to be an acceptable and chaste course of action, rather than a serious crime.

I know, I know, it’s just a story.  A movie.  A retold fairy tale.  I still have that voice in my head, telling me to “calm down” or “chill out.”   I have tried to talk myself out of this feeling of unease, or the need to write this post and make myself look like  a crazy, overprotective, manic mom with nothing better to do that pick apart a classic romantic gesture, a harmless little kiss.

But.

Parents, this is where it begins.  In the movie theaters when our kids are innocent little boys and girls.  In the seemingly innocuous kiss between prince and princess.

We are all from the generation where we watched movies like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, and it was all so romantic and sweet.

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But we know that women in this century want more respect than that.  Women want to show up in movies where we are not portrayed as helpless victims and fanciful, silly girls who only care about a prince on a white horse whisking her away.  And slowly, we seem to be gaining ground in our demand for better story lines, at least on the big screen.

(Not so true of Disney’s T.V. programs, as I have already wrote about here).

But there is more to ask for.

It should not be acceptable to walk out of a PG movie in 2014 and allow our children to believe that kissing an unconscious girl is just part of a fairy tale, and not a sex crime. This  action needs to be viewed as inappropriate content for children.  Prince Phillip would not be shown cupping her breast while she slept.  We wouldn’t have trouble seeing that as improper content… but an innocent kiss falls into that same category when the princesses is unconscious.  

We can all see how this dangerous storyline is playing itself out on high school and college campuses across the country, with life altering, devastating consequences.  It is important for us to recognize as parents of young boys and girls, that these subtle messages become part of a greater unconscious.  It matters.  It informs their development and understanding of what is normal and acceptable.  My own feelings of resistance in calling this kiss a sex crime speaks to the power of those subtle messages in our culture.

Those messages that blur the lines between romance and assault do not belong in a movie for kids.   It is our obligation to protect our sons and daughters from the devastating damage that can happen when we do not clearly delineate what is and what is not appropriate behavior.  And we need to start now.

It is never too early to begin having conversations about consent with children, and Disney just gave us all a beautiful opportunity to do that.

We left the theater with a lot to talk about… one of my favorite parts of seeing a movie as a family is the subsequent dissection and discussion.  My girls walked away from the film with a greater capacity for empathy and understanding.  They saw how a villan was created out of  the  agony of pain, heartbreak, betrayal.  They saw how a heart can be hardened by anger and vengeance.  They saw the devastation of revenge, and the triumph of  love and redemption.   I appreciate these ideas being visited more and more in family movies… the world is not black and white. There is a deeper compassion and mercy to be unearthed within a story of good and evil.

And then, we talked about the kiss.  It was a simple and easy discussion, relatively general, but it planted the seed.  One that will grow into further discussions and questions  in a natural way, preparing them for the complicated moments they will encounter in their future.

Understanding consent is more than one conversation.  It is a childhood full of moments where we take the time to point it out.  We have to be vigilant and willing to dissect a song, a movie, a kiss, a story, an idea… not allowing those small moments to slip unnoticed into their minds and become something that leaves them unprepared and unprotected for the experiences that lay ahead.

 

So go.  See Maleficent… be entertained and opened by her story.

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But please, protect our children… don’t forget the conversation after.

 

 

For more information on talking to kids about consent:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/summeranne/30-healthy-ways-to-teach-kids-about-consent

http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/03/examples-of-rape-culture/

http://time.com/40110/rape-culture-is-real/

 

 

Sound Support: 8 ways to Improve Life with Misophonia

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We have now been living with misophonia for almost two years.  Misophonia was a sleeping monster inside my little girl… awakened  during the summer of 2012.

 

Misophonia is condition of extreme sound sensitivity.  It is characterized by an immediate, acute, negative emotional reaction to certain sounds.  People with misophonia experience a fight or flight response to simple everyday sounds like tapping fingers, typing on a keyboard, crinkling wrappers, sounds in speech, eating noises such as chewing, swallowing, or crunching.  The fight or flight response creates panic and rage, and sufferers can become violent and emotionally explosive when they hear these triggers.

 

The easiest way to relate, would be to imagine being trapped in a room with someone who is scratching their nails down a chalkboard and will not stop.  Most people will have a powerful, negative reaction to this scenario… first a cringe, cover their ears… but if the noise persisted,  soon they would flee or get angry and demand that the sound stop.

My daughter feels this intense reaction to small, insignificant sounds.

 

Unfortunately, misophonia triggers can also be specifically focused on one person.  In my daughter, her emerging misophonia presented as an intense aversion to my voice.   In fact, emerging is not quite the right word… misophonia looks more like the sudden transformation from Bruce Banner to the Hulk.  Quick, violent, immediate, and terrifying.

