Monday, October 21, 2013

My Shell Story

I have never put this story in writing though I have shared it verbally many times as the "look how crazy I was"  funny antidote.  It took me years of self-realization to actually appreciate the awesome significance of it.  

Preparing to share brings back some very unsettling feelings about that time in my life.  I take a few deep breaths as I begin to write.  First, allow me to paint a picture for you of what my situation looked like back 2005. 

By 2005, I had moved twice in the same town, renting always, maintaining 3-4 bedrooms in order to give my children some sense of stability.   Not to mention a place for all their stuff!   My children were 23, 21,19 years old at the time..  College, college, college.  One living home and going to college and working.  I was divorced - out 5 years by that time.  Since I was self-employed and my ex-husband was.....( you can fill in the blank) I received no alimony and no child support after my children turned 18.   Just so you know, all three of my children worked and supported themselves while in school.  They knew I couldn't afford extras and never asked me for money even though if I had any extra it went to them.

I had my same business, the lactation center which I was struggling to keep open.  I was working an additional job
 (30 hrs/wk) in an emergency center in order to get health benefits for me & my kids.  So my typical week would look like this: work  at my lactation center 9-5 M-Sat.  After close at 5pm, go directly to my second job the ER and work until 11 or 12.  Then I worked all day in ER on Sunday.  Yes, I was exhausted!
I was involved in a 3 yr. relationship with someone who was separated, not yet divorced, he had 2 children, one of whom lived with him.  When I first started dating him, my sister said, "He's basically interviewing for a wife and a mother for his kids." At the time this seemed OK since I was looking for someone to take care of me and my kids as well.

He took me to Paris & Germany the prior fall because he had a business trip.  During our stay in Paris, he surprised me with an engagement ring.  (mind you he wasn't divorced yet)  Very romantically done, we were on a boat ride at night on the Seine. The boat stopped to drop us off right at the Eiffel Tower, everyone gets off and he asked me to marry him  alone on the boat.  I shoved it on my finger ( it was too small) while I was thinking I didn't like the setting much and would never have picked out this ring.  So when I got home from the trip, people said, "What that on your finger?'  I would say, " Oh yeah, I guess I'm engaged."  - Ha!

I know I sound like a bitch but this guy was constantly buying stuff (big dollar store guy)) and planning things and doing stuff without my input at all. Being a saleman and CEO, he was tenacious to say the least. He was a non-stop, busy person, hyperactive, constantly wanting to eat and do things.  He always wanting of my time which of course I had little time to spare.  It was like having another teenager!  But his very needy, very smothering and controlling ways looked like wonderful love to everyone else.  His son who was a freshman in high school at the time, never saw his mother so I was his "replacement" mother (just what i needed another child) His son was with us all the time.  Again, I know that sounds harsh but frankly I feel no emotion now as I write just the truth.

So the picture: a stressed out, broke, exhausted mother of three, engaged to the wrong person.  And then what happens?  I get breast cancer.  That's right, at 46 years old, I was staring at a pathology report that read, ductal carcinoma.  This time the diagnosis was about me ,not a family member, not a friend, not a patient..

My first thought was for my children.  At least, they were grown and not dependent on me for their day-to-day care anymore- they would be OK without me.  My poor parents. Surely, was lucky to be in a dedicated relationship - some people are alone.  I know it sounds morbid but for me My fiance (wow, that's is scary) jumped into this new situation like he was tackling a quarterback.  Me, being the quarterback.  He was all over it and all his anxiety came with it.  His father had just died the year before and he was still reeling from that.  Lots of baggage from his marriage and family dysfunction all around.  

I got through the surgery just fine, physically.  Emotionally, I plowed through my life of responsibility and dedication like nothing happened.  I checked off the breast cancer like it was a chore on the list of things to do.  Never looking back, not once. 

As the months go by, my fiance slowly starts to fall apart and our relationship begins disintegrating.  On the outside, he appeared like a concerned lover, the best fiance ever.  He came to all my doctor appointments and was around me constantly.  Which I know took the slack off my children and parents.  But why did I feel like I couldn't breath, like i was being smothered.  I wanted to feel lucky, here I escaped a serious illness in time and people who loved me surrounded me but I was smothering.  I felt like he wouldn't let me "own" my cancer - like it was almost his and not mine.  I was the one with the surgical scars but did I really take the time to process, to feel the impact of those sutures on my life - was I allowed to? or did I not allow myself to.

Well, looking back I can't blame anyone but myself.....I told myself for many years that "he wouldn't let me own it - that's not fair"  when in fact it was me who wouldn't let me own it.  This is where we get to the shell story....

So that summer, 5 months after my bi-lateral mastectomy, my fiance and I rented a house on the beach in Florida for both our families.  This was my first vacation and I looked so forward to it.  

