Who’s Really in Charge Here Anyway?

“We ought not to insist on everyone following in our footsteps, nor to take upon ourselves to give instructions in spirituality when, perhaps, we do not even know what it is.” St. Teresa of Avila

I’ll admit it. “Charles in Charge” has nothing on me. I’m in control, or so I tell myself, and then hear the echo of what can only be God laughing as I tighten the reins…and chaos erupts.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I think I remember reading somewhere that 98% of us have at least a touch of it. Some of us have a bit more than a touch, unfortunately. Oh, it comes in handy at times. The alphabetized CD, DVD, VHS and book collections make finding whatever I’m looking for a snap. Because, really, who wants to waste time looking for something that may be right in front of your nose? I have bigger fish to fry, as they say. And, maybe it’s a bit extreme but my closet is color coded with all the yellow garments together, all the red, all the green, etc. Again, it makes finding that outfit easier. And I’m all about economizing my time. However, these little impulses and neuroses also tie me in knots and can make me a rather difficult person to live with.

Poor Mom.

This feeble attempt at perfectionism often manifests as criticism. I hear myself and cringe. Criticism was definitely NOT the intent but that’s what surely came across if I put myself in her shoes. And really, how important is it if the buttery popcorn bowl wasn’t rinsed first before it went into the sink? Or if the spoon rest is backwards on the stove? This latter “pet peeve” doesn’t get spoken; I simply turn it around again but then I think, as I’m doing it, does it MATTER???

And here is where the knots get tied because, as one voice is asking about the importance of such an act, another voice knows how much of a mental distraction it will be if I leave the spoon rest backwards…or the toilet paper feeding from under, rather than over.

Of course, I’ve never really sat down with Mom and tried to explain exactly what it’s like to live with OCD. Sadly, such a conversation tends to veer off into why mine is so intense in the first place: it’s a response to the molestation I grew up with. And that is a subject Mom would rather forget about altogether. As a child, I couldn’t control what was happening to me so I acted out by adopting these little “habits”. It gave me a false sense of security. And I was desperate to feel secure. Not only the abuse but also the alcoholism, the drunken accusations that told us all that we were “stupid” and couldn’t do anything “right” and to “look a little harder than you have to”. Like many children who grow up with some sort of substance abuse…as well as the abuse of their bodies, minds, and spirits, I turned all this negativity onto myself and shouldered all the blame. If I was a better student, he wouldn’t be so angry. If I kept my room neater, maybe he’d leave me alone. If I did all the chores around the house, all this chaos would stop.

Who was I kidding?

I’ve been tied up in knots since I was a very little girl. Is it any wonder that I’m still tying myself in knots? Unhealthy though it may be, it’s also a comfortable numb. It’s familiar. And, if I don’t grasp, and clutch, and sterilize my whole life, I start to relax…and then chastise myself for being “lazy”.

The paradox of all of this is that my property from the roadside looks like tobacco road. This is another coping mechanism from dealing with alcoholism. It keeps people away. But such a desire never cropped up until a few years ago when I had a live-in boyfriend…who was also an alcoholic. He seemed a nice enough guy when we met. And there was an instant rapport. This last one should have been a red flag…heck, it should have been flashing in neon red. Because that kind of comfort level so early on, well, they say a girl looks for her father when she dates…or, in this case, father figure. I was embarrassed. The sometimes-arrogant self, who would never allow herself to be caught in such a situation, got caught in it. How did this happen? How did I let this happen? And, worse, it took me forever to finally get out of it. The same mind control that I grew up, manifested again in this romantic partner. The same self-doubt and shame crept in. And I felt sorry for him. He, too, had grown up with abuse in the home. I knew what that was like. And, while I had had a network of family and friends behind me as I sought therapy and tried to claw my way into some sort of normalcy of life, he was still wallowing in the beaten-down misery he grew up with. He even threatened to beat me physically…and I still let him stay. It wasn’t until, in a drunken stupor, he cut down a beloved shade tree in the yard that I snapped and gave him the boot.

Tobacco road’s been growing ever since…because I’m mortified that I allowed myself to be caught up in this unhealthy situation. I fell down on my principles. Every stitch of therapy went out the windows. Though I have no actual proof, I even suspect he was abusive to one of my cats as Trooper’s behavior while he was here was almost unbearable. And it stopped almost immediately once this man was finally gone for good.

A little bit at a time. That’s what friends tell me as I tackle this overgrowth. It’s a little bit like that “One Day at a Time” motto advocated by both Alcoholics’ Anonymous and Al-Anon. A little bit at a time, one day at a time.

This homestead is healing me as well as it is healing the land. My OCD says I should be able to perfectly landscape the 3/4 of an acre I’ve set aside for fruits, vegetables and herbs in a weekend’s work; it’s not good enough otherwise. Reality says, as I am implementing Charles Dowding’s “No Dig Gardening” method to bring as low an impact to the earth as I can, that such an enormous undertaking simply cannot be done in one weekend…not to the scale I envision. And not by one single person…especially one on a part-time income.

