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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIaT8Jl2zpI

A Note, A Dinner, and A Dusty Book

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Those who’ve spent any time with me or my writings know that I long ago disabused myself of the belief that things just happen (i.e., that Life is little more than a linear collection of random events). To the contrary, my experience has been precisely the opposite –  not necessarily that things happen for a reason, but that there is an interconnectedness to it all that may not be apparent in the moment, but plainly is there to be seen if we are willing to search for it – and often is quite profound.  To me, there is no other credible explanation for events and encounters that otherwise seem so ill-fitting, if not wholly incongruous with my often admittedly too narrow view of the way things should or were meant to be. Consequently, I’ve learned to pay closer attention to what I once would have dismissed as ordinary, unrelated experiences and, on occasion, to give voice to the “common threads” I see running through them. Such has been the case over the past three weeks, when, in succession, I received a note from a friend, had dinner with a stranger and, out-of-nowhere, decided to read Mitch Album’s book “The Time Keeper”, which, with apologies to Mitch, had been gathering dust in my nightstand since he generously sent me a signed copy shortly before its release back in 2012!

The Note

“Dear Don, Today, I am feeling, very acutely, that old sentiment of ‘everyone would be better off without me’.  My eating disorder is a burden for so many people around me, not just myself. Don’t get me wrong: They have the right to break down and feel as frustrated and enraged by the eating disorder as I do. But since I am ‘the carrier’ of that eating disorder, it always feels like I’m the one burdening everyone, causing misery and anger and strife. It makes me feel very, very, very alone. It makes me want to give up.” A Friend

The Dinner

“Don, I love my daughter dearly and I would do anything for her.  In fact, in many ways, I feel like I already have done everything I can do for her, but it doesn’t seem to have made a difference.  I know that she’s made progress and I’m proud of her for that, because I know how hard it’s been.  But, I also know she’s far from being out of the woods, that she’s still struggling – and that recovery seems a long way off.  I’m sad about that and fearful.  At the same time, I’m frustrated and exhausted. I’m not sure I can do this for another minute, let alone another year.  A Dad”

The Book

“The very next moment may be an answer to your prayer. To deny that is to deny the most important part of the future: Hope!”

I suppose it would be easy to conclude that the occurrence of these events in close proximity to one another and in this particular order was simply a coincidence, but the tears that spontaneously flowed from my eyes in Row 23B as I read Album’s words told me otherwise.  So, no sooner had I set the book down, than I reached for my laptop and hurriedly wrote the following notes to my friend, my now no longer a stranger fellow dad, and Mitch – mid-flight:

Dear Friend, Thank you for reaching out from the darkness and for trusting me with your heart in a moment of vulnerability. I wish, as I often do, that there were a magic wand I could wave that would help heal the hurt embedded in your words. Of course, there’s not or I (and those who love you) would have waved it a long time ago – and not for my (or their) own selfish purposes, but because we care deeply about you. Our message, not always conveyed properly (i.e., with just the right tone, at the right time or with the right words, etc.) is not that “the world would be better off without you”.  Quite to the contrary, the message is: “the world (and our lives) are infinitely better with you in them, which is why all of us desperately want to keep you in them and long for the day when you can be even more fully part of and engaged in them – free of the shackles that keep you from realizing just how important and special you are.” I hope you will allow yourself to breathe in that truth for a moment this morning. We loved ones don’t always get it right, because, at times, as you so astutely recognize, it’s hard for us too.  But, don’t mistake our intent. All of us care deeply about you. You are a remarkably gifted young woman with a sensitive and uniquely beautiful soul. I, for one, am committed to protecting that light and feel privileged to be part of your life. I hope the day softens for you. Warmest, Don

Dear Dad, You hurt the way you do, because you love your daughter as much as you do, the way a father should – the way every daughter needs and deserves to be loved by her father.  That said, I know how hard it can be to keep loving and giving so much, especially when you’re getting so little in return. But, don’t mistake what seems like a lack of reciprocity as a lack of need for every ounce of love and support you can muster. I assure you, while your daughter may not be able to voice her gratitude at the moment, let alone properly convey her love, her need for you, for your affection, for your support, for your patience, for your empathy and for your continued understanding likely has never been greater. The truth is: No one wants to be free of the millstone that is your daughter’s eating disorder more than she does, not only for herself, but for those she loves who also are suffering under its weight and for whom she feels acutely responsible. You are at or near the top of that list.  Regrettably, she can’t offer a timeline for when that day will come any more than I can, but it will come and when it does it will be in part because you (and others) loved her that much. I know you’ve gone the extra mile, but I also know you can go a few more! Warmest, Don

Dear Mitch, Thank you for reminding all of us of the power that resides in HOPE and the potential that resides in Life’s very next moment! Don B.

There’s A Princess In The Tower

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I have a friend who . . .

in the darkness left behind by years of

neglect,

disrespect,

physical and emotional abuse,

broken relationships,

infidelity,

belittling,

self-doubt,

breaches of trust, and

abandonment,

has lost sight of just how beautiful she is,

of her worthiness,

of all the things that make her unique,

of the preciousness of her giver’s heart,

of her capacity to love and her lovability –

of the playfulness and fragility of her tender, child-like spirit.

Maybe you are my friend or maybe you know someone like her.

Either way, know (or let them know) this . . .

I see you.

I see the truth about you.

I hear “her” gasping for air buried beneath a lifetime of lies and distortions.

It’s as clear, pure and refreshing to me as a mountain stream.

And I plant to stay in your life until you to see it, believe it, embrace it, and begin living it – again – the way you once did as a little girl.

You matter too much – are too valuable – to continue playing the role of invisible.

Your 4-year-old, bad ass self is counting on you to unlock the chains and set her free.

You’re the only hope she has – you and the God who created you.

Now is the time!

 

*Image Credit: “Rapunzel, Forgotten” by Sarah Schloss