The Pain to Stay the Same


More than usual this week I have been experiencing a feeling of gratitude for the quality of my life today. In looking over my shoulder I can see what appears now to be a somewhat straight line path that brought me from where I was to where I am. However, from where true change began to present day the path I walked was much different. It actually zigzagged all over with a greatly varied pace containing many stops, starts, successes and failures.

The beginning: “When the pain to stay the same exceeds the pain to change, you change.”

The first time I saw those fourteen words was on a bulletin board. They have been burned into my psyche ever since. The initial glimpse was at the time when realizing I could not read or learn myself into life changes through applying my intellect. I had to do the emotional work and face what I had long avoided.

Lobsters grow by molting, or shedding their shells. When its shell has been shed the lobster spends time under a rock or in a crevice while growing a new shell. During that time the lobster is vulnerable without the protection of its old hard shell.

The process of “change” caused me to feel a lot like a lobster. For a while it had been evident to me I was stuck inside a hard shell that resulted from childhood abandonment and abuse. It was stifling me. I needed to shed the old casing and grow a new one. I had to be vulnerable in order to change. Yet, doing what I needed to do felt impossible at the time. I could not muster the courage to “jump in and do it”, but knew not changing meant I would continue to suffocate in my old shell.

Did I muster the courage to shed the safety of my old hard outer armor plate and jump into the sea of change? No! I wish I could say I became brave enough to do that. Instead life events came along and left me only with drown or swim options. My old shell was shattered and stripped away and then “the pain to stay the same exceeded the pain to change”.

Pain and discontent was stage one of my growth and change. Suddenly I saw myself more clearly and could view my past at least with some accurately. As if being slugged, the force of it crushed my shell and figuratively “knocked the wind out of me emotionally”. Getting knocked down and broken open was step #1.

Admitting I had problems was stage two of my growth and change. There had to be an end to my running away. I had no choice but to let the issues take me over. Opening up and allowing myself to feel the full force of what I had so long avoided was what I needed. Accepting my issues was step #2.

Realizing I needed help was stage three of my growth and change. One of the effects of childhood trauma can be to become an overly self-reliant and a seemingly needless adult. I became quite good at denying my own needs. Seeking outside aid was rarely an allowed possibility. Accepting that I needed help was step #3.

Doing the work was stage four of my growth and change. Being one who wants to begin today and have everything accomplished tomorrow, this step was difficult. Coming to grips with my dysfunction took lots of time. Gaining the upper hand on it took much longer and now spans years. Putting in the time and making a long-term effort was step #4.

The realization I was getting better was stage five of my growth and change. At first it seemed as if nothing was changing, but over time I began to feel a little different. Life began to taste better. The better I got, the more I wanted. Working past setback and disappointment without completely losing my momentum became a key for me. Realizing I could heal was step #5.

Real change takes a long time. Clinical perspective says real personal change takes at least three years to be fully implemented. That is why small changes I made and continued to repeat over a long period of time have yielded a positive impact. On my path there has been an abundance of stubbornness and hanging on to the past combined with emotional dread and frightful depression at times. What began with “baby steps” and became one step at a time, one day at a time has now several years later brought me to much better mental and spiritual health. There is joy for living I have not known before.

I am not fixed and will never be completely. The scars will always remain, but I am better and continuing to improve. To even try to express the quantity of thankfulness I have for my life today would be completely futile. I am grateful to a power greater than me for the inspiration and to every person who has helped me along the way.

Change is not made without inconvenience,
even from worse to better.
Richard Hooker

First posted on August 26, 2011

No One Gets Too Much Love


The loneliest days are the ones where you keep company with someone you love who can’t hear you. Holly Robinson

It’s become a quirk of mine to watch couples and how the two interact. What I see all too often saddens me. Many hardly interact at all. Watching a middle-aged couple in a restaurant recently words like indifference, boredom, faded love, apathy and even coldness came to mind. Wedding bands said they were likely passionately in love once upon a time, but apathy and inattention looked to have taken their toll.

…no eye contact…

…no talking…

…no touching…

…no stolen kisses…

…no smiles…

…no eye contact…

…sitting without a word spoken…

…feeling numb…

…feeling lost…

…feeling alone together…

Life is hard. Love is harder. Both are highly worth what it takes to live them well. What I learned with experience is all love is priceless, but amazingly simple to lose. The type that causes two people to want to make a life together is among the most precious. It is also love lost the easiest.

Loving and losing is the classroom where the value of love is taught. My living regrets have over time morphed into hard learned knowledge I am grateful for. No one gets too much love. Most of us barely get enough to get by. If two people truly love each other there should be no restraint in its expression to keep love alive. Love is a fire that must be fueled continually to stay strong and lasting.