No, the “No-Dig” method isn’t expensive. Quite the contrary. It uses flattened cardboard boxes laid out on the ground (something easily had for free from many of the local businesses who don’t mind not having to pay out to cart the cardboard away instead) and then composted waste, from both the kitchen, and the animals, layered on top of the cardboard to create a raised bed. I’ve been dismantling a broken section of stone wall that runs along the front of my property to outline the beds once they’re made and using old feed bags that I’ve cut open and laid flat for the walkways in between. As funds permit, I buy a bag or two of red mulch and lay it atop the bags. This is where the part-time income comes into the picture as I cannot purchase enough at one time to cover all of the walkways at once. And, as I am on a major interstate, as well as in the commercial district, it has to be “pretty”.

So, a little bit at a time, one day at a time.

And, when the OCD starts kicking up again and stresses perfection, I need only look outside to see the rhubarb growing tall and strong in the three-tiered pyramid I built for it and the strawberries; I need only look at the green beans poking their kidney-shaped heads out of the ground in one raised bed and the beautiful purple flower heads of the chives, and the lush expanse of marjoram in another to tell me that, yes, one day at a time is good enough. It doesn’t matter that it’s not “perfect”. Obviously, these plants don’t care a fig if it’s perfect or not; they’re still growing in imperfection.

As for the grass?

Mankind has ever strived to tame and “control” Nature. I refuse to use anything gas-powered, or any chemicals, to kill it off. Even with the raised beds, the weed and grass barriers being laid down, there’s still the occasional blade that pokes up even amongst those sections already landscaped. This is a reminder that, despite my valiant efforts to control and manipulate this landscape, much like the landscape of my life, there is Someone greater than I who is really in charge. Someone who takes those knots I’ve tied myself into, lays them out flat…and helps me to grow.

May God bless you & keep you!

Over It

“Get over it!”

I hear a lot of this whenever I talk about, or add a new blog post, that shares about my childhood. Oh, the fun and games that every child remembers is acceptable. But the darker, more sinister aspects of my childhood should be kept quiet…if only because it offends the delicate sensibilities of others.

I say, if it offends your delicate sensibilities, then good. Great, in fact! If I’m offending your delicate sensibilities, then I’m getting under your skin. I’m making you aware that 6.6 million referrals of child abuse/molestation are reported annually in the United States alone–many involving more than one child, and alcoholism affects 15.1 million adults over the age of 18 (Child Help; NIAAA, 2017). Quite often, the two are irrevocably linked. And these are just the incidents that were reported…because the delicate sensibilities of those closest to many of these lost children dictate that these children should suffer in silence, rather than exploit the family dysfunction. I say, to what purpose should I “get over it” unless both of those statistics change to a big, fat ZERO.

SPOILER ALERT!

I hate to burst a few bubbles but, I am “over it”. You see, if I wasn’t “over it”, I wouldn’t be able to blog, or talk, so candidly about my childhood experiences. 20+ years in therapy have led me to a much healthier place, mentally and emotionally. I know sometimes it may seem otherwise when there are so many “hang-ups” that still trip me from time to time. But, honestly, before therapy, I bottled everything so deeply inside that I couldn’t see the proverbial forest through the trees. And I guess this blog post is coming about as a means to change some misconceptions…about a lot of things.

First of all, therapy. Whenever I get tripped up by some sort of coping mechanism I adopted as a child, or by a wave of self-doubt, there are some who cast aspersions on that therapy…or the therapist who worked so closely with me. But therapy, while valuable, can never truly wipe away those “hang-ups”; my memories aren’t going to disappear. I’m not going to forget what happened. However, I no longer dwell upon it. It isn’t an all-consuming nightmare from which I cannot wake up anymore. Therapy has helped me to put those painful memories, well, not really on a back burner but, instead, I can look at them with some distance, take them out, study them, study their effects, and, like an onion, peel away another layer of hurt and dysfunction in manageable bites. This is important because, if I tried to deal with everything all at once, I would get overwhelmed and incapacitated by that overwhelming. The abuse that I endured growing up was spread out over several years; is it any wonder that the recovery from it would also take a number of years?