The beach was loaded with the most beautiful shells so I started picking them up.  And I kept picking them up and picking them up.  Before you know it, the entire beach house was full of shells.  The kitchen counter and tables, chairs and such.  I proceeded to sort the hundreds of shells by shape, size and color.  No one was allowed to move or touch the shells.  Then I decide I will make shell crafts for everyone I know.  So I went to Michael's and bought frames, boxes, crosses- anything I can fix a shell onto with a glue gun.

In the moment, I perceived this as being perfectly normal behavior for someone on vacation.  After all, one should be able to do anything they desire and making crafts is creative and healthy.  Maybe I admired them because they were so beautiful and perfect and I felt far from beautiful and perfect at the time.   Maybe it was because they had traveled a rough and tumble journey just like I had.  Maybe it was because I could save them from getting crushed and damaged because I felt crushed and damaged.  Who knows but they attracted me like precious jewels from the Nile.

Everyone there was quite tolerant simply because they loved me.  Several attempts were made to change my mind or curtail my efforts but they were just met with indignation and total resistance.  This was my thing so just let me do it and be grateful for you homemade shell gift!  

I made a ridiculous amount of crafts which I boxed and shipped home to give away.  I was quite proud and excited about my crafty accomplishment.  Then, like with most things I never thought about it again.

It wasn't until years later that I realized how "over-the-top" my behavior really was.  That  if I had done my emotional work, it wouldn't have been necessary to collect practically every shell on the beach, obsessively sort them and make enough crafts to put Michael's out of business!  If I had faced the fear and embraced the vulnerability instead of run from it, I could have enjoyed my vacation like a "normal' person and feeling more at peace with myself others 

 Clear as a bell to me now, I  inconvenience everyone on vacation, neglected them all because I desperately needed to control something.  Why? Because I felt so out of control.  Six months prior to that vacation, things were said to me, written to me, done to me that were very scary and that I had no control over.  My body was sick and damaged as well as my soul.  I had not processed any of it emotionally and so I took it out on the shells.  Those magnificent little shells had no idea they washed up just for me to use as an outlet for my trapped feelings.   These shells were where my grief, fear, anxiety and sadness were glued to.  Like a mosaic, some of my  hopes and dreams as well.

Nope, I never married, we broke up within months of that vacation and thankfully I am cancer free.  I share my story to show off my authenticity and imperfection.  Something I would have hid before and been ashamed of - not anymore I wear those like a badge of courage.  And now when I see shells at the beach I don't pick them up - I just admire their beauty and secretly thank them for the lesson they taught me.   

I have to admit though whenever I see a craft made out of shells I can't help but think- 'I could make that!"

Surrender Box

Julie presented this great idea after reading a recent blog about making a Surrender Box. 
 Divine inspiration was responsible for our box design.  It was very important to me that it be representative and mindfully done.  So I  went to Home Goods and searched for the right box to use- made sure I checked every nook and cranny.  Low and behold, one box left in the  perfect size with the words "Believe in Yourself" on it!  Seriously!

I texted my BFF, Monica, who is an artist and wrote " I've got a fun project for us!"  So in her craft room, we collaborated and created the following:

Top of the lid-

- the words " I choose to let go..."

in a pretty, flowing font.

-print it on lined tablet note paper

- burn the edges as we plan to ceremonially burn our "surrenders"

-affix a butterfly as a metaphor for releasing it to God, the universe as well as our "metamorphosis" to  inner beauty and spiritual growth. 

- affix the word "surrender" to flank the sides of the lid - bolstering and framing our message on top, representing our commitment and fortitude. 

- then we put clear coat in it to stick and seal it together for strength and durability .....just like we, as a tribe derive our strength from being cohesive and sealed in our love for each other. 

That's what went into making this box.  So let's fill it up!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Pumping For Charlotte

 Pumping for Charlotte
THEN 12/12
NOW 9/13
Some of you may be familiar with this story as it claimed some national attention. 


My grandniece, Charlotte Rose suffered a traumatic brain injury at 11 months old.  Her miraculous recovery involved the use of pasteurized, banked breastmilk for 6 months.
We started a non-profit and raised 20,000 dollars to buy banked milk.

Since June, Charlotte has been fed with donated milk from the mothers in my lactation center. To date these selfless mothers have donated 2,500 oz of their miracle milk – our goal is 4,000 as we plan to feed her until she is at least 2 years old.  Charlotte received the milk via cup and GT tube during the night and for naps- 22 oz/day. 
Charlotte & her PEG for feeding

CMM Donor
My CMM freezer!
Fed Ex Tom picking up our CMM delivery!

Below is the email I sent to our milk donors when I shipped our first box of CMM!

Dear CMM Pumping Brigade!
 I was overwhelmed with gratitude this morning when I looked at my large freezer full of breastmilk for Charlotte. Brought to tears by your generosity and kindness, I packed our first box of miracle milk - 155 oz!  So far we have collected 836 oz!!!

