Tuesday, January 16, 2018

ALTAR OF SHAME




Imagine an ornate, highly textured door.
Perhaps it has a frame of gold painted, elaborately carved wood.
There are prayers on the door, inscriptions from petitioners,
flowers and offerings laid at the feet of the door.
Incense is burning, small bells are ringing in the breeze.
Unique and complicated locks bar the way.
The door is only opened on specific holidays or significant moments.
Only the initiated can enter.
Special foods and clothing are required.
Cleansing is very important-both before and after entry.
Nothing from the world can be brought into this room 
and nothing from the past can come out of this room.
The contents need to be protected at all costs.
Whatever is inside is priceless, precious, possibly terrifying.


The uninitiated would open the door and find...
very little.
A St. Christopher's medal with a bent coupling.
A few empty bottles or wrappers.
A stuffed bear with his eyes chewed out.
A busted TV at the bottom of some stairs.
A hotel bed with rumpled sheets.
Inside seems very ordinary to those not in the know.
Nothing has been moved or changed within this room in a long time.
And nothing is likely to move-ever.
These things are apart.
Separate and frozen.


This is the mental metaphor I use around shame.



This is a very elaborate restroom behind a very simple door

According to Brene Brown, shame is defined as:


The experiences that generate shame are unique to each person.
Our context, culture and habits shape our values...
and the experiences we choose to hide.
Something that would cause me to feel shame would 
cause another person to feel joy.  

Most people realize that when an event or choice occurs,
 that isn't in alignment with our values, 
we want to hide it, cover it up, or avoid it.
We think that if we can forget it, put it behind us, move on-
then it will dissipate.
The less in alignment the event is with our self image,
the stronger the instinct becomes to shove it somewhere else.
Out of sight, out of mind.
As though it never happened.



Our instinct to hide the feeling or experience,
can actually work to turn a bad experience 
into a shameful experience. 
Forcing that experience into the dark
allows it to prosper, grow and become powerful.
I think that shame persists because when we hide it, 
or fail to share it, then we make the event precious.
It is special, priceless, and NO ONE ELSE CAN HAVE IT!

I can feel the beginnings of an argument here.
The immediate gut reaction says 
SHAME CANNOT BE PRECIOUS.
Shame is awful.
Shame is poisonous, evil, disgusting.
All of those protestations are true...
but let's just keep going here.
When we have something that we believe 
is priceless or precious
what is our behavior?
Do we share it with the world?
Or do we lock it down with high tech security sensors?
Do we leave it abandoned on a park bench?
Or do we install early warning sensors? 
We tend to lock things away that 
we think are precious.
Gold, diamonds, rare art.
Priceless.
Meaning...there is no price that would 
cause us to let go of that item.

We put it in a special place, 
build walls and cement the door, 
place shame inside and then do 
WHATEVER IT TAKES to 
protect that shame.
We build altars, create rituals, tell half-truth stories-
all to keep the essence of the event to ourselves.

How do I know that I'm ashamed of something?
Because I would give anything to keep it from coming to light.
Because I would bend myself into any shape to keep it safe and hidden.
Because it is mine, all mine, forever mine.
Because I have anxiety or anger when I think of giving it up.
Because I have rearranged my entire life to keep from sharing it.

The cure (the ease, not the fix)
 is found in the integration of the myths and stories
with the reality of life.
Tell someone.
Tell several someones.
Open the door and smash the locks.
When there is something that cannot be known
because if it is known, you will be defined differently...
then that thing has already become your definition.


Battery park in Charleston









Tuesday, January 09, 2018

NEGATIVE FEEDBACK LOOPS-A RECIPE

On the mat...Stretch into the new year...


Negative feedback sounds like:


I needed you and you weren't there.
You are not kind or smart or your best self right now.
You are ignoring a truth in favor of a comforting lie.
You are failing to empathize or see the bigger picture.
You could have said that differently.
You had a choice-and you chose poorly.
You don't belong there.
I don't like you.
You suck.
You hurt me.
You left me.

