Steps…Hard Work but Beautiful Views

Have you ever climbed the steps to the top of a lighthouse? It is really tough climbing those steps. But when you get to the top, the views are beautiful. But those are not the steps I am writing about today.

Most of my girlfriends are divorced. The idea of their exes bringing a new woman into the lives of their children is scary. Every experience is different, but I can share mine…

I can remember when I came to terms with the fact that this new person was in my ex’s life, and would be in my kids’ lives. I can’t lie. I was angry, hurt, scared. How is it fair that some stranger gets to spend half of my kids’ lives with them? I am their mom. It is unfair that I only see them half the time. I was hurt that my kids accepted her into their lives. I was scared they would love her more, and forget I was their mom. Reality has a way of slapping you in the face.

I can also remember when she first started coming to watch my kids play sports. It was the hardest thing in the world. I would sit in the bleachers, quietly, with tears in my eyes. When my daughter would look up to her, in the stands, my heart sank. I felt like I was losing her. Like my fears were becoming reality.

My daughter started coming to the house with cute new clothes. Was she taking her shopping? It broke my heart to think another woman was taking on a maternal role for my kids. It was probably the scariest thing I have ever faced.

My first step to acceptance, being grateful that she was coming to support my kids in their sports. She must like my kids to bring her very young daughter out, close to bed time, to support my kids. My daughter, looking at her in the stands, means my daughter feels loved. It was a step forward.

But then my daughter said it…she called her her stepmom (they weren’t even married yet), and she called her daughter, her sister. Honestly speaking, those words were so hard to hear. The fear started sinking in again. I mean, the word mom is in stepmom, so I was being replaced, right? My insecurities said yes. It was time to regroup.

I had to step back and realize, I was in rough shape. I wasn’t capbable of having a meaningful relationship. It was clear in my insecurites when dating. All my baggage was stopping me from opening up to anyone. It was the same with my kids. My insecurity was toxic. I cried a lot. My kids had a hard time seeing me so unhappy. It was never supposed to be their job to make me happy. That was something only I could do.

At the time, I relied so much on my parents and my sister and her family. I really didn’t have anyone else. I had friends at work who I could talk with openly, but when I did talk, I would cry, and that was not condusive for working. So, I found some girlfriends…nope, a tribe. A group of other divorced women who were going through or had been through this. These friendships were so fulfilling. They brought happiness to my life. I had to step out of my comfort zone to meet them and I had to open my heart to trust them. But the reward was true happiness. I became a different person….

I became a person my kids felt comfortable to be around again. I become fun. I smiled, I laughed. By this time, my kids were both in college. But I could look back and see, I never lost them. They never replaced me. What I learned was that they did not have to replace me. Someone new was brought into their lives who respected me, as their mother. I can remember my daughter’s graduation party. Her little sister was so excited to meet her mom. Kids are funny. They can’t pretend. So, when she was so excited to meet me, and gave me an adoring look, my heart melted. All this fear of being replaced was silly. Not only was I not being replaced, but I was very much a part of my daughter’s life and the life of her sister. Not because she knew who I was, but because I was a special place where her big sister would go for a few nights. And the look she gave me, told me she felt it was a happy place. It felt pretty special.

When my daughter was struggling, emotionally, with her Lyme, it was her stepmom that had connections in State College to get her the help she needed. The reality was, my kids didn’t just have someone new around them. They had her, her daughter and family and friends around them. More people to love my kids. More people to look out for them. And I am so grateful to her for what she has given to them.

I have had friends that are in the same boat as I am. Thrilled for the kids to have someone new in their lives that loves them. Others are still coming to terms with it and still frightened. The climb up those steps is a long hard climb, but if the steps are right and you can figure out how to get to the top, believe me, those Steps can lead to something beautiful.

Life In the Fast Lane

One thing I have learned from my divorce is that I am an extrovert. I love being around people. Don’t get me wrong. I love my space too. But being around others just brings me joy.

I love going out with my friends or hanging out with them at their house or mine. I love visiting with family and going in the pool or relaxing. I love spending time with my guy playing golf or poker or date night. And I love when my kids come over and just fill my house with sweet noise. Given the opportunity, I will get up very early and go to bed extremely late to enjoy the people in my life.

