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Weeding The Garden Of Your Mind

 

One morning a week, I take a brisk walk to a public patch of mini roses growing wild on the roadside. The heady aroma and tiny bundle I bring home makes this a favorite ritual. Over the last months, however, this gift to myself has become something else.

At the stop sign just beyond the rosebushes, a line of cars wait to cross. I avert my gaze to avoid the hot plunge of regret that comes when I spot the decals on each bumper. The trick hardly works—I know they are there. This street leads to the lovely little school where my son was kicked out a few months back. I blame myself for letting it happen.

Making fresh anguish from old news does me no good, especially now. Covid finally caught up with my husband and he feels like hot garbage. I am standing at the door of an alarming diagnosis. Our house is in lockdown with dishes and laundry piling up. All just for me.

 

It wasn’t so many years ago that I’d wake up to a feeling of dread every day. Then, I’d match the feeling with a thought about what I had done wrong or what bad thing someone had done to me. Next, I tried to go back and fix it in my head. Shockingly, it never worked. After a huge shift in mindset, I don’t do this to myself anymore. It has changed everything.

I now have tools to weed out painful thoughts when they spring up. If you spend time ruminating over the past or obsessing about the future, I’ll share what helped me this week.

Waking up in the morning, I get in front of the uneasy realization that I have some STUFF going on right now. I intentionally take over the self-talk before it begins. Instead of allowing my mind to default to worry, I play a positive mantra over and over. My simple favorite is, I’m okay I’m okay I’m okay I’m okay.

That may sound looney, but trust that I am training my brain to spend more time on the right side, i.e., the peaceful, creative side, not the fight or flight left side. I won’t ruin the present moment with angsty thoughts about the past or future. These days, meditation, exercise and a gratitude practice ensure a positive start to the day. If worry pops in, deep breathing and a mindfulness exercise put me back in my body. It works.

 

Last night during dinner prep, I pondered why I blamed myself for my son’s predicament. As I chopped and mixed, Oprah and Michael Singer’s May 11, 2022, podcast interview played in the background. They discussed his new book, Living Untethered. He says the only time we are bothered by what other people do is when it triggers old pain we haven’t let go of inside ourselves.

That rang true with my son. When the school so easily tossed him out, I felt deeply wounded. Like maybe more than the situation warranted. It brought back the rejection I had experienced at his age. Instinctively, I blamed myself. Kids naturally make themselves wrong as a survival skill. Blaming the adults was far too dangerous territory. Now that I am an adult, I realize that attempting to controlling my environment or other people is impossible–even making the attempt brings me misery.

Singer teaches the only way to get past this is to make a regular practice of letting go. By doing so, we find our way back to our true self—the part of us who is always calm, despite the storms.

“Letting things go” didn’t make sense to me for a long time. It sounded like somehow agreeing that what had happened to me was nothing so I should just forget about it. That seemed absurd.

Now I understand that holding onto a painful past ruins the present. Right at this moment, I feel like the scary unknown of my health is allowing me to release old pain I never felt safe enough to process. At times, I am suddenly gripped by sadness. Instead of pushing it away, I let myself cry. I have Pearl Jam and carpool to thank for stirring that ancient pot of emotion. I will let it go, one teary-eyed post-drop off at a time.

Singer had a few gold nuggets that I will take with me on this unfamiliar road. When thoughts that fight with reality come in, I will consciously correct them. This shouldn’t be happening to me. I am so healthy, WTF. Who should it happen to then? Illness happens. We trust our caregivers and we get through it.

 

As for my son, I didn’t have it in me to spare him the consequences of his actions. An older, bigger boy hit him and ran off. My son found him and hit him back. Only one kid was punished. It wasn’t fair. But just like the mother hen who won’t help her baby chick poke his way out of the shell because it may kill him, I resisted the urge to fix it. Giving him the false belief that when life treats him unfairly, his mother will solve the problem won’t serve him now or ever. If he belonged at that school, he’d still be there.

The next time I take my rose walk, I will run a positive mantra in my head and not leave any space for regret to take root. It will be something like this: I am meant to live in peace. Everything is exactly as it should be. My son is on the path that is meant for him. And I am too.

When you intentionally fill your mind with peaceful thoughts, you will cultivate a beautiful life.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPTS: What helps you keep cool during stressful times? How does spirituality play a role if at all?

Do my weekly stories come to your inbox? If not, you are invited to sign up. Click on elizabethheise.com and subscribe today. And if you like, come find me on the socials: @elizabethheise.writer on Instagram and @heiseelizabeth1 on Twitter. Happy reading!

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It’s Okay Even When It’s Not

 

Accepting my husband’s offer to come with me to the doctor made me feel weak. But I knew it was better to have another set of ears at a time like this. Emotionally it seemed doable on my own, though. I had navigated far worse alone.

Mark and I entered the elevator behind a woman with sparse white hair seated in a wheelchair. The older man pushing her leaned down.

“You okay, Mom?” She nodded.

Without warning, my throat caught. We arrived at our floor and the doors parted. It was as if this same pair had multiplied—older women in ill health being steered around by others—all on their way with an air of reverence and resignation.

We followed the signs to our waiting area. Beneath enormous round light fixtures riddled with tiny spheres, we found seats. For the interior design of a breast cancer clinic, the metaphor was almost funny.

Being in this place made the stakes clear. People showed up here because they didn’t want to die. And I was one of them. Tears spilled over and soaked into my mask.

Mark asked what I was thinking about.

“Nothing. I’m just feeling what it’s like to be here.” After half a lifetime of running from hard emotions, I finally let them in.

The jarring effect of all this shouldn’t have surprised me. The time lapse from routine check-up to Miami Cancer Institute had happened in fast forward.

I’d been putting off the mammogram. The need for all natural everything ruled it out. My midwife suggested having one as a baseline along with thermography.* Every year, the thermogram report landed in my inbox: “low risk,” the latest one two months ago.

 

For me, the roots of alternative choices run deep. In my home growing up, goldenseal and honey fixed a sore throat. Babies were born at home. Halva was the only candy bar we kids bothered to ask for at the store. And by “store” I mean co-op. These choices connected me to my home, to my mother, to an uncomplicated time before anything bad happened to my family. Natural options gave me back that sense of safety.

