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Posts from the ‘Coping’ Category

I am Monica Lewinsky

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#IAmMonicaLewinsky by Betsy Lewis

“Humiliation is a more intensely felt emotion than either happiness or even anger”   Monica Lewinsky

I avoided watching Monica Lewinsky’s March TED2015 Video titled: The price of shame — like the plague. I don’t like shame. People who have made shameful mistakes, been found out and publicly humiliated, make me extremely uncomfortable. They remind me too much of my own mistakes and humiliations.

And, frankly, it is a lot easier to have someone else embody shame, (and  hate them for it), rather than face up to shame in myself. I like to think I don’t do that, that I am more conscious than that, but in the case of Monica Lewinsky — I think I did. Before watching her talk, she was merely the blue dress or the beret and all they symbolized. After watching her talk, I see a full human being, a woman who is courageous, articulate, and purposeful.

A few days ago, I started to put together a collage in my usual way, with no particular intention. I put down the face  . . .  and then the fish over that . . . and thought to myself, “Oh! . . . . . humiliation.” Monica Lewinsky’s story had been working some sort of magic in my subconscious — and apparently it was something I needed to express.

I also began to wish to do something in solidarity with her – the woman who has been taking the “hits” for all of us, for far too long.

I can say — “I am Monica Lewinsky.” All of us can say — “We are Monica Lewinsky” – but there are big differences. We may have fallen in love with our bosses or someone inappropriate — but that person was probably not the President of the United States.  And for those of us over 50, before the onset of the instant connectedness of the internet and social media, our youthful mistakes were usually only an embarrassing legend in our own minds or in the minds a handful of people or in our local community.

Back in 1998, when her story broke, and she was all of 24 years old, Monica Lewinski became the first of a new genre of scandalous internet sensations. The stories and sordid details about her spread like wildfire and could be viewed by anyone at any time — and forever. In short order, she made history. Her shame became a legend world-wide, and she — a target. No wonder her parents feared for her life.

Now, what she calls “technologically enhanced shame,” is commonplace. Countless individuals, often young people, are cyber-bullied every day — sometimes with tragic results. Public humiliation has become big business. And, as Monica points out, “The more shame, the more clicks. The more clicks, the more advertising dollars.”

The antidote for shame? The things she said saved her when her life became unbearable — compassion and empathy from other human beings. She quotes Brene Brown, a researcher and authority on vulnerability and shame, saying: “Shame can not survive empathy.”

In the online world, we can foster minority influence by becoming upstanders. To become an upstander means instead of bystander apathy, we can post a positive comment for someone or report a bullying situation.” Monica Lewinsky

I admire Monica Lewinsky. At age 41, after a decade of silence, she is using her horrific experience in a unique and productive way. She is doing what admirable people do who survive a great trauma – she is making meaning out of her story and using it to help others. As a living example of the power of compassion and empathy to heal, she is helping others cope and heal also.

The internet is a force that can be used for good or evil. There is power in your clicks, beyond the advertising dollars. Like Monica Lewinsky, we also have the power individually and collectively to become upstanders and spread compassion and empathy in place of shame.

And while you are doing that for others, give yourself a break. Shine some compassion on yourself, for  your own shame. You are only human  — just like Monica Lewinsky.

Watch the TED2015 video of Monica Lewinsky titled The Price of Shame.

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Wallowing in the messiness of life

Betsy Refrigerator

One of my children returned to the nest to live with me for two months.

He came back angry. Angry about his past and how the adults in his life had failed him. Angry about his father and my divorce and the years following it, where we could not always be counted on to coexist and put him before our issues with each other.

He speaks the truth. We did a poor job at times.

Now he blames us.

I know how he feels. I felt the same way about my parents. I lost sight of their unwavering love, heaped all my anguish and fear upon them . . .  and blamed. It has taken decades for me to forgive them and the other adult betrayers in my life — years to take responsibility for my own life and not let the sins of my fathers drag me down, excuse my behavior or hold me back.

