Dancing outside my comfort zone

Leaping Before You Look

A few days ago, I talked about asking yourself whether you were ready to open up your heart after, let’s face it, a long dry spell. I’m discovering that like everything else, it’s a process. First you have to ask yourself the questions. Then you have to answer honestly knowing there are no right or wrong answers here. And finally, you have to start the series of baby steps that will eventually lead you to your destination.

Most of us don’t leap from deciding to give relationships a chance to jumping with both feet into one. Like diving into a swimming pool that isn’t heated, we start slowly, then work our way up to the scarier parts. But how slow is slow?

Once you’ve decided to lower your defenses and take a look around to see what’s out there, how do you actually go about it? Lists? Online dating? Speed dating? Just looking around wherever you tend to spend time (hopefully not the office!) to see what, or rather who you might see? Do you set certain criteria? Single, employed, and with a pulse are usually a good place to start.

Safety First…But Not Forever

If you’re like me, whether consciously or not, you look at the safe ones first. What do I mean by safe? They fall into several categories, the most obvious being currently attached. I look at those because I’m watching how they treat the women they’re with. I learn a lot about how I want to be treated from them (and how I do NOT wanted to be treated as well. One in particular comes to mind. He was feeding his lady popcorn in the middle of a crowded bar! Yikes!) I can watch and learn without worrying about engaging my heart just yet.

Another safe one is someone who exhibits some of the traits of one of those exes you’d like to forget; those red flags that will always be show-stoppers. One of my big turn-offs is someone who drinks excessively. One or two drinks is fine, but beyond that, my red flags are waving like there’s a stiff breeze…50 or 60 miles per hour worth of stiff. And if a guy looks like Adonis, I might enjoy looking, but you’d better believe that’s one I’d never touch. I’m simply not the arm candy I believe they’re looking for. But a girl does enjoy a little eye candy now and then. It’s not just for guys, you know.

Turning Research Into Action

Observing is all well and fine, but there comes a time when you have to decide you’ve put in enough research and start putting pen to paper, so to speak. The question is, how do you know when that time has come? Or more specifically, when you’re ready to venture out past the safe zone. Dipping your toes into the shallows is one thing. But diving in with both feet, oblivious to possible rip tides is quite another.

I suppose several factors will influence the decision. First, how long you’ve been out of the water. Second, whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert. As an introvert, I’m far more likely to take the safe road where people are concerned. It takes a concerted effort or stuffing a sock in the inner voice that screams Danger, Will Robinson! Moving forward will lead to certain psychological annihilation! or something equally dramatic and patently unlikely. But my panic buttons are set at a very low level when it comes to humans in general and males who might upset my status quo in particular.

Assuming we’ve gotten past the first two without incident, there’s the twin factors of opportunity and mutual attraction. When you’re in your 20’s, 30’s, and even 40’s, opportunities are still fairly plentiful even if some of those opportunities are 20 years older than you are. But by the time you hit your 50’s and 60’s, especially if you’ve been in dry dock for more than a decade, not only have the opportunities dropped into the single digits, but there are scores of women on the hunt for an unattached male who are both aggressive and persistent. If you haven’t developed these qualities while sitting on the bench, those few opportunities shrink even further.

Figuring Out the Logistics, Or Finding My Own Crooked Lid

Of course, if staying safe is your intention, none of these are bad things. There’s no charge for looking, dreaming, or even engaging in friendly, commitment-free conversation. Just remember the huntresses are locked and loaded and unless the man is especially wise to their wiles, he’ll be in a relationship before you can say “would you like to meet me for coffee?”

Yet I do see women re-entering the dating game with some success. I can only wonder which of the factors helped them get past the initial dunking with a willingness to splash around for a bit until they got used to the chill and started actually enjoying it. Did someone catch their eye and make them see possibilities? Did they find someone in their usual hangout/group with whom they felt comfortable and connected from the start? Did they haunt online dating sites, sending pokes or messages or whatever the term is these days? Or are they just braver and more socially aware than I am such that they figured out the rules to the dating game and entered with some tools I lack?

Being the inveterate optimist, I prefer to believe a granny-ism a friend once shared: There’s no pot too crooked it can’t find its lid. I think we stay in the safe zone until we recognize our own particular crooked lid, assuming we’re not one of those afore-mentioned huntresses who truly are just looking for someone who is unattached and has a pulse and a job. If you ask me, it’s worth the wait to find that one who makes your heart sing, keeps you laughing and makes you feel cherished. For me, settling for less is not an option. Single will always beat settling, any day of the week.

Stay tuned as I’m not done researching this one. I’ve finally moved on from Google to actually observing the world around me. I might even start talking to men I don’t know, or don’t know well! (or I will as soon as I can get my tongue untied!)

Gratitudally speaking

My gratitudes tonight are:

  1. I am grateful for the lessons I’m learning.
  2. I am grateful for friends who offer examples, insights, and encouragement
  3. I am grateful for my curious mind.
  4. I am grateful for increasing confidence and a little bit of recklessness thrown in for shits and giggles.
  5. I am grateful for abundance; opportunity, lessons, challenges, friendship, love, joy, signs, wisdom, confidence, peace, harmony, philanthropy, and prosperity.

