Enjoying a night out and once again frequenting the bar scene with her girlfriends, Sarah, a tall, attractive, athletic-looking 30-year-old marketing executive, decided that it was time to put herself “out there” once more.
While she and Ryan, her ex-boyfriend of one year, had broken up six months ago after discovering that he had been cheating on her, it still felt like yesterday to Sarah. Devastated by the betrayal, she was slow to heal—after all, she was sure Ryan was the one. Now she can look back and see that she chose to ignore his flirtiness with other women and his “checking out” women while they were together, not to mention, his being critical of her body.
But then she was used to the critical eye having grown up with parents to whom appearance was paramount. And yet, here she was again, single and 30.
As the evening wore on, Jack, an old friend of Ryan’s, arrived and in the midst of their conversation, he casually mentioned that he heard Ryan was getting married. To add insult to injury, it was to the woman with whom he had cheated. Having already had a number of drinks and feeling slightly drunk, she accepted Jack’s offer to do some shots of tequila. She began to flirt with him and after much canoodling, she took Jack home and had sex with him, the whole time fantasizing about Ryan.
The next day she was full of self-loathing and regret. Jack left and she was alone again. The pain had returned. Immediately, she jumped onto the Internet visiting porn sites, pleasuring herself through the day as she desperately tried to feel better. When she grew bored with that she called an online service and had phone sex for several hours. Finally, she concluded her day by making a date with someone she met online and “hooked up” with him late that night. The next day she once more felt the pain of being rejected by Ryan as well as tremendous shame and self-hatred for what she’d done…only to go out and repeat the same old cycle again, the one she thought she had put behind her having found true love in Ryan…now it was back.
As the evening wore on, Jack, an old friend of Ryan’s, arrived and in the midst of their conversation, he casually mentioned that he heard Ryan was getting married. To add insult to injury, it was to the woman with whom he cheated.
The words fell on her like a ton of bricks, she could barely speak. Excusing herself she told Jack and her girlfriends that she felt a migraine coming on and needed to go home. Her girlfriends put her in a cab to make sure she would get home safely. As soon as the cab dropped Sarah off, she headed across the street to the local 24- hour market and bought a gallon of chocolate chip ice cream, two boxes of cookies, three bags of chocolate, a big bag of Doritos, a liter of Coke, and a red velvet cake.
Rushing back to her apartment, she threw on her pajamas and gradually ate her way through most of the food, ultimately falling asleep in a food coma. When she awoke surrounded by empty bags of chips, boxes of cookies, half-eaten cake and melted ice cream all over her bed, she felt horrified. Bloated, still stuffed and full of shame and self-loathing, she thought of Ryan and how no one would ever love her again—being such a pathetic, out of control, hideous person. Later that night…the bingeing began again.
These are two different endings to the same story and yet, Sarah was seeking the same outcome—relief from her pain, an escape, a desire to feel good, (even if it’s temporary), and a way to go numb.
Sex and food can be seen as not-so-distant cousins.
Strikingly, sex addiction has much in common with disordered eating.
Some of the key elements they share are:
§ A sense of compulsivity and an inability to stop
§ An escape from other problems such as loneliness, pain, stress, depression, or anxiety
§ A need to act out secretly and hide the compulsive behavior
§ A range of feelings including being out of control, shame, guilt, self-loathing, and remorse
§ An impulse to self-medicate in order to feel good
§ A desire for a quick fix and a way to fill the “inner hole”
In 1991 Patrick Carnes, a psychologist, researcher, and pioneer in the field of sexual addiction, published the first major study on sexual addiction. Some of his findings showed that sex addicts were unable to form close friendships and that there feelings of shame and unworthiness prevented them from accepting true intimacy. They felt that they would surely be rejected if people knew what they were “really” like.
In my experience, many of those suffering from eating disorders, like sex addicts, see themselves as deeply flawed people and hold these same types of negative beliefs about themselves, guarding themselves from letting anyone too close. They subscribe to the immortal words of Groucho Marx; “I would never want to be a member of a club that would have me as a member.”
Finally, it seems poignant to mention that these two compulsive behaviors share the common qualities of secrecy and desire to sneak or hide.
Since we now live in a world of “drive-through” everything from Chick-fil-A and McDonald’s to Dunkin’ Donuts and Sonic, it is very easy for those with eating disorders to buy every variety of fast food and secretively binge in their portable restaurant or the car. Or, they can simply order take out and have it delivered to their doors overeating in the privacy of their own homes.
Likewise with sex addicts, the Internet has increased the accessibility to a whole assortment of sexual encounters from sex chat rooms and pornography sites to phone sex and online dating. Everything is within the “click of the mouse” and brought instantly into the comfort of the home.
Both are looking for that quick fix.
And you know where that leaves you… like Sarah. You still wake up with yourself in the morning and with your harsh inner critic swimming around in your head hurling insults and a heavy dose of self-loathing.
You can put an end to the cycle. And, while it will likely require the help of a good therapist, you can start by acquainting yourself with what you’re truly feeling and allowing yourself to sit with those feelings or write about them, not try to escape from them.
Remember no one ever died from sitting with a feeling, and a little self-compassion goes a long way.
I hope Sarah reads this.
Allyn St. Lifer has been a therapist in private practice for over 30 years and specializes in teaching clients mindful eating to determine physical hunger and the point of satisfaction. She is the founder and director of Slimworks, a mind/body, non-diet approach for managing weight and transforming one’s relationship with food, body and self. To find out more about Allyn, please visit her website: www.slimworks.com. She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.
Read other Allyn St. Lifer columns here
©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC
When I’m in the midst of a Crohn’s flare-up, doubled-over in pain and fatigued to the point of exhaustion, I often attend to the physical symptoms of my disease without acknowledging the contemporaneous emotional toil.
After years of battling Crohn’s and watching my mother and grandmother do the same, I have realized the error of my ways. Whether it’s depression, anxiety, or stress, I have personally experienced a strong connection between the physiological manifestations of my disease and my emotional wherewithal. While one may not exactly “cause” the other, my flare-ups seem to arise with more regularity when I am depressed or anxious. With that in mind, I have created a list of five things that I wish I would have known about the emotional challenges of living with a chronic illness.
1. Emotions Follow Actions
According to researchers, doing activities that bring you pleasure and meaning are fundamental components of emotional well-being. A mental health problem arises when you’re having a flare-up and getting up from the couch is a major endeavor: how do you do things that bring you pleasure and meaning when you’re physically incapable of doing almost anything?
Personally, my physical limitations have made me feel simultaneously claustrophobic and hopeless. It took me a long time to realize that there were still a number of meaningful activities available even when I was sick. As a fun exercise, make a list of all of the things that bring you pleasure or meaning that you can do from home. Don’t edit yourself. For me, I wrote down options like connecting with friends on the telephone or reading the latest People magazine. Then do them, whether you feel like it or not. That’s the most important step. Do not wait until you feel happy or have positive thoughts to do the activities. You have to engage in the actions first, and then your emotions will follow suit. In short, it’s much easier to change your actions than your feelings.
2. Steroids will make you crazy
If you are on prednisone or any other type of anti-inflammatory corticosteroid, give yourself a mental hug. While the adverse psychological effects of steroids have been well documented, do not count on your physician to inform you that they may cause mania, depression, and insomnia.
At one point, I was taking 80 milligrams of prednisone orally each day. My physician instructed me to take a 20-milligram tablet in the morning, at lunch, at dinner, and in the evening. I dusted the fan blades at 2 a.m. Don’t be shy about discussing the side effects of steroids with your doctor or getting a prescription for a sleeping medication if you’re on a really high dose. I know that I feel much stronger emotionally when I’m not sleep deprived.
3. Acknowledge the pain
When I was first diagnosed with Crohn’s, I tried to block out the pain – both physically and emotionally – that I experienced. Maybe I hoped that if I ignored it long enough, it might go away. An ample dose of denial was all that I gained. Paradoxically, when I was aware of how I felt, it hurt less. Mindfulness of my body helped me to overcome the fear that I had associated with pain. If you are interested in meditation or the relationship between mindfulness and pain, I highly recommend the books of Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.