But here’s the thing…being active like that, it doesn’t always like me. For instance, last week, I had been going all week. I completely crashed and burned last Monday into Tuesday. I was so exhausted, I forgot all my coping skills. But it’s not just about crashing because I am so tired. I get so busy, that I forget how to enjoy being alone. How to enjoy time to myself. This is supposed to be calming and enjoyable. I can watch what I want on tv. I can sit around on my couch with no pants on. I can talk to myself. I can sing at the top of my lungs and dance around my kitchen (my neighbors probably think I am weird). I love doing these things, but when I live my life in the fast lane, and never stop, I forget how important that time is.

If someone asked me 5 or 6 years ago if I thought my life would ever be this full, I would have said, “absolutely not!” I was a total couch potato. Always watching tv or sitting in my craft room. I was a total fuddy duddy. I learned to really just take life and run with it, and run and run and run and run and CRASH.

But, this week, I realized, I am not alone in keeping busy and forgetting how to be alone. It’s been a tough week for a few people in my life this week. Whether it is going out to avoid being home, or running around always taking care of other people just to be able to not respond to the bad in our lives. It’s really hard to face things that aren’t going your way.

I have surrounded myself with warriors. If you are in my life, know that I think that about you. Whatever your battle is, you have faced it head on and may have other battles you are gearing up for. This is one of our missions. Take some time to be alone. Think about what you enjoy doing alone. Embrace that down time. Love ourselves and enjoy being with ourselves. We are such strong people. Learn a new craft, enjoy a book, exercise, start cooking. Enjoy life in the slow lane sometimes. You don’t have to stay there. Start slow. Maybe just plan a weeknight where you can relax. Make a plan of what you will do. Start adding tv shows or movies to your Streaming cue. By some yarn and hooks so when the evening comes, you have something to do. A drink….don’t forget a good drink. It’s absolutely okay to drink alone. After all, think of it as a date. A date with your biggest love…You.

Some Days, I am a Porcupine

Life can deal you a pretty crappy hand sometimes. I was having a fantastic week, a little exhausted from a fun weekend, but still fantastic. Then, it hit. I left work yesterday, excited for a day off, playing golf with one of my favorite people. Days with him are always amazing. I got to my car and a flat tire. I was doing okay. Got roadside assistance and was able to take my car to the shop. They didn’t have the tires needed. Okay, I was offered cars. I was able to find a ride. But I was starting to feel overwhelmed. I wanted to be home early and get some much needed sleep. I was way overtired. It was already 7 PM.

Miscommunications and misunderstandings on my part led me to not have a car. Which led to lots of feelings. Mainly, the feeling of being alone. Since COVID became a thing, I have felt alone. It’s wonderful to see family. But there’s no more freedom. Wearing a mask stinks. I hate that feeling of not getting enough air. Of being really hot. But it’s most important to protect the ones I love. But watching everyone sit with their family, while I sit at a table alone, it’s just a reminder that I am alone. Normally, I can laugh and joke about it (doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt). But exhaustion changes everything.

I become a complete porcupine. My quills go up and I push everyone away. I’m a jerk. And I am a jerk to the people closest to me. I’m sorry for that. If anyone tries to be nice, my quills get shot out. I want to be alone. I want to push people away. And then, I back pedal. I regret it and I’m sorry for how I acted. But, when I apologize, I minimize my feelings of aloneness. Just because I’m sorry…just because I’ve gotten past it…doesn’t mean those feelings are gone. It just means I have tucked them away for another day where I am exhausted.

I am so blessed to have friends and family I can call on when I need them. In these times, it’s hard. The people I love don’t need to be put at risk and there will always be a bit of hesitation. But I know they want to help. I’m grateful that I have people that teach me that I really don’t need to be a porcupine. I know I don’t. And I try to work really hard on that. But, when I’m exhausted, I lose sight of all the things I’ve learned in the last few years. I can’t see past this insecure person I used to be. Old habits die hard.

To my mom, my sister and my favorite golf partner, I’m sorry for pushing you away and being a jerk. I’m so thankful to have all of you in my life and even more grateful that you recognize that I’m not really a porcupine. In fact, when it seems like I am shooting out quills, that’s probably when I need you the most. When I push you away, it’s not a test and it’s not meant to hurt you ever. It’s me hurting myself because my insecurities come flooding back. And I don’t want you to see that I’m not always that Wonder Woman I worked so hard to become.

