WHAT SHE LEARNED- A Poem By Iris Arenson-Fuller

 

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What She Learned

April, 2014

Once they’d learned all gears meshed,
that critters all swam with new immigrant determination,
reached welcoming shores with focused skill,
carried out the assigned mission, straining
beyond the tight, untested gate,
when the end product of love and destiny
boldly pushed out of his tunnel,
crying for that warm, beckoning light
dimly seen through eager new eyes,
once they saw him grow breast-milk strong,
heard him singing rhymes and songs even in sleep
while they stood smiling over his crib,
they knew they had proved their point.
There was no need to do it again.

 

Later, she met the sad voyagers.
They sat in her office, with tissue box
on call at the big maple table,
men often averting eyes when
she asked their histories,
female eyes showing battle scars from
combat between depression and hope.
She noticed them in supermarkets too,
eyes moving stealthily from green apples
to round bellies in front of carts with toddlers
and their multicolored cereal boxes,
cheerless women fondling avocados
with feigned pleasure, choosing any two
for tomorrow’s salad, though not really caring.

 

Her heart always hurt for them,
yet she couldn’t imagine walking in their sneakers
even for one fluttering dragonfly moment,
till choices were rudely snatched away,
till death grabbed her bloom,
wove her a widow’s dress
and made her ask her body questions.
Her own youthful verdict seemed an oak tree once,
solid, planted jointly with two brains and hearts.
Later, choices that felt without defect
when made together in long-ago days of patchouli
and exciting love behind bushes in risky places,
began to shred like old never-washed curtains.

 

When she wondered what had changed,
why old decisions should be punched to the ropes,
she couldn’t say, even briefly considered
reversing her reproductive resolution,
but her body, still young, though ravaged by stress,
had ideas of its own.
Her pain, a sharp surprise, was an unblunted kick
but she let herself talk to the sting
and let it go.
Client voyagers were suddenly seen and sensed
through a clearer lens, not clouded by
her own past bountiful dice roll.
Gold messages came to her ears without strain
on gentle silver winds she had never before felt.

 
Her world was filled with photos of tiny souls
in far-away places, eyes huge with longing
for forever families they saw in dreams,
silent tears launching with foggy feeling-memories
of baskets left on steps, of first mothers hiding
behind bushes, watching, weeping.
She had held many, had elected to adopt several,
so this new pain made no sense, stole her breath,
sometimes choked her, but she let herself feel the sting
as messages from the universe poured in.
Cloud shapes once formless in the sky
became stories she didn’t need to be told.
Paths covered with twigs parted for her boots
like the Red Sea and she felt the lessons
cloaked in the pain she had never expected.

DO I NEED A CARDIOLOGIST IF MY HEART HURTS?

 

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Do I need a cardiologist if my heart hurts?  Right off the bat, I must tell you that I’m not a doctor, and I don’t play one on TV.

I will also tell you the quick and easy answer. No, I don’t think you need a cardiologist. Naturally, if you’re having chest pain, get thee to an emergency room right away and don’t wait!

I’m not talking about that sort of pain, though there is a condition that is stress related and reversible, called Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy.

I mean the pain that comes from loss, trauma, grief, disappointment, sadness and fear.  I am talking about the kind of hurt that comes from going through a difficult life change, from having lost a loved one, a dream, or anything else that meant a lot to you.  I’m talking about the way you feel when life has hit you with one or more difficult surprises. I mean the feeling of tightness and aching when you are overwhelmed and stressed, or worried about how you will handle a situation or change that you feel is imminent. We all know that prolonged or unremitting stress is bad for the mind, body and soul!

I don’t know the exact pain you are going through, though I am interested, if you want to tell me about it.  It might be that you are a widow or widower. It could be that you have suddenly realized that a thing you wanted so badly to happen for you is unlikely to happen. It could be that someone you love has a serious illness and you are gripped by fear over his or her possible or probable death.  You might be a caregiver now, with no time to breathe, or time for dreams and passions of your own. Maybe it’s a more existential kind of pain, in your case, about the meaning of your life, your place in the world, whether or not you matter, but thinking about it causes you to suffer and you are preoccupied with it a lot.

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When you wake up in the morning, for a couple of seconds, you forget your heartaches, worries and fears, as the sun streams into your bedroom and warms you,. You feel so good, briefly. Then it grips you. You feel your heart squeeze. The tension grabs hold of you. The sadness and/or anxiety come flooding back into your mind and body. You remember what happened, whom you have lost, what you have lost or been disappointed by. You remember what you are facing, or the changes you need to make, but are fearful of. That’s when the pain starts to engulf you.

So what do you do?

Here are some strategies for you.

  • Take a break from your suffering. 

Each night, create a short “menu” for the new day. Include 2-3 things on that list that you used to enjoy, even if you don’t think you will now. Commit to carrying out one or more of those things the very next day. If you have convinced yourself you won’t enjoy it,  that’s ok. Practice pretending and acting as though you are enjoying whatever it is. You just might get used to feeling good and it gets you out of your own troubles for a bit. Doing this builds your capacity to feel better.