It's inevitable that I hear things about myself that I don't want to hear.
And in spite of all the positions I will put myself into
in order to avoid negative feedback-
there is no realistic way to avoid it forever.
So I'm touching on a strategy to make feedback 
as normal and healthy as I understand it can be.

Target just gets me.

Recipe for Negative Feedback

I. Filter 

Not everyone gets a say in how I move through this life.
That is the beauty of boundaries.
It is inevitable that I will not make everyone happy.
I am not pizza.
I only take feedback from the people who've earned the right to give it.
I cannot worry about the faceless THEY.
Read Brene's work about the critic in the arena
 if you need to understand this better
but I'm only interested in the voice of those in the arena.
Haters gonna hate...they can keep hating.
People who are not a part of my life
or who haven't shown up
don't get to provide feedback.

II.  Suspend Action

Every time I've regretted something, 
it's because I didn't pause first.
My emotions can lead me by the nose into 
something less kind or less whole.
For just a little bit, I put the feelings on a shelf.  
It's important to note that this is temporary.
A few minutes or an hour.
This is a means to an end-
not a final resting place.

III.  Clarify

During that little bit of time where action is officially suspended
I make sure I understand the feedback.  
I try to be curious and ask clarifying questions.
Try to sense if I'm jumping to conclusions, 
getting triggered by past trauma,
or erroneously filling in blanks that weren't actually said.
Clarity is surprisingly hard to get but invaluable.
I take the time to make sure I have it right.

IV. Feel All the Feelings

Now is the time to let it out.
Sit with the feedback.  
Get alone and get centered.
The negative feelings but also the positive ones.
Process through the feedback.
I always assume there is truth in what the other person said
(which is the value in only taking feedback from people that matter)
I try to see it.
It often hurts
or introduces me to a less
flattering reflection of myself.

V.Act

I AM THE THINGS I DO 
(no matter my intentions, feelings, damage, childhood trauma, etc).
If I smack back, can't hold onto my own emotions, or trade in spite
then I am an abuser at worst or a weakling at best.
I am just passing on the pain so someone else can deal with it.
It is very important to the person that I am
that my actions reflect my intention.
I have options when I allow the process to happen.
I may change my behavior.
I may apologize.
I may decide to try and enter into a more protracted dialogue.
The point is...I am choosing to act.
Not reacting in the moment.

One of my many attempts to reclaim Christmas


Here's a real life example with some backstory:

Every year my extended family does a gift exchange.
During our Thanksgiving get together, 
the adults scribble their names onto little slips of paper 
along with 3 possible gift ideas.
We put them into a basket and then draw one-by-one.

Full disclosure:
There are lots of social norms that I find confusing or that just don't make sense to me.  
I  spent a lot of years not having a voice or a say in what happened to me.  
Years being unsure of where I belonged and experiencing trauma 
that most of my extended family either doesn't talk about or doesn't know about.  
I try my best to be kind and my intention is to be compassionate-
but I can be inadvertently, unintentionally, selfish or self-centered
-particularly when I'm in a situation that has caused me pain in the past.  
Christmas is one of these situations. 

In addition, I am a challenging gift receiver.
I tend to long for seemingly simple items that are unique and special-
and then struggle to communicate what I mean.  
If I say I want socks, what I really mean is I want a specific pair of socks
 I saw while on vacation at that adorable little shop that 
does not have an online presence.  
I understand that this is my problem...I've been working on it. 

In general, the things that I want around me are things that remind me 
of people or experiences-touchstones.  
I don't tend to want things that you can buy in stores 
(and I'm lucky enough to be able to buy them for myself if I do).
My favorite presents are mixed CD's, 
homemade items, time with someone, a shared meal.
The things that keep me up at night are the 
people who have nothing (and need it but don't have anyone to ask).
How much I have and how many have not.


