Welcome to Humans Anonymous!

I have a confession.

It turns out i am a human. Who is flawed. And (gulp) imperfect.

There’s something about the holidays that just leaves me feeling raw and vulnerable. I am sure I am alone in this. I am sure no other flawed, imperfect human struggles this time of year!

Let me tell you about my judgment spiral. Wait, let me back up. I need you to know first of all that I am INFJ. That is a meyers-briggs personality assessment because I freaking love any time of psychology/self-help/woo-woo assessment.

You will notice there is a J at the end. J is for judgment. As in, I am a judge-y Judy. My husband-the-scientist is an INFP–“P”  stands for perceiving. Which means conversations like this occur (as it did last night):

Me: It isn’t always bad to be judge-y. Sometimes you need to make a judgement about something!

Husband: Do you?

Me: (Horrified) You are joking when you say that right? YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING ME!

Husband: No I am not joking. [editor’s note: He wasn’t joking. I KNOW RIGHT??]

Me: Oh, I just judged you for NOT JUDGING. Damnit I have a problem!

Now let’s back up one week. Let me set the scene.

Our babysitter was here watching our kiddo during the final week of the world’s longest break because I had to work (for real) and my husband had to work or else he would go certified stir-crazy (also true).

The sitter came and watched our kid in our house. Our messy, grimy, needs-deep-cleaning-so-bad-I-can-taste-it house. Our sitter–a self-professed “OCD neat freak” — was likely breaking out in hives all week after being forced to be in the grime. Of course that was what I was imagining.

Every morning before she came I cleaned like a madwoman, cursed about whoever didn’t put their shoes away, decided my husband and child were the World’s Messiest Human Beings, and generally felt my stress level go up ten notches.

Dear people, this was because I was worried about what my 22-year-old babysitter thought of my messy house. Yes. A young woman who has no children, no spouse, no full-time job. WHAT THE ACTUAL :!@#IE?! 

Oh, might I add that I assumed she was judging me. It is also possible she showed up, shrugged her shoulders, and carried on without a thought. Either way, why do I care?

Well, I care because at the end of the day I am ashamed of my dirty house. ASHAMED. I mean that is a powerful word right? And why am I ashamed? Because my dear, loving mother kept the most immaculate, clean, neat, tidy house you can imagine. My dear mother who would care for everyone in our house from the moment she arose to the end of the day, 11pm at night, sitting and folding laundry while finally doing something for herself: watching some tv. WHILE FOLDING LAUNDRY.

Guess what I do. Are you ready for this? I work all day, and after putting my kid to bed, sit and watch tv. WITHOUT FOLDING LAUNDRY. I let it pile up like nobody’s business. Or, I sit and write (like now!) rather than clean, or I sit and paint rather than clean.

As I type this I hear my mom in my ear. Tears well in my eyes as I type this: Sarah, you are being so hard on yourself. She also adds, with a chuckle, that housekeeping has never exactly been my strong suit. (She would also be correct.  I have always preferred writing, painting, and day-dreaming to sock-matching . My daughter, who very much likes her socks to match, will sometimes come over and say quite-seriously: “Mommy, good job! Your socks match today!”)

Yeah, I might have a self-compassion problem.  In fact, I do, according to self-compassion.org! (An actual website with an actual quiz.) Yes, it turns out there is a quiz for it. Because the universe has impeccable timing, Brené Brown’s “The Gifts of Imperfection” arrived yesterday, and I flipped directly to the self-compassion chapter which had a link to that website listed.

http://self-compassion.org/. Drum roll for the results….

compassion

Yeah…I’d say that maybe the word for 2017 will be self-compassion.

Me: HI, MY NAME IS SARAH.

Everyone else: HI SARAH!

Me: I AM A HUMAN! I AM IMPERFECT, LIKE ALL THE OTHER HUMANS!

Everyone else: WELCOME TO HUMANS-ANONYMOUS, SARAH!


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Embracing Brokenness

I love Parker Palmer’s writings so much. I had to share this quote I stumbled upon. 

P.s. May all stay safe in the face of storms–internal or external. (We were spared from Matthew and feeling so very grateful. Prayers to anyone impacted.)

As you integrate ignorance and failure into your knowledge and success, do the same with all the alien parts of yourself. 

Take everything that’s bright and beautiful in you and introduce it to the shadow side of yourself. 

Let your altruism meet your egotism, let your generosity meet your greed, let your joy meet your grief. 