4. Understand the difference between depression and situational sadness
Don’t be hard on yourself when you’re having a flare-up or considering new treatment options. It’s completely normal to feel sad, anxious, hopeless or angry when you’re facing a difficult medical situation. Often, I’m unkind to myself when I feel down in the face of adversity, as if I should constantly radiate some kind of magical and resilient Energizer bunny attitude.
Be gentle to yourself and understand that you may be experiencing an appropriate psychological reaction, rather than a clinical depression. If your feelings last longer than two weeks, then don’t be timid about seeking professional help. Speaking from my own experience, a good counselor really helped me cope with the emotional toil of Crohn’s disease, and she taught me how to see the silver lining in an otherwise challenging time.
5. The Serenity Prayer
When all else fails, say the “Serenity Prayer” out loud to yourself and repeat as necessary. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”
While we may not be in control of what’s happening to our bodies, we can choose how to respond to the situation.
A former Duke-educated attorney, Jena Reger shares her roller coaster ride with Crohn's disease. She hangs on with irreverence, compassion, and a lot of hope. She is a regular columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the Web at www.jenareger.com.
Read other Jen Reger columns here.
©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC
I love writing about inspirational moments when parenthood meets life. As one who has never been particularly good at small talk, I thrive when there are juicy lessons to learn and wisdom to glean. My daughter (then age 12) came to an understanding of “9-11” (then age four) and the Holocaust in a single, tumultuous day.
That night, I wrote a blog that remains one of my favorite pieces. It’s a blog about listening and parenting, about coming of age and the value of processing challenging emotions, about the importance of story and…most of all…the importance of bearing witness. I have thought back to this blog often over the years. It captures a moment when my instincts as a parent were spot on, and when the lesson for me to learn was that I don’t always have to teach a lesson!
When I don't know what to do as a parent, I try to bear witness and figure out what my child has already learned without me. Whether it's a good oor bad experience, people need "to tell their stories, to share their truths." And sometimes, the greatest gift we can offer is just to listen.
Now, when my teenage daughter comes home railing at the injustices of her world, I give her my full attention and I continue to ask “what else?” until she finds some peace. Her realizations are not always as profound as they were that day when she was 12, but for her they are every bit as important.
My Daughter Cried. And, do you know what I did? I stayed.
It was all I could do not to smile at the sweetness of my 12-year-old daughter’s innocence. She was in tears, and I knew they were as genuine and heartfelt as any I had witnessed. They were the tears of her childhood giving way to her adolescence, as though the weight of the world was on her shoulders.
It all began before dinner, one night this week. My daughter came home from religious school and, instead of sitting down at the dinner table, she said to us in panic, “I can’t handle it,” and ran off to her room.
I sat down to eat because I knew she usually needed space at times like this. Besides, I figured I needed to be well-fueled before I heard about the “grave injustices” that usually consisted of her complaining about the way her younger brother and cousin behaved in the car on the way home.
This time, though, while my timing was still good (at least I got that right), my interpretation why she was upset was way off. This time, her indignation was aimed at injustice, and it was right on target .
Sobbing almost uncontrollably (reinvigorated by my arrival, of course), my daughter railed on the injustices she had been exposed to—thoughtfully--during the day. As it turned out, these were no petty-playground-politics on her mind—it was the pain of the human condition.
She was beginning to see what she had never noticed before.
First off, there was the horrific earthquake in Haiti and the slow response of the world (could it ever be fast enough?). Then, there was the charged, emotional political studies discussion, which she understood in concept, if not with strong recall of the details. And then there was more: terrorism, books for literature ("Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," "My Sister’s Keeper"), the discussion about an historical hi-jacking of an airplane and the separation of the Jewish passengers (who were not freed when the rest of the passengers were freed), and there was the Holocaust survivor on that flight who had to endure yet another horrifying episode of extremism.
“The world should be happy, Mom. There should be more nature,” she said, sobbing. “Instead, there's more pollution. It's just not right.”
The list went on, awareness after awareness creeping over her face, her eyes shocked by the truth of the horrors in the world. The eyes of my child were going through a transformation – morphing – from innocence to understanding.
She cried for an hour about all that was wrong in the world. And you know what I did?
I stayed with her and let her talk, and cry, and emote and feel the pain. I didn’t try to fix it. I didn’t soothe her, or tell her it is all okay, because she was right. It’s not okay. I held her only when she wanted it (she would cradle for a moment, and then push back and give more examples). I let her begin to come to terms with a broader view of the world as it is.
My daughter is generally a very positive kid—we’ve always called her our “Sunshine.” She’s not been outrageously sheltered, and she has taken part in many discussions about sad and/or devastating realities around the world. But on this day, a new glimpse of understanding clicked in. I had the privilege to bear witness.
I watched her grow before my eyes.
Sometimes, as parents, as friends, and spouses, even as a child to our aging parents, the best thing we can do for the people we love is to just stay with them. People need to tell their stories, to share their truths. And sometimes, they don’t need to hear our perspective , or our version of the story.
The kindest gift we can give is to listen, to bear witness to their joy and their pain, to let them have it all for themselves.
Elaine Taylor-Klaus is a Life, Leadership and Parenting Coach and the founder of Touchstone Coaching and ImpactADHD™. She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.
Read more articles by Elaine Taylor-Klaus here.
©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC
The best thing I do every month is spend a Saturday evening with the inmates at the New Hampshire Prison for Men in Concord, N.H. They are a gift to me and this year I’ve needed them more than ever.
2011 is not a year I’d like to repeat, and I hoped that on this past New Year’s Eve I’d say the magic words and 2012 would resolve into a universe in which 2011 never existed.
But like most resolutions this one fell on deaf ears and a stubborn heart. My own.
In 2011 I experienced a recurrence of cancer, the grief of stepping down as pastor of a church I love, and additionally personal heartbreak of a depth I have never known.
In 2012 I am still dealing with cancer, my separation-grief from the church has not subsided, and I fractured the patella tendon in my right knee. For each of these there is a prescribed course of treatment that experts assure will bring healing.
My broken heart is a different story. My pain is as acute as ever and there is no reassurance this fracture will ever mend. Neither Humpty Dumpty nor anyone else knows how to put my heart back together.
Cancer, transitions, bones have their own unique pain, but nothing compares to the pain of a broken heart. Nothing. Were my heart to heal I might not consider anything associated with the others as deserving of the word pain.
My other problems I comprehend, but not my heart.
I am searching for something to help me live with this fracture, and I believe I found it at the N.H. State Prison for Men.
Why do I seek to wax eloquently about the life of a prison inmate? Because they embody what I seek.
You will not find me romanticizing prison life, nor explain why the lives of the men I worship with on Saturday night are exceptional.
I believe any of them would trade places with me if given the chance, and I have no desire to make that trade.
The prison complex houses more than twice as many men than designed. Except for solitary, there is no privacy. Everyone knows everyone else’s stuff. In excruciating detail. The past, the present, and much of the future.
The food is what it is. The medical care is good, if they can persuade the system to provide it.
Virtually all the inmates have to depend on lawyers who work for free, all the while contending with a legal system designed by politicians to be increasingly harsh and vindictive.
There are many good administrators and guards, but given budget issues prison programming resembles bricks without straw.
The men lack the comfort of the voice, the ear, and the touch of woman.
Every day is much like ever other as will tomorrow and every subsequent day they are in. Many men speak of the heartache of what is happening to their wives and children. Others whisper the despair of what it is to know nothing of friends and family. Each month a couple of new men tell me of what it is to be divorced without even a conversation or a forwarding address.
There are still others that have not received a letter or a phone call in years … or decades … from anyone. Their families and friends are dead to them.
For most when it comes to those they love, they have no contact, no recourse, no appeal, and when it comes to blame, they only have themselves.
