My favorite coffee mug

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I love outrageous language. I lean toward the dramatic. Make no mistake, I’m not a drama-mama, I just love dramatic language. I love breathtaking prose and heartwrenching poetry. I like to mix curse words in new and unexpected ways.  Gallows humor slays me.  I adore the juxtaposition of dirty words against a flowery background.

This is my favorite coffee mug. I use it just about every morning. I love the way it fits in my hand, the way I can wrap all four fingers around the cup through the big handle and cozy up to my morning coffee. I love that it was a gift from my dear friend for my 50th birthday. It absolutely delighted me when I opened the package. It’s so…ME!! Seeing the outrageous language in that slim, feminine font had me bursting out laughing and it still has me giggling every morning.

I’m not a bitch.

But I did spend the better part of my first 50 years trying to escape that label at home and at work. I am strong, independent, smart, resilient, tenacious and a natural born leader…you know…a bitch.

*sigh*

By my 50th birthday, in my efforts to escape the bitch label, I had become a human doormat. I was so driven to escape that label that I had let my backbone nearly disintegrate. I was so driven to be liked by everyone that I had completely lost the ability to stand up for myself. I was so driven to be loved by everyone else that I hated myself.

Ohmygosh – just seeing that sentence “that I hated myself” brings tears to my eyes. Truth response.

Now, with my 52nd birthday in sight, it’s been two years of rebuilding my relationship with myself, of BEING RENA, of growing a backbone, of learning to set boundaries and learning to stop making excuses for other people’s behavior.

It’s hard.

REALLY hard.

My default reaction is “oh, he/she didn’t mean it” and “well, it’s not *that* bad”. I’m slowly learning that sometimes people DO mean it and yes, sometimes it really is *that* bad.  I’m learning that sometimes I have to say “Bye Felicia” to people and situations that aren’t healthy for me and I’m learning to live with the discomfort that comes with that. I’m learning that I’m not a failure if I walk away from something/someone that doesn’t fit with me. That’s the hardest part, I think. It feels more like giving up than walking away. I’m programmed to soldier on, to motor through, to finish what I started. That stinking thinking kept me in some bad places during my first 50 years. So I’m doing the work to ensure the next 50 years are different.

*sigh*

Man, this growing up stuff is hard, AND I love it. Every day is a new beginning, a new chance to build the life I’ve always dreamed of.

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Giggle breaks and resilience

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I’m working most weekends this summer on completing the 200 hour RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher) training. My classmates are a group of fascinating and impressive women. Its quite a journey; exhausting, invigorating, enlightening, humbling and soul stirring. 


Sitting in a guided meditation Saturday morning I was asked to take my thoughts to a place where I had been uncomfortable. I immediately pictured myself just half an hour earlier – floundering around on my yoga mat sweating, confused, off-balance and unable to make sense of anything. The instructor’s voice fell on me like she was speaking a foreign language. I was overtired and overwhelmed.  I was struggling and nothing was making sense. I did the only thing I could do.

I collapsed onto my mat laughing.

Laughing at myself, laughing at the situation, laughing because I knew I was gonna hop back up – I just had to take a giggle break. And then I got back up. And that’s SO what I do. I get back up.

The problem is I don’t always control when I take a break in the rest of my life off of my mat.

That place of floundering around on my yoga mat sweating, confused, off-balance and unable to make sense of anything is not that far from what life feels like sometimes. When work is piling up and there aren’t enough hours in the day and my house is a mess and my homework isn’t done and the laundry is piling up and my boyfriend is looking for my attention and I haven’t taken the dogs on a hike in weeks and I can’t remember for sure the last time I saw Alex and my mom is asking me for something and my friends are saying they haven’t seen me enough and and and…..

That’s the time I need to take a giggle break.

But I don’t. I wait until..no…actually its not waiting because waiting is an active choice and there’s nothing about this that’s active. It’s entirely reactive. When my whole life is on overload, then I burst into tears. I cry and cry and cry it out. Then I get back up and keep trying.

Why do I do that? Why do I wait until life has become completely overwhelming and then cry as a reaction rather than making the active choice to take a giggle break way before that point?

