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In Memory of My Other Mom, Dorothy

January 23 is the “death day” of my second Mom. Dorothy Eshenbaugh was the step-grandmother of my last partner. I’ve blogged about Dorothy on many occasions. During our brief five years as my “Mother-there-ought-to-be-a-law,” we experienced a lot of life together; there were ups and many downs. But the love between Dorothy and I was always stable. We had a hell of a lot of fun together; we played a lot of Dominoes, laughed our asses off, and cried some too. We’d get mad at one another, like everyone does, but it never lasted for very long. She always knew the easiest way to solve a family argument would be through me and not her step-grandson. Dorothy didn’t like it when we weren’t talking. I remember how she would often hold my hands and those of my partner’s in hers and she’d say; “Now fella’s we have to stick together. We’re all we’ve got as family goes.” You see, Dorothy had a respect for communication between family members. Dorothy was in end stage renal failure, and hadn’t spoken in a few years to her sister, Betty or her mother. But Dorothy and I worked on a beautiful letter that she mailed to her sister so proudly one day. Dorothy was going to put an end to the silence.

Dorothy hardly gave the envelope enough time to get through her own post office before she started checking her mail for a response from her Betty or mother. Then, weeks went by and then months. Dorothy’s sad attitude gradually lifted and she shrugged it off and said, “Wasn’t meant to be I guess.”

Dorothy died on January 23, 2008 of end stage renal failure. I often feared that when the end would come for her that she’d be alone; I knew that was one of her biggest fears as well. When she transitioned from our earth, her beloved companion Rascal was at her side. Dorothy joked that Rascal in a strange way looked a bit like her deceased husband, Robert, who was the love of Dorothy’s life! You know, I never could really disagree with her! I think somehow Robert reincarnated into that dog!

My former partner and I knew that Dorothy’s prognosis didn’t assure us any real definitive time with her before the end would come. So, we made every birthday and holiday as special as we could for her. In the five years that Dorothy was in my life, she lived life. She went to church every Sunday and put in a prayer request for my ex and me every Sunday as well. Dorothy was a good mother to me, at a time when I didn’t have one. My own mother died many years before I met Dorothy. When Dorothy learned my mother was deceased, I could see how she put herself in that role for me. I never complained one bit. It felt nice to be loved again in that way that only a mother can.

I know Dorothy is at rest and still living fully in another plane of existence with her beloved Robert. These beautiful memories I hold of our time together and knowing that Dorothy is once again reunited with her husband who she loved so much, make it easier each day to feel a little less pain about the loss and the feeling of that space filled by joy and happiness that things are as they should be.

Dorothy’s mother and sister eventually learned of her death. I always knew and felt so strongly that someday, even though my former partner and I were no longer together, that I would, in some way shoulder the responsibility of informing them of  the details of their family member’s demise.  The situation did unfold that way as my ex-partner never told them. When Betty reached me and I had given some of the details of Dorothy’s life those last few years, I inquired about that damn letter, which, they never received. Dorothy’s sister Betty and I have, through this odd process, become a unique pair of friends. Good friends in fact. We’ve never met in person (at least not yet anyway) and most of our communication is through email. Betty and I have a connection though. I have made a personal commitment to myself that this summer, I am going to make a trip to the small Texas town Betty and her family lives in, and have an opportunity to meet them all. In a strange way, they already feel like family to me. I almost found myself writing to Betty the other day, “We’ve got to stick together Betty, we’re all we’ve got you know…”  I know Dorothy is smiling as she’s standing next to her Robert, as she watches the friendship form between us.

To Dorothy, I send wishes of eternal peace, love and happiness, and all the “Robert time” possible.  Before you know it Mom, someday you’re going to realize I’m there with you too, and then you better get out a good set of Dominoes, OK?  Love you so much, Mom.

Your son,

Mark.

 

A Symbol of Hope ~ The Butterfly

A SYMBOL OF HOPE

A butterfly lights beside us like a sunbeam
And for a brief moment its glory and beauty
belong to our world
But then it flies again
And though we wish it could have stayed…
We feel lucky to have seen it.

