Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I've Had Enough...

I am in a bit of a pickle.

You see, for the last two years or so I have been engaged in a whole lot of soul work. Along the way I have come in contact with hundreds of women both in person and in online groups and classes, and the one thing that keeps coming up for all of us is the belief that we are lacking in some way, or in most cases, in a lot of ways.

It is almost like a rash we have been infected with - this belief that we are not enough.

It isn't all that complicated either. We are born - whole, precious, miraculous, pure, soft-skinned packages filled with goodness. Then, somewhere along the way, we begin to believe a tale that involves the numerous ways in which we are not enough. Each of our stories is different… Mine is "I am not smart enough. I am not experienced enough. I am not likable enough. I am not pretty enough. My hair is not long enough. I am not skinny enough…" It makes my stomach churn to share that with you. There were other variations that included all the ways I didn't have enough.

I remember what it felt like the first time someone said to me: "You are enough." I was shocked. I was afraid to respond because I knew anything I said would prove to her how wrong she really was. I even felt like a fraud unsure of how I could convince anyone that I was enough when clearly I was not. Now, I know I am enough even though I forget sometimes.

I know my story. I know how painful it was to see it all come together over the years. I remember the people who helped me write it - most likely without the intention of causing me harm. It was a long and lonely story. It has been a HUGE amount of work to rewrite it.

I also know so many other stories that are a lot like mine. I see the hurt in the eyes of these beautiful women as they tell their stories. Some of them believe that they are not enough. It breaks my heart that they cannot see the whole, precious, miraculous, pure, maybe not so soft-skinned but still better than ever being that I see when I look at them. I want them to know the story they are telling is based on lies. So much work goes into rewriting our stories… that is if we even have the heart to rewrite them. Some of us never will.

And now, I am watching in disbelief as my very own son's story begins to take shape. His spirit cannot be contained in a 2x2 place at a table full of other children. He likes to wiggle and squirm. He starts conversations when he is asked to be quiet.

My son's story already has a chapter detailing all the ways that he is not enough. The adults in his life have written it for him by telling him that he isn't okay as is - that he isn't good enough.

He is 8 years-old. He is at a crucial point in his development because this is when the stories start to really stick. This is where a seemingly small slight or joke made at his expense can make a huge impact. It can be devastating. It can change the course of his life.

So, what do I do? I can't control the storytellers. Even if I could - how long can that go on? Will it be enough for him to hear my husband and me whisper in his ear each night "you are enough" when all day long he hears otherwise?

This is my cry for help.

If you are an adult who has children or who works with children, please be mindful of the ways in which you communicate with them.

It may be true that my son makes it difficult for you to maintain a sense of control over the space you are in. It may be true that his tendency to get distracted is distracting to others. I would by lying if I said I wasn't experiencing the same child at home. Here's the thing though: my son's behavior is directly related to a need he has and cannot express. Could you maybe take a minute to check in with him before shaming him in front of his peers? I think you could.

Don't destroy a child's sense of self because what he or she is doing isn't convenient for you.

You can be honest and kind at the same time. I'm not suggesting you allow the children in your life to reenact Lord of the Flies when you're with them. I am suggesting you be careful about the ways you respond to children. In any response you have to a child's behavior, I estimate there is about a 99% chance that your response has nothing to do with the child and everything to do with you. Your response is a projection of you and your life experience - the way you were parented, the way you were taught, the stories you've come to believe about yourself. Your negative response comes from a place of discomfort with what the child is doing.

My friend Mariah Belt calls this place - where we respond from a need to control - the Dominant  Paradigm. The alternative is the Peaceful Paradigm (Mariah teaches the Peaceful Paradigm in her work as a Peaceful Parenting coach). Here, we come from a place of curiosity with the intention of connection. We might notice a disruptive behavior then head on over to a child like my son and say, "What's up little guy? Can you tell me more about that?" Rather than, "Stop it! You are being bad! Go sit on the bench…" It's a shift, but it can happen.

I love the Peaceful Paradigm. It feels right to me. I understand that it may not resonate with everyone. I also recognize that the words we use are powerful. So, after experiencing and witnessing the pain that results from a lifetime of being told that any of us are lacking in any way - that any of us could possibly not be enough - I beg of you, please stop the madness. Stop helping children to write these fictional stories about themselves. Be kind. Be mindful of the ways you speak to children, knowing that what you say, even if it was never intended to cause pain, can be devastating.

Thank you.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Rest of the Story

My son Alexander turned 8 years-old today. I have told his birth story before. In short, my pregnancy was without incident. He came earth side fast, like he was on a mission. He was purple when he made his debut. He had severe meconium aspiration. My poor little buddy. 

He was rushed off to the NICU rather quickly after a very brief plop on my emptied belly. We hadn't even named him yet. We were leaning toward Henry. It all happened very fast. My husband Dan named Alexander in the NICU in a moment of knowing that our little guy needed name. Once Alexander was settled into the NICU I got to see him again. He seemed to be nestled in a forest of machinery. A nurse asked me if I wanted a priest to come and baptize him. His little life was in danger. It was awful. A few hours later Dan and I squished together like spoons in my hospital bed. Sobbing. 