For a few years, I muddled through trying to think of something 
that was useful, beautiful, easy to find and easy to write down 
in 20 minutes while trying to wrangle my kids into eating a 
meal that consisted of more than 6 kinds of pie.

About three years ago, I settled on what I thought was the perfect wish list.
I asked for a donation to a charity of the giver's choice 
and that they would just tell me about what they decided to do.
Perfect.
They get to help someone who needs it 
and I get to hear about something that jazzes them up.
The first year was a success...
my dad drew my name and created the most adorable handout
telling me what he did to help someone else.  
It was really awesome and is something I will cherish forever.
I thought I had cracked the code-
this is how I could reclaim some Christmas spirit!
So the next year I did the same thing.
And the next (and my husband started doing it too).

Until this year....when the family member who drew my name BRAVELY 
reached out to me to say that there might be something I needed to hear.
She did her best to speak in love and to speak directly to me.
She let me know that my request could imply that my family 
wasn't open-hearted or charitable on their own.
That by asking for a donation instead of a gift, 
I was robbing my family of the opportunity to give me 
something that was personally special.
Basically, that I missing some of the point.
At least from her perspective.

Semi-ironic pep talk visual from my table runner


This was not particularly easy for me to receive.
Again...I am a bad gift receiver.
As I sat and stared at the screen..... 
my first reaction was indignation, hurt and anger.
All the shame emotions washed over me.
It always sucks to be misunderstood-
or to at least think that you're misunderstood.
I had a nice cry and sat with all my emotions.
It cleared the air enough for me to respond.
We had a good discussion and came to more of an understanding.
There was some truth in there that I appreciated hearing.
She's not all the way right
but she wasn't all the way wrong either.
Ultimately, she decided to give me
a lovely homemade afghan for Christmas
and to tell the family about her work with rescuing dogs in 2017.
I cherish the blanket and can really feel the love 
when it is wrapped around me on cold nights.

Her feedback allowed me to uncover some areas in my heart.
I have taken her thoughts into consideration 
but I haven't decided what I'll do next year.
I may still may continue to ask for a donation.
Having her feedback may change my word choice or I may give more options.
I may change to something new altogether.
I may ask for a lunch date with my family member-
time together that is NOT around a holiday that has too much baggage.
I will not be asking for a hard good or something easily bought in a store.

My point is..I am better for the feedback 
and it's a gift I'm glad I was able to receive.

These are so cute..and so gross to eat.













Tuesday, January 02, 2018

NEW YEAR, NEW YOU?



We're on day two of a new year.
Did you make a New Year's resolution?
If my social media feeds are anything to go by, 
resolutions seem to have become obsolete.
The trend now is to reflect on last year and 
set intentions for the coming year.
I'm glad there's a mind shift that is turning us away 
from the old school New Year's resolutions 
that always seemed to focus on becoming a brand new person.
A person who is thinner, richer, taller, sexier, kinder, 
more flexible, less stressed, more enlightened, more lovable....
all the superlatives associated with success.
They seemed to imply (sometimes outright) 
that the person that exists right now
is wholly insufficient.
Game over-start again.

As most people who created those old school resolutions can attest, 
it's not that easy to just become someone else overnight.  
My own journey of personal growth often requires me to take stock 
of where I am, where I want to head, 
and of course...where I've been.
Grrr....the past is the pits.

Sometimes the reminders of the past are simply embarrassments 
or areas where I lacked the perspective or 
the experience to make different choices.
Those reminders are easier to take responsibility for and grow through.

But the past is also filled with landmines-
 terrible events, trauma and grief-laden losses.
Things that were done to me
or things that I did that caused harm-
sometimes irreparably-
to someone else.
Those are harder to move through
because they are often filled with emotion
and require a different skill set than I learned growing up.
I have a history of boxing those moments up, 
shoving them in a dark corner of my soul 
and hoping that they never get the light of day again. 
(In case you're wondering, that's a good 
survival strategy but a poor life strategy.)