  •     As soon as you make your list, tell someone in your life about it. Tell your spouse or partner, call a friend, or tell your adult child.

This keeps you accountable and lessens the chance of your not honoring your commitment.  Have your list handy in the morning.

  • Find a buddy to do something with. Invite a friend who may also be feeling sad or upset, to go for a walk or to join you for an activity.

Make a rule in advance that you will save the unburdening and sharing your misery for another time.   I am not suggesting that you push away your pain regularly, but that you distract yourself from it, and learn to do this as an exercise for your goal of feeling and getting better.

  • Include on your list doing something nice for, or saying something nice to someone at least once during every day.

If you focus your thinking on this, you won’t have to search very hard for someone on whom you can bestow your niceness. It can be a co-worker, a family member, a neighbor, a stranger in a shop, or on an elevator. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture but the more you think about what you can do, the more engaged you get, the less you will be thinking about yourself.

  • Consider volunteering some time to help a group or person on a regular basis.

Yes, it may be hard to do these things when you are distressed and hurting, but if you are truly committed to doing something about your pain, you have to begin to take action.

Whatever is hurting you is a fact of your life. You are not going to bring back a lost loved one, or lost relationship by wishing it. You are not going to create a perfect new job for yourself in your imagination if you have lost a job or career you adored. You are not going to find a dream that has eluded you, just sitting in a pretty package on your doorstep, propelled into your life by some magical force that knows you are tired of your anguish and misery. You have to work at creating some new chapters in your life story. They definitely won’t write themselves.

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SPRINGTIME IN SPITE OF US

Hi Faithfuls and, I hope, some new readers! (If you’re new, please subscribe. You can receive new posts by email.)  I haven’t posted a poem here in a while, usually preferring other venues for that. This is really, in a sense, one of my “coaching poems”, about loss, grief, healing and being ready for healing.  I would love it if you would take a moment to comment. Please do click the like button at the bottom if you do like it, and also please share it, using the buttons below, and with anyone you feel would appreciate this.

Thanks. You are all part of my “community”. I want to to continue to expand that community. Will you assist me with that in any way you can?  You have my gratitude if you will. 

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Springtime In Spite of Us

                                                                                 Iris Arenson-Fuller

Who doesn’t want springtime?
Whose bones are not in a state
of perpetual cold stiffness, yet moving
chiefly because we hold an imaginary whip
to make them creak or groan aloud
with their tight muscle cronies
that have taken over our bodies lately?
Who doesn’t need brightness and warmth
to seduce us slowly, till we stretch
and sigh with almost-forgotten pleasure?
I know I want springtime
but maybe you’re not ready.

 

We watch through the swirly window design
painted by the dog’s wet nose.
How soon will we spot the poppies
that revisit us now in spring, but were gone
for decades after grief slammed into us?
It covered the house and its inhabitants
like dark, slimy algae.
We hostages looked out over barren yard,
scanned it with our eyes, mildly hopeful
in spite of grief, but no poppies chose
to fight a path out of earth to find the sun.

 

When we sleep, some dream of red corn poppies
faces tipped up to afternoon sun,  red balloons of hope,
or dream of iceland  poppy blooms, orientals, apricotas,
symbols of new life emerging, abundance, second chances.
Some though, dream of black poppies, of opium poppies,
symbols of death and doom,  but I can tell you
that genus papaver, much like us, comes back|
only when very ready, and no sooner,
an array of colors and ways of showing up in the world.
If too many trees darken their potential, they may hide
their unrealized brightness within the cold ground
till nature takes away obstacles for a time.
Like us, they are resilient, even when they don’t know it.

 

If we’re not ready for spring, we will live in a cave,
poppies blooming all around us that we won’t see.
We must want to heal, want to see springtime,
want pain and darkness to leave us without goodbyes,
want bare trees left behind, mountains of dirty snow outside,
frozen door locks, slippery ice patches,
and those cold, weary bones and tight muscles too.
I listen to your words about your visions,
I turn on the channel of your dreams when you ask.
My heart tells me you’re ready, squeezing in synchronicity
with yours that has been split and shattered
but your heart, my dear, is the only one that matters now.

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Take a Life Detector Test

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What if you had to take a Life Detector Test? I don’t mean in order to determine if you are alive or dead. Hopefully that is apparent to you and to others. I mean to take a good look at your life and see what you can detect about your attitudes, the choices you make, and what is important to you right now.

Imagine you are sitting in a room, all alone, connected to a contraption of a machine, with all sorts of wires hanging out of it, hooked up to various parts of your body.  The Grand Inquisitor enters and sits down. He proceeds to ask you some questions that he reads from a book he is holding. His book has questions he and others think are important ones to ask people about their lives. You begin to perspire.   Various people have asked you some of these types of questions in the past. Sometimes you felt defensive and sometimes you scoffed at their perspectives, because you didn’t find their questions had much relevance to how you chose to lead your life..

