Guest Blogger: Letter to President-elect Trump

For their Critical Thinking final, my students had to write a letter to President-elect Trump or to their generation. CJ’s Letter to President-elect Trump is insightful and unbiased (in my biased opinion?). He eloquently expresses what is at the heart of our fears and hopes with Trump’s election. I think the most beautiful part of this letter is where he is drawing a line in the sand. May we all have such lines we are unwilling to cross, and positions we are willing to defend.

trump

Dear President-Elect Trump,

My name is Charles Dixon and I am not just a concerned citizen, but a soldier who will soon be calling you my Commander-In-Chief. While I have the utmost respect for the position that you will be occupying, I will be completely honest and say that my respect for you personally is extended hesitantly. I have observed your interviews and debates, which to me are downright concerning, specifically, in that you consistently feed and amplify the fears of a sizeable portion of the American people. Any American can look around and tell you that America is in a sad state, which is why we need a leader who will inspire and lead us to be better people to our neighbors, friends, and family. However, the fear-mongering that you’ve become known for has to stop, as it will only divide us as a country further than we already are.

Now, I understand that you, similar to President Obama, are inheriting a myriad of complex problems from the administration which preceded you. In no way are you ever going to make the entire population happy. This is the realistic truth of the American people: We are a vast and diverse group of people, whose interests, political stances, and religious viewpoints differ drastically. We may be a fickle people sometimes, but we are an amazing group whose very diversity is the foundation for our strength as a country. Please understand that you will be a representative of us all, not just a small group of Americans.

The most troubling thing that I’ve heard you say in your debates is regarding the committing of war crimes against the families of terrorists (Morton http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/mar/3/donald-trump-says-hed-force-us-military-commit-war/). Because I am a soldier of the United States Army, this hurt me to my soul. What you suggested regarding this matter would tarnish everything that uniform stands for. Yes, we are sworn to protect the people of the United States, but we are a direct symbol of what America is supposed to be: a bastion of hope for those who are beaten down and brutalized. What is it that we then symbolize if we turn to brutalizing the family members of those who are threats to us? Do we not become the very thing that we are fighting against? As a soldier, your proclamation that “they will follow my orders” sounds more like a dictator, than a leader. I can tell you with the utmost faith, that while there may be a small number who will obey these orders unquestioningly, the majority of my brothers and sisters in arms will stand against you with a resounding NO. We are not a barbaric horde who just looks to destroy any trace of opposition or enemy resistance. We are members of the greatest armed force in the world. We are the ones who will stand up for what is right, and not because it is easy. We do so because if we don’t, then who will?

Initially, your campaign promises and general direction worried me because they appeared to validate the fears of a large section of America that is quite racist. The fact that you have recently distanced yourself from those ideologies is a welcome relief. That is the type of leadership that we need from you in these coming days. A leader who strongly promotes healing and tolerance, not one who seems to encourage destructive and divisive behavior either directly or through his own actions.

All in all, we the people of the United States (those who voted for you and who didn’t) are anxious to see what your course of action will be. You can go down in history for numerous reasons. I, for one, am hoping that you go down in history as the one who helped our country realize many of its flaws and corrected them. This in itself can be done in various ways, some of which you have already done simply by winning the election. But from here on out, it is not just the people of the United States watching you with hesitant hope, but the entire world. Please don’t disappoint us.

Sincerely,

Charles Dixon

TED Talk from Sharon Brous: It’s time to reclaim and reinvent religion

Sharon Brous powerful TED Talk is a great part of the global conversation that needs to happen to heal the brokenness in our world. It fits perfectly with my message of optimistic realism. You can watch her video and/or read some of the highlights below.

 

4 Principles of Religion

Wakefulness. Our world is on fire, and it is our job to keep our hearts and our eyes open, and to recognize that it’s our responsibility to help put out the flames. We suffer from psychic numbing: The more we learn about what’s broken in our world, the less likely we are to do anything. We shut down at a certain point. Somewhere along the way, our religious leaders forgot that it’s our job to make people uncomfortable. It’s our job to wake people up, to pull them out of their apathy and into the anguish, and to insist that we do what we don’t want to do and see what we do not want to see. Because we know that social change only happens when we are awake enough to see that the house is on fire.

Hope. Hope is not naïve, and hope is not an opiate. Hope may be the single greatest act of defiance against a politics of pessimism and against a culture of despair. Because what hope does for us is it lifts us out of the container that holds us and constrains us from the outside, and says, “You can dream and think expansively again.”

This is what religion is supposed to be about: It’s supposed to be about giving people back a sense of purpose, a sense of hope, a sense that they and their dreams fundamentally matter in this world that tells them that they don’t matter at all.