I knew I could take a giggle break in the middle of yoga class then get back up and try again because I trust my teacher. I know she accepts me as I am for who I am (as she does everyone) .  I trust that I’m safe. Because of that trust, I can take a giggle break and catch back up with the class. I know that even if I screw up its all part of the learning curve.

So why don’t I feel safe enough off of my mat to just bust out with a giggle break and cut myself some slack on the whole learning curve of life?

Why do I think I’ve always got to be strong?

How does it serve me to think I’ve got to be strong all the time? Does it let me be a little bit of a martyr? Probably. Does it let me hide behind a Mac Cosmetic varnished game face? For sure.

How would my life be different if I thought of myself as resilient instead?

My whole adult life is a treasure trove of both blessings and opportunities to prove I’m resilient; leukemia, single parenting, divorce, brain surgery, grief and then a 3 year peiod of darkness.

Yeah, I’m resilient.

So why do I not live out of that place and take more giggle breaks?

Maybe resilience is about heart, not about will. Maybe resilience is facing the world every day with shoulders back not in strength, but in accommodation for the way my heart has gotten bigger and bigger and bigger with every opportunity for resilience.

This means I’ll have to give up my security blanket of strength and my mask of “I’m fine”. I’ll have to put down some of the resentments I carry around with me as a matter of habit. I’ll have to actually live out of resilience.  Ahhhh….I think I like this….

…and I’m pretty sure resilient women take more giggle breaks.

I am not in danger

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“Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity. Do not misunderstand me danger is very real but fear is a choice.” – Will Smith in After Earth

“Screw you guys, I’m going home.” – Eric Cartman in Southpark

I’m working with fear right now. And by “working with” I mean trying to forget it, tame it, get through it…trying to kick it’s ass.

WTF?

I’m a brave heart. I look at a challenge and say “let’s do this!”  I’m Being Rena. I’m confident, funny, smart, strong and happy. I’m the one you want with you in the foxhole.

So why am I so f’ing afraid right now? Why does the ding of a text message make me feel a little sick? Why am I so damn jumpy?  What’s with all of this new insecurity? Where the f*%k is this coming from?

Why am I suddenly living in a world of…flashbacks?

Motherf*#%er!

That’s it. It’s flashback. It’s flashback to years of a roller coaster ride I couldn’t stop. Moments of love and joy  would keep me fed through the weeks of manipulation and verbal attacks sinisterly framed as “open and honest communication”. F*%k that. F*%k him (and  if he happens to be reading this, f*%k you, you sick coward).

Somewhere in my brain, the wires are crossed and I’ve come to expect that moments of joy and connection will be followed by verbal and emotional attacks. I thought I was passed this. I thought I was healed.

Ah, but I’m in new territory now. I’m in that place where the rubber hits the road – where I’ve got to use my skills in a new way. I’m spending time with a wonderful man. He’s smart, funny, playful, thoughtful and he’s quite the hunk (lucky me!). He thinks I’m the bees knees and tells me so all the time. Why am I waiting for the other shoe to drop? Am I doomed to feel like this forever?

OMG – f*%k that. Just f*%k that altogether. I’m not going to continue to wait around for some other shoe to drop. And I’m not running. I’m not. I won’t. That f*%king coward does not get to take anything else from me.

Blinding flash of accountability….I will not give any more of myself to my past.

I choose not to submit to my fear. I am not in danger. I am not in danger. I am not in danger. I will whisper that mantra to myself for as long as it takes.

#BeingRena

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting “sober” and finding my voice

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The call comes on an ordinary Tuesday morning. I’m in my office. I hear his familiar ringtone and answer cheerfully “hi Sweetie, how was your appointment?”.  

His voice has *that tone*.  

Suddenly I’m frozen with fear. My heart is pounding. I can’t move. I can’t breathe. My hand squeezes the phone held to my ear. This can’t be happening again. Not now. Not again. Things have been so good for the last few months. So peaceful. Please…not again. He’s just left his doctor’s office, and there’s been a change in his blood chemistry. I know what’s coming next. It’s happened before – at least half a dozen times. I’m terrified. I know it’s coming. I try to steel myself before the blows begin, really believing I’ll be able to do it this time. 