When I switched out of my midwife’s busy practice, my new doctor recommended a mammogram. At my next annual visit, she asked about it again. When I admitted I hadn’t gone yet, she left the exam room and asked her staff to schedule the exam for me.

I am not quick to put my faith in doctors. When I looked for someone for my college-bound daughter, Dr. Karmin came highly recommended from patients and friends alike. Jane loved her. It just made sense to see her myself.

When I asked who knit the soft, colorful booties on her stirrups, she said, “I did. I want my patients to be comfortable.” Anyone who cared that much deserved to be trusted.

I went for the mammogram.

Stepping out of the shower a few days ago, the screamy caps of DIAGNOSTIC CENTER FOR WOMEN flashed across my phone. I snatched it from the dressing table and played the voicemail. The soft-spoken radiologist asked me to return the call on his cel. My body stiffened.

I stepped out into my backyard buck naked and tapped in the number. A three centimeter mass with “spiculations” had caused concern. He ordered a biopsy.

The procedure was scheduled immediately. They pulled a good size sample. Negative results were found to be “discordant” with the features on the images. The radiology staff conferred and recommended re-biopsy or excision of the entire mass.

And now here we were, waiting to see the Chief of Breast Surgery, a former colleague of Dr. Karmin’s. I was glad Mark had come. Waiting alone would have been hard.

Dr. Mendez introduced herself and asked about my health, my family, my work. She wanted to hear what I understood of the situation. Then she walked me through it herself. She needed more information. A benign pathology report and the jagged borders of the mass didn’t match up. An MRI with contrast would show whether there is blood flow to the area, which she referred to as “vascularity.”

“It sounds mysterious. Obviously, I would prefer not to be an interesting case,” I said.

“But we are all different. It is our differences that make us beautiful,” she said.

A surgeon who views her job that way is exactly the right person to be doing it.

“No matter how it turns out, going through this changes you. On the other side, you are not the same.”

We left the office with complete confidence in her.

She was right about what this does to a person. In the short time I have been in this liminal space, I feel it. From the second I received that first phone call, my life snapped into sharper focus. In these brief couple of weeks, I have realized some things:

  1. I can be okay with not being okay. If I allow myself to be human, I will have the capacity for extending that grace to others. People may unwittingly say hurtful things. The more I accept myself, the more capacity I will have to see their good intentions.
  2. I don’t have to tough it out on my own. As my friend Erica reminded me, I have people now. I can accept a kind offer of support. I can ask my husband to come with me. If you are reading this, you probably care too, so thank you.
  3. My dear friends who have gone through this with courage and humor are wonderful guides and I am so lucky to have them. I don’t have to open myself up to the opinions of the whole wide world.
  4. I can ask for what I need. It isn’t pity. It isn’t hearing I’m sorry. Or how hard or scary it must be. I am managing my “what ifs”. Whatever this is, I know it is meant to happen exactly this way. As my smart friend Lisa says, “breast cancer is a highly treatable disease.” I have a team of brilliant women in my corner. The one who will make the calls carries the name of my own brilliant daughter Jane. Tell me that’s not magic.
  5. We are all beautiful. This process will simply show me more of who I really am.

Thank you in advance for sending me good thoughts. I know I am going to be just fine.

When you stay curious and calm, allowing yourself to be fully human, you get the sense that it’s all going to be okay. Even when it’s not.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT:

Have you had an experience that made you present to your life unlike any other? What was it like? What did you learn? Have you hung on to the lessons?

* In case you aren’t sure what thermography is, here’s how I learned about it. Not that I endorse them, obviously: https://www.drnorthrup.com/best-breast-cancer-screening-tests/

 

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Unsolicited Advice Feels Like Criticism

 

Unsolicited advice feels like criticism. 

Man, that one hits. In my personal life, I have most assuredly been guilty of this. I have given it and received it and it sucks on both accounts. My hope is that my writing does not come across as criticism of you, dear reader.

If it has, I offer you my sincerest apology. My intention is not to tell you how to make choices in your own life but rather to share my own conundrum and chosen path through it. In the event you run into a similar problem, my mission is to provide useful tools to find a way out. Not the only way, or the best way, just a way. I am a wayfinder, simple as that.

 

When I ask the questions at the end (the writing prompt), that is meant as an opportunity to discover an insight of your own. There is one expert on your one wild and precious life and that is you. Asking yourself questions, not taking a poll of other people, is the only way to your truth.

If you are a regular reader, you might be wondering why this “Friday Story” is rolling in on Saturday afternoon. Well. At 8:46 on Friday morning, I received a phone call that changed the whole story. I must have had a sense it wasn’t over. This piece usually goes out first thing. For some reason, I couldn’t wrap it up. Then the caller quite literally told me it was not over.

I admit to feeling some level of relief that I didn’t have to share that story yet. Why? Because the decisions I made are definitely not the norm. In my social circle, my past choices around this are unlike anyone I know with the exception of maybe one or two others. I was concerned about being judged.

 

When this has happened in past stories, I sometimes receive feedback about how I should have done better and how I could make different choices in the future. To these folks, I have taken the time to explain my thinking and provided further facts. I have defended myself. While I totally appreciate readers sharing their thoughts, my aim is to serve as a jumping off point for your own insights, not to invite you to convince me to live my life differently or to regret the past. If it had been the right thing for me to do at the time, that’s exactly what I would have done. As Byron Katie says, defense is the first act of war. I don’t wish to be at war with anyone, not even with myself.

The lawyer in me does love to be right, however, so I have engaged in a back and forth with readers whenever the opportunity has presented. Here is what I ask myself and you: what would be possible if you didn’t have to be right? What if you could openly listen to someone else’s perspective and just let it be their perspective? It doesn’t mean you have to take it on, nor does it mean they have to accept your version. It just means you are able to hold space for someone else to be who they are.

That may be all we ever really want in this life. For someone to be silent long enough to hear us out, resisting the urge to offer suggestions. To actually listen and understand what we are experiencing. To get it right. To ask questions to make sure we are understood. To be curious. To be the compassionate witness for what is happening inside us. And, when we are totally done sharing what we have to share—you will know because you’ll have asked if there is anything else—to assure us we are okay and loved just as we are. We resist the urge to say this is just like someone else I know and this is what they did. We didn’t ask for that. When we want advice, we ask. Unsolicited advice feels like criticism. 

