the printed thoughts of a woman on a journey towards awareness, truth, acceptance, clarity, and forgiveness...with some fun and fearlessness thrown in

Thursday, May 21, 2015

raise your hand if you have ever been personally victimized by Regina George

"Calling somebody else fat won't make you any skinnier. Calling someone stupid doesn't make you any smarter. And ruining Regina George's life definitely didn't make me any happier. All you can do in life is try to solve the problem in front of you." ~Cady Heron, "Mean Girls"

I knew that going back to college as a 40-something wouldn't be easy, but I didn't expect it to hurt. For the past year, I have been experiencing the practical aspect of my training. I completed a part-time practicum in the fall and a full-time internship in the spring. I learned so much about counseling and about myself. And, I also learned that Mean Girls isn't just a movie. I ran head-on into my own Regina George this year. She was sometimes subtle and nuanced and sometimes blatant and direct, but one thing seemed constant: she didn't like me. 

It started during a lunch out with all of the interns in our first week of orientation. Regina (we'll just call her that for ease & anonymity) had not been at a previous event where the interns had come together to complete a ropes course, so it didn't seem unusual that she was asking a lot of questions of the other interns, at least not at first. Then, I noticed that she didn't ask me any questions. And she seemed to ignore me when I answered questions about the city, nearby attractions, and Louisiana cuisine. It was as if I were invisible. I ate my lunch in silence (mine) and chalked it up to a case of ageism by a younger woman, something that I had recently begun to experience since working with more and more millennials.

A week or so later, I experienced her wrath for the first time. I said something that she didn't like in a process group, and she stewed on it for a week before confronting me in the group in an aggressive manner. She never spoke to me directly that week, but clearly had spoken to others. I instantly felt that the lines had been drawn and that I was now on the outs--not just with her, but with her posse of followers. The year was off to a pretty shitty start.

During the fall semester, I mostly had contact with Regina on Wednesday mornings when we had meetings and group. I left nearly every Wednesday at noon near tears. My co-worker in the counselor education department office became somewhat of a therapist to me, as did my fellow counseling intern. I even found myself on "the couch" of one of our professors once crying and drinking tea. It was a horrible semester in a lot of ways, and I felt misunderstood, attacked, and ostracized.

Then, at the beginning of the spring semester, something suddenly changed. We found out that a new intern would be joining us. Apparently, this threw Regina for a loop, because she actually came to me and attempted to join together against the new intern. She argued that our group had "bonded" and that a new intern would upset all of the work that we had done as a group. She said that it wasn't fair and that she already didn't like the new girl.

So, it was no surprise to me when she confronted the new intern in her first process group. And, it was no surprise that no one in the group came to the new intern's defense, except for the new intern herself. She spoke honestly and eloquently about how this transition was hard on her. She talked about having to leave behind co-workers and clients at her previous site. And she explained that the site had a lot of upset in its management and that it wasn't an easy place to be an intern. She cried, but she spoke up. And, I felt both empathy and respect for her immediately. Regina wasn't going to claim this one.

As the spring semester went on, I cared less and less about Regina and how she felt about me. I soon got busy with a caseload of clients and my own concern was them. My skills increased, and my confidence grew. I was connecting with my clients, who kept coming back, who were making changes in their lives, and who were telling me that meeting with me was helpful. I was doing good work, and I felt it on a deeply personal level. I was finding my identity as a counselor. I was proud, and I was happy.

And, so that was how I ended the semester and the internship. I was even able to speak honestly in our final process group. I apologized to one of Regina's friends to whom I had been unnecessarily mean and ugly (in my opinion) during a previous group. I answered Regina directly when she said that I had pulled back and put up a guard. I told her that I had, that she was right, and that it had been a conscious choice made in response to her attack of me in the second group of the year. She did not respond to that statement. At least not then.