I wrote about that crushing few months in Sound Desperation and Sound Hysteria.

If you have never heard of this condition, you are not alone.  No one seems to have heard of this condition.  Doctors and mental health professionals are unaware.  Which means that as parents and sufferers of misophonia, we are largely on our own, trying to cope with a disorder that looks like a giant temper tantrum.  Without being understood or respected as a true health crisis, misophonia can quickly tear a family apart, destroy relationships, and create a life of isolation and desperation.

Since we began dealing with misophonia, Lydia’s triggers have increased.  She now has powerful reactions to her sister as well, a heartbreaking reality I wrote about it in Sounds of Our Crisis, Living with Misophonia.

Her list of triggers are growing every month.
It has been bad.  Really, really bad.  I will admit here, that there have been weeks of time where my husband and I wondered if we would be able to raise our child.  I have googled  boarding schools in our area, feeling my heart may just disintegrate in my chest like a wet tissue.

 

Two years in, I am relieved to report that things have gotten so much better.
I finally feel like I have something constructive to say!  So, here is what we have learned, and how we are coping.  I want to share it, to help others who are in those really dark places right now.

It seems like every health article out there begins the same way… perhaps because even though we don’t want to hear it, the truth and healing lies in diet, sleep and exercise.

Bleck.  I know.

But essential.

Misophonia is easiest to relate to when you think about irritability.  Moodiness.   It is really hard to understand Lydia raging about the way I say my S’s, but I do understand what it feels like when I am too tired, too hungry, or too inactive.  Human beings are more likely to overreact, say cruel things, tantrum, or embarrass themselves if they are  sleep deprived, hungry, or have a lot of pent up, unreleased frustration.

 

So.

#1.  SLEEP

 

Lydia must have regular, good sleep.  We rarely allow her to have sleep-overs with friends or stay up late on weekends because being tired makes Lydia impossible to live with. We are very, very strict about her sleep schedule.  I am afraid as she gets older this will be harder for us to manage well, but for now, she doesn’t have much flexibility.

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#2. EXERCISE

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We find that she does so much better when she is really active.  We will always have her in a competitive sport that requires exhaustive exercise (like swim and soccer and track) because this makes her feel so much less irritated… and she sleeps better.

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#3. DIET

When she is hungry, watch out.  When we plan poorly and she gets too hungry, or if we get lazy about healthy snacks, Lydia has a much harder time with her misophonia.  It’s an almost guaranteed disaster if she gets into that low blood sugar zone.

 

#4.  HEAVY BLANKETS AND TIGHT HUGS

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Misophonia is worse with overstimulation.  When Lydia is feeling triggered, she will often come get a really tight hug from me.  The squeezing is helpful in reducing sensation and sensitivity, and calms the nerves.

We also bought Lydia a heavy blanket… these are straight from heaven.   We bought ours here…http://www.saltoftheearthweightedgear.com

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It is a blanket filled with beads or rock.  They come in various weights and sizes.  Lydia sleeps with hers every night, and the heaviness does the same thing as a tight hug.  It calms her overstimulated nerves and helps reduce sensation.  When she is in a meltdown mode, we will send her to her room to calm down, often under her blanket.

#5.   OVERSTIMULATION

 

We got really focused on the sounds Lydia hates, but the trick is to reduce stimulation while masking the sounds she is triggered by.  Bright lights and lots of noise chaos can make the sensitivity worse. We found these apps that have all kinds of noises… rain, static, chimes, wind…

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We turn down the lights, turn off the t.v. and then Lydia can chose one of these sounds to help distract her from her triggers.  We prefer to have this playing because we want Lydia to be able to manage herself with the most mild forms of intervention possible.  But, many times she still has to eat in a separate room, or use headphones to more thoroughly block sound.  It’s a slow process.  Even our four year old will acknowledge in gratitude the days that Lydia joins us for dinner.

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#6.  NEUROFEEDBACK THERAPY

 

For about a year and a half, Lydia saw a neurofeedback specialist, Rae Tattenbaum.  Here is the link to her practice:  http://www.inner-act.com

We were also featured on a local show, Better Connecticut.

Kara’s Cure: Inner Act and Neurofeedback

 

When the misophonia was nightmarish, Lydia would go at least 2 times a week.  We were able to cut down to once a week, and we did that for a long time.  This treatment did help her enormously, and we saw a huge improvement in her coping ability.  In the beginning,  seeing Rae was the only thing that made me feel like I could raise my daughter, the only thing that made our situation liveable. Once we had things more under control, we began to realize that the neurofeedback was not a long term solution for us.  When we stopped the treatments, she would slowly slip back into misophonia meltdown mode.  Eventually, we felt stable enough to look for alternative answers.