“These numbers mean I could get cancer again…stress causes inflammation…clearly the elevated numbers are from stress…since you are the biggest part of my life, you are the cause of the stress…rethink our relationship…disrespectful…unkind…loving you is like death by a thousand needles…not capable…damaged…what cancer taught me…won’t be in a relationship where my woman doesn’t support me…talk more on this tonight at home…”

He goes on for about 25 minutes. I’m crushed. I know this dance with him. I know better than to try to make this a conversation. This is his monologue. 

And so it was, that over the course of about three years,  a smart, successful, funny, beautiful, lively, strong and capable woman became a fearful, quiet, codependent, unhealthy, isolated, anxious, fragile shell of her former self. 

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Several months later I finally got the nerve to stand up to him and say “I will not tolerate you calling me those names anymore”. That’s when he severed our relationship.

So, I could get all up in my head and dissect why this happened, what was wrong with me, what was wrong with him, why it went on for so long, blah blah blah…..

Screw that. Screw being all up in my head.

This is about my heart.

My first steps out of the darkness were tentative. It was a little like a baby bird being thrown out of the nest. I had forgotten how to fly. I had forgotten how to think for myself. I had forgotten how to make decisions. I was lost. I felt…helpless. I was a junkie – shaking and sobbing and pleading for another fix. He was my drug of choice.

How the hell did I let this happen to me?

I felt like a failure. A loser. I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t pretty enough, smart enough, or strong enough. I wasn’t emotionally intelligent. I was broken. I was crazy. I was absolutely everything he said I was.

I believed him.

ohmygod – I believed him. WTF?

I had completely lost touch with my inner voice over the last few years. That little voice inside of me that had said “this isn’t right” or “that’s not true” or “this isn’t good for you” slowly over time had changed to “it won’t always be like this” or “is that true?” or “he’s hurting, you can be strong”. Eventually, I couldn’t hear my voice at all anymore.The only voice inside my head was his.

One of the hardest things for me to admit to myself was that I had no idea who I was anymore. I knew who I was with him – I was an extension of him, an accessory. Parts of me fit perfectly, and the parts that didn’t were simply amputated. What I liked and what I wanted were not things I considered. I was a junkie – and I would do anything to keep the steady flow of my drug of choice (him).

Getting sober happened a tiny bit at a time and with a lot of support. The women in my life circled around me, held me up until I could stand on my own and encouraged me every day – reminding me that I was smart, beautiful, compassionate, kind, and most definitely not damaged or broken.  They encouraged me to listen for my inner voice in the stillness. What did I think? What did I like? What did I want? I had no idea. I could only hear his voice listing everything that was wrong with me.

Good, honest, trustworthy men friends encouraged me to listen for my inner voice.  They helped me find the answers to what I can now see are ridiculous questions. “If your wife comes home from work and changes into yoga pants and a tee shirt, do you think that means she’s given up on working her part of the relationship?” or “If your wife schedules a hair appointment for a weeknight, do you think that means she doesn’t want to spend time with you?” It took a few months of bursts of laughter from these good men for me to see that the messages I had come to accept as true were not in any way true. I was finding some courage to look deeper.

Even with this loving circle of friends around me, it was up to me to do the work of getting and staying sober. They supported me while I did the lonely nights, the fear, the insecurity, the self-loathing, the weight gain, the crying, the indecision, the bargaining and the grief. I had to do it to find my way out of the madness. I had to do it to rediscover my voice. I had to decide what Being Rena means.

Being Rena means happiness, compassion, creativity, love, working hard but not too hard, playing hard but not too hard, adopting too many dogs, learning not to follow all the rules, silliness, using the word “fuck” like a comma when I’m riled up, hospice care-giving, writing, painting, coloring inside the lines (literally), coloring outside the lines (figuratively), cooking, sometimes compulsively cleaning, loving fashion, loving makeup, chronically being on a diet, laughing until coffee comes out my nose, seeing the beauty in all things (sometimes to my own detriment), gratitude, patience, impatience, being a work in progress, strength, determination, forgiveness, peace, clarity, aging gracefully, being my own best friend, and so much more.

