Archive for the ‘Personal Development’ Category

I can remember walking to school for kindergarten; I would walk up 2 houses and cross the street.  The house on the corner had a chain link fence around the front yard; it was about 30″ tall, not very tall at all.  Inside the chain link fence was this arrangement of rectangular plots of land with plants, flowers and trees within concrete borders.  It looked like a secret garden and I wanted to explore it.  I can remember that the people who lived in the house didn’t really like kids, so we avoided that yard except to walk past on our way to school.

I was in Miss Washington’s kindergarten class.  She had dark hair in a classic bouffant style, and fair skin.  She had a soft voice and soft personality.  She wore classic 60’s suits of heavily textured polyester in vivid neon colors.  The classroom has a dark quality because we were on the shady side of the building and there were trees right outside the window. There were windows with beige venetian blinds on the back wall of the classroom opposite the entry door and on the corridor wall as well. Our classroom was located at the corner of the school building on the first floor.  There were doors at both ends of the classroom and one of the doors opened onto the wall of a seemingly very large corridor with very shiny floors and lockers lining the walls. Miss Washington’s desk was on the opposite side of the classroom facing the corridor and our desks were perpendicular to her desk and faced the chalkboard in the front of the classroom. The desks were made of wood and brownish gray metal and were proportional in size for 5 year olds.  The slanted wood looking laminate top had a groove carved in the center top to hold your pencil, and the top hinged open to reveal a thick metal basin in which to store our school supplies.  The attached plywood chair was attached to the desk at a frame on the bottom of the chair.

We students had done an assignment especially well one day because Miss Washington gave each of us a Tootsie Pop as a reward.  I remember mine was grape and it was gone all too quickly.  She handed one to every student in the class and then placed one remaining Tootsie Pop in her right hand desk drawer.  She then left the class to attend to something and left us students alone.  I thought of some reason that I had to be standing by Miss Washington’s desk, and I opened her desk drawer and took the last remaining Tootsie Pop for myself.  I went to my desk and sat down, undetected in my theft, feeling triumphant in my acquisition I quietly lifted the desktop and gently placed my Tootsie Pop in the safety of my desk basin for an after school treat.  Shortly thereafter, Miss Washington returned to the classroom, and at one point she looked in her desk drawer.  “I thought I had an extra Tootsie Roll for someone who isn’t here today”, Miss Washington said, and before I even thought about what I was doing, my hand shot up, I eagerly said, “I have an extra one you can have!”

I can remember the feeling of wanting to share but more importantly of wanting to be commended for sharing.  I was hungrier for the recognition and praise that I was for that Tootsie Roll. Miss Washington uncovered my deception quickly I’m sure and I must have confessed instantly.  I don’t remember exactly what Miss Washington said to me, I’m sure it involved disappointment and I was sent to the principal’s office very quickly.  I remember this balding man who was be the principal pacing in front of his desk.  He was holding onto a flat wooden paddle about the length of a baseball bat, and trying to scare me by telling me, “you know, I’m allowed to use this, but I really don’t want to”.  He rhythmically bounced the paddle against his hand to emphasize his point.  It did scare me; I didn’t want to get paddled, but not because it would hurt.  I didn’t want to get paddled because the attention I would have gotten attention in the class would not have been because I showed my generosity for a fellow classmate as I craved.  But feared that the other children would make fun of me and not play with me for getting in trouble and being sent to the principal’s office. It was a long walk back down that shiny corridor to Miss Washington’s classroom.


This is an art project from college.  I wish I could say I felt a little different now, however, I can say that it’s good to have a baseline from which to grow from.

2010 was an important year for learning for me.  Not fun, mind you, but important.  Life lessons have worked as building blocks for me, learning something about myself or a necessary skill has provided a step up to the next lesson or more detailed skill.  So I have learned that embracing what comes into my life means that I will be open, ready and willing for what follows. 

I grew up in a family where there was never any middle ground.  Ever.  With an alcoholic father and co-dependent mother, we lived in extremes.  There was either total avoidance (which really meant we were just bracing for the next blow up) or full-blown chaos. 

Conflicts were all treated the same, whether small and large, it was as if the world were ending.  Someone would yell and scream, someone got blamed, and then it was over.  There was no further discussion and this pattern seemed to preserve the right to bring up all previous mistakes in future conflicts.  As a child, this didn’t seem unusual to me, it was “normal” in our household.  You can imagine how confusing it was for me to finally realize that this was not normal in a lot of families.  Who didn’t bring up problems from 10 years ago if it was thought to be relevant now?

I spent years, decades even, using this particular set of conflict resolution skills for everything from overdrawn checks to disciplining my children.  It was difficult for me to have stability or a normal routine, because any sort of stability in my life growing up usually meant that there was an even bigger storm brewing.  Provoking situations to force chaos sooner rather than later reduced the terrible anxiety I felt about the chaos I knew would surely happen.  This is very common scenario for Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA).

So, as you can imagine, I was VERY good at creating chaos.  I thrived on chaos, I sprung into action, I solved the problem, I got things done, and I was very good as using my over developed sense of responsibility solving not only my problems, but everyone else’s as well (whether or not they wanted me to solve them).  According to the website Adult Children of Alcoholics,   “Even more self-defeating, we became addicted to excitement in all our affairs, preferring constant upset to workable solutions.”  That was me.

For whatever reasons this past year (it could be because I turned 50, or had both kids leave the house) or just finally the realization of age, I found that operating in my extremes did not work for me anymore.  So in no particular order, here are my 5 life lessons for 2010.

