Please Don't Feed the Children to the Elephants

Jarunee is one of the most dangerous elephants we have at The Elephant Sanctuary. She spends most of her days alone on a strip of land between the water flow from the River Kwai. For good reason. She has bullied other elephants and been aggressive with people. There is only one mahout who's willing to work with her, and I do believe he's a bit reluctant to do so.

The other day, while the founder of The Elephant Sanctuary was recording the tourists during the afternoon fruit basket feeding, I removed two children from feeding Spy, the small young female who is a bit unpredictable and mistakenly placed them in front of the mammoth and even more dangerous, Jarunee. But their parents were so high maintenance that I didn't dare try to remove the kids again.

The founder kept recording and didn't even give me a raised eyebrow as if to ask, What the hell are you doing?!

Som, a Thai staff member who is also a guide, looked at me with great surprise and disbelief, "You put kids with Jarunee?" His jaw dropped. Jai, a previous volunteer who came to help during this unusually busy time, offered his slack-jaw as well. The three of us hovered near the unsuspecting children, ready to pull them back to safety should Jarunee decide to grip one of them with her massive trunk. A trunk that can hold eleven hundred pounds. She probably could have taken out both of the kids with one curl of the trunk.

Thankfully, the founder didn't see my mistake and no harm came to the children during the feeding of the elephants. 

In my short time of being a tour guide, I've seen many different parenting styles from the families who've traveled from Germany, England, the US, Australia, the Netherlands, China and New Zealand. So far, one woman stands out as the kind of mom you're lucky you didn't have.

Two families were traveling together with two special needs kids. They arrived late and scrambled as best they could to manage their collective children while acclimating themselves to the thick heat. They were a bit distracted and chaotic. The parents, not the kids. The two families happened to be in my group for the day. The parents set up their fancy cameras and Go-Pros to document every moment. Most of their conversation seemed to center around the pictures and video they were taking and instantly reviewing.

During lunch, one of the mothers told me about her peanut allergy. We checked with four different Thai staff to confirm which of the lunch buffet dishes contained any peanut products; oil, powder or the nuts themselves. We were told nothing had peanut products. Just cashews in the papaya salad.

Thankfully, she brought her epi pen. Within half an hour her husband approached me to tell me of his wife's allergic reaction. I kicked into high gear, knowing how dangerous a peanut allergy can be and found Veronica. 

She took two steps back, "Go tell Elise. I don't know, I don't know."

I found Elise at the reception table. "Can you please talk to the husband of the woman who is having a peanut reaction?"

"Did you check with the Thai staff about the peanuts? They will know what has the peanuts. The ladies in the kitchen should know."

"We did check. With four of them. She's having an allergic reaction. That's the husband, there," I pointed to the man, "Can you please go talk to him?"

"What did she eat? It should not be that she has this allergy if the Thai staff said there were no peanuts."

At this point, I shrugged, "I don't know. He's over there. You can ask him." And I walked away.

The non-allergic mother wore a beautiful flowy tropical print jumpsuit, large rimmed round sunglasses and glistening peach gloss on her permanently pursed lips. While we made sticky rice balls to feed the elephants, she stood off to the side with her camera and instructed her daughter on how to pose for the candid pictures. Her son, who I believe was on the autism spectrum, didn't want to get his hands dirty from forming the sticky rice balls and sat patiently as his mom reviewed the moments from minutes before through her playback screen. She seemed to have very little interaction with her son other than to ask him to stop whining.

Our elephant arrived at the feeding area and the boy decided he wanted to try feeding Tangmo. I shook off some of the calcium powder coating the rice ball and placed it in the boy's open palm. I'd be on edge if my parents were standing behind me cheering me, Come on, just put it in his mouth! Just do it. Don't back away. Don't be afraid!

The boy lifted his open palm toward the giant elephant. When the rice ball hit the ground, the boy let out a howl of frustration but was determined to try again. He grabbed another rice ball from the tray which slipped from his hands and fell to the dirt.

He was very frustrated with himself, "I keep dropping things!" he blurted out.

"It's okay," I offered, "As long as we have gravity, we're going to drop things."

Later in the day when the woman who survived the peanut allergy came back to life, she rejoined her friends. Pantsuit diva immediately seized the opportunity for a photo shoot. Not of the elephants. Not of her children. Just a solo photoshoot.

She handed her freshly revived friend the camera and immediately struck a pose. Side profile while looking pouty off into the distance, 3/4 profile glancing coyly at the camera, Look at me! I'm in Thailand!

Her hard-earned pilates arms draped over the back of the bench in ownership. Click. Click. Click.

She moved locations and switched photographers. "You're doing it wrong!" She admonished her twelve year-old daughter who was in charge of an Out of Africa style photoshoot of the mom strolling down the dirt path, looking over her shoulder in surprise as if an elephant had just whispered to her.

When I was twelve, I recall my mom being more interested in taking pictures of me or the two of us together. Have times changed because of the digital age and how each member of a family has access to smart phones with cameras? Have we become more selfie-centered because of technology?

Have we lost the art of being in the moment because we're so focused on capturing it to share with our social circles later? I remember my trip to Alaska and how majestically the glaciers and mountains stood so proudly from the earth. I clicked picture after picture until my battery finally wore out.

Oh, well. I guess I'll just have to remember this because I won't have any pictures. 

But a photograph won't capture the afternoon breeze or the head to toe relief when you step inside the air-conditioning of a 7-11 store after dripping sweat walking around one of the crowded nightmarkets. A photograph doesn't capture the call of the birds and the silly vocalization from the Geckos that I'm certain are saying something rather obscene.

I am loving this moment, gazing over the pool where I will submerge my aching bones within the hour. Listening to a melody of children squealing and splashing gleefully with their father brings me back to the poolside afternoons with my grandparents in West Palm Beach, Florida. My brother and I played in the pool for hours, only drying off for egg-salad sandwiches at lunch. We'd head straight back to the pool after waiting the obligatory thirty minutes after eating and stay there until the sun settled into the palm trees.

The air in Kanchanaburi Province smells of smoke from the small piles of debris and trash burned throughout the area. It is both a shocking reminder of the horrible practice of burning plastic and other garbage and at the same time, it is part of the endearing and contrasting landscape of Thailand. 

Can I be an impartial observer and not be quick to judgment? With the burning trash or the pantsuit mother? Can things just be the way they are without my labeling them as good or bad?

Patty Blue Hayes is the award winning author of  Wine, Sex and Suicide – My Near Death Divorce and the creator of  You Can Heal Your Heartbreak, an audio program based on her book, My Heart is Broken. Now What? Her life coaching helps people rediscover themselves after divorce. Connect with her at www.pattybluehayes.com

Dogs, Machetes and a Search for Truth

My idealistic bubble burst after only a few hours of arriving to The Elephant Sanctuary in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. And from there I was on a seemingly slippery slope downward. Asking the wrong questions, making the wrong phone call, acting the wrong way. Oh, and then the incident with the dog and the machete almost threw me over the edge. 

As I sat at the staff table on my first day, a flood of confessions spilled forth from longer term volunteers and some permanent staff. Rumors and stories criss-crossed from multiple directions as people dipped french fries in mayonaise. I'd read that before the sanctuary became The Elephant Sanctuary, it was called Elephant's Place, a retirement center for elephants created by a man from Belgium and a Thai woman. When she died only 3 months after opening the park, the husband withdrew from their life long dream. One volunteer told me she'd heard the prior place used to be known for orgies. One thing that is certain; facts are a bit hard to come by here.

If you ask 3 different people about the history of the elephants here, one will tell you they are under ownership of people who could take their elephant out of retirement at any time. Another will tell you we own all of the elephants and their ears are microchipped and the hybrid story is that we own some elephants outright and others are here on a contract. 