“How much  money do you earn?”

“Have you steadily increased your income over the past several years?”

You laugh.  Earning money hasn’t been what your life is about.

He frowns at your response. You start to feel defensive once again.

“Is it a bad thing to help people, and to love what you do?”, you wonder,  You don’t know if there is a right or wrong answer.  The needle starts to jump around on the machine.  You don’t have a clue about what is being revealed.

He continues.  “Do you think you deprive your family because you have issues about getting paid what you deserve?”

Now he gets to questions that seem more meaty.  These are big questions that you perhaps haven’t ever asked of yourself.  Maybe you have asked them at times, but then you forgot about them, and got on to the business of living and surviving whatever life happened to send your way.

“Do you value what you have to offer the world?” 

“Do you think you value yourself enough, not enough, or too much?”

“What makes you want to get out of bed in the morning?”, he inquires. You don’t quite know how to answer this. What is he looking for?

“If you only have time to accomplish one significant thing a year, what will that thing be this coming year?”  You begin to fidget.

” What didn’t you do last year that you want to happen differently in the next year?”

“How often did you tell the people closest to you how much you care about them? Did you do that yesterday? Today?”

“Do you frequently shove aside your dreams and needs to allow others to create their own dreams, and to meet their needs?”

“Who are you really?  When you walk in the door at day’s end, and take off your shoes, does a different self emerge when you leave your stress behind?”

“Or do you dread coming home? Maybe your satisfaction is in your work and coming home seems stressful, or just plain empty?”

You start to get angry at this Grand Inquisitor. Who is this person, and how dare he pose these upsetting questions to you, and to try to measure your responses?

Suddenly you hear a loud, irritating, nerve-shattering ringing. Your alarm clock is going off. It is 5:30 AM and time to start your daily routine. You are still perspiring. There is no machine connected to different parts of your body. The Grand Inquisitor of your dream was YOU, asking yourself things that have needed asking for a while.

What about you, Dear Reader? When was the last time you asked yourself important questions about your values, attitudes and actions? Maybe today should be the day! Your questions might be similar, or they might be altogether different ones than were asked in this dream.

 Is your opinion of yourself in alignment with what you put out there in the world?  Can you quickly name your top three most values that guide you in your behaviors and choices, without spending a lot of time thinking about this?

Do you have any underlying negative beliefs that are getting in the way of your happiness or success?  They could be about money, or about anything else.

Do you tell the people in your life what you need from them?  What are you willing to give, in order to get what you want and need from others? Do you recognize the most important and precious people in your life? Do you let them know your feelings, or do you keep side-stepping this because there is no time, because you are embarrassed, afraid, or annoyed with a loved one about something trivial?

Please don’t wait for the Grand Inquisitor to stop by, or till your time finally arrives to find out what has been inscribed about you in the Divine Book of Life.

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Coach Iris, CPC, ACC, is a Grief, Loss & Big Life Stage Changes Coach, and also  specializes in helping the Adoption Community with All Things Adoption. (Issues faced by prospective parents, adoptees, and birthparents.)

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Find Iris at: www.facebook.com/visionpoweredcoaching 

On Twitter: http://twitter.com/coachiris 

At www.coachirisblogs.com  (Blog)

Visit her websites at: www.visionpoweredcoaching &

                               www.expertadoptioncoach.com &

www.afteradoptioncoach.com

What Shape Peg Are You?

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A huge milestone high school reunion is approaching for me in a couple of months.

Like most of us, I have come a very long way since those days.  I have always been a square peg other people tried to fit into the round hole.  I had my brief developmentally typical moments when I wanted to fit, but for the most part, have resisted being just like everybody else for the majority of my life. I guess to more accurately describe myself, I could even say I was always the hexagonal peg.  Not fitting in may have been difficult at certain stages of childhood and young teen years, but I believe it has served me well, and has helped me develop characteristics of which I am proud.

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It’s no secret that adversity toughens us and helps us grow.  Most of us have had our share, or more than our share. As I think back to those junior high and  high school years, I surprise myself. I have a lot of gratitude for so many people who crossed my path during those years. Back then I didn’t appreciate them much, or their influence on my life.

I want to thank the mean girls and the “popular” girls. The mean girls taught me to use my words, instead of expressing anger physically. ( If you listened to my mother’s version, I used my words almost immediately and never stopped.)  I have to give credit to the mean girls who helped me hone my verbal skills and even my sarcasm, to put them in their place, though I was really quaking in my boots at their threats and sometimes at their overtly physical actions when away from supervising adult eyes.