Finally bought my own copy of salt. by nayyirah waheed

My experiences are with me,
whether I want them or not.
I don't get amnesia to start over at ground zero-
no matter what the plot lines of 80's TV shows led me to expect.
My past is part of me and I'll always need to make peace with it.
All of it.
Even the bits that are dripping with shame and anxiety.
Even the bits that mean I'm not all pretty, perfect, kind or brave.
No amount of ignoring it or hiding it away 
will result in a healthy, complete life.

Vestiges of toddler life.....aren't these charming? I was clearly telegraphing a message...

My relationship with my past reminds me 
of a 'fun' parenting experience.
Have you ever had to carry a screaming, 
kicking toddler out of a public venue?
You know...the pre-nap, over-tired and over-sugared 
monster throw down?
I have done it many times...with my children
siblings, nieces and nephews.
It's a normal development stage and a right of passage.

The struggle of trying to 
balance 40 pounds of ego and emotion
while taking myself quickly towards an 
exit is the stuff of physical comedy. 
I'm sure I look like I am juggling an angry monkey 
as the toddler writhes and kicks up and down my body
while I catch him (or her) in their twists and turns
to keep them from violently slamming into the floor or wall.
Up and down, screaming and catterwalling 
incoherent jabberings-
a vision of a being possessed.
The whole time....I am trying to show the world 
a face of serene authority-
Isn't this cute?  He's a darling-just tired.
I don't know what got into her!  Too much excitement!
No matter how easy I try to make it look, 
hauling that insane kid to safety is
physically exhausting and emotionally draining.
It became 'new normal' for a while when my kids were little
 but it is never easy.

My relationship with my past experiences can 
be just like the kicking, screaming toddler.
Trauma that I don't want to accept can take all my energy
while I lug it around pretending that everything is great.
I can get triggered in the most unlikely places
and wind up trying to keep it together until I get somewhere safe.
My outside face will (usually) manage me through those
situations because I've learned to put on masks but...
as long as I keep trotting through life
without integrating it...without growing it up....
I will be that exhausted adult.

In 2015, I began a looong journey of making peace
and learning to coexist with my past.
I started hashing out some of it here in this forum.
So far it feels a lot like mothering toddlers felt-
only this time I'm mothering myself.
I have learned to give the past a sense of safety and security.
No one can hurt me in that way anymore-
I will continue to prove that to myself.
I've also given my past rest and understanding.....
I can sit a good long time with the past and 
hold space that allows my 
feelings to exist and exhaust themselves.
I've learned the beauty of boundaries-.
my trauma doesn't get to run the show anymore.

The Universe is magical.... ringside view for a mini-concert view at NYE Avett Show.

This year started with a big bang with my favorite band 
and included my favorite people.
My plans for 2018 include some exciting 
opportunities for growth and expansion.
I fueled myself with love and intention from the start-
and I intend to keep going that direction.
I also plan to keep leaning into this life-
looking for the places where I'm 
ignoring what is really going on (aka-a toddler tantrum)
and spend as much time as necessary 
to allow healing in that area. 

Each experience-no matter how hard-
has opened up my heart in a way that is ultimately beautiful
and prepares me for what is next.
I have subjects I want to explore more fully 
in writing and in art,
 and causes that are close to my heart 
that I will be supporting in a fully present way.
And finally....I don't have to know all the answers anymore.
The full path is not mine to know before the next step....
what is next for me will always show up exactly when it is meant to show up.
As my pastor said this weekend...
If God calls you to something, the deck is always stacked.
I just need to keep the line open so I can hear the call.

I don't need to be a new person
or have amnesia about what has happened in my life.
I am embracing the one that I have-
loving myself home.

Chard and pansies-twin beauties of winter.