Indifference and neglect
often do much more damage
than outright dislike.
J.K. Rowling,

Where Wisdom Grows

School of hard knocks EDIT

Misfortunes make us wise.
Mary Norton

I learned a lesson yesterday, taught a few times before but without me getting a passing grade. Like a child held back in school, it took repetition for the insight to sink in. It does not matter what the particulars are of what I learned. The jewel of knowledge that sparkles within now, came with a great deal of pain and difficulty; the ground and fertilizer where wisdom grows.

The best teachers have showed me that things have to be done bit by bit. Nothing that means anything happens quickly–we only think it does. The motion of drawing back a bow and sending an arrow straight into a target takes only a split second, but it is a skill many years in the making. So it is with a life, anyone’s life. I may list things that might be described as my accomplishments in these few pages, but they are only shadows of the larger truth, fragments separated from the whole cycle of becoming. Joseph Bruchac

When we search for “ourselves” in the eyes of others, we have imprisoned our own-selves in believing that our self-worth is nothing unless others validate who we are. Unless we approve of whom we are, what we are, and what we are capable of doing as an individual, only then we will have released “ourselves” from our own imprisonment. D. A. Isley

The names of my best teachers are Grief, Pain and Heartache along with their half-brothers Hurt, Sorrow and Anguish and their half sisters Misery, Sadness and Despair. In hopelessness, misfortune and depression each has been my hard, but honored teacher. When I get tired of repeating the same mistake and falling into the same dysfunction those instructors of the “hard way” school show me the best path when I let them.

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Kahlil Gibran

If only I could have stronger belief in my abilities; show greater self forgiveness; and love myself more. Then most anything would be possible. Gratefully, I can, I will and I shall so that I might.

Experience is the hardest
kind of teacher. It gives
you the test first, and
the lesson afterward.
Oscar Wilde

Closing the Chapter

growingup01You’re missing something. You’re watching everything pass you by and it’s making you anxious but you’re not quite sure how to catch up. A small part of you doesn’t even want to catch up. You’ve become comfortable in your complacency, comfortable in your own mistakes. Your slip ups have become some kind of solace. They’re yours to keep. Flaws have become some sick substitute for a relationship and you take them to bed with you.

You’re too young to be completely happy. You’re currently living your lost years and even though it’s taking you down, you’re not ready for the alternative. Something that no one likes to admit is that it sort of feels good to screw up. You don’t think you know exactly what you’re doing? You can pretend to be naive to spare everyone else’s feelings but let’s not get confused: you’re in control here. Every step of the way.

That is, until you’re not. The thing about being a mess is that you eventually do lose control. The self-destructive spiral you’ve been orchestrating gets ripped away from you and put in the hands of something much bigger. Then you’re screwed. Then you’re going to be saying “…Take me back to the land of stability and normalcy! I’m done living my lost years. Now I just would like to be found!”

Your life is precarious. When you were in high school and college, you treated your mortality like it was a crappy purse. You stomped on it, broke a strap, let a vodka bottle spill out and ruin the leather. You did all of this believing it would all be repaired while you were sleeping, and it usually was. You reach a point, however, when the leather stays torn, when the piece of crap bag becomes beaten beyond repair. Simply put, you have to take a more proactive role in maintaining your happiness and well-being. You’re not just someone watching their own life from afar. You’re in it now. And if you don’t take care of it, it will fall to pieces.

This is how someone becomes the person they want to be. They make changes. They stop taking those pills, clutching those drinks, and start deleting those numbers in their phone that might as well be daggers. They take responsibility for themselves. This might sound so minor but something you all must know by now is that we’re often our own worst enemy. We can’t blame something on a lack of self-awareness. We’re all aware, which makes it that much harder when we see ourselves making the same mistakes. We often wonder why we do the things we do. But we already know why. Knowing and doing are two different things though. I know that x, y, and z make me unhappy but I guess, in the end, I just don’t care enough to make changes. You can’t force yourself to care. You need to reach a point where you DO care which can take a long time.