Another blessing of that therapy is that, while I am peeling away those layers, I also have tools to help lift me out of depression and anxiety, to boost my self-esteem when it wants to plummet, to deal with anger and even the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that became one of those coping mechanisms. I will probably always be afflicted with some trace of OCD. In fact, with Mom now living with me, I find myself falling back into some old obsessions. I’m guessing it’s because I am suddenly exposed to some of that learned behavior from dealing with active alcoholism again. I escaped life with an alcoholic when I was in my early-20’s; Mom lived with that same alcoholic for over 40 years. For at least half of those years, I was in that therapy, peeling those layers away; Mom was still in the midst of it, dealing with it. Yes, she did choose to do so but that doesn’t change the fact that she learned a few coping mechanisms of her own. I see it, hear the sometimes sarcasm, the passive-aggression, the lack of concern for her own well-being, the escapism, the manipulation, the desperate attempt to develop a new co-dependency with me. It saddens me. Because, overall, she’s a good woman who simply allowed herself to get caught in a bad situation…partly because she didn’t believe that she deserved better treatment, and partly because, underneath the alcoholism and abuse, she saw something–someone–that she loved despite the abuse…and she’s still struggling with the ill effects of that choice.

Of course, I will also concede that the OCD has become over-active again because some small part of me may still harbor some anger at Mom…for not acting when I first told her what was happening to me. I was eight years old. Today, she says she doesn’t remember me telling her. I’m not sure how one would forget such a conversation but, I am willing to concede that it may have been such a shock to her, that maybe some part of her did block it out. Because it was too much for her to deal with. It hurts too much to think that maybe she simply didn’t care enough to help me. Either way, acceptance is the only way to true forgiveness.

And therein lies another misconception: forgiveness. A lot of people look at forgiveness as giving in, giving up, as saying that whatever vile and/or hateful thing that has been committed is okay. No, it is never okay for a little child to be abused…in any way, shape or form. It’s not okay for any living creature–human or humane, child or adult to be abused. Forgiveness isn’t about the actions of the abuser. We’re not forgiving the act–or lack of action–but the person committing the act, or lack thereof.

“Your heavenly Father will forgive you if you forgive those who sin against you; but if you refuse to forgive them, He will not forgive you.” (Matthew, 6:14-15)

Forgiveness isn’t truly about them anyway. Forgiveness is a gift for the one doing the forgiving, for the peace that settles over the soul once we finally let go of the grudge, the anger, the stubbornness that inhibits further healing from the transgression. Forgiveness releases the power the transgressor still wields over us to hurt us even more…because by hanging onto our anger, truly, the only person we hurt is ourselves.

So, what does all of this have to do with homesteading? I get asked that one A LOT. Because, really, that’s the whole reason I started this blog. I wanted it to be a daily accounting–or at least a weekly one–of my journey as a homesteader. However, as I technically started this blog back in 2010, but never really contributed to it on a regular basis until last August (2016), obviously, I didn’t have as much to say about my homesteading endeavors. Or maybe I just needed to get into a regular writing routine, which I have done, and see which direction it evolved. I’d like to think that these two separate journeys are somehow intertwined…above and beyond the fact that this modern-day homesteader is also the one still healing from the effects of childhood trauma.

In fact, there’s the link: a journey of healing from childhood abuse…and a journey to heal Mother Earth from the effects of Mankind’s abuse of her. What’s in our food? A lot of things that should not even be used in the same sentence as “food”: high fructose corn syrup, monosodium glutamate, dyes, aspartame, saccharin and sucralose. Where does it come from? A package? A can? From over 3000 miles away where a huge carbon footprint is created to transport it across country, across the globe, after lacing it with these artificial preservatives, and growing it with chemical pesticides and fertilizers…which kill us, kill the animals, the plants, kill the honey bees. What’s in our clothing? Nylon, synthetics–by-products of the petroleum industry. Athletic wear, especially, contains a lot of plastic. Plastic off-gases in our landfills. It gets dumped into our rivers and streams, our oceans, where tiny particles of it…and sometimes even larger pieces…get ingested by wildlife and aquatic life. I recently did a presentation regarding climate change. I found a photograph of a seal that had died from ingesting run-off from lawn fertilizers–such as Scotts or TruGreen. We’re killing our planet, ourselves. And, while one lone homesteader may not be able to make much of a dent in that carbon footprint, I can lead by example. And I can rest knowing that I’ve done the best I could to lessen my contribution to the abuse. That’s worth it to me.

As this homestead is also intended as an animal rescue and rehabilitation, a sanctuary to help heal animals of abuse and/or abandonment, here, too, is another journey of healing. I need a bigger homestead if I’m to achieve the level of success that I envision but, for now, I work with what I have and mitigate whatever suffering I can, one heart at a time.

For every new skill I learn as a homesteader, whether it is canning, preserving, a new gardening technique, a new fiber art mastered, for every new animal that I learn to care for and that thrives, I gain a new level of confidence that takes me even further away from those painful memories. And that’s a link that will endure forever.

May God bless you & keep you!

References

Child Help, (2017). Statistics. Retrieved June 2, 2017 from: https://www.childhelp.org/child-abuse-statistics/
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Statistics. Retrieved June 2, 2017 from: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics

A Blessing of Friendship

“There are ‘friends’ who pretend to be friends, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24

I have an abundance of friends–good friends who are there for me through the good times and the bad…at least when I let them be. When that ol’ Devil, Pride, and his partner, Self-Doubt, don’t sit on my shoulder and shout through the megaphone to my ear.

