My Inner Worlds
John Denver’s song never made much sense to me when I was younger. At one point someone mentioned the high was from drugs, but I didn’t grow up in an environment that explained drugs and didn’t understand the connection. My family listened to John Denver because the lyrics were clean and safe for our conservative home.
Now that I’ve been in the Rocky Mountains for over 24 hours, I understand what John referred to—altitude sickness. I’m weathering it better than Matt is, but I still have to catch my breath if I walk too quickly while wearing my backpack. Last night I woke in a panic unable to breathe, but after realizing it was just the lower oxygen level creating that feeling in my body, I fell back asleep. Matt barely slept and isn’t handling the high very well.
This morning we drove down to Longmont to meet a friend for lunch at Sakura Japanese Cuisine (amazing food and wonderful owners). We were amazed at the difference in mental clarity and the ability to breathe. Estes Park, Colorado lies 7,500 feet above sea level. Longmont is at 5,000 feet. My precious husband and I are used to oxygen levels found at an elevation of 315 feet—a huge difference.
We are supposed to hike in the morning with another friend. I’ve already warned her that we need to enjoy a nature walk or a mild hike. Matt thinks we can handle a real hike, but I’m not so sure. Maybe I’ll get to post pictures of one of us fallen to the dirt trail or having to be fed oxygen in the back of an ambulance.
Four years ago we successfully climbed the Alamos Vista Trail near Santa Fe, New Mexico, a hike that began at 10,000 feet above the sea and ended at 11,100 feet. So what has changed? Does age make that much of a difference? Are we really that out of shape compared to our 44-year-old selves? My goodness, but this makes me rethink my lifestyle choices. I work at a desk (and love my job), I write in a comfy chair, I play Dungeons and Dragons once a month—again in my comfy chair. And I practice yoga two to three times a week. Possibly I don’t have enough cardio in my physical activity.
Tune in post-vacation to see how I mix it up exercise-wise. Something has to change if Matt and I are going to hike Machu Picchu next spring. We have seven months to kick it into gear so we aren’t passing out in the Andes.
Karl and Eleanora Wolf, Matt’s beloved grandparents, have left this world in the same manner they lived life…together. Sweet Poppa held Nana’s hand earlier this week and told my mother-in-law they would go at the same time. Twenty-six hours after Nana transitioned, Poppa followed her.
I met them during the summer of 1992, a week before Matt asked me to be his bride. Over the following 25 years they became my surrogate grandparents, offering me love and warmth since my own had passed. Nana listened when I needed to voice thoughts and feelings most people would feel uncomfortable hearing, and I treasured her compassion.
I thank these two wonderful people for helping Matt become the beautiful person he is. They supported Matt and his mom during his infant and toddler years, showering him with love and affection in the critical time a child develops his base for who he will be in life. May Matt and I be blessed with long life, a long fulfilling marriage, and the opportunity to leave this world as they did…together.
One day we’ll all raise a glass on the other side. Until then, you will never be forgotten.
The integration workshop last month kicked me harder than April's module. While I can't write about it—still processing the awesome things that happened—I can post pictures of the natural beauty Matt and I got to experience in Sedona and the surrounding areas.
While in Phoenix for training, I noticed a red poppy theme and captured photographic evidence:
We spent five nights in Sedona after the workshop, not realizing we would need the calm, healing space that Red Rock country provides. Matt and I were both hollowed out when we arrived, and we benefited from quiet hikes and not being in our normal environment.
Below are two friends I met during our hike in the Secret Mountain Wilderness. I enjoyed quiet meditation next to both of them.
Two weeks ago I realized I couldn’t live with my frayed purse strap any longer. I bought my current handbag three years ago around my birthday. I had splurged, not really needing a new one back then. I probably don’t now, but I feel like my professional demeanor is called into question if my accessories are less than perfect.
I spent a miserable hour in the mall looking at ladies bags and the gaudy trend some of the really expensive ones have this season (or maybe it’s always been that way). After much obsessing, I purchased one black purse a little bit bigger than what I want, and one deep red wristlet that just looked too cute to pass up. This is why I don’t often shop—I base my decisions on “cute” and “I could use that for this one random event I might go to in the next year” instead of using my trusty logic.
When I make a decision, I usually feel good that I can click a task off my list. Not so with this purchase. It opened a pandora’s box of insecurities within me. This purse will represent all that I am to strangers. My professional competency will be judged based on this black shoulder bag, and you know what? I’m better than this Coach Chelsea cross body.
So I pulled up multiple browser windows and spent an entire week searching for the bag that represents all of me. Matt watched my crazy, frenetic behavior from the sidelines as I ordered yet more purses so I could judge them side-by-side and get their feel. Is this one me? Does it say, “You just hired me for a consulting job and paid a bunch of money to fly me cross-country and I’m worth every penny?” Sadly, no. The purse didn’t. Because purses can’t.