Unconditional Love…No Strings Attached

Those words…I think everyone longs to have that unconditional love.  But what does it mean to give it?  What does it mean to love someone so much that nothing can make you stop loving them?

I will never be able to say that I love perfectly.  But, unconditional love…many of us do that every day.  And it’s hard, when you love someone that can’t seem to receive it most of the time.  When you love someone that seems to dismiss the love you give.  Who doesn’t realize that the pain doesn’t come from horrible words spoken.  It comes from being dismissed.  It comes from using the things you love as weapons.  There are highs, when the love you give is received and even reciprocated for a brief moment.  But then, the you get kicked again. 

My hope is that my unconditional love is known and that I am the safe person.  Able to dismiss because the love I give will always be there.  I need to be dismissed, because the need to impress others, fight for the love of others is the most important thing right now.  Or maybe only one side of the story is known, and because I won’t share my side, there is anger. 

But the thing with unconditional love is that you can give it, but you don’t have to lie down and take the hurt.  You can stand up for yourself.  You can dish out tough love, let them know you are hurt.  Be willing for them to walk away.  And, through that pain, you can still find that sparkle.

Why is sparkle so important?  Well, that’s the source for unconditional love.  If you don’t sparkle, it is going to be so hard to not be a victim, but to accept the circumstances and try not to take it personally.  I can be kind, yet firm. At the end of the day, no matter how far gone, I will always be here to give you love, when you are ready to receive it, and to accept your love, when you are ready to give it. So, I won’t ask to spend time with you, not because I don’t want to see you (I have tried asking), but because I am tired of the rejection. I won’t call or text to see how your day was, because there is never usually a response. But, will message you every day to tell you I love you. I won’t expect much, as I have learned that only gets me hurt. But it is more so you know that when you are ready to give and receive love, I will still be here. I have always been here. I have always loved you, even though sometimes it has been from afar. I will always love you.

Forgotten Purpose

I promise, this is not another pity party post. The last one was doom and gloom. We are all suffering through this pandemic. Social distancing and isolation (alone or with family) are tests of our spirit. Being told to stay home is difficult. My first thought was home projects. But, that requires trips to Walmart or Home Depot or Lowes. At some point, that may be essential to my sanity, but I am just not there yet, to take that risk. So, when I am home, I do some cleaning, but mostly, I stream shows and movies. And I think, there has to be more purpose to my life right now than watching TV and doing puzzles. This was a conversation I had with my girlfriends the other day, in our group chat.

One of the asked if we all felt we were losing a sense of purpose. The monotany of being home. Waking up and doing the same thing that day as you have done the past 30 days makes it difficult to see the point. But, another woman spoke up with, “just curious what you felt your purpose was when things were normal.” Wow!!!! It’s not a question I visited daily. Yes, I have thought about the things I have done in my life and thought about it. But, what this made me do is revisit what I was living my life for prior to all this.

What I learned is that what I saw as my purpose was on a much larger scale. It was very broad. For a living, I help people. I provide them comfort when they are seeking help for mental illness or substance abuse. I am a mother and a friend. I support the people I love. I did have a sense of purpose. And how are those things different than now?

For starters, I feel like I don’t always have the ability to support the people I love. We are all going through such different emotions. When I am down, I know I don’t have the capacity to actively help someone through their emotional valley. Not because I don’t care, but because I am clawing my way out too. Loss of purpose. I am considered essential at work, however, I can no longer see clients face to face and right now, very few people are calling in. The connection is not the same. Loss of purpose. My kids are in their house up in State College. I don’t hear from them very often at all. Loss of purpose. Dinners, game nights, drinks, dates (human connection)…all gone. Loss of purpose. But, are all these things really a loss of purpose, or do I need to rethink how broad my thoughts on purpose are?

Another friend very wisely said, “I have definitely had days where I had to go even smaller scale.  When you’re really challenged, and finding too many days of doing nothing, just say to yourself, what is my purpose today? Or before bed, on a bad day, plan your purpose for tomorrow.  Make it small and easily achievable, then build on it.” I have spent years working with clients and telling them to break their goals down to smaller ones. But I couldn’t see it for myself. I needed someone to tell me.

So, I have started breaking it down. What a difference that has made. Also, I have to remind myself that to carry out my purpose it may look different than a month ago. But the purpose is still there. So today, my purpose is to work from home and help those who reach out. I can also reach out to others, but sharing with all of you. My purpose as mom is to reach out to my daughter, who is celebrating her 20th birthday today. To make sure she knows that even though there are stay home regulations, just because she is out of sight, she is never out of my mind. I will reach out to my loved ones and make sure everyone is doing okay. I have a plan to do an online Zumba class, to stay healthy.

