This past weekend, I was immersed in a yoga teacher training course and on Saturday, when the course was done for the day, I headed to Whole Foods with my husband and son to pick up something. We were headed to the back of the store when someone came from the other direction and crashed her cart into ours. I couldn’t see the person, just the obnoxious crashing, and my fried brain (this teacher training is intense!) was taking all of this stimulation in so when I rounded the corner and saw the person’s identity, I had a moment of confusion. And then the thrill and gratitude set in. My daughter, a freshman at college, was home 4 days earlier than expected, and she and my husband decided to surprise me! I cannot describe the joy of knowing our family of 4 was back together for 4 days longer and sooner than expected!
And even as I sit here in gratitude, I am also deeply sad that the parents of a fellow student will be spending a very different Thanksgiving than they had planned.
When we were visiting our daughter at her college for Parents Weekend a few weeks ago, a fellow freshman went missing after a frat party and his body was found two days later. To add to the parents’ despair, there is a code of silence about what happened at that frat that night, but there is a general assumption that alcohol was involved, given the measures being taken by the school’s administration, and the comments made in the media by the family’s lawyer. It is unfathomable to contemplate what Antonio’s parents have been going through, and will, for the rest of their lives. They have set up an anonymous number where students can text or call in any information that may shed some light on what happened that night.
In the media stories about this tragedy, and a few others that have happened this year on other college campuses, there is the common point that fraternities were involved. The word “hazing” has come up as perhaps being the reason for this excessive amount of alcohol that resulted in young adults dying of acute intoxication. In general, this is the definition used for hazing: “humiliating and sometimes dangerous initiation rituals, especially as imposed on college students seeking membership to a fraternity or sorority.”
I actually think we have this wrong. I have spoken to a lot of people, from current college students to people who are 2-30 years out of college, and I think that what is going on is actually much more subtle than what we think of as hazing. I think it may be more along the lines of peer pressure. But not the kind of peer pressure that is overt “drink this or you’re a loser” - again, a subtle way that people tend to do something, normalize it, and if you don’t join them, you are an outsider, so you end up doing something you may not have otherwise.
About 10% of the alcohol consumed in the US is by kids ages 12-20.
One in 6 US adults binge drinks 4 times a month (defined as 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men, over a 2 hour span).
Alcohol causes 88,000 deaths per year in the US and of those, 1,825 are young people ages 18-24.
Each year, 696,000 college students are assaulted by someone who has been drinking - 97,000 of whom say they were sexually assaulted or raped.
Based on stories people have shared with me, this may be a typical scenario at a fraternity or sports team or similar type of collegiate party: freshmen eager to make friends and have fun and blow off steam join the upperclassmen in drinking copious amounts of alcohol. To the point of puking. And then they drink more. Nobody is pressuring them, telling them they have to do it. But it seems like everyone is doing it and part of them is intrigued, part of them wants to be wild and crazy and fun, part of them is craving a sense of belonging, bonding, feeling accepted and maybe even admired. I can imagine this was the situation at many of these occasions that resulted in tragedy. I imagine that the people who were there truly never really thought through to the consequences part, and if they did, they stopped at hangover. Certainly tragedy was not part of the realm of possibility. And the more alcohol thrown on the fire, the less involved the still-underdeveloped prefrontal cortex became.
I often talk with parents about this whole drinking thing and kids. They want to know, what can they do to lessen the chances that their kids will end up making poor choices? They consider “training” their kids to drink so they “learn how to drink in moderation.” Like the Europeans they say, you know, wine with dinner with the family (note: this is a myth. It does not work. In fact, it’s probably a really bad idea especially if any kind of addiction or mental health issue runs in your family, plus, a child’s brain is at a key developmental stage between the ages of 12-18 and introducing alcohol and other drugs is something you really don’t want to do).
I have also heard parents say to their kids, “just know your limits.” That one boggles my mind. What does this even mean? Know your limit before you get to the point of... puking? Passing out? Hooking up with someone you never would kiss sober, let alone have sex with? Losing your wallet/sense of direction/dignity? Crossing a line you never thought you'd cross? What is the limit? Is this your limit or your child's limit? Do they even know? Do you?
Thanksgiving is in 3 days. Do you know your limits? Do you stop before you reach them? I am guessing not. Of course we don't. Perhaps because the expectation is to gorge, it's even encouraged, and most clothing has spandex today (I certainly find myself only buying stretchy stuff). My point is, sometimes our limits are vague, and sometimes they are "supposed" to be blown through. So when it comes to life and death stuff, maybe we should be a little less vague?
So, as you have your kids home this weekend from college, I would ask you to consider taking the opportunity to talk with your kids about a few things.
1. Social anxiety. We all experience it. Anxiety is the most common mental health complaint, and social anxiety is its most experienced form. I meet lots of adults who are now sober who say they first started drinking (or using other drugs including nicotine) in order to feel less self-conscious and awkward. I also meet lots of adults who cannot imagine not drinking when socializing, going out to dinner, going to their kids’ ____ tournament, going to a fundraiser, going on a date… If we do not experience the discomfort, we will not learn that it is normal, and temporary. We will not develop the skills we need (eg conversational skills) as we navigate social situations our whole life. As I say to my kids, “Do you want to have to rely on alcohol or other drugs to have fun when hanging out with your friends or your partner?”
Parents: how do you feel about this? Do you think you could go one month, 6 months, a year without drinking or smoking weed in any sort of social situation or in anticipation of one?
2. Stress. We can all agree that life on this planet is stressful. It always has been and it always will be. It is the human condition. What may be different today is the way we handle stress. It can be argued that we are currently collectively in a state of intolerance of stress. Tony Robbins says we humans are motivated by two things: seeking pleasure, and avoiding suffering. It's totally normal. But for the first time we have really a perfect storm: the ready availability of all sorts of ways to avoid or numb discomfort (iPhone, pills, weed, booze, etc); a lack of real connection with people and communities who keep us grounded and accountable and help us feel supported; industries that feed off of our hunger to feel better about ourselves; a virtual world that means we are constantly reminded of how stressful the world is and how inadequate we are. And in all of this, we send our kids off to college with a "be careful, know your limits, keep up the good grades, have fun." In 2018, 63% of college students felt "overwhelming anxiety." I have heard kids say, "I am so stressed. I can't wait to go out and get sh*tfaced."
I remember before my daughter went to college, one day she was having a stressful day with some stuff involving work. It was adult-level stuff. And I said to her, "this is adulting." I also remember on other occasions when she would be complaining that she didn't feel like doing something (must have been her laundry, or some other tedious chore). I said, "welcome to adulting" and explained, adulting means doing what needs to be done even though it's a total drag.