Matt, my beloved husband, an incredible therapist, and a deeply intuitive man gently asked me one evening as we walked the dogs, “Have you thought about what a purse might represent?” I gave him the blank stare. No, I obviously hadn’t searched my soul for a deeper meaning as my OCD reigned. But dang it. As soon as he said that, my little inner voice flashed a picture of the creative space deep in my belly that’s just waiting for me to put my valuable stories, words and energy into it. I saw the orange fire casting a comforting glow in what I named my “creative cave” a few years ago when it presented itself in cold, dark gray. It now has an incandescence that somehow has grown despite my inattention.
The compulsion I’ve felt to find the right purse was a misplaced need to put my treasured gifts and talents in the safe and nurturing environment of myself. My inner confidence and ingenuity represent who I am, not a fancy leather bag to heft around crap I don’t really want with me.
I’ve decided to train myself to use a clutch purse that barely fits my phone, sunglasses and keys. I returned the large shoulder bag I bought and gave the red wristlet to my sister, who oohed and ahhed over it because she needed a new one (and it really is cute). A perfect ending to a story about a woman finding and accepting her personal power.
Do you have a happy ending to an issue you’ve struggled with? Are you still encountering blocks or denial on your journey to wholeness? There are plenty more in my bag of tricks, but this one is enough for now.
Dear Tia left her physical body one week ago this morning. It’s hard to reconcile the loss when I sense her presence almost every day. Not everyone believes in life after death, or if they do, they may not have the sensitivity to know their loved one is near. I’m grateful to have that sense of knowing who from the other side may be around, whether it’s my grandmother or my beloved animal companion.
This week has been easier than I anticipated, yet harder in some respects. Aden, the baby brother, lost his pervasive happiness two nights ago and deeply grieved. Matt and I are okay with our own sadness, but seeing a child experience loss for the first time is unbearable. Aden’s smile is ever-present, like he can’t help his mouth hanging open in a goofy grin. However, nothing we did or said gave him any respite from not having his sister with him on the couch. He wouldn’t eat. He sniffed the edges of our duvet where Tia would sneak a nap in the warm luxury of Mom’s bedding, and we could feel his confusion, almost anger, that Tia wasn’t with him. Then he just settled on the couch in an unhappy lump of unmoving sadness where we unsuccessfully tried to cheer him.
His demeanor changed yesterday back to the bright boy we know and love. When I drove up to the house after work, Aden jubilantly raced down the front stairs and ran to my car as I parked. The problem? Our children aren’t allowed outside by themselves. From my peripheral vision I saw Gypsy, our escape artist, madly running down the street towards me. She was a block away, yet her instincts know when Mom is near. I laughed to see Aden so happy and back to his joyous self, captured my errant daughter, and checked on my husband.
Matt was lying in bed, drenched in sadness, and had no idea how our back gate had become unlatched. No dog could open it—I can barely force it open most of the time. To help break Matt’s mood, we went out for sushi, one of his favorite foods, and then watched a three-hour movie (not my preferred activity).
When we arrived home after our spontaneous date night, I opened the door and greeted Gypsy and Aden, while automatically looking to the corner where Tia would have been. I started crying, surprised that I had forgotten she would no longer occupy that space.
We’re one week out. Tears and sadness are normal. But I want the grief to be over. It’s much easier to comfort others than it is to comfort myself. Being in the moment and fully present with my feelings is not pleasant. There is no alleviating the pain except through time. The tenet of Yin yoga is holding an uncomfortable position for a period of time. While I have a physical Yin practice at the studio, I now have a real-life scenario where I get to practice Yin in an emotional place.
I’m grateful for my life—the good, the pleasant, the yuk. It’s this blend that makes me who I am today and creates the potential for a most incredible future me.
This post was written by my husband Matt this morning. Because I just can't.
I promise this post is about my dog, but allow me to provide some background.
My first therapist gig out of grad school was in a very rural county of the Appalachian mountains. It was rural enough that the county could compel me once per month to do a 24-hour crisis shift. That meant if anyone in the county wound up in the hospital's emergency department impaired by drugs/alcohol, or by mental illness, I would have to drive there and assess them. The doctor could override my decision (it only happened once) but it was typically my call if this person would be sent home, to jail, to a psych ward, or to a detox center.
Here's one example.
Whenever possible I like to talk to the client before I get info from family or staff, so without any foreknowledge I am led to a room with a 73-year-old woman dressed casually at about 3am on a Saturday morning. She has a pleasant smile and is quite chatty. In a sweet voice she is complaining that people should leave her alone in her own home, and let her do what she wants. "I wasn't hurting anyone. There's no reason to drag me here." Her body language is energetic, expressive. Her voice lilts and slides very persuasively, commanding a measure of compassion and respect.