Mightiness. It is true that I can’t do everything, but I can surely do something. I can forgive. I can love. I can show up. I can protest. I can be a part of this conversation. “I am strong, I am mighty, and I am worthy.” In a world that conspires to make us believe that we are invisible and that we are impotent, religious communities and religious ritual can remind us that for whatever amount of time we have here on this earth, whatever gifts and blessings we were given, whatever resources we have, we can and we must use them to try to make the world a little bit more just and a little bit more loving.

Inter-connectedness. It’s so hard for us to remember how interconnected we all are as human beings. And yet, we know that it is systems of oppression that benefit the most from the lie of radical individualism. Phobias and racism of any type are all of our problems. Emma Lazarus was right when she said until all of us are free, we are none of us free. We are all in this together.

Our hearts hurt from the failed religion of extremism, and we deserve more than the failed religion of routine-ism. It is time for religious leaders and religious communities to take the lead in the spiritual and cultural shift that this country and the world so desperately needs—a shift toward love, toward justice, toward equality and toward dignity for all. Our children deserve no less than that.

Guest Blogger: The Sober Route

As a college writing teacher, I have the pleasure of helping my students  discover their writing voice and their passions in life. Every once and a while I will read an essay that I need to post on my blog because it lines up with my goals, which is to help people find their own healthy path in life through optimistic realism. Tommy’s essay on sobriety fits well with that mission. I have known too many people who have been affected by addiction, their own or a loved one’s; so I’m hoping this post will find the people who need that push to take the first steps.

By Tommy Costa

Do you find yourself drinking more than you wish? Do you drive while intoxicated? Have you ever been arrested while intoxicated? Do you consistently blackout while drinking or using drugs? Do you spend most of your days thinking about the next drink or drug? Do you spend most days drunk or high? Have you ever drank or used drugs even though the night before you swore it off forever? Maybe your family or friends are concerned about the way you drink or drug. If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, you are probably an alcoholic/addict.

If you have even an inkling of desire to stop drinking and/or using drugs, then you will definitely need help. The first task to accomplish is simply admitting it. Another is realizing that alcoholism and addiction are one in the same, which means a problem with drugs is also a problem with alcohol. The next big step is getting sober. What makes getting sober so difficult is the fact that addiction is a three-fold illness: body, mind, and spirit. Getting sober is not easy, but it is well worth all the effort.

12 stepsThe first step to beating any addiction is to cure the physical condition. That means you need to put the plug in the jug. Stop drinking. Stop using. Dump the alcohol and chuck the drugs. Physically sobering up can be difficult, even dangerous, so it is completely acceptable to seek medical attention. Many times the best place to detoxify your body is at a detox unit or drug rehabilitation center. Unfortunately, beds are not always readily available. It is absolutely necessary to consistently call any and all facilities in your state daily. A bed can open up at any time, and the waiting lists are long, so making it known you are serious about getting sober is vital. Your next step is to find a self-help group to attend. You have many groups to choose from be it Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Heroin Anonymous, or any other self-help group. The important part is being able to identify with what other people are talking about within the group. One of the biggest hang-ups a newcomer can have is comparing rather than identifying, which means looking at how you are different from other people rather than how you are the same. The most assured way to stay sober is by working with another alcoholic or addict. Thankfully today it is quite easy to find a meeting to attend; all you have to do is look one up online. You are bound to have meetings in your area; just pick a day and time, then go.

The type of meeting you choose is not as important as making it known that you are new. Most meetings have a moment for newcomers to introduce themselves, which is an opportunity for you to ask for help. Raising your hand to introduce yourself in a crowded room can be quite daunting, but willingness is extremely vital to the process of getting and staying sober. Once you have made yourself known as a newcomer, people will introduce themselves to you. This is the perfect chance to get phone numbers and make new friends. More than likely, all of your old friends drink or use, so having new ones is extremely important. Another good move is deleting contacts from your phone of people who will hinder your sobriety. Whether it is people you were drinking with or your dealer, it is best to delete them from your phone. In some cases, you may have to block phone numbers or outright change your own number. A great suggestion for any newcomer is to go to ninety meetings in ninety days.

Unfortunately, simply going to meetings will not keep you sober. There are twenty-four hours in a day and a meeting will only take away one of those hours; the best way to fill the rest of your day is with fellowship. Fellowship is quite simply spending time with a fellow sober alcoholic or addict. Fellowship can easily chew up the other twenty-three mind-boggling hours of the day. Any alcoholic/addict in recovery, new or old, can attest to how insane the alcoholic/addict mind is shortly after removing the only solution known to him or her, which is alcohol and drugs. Spending plenty of time with fellow alcoholics/addicts in recovery can help you keep away from another drink or drug.