So that is my message today, dear reader. You do not have to defend yourself. If people disagree with you, that is their right. You do not have to fight with them. (If you are a lawyer you kind of do, but not in your personal life, Mark Heise, and all you attorneys out there. Love you!)

The Friday Story I allude to will likely come out in the next week or two. When it does, you’ll know it. It’s a hard story to tell and it’s been difficult to live. I’m still living it. When it is over and all my lessons are learned, I will happily share them with you.

Until then, I wish you peace in making the hard decisions in your life and good people to support you through them. I am lucky to have those people.

Know that ultimately, enlightenment feels exactly like freedom.

When you make choices that are right for you in the moment and you do better when you know better, you get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT: Do you hesitate to share your decisions for fear of being judged? Who are the safe people in your life to share what is true for you?

Do my weekly stories come to your inbox? If not, you are invited to sign up and feel free to share with friends who might be into it too. Click on elizabethheise.com and subscribe today. And if you like, come find me on the socials: @elizabethheise.writer on Instagram and @heiseelizabeth1 on Twitter. Thank you for reading!

 

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You Are Not Alone

You are not alone.

I don’t know who else needs to hear this, but I sure do.

The recent holidays had me throwing my customary pity party. I reserve such occasions to ruminate on my fractured family of origin and how my kids don’t get to enjoy relatives coming together for celebrations. With divorced parents, the onus is on us siblings. It hasn’t gone well. By scrolling through friends’ elaborate Seder tables and Easter egg hunts, I can wallow. I realize these aren’t actual problems, but at this time of year, I can’t be stopped.

Making my own family traditions has been complicated by an atheist partner who doesn’t share my desire for festive, spiritual practices. He has other fine qualities but he has no interest in this. It’s impacted our kids’ beliefs as well. My father had a similar attitude about the holidays even though he was the experienced Jew, my mother the convert. When my Jewish stepmother took over, I don’t recall celebrating anything.

Feeling alone becomes more acute for me during holidays, but to be honest, it’s been my “emotional home” for as long as I can remember. As a kid, there was no place for my outspoken, true self—only a tight slot for the pleaser, the fixer, the one who didn’t require attention. I avoided the hard feelings that resulted. Instead, I saved it to my holiday file and have rationed out a little bit of sadness every few months since then.

While I don’t talk about any of this with my own family, I’m certain they have picked up on it. Energy is matter. My daughter has voiced this same painful thought. I wish our family would come for big events. Kids are perceptive. I would like to free this space for something new.

If you have an old pattern you’d like to change, let’s try it together, shall we?

1.  THE FOUR AREAS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE

To know what we can control and what we can’t, it helps to understand this basic cause and effect. Our circumstances shape our thoughts, our thoughts create our feelings, our feelings cause our behavior.

Most of the time, we have very little control over our circumstances. We waste time wishing things could be different instead of accepting what it is. I did this with my parents for ages. The circumstances in my family of origin—marital discord, divorce, abandonment, estrangement—were beyond my control. Still are. My siblings have other priorities in addition to triggers from our past. We each live entirely separate lives. Maybe not always but for now, this is it.

From these circumstances emerged the thought I am alone. Hence the sad feels. When I am upset, I tend to close myself off from other people, which makes the alone part a real thing. The truth is, I am married to a great guy with three beautiful kids, have special friends, wonderful work colleagues and you, dear reader. But the thought caused the feeling that created the behavior. My thoughts did that. Powerful stuff.

We often confuse feelings and thoughts when we say for example, I feel like you don’t understand me. That is not a feeling, it’s a thought. A feeling state originates in the body and must run its course. When we don’t allow ourselves to feel, the pain is simply deferred and prolonged. I didn’t allow myself to feel much as a kid. That sadness didn’t go anywhere.

2. FEEL THE FEELS UNTIL THEY ARE ALL OUT

There is no moving on from anything until we let emotions out. The old ones from decades ago totally count. I never processed the pain from the original blow. Back then, I didn’t feel safe enough.

Now that I realize there’s no way around it, I make it my business to find ways to release the feelings. Whatever helps you access stored up feelings, by all means, do that. Music can reach that hiding place inside of me. Especially if there’s a story behind the song. Those televised talent shows like “America’s Got Talent” and “Got Talent Global” often have their performers share how they overcame great odds to pursue their art. Usually there is a proud relative there with them—that always makes me extra weepy, sitting there wishing I had a parent show up for me like that. I can almost cry the whole way through the song. My body always wants to stop before its all out though so I still have to work on this.

Another great way to release old emotions is in the latest episode of Martha Beck’s podcast The Gathering Pod, Episode 81. She does a visualization of welcoming back past selves who felt they didn’t have a place to belong. Each of those parts are asked to rejoin our compassionate witness self which is our one true home. I’ve done it several times. It helps release all the avoided feelings from former versions of you that were too afraid to let their guard down.

3. QUESTION THE PAINFUL THOUGHTS

This thought of mine—I am all alone—is so ingrained in me, it’s hard to even think of myself without it. But I am reminded that our thoughts are not who we are. Our true self is the awarenessbehind the thought. Choosing to identify with this thought—I am all alone—has been my way of taking childhood pain and converting it into lifelong suffering.

So. This thought about being all alone may have been true at times, but it isn’t anymore. And I now realize I am the one who knows what my life truly means. It can be about the wounds or it can be about the insights, my choice. As Hemingway wrote in A Farewell to Arms, “The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” I can focus on where I am stronger.

These are my gifts:

No matter what the set back, I never give up.

The limitations of other people to show up for me do not dictate how I treat them or myself.

No matter where I am, I am home.

I have a spidey sense of what is a safe situation for me and what is not.

The feeling of not belonging helps me see other people who exist in the margins and be a voice for them.

Suffering made me a stronger, more compassionate person.

I have transformed my own pain into a way to help others heal.

I have the courage to speak the truth even if it’s uncomfortable.

I can be relied upon.

I have an abiding faith in a beautiful future.

The truth is, we are all connected. At any time, we can reach out to the good people around us.

Turning the holidays into an opportunity to focus on what I don’t have isn’t what I want my life to be. From now on, every holiday will be about gratitude because I literally have EVERYTHING.