Her tangents are about family who have abandoned her, friends who've died, and the lack of direction for this stage of her life. However, she always reigns that in quickly, then tries to develop a connection with me from a very rational, unemotional voice. I know she is trying to find what frequency I'm at. Am I a soft-hearted social worker? A detached clinician? How can she get me on her side? This is not a good sales person. Operating in this situation at 3am, this woman is a great salesperson. "So you see, they should just leave me alone," she says, referring to a neighbor who got the police involved.
But you don't wind up with a police officer standing outside your emergency room door for no reason.
I excuse myself a moment and exit the room to get more info from the armed guard outside. A neighbor complained of very loud music coming from the home, and found this woman singing and dancing in the middle of her living room, a glass of wine in one hand as she emptied a container of gasoline all over the floor and furniture. As the woman lit a match, the neighbor called 911 and responders arrived to find a fire slowly consuming the carpet, the woman dancing in its light. Her blood alcohol level was .360 when she arrived at the hospital -- four and a half times legal intoxication -- though she demonstrated no signs of slurred speech or loss of balance or coordination. This highly experienced drinker would have passed as simply "quirky," were it not for the small blaze about to consume her entire home - with her in it. That was the plan she finally admitted. Nevermind it might have taken thousands of acres of forest with it.
That was one of the easier and more pleasant cases. On one Christmas shift I spent twenty-four hours handling thirteen different people at the hospital. Each one requiring paperwork, endless faxes to various psych wards, and phone conversations trying to sell my cases to these facilities. I spent all week with severely mentally ill people and needed my weekends to rejuvenate, so you can only imagine my enthusiasm. I was forced into these despised shifts for about three years.
Unfortunately, just as I reinforce with my clients, a bad attitude only makes everything worse. The whole thing felt heavy, full with resentment and an internal voice that invented profane insults like nothing you'd ever heard. I had never hated a job so much. Something had to be done.
I worked through numerous solutions, including distracting myself with the Internet, writing emails, and so on, but none of it worked. Finally I discovered that my entire attitude changed if I sat still and imagined my dog Tia in my lap for a few minutes. This was more powerful than anything else I came up with. It worked every time I did it. It was impossible for me to be angry with Tia on my lap, as her lively energy and warm, loving kisses instantly brought a smile to my face every time. So that's what I did each time I had to go to the hospital, for over two years of these monthly shifts. On the rough shifts I'd have to break every hour or so and do this exercise. It made life a lot easier.
My little hero was chosen from a litter by Sarah, who identified her as the most active and playful of the bunch. This later translated into Alpha dog. She would fearlessly launch all twenty pounds of her at any dog or child within ten feet, no matter how large or threatening. Probably the Chihuahua part of her. The same part that makes her such an impossibly loving and loyal part of our pack. When Tia sits her cute little butt on you, you know you're being sat on by one of the greats.
And this is where the heartwarming tone of this blog post must end.
Eleven-year-old Tia is experiencing chronic back and kidney pain, isn't eating much, and is laying still. We could probably leave her in this body another month or so, but we don't see the point in watching someone who has been so good to us suffer day after day. We cannot do that to her or to ourselves.
The time has come to send this wonderful companion on to her next project. We send her with medals of honor, passionate testimonials, and all the love in our hearts.
Spring is just around the corner, night taking one more breath to whisper its final goodbye. With this last kiss, we can all wake from our hibernating selves and inhale the growing sunlight.
At this time of equinox, I shake off the cobwebs in body and mind, in hearth and home. The tradition of spring cleaning came from days of old when we relied on wood-burning heat sources and the light from candles to keep the darkness at bay during the long winter nights. I never really understood this need for spring cleaning until I had to light an apartment using candles for three solid days during a snowstorm (no power means no heat and no light). Afterwards I discovered black soot all over the beige walls, covering my white trash can and any other surface that smoke and its crud can cling to. It took a lot of scrubbing to get my home clean. That experience has made me incredibly grateful for electricity and the modern conveniences that come with it.
The past three months have been intense for my self-identity. I’ve cleared many old thoughts and beliefs that don’t work for me and probably never did. I’ve begun to abandon behavior patterns that destroy any chance that I’ll be who I want to become or accomplish the pursuits that bring joy into my life. There are some things that I’ve let in—that little creative girl who got stuck at some point in childhood, but now wants to join the game; that fearsome weird-looking part of me that others may not get, but that is essential for the work I crave to do. Now that dark and light will balance their energy in a moment’s passing, I also will bring equilibrium to those now-empty spaces and find more effective places for the new aspects of my self.
Every spring we have the opportunity to emerge from our winter caves and see the potential that quietly grows during the dark, still season.
What have you seen or experienced that you want to strengthen in yourself or in your home? How can you feel more love, joy, and gratitude for who you are and who you can be a year from now?