Contrary to popular stereotypes, I’ve never had an inmate tell me they were innocent of their charges. Every inmate with whom I have spoken understands why no one would wait for them or associate with them. Those whose loved ones stay connected have no explanation as to why.
They are men who live as having no merit.
That demon called “Regret” speaks into them every waking moment. There is a reason they are in prison. They made choices that have consequences, and as painful as incarceration is, that pain cannot be measured against the pain of the hearts they have broken, including their own.
The penitentiary is a wall-to-wall city of broken hearts. No exceptions. Eye contact, or what passes for it, confirms it.
That’s why it is so good for me to be with them. They teach me what it means to live with a broken heart.
On Saturday night they come to chapel. Cynics might say it is because they have nothing better to do or because they are under the false impression a volunteer will assist them in an illicit manner.
But the cynics leave the room as soon as the singing starts. This is neither the awkward congregational singing so often associated with the high-church, nor the praise-band sing-along of the low-church. This is primarily white and Hispanic men, learning to sing with the soul of our black brothers.
There is no lyric that is not simultaneously painful and hopeful. There is no stanza that promises the prison will be anything better when they leave for the evening. But every note is sung through the lining of a broken-heart and in hope of the day when our hearts will be remade.
Saturday night is the fellowship of the broken-hearted, and it is my spiritual family.
When I sit in the room I see men who’ve committed capital offenses, violent crime, and all that is related to alcohol, drugs, and sex. They come with broken-hearts that are open for others to see, and sometimes they smile. Sometimes they tell you about a wood carving they’ve done. Some nights they show you a birthday card from someone they’ve never known. The older ones look after the younger ones. The younger ones look after the older ones. They speak of the past, the present, and a future. They speak of hope for the next life, if not also for this one.
They live even as their heart dies.
Those who have reconciled themselves to this, are finding what I haven’t – an increasing measure of peace and contentment.
They are finding in the vortex of penance, what I cannot find outside of the walls.
I’ve spent the last several months, and most of the last 53 years trying to heal a broken heart. So far I’ve failed and I’ve undoubtedly shortened my life span in the attempt.
My fellow inmates have helped me to understand this heart of mine will never again be innocent, and I will never be rid of the pain.
But this band of brothers has also taught me I can have what they have.
I too can smile, find joy along the way, and never have to walk alone.
Being with them is the best thing I do every month.
What’s the best part? The singing.
Other things happen over the course of two hours, but once we start singing I never stop.
Paul McCartney must have visited them a few years back as he sings of it so eloquently:
When you were young and your heart was an open book
You used to say live and let live
(You know you did, you know you did, you know you did)
But in this ever changing world in which we live
Makes you give in and cry.
Live and let die.
Rev. Dale S. Kuehne, Ph.D. is the author of “Sex and the iWorld. Rethinking relationship beyond the age of Individualism.” He is the Richard L. Bready Chair of Ethics, Economics, and the Common Good and founding director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College. He is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.
©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC
Flight attendants have it right – and the advice is just as useful for those on a plane as well as off. “Remember to place the oxygen mask over your nose and mouth before assisting your child.” In other words, fail to take care of yourself and you won’t have what it takes for your kid.
This is especially true for mothers with eating disorders. Anorexia is the most blatant form of self-neglect. Its theme is the refusal to meet the body’s most basic needs (for food) but it often entails the denial of other important needs (i.e. love, pleasure, intimate connection).
While the stereotype is that eating disorders are a current day affliction caused by media images, they’ve been around for centuries. Generations of women have suffered, but they were undiagnosed and untreated. Some wound up in mental hospitals or experienced chronic illness and early death from malnutrition or suicide. Those who were higher functioning got married and had kids.
When an eating disorder goes untreated for decades it becomes an entrenched and defining quality of one’s self-concept.
I’m the thin one.
I’m the one who resists the treats at the restaurant.
I’m the one who cooks for others but never succumbs to temptation.
The “pride” in being able to achieve these victories over the body’s needs is a substitute for self-worth. Like saccharine, its momentary sweetness has no real substance behind it.
Unfortunately, the older generation of moms had little awareness of how living on nicotine, caffeine, saccharine and adrenaline would affect their offspring. Their adult children often struggle with a deep and abiding sense of emptiness.
Olivia sits in my office, the daughter of one of these moms. “I’m grumpy,” she starts off one summer morning. “Actually, I’m hung over, as in ‘Food Hangover.’ Had dinner with Mom last night.”
A successful, attractive professional in her late 40’s, Olivia secretly binge eats whenever she spends time in the presence of her mother. That night before, Mom had come through town and taken Olivia out for dinner, ordering a side salad with no dressing and black coffee (“…always the damn black coffee!” Olivia fumes). Her mom excused herself several times to step outside for a cigarette. She looked with judgment and disdain as Olivia ordered dinner off the menu. By the time dessert arrived, Olivia was planning her post-dinner binge back at the house.
Olivia felt like her mother wore her anorexia like a badge of honor. During her childhood Olivia’s mother never ate dinner with the family. When they went on vacation, her mother would avoid eating all day, admonishing the kids, “You’re not hungry!” when they started asking for lunch around 2:00 p.m. Sometimes Olivia would discover her mom quietly eating a box of crackers late at night in the dark kitchen; she’d hide the box like it was heroin.
Because she was chronically hungry, Olivia’s mother was often irritable and short-tempered, blaming Olivia for being “overly dramatic” or “too needy,” a trait most loathed by someone with anorexia. Because her mother’s cup was empty, she perceived her daughter’s normal needs (for love, food, attention) as burdensome. Because Olivia was a bright, sensitive child, she could come to no other conclusion than that she was faulty, unlovable, too much, a disappointment. Despite her many friends, her professional success, and her delightful and effervescent personality, for 47 years Olivia has held firmly to this core belief.
Thankfully, today there is less shame and greater awareness about treating eating disorders. Moms who are suffering are seeking help.
Kerri, a mother of three, had become so depressed from her food rituals that she was not able to parent her kids, spending hours every day in her darkened room. She avoided family meals, then binged and purged when they were otherwise occupied. She sought therapy when she became frightened by her suicidal plans. She’d written the good-bye letter to her kids and staked out the bridge she was planning to drive off. But her eldest daughter was on the verge of puberty and starting to worry about her body image. This was Kerri’s wake-up call. She did not want to abandon her daughter at such a crucial stage. She remembered feeling emotionally neglected by her mom at 13 and believed that this contributed to her bulimia.
She called me for help, petrified to reveal her secret to her husband, but ready to break bulimia’s 30-year grip.
Kerri has worked hard in therapy these past two years. She is now fully engaged as a mother because she is trying to meet her needs by getting sleep, eating meals, exercising, taking medication for depression (and having hot dates with her husband!). She has meaningful discussions with her daughters about their changing bodies, saying the things that she wished her mother had told her at that age. Her kids now see her as a source of love and support rather than a source of pain.
Meanwhile on a summer morning, I try to help Olivia stop taking her mother’s inability to love her personally. Even as the Adult Olivia knows her mother has an untreated illness, the Kid Olivia still believes the faulty messages that her mother conveyed. So Olivia will need to fill the emptiness with real acts of love. She can nourish her body with rest and exercise and delicious meals (with no guilt). She can fill her heart with the love of her close friends. She can feed her soul by making a difference in the world.
Food is as essential as oxygen for our survival, but you never hear people feeling guilty for breathing too much, or making ridiculous statements such as: “Wow, you look great! Are you cutting back on oxygen lately?”
Maybe when a woman decides to become a mother, her doctor should say something like: “You are about to embark on an important journey. Please be sure to feed and nurture yourself before you attempt to nourish a child.”
Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.
More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here.
©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC
Most of today’s afflictions and addictions are a direct result of our desire to not know what we know. There are times when we cannot bear the anxiety, anger and grief that accompany harsh reality. Humans are constantly devising new methods for numbing our awareness: from cigarettes to heroin, from shopping to cell phones. We find ways to leave our bodies because powerful emotions make us uncomfortable. Knowing the truth can have frightening implications.