Adulting does not mean this:
I know that a lot of these memes are considered funny, and I certainly used to laugh and share stuff like this. So I struggle to write this stuff because I don't want to come across as preachy and pious. I get it. It's one of those things where, as Maya Angelou said, "When you know better, you do better." I know better now. I know how destructive alcohol can be, and I find it particularly irresponsible when certain people and organizations and brands who have a certain amount of influence over parents and kids take a casual stance over something that really does impact mental health and wellness. I think it's one of those things where
We don't know what we don't know.
Parents: how do you relieve stress? Have you fallen into certain habits that perhaps need some updating? What message do you think you are relaying to your kids about coping with stress?
3. Values. What do you value? What is important to you? When you think of your life, where do you hope to be going? How do you want people to think of you? Honesty, honor, integrity, kindness, compassion, loyalty, genuine, sincerity, intelligence, wisdom, maturity, gratitude, humility - if these or other attributes are important to you, are you living this way? In all things? This is not about perfection. It is about intention. It is so easy to compartmentalize our values. A student may think of himself of being a loyal, hard-working person, but then turn into a jackass as soon as Jack Daniels shows up. We humans all do things that seem totally out of character in certain contexts, but if we are not talking regularly with our kids about values, and ask them what theirs are, then chances are, when things get hot and heavy it will be much easier for them to go with the flow, which is very often far below their (and our) usually acceptable standard.
Parents: have you experienced cognitive dissonance - when you identify as being one way, but your actions, choices, priorities don’t support that?
4. Belonging. We all want to belong. We are wired this way, as a survival necessity. When we belonged to a tribe, back in the ancient days, if we got separated from our tribe it was guaranteed death. Today we just need to make sure we have a charged phone and a signal or wifi, so it seems we are connected, but we really aren’t. We need and crave human, in-person connection. We want to be invited to stuff (even if we really don’t want to go), we want to be missed, we want people to laugh with us and share experiences with us. At college, we desperately want this and we want it quickly. Greek organizations provide a built-in tribe. Get accepted and you have your instant friends. The allure is understandable. A lot of these sororities and some of the fraternities actually do some really good stuff. They provide social acceptance, a place to live, a network, and a way to be of service through philanthropy. Boys and men typically have a harder time forming bonds and intimate friendships in our US culture, so frats can be a good way to provide structure to the awkward friendship experience. And their parties provide a fun experience with dancing, themes, a way to meet people. So how can this occur in a healthier way? If a college bans Greek organizations, how can these fun social experiences still be provided? (Because they will find a way, and perhaps more dangerously without the oversight that happens at approved Greek events).
Parents: do you have close friends? A tribe? Do you socialize in ways that are fun, and do not involve alcohol?
5. Entitlement vs. empowerment. I have heard, "If they can do this, so can we." "I have the right to do this." Often in the context of young women asserting their right to be equals to their male counterparts, when it comes to substance use and sexual behavior. This is one of those things where maturity, experience, and education come into play. And in many ways, ties back to the topic of values. Do you value compassion? Is pumping your body and brain with stuff that can lead you to lower your standards, including using another human being (because yes, using people is an equal opportunity habit) an act of compassion? And is engaging in the same behavior that other more privileged people or genders have typically done without social impunity truly empowering? I think this is something that even if we don't feel comfortable directly addressing with our kids, we need to be thinking about.
Just because we can doesn't mean we should.
This is the thing. We cannot assume that our kids will do the right thing, even if they are smart enough to go to a great school. From the choices they make for themselves, to the decisions they make that affect others. I remember when my friend’s son was a toddler, and he was reaching for something that she didn’t want him to have, she said, “I don’t know how I feel about that” to him and I thought, “well, if you don’t know how you feel about it then how do you expect him to know?” So often we make assumptions of what our kids will think or do. But I think we need to be clearer. I remember a boyfriend I had in high school, his dad said to him, “If you ever smoke pot I will be furious with you and hugely disappointed.” So he never did. Why are we so wishy washy about this stuff?
One of the reasons that 40% of teens today are vaping is because no one ever told them not to vape, because quite frankly, this whole thing took us by surprise. We didn’t even know what vaping was until about 2-3 years ago. By the time we adults figured it out, millions of kids were addicted to nicotine. Because of the brilliant (EVIL) marketing, the perception of harm was low for kids. Flavors like grape bubble gum and cool packaging etc, and we adults never educated them about the dangers (again, we didn’t know, in all fairness). But with alcohol, we do know. We know that the World Health Organization this year said that alcohol is not safe in any quantity, for any person. We know that most suicides involve alcohol, and it is the #1 date rape drug. (By the way, I tell my son that if he ever hooks up with a girl he is not in a committed relationship with- ie there is a certain level of trust and respect and agreed-upon boundaries- and she has been drinking, he had better be prepared to accept the possibility and the consequences of being accused of sexual assault). Alcohol greatly increases our chances of cancer, especially breast cancer and colon cancer (cognitive dissonance moment: holding a wine tasting fundraiser for breast cancer). I could go on and on but you get the picture. So why do we tell our kids, “just know your limits” - why do we set the bar so low? (Pardon the pun).
Antonio’s parents, and other parents whose college kids won’t be returning home this week - or ever - are the deeply unlucky ones (grossly inadequate understatement). Because this could have been anyone’s kid. Because we are all part of the problem if we are not looking at the way we are role modeling, or thinking about how we are talking with our kids about this stuff: making friends and how hard it is and it takes time; blowing off steam and handling stress in healthy ways rather than quick fix, mindless ways; looking out for people and standing up for our values, knowing we may feel lonely when we don’t follow the herd; looking at the long-term impact of the decisions we make today, because who we are in 5, 10, 20+ years depends on what we are doing consistently today and going forward.
I had the privilege of leading a group of beautiful, resilient women through a meditation so I decided to write something special for them. I am sharing it here in case it helps someone who lands on this page.
You are here. You are awake. You are conscious. You have always been here. You were born knowing everything you needed to know.
And then, along the way, you started to learn other things.
You learned that it can hurt to fall and ice cream makes me happy.
You learned that you can control people and situations and when you do, the fear feels less overwhelming.
You learned that it feels good when people like and accept you, and you can get that by putting their needs in front of yours.
You learned that you can change yourself to be like the people around you, like a master chameleon.
You learned that you can avoid feeling anger, loneliness, boredom, like a failure, by eating, drinking, using, manipulating, conquering, running, moving…
And eventually, you learned that there was not enough ice cream, wine, lovers, jobs, trips, geographics - to keep you from feeling, to fill the God-sized hole in you.
In the process of awakening, you have unlearned the layers of beliefs that have been piling up on me through the years, covering the deep knowing you came into this world with.
You unlearned the “you’re not good enough!” “you don’t deserve any better!” “you deserve one more!”
and relearned “I am enough.” “I am worthy.” “I don’t need anything I can buy, eat, drink, pop, screw, achieve - to make me amazing.”
You are learning that the things that you have done, have served you, have kept you afloat, have kept you alive.
And you are learning that you are so very strong, and resilient, and beautiful in your imperfection.
