Riding the Waves of Loneliness

I read somewhere that we are all addicts to whatever releases a hit of dopamine to our brains.

Food and sex are big dopamine triggers because evolutionarily speaking, we need to eat and procreate. We are engineered to derive pleasure from these things. Everyone has heard of Pavlov and his dogs. The psychologist, Ivan Pavlov, conditioned his dogs to produce a salivary response to the ringing of a bell because every time Pavlov rang that bell, the dogs got fed.

We are no different, really. Our bodies respond to triggers which we know will give us a high — a hit, a feeling of satisfaction. It can be anything really; alcohol, nicotine, scratcher tickets, Pinterest, the little blue light that blinks on your phone alerting you to a message. All hits of dopamine. All stimulating our brain’s pleasure centers.

Personally, at least recently, I’d take a dirty martini over a donut any day and that little blue light has my full attention. I crave communication and connection with the world and that little blue light, and accompanying buzz, is my bell. Ding! Ding!

So we are pleasure seekers. We always have been, always will be, and I don’t think our problems result from wanting to get “high.” Where we fall off the tracks into addiction and bad decisions is when we can’t handle what always comes right after the crest of the wave… and that is the crash onto shore. And make no mistake, the higher the high… the lower the low.

I’ve had some incredible highs lately. From exciting accomplishments at work; to whole weekends with long-time friends; to the positive attention of putting myself out there in the world without fear or guilt overshadowing me; all have produced incredible pleasurable feelings. I got a second chance to live the life of my dreams and I’ve been surfing that wave all the way to shore! But with these new peaks has come some soul-rocking valleys. Deep undertows that have me gasping for air while scanning the horizon for my next wave.

In this new life, where my sea legs are still shaky and new, everyday is a constant battle against riding the wave of highness and figuring out how to survive the lowness. I wish this was an exaggeration.

But I’m not going to feel bad for wanting to get high on life. I’m human, and this is natural. What I’m struggling with is staying present with the lows. What has me tied to my phone and my nightly cocktail is the fear of the power of the undertow and my ability to hold my breath long enough to survive it… even though I know I will.

In today’s technological age, this ability to stave off the undertow is so easy while staying present for the white-hot loneliness is increasingly difficult. It is the long forgotten art of delayed satisfaction. In this modern world all I need to do is reach for my phone to get another hit, and the temptation is, at times, overwhelming. This is when I make my biggest mistakes. It’s when I say something, or do something I may regret later when calmer waters prevail.

This is what loneliness is teaching me today. That when it comes rolling in like a low tide, and it always will, that I must sit down, stay put, resist the urge run for shore or head-long into the next wave. That I must let the water circle around my ankles, slowly rise to my neck and take a deep breath…  because it will run its course, and there’s nothing worth drowning for.

beneath the waves

Image Credit: Sarah Lee/ CATERS NEWS

 

 

 

The Loneliness of Post Divorce

I’m adrift right now, and I know it. It’s been almost three months since I filed for divorce and the loneliness has begun to wrap around me like a wet, dense fog.

During the day, I have no shortage of things to do. I have two small children who live with me most of the time. I have a job. I go to night school. I potty train my youngest, do the grocery shopping and mow the lawn. If an uncomfortable feeling creeps in during the daylight hours, I get busy.

It’s mostly at night when it comes. When my daily work is done and I’m settled into my couch or bed; that’s when I feel the thick haze descend. So I pick up my phone, pour a glass of wine, return to my computer; anything to stop what I know is my current reality and immediate future. Alone.

I’m an independent person. I like solitude. I like to be alone with my thoughts. Maybe I like it more than most, but no one likes it exclusively. We all need personal, often times physical connections. I’m in a place right now where I’m all over the map as to how much connection I want or need. I keep drawing it to me, and then pushing it away afraid of the fire and heat it brings. If I’m being honest, I don’t trust myself to handle it well.

For a month I’ve been riding this rollercoaster of surplus and deprivation of connections.  My emergence from the pain of my divorce began on a business trip to Vegas (of all places), and it was there my eyes were opened toward the future and all the possibility it holds. Since then, I’ve been reaching for that same feeling. I brush up against it every now and again. The constant, hopeful reminder that we’re on the edge of spring helps a great deal. The bright yellow daffodils blooming in my yard make me smile, and when I see them, I feel the rush of possibility all over again.