Arrgh!

And double AaarrrrrrrgggghhhH!

Do you know how many times I have started and re-started this post? And I’m afraid I’m still going to botch it. I started this post as a way to publically thank some dear friends of mine for the help they gave me recently…help which, all of them would likely say, was no big deal. But, to me, it was a big deal. And, no, the simple “thank you” I offered at the time the help was given isn’t enough. I’m not enough. Or so I tell myself. Despite the 20-something years of therapy. Despite Farnoosh’s wonderful “Affirmations for Life” series…that I make a point to listen to each morning. No matter what, the internal tape recordings still play, chasing away whatever peace may finally settle into my soul.

This expression of gratitude is turning into another one of those affects of alcoholism blog posts instead. So be it. I’m tired of fighting it. And, if I botch it, oh well. At least I tried. With a little luck, maybe that nugget of gratitude will come through after all. Because it is heart-felt.

I grew up with alcoholism. I grew up in a family where, yes, people would help you if you asked…and even sometimes when you didn’t, but whenever there was a disagreement, or I grew angry or upset about unfair treatment, that help was thrown into my face. Ditto for any gifts given. I was disloyal because my opinion differed. Or maybe, just maybe, an ounce of self-esteem reared its head at the receipt of said gift, or pair of helping hands, and, for a moment, I dared to believe that I might be loved and appreciated “just because”. And I spoke up. How dare I? So I learned not to ask for help, became uncomfortable with receiving gifts, and stuffed my feelings all way around. Because it was better to slug it out alone than to deal with the unbridled guilt that followed. Because, apparently, through that “disloyalty”, I somehow did not appreciate the help or the gifts. It was as though any help given cancelled out the right to speak honestly about my feelings, or about the horrors that often took place behind our closed doors. And, with alcoholism–and the many forms of abuse that often accompany it–that’s exactly the point.

Being treated to an ice cream cone cancelled out the shouting and myriad crashing and banging from the drunken argument the night before. The block of notebook paper, the clothes purchased for the next school year, mitigated my right to be angry because the family cat was kicked across the room when she happened across my stepfather’s path as he trailed my mother, shouting at her for…something. The gifts brought back from the weekly eight to ten hour shopping spree should’ve been enough to ease the anger and downright panic that ensued as my 14 year-old self waited for someone to come home so my little brother could be taken to the hospital for the head wound that wouldn’t stop bleeding…and, when he finally got there, required 3-4 stitches. He also had a concussion. PS We never had a phone growing up and, though a neighbor called family members to see if the parental units could be located, an ambulance would not come to pick us up because there wasn’t a parent, or legal guardian, to authorize his admission into the ER (this was very early 1980’s).

Of course, gifts were also dangled before me like the carrot before the horse…at least when I was really young. As a very little girl (5, 6 years old), my stepfather would promise me trips to Rocky Point, or even Disneyland, if I would keep our “little secret” from Mommy. And Grandpa, who was a cop. By the time I reached 7 or 8 years’ old, I knew better…and no gift was truly worth what I was going through. Then he simply threatened to hurt my Mom to keep me quiet.

The help I gave to my family in return was never enough. It wasn’t enough that I cleaned the whole house top to bottom while the parental units were out shopping and visiting family nearly every weekend. It wasn’t enough that I also took care of my brother those weekends–often without choice because they would often be gone before I awakened. Any money given to me for birthdays was taken. Ditto any wages earned babysitting. When I finally graduated and started working, half my pay–whatever it was–was demanded, not a set room-and-board fee.

Needless to say, growing up my sense of self was in the proverbial toilet. And, sadly, that sense is still just dangling from the rim of the bowl.

And, yet, I’ve been blessed with such an abundance of good friends…great friends…best friends, that I am constantly wondering what I ever “did” to deserve them all. And therein lies the faulty thought patterns. I didn’t earn them by anything I did. Or said. Or gave…other than my own friendship in return. For me, that’s a wonder in itself. And enough to make me misty-eyed as I continue typing. I can “know” this on an intellectual level but there’s still that echo of a childhood that keeps looking for ways to earn, or re-pay, kindnesses and caring. It’s as if it is a sin past bearing to ever be down-on-your-luck, or in need, and have to ask for help. The simple “thank you” seems small compared to what is given, what is offered. And, though some part of me hopes I am giving something in return, the scale by which I measure says I am perpetually short-changing everyone. I.e. I’m not enough.

