Friday, October 19, 2012

Self-Destruction Masquerades as Strength...

Sometimes self-destructive behavior masquerades as strength.

I've always considered myself strong and independent though recently life forced me to rethink my personal definitions of both strength and independence. My focus turned to how sometimes we see self-destructive behavior as strength. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that often other people's view of me as a strong woman came during times when I was at my most self-destructive. Lately, I've spent some time trying to reconcile inner strength with my tendency toward self-destructive behavior when I'm faced with things I'd rather avoid acknowledging let alone resolving.

We have a tendency to look at women who appear to make all their own decisions as strong regardless of how bad those decisions are. Numbing one's pain and drowning out the past with sex, drugs, alcohol, or other vices are not traits of a strong woman. Erecting a barrier around one's emotions to keep from feeling vulnerable is not strength. Avoiding making real connections with others is not strength. Hiding from one's truth is not strength.

Even drowning one's self in work, a relationship, or some other productive activity in order to avoid dealing with one's life isn't strength. We often think they are because we excuse those "productive" activities as building a life. So we put our full focus into what we want to create and ignore anything that doesn't fit the image we want to see.

Strong women don't need to be saved from themselves. They are capable of facing life, dissecting their issues, and making their own decisions. Strong women don't run from life's challenges. Strong women don't hide when life hurts. Strong women save themselves.

Oddly, we also tend to think strong women keep their emotions inside. In truth, strong women cry, rage, laugh, and smile. Strong women love and hate. Strong women take care of themselves and take care of others. Strong women don't demand perfection from themselves but always give life the best they can.

Strong women ask for help when they need it. They don't feel weakened when they need other people because they recognize human beings need one another. There is nothing wrong in needing friends. There is nothing wrong with wanting incredible people to surround them. There is nothing wrong in admitting she can't do everything for everybody all the time. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging she can't be all to all. In fact, know her limitations is one of the hallmarks of a strong and independent woman.

When a strong woman becomes self-destructive, she sacrifices her true strength. A strong woman is in control of her sexuality, her pleasure, and her life. She doesn't deny herself the happiness she deserves. She revels in the joy life offers her without denying the challenges she overcomes. Allowing self-destructive behavior to take over one's life only leads to more pain and heartache. It may provide a facade of bravado to those nearby, but it can never be true strength.

A strong woman will find her way out of self-destructive behavior with a greater understanding of who she is at her core. She will forever recognize her tendency to embrace self-destructive behavior when under certain types of pressure, but she will teach herself how to cope and avoid allowing self-destructive behavior to rule her life.

I know because I'm a strong woman who has had bouts with self-destructive behavior. I lost my inner strength with each self-destructive behavior I took. I've traded numbing myself with extreme focus on life goals for risky behavior like numbing myself with sex and alcohol and back to extreme focus on creating the "perfect" life and being the "perfect" whatever was expected.

Though I've been lucky to have people who have pulled me back from the ledge before my self-destructive behavior became too bad, in the end I always had to rescue myself from it. Never did I truly turn around self-destructive behavior until I embraced my inner strength and independence. We can't grow our inner strength based on outside sources. That growth has to come from within. We can seek advice, support, help, and understanding, but finding inner strength and independence always has to come from how we embrace life.

Fiction writers have used this devices for ages to present us women who are strong but flawed- "too strong for her own good" and readers have loved the idea. I'm as guilty of it as anyone, but it is part of the reason I stopped reading romances many years ago. These characters hide their vulnerability in order to achieve success. In my novel, All She Ever Wanted, Victoria fits this description to the tee. She's not self-destructive in the sense of doing risky things, but she makes poor decisions to keep from being labelled weak. Self-destructive behavior masquerading as strength makes make for good fiction because it provides the potential to make the character three dimensional and to have the character grow as she finds true strength within - that is, if we don't have the hero who swoops in to save her from herself...

