There’s an old saying that “there’s no such thing as a stupid question.” I believed that until someone asked me why it is that we always find what we’re looking for in the last place we look.
However, I did receive an intelligent question today, forwarded to me by “Admin.” One more person wanted to be the exception to the rule that I absolutely do not have the time to reply personally to emails sent to the site. I just don’t. I have three sites going, and I reply to all the questions myself (unless it’s a technical one – in which case I forward it to Chip).
Besides, there is magic in a group – even if the group meets online. Sharing the question and the answer on the forum means others get to learn from the answer too. It means that the person asking the question will likely learn he or she isn’t as alone with his or her problem as that person thought. It also opens the question up for other comments, too, bringing us back to the magic of the group.
This post is solely to answer the question: “Do you have to have alcoholism involved to become codependent?” Group, what do you think? No, what do you know? One issue that surprised me the most after the release of my first book on codependency was the huge number of people who lived in families without any alcoholism or addiction, but codependency had still set in.
This isn’t to “sell books,” (mine are available at libraries for free) but in one of my more recent releases – The New Codependency – I define codependency more by “which of these issues is causing a problem, and how much does it hurt?”
Let’s look deeper. Codependency is a normal reaction to abnormal circumstances. That’s what I wrote way back when. I still stand behind those words. Everything written is true. It works. But like others, I’ve learned more and seen more with the passing of time. More has been revealed.
Initially I thought that loss comprised about ten percent of codependency. Now, I’m coming to believe that codependency is often people stuck in one or more stages of grief. The loss may be living with an ongoing illness for which there isn’t a cure; not receiving something we needed to become full human beings as a child (like love and protection); or losing an important relationship now – as adults.
If you add obsession and guilt to the five stages of grief, as outlined by Elizabeth Kubler Ross – you have what we’ve come to define as codependency. Denial; anger (lots of that); negotiation (a/k/a manipulation); sadness; and finally acceptance or surrender to what is.
Listen, guys and gals – people young and old – obsessing isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We need to tell our story, sometimes over and over, to integrate it into our life experiences. And the guilt we feel? It’s not authentic (most of the time). It’s a symptom of other losses that have cut into our heart.
Recently the Mayo clinic labeled Broken Heart Syndrome as a true medical condition that occurs when we suffer a deep loss. A deep loss isn’t limited to having someone we love die. It could be, say, having our child develop an incurable illness that he or she will live with likely as long as the person is alive. Control sets in when we do our best to make the problem go away, otherwise known as denial, and sometimes called resistance.
Sometimes natural and normal situations can imitate codependency, such as when we have a newborn baby and we need to center our lives around the child and forgo what we need. The difference there is that the behaviors that resemble codependency are temporary responses to a temporary situation in our life. It’s when codependent behaviors become a way of life that it’s likely codependency has set in.
We think who we are isn’t okay. We don’t trust what we feel. Usually in homes where codependency has set in, feelings aren’t discussed much or at all. People dig a rut, move furniture in, and call it home. They’re miserable but they’re okay with that – at least they know what to expect: not much at all, and surely not a full life.
While none of us are promised the proverbial bed of roses, some of us get unnecessarily enmeshed in other people’s problems. Their problems control our lives. Our emotions control their lives. It’s an ugly dance of quietly or loudly pulling the other person’s strings.
See – this is the deal. It’s not what we do that makes it codependent. It’s how what we do makes us feel. It’s why we’re doing what we’re doing. Are we acting out of obligation, fear, and guilt? Or are our actions motivated by clean choice? Are we doing what we do because it’s what we choose to do, no matter the outcome?
You can have two people doing exactly the same behaviors and one person is making healthy choices. The other is doing the codependency dysfunctional dance feeling victimized, separate from life, likely unloved and unlovable, and perpetually not good enough.
So many people are suffering from chronic depression. It takes two weeks of feeling terribly sad to receive this label. After my son died, I’m certain 99 percent of the doctors around would have labeled me depressed. I wasn’t. I was going through that heart-healing process called grief. Feeling extremely sad when a son you love with all your heart dies qualifies as a normal response to an abnormal situation.
We live in a time where more and more people resist feeling uncomfortable. We expect all problems to be immediately and easily solved. When that doesn’t occur, we may consider our lives a hopeless waste.
Not so. We’ve been dealt a challenging hand. How we’re going to play that hand is up to us. Recovery isn’t about rules (except for two). It’s about tools – accessing them, using them, and freely making our choices. The only rules I have are don’t hurt yourself (which includes don’t let anyone else physically hurt you.) And don’t hurt (physically) anyone else.
It’s not unhealthy to love people, to care about them, and sometimes to sacrifice for them. That’s what can bond us to others and create that feeling called “love.” Again, it all goes back to our motivation.
I cannot judge another’s heart. Can there be codependency without alcoholism? Can there be loss without alcoholism? I’m coming to believe that many if not most cases of chemical dependency began as a survival behavior to self-medicate emotional pain that became too much – more than we could handle without support. Then the “cure” became an illness of its own.
Something else not publicly discussed much are the benefits from growing up in a dysfunctional home. Studies quoted in an article in the New York Times show that in later life situation, such as at work, people who survived heavy dysfunction and then learned to administer self-care and began to thrive make the best employees – and not because they’re codependent and never say, “No.” It’s because they can withstand stress, chaos, problems, and situations that others find overwhelming.
They know how to deal with less than ideal situations in life and they don’t need to live in a bubble to survive. (I’m not doing footnotes in my blogs but if you want more info on this see The New Codependency.)
I now believe that too much loss and grief can cause the beginning of alcoholism and chemical dependency in a family. It can also create codependent responses – responses made out of obligation, guilt, and fear whether alcoholism and addiction are present or not.