A week later, the interns came back together for a final goodbye lunch with the staff. Except for my normal social awkwardness, the gathering went just fine until I met with my supervisor afterward. He hesitated when he told me that someone had gone to one of the staff with a concern about something I posted on Facebook. I was in shock. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I felt the blood drain from my face. I was sick to my stomach. I couldn't catch my breath. He went on to describe a post that I made on my final day at internship--a picture of a small piece of art that a client had made for me along with a statement about how much the experience had meant to me and about the gratitude I felt for each person who had been part of that experience. The post was visible only to my friends, and I didn't think of it as a breach of confidentiality. My supervisor couldn't even say that it was inappropriate. He said that he just wanted me to know that something had been said.

My immediate reaction was one of concern for my reputation. I had worked hard all year to prove that I was a dedicated counselor and that I had the skills necessary to do a good job. It was important to me that the professionals with whom I had worked all year would be willing to provide me with referrals for job openings and positive references. I suddenly felt like all of that had been compromised. I was now irresponsible and didn't respect confidentiality. I posted inappropriate things on Facebook. I was guilty of behavior fitting a 20-year old, not a mature and seasoned professional in her 40's. I was devastated.

And I was angry! Though my supervisor refused to tell me who the source was, my thoughts went right to Regina. She had sent me a friend request only about a month prior. I accepted it, knowing that it would be less awkward than not accepting it and telling myself that when the internship was over I could always unfriend her. I wanted to confront her! I wanted to get even! But, all I could manage to do was to go to a friend in the office and cry. I had plans to visit another internship site and to meet friends for drinks later. I couldn't bring myself to do either. I cried and drove home. I called a friend. I climbed into bed with my pets and cried some more. My mother-in-law called. I cried to her. I cried a lot.

And I unfriended and blocked Regina. I hoped that it had not been someone else. I worried about being vulnerable, about being betrayed by someone I trusted. I posted "pissed off memes" to my page. My true friends called and texted out of concern. The passive-aggressive vagary was completely out of character for me. They reassured me and supported me. They reminded me that this was "about her" and had nothing to do with me. They said that she was jealous and insecure and threatened by me. And, I mostly believed them. But, my worries, sadness, and hurt remained.

Until now. Now I know that she is just a mean girl. Now I know that she is threatened by my confidence and my abilities. Now I know that she is immature and doesn't know how to communicate directly or honestly. Now I know that she taught me a valuable lesson.

She taught me that there will be obstacles in my path from time to time. They may be people or events. They may come as a surprise, or they may be seen from a distance. I may be able to avoid them, or I may be forced to face them. I may get past some with little effort or effect, and some may knock me to my knees. But, like her, they really didn't matter. They were inconsequential. What really mattered was how I dealt with them, how quickly I recovered, how I let them affect me, and who was there to support me when I needed them. She taught me that, while there were mean people in this world, I was surrounded by lots of people who loved me for all of the attributes she saw as threatening. They like my honesty. They appreciate my directness. And they admire my emotionality. I have friends and family who know me on a level that Regina could never experience, and they accept me completely.

So, now I want to thank Regina for bringing my awareness to the support that I have been blind to for a while now. I want to thank her for showing me that I am strong enough to survive direct attacks with grace and dignity. I want to thank her for affirming through her jealousy that I made true connections with my clients and I made a difference in the lives of those with whom I worked this year. I want to thank her for reminding me that I am happy, confident, skilled, and capable, that I have a wonderful life with a supremely supportive partner, that I don't really care if I'm not a part of the "in crowd," and that I get to made a choice EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. to spread empathy, care, and support to others and to myself.

Thank you, Regina. I sincerely hope that someday you will be happy enough to stop being a mean girl. In fact, "I wish I could bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles and everyone would eat and be happy."

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year's Resolutions

"The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. We can help write that story by setting goals. Dig within, and discover what you would like to have happen in your life this year. This helps you do your part. It is an affirmation that you're interested in fully living life in the year to come.” ~Melody Beattie
So, I don’t usually make New Year’s Resolutions—or at least not since I was a kid—so this should be an interesting experiment. Because these thoughts will be written down and posted online, I will be able to revisit them throughout the year as needed. No excuses, right? OK, well here goes.

