Letting Go Isn’t Always Simple

I’m struggling tonight to come up with a good metaphor that relates back to my mood this week and I must tell you, I’m not sure I’m going to come up with something good. But I’m going to try my damndest because you clicked the link and I feel like I need to inspire you to do something great.

I’ve been watching the trees lose their leaves this week and even though Dunkin has just launched All Things Pumpkin Spice season, I hate to break it to y’all. It. Isn’t. Fall. Nope – weathermen across the nation have been reporting that the trees are under a tremendous amount of stress and therefore, they are letting go of their leaves. So, there you have it, folks. Even the trees know that lessening the load is the best way to cope (survive?) a trauma. (You’re welcome. That’s my third ‘plant’ metaphor in a row.)

I think we can learn a lot from this. I could go on a big tangent about trauma responses and how our bodies trick us into doing stuff to keep from dealing with the trauma, but that would be so very uninspiring and frankly, that’s what I pay my therapist to hear – not let you guys read it for free. So, I’m going to do my best to bring this back around to how our lives are like the trees when we are under stress. And the best thing to do is ‘let go’.

We’ve all heard this, right? Disney made a fortune on the idea. But, I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t say: Letting go isn’t as easy as it seems. So, I suggest starting with something easy.

The easiest for me is purging shit I no longer need. I like to pretend I’m moving from time to time (if you know me, you know I’ve moved 18 times in 16 years, so it isn’t a stretch for me to get in the ‘I’m getting the heck out of here’ mindset.) I recently closed a non-profit I started and oversaw for almost four years. It was an emotional month for me, but I’ve got all the stuff ready to sell in my garage sale next week (Garage Sale = Tag sale for my one reader in Albany and the other one in the Berkshires). I decided that since I was going to bust my ass to sell crap anyway, I might as well purge some personal items. Honestly, some of them I cried over – and I am really not ‘one of those sentimental people’. But these things were so symbolic to me and I had carried them around with me for YEARS. It may be a bit ‘woo woo’ for some of you, but I’ve been called a hippie from time to time and I believe strongly in soul ties – so I needed to let them go. If I’m really going to move into being my best self, I can’t be hanging on to crap that holds such strong energy for me.

The next process of letting go wasn’t as simple or easy. In fact, at the risk of sounding dramatic, it was heartbreaking. I faced a cold fact that I needed to not be in a relationship at the moment. So many people from day one said I needed to not move from one bad relationship into another one and I didn’t listen. I know now that there’s a good reason for this and that is so you don’t carry any old baggage into the new relationship. That poor guy had been dodging those duffel bags full of unhealed issues. But to be fair, I won’t take all the blame. He carried in his own set of beat up luggage that I tripped over from time to time. I knew I’d risk losing a dear friend if I had this conversation, so believe me…it wasn’t made lightly. I honestly think that getting broken up with is terrible, but it can be equally as painful to break up with someone you love and care for – especially when the reason seems so selfish. My reason, as it turns out, is that I woke up one day and realized I had absolutely no fucking clue who I was anymore, and finding time to figure that out suddenly seemed so expedient in nature…as though time was running out. I don’t know how to explain it. I just know I had to do it. I had to be brave and face the fear of being alone. Let’s be honest though, I had been feeling alone for months, so it wasn’t much of a stretch. I hope my friend is still my friend and is just grieving in his own way and that way doesn’t include me now – or ever again, maybe. I miss him, but I understand. I wish I had been as brave as he has been with this when my ex-husband walked out on me. It might have made the healing process move at a faster pace.

Finally, I think I came to the hardest part of letting go when I realized that Springfield Missouri is a terrible place for me to live. It isn’t healthy for me and I absolutely hate it. This place carries memories of every heartbreak I ever encountered and all of those good riddance’s are dog-earred at the page : You simply weren’t good enough.

I left in 1989 to attend college in Kansas but had to return because of circumstances out of my control. I then escaped again to follow husband number 1 to New England. But things were kind of rocky when we moved and after four years, he decided he liked the snow more than he liked me so back ‘home’ I came. Again, I got the opportunity to get the hell out of Dodge in 2015 – only to return six months later – another marriage on the rocks and a very nasty and painful divorce to follow. This place represents every failure and every time I’ve had to come back to lick my wounds feeling like I was never going to get it right.