Everyone has a shadow… But when you are able to say, “I am all of the above, my shadow as well as my light,” the shadow’s power is put in service of the good. 

Wholeness is the goal, but wholeness does not mean perfection, it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of your life.

A failed game of pin the tail on the donkey

I am embarking on the third round of birthdays, anniversaries and holidays without my mom.

In the past two years it often felt like I was fumbling around in the dark with a scarf over my eyes, playing a twisted game of pin the tail on the donkey where I never even came close to the tail and I only ended up poking myself in the foot.

I love making mistakes. It is how I learn! Well, that is what I tell my three-year-old, although I have a hunch I say it out loud as much for her ears as my own.

What have I learned from my many grief journey mistakes, you ask?

I have learned that on the anniversary of a loved one’s death, planning a long contemplative walk on the sandy beaches of Sanibel Island—especially after a storm washes up loads of mussels and seaweed to bake in the ninety-degree heat thereby attracting thousands of small biting gnats—is not ideal. It is not even close to ideal.

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A photo from that day. It looks prettier than it smelled. (photo my own.)

I’ve learned that making ALL the special recipes that remind me of my mom on the Big Holidays is bonkers crazy majorly unrealistic. Not good. 

I’ve learned that self-care is paramount. That instead of eating food for comfort (the ultimate comfort, really), instead I can opt for restorative yoga. Or a cup of tea. Or some time alone to draw or paint.

I’ve learned that there is no gold star for grieving correctly. You do the best you can with what you’ve got.

I continue to learn to be compassionate with myself.

Yes, I have learned over and over that grief often sneaks up, surprises, but it can dissipate surprisingly quickly too.

Lastly, I have learned that love heals. If you close your eyes after blowing out the candles on your late mother’s birthday cake and focus on your heart center, you can connect with her. She will be there beaming and she will say, l love you. 


Have any lessons to share? We can learn from each other. xoxox. Sarah

 

 

Changing the Script

Nobody is looking at my upper arms. Nobody is tracking their girth or tone.

And yet lately I find myself at times scowling at them, sighing and fretting about the state of my triceps. 

I am typically at peace with my body. I do my best to practice self-love and compassion when it comes to my body image. After my daughter was born, I wasn’t very phased by the extra weight I still carried. I was grateful for the extra fat my body had to fuel nonstop nursing and to help my child gain the weight she needed as a preemie. Then, I lost my mom later that year and I gained more weight, and for the most part I was ok with that too. Oh, Paula Deen grief pies, I loved you so. Worth every calorie.

All this to say that I generally do not fret about weight.  Except right now. 

My recent miscarriage resulted in more weight gain than I would have expected. In retrospect, I began grieving immediately after the baby’s heartbeat stopped, which was nearly two weeks before I found out that I had miscarried. I ate all the chocolate. All the potato chips. Kummerspeck, if you will.

Well, some of the kummerspeck came off quickly, and the rest, well…it is slow-going.

The other day my sister pointed out that I have been talking about this weight A LOT. She is both a great listener and perceptive. My first response was, what on earth are you talking about?! And then I was like, oh wow, she is right, because now that she mentions it, I can see that not only am I talking about it a lot, I am THINKING about it a lot.

Why is my body image on my mind so much?

Because the excess weight reminds me of the loss. Because removing the excess weight will set a reset button, and magically make it OK if I get pregnant again, protect me from loss…Yes, I think that is basically the magical thinking. 

I need to change the script. 305690403_052ff73cfc_o

Last night I did the seven minute workout. I love this thing. Seven minutes! I feel great after I do it. The heart gets pumping fast and I love that I no longer have to nearly lay my entire body on the ground as I attempt to do push-ups.

I had an a-ha moment where I realized that I feel stronger and have better stamina even compared to several weeks ago. I feel GOOD. I have more energy.

I want these to be the things I think about my body. Which got me thinking about what else can be part of this new mental script. Here are a few to start with:

  • working out makes me feel good, and I love feeling strong. My body is capable of powerful things.
  • When I feel triggered by this extra weight, I want my message to myself to be: this weight is a reminder of the life I was able to carry, however briefly, and I am grateful that I could be a mama to this baby who could not join this physical world.
  • This weight might remind me of the sadness too, and that is ok. I mourn the baby who could not come into this world. This weight makes me sad, because instead of joy at being pregnant, it reminds of sorrow for a baby who is no longer with us. 
  • When I see my large thighs and butt, I want to think, wow, my body was prepared to birth a baby, to carry extra fat to feed this baby. This is both beautiful and sad—beautiful because of the amazing things my body is able to do, and sad because my body was not able to do it for this child. 