And, as I type this, I can hear Farnoosh’s bright and happy voice echoing, “I am more than enough!” so I guess the Affirmations for Life are having a positive effect after all…

I hope any friends reading this blog post aren’t offended, hurt or insulted by it. It is, perhaps, a feeble attempt to explain how things are when you grow up in such an environment. And that, yes, while outwardly I continue to struggle through this thing called under-employment, it is the internal struggles that often keep me truly down-and-out. I hope you understand that it’s more than just the lift up to the feed store for goat chow or to CVS last minute for Mom’s prescription meds; it’s more than the unexpected call as I was leaving Walmart to see if I would like a ride home instead of walking in the rain and the dark after work. It’s knowing that there are people out there who care. About me. People that I don’t often reach out to because I don’t want to become a burden or wear out my welcome…because such was reinforced over and again as a child. It’s the seed of hope that such seemingly minute acts of kindness can plant…and water…and nurture in the heart of someone–anyone–who has ever felt lonely and alone, abandoned, scared or isolated. And we all feel nudges of each from time to time. It’s that whole Wiccan rule: what you give out, comes back to you three times three.

And, so, with that thought in mind, I am asking the good Lord to bless all of you three times three the blessing you have all been to me. Not just in these recent acts of kindness and sharing, but for all the years that we have been friends. For the love and acceptance you have given so freely. And the love and acceptance I hope to share with all of you–and more–for all the days of my life.

Of His gifts, I have little doubt.

May God bless you & keep you!

A Part of the Whole

“As God’s messenger I give each of you God’s warning: Be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value by how much faith God has given you. Just as there are many parts to our bodies, so it is with Christ’s body. We are all parts of it, and it takes every one of us to make it complete, for we each have different work to do. So we belong to each other, and each needs all the others.” Romans 12:3-5

In this journey of healing and homesteading, it shouldn’t be any surprise to myself that I often measure my worth by what I have accomplished each day. I pressure myself constantly to do more, over-crowding my life until I squeeze all of the, well, life out of it. And I drive myself bananas trying to fit that 30 hour day into a 24 hour time frame. As I blogged about yesterday, growing up with an alcoholic in the home, unreasonable expectations were placed upon me.

In high school, and for several years after, my dream was to be a heavy metal rock star. I wanted to be on that stage, playing my guitar, being viewed as the best of the best. I was driven to find some worth in myself and, despite having a beloved grandfather as a mentor with my writing, that wasn’t an acceptable career in those days; a metal artist was so much cooler (sorry, Poppop…). And, in my more honest moments, I know part of the musical appeal was to get under my stepfather’s skin; my father plays guitar, too.

Gary Richrath of REO Speedwagon (though not a metal band), George Lynch of Dokken and, later, Lynch Mob fame, and Yngwie Malmsteen were my heros, my mentors, if you will. And I wanted to play just like them…especially George. I also sang lead. Queen of Metal, Doro, was the major influence there. I wanted to sound just like her but she’s a powerhouse as a vocalist. My own voice, by comparison, sounded weak to my ears. As mentioned yesterday, my stepfather often taunted me about my musical aspirations. However much I practiced, it was never enough. I should work harder, practice more…if I wanted to succeed…even as he directed from the easy chair. In those earlier days, if I read an article that George Lynch practiced 8 hours a day–and, of course, this jived with my stepfather’s “advice”–then I would suddenly be killing myself trying to squeeze those 8 hours of practice around 6-8 hours of work and another 7-8 hours of sleep…and mentally beating up on myself when I failed. My younger self did not take into account that each of these artists were performing for a living. They didn’t have to go to a “day” job (though I’m sure they all had one before they “made it”).

Sadly, that vicious cycle of comparing myself to others and pushing myself to do more, because I never do “enough”, has stayed with me through the years. I recently read that author, Nora Roberts, writes 8 hours a day, every single day of the week…including holidays and vacations. I don’t know how true this is but I do know I simply don’t have 8 hours a day to give to my craft, no matter how much I may wish it or enjoy it. The best I can do is 4 hours…and that’s only if homework and homestead work don’t take priority. I still try to get to the keyboard–or at least sit with a notebook and pen–every day. Again, that’s the best I can do. I do not have the luxury of staying at home all day, everyday. I haven’t gotten that proverbial foot in the door of the writing industry enough that I can afford to stay home (and maybe some would argue that’s what’s holding me back but I’m also partial to food and shelter…for me, for Mom and for my animals). That doesn’t mean I haven’t tried to “find” 8 hours a day though. And, for anyone who has been following this blog since last August or September, you know I suddenly started setting my alarm for 3:30 a.m. after reading an article that Dolly Parton does her best writing at that hour. That fell by the wayside fast as first Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and then a bit of Chronic Epstein-Barr slapped me in the face. I work away from home evenings; I don’t get home early enough to support such an early rising. And that’s a fact. I’m now back to 5:30-6:00 a.m. And most of my writing time has been shifted to evenings, after all of my college homework and chores on the homestead are done, and the rest of the world is heading off to bed (fewer interruptions that way).