I’m ‘stuck here’ for now, but I am making plans to leave and as soon as I can, I will. Where to? I do not know. But I know I can’t drive through this town without a million memories mowing me over and sometimes a change of scenery is all you need to gain some traction. For example, I won’t drive north of Chestnut on Benton because I don’t like to drive by Shewmaker Hall. I won’t watch public television and I absolutely loathe big ‘see and be seen’ events. I won’t spend a dime at Incredible Pizza Company, and I cannot drive through the city of Ozark without feeling like I want to drive over to 12th Avenue and burn a house down. All these memories are clouded by experiences that created a tremendous amount of fear and insecurity in me and I simply want to leave them all behind.

So, as the trees start to drop their leaves as part of their natural response to trauma, I am purging and changing things in my life that remind me of traumatic events. Letting go of all the times when I didn’t quite measure up to someone else’s expectation; times when no matter how much of myself I hid and tampered down, I was still made to feel I was not enough. Times when I left myself behind so that other people could get all their needs met…and leave me anyway. They say that ‘running from your problems doesn’t fix them’ but I posit, and others do too, that sometimes it only takes a change of an address to make all the difference in the world. I am looking forward to that opportunity.

As I close, I’m reminded of a song by Dalton Domino. The lyrics are:
I’ve burned some bridges. Torn down some fences. Some I’m still mendin’. Some I’m leaving the ashes where they lie.

And I can’t think of a better metaphor for letting things go and not apologizing for the reasons why.

I get that this may not have been extremely inspiring today, but I promise you it’s a segue into what’s been happening since making these decisions. I like teasers and this one is a doozy….so wait until next week. It’s just starting to get good.

A Small But Mighty Tribe

“The scarcity model drives consumption and accumulation; it spurs us to want more, to buy things because we think it will fill the void. The problem with scarcity, however, is that you can’t fill it or fix it with things.” Joshua Becker, Becoming Minimalist

I’ve called myself a ‘rational minimalist’ from day one of embracing this simplicity lifestyle because the idea of living with just one plate, one fork, three towels, and six shirts in a completely barren room is a bit extreme to me. But I do tend to consider whether I really need an item before I purchase it (with the exception of a recent purchase of an ice cream maker, which I didn’t need at all, but that’s another story for another time. No one said I was perfect).

I think I got over my ‘scarcity model’ mentality as it relates to material goods and money about three years ago and the proof was in the pudding when the nation ran out of toilet paper (TP). I never ran out of TP during this pandemic (knock on wood) and I didn’t hoard said paper. I usually buy three months of TP at a time anyway, so by the time the need arose, TP could be found among numerous retail outlets and online venues. While I get that most people don’t have months of TP accumulated, I do, but it is because I hate going to the store, not because I’m afraid I won’t be able to wipe my booty.

But as proud as I am that I keep material purchases to a minimum, I’m not going to say I’ve overcome scarcity mentality all together. Because – trust me – it is there, in the shadows, and kids: It. Is. Ugly.

It isn’t present in my fear of not having enough paperclips or food or money, but it does a full-court press in my mind when I feel the anxiousness of not having ‘people’.

Yes. My scarcity mentality shows up in all its glory when it comes to human connection. It doesn’t even care that I am naturally a bit standoffish and find it hard to make friends. Fear loves a good playground.

Knowing this about me, I think the Universe shows up for me in little ways to remind me that I don’t need to fear this. It’s like a small whisper in my darkest hours – “Hey. I got you, Boo.” The right text at the crucial moment, a card in the mail, an invitation to dinner. It all happens when I need it.

But sometimes, just sometimes, none of those things show up at all and the whisper says “You have to push through this feeling in order to be brave. I know it hurts and I know you’re scared but you will never ever be able to show up for people if you can’t even show up for yourself.” Those are the nights that terrify…and strengthen…me both at the same time.

To shed some light on this: Today is my birthday, and even though I can sit here and honestly say there is nothing material I want for my birthday (it’s true!) I desire to be ‘remembered’. And I have been. And I appreciate that. My bestie even made me a cake.

That’s me…Denise. Even a corner piece!!

And why does this scare me so much? Because my biggest fear is that I am erasable. In fact, my entire ‘death’ plan includes cremation and is solely built on the belief that I will be the only plot in the graveyard with no people left who care. I think many of us struggle with this on some level – maybe not therapist-worthy level like me, but still. Everyone wants to be significant to someone, right?

And on this day, my 49th birthday, I may not have gotten a text from everyone I wanted to – in all fairness, some are dead and some just are mad at me – I was reminded by those who did reach out that I’m surrounded by people who care; that my bucket of people who are there for me (when it really matters) is full. I even think the mad ones would be, too, if it really was a matter of life and death.