Our purpose is way bigger than today, or tomorrow or even this month. But, during a time like this, or any other time, when it’s hard to see the big picture, break it down. You do have a purpose, things may seem mundane right now, but they are not hopeless. We are not the first to go through quarantine like this. But we are the first to be fortunate enough to continue to have outside communication, with all the technology we have. I have learned that web meetings and video happy hours are absolutely no replacement for human contact. But that is what we have for now, and we are not alone in that. Our purpose, is to make the most of what we have right now. Learn from it. Take care of ourselves and to make sure the people around us are okay, when we have the capacity to do that. Be kind to yourself. If the day is bad, let others take care of you. That is still a purpose. People want to be needed. So, if you are down, you may just be helping someone else with there sense of purpose too.

So, be kind to yourselves and take care of yourselves. Stay home, stay safe. I cannot wait to see everyone when we come through this.

A New Year, A New Decade…Living My Best Life

Not only do we have the clean slate of a new year, it’s a double whammy! A new decade. How were the 2010’s for you? I certainly haven’t kept the last 5 years a secret from anyone. The first five were unhappy. The next 3 seemed pretty unhappy, but were actually years of strength building…training for a marathon, if you will. The last 2 have definitely been so much better. But I have still been working on my strength training for that marathon. What kind of marathon, you ask? The Decade of Happiness.

This decade, I want to live my best life. This is going to be my Roaring ’20s. I have turned a huge corner, and this past year has been mind blowing…setting me up for the best years to come. The year started with a bang. I left my job of 11 years for a new job with more opportunity. The year ended with me being nominated for an award in that job. It’s a place for me to thrive and I am so happy there.

I have learned how to balance life so I am surrounded by happiness. I have learned to navigate what I am willing to compromise and how to stand up for myself when compromise is not an option. I can be an awesome mom, a great daughter/sister/friend and still be an amazing (there’s just no good label) girlfriend/lover/whatever it’s called. In fact, I think I have upped my relationship game. I have thrown away my passive aggressiveness and replaced it with healthy communication. Sometimes I still need help, but I am very aware of the need to communicate better. I have replaced my fear of being hurt by others, with a strength to embrace the love that people give back to me and a trust that I am loved back. The shame I felt with myself, the lack of confidence, has been permanently replaced with an “I don’t give a flying fuck” attitude. And, with all of these new replacements, I never compromised my core values. I am still kind to others (I just don’t let them walk over me), I am still loyal to those around me (but I will be more honest if something is bothering me) and I still have a heart of gold.

I have learned an amazing balancing act to live my best life. I can go out a few days a week with friends and family, yet still be happy curled up on my couch for a few nights with my pup dog. I find happiness in both and a need for both. I am not afraid of my relationships. Not a single one of them. My family, well, they are just incredible. They have always been there for me. I only hope that I can do even half of what they do for me. I lost the importance of family for too long. I don’t ever intend to do that again. Tears, laughter, sorrow, hurt, silliness…my family has been there through it all. They are my warriors.

I have found so much joy and peace in my friendships. I can count on my girlfriends to be honest and tell me when I’m an idiot. They tell me things I may not want to hear. And they catch me when I fall. We catch each other when we fall. We check in on each other almost daily, whether it’s a group chat or one-on-one. And my friends that I have had for years, well, we have our routine. I used to feel like maybe I had done something wrong when we didn’t connect for a while, but I have learned that no one has done anything wrong. We have our routines and we know that we would drop everything to be there for the other. I feel very comfortable with that.

And, I can’t forget my guy. He was my toughest barrier this year. What was supposed to be tons of fun turned into something more than I imagined. Quite frankly, it scared the shit out of me. I fought it and fought it. My girlfriends laughed at how I tried to keep him and my feelings contained in a box. But I woke up one day and said, “screw it!” I haven’t felt this way in such a long time. At least a decade. But the fear of my feelings was taking my strength away. There is such a strength in owning your feelings. So, I told him I love him. I didn’t say it to hear the words back. I didn’t say it because I thought that was what he wanted to hear. I said it because it was what I felt and I needed to stop being afraid. I needed to look at the strong foundation in my life and know that whatever happened when I said it, I would be okay. To know that those around me would catch me, if those words ended something amazing. To know that they would leap for joy with me if those words were repeated back. And to know that they would ground me and help me regroup if I wasn’t sure of the response.