Duality of LifeThese daffodils were transplanted from my grandmother’s garden three years ago. My grandmother passed away four years ago, and after she died, my mom and I dug up some bulbs to plant as yearly, living keepsakes. They sprouted green shoots for two years, but no flowers. I was beginning to wonder if they would ever show their happy faces. But this year, they finally did.

Today, I sat down in front of those daffodils. I admired their daintiness and beauty but I also felt the sadness of loss. I sat in quiet reflection on those sweet, little flower faces and I let the loneliness fill me to tears. It felt good to embrace this duality of life.

There is no regret. There is no wanting things to be different or going back. I’m here, and I’m okay with being here. But here holds a lot of unanswered questions; a lot of fear of the unknown, a lot of solitude, and sometimes, even scary heat.

Over a month I’ve realized that if companionship is something I want, I could have it, and it wouldn’t even take that much effort. But right now, I feel like this loneliness has lessons I need to learn. Lessons I need to lean into and embrace even though I can’t see two feet in front of my face. I need to learn to trust that even when I’m surrounded by fog, the landscape is still there. The potential for daffodils still exist.

These miniature flowers took their sweet time showing their shining faces, and I think I need to, too. These keepsakes from my wise and loving grandmother sat dormant for two years; gathering roots, growing slowly under the surface before they decided it was the right time to bloom, and now… I will too.

I will gather my roots. I will sit below the surface, fighting back the fear of the cold season to come, and I will bloom when the time is right.

Because hope springs eternal.

Hope Springs Eternal

 

If You Say You’re NOT Broken, You’re a Liar.

“I have no issues.” The boy says.

“What do you mean? You have no issues? Everyone has issues.” I say.

“Nope. Not me. I’m a happy-go-lucky guy. Nothing gets me down. I always stay positive.” He says.

“Yes, but something bad had to happen in your life at some point. Something that broke your heart?” I ask.

“Why would anyone want to think about those things. I prefer not to dwell.” The boy says annoyed.

“I don’t think it’s ‘dwelling,’ I’m just trying to understand you. We all have things that caused us pain. Things that taught us… “

“Maybe you’re just a negative person? All you seem to want to do is talk about negative things. Maybe you’re the one with a problem?” The boy says a bit too angrily.

I had this conversation once, many years ago. I was young, and at the time, ashamed of my own brokenness. With the desperation of someone on the verge of losing it all I wanted to run from those things that made me human. That which made me me. I wanted to put the past in the past and be nothing but positive, too. Spoiler alert: It didn’t work. 

Back then I was too naive, too ignorant, too scared and ashamed to realize that all I’d been through, was really a gift. I didn’t understand that my brokenness was my strength. I didn’t know the simple truth which is: if you say you’re not broken, you’re a liar. Or worse, you’re in denial. And denial always manifests in ugly, ugly ways because no one can run from their brokenness.

We’re all broken. We’re supposed to be. Life is a series of breaks to your soul. Over and over and over again like ocean waves this life, and its heart breaks, break us. Because that’s how it is, and that’s how it will always be; birth, growth, death, rebirth. The more we fight this reality, this cycle of life and living, the more we suffer.

So I ask — why hide our brokenness behind fancy curtains, shiny things, and disingenuous status updates? What’s the point? Just SAY IT. 

The poet Rumi wrote, “Suffering is a gift, a hidden mercy.” I believe that. You, nor I, nor our next door neighbor cannot NOT suffer. But where’s the mercy? How are we to find the mercy in all this suffering? Because when you’re truly suffering, all you can think about is sweet, merciful relief.

So where is it? Where’s the mercy hiding, Rumi!? My answer… I don’t think you can find it. I think mercy finds you.

But first, you must submit to the randomness, the chaos, the complete insanity of it all. You accept that you have no control; that your will is not the will that will be done. When you do, mercy finds your sweet, beautiful, broken soul. And when it does, it lifts you up, out of the dirt, brushes you off, shines a light on your path, and keeps you walking.

Back then, back when I was a girl running from my own brokenness I tried like mad to cultivate a talent for controlling my environment; always attempting to decipher the randomness, minimize the chaos, and make sane the insane parts of me. Spoiler Alert: It didn’t work. 