Rules seem to beg to be broken. I'm never sure which rules we're allowed to break, and I seem to break the ones we shouldn't. On my second day I was spoken to about making a phone call to the office regarding my concern over metal soldering and loud hammering less than 3 feet from an elephant tied to it's feeding position. I'm certain the flying sparks just feet away from her golden brown eyes were agitating to her.

Another volunteer and I mentioned our concerns to the  program manager who flippantly said, "I don't know. That's Tam's department. I don't know." And with a quick shrug of the shoulders, she was done entertaining our questions.

"Well where is Tam?" I asked, anxious to get the soldering halted until after the elephants had eaten. We had just learned how sensitive they were to loud noises and can startle easily. We guided the tourists past the display of elephant vs. minor construction. Thankfully, none of the tourists saw the irony.

I spoke with Celine when I called the office. She agreed the soldering shouldn't be happening directly in front of the elephant. But the next day Elise warned me not to do that again; that I should call her or Veronica. "We are the farang." (the tourist). "And I've seen bad things happen for less."

I wondered if she was referring to any of the 3 deaths of volunteers on the property?

But the non-explanation for the machete wielding farmer had me puzzled.

I was leading a few families down the road toward the river banks. The water buffalo were crossing the dirt road as one of our little black dogs ran wild in a beautiful display of instinctual herding techniques. The dog took a few lunges toward the farmer who wore a full face cover. I couldn't even see his eyes. He had his machete out in 3 seconds.

With the machete aimed at the dog, I quickly searched my mental file box for an explanation of the dog massacre I was certain was imminent. I know how traumatizing it was to see my beloved childhood dog, Dusty, get hit by a garbage truck. Her tongue turned white as she laid on a red plaid wool blanket in the back of my parent's station wagon. She died on the way to the veterinarian's office.

We all took a collective breath in gratitude for the safety of the dog as the farmer put the machete back in its sheath.

"I don't know what to tell you." Veronica quipped in her usual cool tone. The only thing that is cool here.

"We cannot tell the farmer what to do."

"Okay, but how would I explain that to the family?" I was really struggling to come up with a reasonable explanation. 

"I don't know. We cannot control what the farmer does."

Later, Elise, the older and a bit wiser foundation manager presented a reasonable explanation. In this country, the dog is pretty low on the totem pole. They are scene as a nuisance, not a treasured pet. And with so much poverty, the stray dogs must seem like vermin.

I suppose I can learn from my own story. Perhaps Veronica's bark is worse than her bite. But it still leaves me feeling intimidated, like I'm going to be fired from volunteering.

Patty Blue Hayes is the award winning author of  Wine, Sex and Suicide – My Near Death Divorce and the creator of  You Can Heal Your Heartbreak, an audio program based on her book, My Heart is Broken. Now What?

 

Sensory Overload

April 2

The young girl on the moped wasn't wearing a helmet. Time slowed as she laid down her bike and slid on the hot Bangkok asphalt toward the car that made an abrupt turn, cutting her off and forcing her to the ground. The bike and her body came to a stop just underneath the front end of the car.

My body flooded with adrenaline as I relived the trauma from my own moped accident while I was in Spain, alone, after I'd discovered my boyfriend's affair with an Italian opera singer. I suppose I would have had an affair, too, if an Italian singer swooned me. The accident happened on the 2nd day of my 2 week trip. My road rash required bandage changes every other day and with my left hand incapacitated, traveling with my overloaded backpack limited my travel and left me feeling sorry for myself.

The moped resting on top of the girl was heavy. I struggled to lift it from the handlebars while 2 people helped her to her feet. Her knee had taken the brunt of the injuries and it was hard for her to put any weight on that leg. The driver never got out of the car. I felt quite helpless. Unable to communicate, to call for help, to offer comfort. Adrenaline surged through my body as I stood under the shade of a tree on the busy street and realized I needed to head back to my hotel to arrange a ride to the massage appointment I'd made earlier that morning.

Contrast. Life is full of it. Is something good or bad or are they just events and we give them meaning based on our beliefs, perceptions, experiences and our inability to view the broad perspective of what shapes our lives. I'm not including war, starvation, disease and violence in this theory, just the everyday shit that can change your life in a moment.

It was because of my moped accident that I enrolled in massage school. I was so grateful to have the use of my hand and wanted to use them to help people. I wonder how the girl's accident will affect her. I'm most curious about the subconscious, subtle ways her experience may guide her.

Bangkok is full of contrast. From the mega-size shopping malls to the smog-blackened 2 story cinderblock apartments sprayed with graffiti to the Buddhist monks wrapped in orange robes blocks away from sex workers offering happy endings, the city has been a sensory overload. But not entirely in a bad way.

It's heightened my awareness. Buzzing mopeds, police on megaphones and grinding river boat motors co-exist with the monk's melodic chanting softly hanging in the humid air and crickets harmonizing at dusk. Trees are decorated with flowers and ribbons and the river is full of litter and motor exhaust. The choking fumes from Tuk-Tuk's, mopeds and cars yields to appetizing aromas of simmered curries, grilled meat and caramelized palm sugar thickening in woks on every street.

The sweat dripping down my back while walking through the Wat Pho Temple of the Reclining Buddha was momentarily relieved by the strong and cool air flow from fans paced the exact number of feet apart that my body craved some air movement.

And so it is with Thai food. Elements of sweet, salty, spicy and cool blend together harmoniously but each ingredient on its own is displeasing. Isn't this the way we experience life?

My moped accident was displeasing, but the massage career was rewarding. The end of my marriage was devastating, but it led to my life-long dream of writing a book. My suicide attempt felt embarrassing, but it's given me a voice to help others who may feel the same way. 

Who is is to say what is good and what is bad. 

My usual precise planning and scheduling took a nosedive when I realized last night I was supposed to be in Kanchanaburi today, not still in Bangkok, where I am scrambling to arrange transport directly to Elephant's World today, later than scheduled, but today none the less.

If I hadn't goofed up my calendar, I wouldn't have taken the incredible Thai cooking class yesterday. And who knows where that may lead.

I'm learning to be curious and go with the flow.

Patty Blue Hayes is the award winning author of  Wine, Sex and Suicide – My Near Death Divorce and the creator of  You Can Heal Your Heartbreak, an audio program based on her book, My Heart is Broken. Now What? She's looking for more volunteer opportunities for her next book. Connect with her at www.pattybluehayes.com

 

The parable of the Chinese farmer. Is it good or bad? Maybe.

In Need of a Magic Leprechaun

Image from Pixabay

March 17

I didn’t mean to wear hot pink underwear for my first Chiropractor appointment. It’s been so long since anyone else has seen what lurks beneath my clothing that I didn’t even think about my color selection.

Perhaps today I should wear bright green, with lucky Leprechauns dancing on my butt.

Big victory of the day, this morning I didn’t have to sit on the footstool in the shower – I was able to stand. But while I was on hold with the travel insurance company for thirty-five minutes I realized it’s unlikely I’ll be able to travel in 4 days. I hoped the agent with the serene international accent would tell me the fees to reschedule the flight are covered by my policy.

March 19

Today I wore neutral colored, non-lacey underwear and felt worse after the chiropractic adjustment. Not because of the neutral color. Even the back support wasn’t helping the deep muscle pain and weakness. I parked at a Deli to get a sandwich but I couldn’t walk the distance to the front door. No one heard me calling, Hellooooo, from the back door.

I cried on the drive back home. I missed my mom, and thought of how she yoooohoooo’d to get a store clerk’s attention. It used to embarrass me but I would have loved to have her there with me, pack me a lunch and take the pretty way home. She always preferred the back roads through the dappled shade from tall New England summertime trees. Isn’t that what a 1967 Mustang convertible is for? To take the scenic route?