You are learning to see your cracks as the places where the light comes in, to see your weaknesses as the impetus to reach out to others and see your strength reflected in them.
You are learning to surrender to the knowing that you are powerless over things that once felt like a way to control your world, and you are softening in the surrender, astonished at the freedom of no longer having to wear the mask and grip the reins. You are reawakening, the way the spring flower buds start to appear after a long winter. Slowly at first, and then suddenly in a burst of color and life.
You are gentle with the woman, the little girl, you were not too long ago, and who you will always carry within you. You love her and know she was always doing the best she could.
And now, you love this woman you are becoming, as you remember who you are, and always were.
I scooped - or rather, scraped - up yet another offering of poop by my now 4-month-old puppy, and quickly transitioned into a pillar of core strength as I held onto the leash, taught with a puppy lunging away from me attempting to chase a butterfly, while with the other hand deftly tied the poop bag into a knot. Phew! I did it. And I thought, this whole puppernity leave gig is a LOT of work. No more sleeping in (OK, I don't do that anyway), planning my daily schedule keeping the puppy’s needs in mind (thank you dear Lord for the crate!), visits to the vet, taking him and the older dog for walks (no more than 5 minutes per month of puppy’s life, per day, I just learned), taking him to obedience training… It really is like having a newborn baby in many respects.
This blogpost started with me picking up poop, and poop is actually the main theme. Not literally (phew!), but more of a useful metaphor for life. Lately I have found myself sort of obsessed with the concept of a sh*t sandwich. My kids think it’s disgusting, but I admit that I have found myself saying “sh*t sandwich” (without the polite asterisk) pretty frequently while engaging in what I call Parenting. Here is an example:
Puppy makes a sound, I say, “he needs to go out and pee, please take him out,” child continues whatever activity they were doing, puppy pees on kitchen floor, I remind kid that puppy’s peeing inside was human error, and now child must take puppy out and clean up puddle. Kid grumbles. And I say, “this is the sh*t sandwich of getting a puppy.”
It is graduation season, and my firstborn is about to graduate from high school next week (eeeeek!), and I have been privy to several conversations with young adults about career options and college majors. We talk about what they enjoy, what they feel they are good at, what appeals to them. But especially now that so much of my day revolves around poop (of the canine type), I also talk about their version of the sh*t sandwich. What are they willing to tolerate? A couple of them mention law school. So perhaps their sh*t sandwich includes endless reading, memorization of facts, engaging in conflict, tons of stress, long hours, conservative outfits, being in a competitive environment. If all of this seems part of the appeal, then they are probably headed down the right path. If it’s their version of a sh*t sandwich but they can stomach it because they truly feel a calling to pursue law (and it’s not just because their parents expect it), then at least they are less likely to be blindsided by the poopy stuff.
I think it’s especially important to talk about the sh*t sandwich in this day and age when kids are led to believe by their parents, educators, influencers and US News & World Report that there is really only one narrow path to success and anything less is mediocre at best. Anxiety and suicide are at epidemic rates among our young, and while mental health is a complicated topic, I have to ask myself, how many young adults are falling apart because they started off all excited about their course of study, or career or job, and were never warned about the sh*t sandwich? Everyone knows that law school is hard, medical residents have an insane schedule, and professional actors have to wait tables for years on end. But how about the fact that most jobs are mostly a lot of work, mostly not that fun? If I were to write a top 5 list of Sh*t Sandwiches it may look something like this (in no particular order):
I love taking photos and post them on Facebook and Instagram, and people often comment on how good they are. But what they may not know is that for every great photo, there were ten lousy ones. I think of life the same way. For every great entry in the Fakebook or Instagram highlight reel, there were many moments, interactions, and disappointments that were undocumented. The sh*t sandwich. And that’s okay - but let’s be real and acknowledge that we are all going to experience self-doubt, disappointment in others, wondering if we made the wrong choice, being tempted to give up. That is the sh*t sandwich. Put it in the poop bag, tie the knot so you can’t smell it, and toss it in the trash. And then do the next right thing.
The woman, a stranger, turned around and looked right at me, smiled, and then mouthed the words, “I see you.”
You may be thinking, creeeepy. But it wasn’t creepy, it was a powerful moment of connection. We were in church and the pastor had asked all of the women, of all ages, to stand up, and he urged the men and boys to cheer for us at least as heartily as they do their sports teams. So while we were standing there, which to me was a tad awkward, I looked around and marveled at how much of the congregation was female, and that was when that woman’s gaze met mine.
Mother’s Day is like Valentine’s Day. A “Hallmark holiday” that can be either a source of joy and gratitude, or a reminder of what we don’t have. Another opportunity to compare ourselves and our lives to others, or to unfulfilled dreams, or things gone wrong. My own relationship with Mother’s Day has been an evolving one. Some years have been full of joy, not taking for granted the miracle that I had two healthy kids after having had three miscarriages. Some years have been fraught with sadness, having lost my mom to cancer when my kids were 1 month and 3 years old. Some years I have longed for one thing on Mother’s Day: to have some peace and quiet, nobody needing anything from me. “All I want is a weekend at home alone” was often my wish (hasn’t happened yet - and at this point I don’t really want that anyway). Now, my kids are 15 and 18, and the oldest is leaving for college in a few months. My wish for today was, “Please come to church, let’s go to lunch at our favorite diner with vegan options, and then please clean your room.” I used to long for silence and space, and now I still cherish both, but I have learned to create that for myself on a regular basis, as my Self-Care items on my daily To Do List. Just like many people scoff at these Hallmark holidays by saying, “every day should be Mother’s Day” or Valentine’s Day, I have realized I need every day to include Self-Care (which is a work in progress, and some days I am better at this than others). It would be unrealistic and immature of me to hope that my family would know exactly what I want and need, and do it all on Mother’s Day.
I have heard the saying, “Expectations are premeditated resentments.” I think this means, if I expect everyone to do as I say, and as I don’t say but fervently hope, I am setting them and myself up for failure, which will lead to my resenting them for not getting me, so obviously they don’t really love me, and they in turn will resent me for my assumptions and display of dismay and anger. Makes sense to me. So at some point I started to consciously lower my expectations for holidays, weekends, events that had a lot riding on them. And it worked. But I was careful not to confuse lowered expectations with settling for less than I and others deserved. It did not mean being a martyr (which is just a really codependent passive aggressive approach, yuck). For me, lowering expectations actually meant, I changed the way I looked at things. I would set an intention beforehand, such as, be present; be of service; don’t worry about getting anything done; be a good listener; be helpful; give yourself permission to not say anything, or to leave the room, or to go for a run…
A couple of dear friends thoughtfully texted me this weekend to say they were thinking of me, as I faced another Mother’s Day without my mom. “I see you” is what each of these texts basically told me. So many of my friends have lost their moms, or are currently dealing with the heartbreaking situation of witnessing their mother slip away physically and/or mentally. Or perhaps their dreams of being moms themselves have been thwarted. Or they are moms but lost some precious angels along the way, before birth or after. Some of my friends have had to endure life after their beautiful child was ripped away from them due to illness or violence or an accident. How hard it must be for you to see other seemingly intact families celebrate and carry on, oblivious to your pain.