All that said, people aren’t mind readers. I think it’s important to voice what I need and to also let go of the expectation that others can meet that need, or that they will even want to.

If, like me, you tend to isolate and withdraw when under tremendous stress or when the grip of depression is threatening to pull you under the water, it’s important to realize that you have a responsibility to reach out even when its hard or when you don’t feel like it. The feelings of isolation will only expand and the belief of scarcity will grow until it takes root and you have a garden of nothingness living inside you. Yes, it’s hard. It can be so effing hard. And if people give you a hard time for isolating instead of asking you why you are isolating in the first place, then you need to realize those aren’t healthy people – at least not healthy for you – anyway.

My friend, Machell, is a pro at noticing when I’m not in a good place. My social media gets cleaned. Pictures get changed to private. No likes or snarky comments on her quilting posts. (She’s a talented quilter. I am not.) She never asks when she’s getting out of Facebook jail, as if my anxiety is somehow about her. She is always the first to text “You’re on my mind. Hang in there!” or “I see you’ve been off [social media] for a bit…I’m thinking of you.” No matter how many times I forget her birthday or don’t respond to her texts, she never unfriends me. Never. That says a lot about her character because, admittedly, I can be a really shitty friend. (M, if you read this, your birthday is now in my calendar. I’m sorry for forgetting all these years.)

As Joshua Becker says: “The problem with scarcity, however, is that you can’t fill it or fix it with things.” I posit that you can’t fill the void with people either. You have to fill it with the right people. I promise you that the 800 friends in your friends list aren’t your friends. You never get the chance to make new old friends and you need the people in your life who understand the significance of certain days on the calendar or who tense up a little when they hear a train whistle.

I realized I had to fill my “people drawer” with the souls who fit right now and stop hoping that I’ll someday lose enough baggage that the other people will fit again. FFS, if I have to lose all my excess baggage to be loved…I never will be. Or will be waiting a long-ass time. Like a favorite shirt, when it comes to old friends, we all have to decide if that ketchup stain is worth throwing it out. It’s a fucking ketchup stain. That shirt is still good for a day at the lake.

I hope that if you feel that your list of people – your tribe – is small that you do these things: 1) Don’t underestimate the power of a small tribe; 2) Don’t ignore that tribe; 3) Don’t expect them to read your mind and, finally, 4) Reach out to them when in need.

Seeds of Simplicity

I’ve never been much of a gardener. In fact, I can take an ‘impossible to kill’ plant and it can be dead in my presence within a few months, if not weeks. I’m just not much on paying attention to these things when there are so many other things on my to-do list. It’s absolutely awful for the plant…dying a slow painful death as I scurry around doing all the other equally important things. Occasionally, I throw in a cup of water, but by then, the damage is done and the plant is starting to realize it’s attached to a very poor caregiver.

But, this post really isn’t about plants and you know it – especially if you follow me at all. As with most of my writing, I like to grab you with a good old metaphor, and killing something seems to be all the rage these days.

So. Seeds.

My ‘seeds’ are actually minutes. And minutes are really scarce these days. I’ve been extremely cognizant lately on the lack of ‘time’ I seem to have. I know I have the same amount of minutes that everyone else has, but I’m in a stage of my life – as are many of my peers – where it seems that there are not enough minutes in the day to fit in everything that has to be managed.

I, for one, am a single parent with little help in raising my son with special needs from the other parent. In fact, the term ‘co-parenting’ only seems to apply when we are arguing over what is financially covered by whom in the court-ordered parenting plan. My ex sees his child four days a month – when he isn’t out doing something ‘more important’ while the new girlfriend watches said child – so yeah. Not much help. Additionally, I work full time during the day, run a part-time business in the evenings, and like a lot of folks, am facing the uncertainty of what virtual learning and ‘school’ will look like come next week. Granted, my son is only in the 2nd grade so it isn’t as if the work will be hard but it certainly will require time. Top this all off with daily tasks of laundry, meal prep, house cleaning, and showering (yes, I haven’t given up on showering yet even if it is at midnight) what I’m left with at the end of the day is about 10 minutes of unaccounted for time. You think I’m exaggerating. I’m not. I gave up lunch to type this post. 