Blessed Be

I invite you to visit my Facebook pages, Sheri Levenstein-Conaway Author and HLWT Accounting. Please also drop by my website, www.shericonaway.com and check out my Hire Me Page. I’ve created these pages as a means of positive affirmation and would be very grateful if you’d “like” them or leave a comment! Thank you!

Emotions Disconnected

Feeling Disconnected Again

Tonight in the middle of a line dance, I suddenly felt what has become a frequent and familiar sensation. There, in the middle of a crowd, voices clashing with the music, a cacophony of sounds fighting for recognition, I was suddenly alone. The ties to people, to sounds, even to the steps I was executing were suddenly severed. I continued to go through the motions, but no longer felt like I was connected mentally, physically, or emotionally to the experience.

I’ve been here before. Suddenly a piece of jetsam floating rudderless above the sights and sounds. So often, I even have a standard behavior which executes on its own when the feeling of disconnection pervades my being.

Going Off of Auto-Pilot

But this time was different. For some reason I recognized I was about to launch the escape sequence and stopped for a split second. In that frozen moment in time, instead of allowing the self-executing program to engage, I stopped. I asked myself why I didn’t just allow myself to feel that disconnectedness instead of masking it like I usually do. I asked why I didn’t allow myself to feel the feelings which pervaded my being at moments like this. Why did I instead allow myself to be encased in a bubble of energy which gave me false stimulation I was unable to reach from the people around me?

And the self-executing program stopped, unsure whether to go forward or address this new set of queries because I couldn’t think of a single valid reason why those feelings should not be felt.

Of course the next thing I did was to start writing about it, allowing the feelings to flow onto the screen unedited. Much like a brain dump but one I knew I’d publish one place or another. The questions poured out of me like the Oroville Dam through its emergency spillway. Once the flow began, there was no way to stop it.

Questioning Old Habits

Should I do what I’ve become accustomed to doing and enclose myself in a golden egg-shaped ball of light, or instead, allow myself to feel the disconnectedness? Have I grown so accustomed to masking the disconnectedness that it’s more natural to mask my feelings from myself as well as everyone else? Has the defense mechanism I initiated while  learning to handle the feelings of pain, loss, anger, guilt and so forth outlived its usefulness?

And yet, the habit has become so ingrained I normally don’t even think twice about launching the escape sequence if I even launch it consciously any more. It’s pretty much on auto-pilot. I didn’t even recognize I was doing it until tonight. Experiencing this disconnectedness on the dance floor happens often enough I consider it commonplace.

Taking a Turn for the Better

While I stood on the sidelines typing furiously into my phone, someone asked me to dance and afterward,  I joined a conversation with people at the table next to mine. Yet I knew sooner or later I’d have to follow the flow. Something changed tonight. Suddenly, I was, if not giving myself permission, at least exploring the option of allowing my feelings to flow unchecked. Is this the next stage in my healing process? Acknowledging the feelings which have been so bottled up I didn’t even realize I’d been doing the bottling?

Turning the Protective Mechanisms Off

The mind is a very complicated apparatus which is directly responsible for the fight or flight behavior. But it also protects us in times of severe emotional trauma by doling out the experience in more manageable bits and pieces. It does this by blocking the feelings until we’re ready to handle them without imploding. And yet, there are times when our minds go a little overboard. They fail to give us credit for the strength we’ve developed through years of challenges and lessons. Or they simply get stuck in protective mode and forget to dole out a few more feelings for us to process.

In my case, I think I just got to the point where it was easier to deny any connection to those feelings. In true “out of sight, out of mind” fashion, I made no effort to retrieve the things which had been put away until I was stronger. In doing so, I lost part of my humanity. I lost kindness. I lost compassion. Until I found myself wondering at my inability to connect.

That’s when the hard outer shell which had grown around my heart and even the feeling part of my mind started to show signs of strain. It was no longer obvious to me why I should stifle and contain my feelings when I suddenly felt alone in a crowd for no apparent reason. With each new question, the walls cracked a little more. And in cracking, I was able to re-establish part of the connection. By giving myself permission to feel disconnected and alone, I no longer was.

Opening a New Door in the Healing Process

By acknowledging and allowing the feelings, I did something I’d been working towards for a long time. I allowed my vulnerability to show. Granted, it’s unlikely anyone around me even noticed. But I noticed. I felt vulnerable and didn’t do anything to stop the feeling.

This might seem insignificant to most, but to anyone who has guarded their heart with military precision, never allowing themselves to experience uncertainty or weakness, this is a major accomplishment. I learned tonight that until I can truly feel comfortable being vulnerable in my own space, I’ll never open up to others in that manner. But I also had to decide I was ready.

In all honesty, I’m still not completely certain I’m ready. But I am certain I’m ready to try, and that’s a step in the right direction.