OKAY. I feel so much better now. Turns out, we don’t have to believe our painful thoughts. They are designed for suffering and we don’t have to go along with it.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT: is there a painful thought you can get rid of once and for all? 

Do my weekly stories come to your inbox? If not, you are invited to sign up and feel free to share. Click on elizabethheise.com and subscribe today. And if you like, come find me on the socials: @elizabethheise.writer on Instagram and @heiseelizabeth1 on Twitter. Thank you for joining me.

 

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A Way Out Of Worry

 

It would seem that no matter what your lot, you have reason to worry right now. Trying times.

My mom friends and I often read each other’s tea leaves for signs of trouble with our kids. Over the years it’s become reflexive. We’ll get on the phone and before we check in about how the other is doing, we’ll volley back and forth with reports of each child. Books and articles will be recommended to manage each stage with the requisite care.

Recently, a dear friend texted a piece about the dangers of Covid boosters for children, urging me to read. My body refused. I texted her back: no recreational worrying. 

But who am I kidding. I totally do it. And I have taught my kids to worry too. I recall when my firstborn was a high school freshman. We had a meeting with her college counselor who brought up my daughter’s first “B.” She’d already fretted over it plenty.

“Just so you know. Your friends are not getting B’s.”

We had hired her to guide our daughter and provide some straight talk about the process. We didn’t anticipate her ramping up the anxiety about Jane’s future. I should have pushed back but instead, I said nothing. The idea of alienating her and not having professional advice was a much bigger worry back then.

Now that my sons are entering territory not previously covered by my perfectionist daughter—and it’s a lot of territory— fresh opportunities for handwringing abound. I have even caught myself storing it up and taking it out on other people. It’s time to do some work.

As luck would have it, Martha Beck focused on this very topic on her podcast The Gathering Pod, Episode #77. Because many of us worry for sport, I’ll share the takeaways and add my own two cents.

 

Why do we worry so much? 

Due to our negativity bias, we pay far more attention to what’s troubling. It’s how we survived back in caveman days. But that instinct can run amok. If you are holding onto all the negativity and then imagining all sorts of new ways that things could go wrong, it’s damaging.

What’s wrong with worrying when there’s so much to worry about? 

Because worry isn’t real. It’s the product of a little bit of observation and a whole lot of imagination plus the negativity bias. Worry doesn’t actually help anybody with anything. It doesn’t really even help people with situations that are really going on. It just increases anxiety.

If we don’t worry, how will we know what to do if the bad thing happens?

People who are in actual danger are not in a state of worry, they are in action. Fear based on a real threat doesn’t create a feeling, it calms us all the way down so we can mobilize. Think about the last time something truly awful happened. Were you calm or in a full freak out?

If you are afraid of something and there is no action, that’s just worry. It wears you down, disturbs your sleep, and destroys your health. We can worry ourselves sick. If you have a health issue that has resolved but you are still worried about it, that anxiety will sustain neuroplastic pain. You are literally telling your brain to hang onto pain that has already healed.

When you want to take action, worry will prevent good decision making. When your mind is in a worry state, it gets stuck in fight or flight. If you attempt any creative problem solving, it won’t work.

You have to first soothe yourself like you would a frightened child. Breathe, slow it down, snuggle up. Make tea. Whatever soothes you, do that. Move from left brain to right brain where your centered, creative perspective lies.

If worry is where our mind goes automatically, how do we stop?

First, observe. Watch your mind imagine an infinite number of things that could go wrong. Notice when you pose “what if” questions to yourself that become a parade of horribles. Tune in to how badly it makes you feel.

This is the most important step. Realize that the good things are no more unlikely to happen than the bad things.

Lastly, take the painful thoughts and turn them around, Byron Katie style.* Take the terrible list of “what ifs” and turn it into an awesome list.

What if, instead of feeling alone, I have all the support I need?

What if I already know exactly what to do next?

What if everything turns out even better than the best case scenario? 

Thinking through all the possible happy outcomes makes you feel infinitely better. Use your imagination for GOOD. That’s what it’s there for.

What is a quick strategy to take us out of worry?

Reduce your breathing rate. Slow down. Repeat: I am okay, I am okay, I am okay or whatever calming mantra you prefer. Remember, this is your one precious life. Don’t ruin it by filling your mind with worry.

___

I studied the above list and slept on it. The next morning, I set out for my run. I felt a heaviness in my body—worry about my youngest. He seems to be in a huge hurry to grow up, trying all the things his siblings did when they were much older. It’s been completely freaking me out.

I ticked down a new and improved list of “what ifs.” What if he is on the exact right path? What if he is doing exactly what he needs to do to figure out how to be in the world? What if I am totally equipped to handle it? What if it turns out better than I could ever have expected?

Much better. And the action I have to take? From this calm place, I am present and curious about what he is going through. My instincts are sharper here. MUCH BETTER.

If you move beyond worry and into the calm, creative part of your mind, you get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT: What causes you the most worry? How do you stop the cycle? What has helped?

Do my weekly stories come to your inbox? If not, you are invited to sign up and feel free to share. Click on elizabethheise.com and subscribe today. And if you like, come find me on the socials: @elizabethheise.writer on Instagram and @heiseelizabeth1 on Twitter. Thank you for joining me.

*I credit Byron Katie with completely shifting how I look at the world. I wrote about how to do The Work a few months ago: https://elizabethheise.com/come-home-to-yourself/. You can also go straight to her website at thework.com . It will transform your life for the better, guaranteed.

 

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The Art Of Losing It

 

‘The slap heard round the world’ got our attention.* And not just because we are celebrity obsessed. On some level, we can relate. In real time, we watched Will Smith’s inner struggle between the survivor who got him through a violent past and the evolved, untroubled person he aspires to be.

Everyone has triggers that show up in ways we come to regret. But if we learn to unify all parts of ourselves, the light and the dark, we can be whole and peaceful.

I too have been on a path to fully integrate. And it’s been messy. My biggest regret is losing my sh!t as a parent. This tendency has diminished over time, but I have plenty of work left to do. I grew up managing the chaos in my home by controlling as much as I could. Good grades, social climbing, and a crisp layer of hair spray gave me some agency over my life, even if it was just on the surface.

