All That You Have is Your Soul

Sometimes songs come to me at the exact right time. I think this is one of the ways God speaks to me – and I consider that to be “grace.” This gorgeous song by Tracy Chapman just came on my Pandora station as I sit and reflect about the state of our world – and my place in it.

Don’t be tempted by the shiny apple

Don’t you eat of a bitter fruit

Hunger only for a taste of justice

Hunger only for a world of truth

‘Cause all that you have is your soul

Here I am waiting for a better day

A second chance

A little luck to come my way

A hope to dream a hope that I can sleep again

And wake in the world with a clear conscience and clean hands

‘Cause all that you have is your soul

-Tracy Chapman

I am contemplating a question my friend Maryanne posed to me a few weeks ago when she asked me “what do I stand for” and whether my answer is guiding me during these challenging times. I quickly answered her – that I stand for truth, justice, and love. I admitted to Maryanne that – yes – as corny as this is – these are Wonder Woman’s virtues. This is the reason I am a Wonder Woman aficionado.

My partner Jerry and my sister Jacquie both spend a small fortune on Wonder Woman gifts for me – and I am sure one of them has already bought me this t-shirt: https://www.wbshop.com/collections/wonder-woman-shirts/products/wonder-woman-1984-vintage-justice-unisex-t-shirt and/or Alex Ani bracelet https://www.alexandani.com/products/wonder-woman-truth-love-justice-duo-charm-bangle (hint, hint Jerry & Jacquie!)

While corny – truth, justice and love have truly become my guiding principles. That part of the equation is not the hard part for me.  I can easily discern my principles by paying close attention to what triggers me – and lately I am triggered almost daily (hourly!) by lies, chaos, injustices, and fear mongering that seem so prevalent in our society in 2020. The challenge for me is to detach from the things I cannot control – to not assign too much meaning to the outcome of my fight for truth, justice, and love.  If I cannot figure out how to let it go, I am left hopeless, frustrated, despondent, angry…yet another victim or perpetrator of the vitriol we all see in social media. My friend Matt recently reminded me of the pertinent words of Viktor Frankl, that “a human being is a deciding being” – that we each have our choices about our mindsets of how we view the world and how we attach meaning to what happens to us.

When I heard Tracy Chapman so beautifully sing these lyrics, I found a connection to Viktor Frankl’s search for meaning. So, I try each day to do what I can to live my values and work to detach from outcomes, so that I can go to sleep at night with some amount of peacefulness and hope amidst the chaos of 2020. Detachment from outcomes is NOT EASY for me, especially in this year. Believe me – I have a lot of strong reactions to what I see on social media – and say a lot to myself – or to Jerry – to process my thoughts and emotions before I decide to post or comment. There are usually more than a few curse words included in my reactions – but I try hard to filter out the anger – to not lash back out and create even more noise. I do not always get it right – but staying silent is no longer an option for me. “Staying out of it” or “choosing to not get political” is no longer consistent with my values.

I have both consciously and subconsciously surrounded myself with reminders of my values all around me. Yes – this has led to a minor obsession with Wonder Woman. These are on the wall in front of my desk where I see them all day, every day. The image on the left reminds me to fight for what is right. The image on the right (a gift from my sister Jacquie) reminds me to detach from the outcomes of that fight. EVERY DAY I look at these to try to remember to do both.

I also have this little menagerie of bobble heads and action figures that sit next to me on my bookshelf – which I see all day every day now that I exclusively work from home. Each of these special figures represents at least one value that is deeply important to me.

My version of “Super Friends”

Albert Einstein: Genius Scientist. Albert Einstein represents my value of TRUTH because science helps determine what is TRUE. It is because of science (and my discernment of the variety of sources that I curate) that I believe in climate change, that COVID-19 is not a hoax, that wearing a mask reduces the risks of its spread, and that a vaccine should be tested before being released to the public. There are so many great Einstein quotes, but this one speaks to me today:

“The world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it.

Albert Einstein (Amen, sir!)

Yoda: Jedi Master. Yoda represents the value of JUSTICE because fighting evil is simply the right thing to do. One of the reasons I love the Star Wars movies so much is how well they tell the classic story of good versus evil, light versus dark.