— Author Unknown

Butterflies have always been thought of by me as a symbol of great hope. This photo, which was recently posted by a new Facebook friend of mine, reminded me of that fact. With butterflies now fresh in my mind, and eager to share the butterfly as a symbol for my readers, I am including this image because I feel it best reflects the unlimited potential that is available to all of us.

This image can serve for us all as a reminder of our unlimited potential through the love and support we can give to one another each day – to the best of our ability. Reconnecting with the butterfly is one step toward reclaiming happiness. I am setting out to free myself from depression and negative thinking. I will do all that is necessary. I will do what is healthy so that like the butterfly I can gracefully maneuver my way through the rest of my days.


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Regaining Lost Pride and Lost Hope

“And nothing to look backward to with pride and nothing to look forward to with hope.” — Robert Frost

I am growing from, and getting over my sense of lost pride and lost hope. Often, my life seemed poisoned at the very source. I can’t remember a time of innocence, joy, or confidence in myself or in my relationships with others. I was sexually abused when I was a young child. I know the pain from that abuse and the stress associated with “keeping the secret” made me feel unsure of my boundaries and re framed my view of the future to one of anxiety and dread. But things are in fact beginning to change, as I change.

To go forward, I have had to admit to powerlessness. That has been hard for me to do. I must admit that I am powerless to undo the hurt and abuse in my past. And I have learned that I can’t “go it alone”. I have been alone way too long! I have my “new and improved” Self, the Universe, and my close friends to trust and confer with.

I am overcoming my past and turning toward the future with growing hope and trust. And then the present, like the New Year, becomes filled with promise. For those that know me well, also know that this “re framing” was difficult and can share with me the joy in my ability to change my way of thinking.


Setting Healthy Boundaries

“No one else can set your boundaries for you.” — Lois J.

Let me start out by saying that I am not an expert at setting boundaries. The setting of healthy boundaries has proven to be my single most challenge I face in my personal growth work. That being said, what I am going to share in this blog is what I have learned to be true about the setting of boundaries, and what I strive to integrate into my daily life.

I have learned that one way to create boundaries with people is to show priorities in our relationships. In the past, I believe that out of my loneliness and neediness, I may have talked to anyone, whether the person wanted to listen or not. In the mixed up world of my uncontrolled bi-polar disorder, I often withheld my true feelings from people close to me, but perhaps spilled them to someone outside my inner circle, say such as my new “best friend” the cashier at Fry’s.

As I now grow in self-esteem, my relationships improve and I act to meet my needs. Then I have a better sense of who everyone is in my life. I make choices in my relationships and take responsibility for them. I learn to bear the pain of boundaries that aren’t respected and enjoy the serenity of those that are.

I no longer need to give myself away in bits and pieces; I know now what it is to feel whole. I can simultaneously have acquaintances, friends, and intimate relationships, both sexual and nonsexual, in my life. I can trust that I will act appropriately and that my boundaries will keep me safe.

I know that there are some people in my life that will doubt the validity of my commitment to this level of understanding of boundaries. But I am a work in progress and this is truly the knowledge that I have gained.


Hope a Poem by Mark Schmitz

Hope

Hope is not the closing of your eyes

to the difficulty, the risk,

or the failure.

It is a trust that –

if I fail now –

I shall not fail forever;

and if I am hurt,

I shall be healed.

It is a trust that

life is good,

love is powerful,

and the future is full of promise.

By Mark Schmitz



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Be Happy!

“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”  – Prov. 17:22

When I am gloomy and melancholy I seem to walk around in a black cloud.  I find that I attract other disheartened people to me and soon it’s as if we are marching along in a funeral procession.

To be permanently gloomy seems an insult to life.  After all, there are many people who are worse off than I am, and yet they manage to find the energy and love to reach out and express joy.  Why then, should I coexist in the gloomy minority?

Often, I find that my thoughts dictate my mood.  Most vividly, I recall the gloom that appeared when I used to do a great deal of acting out, leading a double life with half of it rooted in fear and shame.  It’s no wonder that I was “down”, and that I sometimes still carry this habit and attitude with me now, along my path of personal and spiritual growth.