For Each Experience, I Am Truly Grateful

Tonight’s gratitudes are:

  1. I am grateful for the cracks in my shell.
  2. I am grateful I could experience the vulnerability without an audience for now.
  3. I am grateful for the unanswered questions.
  4. I am grateful for new experiences. Especially the scarier ones.
  5. I am grateful for abundance; friendship, love, vulnerability, courage, connection, peace, harmony, philanthropy and prosperity.

Blessed Be

I invite you to visit my Facebook pages, Sheri Levenstein-Conaway Author and HLWT Accounting. Please also drop by my website, www.shericonaway.com and check out my Hire Me Page. I’ve created these pages as a means of positive affirmation and would be very grateful if you’d “like” them or leave a comment! Thank you!

Sometimes I Feel Like the Universe’s Private Play-Toy

Last weekend was a roller coaster ride in the truest sense of the word. After an especially challenging hike on the beach, I treated myself to opening weekend of Beauty and the Beast. Leaving the theater with a happy song in my heart and a tummy full of food which would surely thwart my plan to reach bathing suit size by summer, I walked to my car with thoughts of froyo and the excerpts I needed to critique forcing the library-to-drool-for out of my head.

Unfortunately, as it often does these days, the Universe had other plans. When I reached my car, the minor problem I’d been having with the driver’s door was suddenly no longer minor. In fact, I couldn’t open the door at all. What might have been a slight inconvenience turned into a gymnastics act requiring me to climb into the bucket seat on the passenger side and maneuver around so I could close the door behind me while executing a rather awkward back flip over the center console into the driver’s seat. Froyo was out of the question as I was unwilling to perform the maneuver anywhere else where there might be witnesses. Instead, I drove home where I closed the garage door before executing the move in reverse, to the amusement of my garage cats.

I said a thousand thank you’s when I discovered the service department at the dealership was open on Saturday, and promptly sent off a message rescinding my reservation for the critique group meeting Saturday morning. Though a couple of people offered me a ride, it would only have solved the immediate problem, and still left me essentially without transportation for the rest of the weekend. I opted instead to take the car to the dealership where I knew they’d give me a loaner.

And the Horse You Rode In On

The crit group meeting was long over by the time I’d dropped off the car, so I stopped to run an errand. That’s where my weekend took a major right turn for the better. A friend texted me asking if I wanted to go horseback riding with her. She has two horses and enjoys some company when she takes them out for a ride, even if that company has not been on a horse in decades. Fortunately, her mare, Catania, is a sweet lady who more than compensated for my lack of skill.

Catania

We spent an incredible two hours wandering the trails in a gorgeous park nearby. Although I’d hiked it’s trails on one side of the mountain, the area where we rode was entirely new to me…and incredibly beautiful. Everything was emerald green from the recent rains and the horses forded several streams swollen to unusually high levels and flowing over moss-covered rocks. Although treacherous for the unwary, the horses knew exactly how to get safely across. They wanted a dunking no more than we did!

Catania and Cambiano

Catania was really good about being on a lead rope behind her son, Cambiano, knowing instinctively that her inexperienced rider was best NOT left to her own devices. I did, however, release my death grip on the saddle as I became accustomed to her rhythm.

By the time we got back to where the trailer was parked, my tush was more than ready to leave the confines of the unfamiliar seat. I’m not ashamed to admit that my dismount was about as graceful as the earlier gymnastic performance required to get in and out of my car, but it did the job and I reached the ground in one piece. Isn’t that what counts?

I got home with just enough time to eat a quick dinner (thank goodness for my freezer meals!) and get ready to go dancing. I did have to endure a thorough sniffing from all of the cats to whom the smell of horse was entirely foreign, but a few skritches assured them the woman beneath the unfamiliar smell was still their loyal servant.

Memories of Trails Past

The next morning when I attempted to sit at my desk, I discovered an oddly pointy spot in my chair which I’d never noticed before. It was situated directly under a very delicate part of my tush necessitating the strategic placement of a large pillow to cushion my nether regions. Though the pain soon dissipated, I discovered that the after-effects of one’s first time in the saddle after a decades-long hiatus are a traveling circus of aches and pains. One area stops hurting but the aches just move on to the next spot.

When I sat on the floor to do my post-workout stretches, it took everything I had to not moan loudly when I tried to stretch my outer thighs. The only thing that saved me from embarrassing myself is the lengths I go to to keep a low profile while I’m at the gym. It never was and never will be my idea of a social club. I put my earbuds in my ears, crank up Pandora and move from machines to free weights to the stretching area being careful to avoid eye contact. When all else fails, I peer intently at my phone where I’m diligently recording exercises, weights and reps on MyFitnessPal. It’s actually proving to be useful for reminding me what I did the last time, and when I need to increase the weights I’m using.