Being Rena rocks.

I’ll never lose that again.

#BeingRena

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I carry a shame umbrella

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I’ve been working on writing this blog for about 3 months. The words just weren’t finding their way out of my heart and onto the page. The last month has brought a lot of changes – and a lot of opportunity for my heart to find its way out. I’m still a little nervous about it, but I’m gonna push “publish” anyway…

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About a year ago my friend Brian confided in me that he had been struggling with his gender identity for quite some time. He and I have seen each other through some big stuff over the last 12 years.  Divorces, raising children, dating dilemmas, family stuff, and we’ve seen each other go through a lot of different phases as we’ve figured out who we are. I honestly believed this was another phase. So I listened and let him know that I love him and I’m his friend always. As the months went on and we talked more, he went further and further down this road of (what I thought was) experimenting. I loved him and I supported him *AND* I was uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure why I was uncomfortable, I just was. And I was ashamed of myself for being uncomfortable. My discomfort forced me to consider whether or not I’m as loving, open minded, inclusive, accepting and compassionate as I like to think I am. Could it be that this whole loving, inclusive and peaceful thing is just bullshit that I tell myself? Could it be that I’m not really willing to “walk the walk”?

No. That just isn’t true.

And still, every time we talked about this new part of his life I’d get more uncomfortable, and the more uncomfortable I was, the more I was ashamed of myself for being uncomfortable. Then I started to feel angry. As he got more comfortable with the changes he was making in his life, I was feeling more and more unsettled. I was thinking things like “you don’t just get to decide you’re a woman” and “I don’t really care if he’s got a new name in his new life. He’s Brian to me.”  I was actually starting to get really pissed off. I was refusing to acknowledge the fact that as he continued to be more honest about who he was, he looked more and more peaceful and happy. Holy mother of pearl. What the hell was going on with me?

Then one Saturday afternoon I was puttering around my house, and this little ditty from Girl Scouts nearly 40 years ago popped into my head:

Make new friends, and keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.

BTW  – how weird is it when a song from Girl Scouts from 40 years ago pops into your head for no reason? Pretty weird.

With that little song playing in my head, I realized why I was angry. Dammit. It was so simple. So simple. It was about loss. I was losing my friend. I was losing Brian. Yeah, I know I was getting a new friend – BUT I DON’T WAAAAAAAAANT A NEW FRIEND.  I wanted my old friend! I wanted Brian!  I trusted him. I felt safe and comfortable with him. And now he was almost gone. He disappeared a little more every day. And there was this woman in his place who was a stranger to me – and yet she knew all of my secrets. That’s not fair!! She wasn’t just him in a dress. She was a totally different person.  She said things that I’d never heard him say, and she was just NOT BRIAN. I didn’t like this stranger knowing my secrets. I just didn’t like her.

At the same time, Kaitlyn Jenner was honored on the Espy’s, and anyone who was confused, or didn’t understand, or even gently intimated anything other than complete celebration of her courage was labeled a bigot, a homophobe, a narrow minded Neanderthal, or just a hater. Please don’t misunderstand me – I know there is no shortage of true bigots, homophobes, narrow minded Neanderthals and haters. But someone struggling to accept a huge change is not the same thing. I wanted to scream at the television “No one is telling the whole story!!! I bet somebody somewhere misses Bruce!!!!!” But no one was telling that story. I wasn’t hearing the stories of devoted friends and family who unconditionally loved the transgender person, and yet grieved the loss of the person’s birth identity. Where were those stories? Why weren’t those stories being told? Why did it feel so wrong to simply have feelings that needed to be acknowledged and worked through? Why did I feel so ashamed of my feelings? Why was I so afraid to speak up?

So I did the only thing that made sense to me  – because Brian was really important to me. I reached out to him to talk about what was going on in my heart. We’re friends; that’s what we do.  We talk things through. Talking to him about my struggle with this loss was so healing for our friendship. Talking to him helped him to understand that I love him so much, and that I want to be a part of his life. And talking to him helped me to let go of him, and to begin to embrace Penny.