I see you…
As I looked around the crowded church this morning at all of the women, representing all stages and ages, all races and ethnicities, various levels of belief, all sorts of professions and socioeconomic status, I thought about what a privilege it is to be a part of this female tribe. I thought about how lucky I am to have friends who are older than me and have walked through things before me, and are now shining a light for me to follow, and to learn from their wisdom. Our culture may want us to believe that after a certain age (50+?) we are no longer relevant and we are only beautiful if we tug, smoothen, cut, and inject here and there. But I know that is yet one more lie that I refuse to believe.
If my mom was still around, and was healthy, I know she would be doing all sorts of community service and creating beautiful clothing, and going to the gym 365 days a year with her gold Reebok sneakers. I am sad she is not here to watch my daughter embark on living out her dream in fashion, which she inherited from my mom, and to take in my son’s beautiful, kind spirit and playful sense of humor. And, I am grateful that I can truly understand how hard it is when a friend loses her mother, how untethered we feel.
I see you…
A meditation teacher I had once used to say at the end of the weekly class, “Have the week that you have.” In other words, let go of expectations, accept what is. Instead of “Happy Mother’s Day” I would like to say, I see you, on this Mother’s Day. And you are beautiful, and strong, resilient, wise, and you have everything you need, right inside of you. And, no matter what, you are loved beyond any human comprehension.
Tonight we have a graduation party. For our puppy. Except he isn’t exactly graduating because he is 3.5 months old and apparently it is recommended he keep taking this weekly class until he is 6 months old, at which point he then moves up the next level. So far he pretty much obeys Sit, Leave It, Let’s Go (for walking). He has done pretty well, especially since he is by far the youngest in the class. I wanted to start off on the right foot especially because everyone tells me labs are brilliant, and I know from having an older dog and two teenagers, the work you put in on the front end is worth every bit of effort. In our first class, we went round the room and shared our puppy’s name and something interesting and one of the owners shared that her puppy is bilingual. A part of me immediately felt the need to teach our puppy at least another two languages.
Our oldest kid is graduating this month too, but unlike the puppy, she is really done with high school. She got to experience three high schools on two continents, and she is more than happy to move on. We moved to the DC area when our kids were going into 8th and 11th grades and it was in some ways a total culture shock. For one, this area has a great amount of wealth, which in practical ways means many of the kids have Uber accounts and credit cards in middle school (which means, a certain disconnect from parent interaction and oversight). The other thing that really hit me was the amount of emphasis on achievement, or rather, over-achievement, which has created an inordinate amount of stress and anxiety on local youth.
I decided that our first year here, my main priority was going to be to do whatever I needed to do to be the calm, safe presence and protect the calm safety in our home, as my husband transitioned into a new job and my kids figured out how to survive and find their new sweet spot in their new schools. So I didn’t throw myself into things, instead deciding to have a BS year (Be Still). Of course, this was not exactly executed because of my need to be doing interesting things, but for the most part, I took a listening stance. I wanted to see what was going on here, where there is most need, what is the culture like, etc.
Not long after we moved here, I met someone who does college admissions coaching. I had never heard of this, but apparently it’s a Thing here, and other areas. They have different levels of coaching (i.e. price points) but we are basically talking, thousands of dollars to have someone give your kid a checklist with structure and accountability, and help them with their essay (all things their high school counselor and website provides, FYI). I asked this person why she had gotten into this and she said that when her oldest was in middle school, she felt like some of her friends weren’t motivated enough, and that this type of coaching would help the kids make better choices now, if they were already thinking of college and how important it is to be doing well as early as middle school.
As I listened, I thought, OK, part of me thinks that makes sense. Our choices can definitely help us or hinder us further down the line. But part of me thought, that is terrible - to stress our kids out so early about college! Of course, I was also thinking that based on what I know of mental health, when kids are doing stupid stuff, for example drinking in 7th grade, it’s not because they lack vision and focus as much as, there is a good chance they are hurting because of trauma, family conflict, etc., and making poor choices are a way for them to escape discomfort. In my years of coaching, and of working with people with addiction, I have never heard, “I really wish someone had put more pressure on me to achieve and be a better student.” If anything, I have repeatedly heard, “I really wish my parents hadn’t pressured me so much to do well in school/sports/music/my weight… I wish they had asked me what I wanted, and listened to the answer, even if it was, ‘I don’t know, but not this.”
I totally get the urge to give our kids the best we can to set them up for “success” and provide the most opportunities. Remember that moment I described above, where I felt a twinge (shame? Competitiveness? Inadequacy?) because my puppy only understands one language? And that is for a freaking puppy. So I totally get it when it appears, thanks to Fakebook, lawn signs, local newspaper announcements and features, school parent forums - that everyone else’s kid is receiving awards, recognitions, getting recruited, getting “verified” on social media, turning down Ivy League offers. It’s no wonder so many kids are spending their summers in Kumon tutoring, SAT prep courses, un-fun summer camps. It makes sense that so many parents are making their kids get a special plan so they can have special accommodations for test-taking (before you get all worked up, I know, some kids do need these, but definitely not to the extent that we are seeing, especially in affluent areas where parents have figured out how to game the system). That whole college scandal we just witnessed? I just see it as an extreme version of what so many people are willing and wanting to do. It is so easy to judge when we are not in the position or have the temptation to do something. But if we dial it back and bring it back to our own context, may that maybe look a bit more like our reality? For example:
A little while ago, a mom was anguished over her high school aged son, who is in treatment for substance use disorder and depression. Apparently he had just relapsed. She was miffed, saying, “We gave him everything! We could tell when he was really young how much talent he had, so we gave him the best coaching, got him on the best teams, etc. Now we give him this great treatment program and this is what he does?!” I thought, “Did you ever ask him if this was what he wanted?” I imagined what it must be like to be this young man, feeling that he has disappointed his parents who see him as unfulfilled potential, someone who “wasted” all of his opportunity. I thought, how hard for him to carry his parents’ burden this way - no wonder he feels compelled to escape.
I know how hard it is, probably one of the hardest parts of parenting, to know what our kids are capable of, and to watch them flounder, or be distracted, or have priorities that perhaps don’t match our vision for them. We parents are excellent at two things: future-tripping and catastrophizing. So it seems like we are being super helpful when we sign them up for all of the things, make sure they get 10,000 hours in at least one of them, and freak out if they trip up. In complete transparency, I have to check my own mindset and motives every day. Last fall, our 9th grade son was involved in 4 sports at the same time. I know, right now you are thinking, “and you are telling me to CTFD???” (CTFD= Calm The F-k Down). Bear with me. He was finishing up a summer Triathlon program, doing a brief Learn To Row through his high school, on an in-house hockey team, and checking out his high school hockey team. I knew this insanity was temporary and I allowed it as he wanted to do this, and I was curious to see where it would go. When he decided to prune a couple of things, we talked about how sometimes it is wise to know when a season has ended. Our culture loves to vilify quitting (unless it’s smoking or heroin), but I think it’s an important value to teach our kids, especially if we are going to teach them about self-care.