It’s the same with the homestead. In this case, my mentors are the folks at Path to Freedom. My homestead is nowhere near as developed as theirs; it’s certainly not a working farm yet. I have to constantly remind myself that this is a family working 1/5 of an acre. I have almost a full acre and, while Mom may plant a few vegetables, most of the work is mine. The Dervaes also started over 20 years ago; I’ve only just begun.

What all of this means is that the mental and emotional abuse I endured as a child and teen, I still perpetuate on myself today. I’m still not “enough”, not doing enough. And so, I see myself as less than those I might unwittingly put on the proverbial pedestal. Whenever I receive a compliment about my playing, my singing, my writing, or anything else I do, it always comes as a surprise and then a bit of discomfort that I am not deserving of the compliment. Such are the seeds of doubt planted by the alcoholic…and they are as perennial and as invasive as a blade of couch grass.

The truth of the matter is that my perception of self is actually quite skewered. I may not get up at 3:30 anymore, or write a full 8 hours each day, but I continue to maintain a 4.0 GPA in a creative writing degree program. I have been published before; have had a couple of professors encourage me to try publishing some of what I’ve written for class, and I’ve managed to attract a following of over 500 people with this blog in less than a year’s time. Once, while practicing with the folk group at church for our Christmas program, I was admonished by the choir director to sing softer. Our objective was to sing the Baby Jesus to sleep…not wake the dead. So much for that “weak” voice. And, many years back, my second husband’s nephew gave me quite a compliment when his mother pooh-poohed my guitar playing and he exclaimed, “But you haven’t heard Auntie Lisa play!” And, of course, having grown up with alcoholism in the home, my mind immediately rejected the compliment.

“One evening I was taken by surprise when another member complimented me. I was very uncomfortable with this gesture of kindness, feeling inside that I didn’t deserve it. When I tried to talk her out of her kind words, she refused to take them back.” (Courage to Change, 1992, p. 130).

Ironically, it is a young adult fiction story that has helped me to accept and appreciate who I am. It is a novel by author, Karen Cushman, called “Catherine Called Birdy” in which a young woman in medieval times seeks to find her purpose in life by trying to be an artist, running away with a circus (or maybe it was a fair; been awhile) and various other projects. In the story, Catherine trails a Jewish family and the old grandmother finally gets her to open up about why she wants to join their traveling show. I’m going to paraphrase a bit but the old woman admonished her that when she got to the pearly gates of heaven, she wouldn’t be asked why she wasn’t an artist, or a dancer, or someone else. She would be asked why she wasn’t Catherine. It doesn’t matter that I don’t play like George Lynch, sing like Doro, have a fully-working homestead like the Dervaes or write for 8 hours like Nora. I sing, play, write and homestead like me. Like that part of Christ’s body, as He intended.

May God bless you & keep you!

References

Al-Anon Family Groups, (1992). “Courage to Change.” Al_Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc, Virginia Beach, VA.

Cushman, K. (1994). “Catherine Called Birdy.” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, MA.

Learning Peace of Mind

I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart! And the peace I give isn’t fragile like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid…John 14:27

I’ve neglected my Al-Anon daily reader for awhile now…and it shows. Tonight I picked up “Courage to Change” and read today’s message. As always, it was exactly what I needed.

Today’s reading talks about how we often deny the gifts we have by wishing that things were different. Or by refusing to “accept something over which” we are “powerless” (Courage to Change, p. 129). No matter how many years I have spent in therapy, or whether or not I am currently exposed to active alcoholism, it always amazes me how quickly I can fall back on the learned behavior that I grew up with. There is a constant maintenance that never really goes away. If I ignore it, get lazy, whatever you wish to call it, that learned behavior creeps back in and takes over again. Maybe not as strongly, because there is a healing that came with the past maintenance, but it can certainly wreak some havoc…sort of like the weeds in my garden. If I don’t get out there each day and pull a few of them, they’re liable to take over.

And, really, with Mom now living on the homestead with me, it is more important than ever that I keep up that maintenance.

No, Mom seldom, if ever, drinks alcohol. She was married to an alcoholic for 40+ years. Granted, he went dry the last five years of his life. Quit cold turkey. But never attended an AA meeting or sought any professional help; he didn’t think he needed it. Mom learned a lot of coping behaviors in those 40+ years. And, living together, I find myself confronting some of them in myself, too.

I’ve been in a bit of a funk for some time now. A lot of stress, mostly financial, but there is also some stress in simply learning how to live again with Mom. I’ve gone from being 50 years old to being treated like I’m 15. I know it is a Mom “thing” but it grates against the nerves at times. I also find I’m a bit territorial. When Mom moved in she offered to take over kitchen detail. On the one hand, I appreciate the offer, her willingness to help. On the other hand, I really miss my relaxing Sunday afternoons, cooking and baking for the whole week, freezing portions for later in the month, canning, preserving, and also making herbal tinctures and salves and such. I enjoyed planning out my meals before I did a grocery shopping and saving the money that such planning brought about. The simple solution would be to simply sit down with Mom and talk about it. But here is where the learned behavior comes in.