 

#7.   HEARING AIDS

In February, we found a professional who had actually heard of misophonia!  We took Lydia to see  Melanie Herzfeld, an audiologist  at the Hearing and Tinnitus Center in Long Island, NY.

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She recommended a set of hearing aids for Lydia, which emit a white or pink noise.  They help mask all of the small sounds that make Lydia go nuts.  She does not have to wear them all of the time, just when she is feeling triggered.

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The hearing aids have saved us.   I was very nervous about getting them, because they are so expensive and also not covered by our  insurance… but worth every single penny.  We bought her hearing aids one day before we drove from our home in Connecticut to Washington DC for spring break.  It took us eight hours. Normally, this would have been an epic nightmare.   We have been on way shorter trips that have been emotionally scarring for all of us, car rides where I contemplated hitchhiking home.

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She wore her hearing aids and watched movies with her sisters and I talked to my husband in the front seat… It was a miracle, truly.  I had been unable to speak while in a car with Lydia for the last two years.  I was so afraid to believe that it was not some kind of random fluke… but we drove all the way home without trouble, and have been doing well in the car ever since!

 

#8.  PAIN MANAGEMENT

The audiologist also strongly recommended cognitive behavioral therapy with an emphasis in pain management.  She stressed the importance of finding someone who will not try immersion therapy techniques (making Lydia listen to the sounds she hates).  Pain management would help Lydia learn coping techniques to redirect and refocus her attention.

 

We have looked around, but have not been actively pursuing this therapy for Lydia right now.  The techniques in #1-7 have helped get us to such a safe place, we don’t feel it’s necessary right now.  But I also know that things change.  Lydia is going to change.  We will grow and adjust with her, and it’s good to know where we will look next if we need more help.

There are websites and support groups popping up on the internet now that can also be sought out.  Personally, I avoid them, although I am sure they are very helpful for others.I can not bear the stories told in those groups.  Most of them just fill me with heaviness and desolation, wondering if I will raise my daughter and never see her again when she is old enough to leave.  Will she be able to call me?  Visit?  Will she know her sisters and be a part of our lives?  Will she be able to have deep, meaningful relationships?  Love, without feeling tortured?

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I have to believe so.  And while I ache for those that are in that pain now, I am not prepared to be a part of the support group.  I can’t.  Because today, things are ok.   I can only look forward and believe that my daughter will be ok, and I will have the privilege of always being in her life.    But I offer all my love and support in sharing our story here.

And I will contact anyone who needs to hear a person say, “I understand.”

We understand.

Update:  Since writing this post, I have gone back to school to earn a masters degree in Consciousness Studies, and a Transformational Coaching certificate.  It has dramatically changed my life and my family, and I have benefitted tremendously from coaching.  The coaching relationship offers a kind, creative, nonjudgmental listening that was so healing for me.  I am now offering coaching to others.  The continual comments of hope and pain on this post have been motivating me to find better ways to manage the effects misophonia can have on our sense of self, and our family life.

Please feel free to reach out if you would like more information about coaching and how it can help people who are dealing with misophonia, or living with loved ones who have misophonia.  I offer a free 60 min inquiry session so you can get a sense of what coaching is like, and if we would be a good fit for each other.

Here is a link to my calendar, if you would like to book an inquiry session.

https://megpoulinindeed.youcanbook.me

 

You don’t ‘fix’ your child, you create the conditions for them to RISE.  

-Shefali Tsabary

Poulin, Meganphoto credit: phyllis meredith photography

Finding Understanding Amidst the Storm

“If we would know true love and understanding one for another, we must realize that communication is more than a sharing of words. It is the wise sharing of emotions, feelings, and concerns. It is the sharing of oneself totally.”

-Marvin J. Ashton

It’s been a wild week.  My last post about my brother coming out, and my journey to discover true love and support has kicked up a lot of intensity.  So many people have contacted me with loving messages and thank yous and sad stories.  I have learned so much in this week as I have been totally immersed in phone conversations, emails, Facebook discussions, blog comments… It has been highly emotional.  Despite the enormous outpouring of love that has been carrying me through the week, I also have been really, really angry.  Writing about this issue stirs it all up. Now that I find myself in fierce support of my brother, it is hard to hold onto my patience.  It is so easy to become swept up in defensive anger and I find myself throbbing with frustration  and fury over the stubborn, deaf ears and hardness that still exists.  I have read so many messages from gay people, thanking me for sharing my story. It has been shocking to me, the recognition that there are still so many people experiencing such personal rejection and anguish.    I read these messages, and their pain moves into my chest.  It settles into my lungs, heavy and toxic.  It makes the tips of my fingers pulse and my toes curl.  I hurt for them.  The injustice of it.  And many times this week, that hurt has spilled over into furious exchanges and hot tears.