Today the aches are all but gone and I’ve done laundry so my jeans no longer smell horsey. More’s the pity, really as I can understand why people find it so addicting. Horse smell is like no other and speaks of outdoors and freedom, even if only for a few hours. We covered far more ground in less time than I could possibly have done on my own two feet, and trust me, I wouldn’t have been fording those streams! Some of them were pretty darn deep! And to be honest, I experienced far less discomfort afterwards than I expected!

Giving the Comfort Zone a Much-Needed Boot

Stepping outside your comfort zone can take many forms; quitting a job to follow a dream with no idea how you’re going to continue paying the bills when the resources dwindle, hiking in unfamiliar places, making new friends, even opening up a heart long held safe inside a protective box. This time, it was getting on a horse for the first time in ages. I’m learning that with each step I take outside my comfort zone, the next one gets easier. I’m starting to look forward to the next adventure, whatever that might be.

Finding Gratitude Around Every Corner

My gratitudes tonight are:

  1. I am grateful for the courage to take those leaps of faith.
  2. I am grateful for friends who offer new experiences.
  3. I am grateful for adventures yet to come.
  4. I am grateful for the lessons, experiences, and opportunities that make life interesting, challenging and even a little scary at times.
  5. I am grateful for abundance; love, challenges, new experiences, a healthier body, increased strength, opportunities, lessons, friendship, peace, harmony, joy, philanthropy, and prosperity.

Blessed Be

I invite you to visit my Facebook pages, Sheri Levenstein-Conaway Author and HLWT Accounting. Please also drop by my website, www.shericonaway.com and check out my Hire Me Page. I’ve created these pages as a means of positive affirmation and would be very grateful if you’d “like” them or leave a comment! Thank you!

My Own Words Come Back and Slap Me In the Face

In my last article, I wrote the following words:

Very few have ever gotten close enough to be able to hurt me.

After writing them within the context of the article and publishing it, I sat down to meditate. The words hovered in the forefront of my consciousness, almost taunting me to examine them further. Being unable to resist the temptation, I decided to use my next article, this one, in fact, to explore the idea further.

I looked back at the men in my life over the years. I realized that in every case, though I felt hurt over one thing or another when our brief interlude ended, it was never my heart which was hurt, but my pride. Thus, the words so casually tossed into the last thing I wrote for public consumption are not only the plain, unvarnished truth, but a sad commentary on my 61 years on this planet.

Being Worthy

For a long time, I was like so many others who believe they don’t deserve to be loved. It isn’t a conscious choice we make. After all, who would make such a choice? It’s more a sense of worthiness, and mine was decidedly lacking, and, as such, was reflected not only in the men I attracted, but people in general.

When I finally started telling myself a different story, my entire social circle changed. For a while, it meant I spent a lot of time alone, but as I returned to the activities which had always brought me joy, I found new people entering my life who shared the joyfulness. Even so, it took a long time for those friendships to become more than surface-level. My old habits still lurk beneath the surface. I’m still hesitant to expose my soft inner core and be vulnerable with anyone.

Chinks in the Walls

But lately, a few have begun to scratch beneath my surface. They read my words and, often times, recognize something similar in themselves. That recognition helps establish a connection and those people in particular read past the words to their source, my heart.

Granted, the insightful ones are still few and far between, but having even one in my life who understands what I’m not putting into words is a 100% improvement over what came before.

The biggest surprise came when I started letting my hair down both literally and figuratively. People suddenly found a safe place to share their own struggles and challenges. Why did I never realize how honored…how touched I would feel when a friend shared their vulnerabilities with me?

Pain Averted, Opportunities Missed

Hidden behind the walls I’d built so painstakingly, I missed out on a lot of things. Believing for so many years that emotions equaled weakness, I failed to learn things everyone else seems to take for granted. I know it was my misinterpretation of my parents’ actions and behavior. I know that now. But I was so completely convinced that exposing my emotions would make me the weak person I believed my mom to be, and who I refused to emulate. How was I to know that it takes a strong person to allow others to see their soft side, and not the other way around? I made a conscious effort before my 10th birthday to block myself off from the one person who could have taught me what I needed to know.

I watched my mom struggle to be loved and assumed she was too weak to just stand on her own and tell everyone to pound sand. I watched my dad keep all of his emotions inside and at the same time, drink away the pain he never let anyone see. Yet he’s the one I chose to emulate, sans drinking. I have to wonder if he ever allowed himself to be loved; if he ever gave someone his heart.

Taking My First Baby Steps

Now that I’m at least considering trusting again, it’s opened me up to having girl friends. But a relationship beyond friendship with a man is still as frightening as it ever was. So I make excuses. The pickin’s are really slim. Not too many single men looking for a woman my age. 60-year-olds want to date 40-year-olds. I’m telling myself new stories, but keeping the same theme.

It’s funny. One of my newest friends is in her early 40’s. We were talking about how the 60-year-olds want 40-year-olds and she echoed something I said when I was mid-divorce. At the time, I was in my late 30’s and it was the 60-year-olds who made the advances, not the 40-year-olds. I remember thinking at the time, Yuk! He’s as old as my dad! Seems like I’ve completed the circle now, and I’m not exactly happy about it. Because there will always be 40-year-olds who are happy to date the 60-year-olds, few as they might be. Where does that leave us 60-year-olds, even if we don’t look or act our age?

