The Stories Of Our Lives

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Anyone who’s read books for any length of time, especially fiction, likely has come across one or two that were so captivating in the early chapters that it was nearly impossible to put them down. Maybe it was the setting – a familiar place, exquisitely painted that is warm and inviting or one filled with intrigue, adventure or romance that you always fantasized about visiting. Maybe it was the personality, relatability, charm, wit, strength, courage, or mysteriousness of the main character. Maybe it was the complexity, creativity, pace, drama, or texture of the story line. Maybe it was the voice of the narrator or the skill of the author – his or her descriptiveness, clarity, phrasing, or subtlety – that drew you in and made you willing/eager to follow them anywhere. Or maybe it was the villain or villainess – the bad boy or girl – that immediately captured your interest and affection, stirred something deep inside of you, triggered a passion that surprised even you. Whatever it is, we’ve all experienced it at one time or another – it and a seemingly insatiable desire for more of it that makes it the first thing we pick up in the morning and the last thing we put down at night.

But, then it happens or several things happen, often in quick succession. The author surprises us with a radically unexpected and, from our perspective, unwelcomed plot twist. A flaw is revealed in the main character that fractures our affection for him or her – indeed, makes us suddenly despise them. A relationship that we’d grown fond of and whose success we were rooting for is thrown into complete chaos and appears certain to be over. The storyline we’d grown comfortable with and whose future path seemed clear and pleasantly predictable is suddenly disrupted, detoured, and set on what by all appearances is a collision course with disaster and a wholly unsatisfying ending. If you’re like most, like me, your initial reaction vacillates between disbelief and confusion. “It can’t be true,” you exclaim to yourself and so you keep reading for a few pages or a few chapters hoping for an equally immediate turn around. When that doesn’t happen, your disbelief morphs first into frustration and then to anger. You slam the book shut and either toss it in the trash or bury it in the bottom drawer of the nearest night stand, swearing that you’ll “never read a book by that author ever again”.

A few months later, you run into a friend and fellow reader at a local coffee shop and the conversation turns to your shared passion. You ask for a recommendation for a new book to read and she can barely contain her enthusiasm, as she blurts out the name of the book now headed to the local landfill or collecting dust in your bottom drawer! You tell her that “you hated that book” and are greeted with surprise. “Really?” she asks. It’s then that you confess that you actually didn’t finish it. That you stopped halfway in disgust at the turn it had taken. She smiles, knowingly, and shares her own displeasure with the twists and turns that filled that part of the story. “They caught me off-guard too,” she admits. “I didn’t see them coming.” “But,” she continues, “you won’t believe what happens three chapters later. It’s incredible! I don’t want to ruin it for you. Promise me you’ll give it another try”. And, so you go home, pull out the book, brush off the dust and turn to the dog-eared page you’d left as a reminder of where it all went wrong – and reluctantly start reading. And just as your friend promised, your heart begins to smile and it keeps smiling all the way to the end.

Sometimes I think the stories of our lives and our relationships are like that. They start off with so much promise, so much positive energy that we can’t possibly pour enough of ourselves into them or wait to see what the next page holds. And then, often when we least expect it, something happens that blindsides us, turns our world upside down, dampens the light or extinguishes it completely, knocks us off our stride, and makes us question everything we once believed to be true. Suddenly, nothing seems to fit and in our confusion, anger, disbelief, impatience, and despair we react. Instead of weathering the storm(s) or the season(s), we close the book on us, on our relationships, or, regrettably, in some instances, on Life itself. We don’t even give the Author of it all – and redemption – a fighting chance. I’m not suggesting there’s a happy ending woven into every story, nor am I advocating that anyone should stay in a story marred by physical, emotional or psychological abuse. I’m just saying, as someone who came very close to closing a remarkably beautiful book of my own, that curling up in bed tonight with an open heart and giving yours a second look may well end up surprising you.

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A Valentine’s Day Wish From Your Inner Child

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Lots of people may have gotten it wrong where loving you is concerned . . .

discouraged,

when what was needed was encouragement

judged,

when a little bit of understanding would’ve gone a long way

turned a deaf ear,

when all you wanted was to be heard

demeaned,

when your parched heart thirsted for affirmation

offered a cold shoulder,

when what your weary soul longed for was a warm embrace

harshly criticized,

when compassion and empathy were the soothing balm you sought

shut you out,

when you desperately needed to be invited in

clung to past missteps,

when forgiveness was what you hoped for

been blind,

when your pain was in plain sight . . .