In a whirlwind of emotion, there is a anchored truth at the center.  The truth is, we must find a way to communicate with each other.  Still the tornado of emotion.  Let the anger and hurt and fear and indignation and self-righteousness begin to lose momentum and fall to the earth,  so we can see each other, instead of a funnel cloud filled with debris.

We are not listening to each other.  We are not seeing each other.  We are screaming when we need to be whispering.  We are throwing punches when we need to be sitting on our hands.  We are frenetic when we need to be still.

My desire here is not to shout in angry protest.  We need dialogue.  We need to find common ground.  Things we can agree upon.  Things we can understand about each other.  So I am making an effort to take a seat, on my hands, mouth shut, eyes open.

To try to calm the storm.

Peeling Back Layers of Ugly: The Gay Reality

This was it.

The expectant tension was building in our awkward phone conversation to an almost unbearable degree.  I felt myself struggling to regulate my breath and appear nonchalant.  He struggled for words, a way to open the door, for the very first time to anyone.

His fear became so present, it felt like we may shatter when he finally found the words.

My brother is gay.

When he finally told me, a few months from graduating high school in the spring of 2004, every single bad, derogatory, judgemental comment I had ever heard about gay people played out in my memory. We did not grow up in a home where bigotry and hateful speech was ever uttered.  But we grew up mormon.  A place where they talked about the sin of homosexuality.  A place where t.v. shows like Ellen, or Will and Grace were considered immoral and inappropriate.  Where traditional marriage was considered vital in protecting society and moral character.  Where being gay was being a sexual deviant by choice.  Where in 2008, the mormon church would rally tremendous money and forces in  to support Prop 8 in California.

 It was not a safe place for my brother.

 I remembered every single off-hand remark or gesture he must have been exposed to.  The jokes that were just not funny.  The gossip that had been circulating in our ward in Colorado about a girl my age, who had “decided” to be a lesbian, cut her hair, and ran off with another girl after high school.  The head shaking and tsk-tsking and whispers of how painful that must be for the family, how disgraceful.

Shame and horror over those flashes burned in me, a small taste of how it must have burned in him for years.  I wanted to crawl through the phone and wrap my arms around him.  I wanted to look him in the eye and tell him how I loved him.  How it changed absolutely nothing about how I felt about him.  How it was going to be fine.  But I was thousands of miles away, and he was hiding in his basement bedroom in my parents house, filled with fear at being fully seen for the first time.

We went from rarely ever speaking on the phone, to talking for many hours every day for several months. If more than a day would pass, he would call, filled with fear of what I must be thinking of him, the judgement I was making, the disgust that must have been percolating for him. His vulnerability made me throb with empathy.  My mother and father called too… begging for me to tell them what was going on.  What was wrong.  Demanding that I let them in on the reasons for our daily contact.  Their fears were an endless ticker tape of threatening possibilities in their minds.  It was the only time in my life I lied consistently to my parents.

Here is the part where I have to be brutally honest. and own the course I had to take.  It’s not easy to write now, but it is real.

I had no idea what to think.  Like anything else, if it isn’t happening TO you, it is easy to dismiss.

I never considered that my brother had chosen to be gay.  That was ridiculous. I heard the pain in his voice.  I could feel his fear.  I knew that an alarming number of gay kids take their own life.  There was no issue of choice.

But the first thing I wanted to know was… why?

I did research.  I read about sexual abuse.  Or having a broken and damaged relationship with a father.  There wasn’t a lot more to read about the subject, in 2004.

I confronted Gardner, asking questions without malice, but honest innocence and a desire to understand.   He was not abused.   Nor did he blame my father.

Eventually, I realized, it simply doesn’t matter.  If he is not choosing to be gay, it matters not what the origins are.  The result is the same.

Then…  HOW?  I couldn’t wrap my mind around it.  How could he possibly be attracted to… MEN???    He was so patient, calmly explaining things to me over and over.  He asked me to tell him why I loved Rick.  Why I was attracted to him.  And when I did, he said, “me too.”  And I understood a bit more.  I never made a conscious choice to like men instead of women…  It just IS.  And the things that I loved about my husband and reasons for my attraction were all basically things that my brother was also wanting in a relationship.  I am not interested in having a romantic relationship with a female, and neither was he.

It was the first time I had ever really pondered love, attraction, relationships, sex, so comprehensively, and from such a distance.  I realized that my perception of being gay was just about the sex.  What a ridiculous, simplistic view.  Love is love.  Sexual attraction is important, but certainly not the most important part of a romantic relationship.  DUH.   It seems unnecessary to even write about this, but it was a revelation to me.  An idea that had never presented itself in my community, in my upbringing, in my religion.