Over time I've learned I'm at my strongest and most independent when I accept the reality of my life, face the pain it brings, embrace the joy it offers, and present my true self to the world, perfections and imperfections alike.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Making Friends: Breast Health Awareness

Last year I blogged about my feelings that we should have Breast Health Awareness Month rather than Breast Cancer Awareness month in the post, Friends, Enemies, Breasts. This year, I'm going simpler. I've decided to share a poem, Friends, Enemies, Breasts, I wrote in December 2010. The poem is included in my book of poetry, Reflections in Silhouette: Poems.

Friends, Enemies, Breasts

As a young girl
I eagerly anticipated your arrival
I watched for you daily
You would show the world my maturity
You took your time arriving
I exercised to encourage you
I flexed to make you noticeable
I wore a training bra on my flat chest to coach your growth
I imagined how you’d look

As a teenager
You embarrassed me
You just wouldn’t stick out enough
You refused to enlarge
You brought on teasing nicknames
Baby Boobs
And I hated you for it
I willed you to grow
I begged you to grow
You stubbornly refused
I found ways to disguise you
I wore shirts and sweaters a size too large
I wore short skirts to draw attention away from you
I wore my coat all day
Other days
I pretended you were just want I wanted
I rebelled outwardly against my feelings about you
I disguised my disappointment in you
Deep inside though I knew my bravado was a lie
I imagined you how I wanted you to be
Just like…
Well, hers and hers and hers and…
But you were mine
And you had a mind of your own

As a young woman
I looked at you in the mirror
Resigned myself to your smallness
I hated you for not looking like I’d envisioned – dreamed
I drew attention away from you
To my legs
Always got them looking at my legs
And maybe they wouldn’t notice your lack of size
I cursed your smallness
I failed to appreciate your symmetry
I failed to celebrate your firmness
I failed to recognize your perkiness
I made fun of you before others could
Then one day
Someone special uncovered you
Shushed my jeers at you with a kiss
Embraced you
Gave you a new nickname which also made me cringe
Ozzie and Harriett
-          For reasons known only to him
He caressed you
He appreciated you
He showed me your good qualities
He slipped a piece of ice into his mouth
And kissed you
You responded with a thrill and exaggerated perkiness
That spread through my body
And suddenly your size didn’t seem so important
I stood straighter
I let you be who you were
But, alas, the moment ended

Time passed
Every time I cursed you
I remembered that not everyone found your size lacking
I embraced you
Showed you more proudly
A new man appreciated you
In his own way – different but just as loving
He caressed you
He held you
He declared you perfect
He captured you in his mouth with joy
You responded with glee
I didn’t question his desire for you
I reveled in the pleasure you brought him
I welcomed his approval
I grew to love you
I accepted your special attributes
I felt the pleasure of you

Without warning
You grew
You became womanly
At first I didn’t believe
I waited for you to shrink
You created the curves
I always imagined
You stayed
Along with the size increase
Came days of soreness, of tenderness
Those days I cursed you again
The slightest touch felt like torture
Even clothing irritated you
But when I looked in the mirror
The new curves made me smile
And the pleasure you brought outweighed the pain

The doctor examined you
I’d yet to do so
Hadn’t bothered to learn how
I was young
My only worries about you
Were your size and your potential for pleasure
The doctor declared you “perfect”
I liked the description
Even though it referred to you medically not aesthetically

Then one day
A hard spot appeared
It felt odd
It grew a bit uncomfortable
It didn’t go away
The doctor grew concerned
I was only thirty-one
Too young for you to be sick
They placed you in a vise
Squeezed you
Told me to hold my breath
I couldn’t breathe anyway
What if…
I couldn’t finish the thought
They took pictures of your tissue
Your density required a different type of picture
They declared you healthy
I finally let out my breath