Rumi also writes, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” So without the brokenness, there is no light. And what would we be without light?

So to feel the light, to let sweet mercy wash over you, you have to let go. Let go of the way you thought life would be. Let go of the plans you so carefully made for yourself, your children, your future. Because when you loosen the white-knuckle grip on life… you might just find the sweet relief you’ve been praying for all along.

So all I want now, all I have ever wanted, but never knew I needed, is beautifully broken people in my life. I don’t care what you’ve accomplished. I don’t care that you make a million dollars a day, or drive an Audi or own two Breitlings and can bench press an elephant.

Show me your flaws, your scars. Show me your wounds, your perfect imperfections. Show me where the light shines through and I’ll stand there with you; sunglassed admiring the view. No judgement.

Over the last three years I have received a lot of messages from you about how much my writing has affected your lives in positive ways. How much it has helped you heal and feel less alone. If you haven’t sent me a message before, and you feel inclined to now, please do so. Show me your scars. Leave a comment here or send me a message through Facebook or email if you’d prefer to remain private. Speak your truth. Own it. I will not judge you. I will think you’re brave and beautiful and I will be a mirror to reflect your amazing glow.show me the places where the light shines through

That Girl vs This Woman: A Mom Going Through Divorce

My divorce didn’t begin the day the paperwork was filed a few months ago. It didn’t even begin the month before that when I KNEW I couldn’t do this another day. My divorce began over a year ago. It was a cold December night. I sat at my children’s bedside, one at a time, and cried telling them Mommy was so, so sorry.

I remember that night as clearly as I’m sitting here typing this now. My daughter was three and a half. She was still in a toddler bed. She was close to the ground and I sat on the floor. I held her small hand which was still tucked under the fleece blanket. “I’m sorry baby.” I cried quietly at first. “I’m so sorry Mommy couldn’t keep this family together. I never wanted this for you.” And then the tears turned to shaking sobs. Next, I went to my son’s crib. The same.

It took more than a year to actually file, but if you’re a mom, and you’re heading toward divorce, the first thing you have to reconcile is what about the kids? There is no greater concern, and there is nothing you wouldn’t do for the sake of their well-being. Of course you’re scared for them. What will they think? How will they react? Adjust? What will this mean for their lives? It’s enough to paralyze you… and I was, for a long time.

Then, at some point, you realize your children will be okay, but only if you’re okay, too. Because you are no good to them depressed, playing small, and living in a shadow. And so at some point you must accept what a divorce will do to them so you can save yourself. It’s an agonizing decision, but you know in your heart that everyone will be better off in time. It takes a mountain of faith.

Your children inform every next decision. Of course there’s the worry over money. Can I do this? What sacrifices will need to be made? Where will I live? What will I do? Only when those HUGE questions are answered do you even begin to contemplate what this means for you; as in you, the woman.

And that’s where I am right now.

What now?

As I begin to sift through a decade’s worth of rubble from my life – ideas, memories, feelings of long, long ago are making their way to the surface like something ancient encrusted in rock. Things I liked to do. Conversations I liked to have. Ideas I entertained a million years ago. The ways I thought as a girl are poking through my consciousness like barbed wire through linen. Remember that time you took off to Chicago in the middle of the night on a whim to see a friend? Remember when you loved to go dancing all night? Remember when you used to dance on the bar? Remember that girl who could talk to anyone, about anything? Remember staying up all night doing just that – talking? 

Right now that girl is running head long into this woman, and there’s a reconciliation going on.

that girl vs this womanThat girl was mighty insecure. That girl was achingly alone and scared. That girl was frightened of intimacy. Yes, that girl was fun, and spontaneous, and threw caution to the wind, but that girl didn’t always land safely on shore. That girl was funny and whimsical and wild to a fault. She has a lot of great memories to show for it. That girl was intelligent and trusting, but she was also needy and naive.

This woman has responsibilities. This woman is no longer insecure, or desperately lonely, or scared of being vulnerable. This woman is cautious, confident and capable. She is witty and wise. This woman wants for many things, but does not need for much. She is no fool.