Tears pooled and dropped to my cheeks. I was flushed with insecurity. I wished my ex hadn’t changed and we were still happily married. I wondered who would take care of me if I became incapacitated and how would I pay for that?

The finances are always on my mind. Sometimes I obsess about them and other times I calm myself with my kooky idea of living abroad in a lower cost country, teaching English and freelance writing. 

After an hour on the phone with the China Southern Airlines representative, I was able to change my flight plans for a one week delay. I hope that is enough time to get back on my feet. This certainly isn’t the story I wanted to write. But I know how that goes.

Being flat out has curbed me of my typical travel anxiety incessant errand running. I’ve actually had time to read the Elephant's World information I am supposed to study. I didn't know that elephants have very sensitive skin and their feet pick up vibrational information from nine miles away. Aum Pan, one of the older female elephants is described as gentle and loves to swim in the river. She’s also said to still have some of her teeth.

I thought back to when I was abruptly single and how dismal my dating profile would be: great conversationalist who still has her teeth! Today, dating isn't even on my mind. Is that healthy? Is it avoiding intimacy? Who knows. But I’m grateful to not be consumed with missing someone I don’t even know.

I want to meet Spy and Dok Mai, 2 female elephants who are described as being playful, naughty and stubborn. They sound like my kind of gals. I’m ready to play in the water, feed the pachyderms sweet fruit and rest my hand on their trunks with love and compassion for their lives of abuse.

I don’t understand how a sacred animal can be so mistreated. From what I’ve been reading, elephants have held great significance in Thailand. On the night of Lord Buddha’s birth, his mother, Queen Maya, dreamt a six-tusked white elephant presented her with a lotus flower.

The lotus flower symbolizes purity and knowledge; the white elephant symbolized fertility and success. But what about the rest of the elephants who didn’t live in the King’s palace? What about the ones who don’t eat off of gold plates and have a designated staff to attend to them?

The word tamed stands out to me. Articles I’ve been reading use that term to describe making the elephant do what humans want it to do. It doesn’t appear to be praise and reward based.

A Mahout is the person who cares for an elephant throughout its life. Apparently there are three different philosophies in their training approach. The Yukthimah use ingenuity to outsmart their elephants, the Reghawan use love in their training, and the Balwan use cruelty. I still get a wave of nausea as flashes appear in my mind of the video showing a baby elephant being restrained and abused in order to break its spirit and submit to human control. Tamed. I wish I could un-see that flickering cruelty.

I’ve been the person who felt anger toward animal rights groups that post disturbing graphic images and videos. Rather than feel anger that the abuse is taking place, I have displaced it with the group exposing me to images I do not want to see. It’s an assault to my senses.

But imagine how the animal feels?

I’m developing more questions. If Buddha taught peace, love and harmony, why is there such rampant animal abuse in Thailand? The first tenet of Buddhism states: I will be mindful and reverential with all life, I will not be violent nor will I kill.

I ran into a friend the other day who is a strict Vegan because of her belief in the sanctity of all life. How can I feel such protection for the elephant but not the chicken?

My hope is I don’t get arrested for asking questions. It is considered highly offensive to say anything negative about the Kingdom of Thailand. And I’ve been known to be a rule breaker.

Patty Blue Hayes is the award winning author of  Wine, Sex and Suicide – My Near Death Divorce and the creator of  You Can Heal Your Heartbreak, an audio program based on her book, My Heart is Broken. Now What? Follow her elephant adventure at www.pattybluehayes.com

Help Elephant’s World purchase the sanctuary land.

 

The Callous that Broke my Back

Uh oh. Why did I try to pumice the callous off my big toe? I felt a familiar sharp grip, twinge and instantly weakening pain after lifting my right leg and bending slightly at the waist.

My back feels like an unstable stack of Jenga blocks, teetering around and ready to tumble at any moment. I took one of the 800 mg Acetaminophen pills prescribed for my Thailand trip. I didn’t think I’d need them here at home. I'm supposed to fly in a week. I’m trying to think positively.

All I can think about is how insulting it is to the Thai people to use your feet to pick things up or shove things around on the floor. That’s all I’ve done in the past twenty minutes getting myself settled to lay on the floor with an ice pack underneath my sacrum.

I’m going to take this as a sign from the Universe that it’s time to slow down and read the booklet about the elephants at Elephant's World.

It doesn’t surprise me to learn that elephants have extremely close family bonds, only separated by death or capture. Perhaps the part of me that still craves to belong to a family since my divorce is hoping to be welcomed into the herd of elephants. 

It’s interesting to reflect back on my decision to volunteer in Romania at an orphanage when I was feeling so abandoned after my husband left the marriage. I identified with the children, searching for love and belonging, wandering around with open arms, will you love me? That was long before I'd learned the healing value of loving myself.

Maybe this life-long connection I’ve felt to elephants has been about belonging. Although, since the spiritual retreat in Ojai with Ronda LaRue ten months ago, I have not felt the empty ache of loneliness I’d carried with me for years since my divorce - or perhaps even longer. With Ronda's guidance, I traveled back in time and healed the wounded thirteen year-old who felt abandoned and lost in the world from my parent's divorce.

Day 2 Flat Out

My meditating, communing with the elephant spirits, praying and positive expectations have not yet had a miraculous effect on my back. I can barely walk. Sitting upright on my cushioned sofa for 5 minutes is painful. How the hell am I going to endure a fifteen hour flight? How am I going to carry a suitcase, walk the night market in Bangkok and carry pails of fruit for the elephants?

All of my health fears centered around food poisoning and deadly tropical diseases. It never occurred to me that my back might go out.

I’m seeing a Chiropractor tomorrow who has the Cox Flexion Distraction table and I’m praying for a miracle.

More Beautiful for Having Been Broken

I never knew what ORS was until I read the list of mandatory supplies to pack for my upcoming trip to Thailand. Then, a friend told me not to wear the same socks twice to prevent jungle rot. A vague memory of Vietnam soldiers fighting off horrible infections consuming their lower legs and feet came to mind.

I wondered how the hell anyone could have smiling faces in their vacation pictures from Thailand? Between Zika, Dengue Fever, food poisoning, Malaria, Japanese Encephalitis and Rabies from wild dogs and monkeys, why would anyone willingly go there?

Why am I going?

Oh, right; life long dream, that’s why.

For years I thought my love of elephants was some deep mystical spiritual past-life connection revealing itself to me in my current life experience. I’d always imagined being up close and personal with elephants. I’d collected small ceramic and stone elephant figurines from various travels over the years. I’ve been mesmerized by them; drawn to them. It must be some deep spiritual bond.

Or not.

I was scanning through JPEGS my brother converted from slides taken in the 1970’s when we were kids. And there it was; the picture of me straddled across a small elephant at Lion Country Safari in Florida. We were visiting my grandparents in West Palm Beach.

My life-long dream was based on a novel elephant ride when I was eight years-old?

So, off I go to live with the elephants for 4 weeks at Elephant’s World in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. And I couldn’t be more excited. And nervous – but that’s typical for me. I’m a reluctant adventurer.

I feel equally divided between the homebody who needs routine and security and the adventurer who desires new experiences. I have enjoyed hitchhiking in France, camping in Greece after disembarking in the wrong town and attempting to use the pay telephones in Italy.

I also love being horizontal on my couch at the same time each day, having my morning tea ritual and stocking up on my usual favorites from Trader Joe's. Predictable, safe and secure.

But life is anything but predictable. And all of my past experiences brought me to this moment. The times of unending tears and feelings of despair, the budding moments of strength emerging from hibernation and experiencing the first true belly laugh after so many moments spent worrying I’d never feel joyful again.