What have I learned these last several years. Other people are completely out of my control. So, when my daughter says, “You do you,” well, thanks for the advice and I will take it. I cannot make someone love me. I cannot make friends like me. But it will happen naturally if I am completely me.

So, I have no idea what’s in store for me this decade. Life can throw some crazy curveballs. But I have my armor of confidence on and am ready. I will be living my best life. No room for fear. Just a decade of being myself. Being there to lift others when they need me, and knowing when to ask for help when I need it. With the foundation I have, I’m a lucky Wonder Woman. I will be able to conquer anything.

Thank you to all the amazing people in my life. Every one of you got me through some crazy tough times. Every one of you plays a special role in my life and I appreciate everything I have learned from all of you. So long 2010’s…Hello 2020’s! Happy New Decade!!!!!

Fake It, Fake It, Fake It…(Screw it, I suck at faking it)

My kids told me once that they hated it when I said “fake it ’til you make it.” My thought was, pretend I am strong and eventually I will be. Don’t tell a soul what I am going through. Sweep it all under the rug and it will evaporate or dissolve. The truth is, sadness is not water, nor is it sugar. It won’t evaporate nor dissolve. I also learned that hiding my sadness created tension in relationships and increased my anxiety. My behavior would become passive aggressive and I found myself alone and just expecting people close to me to recognize something was wrong. I found myself alone and anxious.

To say that I have solved all those problems would be a complete lie. It would also be a lie to say that I don’t struggle with falling back into those patterns. It’s a constant internal battle. I find it so much easier, at the time, to say something passive aggressively, then to say the hard things, like why am I struggling. My thought process is that if I am putting it out there, I am being a drama queen or I am being needy. I never want to bring people around me down.

Basically, what I am trying to say is that my pride gets in the way. I want people to see me as strong and not as needy. It’s taken me a long time to learn the practice of humility. To come off my high horse and say, “I am struggling today. I might need some help getting through this. I might need a shoulder to cry on. I might need you to just hold space for me and hear my sadness.” So, give me a moment as dismount my horse named Pride…

It’s been a little over a week that I have been struggling. It’s no surprise, as the holiday season can be difficult for many. I have had my Christmas tree up since before Thanksgiving. There is not a single ornament up, nor are there any other decorations up in my house. I have some presents, but really no inventory of what I have nor what I need still. I have been working my day job and I have been working my Saturday job in the evenings, during the week. Between all the extra hours and the stress, my body hurts. And it’s not the good kind of hurt, like the day after a workout or after a good “playdate” with my guy. I feel as though I was run over. My legs are throbbing and my shoulders feel so tight it hurts to move. I cry at the drop of a hat and I feel like the Grinch. This will pass and I know it will. On December 24, when my family celebrates Christmas, I will feel my body sink into a chair and relax. All the stress and anxiety will leave my body. But that’s not for another 9 days. Let’s be honest. In sadness time, that is eons. Nine days of fighting my pride. Nine days of saying, “I am struggling.”

What do I need during this time? Not much. There are times of sadness that we find we need to be carried through. This isn’t one of those times for me. I just need some open space to say what I am feeling. No advice, just safe space. If I tell you, “I’m fine.” call me out on it. That shouldn’t be confused with, “I will be fine.” I am very aware that what this is is temporary. A little extra hug, but if you see a tear, ignore it. Maybe some humor. Laughter is the best medicine. Just an extra message saying hey. My texts tend to get shorter, maybe a little colder, less fun emojis. I am not mad, I am not pulling away. But I am fighting dumping everything on the people around me. Ruminating on the feelings does no good, only perpetuates them.

I am so strong and have come through so much. But I still have a ways to go. We are all works in progress. I find that I write so much about strength and happiness. I don’t want to be a hypocrite and pretend my life is all that. I have tough seasons too. We all do. We can accept those seasons and learn how to run through them. And I don’t mean take a leisurely jog. Run through those bad mother fucking times like a defensive lineman runs through the O Line to get to the quarterback. Plow through that sadness. Straight through it. Own it. Feel it. Use the help of the rest of your line and break through. Sack that sadness and do that victory dance with your teammates. If that was only the first down, get back on that line and do it again. Look next to you. You are not alone on that line. It’s a team effort. Don’t let your pride forget you have a team. Be humble. Let them carry you when you need them. Or, let them just make the space for you. Whatever you need, use your team.