But you don’t have to be one of them!

You can love “you” differently –

compassionately

tenderly

non-judgmentally

empathetically

unapologetically –

the way you’ve always wanted to be loved,

deserve to be loved,

were created to be loved,

are worthy of being loved.

And, you can speak to “you” differently . . .

with words that encourage

with words that affirm

with words that forgive

with words that are kind and gentle

with credit due.

What would that Valentine’s Day gift to “you” look and feel like . . .

a warm candle-lit bath?

a quiet afternoon with a favorite book?

a night out (or in) with your favorite meal?

a pen and a blank sheet of paper?

snuggles with your four legged friend?

a day’s respite from an artificial number on a scale?

playing hooky and picnicking at your special place?

a long drive to nowhere in particular?

time spent with favorite photographs?

a “to do” list (or two!) torn to shreds?

a smile in the morning mirror?

a whispered word of affirmation?

Truth is: The best way to show others how you long to be loved is to live and love “you” that way.

Why not start today – right now?

 

Things Don’t “Just Happen”

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I’ve spent the better part of the past 10 years trying first to convince myself and then others that things don’t just happen – at least not “things” that matter. My writings are replete with examples that I believe more than prove that point, encounters and events that just can’t be explained by or dismissed as coincidence. I didn’t “just happen” upon a still-wrapped bouquet of discarded roses at precisely the same moment that a woman badly in need of a reminder that she was seen walked by with her dog, any more than I “just happened” upon a little boy in need of a word of encouragement moments after a sidewalk spill from his brand new bike or a lost young girl late for the audition of her life. I also didn’t “just happen” to choose the off the beaten path Italian restaurant I did among the dozens that were available on a frigid, week-before-Christmas night I will never forget. Truth is: No one will ever convince me that any of those things (or the countless others that fill this blog) just happened. In fact, any hope you had of doing that disappeared completely and eternally during a recent trip to Chick-fil-A.

I’m a bit predictable – at least I used to be. For months, almost every Saturday morning followed the same script: up by 7:00, breakfast, an early morning walk (5 – 8 miles depending on the weather), a little bit of writing if the walk inspired it, a warm shower, and out the door to our local Chick-fil-A for an 8-count nugget meal, complete with a medium waffle fry (don’t judge me!) and a LARGE iced tea. That Saturday was to be no exception, or so I thought as I turned the corner into the over-sized shopping center and headed for the CFA at the opposite end of the parking lot. It was then that I saw her – a homeless woman, with what I imagined were all her earthly belongings stuffed into two large bags, slowly making her way down the sidewalk that bordered the westbound lanes of Flagler Street – and then that I decided that I was going to buy her lunch. I have no idea where the thought came from, but it was powerfully present to me, and I immediately began trying to figure out how I was going to make it happen, given the logistics and awkwardness of it all.

By the time I’d found a parking space, however, I’d managed to talk myself out of it. I just couldn’t visualize how to make it work – or maybe I just didn’t want to. She was still a few hundred yards away. What would I do? Should I wait for her, approach her with an offer to buy her lunch, and, if she was receptive, invite her in? And, if so, what would that “look like” exactly? Would it mean taking the next step and actually sitting down to have lunch with her? Is that really something I could do? Should I just assume she’d want lunch, go in, buy it, and then approach her on the sidewalk with the meal I’d selected and hope she accepted it? What if she said “no”? What if she rebuffed my well-intended overtures? What then? It all seemed too complicated. So, I bagged the idea, put it (and her) out of my mind, proceeded into the restaurant, waited in line with all the other guests, placed my usual order, paid the bill, and turned to head toward the dining area. As I did, I looked up AND THERE SHE WAS, having obviously made her way past several guests to get to me!

