A Letter To A Friend Who Misplaced Her Heart*

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I recently received an email from a young colleague in my firm. I’d given her and her precious 4-year-old daughter, Briella a gift, the cornerstone of which was a delicate, ruby red glass heart. “Thanks for the gift, Don. It was very sweet of you to think of us. Briella loved the heart. In fact, she’s hidden it in a very special place (so “special” that she can no longer remember where she put it!!!). Good times!” That’s cute, I thought as I headed out for my morning walk with a smile and certainly something all of us can relate to: the putting of special things (e.g., keepsakes, photographs, love letters, etc.) in secret places and the frustration of later forgetting where we put them. But, after six (6) miles of walking, I realized that “misplaced hearts” are another matter altogether. The following morning, I left this note on my colleague’s chair – for her, her daughter, and all the “Briella’s” in the world:

Dear Briella,

I’m gonna let you in on a little secret:

At one time or another, everyone (even your mom and dad!) has misplaced their heart.

Some do it by choice – by entrusting their heart to others who don’t deserve it, fail to care for and nurture it, don’t value its unique beauty, use and abuse it, badly bruise it with unwarranted guilt and shame, ignore or abandon it, and, in the process, violate that trust.

Others decide as a result of subtle or not-so-subtle messages they receive at an early age that their heart is unworthy of being seen, that it’s not only not beautiful, it’s ugly (imagine that) – and they hide it far away from the world, where even they have trouble finding it.

Still others, who once proudly displayed their hearts for all the world to see, one day decide theirs isn’t pretty enough, funny enough, engaging enough, desirable enough – and they bury it beneath layers and layers of what they perceive to be what the world values.

And then there are those whose hearts are being held hostage (under lock and chain, in seemingly impenetrable fortresses) by insidious diseases, alcohol and drug addiction, anxiety, depression, the venomous and unrelenting voice of an Inner Bully, or loneliness.

But, here’s the thing:

While they may have been misplaced for days or months or even years – and have the scars to prove it – nothing about these hearts is lost. To the contrary, when they’re eventually found, their owners discover that their essence hasn’t changed at all, that their hearts are as uniquely beautiful today as yours is (and theirs was) when they were four.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that, let alone to find your way back to that heart and allow yourself a second (or third) chance to more fully explore and experience just how beautiful it is, especially when you get older and you start to forget the way it “looked” the last time you saw it clearly, playfully, magically – unadorned by all that other “adult” stuff.

With that in mind, maybe today you (or your mom) could jot down a few of the things that make your heart smile and tuck the note away just in case your heart too goes missing someday and you need to be reminded where to find it. In the meantime, please accept this “second chance” heart from me to you as a symbol of this important truth.

Your friend,

Don

 

*Image Credit: Hidden Heart by Millsy Art https://www.saatchiart.com/art/Painting-HIDDEN-HEART/807242/3107790/view

 

It’s A Matter Of Moments

moment

Several months ago, I was sitting in a therapist’s office recounting (okay, maybe “venting about” would be a more accurate description!!!) a series of events that, in my mind, had “ruined” the preceding day, if not my entire week, when the therapist interrupted. “I thought you had lunch with (a mutual friend) yesterday?” she asked. “I did,” I responded, realizing that in the midst of my efforts to marshal evidence to support the miserableness of the other 22½ hours I had completely forgotten to mention the lunch, if not mostly forgotten it happened at all. “Well, how did that go?” she inquired, patiently, with a knowing tilt of her head and a slight smile. The change in my demeanor, the softening of my countenance, and the quieting of my tone likely said what she already knew. “Great”, I confided, returning my gaze from the rain-drenched tree outside her office window and meeting her eyes, “our time together is always very special”. She let me sit with that for a few minutes – all of it – the pain, the confusion, the anxiety, the misunderstandings, the brokenness, the “not enoughs”, the “why me’s”, the warmth, the vulnerability, the empathy, the compassion, the silent tears that the weight of it all triggered – and then she leaned in. “Don’t you see?“ she asked, as if it should be as obvious to me as it obviously was to her, “you missed The Moment”.