Mom will sit and listen to whatever I have to say. She will nod and agree with me, tell me to go ahead and start cooking, etc; defensively assure me that she’s not stopping me. A half hour later, she will be in the kitchen again. I’ve even gone so far as to half-jokingly tell her I was kicking her out of the kitchen, or firing her from KP duty (after the umpteenth meal of scrambled eggs, rubbery and tasteless on the inside, super-crispy-can-barely-cut-them-with-a-fork on the outside). It doesn’t matter. She’s learned to ignore such requests. Because my stepfather made requests and then changed his mind again as it suited him, which is typical of an alcoholic. Who could possibly keep up? She learned to agree with whatever he said to his face…even as she went about her own business later. She was very careful to agree while he was talking. Any opposition and, like many alcoholics, he would start yelling and screaming at her. He could also be violent. So she agreed. We all did. Because it was better than dealing with the temper tantrums.

As you can guess, we don’t communicate well. I learned to stuff everything. Actually, Mom did, too. We mutter under our breath instead…and then pretend we said something entirely different if, what we muttered, carries farther than we thought it would. A passive-aggressive approach because, living with an alcoholic, you really can’t voice your opinions, your feelings, express your wants or needs. Again, it’s the temper tantrums.

In Al-Anon, “The Serenity Prayer” is often recited:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as the pathway to peace. Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will. That I may be reasonally happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.”

I cannot change what our past has been. But, by ignoring the myriad tools that I have been given, through both therapy and Al-Anon, I allow that past to taint the present and the future. I’ve even allowed it to affect my homestead.

Another learned behavior from living with active alcoholism is a skewered perception of what one can and cannot accomplish in an hour, a day, a week, etc. The alcoholic will ask for the impossible and then berate you when you fail. I remember when I was learning to play guitar, my stepfather used to make comments that everyone else he ever knew who played would always have the guitar in their hands. They practiced 6, 7, 8 hours a day…or more. He would then insinuate that maybe I didn’t really want to play, or that I didn’t really have any talent. Though I worked 30+ hours a week, and still managed to practice for 2-3 hours each night after work, in his eyes it wasn’t enough.

Today, no matter how much I do accomplish, it’s still never enough. I am a single woman working this land alone. I know exactly where I want to be but, because I’m not there yet, I often feel ashamed. Because it’s not a fully-working farm yet. Because, like healing from the effects of alcoholism–even someone else’s, homesteading is a journey. And, like healing, there is always room for improvement. I deny myself the gift of that journey.

And, by holding onto these learned behaviors, I also deny myself the gift of my mother, whom I am still blessed to have here on this earth. 40+ years of learned behavior will never likely ever be “unlearned”; this is where I learn to accept the things I cannot change. The only thing I can change is…myself. My own behavior. So I think “Courage to Change” is going to become a daily reader again…along with some regular meetings whenever I can either find a meeting within walking distance…or find the transportation to drive to the nearest one.

“While I am responsible for changing what I can, I have to let go of the rest if I want peace of mind. Just for today I will love myself enough to give up a struggle over something that is out of my hands.” (Courage to Change)

May God bless you & keep you!

Al-Anon Family Groups (1992). “Courage to Change”. Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Virginia Beach, VA.

Thoughts on This Blogging Thing

It has been seven months of pretty steady blogging. And, wow, what a change in my life this has made. Sure, there have been a few hiccoughs along the way when my postings haven’t been quite as steady: a bout of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (still recovering from that but it’s getting better); the loss of Internet service at home; and, amazingly, once you break a habit, such as a very early rising to write and blog, it is very difficult to get back on that horse again and ride, as they say. But I won’t give up. And I love horses…and blogging.

Obviously, this post is a reflection of these past seven months. Prior to making this commitment, my blog posts were pretty sporadic, spanning months sometimes in between. Now, when I’m away for even a few days, I’m like that hungry bear coming out of hibernation. It’s become like a drug and I need my fix. These seven months have taught me a few things, too.

First, I underestimate myself. And maybe others, too. When I first started, I think the reason my posts were so few and far between was because I didn’t believe I had anything to say that people would want to read. The long list of followers and “likes” for each post that I have received these last several months–both here on WordPress and on my Facebook timeline from friends and family–have proved me wrong. And a big “Thank You!” to all of you for the boost in confidence; the support; and simply for being curious enough to read a post or two in the first place. Also, to the many friends and family members who have “shared” some of my posts.