A man involved in an intensely destructive marriage keeps himself numb with alcohol so he can better tolerate the craziness: “I’m afraid if I divorce her, she’ll kill herself.”
A woman who hates her job soothes her pain with chocolate every night: “I’m too fat to leave; no one would hire me.”
This need to numb is a natural part of the human condition. We hone this skill in childhood.
When I was young I spent much of my summer barefoot, resulting in frequent splinters from wooden docks and rafts. There was nothing scarier than my mother approaching my tender heal with sharp implements, so I developed an effective numbing technique.
Whenever I got a splinter, I’d inform Mom and then run up to my bedroom where I’d will myself into an instant, deep slumber. Mom would tiptoe in with her tweezers and needles, deftly removing the splinter like a surgeon operating on a sedated patient. I’d awaken refreshed and splinter-less, running back outside to play.
But my splinters were minor irritations compared to the pain of trauma, abuse, and loss that many kids experience. Trapped in their bodies and their families, to maintain their sanity they must find ways to check-out without physically leaving. Some kids escape into a world of imagination or develop severe dissociation. Others turn to junk food, cutting or starving to numb the pain.
While these techniques are adaptive for surviving the pain of childhood, becoming an Expert Numb-er can hinder your decisions in adulthood. Your gut is primal; it is a finely tuned Cavewoman built for survival. She tells you when to Say No, Get Out, Save Yourself. Silence her and you may end up in the wrong place, the wrong career, the wrong relationship.
In my early 20s I dated a man who was stable, successful and kind. After two months he proposed; in two more months we moved in together. On paper, he seemed like great husband material. In my head, I couldn’t find a compelling reason NOT to marry him.
The day we moved in together, I felt myself leave my body. We’d have minor disagreements, which would turn into days of silence and distance. I remember hovering above my body like those “near death” experiences, watching Dina below and thinking (with apologies to The Talking Heads) “This is not my beautiful life!” I was floating downstream towards a rushing, crushing waterfall called “My Wedding.”
I had a massive splinter, and I was sleeping deeply. Mom took me wedding dress shopping, but I was not really there. She sensed that something was amiss, but she couldn’t fix it this time. I couldn’t remove the splinter myself because I couldn’t feel it.
Around that time I went to my friend Martha’s wedding. Through my fog, I watched her kissing and laughing with her new husband. At one point she grabbed me enthusiastically: “Oh my God, Dina! Congratulations on your engagement! Tell me all about him; does he make you laugh?!”
Her simple question brought me surging back into my body. I fumbled through an answer, but something had shifted. I couldn’t marry him. We had a fundamental disconnect. Sure, we didn’t fight but we didn’t laugh either…not in the way that I needed to laugh. No wonder I had left my body. But once I was back inside myself again, there was no turning back. Soon after that, the Cavewoman spoke and told him: “We’re not going to make it.” Then I was moving out and moving on.
I’m so grateful that Martha asked me the key question, which brought me back into my body, before the invitations, the vows and the babies.
I’ll bet you can recall similar Ah-Ha moments in your life, when the light bulb went on, when you suddenly saw something so clearly that it inexorably changed the direction of your life. It was a feeling in your gut, wasn’t it?
Unfortunately, the notion of “listening to your feelings” has gotten a bad rap. Teenage bullies and narcissistic 20-somethings are blamed on parents who’ve over-indulged their kids’ feelings. The Tough-Love-Suck-It-Up philosophy of the Tiger Mom movement is our culture’s typical knee-jerk over-correction.
But there is a middle place.
It’s about valuing the wisdom in our emotions and having the courage to view feelings as useful information. As a therapist, my emotional responses to my clients’ stories provide me with important clues. But being “in touch with my feelings” doesn’t mean I cry all day long. This ability to connect to my emotions helps give me both empathy and resilience.
I’m hopeful about our culture’s surging interest in yoga and mindfulness. These practices can help us tune back in to the stirrings of the Cavewoman.
If you spent much of your childhood trying to leave your body, being present takes a courageous and concerted effort. But you ignore your inner CaveWoman at your peril. Without her wisdom, you don’t know that your hand is on the stove until you smell your flesh burning. Honor her and you’ll access the energy, courage and focus to run away from danger and towards a fuller, saner life.
Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.
More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here.
©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC
It would be presumptuous
for me to say, “Oh my God, I am so personally aggrieved for the loss of Whitney
Houston.” I did not know her in any way but for a voice that, when it was
still healthy and young and pure, was like a bell from the heaven. I am
too well acquainted with the deaths of younger people through my work.
Yet even in this category, I knew some of the kids better than others.
And I also understand that no one actually knows the anguish of the parents
or siblings or children of these needy angels.
Whitney Houston was not a kid, of course. But her death is but another elegiac wail in the vanishing of young and brilliant artists in the whirlwind of substance abuse, vanities, and the dark yoke of celebrity.
However, when my wife called out to me that night that the television bulletin just came through about Ms. Houston, I heard myself howling in response, “WHAT?” A consumer bystander in this tragedy, a fan, a devotee of her lyricism, I nonetheless felt pangs of authentic shock. And there was even anger: something went through my head to the effect of we are just killing off our flowers of talent and creativity.
Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, and, in prior times, Janis Joplin, Marilyn Monroe and Billie Holiday. The list is painfully endless. A lethal blur of drugs, alcohol, and intoxication with fame and its murky flipside—the unrelenting invasion of their privacy and their right to peace and quiet in exchange for the joy they bring to us. In recent decades, the spiraling, cynical media has driven this gossip culture into a white-hot and gothic skewing of profit-motivated and ruthless collective voyeurism.
In the end, every public figure carries the responsibility for his/her life and dignity. I don’t know why people don’t get it about cocaine, let alone other even more sinister recreational drugs and pills and hallucinogens.
We worship our celebrities, we bring their music and art to our milestone occasions, and then we speculate and judge and offer banalities when they are taken from their families by the limits of human endurance.
But every time we purchase those insipid tabloids about them at the supermarkets or via the amoral and venal waves of the Internet, we indirectly contribute to their destruction. Super-agents, pseudo-therapists, personal physicians, and the talking heads of television and video also chip away at the very vulnerabilities that have made people like Whitney Houston so impossibly brilliant. Hollywood and Motown and even Broadway have been co-opted by exploitation and we are happy to become their attendant idolaters.
I didn’t know Whitney Houston though anybody could see and even hear her pain. She died with the music still in her. Maybe the rest of us were also just making too much noise.
Ben Kamin is one of America's best known rabbis, a multicultural spiritualist, NYT Op-ed contributor and author of seven books, including his latest, "NOTHING LIKE SUNSHINE: A Story in the Aftermath of the MLK Assassination." He is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.
©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC
It’s a pretty
safe bet that I’ll never get a tattoo.
Were I to get one, however, I would choose, from that vast storehouse of life-affirming and life-giving rules I need to keep in front of me at all times, a favorite verse from Proverbs; Proverbs 4:23. It reads, in The Life Recovery Bible,
Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do.
This one verse is so eminently tattoo-able because it can save our lives, and the lives of our loved ones. Truly internalized, it reminds me/us that whatever I/we give our hearts to is where our lives go:
· Give your heart to pursuing one big party, and your life will become about partying and its almost-always-ugly aftermath.
· Give your heart to work, and there you’ll be on a Friday night, slaving away, with your family – if you have any left – long gone other directions.
· Give your heart to a person who is toxic for you, and, as we saw 24/7 following the death of Whitney Houston, the result is dangerous and deadly.
heartbreaking to think that someone so incredibly gifted, who was reared in the
church and seemed to be so surrounded, as a child, by love, could self-destruct
at such an early age as Whitney Houston did two weeks ago. Equally as sad: that
her daughter seems to be on the same path.
I think there must have been big a hole in Whitney Houston’s soul when she met that sly Bobby Brown. A hole that got bigger and bigger the further she got from her roots in her family and her church.