I need to thank the “popular” girls with the right clothes, with the hairdos that seemed to emerge from magazines, with the appearance of such self-assurance that I would have given anything for, with the trail of boys who had crushes on them, with their little cliques of friends who delighted in excluding outsiders. . It was only in my 60′s, through Facebook reunions, believe it or not, that I learned that there were plenty of people who considered me their friend, who wanted to be my friend, and even a bunch of “boys” who had huge crushes on me and who thought I was pretty.  I certainly didn’t think of myself that way in those days.  I was a trendsetter in many ways in high school, it is true,, but at the time, thought more people ridiculed me, or were puzzled by me than actually admired me.  It turns out I was wrong.  Still, I thank those “popular” girls for strengthening my resolve to be unique, to express my opinions without fear of reprisal, to dare to be different.

This post can’t be done without remembering the teachers to whom I have utmost gratitude and who helped me be who I am. I had plenty of professors who influenced my thinking and my life, but I don’t think they made as big an impact on me as some of my high school teachers. Perhaps it was because I was at my most impressionable age in high school. Perhaps it was because I did stand out somewhat in my enormous New York City High School, and not so much in college. My first college was a haven for odd shaped pegs and individualists, and later on, I was attracted to and hung out mostly with those kinds of people.

I want to remember and thank the teachers who are still prominent in my memory. Their behavior might seem odd, or even risky nowadays. Thank you to Mr. Guidarelli, who invited me to listen to opera with him and to appreciate it. Thank you to Mr. Dante Pocai, who spoke to me in Italian and even though half of what he said went over my head, gave me great confidence in myself and a great love for languages. Nobody got why I liked Mr. P. Thank you to Mr. Posner and Mrs. Kalman, who pushed and prodded me to join the French Drama Society where I was the only young person for a long time.  Thank you to Mr. Maiman who critiqued my writing, who made me feel like a real writer, and who encouraged me to seek awards, publication and to join a Poet’s Coop. He kept in touch with me for years after high school.  Thank you to Marilyn Brown, a former nun, who told me “The poet knows God”, though I adamantly replied that I didn’t believe in God, and her answer was, “Then He knows you and you will find that out”.  Thank you to the teacher whose name  I am sorry I don’t recall,  who invited me to her home for dinner several times, said wonderful things about me to her family, and made me feel valued and special. Thank you to Mr. Berman, who had long adult discussions with me about literature and life, and who didn’t ever treat me like a kid.  Thanks to Cathy Ribaudo, who pushed my limits and encouraged me, though initially embarrassing me by using my poetry in class lessons. Cathy later became a friend after we had our first sons. She once thanked me for “challenging the norms of this and every other New York City High School and for always making me think”.  She had little idea what that comment meant to me.

To this day, I tend to find myself attracted to other pegs who don’t fit the places into which society tries to force them.  As the director of an adoption agency for decades, my greatest satisfaction came from helping people who didn’t quite “fit” the norms established by more traditional agencies, but whom I felt would make great parents. Our agency worked successfully with people with disabilities of all sorts who had been first turned down by some other agencies.. We were the first agency in CT to have a significant number of gay and lesbian clients. Now as a coach, I also derive great satisfaction from helping those who feel themselves to be “different” in some way, whether they identify this difference as a positive part of themselves, or whether they are someone hurting because of a mindset they have assumed and want to change.

What about you? Have you always “fit”?  Have you been someone who is comfortable with fitting (and that’s ok too) or someone who has thrived by carving out your own unique space and identity?  I want to hear!   In looking back, to whom do you feel gratitude for helping to shape you into the person you now are?

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Coach Iris, CPC, ACC, is a Grief, Loss & Big Life Stage Changes Coach, and also   blackdressScanspecializes in helping the Adoption Community with All Things Adoption.

Find Iris at: www.facebook.com/visionpoweredcoaching 

On Twitter: http://twitter.com/coachiris 

At www.coachirisblogs.com  (Blog)

Visit her websites at: www.visionpoweredcoaching &

                               www.expertadoptioncoach.com

Shredding the Past Doesn’t Always Mean Shedding the Past

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I have survived many forcible dumpings of my life into the bin labeled “The Past”.   I would not have chosen to delegate the friends and family I loved into the file called “memories”, or to push some of my most treasured experiences and learning back into the yesterdays of my mind.  This unexpected and sudden hurling of my present back through time, rendering it the past, often happened with enough force to make me almost immobile for a time, and left me struggling figuratively to regain my breath in order to go on with life.  Many events literally knocked the wind out of me for a time, but I had little choice other than to get back up and to go on, somehow.  Life happens, as we all know, whether or not we agree with, or like the directions it takes.

In the past week I have been tackling something I have procrastinated on long enough.  Many of you know that I chose, along with my board of directors, to close the licensed adoption agency I founded and directed for about 30 yrs. Getting all of the records re-packaged, categorized (some files were torn and deteriorating) and sent where they must be stored indefinitely,has been a formidable task. I made the really tough and emotional decision to end the adoption agency chapter of my life mostly because I was ready to move forward with the new chapter of building my coaching practice, and with my own writing. I also wanted to leave behind the large amount of stress that had become an everyday part of running a non-profit adoption agency.  I had the best of intentions to start the enormous chore of getting my case files out of my office, even though they were safe here, and maybe safer than at some storage facility  . Still, every day seemed to  bring new projects and challenges I was more interested in tackling than I was in getting to the task of the files.