Part of my growth is in the regaining of a sense of happiness that reaches into the deepest part of me.  I can hear myself laugh and learn to play.  What a tonic it is, to be happy!  Joy is a vital part of life and I want to feel it deep inside me and bring to my face a smile!

 

Wisdom of the Seasons

 

“If Winter comes, can spring be far behind?”  – Percy Bysshe Shelley

I live in sunny Phoenix, Arizona.  For those not familiar with our desert climate, we do in fact experience a period of winter weather.  We can experience some very cold temperatures during the month of January; lows can dip to below freezing at night and only reach the low to mid 50’s during the day and a relative humidity in the negative.  There remains however plenty of green and flowering plants to trick the mind when the eye shoots a quick look out the window and sees the majestic palms and the deep blue sky with seemingly unending sunshine.  Occasionally those of us who grew up in the winter grasp of the Midwest begin to long for that time of hibernation.  I know I do.  I miss snow, bundling up with hats, coats, mittens, boots, scarves and more.  I miss warming up the car and days when no one goes anywhere because the snow has us shut in for a day or two.

I have learned that we do not need to be afraid of winter.   In winter nature lies fallow in preparation for the New Year.  All life needs rest in order to grow with greater strength and winter is the time of withdrawal that precedes renewal.

Sometimes, it may seem that our lives have become dark and hopeless and we can’t see a way forward.  I felt exactly as I’ve just described, many times over.  Perhaps, it came when a relationship failed and I thought, “This really has to be the end”, or my business was going badly; money became a problem, or the loss of family ties or connections.  I became lost in my melancholy and felt that things would never get better.

I knew that I could draw some strength from the wisdom of the seasons.  Bare trees will become clothed in green and the hard earth will again yield harvests of plenty.  I learned to appreciate this transformation as it happens every year and I take hope from it.  I can see my life also as bound to change!  From this wisdom of the seasons I grew this affirmation which is ready to be plucked from my jar of affirmations when the time is right: “Nothing in my life need defeat me, since I know that spring and summer will always come again”.


“A Letting Go” for the Holidays

 

“Celebration is a forgetting in order to remember. A forgetting of ego, of problems, of difficulties. A letting go.”  — Matthew Fox

 

Holidays can be a real test to one’s personal growth. That’s the case particularly for me. I struggle anyway on a day-to-day basis to stay emotionally and physically healthy. I can’t imagine those that must go it alone.

But I find this to be a good time to focus on taking good care of myself. I can reach out and invite my healthy friends, acquaintances and members of my “family of choice” to my home, keep up with phone calls, and try to be honest, rather than jolly. I can refuse to lose myself in my former unhealthy behaviors. I can find other healthy people to be with.

Perhaps holidays offer all of us the chance to reflect on the impact our former unhealthy ways have affected our relationships and how much sharing these special times with others means. We are also able to appreciate what we already have, to better recognize our blessings because we have known the pain and deprivation of our former, negative ways.

The path toward personal growth is my holiday season, offering to me peace, simplicity and most of all, reality. I can choose an attitude of hope and gratitude. In letting go of expectations, I find much more to celebrate than I could have anticipated. My affirmation for today is, “I have enough, I do enough, I am enough.”


 

The Mother of all Depressions

It was the “Mother of all Depressions.” For four days I was unable to get out of bed. I couldn’t eat. I didn’t care about anything. I wanted to die. Really; I found myself hating my life so much that I began to think putting an end to it was the answer. A tape with the obscene mantra, “I hate my life, I hate my life, I hate my life” began to play in my mind. The last time I felt similarly was one dreadful July 4th five years ago, when I found myself being admitted to an Adult Psychiatric Unit.

Experiences can sometimes begin to feel familiar to that time five years ago.  Questions from family or friends about drug use, an uncontrollable anxiety over issues that later seem to end up as the small and minor challenges of a life in hyper drive. Family members and friends have no idea how to handle the evil, bitchy side that comes with depression. We fight, scream, cry and make threats. The choices I make when depressed are often not at all healthy and incongruent with physical or emotional well-being. Sometimes, the thoughts inside my head secretly struggle with the ways close friends have changed and seemingly moved on with their life.  I may feel my life, in comparison to theirs, isn’t moving.