These two factions are sparing it out in my head — the girl I was, and the woman I am — and it’s causing a bit of a ruckus in my life. That girl is fighting for face-time, and this woman is trying to talk her down with reason.

This woman contemplates that girl, petulantly bouncing her hip in her short skirt and high heels, while sitting back in her cozy sweater and sensible flats. That girl is dying for a chance to strut her stuff. To prove to the world that she still has what it takes, whatever it is.  And this woman is sitting back, with her cup of tea and her books trying to remind that girl that she already does. But this woman does not shout or demand. Because this woman is patient, and kind, and forgiving to a fault. But that girl pouts all the same.

I’m not going to lie. That girl has won a few battles. But this woman is wise enough to know that this life is long, and yet, much too short for war.

So they carry on; circling each other like territorial hens to scratch it out another day knowing that no matter what happens, the one thing that overrides them all, and always will, is being Mom.

Because if you’re a mom going through a divorce, there is nothing of greater importance. Nothing.

When a Newly Divorced Mom Goes to Vegas

I got lucky. So lucky.

A couple of months ago, just after my first appearance in family court, when I was at my lowest of lows in life, I also took on a new job. Shortly after, my boss started rumblings about a conference in Vegas. I prayed. Please, please, please take me. 

After he asked me to go, I think I hung up the phone and cried happy tears. How lucky was I?

Before this trip this week, I had been to Vegas twice. The first time was just passing through, and the second time was almost exactly a year ago. I went with girlfriends. Last year in Vegas, I was married… faithfully. I wore my ring and told any man within my vicinity that I was taken because I was not the cheating kind. After that trip, I came home, regretful and slightly depressed about the lack of freedom in my life.

Newly Divorced Mom VegasBut this time, there are no regrets. Of course, this time… there was no ring, either. There were no self-imposed rules. No limits. No chains. No reasons for walking away and saying, no, I can’t.

And there’s no need to lie. I got drunk on freedom. I was intoxicated by the possibilities. I got high from the ability to go, and do, and be whatever I wanted. It was liberating in a million different ways.

My boss is a nice guy, and exceptionally, happily married. We’ve worked together for a while now, and we clicked from the start, but this was the first time I’d met him in person. He’s 6’4″ and has the personality of a big, safe, teddy bear. I told him he was by body-guard. We had a signal if I wanted him to save me from bad conversation.

We poked fun at each other like brother and sister. He liked to tell people I was recently divorced because he knew what would happen.  A smile would spread across their face because it’s true; there are clichés about newly divorced women, and I have found myself representing each one of them. I possessed the devil-may-care attitude; the desire of freedom, and perhaps the need to be careless for the first time in a long time.

Freedom and independence used to be characteristics I put on the highest level of virtue. I spent the larger part of my teenage years grounded to my room because of my propensity to break the rules in the name of independence. My parents knew that taking away my freedom hurt me the most, and they were right. It was painful.

I was a wild spirit back then, but over the course of the last 12 years I let that spirit be eroded away, and not in the natural ways of age and matrimony. My sense of self was worn down like rock under a constant stream of dripping water. The incessant, methodical drip, drip, drip of precise words and actions over time had me falling down into a dark hole. And then I grew comfortable there, like moss.

But Vegas threw me a rope and I grabbed it with both hands, and legs, and all the strength of someone stuck in a hole would need to get out. Now, as I resurface into the world, the light is so bright I can hardly see. It’s like being born again. I’ve been shoved into the abyss for so many years that now I’m squinting trying to adjust to this bright new view. My equilibrium is WAY off. It’s scary, and not scary at all.

So after four days in Vegas, and coming back to a life with light in my eyes, I also had to come back to being a single mom of two toddlers. Talk about a reality check.

I was nervous picking them up. Did they miss me? Would they know that I felt different? Would I be able to be the Mom they’ve always known? The Mom they need? Was I more selfish now?

After six days of no contact, the moment they walked out the door and ran toward my arms – worlds collided. The new me smashed right into Mom-me and it was… okay. Good, even. They nearly knocked me over with their love and their “I miss you’s” and “I love you’s” and “I’m so happy you’re home,” and I knew then that everything was going to be okay.