Often, I tell my kids, “if everyone is doing something, it’s probably either stupid or not right for me.” I admit for a minute I considered getting a college admissions coach for my daughter since it seemed like everyone else here was doing it, and I wondered, what am I missing? Fortunately, she told me that was stupid, so I didn’t. (And she got in everywhere she applied). I remember when she was in 6th grade, I was talking with another parent, who was hoping her daughters would go to an Ivy League school (they weren’t even in middle school yet) because of how many opportunities this would bring them. I replied something like, “I really don’t think that where a kid goes to college ultimately determines how happy and well-adjusted they are adults. I think that if someone really wants to do a certain type of work, using their strengths, and they feel it is meaningful work, they will find their way there and be successful - no matter what school they go to.”
Now, six years later, I still believe that. I heard Dr. Lisa D’Amour say, “Today, middle school is high school and high school is college” in terms of the pressure to achieve and perform. That is crazy - no wonder so many kids are losing sleep and freaking out. As parents, I think we can all agree that our primary role is to keep our kids safe and provide them with unconditional love. I think it would be an excellent thing to ponder on a regular basis, whether or not our child feels like we doing this? We lock the doors, push for safe schools, safe water, etc. - but are we doing our best to nurture their tender hearts and souls?
“The idea that ‘I need to be happy’ or ‘my child deserves to be happy’ comes from a sense that the present moment is somehow lacking. In other words, we see our life through a lens of scarcity, noticing all the things we don’t have instead of the abundant way the universe provides for us. And so, as the Declaration of Independence sanctions, we set off in “the pursuit of happiness,” not realizing that this can never bring us happiness. On the contrary, it’s the breeding ground of discontent and disappointment.”
So, how do we parent in a way that we are connected with our child, see them and hear them and accept them as they are, while also guiding them through this achievement-focused environment? I think that like all things I coach with, there is no one size fits all. Some kids are innately achievement-focused and they thrive under huge amounts of stress, happily taking on five AP classes while starting a new club and leading several teams and launching a foundation to end world poverty while running a marathon to raise money for childhood cancer. We need these kinds of kids, just as we need the kids who are not quite as driven, or haven’t yet grown into their drive. I think as parents it is important to try to tune out the insanity around us with other parents (at school forums and in parent Facebook groups), listen to our kids and allow them to show us what they need, and be discerning. Don’t believe a lot of what you hear about what it takes to get into college, what your kid “needs” to do, and what success means and how to get there.
To learn more about how to help your kids by being a more connected, mindful parent, check out our upcoming workshop: Connected Parenting.
I went from “hell no!!” to “let’s do it” in two weeks. So, now we have a puppy. Bruno is absolutely adorable. I lose myself in his folds of soft fur and his gleeful licks. Since we got him 12 days ago, I have spent hours observing him, figuring out what type of ground-sniff means he’s about to pee, what type of nip means he’s overtired and needs his crate, and mesmerized by his absolute fascination with pieces of wood out in the yard. My “hell no” to “yes” was mostly because it occurred to me that while a ton of work, Bruno would force me to simplify and to hone my focus, bringing it to things that really matter. Like that piece of wood, that acorn, that pile of deer poop.
Mostly, the reasons I said yes have so far panned out. People have come to the house to see him, which has been wonderful. My kids have emerged from their rooms and do their homework downstairs in the kitchen. I am going to guess their screen time has gone down. They have also seen how much work he is, and have stepped up to help as much as their busy student, athlete, musical rehearsal commitments will allow. Last night in puppy training class, Bill and I beamed with pride as our puppy, the smallest and youngest by far in the class, came when called, sat and then stayed. He may not be bilingual like the dog in the corner, but we know it’s just a matter of time.
But it’s not all fun and joy with a new puppy. There is a part of me that is thrilled at my change of heart. That part of me that agreed to the puppy and saw its merits is grateful. The part of me that looks ahead and sees Bruno as a therapy dog helping me in my work with clients seeking better brain wellness, is happy and hopeful. But there are other parts of me that are not so satisfied with the adorable invasion. I am not able to work long shifts any more, as the rehab does not allow dogs, so I am only working there now when therapists need a fill-in for group sessions. I pulled out of a conference last week because getting puppy coverage for 12 hour days was going to be too challenging. The parts of me that cherish independence, spontaneity, freedom, peace and quiet have been extremely challenged the last 12 days. The part of me that wants to be go! Go! Go! Is challenged by the tedium and monotony of essentially having a newborn in the house.
I am very familiar with ambivalence. When I talk with clients, I spend a lot of time exploring their mixed feelings about their goals and expectations. If they are seeking sobriety, we talk about how a part of them may want to be sober because of the way a body and brain and life without alcohol and other drugs is far healthier, more compassionate, more present, and more connected. And, we talk about their part(s) that may feel rebellious, may fear being different (which is always the case with people seeking sobriety, since we live in a booze-centered culture), may fear a life of boredom, isolation, lack of adventure etc. Even if you haven’t thought about sobriety, you have probably at some point considered embarking on a new health challenge, or business-building endeavor. You get the idea, feel super excited, start going, and then the energy starts to fizzle. Maybe something in your life sidelines you for a bit and you lose the momentum, and you never quite regain it. So you once again berate yourself for your lack of willpower, your laziness, your inability to commit and follow-through.
I don’t believe you are lazy or lack willpower. I believe that the part of you that initially felt that excitement and drive, was the part of you that loves to feel in control, organized, determined, successful. But the thing is, when we make a lot of our decisions, especially these big ones that are often tied to our ego, we don’t usually check in with all the other parts of us. How about the part of you that prioritizes your family? When you signed up for Ironman, was that part asked how it felt knowing that your ass would be on a bike more than in a chair at the dinner table or on the bleachers cheering on the kids? When you got pumped about doubling your business income, did you confer with your part that is devoutly committed to community outreach? When you invested $3,000 in a course that guaranteed you would write a book ready to publish, did you consult with your part that would rather sleep than get up at 4am to write before anyone woke up?