Truth is: I didn’t see it and, regrettably (for ALL involved), I hadn’t seen, let alone understood it for many/most of my first 58 years on the planet. But, I see it now, clearly, and she was right. I know that, in part, because as I sit here baring my soul (yet again) several months after the fact, I have almost no recollection of any of the events that turned that day (or any day like it since) upside down, but I quite clearly remember the lunch, as I do similar moments like it that I’m learning to search for, recognize, and embrace to fuel my soul and inspire me on this journey we call Life. It’s more than a change in perspective. It’s an entirely different, more intentional way of living – and it changes everything! It’s the difference between allowing the smallest of bumps in the road (e.g., a misstep, a slip, a sideways glance, a hurtful word, a painful memory, etc.) to ruin a day and opening our heart wide enough, even in the midst of bumps, large and small, to allow the purest of moments (e.g., an unexpected act of kindness, a hug or kiss held just a moment longer, a word of encouragement or affirmation, a next right step taken when you were tempted not to, an expression of gratitude, a shared confidence, knowing that you’ve been heard, a gentle caress, a feeling of inclusion and true acceptance, etc.) to make it!

And, here’s the good news: You too can experience the day-making magic of a “moment” starting right now. All that’s required is a small pad of paper, intention, and an open heart. Here’s how it works: When you see, feel, experience, or, better yet, are responsible for creating something  (ANYTHING) that makes your heart smile, if only for a moment, jot it down. At the end of the day, whether there’s one item on your list or a dozen, let it/them be enough – enough to have made the day worth living, worth loving, worth giving, worthy of the label: “A Good Day!” Because here’s the thing: If you don’t, if you continue to insist instead, as I once did, that “A Good Day” requires that everything go precisely as planned, that every waking moment be misstep-free not only where you, but those you love are concerned, that every bump, obstacle, and pothole, large and small, in the road be one that you anticipated or at least caught a glimpse of (and could prepare yourself for) ahead of time, you likely will spend a lifetime searching for it – and you still may NEVER find it. Worse yet, along the way, you will have missed thousands of sometimes good, often great, and frequently unspeakably beautiful moments. Trust me: In time, you won’t need the pad. It will become as reflexive as breathing, and your heart will feast on how much goodness there really is to be seen!

https://tinyurl.com/y8mtsr7a

A Letter From The Brink Of A Relapse

Journal

For the past few years, I’ve made it a point to segregate the writings I’ve done as part of my advocacy and support work in the world of eating disorders from my personal blog. Recently, however, I learned that all of those writings inadvertently “disappeared” from the internet, when the blog I was contributing to was abruptly shut down.  I was heartbroken, in part because many of the writings were deeply personal and I’m told by those who read them were instrumental in helping those who’d “lost” or temporarily misplaced their voice share their struggles and their hearts with loved ones.  This is one of those pieces, which I happened to save, borne of conversations I had with someone fearful of having to tell her loved ones that she was struggling – again – and in desperate need of help.  The names, of course, have been changed, but the emotions seldom do.

“Just eat for God’s sake, for your sake – for our sake!”

Dear Mom, Dad, Husband, Brother, Sister, Friend,

I know you’re frustrated and angry that I’m struggling – AGAIN! Believe me, I am too, but I’m also terribly afraid – afraid of slipping back into the quicksand of this insidious disease, afraid of the darkness that I know is waiting for me if it succeeds in pulling me back in, if it is allowed to re-gain a foothold.

Most of all, I’m afraid of disappointing and hurting you – even more than I already have. I’m afraid that every new misstep and slip will be the proverbial straw that finally breaks the camel’s back, that this time when I reach out for your hand to give me a reason and the strength I need to pull myself out it won’t be there. You won’t be there.

That’s the part that’s unbearable to me. The disease is a tough enough adversary to fight with an army behind you, let alone when you’re alone. It’s doubly difficult when you’re saddled with guilt and shame, like I am (like most sufferers are) for having put so many others, especially those I love, through so much.

I wish I knew what to say. I wish I had words that could make you understand what it’s like to live with this disease, why I get stuck sometimes – why I stumble. The truth is: I don’t really understand it myself. There are, however, some things that are very clear to me that I want – actually, I need – you to know:

I’m committed to battling this disease until I beat it.

I’m grateful for all you’ve done and how patient you’ve been with me.

Your belief in me and in my ability to win this war matters – a lot.

I’ve never wanted or intended to cause you pain or hardship and now is no exception.

I may have taken a step back, but it’s only a step (or two). It’s all part of the journey.

I can’t afford for you to give up on me. I’ve/we’ve come too far.

In fact, I need you now more than ever. I’ll find the courage and I’ll do the fighting, but I need your support. I need your love.

You have mine.