Then… what can be done?  I  read and researched ways to “cure” being gay.  He could go to  terrible places that teach inauthenticity, repression, shame, and impossible expectations.  When those don’t work, they hook you up to electrodes and physically “shock” those deviant gay feelings right out of your body.

Erm, NO.

Several months in to these discussions and as my understanding unfolded, I remember telling my brother that after careful consideration, I felt that if it meant fitting into mainstream society, avoiding painful rejection and ridicule, and being able to have a traditional family, I would give it a go… and have a relationship with another woman, despite it not being my preference. So… maybe he should go try to date women first.

In that conversation,  my ability to empathize with desperate gay people who marry, have four kids, and are caught cheating on their wives with other men was born.   These horrifying, naive suggestions… this  ill-formed advice was rampant in mormon culture at the time.  Marry!  Have kids!  Find out that you were wrong about who you are all along, and we were right!  Jesus will change you!

Thank God my brother weathered these inane conversations with me.  He watched my understanding unfurl from a tightly folded, tiny piece of closed-minded ignorance into a greater understanding.  With the understanding came more real support and love.

Eventually, we made plans to tell my parents.  It was truly a scary time for me, knowing it would change my family in drastic ways. I didn’t know if my parents would be able to handle it, to be honest.  I felt fiercely protective of him… the idea of him witnessing their shock, the potential of hurtful words and tears… I could barely stand the idea of it.   If it was scary for me, it must have been a time of blinding, paralyzing terror for my brother.

We knew the long road we would be going to down to redefine expectation and the story of how everything has to be.  What it means to support  and what it means to be honorable and authentic.

What it means to really LOVE someone.

It’s crazy what happens when you are willing to take a step outside of your judgement and examine what you have been standing on.  The foundation of your ideas about something that seems so foreign and threatening…. is really just irrational fear.  It is dishonorable enmity born out of ignorance.

Once armed with my newly developed understanding, and countless hours of conversation, once my brother had moved out of my parents’ home and lived a comfortable distance away, I told my parents for him, as we had planned.  Their initial reactions, their shock, their questions were first absorbed by me.

Even then, I did not support gay marriage….because what about society?  and the children?!!?! what about the children!!!  Every single message I had ever heard in my life surrounding gay marriage was about how it would destroy the very fabric of society, and children would suffer.  It sounds real.  And scary.  Who wants the fabric of society shredded?  And poor little children to suffer?

I remember a specific, terrible night when my brother and mother and I went out to dinner and my brother was left to defend himself on this issue.

I loved him.  I supported him.  I did not think he chose to be gay.  But should he be allowed to destroy traditional marriage?  Bring kids into a home without a mother?

I had two little girls at the time.  How would I explain their uncle to them?  Will I allow him and a boyfriend to come visit?  Display affection?

It all seemed so scary…. so scary because it had been presented that way to me by my culture and my religious leaders, and the politics I subscribed to.  It takes a lot of de-programming to see the underbelly of this particular bigoted beast.

Fear.

Fear unfounded.

Gay Love is simply  LOVE.

Love is love, people.

It turns out, it was really not that hard to explain to my kids.  One day, they asked me if my brother had a girlfriend.  I told them he did not, but he actually wants to date boys, so he would have a boyfriend someday.  They nodded, shrugged, and asked for a snack.

One day, my brother had a boyfriend.  I showed my kids pictures of them together.  They thought he was really cute, and their uncle looked really happy.

One day, they came for Thanksgiving.  And they held hands, and kissed after the Thanksgiving toast.  They played games and made the kids laugh and made memories.

One, big, happy family.   It was normal because it was normal.

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We are complicated beings.  Emotionally.  Sexually.  Intellectually.

Being in love can be complicated, as most of us know.

But supporting love is not complicated.

The other day, my husband and I were visiting my brother in New York.  His roommate asked how it was, when we found out my brother was gay.  And I wanted to say it was great.  I was the loving, supportive sister who made him feel totally safe and secure and loved.   While that was always my intent, that is not what happened.  Most of that journey is a great embarrassment to me now.    Peeling back layers of judgement and fear can expose some pretty ugly pieces.  Under all that, is the glorious recognition that none of the differences that  keep us separate and critical are there.

I felt the need to outline this story because I recognize there is a huge leap in understanding that must happen to help people out of their locked-in beliefs about the LGBT community.  I try to exercise patience with others as my brother did for me, while I found my way out of that trap of intolerance.  In fact, it is not a leap, but a shedding of skin, the callous layers that we keep to protect us from people that are simply wanting all the same things everyone wants.