Then there are the business files. My treasurer, a great person who supported me for all the years of the agency’s existence, apparently was more of a pack rat than I knew.  In 2013 he decided he didn’t need all of the bins of accumulated paperwork in his own basement, so he gifted them to me one day without much warning. I learned that in his desire to be careful, he had saved every bill, every invoice, every check, every contract, every scrap of paper, every post office receipt I sent him,  and on and on. I couldn’t quite believe my eyes.

Some of these bins were deposited into my upstairs front little den, where we sometimes used to meet with clients because it was a more cozy setting than the downstairs office. Some were deposited in my actual office, already filled with about 12 big filing cabinets and other furniture.  Some of the bins migrated to my downstairs guest room, but that was taken over by some of my granddaughter’s toys, so some files managed to “find their way” to the master bedroom, and to my closet room that was once a bedroom for two different kids at different when they were very young.  So not only did the adoption agency dominate my life in some very good ways, and some other not-so-good ways, but in a sense, it still does.

This past week, as part of my action plan to get to some new and some old goals, I began to get serious about clearing space, and finally getting the physical remnants of the agency out of my world. It has taken me a long time, for a lot of reasons. There has been the usual family stuff, illness, deaths and just plain overwhelm.  Sure I help others to tackle their heart’s desires, and to climb out from under unnecessary overwhelm, but sometimes it’s easier to help others than to do it ourselves. You know what they say about the shoemaker’s children going without shoes!

I thought I remembered so much about my agency’s history, and its ups and downs. I surely remember the emotional and wonderful highlights, the successes, the family parties, our fabulous 20th anniversary celebration, and our final and bittersweet closing party.  I can’t forget the many meaningful gatherings with representatives from a variety of other countries, and my trips to many of those countries.  I remember the thank you notes and I have many still, from happy clients, as well as many photo albums of the kids at different points in their lives, and some even of the next generation (their kids).

What I had more or less blocked from my mind were all of the battles, the program launches that did not succeed for one reason or another, the dreadful stress of preparing for our regular relicensure inspections,  the long, tiring board meetings, the fund raisers that I never enjoyed doing, the bureaucratic glitches and the traumatized families when a process was delayed or something went wrong (and how their anger was at times displaced onto me, though fortunately not often).

Though I have filled up many huge trash bags over the last two weeks, and shredded documents till my little shredder cried out in pain, I have also spent considerable time, getting sidetracked and reading through board minutes, reading my old newsletters, my fund appeal letters and lots of other things that took me down memory lane.  I am now well on my way, working on this delayed project in earnest, finally, and chomping at the bit to get it done.  I recognize that having it unfinished, no matter how many valid excuses I had, has held me back.  I recognize that no matter how much I said I was ready to move forward, ending that chapter of my life was very, very difficult for me, even with my great enthusiasm for my coaching work.

So as I continue to discard and shred, I also continue my process of goodbyes, of remembering and of honoring the wonderful accomplishment of that previous phase of my life.  I can shred and throw away the remnants of it that do not now serve me. I can discard the stress and the memories of things that sometimes did not go well.  I felt that stress for too long and it is time to let it go.  I cannot and should not shed the pride of what I did, or the meaning that the agency, which I began with my late first husband, had in my life, or in the lives of a multitude of others.

I believed I was ready to move on before this, but now I am really ready.

How about you? Are you chained to the past in some way that keeps you suffering, or that keeps you from giving your all to your new goals and dreams?  Do you believe that unchaining yourself from what was, is somehow diluting or dishonoring its memory?

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REFLECTION QUESTIONS FOR READERS:

…Are there things in your own past that you have had a hard time letting go of? 

…Have you expended a lot of energy avoiding taking care of finishing up whatever it was, which energy might have been more productively invested in a new venture?

…Has letting go been painful for you because your past had a lot of emotional meaning and connection for you?

.Have you ever been afraid of letting go of your past?

Are you afraid right now?

Do you think letting go will in some way be a betrayal of someone you love, or of something in which you were deeply involved?

Do you believe that moving on means forgetting?

…Do you sincerely believe you deserve to be happy and to begin a new chapter of life?

…If you have closed one chapter and begun another, what helped you to do that?

…If you haven’t closed your old chapter yet, what are three simple steps you can take to begin?

Why not comment right on this blog, and let us know?  We want to hear what you commit to, and more so, we want to hear when you accomplish your goal.  If you don’t choose to post, feel free to email me privately, but I hope you will comment here. Are you ready to stop the pain and to find new peace and purpose? Do you have a goal you have almost been afraid to admit to yourself?  I want to help you.