I appreciated you
I loved you
I read how to take care of you
I changed my diet to keep you healthy
I examined you on a regular basis
Looked for changes
I grew to know you intimately
I looked at you in the mirror
But this time I didn’t wish you larger
I only wished you healthy
I only wished you to remain “perfect”
I finally appreciated the beauty you possessed
I finally reveled in your firmness
I finally celebrated your perkiness
I finally realized you were never the problem
I enjoyed how you filled out my clothes
Was surprised when your size increased again
I took pleasure when you were
Caressed, touched, kissed, loved

You turned forty
Along with me
Time to get your picture taken again
Routine this time
No big deal
Joked with the technician
About the vise, the squeezing, the process
Laughed about the numbers on the machine’s plate
Learned more about the process and the reading technique
Laughed about how each woman’s experience is so different
Even joked about the fear a callback for a repeat test causes
Left in high spirits sure my breasts were “perfect”
Two weeks later the phone rang
The words I remember
Density, left breast, changed, diagnostic
I know they were in a sentence, possibly two
Instinctively I touched you, searching
Instinctively I touch you now, searching
For a change I know I won’t - can’t - feel
It wasn’t detectable in my last professional exam
It wasn’t detectable in my last personal exam
I stand in front of the mirror
Staring at you
Willing you to be healthy
Loving you for all you bring me
Scared you’ll betray me
Terrified you’ll seek vengeance
For all those times I didn’t appreciate you
For all those times I actually hated you
For all those times I willed you to be something you weren’t
I cup my hand under you
I lift you to your former perky position
I don’t mind that you’re less perky
I love your size
I even that slight sag you’ve developed
I love that you’re real
I love that I’ve never falsified you
I love that you’re unique
I love that you’re all me
I love that you’ve been there without fail
No matter how I’ve treated you
I want you stay
I will protect you
I will love you
I will cherish you
I will appreciate you
Today, tomorrow, always
Please just don’t betray me
Please just don’t abandon me
Please just be healthy
Please just remain “perfect” in your imperfection

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Free - Kindle book - October 4-5, 2012

Free - October 4-5, 2012 - Kindle book - Memory in Silhouette: Poems. Enjoy!

Every moment is a memory and every memory is a moment. Memories are moments that build on one another to create the foundation of who we are at any given point in life. Memories - good, bad, and neutral - meld within our minds and hearts housing love, hate, pleasure, fear, anger, and happiness. With each memory we make, we become more compassionate, and therefore more connected to the world around us. Our strengths and weaknesses live in our memories creating the complexity and simplicity that encompasses the full human experience. Come along to discover how moments blossom into growth or become merely a memory in silhouette…

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Yoga, Life, Writing: Lessons from a Fall

Recently, I fell while practicing yoga and tore the meniscus in my right knee. For some reason, people tend to struggle to hold back a laugh when I say I fell while practicing yoga. I'm not sure why. If you've ever done yoga you know falling isn't all that uncommon.

Think about it. You stand on one leg. You balance on your hands. You step forward and back while putting weight on the leg not in motion. You stretch your body into new positions, some of which you may have never been in in your life - or at least in the part of your life you remember. Yes, there are moves in yoga that are very stable, but there are also poses that push the body's limits.

Yoga is a metaphor for life. We balance our needs with our wants. We shift our weight in one direction or another as we grow into our full potential. We try new positions that sometimes force us to push our limits even while we balance that with the familiar.

Yoga is also a metaphor for writing. When I write, I seek to balance the story for content and entertainment. I shift the weight of emotion and logic to stretch my reader's imagination. I push the limits with word choices sometimes using a word in a way it was never intended but which creates a picture or feeling necessary to make a piece work. The familiar and the new must be in harmony for a piece to work. Creating art while keeping the message simple.

Yoga teaches us as does life and writing. When we ignore life, it will shake us and remind us what we need to learn even knocking us on our butts if need be for the lesson to get through. In yoga, if we ignore the signs we're pushing too far or moving too fast, our bodies remind us to pay attention again even if it means knocking us on our butts. When writing, when we push the words to the point of pushing just to push or to show off, the words will bring us back to reality, sometimes leaving us flat on our butts until we get over ourselves and fix them.