 

What happens when someone like me has children? She tries to control them too. No child on earth enjoys that kind of nitpicky perfectionism, but some can manage well enough under the regime. My two eldest are ‘A’ students, spelling bee champs, Model UN, student government, you get the picture. My third is. Not. Having. It.

He brings the chaos I have guarded against ever since the first parental tirade back in the Seventies. He’s a free-spirited skateboarder with lots of unconventional ideas on how to do life. Sometimes it involves a project with black spray paint perilously close to my white SUV. Or sneaking out the window to meet his friends in the middle of the night. But the days that trigger me most are when he opts out of a regular school day. He pretends to stay asleep, ignores offers of breakfast, and throws the covers over his head.

 

It happened again this week. I started off calm and understanding, popping by his bedroom for gentle reminders that we only have X more minutes. It’s Monday, I get it.  

As the clock ticked closer to the bell ringing at school and my boy remained horizontal, my mood fell off a cliff.

I marched in and announced that I would no longer tolerate this behavior. My morning appointments would not be cancelled again. His choices would not shape how others perceive me. If he wants to be unreliable, that was on him.

Still nothing.

Then, with the volume turned all the way up, I threatened to end all joy—no sleepovers, no phone, no going out with friends.

Still, he remained motionless. I left the room to collect myself.

An hour had passed. My Zoom started in two minutes. For one last attempt, I entered his room, took a deep breath and sat down, eye to eye.

“What do you need right now?” I asked.

“Sleep,” he said. He’d had an all-nighter with the boys on Saturday night. From the mess in the kitchen, it was clear he’d gotten up the night before as well. The last time this happened, I lectured and cajoled for hours. He refused to move. It was time to try a peaceful solution.

“What if I let you have one more hour?” I asked.

“Ok.”

After the extra sleep, he went to school.

Fortunately, I had a practice coaching session to get some clarity around my reaction instead of allowing the guilt to cloud over everything. I hope these insights help you the next time a trigger swoops in.

  1. Notice when it isn’t about you. Instead of asking what was going on with him, I focused only on myself. No kid wants to hear how their troubles are messing up their mom’s routine. Middle school sucks. It will pass. A mental health day (or morning) isn’t a crime against humanity. He doesn’t see the value in showing up bleary-eyed, just to fill out endless worksheets at school. Who can blame him.
  1. Know when to step away. When you realize it isn’t your issue yet you feel yourself getting upset, a moment to reflect and return to your higher functioning brain is needed. Asking yourself, what are you making this mean will help identify painful thoughts. I made his actions mean that he doesn’t respect me. It took a while to find out he was too tired to function.
  1. Turn the accusatory thought around on yourself.** My narrative has been that he brings the chaos. Actually, he was trying to sleep. There is nothing less chaotic. The one losing her mind was me. The one opting out of the reality of the situation was me.

  1. Forgive that part of yourself. When it comes to parenting, the character Lennie in Of Mice and Men comes to mind—remember the guy who kills the little mouse by petting it too hard? After an episode like this, I spend a day or two in a stew of regret, worrying about the damage I caused our relationship and wishing that reactive side of me could stand down. You know what though? That fierce little fighter stayed vigilant to protect me when I needed it. I am grateful for her. But she can relax now, the calm adult me is ready to take the wheel. I can learn to love better.
  1. Imagine yourself at the end of the interaction with both of you going away happy. See it working out exactly how you want it and enjoy that feeling state. Really treasure the good outcome.***
  1. “Children are a revolution,” as Abby Wambach says. Through parenting this boy, I am witnessing what it’s like to live on your own terms. He isn’t desperately searching for anyone’s approval. He is resisting the cultural conditioning to conform, to obey the rules, to sit down and shut up. Is it frustrating? YES. But in my heart of hearts, I couldn’t be prouder.

When we give ourselves a break and stay present, we have the best chance of integrating our wounded self with our healthy self. The more we accept that we are doing the best we can, the happier, more peaceful we can be.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT: What happens when your dark side takes over? How can you make peace with that part of you and integrate it into your higher self?

*In case you missed it, during the live telecast of the 2022 Academy Awards, Chris Rock made an insensitive joke about Jada Pinkett Smith. Immediately afterwards, her husband, actor Will Smith, walked across the stage and slapped him.

**The Work by Byron Katie has truly saved me. Check out thework.com.

*** One scientific study had three groups attempt improvement on shooting free throws in basketball. The control group did nothing, one group visualized getting better and the third group practiced for an hour a day. The two groups who practiced and visualized improved at nearly identical rates. It’s too bad no group both visualized and practiced. They probably would have done the best.

 Do my weekly stories come to your inbox? If not, you are invited to sign up. Click on elizabethheise.com and subscribe today. And if you like, come find me on the socials: @elizabethheise.writer on Instagram and @heiseelizabeth1 on Twitter. Happy reading!

 

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Stories

Redefining Success On Your Terms

A dear friend who graduated just ahead of me in law school officially becomes a judge today. A judicial investiture is a tremendous honor and a clear marker of success in the legal profession. It will be a beautiful celebration of all that it took for her to get here.

To experience this moment, however vicariously, has caused me to reflect on what success means to me, personally. I hadn’t consciously defined it before, but I now recognize the desire for it as the undercurrent of tension beneath all my efforts. That not good enough feeling that seemed never to go away no matter what the achievement. It has taken half a lifetime to recognize what our culture has taught me to want and to redefine it for myself.

 

I decided to take a stab at writing the list to which I have tried to measure up all this time. It turned out to be a great exercise, so I will share it with you. Until I did it, I hadn’t understood why I felt so inadequate despite all the boxes I have dutifully checked in my life. This list is not unlike Whack-a-Mole where no matter how hard you try, there is no way to really win.

 

So. Here’s my list. As a woman in this culture, I have felt responsible to manage and maintain the following:*

  1. a fit body and ever-youthful face
  2. a lucrative career with significant responsibility and a high salary
  3. a perfect marriage to a man who focuses solely on his career due to his wife shouldering all home and family responsibility**
  4. polite, happy, accomplished children
  5. flawless parenting choices based on expert opinions
  6. wholesome, homemade meals everyone in the family loves
  7. all the kids transportation, homework supervision, and the expertise to handle any issue
  8. a tasteful, tidy home
  9. constant communication with all the children’s handlers: doctors, teachers, coaches, therapists, friends and their parents
  10. to exude and express contentment, like these expectations are completely fine with me

 

Gross, right? I didn’t grow up in a Stepfordy home, so there’s only one explanation as to where this conditioning came from: EVERYWHERE. The culture all around us convinced me that I had to live up to this craziness. And when I didn’t, I got the sense I was supposed to either make excuses for the failures or fake perfection.