Sara

On White Hats And White Horses (In loving memory of Emily Echerd (3/16/82 – 1/3/16))

sorrowfulangel.com

“There’s always some reason to feel not good enough.” Sarah McLachlan*

There was a time (not so long ago) when I naively believed that there wasn’t a problem in the world (at least in my world) that I was incapable of solving. I’m not entirely sure where that fanciful idea was born, but it was very real and before long it expanded to include not only my problems, but the problems of others (e.g., friends, family members, colleagues at work and later my children). From my perspective, no problem was too big or too small for my white hat and white horse. Or so I thought. And then, one day, our daughter stopped eating.

I will never forget the day I came face-to-face with our daughter’s eating disorder for the first time. I will never forget the frail and frightened look on the face of a young woman who I barely recognized as my daughter sitting wrapped in a woolen blanket in a nearly fetal position in the corner of the oversized couch that dominated the small living room in her apartment or the battle that ensued as my wife and I tried to convince her to allow the contents of a small can of protein drink to pass over parched and quivering lips that were desperate for even a brief reminder of how food or liquid tasted. I hardly knew what to say, let alone do. It all seemed so surreal, so incredibly irrational. Two things were, however, painfully obvious: (1) if our daughter didn’t eat or drink something soon, she was going to die; and (2) she and her eating disorder, which by then was firmly in control of the situation, couldn’t possibly care any less.  Indeed, both were openly, almost combatively, defiant.

Miraculously, after 2 hours of encouraging, cajoling, imploring, insisting and finally dictating in anger, the task was complete – the small can empty – just in time to start the gut-wrenching process all over again.  I’d seen enough. Like Pavlov’s dog, I leapt into action. I threw my entire arsenal of problem-solving skills at her eating disorder.  I contacted some of the leading experts in the field in search of understanding and then used what I learned to put together a game plan – a course of treatment that I was certain would dispel this insidious enemy just as quickly as he had moved in and taken as his hostage the most beautiful soul I’ve ever known.

Before long, however, I was forced to confront a very sobering and heartbreaking truth: There I was, faced with the biggest and most important problem I had ever faced, with my daughter’s life, a life for which I would gladly and unhesitatingly sacrifice my own, literally hanging in the balance, and I was powerless to fix it.  In fact, I couldn’t even understand it.  Over time (lots of it), my super-hero persona surrendered and my heart opened wide to the realization that:

We can hold the light for our loved one (and we should – steadfastly), but, at the end of the day, only they can choose to step into it.

We can show them the truth about themselves (and we should – unhesitatingly), but, at the end of the day, their eyes are the ones that have to see it.

We can shower them with words of affirmation and encouragement (and we should – enthusiastically), but, at the end of the day, only they can allow those words to take up residence in and nourish their soul.

We can point them to the pathway that leads to recovery (and we should – lovingly), but, at the end of the day, only they can take the first step (and the next).

We can rush to their side when they slip and fall, as they likely will, along that sometimes treacherous path and offer a hand to help them up (and we should – empathetically), but, at the end of the day, only they can reach out and take it.

We can implore them to live fully and unabashedly (and we should – whole-heartedly), but, at the end of the day, only they can choose life and do what is necessary to sustain it.

I was reminded of these difficult truths (and my humanity) again at 5:47 a.m., on Monday, January 4, 2016, when The Bully reared his ugly head again, this time in the form of word that a young woman named Emily, who I’d been supporting and encouraging for nearly 3 years in her ongoing efforts to recover from a long and difficult battle with anorexia, had died suddenly the day before. Seconds later, as I lay still in the darkness rereading and trying to process that news on my phone, warm tears began to pour spontaneously down the sides of my face. “This is not possible,” I thought – “not Emily. Wasn’t it just a few days ago that we’d corresponded in anticipation of the holidays? I hurriedly pulled myself together and went to the computer searching for anything in our most recent exchange of texts and FB messages that would bring some semblance of sense to this otherwise senseless and heart-breaking news.

What I found instead stopped me in my tracks.

Emily had been telling me that she still had not found any relief from bouts of vertigo and that the accompanying nausea was making it difficult for her to eat. I, in turn, had been growing increasingly concerned and urging her to use her voice to insist that her doctors find an answer:

Me: “Emily, Emily, Emily: I think I’m gonna have to fly up there and personally see to it that you see a SPECIALIST who can get to the root of this problem and resolve it. I hate the fact that you are suffering with this – and that it’s impacting all aspects of your life and your health.”

“You don’t have to do that,” she replied – punctuated by a smiley face. “And, anyway, why would you do that for me?”

“Because I’ve always liked white hats and white horses and helping rescue damsels in distress!” I said.