She was successful, beautiful, on top of the world, but lonely. In one interview that was replayed, she talked about how she got lonely when she was at one end of the bed and Bobby Brown was at the other end, and that they “'got' each other’s loneliness” so they could be “lonely together.”
Whew. Two souls with a lot of money, talent, energy, and time on their hands. One who’d been immersed in spirituality as a child. Another who loved intensity and breaking rules. And even though she was five years older, Whitney Houston allowed herself to be led, seduced, and brought under a spell that ultimately took her away from all things she’d once considered holy.
The conflict in her soul must have been one of the things that exhausted her so. The conflict about the way she was living her life, and exposing her daughter to these self-destructive behaviors.
This is a stunning teachable moment here for us parents. And I am being incredibly presumptuous, but I believe Whitney, who shared the song “Jesus Loves Me” as the last song she ever sang in public, would want us to use her life as a teachable moment. For some reason I think she would want us to tell our children to guard their affections. Just as Kevin Costner said in a tribute at her funeral – a tribute that was as beautiful, moving, and instructional as almost anything I have every heard or read – “I think Whitney would tell you, little girls wanting to become singers. Guard your bodies and guard the precious miracle you have.”
And I think now, from Heaven, Whitney Houston would add, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do.”
So many times I’ve thought about sending my book, The TurnAround Mom, to the movie stars whose faces I see plastered – when they’re plastered – on the covers of the supermarket tabloids. Whitney, Britney, Courtney, and the dozens of other celebrities along the way whom I’ve thought could benefit from it. Not that I have all the answers, of course, but I've been told by many counselors that it is helpful because it is written in a way that is relatable. It’s shared in small bites with stories that help people feel the pain a child feels when he or she is immersed in the insanity of having a parent addicted to alcohol or drugs. And it offers real, practical, and proven solutions.
I have given my book to countless women with whom I’ve met as I’ve volunteered at treatment centers over the years. And I hear from some of them from time to time, telling me that it is still helping them. One woman who bought it the book recently wrote that as she's moved over the years, "it's been the last thing I pack, and the first thing I unpack" as she keeps it by her bed and reads it daily.
Of course I have to keep reading it myself, too. Because, dang it, as I close in on my 56th birthday, I forget things more easily.
So here’s the
promise part: I am going to start sending this book to the celebrities giving
their hearts to self destruction, on the chance that one of these women with so
much influence on others will read it and use it to help keep their own
children from experiencing the pain of growing up with an addict, and maybe
recommend it to others who look to her as an example.
Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do.” was among those that were the basis of my book.
It might not have done any good, but I wish I could have shared Chapter 7, the chapter on relationships, with Whitney Houston. It begins:
“If you believe you are precious, you will not allow someone to treat you as if you are not. If you have a daughter and she sees you abused, she’ll think that’s how women are treated by men. If you have a son and he sees you abused, he’ll think that’s how men treat women, or how spouses treat each other in general. This is life-and-death important. The old saying, “what children see, they learn. What they learn, they practice. What they practice, they become,” doesn’t have to be true. If you grew up in a home where people didn’t respect each other, forgive that wound and vow to make a difference today. First, respect yourself. Then follow the good old Golden Rule: Treat others as you would have them treat you."
I need to share this, because I cannot share it if I am not willing to live it. Sharing it makes me accountable to others. It helps me to remember it. Otherwise, as I am becoming more and more forgetful as I age, I may have to have that verse, and a few other choice basics, tattooed to my wrist.
Since forgetting is even more painful, maybe it is a safe bet that I am headed toward a tat. Or two.
Kevin Costner’s eulogy at Whitney Houston’s Funeral :
Carey Sipp's first book, The TurnAround Mom – How an Abuse and Addiction Survivor Stopped the Toxic Cycle for Her Family, and How You Can, Too, guides fellow “children of chaos” to create the kind of sane and loving home life that helps prevent next-generation addiction and abuse. Her book is available at Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/TurnAround-Mom-Addiction-Survivor-Family--/dp/0757305962/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1317756315&sr=8-1
Read more articles by Carey Sipp here..
©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC
If going through a divorce is, for adults, like surviving a heart attack, I think for children it must be like surviving a heart attack every month for the next ten years or so, with intermittent pains – and the expectation of them – for the duration.
So my girlfriend-helping-a-girlfriend-going-through-divorce advice is this: take care of yourself, for sure. Surround yourself with sane, functional people who love you. But if you are a mom, your biggest job is guiding your children through this heartache so you do not add to THEIR pain. This means being an adult when you most want to act like a child and lash out, go back to sleep, forget about soccer practice, hit the drive through, hit the bottle.
As the mom, you are an adult with some understanding of what’s going on. The children involved, depending on their ages, just know that there is change, their parents are angry, and it seems as though things will never be as good as they used to be.
And then there is this universal truth: No matter which parent the children are with, they’re always going to be missing the other parent.
So girlfriends, if you want to really be a help for the long-haul, help your girlfriend who is going through a divorce by helping with her children. That’s where there is a world of hurt that is sometimes overlooked, bought-off, or hushed up. Help your friend with her children, and you’ll actually help the whole world. For real. By reaching out to a child who is feeling lonely, scared, confused, and resentful, you may help him or her keep that pain from becoming acting out in class, or the start of using food or alcohol or sex to ease the pain, or the start of using the divorce as an excuse to fail.
Say your best friend has a five-year-old son. I’ve been told this the worst time for a little boy to experience divorce because it is when little boys want to see daddy go away so they can have mom for themselves. If this really does happen, that little boy is going to be extremely confused, and believe he has a whole lot more power than he really has. When he doesn’t have the power to make it all okay again, the anger will be pretty epic.
So to help your friend, offer to enroll her son – or daughter – in soccer or t-ball, or to sponsor him or her in scouts. Whatever the child's age, find out what other kids that age are doing that is healthy and enjoyable, and ask the child what sounds the best. Together you'll figure out some kind of age-appropriate, character-building distraction. The key is figuring it out, taking the action, and following through. Kids going through a divorce need follow-through, consistency, healthy attention.
This is your opportunity to be the ideal “aunt.” Your support in this way gives your friend some time to herself, and gives the child some time to be a child and relieve some stress and aggression.
If you’re married and have a family of your own, include your friend’s child – or children – in your family activities. When I went through my divorce 17 years ago, the parents of my children’s friends were such a great support group because they loved my children, and included them on family vacations and all manner of family activities that I just flat did not have the capacity to deliver.
You see, it does take a village to raise a child. Especially a child of divorce. And especially if this child of divorce has one parent who is far away, and a “custodial” parent juggling to provide, parent, heal from the divorce, and play good cop and bad cop all on his or her own.
When you step up for the mom by stepping up for her children, you help your friend have some space to be a disappointed, sad, angry, and frustrated little girl herself, and some time out to become more the adult and mom her children need. And that, girlfriend, is something any woman going through a divorce will appreciate.
Carey Sipp's first book, The TurnAround Mom – How an Abuse and Addiction Survivor Stopped the Toxic Cycle for Her Family, and How You Can, Too, guides fellow “children of chaos” to create the kind of sane and loving home life that helps prevent next-generation addiction and abuse. Her book is available here.
Read more articles by Carey Sipp here.
©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC
Recently I presented to a group of parents about the differences between trauma and grief. When a child dies due to a tragedy or traumatic event, the whole community mourns. Some children are directly impacted. They may have witnessed the event or have known the deceased. Some are indirectly impacted. They heard about it at school, saw it on the news and can see that their parents are visibly upset.
Whether you and your children are directly or indirectly touched by the event, here are some themes to consider about grief and trauma reactions:
When you are grieving, the generalized reaction is sadness. When you are traumatized, it is TERROR.
When you are grieving you can usually talk about what happened. When you are traumatized, you do not want to talk about it.
Grief reactions stand alone. Trauma reactions include grief reactions.
Guilt that accompanies grief includes thoughts like “I wish I would have…if only I…” Guilt that accompanies trauma feels like “It should have been me. It’s my fault. I could have prevented it.”