The reason we call recovery “an inside job” is because it’s true. We don’t change the circumstances around us to feel better. We deal with what’s inside us, usually the things we most don’t want to look at, expose to the light, or feel. People don’t like to feel pain. They don’t like confusion, not being able to make sense of life, or feeling like life is random — a disorderly, chaotic thing.
We also don’t like it when we realize how vulnerable we really are to all the problems, pain, and situations we used to believe we had immunity from.
While Life is chaotic and often makes no sense at all, many of us have experienced Dnana – a word that means learning or knowing that’s inseparable from an experience. We aren’t what we eat but we are what we’ve been through. We aren’t our problems, but our problems are ours to solve, live with, let go of, or endure.
Underneath the chaos an underlying order exists. The world we live in? A vital universe. One that’s truly alive and will guide us to what we need, if we listen to that still, small voice within.
Another statement in Codependent No More I stand behind one hundred percent: There is no situation that can’t be made worse by severe self-neglect, and it’s opposite, “Self-love and self-care will benefit any situation we need to get through, go around, or endure.”
Self-love isn’t narcissism, over-indulgence, or extreme pampering. In his book, The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle defines love for others (paraphrased) as not being something we get and need desperately to fill up the big empty hole within. Loving someone means being present for and aware of another in each moment. To that I add that love means giving what we want to give, and what the other person wants to receive.
That would mean, if accepted as truth, that self-love means being present for and aware of ourselves. Living a “Day at a Time” doesn’t mean waiting to get through today so tomorrow can come. It means, being present for and aware of who we are, how we feel, and what’s taking place within and around us right now.
I hope my reactions to and thoughts about your question help. But remember – I’m a writer not an expert, guru, psychiatrist or spiritual adviser. I’m stumbling my way through life too, just like anyone else. But if I shared all the stories with you (the person who asked the question about codependency) about family situations where codependency ruled but no alcohol or drugs caused the pain, it would take about five more books to write about them all.
To engage in codependent behaviors isn’t a bad thing. In most cases, it means we really care but aren’t sure what to do. Somewhere along the line, we forgot we could trust ourselves.
“Don’t force it,” my friend said, when I tried to open a container. “You’ll break it.” He summed up the effects of control. The other behaviors – taking care of others and neglecting ourselves, repressing and denying important feelings, resisting reality, feeling separate from people and things in the world we live in – and many other traits connected with codependency – are on a continuum. They’re normal reactions that anyone would do, given a similar situation.
Codependency occurs when we cross a line. We’re stuck. We can’t stop doing what we’re doing, even though what we’re doing hurts the other person and us. So now I have a question for you: How much do you hurt? How much does what you do hurt? Or have you become so numb you’re not sure how you really feel?
Not to worry. Most of us step across that line at times. You don’t need to have hope for a better tomorrow. Instead, trust where you are today because that’s what true faith is.
While I’m at it, I’ll answer another question I’m often asked too. “Can you become codependent on another codependent?” Answer: Yes.
It’s the worst.
I haven’t blogged for a while. (Is blog a noun or a verb?) I could write all the reasons why I’ve neglected my blog but I’ll resist. Instead, I’ll tell you the other side of that story: I’ve missed communicating with you, so I’m writing a new blog today.
Like many of you, I grew up in a less-than-functional household and lived in at least one as an adult. A by-product of either of those dysfunctional living situations is that it made it genetically impossible for me to do certain behaviors others find themselves naturally capable of doing: choosing trustworthy friends, lovers and business associates; trusting myself, my feelings and intuition; feeling content; and gravitating toward a positive outlook on life.
That’s not even half of the inherent problematic traits thrusting me toward a doomed existence. (See the fourth chapter in Codependent No More or read The New Codependency and take a few tests – probably the ones you resist most – for an update on the signs and symptoms of codependency.)
Before I go any further, I want to emphasize that it’s nearly impossible to diagnose codependency only by outward behaviors. Two people can do the same thing and one will be setting him or herself up for a massive codependent downward spiral while the other person’s behavior can be clearly categorized as healthy and leading to a positive outcome.
Because codependency is an inside job – jargon many of us bandied about for years without integrating its meaning. It’s not what we do as much as why we’re doing it that qualifies any behavior as codependent.
If gaining other people’s approval, guilt or obligation motivate us, likely what we’re doing qualifies us for a read (or re-read) of Codependent Some More. If we’re doing that exact behavior because we want to, because it feels right and because we’ve made a conscious decision to do it, it will likely work out decently.
Whether we take the codependent or lighter road, that behavior will become important in our life. It may bring joy, or we could find a lesson at it when we’re feeling all victimized, used-up, and resentful.
I want to clarify something else about codependency. I dislike the word, can’t stand the sound of it, didn’t invent it and wish another word would have taken its place in the dictionary. The word doesn’t even carry an intonation that speaks to our souls – such as hush, wow or stomachache. Those words tell us something. We can easily wrap our minds around them. But codependency?
It’s 4:00 a.m. I stumble out of bed, slam a cup of coffee, and then start brewing another one so I’ll wake up fast. The phone rings. A radio host from the East Coast, where it’s 7:00 a.m. starts talking to me. Live. We’re on the air. After the preliminary introductions, the host predictably asks the same two questions.
“So, is it Be-at-tee or Bee-tee?”
“Melonie, tell us…”
“Exactly what is codependency?”
“I…don’t…know,” I respond.
“Ha, ha, ha. Seriously, what is codependency?”
I am serious. I still can’t wrap my head around that word. I can tell you about controlling, low self-esteem, not trusting ourselves, repressing emotions, rescuing, living out a victim self-image and emotional, physical and sexual abuse. I can explain how to get stuck in a miserable relationship rut and make ourselves uncomfortably or painfully at home there. I can describe what it feels like to have relentless guilt run our lives. And oh, can I explain how attractive bad boys are for the first ten minutes we know them. But codependency? What does that word mean?