 ARE YOU A FRIEND/REGULAR READER WHO DOESN’T USUALLY COMMENT?   I KNOW SOME PEOPLE ARE INTIMIDATED BY MAKING COMMENTS ON BLOGS, BUT COMMENTS HELP BLOGGERS, SO PLEASE TRY.  I THANK YOU.

 

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Is Distraction Good Pain Medicine for Healing Grief?

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A client of mine has found herself in great emotional pain recently. She resisted her feelings as long as she could, not being one who likes to give in to things. When her sadness suddenly took on greater depth, she decided to call me. I had worked with her in the past around some job and relationship dissatisfaction a couple of years ago.  She didn’t feel she was going through a typical depression, because she was managing to function, to keep up her with her daily life, and with most of her activities.

In the preceding year, Anne experienced several big losses, of her mother, her relationship, and of her job. Though the breakup of her 5 year relationship with her partner happened nearly a full year ago, about a month ago she began to find herself thinking about her former partner all the time.   For some reason, she had made it through the Christmas season without too much trouble, but weeks before Valentine’s Day,  her sadness and hurt seemed intensified. The odd thing to her was that she had never been a huge fan of Valentine’s Day, feeling it was, at least in the U.S., a commercial holiday pushed by retailers.  This year, seeing the displays in the stores and watching ads about cards, chocolates and other things to bestow on someone special, seemed to really get to her.

Her intensive job search over the past months was a distraction from her grief over her other losses.  She admitted that she continues to feel frustrated and a little worried about getting nowhere in finding a new job.  She knows she has enough financial security, unlike a lot of people, to tide her over for quite a while without too many sacrifices, and she is single, without kids. Up until a short while ago, she felt fortunate about having a financial cushion.  Very suddenly, her mood changed. She has a hard time admitting it, but she now often feels sorry for herself.

At Christmastime, though others had mentioned to her that their own sadness was exacerbated at that time of year,  the beautiful holiday decorations,  the music that was everywhere  and the task of trying to think of creative, but inexpensive gifts mostly for the kids in her extended family,  took her out of her own sadness and misery for a while. She traveled across the country to spend Christmas and New Year’s Day with her older sister and family, and she enjoyed this time.

Prior to traveling, she had spent a lot of time (and she has had plenty of that lately) making fun and creative cards for everyone.  Her practice over the past years had been to do a newsy holiday letter and to insert it in a card, but she didn’t feel like she had much good news to report this season, so she made her holiday cards extra beautiful and clever.  Everyone raved about them, and it made her feel good, until a few weeks ago, that is.

She had also developed the practice in the past year, since going through difficult times and the breakup with her significant other, of keeping a stack of handmade note cards on her desk and sending them out to family, friends and former business associates whenever she thought about them. People often remarked what a caring and considerate person she was, and she liked being viewed that way. Suddenly, when people said that, she felt annoyed, resentful and misunderstood by them.

Anne’s mother’s death after a very brief illness, had followed the relationship breakup, which was a mutual decision.  Her partner had moved out, and Anne had occupied herself doing some simple redecorating, feeling that it would cheer her up . She was also kept pretty tied up with the business pieces of settling her mother’s bills and estate, which job had been delegated to her because her siblings were scattered around the country, and she was the only one without a job or kids. Then she had her professional associations and groups, a book club, volunteer work, and activities with her friends.

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Over the past few weeks, Anne has found herself wanting to be alone a lot. This is uncharacteristic of her.  She has pushed herself to keep on meeting her social commitments, but her heart hasn’t been in it at all. She reported to me that she is unaccustomed to the moods and feelings  coming to the surface for her. She doesn’t feel like herself.  In her family of origin, she was taught that we are strong by going on, no matter what, and by not showing our feelings. We busy ourselves in service to others, and through care giving for others.

Anne reluctantly decided to see her physician and was asked if she wanted an antidepressant. She did not. Her doctor even tried to pressure her a bit into trying it, but she is not someone who likes taking medicines much. She didn’t believe she had depression because of continuing to function most of the time, and being able to do what she has always done in the past. Unfortunately, in our society, doctors and patients alike believe in quick fixes, and that there is a pill for everything.  Grief and depression can look similar, though.

Anne’s story is a familiar one to me.  I see it all the time. I reassured Anne that we could work together to get her through finally facing her losses, and figuring out what to do next. We can’t return to the past, or to the world as it used to be. We must face our feelings, look our grief in the eye, and learn how to integrate our past reality into our new, changed life and reality.  We can honor the past without remaining stuck in it.  As they say, “the way around the pain is through it”. There are many ways we can do that together.