When you are grieving, your dreams may be about the deceased. When traumatized, your dreams are often nightmares where you are the potential victim. In addition, your child may have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep and may want to crawl into bed with you.
Grief does not include flashbacks. Trauma includes flashbacks, startle reactions, hyper-vigilance and numbing.
The pain associated with grief is about the loss. The pain associated with trauma triggers tremendous terror and an overwhelming sense of powerlessness.
What can you do?
Give children opportunities to ask questions and talk about what happened.
Be honest. Use simple language that is appropriate to your child’s developmental level.
Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t have answers to their questions.
Listen, don’t lecture. Use phrases like “We’ll get through this together.”
Monitor television watching and video games.
Help children understand that there is no right or wrong, good or bad emotion.
Model and encourage healthy ways to express feelings such as through exercise, art, music and nature.
As a parent you model effective grieving. Remember that you are grieving too. There are resources and help available in your community. You do not have to go through this alone.
Diane Snyder Cowan is the mother of two grown daughters and a national leader in using music in grief therapy, as well as the director of Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Bereavement Center of Hospice of the Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio. She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. To learn more about Diane, visit her blog.
Read other Diane Snyder Cowan columns here.
©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC
This is a hard one to write. I could say I was too busy or have nothing new to offer on this subject. But truthfully, my hesitation about facing this column is that words feel inadequate, hollow, empty.
All I want to do is tell you about my cousin Mark, present you with a slide show of his big life, create a documentary, share a thousand stories. But I only have 1,000 words and this is about what it’s like to lose someone we love.
How do we bear the pain? How does it change us? How can we thrive and not just survive?
So there’ll be no bullet points, no “Top Ten Tips on How to Cope with Loss.” I’m just going to share my reactions and experiences over the year that followed the worst day of my life.
Driving home from work on March 16, 2011, my cellphone rang. My mother was sobbing: an airplane crash, my cousin Mark in the plane, he was dead.
I’ll never erase the sound of anguish in her voice as she cried those horrific words. A sick feeling emanated from the pit of my stomach, crawled up the back of my throat. I left my body. This was not happening. Sweet Mark, whom I’d known and loved like a little brother since he was born…
I don’t remember the drive home. At the house, in a daze I sat at the computer and Googled “plane crash Longbeach.” And there it was: scenes of wreckage, a plume of smoke, witness reports…then the victims were identified and there was Mark’s name and his smiling face. This bad dream was only getting worse.
Mark and five buddies were on a small plane headed to Salt Lake City for a ski trip. Immediately after takeoff, the plane banked and plunged to earth. Only one man survived.
Mark was only 44, a gifted athlete, a kind and generous man, a devoted father to his three teenage kids. He had made an indelible impact in his community. His motto was “Go Big or Go Home.” His memorial service included a bike ride, a beautiful outdoor service and a Hawaiian paddle out ceremony with hundreds of people on surf-boards wearing leis.
For weeks afterwards, my mind flashed with images, which triggered a fresh torrent of tears. Alternating between images of the crash itself, was the gut-wrenching pain I felt for those who’d be most affected by his loss on a daily basis. I’d picture Mark’s mom losing her beloved son, his kids who’d experience a gaping hole in their lives. I’d imagine Mark’s two younger brothers and the indelible bond of this threesome since losing their Dad when they were kids. I’d cry for Mark’s wife and the responsibility she’d feel to be strong for their kids. I grieved that he would be missing from our family gatherings, that my kids wouldn’t experience a life-long relationship with their uncle.
Mark was such a large presence that he seemed invincible. I always felt that our family was blessed with good fortune, but deep down I feared that one day our “luck” would run out. Mark’s death was so sudden, violent and unexpected that it shoved my previous world view off its axis. I never imagined that THIS would be the unforeseen tragedy that the Universe had in store for our family.
In those first few months I wondered what other tragedies were waiting around the corner. I started imagining horrific scenes of tragic accidents, deaths and losses happening to those I loved. Anticipating worst case scenarios, my mind was trying to ward off death.
Those first few months were an emotional roller coaster filled with flashes of pain, fear, sadness, disbelief, and then spells of denial. But each morning I’d wake up, slapped by the harsh truth that Mark was really gone.
As the denial wore off, I became more aware of a profound and deep sense of the fragility of life. Even though I felt more vulnerable, the panic subsided. While the pain and sadness were still very present, a new sense of peace was taking its place.
Eventually more life-energy returned, which I experienced as a deep connection to Mark. He had a “Go-for-it,” “No-Excuses” philosophy of life. Connecting to his drive, I found myself saying yes to new projects and no to things that didn’t feel like a valuable use of my time. I took on new challenges with renewed optimism.
I also started to experience each moment more fully. I’ve become more present with my children, aware that in the blink of an eye they’ll be leaving home. And because I know that at any moment I could be taken from them, I fill their love cups to the brim, pouring every drop of me into them. I take extra time to focus on them, listen to them, touch them. I’ve become more appreciative of all of my relationships and try to infuse more love into my interactions with others.
I have also found myself feeling greater empathy to anyone experiencing grief or loss. I now know from the inside how hard it is to navigate this world with a huge ball of pain in your heart.
I still cry a lot in my car listening to the radio. Two popular songs can trigger a flood of tears: “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry and “Live Like We’re Dying” by Kris Allen. Rather than turn the station when these songs come on, I cry without regard to the concern of people in the adjacent vehicle. The other place I weep is at my computer. I click on certain Facebook pages- Mark’s page, his kids’, his wife’s, his brothers’, his mothers.’ Their words and pictures help me feel connected to the community of people who love, miss and were impacted by Mark’s life. This alleviates some of the loneliness of the grief. My heart needs these Tear Releases. It doesn’t feel right when I go too long without crying.
Near the anniversary of Mark’s death, my family flew to Salt Lake City to ski, embarking on the trip that Mark never got to complete. I wondered if I’d have a panic attack on the plane, but instead a feeling of calm washed over me. As we flew into Salt Lake City, a bright moon rose over the Rocky mountains. “Hello, Mark.”
I felt his presence traveling up the lifts, surveying the gorgeous craggy mountains and watching daring skiers carve turns on the off-trail runs. Mark would’ve been one of those guys hiking with his skis on his back, then whooping with joy as he gracefully dominated the mountain.
I stuck to the groomed trails and wore a helmet for the first time in 45 years of skiing (no more illusions of invincibility). I warned my boys, “Be careful!” and caught my breath as I watched them ski away into the woods.
Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.
For more Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here.
©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC.
To be honest, parenthood hasn’t really gone exactly as I expected. Before I had children, I harbored luxurious visions of Madonna and child and sepia-tinted images of frolics in the park with laughing children and contented adults. I envisioned teenagers willingly seeking my wisdom. I was going to do it “right.”
And then I had a baby.
It’s amazing how your worldview can change overnight. Even when we hit major birthday milestones, in truth there is no real difference from one day to the next. But the transformation to parenthood is nothing short of extraordinary. Funny, since it’s such an otherwise ordinary experience.
That is, unless, your child encounters an extraordinary life challenge.
Now, many parents manage to take typical life complications, add a solid dose of anxiety, and blow them up to the realm of crisis. I know. I’ve created my fair share of those experiences!
But for the most part, our trips to the emergency room or panicky 2 a.m. calls to the doctor are not really life-threatening, and we know it somewhere deep down. In fact, we expected these problems to arise, and somehow they validate our parenting experience. We wear them as badges of honor.
What we never honestly considered, when we chose to raise children, was that our kids would face “authentic” crises that could tragically end their young lives. These fears are generally relegated to the realm of “others.” We don’t allow them to enter our sphere of reality. We just can’t go there.
Until we have no choice.
Raising a child with deep medical challenges heightens a parent’s sense of responsibility – if that’s even possible – and raises the bar on our own life experience.