Life Lesson #1 2010:  I looked at what I was doing and my responsibility in provoking the conflict in my life.  (Difficult when you’ve spent a lifetime having a victim mentality)  I did it anyway.  Taking an honest look, I realized that it probably is difficult for other people, friends, family and co-workers to translate my extreme behavior into what I think my behavior is actually conveying, which were usually two totally different things.  It sucked to look at myself and accept that.  I was totally committed to improving how I interact with the world.  I also realized, that despite my best ACOA intentions of being perfect in this process, I would fail, probably often.  What that meant was I had a few apologies to make.  Again, difficult when you’ve really perfected the art of thinking you’re never wrong.  Gulp.

Life Lesson #2 2010:  Publicly acknowledging that you are struggling doesn’t kill you or change how people think about you.  I found that when I explained to people, they very understanding, especially if I apologized at the same time.  However, I also realized that trust and friendship may have been tested and will have to be gained again.

Life Lesson #3 2010:  I learned that apologizing is not fatal.  After carefully considering the situations, I didn’t apologize for anything I didn’t feel led to.  But there were certain situations I know I needed to apologize for.  I felt better and stopped feeling guilty and tortured once I did.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally obsess over who said what and what I could have said.  But for the most part, apologizing truly helped me move on.

Life Lesson #4 2010:  I am still fighting my natural tendencies to create chaos, thinking about every situation and what may be appropriate, but chaos is happening less frequently.  I am hopeful that this continues to decrease as I become more comfortable in stable and calm situations.  I will also develop the sense to discern when a situation actually requires the use of more force or action to solve the problem.  What I’ve learned is that most situations, given a few minutes to process, can be solved with calm discussion and I just need to give myself those few minutes to see that.

Life Lesson #5 2010:  I have been working on my life and improving it for what seems like forever.  This past year I realized that I can’t get to a place and think that I can stop.  Which I did.  I was looking at this process like there was an actual destination where everything fell into place and I no longer had to work on my issues.  Ridiculous, I know.  So I have had to adjust my attitude so that I no longer made a huge effort for a short period and then stopped.  I now look at the smaller actions required daily, weekly or monthly and accept that a small effort can be important and it does count.

I’m looking forward to seeing how these life lessons continue to develop in 2011.  For as painful as learning some of these lessons has been, life on the other side of these lessons is so much better.  Growing up at any age is worth it.

My father and I were in an introductory VERY SERIOUS MEETING with an attorney recently discussing VERY SERIOUS THINGS.  My father is 81 years old and had gone through some traumatic and life altering health crisises, in the last few months. 

He has been retired for almost 20 years and has no hobbies outside of watching TV.  Even before he retired, he didn’t engage at all.  zip, nana, nothing, period.

Something he said at towards the end of our meeting caused me to think about how we react when we get uncomfortable in serious discussions.

We were recapping who would do what next and he says, “Here’s something completely off topic”, and so I am thinking that it has to do with the legal situation, as do the attorneys.  However, he tells us that he recently saw on TV how the skunk’s spray is flammable.    Hm….

After the attorney and I looked at each other for a few minutes, me trying to mind meld with the attorney to tell him that my father is not crazy, we get back to the wrap up and finish.

After I relayed this funny story to anyone who knows my dad, I had a few minutes to consider why he would say such a random thing at that moment.

The best I could come up with is that he just was not used to discussing things of value or importance.  He brought up something he was completely comfortable with, TV, and some useless and unimportant fact that as a stress reliever from dealing with reality.

How do you deal with the reality of the situation you are in?  I think of myself as confrontational and eager to deal with whatever has come up.  However, I think that as long as I think I am right and justified (and can win the fight), I am eager to confront.  When I’m not so sure about winning, then I am more cautious before proceeding.  Which is really the better way to go, because I’m not always right, even though I may think I am.  Can I stop my will to win for the greater good of maintaining a relationship? 

I will let you know…

I pass this life-size dinosaur every day and yet it has been years since I have given it any thought.  Until the other day when I passed Tyrannosaurus Rex all dressed up for Halloween and as so, is always dressed head to toe for every worthy occasion.  However, it is on this occasion that I took notice of three things:

1.  There is a life-size 20 foot tall T-Rex on the corner of a major intersection

2.  He is holding a small sign that reads “Boo”

3.  He is holding a large plastic orange pumpkin bucket

T Rex represents all those false thoughts that and those negative beliefs that we work so hard to let go of.  If we do not make a deliberate effort to conquer the ugly chatter in our head (slay the dragon, so to speak), those thoughts and beliefs are as real as T Rex, teeth bared, poised for destruction.  We may not be prepared for a fight or flight situation, instead we run and hide leaving those thoughts and beliefs stronger than before.  Say we manage to be strong enough to overcome the ugly chatter and have slipped by the large carnivorous dinosaur on the corner.  Does T Rex give up that easily?

T Rex is also holding a small sign that reads “Boo” … This sign is our small quiet voice that questions our decisions, pushes us to ignore our intuition, and go along even though we don’t agree.

Last but not least is the large orange pumpkin; T Rex is clearly expecting something.  Remember back to our trick or treating days.  Why did we carry the biggest plastic pumpkin we could find?  We were hoping for lots of candy!  Do not forget, the tradition is trick OR treat, historically it wasn’t guaranteed you would get a treat, tricks were included and feared.

Here is T Rex, with his sign and pumpkin bucket expecting you to fill it.  Fill with what?  Tricks, big scary ones, destruction and despair are his favorite snacks. 

The tricks are those vague thoughts about lack, failure and disappointment casually tossed into the bucket.   To turn those tricks into treats, we must challenge ourselves, “Is this true?”, and “If it’s true, how often?  Every time?  Once in a while?” and “How did I overcome this situation the last time it happened” We have to remember how truly amazing and strong we are or we’re the only ones getting tricked.

So when we hear the question “Trick or Treat”, remember it’s our choice.