Let me tell you about my friend Penny. She’s happy. She is one of the happiest women I know. She is funny as hell. She’s got amazing taste. She’s a whiz with liquid eyeliner. She is an incredibly talented producer/director. She celebrates the little things in life like no one I’ve ever known. She’s kind and loving and caring and inclusive. A couple of weeks ago Penny took a big leap. She told her employer she was transgender. She started dressing like herself for work. She got a new work ID with her new name and picture on it. She’s living her life. I’ve never seen that face shine more brightly. She looks so joyous and so relaxed. As scary and as hard as it all must be every day, and she still looks happier than I’ve ever seen her look. She’s amazing.

I’m not ashamed of myself anymore for the time it took me to come to terms with this change. I’m just not. I needed some time to mourn the loss of my old friend. I needed time to process through my feelings. I’m not going to be ashamed of myself for having feelings and dealing with them. And I won’t let anyone else shame me, either.

I found myself in a conversation recently with someone who told me that they hadn’t even considered mourning Brian because to live as someone you’re not for a lifetime would be hell, and they were so glad that she finally broke free. Hmmm…It felt like a shame storm was brewing on the horizon. I pointed out that it was reasonable to mourn the loss of my old friend Brian as I celebrated the birth of Penny. Then it started raining shame. They said they understood what I was saying, but they just didn’t think of it as a loss since all that was lost was the isolation and handcuffs of an incongruent gender. Wow. Now it was raining shame, and there were random condescending lightning strikes. Luckily I had my shame umbrella, and none of that toxic shit got on me.

Just because I experienced some sense of loss over my friend Brian being gone didn’t mean that I wanted him to stay miserable! How is it that people draw a line between those two points so easily? How is it that people who are crusading for acceptance and tolerance are sometimes so intolerant of anyone who doesn’t immediately get on board with their ideas? That just doesn’t feel right to me. Sometimes people just need a little time, a little love, a little compassion, and it never hurts to carry a shame umbrella. 

This is love.

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He’s twenty-one when he’s admitted to the hospice. He’s younger than my son. He’s our youngest resident ever by many, many years. The circumstances are heartbreaking; twenty-one, living in poverty without any family support system, less than three months to live. He needs us. I don’t doubt for a moment he’s in the right place with the right group of loving and nurturing volunteers to care for him. This is love.

One of our rooms is magically transformed into an NBA themed guy’s bedroom for him. That’s one of the things I love about hospice. Plenty of things like that just “magically” happen (usually it involves a group of committed volunteers who will move heaven and earth to fulfill a wish).  Hospice is about life. We’re giving this kid a home. This is love.

My first shift with him is working solo early Sunday morning. As she heads out the door, the overnight nurse tells me there are three kids sleeping in the guest room. “Three of his cousins visited last night and he didn’t want them to leave, so they stayed. They had a late night pizza delivery and stayed up playing video games. They’ll probably sleep in this morning.” Four boys savoring a normal night. This is love.

I quietly enter his room, carefully stepping over a pizza box, several soda cans and some candy wrappers. It looks a lot like the carnage after one of my son’s sleepover parties so many years ago. He’s sleeping under his cool new NBA blanket. A quick check of his tubes and wires, a soft whisper “Hi, I’m Rena – its okay – I’m just checking in on you – go back to sleep”, and I’m sure he’s okay. Good God – he looks so young, so innocent. The neck tattoos against his dark skin seem out of place on this child. I want to kiss his forehead. I want him to feel loved. I want to cry. But I don’t. I smile and pull the door shut. This is love.

I peek into the guest room where what can only be described as a “pile of boys” is sound asleep. That sight wrecks me. It drives home that this is just a kid. These are kids. Now I really want to cry. I tiptoe to the kitchen, lay my head on the counter and very quietly sob. I just need to get it OUT of me. This is just a kid. Those boys in the guest room are just kids. How the F#*% does this happen??? I stop crying. Yes, he is a kid. Yes, the boys in the guest room are kids. I have a choice at this point. I can stand there and cry about it, or I can thank God that I know how to make breakfast for a small crowd of boys -– and I can get on with the morning. I choose “thank God and make breakfast”. This is love.

