Broken Parts

The broken parts of me are triggered by just about anything: the observation of a friend’s practical replacement home windows, a co-worker’s use of a Shout stain-removing wipe, or watching someone toast bread in the employee break room.

Recently, in the community kitchen at my office, a woman was toasting bread to make herself a sandwich for lunch. My observation of the woman and the realization that she was toasting bread for a sandwich triggered my messed-up self. Old sad feelings flooded my chest. My heart felt a little heavy. Why in the world would toast stir up feelings, you ask?

Well, it’s the self-care. Going to the trouble of making toast for a sandwich represents to me self-care. Occasionally, when I witness someone doing something which I perceive to be a demonstration of self care, I am reminded that I come from a family who is painfully short on knowing how to do this “self-care” thing. We are always much better at functioning in chaos and “getting by” than we are at self-care.

Those of us who grew up in toxic environments have a tendency to thrive in chaos. My role models took Ibuprofen for tooth pain instead of seeing a dentist to fix the problem. They carried around rolls of toilet paper for runny noses instead of Kleenex. I will never again be a child and have the opportunity to view healthy role models. That is gone. The sad feelings brought on by toast stem from an ancient longing for a mother who takes proper care of herself.

I realize that one of the reasons my mother did not take very good care of herself is because she was busy taking care of other people. I know this is a fairly common situation with mothers. My mother was at least slightly worse, but probably much worse, at the important job of self-care than other mothers. As a child, I always wanted her to get a manicure or hang out with friends or care about the clothes she wore. I wanted a washer and dryer at home instead of an expensive couch. The thought of old meatloaf under her unkempt fingernails was scary to me. I think we can all understand how a child wants her mother to be happy and behave in appropriate ways.

Although she was never diagnosed by a doctor as depressed, I feel sure she was. And the reason she was never diagnosed by a doctor is because the last time I recall her going to see a doctor was in 1970 (at least before she passed away in 2014). The last six months of her life were spent in many offices of doctors.

The self-care ache in my heart is two-fold. First, it’s an ache for my mother. I wanted her to be “okay.” I wanted her to value herself enough to take care of herself. I wanted her to value herself at least as much as she valued my dad, my aunt, my children, and me. She always ended up on the back burner. I wanted her to spend a little bit of money on herself every now and then. There were lots of times I would come to visit and her kitchen sink would need a good cleaning, so I would look for cleaning products and find none. She just never had the things other mothers had. Every time I see a grandmother wearing lipstick and nail polish, my heart hurts a little.

My mother was an extremely creative woman. She could take the upholstery off of a couch and use it as a pattern to make new upholstery for the couch. Truly amazing talent. But she never seemed to realize her creative gift. She would minimize her talent and honestly believe, “Oh, that’s nothing. Anyone could do this if they just tried.”

The second fold of this ache is an ache for myself because I had no healthy role model for this – no training as to how to value myself and provide good self-care. The person I looked up to was broken. There are lots of ways I neglected to take care of myself over the years: choosing toxic friendships and romances; believing my inner critic; “getting by” with worn-out undergarments or socks with holes; drinking myself crazy; and not making myself toasted sandwiches. 

Several months ago in the lunch room at work, I walked in to heat up my Lean Cuisine, and I watched a woman open up several square plastic containers filled with various salad toppings for her lunch. So much trouble! She opened the container of lettuce and added diced red peppers, shredded carrots and cheese. She drizzled dressing on top of it. Even the salad dressing was in a cute green plastic container. She snapped the plastic lid on the container of salad and shook it while she glanced casually at the newspaper lying nearby. My broken self was stunned by my own feelings; feelings that seemed to come out of nowhere. Feelings of sadness and grief for something I will never have. Part of the trigger was related to the ease with which the woman had taken such good care of herself. She assembled her healthy lunch and did so while casually reading the newspaper. She had obviously been raised by someone who had taught her how to properly care for herself.

The triggers don’t happen very often. I’ve done a lot of work to learn some skills for being my own loving parent. However, there are times when I yearn to be the daughter of one of those women who owns Tupperware and crock pots and savings accounts; a person who plans things like pregnancy and what to wear to work each day. The kicker is that I probably look like one of these “together” people I’m describing. I’m better than I used to be, but I’m not as good as I want to be. I will not give up.