Don’t fake it. Own it. Say, “This shit is hard today!” My kids were onto something when they said they hated the saying. I am learning the power of owning my emotions and expressig what I need.

What is it about “I Love You”

True story. I was once told that when I said “I love you” it didn’t mean a thing. Ouch!!! When the person to whom you are married tells you your words mean nothing, that can be pretty hurtful. You see, I meant those words every time I said them. But I stopped saying them. Not just to him, but to others around me. My family. It was very rare those words fell from my lips. The only ones I didn’t stop saying it to were the kids. I was raised on “I love you” and I was never made to feel bad about it.

When I went to New Mexico, with my then husband, for a hunting trip. We would go to visit his guide’s family. Whenever the guide left or if he got off the phone with someone, he said, I love you. My ex asked him if he always said it. His guide seemed confused. He said, “Of course I do. What if I never get the chance to say it again.” This was only a few months before we separated. Hearing this guide say that, made me realize I wasn’t the issue.

When I learned to stop caring what people thought, I found those words again. I started to say it again to my family. I was able to be free with my words. But I also took time to think about who I could be free with those words. I realized I didn’t need to stop and think about who would hear those words from my lips. Because I don’t need to reserve the phrase for special occasions. I should be able to say it when I feel it.

So, when I say those words to you, it’s because I wear my heart on my sleeve and I feel that love. I won’t say it if I don’t. So, I let the words flow, if I feel it. But don’t be surprised if I ask if I say it too much. While I am very open with my feelings, I still feel the insecurity of being told I say it too much. I would never want them to lose their meaning. But the truth is, when I say goodbye to someone I love, I will always tell them I love them. Because, at the end of the day, I would much rather say it too much, than miss out and never have the chance to say them again.

Thankful For Love

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that I have had a love/hate relationship. Even when I was married, often, my ex-husband was away on a hunting trip. I didn’t know if he would make it home for the day or not. If he made it home, it was amazing. If not, I was disappointed all day.

When I became single, well, it felt lonely because I didn’t have someone by my side. I became one of those single people whom everyone felt sorry for. I got to spend every morning with the kids, but, for dinner, they would alternate years at their dad’s house and with me. They can never know how lonely those years without them are. It doesn’t matter how much family is around, when my kids aren’t around, it feels so lonely. This was my 5th Thanksgiving living as a single woman. And, while it was supposed to my year with the kids (even though they are no longer minors, they have stuck with every other year), I was horribly disappointed when they told me they wouldn’t be with me. My son was having dinner with his long-time girlfriend’s family. I have been anticipating they would start doing holidays together, and I am so happy for him. Sophia decided to spend the year with her dad. It was a big sting, but not a suprise. So, I spent some time preparing myself, mentally, for a second year without my kids with me for dinner. What I really needed to do was take an emotional inventory of what I had in my life. My inventory consisted of only one word.

LOVE. When I look back at the last year of my life, I realize just how full my life is. Even on weeks that I sit at home for 5 nights straight, my life has been so filled. When I am home alone, it’s because I choose to be. I choose to take the time for myself. If I am feeling down, I have so many loves in my life that I am never really alone. This place is unchartered territory for me. Even when I was married, I didn’t feel this full. Now, I am exactly where I always wanted to be. I wake up with only my dog next to me. I make breakfast and eat by myself. But I never feel alone anymore. This is what people mean by living their best lives.

The kids got to my house last Sunday. I had such an amazing visit with them. We spent a few days together and it was such great quality time with them. I missed having Thanksgiving dinner with them. But in the end, Thanksgiving is just one day. I had a few amazing days with them. And it’s the little things they do that are huge to me. The hugs. Sitting at the table together. Cooking together. Joking around together. My Thanksgiving with them was all week. What more could I ask for?