“In Al-Anon I realized that I had a distorted self-image. I had never thought to question my beliefs, but when I took a good look, I discovered they were untrue.” (Courage to Change, 1992, 192)

Another thing I’ve learned, and there is a little voice of cynicism rippling through as I type this, is there is definitely some truth to that old adage that those closest to you have the toughest time accepting changes in you. In being brutally and painfully honest about the effects of alcoholism and abuse in my past; in sharing political views; in taking a much stronger stand with my blog about animal rights and environmentalism; in staying true to my faith in God and openly sharing that faith, I have alienated many who have been close to me and yet, ironically, found new friends who share my views–in some cases, in places I never would have expected. This last one is a gift because we can never have too many friends.

A difference of opinion can divide the best of friends. I am learning, through blogging, to be more forgiving of those whose reactions in the face of a different opinion may be hostile. I’m learning not to react in kind. A difference of opinion is simply that. A difference. It need not divide us. But I’m also learning to accept that sometimes it does…and not to take it so personally. In short, I’m growing a thicker skin yet being more willing to offer that olive branch in return. Life is too short.

I think the most amazing thing that has happened with blogging, is I am learning to stand up for myself and what I believe in. I hope I am doing so in a respectful way; I have no desire to purposefully alienate anyone…I do enough of that without trying. (chuckle) But I am no longer as afraid to rock the proverbial boat. My thoughts, feelings, views and opinions may be in the minority in some circles. But I truly have learned to say, “That’s okay”, and really mean it. I now share those feelings, thoughts, opinions and views anyway. And not as a heart-on-my-sleeve victim but simply as a fellow human being with a voice that no longer wishes to be silent. And, really, I think that’s what writing is all about: having something to say. Whether it is a blog, such as this one, a news story, a textbook or even a story made up expressly for the purpose of entertaining, writers are good with words. I hope I am…and this blog is good means of exercising that creative muscle.

As for homesteading? This blog has been good medicine for that, too. I know where I want to go, where I want to be but, for years, I have allowed others to sometimes influence of bit of my direction. If there is anyone more of a non-conformist as me, I’d truly like to meet them. While more and more people turn back to the land because of a distrust of what’s in our food and what sort of damage is being done to the environment, I am in the minority even further being a single female doing this homesteading thing and, while I raise animals, I do NOT raise them for meat. That’s a complete anomaly. They are here for eggs or dairy, or fiber for spinning, depending on the animal; they give me free fertilizer for the garden; companionship, love and laughter. That’s enough. But it has taken me seven months of steady blogging to be able to write this and to say it aloud, and to not care if people don’t “get it”. This is part of who I am and I make no apology for it.

A friend sent me something that I copied on a little Post-It note that has been attributed to author Anais Nin. I don’t know if she really said this or not but it fits: The time came that to remain in a tight bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

May God bless you & keep you!

Works Cited

“Courage to Change” Al-Anon Conference Approved Literature. Al-Anon, Virginia: 1992

Taking A Step Back

I try not to get political with my blog. Try! Big word, even if it is only three letters. I mean, this blog is supposed to be about homesteading, herbs, animals rights and, most importantly, faith in God. In recent months, I’ve found myself also sojourning into some recovery posts, recovery from growing up with active alcoholism and childhood molestation. The healing from that childhood, along with the development of my homestead and my faith in God are all intertwined in one long journey. By keeping this blog, I hope to help others to heal from similar pasts, and/or to inspire them to take those steps towards a more sustainable future.

Again, I try not to be political. However, what happens in the political arena affects us all. And, sadly, I find I am not immune to all the hoopla going around social media these days…and a quite heated hoopla it is. I’m actually ready to eat some humble pie.

No, President Trump didn’t suddenly become all things wonderful for me; quite the opposite. Too many rash acts that hurt too many people, the animals that share our world, and Mother Earth, herself. Too many rash acts that have the potential to bring us closer to the brink of another world war, and even, if the angry comments flying around social media are any indication, possibly, another civil war. This country has been divided nearly in two. And it breaks my heart to see it.

What hurts more is that I recently lashed out with one of those “open mouth, insert foot” retorts to a friend’s equally ignorant remarks. And I’m not proud of it. In my defense it was the blanket statement that all Democrats are evil that caused the backlash. Not all Democrats, not all Republicans. What makes a body evil is how they act, how they treat their fellow human beings, the other creatures that share this world with us, and even, how they treat the planet. Respect for all life…or a lack thereof. What choices are you making? Are you treating others as you would want them to treat you? Are you intentionally cruel, or worse, indifferent to the so-called “lesser” life forms? I have friends who are Republicans who want President Trump out of the oval office yesterday. And Democrat friends who actually like him. It isn’t our political affiliations that make us good or bad. Again, it is the choices we make. Do we love our neighbors as ourselves? Or do we lash out in anger?

I lashed out in anger. And for that I am truly sorry. So I’ve taken a step back from all of the heated debates, slowed down the number of articles (and, in some cases, potentially propaganda) that I’m sharing on social media, and am simply taking a deep breath. I am also turning to that Source of peace that has been the cornerstone of my life. For me, He is Jesus Christ.

May God bless you & keep you!