Strengthening Myself Instead of My Defenses

But again, that’s me making excuses because no matter what I might say, I’m still not sure I can trust someone with my heart. In my mind, it’s still far too fragile. Yet, how do you strengthen something? You have to temper it. Muscles need to tear. Blisters become callouses. There will be some pain or discomfort along the way. You just have to decide whether that pain or discomfort is worth it; if being stronger and healthier is worth the cost.

I still find it easier to watch people interacting, calling it research. I still can’t talk to a man I don’t know in a social situation until I’ve convinced myself he’s interested in someone else and will only see me from a non-emotional viewpoint. Only then can I approach him in friendship, feeling that my heart is safe once more.

It seems I’ve answered my own question. I am still not certain I can bare my heart to someone, trusting he won’t take my most precious gift and stomp it into the dust.

But then I ask myself whether I’d survive the experience, and I answer with a resounding Yes! Maybe I’m ready after all?

For All That Came Before and For All That’s Still to Come, I Am Grateful

My gratitudes today are:

  1. I am grateful for the people who have breached my walls.
  2. I am grateful for those who are teaching me to let go of old fears.
  3. I am grateful for my girl friends.
  4. I am grateful for a mind that forces me to really look at my self-talk.
  5. I am grateful for abundance; friendship, lessons, growing stronger, love, joy, dancing, opportunity, peace, harmony, philanthropy and prosperity.

Blessed Be

I invite you to visit my Facebook pages, Sheri Levenstein-Conaway Author and HLWT Accounting. Please also drop by my website, www.shericonaway.com and check out my Hire Me Page. I’ve created these pages as a means of positive affirmation and would be very grateful if you’d “like” them or leave a comment! Thank you!

Remembering More as the Years Pass and the Clouds Clear

This morning as I realized it would have been Mom’s 82nd birthday today that, aside from the extensive writing I’ve done about her in my yet-to-be-published memoir (or yet-to-be-finished to be more accurate), I’ve written little about my feelings about her or her death.

Today, as I typed my typical “today would have been” post on Facebook, something changed. I first noticed it by the words I chose to use in my post. Then I turned on my Rascal Flatts station on Pandora instead of one I typically listen to. 3 tracks in, “What Hurts the Most” played and I felt tears coming to my eyes. That’s when I knew I needed to write this post.

Full Moons Are a Time to Reflect

Now, maybe it’s the impending full moon which always makes me more emotional anyway, or maybe it’s the chapters I’ve started adding to my memoir lately, but I received one of those infamous Universal head slaps this morning.

It made me realize just how far I’ve come in resolving my hopelessly twisted feelings towards my mother. The short version is I’ve come to realize she was exactly what she needed to be both for herself and to help me become the woman I am today. But as with all things, I’m never happy with the short version. So buckle up for some intensely personal revelations, if you dare.

Finding Appreciation: Too Little, Too Late?

I’ll be the first to admit I never appreciated mom’s many qualities. I was so busy being at odds with her that we pushed each other away when I was quite young. Nurturing my baby sister was far easier for her to cope with than a headstrong 2-year-old. I don’t think I ever quite got over that feeling of abandonment.

It’s not that she turned her back on me, per se. She simply found more joy in doing things with and for my sister as we got older and the paths of our interests took different routes. My sister’s musical prowess and outright tenacity far exceeded my own. Mom could point at her playing first chair clarinet or performing with the prestigious Royal Cavaliers and feel proud of the daughter she’d raised and shlepped to endless music lessons.

Was She Aware of My Love of Writing?

I was a disappointment across the board. I preferred to pursue my passion behind the scenes. Whether it was building a set for the latest drama production, running the light board or applying makeup, I was never front and center to stoke her motherly pride. As for the stories and poems I wrote, regardless of their quality or, in most cases, lack thereof, I can honestly say she never read a word. Of course, I never showed them to her either, so how could she know or even have the opportunity to refuse, or worse, offer a patronizing word of false encouragement?

The real truth is, by the time I was doing any writing to speak of, I’d long since ceased valuing her opinion about anything important. Maybe that’s part of the reason I have trouble accepting my daughter’s encouraging comments about one of the novels she’s reading. I learned not to show anything to my family for fear of the requisite “that’s good, dear” which might or might not have been delivered. I do my daughter a disservice by not valuing her opinion. After all, she’s been reading voraciously most of her life. She knows what she likes to read and what she thinks sucks.

Lessons Offered, Lessons Learned

Again, I digress. Because I started tuning Mom out from an early age; a trait I’m pretty sure I learned from my dad, I missed out on the many things she had to offer. She kept a beautiful house, entertained magnificently, and taught herself to be a gourmet cook. I am decent, but I’ll never have her skill, much less her patience in making every detail perfect. Thankfully, though those skills were lost on me, my daughter inherited them with a vengeance.