This year, I intend to take inspiration from others to improve my life, myself, and the way that I impact others.

“If you asked me for my New Year Resolution, it would be to find out who I am.” ~Cyril Cusack

I’d like to believe that I know who I am, and in many ways, I do. But, I learned last year that there are parts of myself that I have not always acknowledged and dealt with well. This year, I will be more open to examining these shadow aspects of myself. I will appreciate them for the gifts that they bring to me, and I will challenge them when they interfere with my progress.

“Take a leap of faith and begin this wondrous new year by believing. Believe in yourself. And believe that there is a loving Source - a Sower of Dreams - just waiting to be asked to help you make your dreams come true.” ~Sarah Ban Breathnach

Doubt has kept me from achieving my goals and dreams in the past. I didn’t stop dreaming, but for too long I could only wish for my dreams to come true. Now, I realize that dreams can be achieved if I work hard enough and believe in myself enough to make them happen. This year, I will believe in myself first. I will remember my dreams, and I will believe that I can realize my dreams.

“Ring out the false, ring in the true.” ~Alfred Lord Tennyson

My gift to myself for my 30th birthday was my first planned tattoo. (The first was quite unplanned.) It was the year 2000 and Japanese kanji was still popular in tattoos—as were lower back tattoos, later to be known as “tramp stamps.” So, I designed a tattoo that would go on my lower back. It was a starburst design with a kanji in the center. I had designed it with the symbol for love in the center. I had just gone through a divorce, and I was more sure than ever that love existed, especially love for yourself. Fast forward to a tattoo studio in East Ridge, TN, where I am presenting a tattoo artist with my design and just before he creates the stencil, I decide to switch out the kanji symbol for love for the symbol for truth.
“Love will come and go, but truth is the one constant,” I said with the kind of arrogance that every 30-year old has. I was sure that I had all the answers, of course. Ha!

So, while my tattoo is no longer in fashion, its message still holds valuable meaning for me. Truth is important to me and always has been. It was truth that led me to leave my first marriage after only months. I could no longer be untrue to who I was, and I believed that love should always be based in truth. I knew then that I deserved to be loved by someone for who I really was rather than on some version of myself that someone else wanted me to be.

This year, I will continue to strive to be truthful always. I will look for the truth in all matters, and I will be true to myself above all else.

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're doing something.” ~Neil Gaiman

I have a strong tendency towards perfectionism and a huge fear of failure. I’m sure that both have kept me from trying a lot of things. They’ve also probably limited me from expressing my full potential for creativity and imagination. I know that it would be ridiculous for me to resolve to eliminate my perfectionistic thinking. It will always be a part of me, and I appreciate that it pushes me to do my best. What I will do instead is to strive to see my mistakes as opportunities. I will think less about the outcome or the evaluation, and I will focus more on the experience of learning, feeling, and enjoying the moments. I will open myself up to my own imagination and creativity without concern for the finished product.

“My New Year's resolution is to stick to a good workout plan that will keep me healthy and happy.” ~James Lafferty

I grew up as a skinny kid, but I’ve struggled with my weight for almost 15 years since it was discovered that I had a tiny tumor on my pituitary gland that really screws with my hormones. I’ve been up and down, but mostly up, and I’m currently heavier than I’ve ever been. I refuse to set a weight loss goal, because those don’t tend to work for me—or rather, I’m not good at those. Instead, I resolve to make regular exercise a part of my routine once again. I know that I feel better when I exercise and eat well. I want to be healthier. I want to be able to walk and climb and dance without losing my breath. I want to feel better inside my own skin.

“We humans have lost the wisdom of genuinely resting and relaxing. We worry too much. We don't allow our bodies to heal, and we don't allow our minds and hearts to heal.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

I used to struggle with falling asleep. I would lie in bed, my mind racing, worrying about what I needed to do the next day, obsessing over things I could not control, and stressing out over anything and everything. I was a textbook insomniac. I struggled with waking in the morning, and I would sometimes stay in bed for hours.