I came across this quote by G.K. Chesterton, “For children are innocent and love justice, while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy.”

Ah, the lure of sweet ripe justice! It is forthright – swift and easy to pluck. Mercy not so much. Mercy is elusive — hard to get a grip on. It lives in the gray area where things are complex and murky. I can see that my child wants the easy justice and does not yet have the capacity for true mercy. All I can tell him is, “Learn from our example. Don’t make the mistakes we did.”

He also does not yet know that there is no end to the mistakes you can make in life and that he will make his share too. I do not ask him for mercy because true mercy takes time — sometimes a lifetime – of missteps, misadventures and often years of unproductive wallowing in the messiness of life.

I have no need to rush him – even if I could. He must take his own journey.

So, I witness. I commiserate. Inwardly l say, “Let it rip. Say it out loud at last!” I recognize that this is progress. The first step toward healing for a child who suffered for years, self-combusted internally and did not give a voice to his pain.

That said, the moral of this story has less to do with this child and more to do with my own growing up – my own long journey toward a preference of blessed wicked mercy over justice.

Now I give myself and others credit for managing to stay in the game, in what is a decidedly unjust and crazy-making world. I can take the slings and arrows of justice this child throws at me, gather them in my hands, and hold them with gratitude and compassionate mercy for the both of us. I have regrets, but am no longer haunted by oppressive parental guilt. Hard, intractable guilt goes hand and hand with justice and can only exist in a rigid universe with an immutable standard of perfection – a mythological standard I no longer struggle to meet.

In my world now, nearer to the end than to the beginning of my long adventure with life — “doing the best you can” has become an act of true heroism.

What’s art got to do with it?

By Christine

A painting by a young artist named Christine, for On The Veranda

“Art therapy? You’ve got to be kidding!” Those were my words 10 years ago when a friend suggested this type of therapy to help my kids cope with divorce.

Sure — I knew art could be fun, but I was skeptical about its role in emotional healing.

Reluctantly, I decided to give it a try, so my children and I began sessions with an art therapist – drawing, painting and collaging.

At home my young son and I began drawing together after dinner. Our kitchen table turned into an oasis of creative peace. Many things were expressed, shared and witnessed as we bowed our heads over drawing paper.

Slowly, I began to see that there were means to self-discovery and ways to communicate that did not require words.

Fast forward ten years. My family has weathered the storm, and our lives continue to be enriched by art. Ten years ago there was no way I could have anticipated art’s power to set a new course for my life.

Each summer the Children’s Advocacy Center sponsors art mentoring groups for kids and teens.  At the end of July, Veranda Park Retirement Community offers community artists an opportunity to exhibit and sell their artwork in its elegant meeting room — with wine and appetizers served outside on the broad, cool veranda.

Each year, as I stroll around the exhibition, I know that every painting tells the artist’s story and quite often represents a profound transformation in his or her life. A painting I bought by a young man a couple years ago is a treasured part of my art collection. On my wall, it is an uplifting reminder about hope and resilience.

Do yourself a favor – join us at On the Veranda and purchase your own inspirational work of art. This year’s show takes place on Friday, July 26th, 7-9 pm at Veranda Park in Medford.

 If you can’t make the event, you can still be part of transforming lives through art by making a donation. All proceeds benefit the Children’s Advocacy Center’s kids and teens art mentoring groups.

 

 

Folding my mother back into my body

Walkabout Mother

Walkabout Mother

My mother told me that a mean old rooster used to chase her around the yard, so her father chopped off its head — but it still ran around headless.  I was but a girl myself when she told me this story and I didn’t like thinking about a bloody headless rooster. But, what terrified me the most, was the idea that my mother could be afraid. I counted on her for bravery.