I clawed my way back to the light, for me. It is part of my rebirth back to myself and it was going to happen eventually. And I will admit, I was selfish and wanting in Vegas. But I needed that, and for the first time… I don’t feel guilty about a thing.

But this is not without a price. I’ve already been judged for my public displays of “I’m so happy I’m divorced!” postings. And I’m certain that some people will read this and call me horrible names while making their own assumptions. But part of climbing out of this hole is not listening to what others have to say and trusting myself. And I will probably fall under these weak and shaky new legs… but I’ll do so while standing in the light.

Today is my birthday. I don’t say that to generate a stream of well-wishes, but I am 36 today. I think it’s about time I know who I am, and what I want… and don’t want.

Because if I don’t know that… how can I teach them? Because no one should ever have to grow cold and still inside a hole of darkness. Not when life is full of so much light. 

Vegas, baby.

Sinners WelcomeCome one, come all.

Don’t Ever Let Anyone Tell You You Don’t Have a Light

“Mommy, mommy, tell us  about the time you got hit in the face with a fish!” My 4-year-old exclaims.

“Yeah, yeah! Tell us mom!” My 2-year-old adds.

My kids love stories. I love that they love stories. This story is one of their favorites.

“Well kids, one time, in a country far, far away, I was riding on the ocean on a small boat. It was dark, and we were headed back to shore. The stars were bright and shining clear while the ocean looked black as oil. Then, all of a sudden something hit me in the head! I didn’t know what it was at first, but when I looked down in the boat, I saw it. It was a fish! It jumped right out of the ocean. And you know what?”

<the rapt attention of a 2 and 4 year old>

“What mommy?”

“It was glowing green! It was a glowing, green fish! And you know what else? It left some of its glow on my face! Can you believe that!?”

<toddler giggles>

“Like a ghost, mommy?” My 2-year-old asks because he’s fascinated by ghosts.

“But mommy, why was it glowing?” My 4-year-old asks because she’s at that stage where she wants to know why? Why? WHY!?

At this point, I used to tell them the truth. “I don’t know, that’s just how God made that fish.”

glowing fish in nemo

But that was before.

That was before I started to understand about light and things that glow. Now I tell them something different.

I tell them everything has a light. And it’s not just for making things seen – for illuminating the darkness – although it can do that too.

The light within all things is primordial. It’s the dangling light of an Angler fish made popular in Finding Nemo. It’s the glow that runs through jelly fish, lightning bugs and the aurora borealis.

don't ever let anyone tell you you don't have a light aurora borealis

Image courtesy of Astronomy Picture of the Day. http://apod.nasa.gov

And if you think you can only find this glow in the wild, think again…

"XXX" Neon Sign

… because this is what happens when you electrify rarefied gasses in a tube.

Whether it’s obvious or not, this elemental neon glow of far away galaxies and nebulas is what we’re all made of, and we only fail in life when we don’t see it, or we allow someone else to dim it.

I now know that the glowing fish that hit me in the face, wasn’t glowing itself, per se. The glow was from the algae in the water, which is common off the coast of Costa Rica. It’s called bioluminescence, and it’s the production and emission of light by a living organism.

Since their faces would gloss over if I said “bioluminescence” I tell them that the fish was giving me a kiss because he wanted to show me his light, and to remind me of my own.  I say that each of them has this light too, even if they don’t see it. I tell them we all have it, and it’s our job in life to find it, follow it, and let it lead us back to shore over and over again.

7 11 neon

I tell them they should try to see the light in everyone else too, no matter how dark it seems. And I tell them it’s very important not to allow anyone to tell them they don’t have a light.

And if they ever forget, they just need to look at the stars, or the local 7-11.

Then I tell them about an ancient greeting called “Namaste” which essentially means, “the divine light in me, sees, honors and bows to the divine light in you.”

And maybe someday I’ll add a little information about the relatively new technology of nuclear medicine which illuminates biologic activity in the body.

Because wherever you see it, it’s all light, life and love… 

Body Emotional Imaging Love

 Why? Because that’s just how God made us.

(The above image is from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States from recent research into the mapping of bodily emotions.)