It became clear to me rather quickly, that Anne has done a competent job of distracting herself from feeling the grief over her multiple losses, and of pushing that grief back.  Grief, though, is a process that must be fully experienced. We don’t all do that in the same ways, but we must move through the process of saying our goodbyes, and of adjusting to our new realities,   Blocking our grief for any length of time usually has some pretty negative outcomes, like anxiety, and even onset of physical illnesses.  The longer we block it, the more intensely we may end up feeling it in the end, when it comes out in spite of our efforts to suppress it.

So, our work is now cut out for us.  After only two sessions, Anne is feeling optimistic that she can indeed plan for and find a new reality, and that experiencing pain and loss doesn’t mean you have to continue suffering. Anne is working on creating some symbolic ceremonies to both honor her losses, and set herself free from her grief. She is already learning some different coping strategies. She sees now, that distraction may work in the  short-term, but like taking aspirin for a persistent headache, it will wear off and  the pain will return.

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Iris Arenson-Fuller, Certified Professional Coach, ACC (International Coach Federation Certification) is a Life Stage, Family & Relationship Changes Coach. She specializes in helping people with the intense pain of big life changes, loss, grief, and all issues of the Adoption Community. Iris is also a mom, grandmother, poet, writer, and former adoption agency director.

The name and certain details in this article have been changed.

Visit Iris at her web sites at www.visionpoweredcoaching.com

www.expertadoptioncoach.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/visionpoweredcoaching

Twitter: @coachiris

Digging Though Your Relationship Ruins

2Relationships are dynamic

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romantic-mature-couple-8012839Do you sometimes find yourself on a dig, trying to unearth those mysterious things you used to have together, the things that seem to have disappeared from your relationship with your partner?  Maybe you are busily engaged right now, digging through your relationship ruins, searching for artifacts and clues to help you figure it all out, or to put it all back together.

Hopefully your marriage or long term relationship is not in a state of decay, like an ancient ruin. I am not addressing relationships that have really serious issues and dysfunction.  I am talking about people who still care for each other deeply, but who are just dissatisfied because they remember the past as being so perfect (I doubt that it was, but memory can distort).  Things are unlikely, though, to be the same as they were 5, 10, 20, or 40 years ago. Relationships are dynamic. As the people in them change, so do the relationships.

Still, you may long for how it used to be way back in the beginning.  Time, familiarity, family responsibilities, money worries, illness, and any number of factors, can slowly cause  any relationship to become overgrown with “vegetation” that obscures the important connections and feelings you once had. What you remember and yearn for may have gotten buried because nobody took the time and effort to tend to it, to nurture it, and to see that it was preserved and able to flourish. Maybe the feelings and commonalities on which you built the marriage or relationship were ephemeral, and weren’t  durable enough to sustain the connections you once felt. Perhaps there has been a slow collapse, like the mud huts of Mesopotamia collapsed. As life took over, you and your partner may have begun to pile on structures and attitudes over the foundation you first built, so  that you buried your original bond, and any remnants of it, as you moved ahead and built too many artificial structures over the original site.

If you didn’t allow distractions and troubles to interfere too much with your investment in your primary and most important relationship, if you worked on your communication, on your kindness and your growth, both as individuals and as a couple, then you probably built  a foundation that is sturdy like brick or stone. . In that case, it is more likely to be standing today. Certainly, it will look different than it once did, and you may lament that, or even walk around feeling seriously depressed over what was, or what you perceive once was, but that isn’t anymore.

Before the spade hits the dirt, and you spend an inordinate amount of time searching, digging, and feeling bad too, you have some reflecting to do, in my opinion.  What is it you hope to find? Do you hope to recapture something resembling that old sense of newness? Do you hope to regain your lost passion?  Do you want to resurrect that  time when your ideas and dreams truly excited each other, if it feels to you that this isn’t the case in the present?  Are you remembering when every day together was like an adventure?

I will tell it like it is!  You are unlikely to recapture that exact past, that passion, that sense of newness and adventure.  Is that such a terrible thing though?  Once you cease living in the past and live in the relationship you have NOW, you can view what you have together in a different way, and therefore, things can change. You would be surprised at the shifts that can be created by mutually agreeing to let the past go, and to work together to find ways each day to appreciate each other, and the life you have now.

If you are committed to growth and to stretching your own experiences and views, you will always find a way to surprise yourself.  If you bore yourself and are completely predictable, even to you, how do you ever expect to susprise and interest your partner?   It’s good to have a certain core of stability and dependability, but it’s also nice to be someone who sprinkles his or her days with a little unpredictablity too.

When you remember the past with a sense of wistfulness and wish it were still here, as far as your relationship goes and how you recall it in your mind, are you negating or forgetting the good that has taken a long time to shape?  You didn’t just wake up one day in the place you find yourself today.  It took a lot of living, a lot of doing things by trial and error, a fair amount of failure, probably some pain,  also a lot of successes, both individual and shared as a couple.  You have most likely learned some not-so-productive ways of communicating by this time, and have settled into patterns like ignoring each other’s opinions and feelings, not noticing each other enough, and rarely complimenting each other.