Years ago I felt I had nothing to live for when my marriage seemed to end so abruptly. I felt my soul fracture from the consuming multiple losses; my sense of identity, my husband and marriage, the future I believed in, and his family I belonged to for seventeen years.

And here I am today, feeling excited, like a little girl going off on a big adventure to ride an elephant in Loxahatchee, Florida.

A wise young woman came into my life in the most perfect timing. She had experienced life’s breaking points, too; the deaths of both her parents when she was thirteen, a family’s rejection and great disappointment during grad school applications.

She told me of Kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with gold to bind the pieces together. This method celebrates the fractures rather than masking them. It is believed the pottery is more beautiful for having been broken.

Haven’t we all felt shattered by some experience in life, or several? I continue to find incredible human value in showing others my golden fractures. I know the profound effect of someone comforting me with their vulnerable story, assuring me, I’ve been through that, too. You’re not alone.

I’d read about women venturing off into the world after their unanticipated new beginnings in life. I wasn’t sure if I was capable of being like them; taking risks rather than seeking horizontal comfort on the couch, exploring different cultures rather than blending in to homogenized safety.

My upper arms hurt for days from the vaccinations against deadly, or at least very displeasing diseases. I’ll be sharing a hut with other volunteers, sleeping under a mosquito net in a room cooled by a fan. I’ve packed fifty servings of the Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) to replenish my body chemistry from the effects of intense heat or digestive issues I may encounter while there.

I do wonder why my idea of adventure isn’t reviewing 5 star resorts and luxury spa retreats, but I know this trip will feed my soul.

Patty Blue Hayes is the award winning author of  Wine, Sex and Suicide – My Near Death Divorce and the creator of  You Can Heal Your Heartbreak, an audio program based on her book, My Heart is Broken. Now What? Follow her elephant adventure at www.pattybluehayes.com

Help Elephant’s World purchase their sanctuary land.

Where the Heck is my Inner Child Taking Me?

I'm amazed at how the essence of ourselves continues to surface even when we may not be sure who we are at times in our lives. I sense a consistent energetic quality to my being from when I was a child. It’s always been letting me know whether I’ve been aligned with it or not. I just don’t think I knew how to listen. Maybe that’s why the Universe has sent me some traumatic adjustments in life. To set me straight.

Perhaps the feelings of overwhelm, disconnection and loneliness have to do with an energetic misalignment? Why do we feel alive in some environments or depleted by others? Why do we choose to live in a small town or a high-rise building in a bustling city?

Is it possible that anxiety, fatigue and illness can result from being out of flow with our true nature? Where can our true peace and joy dwell inside a facade of happiness in the house of should?

I’ve lived in many shouldy places. I should be thinner. I should be more accomplished. I should floss more. I should have been able to get a well paying job with awesome benefits.

Today, with 100% conviction, I can tell you that I am unemployable.

 

This does not mean that I’m not smart, it doesn’t mean I don’t have skills. In fact I have some very marketable skills. But at 52 years of age, having always been part of the 1099 world other than restaurant jobs, there’s no place for me in the employee/employer world of grown up salaried jobs. 

This means no health, dental and vision benefits. It means no reliable steady income. It means no 401K plan, paid vacation or sick time and any of the other perks people get under a companies employ. And the pension benefits my attorney pressed me to secure during the divorce will amount to a whopping $146 a month when he retires.

Math has not been my strength, but my numbers don’t add up to a sustainable life in one of the most expensive cities in California.

So, I’m venturing off on another let me figure out a plan D adventure. This time to Thailand. For a while, or forever - if there is such a thing. 

This year, I’ve been listening to my inner wisdom and paying attention to my emotions created from different experiences.

I’m trying to be more like the baby whose entire physical body rejects something disagreeable.

If it feels like a sour lemon, why would I keep doing that to myself? I'm finally tapping into my deep desire to experience life, be an observer of that experience and communicate it to others through writing. That tastes like The Madonna Inn toffee cake to me; delicious. Crave-able.

My first book was intended to be about how volunteering could heal the pain of heartbreak. I had it all figured out. One year of volunteering and I'd be over it. Done. All healed and moving on with life.

Oh how naïve I was.

But the beautiful gift that came from that awful time in my life was the fulfillment of a life-long dream to write a book that would help people.

It is only because of a long-term friendship that another life-long dream is becoming a reality. At the end of March I leave for Kanchanaburi, Thailand where I’ll be volunteering for a month at Elephant’s World, a sanctuary for abused, sick and older elephants.

I have to admit, I'm a bit nervous. I ask myself what the hell I got myself into?! Why couldn’t I have decided to write about 5 star resorts instead of going to spend a month sleeping on a mattress under a mosquito net in a hut with no air conditioning during the hottest month of the year in Thailand?

Not to mention smelly elephant poop, Zika, Malaria, Typhoid, twenty-hour flights, theft, and the more serious concerns a woman has traveling solo.

The hermit and the adventurer parts of myself are in great contrast. The hermit wants to have the safety and security of the known and familiar. But the adventurer asks what would there be to write about if everyday were the same?

Although, in a way, everyday will be the same at the elephant sanctuary preparing the elephant's food, getting ready for the daily visitors, working on projects and cleaning up for the day. Well then, maybe I shouldn't bother after all!

Shhhhhhh Hermit, you'll be okay.

Patty Blue Hayes is the award winning author of  Wine, Sex and Suicide – My Near Death Divorce and the self-help book, My Heart is Broken. Now What? If you'd like to contribute a comfort food recipe for her upcoming cookbook, email, patty@pattybluehayes.com

Check back for posts on the elephant adventure and the makings of the 2nd life experience book.

Divorce and the Ghost of Christmas Past

I love my little town of San Luis Obispo, California, but strolling past the storefront windows decked out for the holidays brought my awareness to the thick glass that separates me from my past life.

In the years since my divorce I've done my best to keep busy during Christmas. I fled the country to volunteer with groups in Romania and Costa Rica. I moved during the holidays two years in a row and managed to keep my head down and get through it like a plough pushing aside thick memories.

But this year is different.

I'm home. It's quiet. I've barely sent out Christmas cards and haven't baked one cookie. I've felt some sadness over the loss of what was. But this year I finally realize that is normal.

I've learned that while the passage of time does decrease the overall intensity of emotions, it doesn't mean that each consecutive year gets better and better until you forget you were part of a family. We aren't robots. We are human beings, designed to have emotions and feelings. 

I didn't just lose a spouse in my divorce. I lost his family and the individual relationships with each of the people in it. Divorce is a living death and can sever vital relationships in an instant while others linger and die off from malnutrition over the years of diminished contact and communication. 

There is no simply, getting over it, as so many people expect you to do in the case of divorce. Why is it when someone dies we allow the bereaved to express their sadness for years after losing their loved one, but in divorce we judge them for not moving on?

This year I've come to realize I can feel both the sadness over the loss of family and reflect back fondly with gratitude for the seventeen years I had with them.  I think this is what healing looks like; when you reach a point where the intense grief is softened by intentional healing and the passage of time. It's a place that is not overwhelmingly in any emotional sphere. Perhaps it is acceptance.

I did get a tree this year. I was overcome with a joyful spirit at the right time and in the right place where trees were being sold. Thankfully, at some point during the past five years I managed to get rid of the emotionally charged decorations my ex and I collected over the years like the Disneyland ornament and the little wooden trolley car from a trip to San Francisco.

Social media reminds me that divorce not only breaks Christmas traditions, it shatters our fragile beliefs in forever. It dims the light of hope we held for belonging. But as I write this, I gaze upon my beautiful, somewhat crooked, dying tree decorated with dollar store snowflakes and hand-me-down candy canes and I'm smiling. I belong right where I am.

The Holidays. The Divorce. The Dread.