When I’m depressed, I want something; a pill, a hit of dope; SOMETHING that will stop my ability to feel. I will listen to recorded pipe organ music for hours and hours on end. The music of Bach, played on a pipe organ usually relaxes me. Those in my close inner circle have involved themselves with attempts to get me to do something to pull myself out of that dark evil place and back into the light. With each attempt I often hand them some bullshit line like, “Sure, I’ll get up and take the dogs for a nice long walk” or, “Yeah, and I’ll eat something.” What did I actually do? I went back to bed, but only after laying some feigned guilt trip about how much I may have missed them lately and how terrible I feel for the things I do that drives them away.

My pathetic actions give them yet another glimpse of how capable I am of beating the fucking shit out of myself for the ways I have hurt them in the past. Sometimes, family and friends threaten to close our relationships.  “I have forgiven you and you should take a look at what you need to do to forgive yourself” a close friend once said.  When this friend said that to me I began to know how familiar my interactions with them could feel. It seems I can be a cycling, emotional train wreck seeking solutions or fixes to my problems, from them.

Gradually, I have found myself coming around, getting back into the light of life and feeling better.  A combination of things has worked.  I began years ago writing or journaling about thoughts and feelings I experience, being as honest as I possibly can be with myself, in my personal journal. This process of sharing has become so comfortable to me, that I often write these same thoughts and feelings in a blog that anyone can read online. I read from many books that have sustained me through some tough times of painful personal growth. I pray.

From loved ones, I have received many gifts: words, though sometimes harsh, have raised my awareness of my behaviors. Love and “big momma type” hugs are a tactile way of feeling alive. Time spent sharing experiences or in quiet contemplation with other loved one’s travelling on a similar path of personal growth brings connectedness, and dilutes feelings of isolation.  The last gift from loved ones has been their understanding and patience.

Tools learned in earlier cycles of depression are known to work and avert another “Mother of all Depressions”:

  • Heightened anxiety is a precursor to thoughts that are not totally based on reality
  • Understand self forgiveness
  • Accept the way people change and move through life; we all must do the same
  • Do not compare your life with anyone else’s
  • Be grateful for the loved ones who have stayed by your side and reach out to at least one of them early on in any future cycle of depression
  • We can learn to re-frame situations and experiences which may trigger negative thinking
  • None of us are ever alone.  We will never be alone

I read a blog that inspired me to begin sharing my journey away from depression. I have linked to it below.  It was blogged by “Hope Despite Depression” at blogspot and is titled “Grateful for Depression?”  http://hopedespitedepression.blogspot.com/2010/11/grateful-for-depresson.html

May we never allow depression to consume ourselves as much as it has in the past, ever again. May we begin to see our life experiences in different ways.

A Gift So Rich This Holiday

 

“To eat bread without hope is still slowly to starve to death.” – – Pearl S. Buck

This holiday season is one of little financial means for me and void of certain family and friends. I am beginning to feel an emptiness creep into my preparations for the holiday season.  Without the usual seasonal hoopla and extravagances, a feeling began to evolve inside of me – a feeling of hopelessness. I quickly realized that if I continued to exist without hope I would surely lose my hold on life. I know from experience that without some form of love and intimacy I would move step-by-step into despair. I would retreat into my little world of selfish gratification and eventually forget what it means to be alive.

With this awareness, I have made great efforts to make this upcoming holiday special with plans to surround myself with my closest friends. When I look at these people whom I know to be on a strong path toward personal growth, I am struck by the sparkle in their eyes, the color in their cheeks, the spring in their step. They have come back to life. They have learned how to care again and to be unafraid of closeness. They have found life again in all its vibrancy and promise of change and renewal. That is what I strive for, and work towards.

This kind of energy is contagious, and forms one of the many advantages of building a network of other people working on their own spirituality and personal growth. I see people change and come back to life. Their growth touches my life and inspires me to come back out of the darkness of my dysfunction and unhealthy ways of thinking and into the clear light of the day. That is a gift so rich, yet so within reach. There is no need now for the exchange of material gifts when such special gifts have already been given. My life has changed through contact with my friends and “family of choice” and by developing my own traditions.