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Yoda, Episode One, The Phantom Menace

This quote is so relevant to me in 2020 when I see our president using fear as a tool to stoke anger, to deepen hatred, and to further divide our country. This is why I think of myself as part of the “Resistance” fighting against this administration’s evil policies like family separation. There are a lot of people who are on the wrong side of history in 2020, and history will be the judge after the political divides of 2020 are long forgotten.

Prince: Genius Musician. Prince represents the values of GRACE and CHOICE. As I said earlier, God speaks to me through music – and Prince’s music is a spiritual experience to me – and this figurine is my reminder to find joy in music and creative expression. I happen to think Prince may have been the single most talented musician of my generation. He was so unique that he used a symbol for a name for a while – and no one really seemed to mind! Nothing about Prince is easy to define or put “in a box.” He paved his own way with glorious talent and creativity. My favorite Prince lyric of all time can be applied almost daily these days watching the President – not that I want to kiss him. I do not.

“Act your age, not your shoe size.”

Prince, lyrics from “Kiss”

Pope Francis: Spiritual Leader. Pope Francis represents my values of GRACE, LOVE, JUSTICE and SERVICE. This bobble head is my go-to “Sacrament” gift for my nieces and nephews. Pope Francis has restored some of my faith in the Catholic church as an institution. As a divorced feminist who believes in marriage equality, and who believes that women have the right to choose what happens to their bodies – I have often felt lost in the church. Pope Francis has done a great deal of work in reconciling the truth of the abuse that the Church actively sought to hide for so many, many years. I am still uncertain of where I fit into the Catholic Church – but Pope Francis has helped me to feel more welcome than I have in a long time. This is one of my favorite quotes of his – that shows that Pope Francis believes like I do that actions speak louder than words.

“It is not enough to say we are Christians. We must live the faith, not only with our words, but with our actions.”  

Pope Francis

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Notorious Justice. RBG represents my values of EQUALITY, JUSTICE, and CHOICE. Thanks to her work as an attorney in the early 70’s, the Supreme Court made it illegal for people to discriminate on the basis of sex. She became a Supreme Court Justice in 1993, and she is still actively serving at the age of 87. Coming full circle this year in 2020, she voted with 5 other justices to make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and/or transgender status. She has helped to uphold women’s rights over her entire career. She is truly my real-life Wonder Woman. I have several pairs of special RBG socks that I wear on days that I feel the need to channel some extra inner strength.  I often drink my coffee out of a few special mugs that Jerry has given me that help me start my day off on the “right foot” along with my special socks:

Starting my day on the right foot with RBG

Wonder Woman: Superhero. As already stated, Wonder Woman represents my triumvirate of values: TRUTH, JUSTICE and LOVE. Wonder Woman stands for justice as she fights for those who cannot fight for themselves. In my life, I seek justice by advocating for my stepson Eric and other children with profound disabilities. This has become my passion and fuels my life’s purpose. To me, justice also means standing with #blacklivesmatters – and it means I am willing to say that all lives can’t matter until black lives matter.

Wonder Woman is not afraid of the truth – even with the truth is HARD.  What I would do for a magical lasso of truth to force people like our President to tell only truths… I value the truth, and I want to try to embrace it even when it is not easy. This means that I am willing to have hard conversations – not debates – not arguments – but real conversations with people that grapple with systemic racism. It means exploring my own racial biases – to dig a lot deeper than I have been willing to do in the past.

Wonder Woman acts from love, not fear. She knows, like I know, that no one person can save the world. She seems to struggle with the same thing that I struggle with – that pesky detachment from outcomes…the virtue of being able to let go of what we cannot control…But/and – she, like me, is not going to stop fighting for what is right. I hope and I pray that somehow my actions will make a difference to someone else, and that creates some kind of a ripple effect of positive change that shines a light in the darkness…that lights the path for the right choices…that demonstrates that good perseveres over evil…that shows that the truth wins over lies…that proves that love wins over fear. That justice will prevail for all.

I used to want to save the world. To end war and bring peace to mankind. But then I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their mind and learned that inside every one of them there will always be both. A choice each must make for themselves. Something no hero will ever defeat. And now I know that only love can truly save the world. So I stay, I fight and I give for the world I know can be. This is my mission now. Forever.”

Diana Prince, “Wonder Woman” movie

I sleep better on the days when I know I have fought the good fight for truth, love and justice…because all that I have is my soul…and some pretty cool bobbleheads and action figures to help light my way.

And on the days that I struggle…I have some special glasses and coozies to help!