This was the time of year when I tested my liver to its maximum capabilities. I flooded it with red wine flowing from fancy glasses, strong vodka disguised in a feminine pink Cosmo and goblets of craft beer. I don't even like beer. But at 2 a.m. for last call it was often my go-to selection for a nightcap. As if I needed one!

Alcohol flows through our culture as an accepted mainstream activity. The danger is that many of us get caught up in the addictive current and drown ourselves. The pain of an unwanted divorce and the anxiety about the holidays can be the perfect ingredients for abusing the alcohol that is a part of so many holiday celebrations.

Consider the benefits of taking a break from the booze through the New Year.

  • You'll have a sense of control during a time when you may feel like life is out of your control.
  • Empowering yourself with a personal challenge.
  • Physical, mental and emotional health improvement.
  • No hangovers, guilt or self-loathing.

It's hard to take an honest look at ourselves and our behaviors. We use or abuse substances for a reason; to relieve pain and discomfort. If you're willing to be honest with yourself . . .

CONTINUE READING

Discovered: The Missing Link to Finally Moving on from a Painful 2nd Divorce

I was thirteen when I went through my first divorce. Up until that point the most painful injury I’d endured was deep road rash on my knee after skidding through gritty gravel on a dead end street in my neighborhood.

Thirty-three years later, my second divorce reopened the wound from the first time I lost my family to divorce.

It’s taken 5 self-discovery years for me to realize in order to release a lingering sadness over losing my husband and his family I’d called my own for seventeen years, I needed to heal my thirteen-year-old self who felt abandoned and alone in the world.

One night after my ex started his new life without me, I washed a Xanax down with wine and realized for the first time just how devastated my mother must have felt during her divorce when I was thirteen. She was panicked and angry during their separation, often venting her vitriol about my dad to me. By the time their divorce was final, her anger hardened into a bitter callus.

I was scared to death I’d end up like her.

As I spun out of control during the soul-searing agony of my own divorce, a portal opened to my unhealed wounded thirteen-year-old self.

In my determination to become the perfect post-divorce picture, I’d done numerous burning bowl ceremonies, tapping, journaling, chakra meditations, gratitude practices, letter writing, pillow punching and anything else I could grasp in an attempt to eliminate what felt like a soul-stone blocking the flow of my true essence.

The healing I’d been searching for in therapy, self-help books and coaching, came in the shape of a cardboard mailing tube, a broken sandcastle, a river rock, white gauzy fabric and a glue gun.

On my wedding not-a-versary in May, I ventured down Highway 1 alternating between lanes of optimism and skepticism to Ojai, California for a small personal Soul Arts Retreat at the home of author and spiritual teacher, Ronda LaRue.

As a life coach, I’ve seen the guru behind the curtain at personal development events sell their great and powerful 10 step system guaranteed to heal anything that ails you. But the minute I stepped foot onto the grounds covered in crunchy drought parched leaves I knew something important was available to me if I paid attention.

The work with Ronda had similarities to the Internal Family Systems Model (IFS), an integrative approach to individual psychotherapy developed by Richard C. Schwartz, Ph.D. In IFS the mind is viewed as a composite of relatively discrete sub personalities, each with its own viewpoint and qualities.

Each time we say, well, there’s a part of me . . . , there actually is a part of us that has her own feelings and opinions.

In therapy, I’d become familiar with 3 parts of myself; Shadow, the withered, fearful woman; Breezy, the 20-something who wants to make beach glass jewelry; and Sandra, the confident wise woman with flowing white hair.

After the group’s morning discussion, Ronda showed us into her rustic art studio while advising us to tune into our hearts as we selected items to physically represent the parts of self that emerged during the introspective process she shared with us.

I was pretty sure I’d be working with Shadow, Breezy and Sandra. But a half broken sandcastle statue gripped my gut and led me to create an entirely unexpected transformative healing experience.

The broken sandcastle represented my shattered fairytale dreams of being married forever.  It was a symbol of disillusionment, now a head glued on top of the cardboard tube. A gown took shape with layers of white material and lace wrapped around the cardboard body. I then impaled her hollow heart with a stick I painted bright red.

I’d created the wounded bride. And I was prepared to burn her.

I coldly declared to our small soul-searching group, she’s dying. Ronda quietly suggested that I have a conversation with my wounded bride and consider asking her what she needed from me before I set her on fire.

The next night was pure alchemy. My wounded bride asked me to comfort her, not destroy her. By this time in my process, my thirteen-year-old hurt child revealed herself. Things were happening so quickly I didn’t have time to glue gun together a creation representing my young self. I just grabbed a large grey river rock and called her thirteen

My thirteen and forty-six-year-old divorced selves met for the first time. My heart ached for them both as they witnessed their shared pain.

As I tucked myself under the blanket of night, I wrapped my arms around the cardboard sandcastle creation as if she were a treasured doll. The rock lay in my palm absorbing my body’s warmth.

I slept more deeply than ever before.

My thirteen-year-old relived the agonizing alone-in-the-world emptiness from the last night she spent in what had been her happy childhood home. The hollow feeling from the loss of her family forced out soulful cries beyond her years. She was back in that dark empty house, collapsed on the shag carpet of the family room as the shadows of her favorite childhood trees betrayed her innocent memories. They lunged menacingly toward her, finding their way inside her vulnerability and placed a small stone in her soul. One that would grow with her over the years, at times becoming inflamed when boyfriends moved on, friendships deteriorated and parents died.

But in this version of that night, as her tears fell she became aware of a comforting presence behind her. Warmth soothed her as she sought refuge in the arms of the forty-six-year-old wounded bride who now took on the role of the wise woman healer.

They sat together through the emotional storm. The villainous shadows retreated; taking with them the stone they’d placed in my soul so many years earlier; the stone that needed permanence, consistency, ever-lasting love and forever.

Although my body and brain felt heavy when I woke in the morning, my spirit was lifted. The soul-stone appeared to have passed. I felt liberated from the years of inflammation due to loss and need.

My forty-six-year-old softened and asked to be free from the binding garments of the past. I carefully removed the stick from her heart. I twisted off her broken sandcastle head and peeled away the layers of lingering pain.

The items were released ceremoniously in a fire. All that remained was the cardboard body with a mane of flowing white material atop her head, much like I envisioned Sandra, my inner wise woman.

On the last night I slept under the sky illuminated by a full moon. The next day, I left Ojai a changed woman. 

 

Crushed by the Ex-Elephant

The weight of the elephant forced the breath from my lungs as it landed on my chest. I wasn't expecting it. The minute I unwrapped it, I was knocked down. It crushed and expelled all of the progress I'd made in not missing him, the family, the damn past. Strange how a tiny moment can seemingly undo healing and hurl us back to the freshly wounded feelings.

Ever since I was a child, I've loved elephants. I've been drawn to them for most of my life. I sat atop one of the giant grey creatures at Lion Country Safari in Florida while visiting my grandparents. The little hairs on the elephant's skin were surprisingly soft, not scratchy. Maybe I imagined sitting on top of Dumbo the Disney elephant as I viewed life from behind unfurling ears. I collected little ceramic, wooden and glass elephant figurines from places I'd traveled. Most of my elephant collection came from exploring distant lands with my husband. 

For the past 4 years, the box of elephants has been entombed. Taped shut and tucked away in dark closets. I've not really been certain of where I belong since I moved to a new city to start my new unmarried life. I have too much stuff to qualify as a gypsy, but I've moved 3 times in the last 4 years and for someone who was a nester, it's felt unsettling and exhausting at times, freeing at others.

At first, unwrapping the elephants was pleasurable. A simple journey into past travel memories. But the one that crushed me was from the trip my ex husband and I took to Germany, Italy and Switzerland. On the evening we arrived by train into Venice, I declared my soul had found its way back home as we dragged our suitcases behind us over bumpy Italian pavement to the water taxi.