I’m reminded of the chicken and egg scenario. Did Mom stop encouraging me in the things which made me shine because I pushed her away; shut her out even? Or did I shut her out because she turned all of her attention to my sister’s pursuits, relegating mine to just sweet little hobbies?

Family Dynamics Are a Balancing Act

I’ll never know the answer, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t changed. I realize now it doesn’t really matter which came first. What matters is that despite the gigantic chasm which existed between us, she gave me so many invaluable gifts. She helped me learn to stand strong and fight my own battles. But she also tempered the gifts I got from my Dad.

Where he was stoic, she was sensitive. Though it might have seemed like she was too sensitive at the time, her sensitivity wove itself into my persona despite my best efforts to be as unlike her as I could be. So well in fact that Dad’s stoicism became my protective shell until I learned when and where to let my sensitivity show.

Where Dad was stubborn and dogmatic, Mom was more malleable, often to her own detriment. Again, I used the stubbornness to counteract my tendency to be easily manipulated. All too often, both tendencies have blown up in my face, forcing me to learn to find the balance.

An Introvert in Extrovert’s Clothing. Who Am I Really Fooling?

I think the most valuable lesson she gave me was negotiating an extroverted world while keeping my soft, mushy, introverted self safe and hidden. Yes, I took it to extremes, but so did she. She smiled and entertained and got involved in charitable causes. She even tried her hand at a career in sales. I know now from my own experience that these are all ways introverts learn to cope with the outside world when they’d often rather just hide away with a book and their pets. The difference between us is she needed validation from others to replace the love she didn’t feel from her family. I learned to be loud and entertaining (though some would probably call it obnoxious). I had a wall around my heart acres deep. Very few have ever gotten close enough to be able to hurt me. I can’t say the same for Mom.

In hindsight, I think Mom hurt every day of her life until the day she decided to end it. She suffered emotional rejection from just about everyone in her life, and certainly her entire family. Sorry folks who might be reading this and are part of that group, but I see no exceptions to this observation. Not one of us took the time to try to see behind her extensive collection of masks.

When Someone No Longer Feels They Have Value

Which brings me to my final point. Collectively, we helped mom feel that she wasn’t needed; was not important to anyone. I have to believe that was the final contributing factor. It was what made her decide suicide was her only viable option. I cannot even imagine reaching the point where you believe with all your heart that nobody will miss you when you’re gone, but I think that’s where Mom was when she carefully followed the instructions in the book she’d bought. When she closed the guest room door where her granddaughters slept when they visited, lay down on the bed she’d shared with my dad for 40 years and took the last, fateful step.

As I type this, my eyes are filling with tears, and my faithful cat, Dylan is on the desk giving me head bumps. Mom died on December 27, 1993…and it hurts more now than it did when she died. In the ensuing years, I’ve put aside the relief, the guilt, the blame, and the anger. I’ve replaced them with forgiveness, compassion, and understanding. And finally, the tears of grief and sadness for the daughter I couldn’t be for her are flowing, cleansing my heart and her memory.

I love you and miss you, Mom. Know you were important even if we didn’t show it. Know your granddaughters remember you with fondness and show that love in all the things you taught them to love and do well. Rest well until we meet again. I hope I’ll be kinder next time.

In Loving Gratitude

My gratitudes today are:

  1. I am grateful for the lessons my mom so patiently taught me, whether or not I was listening.
  2. I am grateful for having finally learned some of those lessons, albeit decades after her death.
  3. I am grateful for the living embodiment of love for my mom in my daughters.
  4. I am grateful for the ability to allow my emotions to flow all the way to the surface instead of keeping them bottled up like I’ve done for so long.
  5. I am grateful for abundance: love, lessons, compassion, understanding, epiphanies, gratitude, releases, friends, peace, harmony, philanthropy, and prosperity.

Blessed Be

I invite you to visit my Facebook pages, Sheri Levenstein-Conaway Author and HLWT Accounting. Please also drop by my website, www.shericonaway.com and check out my Hire Me Page. I’ve created these pages as a means of positive affirmation and would be very grateful if you’d “like” them or leave a comment! Thank you!

The Heart Doesn’t Let Go

Decades after my parent’s suicides, I find I’m still liable to fall down my personal rabbit hole when something happens to trigger the memories. It might be something simple like the feeling of my stomach dropping out from under me during takeoff when I’m flying somewhere. Or it could be more dramatic like a family member of someone close to me taking their life.

This week, though, it was merely a case of similarity. In a series of events which bore a slim resemblance to my dad’s last days, a member of the dance community received a diagnosis of lung cancer. The next day, he passed on, though in his case, the explanation was rapid deterioration rather than death by suicide.

Finding the Positive in a Life Ended Too Soon

In some ways, I envy his family and friends. Their grief isn’t stigmatized by the specter of suicide. His memory won’t be tarnished by what many consider a crime, or at least a sin. Yet, he, too didn’t linger unnecessarily after receiving the worst diagnosis imaginable.