To which Emily responded, “LOL” followed by an even BIGGER smiley face and a LARGE thumbs up! It was the last contact I had with her.

12 days later, she was dead.

As I pushed my chair back from the computer, I thought to myself, “Maybe I should’ve added ‘and because I value you, because you’re worthy of good health, deserving of happiness and of a full life, because the world is a better place with you in it, and because I love your smile, your spirit and your Southern accent!” Then I realized I’d told her all of those things and more – at least 100 times in the preceding three years – and I gladly would have told her 1,000 more if only she’d given me the chance . . . if only she had lived.

My heart was broken – and it breaks again today two years later remembering her.

But I refuse to allow The Bully to claim Emily’s death as a victory. Instead, I am committed to honoring her life by continuing to encourage others to honor theirs and I would ask that you join me. If you are suffering from an eating disorder (or other addictions) and considering treatment, honor Emily by seeking it. If you are in treatment, honor her by taking full advantage of it. If you are in recovery, honor her by taking the next step, eating the next meal, refraining/abstaining from substance use, and/or treating yourself a little more gently – a little more kindly – a lot more compassionately. And, if you love an “Emily”, honor my friend by continuing to love open-heartedly and unconditionally.

Then Emily wins, then we win – then Love Wins.

http://tinyurl.com/nhrvqp7

*April Koehler’s impossibly and hauntingly beautiful photograph entitled “Mourning Angel” is copyright protected and used with permission. April’s other work can be found at: www.aprilkoehlerphotography.com

The Snuggle Is Real

snuggling

Take it from me: There isn’t a man or woman on the planet Earth who doesn’t love snuggling. Oh sure, some, men in particular, will scoff at that suggestion. In fact, I can picture them now – rolling their eyes, flashing their Man Card and wondering when, where, and why I misplaced mine.

I know, because for the better part of the past 5 decades, I was one of the “some” – but, not by choice. No, my skepticism, indeed my ignorance about the soothing, transformative power of snuggling and the soul-replenishing intimacy it engenders was borne of fear.

Fear that if I allowed someone to get that close to me for more than 5 minutes, they would surely discover what the little boy in me believed to be true about himself from a very early age: that he was unlovable or, worse yet, unworthy of love – and then they’d leave.

That’s one of the things that happens when your childhood takes a back seat to a bottle of scotch, when empathy is replaced with anger, when a mother’s vision is too blurred to safely navigate her way home, let alone notice the needs of the small, sensitive hearts she’s responsible for waiting inside.

And so the walls go up. Not just any walls. Walls constructed of titanium. Impenetrable walls. Walls designed to keep love at arm’s length, to protect the remnants of the innocent, child-like heart they encase, and give the bruises time to heal. It’s a matter of self-defense, of emotional self-preservation.

It’s not a choice. There’s nothing conscious about it. And yet, the funny thing is if you live locked away in that castle on the hill long enough, you actually manage to convince yourself that it’s where you want to live, that it’s more desirable than what you imagine awaits on the other side of the shark-infested moat.

But then, one day, you decide to confront your fear. You lower the drawbridge and crack the front door to your longing-for-a-lifetime heart ever so slightly and you steel yourself. You let him or her (and their love) in and everything starts to change. Not all at once. Not in a flurry of fireworks.

It changes one gentle touch at a time. A touch finally, fully felt. A caress. A butterfly kiss. A noticing of the way things “fit” – how her head rests perfectly in the nap of your neck, how your hands intertwine as if they were created to be together, how bended legs tuck seamlessly one pair into the other.  Her softness.

And, if you will allow, if you will trust it, slowly the walls you once thought would never come down will start to melt away and be replaced by an unquenchable desire for more of it – more warmth, more vulnerability, more closeness, deeper connection, true intimacy.

It’s called snuggling, but it should be called love fertilizer. It’s quiet and peaceful, restorative and invigorating. It supplies the strength needed to face a new day and the comfort required at the end of a long one. For those of faith, it’s an Earthly reminder of a Heavenly Father’s presence.

Oh, and guys, here’s the most amazing thing about snuggling: It does all of this and it doesn’t require you to say a single word. “All” it requires is your presence, a heart open and willing to be filled up, a laying down hug (see photo!), and a desire to hold that hug a little (okay, a lot!) longer than usual.

Believe me: the last part will be easy!