At that time, my husband still seemed to love me and found my quirks endearing. He knew how much I loved glass art and how much it meant to me that we go to the aisle of Murano to visit the glass blowing museum and studio. It wasn't his first choice, but he was happy to have the adventure together.

The water taxi bobbed over the gently ebbing milky turquoise water and delivered us in front of the Murano Glass Factory. I felt like my inner 8 year-old riding high on top of the Lion Country Safari elephant. I knew I'd find the perfect glass elephant to memorialize our trip. 

Vibrant colors swirled in kaleidoscopic patterns and glowed in the afternoon sunlight casting into the otherwise drab factory. I was disappointed to discover though, most of the art pieces produced were clowns. Lot's and lot's of clowns. They filled 6 shelves and came in 3 different sizes. Not one elephant to be found.

We left the glass factory, sans elephant. It became my mission to find the perfect glass elephant elsewhere. My husband was patient with me, even seemed to enjoy my quest as we perused the little shops along the winding maze of narrow stony streets in Venice. He didn't lose his temper, he walked next to me - not 10 paces ahead of me and his eyes seemed to hold me in kindness not contempt. I still wonder when the moment was that it all changed.

When I feel that sense of longing for what was, I remind myself that I've learned nothing lasts forever. I remind myself that people change. I remind myself to release the longing. I remind myself of the person he became. I remind myself that even though the marriage ended in a dark pit of betrayal, harsh words and infidelity, at one time I felt loved by him. I remind myself to trust that was real. 

 

 

The Stages of Feeling Forgotten in Your Divorce

I feel like I’ve been forgotten not only by my ex-husband but also by the family I’d been part of for over 15 years. It’s felt like a slow, suffocating deprivation of oxygen. Sometimes I desperately want to breathe them all back into my life before they slip away forever. But I know that’s just magical thinking. I didn’t face the reality of what was going on in my marriage and since then I’ve learned to readjust my rose-colored filter.

Stage One. Panic.

I felt the first bit of panic when I handed the gold-framed Christmas family photo to my husband on the evening he offered me an unfulfilling apology for his quick exit from our marriage.

Eleven of us stood next to the Christmas tree at his parent’s house. It was the first year we wore color-coordinated outfits for the annual photo.

What are you going to tell them? I asked. Fear coursed through my body. I had a dreadful realization; I was going to be photo-shopped out of their lives forever.

Our divorce meant I wouldn’t be part of the family anymore. His family. My future died in that moment and has putrefied in my stomach for years, churning over the losses.

Read More . . . 

One Quick Tip on How To Deal With A Breakup

Sometimes we just have to ask for what we need.

When you're going through a breakup, your friends and family may not know that you're spending sleepless nights trying to distract yourself from thoughts of him or her by watching crazy animal antics videos, reruns of every 80's sitcom and even infomercials.

They don't know you've eaten one meal in 3 days and it consisted of ice cream, chocolate chips and a few stale crackers. And you washed them down with copious amounts of alcohol.

Even though we may feel like shutting ourselves off from the world, it's important to reach out and ask for the support we need. Let your girlfriend know you'd like her to keep asking you to go on that neighborhood walk. Tell your family you'd appreciate a few check in calls to see how you're doing. Ask a friend to gather a small group to get together for a movie. You'll have plenty of time to throw the blanket over your head for crying sessions but it's important to balance that with getting the social support you need to feel connected and relieve you from your thoughts for a little bit of time.

I'm happy to provide some advice if you have a specific question on how to handle a current situation. From my own experience, I've gathered a lot of practices, tools and skills on my journey to healing from heartbreak. I never wanted to become so well versed on getting through such a loss, but it feeds my soul to help someone who may be struggling like I was.

So take a deep breath and declare this is the moment you'll reach out and ask for the support you need.

 

The 6 Little Things That Blindsided Me After My Husband Left

I didn't want a divorce. It was almost the death of me. Of course there are the big losses we experience when going through a divorce but I wasn't prepared for the small things that represented the enormity of the loss of my marriage.

I share these with you to let you know you're not alone if you're standing in front of the open fridge sobbing uncontrollably as you realize he's never coming back to eat the rest of his favorite pepper jack cheese.

1) Grocery shopping

Chicken breasts became a glaring reminder we wouldn't share any more meals together. The grocery store aisles I used to enjoy exploring became an emotional minefield. I wasn't going to cook breakfast on the weekends, no more dinner parties, no more Martha Stewart-inspired Thanksgivings to plan.

I took pride in taking care of the home front. It's not popular to admit but I loved doing traditional wife stuff, even the ironing. When my role vanished it seemed like every grocery item taunted me -- you don't have your husband anymore! I didn't need to grab his favorite crackers to go with that half-wrapped cheese.

For a year I was a zombie shuffling around the store but in time the supermarket became less of a haunted house and the post-pepper jack cheese disorder resolved itself.

2) Paperwork

I was reduced to tears as I filled out the paperwork for my volunteer trip to Romania for the first Christmas I'd be without my husband in 17 years. The form asked me to name my emergency contact. I instantly felt so alone in the world like a helpless, scared and abandoned child.

Being each other's emergency contact is part of marriage; it's the security knowing your spouse will be there for you if you need them.

I felt untethered staring at those two little words.

Read more on the Huffington Post

Christmas Survival Tips For Dealing With The Insensitive, Bullying, and Downright Clueless Family and Friends We Somehow Still Love.

Are you dreading the family gathering or office party this Christmas because there always seems to be someone who gets up in your business and you're caught off guard? Read on for some tips on how to deal with those who bring Christmas chaos.

1) Use the very sophisticated technique of I'm Rubber and You're Glue. Remember that from when you were a kid? Well, the grown up version is much more refined because instead of getting in a red-faced huff and wearing your emotions on your sleeve, you are using the power of your mind, your thoughts, your internal dialogue. You’ll appear as peaceful as Buddha. Your mother, brother-in-law or ex will be puzzled as to why you’re not reacting; after all, that’s what they’re counting on, right?

When the name-calling, criticism, judgment, teasing, snide commentary or accusations start, simply take slow, deep breaths and in your mind; this is VERY important, do not actually speak your words out loud or you will endure years of teasing and quite possibly become the star of a YouTube viral video. So, in your own mind, sing that little verse in your best inner child voice.

If you’ve forgotten the lyrics, here they are:

I’m rubber, you’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.

Put on a Mona Lisa smile and repeat the verse as often and as snarkily as needed to deflect the sting from their words. Make your own voice so loud that it drowns out the sound of their voice and all you see is their mouth moving but you can’t hear a thing because you’re gleefully singing your own tune.

2) Answer their question with a question. When the nosy and inappropriate cousin, tipsy co-workers and relatives you barely recognize start asking how much money your spouse makes, when are you going to leave the deadbeat boyfriend, how much weight you’ve gained or lost, how your sex life is; let me share the powerful question my wise Aunt Frances told me about.

In response to the uncomfortable / inappropriate / downright rude questions from people, you simply ask, Why do you want to know? If their reply seems reasonable and you want to answer their question, go right ahead. If not, a firm, That’s not something I discuss, should suffice.

3) Be vulnerable. You’ve watched enough Brene Brown videos; why not give it a try? With the right person, being vulnerable can be a beautiful exchange and an opportunity to deepen your communication. Remember to use your “I” statements; I felt hurt when you said … It’s not about blaming them; it’s about opening up and communicating your feelings. Do this in private with them, not during the family photo session around the Christmas tree or you’ll look like a drama queen.

4) Run, Forest, Run! Running away with intention isn’t really considered a reactionary fight-or-flight response. Physically walking away from the offensive person can be from a personal empowerment position if done with foresight and planning. It’s disempowering to scurry away and hide as a reaction to the rude or hurtful comment, but if you plan ahead, you’re less likely to be caught off guard and left feeling powerless like a victim.