I often share the real stuff both in my writing and in my life, but I always feel out of line doing it. Ever notice how most of us aren’t at all honest about what is really going on? Even with supposedly close friends? Because we are off the list and we feel bad about it.

I am here to tell you, it’s okay to go rogue. You are human. There is not one other person on this planet like you, and that is a GOOD thing. All the cultural messages say we are supposed to be exactly the same. It’s not true. You are meant to be just as you are. And here’s the best part: being yourself is the only way to achieve real happiness. 

After all this time, I realize I am responsible to create the life I want based on my true nature, not what society says I am supposed to want. So I made my own list. It is in no way a perfectionist fantasyland that could never have brought me contentment anyway. I am so much closer to accepting myself than I ever have been.

This is my answer to the above top ten:

  1. Moving my body in nature is one of my true joys in life. Throw in a great conversation and I have the trifecta of awesomeness. I know the parts I feel bad about is just someone trying to sell me stuff. 
  2. I have found work that feeds my soul and could not be more excited about it. My best earning years lie ahead.
  3. My marriage is ever-evolving. We are both committed to growth and connection and that is everything.
  4. My kids are on their own chosen paths and I am here to support them in being who they are. When I am the space for them to feel their own feelings, it all works better.
  5. As parents, we do the best we can with what we know at the time. The more I accept myself, the more open and loving I am to everyone, including my kids.
  6. Mark and I split meal prep and shopping and also do takeout. It feels much better than serving the family like the old days. I like what we are modeling for our kids.
  7. I love carpool! It makes me feel like I have a circle of co-parents which is a comfort. I am terrible at homework supervision. We have an amazing tutor named Judy who is a modern day saint/Mary Poppins. If anyone needs a miracle worker, she is IT. (Call me.)
  8. My home is lovely. And often quite messy. Spring cleaning would be a really good idea.
  9. I communicate with all the kids “people” and Mark has really made efforts to show up in this space too. It sends a message to the kids that we are both interested and available.
  10. I do try to practice gratitude for all I have while reserving the right to complain LOUDLY when I want things to be different, and that is just who I am.

Someone way smarter than I once said, “give up defining yourself—to yourself or to others. You won’t die. You will come to life.” We are fluid, ever-changing growing beings. We don’t need to fit in a box or check a box. No boxes.

When you realize only YOU get to say who you are, you get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT: How do you define success? Or do you even bother? How are you at self-acceptance?

Do my weekly stories come to your inbox? If not, you are invited to sign up. Click on elizabethheise.com and subscribe today. And if you like, come find me on the socials: @elizabethheise.writer on Instagram and @heiseelizabeth1 on Twitter. Happy reading!

*I speak to the cultural expectations for straight, white women because that is my personal experience. In our culture, BIPOC and non-binary folks have great difficulty even being recognized, let alone feeling safe individuating too far off the mainstream. Those in my position have a responsibility to join with them and hold the door open for all of us.

**Apologies to my LGBTQIA+ readers for this heteronormative perspective. I suspect same sex relationships have a similar set of expectations where power skews to the higher earning partner. My guess is that if both are equal earners, you have the opportunity to be real partners because there is division of labor along gender lines. Please fill me in!

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Stories

How To Ruin & Repair A Family Vacation

 

Peaceful living with family members of different ages, lifestyles and sleep habits is a challenge on a good day. When you take your show on the road, you are presented with myriad opportunities to ruin your time together. Just as often, however, you have the chance to repair it. Often, such moments happen before you even leave the house.

RUIN: On FaceTime with your college daughter, you dig her clothes out of the closet, scolding her choices. You listen to your spouse having a similar exchange with your son. You hear your son say, “Shut up, you are so judgy.”

REPAIR: Follow your son’s advice. Know your kids are forming their own identity and don’t need to worry about what you or anyone else thinks of what they wear.

RUIN: With your 3:30 a.m. wake up in mind, you foolishly allow your most feral teen to meet his friends at a party. He promises to be home by 9:00 pm. Once out the door, he turns off location services on his phone preventing you from hunting him down before his arrival, an hour and 20 minutes late. He blames Uber.

REPAIR: Do not kill the vacation vibe before it even starts by yelling at him. Be happy he’s home safe. Understand he is desperate to control anything in his life even if it’s just having the choice to buy junkie airplane snacks. Daydream about when he listened to you, said please and thank you, and even ate a banana before sampling a single piece of Halloween candy.

 

 

RUIN: Your spouse scolds your teens for being glued to their phones, failing to promptly respond to the boarding call on your full flight. They roll their eyes for the first of what may be countless times on this trip, then go back to insta-scrolling and TikTok respectively.

 

REPAIR: Savor the memory of your weekly library runs when your kids read anywhere and everywhere. Know that those years are stored up in their teenage bodies and will someday form a stack of wonderful books on their nightstands.

RUIN: On the first morning of vacation, your spouse attempts to cattle prod everyone out the door and onto the slopes. You protest on your tired teenagers’ behalf, attempting to slow the operation, adding to the stress of mobilizing five people.

REPAIR: Recognize your possibly wrong assumption that your spouse is being dismissive of the family’s needs. Check in with him. Acknowledge that he also feels dismissed. Realize your tendency to deny your own needs in effort to spare your kids the slightest discomfort. This creates resentment. Resolve to do things differently. Suggest that whomever is up and ready can leave and everyone else can meet up later. Recognize that there is nothing wrong with meeting your own needs as a parent. Modeling self-care for your kids will prevent them from continuing this co-dependent craziness with their own families.

RUIN: On the first run of the first day of your ski vacation, your two sons race down the mountain, smash into each other and land in a pile of limbs, poles and skis. At the well-equipped mini ER at the base of the mountain, a kind doctor delivers the bad news: a buckle fracture just above the wrist. No more skiing.