A side-effect from growing up in a pain-filled family or living in one later can best be described as a magnetic gravitation toward negativity. We come to believe in the power of negative thinking.
“For years, I’ve been controlled by the subconscious decision that I should quit while I’m behind,” one man explained.
After all, if we expect bad things to happen we won’t be disappointed, will we? If something we label good should, by some twist of fate occur, we will then be pleasantly surprised (for a second), until we remind ourselves that soon the infamous other shoe will drop and we’ll be miserable again.
It’s not that we see a glass half-empty instead of half-filled with water. We see chips in the glass that will likely lead to slices in our intestinal tract. We see contaminated water. We see something we don’t want or like.
That’s what life looks like too, unless we continually work on this trait. I don’t mean we should get all euphoric, expecting everything to work out without paying dues, overcoming obstacles, tests or hindrances. We can still be realistic.
For years I’ve heard about Universal Laws, mysterious rules that govern our world at an unseen level. The problem with these laws? No list exists. Nobody tells us the rules, like they do at a seminar, in a classroom or even on a website unless you count Moses etching the Ten Commandments in Stone.
So clearly stumbled into two of these Universal Laws. No, three.
1-If we jump out of an airplane, we’ll fall down, not up.
2-If we eat every single thing we want, we’ll gain weight.
3-If all we see is the negative, we’ll begin to see more and more of the negative. We’ll feel worse. Feeling badly will become a way of life. We’ll see nothing but the problems, the things that didn’t work out and the wrongdoings others have done to us. We’ll see our picture and think, Ick. If someone nice wants to date us, we’ll reject him or her because we know they’re fundamentally deficient if they like us.
It’s an ugly way of life.
The only antidote I’ve found for it, well a combination of antidotes and what I’m probably just as well-known for as codependency, is gratitude. If you couple gratitude with non-dualistic thinking, or non-black and white thinking (this is good, this is bad), which then means we’ll begin to express gratitude for most if not all of life (except for sheer tragedies in which case we’ll learn it’s okay to mourn), we’ll be lifted out of that rut of negativity we’ve learned to call home.
We don’t see a recession. We see an opportunity for the economy to come into balance.
We don’t see rejection. We know we’ve been saved from ourselves, saved for something better.
We don’t see mistakes. We see research for the next self-help book.
And so on. Better yet, we don’t try to figure everything out, because figuring things out is another way of saying control.
Besides, control isn’t all bad either. It’s human and if you’re reading this, so are you. Unless you’re a bot in which case you’re not reading it, you’re scanning it and you probably don’t have codependency issues either.
(Bots, for those of you as unfamiliar with computer jargon as I am, are programs that scan all material on the internet looking for whatever they’ve been programmed to see. Hmm. Maybe they’re more like us than I thought.)
There is another side to the story. Some of these versions we may not get to know for a while, maybe until we get to the other side, meet our Higher Power and say, “By the way, I’ve got a few things I want to discuss with you.”
Or maybe, just maybe, when we let loose of the constraints of linear thinking, we’ll already know those answers, you know, the answers to the Mysteries of Life.
So I won’t say it’s been a tough decade, what with Mom dying from Alzheimer’s disease just when I discovered her loving, nurturing side after oh, half a decade. I won’t go on and on about how they gutted me like a deer, decompressed my spine and then stuffed artificial discs in the only problem being that my spine curves right where the implanted discs reside. I won’t even touch the side effects of that surgery.
Instead, I’ll say that the broken circle with Mom had been healed by the time I followed the hearse to the graveyard. I’ll say I miss her more than I ever thought possible, given that I didn’t like her that much most of my life. I’ll tell you that I can do Yoga and I’m not in a wheelchair.
I’m not even going to get into the alleged embezzlement that with expenses now exceeds half a million dollars, including over four hundred thousand dollars’ worth of allegedly forged checks that the same bank that calls me valued customer (here’s a hint – the name starts with Bank of Ameri…) refuses to make good on, even though they promised.
Now will I mention that after being ecstatic that under President Obama the cap on my health insurance (the cap I had just reached) became removed for life, only to now have the Supreme Court take my health insurance completely away from me, leaving me uninsured and uninsurable?
Instead I’ll say that for today, all my needs are abundantly met. I love, and I am loved. I’ve been blessed with work that I love. I’ve met a fantastic screenwriting instructor (Corey Mandell) and am learning new ideas – learning and growing daily.
Thank you. These are more than words that can undo our tendency toward negativity. They change our lives and the world. They turn a humble meal into a feast, a stranger into a friend, and a house into a home.
They turn readers into friends and family into people we love.
The other side of the story always sounds the same: Thank you.
If any of you are in the Twin
Cities area tomorrow (March 19th), and would like to stop by the
courthouse and offer your support, the time and address for the hearing when my
ex-assistant is being arraigned for allegedly swindling me out of over $400,000
9:00 – noon (no set
time that the case will be called for hearing)
300 South 6th
Street (between 5th and 7th Streets and 3 and 4th
The hearing will be
held in Court Room 1159
My daughter Nichole phoned me last week to tell me the bare bones details of a story that defied belief. The past 24 hours, I talked to several people about the concept of having basic premises about Life, and what happens when Life shatters our beliefs.
“So often I hear people say, ‘ I was in an accident and could have been killed. But I walked away in perfect condition’ followed by a pause, then a statement similar to one of these,” I told the last woman I discussed this with: ‘God must really love me because I survived.’”
A wind passes through my home. I didn’t know what my e-mail inbox had waiting for me.
There’s this tunnel many of us walk through whether we want to or not. Life shoves us into it. We don’t get a choice. We enter the tunnel with our basic beliefs about Life intact: If we do good things, good things happen to us. What comes around goes around. God really loves me, so I won’t be put in harm’s way. My loved ones and I will be protected by God. We’re Safe.
Having faith came easy before the tunnel. Until that moment that irrevocably changes our life. The moment that thing happens we know only one thing: The person who comes out of the tunnel won’t be the same person who entered it. Life will never be the same again.
Neither will we.
We no longer know what we believe. Who can say this: My child died in my arms so God must really love me? The words don’t fit. Yet they describe what we’re learning, at our own pace – and what we’ll come to not just believe but know as truth. It’s only part of the new set of beliefs that call us to radical faith, not nearly as easy or natural as the faith we had before, before that thing happened. Before the tunnel appeared and Someone pushed us into it.
We emerge knowing what we do doesn’t really affect what happens to us. We can do as much good as we possibly can and still sometimes tragically bad — horrible — things happen to us, seemingly in return.
It may take decades to understand that Grief isn’t wasted time or life. It’s not the same as depression, either. It hurts like hell, feels like it won’t ever end, and we can’t make it go away. We can’t therapize grief. It’s all we can do to get out of bed each day.
When it happened to me, I felt like a deboned fish fillet – no spine, no structure. Just skin holding Jell-O.
“I learned to stop living a day at a time. Too often I used that phrase to hide behind waiting for tomorrow to come. I began to practice surrendering to and being fully present for each moment instead as a means to survive.
I didn’t know this would become my new way of life. I stopped trusting what I knew and began trusting what I hadn’t learned yet. Living in the Mystery started as a survival tool when I didn’t want to survive. Then it became a Way of Life.
Two paradoxes emerged. “It’s what you do with it, not what happens to you, that counts,” emerged as a guiding light instead of a platitude. I had to learn to let the realization that I could pretend I had some control over my life, but in the end what I got to choose was whether I wanted pancakes or eggs for breakfast, and did I want my eggs poached, hard-boiled, or fried.
“You can love someone so deeply, with all your heart, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get to keep him or her by your side,” a friend taught me. What a mean and brutal truth to digest.
I really didn’t have a choice about the things that matter most.
I came out of the tunnel transformed.
After I finished talked to my daughter on the phone, I filed our conversation under “Things I Want to Forget.” This morning, I found the details of our conversation in my e-mail inbox in the form of a blog. No matter how alone, hurt, forgotten, or abandoned you feel, I challenge you to read this story and not be changed.
Thank you, Nichole. You share so much and for so many continue to be a guiding warm light. Thank you, Madonna and Matt. We’ve never met, but the generosity you’ve shown by sharing your story with the world makes the word gift sound trite.
You don’t know all the people who won’t ever forget you and the tunnel you entered Christmas Day.
The story that follows is from the Art, Meet Commerce – Blog. Share it freely. Be of service. Let Madonna and Matt’s experience count for good in this often cold, dark, and brutal world.
Friday, January 6, 2012 at 9:45AM
You should not be reading this.
And I should not have written it.
Because we should not be here.
In fact, we should not exist.
And the odds that we do exist are so impossibly small that we can not conceive of a number that finite.
Smaller than a step in a walk to the far side of the universe. Smaller than a single grain in a world full of sand.
It would take the change of but one mundane act since the beginning of time for either you or I to have never been born. Any one. A chance introduction. A door left open. A letter lost in the mail. A train that left on time. Or didn’t. A sliding door. A moment’s hesitation. A glance, a nod, a wink.
But we are here. And by any definition, mathematical or mystical, that makes us miracles. Whether we exist for a day, or a hundred years, or less than ten, we are miracles.
Which suddenly makes what we do today a decision of some consequence.
I have known Madonna Badger since 2008. First as a client, and then as a friend. And I have met her husband Matt briefly a few times.
Yesterday, Chris and I attended the funeral of their three daughters: Lily, Sarah and Grace.
For those of you who haven’t heard this unspeakably tragic story, Madonna lost her daughters and her parents in a house fire on Christmas morning. As the fire fighters pulled her away she said to them, “my whole life is in there.”
I can say I have never heard anything of which I was more certain that that. Those five people were her life. She was limitlessly committed to them, her life revolved around them. She would have died for them. For any one of them.
We went to the funeral yesterday, pre-judging her by the expectations we would have of ourselves in those same circumstances. That simply to breathe would no longer be possible. That existence itself would be more than we could bear. We expected to find a broken woman.
Instead we found a woman whose strength filled a church of well over a thousand people, and who left me with a personal reference point that is unshakeable.
That life is an opportunity. A chance. An unimaginable gift.
And we should treat it that way. Every day.
In the way that little girls do. Exploring, trying, learning, loving, playing, living.
Because when the last of these is suddenly taken from us, what will be left is what we did.
Not what we meant to do. Not what we intended to do. Not what we thought about doing.
But what we did.
Lily, Sarah and Grace were prevented from doing more.
But what they did was life-changing.
For their mother, who will be their mother forever, and will use their power to change the world.
And for any of us who use their memory as fuel to fight against assumption.
That tomorrow is the same as today.
That we are in control.
That it will work out in the end.
We should not be here. We should not exist. It is impossible that we do.
After all that, living life with the wonder of a little girl should be a piece of cake
I have included the text of Madonna’s eulogy below. That she was able to give it in person, is the bravest act I have ever seen.
January 5th, 2012
Thank you all for being here today.
I want talk to you about my girls, my three little girls Lily, Sarah, and Grace Badger, and this is going to be really hard.
Lily Grace and Sarah are not here with us today and they won’t be here tomorrow and I am trying to come to terms with this and I know that Matthew is and I know that all of us are. But I feel very strongly and the reason why I wanted to speak to you today is to let you know who my girls were and that our girls, my little girls are not gone from us entirely because my girls are in my heart they’re right here and this is where they live now and they live in Matthew’s heart and they live in the heart’s of all of you who knew them and even those who didn’t know them. And I want you to remember my girls out loud to fight for them to never be forgotten. This is why I can stand before you today because they were my little girls and they were my little girl tribe and I want you to hear about them from me.
So I’m going to tell you just the tiniest of snippets, little stories that are the smallest of drops in a ocean of memories, because there were Christmases and Easters and Thanksgivings and so many days of just being a girl tribe together, and dancing and singing and playing and loving one another.
My Lily. Lily was my angel and my life and she was my first baby, and when Lily was first born I would put her in my baby Bjorn and we would walk around New York City for hours, with diapers in my pocket and my breasts full of milk and it was all we needed. And we’d walk the city.
Lily sang before she spoke and she made-up songs constantly. She made-up elaborate games with her Nana and all of the little animals that she loved to play with, and these animals all had names, and they all lived in very special kingdoms. Lily loved her Ricky and her Mister Wiggles and Lily loved her Jessica so very much.
And most of all Lily loved her sisters. They were her best friends and she celebrated all of their unique qualities, and she never changed them and she never harmed them and she always gave them love. Lily was naturally shy and her smile was sometimes hidden, but when she let her smile show it glowed completely.
And Lily was a dancer, a natural born dancer and when Lily danced it was with moves that far outdid Michael Jackson. Lily was calm and confident and full of who Lily was. When she was first met you she wasn’t sure about you, but once she determined that you were okay, you were one hundred percent in with Lily forever.
When Lily and I went to the Met and we saw all the Pietàs because apparently I had made a wrong turn and all the Pietàs were right there, but anyway when she saw the Pietàs at the Met when she was only 5, Lily broke down on the floor and she begged me to tell her when she was going to die. And I told her after a lot of not knowing what to say, that life is a mystery, it’s a total mystery, and we will never know when we will die. And she accepted that. And I did too.
My darling, Sarah. Sarah is spirited love and her greatest joy in this life was to make you feel good and at ease and loved. As many of you know, my parents – their Nana and Papa – were true givers. And one Christmas my dad as his alter-ego Santa, in full regalia, went to the village nursing home, and my mother had made sugar cookies and put them in little bags and everybody walked into the nursing home and it was scary. And Lily was there, and Sarah and Gracie and Matthew, and it was Sarah who grabbed the little cookies and started handing them out to the very sick and very old people, and the entire room changed and it was full of ease and full of light. Sarah later said to my mom, “Nana, now somebody better tell the tooth fairy that this is where she needs to bring all the teeth, cause these people really need them.”
I had a fever once and Sarah came and she sprayed my face with magic mist and she put a toy dog in my hand and she said, “don’t worry Mama these things are going to help you sleep and make you well.”
Sarah had a very, very fragile heart and it was hidden behind a lot of love and lot of smiles and the smallest slight would cost such deep deep damage that I swear you could see the tear right there in her heart.
Sarah liked to lie with me at bed time and hold my hand and tell me how much she loved me. And she was my whipper snapper. One night I asked Sarah to do something, and it was silly – I can’t remember what it was – and she put her hands firmly on her hips and she said, “no can do, Mommy.”
Once her Nana said, “Sarah Badgers can you hear me?” And Sarah said “Nana I can hear you. I’m just not listening to you.”
And Doctor Solar said that Sarah was the mayor of Windward, their school. And she knew the names of all of their brothers and all of their sisters, and recently they had to call a special meeting at Windward, Dr. Schwab had to call a meeting with the second grade girls so they could figure out a way of how they were going to take turns being close to Sarah. This was my Sarah, my little Sarah, my little whipper snapper, love and lovable and totally loved.
My Gracie. My best friend Jenny once said that Grace was light in a previous life and I think she was right. Grace was fearless, she was the first one to pick up the most creepiest most grossest bug you could possible find and try to give it to me because I hate creepy crawly things. Gracie was fearless. She was the first one on the trapeze in our last spring vacation and she begged and begged to go on it again and again. Gracie was in love with her sisters and in awe of Lily. And Gracie always used to say, “right Lily, right, isn’t that right?”
Sarah and Grace had a special language and a special bond. For instance they called one another ‘RaRa’ when they were little toddlers and it was the name that they had given one another because it was the ‘Ra’ in both of their names that was only thing that was the same. And it took us a long time to really know if they knew the difference between which one was Grace and which was Sarah.
Grace loved math and she would do problems that were like 10 numbers long and she would add them and subtract them. And then she would make us all check her work, and she was so proud of what she could accomplish with her numbers.
Grace was a fisherman, an adventure and an inventor and her imagination was boundless. And there was nothing Grace Badger couldn’t make with a Band Aid. Band Aids were balls and they were wrapping paper and they were everything. Nobody loved Band Aids more than Grace Badger.
And Gracie wanted to know everything. She wanted a microscope and a telescope and I think she wanted to see the seen and the unseen. And she could have cared less if you liked her or approved of her, she found her own way always and when she loved you she loved you completely. And Grace’s tender kisses were always given when she wanted to give them and her hugs were so full and so loving.
Grace asked me a thousand times, if she was going to die before me and I said, “No Gracie, no, that is never going to happen.”
But it happened. And people, everyone, including me, wonder ”Why? Why did this happen, and why my children, and why my parents and why now?”
But nothing will bring my babies back, or my parents, or the life I had or Matthew’s. And here’s the one thing that I know is not a mystery. That there is no power greater on this Earth than love. And that is what is going to keep Lily and Sarah and Grace with us forever.
In this, in all this incomprehensible loss and chaos, all I can hang on to is that love is everything. And God, as I choose to call my higher power, is love. And so, God is love and God is everything.
I have been asked a million times, ”how can you do this, how are you talking, how are you surviving?” Because when I used to hear about people losing a child, or if a child got very, very sick, I would say, “I could never survive that. I could never live through that, I could never, ever, ever live through losing my babies.”
But here I am. Here all of us are. Because Lily and Sarah and Grace live in my heart now, as do my parents, Lomer and Pauline. I was a daughter and a mother, and I still intend to be both, so I can make my girls proud and carry them forward in love. This love, I am realizing, is to be my children’s legacies because they left the world at such tender ages that all they left behind was love.
And I think and I pray and I hope that it is all of our great responsibility to spread that love. And for me, God does not call on us just to love because that is too easy. He also calls on us to be of service. Service to our friends, our families to those we know and those we don’t.
So the message I want to share today, on behalf of Lily and Sarah and Grace, is that we can talk all day long about love, but love without service is not enough.
Please keep our little girls in your hearts by showing your love with acts of pure kindness, by loving each other and finding a way to help each other every day for Lily, for Sarah, and for Grace. This is what will keep them alive forever.
Thank you all for coming today and for all of your words and prayers and support. They have meant the world to me, they have meant the world to my family and to Matthew.
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Tracks to Feel Better About Feeling Bad: Calling All Angels by The Celtic Angels, I Won’t Let Go by Rascal Flatts, I’ll Be There by The Escape Club, To Love Somebody by The Bee Gees, Life is Eternal by Carly Simon, You Can’t Always Get What You Want by the Pop Lullaby Ensemble, Letting Go by Joe Cocker, Angel by Sarah McLachlan, Unchained Melody by The Righteous Brothers, Calling All Angels by k. d. lang, Circle of Life by Elton John
My Rhapsody Playlist for times when I need help feeling good about feeling bad. Enjoy … or something. Click here to listen to the songs
She Said by Collective Soul This is my new “blog” song. You can listen to it by clicking on it — or just ignore it. Or, you can send me requests for your favorite songs. Each of you can listen to songs 24 times each month for free — so if there’s something you want to hear, tell me in a comment. This song speaks to where I am in my life. Maybe some of you can relate; maybe others can’t. I know this: it’s time to bring the music back into my life again.
I’ve been talking a lot lately about the latest unexpected turn in my life story. It’s healing to tell our story, especially whenit involves grief. It’s how we process the unthinkable and integrate it into our life. We make the unthinkable at least somewhat acceptable.
The first morning we wake up after a tragedy, the experience washes over us like a tsunami. Waking up hurts. It continues to hurt for however long it takes to heal, which always takes longer than we think it should, and it takes four times as long as other people think it should.
“Aren’t you over that yet?” people say, verbalizing what we ask ourselves.
While those closest to us tire of hearing our story — and who can blame them — we don’t tire of telling it. Hi. My name is _____________ and _______________ just happened to me. The first words out of our mouth describe the incident that’s turning us into a new person, someone we didn’t want to become – didn’t choose to be. But as annoying as it can be to the people who hear us talking about it day after day, we still can’t stop ourselves from telling our story to please them.
The time comes, though, when we can take our communication a step further.
“I believe in God,” I told a friend. “I know God’s real. That just makes it worse, because I know how powerful God is.”
To another friend I said, “I don’t know what to say to God. I’m at a loss for words.”
Just the awareness that I’d fallen away from prayer ignited a change. I realized I’d been talking sometimes to the right people, sometimes to anyone who would listen, and sometimes to the wrong people – the ones who had snide remarks as a reply — but I hadn’t been talking to my Higher Power, God as I understand God.
I’d walk by the temple in the middle of my home, briefly acknowledge its presence, then keep on walking and keep on talking – to everyone but God. My indifference to the temple symbolized the indifference I felt toward God. With this awareness that I hadn’t been communicating with my Higher Power, I found myself organically, without much effort, making prayer a priority again.
Why do I forget to do that which will help the most? Why do I systematically ignore those simple acts, behaviors that take so little time, that have such enormous payoff? I do it over and over again.
Over the past years, I’ve learned that my day goes better if I start it with a good breakfast. I’ve also learned that my day goes better if I begin it with prayer. I have the greatest respect for all religions and spiritual paths. Agnostics and atheists can believe what they will, but I know what’s true for me: prayer works.
Even if I just say, “I’m at a loss for words, God,” or recite a pre-written prayer, paying attention to the meaning of each phrase, it helps.
Prayer changes things. It changes me.
When I go through a loss, what I miss most is that sense of being led by my Higher Power. The easiest way to get back that sense of guidance is to ask for it, and ask for it by going directly to the Source. At a loss for words? Sometimes, “Help” is all we need to say. How hard is that?When it comes to prayer, a little bit goes a long way.
Some of you have asked me to let you know before instead of after-the-fact when and where I’m going to make an appearance. Thought I’d let you know that next week — Wednesday, October 12 at 4:00 o’clock pm Eastern Time; 1:00 pm Pacific — (add two hours to Pacific if you’re in Minnesota), I’ll be visiting with Dr. Jennifer Howard on her radio show, “A Conscious Life.” Her show’s goal is to help listeners take charge of their lives. It holds the promise of being a good interview as Dr. Howard is a real pro and cares about what she does — and I’m raw as all get out. Never can tell what might happen.
It would also give me the opportunity to connect with you using our voices for a change. If you have time, tune in. Just click here to to join us: www.drjenniferhoward.tv/radio. Doesn’t get much easier than that.
Besides, it will help make up for all the blogs I’ve missed lately. Thinking about doing some on boundaries and more on standing up for ourselves. Have you seen what one woman did by speaking up? She has a Petition ready for Bank of America stating how customers feel about the threatened extra charge for using a debit card. Crazy. The bank will make millions off from this one small charge — one small charge that means a lot when the budget is tight. Bank of America may or may not pay attention, but it (the Petition) sends a message to the other banks that are considering it too. If this keeps up, we’ll need quarters to use the restrooms on airplanes before long. It’s time for the buck to stop here. Literally. With each of us. Okay — back to the paperwork, but join us next week if you can.
Faith is knowing there’s a light at the end of the tunnel — even if it’s turned off.
Be back soon blogging away; for now, I’m crushed by paperwork.
Meanwhile, could someone turn on that light? Please?
Oh, I see. No, I don’t see the light. I see that nobody can do it for me, and that walking in the darkness when I don’t know where each step will land or where I’m headed is what I’m meant to do. Each step I take is like the light you turn on by clapping your hands. Only this light we turn on by taking that next step.
Okay, but I’m not happy about it. Oh. Nobody said I had to be (happy). That’s my choice. How about this — I let myself feel whatever I feel. That’s a novel concept. No, I didn’t invent it.
With all the pain, anger, frustration, sadness, I wouldn’t eliminate feelings from life if someone gave me the choice. It would take all the color and passion away. No, thank you. I’ll pass on the anti-depressants. Not because they’re bad or wrong; just because my body doesn’t like them. Dang thing wants to feel whatever is there. Can you beat that?
I’m raw. I cry. I plug away at this thing — this reconstruction of my life after “allegedly being embezzled out of almost half a million dollars” — especially when you count the added costs. Then it’s more like, well, six or seven hundred thousand dollars. What’s the price of a year of life?
I’ve heard there’s a purpose for this. Doesn’t help me to hear that. I’ve heard God will find a way to pay me back. Then, why didn’t He just let me keep it to begin with? Ha! Got you there.
Maybe, just maybe, this rawness will spice my creativity, help me tell good stories, help you relate to me. Oh, I see. I don’t get to know what the value is until later, in retrospect. Remember what? I can’t hear you. Oh, the Language of Letting Go.
That’s what I’m talking, and that’s what I’m talking about. We don’t let go in an instant, a moment. We don’t let go without going through all our emotions. It can be an awkward and ugly process.
But it gets us where we need to go. This time, you get to see me go through it in real time. Not five years later, when it’s all cleaned up and tidy — packed away in the basement in a box.
Hey! I see that light…or is it a firefly? Guess it doesn’t matter. Light is light.
Love you all. Thanks for the suport, prayers and kind thoughts. You hold me up. Seriously. Every positive and loving thought is like someone taking my hand, energizing me, and helping me walk my path.
I’m grateful. I’m just not sure what for yet.
Plod. Plod. Plod. Sometimes that’s what we’ve got to do. It’s not forever. It’s just for right now.
I’m back blogging again after not being allowed to talk about what was going on in my life while the police put together the case against the “alleged embezzler.”
It sounds strange to refer to someone I knew as “the alleged embezzler.”Those are cold words.
At first I thought the hardest part was the shock of discovering that someone I cared about had allegedly embezzled almost half a million dollars from me — a big hit for a small business. I kept spinng through the cycles of grief, over and over.
Then as a friend and I prepared the documents for the bank and I had to look at all the allegedly forged checks: Seventeen hundred, nineteen hundred, seven hundred – and that was only one afternoon’s worth of alleged forgery and fraud, the crying started again and this time it wouldn’t stop.
A friend said it best when I interviewed her for The Grief Club.She worked with people with AIDS . When she showed me pictures of friends who had passed, I asked if she ever got used to it — the loss.
“There’s a room in my heart,” she explained.“In that room is the pain from everyone I’ve lost. Now when someone dies, I don’t just feel the pain from losing that person. I go into that room and feel the pain from losing all the others, too.”
What she was saying was that as time passed it didn’t hurt less; it hurt more.
For almost five months, I lived in that room she talked about.I cried when I woke up, in the afternoon, and at night. I wasn’t sure what hurt most, the betrayal or losing the money. It depends on when you ask me. Both losses are huge. Both hurt.
After finishing the paperwork, I thought for sure the hardest part was over but instead I kept crying. Finally I decided to take my own advice, and did the 40-day Make Miracles activity again.I didn’t notice when or how it happened.But it’s like the hand of God reached in and turned my heart right-side up. I could see the positives and possibilities in Life again.
Then on day 39 or 40, when my friend and I were body-boarding in the ocean and I caught a big wave, I smiled. A big smile that came all the way from my heart. Right before my back surgery, body boarding or surfing was my next dream. I thought the surgery sent that dream packing forever — until day 39. My friend noticed it first.
I was happy again.
Today, the alleged embezzler’s name crossed my mind.
“God bless her,” I said.Then I immediately turned on myself.Why am I doing that?I’m the one who could use some blessings now.Bank of America might value their customers, but they don’t value their customer’s claims, at least not when the allegedly forged checks amount to almost half a million dollars.Even when the Bank of America employee assured me that B of A would make every single forged checked good so I wouldn’t have to take the financial loss, I knew the bank would find a loophole, a tech, and some way out — which they did.
It looks like I’ll have to start blessing the bank, too.
Many years ago, when I first started recovery, people taught me not to harbor resentments against people, places, or institutions. When I asked how to let go of these resentments, people told me to ask God to bless anyone I resented until the resentment disappeared. It might take months or years, but that simple activity always worked.Now, when the alleged embezzler’s name or the words “Bank of America” come to mind, instead of focusing on the negative emotions I feel, I ask God to please the person or institution.
The day will come when the alleged embezzler’s name or Bank of America will pass through my mind and I won’t feel the negativity. It will be replaced by true peace.