This year marked the 35th year of the annual football game at my parents’ house. The game has evolved so much. It started as two families at a campground in Haymarket. When we moved to the country in 1986, it became a tradition. The game has changed a lot. I was a teenager when the tradition started. The game has seen some amazing gains…marriages, new babies, new friends, babies that have grown into young adults, their significant others. Some years there are 10 people that play. Other years, there are 25. But no matter what, we have a blast. The game has seen some significant losses too. Friends have moved away, one time players can no longer play, divorce, and mostly, the loss of someone who was like a second mother to me. One of the original players. She passed away right before Thanksgiving 16 years ago. Every year, we think about her. Her famous onion dip is always at the table, and my family will stand by the dip and talk about our wonderful memories of her. Our tradition runs strong, and so does her memory.

Dinner, just like for many others, is a tradition. The table has gotten bigger and bigger. It got smaller for a while, with the famous “kids’ table,” but they are no longer kids. So we have moved back to one table. What makes our dinners so special. Well, our dinner conversation. The things we say would make many people blush. We are rude and crude and sometimes we laugh until we pee ourselves. This year, as I sat at the table, surrounded by the family that I have so often taken for granted, I took in every ounce of love they had to offer. I didn’t feel alone at any point in the day. I felt surrounded and I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be.

My love life…well, it’s definitely existent. It’s a bit unorthodox, but with that, it has allowed me to grow so much in learning how to have a relationship, yet still be independent and enjoy all the family and girl time I want. Until now, relationships have always been a way for me to go from being someone strong, to becoming needy and/or unhappy and giving up everything for someone. That causes resentment and unhappiness. This go round, I have learned to communicate, that I don’t have to step away from friends and family, and that I am very lovable as a strong and independent woman. What’s awesome is that we do not complete each other. But we enhance each other, we understand each other, and we are there for each other. I have noticed, in the last 9 months, that when something amazing happens, or something bad happens, we want to share with each other. When my baggage gets to heavy, I can talk to him. I have to be honest though, I used to go to friends first, who would listen and encourge me to open up to him. He accepts my baggage and my insecurities and has never made me feel bad for having them. We work through them. And, that baggage has become significantly lighter. I still get insecurities, but it’s rare now. Very rare. But I never feel bad for having them. We face them together. He shares his struggle with me. I listen. We talk a lot. We have found a happy place together. A place of calm and comfort. And I don’t mean that complacent comfort where things fall by the wayside. It’s a comfort that we can be ourselves and know that we will accept and love each other. Yes, I said it. The “L” word. That scares me, when it comes to an intimate relationship. For a while, I couldn’t admit it. What if I lost myself again? But I have learned that I am strong enough to have that emotion now. I am strong enough to accept that feeling and know that I am surrounded by enough love everywhere else, that no matter what happens, I will always be okay. Vulnerability like this is actually a superpower, not a weakness. When I give love, it creates more love for me to give away.

I have let so much love into my life this past year that I am completely overwhelmed sometimes…in a very good way. And, by letting that love in, I have found that the love I can give has increased infinitely. It gives me more patience with others around me. I have been told by clients I work with that my smile has made their day brighter. A co-worker told me I was like a walking love emoji. My friends see it, my family sees it. And my gosh, I feel it. So, this year, my emotional inventory is all love. I am so grateful for all the love I have in my life. Love heals, it strengthens, and love pours out of you when you have the right kind. In the words of Roald Dahl, “If you have good thoughts, they will shine out of your face like sunbeams, and you will always look lovely.”

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends and family, to all my loves, to all the ones who were lessons in my life. May you all feel the love that I feel, throughout the holiday season and throughout the entire year.

Solid Walls Protect…But Do They Strengthen

I spent a long time being one of those “projects” I was needy, always needed to be reassured and couldn’t live my life alone. The last several years have forced me to find my strength. And finding my strength has had a huge learning curve. Strength comes in many forms. And each strength serves a different purpose. If I took inventory, it would provaly look like the entire inventory on Amazon. Very overwhelming.

My first strength was bricks. Bricks seem so solid. And, well, when you feel like you’re fighting the Big Bad Wolf, the bricks only seemed logical. After all, I had already been spit out by the wolf. I couldn’t let him completely destroy my life. Bricks are strong, but I had to figure out what to do with them. Have you ever bought bricks? You buy them in bulk and they don’t come with instructions. So, I felt the first step was throwing the bricks. I threw bricks at the wolf. I threw bricks at his family. The anger. I let the anger out. I screamed and I cried. I threw bricks at my family. They had no idea what I was going through. I needed to throw bricks and keep everyone at arms length. Words can be harsh and hurtful just like bricks. I used them and became proficient. I needed to be angry. My entire world was turned upside down.