 

I like this new script. I rings true, and I hope that it helps me to be gentle with myself. To give myself a mental hug when I need it, and to also celebrate my strength.

Have you had a script you had to change after miscarriage? I would love hear what worked for you. Blessings! -Sarah

Navigating the Holidays After Loss

It has taken three Christmases, two Easters and numerous birthdays and anniversaries since my mom passed away, but I think I finally found that elusive HOLIDAY SWEET SPOT, that place where I am able to incorporate memories of my mom into a holiday celebration without repeating the Great Christmas Eve Meltdown of 2015.

(That holiday ended with Chinese take-out. Nope, most definitely not the original menu plan.)

Until now, most holidays have played out something like this:

  1. I must remember ALL THE RECIPES my mom made for [insert holiday] and recreate them! OMIGOD THIS IS GOING TO BE AMAZING.
  2. Holy cow, I have a lot of shopping to do. Must make list.
  3. I finally made my list, awesome. No time to buy all this today but that is ok. I made the list!
  4. PHEW, I FINALLY GOT ALL THE INGREDIENTS. <collapses.>
  5. Crap, I have to make how many different recipes? (Counts in head…yep, nearly half a dozen.)
  6. I am so sad. Ugh, I can’t stand anticipatory grief. Grief just from thinking about how the grief is coming, how unfair is that. [Insert holiday] is not the same without mom. This sucks.
  7. You mean making all these recipes won’t magically bring my mom back/make grief less hard/capture all the magic of all the years of my life?? SCREW THIS!
  8. I bought all the stuff. Must make at least one dish. I’ll choose the one containing chocolate, butterscotch, sugar and corn syrup. (<—Note: ACTUAL ingredients in one of my mom’s recipes. Amazingly, she did not die of diabetes.)
  9. I ate too many of the desserts containing corn syrup. I feel like crap. This is nothing like the way mom did [insert holiday]. I am going to weep into my sugary dessert.
  10. Holidays are the WORST. Must not do this to myself again.

Yeah, as you can see I definitely make sure to always manage expectations and be gentle with myself during the holiday season.

Oh boy.

Easter just rolled around and I was determined to chill the heck out. This was a good holiday to practice on because it doesn’t hold the heavy expectations of Christmas, and if all fails, well, chocolate.

Want to hear my brilliant plan? I decided I was going to make only ONE of my mom’s recipes.

That’s it. I don’t want to give away the punch line or anything, but guess what: that’s the sweet spot.

I know: MIND BLOWN.

Let me walk you through what this looked like:

  1. I am only picking ONE recipe. ONE. Which one contains the most butter and carbs? BINGO: cheesy potatoes it is.
  2. Must buy ingredients. Awesome, I only need to pick up a few things, including corn flakes. (Every great family recipe contains corn flakes.)
  3. Time to cook. Only one ingredient requires more than opening and pouring a container!  (Must chop an onion. Look at me, I’m crying, but not from grief!)
  4. Not to brag or anything but I am basically rocking this. Yep, just throwing this dish together at 8am on Easter, but in a laid back way, not a frantic “must-find-way-to-honor-my-dead-mother” sort of way.
  5. Why, this is so easy even a child can do it!  Just had the three-year-old help by stirring ingredients for a full ten seconds. Memory-making complete.
  6. Dish prepped and in the fridge. I can relax now? This is weird. Very, very weird.

memory-making, 30 seconds at a time. (Toddler clothing is optional.)

That was it. I mean, yes, I had to open the oven door and insert delicious cheesy potato goodness into the oven, and then remove it an hour later, but really that was it. 

That. Was. It. 

This less-stress, more joy approach seems to be much better than setting ridiculous expectations and crumpling into a grief pile when it all fails.

It seems that when you honor your loved one in simple ways—and leave enough space to enjoy the honor—you might even end up having a magical moment.

At dinner, when I bit into my potatoes I felt so much love…my heart was flooded with memories of my mom and this recipe that donned so many holiday tables. It was beautiful.

(Sure, it doesn’t hurt that the recipe is also hits all the pleasure points–butter! carbs! sour cream! cheese! But I digress.)

check out these potatoes. I should be a food blogger with recipes as awesome as this.

This, my friends, is progress. I am hoping for a repeat performance with Mother’s Day. And hopefully I will have fully honed the technique by the time Christmas rolls around.

Pick one dish. Keep it simple. Feel the love. 

Cheesy potatoes for the win.