Years ago, I was involved in a training exercise that metaphorically forced me to argue for my right to live. To this day, I have a visceral reaction to my memory of that experience. It was horrifying. How could I express to my peers – most of whom had no children, much less medically fragile kids -- that my child’s life was at risk, and therefore I had to live? Accused of “playing the parent card,” I sounded weak and whiny. I can only liken the feeling I had to a bizarre kind of “Sophie’s Choice.”
In her book, “Raising Blaze”, Debra Ginsberg captures the essence of those emotions. “I wonder, finally, how long I will live myself. I can’t die, I think to myself. I simply can’t die. Not while he is alive.”
Facing a child’s mortality is one of the most terrifying things a parent can encounter, second only to facing our own mortality in the context of that child’s illness. We hold these terrifying thoughts inside our heads captive because, honestly, we don’t really want to give voice to those internal conversations. If we speak them out loud, they might be true.
- It might be true that our child will die young.
- It might be true that we won’t survive, ourselves, to be there for this precious, dependent being who relies on us so heavily.
- It might be true that we must re-evaluate the vision of a long, healthy life, and instead find value in the momentary whisper of life that is offered.
Having raised a child whose medical complications and multiple surgeries have been tricky enough to be life-threatening, I have been forced to come to terms with a different perspective on her mortality – and mine – than was present in those sepia fantasies I once fostered about the joys of parenthood.
I have never had a child with cancer or a terminal illness, and I cannot profess to understand the depth of the pain that reality imposes on a parent’s life.
But here’s what I can offer to any parent facing the complex issues of life and death before their time, for us or our kids:
- You are resourceful and can handle what is given you to manage
- Your child is usually more resourceful and resilient than you are
- Your emotional approach is contagious
- It only takes 20 seconds of bravery to start difficult conversations
- Verbalizing fears and challenges takes away their power
- To accept is not to surrender – it allows the fight to come from a place of confidence, rather than desperation
- You must seek support for yourself in order to best help your child
This last one is the most critical. For me, personally, coaching has consistently offered a way to turn information into action, to manage the challenges of raising complex kids with as much humor and grace as I can muster. Wherever that support and structure is available to you – a group or a member of the clergy, a spouse or a friend, a therapist or a coach – put yourself back on the list. I assure you that the better you take care of yourself, the more you’ll be able to offer your child in need.
©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC
The past lives in me, and I need to make it homeless.
What scares me is that the past has twisted me to the point where I feel as though I can’t live without it.
My past shapes my self-understanding by creating a personal narrative that seeks to define me.
In my case, my narrative is shame. Overwhelming and self-defeating shame.
I am not alone.
We victims of sexual abuse all struggle with shame guilt, and inadequacy. Overwhelming shame.
But you don’t need to be a victim of abuse to have a personal narrative of shame. It is impossible to take the journey of life and not be shamed by others or yourself.
Each of us can instantly recall experiences in our past that have come to define us. These are not the good experiences, but the painful ones.
Guilt and shame seek to define us all.
They neutralize and defuse the positive potential of the good parts of our past. Guilt and shame relentlessly shout that these good things were accidents of the cosmos, We don’t deserve good because we are not worthy.
There are so many good things about each of us and much that is good in our past.
There is also much that is good in our present, but the past that defines us provides us with a narrative that seeks to rob us of enjoying the good of the present.
I am have been married to an incredible woman for 32 years.
We have three children whom I wouldn’t trade for anything.
I have a dog that wants nothing more than to be with me.
It is criminal that I allow my shame to rob me of the gift of their love.
It is beyond sad that my shame has created such insecurity within me that I don’t believe I can love them well. My shame tells me that I am a danger to them and so I repeatedly deny them the gift of me and my love.
My shame has created a life-long identity crisis and it leads me to deny to myself what I believe to be true for everyone else.
We are not our past.
What are not what people say about us.
We are children of God, loved by God.
That is who we are. That is who I am.
It is what we always have been and always will be.
My shame is seeking to deny me the truth of who I am.
And I have submitted to the shame willingly.
The past can’t tell us who we are, but it is constantly speaking its lie into us.
It speaks hypnotically and seeks to take us into captivity.
If we succumb, it becomes us.
I have become my past.
For decades I couldn’t see it.
But now I can.
Which is good news.
But only if I say no to the past.
And saying no is proving to be the hardest thing I have ever done.
I literally can’t let it go. It has taken up residence in my heart. I send it eviction notices but never follow through.
Despite all of its pain, I made friends with my past. It has become me and I am desperately afraid to let it go.
I feel as though that without my past I am nothing.
I Iive the contradiction a wise man stated eloquently.
I don’t do the good I know to do, but rather the evil I don’t.
I want life, but I prefer death.
Who will save me from this body of shame?
How will I be saved from this body of shame?
My hope is in the future.
My only hope is divine deliverance.
God stands at the end of history singing us a love song
It is a song that speaks the truth about who I am.
It is a song that can free me from the prison of my shame
How can I do what I need to do allow this song to define me?
I’ve lately realized I don’t even have it within me to say “Yes” to God.
Instead I have to stop saying “No”.
The truth is that shame isn’t me.
The truth is that I am made for love. To love and be loved.
I can’t save myself, but I can stop saying no.
Love rescue me.
Rev. Dale S. Kuehne, Ph.D. is the author of “Sex and the iWorld. Rethinking Relationship Beyond the Age of Individualism.” He is the Richard L. Bready Chair of Ethics, Economics, and the Common Good at Saint Anselm College and founding director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College. Dale serves the Evangelical Covenant Church of America as an ordained minister and is the Interim Pastor at Monadnock Covenant Church in Keene, NH. He a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.
Read other columns by Rev. Dale Kuehne here.
©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC
Transitioning means changing. Transitioning into our Second Life means changing how we think about and refer to our new situations. A new vocabulary emerges. I am considering writing a dictionary for people who have been through tough transitions and I welcome additions to the list below. These definitions are not meant to be masculine or feminine. That is determined by each person’s own perspective.
Your life may be just wonderful…or it might be wonderful if only someone or something would just go away. When you have to make room for these unsavory things or folks, we call that ACCOMODATING them in your life.
You may not like having to ACCOMMODATE, but you might be wise to learn how to TOLERATE the unsavory and the unacceptable.
A BLENDED FAMILY takes shape when two people marry for the second time. The new family includes the married couple, their children, their grandchildren and their aunts, uncles and cousins.
When a BLENDED FAMILY gets together with all the ex-family we call that an EXTENDED FAMILY. Those folks are not the immediate family but they may have been former family on either side. In the case of multiple divorces, there may be multiple ex-wives, ex-husbands and stepchildren.
An IDIOT is known to do stupid things. An IDIOT may be clueless, but is not intentionally destructive. Don’t give an IDIOT any more stupid ideas than he already has.
An ASSHOLE may be an opening in the rectum or an intentionally destructive person who causes upheaval and angst wherever he goes. An ASSHOLE can do destructive deeds or just be a destructive person. An ASSHOLE with a stupid idea can look more like an idiot. Sometimes it is tough to recognize which is which.
There are as many TRUTHS as there are individuals looking at or referring to the TRUTH. My TRUTH may be different from yours. Your TRUTH is what you see from your perspective, through your lens.
This is more about being clear-headed than it is about seeing the TRUTH. Each person’s REALITY is a possibility, since being clear-headed can help you see your TRUTH. Your REALITY is what you live with. Your TRUTH influences your REALITY.
In Second Life, there are more people, more issues, more decisions and more history to deal with. Wisdom, I was once told, is the ability to combine experience and sweetness. It means knowing when to get out of the street so you don’t get run over. It means that getting hit hurts, but you don’t have to hit back. It means taking charge the best you can in the best Second Life you can create. Going from pain and loss to healing and acceptance can bring you wisdom and even joy.
Susanne Katz is a GODR registered mediator and partner in Atlanta Elder Decisions, LLC. She is co-author of the book A Women's Guide to Managing a Mid-Life Divorce and writes about divorce and care giving in her Second Life columns on ShareWIK.com. She co-mediates elder issues with Atlanta Elder Decisions and divorce mediation with Mt Vernon Counseling in Atlanta. A former museum director and curator, Susanne's arts and living columns have appeared in many Atlanta publications.