Empty Praise

cropped-annajulie1.jpgWe’ve all heard people say, “I want to give my children all of the things I never had growing up.” While this is a normal feeling, it’s not always the best parenting behavior. My parents raised me with lavish praise at every opportunity. Their intention was noble, and I believe they did this because they felt a lack of praise in their childhood. Therefore, when they had the opportunity to raise a child, most likely they wanted to give me what they felt they did not have growing up.

Unfortunately, their endless praise of me backfired, and I wound up feeling extremely insecure in spite of all the positive strokes. This was always so very confusing to me. How could I feel insecure when my parents were so supportive of me? After many months working with a therapist, and my involvement with other personal growth programs, I became stronger. I learned to value myself for things I can control – like kindness, empathy, listening skills, hard work, etc. Before my recovery work, the insecurity I felt was perplexing. I soon began studying something called “empty praise.”

By praising a child for something they have no control over — such as appearance or natural ability — parents inadvertently create praise “junkies.” These children grow up with very little internal sense of their strength and abilities. Very often, these same children have been protected from failure and have not only been spared the experience of failure, but have also been spared the strength and self-reliance that comes from trying and failing and then trying again. Below is an excerpt from Amy McCready’s article on Huffington Post, “Mistakes Too Many Parents Make When They Praise Their Kids.” McCready eloquently articulates the “empty praise” scenario.

TURNING PRAISE INTO LABELS

Praise, like sugar, can be tricky — and sometimes it shows up even where we don’t intend. For instance, when we label or compare our kids, we’re praising them, or worse, belittling them, often without realizing it. By claiming an “athletic one” or our “funny one” or the “shy one,” we highlight abilities (or inabilities) through comparison, and package all of our children into neat little boxes. Even more subtle is the designation of a go-to kid. We all have one — it’s the child we trust to carry the full salad bowl to the table. He’s the one we “go-to” when we want something done quickly and without a fuss. Relying on the go-to kid is a type of praise that can be just as damaging as its overt counterpart — not only because kids pick up on everything (even the fact that Javier always gets the cool jobs), but also because with it, we unknowingly tell kids that they are their label and can’t control who they are or what they do. Ouch!

The antidote: Even if you know Molly could have a career in modeling, or Charlie would rather mail himself to Siberia than speak in front of an audience, resist the urge to label Molly as “the pretty one” and compare Charlie as “my shy kid.” While you’re handing out family tasks, divvy up age-appropriate jobs equally so everyone gets a chance to drop (or successfully transport) the salad bowl, using plastic if you’re truly concerned. And who knows? Maybe with encouragement Charlie will someday find himself on a stage addressing thousands, without even having to picture them all in their underwear.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amy-mccready/mistakes-too-many-parents-make-when-they-praise-their-kids_b_7971142.html

The Secret of My Success

In the United States, we want things immediately: fast food, fast turn-around times on our dry-cleaning, green traffic lights on the commute to work, etc. The American work force is filled with power-driven, money-driven, and “success-driven” people (although “success” is a relative term and does not mean the same thing to everyone). We move fast, think fast, and are hungry to climb the corporate ladder as fast as we can. Sometimes we don’t care who we have to step on to reach the top of the ladder.

Twenty years ago when I back-packed through Europe, there were many experiences that made a life-long impression on me. I traveled by myself to France from Nashville (via Philadelphia), and slept in youth hostiles and small hotels for nine weeks. Everything I took with me had to fit in my backpack. I had worked hard the previous year to scrape together the funds for such an excursion. I am so grateful that I did it. My European trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it helped me become more globally minded and it gave me a clearer perspective of what is really important to me.

One thing I admire about the European culture is the pace. I did not see an urgent drive to live fast and churn, churn, churn with daily stress in order to “succeed.” Success for many Europeans is not the same as American success. I sometimes wish I had stayed in Europe and figured out a way to live there permanently. Although cheese, pasta, heavy cream, alcohol and cigarettes are consumed by many Europeans, they do not have the health issues we do here in America. The only thing I can attribute that to is the European way of life: afternoon siestas where businesses are closed for two hours to eat and rest and two- to three-hour dinners each evening with family and friends. Meals are events. Meals are valued as time to enjoy good food and the company of those you love.

I have worked in the corporate world for over 30 years, and it takes its toll on me at times. I long for the European pace of living. It is a challenge being an artist dressed up like a corporate worker. My soul rejects the corporate environment on a regular basis. Because I did not listen to my inner artist earlier in life and take the steps necessary to free myself from the corporate world, I am, for the moment, stuck in it.  I continue to pray and seek the Universe’s wisdom as I put one foot in front of the other on my artist’s path. More important than money or “success” is honoring my artist self. Finding a place where I can honor her and still provide for my family is where I want to be.

Please respond to this post with your thoughts about success and what it means to you. I would love to hear from you!

The Boy in the Striped Green Shirt

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Here’s an excerpt from page 66 of “Paper Girl.” Click “Menu” and “Buy Now” button above to purchase this chilling young adult novel.

The singer’s gravel voice was intoxicating. A motor, strong and deliberate — the most beautiful sound Nikki had ever heard. Free. Raw. Passion. The voice wasn’t trying to be pretty. It wasn’t trying to be anything. Nikki had, on no occasion, witnessed anyone as raw and beautiful as the gravel-voiced boy with the striped green shirt, playing left-handed guitar and making quirky faces into the camera.

Children

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Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They came through you but not from you, and though they are with you, they belong not to you. — Kahlil Gibran, Poet

Winter Blues?

Does the winter season invigorate you or give you the “Winter Blues?” Please provide your thoughts in the comments of this post. I would love to hear from you!

Personally, the winter is a sluggish time for me. I have to work hard to motivate myself to exercise and get my butt off the couch. Maybe it’s the lack of daylight. Not sure. My struggles with Demon Depression are real and difficult. He is such a convincing liar. He chuckles and tells me I will never feel better and, even if I do, it won’t last. He promises he will always be near and real. He promises to always torment me.

Headed to work now. I look forward to reading your comments. Stay warm.

Just Be Yourself

I’ve always despised that statement. “Just be yourself” is no easy thing for some of us. Now, for those people who, as I like to describe it, “take up too much space in the world,” “being yourself” comes naturally. These folks know no other way. And they have no idea what it feels like to be anyone besides yourself.

However, as a recovering people pleaser, there were many years where I had no idea who “myself” was. Because of this, I had no idea how to “just be myself.” I remember staying the weekend with a family friend and being asked, “What would you like to do today, Julie?” My mind was blank. I was in my early 20s and I had only been someone who responds to other people’s needs and had been raised by parents who did not know how to parent me in ways that would allow my authentic self to flourish.

One very important role of a parent is to validate a child’s feelings. A very wise counselor once told my husband and me that reflective listening is very helpful for couples who are experiencing problems. You’ve probably heard this, too. One of the keys to reflective listening is to have Person A tell Person B their feelings about a situation. Person B then tells Person A what he/she understands Person A to be saying and feeling. While this is good, it’s simply not enough. The wise counselor told us that Person B needs to then say, “Is this correct? Did I get it right? Is this what you are feeling?” Person A then responds as to whether or not Person B understands things accurately. Then Person B needs to say, “Is there more?” If Person A needs to convey more information about the situation, Person A continues to reveal their experience and their feelings about it. Person B repeats the actions above until Person A feels completely understood. It is critical for Person B to continue asking, “Is there more?”

This reflective listening experience is so important for youngsters to experience also. A child who has hurt feelings from an encounter with a classmate or a neighbor needs to be able to confide in his/her parent and be “heard.” The child needs to be completely heard so that his/her feelings are validated by this authority figure. The child does not need advice. The child does not need to be scolded. The child needs validation of his/her feelings. Once that is taken care of, if it is appropriate, recommendations may be given as to how to avoid a similar situation in the future, etc. If the child’s feelings are not validated, the child will suffer many emotional problems in the future stemming from a lack of validation.

In my 20s, I had no idea what I wanted to do when asked, “If you could do anything you wanted to, what would you do today?” My “self” had been smothered by controlling parents and my life was mostly about minimizing their anger and unhappiness. As a child, I had taken on the role of emotional caregiver to my parents when they were unhappy. Incorrectly, I assumed it was my responsibility to “make them happy.” Perfect grades, perfect skin, perfect responses to the wardrobes they purchased for me, and perfect attention to stories they wished to share with me filled my days. If ever I looked away while my mother was telling me one of her crazy stories she should have really been telling a therapist or a friend, she would say, “Are you listening to me?” That was my cue to straighten up and fly right. I did not want the rage. I must do everything in my power to avoid the rage which lay just below the surface.

I am 51 now, and after much work and the desire to continue to grow and learn, I know myself. I don’t struggle with the question any longer when asked, “What would you like to do today?” However, I am careful to notice others who may be struggling in the presence of those persons who take up too much space in the world. I’m always drawn to those who suffer and may need a smile or a kind word.

Mommy Dearest

Have you seen this movie? I watched it about 15 years ago, and then again recently. What a powerful image of a person who should not have parented a child. My novel, “Paper Girl,” revolves around the same type of parenting. If you have a reader on your holiday gift list, search Amazon’s website for “Julie Butler” to purchase this young adult fiction paperback. (You may also click the “Buy Now” link on this blog to purchase it.) A teacher in Tennessee writes, “I couldn’t put it down. The story completely changed the way I view my students.”

To become your own loving parent takes life-long effort. When a person grows up in an alcoholic environment (or another dysfunctional environment where the child lacks a voice and lacks power), there comes a time when the “adult child” is faced with the realization that he or she was abandoned in some fashion. There is anger and grief, and then, hopefully, there is the realization that the “adult child” is capable of re-parenting himself/herself in loving ways. This re-parenting involves boundaries, fun, therapy, and the allowance of feelings. “Becoming our own Loving Parent means that many of us come to believe that our Higher Power is our actual parent. The birth parents passed on the disease of family dysfunction that affects us in our lives today. Our Higher Power is the parent who gives us unconditional love and the way out of confusion and self-abuse.” (Chapter 8 of of “Alcoholic/Dysfunctional Families,” a/k/a the Big Red Book)

Live and let live. Be kind to yourself today.

Motivation

I would really like to hear from you on this. Will you comment with your thoughts?

I’ve worked in the corporate world for 25-plus years. The job is not my preferred job, but I need to pay bills. My preference for work would be a full-time career in writing and art. (Still working on that.) However, today’s post is not about my love/hate relationship with the corporate world. I will save that for another blog post. Today’s post relates to the idea of work motivation. What motivates you? What makes you want to work hard and produce amazing results in your job? What makes you look forward to arriving at the office each day? What makes you feel valuable? What makes you smile?

I work in Information Systems, and have for about 10 years. Over the years, the directors of our department have made the statement (or something similar), “Remember, people. The reason you have a job is because of the lawyers we support every day. The lawyers make lots of money for this firm, and they are the reason you have a job. Don’t forget why you are here. You are here to make their lives easier.”

Does a statement like that motivate you?

Kurt Cobain

My recently-released young adult novel, “Paper Girl,” was written from a place of gratefulness to artists like Kurt Cobain, whose life and work helped me feel not alone in the world. In my teens and 20s I struggled with extreme inner conflict and self-doubt. My “self” was like a chameleon that transformed to fit various environments and relationships. While a certain amount of flexibility is helpful in life, the level of my flexibility worked against me and left me feeling empty. My creative self felt trampled and shy. Like a young child, every so often, my inner artist would tap me on the shoulder and say, “Hey, do you think we could do some writing or painting or something?”

Artists like Cobain helped inspire me to do the hard work of getting up each and every morning to write and honor my artist self. I am grateful for Cobain’s gift. I will end this blog post today with an excerpt from Michael Stipe’s 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech for Nirvana.

“It is the highest calling for an artist, as well as the greatest possible privilege to capture a moment…to expose our struggles, our aspirations, our desires…Cobain, Novoselic, and Grohl were Nirvana…Nirvana defined a moment, a movement for outsiders: for the fags; for the fat girls for the broken toys; the shy nerds; the Goth kids from Tennessee and Kentucky; for the rockers and the awkward; for the fed-up; the too-smart kids and the bullied.” (Michael Stipe)