But once you do reach it, there’s no going back. Being a broken mess is a blast at 19 but once you’re old enough to know better and start to make those necessary changes, returning to that state will feel awful. That’s something to actually mourn. There’s a certain kind of beauty with being reckless with your body and mind. Closing the chapter on that and actively becoming the person you’re going to be feels great but it’s also a tad bittersweet. Sometimes you want to go back to being the person you were before all the bad stuff happened, but you know that’s impossible. So you just bid adieu to that time and look towards your future. (FYI, it looks super bright.) By Ryan O’Connell

At an age older than many (yet younger than most) I have found myself, or at least enough of me to make out an image I am pleased to recognize. In a few ways acting like I was in my early 20’s for decades had some advantages, but none to hang on to for as long as I did. Most of it was being reckless and irresponsible with women’s hearts where I clearly see a past lack of maturity. For a long time I thought being a ‘player’ was cool… NOT! That is an insatiable and empty quest. Today men who are more respectful and loving than me are uncommon. Pain, heartache and loneliness are educational guardians who repeated their teachings until the lesson was learned. I may have been a slow learner, but one I got it, I am grateful I REALLY got it.

We do not grow absolutely, chronologically.
We grow sometimes in one dimension,
and not in another; unevenly.
We grow partially. We are relative.
We are mature in one realm, childish in another.
The past, present, and future mingle and pull us
backward, forward, or fix us in the present.
Anaïs Nin

To Love Life


Self-knowledge has no beginning and no end.
It is a constant process of discovery,
and what is discovered is true,
and truth is liberating…
Jiddu Krishnamurti

Once I became open to discovering the truth about who I was and how life really worked I became happier. That happened NOT because I was always pleased with what was found, but because what I discovered was the truth. There can be no happiness without self-honesty and a genuine acceptance of reality. Now I am grateful to have some knowledge about both.

…to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again…
Ellen Bass

Am I Grateful?

embrace_life_with_gratitude_EDITAm I grateful?

…for the last time I had my heart-broken? It showed me how much I could love.

…for the last time I was injured and recovered? It showed me how crucial good health is.

…for the last time I tossed and turned, hardly sleeping all night? It showed me how vital a good night’s rest is.

…for the last time a friend and I recovered from a big disagreement? It showed me how love can heal if I want it to.

…for the last time someone cut in line in front of me? It showed me how to take the high road and keep my cool.

…for the last time I lost an item valuable to me. I was reminded of the temporary nature of my hold on all I possess.

…for the last time death took someone I loved? It showed me how life and loving are the essence of living.

…for the last time I did not get what I want? It showed me how sometimes not getting what I desire can be a blessing.

…for the last time my feelings were hurt? It showed me how valuable the ability to feel deeply is to living a good life.

…for the last time I failed? It showed me how doing my best is always a success no matter how things turn out.

…for the last time I was embarrassed? It showed me how human I am; perfectly imperfect.

…for the last time I lost my temper and was angry? It showed me how how regretful I feel after losing control emotionally.

…for the last time someone stole something of mine? It showed me how everything I own will someday be some else’s.

…for the last time I ran short of money too quickly? It showed me the need to manage what I have better.

…for the last time I said the wrong thing to someone? It showed me how to be more kind and caring to others.

…for the last time I got lost driving in a strange place? It showed me how being fallible is a natural part of the human condition.

YES! I am grateful for every dark cloud, big or small, that has taught me how to appreciate the sunshine all the more when it reappears.

If we never experience the chill of a dark winter,
it is very unlikely that we will ever cherish
the warmth of a bright summer’s day.
Nothing stimulates our appetite
for the simple joys of life more
than the starvation caused
by sadness or desperation.
In order to complete
our amazing life journey
it is vital that we turn each
and every dark tear into a pearl of wisdom,
and find the blessing in every curse.
Anthon St. Maarten

Three Blinks and a Sneeze

old-lady-driverr612x344Her expression was that of a frightened seven-year old girl as she sat there in the front seat of the car. The look was one you’d expect to see on a youngster’s face who was sitting outside the principle’s office. Starring forward she never moved her head as I passed. The police car behind with its lights on signaled all was not well.

When first I saw the police car and the vehicle in front of it, I was nearing the intersection of two four-lane city streets. At the traffic light there was a long left hand turn lane that could probably hold a dozen cars with a concrete barrier around it about ten inches high. Just before it was another similar, but smaller, turn lane for the same direction that might hold two cars before they turned into a business parking lot. This too had concrete separating it from the other lanes.

At first glance the car with the “frightened girl” in it looked to be okay, but as I came beside it I saw a blown out tire and a broken front wheel bent sideways. The entire vehicle, with the exception of the passenger side back wheel, was up on top of the concrete barrier. The driver was barely tall enough to see over the driver’s wheel and I suspect she mistook the first small turn lane to be the beginning of the larger one. She had run smack dab into concrete barrier and her car bounced to be almost completely on top of it.

The person driving the car was not actually a seven-year old girl, but an elderly woman I suspect had entered a portion of her second childhood sometime back, or at the very least had failing eyesight.