Just like it’s hard to have a bountiful crop without seeds, it’s hard to nurture relationships when time is a commodity. Sadly, I recently abandoned a romantic relationship because I didn’t feel I had the time to really invest in meeting my partner’s needs. I’m a firm believer in early programming and my early programming was “You’ll make time for things that are important.” Clearly, the asshole saying this to a generation of people hadn’t experienced a global pandemic, schooled at home while working from home, and attempted to raise a child with little help from another adult. But, alas, there I was: Standing in the bathroom trying to determine if I actually had time to shave my legs or if I wanted to use that fifteen minutes to make a sandwich. It was at that point that I realized I had to say no to something. Yes – something had to give and by God, it wasn’t going to be me giving up anymore sandwiches (yes, another metaphor).

I know if I really dug deep and examined my feelings…I was resentful that someone who had extra time wasn’t using that time to help me but rather asking me to give up any extra time I had. In other words, he wanted my spare time to meet his needs…not asking what I needed to do with my spare time or if he could cut the time spent on day-to-day tasks in half. In all honesty, in the middle of Life my spare time right now is what I’m using to shower and brush my teeth. Yes – I’m being overly dramatic, but I hope you catch the drift. Time, like money, has to be budgeted. And, as with all budgets, my time budget and my buckets were empty. 

But bringing it back to my point which is seeds and plants and time and harvest, etc. etc. etc. I pondered this today. 

We all are responsible for our time and responsible for how we spend our time. Some have the luxury of lazy Sundays where napping and road trips can be taken. Many of us, myself included, do not have the seeds to sow into something so glorious regularly because there are so many responsibilities where we have to prune the proverbial To-Do list. If, like plants, relationships require cultivation then the plan to grow and water those relationships should be a two-way street. If one person feels like they are giving up all their seeds but there is no watering going on…then the seeds are essentially wasted. And wasting energy and effort builds resentment just like planting seeds in infertile soil brings no harvest. It’s like in this TedTalk by Sarah Knight I love so much. You have to decide what to or not to budget for. Painfully, even if you love and desire all the things on the list of wants and desires, sometimes there just aren’t enough seeds left to plant.

For example: I’m not really much of a girlie-girl, but I am a self-care splurge girl. I LOVE getting massages and facials and pedicures. But I’m not going to risk my food budget or the money I need to provide for my son constantly spending it on – what I feel – are non-essentials (and I’m a massage therapist, so there!!). 

As a mother of a special needs child – albeit a “high functioning” one – my first responsibility is to care for his needs. Before you get all ‘therapist-y’ on me…caring for his needs also means caring for my own. I need to rest. I need to eat well. I need to move my body. I need to sow seeds into myself so that I can be strong and healthy for him. Everyone else…anyone who isn’t me or my son…is responsible for their own damn row of seeds. I cannot meet everyone’s needs and neither can you. Because I have a lot of friends who have grown children (I’m a ‘late in life mom’) I know this is difficult for people who have disposable income and disposable time to understand. So, I just stopped trying to explain it. But let me tell you…guilting me into giving up some of my seeds just isn’t something that works on someone like me. If I’m honest…that kind of stuff is one of the best ways to piss me off. My seeds. My choice.

The bottom line (’cause you know I’m a bottom line girl) is that time is currency. Time, clearly in this post, are seeds. If you want a bountiful harvest and a good life, you have to determine where to plant those little seeds and you need to plant them in the ground that is good and ripe for harvest. Dharius Daniels in this sermon says it best:

“Time is the seed you must sow and the currency you must exchange to experience the life you want to have. The life that you want to have is going to be determined by how you sow the seed of your time. When you look at your life this time next year and compare it to this year, you’re going to be standing in a harvest that is a result of where you sowed the seed of your time.”

I don’t know what my harvest will look like next year, but I know I had to make a conscious choice to look at my priorities and stack them up against my resources. What I realized after looking at these two lists was a very real, very honest picture: I can have a very small, but mighty, garden.

I don’t know all the answers. If I did I’d make a shit-ton more money at blogging instead of zero. And because I’m a people-pleaser with guilt-issues, I wish I had all the seeds in the world to sow into all the relationships connected to those I love. But I don’t. And when I look at the people in my life, I look for the helpers – not the complainers – to lift me up and to restore me. Life is too short and time is too valuable to spend on wondering why my needs aren’t getting met while everyone else demands that I meet theirs. It just isn’t humanly possible to do it all.

So. Pick a seed (minute). Pick a row (hobby, person, experience, task) and plant. Plant, then water. Water, then watch. Watch what grows. It might be you, who knows. The harvest you reap may not only surprise you but everyone else around you, too. Happy planting.