Love.  Acceptance.  Safety. Affection.  Respect.

Surprise findings:   Giving another human being these things is not going to shred the very fabric of society, or ruin your children.

Your children will benefit from your willingness to get rid of those callouses and be open to more LOVE in the world.  They may be one of those tender souls that the anti-gay movement is so visciously attacking.   It may be your vulnerable child you are burning painful scars into with your bigoted remarks and support of anti-gay rhetoric.  It might be your child that will sit at the lunch counter and be refused service because of who they are.

Enormous, painful, angry, wrenching rejection… that is what has been happening in my family since my brother came out.

But thankfully, my brother was not the target.  My parents refused to be a part of their culture, an organization that they had previously devoted their entire lives to. My other brother and his wife refused as well.  We have all marched out of the mormon church.

We reject the notion that my parents should reject their son. We reject the ridiculous stand that suggests that my brother should live his life void of the most basic human need… the need to love and be loved.   We reject the idea that being gay is like be an alcoholic.  For holding hands with someone, feeling love and affection and connection found in romantic love is not the same as having a beer.  We reject the  preposterous suggestion that only a married mother and father can raise a healthy child.  We reject the idea that being openly bigoted toward the LGBT community is in anyway associated with being Christ-like.  We reject the theory that eliminating more judgement, bigotry and hate in our society by allowing gay people to get married and yes, buy a wedding cake, will threaten others’ ability to carry out their religious freedoms.

It is not “hate the sin, love the sinner.”  That is not love.

The fact that you watch Ellen, are friends with a gay person, tolerate them at your dinner table or let them give you a hair cut does not translate into real love and acceptance.

It is not possible to “love gay people” and stand against their ability to be a normal, everyday, respected members of the community.  That is not love.

Love thy neighbor as thyself.  Do unto others.   Magnify joy.  Celebrate love.  This will not shred us, it will make us whole.

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What Can You Know for Sure?

know

verb (used with object), knew, known, know·ing.

1.  to perceive or understand as fact or truth; to apprehend clearly and with certainty

2.to have established or fixed in the mind or memory

3.to be cognizant or aware of

4.be acquainted with, as by sight, experience, or report

5.to understand from experience or attainment

What do you know for sure?

My entire life has been driven by this question.   KNOW… the most powerful word that exists in mormon culture.  When I say or even think this word, I hear the definitive crack of a slamming of a gavel.   It is done.

I left my faith because of the misuse and abuse of this word.

As a mormon girl, I ached to know.   I wanted it so much, the need swirled, undefined and cloudy within me until unmet, it settled itself into my bones.  Infused itself into my muscles and fibers and tissues.

“I know the church is true.”

“I know the scriptures are true.”

“I know Joseph Smith is a prophet of God.”

 These declarations of truth are scratched into my psyche. Imprinted.  The desire to make those words my own drove me to the brink of despair.  I followed all of the mormon formulas, but the words were not mine to profess.  To be surrounded by people with such concrete proclamations burrowed a deep well of failure inside me.

Once a month, mormon worship includes  holding an open mic testimony meeting, where members of the congregation go up the pulpit and declare what they know is true.

tes·ti·mo·ny

 [tes-tuh-moh-nee, or, esp. British, -muh-nee]  Show IPA

noun, plural tes·ti·mo·nies.

1. Law. the statement or declaration of a witness under oath or affirmation, usually in court.

2. evidence in support of a fact or statement; proof.

3. open declaration or profession, as of faith.

4. Usually, testimonies. the precepts of God.

Although there is no script, the conditioning that begins in the preschool years leads to the inclusion of certain key phrases that most people use while “bearing their testimony.”  It almost always begins with

“I’d like to bear my testimony…I know the church is true.”

There is no age restriction, so usually the open mic hour will begin with children in the congregation.   Parents will lead their toddlers and preschoolers up to the mic, hoist them onto their hips, or let them stand invisible behind the thick wooden lectern.  They whisper the words to their tiny children.  The little ones must hold their breath with the strain of listening to their mom or dad’s sentences, which they repeat in a breathy burst.

I know this church is true…

I know the scriptures are the words of God…

I know Heavenly Father loves me.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Then the adults get up.  They will often tell a story to illustrate their “knowing.”  They often cry.  I remember my mother’s soft hands, twisting tissues around her fingers, dabbing her eyes.  She is moved to tears with ease.  My father, sitting straight and attentive, was less emotive.   Neither of my parents brought me to the pulpit.  I never felt their lips and their breath tickling my ear, feeding me their words to declare.  They did not pressure me as I got older to participate in this public ritual.  I felt weak with relief that they never required it of me.  But, the opportunity to “bear your testimony” was presented with great regularity throughout my upbringing.  Sunday school, scripture studies, youth activities, church camp, and family gatherings.  I have witnessed my grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, parents, mentors and friends all tearfully bear their testimony throughout my life.