But then, I learned about mortar. With a little mortar you can put the bricks together. Succumb to the fact that the wolf is going to come at you, as well as the other bad stuff. So with mortar, you can make a big wall. A strong wall. What’s amazing about brick walls is that big bad wolves can huff and puff and the wall will remain standing. So there I stood, behind my brick wall, keeping all the bad stuff out. It feels amazing. Huffing and puffing and I am safe. Safe and sound and, well, I am alone. That wall, it keeps everyone out, an it has no windows and no doors. But that was okay. I had learned that it’s not just the big bad wolf I needed to be protected from. It was the entire pack of wolves. So I waited it out. Waited for everyone that was going to hurt me to take their shot. I waited and waited until the huffing and puffing stopped. When it did, I was still stuck behind this wall, and I couldn’t see beyond it. I was alone. There was an emptiness. For someone who has so much emotion, so much love in her heart, emptiness is not a good place to be. Are solid walls really good?

So, I built a window. Just one. I could open it and let my family in. So they would come visit and they had a key to my window and could visit any time they wanted. But my kids, they were little baby wolf cubs and tended to stay close to the big bad wolf. So, they didn’t have a key to that window. I would only let them in sometimes. So, letting family in was wonderful, but being without my immediate family was still making me lonely. We have built an amazing relationship and I love my family so much. But, honestly speaking, it was also a reminder that my immediate family didn’t exist anymore. I needed another window.

So, I built another window. I wasn’t quite sure who I was building it for. Who I was thinking I would let in. But I built it. I joined a group on Facebook thinking I could find some sense of community and just watch it through that window. Not really let anyone in, but see it. But then one of them invited me to dinner, and she and I talked for a few hours. I opened the window a little. The funny thing is, she started working on events, which required me to climb out of that window and go out from behind my wall. I met more people each time I went out. That window seemed to be opening wider and wider.

During that time, I opened another window. I let someone in. I felt like I had to start looking for a man in my life. I needed someone to define me. A need like that will blind you and you won’t see that what you are letting in, is actually a sly fox. But I didn’t see him close that window, and all the other windows behind him, keeping everyone out. I could see my friends and family on the outside, but they are once again, at an arm’s distance. I try to open the windows, but I am being smothered. The windows aren’t enough. I forgot doors. Doors are much easier. But also more dangerous. What if the wolves can work their way in. Doesn’t matter. I take inventory. Strong family, strong friends…we can take on a wolf pack together. They have my back.

So I build a door. Not just any door. I build a huge, sliding glass door. The first thing I did with that door, was sent that fox straight through it, with his tail between his legs. And all my friends and family guarded that door with me. They didn’t have to guard it too long. I became stronger because of my family and friends. I saw how, with their help, I could fight off anything. And I looked out the window and realized, I had been stuck behind this wall for way too long. So, with a lot of help from the people around me, I destroyed the wall. I prefer to be free. I don’t want to be held back by my fear of what’s out there. I want to face those fears and know that I can conquer them because I am not alone anymore. The walls were only letting people trickle in when I allowed it.

There is a vulnerability in knocking that wall down. Sometimes, someone unexpected makes their way to you. I learned that I had everything I needed to be safe from all the bad stuff out there. So, when someone new made his way into my space, I had no walls to protect me, only my tribe of friends and family. I am vulnerable, but not in a bad way. I am open to new feelings, new experiences, because the walls are not there. I can let myself be vulnerable to someone new because the strength I have found with no walls, is like nothing I have ever known before. It doesn’t mean I won’t get it hurt by anything. But I will always have people around me that love me so much. Who are there for me. I won’t have to start from scratch, with bricks and walls with no windows. So I will bask in all my vulnerability and know that my vulnerabilty is really not a weakness. It’s this amazing strength to allow people into my heart, into my life, and reap the benefits of that love. Not because I need it to survive, but because they truly earned a place there. And if they are no longer there, my life will not come to a screetching halt. The strenght I have found will get me through so much…friends who aren’t really friends, difficult work days, money stress, job stress and a broken heart.

So, while solid walls may protect us, they also keep things out that may help protect us even more. Walls create an atmosphere of getting by alone. Bringing those walls down and opening ourselves up, can bring in much more strength than the strongest wall in the world. Because family and friends, well, they are much stronger than any brick you can find.