I froze. “Will you buy me lunch?” she asked shyly. “Absolutely,” I responded, holding back tears as I ushered her toward the cashier who’d helped me moments earlier. “Order whatever you’d like. I’m buying.” “Thank you,” she whispered, as we exchanged smiles and went our separate ways to our very different lives, sharing – me for the hundredth time, her perhaps for the first – the unmistakable, irrefutable reality that nothing just happens . . . at least nothing that matters!

Beyond “The Extra Mile”

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Many of the eating disorder and addiction sufferers I’ve been privileged to interact with are adults who’ve been battling these illnesses for years.  Some are married.  Some are not. Some have boyfriends or partners. Others do not.  Some are in school, miles away from home.  Some have been forced by their illness to move back home.  Some have families and full-time jobs.  Others work several jobs to try and make ends meet. Some have always been and remain close to their parents, while others come from broken or abusive homes and are, understandably, disconnected and distant ant from theirs.  Many have been in and out of treatment programs multiple times, have blue chip treatment teams and still find themselves in a constant tug-a-war between relapse and recovery. Others don’t have or have long since exhausted the resources needed to secure the treatment they long for/desperately need and, as a result, are forced to make due. Some, thankfully, are more firmly rooted in recovery.  But, at one time or another, all of them, sufferers, those in recovery and loved ones alike, have shared the darkness and questioned whether their story would have a happy ending.

I was reminded of that a few weeks ago when one of those friends, a young woman I deeply admire and respect, wrote to share her sense of exhaustion and openly wondered if her most recent stumble will be the proverbial straw that breaks the will and the patience of those who, in her words, “up to this point have so heroically and patiently supported and encouraged her”.  As I read her e-mail, I couldn’t help but wonder how often those same hurtful and fear-engendering thoughts entered our own daughter’s mind and found their way to a heart already questioning its worthiness.  You see, try as we might – and believe me we tried mightily – my wife and I were far from perfect in responding to the daily and often all-consuming challenges that an eating disorder presents to both the sufferer and those who love them.  In fact, the tears littering the keyboard as I type these words have their birthplace in too many remembered moments when my response to various incendiary situations spawned by our daughter’s eating disorder only added fuel to what already was a raging emotional bonfire.  All of which brings me to this note:

Dear Loved One,

I know you’re weary.

I know you’re frustrated.

I know you’re angry.

I know you’re wondering what you did to “deserve” this.

I know you don’t think you can do this for even one more minute, let alone another day, week, month, or year.

I know you’re losing patience.

I know you want your life back.

I know you want your loved one back.

I know you’re asking yourself if/when this nightmare will end.

I know you feel like you’re running out of options.

I know you’re scared.

I know there are times when you feel helpless.

I know you are starting to lose hope.

But, here’s the thing: Despite how they may act or what they may say in the grip of these insidious diseases at any given moment, your loved one feels those things too (weariness, frustration, anger, guilt, shame, fear, helplessness, hopelessness, confusion, etc.) and would give anything to have their life back – and you yours.  The last thing they need is to feel more of it – to be given a reason to believe that the lies their eating disordered (or addicted) mind has been telling (screaming at) them all this time are true (e.g., that they are a “burden”, that they are “worthless”, that they are “unlovable”, that the world (even your world) would be better off without them, etc.).

You are the truth that stands between your loved one and those lies.  The good news is: You are stronger than you think you are and more courageous and resilient than you realize.  You have a greater capacity for patience and empathy than you ever imagined and, while in this moment it may not seem or feel like it, your love and support are actually limitless.  The same is true of your loved one.  Rest in that hope, draw strength from it – and if, as I suspect, you’ve already gone the “extra mile” pause for a minute (or two) to catch your breath – you’ve earned it – then keep going, keep loving, keep believing. Because the magic may well be in the next one.

Wishing you peace and strength,

Don

What Courage Looks Like

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To the Young Woman in the Silver Hyundai,

I “see” you.

I see your early morning tears.

I see the pain.

The fear.

The uncertainty.

The self-doubt.

The weariness.

The loneliness.

The wondering if it’s all worth it.

Another minute . . .

Another Monday . . .

Another week . . .

And my heart is breaking for you.

I’ve been there.

I know you likely had 100 good reasons not to get out of bed this morning.

But, you found ONE – and mustered the courage required – to do it!

To get up.

To take the next step.