More Susanne Katz here.
©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC
They often start out the same way. The wedding brings together two individuals, two families, hope, expectations and joy. It is when the promises become vows. It is when the future is brightest. The harsh reality is that all marriages will eventually end, either because of death or divorce.
Both death and divorce involve loss and disappointment. Both death and divorce cause pain and leave us feeling vulnerable. But a grieving man and woman are likely to be greeted very differently. And while both age and financial status seem to be factors, it is the dinner invitation…or the casserole…that really seems to make a significant impact. A few friends were willing to share their experiences with me.
“When I was widowed,” a friend explained, “my friends and neighbors could express their condolences and invite me for dinner without feeling conflicted. There was no one at fault, as there is in a divorce, so they didn’t need to take sides.”
“You were invited to dinner with friends,” a divorced friend reminded her. “While I was going through my divorce, no one worried about whether I was eating enough. My ex-husband, however, received casseroles and invitations from divorced women who were concerned that, since he didn’t live in our family home anymore, that he was no longer being well-fed.”
“My dad didn’t have to worry about cooking after my mom died,” a third friend added. “As soon as he moved into the high rise there were plenty of women who were eager to cook for him.”
My mom loved going out for dinner and could afford to pay her own way. No casseroles for her. She was always in demand as a dinner partner. Even when she had lost her sense of time, she would still greet me with “Have you eaten? Let’s go out and get some Chinese food.”
Eating, I now realize, is not only about the food. It is also about knowing that someone cares, feeling accepted, and getting nourishment…both for the body and for the soul. Even in our moments of despair, there is great comfort in being invited and included.
I used to wonder why there was an abundance of food at a family home following a funeral. And why people seem to lose weight during a death or a divorce.
I look at the photographs of Phang and myself when we were first dating. We eat dinners together most nights now. We are well nourished. It may even be time for us to go on a diet.
Susanne Katz is a GODR registered mediator and partner in Atlanta Elder Decisions, LLC. She is co-author of the book A Women's Guide to Managing a Mid-Life Divorce and writes about divorce and caregiving in her Second Life columns on ShareWIK.com. She co-mediates elder issues with Atlanta Elder Decisions and divorce mediation with Mt. Vernon Counseling in Atlanta. A former museum director and curator, Susanne's arts and living columns have appeared in many Atlanta publications. Follow her on Twitter @SusanneGKatz.
Read more columns by Susanne Katz here.
©2013 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC
For me, the worst part of getting a colonoscopy is getting the IV needle into my vein first!
After a few months of procrastination, I had a colonoscopy recently. I delayed it because my memories from a few years ago seemed like a nightmare. Actually, it wasn’t the colonoscopy specifically, but the preparation the days before that haunted me. Of course, the fact that I had pre-cancerous polyps last time, and the fact that I have a genetic defect that led to my ovarian cancer diagnosis and increases the chances of colon cancer, didn’t ease my concerns.
For those too young to require a colonoscopy, a quick definition: It is an endoscopic exam of the large bowel and part of the small bowel with a camera on a flexible tube passed through the anus. I will try to spare you more gory details.
But the week before the procedure, I had to be careful not to eat seeds, some greens, corn and other hard-to-digest food. That wasn’t too difficult. I also stopped my baby aspirin routine a few days before the procedure, just out of caution, because aspirin thins the blood.
The day before the procedure I could only have a liquid diet. I existed on ginger ale, jello and chicken broth. Mostly ginger ale, especially at one point where I became so weak from not eating, and of course, evacuating everything in my stomach. The prescribed liquid of something like sodium phosphate and/or magnesium citrate that must be drunk the night before the procedure, isn’t quite as bad as it used to me. The problem is you have to drink so much at once.
Still, the preparation for the colonoscopy is not what gave me nightmares this time around.
Before I describe what was a nightmare for me this time, I have to emphasize that the colonoscopy procedure itself is a breeze. The patient is sleeping; it lasts 15-20 minutes; it’s not painful. So what’s the problem?
For me, it’s getting a needle in my arm for the intravenous catheters (IV). Most recently, I had an IV in my right hand for the lovely stuff that had to go through my veins during a CT scan. It hurt, but it wasn’t too, too bad. But, generally, it is no piece of cake – not for me, and not for the nurse putting the IV in.
I’ve had nurses confidently come to me to insert the IV. I warn them that I have small, weak veins that have been over-used, and in some areas, are full of scar tissue so there’s no way of getting the needle into that part of the vein. Within moments, they are flustered and beaten.
They often call the best IV person around who deals with difficult patients like me. The frustrating part for me is that they didn’t believe me in the first place that my veins are going to be challenging. I am certainly the one who pays the price of their over-confidence. I remember one major surgery about three years ago. The IV in my arm was more painful than the actual surgery, which removed my breasts and rebuilt them with muscles from my back.
My most recent horrible experience was in preparation for the colonoscopy. The nurse tried in my right hand and quickly blew my vein. It was excruciating. I yelled out in pain. I cried. Then she tried a vein in my right wrist, which no one had tried before. Another botched effort. I was crying and just wishing it could all be over. I was looking the other way, knowing this had to be done and finally – on the third try – she got the IV into a vein in my arm.
They soon wheeled me into the procedure room where the anesthesiologist, who had watched my torture, started giving me something light for the pain. Despite the fact that I had filled out form after form, consent slip after consent slip before all this happened, I was surprised that right before I was given the anesthesia to knock me out, I had two more forms to sign, giving the doctor authority to perform the procedure and giving the anesthesiologist permission to give me the anesthesia. I grumbled because I am right handed. The anesthesiologist didn’t understand: “You can still use your right hand despite the IV line in your arm.”
I knew that. My hand was just so painful that I had to lift it with my left hand to move it toward the consent forms I had to sign.
As usual, I welcomed the anesthesia and the falling asleep. And, fortunately I received a good report on the procedure, including the extraordinary news that I wouldn’t have to have another one for five years.
The problem of getting an IV into my veins, like I said, is not new. And I know several of the tricks to make it easier. One of those is to be well-hydrated. Only problem is, I had not been allowed to eat or drink anything after midnight and I was feeling very dehydrated.
I also knew what to do when, once home, my bruised hand was truly hurting. I put some ice on it. But even as I was trying to fall asleep that night, I had to be careful not to put any pressure on my hand because it was so painful. Days later, all I have is a slight bruise, and I do not look forward eagerly to the next time I need an IV.
Out of curiosity, I did an Internet search about my problem. I was mildly surprised to see that most of the links were for nurses who struggled with confidently and proficiently inserting IVs, or what they call venipuncture. There were pages upon pages of recommendations on how to search for a good vein – making sure it is straight, long and juicy – and on exactly what angle to insert the needle.
I also learned that it’s possible for the IV needle to penetrate and injure a nerve. I now know, from reading this document that that is what happened to me. Lucky me.
About 25 million Americans have IVs, placed each year. Among the tips I learned for making it easier are the superhydration (which I couldn’t do before the colonoscopy) and the “hot towel trick,” during which you wrap your hand and lower arm in a hot, steamy towel for about 20 minutes before the needle is inserted to help make the veins “pop” and be accessible. Lastly, I learned that next time I should “do the chicken,” which means flapping my arms up and down to increase blood flow to my extremities.
This is almost beginning to sound like fun. Emphasis on the “almost.”
Jan Jaben-Eilon is a long-time journalist who has written for The New York Times, Business Week, the International Herald Tribune, the Jerusalem Report and Womenetics. She was a founding reporter for the Atlanta Business Chronicle and was international editor for Advertising Age before she fulfilled a lifelong dream of moving to Israel. Jan and her Jerusalem-born husband have an apartment in that city, but live in Atlanta.
In November 2006, she was diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer and has kept a blog on her cancer journey since December of that year.
Read more columns by Jan Jaben Eilon here.
©2013 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC