It’s Not About Willpower!

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2576209288_2747b80538_oPicking, picking, picking

Fingernails digging into flesh

looking for imperfect skin

to claw away.

Making blemishes worse,

bleeding.

I can’t stop.

Fingers always need to be busy,

hurting myself is too easy.

Sometimes boredom,

sometimes stress,

always pain.

No body part is safe.

Blackheads, pimples, ingrown hairs

and imaginary imperfections.

Making a mess.

Shoulders, back, chest, legs, face

my fingers go everywhere

and I can’t make them stop.

I stick them under my pillow

and breathe into the need

to pick, pick, pick….

3711055069_43e819b138_oI wrote this poem as I lay in bed this past weekend trying to stop picking so I could go to sleep and then the following scenario played out in my home the other night before bed: my daughter came looking for a band-aid. Her finger was bleeding and I asked what she had done. Then, as she held her thumb clenched in the fingers of her other hand, I asked her if she’d been picking at herself again?

She had picked at the dry skin on her thumb until she had drawn blood.

I flash back to myself, I’m about her age and I am picking at the dry skin on my big toe and I dig and dig until it suddenly starts to bleed. The blood startles me and I panic. I get a band-aid, I make up a story, why didn’t I stop before I drew blood? Why couldn’t I stop?

Neither of these stories are isolated incidents and though separated by years and time, both feel all too familiar.

As my husband is tucking our daughter into bed he catches her picking or scratching again and he gives her a stern look. Some words are exchanged and then he says,

“Or you can use willpower to make yourself stop.”

5610963733_f775bd4601_oMy heart breaks as I hear those words. I have heard them too and I know how hard it is to stop. I am all too familiar with the feelings of wanting so desperately to stop because my skin hurts. It is red and blistered and raw from scratching and digging and no matter how much I might want to stop, I do not feel like I am the one in control.

Time means nothing, it could be one minute, fifteen minutes or an hour. Yes, I’ve easily spent more than an hour digging at my skin, sometimes two or three. It’s not about willpower. Of course I want to stop and if it were that easy, willpower would be enough but it’s not.  It’s a repetitive behaviour that soothes the constantly churning whirl of thoughts and anxieties. I have to literally fight with my hands, repress them, restrain them to make myself stop. Sometimes I just want to cry I get so frustrated with myself and now I see my daughter struggling with the same impulses, damaging herself and I don’t know how to help because I have yet to figure out how to help myself.

I do know that telling her to use her willpower is not helpful, it just makes you feel more broken.

I look back over my life and there is a history of self-mutilation but as I would conquer one bad habit I’d replace it with another. I used to bite my tongue and the inside of my mouth until I bled. It hurt, a lot. I finally made myself stop by stuffing Kleenexes in my cheeks at bedtime. Once I stopped, then the picking started.

I still pick though not as badly because I’ve discovered something else to keep my hands and mind busy – my cell phone. I’m always trading up one bad habit for another, and now I see my daughter struggling too, inheriting, copying, trapped.

I do have a theory behind my daughter’s and I’s behaviours. She is diagnosed ADHD and I believe her picking is how she copes with her feelings of being hyper and restless. She hates boredom, mentally and physically, and when there is nowhere else for her energy to go, she picks. It calms her mind, it becomes trance-like, even the pain offers some stimulation, something for her to focus on.

Last year I was reading a book entitled “Driven to Distraction” by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. and John J. Rodey, M.D. I was reading it so I could better help and understand my oldest child but it opened my eyes to my own ADD issues, something I didn’t think was a problem for me. I did well in school, I didn’t portray the classic signs of ADD growing up but I believe it was and continues to be something I struggle with. It also helps explain my need to constantly be doing stuff with my hands and the constantly whirling thoughts in my head that I struggle to pin down and sort through and follow to conclusions instead of things just piling up around me as UFO’s (Un-Finished Objects), or forgotten as I move to the next thing. My picking, my incessant need to fiddle with my phone quiets those impulses and crazy thoughts, allows me to zone out the stimuli that are over-whelming me, including the emotions I have not learned to cope with. For those moments, I’m focused.

Through my daughter, I am gaining an understanding of my own habits and through understanding my own habits, I am understanding her.

So what is the solution, how do I fix this, change how the story ends for my daughter?

Right now, I don’t know but I am going to explore this further through my blog, as well as how we live and cope with ADD/ADHD in my family. Almost every one of us has some degree of handicap because of this disorder, and the one thing I do know, willpower alone is not enough to break the cycle of self-harm, negative thoughts and bad habits.

I do believe that there is a power that is more than up to the task: love.

“…. love works. Positive human relationships work. The human connection is indispensable. I call it “the other Vitamin C,” Vitamin Connection. And if you do not get enough of it, you will languish and never thrive.” pg xvii, Driven to Distraction.

For more information about excoriation or the need to pick at one’s skin, follow this link: http://www.trich.org/about/skin-picking.html

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Remembering….

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SP 106 WMSitting in the tub, the water too warm, my skin perspiring from the steam that wisps across the surface. The music carries me, the words touching a place I’ve not taken the time to look into for a while. The candles flicker casting friendly shadows around me and the mix of salts and energies float in the water that holds me. Rose petals, shells, dried leaves, bits of US money, the scents of various essential oils, individually unrecognizable in their mixing but together they are the scent of my retreat in August.

The memories of new friends, of peace and quiet in a beautiful house, of sitting and listening to the world around me and connecting with myself again. There in that peaceful place I could hear the voice in my head that the world around me had drowned out for way too long.

Then I came home and I tried desperately to hold on to my intentions, the peace, the love, the connections but in the craziness of my real world, I was very overwhelmed and struggling to find my center within my own inner peace that for such a brief moment in August I had found.

It was really hard to come home, even as much as I had missed my family, I had missed me even longer and I was afraid of losing her again.

So here I sit in my bath surrounded by the energies of my friends’ intentions which they had cast into the salts and I let them embrace me with their strength. It reminded me of my own intentions cast that day as we sat in circle, holding space for each women to open their heart and fill the bowl with words and offerings of love and need and desire. Babies, new beginnings, strength to make difficult decisions, honouring new connections, finding space for our dreams in a chaotic world that tries to snuff them out, and for abundance in personal and business lives. The requests were as varied as the women and as universal as womanhood and motherhood.

The fundamental intention I brought away from the retreat with me was my need for change. Change in my relationship with my husband most of all but change in general too. I am tired of being sick, I am tired of being tired, I am tired of feeling like my life is out of control and I am powerless to change things. I have worked on making some of those changes but it’s a slow process and part of it is accepting that I can only control myself. Change starts with me.

Perhaps even more importantly though than recognizing my need for change because I’ve known for a long time that change was necessary, I had just been struggling with finding my way, was that I found the strength within myself to stand up and believe that I am worthy of the effort to make those changes. I had diluted and deluded myself into believing that I didn’t matter, that I wasn’t worth my effort or the effort of others and the needs of others were more important than my own but I was wrong.

I truly am worthy. Worthy of being loved and loving myself and everything else branches out from believing in my worth: respect, acceptance, self-care, etc… I am worthy of all of these gifts and they are worth fighting for.

Of course I have to get out of the tub first…..

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The Emotional Hangover

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IMG_20140831_233300Lying in my sleeping bag, damp, cold and shivering, a mosquito buzzing around my ears. I feel it on my back, maybe even in the sleeping bag with me, biting, annoying, my skin crawling with itchiness real and imagined. I feel completely alone and I shiver with a cold that runs deeper than my chilled toes. There is nobody to warm me up but myself so I curl into a ball deep in my sleeping bag and hope sleep finds me but I lay there wanting so much to feel the warmth of another human being wrapped around me.

It was a weekend of baseball, booze, camping, hanging out with new friends, learning new games (slip and slide flip cup) and just generally having a good time. I am the quiet one, the non-drinker, the non-smoker, the one in the shadows holding the light so others can see. I am not loud, or obnoxious. I am the responsible one that catches the drunk when they stumble.

But oh how I wish I could be the one partying it up, the one willing to play, willing to be looked after, willing to stand in the light and be seen. My choice to opt out comes from a place of fear, fear of being seen for who I am and of being defined by my pain, my anger and my mistakes. Instead I take the safe route and I choose not to drink. I use my medications as my excuse but it goes so much deeper than that.

I don’t drink because I’m an angry drunk, a raging drunk, a pitiful crying drunk. Alcohol follows the path of least resistance and it finds its way between the cracks to my dark place, where I keep my anger, my rage, my pain all bottled up. The alcohol lets everything loose, it breaks me wide open. I lose the ability to keep the tears in check and they fall uncontrolled. It can and has ruined the fun for everyone, so I choose not to bring that to a party, which means I choose not to drink.

So I play the part of the responsible one. I let others enjoy themselves and then I’m there to catch them before they stumble into the fire or otherwise hurt themselves or cause any damage, to help them get back to the campsite safely or to the bathroom and back without hurting themselves. I stay hidden in the shadows. I take all the pictures of everyone having a good time but you won’t find me in any of the photos. I will be a phantom memory to most within a week or so when baseball season ends. I will be the “oh who was that girl?” and the “y’know so and so’s wife (friend, whatever), does anyone remember her name?” questions.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy myself because I did. It was nice to have a weekend away from the kids and to just hang out and have absolutely nothing to do and nowhere important to be. To laugh and to feel like a member of the group, even if it was only for a few days. It’s just so hard to feel like a real, integrated member when I’m working so hard to keep my dark secrets hidden and play nice, and to feel like if they knew the real me, my story, I would not be as welcome, and yet I don’t really give them a chance either because giving them a chance means taking the risk of exposing myself.

For most of the weekend I shifted aside my needs so my husband could thoroughly enjoy himself, play ball and be one of the guys and I encouraged him to let go and have fun. On the last night after he’d had too much to drink I held him wrapped in his sleeping bag until he stopped shivering and fell into a deep sleep, sleeping off the last of the effects of the alcohol, but in the darkness of the night I felt encompassed by a sense of utter loneliness despite being surrounded by a campsite full of friends. It was hard not to give into the overwhelming twinges of resentment and self-recrimination, angry because I’m not more outgoing, wishing I could just drink and be part of the life of the party instead of being the responsible one all the time, and being so afraid of letting my demons out to play and ruining the night for others, that at the end of it all I end up all alone cold and shivering in my sleeping bag.

I didn’t drink much at all, yet I woke up feeling hung over and exhausted, almost worse than some of the drinkers. It was an emotional hangover brought on by repressing everything I felt, the overwhelming loneliness, being frustrated by how much my anger and pain poisons my life, and all the artifices I use to keep people on the outside so they can’t see, really see the person I am, pain and all.

I won’t ever be the life of the party and as much as I envy those who find it so easy to let go, I’ve accepted that that’s not who I am but I’ve realized I also have a limit where I need some attention too, like wanting to be held until I am warm again. Some day maybe just maybe I will find the strength to step into the light and be seen, and be the one to stumble trusting that someone will be there to catch me when I do.

My Smile is Missing Something…

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961018_10152143165725505_11215161_nI sat in the tub with my youngest, he with a paint brush in hand, asking me to smile but he wasn’t satisfied with the smile I gave him. He said it was missing something, some lines, so he proceeded to fix my smile with his paint and paintbrush.

The idea that my smile is missing something stuck with me. I’ve rolled the words over and over in my brain. I think of the pictures that exist of me, which are few due to the fact that I am the primary family photographer, and in so many of my recent pictures my genuinely happy smile appears to be missing. I always seem unhappy, guarded. The smile never quite makes it all the way to my eyes.

People are always telling me to smile, even when I think I already am. I smile and people tell me I’m not smiling, so I smile wider, feeling like my cheeks are about ready to burst and they still tell me I’m not smiling. I feel confused, I don’t know what more to do to smile.

Then the words of a three-year old got me thinking….

Where is my genuine smile? My happy smile? You know the kind of smile that fills your eyes and radiates from within you?

Did I lose it? Maybe I dropped it somewhere? Maybe I gave it to someone or it was stolen? Or maybe it’s in a safe place and I’ve just forgotten where I put it, kind of like my sunglasses or my car keys….

Is it even possible to lose your smile? I know I’ve been happy, and I’ve seen childhood pictures of a beautiful smile so I must have had one at one time.

How do you lose your smile?

Maybe I haven’t lost it really, and on occasions where I let my guard down it pays a rare visit, but the sadness my smile struggles through to be seen feels immense. The walls I have put up to keep others out are thick and tall and the layers of barricaded pain distort my smile. For people on the outside looking in it’s like seeing my smile from a million miles away through a dirty spyglass, the details are fuzzy and the smile looks incomplete, and, in the words of my three-year old, like it’s missing something, some lines, which was easy for him to fix with paint and a paintbrush.

Not such an easy task to bring down the barricades so people can see me smile and truly be happy again. I have a strong suspicion that happy person has been missing for so long many of my friends have forgotten her. A good cry would probably help but that’s a story for another time. Perhaps with some luck I will find her and my smile among my words and in the pursuit of my dreams, and hopefully I’ll be able to convince them both to stick around.

A Soul Review

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5632294010_fc3cddc11d_bI sit in the tub, my refuge from the world, rereading my words, editing, wondering if I have the strength to publish them, to share them, knowing there are parts that may upset people close to me. I talk about how I feel, sometimes those words are hard to hear. I’ve referenced divorce, not because I want one but because some days I don’t know if I’m strong enough to make the changes I’m trying to make or if I can live with the things I can’t change about our situation.

I married very young. I was lost and floundering as a single mom. I thought my marriage could save me. It didn’t. But I learned that my expectations were unreasonable. Marriage based on salvationary ideas will fail. It was never my husband’s job. And he had no idea where to start or what I needed, partly because I didn’t either.

We have both tried and are still trying almost sixteen years on. My husband has followed me to every counsellor, marriage help session, couples therapy and family therapy I could drag him to. We met with some success and for a while things would get better.

We’ve had some wonderful times, made some great memories, birthed two amazing children, and enjoyed some very passionate chemistry.

There’s a great deal I love about my husband but there are also a few traits that I wish I could change. I’m sure the sentiment is mutual. I have no delusions of perfection, if anything I don’t give myself enough credit for what I do get right.

I know I can’t change my husband. I can’t make him do anything he doesn’t want to do. And he shouldn’t be trying to change me either. It doesn’t mean we can’t change but that the changes have to come from within ourselves to be truly life altering.

But here’s the question and the point we find ourselves at. Can we live with what we can’t (or won’t) change?

I do explore those ideas in my writings, my feelings surrounding our current situation. They are my feelings and while they may elicit a visceral reaction, the reaction is yours. As I own my feelings, you must own your reactions. It’s easy to lash out, not so easy to sit with the emotions and examine where they come from and why.

Part of the reason for my blog and my writings is exactly that. I am conducting a soul review, digging up what I’ve long kept buried, figuring out what I need and want and going through what I already have and doing a clean sweep to choose what will stay and what no longer serves me. Some decisions will be easy to make, others more complicated but at the end of it all, the question that needs answering is this, “does this honour me, my soul, my life?” If the answer is no than it is time to let go and move on and to find a way to do so in a way that honours the past, present and future.

All I ask is to bear with me as I go through this soul review. It’s a new road for me too and there will be mistakes, but I am pleading for understanding, patience and space to try new things, to let go and to scream and cry and laugh and be real, really real. It’s not an easy thing to ask, but it is what’s needed and as the title of my blog is soul nudism, it’s part of the journey too.

Bathtub Contemplations

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4318089749_fafc96b0fb_bSitting in the tub

Candlelight bouncing off the white enamel

The water quiet,

Rippling with my subtle movements.

I sit, contemplating,

wondering how to do it all.

So many needs to balance.

Where are my needs in that tangled web?

Making others happy,

stretching everything to the limit,

giving all.

I sink back into the quiet, warm embracing water,

I can hear the world outside

the bathroom door.

But I am neither a part of it

Or apart from it

In this moment of heat and

candlelight and quiet,

soaking away the aches

of my labours of giving.

Perspiration running down my cheeks.

The room warm and close,

intimately by myself

and yet the world outside is so close,

a whining voice at the door

“Daddy won’t give me cake.”

Balance.

Searching for it.

Elusive.

This is my one space.

I hide in the bathroom to escape

but the world outside is

constantly there to remind me

“Come back.”

I must go back.

When the room cools

and water chills

and the candles flicker their final flames

I must go back.

Til then I submerge and

try to ignore.

Go into my head, hear my thoughts.

Bleeding my thoughts in ink

so when the real world is drowning me

I can reread the water streaked pages

and remember this place,

this moment, this quiet

just outside the noise

and escape back into it.

Penned May 25, 2014

BUT….

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4234598818_5d7773c11e_oWhy don’t you say “I love you” anymore?

Are the words too heavy?

Too scary to say

when there’s too much anger inside?

When what you really want to say is

“I love you but….”

But, three letters, so powerful,

too powerful,

more powerful than love’s four letters.

BUT I want you to change.

BUT I want you to let go of your oldest child.

BUT you need to change or

I won’t love you anymore.

BUT you are too weak.

BUT your ideas are too strange,

I don’t understand them.

BUT I can’t follow where you are going.

BUT I can’t let you go where you want to go.

BUT you give too much,

you must give less,

think of us (me?) first.

BUT love is not enough.

Why can’t love be enough?

Why can’t love’s four letters

be stronger than but’s three?

Where’s faith? Where’s hope?

Is BUT stronger than those too?

How can that be…

I’m searching for an answer.

I want to hear the words.

I want to say the words

without the silencing effect

of those powerful three letters

Because you’re not good enough

Until you change

To be loved unconditionally.

That’s what BUT means.

Can you, can I, can we

let go of that word

to accept, to embrace,

to nurture what is

instead of what we want

or wish could be?