This fall taught me a few lessons about yoga, life, and writing. How long it'll be before I need yet another reminder of these lessons is anyone's guess. I'm not cocky enough to believe these lessons I keep thinking I've learned are incorporated into my life when I keep ignoring what I know I should do. And then keep getting reminded what I can't seem to fully embrace.

What lessons? You ask... Well,thank you for asking, I'll be happy to share.

When you're doing yoga and you feel dizzy, STOP. Dizziness makes it hard to balance your body. You could equate this to that moment in life when you feel completely overwhelmed. STOP. Take a breath. The world isn't going to come to an end because you can't do everything you want to do right this minute. Really, it's not.When writing, the words sometimes overwhelm and the writer feels stuck. That's usually the time to stop, take a deep breath, and settle your mind before moving forward. Again, the world won't end because the words didn't come out quite right.

Breathing is very important. When doing yoga, the yoga breath, aka pranayama, is extremely important to the poses. When the breath becomes rushed, the body doesn't get the oxygen it needs for the pose. The body can feel oxygen deprived during poses where the breath is either rushed or held. Practicing pranayama is one of the most essential parts of yoga. Without it, the poses suffer and the practitioner risks becoming unsteady or dizzy. In life, the more deeply we breath, the more focused and energetic we feel. When we rush or hold our breath, we can't function at our optimum levels of competence. When writing, we must allow the words to breath. If they don't breath, they aren't fluid. If they aren't fluid, they lose all meaning.

You can only push your body so far and must allow change to happen gradually for it be growth. Life only allows us to go as far as we're ready to go in a given moment. If we try to push into the next level before we're ready, we'll get hurt rather than find growth in the experience. When writing, if we try to write what we want to write before we're ready to write it, we lose track of our goals, our message, and our purpose. I've been working on a book on gratitude. I'm anxious to finish this book because I want to share it with others so much. That excitement has actually impeded my progress by making me force the work when it wasn't ready. I rushed the words and tried to "make" it done instead of allowing it to develop and show me the growth I needed to continue through the writing process.

We must listen... My body tried to tell me to stop, but I argued with it. My body knew what my brain hadn't recognized yet. I needed to stop not just doing yoga but everything that was in process at that moment in my life. I needed to stop. I was moving forward without thought. I thought I was thinking, but I wasn't. I was reacting. I wasn't listening to my instincts or my heart or my rational thoughts. I was just doing what I needed to do without paying attention to the life I was living. I thought I was being fully present and dealing with the changes occurring in my life, but I wasn't listening, not really. I was so busy arguing with myself that I wasn't even sure what my own instincts were saying anymore. I still told myself I was fully present and that I was dealing with life as it arose. Yet, something was off track. I could feel it, but I refused to hear it. So I kept moving forward through the fog and smog and blinding rain searching for that moment when I'd come out on the other side and everything would be clear... I'd lost sight of the moment. I'd forgotten that going through the process actually involved embracing each and every moment as it arises instead of focusing on the end goal. I'd forgotten that listening provides the clues we need to do what is right for us.

I also learned that I can't do it all. The fall didn't teach me this. The aftermath did. When I needed surgery and found myself forced to be dependent on someone else, I had to ask for help. I had to let someone else take care of me. I learned that sometimes my biggest obstacle to getting what I need is admitting that it's what I need, and that perhaps the same holds true for what I want. I'm still not able to take care of myself or others yet, at least not fully, but this experience reminded me that, sometimes, I can be too determined to handle life on my own and other people don't even realize I need them because I can't admit to myself that I need someone else to help me through. After all, isn't needing someone else a sign of weakness? Oh, how those old issues find their way back over and over and over even after we think we've learned the lesson.

And, that's probably the biggest thing I learned... Getting cocky about having learned the lesson will knock us on our butts every time to remind us that learning life's lessons is an ongoing process... But, really, I'm sure I've learned this one this time... So could we not do this again??? Really, I promise, I've learned my lesson this time, life... Trust me...