I Won’t Back Down

Well, I won’t back down
No, I won’t back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won’t back down

No, I’ll stand my ground
Won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground

And I won’t back down
(I won’t back down)
Hey, baby, there ain’t no easy way out
(I won’t back down)
Hey, I will stand my ground
And I won’t back down

Well I know what’s right
I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin’ me around
But I’ll stand my ground

And I won’t back down

-Tom Petty

 

I write my blog for a few reasons…to help me process how I am feeling, to help me learn my own lessons for my personal growth, and to share my stories in case it helps other people. Sometimes I simply have something to say – something important that I need to share others. Today, I write for all these reasons.

As I sit to write this part of my journey – I want those reading this to know that it is never my intent to hurt anyone else. I am about to write about a painful chapter of my life that I have never shared in detail on my blog before – and I am doing this to help me process some painful memories, and to try to help others who may learn from my experiences.

Over the last few weeks, I have been carrying some emotional heaviness. I have been helping a friend going through a challenging time. In addition, the #metoo hashtag has gone viral over the last few weeks. It is no surprise to me that I am being triggered by my own past as I hear so many stories. On one hand, I have glossed over the heaviness – thinking that nothing “terrible” has happened to me compared to others. But – that nagging heaviness hasn’t gone away and has been really affecting my moods. Last night as I had a great heart to heart with my friend Susan– I finally named it – I was feeling pissed. And as usual for me, underneath that anger was some residual pain from my past.

You see, I was a victim of emotional abuse for many years over the course of my 13-year marriage. I have never written that sentence before. But there it is. I don’t like to use the word victim, and I still have a tough time seeing myself as a victim – but in denying I was a victim is denying a very important chapter in my story. And I believe in the truth and in living an authentic life, so I need to speak my truth.

So yes – something terrible did happen to me – many, many times.

I remember the first warning sign when I was dating John who would later become my husband. We were about 22 years old and on a trip to Newport, RI for their Jazz Fest. I remember the car ride with his sister and her husband – and John got upset with me about something and lashed out at me in front of everyone in the car. I am not sure exactly what he said – but I think it had something to do with my being “spoiled” or “entitled” – this was to become a major theme over our marriage. Because I didn’t want to cause a scene, I stayed quiet until we arrived and I remember storming off to be myself. I remember he eventually found me, accused me of being dramatic and ruining everyone’s time. There was no apology – or even acknowledgement of my feelings at all. I remember pushing my feelings aside for the sake of “peace” – which was the start of a vicious pattern over many more years.

When we were first married, my husband took 100% control over our finances. To his credit, he did manage to save a lot while I had pretty typical spending habits for a 25-year-old. I do believe that it was highly unlikely we would have been able to save money and buy a house had it not been for John’s thriftiness. However, the path to that dream was a painful one. I was expected to place every single receipt into the “in” box where I was then questioned about the contents of those receipts on a weekly basis. Now – to some of you that may not sound unreasonable. We were trying to save for a house – and we did need to live within our means. And I had proven I was irresponsible when I neglected to share that I brought $4,000 of credit card debt with me into our marriage.

But you see – no matter what I tried, I could not convince John to set up a “budget” or in other words an “allowance”. I remember suggesting that he “allow” me to take out $40 cash each week that I could use for groceries, lunch, gifts, clothes…whatever. The point was that I wanted to make my own decisions. I was tired of him knowing what I bought for his birthday and how much I spent before I even had the chance to give it to him. I wanted to be able to go to lunch with a friend without having to justify it to him. I wanted buy a snack and not have to explain why I ate what I did and spent whatever dollars to do so. He thought my suggestion was crazy and unreasonable – it was impossible to come up with any kind of system or compromise. He was in control and that was that. As time went on, I would forget or lose receipts…I would become numb to the weekly arguments, bury my feelings and endure the monthly bank reconciliation. I would eventually get into “crafting” and making/selling jewelry so I could have cash on hand – glad to have a creative outlet that could also help me endure the situation.