Let’s say Uncle Joe drinks too much eggnog and launches into his usual diatribe about what you need to change to keep a boyfriend.

Set yourself up for successfully dealing with him with the If ‘X’ happens, I will ‘Y’. For example, if Uncle Joe lays into me about what’s wrong with me, I will politely excuse myself, affirm I am not broken, don’t need to be fixed and I’ll text a supportive friend.

Responding is empowering, reacting takes your power away. 

 5) Bless them and wish them peace. Probably the last thing you’d think about doing when dealing with your ex who may push your buttons this time of year. Maybe they out gift you with lavish presents for the kids or they won’t take care of your co-owned dog so you can go away with your new partner.

Feeling frustrated or irritated only depletes your wellbeing; it doesn’t affect them at all. So why not try a different response that doesn’t diminish your joy. Let it go.

Feel grateful you aren’t with them anymore and wish them nothing but happiness and peace. We can’t control what others do, but we can choose how we respond.

With a plan on how you’ll deal with the fruits and nuts of Christmas, you are free to go forth and be merry.

If you’re struggling to find any joy this holiday, join me in my private Facebook group, Soul Garden Healing, for a bit of comfort.   

The Other Woman

A play adapted by Victoria Zackheim from her book The Other Woman.

Five women, dressed in black wearing accents of something purple, read each authors adapted pieces from the stage. The stories were of love, betrayal, deception, predators and eventually healing, forgiveness and moving on.

Their stories were woven together in a colorful tapestry with threads of humor and soul gripping pain. One author wrote how she never received the affectionate gaze from her husband as he generously gave his female nude models for his art photography. His interests extended beyond the lens of the camera and into sex clubs and swinging parties.

Mary Jo Eustace wrote about how she learned her husband, Dean, was leaving her for his newly discovered soul-mate, Tori Spelling, who he'd known for three weeks. Mary Jo held the baby-girl they'd just adopted months before as he told her, "I don't love you anymore."

Another story was from a woman who was betrayed not only by her husband but also by her sister-in-law who denied knowing anything about the four year relationship the husband had been in before he delivered his exit line from the marriage.

And we heard from the other woman, the lover of a brilliant poet who eventually had a child with him only to see another other woman enter the picture and break her heart.

I could relate to some part of each woman's story; either from my own experience or someone I knew. And yes, of course there are wonderful stories of lasting love and faithfulness, willingly shared by the proud couples who've put the work into their relationships to honor their commitment. But for those of us who've been through a hellish heartbreak, we may be reluctant to reveal the wounds and scars from love gone horribly wrong. Are we afraid? Do we fear judgement that we picked badly, were stupid not to see the obvious signs, must be weak to keep taking him back, or that there's something inherently wrong with us? We fear being ostracized as if a divorce is contagious or maybe the reality of infidelity is too glaring for some friends to take; they hide from us because we are the evidence that this shit's real and it can happen to anyone. We fear being exposed for what our part was in having an unhappy husband. We fear we'll start crying again at the retelling of our story and never stop. 

My known world disintegrated during the months and years after my marriage ended abruptly. I became my own confidante, writing almost daily, confessing my escapism in alcohol and sex; trying to claw my way up to feel like a worthy human being by doing volunteer work, buckling to the floor in the deepest soul pain I'd never imagined and eventually attempting to end my physical life in the hopes my death would end the emotional and spiritual pain I felt relentlessly each day and sleepless night.

And then, because I knew I couldn't possibly be the only one to go through what I went through, I shared my story. The whole, raw, blemished, ugly truth. Since I published my book, Wine, Sex and Suicide - My Near Death Divorce, I've received repeated confirmation it was the right decision. Women have confessed in hushed whispers, I did that, too, I thought I was the only one. We are never the only ones. As human beings, we all share the same range of emotions and experiences, or at least the capacity for all of them. No matter what bizarre or atrocious behavior you could conjure up, there's more than one person doing it.

Tucking away our stories in little boxes of shame doesn't serve us or humanity. By keeping our stories inside to fester, we are poisoning ourselves with shame, which will only seep out into the body and likely manifest in some physical illness. By sharing our life experiences with others in a safe and supportive environment we are helping others by being a beacon of light as a way-shower and a compassionate recipient to hold space for another soul to open up and let their story out.

Here are a few ideas on sharing your stories safely:

  • We can confide in a therapist, coach or spiritual guide.
  • Join a group in person or on-line of people who have had similar experiences. Choose to share anonymously if need be.
  • Selectively tell trusted friends, opening up the dialogue by letting them know you want to share something only if they are comfortable listening.
  • Share only the portions of your story that feel the most comfortable to do at that given time.
  • Read, listen and watch stories of a similar nature to your own.
  • Develop good listening skills and become a trusted person for someone else to share their story.
  • Work on developing self acceptance and self love.

 

You'll Never Guess What Happened on the Day My Ex Remarried

Seriously, I can hardly believe it myself.

On the day my ex husband got remarried to his young new wife, I had a guy at a bar steal and eat my dinner. I like to think of myself as a creative writer, but I could not make this up.

I know it's not very spiritual of me, but I do like to emphasize the remarrying part; I was the OW (original wife) before our divorce. I suppose that's typical First Wife bravado.

Finding out my ex was remarrying awoke some complicated feelings.

While a part of me wondered which beachfront hotel they'd chosen for their weekend wedding, another part of me spoke up and asked, "Would you really want to be married to the man he became?" Thankfully there was no hesitation in my unequivocal, "Hell, no!"

But I'd be lying if I didn't say how much I miss the family I'd known for so many years. Knowing they were all gathered nearby did have me in tears a few times. And even though I know how much he changed, I miss the good guy I married. 

Friends who'd attended my wedding sent warning texts of impending Facebook posts and to let me know they were thinking of me. I entertained the idea comparing the two weddings starring the same leading man.

I like to think I married him before his ego grew and his heart shrunk. I swear I felt like he loved me when he said, "I do," but not knowing when the betrayal started and experiencing the cold disposition he developed, I'm not really sure he loved me at all.

Did I want to torture myself to know the details of what she wore, the vows they exchanged and if the food at their reception was better?

My wedding to Mr. Ex was at a quaint event center in the years long before we'd discovered oyster's on the half shell and fine California wines. Of course, those became the wines I sucked down to numb the pain of his harsh, disapproving words about how I just didn't measure up to his expectations. 

My defense against those ex-centered thoughts was to have a nice time at a restaurant with friends.

I tried to keep my mind off those thoughts as I sat eating my Capellini Pomodoro at the restaurant bar while catching up with friends from out of town. A peripheral male acquaintance of the group sat a little too close to me and even boldly grabbed my glass of Pinot Noir to take a taste.

     Read More

Pleasure and Pain

Los Osos Oaks

They invited me into their circle of dance; the women of the oaks. They are flexible and carefree even though they are frozen in mid-movement like the people of Pompeii covered in ash from Mt. Vesuvius.

The gentle wind whispers for them to dance again, but only rigid arthritic motions produce  creaking from their stiff limbs. Arms to the sky, knees up with glee, the strong line of their curved backs and buttocks are firmly grounded. They are part mermaid mixed with forest nymph. Goddesses who delight in the dance of life, they still reach for one another.

Even in their slow 800 year decay, they are graceful. I accept their invitation to dance between the limbs and fluttering leaves among their memories of song and fluid movement. I am delighted to attend and take great pleasure with my new friends.

The sun was fading but I was still filled with warmth from the joyful choreography they shared with me as I left them in the shadows of the hillside.

In the next few days my beautiful memories were suffocated by blistering pain. Red, angry and inflamed. Lashes of poison bubbled to the surface of my skin on my legs that no longer held the memory of the beautiful dance. 