The hardest part of having so much money embezzled has just begun.It will be over when my pain and resentments have turned into forgiveness.
I don’t have to hire the alleged embezzler ever again. I don’t have to let her legally off the hook (I couldn’t anyway as it’s a criminal case now).I don’t have to speak to her again.But the pain from eight years of alleged lies and betrayal, of her looking at me and saying how much I mean to her (yeah, half a million dollar’s worth), the resentments and hurt all need to be gone.
There’s an old song about not letting the circle be broken. The only thing that can break it is a heart closed to love. Until the circle becomes mended, my work isn’t done.The other parts of this experience were easy compared to this.
“She won,” I told my friend.
“What are you talking about?” he said.“She’s charged with ten felony counts of swindling.You didn’t lose.”
I shook my head.“I wave the white flag.This was like a rape. Just like rapes aren’t about sex — they’re about anger — this wasn’t just about the money.It was about the power.And yes, she won.It knocked me down, took away my belief in myself and Life, and I’m not up off the ground yet.”
My friend turned on his computer and found a segment from Rocky Six. Rocky One, Two and Three helped me start my writing career decades ago.I didn’t know a Rocky Four or Five existed, much less Six. My friend fumbled until finding the right quote.Then he cranked up the volume to make sure I heard.
I’m just paraphrasing, and probably not doing the scene justice.But in it, Sylvester Stallone –as Rocky — lectured his son.He said it wasn’t about how hard he got hit. It was about how hard he could get hit and still get back up again, and stop blaming others.
I’m grateful for friends who care and for Sylvester Stallone. I’m grateful for smiles that come from deep inside. I’m grateful because I’m not alone.
I’ll see you soon here in the mystery where Life can be black, but it’s still a gift.
It’s good to be back.
Last night, I ordered my office supplies online (late at night) from the store where I always order them: Office Depot (www.OfficeDepot.com). Let me preface this story by saying Office Depot isn’t an advertiser, nor am I one of their advertising affiliates. I receive absolutely nothing from what I say about them: good or bad.
I like doing business with them because I love ordering office supplies, and I enjoy ordering them from Office Depot online. The supplies arrive within a day or so and get this — usually in the catalogue I order from, there’s a “free gift” for ordering online.
I’m not someone who takes anything I can get if it’s for free. I only take that which I want, like and need. I also know there’s no such thing as a free lunch (an old therapy slogan meaning for every behavior there’s a consequence).
Because of my travels, because my mailbox in Malibu sits on the street open to any passers-by hands, and because one of my concerns is identity theft, I don’t have mail come to my address. The problem with this is, I don’t receive the catalogues that have the “free prize” and the prize changes every month. Plus, to receive the free bonus gift, I need the promotional code. I have to enter it when I make my order.
Office Depot won’t tell you over the phone or even on their site what the prize is, which makes it a “surprise” and that makes it even better. But not if I can’t get it, which I haven’t been able to since I stopped mail delivery to this address to stop identify theft.
An aside guys and gals, I really thought I had myself and my assets locked up tightly. I thought I was secure and my assets safe. My sense of security? Totally an illusion. What makes this scary is I had taken deliberate steps to protect myself from exactly what happened.
Back to the blog at hand. I placed my order, but there wasn’t any way to find out what the surprise is, much less enter the promotional code for it. I’m SOL (so out of luck) as some might say. There’s a prize, but not one coming for me.
Today, I went online to Office Depot and initiated an online “chat.” I wanted to clarify another detail about my last night’s online order. But those details aren’t important. Once the Office Depot customer service representative and I resolved that issue, she asked the following question (which became the merchant’s proverbial kiss of death): “Is there anything else I can do for you?” the rep asked.
“Not unless you can help me get the prize I should have received with last night’s order. And given the annual amount of office supplies I purchase from Office Depot, I’d very much like to get it and I deserve it.” (I didn’t say I wanted to know what it was before I could say if I wanted it; it was a general statement that given my history with other merchants, I didn’t plan on this line of conversation going much further.)
My buddy Chip, sitting next to me working on his computer, began heckling me, something about not in a million years would I get my prize and stop annoying the person online.
A few minutes later, the customer service rep typed something else to me, about needing to enter the promotional code at the time of ordering, to which I replied I couldn’t enter it, because I didn’t have it and didn’t even know what this month’s free prize is.
Chip laughed louder, and again suggested I stop annoying the woman (or man) helping me online.
I ignored him, my usual response to anyone or thing that gets between me and the object of my obsession.
Moments later, the woman came back on the online chat. She gave me my choice of three separate prizes. The third one she described? Exactly what I wanted. I had tried to purchase it the night before, but they didn’t have it.
Excited, surprised, happy? Understatements for the way that interaction this morning made me feel when the rep confirmed that the prize I wanted would soon be mine.
No, I don’t have the prize in my hands yet. But according to Office Depot’s customer service representative, soon I’ll hold the spoils of victory in my hands.
Now, that’s customer service. On a scale of one to ten, ten being the highest, Office Depot’s online score for excellent customer services gets rated ten by me. Thank you for showing me the true customer service isn’t gone, Office Depot.
After everything else going on, I’ll take the gift with gratitude bordering on elation.
PS: Chip, I told you so — and that makes twice.
PPS: Whether we’re talking about a relationship with a business, friend, relative, pet or lover, it’s not wise to tell them only what they do wrong, or what they do that displeases us. When someone does something right, something nice — especially when the person goes out of his or her way to do something special for us — it’s important to take time to notice it and say how much it means to us. In the case of a blog that’s mentioning when businesses don’t act up to code, it’s just as or more important to mention businesses that go out of their way to provide superior customer service. People respond best to criticism if they know their best efforts will be rewarded with praise.
Again, thanks and many kudos to you, www.OfficeDepot.com.