What I didn’t realize was that the financial control was merely a stepping stone to the emotional control John would eventually take. He started in on my weight pretty early in our marriage. We were almost the same height – and when we were dating he almost broke up with me because he didn’t like that he didn’t feel bigger than me. So what did I do? I minimized myself as much as possible. I dieted before we got married – and got down to the smallest size I have EVER been and thought all would be ok. All was not ok. What ensued was nothing short of emotional abuse. He tried to control everything I ate on a daily basis. We would go out to dinner, and somehow I would be convinced to order an appetizer instead of an entrée. We would go on car trips, and if I wanted to stop for lunch I was told something was wrong with me because I couldn’t miss a meal. We would go to a ball game – where the only food options were hot dogs/burgers – you know the usual ball park food – and I would be ridiculed for not finding something healthy to eat.

I was called the most insane names you can think of – but the most common one was “Fatso.” And it happened ALL THE TIME. Every single day. Whether he was drunk or sober, he called me horrendous names. I honestly don’t remember ever enjoying a relaxing meal without being questioned why I was eating/drinking “that” and making some comment about my weight.

As a person who values the truth – I developed some terrible patterns to lie about what I ate, how long I worked out, and how much I spent on things, all attempts to regain control of my choices and of my life.

John and I tried to have children. I suffer from endometriosis and had to have several surgeries to remove some painful, large cysts. I went through many tests to determine my fertility – and therefore I was to blame for our situation. John refused to be tested. Instead, he blamed my condition – and at his worst moments, called me “barren” and “childless.” These are the most painful memories of my marriage.

Over our years together, I started to become more and more successful in my sales career, while John started to struggle in his career. He was incredibly smart and talented, and had the unfortunate luck to work for an HR outsourcing company whose major clients were Circuit City and other major companies that eventually went out of business. While I excelled, he suffered – and he saw this as in inverse relationship – meaning the better I did, the worse he felt. I could not share any of my successes without hurting him – so once again, I minimized myself – tried to make myself smaller – not just physically – and buried my feelings. My most painful experience related to this was the night I won “Salesperson of the Year” at our annual awards banquet. I dreaded the evening with every fiber in my being. I specifically asked to NOT be seated with our CEO and the executive team because deep down I knew what was going to happen. My worst dreams were realized when John proceeded to get drunk and mutter LOUDLY during the entire ceremony. “When is this going to be over?” “Look at you – you are so special (laced with sarcasm).” “This sucks – when can we leave”. Everyone at the table heard him. I was humiliated and so consumed with shame. Within seconds of the end of the ceremony, I grabbed him and we headed for the exit – somehow I thought I could escape and pretend that night never happened. It was truly terrible – one of the worst nights of my life. I had never felt so exposed and ashamed by having my work and personal lives collide like this.

I grew to avoid that collision of my personal life with other aspects of my life as much as possible. I alienated myself – more accurately, I allowed John to alienate me from my family and friends. I became so unhappy that I started to wish time away – I would be relieved to fall asleep so I could wake up the next day – having endured another day.

And despite ALL of these things that happened, I stayed. This morning, I watched a Ted Talk by Leslie Morgan Steiner called “Why domestic violence victims don’t leave.” She said she didn’t think of herself as being abused during her tumultuous marriage. You can see her TED Talk here.

She said, “I thought of myself as a very strong woman who was in love with a deeply flawed man.” EXACTLY – I got goosebumps hearing that. I used to say John was misunderstood – that he was like a porcupine, prickly on the outside and squishy on the inside. That people didn’t see the “real” John. Well – I didn’t see the real John. John wasn’t one person on the outside, and another on the inside.  Instead – just like everyone else including me – he is a whole person made up of many layers, many facets, strengths and flaws. I wasn’t healthy enough to see the truth through my denial.

Today my life is dramatically different – in a positive way. I sought help and have worked very hard on my emotional health. I am a truly happy person with so much love in my life. My marriage ended over six years ago, and four and a half years ago I met Jerry who loves me for exactly who I am – with all my strengths, all my weaknesses. I am 100% myself, 100% of the time now – no minimizing. I have the family I have always wanted with his children, Kaitlyn, Chelsea and Eric, all of whom I love with my whole heart. My relationships with my family and friends are the best they have ever been, and I no longer sacrifice any of them for the sake of my partner – because to do that would be to sacrifice myself.

I can still be tough on myself when I get triggered like I have been these last few weeks. When I spoke to my friend Susan last night – I said I am still “pissed” at both John, but also at me for “allowing” myself to be treated badly for so many years. That is why I sat down to write this morning – that is why I am seeing myself now as a “victim” – a word I have never used before to describe myself.

If John or his family are reading this – please try to understand that my intent is not to cause any of you pain, but I understand if it does. This is MY story. These things happened to ME.