I don’t have these problems with sleeping on a regular basis anymore. Maybe it’s age. Maybe it’s necessity. In any case, I sleep ok, but I don’t experience true restful relaxation each night. I still worry too much. I still don’t always dream. I still don’t often reach that state of healing peace and tranquility. I still don’t wake refreshed each morning. This year, I’m going to work on this. What an amazing goal!
“Celebrate what you want to see more of.” ~Tom Peters

I should know well enough from training dogs that in order to eliminate the negative, you must accentuate the positive. I’ve got an advanced degree in complaining. This year, it’s time for me to work on improving my skills in the areas of complimenting, appreciating, praising, and celebrating.

“Look at situations from all angles, and you will become more open.” ~Dalai Lama
I often have a hard time connecting with others who seem so very different from me. I know that I could learn to appreciate them more if I could somehow understand their motives, what makes them tick, and what they care most about. I know this. But doing these this is hard—really hard sometimes. This year, I’m going to try harder to understand the perspectives of others. I’m going to try harder to open my eyes, my ears, and my heart.

“Accept what people offer. Drink their milkshakes. Take their love.” ~Wally Lamb

I say “no” a lot. I turn down invitations, gifts, gestures, and relationships. Maybe my life would be improved if I said “yes” more. Maybe it wouldn’t. This year, I hope to find out.

“Always do what you are afraid to do.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

My third skydive (2008) & the first one I truly enjoyed.
I’m afraid of heights. That’s why I jumped out of an airplane in 2005, and that’s why I’ve done it four more times since. I’m still scared of heights, but I can always say that I’ve faced my fears. Even if I couldn’t conquer my fears, I have faced them. How many people can say that?

The good news is that I have many, many more fears, so I have lots of opportunities in this new year to keep facing them. When given a choice, I will choose to take risks. I will do what I fear.

“Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.” ~Helen Keller

I’ve learned through my education and my practicum that one of the best ways to treat depression is to increase a person’s pleasant events. Don’t wait for your mood to change to take action; take action and your mood will change. This doesn’t mean that it’s easy to just “choose” to be happy, but it does mean that it’s often possible to choose a better mood. This year, I will choose happiness more often.

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

We often live our lives waiting for “someday.” Someday, I’ll be thinner. Someday, I’ll be older. Someday, I’ll be happy. Every single day can be someday—or at least a bit of it. This year, I’d like to be more present, more awareness, in every moment. I will make the most of each day, not in a stressed out, frenetic way, but with the appreciation that it will only come once and that once it passes, I will never again experience it.

Calm mind brings inner strength and self-confidence, so that's very important for good health.” ~Dalai Lama

Meditation has brought me inner calm and sense of balance. It grounds me and empowers me. It allows me to simultaneously feel fully whole within myself and connected to all of the universe. This year, I resolve to meditate more often. I will do my best to create a daily practice by which I connect, center, and focus.

“Let our New Year's resolution be this: we will be there for one another as fellow members of humanity, in the finest sense of the word.” ~Goran Persson

In my fantasy world, I’d be the hermit—alone in my cave, high in the clouds, away from the troublesome world below. Alas, I live amongst the mortals, and thus, I must learn to deal with them. Actually, if this past year has taught me anything, it’s that I can’t do this alone. I depended so much on my fellow students and my professors during my practicum semester. I may have literally gone nuts without them. And, my happiest moments have come when I’m with those whom I consider family or friends. Whether I’d like to admit it or not, I need people, and I do my best to be a friend to those who need one. This year, I will spend more time with friends. I will call those who are far away. I will help more often. I will volunteer more. I will donate what I can.

“To have the kind of year you want to have, something has to happen that you can't explain why it happened. Something has to happen that you can't coach.” ~Bobby Bowden

And, in the end, no matter how much we plan, no matter how many goals we set, the magic of life is that we are never truly in control. This year, I will make more space for that magic by relinquishing more control. I will leave room for miracles. I will allow time for wonder. 
The sunrise outside my front door on the morning of January 1, 2015.