I have to wonder if my dad might have been able to just let go of life when he learned his illness was terminal. Could he have, instead of resorting to a gun, just said “I’m done” and died peacefully in his sleep? Is it even possible to let go of life without trauma or catastrophe?

With Suicide, There Will Always Be Questions

Over the years, I’ve waded through thousands of questions, yet something like this makes me see I still have thousands more; many I’ve yet to even imagine.

It further reinforces my belief that after losing someone to suicide, the healing process never really ends. Just when you think you have it figured out, you’ve forgiven and accepted, something happens in your world to blindside you. You’re reminded in no uncertain terms that you still have a long way to go, another million or so questions to ponder.

It isn’t like lessons which build upon what you’ve learned. It’s more that the healing process occurs in layers. Like a doctor stitches up a wound, you heal the most serious first, trusting that the healing will continue moving inward to mend the layers beneath the surface.

Healing from Suicide is an Imperfect Process

But our subconscious contains so many layers, it’s nearly impossible to ensure that each one is healed in turn. Sometimes, the healing occurs above and below, but leaves a gaping wound in the center just waiting for the trigger which will break it open and send an accumulation of toxins oozing to the surface.

My festering wound is skepticism. I cannot just accept things at face value without wondering if there’s more to the story than meets the eye, or is shared with the general public. I know it’s not really my business, and I have no right to consider besmirching someone’s exit strategy. Yet I can’t stop myself from thinking these thoughts. Losing not one, but both parents to suicide makes me especially conscious of the fact that many find it to be their only viable choice.

In the last few years, I’ve known too many people who lived the horror of a cancer diagnosis. Some of them fought like the demon to eradicate the disease which was intent on decimating their body. Some have been successful while others are still fighting, quite literally for their lives.

Others chose to let nature run it’s course and go out with dignity and grace. When it comes down to living or dying; suffering or relief, the decision must be left in the hands of the one who is impacted most.

Trying to Maintain Perspective

If the death directly impacted someone close to me, I might ask the difficult questions in spite of myself, and against my better judgment. But when it’s just an acquaintance, the words must simmer beneath the surface, unspoken, yet in a way, my own undoing. I’ll never have the answers to my questions so they’ll simmer beneath the surface of my consciousness until I find a way to let them go; to let the deceased rest in peace.

I would never wish upon anyone, even someone I considered to be pure evil, the choice my dad had to make. Though people face the specter of terminal illness in their own intensely personal ways, my heart hurts for those who are forced to make difficult choices as a result of a diagnosis fraught with pain and an imminent expiration date. Yet I hurt even more for those who are left behind.

While my thoughts run rampant and I can’t help but wonder, I know I must make myself believe the story being told. I must do my best to avoid comparisons. My dad’s death was a tragedy, but I understand that as much as he didn’t want to suffer, he truly hated the idea of the people he loved having to watch that suffering. He chose the lesser of two evils and I have nothing but respect for his choice.

I’ll join in honoring a man who touched many lives without reservation. How he passed is irrelevant, just as are the minor misdeeds of which we are all guilty at some point in our lives. He deserves to be remembered and memorialized for all the good he did. What some might consider his mistakes or misdeeds were simply those things which taught him to be the man people will long remember.

Just like my Dad.

With Undying Gratitude

My gratitudes today are:

  1. I am grateful for the people who move in and out of my life bringing many questions and sometimes even a few answers.
  2. I am grateful for a modicum of self-restraint, even if I’m compelled to share my wonderings here.
  3. I am grateful for inspiration which is keeping me on track to write 1000 words a day.
  4. I am grateful for changes in my life which I hope will make me a better person in the long run.
  5. I am grateful for abundance; love, life, friendship, dancing, laughter, joy, companionship, peace, harmony, philanthropy, and prosperity.

Blessed Be

I invite you to visit my Facebook pages, Sheri Levenstein-Conaway Author and HLWT Accounting. Please also drop by my website, www.shericonaway.com and check out my Hire Me Page. I’ve created these pages as a means of positive affirmation and would be very grateful if you’d “like” them or leave a comment! Thank you!

Being a Loner is Never Your Happy Place

long-hairMost of my life, I eschewed the close company of other women because most people of my gender with whom I came in contact tended to be whiny, petty, and catty. It took me a lot of years to realize the women in my world were exactly what I was attracting, much like the unfortunate choices I’d made where men are concerned.

The sad fact is, by the time I reached my 40’s, I could really have used the support of a network of women, but had never learned to develop such a network.

After the Northridge earthquake, I became friends with a woman across the street from me; another single mother with a son a little older than my girls. She taught me a lot about having and being a girl friend in the years we spent hanging out, with kids and without. But as these things often do, we drifted apart when she re-married and subsequently moved away. Though we still keep in touch, we’re definitely not part of each others’ women’s network any more.

Growth Means Opening Up to What You Don’t Know as Much as to What You Do

Fast forward about 15 years and I’m not the woman I was even then, but I find myself wanting and needing that network even more. One thing I’ve learned along the way is in order to be accepted into such a sisterhood, you have to be willing to expose at least some of your vulnerabilities.