My best friend through middle school and high school was not a mormon girl.  She was delightfully agnostic, and her life was not an internal storm of powerful statements and concepts  (God, testimony, truth, sacred, salvation, purity, modesty, worthiness).   She came with me to a youth overnight camp for teens ages 14 + when we were juniors in high school.   It was one of the few times I ever invited her to a church activity.  At the end of the overnight trip, there was a testimony meeting.  I sat next to her, feeling as if I might erupt with expectation, as one by one, my peers and friends got up and declared their testimony.  My friend began elbowing me, urging me to get up and do it.  “Go.  Go.”  She prodded after each teenager sniffled their way back their seat.  She wanted me to do it, she wanted to hear what it was that I knew.  I shook my head in refusal, and finally,  I turned in my seat and caught her eyes.  I let her see it, for just a brief flash…the devastation I felt in not knowing.

I decided to give the mormon church one last chance when I was a young student teacher, writing to a mormon missionary whom I felt I was falling in love with.  I wanted the door to be opened to me… the door that seemed to close me off from the knowing that my family and peers all spoke of so reverently… I had been knocking until my knuckles bled, and the mantle of shame, being shut out of this special place, was crushing.

I read the Book of Mormon.  It took a while, because every few verses I would be overcome by doubt.  I would read a passage and feel resistance.  I would drop to my knees every few minutes and plead with Heavenly Father to release me from the doubts, to open my heart.  To let me in.  A steady stream of tears dripped from the end of my nose onto the flimsy pages of text.  I finished the whole book this way, reading, weeping, pleading, praying.

I waited for the affirmation that what I read was “true.”  I waited for the burning in my heart, the warmth and knowledge that had been declared to me by everyone I loved.   It was a knowing I would not be granted.

It could not be formed out of my desire.

Over the weekend, Rick and I  watched the fifth Harry Potter movie with my girls.  In the story, Harry has to write “I must not tell lies”  on a sheet of paper with a magic quill.  As he does this, the words are painfully etched into his flesh.  When he asks how many times he must write the words, the professor responds, “Until it leaves a mark.”

There did not need to be a magic quill like Harry’s to wound me, only the continual and absolute declaration of truth and knowledge by everyone important to me…and their insistence that my inability to join them was my own retched failings.  The etched over words “I know this church is true” were not a delicious imprint, but a searing scar I carried.

They had left their mark.

I was never allowed to shape my own personal testimony.  There is only one answer to  arrive at… the church is true. How is a child supposed to explore and come to their own ideas about God, spirit, worthiness, sacrifice, scripture, and prayer, when the answers are whispered into their ears, etched into their souls since infancy, and kept there with the fear of losing their culture, their identity, the acceptance of their people?  The notion that what one knows to be personal truth should also be accepted or can be experienced as universal truth is limiting, damaging, and confining.  People need opportunity to explore who they are free of shame and fear.  Children must not be spoon fed what we feel is our truth.  It is our job to be witnesses to the unfolding of their own knowing. To present all the possibilities we can and watch with fascination as the differences and similarities emerge.

What do you know? What IS knowing?

I have known things.  That knowing came in a flash of recognition, the way a deep breath fills your lungs and then is carried into every organ, every tissue, every cell, through your beating heart.

When I comb through my life for the most significant moments, KNOWING are the shimmering stones on my pathway.  The moments I KNEW.   They vibrate with tension and energy….  The moment I knew I would marry Rick.  The moment I knew I was pregnant.  The moment I knew the force of a mother’s love.  The moment I knew that I must look for my own knowing.   The moment I knew I must reclaim myself.

The only thing that we can truly know is ourselves.  Knowing oneself is a work that spans a lifetime of inquiry and analysis and forgiveness and fortitude, and what I believe, is the purpose of our life.

To know oneself, is to know God.

“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.”  – Laozi

Fear is Not a Monster to be Conquered

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I didn’t fall away from the writing, let it drift into obscurity.  My confidence had been seriously wounded, my spirit had taken a beating in the last several months of 2013, but I was fiercely fighting.

 

It was a sudden snap, a clean break.

A good friend of mine borrowed my set of white dinner plates we had got in our wedding  for her Thanksgiving feast, and the handle on the bag ripped the bag open as she was returning them to me.  The plates shattered.  All but one.  Boom.