Such pain from the same source of such pleasure.

 

 

 

The people we love and who give us such joy at times can also be the ones to cut us so deeply to our core. We've been vulnerable with them, let our walls down to invite them in.

We didn't know they'd bring weapons.

As I tended to my own wounds, I reviewed the scars on the women of the oaks, carved from others. I felt the pain of the knife piercing her innocent fiber. But I also observed the scar has healed over and she is stronger and wiser.

The scar is part of her past, an invitation to share her story with another who may have a fresh wound. But she does not become defined by her wounds and her scars are visible reminders of her resilience.  

 

I reflect back on my memories of the pleasure and the pain. I realize I need them both. When I'm too lost in the perfect past, I need to recall the unpleasant realities so I don't wallow in sadness. At the same time, when the painful memories surface, I must temper them with the sweet impressions to stop myself from thinking all that time was a lie.

I suppose we can only do our best to identify poisonous elements - and even though we may recognize the pattern, we are still human. We may think we're impervious, we may not recognize when we've gone off the path, we may experience several bouts of blistering pain.

But from each of those experiences, let us gain wisdom. And let us be willing to share our story with another. Talking about a common experience is a salve for the wounded soul.

And of course, let us continue to dance with life.


Completion and the Void.

I should have known this might happen.

The emptiness. A void from deep within that I wasn't quite expecting. Exhaustion. Wondering, Well, now what?

In the past month, I've realized this void I'm feeling is from completing a major project. Publishing a meaningful book had been imprinted on my soul since I was a young girl.  I sat daydreaming in Mr. Romanello's 6th grade classroom about writing a book that would help adults. At only eleven, I knew I'd have to wait a while. To now have that desire be met with The End, feels like an ending to a very long last chapter in my life. 

I don't know why it didn't occur to me that I might experience some PPD (Post Publishing Depression). I write about the seasons as a metaphor for getting through heartbreak and how we must allow ourselves the time and space to experience the feelings when we're going through the parched barren emotional landscape in a season of drought. How we must be patient and yielding in the season of dormancy. How important it is for positive expectation and trust while we are tilling the soil to plant new seeds of life.

And yet I did not allow myself the time and space to transition between seasons. I was going to plow through the completion of the book straight into the practicalities of marketing, structuring my year-long plan to get the word out about my book while building my coaching practice, writing articles and starting on the next big project.

No wonder I'm exhausted! It's not natural to push ourselves to the brink of fatigue and yet so often we do this to ourselves. We think ourselves into believing we have to keep moving forward at a fast pace to get to the next 'thing.' Whether it's the next relationship because we don't want to sit with the uncomfortable feelings of sadness from one coming to an end, or the next project because we feel a sense of scarcity or fear there won't be another client or opportunity if we don't jump at the immediate option available.

But that's not natural. Nature shows us everyday there must be a balance of all cycles of energy; a time to reap and a time to sow. There is an ebb and flow to the tide, a waxing and waning of the moon, the blossoming and decay of the flowers, the foraging and hibernation of the creatures. 

Even the joyful life events like a wedding, the birth of a baby, a product launch, a marathon training, are endings to the time it took to plan, cultivate and grow the idea. While we are happy to have the outcome, we also must honor any feelings we have of the slight emptiness we may feel when that endeavor has come to completion. 

How can we give ourselves permission to take a break? How can we honor the cycles of the natural Yin and Yang nature of our lives?

Awareness and allowing.

Awareness is the key to everything. I was aware of my feelings but uncertain as to why I was feeling them. But I kept allowing myself to be aware with curiosity. I acknowledged how my body felt fatigued, how my energy felt low, how my thoughts slipped into insecurity and doubt. 

It was uncomfortable. But I stayed with it, letting it course through me like we sometimes have to do with a stomach bug - there's no denying it's there and doesn't feel good. We have to let it resolve itself and exit the body in its own time.

I allowed my feelings to be what they were. I allowed myself to retreat and to reach out, to go to bed early and sleep a little later, to talk about my feelings and be patient with myself.

I journaled. I cried. I cleaned (a little). I walked. I talked. I slept. I read. I avoided social media to a degree. I listened to uplifting podcasts. 

I feel better. I'm still going to allow myself the time it takes to have closure on the long journey of writing my book, and the emotional whirlwind that was both in the content and the completion.

I will rest. I will renew. Will you?

 

Remembering to take a break.

The walk I almost didn't take.

Busy. Life is busy and hectic. It seems there is always something to be done as I'm now focused on marketing my book and developing my coaching practice. My lists have lists. I'm not the most organized person, and so on occasion I declare, "Today I'll get everything put on the calendar and filed away." Of course, this is in great contrast to several years ago when I felt I had nothing to live for when my marriage ended abruptly. So, to be busy these days with my own endeavors is quite a feat in itself. I've come a long way, baby.

But I've been realizing just how invasive and isolating being 'busy' can be.

As I scurry along the author/coach path of building my business, I realize how I've let fear be the driving force of too many of my days and nights. There. Confession. This has been such a challenge because knowing the mechanism of fear, that it's "false evidence appearing real" and on the low side of the emotional energetic scale - there's a part of me that can observe very clearly when I'm in 'fear' and some of my tools like present moment awareness, deep breathing, tapping and mindfulness weren't taking the edge off the blade of fear, slicing through the peace I'd arrived at many months ago.

While my head was buried in the computer, a friend texted me a picture of the bay with a warm orange glow reflecting on the water and dancing with the speckled clouds. "Is that now?" I texted back, jumping up from my "couch-desk" workplace to look out of my window in disbelief that this beautiful image he sent was indeed happening, live, in that very moment. I stopped what I was doing, changed out of the pajama bottoms and put on proper sweatpants, didn't bother with a bra under the fleece, wrapped a scarf around my neck and quickly hurried down the sandy path, wanting to get there. To arrive at the destination of beauty and peace. C'mon! Hurry up!

Get where quickly? Running through my mind, "Be here, now." Ram Dass. Present moment awareness. Okay, right. Slow down, take a breath. Mmmmmmm, what a delightful fragrance.

A slower step. An observation of a soft whitish-pink flowered bush with a happy-to-pollinate bee nestling into the delicate cluster. A slower breath. I glanced up toward the sky and took an even deeper breath. My shoulders relaxed. Birds chirped as they bounced from branch to branch on the sturdy scrub brush plants dotting the sandy landscape.

As I got closer to the edge of the bay, the aroma of earth brought me back to Martha's Vineyard when I was nine-years-old. My mom and I rode bicycles with large blue and white striped plastic baskets tied to the handlebars as we peddled along the sandy streets near the quaint cabin my parents rented for two weeks in summer. We'd fill the basket with shells and flowers we found on our quiet discovery quest.

Martha's Vineyard blended with the pungent horse manure which brought me to the sleep-away camp tucked into the woods in Massachusetts where I spent the summer before my parents announced their decision to divorce.

My thoughts came back to the moment as I gazed upward, observing the sky and water changing ever so slightly with each passing moment. It's funny how we may only be aware of small moments in times of sunrise and sunset when colors shift right before our eyes. But each day is filled with those same moments - and it truly is all we have.

A bee buzzed happily to my left. Fish splashed to the surface of the water where thousands of insects played lightly on top of the waters placid surface.

I wasn't busy anymore. Oh, sweet relief from the thoughts that had been sprinting through my mind only to start the relay over again. My lesson was to "be here now." My lesson was to practice what I know about trusting, about allowing life to unfold, about believing and receiving. My lesson was to create a plan for balance in my life. 

And look what I would have missed had I not stopped to take a break. More importantly was the feeling of calm and peace I received from being under the wispy sky, the still warm air and the glow of the days end setting into evening's shade.