Occasionally, I was allowed to go through an old trunk of her things from childhood. I found a dream book she had made in high school. Into it she had cut and pasted magazine pictures of  the rooms of her dream house. When I compared the pictures in this scrapbook to our house, I knew she had not achieved her dreams. I also found a picture of her sitting bareback on a horse when she was just about my age. She was barefoot and dirty. She had grown up in Kansas during the dust bowl. Her father was a bootlegger and the story is he was murdered by his gang.

My mother was quiet. I had to watch her face for signs of how she felt about things.  I knew when her eyes flashed and she pressed her lips together tight, she disapproved — but wasn’t saying the words. I was vigilant. Those eyes and lips were my barometer for good and evil.

When I was 12, my mother had a cerebral hemorrhage. She just barely survived brain surgery. (This was before the days of laser surgery.) When she finally came home, she was not the mother I had known. Eventually, I realized that she was gone. This was a problem because there was a body walking around that looked like her. People congratulated me on having my mother back alive.  No one was saying, “I’m sorry your mother came back a zombie.”

As a teen, I had no compassion for the mother zombie walking around. The person I had counted on for bravery was as clueless as I.  Abandoned, I had to go it alone. Hatred and anger girded me for meeting the daily shock of loss and confusion. I had trouble reconciling my experience with what people were (or weren’t) telling me. In time it became easier to just assume I was crazy.

The last time I had seen my mother, before she became the zombie, was the day before her surgery.  My father brought us – her four little kids – to the hospital. Since kids weren’t allowed in the patients’ rooms, we met in the lobby. I remember she looked especially beautiful that day – a new hairdo, make-up, red lips, and pink cheeks that matched her paisley pink robe.

It was like any other day for us, however. We were fighting and running around like the wild Indians we were. I was the oldest and had some inkling of the gravity of the situation, but no one told us that this could possibly be the last time we would see our mother. We probably wouldn’t have been able to comprehend this if they had.

My mother knew, of course. She knew she was coming to say goodbye to us. She came looking her best, so we would have that one last memory of her. She never cracked, even though she must have been stunned, and racked with fear and grief. She was good. We never suspected.

This is why I chose her as the subject of  my second walkabout woman portrait.

Not because she was a good actress and didn’t let on about her feelings, but because she carried the great burden of a mother’s love for us and met this, her most dire challenge, in her own way, and with grace and bravery.

I’ve lived with this mother portrait for awhile now, so I know that it comes from the child who found out her mother could be afraid and wants to make it all better, and from the teenager who wants to atone for her behavior.

I’ve swooped down like a little Joan of Arc and given her the things from her dream book. I’ve broken the neck of the villainous old rooster and triumphantly hung its head around her neck. I’ve adorned her with hearts and rhinestones as proof of my love. I’ve  released the words from her lips that she never spoke and, since I can’t know what they would be — they have manifested as alphabet blocks.

The child who did this portrait doesn’t know yet, that even if you are good and love baby Jesus, bad things can happen, that things aren’t always fair and that there are some things you can’t fix even with a superhuman effort.

This Mother’s Day I feel the tragedy of her life cut short and have only compassion for the motherless daughter I was. I can see now that those years of cutting off my mother — cut off parts of me from myself.

And as these things go, my mother’s walkabout is also my own. Am I doing it for me or her? The line is blurred. I do know that fear is being vanquished, love has triumphed and the rooster is beginning to crow in my own voice — and with words I do recognize.

Beginning here, I am  slowly folding my mother back into my body.

The Bitter End . . . . . . . Not!

The Bitter End Pub on Burnside in Portland Oregon.

The Bitter End Pub on Burnside in Portland Oregon.

If there is one thing I’ve learned from my walkabout thus far, it is this:

All the clichés are true!

“Money doesn’t buy happiness.” “Time heals all wounds.”  “Life isn’t fair.” “It takes two to tango.”  “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”  “Opposites attract.”  “Consider the source.”

And my current personal favorite:

“It ain’t over till it’s over.”

I’ve been thinking about the suicidal investors who leaped to their death during the stock market crash of 1929. If you have been reading my previous posts, you know I experienced a financial calamity of my own just before Christmas.

For me “It ain’t over till it’s over.” I know from experience that life goes on. Bitter ends aren’t really ends. Pain fades over time, and everything changes to something else eventually.

I have become adept at “making lemonade out of lemons,” and my turn around time for this has diminished with age.

This is not to say that I didn’t cry, panic, or have tantrums about my misfortune. I did all of that and more. I spent a lot of time in my “dark place”– telling myself I was a failure, and that I didn’t deserve the financial security that others seemed to have. I was sure I was going to be pushing my belongings around Portland in a shopping cart. (And this would be a dang wet and cold place to do that.)

After awhile,  I told myself to “get over myself” and to stop telling myself bad things about myself.

And, in between bouts of sniveling, I managed to come up with Plan B for my predicament.

Today I can be philosophical. Things are always changing. Some times things feel good and fair and sometimes they don’t. I read a blog post about negativity by Kyle Mercer who made the profound statement that “the universe is neutral.”

It was a huge relief to know that the universe wasn’t really out to get me.

I knew that if I was going to be happy, it was going to be, as they say, “an inside job.”

So my new advice to myself is (and this is no cliche): “Listen to the voice inside you that wants you to be happy.”

This is perhaps the most profound lesson of my walkabout.

I am determined to live in this city and continue my walkabout.  I am working my social media business a bit more and with some success. This is not the worst thing – it is my calling after all. I love being the walkabout woman, but I also love the adventure of being an entrepreneur. So . . .

“All is not lost.”

“Necessity is the mother of invention.”

More than anything I am curious about where these new developments will take me.

Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.” and “Better late than never.”

Hoping for a miracle . . .

"Hoping For a Miracle", Mixed Media Collage by Betsy Lewis

“Hoping For a Miracle”, Mixed Media Collage by Betsy Lewis

My defense mechanisms of choice have always been denial and fantasy. If an important situation or person is not to my liking, I can usually spin it or them into line with my fantasy version. I have avoided a lot of misery through the years this way! The collage above captures this pretty well. There, for all to see is my magical child-like self banking on a miracle! (I don’t plan these things.)

In my last blog installment I shared that I am teetering on the edge of a “fiscal cliff” of my own– seeing the pension that was funding my dreams suddenly and mysteriously evaporating before my eyes.

It is only at night now that I sink into bag lady fear. For the most part, I am practicing what I preach and living in the moment. And I still have hope that this has all been a  dreadful mistake, or that there is some way to negotiate a better outcome. I also know that law is its own sort of madness, with rules and precedents that aren’t always based on what I think is fair or just. But sometimes life surprises me.

Yesterday this beautiful poem by Marlene Mish arrived by email:

Hope

Hope teeters upon the wings

Of your broken heart,

Balancing loneliness and despair.

Hope sits in the hollow stillness

Next to the raw places within you

And lights a small candle.

 

Hope believes that next time

The story will come out different

And gives you courage to stand

And take a step.

Hope is all there is

When all there was is

Gone.

 

Hope teeters upon the edges

Of your wary spirit

That has lost it way too many times

And grabs your collar before

The tears engulf you

And shouts, “You made it through !”

Hope is a distant voice whispering a lullaby

When all others

Scream, “Give up!”

 

Hope is the last word of God

You hear before you close your eyes,

The only proof that you are not alone.

“You are beautiful, my child.

Why have you forgotten again?”

 

Hope is the one gift that survived Eden,

The only language of love,

The last promise that won’t be broken,

And yet it teeters

On the edges of things

While you look for answers

Somewhere else.

Marlene Mish, August 24, 2003

Marlene shared a little bit about the inspiration for this poem:

Today is a good day.

Today I can see clearly that life is a series of ups and downs and that no matter how hopeless things can get, no matter how broken I may feel, I know that the sun will rise at dawn and I have a choice whether to greet it. But that wasn’t always so.

There have been times when I felt defeated by life, defeated by my own choices, defeated by the demons what swirl around in my soul, waiting to take root.