These experiences have helped to make me who I am today, and I am a truth-teller. I won’t back down from the truth.

If my story helps even one other person speak up – it is more than worth it. Because here is a hard truth. One in every three women has suffered from domestic abuse. I am one of them – and many of you didn’t know this about me. And I am 100% certain that you know others that are being abused today. You may be one of them. If you are – please hear me loud and clear – the shame of domestic abuse cannot live in the light.

In her TED Talk, by Leslie Morgan Steiner talks about shedding light on domestic abuse – and after watching it today, I felt compelled to shed my own light – to “shed my silence” on this issue.

#metoo

 

Get up, Stand Up

Today I helped make history…or as Kaitlyn said, “her-story”. From what I have read by Politicususa, today’s Women’s March was the largest protest in US history. However, I didn’t march today in protest of who sits in the White House. For me, today was not about politics, nor was it about one man. It was (and remains to be) so much bigger than that! It transcends politics and the temporary power that one person has. Today’s march was about renewing my belief in humanity, my love for my country, and my commitment to embody my values. I marched to “be the change I wish to see in the world” as Gandhi taught us to do.

I marched today to demonstrate what I believe in:

  1. TRUTH: I believe in speaking the truth. The truth can be a big pill to swallow. Many people will avoid the truth because once they admit the truth, they may have to take some kind of action – or God forbid – CHANGE. I know this because I spent a lot of my adult life avoiding some hard truths of my own. As a result of facing my truth, I have had to make some painful decisions and have experienced a whole lot of turmoil as a result. Now that I am on the other side of that pain, I know in my heart and in my bones that I am a better person for taking the risk to speak my truth.  When I reflect on our recent presidential election (which I have done A LOT), I feel that one of the takeaways is the truth has been exposed. I have been pretty comfortable in my white privilege and could have easily stayed there “on the fence”  as John Pavlovitz so eloquently wrote about recently. Not anymore. I am willing to speak the truth that racism is rampant in our country. That white privilege is a luxury that too many people cling to and avoid having to change. That too many wealthy people hold the power and WAY too many people have none. That women are not treated equally in the workplace. That people with disabilities need more help. That LBGTQ right’s need to be protected. That there were more people at the Women’s March than at the Inauguration. Some of you may think this is political, and that is your right to think whatever you want. But for me, the truth is a fundamental, personal value. Now that I can speak these truths, I am ready to DO something – I am ready to “be the change.” I am ready to take action to do what I can to make my life, my country, and my planet, a better place.
  2. EQUALITY: I believe that all men and women are created equal. I believe in equal pay for women. I believe that love is love and that everyone should be able to get married regardless of their sexual orientation. I believe that black lives matter. Of course I believe that all lives matter, but I am not afraid to say that black lives matter to call attention to the hard truth that racism is rampant (see #1). I will not be afraid to embody this value of equality – even when it may be uncomfortable. I want my actions to reflect my values. That is why I marched today.
  3. CHOICE: To me, believing in choice goes well beyond a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body. I believe that choice is a fundamental right each one of us has at ALL times. Each one of us has the power to make a choice every moment of every day. Making a choice is the opposite of being a victim of circumstance. I can’t control my feelings, and I can’t control what happens to me…yet still I have 100% control over my choice of my actions in response. By the way, doing nothing is still a choice. And the only person responsible for my choices is ME. Other people may have an opinion about my choices, but guess what – the older I get, the less I care.
  4. EMPATHY: I believe that empathy is the answer to the division in our country today. I believe that I can change the world one small act of kindness at a time. I believe that empathy makes it possible for me to have very difficult but necessary conversations about very difficult topics.
  5. HOPE: I believe that hope comes from my core belief that we are all connected in some way. I have hope that our country remains to be the best country in the world, and that it is built to last no matter who holds office. I believe that fear is the enemy of hope. I have hope in humanity – and today renewed that hope.
  6. LOVE: I believe that love trumps hate. I believe that love is the most powerful, renewable energy that not only replenishes itself, but can grow exponentially. I believe if our choices come from love and not from fear, that the world would be a much better place. I believe that the enemy of love is not only hate – but more importantly – indifference, like the wise Elie Wiesel taught us.

These are the reasons I marched today. These are the reasons I will not stay on the fence. These are the reasons I will speak up and take action. I welcome difficult yet constructive conversations.