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

MAPLE CREMES


Maple Cremes are a homemade candy that I make every December.
They are balls of flavored confectioner's sugar and butter, 
dipped into chocolate and topped with a pecan.
I actually have no idea why they are a tradition.
Maybe it's the pecan on top that cemented this as a tradition?
More Ag nerd facts:  80% of the world pecan market are grown in the southern United States 
North Carolina is in the top 10 states that produce pecans but the volume is much lower than GA, TX and NM. 
Nevertheless...pecans have persisted in NC and often grow
in yards, churches or parking lots.
My grandmother, her sisters and friends 
essentially farmed multiple pecan trees in yards and around town.
In the fall, they would coordinate the status of these trees-
tracking when the pecans were ripe,
painstakingly picking up the fallen pecans
and then hand shelling them over a course of weeks.
There were often stacks of ziploc bags 
filled with pecans laying around our house.
They would be given as gifts,
sold at the church bazaar, 
or used to make treats.


Quick aside...how do you say PECAN?
Almost no one I know says this word with exactly the same inflection or tone.
I enjoy all the ways that people say this word.
All of them give me a giggle.

Are you a peh-KAHN or a PEE-can 
or do you say something different?

I say PEE-KAHN.  
Both syllables have force and emphasis in my personal dialect.

Anywho....back to the point.
Maple Cremes are one of the things that I associate with Christmas.
I'm not quite sure where the original recipe came from
or if they're truly a southern tradition.
My Aunt Opal made them and everyone was crazy over them.
When I became adultish...I started making during the holiday season.
It was a way that I grounded myself as a college student 
who was ending an old life and starting a new one. 
There's a rhythm to making them that is simple and direct
but has just enough fiddlely bits that puts you into a zone.
Most people love them.

True Confession:
I actually don't like to eat them.
They hurt me...too sweet.
I'm not a sugar-lover
in spite of the name of this blog.
I do like to make them though.



Ingredients
32oz (2lbs.) of 10X powerdered sugar
2 sticks of butter, melted
2 TBSP maple flavor
2TBSP Water
1 box unsweetened baking chocolate
1 block paraffin wax
Pecan halves to garnish


Creation Steps
In a double boiler, 
heat chocolate and paraffin wax over medium heat 
until liquid.  
Do not burn, do not rush.
Stir occasionally.

Low tech double boiler=metal mixing bowl in a pan of boiling water.

In a large bowl, mix sugar, butter, flavoring and water.


Lay out a big sheet of parchment paper or wax paper.
With your hands, 
create 1" balls out of the sugar mix 
and lay out like soldiers on the wax paper.



We do this as an assembly line.  
Couple of people (usually kids) rolling the sugar into balls.
Couple of people (usually adults)
dipping the sugar balls into chocolate and topping with a nut.


You have to dip the ball into the chocolate
without dropping it into the chocolate.
Let it drip a little, then place onto the wax paper.
As you're pulling the toothpick or stick out of the dipped ball
use the pecan to hold the item onto the wax paper.
Allow to cool.

Words of Warning
There are a couple of potential snafus.  
1.  Sometimes the sugar mix is too dry.  If it won't stick together and hold a shape, then add a little bit of water (1 TBSP at a time) until it shapes up.
2.  If the chocolate gets too hot, it will be watery.  You can just take it off the heat for a couple of minutes to let it cool.
3.  If the chocolate gets too cool, it will get clumpy and weigh the balls down.  put it back on the double boiler water.
4.  If you drop a ball into the chocolate, just scoop it out with a spoon and give it to one of your co-chefs to eat.  DO NOT attempt to re-spear it with the toothpick or you run the risk of contaminating the chocolate with the sugar.
5.  If you don't like pecans, use a different nut.  My kids don't like pecans so this year we used salted almonds for some of them.  

These make great gifts.
Box up about 6-8 and give to people.
I do NOT recommend giving more than that....
they are seriously sweet.

Merry Christmas!