What touched me about the scene that was in my view for no more than seconds was the thought that came to mind: “I bet this is the day she loses her driver’s license”. Make no mistake; I am all for getting people off the highway who can no longer operate a vehicle safely. It was my empathy for her and the realization that one day it might be me who loses his right to drive that etched the moment in my psyche. Assuming it is my good fortune to make it to an advanced age, it will still be twenty-five years or more before age-wise I catch up with the elderly woman.

Life has taught me that two decades and a half can pass in what feels little more than three blinks and a sneeze. Twenty five years ago I was thirty-four years old and it feels like that should be only six or eight years ago. But it is not so.

If the old lady driving the car is an unsafe driver she should lose her license. Yet, I can empathize with her as age has already taken some things from me like the inability to read without glasses or being as physically resilient and capable as I once was. It is not lamenting the older portion of life that is before me that caused this subject to be top of mind this morning. Rather, being exposed to the little old lady’s accident served as a wake up call to appreciate every day and all that is within each one.

Aging as an adult either makes you humble or pisses you off. Sometimes it does both. For me being upset is usually momentary and the humility that follows rings true and lasting. There is where my gratitude is rooted; a strong base of humility that grows richer with time.

For all I have been and all I will be; for every experience encountered and each one that is my destiny to yet go through, I am thankful. Gratefulness is to life what fertilizer is to a plant; it enables stronger and more resilient growth.

When I can look Life in the eyes,
Grown calm and very coldly wise,
Life will have given me the Truth,
And taken in exchange – my youth.
Sara Teasdale

The Place You Were Meant To Be

Yesterday my favorite used book store had a “buy two get one free” sale I took advantage of. One I picked up for a couple of dollars is called “It I Had My Life To Live Over…” Edited by Sandra Haldeman Martz. It’s a collections of stories, thoughts and poems by older woman as they reflect on their lives. The ‘title’ piece and the inspiration to buy the book is called “I’d Pick more Daisies” by Nadine Stair. It’s beautiful. Read for yourself.

If I had my life to live over, I’d dare to make more mistakes next time. I’d relax, I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip.

I would take fewer things seriously. I would take more chances. I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers.

I would eat more ice cream and less beans. I would perhaps have more actual troubles, but I’d have fewer imaginary ones.

You see, I’m one of those people who lived sensibly and sanely, hour after hour, day after day. Oh, I’ve had my moments, and if I had to do it over again, I’d have more of them. In fact, I’d try to have nothing else. Just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day.

I’ve been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a raincoat and a parachute. If I had to do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.

If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall.

I would go to more dances.

I would ride more merry-go-rounds.

I would pick more daisies.

Stop and see; slow down and notice. What really matters comes to me through small messages such as “I’d Pick More Daisies” crossing my path.  As I have slowly become more aware, without looking for them, reminders come regularly to heighten my awareness and point me forward.  It was the beginning of being “present” which was the hardest, but with that behind me a good way now, clarity comes consistently in small bits and pieces.  I am grateful for every one of them!

If you can see how limitless you really can be
without lessening someone else’s reputation,
values or experiences, then step forward
into the place you were meant to be.
Danielle Maylyn

May Your Prayer of Listening Deepen Enough

A grimy and smelly swamp is some of the most fertile ground on Earth. It nurtures growth with its hidden richness. In the slim of near putrid water the strongest roots must grow, made necessary by the weakness of the ground around. Human life can be this way. That thought was stated well by Edwin Hubbell Chapin close to a hundred and fifty years ago when he wrote:

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls;
the most massive characters are seared with scars.

Only in middle age has it become possible for me to reap the benefits of pain, heartache, and grief. Each bit of discomfort though did little to teach me within itself. What hurt, hurt! What broke my heart, did so, without little shown to me at the time except agony.

Julio Caesar wrote “Experience is the teacher of all things” and his statement was not incorrect. It is however, incomplete. What age has taught me over time was not just to feel, but to pay closer attention to what happened. In looking closely and discerning the ‘hows and whys” of sorrow and anguish, I learned. It is “Awareness” that has become my greatest teacher; the smoother of my heart and soul while a grinder of my misplaced beliefs and thoughts.

The BEST teacher is the conscious observing and relating to daily circumstances, then responding to it out of one’s own experience, being aware that this comes out of an old programming, which happened in one’s past. So also observing these reactions, one is able to decide to follow this track or to try a new way, what might guide to a new experience and triggering new unknown reactions to be observed and so allowing to get to know oneself. With other words: Life is the best teacher – if one opens up to it!