They all start to stir at about eight o’clock. I make a big breakfast and carry it into his room. The five of us get to know each other a little better over a meal. He looks a lot different awake. He looks like someone who I’d probably avoid on the street. It’s not about the color of his skin. It’s definitely about the street tattoos. I guess the look can best be described as “gang banger”. He’s had an unbelievably difficult life; he’s never really had a stable home, he’s been shuttled from place to place most of his life, the only consistency is poverty. It makes sense to me that he’s developed a tough exterior. Even so, I speak to him the way I speak to my son – like the loving mother of a young adult. It’s so natural for me – and so unnatural for him. He can’t understand why I’m being so nice to him. Life is just a motherf#*%er for some people. It’s so damn unfair. The kid has no idea what it is to have a mom who takes care of his needs. I know we can make a difference in his life. This is love.

The next weeks are filled with life and life lessons for all of us. Volunteers and our amazing director coordinate a trip to the movies with his cousins and siblings, a trip to an amusement park, visits to his old neighborhood, a 4th of July picnic on a beautiful lake, and we give him something he’s never had before – a birthday party. The house rocks with a real birthday party with food, decorations, music, cake and lots of family and friends. His twenty-second birthday is an epic celebration. This is love.

We provide the structure this young life needs to be able to live his last weeks on his terms – connecting with his family and his community. These weeks are so filled with LOVE. It’s amazing. He quickly comes to understand that we love him simply because he is him. He doesn’t need to do anything special or be anyone different. We love him because he is him. This is love.

The volunteers who provide his day to day care are some of the most spectacularly loving human beings I’ve ever met. The love we show him overflows onto each other more than ever during these weeks. We support each other with extra hugs and extra words of encouragement. Caring for this young man is a blessing, and it’s really, really hard. He is so young, his life has been so difficult, and his family circumstances are sometimes so complicated. We’re navigating difficult waters, made even more difficult by cultural differences born of generational poverty and despair. It’s both heartbreaking and so full of gifts. It’s hearts breaking OPEN. This is love.

Somehow nearly everyone who is in any way touched by his story is moved to do something to help. I call my mom from the house with a special request for his dinner – and the ingredients “magically” appear within an hour. A dear friend cheerfully answers the call to help out with some of the younger kids who are visiting, and shows up with books, crayons, games and endless patience. I duck out the back door at work saying “I’m gonna run over and say hi to my guy, I’ll be right back” and my boss’s supportive reply is “do what you have to do” every time. It seems like everyone in my life is praying for this kid, for the house, and for the volunteers. This is love.

His journey comes to an end in August. He dies surrounded by some of the women who love him most fiercely through this journey. I’m in my car on my way there. We are all exactly where God means for us to be, every step of the way. This is love.

#BeingRena

on encouragement…

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I’ve been thinking about encouragement a lot over the past few months. That little voice whispering “you can do this” has always been so important to me.  Sometimes I’ve heard it from someone else, and sometimes I’ve whispered it to myself.  Maybe encouragement is one of my love languages?

A simple “You got this” or “I believe in you” or “I knew you could do it” can make all the difference in the world to someone. Encouragement is so healing and restoring. One kind and honest word can mean everything to another person. How awesome is it that encouragement is free and readily available for us to give to each other????

So………um……..then…..why don’t we?

Why don’t we encourage each other more? Is it really that hard to be a healer and a restorer? Is it really that hard to offer an uplifting word to friends and even to strangers?

Why will people shout criticism and condemnation from the rooftops, but won’t put that same effort into encouraging each other? I don’t get it.

Not long ago I heard someone say that God doesn’t have a voice on earth, He has us.

BOOM! Mind blown.

That’s it. He’s counting on US to be the voice of love and blessing to each other.  I love this! It’s not just about family and friends – it’s about co-workers, the mailman, the guy who stands at the 490 exit at Goodman Street holding a sign that says please help; it’s about the cashier at Wegman’s, the guy behind the counter at 7-11 where I get my coffee every morning, the lady at the bank, and it’s about so much more. It’s about everyone.

It’s about love. Encouragement = love

BOOM! Mind blown again.

So, today, right now, whatever is going on in your life, I want you to know that I love you and I believe in you. You got this.

#beingrena #encourageeachother