Every day, I hear ambivalence, in my brain and in those of my friends and clients. Here are some of the most typical ones:
And so on. I actually don’t believe anyone is lazy. Or crazy. Actually, we are all crazy, just some of us hide it better than others. And I believe we all have an inner self that is kind, compassionate, wise, optimistic, generous, hard-working, committed, loving. But from what I know about trauma, and how it affects our brain health, I believe we learn different ways to cope, to organize the world, and to feel a sense of control. In IFS (Internal Family Systems - I am a certified IFS Coach), we believe that we are all a collection of parts. Some of these parts were developed when we were in certain traumatic situations in our life, and perhaps their go-to reaction to situations is to disconnect, hide, lash out, numb, etc. When we are in situations that feel stressful, or where we have a decision to make, we may feel ambivalent because our different parts are polarized. The part of me that prioritizes simplicity and a peaceful environment feels resentful and exhausted after hours of managing a puppy, an older dog, a coaching business, volunteer commitments, and figuring out a healthy plant-based dinner while getting in my workout, my 2 daily meditations, and my studies. That part is mad it was not given a veto vote during Puppy Decision. Someone observing me may think gosh, she was so happy an hour ago with the puppy, why is she suddenly so exhausted and cranky and regretting having agreed to the puppy? You should have given it more thought, woman! But the thing is I did give it a lot of thought. And I did consult with my different parts. And, even in the midst of a crankfest, if I remind myself that it is OK, I did not make a huge mistake, I just need to listen to the parts right now that are feeling angry and tired, I eventually reach a calmer state. This works with other scenarios from the above list. Whichever of the scenarios applies to you, I guarantee you can (with me, or another IFS coach or therapist) start to identify different parts within you and as you start to listen to them, with compassion and curiosity, you will most likely lessen your resistance and your self-judgment and even self-loathing.
A client I was working with the other day had an a-ha moment when I explained this to him and did an exercise with him around his parts. I mentioned that sometimes it is helpful to visualize a board meeting, with each of our parts in a chair. And rather than a hostile scenario where everyone is interrupting each other and there is an obvious hierarchy, we turn it into a scenario where each part gets to feel heard because we pass a talking stick around, like in a Native American council. Each part gets to speak while they are in possession of the stick, and then they pass it to the next person, who then gets to be heard. And like in 12 step meetings, there is no cross-talking, so the parts can be assured that no other part will try to fix them or give them advice. And then, ideally we are in a more calm state and we can recognize which part needs to be making the executive decisions right now, but the other parts feel satisfied they have been heard. A high-powered executive, this client lit up at this idea, which made complete sense to him.
I hear the puppy waking up now, so the part of me that loves peace and silence and writing feels heard, and now the part of me that wants to go hug that bundle of love and take him out to pee and look at daffodils is going to take the reins.
Yesterday I held a talk in my community for adults who were preoccupied with how their (and other people’s) children could best manage stress. Prevention is the best way to solve problems, and I hoped to give the audience insight into, and tools for, preventing further anxiety, depression, addiction, etc in their and other people’s kids. I was pleased with the turnout and I received some great feedback, and overall, I am really happy I put myself out there this way. I plan to hold more similar workshops, but in the meantime, I wanted to write about something that I think contributes a lot to the issues I listed above, both in kids and in adults.
A few years ago, I went to a friend’s house. She had just moved into this gorgeous mansion and had invited me to lunch. It was a beautiful spread of super healthy food of various shades of green (my fave!) and we ate at her dining room table, with heavy silverware, all posh and civilized. After lunch, she asked if I wanted a tour of the house. Of course I did! So she led me through room after gorgeous room, everything super tidy. Then we went upstairs and she showed me all of the bedrooms. They were a mess. Her kids were teens, so it was that kind of mess that teens innately know how to create, and somehow seem to survive in without coming unhinged. Oh wait… Anyway, I was shocked. Not because of the mess (my kids weren’t teens yet so I didn’t know this was super normal), but because my friend never apologized for the mess. She never did that thing we all tend to do: “I am so sorry it’s a mess - I’ve asked him to blah blah blah…” Nope, she took me through each inhabited room on the 2nd and 3rd floors and never said anything about how, well, lived-in they were.
That day, my friend gave me one of the best gifts another woman has ever given me. She gave me permission to not be (as) worried about what others think about my domestic diva-ness. Or lack thereof. (Note: I am a never-ending work in progress). By not killing herself over picking up everything, or fighting with her kids to do so the night before, or denying me the opportunity to see the “real” parts of her new home, or apologizing for the lack of perfection - she allowed me to own my imperfection. I became more aware of when I would do all of the above. I began to reflect on WHY I did all of the above. Did I think someone would feel uncomfortable with my lack of domestic perfection? Did I think they would scorn me? Dislike me? And then I thought about the fact she didn’t apologize, which was actually the most amazing part to me. Because I would certainly have good friends over even if the house was a mess, but I would always barricade the doorway until I had blurted out an apologetic warning. What is that about?! My friend, that day, showed me what acceptance is about. Acceptance of herself, of her kids, of imperfection.
At yesterday’s event I did not tell this story, but I told other stories because I know that I connect best when someone shares a story, and if it’s a personal one, all the better. All I really know in life is my own life experience thus far, so when people ask me things like, “How do I handle it when my daughter is so anxious she doesn’t want to go to school?” or “I am really worried my son is falling behind at school and I am overwhelmed, what do I do?” or “I am terrified that life is so crazy and chaotic that I am never going to feel in control again, what do I do?” - I may not have experienced their exact situation. But I do know that our children are feeling lots of pressure from all kinds of places, and the best we can do for them is to be a non-anxious presence, and guide them from a place of love and acceptance (which, by the way, is the intention I set before each meeting with a coaching client). This is where our own self-care comes in. When we prioritize our self-care, and do the things we need to do in order to feel somewhat rested, fit, purposeful, creative, and connected, we are more likely to like ourselves, which then translates into a person who can show up for someone else with love, acceptance, and the patience to not react to every button-pushing moment.
A few of the young adults I have worked with who are in recovery from addiction (and if you don’t know this, alcohol and other drugs are usually if not always a way to avoid uncomfortable feelings and thoughts, which often include anxiety, grief, anger, loneliness, boredom, frustration, fear, etc), have told me, “Something I love about being in recovery is that I get to talk with people who are being real. We talk about the hard stuff. I finally feel like someone hears me and gets me.” I have often told my kids, “I wish there was AA for you guys and your friends and peers, without you needing to be afflicted with anything, just a place where you know you can show up, share your problems and fears, and know you are heard and accepted and no one is trying to fix you. Because the thing is, this stuff you are going through, I guarantee most of your classmates are going through, and you all think you are the only ones who feel this way. Trust me, Little Miss Popular has a lot of stuff going on and you have no idea. If you all had a space like this, AA and NA would be far less needed, sigh.”
“When did we see each other face-to-face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that, we were just looking at ideas of each other, like looking at your window shade but never seeing inside. But once the vessel cracks, the light can get in. The light can get out.”
This type of connection is powerful and it is a gift. And for people in recovery, it is an enormous source of gratitude. It is such a relief to be able to invite someone in without having to make all of the beds and fold all of the clothes and apologize for anything that would be a “Before” segment of the Mari Kondo show, or to have to relate to someone on that surface level that is so exhausting.