Rapunzel Would Have Needed Serious Therapy

You know that moment near the end of the Disney movie “Tangled” when Rapunzel’s sitting in the tower; it’s after her big adventure and now she’s sad because she thinks Flynn Ryder has betrayed her trust. Rapunzel has returned to the safety of the only home she’s ever known with the only person who ever loved her. You know when she starts seeing all the signs – the suns she has drawn like keys on a map – the suns, like memories of her heart, start illuminating themselves, and she comes to the painful realization that the one she thought loved her was really the one with their boot on her neck this whole time? In storytelling, this is called “the insight moment.”

Then, do you remember how she stands up to the person she thought was her “mother” and realizes, “It was you. All along it was you?”

I know exactly how she’s feeling in that moment. That insight moment is devastating.

But in real life, when you see the dark side of the one person you thought loved you, it doesn’t end as well as it did for Disney’s Rapunzel. Then again, nothing is like the fairy tales, is it?

In real life, you shut down. You start questioning every decision you’ve ever made and every person you’ve ever trusted. You put your therapist on speed dial. You look sideways at anyone trying to give you a helping hand, because if you could have been so wrong about love this whole time… who are you to judge who really loves you?

It’s so easy to become jaded after an unimaginable betrayal. It’s easy… and safer. It’s most tempting to build walls around yourself and shore up your heart with barbed wire and court orders. It’s frighteningly easy to lose faith in all humanity when the one person you’ve trusted, is not who you thought them to be… all these years.

But Mr. Roger’s sage wisdom for scary times says, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Never in my life have so many friends, family and strangers extended me compassion and love after I announced I was getting a divorce.

You see, there’s this club. A club I never wanted to be in. When I saw its members, I ran for the hills just in case whatever they did to be in that club was contagious. It’s the divorcee club. Those who are in it… you know. All you have to say is, “I’m getting a divorce,” and suddenly, the members are there… wanting to help; feeling your pain; eager to give you a hug and offer advice. It’s truly amazing. These members. These helpers.

I’m almost two months into dealing with the reality of divorce and I’ve decided, I’m not going to dwell on the misjudgments I’ve made in the past about trust and character… I’m going to look for the helpers.

As I sat in the courtroom after my hearing, and while waiting for the paperwork to be filed; after hours of wringing my hands and negotiation, I collapsed into the empty last row. I was behind a pillar and out of view from the bench when I started to cry… uncontrollably. It came so fast and furious I was caught off guard. Stupidly, I hadn’t brought tissues. I tried like hell to stop it. My attorney would be back at my side any minute and I had to get the tears under control. I turned my body around, almost sitting backward toward the wall. I lifted my shirt collar and wiped away what I could, but the tears just kept coming. I started to shake a little.

A woman in the row in front of me, just to the right of the pillar turned around. She said, “here honey,” and handed me two Starbucks napkins. I have never been so grateful.

To that anonymous woman in family court, to my friends who held me steady while I signed my name on the dotted line, to my mother who never failed to answer her phone no matter what time -for more than month, to my cousin who  wore this path before me and bought me a liquid lunch while giving me sound advice, to the mom at preschool who grabbed my arm and said “call me”, to “Josh” the utilities guy on the phone who helped me sort out a sticky bill, to the friends I haven’t spoken to in years who have called and emailed, to ALL of you who poured out their messages of love and support on my blog and Facebook… thank you.

Thank you for not letting me build my walls. Thank you for restoring my faith in humanity. Thank you for being the helpers. I couldn’t do this without you because as strong as I am… I am nothing without the GENUINE love and kindness of others.

ShannonLell.com

Why I’ve Been Gone So Long

Hi. How are you? Really.

Me? I’m not so great. You see, for the last two months I’ve been getting a divorce, and on a scale of 1-10 of ugliness, its hovering near a 7 or 8.

Now there are eyes on this blog that don’t belong. People I wish would just leave me be, but won’t. People who want to hurt me and/or see me hurting. People who are waiting for me to say something they can interpret to their own ill will.

Already, the vulnerability I have displayed here over the last two years has been taken, twisted and used against me. So for now, I am censored.

But there is nothing I can do about that. Those people are here to watch me fail and flounder and feel my way through this Dark Night of the Soul and I don’t care. I have nothing to hide. And I’m not going to stop being vulnerable just because others will see it as weakness.

Because I believe vulnerability takes the most courage of all, and if I am one thing… I am brave.