Image Credit: http://www.bonde.com.br

Mondays

For 30+ years of Mondays, I stared at a 6 a.m. alarm clock and thought it was time to get up and go to work – and go to work I did. I worked tirelessly convinced, as I’d been from the time I was a little boy, that “doing” not only was the way to express love, but the only hope I had to be recognized and loved in return. And so, “do” I did and on those too frequent occasions when I felt I hadn’t done enough or done things well enough, I redoubled my efforts and did more or started over and committed to do better. Often, at the end of a day, though bone weary at the number of tasks I’d assigned myself and completed, I was left feeling frustrated, wishing I could do or had done more.  Not surprisingly, when others failed to notice how much “love I was doing” for them, let alone to reciprocate that love through doing of their own, I grew disheartened and, at times, resentful.  I didn’t understand that love isn’t shown by, nor is the receipt of it dependent on “doing” and certainly not on doing constantly or perfectly, as my childhood had led me to believe – indeed, seared into my soul.

Along the way, my misguided obsession with doing things, rather than being love very nearly caused me to lose the love of my life.

Thankfully, I learned (albeit the hard way and much later in life than she (and I) would have preferred) that love has nothing to do with how quickly you get to the office when the morning alarm sounds or how much you accomplish when you get there. No, love is hitting the “snooze” button at least once – not to snooze, but to roll over and draw him or her near, to feel their warmth, to allow your fingers to gently trace the contours of their body and remind yourself of the softness of their skin, to breathe in the sweet scent of their hair, to express and reflect on your gratitude for the fact that they are in the world and part of your world, to tell them that they are valued above all others and cherished beyond measure, to kiss them tenderly, to be fully present just a moment longer, and to let their love in – all the way in. Take it from a guy who chased the electronic rabbit around the track a thousand too many times: There’s no substitute for the Monday moments I’m suggesting, for risking it all, for loving with your whole heart, and it’s never too late to get started.

P.S. There’s also no reason not to make and experience those moments on Tuesdays through Sundays as well!

http://tinyurl.com/obs4oht

Image credit: https://0.s3.envato.com/files/53733348/AlarmClockPreviewImage.jpg

Chosen

painting

I believe every heart has two basic needs: To be noticed and to be chosen. Not for the auto-tuned version of us that the rest of the world sees, the us that’s a little too perfectly manicured and made-up, dressed just so, always on its best behavior, says all the right things at all the right times, knows what to do to fit in and does it.  No, we want to be noticed and chosen for our acoustic self, the stripped down, un-made-up version of us, the us whose voice cracks at the wrong times, who has anything but “everything under control”, who is a little grungy and frumpy, who sometimes forgets the words, who doesn’t always hit the right note – for the unvarnished and broken pieces of us, the us who is fearful, fragile, and, at times, uncertain of our worthiness.  Truth be told: We want to know there’s someone in the world willing to fight for that version of us, who longs to be with it, whose heart aches in its absence – someone who cherishes it.

In a perfect world, those needs are met beginning with the love of our parents, from the moment we’re born until the day we leave the family home (and often for many years thereafter).  When they are, we get to see firsthand what being noticed, chosen, fought for, and cherished looks and feels like, which makes recognizing it when we encounter it in the real world that much easier.  But not every home is like that, including the one I grew up in.  Some, like mine, require you to do the fighting if you want to be noticed, to perform and unfailingly excel if you want to feel cherished and chosen – and even then the morsels that fall from the table to feed your hungry heart are few. Eventually, you too go out into the world, only you don’t have the picture on the front of the puzzle box that’s there to let you know what the pieces needed to put the puzzle together look like, let alone what to do with them – where they’re supposed to go.

And so you do the best you can with what you know, the tools you have to work with.  You keep doing and fighting to be noticed and hoping to be chosen. You really have no choice. It’s the deepest desire of your heart.  For a moment, you entertain the idea that you’re like the most interesting painting on a gallery wall. You’re sure that sooner or later a buyer will come through the door and not only see you for what you are, but rush to embrace you and take you home without having to be convinced by the curator that you’re unique and deserving of the asking price. And when they don’t or, worse yet, when they stop and stare, come back time and time again, and repeatedly turn away, or pick another, you begin to question whether you’re special at all, why it is you have to work so hard to make others see what to you has always been so obvious: The gift that is you – all of you – just as you are.

Maybe you’re wondering whether that day will come, the day when you will be fully noticed and chosen – unconditionally, whole-heartedly, voraciously.  I hope it does and I believe it will.  I have to.  My favorite customer just walked back into the gallery!

http://tinyurl.com/hraawob

Artwork by Leonid Afremov