Alexander was transferred to a different hospital as a candidate for ECMO - a heart and lung bypass procedure that might help his lungs to recover. My midwife discharged me several hours later so I could join him. Alexander was in a small plastic incubator when I saw him next. He was in a medically induced coma under a maze of tubes. We were instructed on the acceptable ways to touch him. On the top of his head and the bottom of his feet. I remember staring at his little body in utter disbelief. There were tubes everywhere. And needles. My heart was broken. 

In the end Alexander didn't need ECMO. Three days later he returned to the hospital where he was born. His new NICU bed was one with fewer contraptions and the first order of business, according to his new nurse, was to be held by his parents. We were elated. 10 days after Alexander's birth we welcomed him home.

Baby Alexander and his big brother James

What I haven't really talked about is what happened once we came home. Things must have looked pretty normal. We were a happy family - a young couple with a pre-school son and a newborn baby. Dan had missed a lot of work while Alexander was in the hospital. He had to jump right back into his job. I was at home with my two little guys. Life moved on. Two years later we welcomed a baby girl, Sophia, into our family. 

When I look back, I can't say I was unhappy. I loved my life. I'm not going to lie though, as anyone will tell you, it isn't easy being at home day after day with three small children. It is an emotionally and physically challenging undertaking - to grow people. No, I wasn't unhappy. I was numb.

I operated on auto pilot for another two years. I think I lived most of my life feeling more anxious than the average person. I didn't know I was "anxious" because that word wasn't even part of my vocabulary. I worried a lot, and mostly about things that would never happen. I felt things deeply as a child. I was told I was too sensitive, too nice, too quiet, too shy. I learned to adapt. I learned to hide my feelings. I learned to smile when people looked at me. It is amazing what one can hide behind a smile…

I felt incredibly lonely at times, usually in the midst of friends and family. When I felt uncomfortable - sad, angry, scared, and so on - I stuffed those feelings way down deep in my soul.

Next month it will be four years since I lost my dad. His death was a huge shock. It felt like everything I ever knew to be true came crumbling down around me. My dad's death was devastating, and what it stirred up inside me was painful too. Every little hurt I had ever buried, rose up and out of me. A miscarriage before Alexander was born, then Alexander's birth, and truly every bit of heartache that came before that. It all wanted to be healed.

My grief in the face of losing my dad gave me space to feel things I hadn't allowed myself to feel before. I couldn't stuff another hurt. I allowed myself to feel the pain of loss. It was really hard for me to feel AND to function in my daily life. I remembered a dear friend telling me about how she had started taking an anti-depressant. I'll never forget the way she looked at me as I told her some of my own stories about living with depression and anxiety (I had learned those words by that point). She said, "Anna, you don't have to live like that."

I come from a long line of Polish women. We are tough. We suck it up. When my dad died, I just couldn't suck it up anymore. I felt weak and tired and sad and I had no shame about any of it. I no longer felt the need to put on a happy face. I didn't care at all what anybody thought about any of it. I wasn't going to pretend that everything was okay. I marched right into my doctor's office and said, "I am sad and my husband can't sit here holding my hand anymore because he has to go to work. I have three little kids to take care of and my entire support system is grieving. I need help."

I started taking medication for my anxiety. At that point I didn't consider how it might impact me, I just wanted some relief. What I experienced was a newfound ability to be the me I always wanted to be - calm on the outside AND the inside. At last! My exterior reflected my interior. I wasn't faking it. I felt like a miracle was occurring within my very own body. 

I know I was very lucky and not all people have a positive experience like mine. I know that if they do have a positive outcome, it might come after a lot of trial and error. It can be a long, painful, confusing road. 

I am eternally grateful for my stroke of medicinal luck. Easing my anxiety about every little aspect of my life freed some space for me to dig deep into what needed to be healed with a therapist and in my own soul work. It may have even helped me to let go more and to reconnect with my creativity, which has been a very large part of my journey. Am I healed? I don't think it is that simple. For me, healing is a practice. Every day I try to do something that soothes my soul. I can't always get to it. The longer I go without it, the more likely I am to begin to feel anxious, and eventually depressed. 

So, no, I'm not suggesting that if you are feeling depressed, you should absolutely get medicated. Not at all. I share this story here because I believe that in this time of celebrities overdosing on drugs and non-celebrities overdosing too, I think it is more important than ever to understand two things about being human. 1) Things are not always as they appear; and 2) It is actually a sign of strength to ask for help. Asking for help is one of the strongest, bravest things a person can do.

Please ask for help if you need it. Ask for help even if you suspect you might need it.

I am off to get the birthday boy off the bus. One last thing before I go - the greatest gift I receive in allowing myself to really, truly feel my pain is the opportunity to also really, truly appreciate my joy. Celebrations are sweeter than ever before.

With so much love… xoxoxo