So I say to those people… welcome. Pull up a chair. I’m not going anywhere.

For those of you who have read my words and understand my true intentions, I want you to know, I’ve missed this corner of the Internet. I’ve missed you.

And, I never stopped writing…. nor will I.

Cigarettes, Padlocks, Motherhood and Me

cigarettes, padlocks, motherhood, meYou know how “small talk” is supposed to be easy? Asking and answering surface questions like, “how ’bout this weather?” and “so what do you do?” and “where’d you go to school?” is supposed to be a safe and simple exchange.

Well, I hate it.

I get twitchy when I have to small talk. My eyes glaze over and suddenly I’m unable to focus because I’m too busy looking for an exit strategy. The more someone insists on small talk, the harder I look for some visible signal to something more interesting- an ominous tattoo, a symbolic necklace, double-fisting jack and cokes. Something to start a more engaging exchange than… “how old are your kids?”

Do you know my favorite place at a social gathering? Outside the door, around the corner and into the shadows with the smokers. I love it there.

I smoked in college. I quit smoking regularly 12 years ago, but after a couple of glasses of wine amidst a crowd and good spirits, I find myself responding to some Pavlovian need and I become a woman on a solitary mission to find a smoke. It’s not just because that first drag is sorta, kinda, blissful… but because I know there is no small talk amongst the smokers.

When you find the smokers you are already in the inner sanctum. Guards are deactivated, pretenses on the low, low, low setting. Even if they’re only “social smokers”, everyone feels like outcasts hiding in the shadows to avoid judgment. In this instant bond of sharing a taboo moment you find all the Big Talk; the secrets and knock-your-socks-off Truths.

I have had some of the best conversations while shivering in the shadows of a building smoking a cigarette with a stranger. Four years ago, in Portland, outside a swanky hotel after a long work meeting, I met a young 20-something guy who claimed to be Mel Gibson’s nephew.  I didn’t know if that was true, and I didn’t care, but I could sense he had a story to tell. Within 20 minutes he was holding back tears in a wild confession about his paralyzing fear because he is hopelessly addicted to drugs and gay and his wealthy family didn’t approve of anything about his life. Another twenty minutes and two cigarettes later we were laughing so hard my sides hurt while he poured me a glass of Crystal in his hotel room that was inhabited by a large group of 20-something other “friends.”

Ten years ago, in New York, I met a man outside a bar who bawled his eyes out as he told me his deepest regret is letting his daughter live with his ex-wife up state. Several minutes later, he hugged me, thanked me for listening, said he never talks about that but felt like he could with me, then walked away.

And it just happened with a nice man standing at a bar in Vegas last March. His wife left him a few months prior, he was devastated. He cried, we exchanged a few words of hope, took a shot, laughed and then we moved on. It took 15 minutes but he told me he felt better – somehow lighter for having talked about it.

My friends make fun of me for instantly diving into the deep end with strangers. They accuse me of prying. They say I’m intrusive into people’s personal lives and I should just back off.

But I don’t dive into the deep end and toward BIG TALK because I’m a  sadistic voyeur hell bent on depressing reflection. I do it because I believe everyone carries a burden; a kind of pain that acts like a padlock on their joy. I believe that the antidote to releasing internal pain is outward expression and human connection. Doesn’t a good cry on a friendly shoulder make it ALL better somedays? It does for me.

I believe that when pain is spoken out loud, unlocked from the heart, released from the depths in which it hides trapped under shame, or fear, or judgement… joy comes rushing to the surface like an air bubble.The joy of releasing the pain is euphoric. I feel it and hear it in their hugs, laughter and the thank you for listenings.

I do love picking locks and releasing these air bubbles but first you have to get WAY past the small talk.

Some of these same friends think I don’t like motherhood because I talk about how hard it is all the time. Of course that couldn’t be farther from the truth. When I write and talk about the pain, I’m just picking my own locks because I know what comes rushing to the surface when I do. The joy of release. This is how I view mothers who lament about the difficult task of mothering more than they exclaim its virtue.

If we didn’t love motherhood so much, if we didn’t believe it was the most difficult, painful, important, joyous job we have… we wouldn’t talk about it all. It is in the lamenting that love is hiding just below the surface. Often times, the louder the lament, the deeper the love.