 There are no words to "express" what this will mean to the life of our little girl, Charlotte Rose.  I have attached a recent picture of her (now 16 mo) exactly 6 months from the date of her injury-
Her astonishing recovery could never have happened without human breastmilk.

 I so appreciate that there is much more than milk in the bags and bottles that you drop off- its liquid love, dedication, commitment.......that's what makes it and you so special <3
Thanks for helping to heal Charlotte as well as me:)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Self-Compassion Comes Full Circle

Dearest Tribe,
Julie’s post about compassion struck a chord with me.  Many of you have heard me say- "Life comes full circle - the patience you need now with your little ones is the patience you will need later when caring for your elderly parents"

Well I am living those words, People!  I am knee deep in that place now- caring for my Dad who is terminally ill with cancer.  As you love your children and only want the best for them, I love my dad but I find my “emotional thermostat” is near bursting at times. 

My dad needs all the help a small child does- bathing, dressing and nutrition. Safety, security, shelter & love. There are some things he requires that can only be done by a nurse (me) so we are now "attached at the hip".  He prefers only me as well- sound familiar?!

You know how your baby has a huge "blow out" right before you are getting in the car? When we go out, (no, he doesn’t have a “blow out”-Lol, at least not yet- yikes!) but my dad inevitably has to “pee” right as we are leaving and/or have to stop frequently to prevent embarrassing accidents.

 Older folks are messy, picky eaters.  They can’t help it just like your child can’t help it but none the less- it can be annoying and unsightly.   Frequently, his clothes are permanently stained but he would wear them just the same, no different from your little ones. But what am I supposed to do, never take him out?

How about all the paraphernalia you have to lug around? Well, it is necessary I have all his stuff with me as well: glasses (reading, distance & sun) hearing aids (otherwise we scream at each other in public) dentures with accessories (or else he can't eat),cane (we walk very slow- I help him up & down stairs, buckle him in & out of the car) jacket or sweater ( he's always cold) medications & various medical stuff.  Velcro sneakers, soft, cushy clothing (sweat suits- easy to put on & off) - sounds familiar, I reckon :)

Seniors have issues with sleep similar to your little ones.  Unable to fall asleep, stay asleep or sleep at night but at least old people nap during the day.  I mean, how many drugs can you give someone before anyone becomes suspicious?!   Let me add, “elder-proofing” the house is a must, as trips and falls can be dangerous and deadly.   Who enjoys going to the ER?  Anyone?!

Like children, one of the hardest things is dealing with their changing emotional state.  Children are exploring, pushing, testing and constantly challenging their environment and the people around them. Seniors lose their ability to effect change, leaving them feeling dependent, burdensome, inept and melancholy.  Creativity, distraction and humor are tools I pulled out of my parent repertoire to help combat much of his negative self-imagery.

So I imagine that I painted quite the picture for you.  Can i tell you, it is truly uncanny that my range of emotions are so similar to when I was a young mother? I am not talking about the pleasant emotions – I am talking about the crazy, scary ones.  I bet most of you can relate. Here goes:
Prior to my dad being sick I had my own “little life”.  I came and went as I pleased, didn’t have to answer anyone. I am not solely responsible for anyone as my children are all grown and on their own.   So where do I suddenly myself?  In a sea of irrational thoughts that sweep me away more frequently than I care to admit.  Trapped! Cheated! Resentful! Angry! Vulnerable! Anxious! Sad! "How long can I keep this up?" I ask myself. "Why me?" I ask.  Sometimes I wish I could just run away - keep driving and not come back!
My life as I know it is -disrupted - gone - possibly over. I have "no life now and never will!"  Not to mention, the awful guilt that goes along feeling that way.   This is my crazy self-talk.   

But guess what?  I did recognized it.  It was unexpected and took me by surprise but none the less, I recognize it and know what to do to help myself.   Which is,  I need to "check in" with myself and with those around me who love & support me.  Take advantage of the hospice services offered to me as well as my dad.  Stay present in the moment, take it one day at a time knowing “this too shall pass” (no pun intended). But most of all, I need to have great compassion not only for a sweet man facing death but for the devoted daughter caring for him.
Hugs to you & me,

Dad & Me, St Patricks Day 2013
My dear friend, Carol replied to this post with a very powerful story:
"I think I told you that the social worker at my mom's assisted living facility encouraged me to ignore her phone calls ( sometimes 4-6 times an evening). Her exact words "just treat it like you would your crying baby". And that's when the penny dropped. Ignoring a crying baby is the beginning of a lifetime of thinking it's ok to ignore a loved one in need.  
I can't always take my Mom's calls but why wouldn't I when I can ?  And I never told the social worker that I NEVER left my babies to cry. It was chilling that she assumed that everyone does that."