I wrote this poem in 2003 on such a day when sorrow had overtaken me, when defeat was all around me, when I had lost my way. I share it only because it is so hard to remember who we are on such days and I need to remind myself every once in a while that most isolation is self-imposed even though I have always sought out someone to blame.

I have made some progress on this journey, and so I can share a private part of it with others without losing.”

One reader expressed confidence that I would get through this pension thing with grace, and I think of that often. Now that is something to work toward . . . to  take on all of life with grace (after a kicking and screaming tantrum, of course.)

I am nothing if not resilient. And though I hate to admit it, I am already teasing out silver-linings.

Hope

Hope

A calamity threatens the walkabout

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I spend a lot of time worrying about things that never happen, so when a real calamity strikes; it is unexpected and feels like a surprise attack.

My walkabout threatening calamity struck just before Christmas (and a day before the predicted end of the world.)

First I came down with the flu. Following that, I received a call about my pension. In a bullying way I was informed that the company had made an “administrative error”  10 years ago and I really wasn’t entitled to what I had been receiving — and I, in fact, owed them thousands of dollars. This was news to me!

Someone reminded me that compared to drastic health news; this was nothing — which is true.

But this pension was funding my dream!

I also panicked as I saw security in my old age slipping away.

And it was at this point that I hoped the world really would end the next day.

I hate it when someone suggests that I re-frame terrible things as “opportunities” or calls me “courageous” in these situations.  I started to tell myself these things too . . . and then I shut myself up pretty quick.

When calamities happen to me, I just want them to go away. This is childish I know, but I would really rather be the lucky girl who doesn’t get the chance to BE “courageous”, or the one who doesn’t GET “opportunities” over and over again.

Heaven help me … I want to be Paris Hilton!

Calamities like this knock me off my high horse and bring me down to earth pretty fast where I have to face all the dirty, grimy, frightening . . .  and real things in life.

I am sharing this because I want to be a real person in this blog, including all the good, bad and ugly parts of the journey. There are many beautiful spiritual aspects to taking a walkabout  . . .  until there aren’t. And if I am staying in integrity, I need to incorporate the calamities into my story.

After the phone call, I spent two sleepless nights and two full days in my pajamas — sick, panicky, sniveling and mourning the loss of my dream. Visions of sugar plums turned into visions of bag ladies in my head. Some dissociated part of me watched as I cycled through shock, grief, fear, anger and then back around again.

In a lucid moment I also contacted a good lawyer.

On day three I took a shower, got dressed and went for a walk. I felt clear-eyed, grounded, and determined. I decided that, at all costs, I had to hang on to my dream. So I will.

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I doubt I will ever validate this thing as an “opportunity”, but I will admit to arriving at a new plateau in awareness of the inner demons that were pouring out of me. This thing was a surprise attack, re-traumatizing me in my most vulnerable spot.

As a pre-schooler I experienced my first life changing surprise attack. I was molested and terrorized by a relative when my mother was out of the house. This was not a good start to life. I compare it to the sound of a gong. There is the strike of mallet to metal (the abuse) and then the impact radiating out like sound waves for the rest of one’s life. There is no turning back the clock to innocence or safety. Hopefully you heal, but meanwhile there is this subterranean force of trauma impacting your relationships, your health, and your happiness.

With this recent calamity that’s where I went – the place where terrible things can happen to me — where I will be hurt, abandoned, left alone, not heard, not seen; I will die. These are the places from my childhood of loss and abuse.

I let this wound “speak” for awhile and now I have to put distance between it and I. I am ready to move on and tackle this most injustice pension matter as an adult.

I am only one person (and her lawyer) against a large multinational corporation with retirement fund coffers in the billions.

As I have done my whole life, I will do what I can to bring about justice in an unjust world – both for the outer world and for the inner world of my wounded child.

“There can be no transforming of darkness into light and of apathy into movement without emotion”
― C.G. Jung

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