 

REPAIR: Resist the urge to join your son’s grief. Agree that it sucks and sit with him while he feels awful. Do not fill the silence with BS platitudes like suggesting he look on the bright side. Find the gratitude that he is able to experience such disappointment and practice resilience with you for support. When he asks to cash in his lift tickets and ski rentals and figure out something cool to do with the money, smile. Look for ways to spend time together and do not pressure him to do anything. Except for visit the elk because they are awesome.

 

RUIN: You observe your daughter’s tired, faraway expression and wish she could just relax and stop ruminating on all she has going on at college. You worry about her and feel responsible.

REPAIR: Stop making stuff up in your head and ask her. She tells you she is exhausted from final exams and needs some time to relax. Suggest an early exit from the lift lines, and head to apres ski with a live band. Grab some beverages and listen to what life has been like for her. Laugh, bond and enjoy each other’s company.

RUIN: By mid-trip on an active vacation, everyone is grumpy, sore and tired. The morning starts off with mild bickering and escalates to venting in the gondola. You learn, once again, that holding in the feelings you had about your kids mistreating each other in the preceding days is never a good idea.

REPAIR: Apologize. Hit the terrain park and do ski jumps together. Crash land and feel grateful you broke nothing. Laugh and feel better. Be reminded once again that nature and movement can reset the vibe instantaneously. Even the crankiest.

RUIN: On your last day on the slopes, wobbly legs motivate you to find the good snow on actual blue runs.* You tell everyone the plan. Your youngest son heads in the opposite direction, leading you down a hideously steep slope of slushy bumps during which you envision plummeting to your death. Your spouse offers helpful tips on your form while you are simply trying not to die. You curse him out and order him to move on and leave you to your fate. When you reach the bottom, you loudly reiterate your displeasure. Your son laughs and says with a smirk, “get better.” The others frown and wish you would just be happy you are alive.

 

REPAIR: You apologize and apologize some more. You may not stop apologizing until you see the bright green front door of your home a few thousand miles away.

All in all, you end the trip on a happy note. When you do your best to repair what breaks in your family, you get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT:  How do you reset the vibe when things go wrong? How does it work out? Do you feel responsible for everyone’s good time?

Do my weekly stories come to your inbox? If not, you are invited to sign up & send to a friend! Click on elizabethheise.com and subscribe today. You can also find me on the socials: @elizabethheise.writer on the gram and @heiseelizabeth1 on Twitter. Happy reading!

*Next year you will suggest Park City or Steamboat where the blue runs are ACTUALLY blue, not double blacks disguised as blue runs. Some know-it-all local informs you that the runs are rated relative to the mountain. The sweeping views high up in the Grand Tetons, however, are glorious.

 

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Stories

Navigating Transition

My teenagers are cycling through that mandatory life stage when chaos pays frequent visits. And similar to when butterflies struggle their way out of the chrysalis, no one—not even their mom—can do it for them. If the newly winged creatures don’t do the work on their own, they won’t survive.

But transitions can be rough. And the more we resist, the worse it feels.

 

I am going through a transition too, albeit a happy one. A new Instagram friend reached out and asked how I’d arrived at my message. “Tell your story. Be set free.” I thought,  hmm it’s evolved into so much more than that. After writing all these stories about personal growth and training with Martha Beck, I have a tidy set of ‘heal your life’ tools that I intend to offer. Soon. I mean, I toss a few out here and there, but the whole enchilada is still baking.

It’s during this half-baked phase that we can make it harder on ourselves. And in case you think this doesn’t apply to you, I have news. Every seven years, all atoms in our bodies are different. Often, changes don’t feel so subtle. The world was supposed to be coming out of a pandemic and partying like its 1999 right now. Instead, we are receiving reports of impending doom. Some turning points can be downright terrifying.

The question is, how to ease into the next iteration of yourself in the most peaceful way possible. I have some tips.

 

  1. Get grounded in nature.

When we are going through a change, all parts of us have to be on board; body, heart, mind and soul. When you place yourself beneath the vast blue sky, listen to the rustling leaves, and feel the soft breeze on your skin, a certain peace comes over you. No matter what level of swirly transformation is happening inside, nature provides the space to align and grow. I try to do this daily.

 

  1. Feel your feelings.

Nobody likes change but a wet baby. I mentioned the three teens. One of them is dealing with something that, on occasion, has caused me to cancel all the new cool stuff I have going on so I can support him. It happened again on Monday. Instead of processing my feelings about my derailed day, I self-soothed with food—a habit I had substantially kicked. I buried the sadness and frustration under black and white cookies from Trader Joe’s. After the sugar crash, I recognized that I am doing the best I can. Then I had a great coaching session with Hope Cook. The tears flowed and I feel better. Thanks Hope.

  1. Acknowledge the shift.

Sometimes we are changing and growing but don’t want to acknowledge it because then we’ll have to do something about it. And that can be scary. This morning I went for a long run with my husband and we talked over a case of his. He’s still in business litigation—a profession I left years ago. But each time we discuss a legal matter, the lawyer me is right there. I am also a mom, a writer, and a life coach in training. It’s given me a nuanced perspective. That has value. A few minutes ago, I changed my instagram bio to include all that and stopped worrying that people would think I am a flake. I am every version of myself that I have ever been and it’s actually cool.

3. No sudden moves.

If you have a lot happening inside already, there’s no need to change your external circumstances unless it’s some kind of emergency. Decisions made from stress limit perspective anyway. Spinning worst case scenarios doesn’t help. When you are feeling relaxed and creative, your decisions include the entire landscape. It’s natural to feel mildly freaked out at such a time. Allow yourself to evolve and unfold. Go easy.

4. Care for your body.

When we get in our heads about all that’s going on, we sometimes ignore physical symptoms. The body gives us SO MANY clues. For me, I’ve noticed more fatigue than usual during workouts. I finally reached out to a functional medicine doctor. I also switched up our family’s morning routine which had become stressful. I’m doing my best to listen.

If the change you are experiencing is an especially difficult one like an illness, you have even more reason to max out on the creature comforts. Call in favors and hibernate like a bear if you need to. During my mystery illness a few years back, I wished I had asked the illness what it came to teach me. May sound bananas but if you ask these kind of questions, you get answers. In retrospect, the reason it happened is clear. I gave away a ton of my time to “should’s” and almost no time to “want to’s.” It made me sick.