The thing is, one of the reasons that perfection and its pursuit is so pervasive, is that it is yet another socially-acceptable and even revered addiction. (Other socially acceptable addictions are workaholism, workout & diet addiction, and to a large extent alcoholism - as long as you don’t go “too far” with it). What is the definition of addiction? To me, it’s when you do something that you know is stunting your growth, your wellness, your relationships, and yet you keep doing it. You experience detrimental consequences yet you do it again. And again.
So what does this have to do with our kids? Well, as I pointed out yesterday, we, the parents/primary caregivers, are our kids’ first and most profound influencers. Studies have proven that when our kids are in certain situations with substances, and there is a choice to be made, their parents’ attitude toward substances will be the strongest filter for the decision. This is the same filter through which many of their attitudes and choices go through, even though they may not realize it and even though it seems like they are not listening to us or all they do is fight us. So, as their primary influencers, if in our actions, we are showing them that we are only satisfied with perfection - with our house, our car, our clothes, our skin, our hair, our weight, our work performance, our friends, our Instagram posts, etc. - it must be terrifying to them when they know (or believe) they are incapable of perfection in our eyes.
We do not do this on purpose. As I pointed out at the talk yesterday, I don’t think any of us gets up and says, “I am going to be Little Miss Perfect today!” I think what we do is we get up, and we do what needs to be done, throughout the day, to keep things going, to put out fires, to avoid the fires, and to (on the good days) look presentable and do a pretty good job. And what we may not even realize is that we are not creating moments to connect with friends and peers, or with our family, in ways that are a tad more vulnerable. Unless we are on a retreat with our friends, or in a self-help meeting, we are probably not often sharing some of our deepest fears and daily frustrations. Not because we don’t want to show that side of ourselves as much as, we don’t want to be debbie-downers or the annoying complainer. And that is probably a good thing, by the way (constantly complaining without trying to change anything is a total turnoff for most healthy people). But it can get to the point where we have erected barriers to real connection, because we may not even realize that we have now created this appearance that we are doing super awesome all of the time, that we never make mistakes, that we can single-handedly take care of what needs to be done. We know that nobody is perfect, that the perfect mom down the street probably has unresolved daddy issues or hates her cellulite, but maybe we are not even aware that others, especially our kids, fear that if they are real with us, we will not like them any more because we obviously worship perfection, and their imperfection is something we would reject and want to fix.
So, you know how on that job application, when you were asked what your greatest weakness was, and you wrote, “Perfectionism” because you believed it was a weakness that your prospective employer would love? Perhaps it is time to update that part of you (your inner critic?) that misguidedly hides behind perfectionism to avoid vulnerability. Notice when, in your day, you are doing what needs to be done, and in that moment, hit the pause button. Does it really need to be done? Does it need to be one exactly like that? Will life unravel if some things are done half-assed or not at all? And when you do this, share it with your family over dinner. Revel in the shocked looks on the kids’ faces when you admit you told your boss you refuse to answer emails after 6pm, and you are no longer going to police their rooms each week. Drop an authenticity bomb next time you go out to lunch with friends who normally stay on the surface. It’s amazing what happens when you share, “I am really scared my sophomore is not making any friends.”
Welcome to the Real World :)
This week at rehab, I felt God. I was completely clean and sober, so it’s not what you think. In fact, this week marked three years since I have touched alcohol. I go to a treatment center for alcohol and other drugs twice a week, because I felt called to bring whatever wisdom and skills I have picked up along the way as a Life Coach, Sober Coach, and Yoga instructor, to people whose collection of choices, whose dis-eased brains and bodies, have brought them to seek recovery. I absolutely love this work. Every day, before I walk in the door, I pray to God: “Please help me get out of your way, so that you can speak through me, so that I may be a bridge for these beautiful people to reconnect with their healthy, powerful selves.” Often, the clients tell me how much they appreciate my coaching - yes, even after they have been grumbling through my planks and hamstring stretches, or after I have in my blunt manner reminded them that it is up to them, today, to rewrite the story of their lives. But in reality, I get as much from them as they do from me.
During each 8 hour shift, I witness first-hand, miracles in the making. It is an intense environment. Underneath the external comforts - a chef to prepare healthy meals, art therapy, private therapy sessions, guided mindfulness, fancy interior decor, loving therapists and other staff - there is the knowledge that this is life or death. And while we can help the clients in incredibly profound ways, they need to make the effort. They need to do whatever it takes. And many of them do. Because I only work there twice a week, I get to see the transformation the way grandparents who only see their grandkids sporadically see the astonishing growth that parents don’t notice as they see their kids every day. Sometimes the transformation is physical, especially if someone was detoxing when they first arrived. That detox phase, especially from heroin, is brutal - I wish everyone could see it, and think of it before popping a painkiller (opiate). The mental and emotional transformation is beautiful to behold, as a client who once was timid is now sharing with the group, or who started off resistant, having been “forced” by a judge or a parent into treatment, has gone from hating the world as expressed verbally and through body language, to “I really want this. I need this.”
This week, as I have reflected on what these last three years of first hesitatingly testing the waters of removing, for a “bit,” alcohol from my life, to now, three years later, having zero desire to ingest a substance that recently was declared by the World Health Organization to be dangerous in all quantities, for every person, I was filled with awe. I have learned the incredible power of transformation that comes by basically just doing the next right thing. It is so simple, not easy, but just doing this, over and over, creates enormous change. And the thing is, everything is changing, Nothing stays the same. And as John Maxwell stated in the podcast I listened to the other morning during my run, if we are not preparing, we end up repairing.
We all have really great examples before us (sometimes in the mirror) of what happens when we live on autopilot. Addiction, depression, heart disease, obesity, autoimmune diseases, cancer, chronic pain, the cycle of abuse, financial disaster, Alzheimers - none of this happens in a vacuum. A lot of suffering develops because we don’t know what we don’t know, or we don’t act on what we do know. At this point, we know that we become what we have eaten, drank, smoked, feared, and identified as over and over, for days, weeks, months, years. Our children are a reflection of all of the above too, as they are the canaries in the coal mine. The other day I was hanging out with a young woman who is newly in recovery, and I pointed out that her choices and her mother’s choices and her grandmother’s choices are having a direct impact on her children. I shared with her how, pain that is not transformed is transferred. “You have the choice, today, to end the cycle, by working on transforming the pain. Do the next right thing, today. And if it works, do it again tomorrow. Everything you do has a ripple, a compound, effect.”