The fact is, the women I attract now are all strong, intelligent, self-confident, and empathetic to some degree. The last thing they feel comfortable with is a woman who is all bottled up and trying unsuccessfully to convince everyone she has it all together. Because not one, single, blessed one of us has it ALL under control at any given time. Otherwise, we wouldn’t want or need those networks of women friends.

In fact, the years when I had everyone convinced I was most in control of my life were actually the years when I was a hair’s breadth away from collapsing into a puddle of goo. As I open up to other women, I find I’m not alone in this regard. So many of us became strong because of years spent holding ourselves together with duct tape and baling wire. In other words, life tested our mettle in order to give us the tools we’d need later in life to achieve our dreams.

Learning to Let Go of Worn Out Beliefs

Building a network consists of a couple of main activities. The obvious one is to reach out to other women with whom you feel an affinity. But the one to which I was probably oblivious until recently was recognizing when another woman is reaching out to you, and not just because she needs something! I’m finding that women reach out to me in simple friendship, something I never noticed before. No expectations, no demands, just an offer of their heart. At first, I didn’t know what to do with such a precious gift!

I knew I was oblivious in my younger years when the occasional man showed an interest in me. Who knows? I might still need to be hit over the head with a sledge hammer should someone of the male persuasion want to know me better than the space of a dance or casual conversation between songs.

I had no idea until recently that my oblivion extended to making friends with women as well. Maybe I just needed to learn to appreciate the ones I attract these days first. Then I needed to learn that I was indeed worthy of their friendship.

Hiding the Pain Behind a Wall of Humor

I used to joke about “Ladies who Lunch” or “Girls’ Night Out”. They do say humor hides our true feelings. That the people who spend most of their time making jokes and getting laughs are the ones who are probably hiding serious internal pain. In retrospect, I envied those ladies and girls because they were a tangible representation of the huge hole in my own life.

Those holes can be filled, but how we fill them will dictate whether we heal or wallow. And I know from experience that ignoring them simply gives them room to expand.

My mom tried to fill the holes insider herself with charity work and social events. She sought to immerse herself in doing good for others, but ignored the one person who needed her most; herself. When she needed to take something for herself, those who could have, who should have given to her had already turned their backs after years of mixed signals, masks, and demands we didn’t feel like meeting. By her own actions, we never saw the sad, lonely little girl who wanted to be loved but didn’t know how to go about it.

Vowing to be different from her, I demanded nothing and drew into myself. But that behavior is equally damaging. Telling yourself you don’t need anyone or anything is a lie of the hugest proportions, and that little girl inside us will shout louder and louder until she’s heard: It’s all a lie! You’re lying to your own self and it won’t end well!

Giving Our Inner Child Her Say

My inner child yelled long and loud. I tuned her out for far too long, but she’s finally being heard. She’s grown pretty wise through all of the years she’s been stuffed down inside, observing but not affecting. Now it’s her turn. She’s coming out to play, making new friends, and most of all, having her say.

She learned a lot about balance by watching me teeter over the edge. She learned a lot about work ethic by watching me juggle side jobs along with my 9 to 5 (or 8 to whenever, if truth be told) in a sometimes vain attempt to give my daughters the life I thought they deserved. And she learned that sometimes you just have to follow your passion, even if there are times when you feel like you’re going to go under for the third time financially while you’re trying to figure out where that passion will lead.

She hasn’t made me fearless, as you won’t find me zip lining or bungee jumping any time soon. But she did help me find the courage to do what makes me happy instead of stressed out. She’s still helping me, and the biggest gift she’s giving me is learning to be part of a network of women. She’s helping me love myself enough to know when it’s time to give help and when it’s time to accept it.

Accepting help doesn’t make me weak or helpless as I once believed. In fact, it makes me stronger because I expand my resources to allow the strengths of others to help me over those humps life tends to give us from time to time, I’d swear, just for the Universe’s amusement.

I’ve been doing good things for my body for the last year or so, and am slowly adding even more to my routine. But now, I’m doing good things for my heart and soul as well. Thanks to girl friends.

Letting My Gratitude Flow Freely

My gratitudes today are:

  1. I’m thankful for the wisdom of my inner child.
  2. I’m thankful for the women who waited patiently for me to wake up, wise up, and notice they were there to give as well as receive.
  3. I am grateful for expansion. The more I open my mind, the more I see, hear, and feel.
  4. I am grateful for love in all it’s forms. And I look forward to discovering more of those forms in the years yet to come.
  5. I am grateful for abundance; friendship, love, new experiences, challenges, lessons, faith, hope, peace, harmony, prosperity, and philanthropy.

Blessed Be

I invite you to visit my Facebook pages, Sheri Levenstein-Conaway Author and HLWT Accounting. Please also drop by my website, www.shericonaway.com and check out my Hire Me Page. I’ve created these pages as a means of positive affirmation and would be very grateful if you’d “like” them or leave a comment! Thank you!

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