And if your nears and dears have commenced to hand-wringing in your presence, take a break from them. Phone off. Set healing boundaries.

5. Take notes.

Give your subconscious mind a place to unload and clear space for new growth. I love the “morning pages” style of journaling from author Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: three free-flowing, long-hand, written pages of literally whatever comes out of your pen. No judgment, no planning, no cross-outs, first thing in the morning. You’ll feel better!

7. Get a cheerleader.

In this messy stage, you don’t need any naysayers. It is time for support and laughter.  My Aunt Louise watched funny movies day and night during her cancer treatments at the hospital. She literally laughed off the cancer.

That’s all I got. Remember, life goes a lot smoother when you surrender to the flow.

 

And now for the exciting part of this story. On the theme of transitions and keeping it light, I have a special guest coming to my Instagram Live show, Tell Me All About It, this Friday, 3/18/22 at Noon EST. It’s been a minute, so I’ll remind you that this series began when I got curious about people who follow their inner longings to serve others in a way that taps into their unique gifts.

Lucie Frost is an employment lawyer turned humor & satire writer and an excellent authority on managing big life changes. Lucie’s Instagram series “How The Hell Did I Not Know That” offers grammar lessons, thoughtful theories on why things are the way they are, sage advice and more. She’s an absolute DELIGHT. You can sign up for her newsletter at https://luciefrost.com and follow her on all the socials @luciehfrost.

Here’s what’s happening:

WHO: Lucie H. Frost, Humor & Satire Writer @luciehfrost

WHAT: IG LIVE series Tell Me All About It

WHERE: Instagram LIVE on @elizabethheise.writer

WHEN: TODAY! FRIDAY, March 18, 2022, NOON EST

Don’t miss it!

When you give yourself the space and time to grow, you get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT: What changes are happening in and around your life? What is making it easier or harder?

Do my weekly stories come to your inbox? If not, you are invited to sign up!! Click on elizabethheise.com and subscribe today. And if ya want, come find me on the socials: @elizabethheise.writer on the gram and @heiseelizabeth1 on Twitter. Happy reading!

 

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Stories

How To Hold Untroubled Space

 

 

One afternoon when I was a kid, I arrived home from school incensed. My mother set down her paperback as I paced the floor, ticking down the list friends who had wronged me. When I finally looked up, her weary expression said, what is wrong with you, Elizabeth.

At the time, I didn’t realize what had eluded me in that moment, but I know now. I’d longed for a judgment-free zone, the space to say what I had to say. Someone to really listen and care. To process my hard feelings out loud and for it to be okay.

In the years since, my listening style has reflected all the usual problems. I’ve nodded and waited for the other person to stop talking so I could tell my own story. I’ve offered opinions, doled out unsolicited advice, and annoying pity. I’ve supplied all the stuff people didn’t need and none of what they did. I didn’t know how to listen. Not really.

Until I practiced it myself, I’d heard the term holding space from new agey folks who couldn’t listen if you taped their mouth shut. That introduction had me thinking it wasn’t a real thing. Now I know better. All it means is that when a person comes to you with something to share, that you are present, open, and allow them to fully express their feelings without butting in. To be there for them instead of filling the conversation with your own baggage. Doing it isn’t as easy as it sounds.

On Monday, I finally understood what it means to “hold untroubled space.” After practice sessions using Martha Beck’s coaching techniques with a few moms, I began to notice some patterns. Many of us show up in particular ways with family and friends which profoundly affects our communication style. I reflected on the takeaways which are the following:

1. Check your energy and intention.

This is the key factor to real listening. As a mother, I have felt responsible to fix my kids’ problems and clear away their hard feelings. If my daughter came to me with an issue, I would bring up all the missteps I perceived that got her to that point. I thought I was being thorough and helpful—teaching her cause and effect. She hated that. I get it now. Had I let go of the thought that I held the responsibility to fix her problem, then set the intention just to be with her, whole different result.

2. Show up feeling whole and cared for already.

The trick to the untroubled bit is to take care of yourself FIRST. Meeting your own needs looks different for everyone. Your inner voice knows. Mine says I need nature, solitude, and time to write without interruption. Maybe yours says you need to have more fun. Or that you have some work to do with a good therapist. Who knows. That’s between you and you.*

 

 

If you take responsibility for yourself first, you won’t need to spend time dumping your own unprocessed garbage on someone else. You will be available and present. I know this because I finally did it with my daughter so there’s hope for everyone.

3. Know that you aren’t responsible to fix anyone else.

All we need is a compassionate witness to listen, maybe ask some open-ended questions if they feel stumped, so that they can do the work themselves. The liberating truth is that no one has a clue about what someone else should do with their lives. That’s why AA is so successful. Nobody in that circle is allowed to respond—they are just there to listen. That is how people heal. They feel SEEN. Then the answers come.

It can be hard to trust that we already know the answers because we’ve spent a lifetime conditioned by our culture to consult experts, take a poll, seek the solution anywhere else but inside ourselves. We assume that if only I had  _____, all would be well. What we really need is to return to our innate wisdom.

When someone comes to you to share something, they just want you to be there with them. That’s what I wanted as a kid. I wanted to feel cared for and listened to, that’s it. I was smart enough to know how to solve my problems. If people want advice they’ll ask. Instead of assuming you know better, maybe help them out with some powerful questions that tap into their own truth instead of yours.** And PS. This is an ironic bit of advice from a serial unsolicited advice giver such as myself. We humans are hilarious, aren’t we?

And that’s what I learned to do on Monday. To finally listen. To be the untroubled space. And it felt amazing.

When you realize you already knew what you needed all along, you get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT: Do you know how to hold untroubled space for someone else? Does listening come easily to you?

*A quick hack to finding out what you need is to pay attention to your physical body. If you have a part that hurts, ask it what it needs. If that sounds ridiculous, don’t knock it til you try it. My husband’s red left eye told him he needs to stop blowing off his afternoon meditation and get to bed on time. What do you have to lose? Maybe just the pain in your neck

 

**You may be wondering, powerful questions? Like what? You just told me not to ask the experts! This is just questions so no pressure. 🙂