I was also talking with another person, who is still in the early stage of change (contemplation), about the proverbial rock bottom that many people wait for before figuring out what the next right thing is and then embarking on their personal transformation. “You do not need to become a trainwreck in order to start to change. You can choose, right now, today, to not drink. You do not need to waste more money, put more poison in your organs, or crash a car. You can choose, today, to try out a new lifestyle that will make cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and further heartbreak far less likely. If nothing else, at least you know you did your best.” By the way, this applies to anything - you do not need to have a diagnosis, a catastrophic health event, a bankruptcy declaration, a divorce, employment termination, etc., to pivot your choices, your attitude, your life.
Three years ago, I had no idea that my “break” from the most popular, glamorized, money-making, addictive, statistically harmful drug in the world would lead to where and who I am today. In fact, if you had told me so I would have run in the opposite direction. Just like when I ran my first 10k, if you had told me that a decade later I would be doing my first Ironman, I would have told you you were absolutely nuts. In fact, I may never have had the cojones to do the 10k. Future-tripping to an Ironman would have been so overwhelming that my “who the hell do you think you are?” part would have taken over. In terms of alcohol, the part of me who is great at justifying the comfort zone, would have said, “you are only doing what everyone else is doing. Do you really want to leave the herd? I mean, nothing catastrophic has happened. You are an athlete, a coach, you have good self-discipline, you just need to set some more limits.”
But then, as I started to learn more about the science, the health effects, and testing it all out on my favorite guinea pig (me), and simultaneously meeting more people who also wanted to live this way, and deepen their self-awareness and let go of their ego as much as possible - I realized that those parts of me that wanted to protect the status quo had given way to the part of me that lives in love, joy, real connection. The part of me that is a rebel, adventurous, risk-taking, is thrilled to be up front and center because she is the one that reminds me every day, “I GET to live alcohol-free. I GET to pause and respond, rather than react. I GET to hang out with friends who work every day on their own self-awareness and therefore show up in a way that is real, accepting, and loving.” As I often point out at the rehab, being clean and sober is the ultimate act of rebellion.
“There are only two ways to live your life: as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is a miracle.” - Albert Einstein
I witness miracles all around me every day, and in them, I see and feel something that is far greater than me, than us. I am so grateful to be aware of this, and for the invitations I receive each and every day to hit the pause button and soak it all in. We are all invited, every single moment, yet so often we are so busy looking for the wrong thing we don’t even realize the invitation is right in front of us.
You left a warm, predictable world and were born into an existence where you relied on other humans to keep you safe, warm, nourished and alive. These humans did the best that they could with what they had at the time. They told you stories, and without questioning, because you did not know any other way to be, why would you, you absorbed the stories and you made them your own. You did your best, every day, with what you had, to keep going forward. You learned to crawl, to walk, to giggle when you were tickled and to scream when you needed something - physical or emotional nourishment. You learned that some things hurt - falling off a bike, touching a hot marshmallow, a bee sting. You learned that people help us, hurt us, lead us, teach us, punish us, love us, abuse us, disappoint us, thrill us, challenge us, bore us, protect us, react to us, guide us, run away from us, trust us, need us.
Along the way, you started to learn how to be in the world. Like a baby bird who first tumbles out of its nest, and gingerly begins to take its first steps, and learns to fly. First a few flaps of the wings, then longer flights, looking for food, moving with the gusts of wind. You, too, learned to adapt to the environment you were moving through - at home, at school, in all of your activities, with people you thought of as friends, acquaintances, enemies. Now you look back and realize you were a master chameleon, adapting to the environment in a way that kept you safe. Sometimes blending in so you looked and sounded like everyone else, sometimes invisible because there was, is, comfort in blending in with the background view and noise. Somewhere along the way, you may have lost touch with who you are, because you were so busy becoming what others thought you were, who they wanted and needed you to be, who you thought they wanted and needed you to be.
And then one day, you started to wake up. You started to get this feeling that something wasn’t right. You started to feel that maybe this stuff that you were doing, or not doing, saying, or not saying, thinking, or not thinking, maybe this was not how you wanted to be. Maybe your body started to give you hints - you were more tired, more achy, got sick more often. Maybe you had noticed that no matter how much you ate, you were still hungry, no matter how much you drank, you were still thirsty. Maybe it was a void you were trying to fill with physical things - but a soul-level hunger cannot be sated by ice cream, chardonnay, forbidden lust, pills, JImmy Shoo or Pinterest. So you started to explore the idea that maybe, just maybe, those things were not working any more. At one point, they were working, and you know this, because you are here today. The masks you created and wore, the coat of armor you enveloped your body and heart in, the stuff you built around you like a wall to avoid intimacy - into-me-see - it all worked. Because you are here, maybe broken, maybe a heart that has been pierced, maybe a soul that has been suffering - but you are here.
And in showing up today, you are taking the most powerful step in recovery. Because showing up is the hardest thing to do and you are doing that. You are showing up, for your body, your mind, your soul. You are showing up for your sisters in this room, for your loved ones back home, for your community and the world. Because the world needs you to show up. The world needs you to choose to remove the masks and the armour that no longer serve you. The world needs you to step into your power, the power that comes through acceptance. Acceptance that, who you are today is because of who you were every day leading up to this day. The power that comes through surrender. Surrendering control over other people, over the past, over the future. The power that comes through knowing, that today, you can choose to do the next right thing, knowing that if you do that, and only that, the rest will fall into place. And you are not alone, you are never alone, because it is through whatever brought you to your knees, and to this place, that you are showing up ready to connect, to discover, to remember, to recover. It is in this state of willingness that you realize that you are finally, in this moment, and only in this moment, home.
This morning, when chatting with a group I work with on embracing a substance-free life, I stated, “sometimes people in the news inspire me to be more like them, but sometimes, they inspire me to NOT be like them. I don’t ever want to be the kind of person that people look at and say, here is an example of how NOT to be.”
Life is full of teachable moments. People and situations often help me to work on my own personal development, and they also give me plenty of material in parenting and coaching. The other day I was out with a friend and her ex-husband called. She showed me the Caller ID. It said Teacher. She explained to me that a very wise person had once instructed her to name people in her phone who challenged her patience and overall equanimity as “Teacher.” This way, when she saw their name (“Teacher”) pop up, rather than anticipate a negative interaction, she immediately reset her intention to a more neutral state.
The news these days are full of teachable moments. And my children, bless their hearts, are a captive audience because I still feed them (usually). So while they chomp on veggies, they get to listen to the podcast episodes I have yet to air. Yes, they roll their eyes. We often disagree. The boy fidgets and kicks his sister. Sigh, it would be much easier to just talk about whatever other people talk about who have calm, peaceful, family dinners every night. Right, as if. I have a 9th grader and a 12th grader so my ability to control them is dwindling. I must pour all my wisdom into their precious heads as quickly as I can! Anyway, these are some points I see as valuable lessons to discuss with our kids. Feel free to use them at the dinner table (and as I tell my kids, feel free to throw me under the bus if it gets you out of an awkward situation: “I know this is annoying, but this weird lady Susanne wrote this - what do you guys think?”).
The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
Wellness coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.