Truth is, motherhood is hard for me. But I don’t think it’s hard because I’m doing it wrong. I think it’s hard because I’m doing it right. It’s just much of my joy is locked behind my own fear of fucking it up and so I talk about the fear of fucking it up so that I can release the unsurpressable joy that is waiting under the surface.

But I refuse to deny that I have a padlock, and I refuse to allow it remain locked, and the only key I know is speaking the Truth. My Truth. With my whole heart.

Because it’s true what they say, the Truth does set you free.

So if you have some pain you’re keeping under wraps – if you need to talk about something BIGGER than the weather or need an ear to bend about how damn hard being a mother/father/spouse/person can be – come sit by me. I’m an excellent locksmith and we don’t even have to smoke.

I Went to Maui… But So What

I debated posting pictures of me and my family having a fabulous time in Maui over Thanksgiving.  I didn’t want to appear that I was bragging about my wonderful life –the picture perfect postcard family; mom, dad, daughter, son, gallivanting on the beach at sunset wearing monochromatic outfits, holding hands and laughing.

I hesitated because I am all too aware that there are many people out there for whom this time of year carries a lot of heartache, and when pictures like this assault their eyes through their phones  they want to throw said devices against a wall because IT’S JUST NOT FAIR!

I get it. I know.

Why would I want to flaunt my happiness and good fortune in anyone’s face? Sometimes the holidays are hard enough without the digital idyllic family showing up to make you feel worse.

Even in Maui

Believe me, I know.

I debated, but I posted a few pictures anyway. I knew my family and friends (not all 500 of them perhaps, but still my close friends) would care to see how our trip was going.

I stopped posting halfway through though because the truth is… the second half of the trip wasn’t so perfecty postcardy. It was more like the ugly crap that happens behind closed doors and curtained windows everyday, everywhere, to everyone. Kids not behaving, irritations mounting — we even missed our flight by two minutes with all our luggage already on board. We had to scramble to find a place to sleep, get toothbrushes and clean underwear — all without a car.

Things that were absolutely not worthy of sharing.

Matter of fact, when I looked back at the pictures I posted to social media I felt like a fraud; ashamed that I just portrayed my life as though I hadn’t a care in the world as I snapped closeup pictures of wild sea turtles and selfies of eating pizza on the beach at sunset for which I coaxed everyone into smiles.

I had cares. Many, deep, heartbreaking cares while I was chewing that pizza holding that half-smile.

But can we all agree that those are the top of the wave moments? The moments when you whip out the camera to memorialize this high peak lest another incredibly low moment come crashing down too quickly? Because if you’ve captured the crest of the wave you can always look back to that moment; hold onto it and say, “see, we were happy there, right there in that very moment.”

An elixir for many a bad day.

So here was one of those truly high moments; for me at least. We found ourselves on an unfamiliar beach after a long drive up and down the mountain to visit one of my favorite places on earth, Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm. We weren’t prepared to swim,  we were just going to walk, stretch our legs. The sun had barely set, the water was still  day-warm and the long stretch of beach was mostly empty. The waves washed far in to the flat beach smoothing out the sand; it begged to be walked on. It was the perfect canvas to draw  big pictures or write your name quickly before the waves came back to wash it all away. So we did just that. Up first… my daughter.

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Then.. Mr. B

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 Brooke insisted on writing my name. Which, of course, is…

2013-12-01 18.23.14Dad wasn’t feeling very photogenic, but the kids drew his name too and I made him stand next to it…

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We played hopscotch and “hot lava”. We drew cats and snowmen and happy faces and even a Christmas Tree which I’d hoped to put into some kind of annual Christmas Card which is not happening at this late stage so family, if you’re reading, this is your Christmas Card. Merry Christmas.

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We weren’t there but 30-45 minutes before my son fell (maybe he was pushed by a certain sister, but whatever) into the surf and needed a change from head to toe. Also, we needed to get back in the car to get home in time for dinner and bed. And before we even put down our drawing sticks, before I could even take one last picture to capture the crest of that wave… it all came crashing down, too quickly, washing it away and taking it back to where it always belonged.

2013-12-01 18.18.55Or perhaps from where it never should have been.