 

That same evening, Rick called around 10 pm from his indoor soccer game.   I answered and he calmly tells me that his Achilles tendon “popped.”  His word… he uses it because that is the sound it made.   It snapped in half.  Severed.  Connection of foot to leg, gone.  In one loud announcement, we moved into a world of crutches and immobility and surgery and a long, long recovery.

 

The outdoor christmas lights Rick and I had labored to hang on our house just days before stopped working.  And in my newly designated role as “person who does anything requiring movement,” I went to investigate.  Someone had cut our christmas lights.  Snip Snip.  The connection had been cleanly cut.

Coming in from the blowing snow after shoveling the porch and sidewalk, I fumbled my phone from my pocket, dropped it on the cold hard slate of the entryway tile, and shattered the screen.  For the past 6 weeks, I have been scrolling and peeking around the spiderweb of cracks.  The replacement can not happen till February.

Then I got my first flat tire.  Flat as a pancake. The tire had two matching wounds on the tire wall, big holes that had given way to the pressure and left the wheel a flapping, deflated mess.  I spent a day watching YouTube videos about how to get the spare tire and jack out of my Honda.  How to use a jack.   I spent an afternoon in freezing temps kneeling in the slush of my driveway trying to get those stubborn lug nuts to budge.  I spent dinnertime in a discount tire with three hungry, tired children.

 

During this time of domestic madness,  I let my stay-at-home mom status rule supreme and tried to quiet the constant tagalong nagging of my writer’s shadow jabbing at me.  I made cookies and gingerbread houses, bought toys and made picture calendars and did laundry and felt absorbed by the tasks at hand.  I gave myself permission to set it down…this need to write, this pull to create, this desire for a career.  While wrapping a mound of presents, ordering Christmas cards, and tearing the house apart to find the hidden gifts I had squirreled away  I thought about how I could just do THIS.  I convinced myself that I should just carry on as a stay at home mom.  No need to add more to my plate.  I enjoy baking cookies and making chili and watching soccer.  Nothing else in necessary.

 

But now it’s January 10th.  The festivities are over.  The kids are at school.  I can hear the clock on my wall counting the passing seconds.  Tick.  Tick.  Tick.

 

I have been staring at this blank screen for days.  For weeks, there has been a constant, nagging tap on my shoulder.  “Fix it.  Go back.  Restart,” the manic little creative monster on my shoulder whispers.

 

Why has this month been full of pops and tears and severs and deflation?

 Why have I allowed myself to totally disengage from my dream?  Am I defeated?  Whatever tenuous hold I had on my dreams broke inside of me…the past few months have proven to be too much strain.

 

Pop.

 

It’s haunting me…

 

Rick asked me, point-blank, the other night as we brushed our teeth in our tiny bathroom.      “What is the real reason you aren’t writing?”

I fled the bathroom and began straightening the bed sheets before climbing in.  He may as well be holding me by the throat.  But the answer floated to the surface without a lot of digging.

 “Self doubt.”      It came out louder than expected.

 I snapped off the light after he got settled into bed.

 “Fear.  It’s always fear,”  I whispered into the darkness.

 

And that is the truth.  I feel my heartbeat against my vocal chords as I bare this awful truth.  I am terrified.  Not of failing.  I can write something.  And at least six of my closest family members and friends will read it.  I can write the book that is literally eating me alive from the inside out.

 

And when I do, it will be.

 

But then what?

 

The fear surrounding that question…whether I can survive the rejection that comes with daring to reach for my dreams….that fear is paralyzing.

 The only thing that got my fingers moving on the keys today,  is the belief that everyone feels this way.   I am not alone in my fear.  Fear is not a monster to be conquered.  I can not get rid of the fear.  This is not war.  I can not beat it down or fight it off or make it submit.  I can not hide from it or hold really, really still and hope it doesn’t see me.  Fear is simply the absence of light. I found myself in the darkness, and it is normal to freak out.  To run and thrash and panic…a good way to draw blood in total darkness.  I got hurt, so I curled up in a ball and did not move.  But only in calm stillness can I spot a tiny spark of light to nurture.   I can only breathe in and out,  in and out and know that fear is allowed to be.   That every person who has ever dared to reach for something, work for something, create something, free themselves from something, has had to breathe through the same fear.  In and out, in and out.  The pop…the snap, the severance, comes from the strain of fighting it.  Fear of rejection, self-doubt over came me.  It happened.

 

But.

 

I ordered new dinner plates.  I removed the vandalized lights and replaced them with new ones.  I learned how to change a flat tire. I will replace my cell phone.   Rick’s surgeon carefully stitched his achilles tendon back together, and bound his leg in a cast to let it heal.  And I will begin again.   Breathing in, breathing out, letting the fear be there.   My new mantra helps me begin to move once again.


Only through the deepest Fear will I find the deepest Joy.