One day when you find yourself daydreaming or getting upset thinking about the way it used to be, why not sit down with your pen and paper, or at your computer, and make a list of how each of you has grown in ways that enhance the other’s life?  Make a game of it, perhaps. Do it together!  Instead of focusing on what is no longer the same, what you don’t have, include the unique things, the ones you usually take for granted, that have developed over the years and that you like. There’s something to be said for trust, security, familiarity and understanding. You have a shared history, both positive and negative, so spend time   identifying the good that has taken a long while to blossom.  If you can’t easily do that, how about making the commitment to improve the marriage or relationship by seeking the help of a counselor or a relationship coach? You would be astonished how an impartial third party with some healthy distance can help you understand and change your perspectives and manner of communicating.

There really is no time like the present. Remember that in English, the word “present” also means gift.

By Karen Arnold

By Karen Arnold

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Iris Arenson-Fuller, CPC, ACC is a Life Stage, Family & Relationship Changes Coach. She is a writer/poet, a mom, grandmother, and former non-profit adoption agency director for many decades.  Iris offers free consultations for people who are going through difficult life stage changes, or who are anticipating them and who want to change less painfully, and more organically and successfully.  Iris works with many clients on issues of loss of all types and also with all members of the Adoption Community. Give Iris a call soon, or email to talk about what to do to improve your life and how you feel.

Stick Like Velcro, or Break Loose?

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Which one do you do more often?  Are you more inclined to stick like velcro, or to break loose?  On what does this depend?

Do you keep plugging away at something no matter what? Do you feel that when you’ve made a  commitment, that’s it, and you never give up?  Is loyalty more important to you than self-fulfillment, and that motivates you to stay with things others may have long ago given up on?   Is fear what keeps you tethered to the status quo?  Is it a need to save face?   Is that you, holding on stubbornly and tightly against brutal forces of nature, being whipped about in every direction by the winds of life?   Do you beat a dead horse till even the horse undertaker doesn’t know what to do? Are you so stuck fast to a plan, or to a relationship, that even the most dire signs that it’s never going to work fly past your eyes faster than the speed of light?

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Or do you quit a relationship or a venture at the first sign of turbulence? Do you bail when things won’t come together the way you expected they would?  Do you give up on things before there’s even a hint of whether you will or won’t succeed? Are you running for the hills before you have figured out where the hills are, and how to reach them?

There are times when being persistent, times when persevering even in face of great difficulties is an admirable and strong thing to choose to do. There are other times when it is downright ridiculous, or even self-destructive.  Some people, for example, will stay in a relationship or marriage in which they have been neglected, hurt or abused for years, or even decades.  There are a lot of reasons why this happens.  They may have hopes that they will be transformed into a deity who walks on water, and who can turn water into wine, changing all of the negative behaviors and characteristics of their partner or spouse by the wave of a wand, through wishful thinking, manipulation, playing the guilt card, drama, or by emotional, or physical intimidation. They seem to manage to avoid that moment of of clarity when they suddenly “get” that the person they are with is not going to change, and/or maybe that they don’t even have the right to change him or her, let alone the ability.

A lot of our behavior, and even how we define quitting or hanging on has to do with the values and lessons we were taught as children, in our families of origin. Sometimes we develop our ideas as we grow up, and are molded by experiences that make us see things a certain way.

Let’s look at the idea of sticking things out, versus breaking free or quitting. Let’s not attach our biases or judgments as we examine this topic.

Suppose your have made a commitment to a job, or to a marriage that makes you feel trapped, unable to be yourself,  even perhaps to learn who you truly are? Suppose you have done all you could think of doing to make a success of it, but nothing improved after a very long period of time?  You may have looked at other options, gone to see a career counselor, a marriage and family therapist, your clergyman or woman. So if you finally get the courage and make a decision to “break loose”, is that quitting, according to your beliefs and values?   If you have been miserable where you were, if perhaps being there has even been causing you to be sick in one way or another, is it quitting to find a way out of that?  Is it a bad thing, or is it a healthy thing?

I won’t be answering these questions for you. I hope if this question of sticking things out, versus bailing is relevant to your own life in one way or another, that you will continue examining the topic, and will decide if your choices thus far have worked for you, or if something needs to change.

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Iris Arenson-Fuller, CPC, ACC is a Life Stage, Family and Relationship Changes Coach, specializing in all types of loss and grief, big life transitions, and all issues related to the Adoption Community (and especially grief and loss connected to adoption).

Got questions? Contact me through this blog, by making a comment, or through my web sites!

Find me at www.visionpoweredcoaching.com 

                   www.expertadoptioncoach.com

                   www.facebook.com/visionpoweredcoaching

                    Twitter: @coachiris

Honoring and Healing

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SOME IDEAS FOR HONORING & FOR HEALING

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GET INVOLVED IN A CAUSE OR PROJECT

WHAT ARE YOUR LESSONS FROM THE PAST

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