‘Experience’ not necessarily is a teacher and for sure not the most efficient, because experience mostly serves to confirm old experiences as being part of the self-image.
The best and most efficient teacher without doubt is one’s own awareness. But to be such, one has to step beyond one’s personality, only then there is a true ‘learning’ otherwise every thing experienced only serves to confirm one’s programmed personality, to survive with one’s narrow and limited self-image and world view.

To be able to go beyond one’s personality one must be so much stuffed with experience – in a very long evolutionary process – that there is nothing left to gain more satisfaction. And after being cooked in one’s own juice long enough, what might happen through a lot of suffering like personal tragedies, loss of family, bankrupt or long incurable disease, then the personality breaks down and gives space to do the first step beyond one’s self-centered existence. BeiYien

Today I can’t damn or wish to push away any good or bad thing that has happened to me. To do so would be do deny a portion of who I am. All and everything that encompasses my life has been the mill that has produced the “me” I am today. While I would not willingly choose to endure many experiences and happenings a second time, I am grateful for them, one and all. Allowing ‘self’ to truly become “grist for the mill” brings glimpses of occasional enlightenment with growing propensity as I grown my awareness. These prescious insights are great gifts I am thankful for.

Like the joy of the sea coming home to shore,
May the relief of laughter rinse through your soul.
As the wind loves to call things to dance,
May your gravity be lightened by grace.
Like the dignity of moonlight restoring the earth,
May your thoughts incline with reverence and respect.
As water takes whatever shape it is in,
So free may you be about who you become.
As silence smiles on the other side of what’s said,
May your sense of irony bring perspective.
As time remains free of all that it frames,
May your mind stay clear of all it names.
May your prayer of listening deepen enough
to hear in the depths the laughter of God.
From “To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings”
by John O’Donohue,

We Are All Perfectly Imperfect

Although I began hearing the term “perfectly imperfect” early on in my recovery from depression and compulsion, it took a long while to see the depth of meaning of that two-word combination. Early on all I took it be was a clever term used by therapists. It took time and a gained perspective of the combined definition of the words for me to ‘get it”.

Perfect: Having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be. Lacking nothing essential to the whole.

Imperfect: characterized by defects, weaknesses, faults or mistakes; incomplete or unfinished; deficient, not complete in all its parts; deficient.

Perfectly Imperfect: Having all the required or desirable qualities and lacking nothing essential, but unfinished and characterized by weaknesses, faults and mistakes.

We have all heard that no two snowflakes are alike. Each snowflake takes the perfect form for the maximum efficiency and effectiveness for its journey. And while the universal force of gravity gives them a shared destination, the expansive space in the air gives each snowflake the opportunity to take their own path. They are on the same journey, but each takes a different path.

Along this gravity-driven journey, some snowflakes collide and damage each other, some collide and join together, some are influenced by wind… there are so many transitions and changes that take place along the journey of the snowflake. But, no matter what the transition, the snowflake always finds itself perfectly shaped for its journey.

I find parallels in nature to be a beautiful reflection of grand orchestration. One of these parallels is of snowflakes and us. We, too, are all headed in the same direction. We are being driven by a universal force to the same destination. We are all individuals taking different journeys and along our journey, we sometimes bump into each other, we cross paths, we become altered… But at all times we too are 100% perfectly imperfect.

At every given moment we are absolutely perfect for what is required for our journey. I’m not perfect for your journey and you’re not perfect for my journey, but I’m perfect for my journey and you’re perfect for your journey. We’re heading to the same place, we’re taking different routes, but we’re both exactly perfect the way we are.

Think of what understanding this great orchestration could mean for relationships. Imagine interacting with others knowing that they too each share this parallel with the snowflake. Like you, they are headed to the same place and no matter what they may appear like to you, they have taken the perfect form for their journey. How strong our relationships would be if we could see and respect that we are all perfectly imperfect for our journey. From “Life, the Truth, and Being Free” by Steve Maraboli

In coming to recognize my imperfections there came a broader and deeper view of my “self”. Without that vantage point my growth would be stymied much like a bricklayer making a wall with imperfect bricks but not knowing it. In time the wall will fall down if he does not compensate for the imperfections. Until I began to see and accept my flaws and defects nothing could be done about them.  I am grateful for a much clearer perception of my “complete self” today that has helped me attain a good level of contentment and balance.  All in all, I no more and no less than uniquely myself.

That which causes us trials shall yield us triumph:
and that which make our hearts ache shall fill us with gladness.
The only true happiness is to learn, to advance, and to improve:
which could not happen unless we had commence with
error, ignorance, and imperfection.
We must pass through the darkness, to reach the light.
Albert Pike