To keep fighting.

To keep hope alive.

Maybe it was the love of a child who’s convinced you hang the moon.

Maybe it was the quiet assurance of a lover, spouse, or partner that “today would be different”.

Maybe it was a gentle, late night reminder from a parent of the qualities that make (and always have made) you uniquely beautiful.

Maybe it was an also hurting friend you promised to see.

Maybe it was the infectious smile of the barista that always greets you when stop at the neighborhood coffee shop to grab your morning cup of joe.

Maybe it was a commitment you made to a caring therapist.

Maybe it was the “wake up kiss” from a four-legged friend.

Or maybe you just decided to honor the little girl in you – one more time.

Whatever it was today, I’m grateful for it!

I admire you.

I believe in you.

I’m praying for you – right now.

And I will hold you in my heart today.

You are a WARRIOR!

Signed, The Old Guy In The White Honda Civic

A Note To A Dad From The Darkness

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I’ve had the privilege of listening to the hurting hearts of countless women – young and not-so-young – over the past decade. Many have been ravaged by eating disorders. All share one thing in common: Their desire to know that they are loved by their dad – unconditionally – and that he is proud of them. This letter was the result of a late night text message exchange with a incredible young woman who wasn’t sure of either.

Dear Dad,

I’m not sure how I got to this very dark place.
And I’m even less sure how to navigate my way out of it.
I’m also not sure why I feel so worthless, like such a burden and so alone.
And I’m even less sure how to go about ridding myself of these feelings.

What I AM sure of, however, is how much I need you tonight.

I need a strong shoulder to cry on.
I need a voice I can trust to tell me everything’s going to be alright.
I need reassurance that the sun will come up tomorrow.
I need to be reminded that I’m good enough – “AS IS”.
I need a heart so filled with love that it has no space to be ashamed of me.
I need to know that, despite all that’s happened, I’m not a disappointment.
I need someone to check “under my grown up bed” and in the closet – the way you once did when I was a child and tell me it’s safe for me to go sleep.
I need to know I’m someone’s pride and joy – your pride and joy.
I need someone who will listen without judging me.
I need to know that I’m loved and that I matter.
I need you to show me the truth about me – again and again and again – until I can see it myself.

I need YOU, Dad.

I need you to hold hope for me.

I need you to light the way, to take my hand and walk with me out of this darkness.

I need to know I’m not alone in this fight.

Your 22-Year-Old “Little Girl”

A Note To A Heart Questioning Its Worth

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Several months ago, I received a note from a gentle heart questioning its worth, wondering if anyone would miss “it” if tomorrow it just “disappeared” – fearful it had become a burden, “let down” too many who had dedicated so much to its survival. Chances are if you love someone battling or in recovery from an eating disorder or addiction, you’ve heard similar words from their heart and if you are the one suffering you’ve likely spoken and felt the weight of them more times than you can bear to think about. Here was my response:

Dear Jen,

This is not about letting me or anyone else down, nor are you, have you ever been, or will you ever be “a burden”. This is about fighting for a beautiful heart – yours.

It’s about a disease that’s hell-bent on keeping that heart, which longs to be set free, captive – hidden from your and the rest of the world’s view.

Like the rest of us, the disease knows the truth about you. The difference is: We want that truth to shine through. It doesn’t. It is intent on distorting it.

And so, the battle lines are drawn. It’s you (and those who love you) against The Bully. You are the prize, Jen.

I sense the frailty and vulnerability of your spirit in your note. They are some of the many attributes that make you so beautiful.

But, make no mistake: You also are strong and courageous. The Bully knows that too. He fears that. The “slips” in your recovery are manifestations of his fear – not yours.

You deserve healing, Jen and I believe you have the resolve and the strength to claim it, to retake possession of your life. In fact, I’m certain of it.

Truth is: Recovery is the only option here. “Jen” is too important to throw in the towel and you, my friend, are the BEST (and only) hope she has – you and the One who created you.

I urge you to breathe in that truth – your truth – knowing that I am in your corner, that I am FOR “Jen” 100%, and that I’m not going anywhere until her heart runs free!

Would anyone miss you? You tell me.

Hugs,

Don

*image credit: frasesbonitasweb

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