Meetings and fellowship will only help you with curing the body. The insatiable desire to drink or use will not fade in the short time it takes to cure the body of the physical portion of alcoholism/addiction. Alcoholism is a disease of the body, mind, and spirit, so all three must be brought into balance before one can truly be seen as recovered. Curing your mind will require working the program. The alcoholic mind has a curious mental obsession that allows for blind spots when relating to alcohol and drugs. Alleviating the obsession comes with a bit of time and plenty of hard work. Any knowledgeable alcoholic/addict can attest to the fact that simply knowing of the disease will not keep you from the next drink or drug. In order to successfully work the program, it is best you follow the suggestions of others and get a sponsor. A sponsor is someone who is willing to guide you through the work and assist you in staying sober. Generally, a sponsor is someone of the same gender who has already done the work. During meetings, there is a point where people willing to sponsor announce themselves; the simplest advice is to ask someone who has what you want. The first person you pick to be your sponsor may not be the right fit for you, but it is always okay to change sponsors until you find the right one. You do have to ask yourself why you want to change sponsors though, because changing sponsors in order to avoid the work is a wrong choice. Whomever you decide to have as a sponsor, it is simply their job to walk you through the work; your sponsor is not in charge of your sobriety. Keep in mind that doing the work, which are the twelve steps laid out in the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous, is exactly what will relieve you of any mental obsessions you have relating to drinking or using.

The final and most important piece to staying sober is sharing with others what has been freely given to you. Giving back is what will heal your spirit and bring about full recovery. Keep in mind that there is no returning to drinking or drugging. Once someone has crossed into the realm of alcoholism/addiction, there is no return to normal. Giving back is the easiest part of being sober; you only need to give back to those in need. Simply shaking the hand of someone new or giving your number to someone still suffering can make a great difference. Staying sober is all about turning your life from being a selfish existence into a selfless existence.

Friday Writing Challenge: I Miss High School

Prompt: Something you miss

Capping two of my students at their Senior Breakfast in 2014
Capping two of my students at their Senior Breakfast in 2014

I miss high school—not my teenage years but the years I spent teaching high school English.

A few weeks ago, I went to the local high school with my son to see his friends play a 10-minute exhibition game as the half-time entertainment for the boys’ basketball game. As soon as I walked into the building, I felt the energy that only exists in a school: An energy fueled by youthful hope and ambition.

We were a little early, so we sat in the bleachers by Ian’s friends. As I looked at the faces on the court, I was disappointed that I didn’t know anyone. Then I immediately chastised myself. How could I know anyone in this building? I don’t teach here. I don’t teach at any high school anymore. My heart began to ache.

Ridiculously, I fought back tears. Why did I leave a place I loved so much? How could I resign from a position that defined my purpose in life? How could I leave the students who needed me?

I looked at the parents, siblings, students, and teachers sitting in the stands. In Colorado I would have had at least one if not five people approach me while I was sitting there—a student just to say hi or a parent thanking me for working with his or her child or an older sibling back from college telling me I made a difference. But here, in this high school, no one knows me: None know that I used to change lives for the better; none know that I would lose sleep worrying about students just like them; none know how much it meant to my students to see me sitting in bleachers just like these.

While Ian watched his friends play, I evaluated what to do with this surprising surge of emotion. Did this mean I should start applying for secondary teaching jobs? Would anyone even hire me after my public resignation letter? If so, could I really work fulltime in a public school again? That thought brought a new surge of pain and questions. How could I go back to a public school, no matter how much I loved it, when the reason I left still exists? How could I be part of a system that aims to replace hope and ambition with standards and test scores? How could I go back to a profession that is being exploited by corporate greed and destroyed by bureaucrats with little concern for our children?

As my mind and heart raced, I thought about my college students. I am still changing lives and losing sleep over them, but I’m not immersed in the community the way I was in high school. As an adjunct, I just show up for class. If a student has questions, I stay on campus a little longer, but I’m free to leave when I’m done. I know I am still making a difference with my college students, but at a community college, I have many nontraditional students who are no longer teenagers in their formative years. Nevertheless, they respond positively to my encouragement, tough love, and passion. Most of my students leave at the end of a semester better prepared for their futures. Some students, however, don’t make it to the end of the semester. They didn’t start this process with the necessary work ethic or resilience to battle through entitlement issues, to embrace the demands of a college class and grow stronger mentally and emotionally because of it—skills I made sure I taught in high school.

I also thought about my financial situation. I’m barely making it right now. I chose to work as an adjunct so that I would have time to write. But a part-time adjunct position has just as much work as a fulltime high school position with a quarter of the pay. So I have less money and still have limited time for writing. If I taught fulltime again, I would at least have money, but I wouldn’t have as much time with my son.

So where does this leave me? How do I get all of my son’s and my needs met without sacrificing my convictions? How can I still be part of a system that encourages and builds up students when they are at their most vulnerable?

This semester, I put a few things in place: I started tutoring a high school student, which has been great. I also am on the subbing list for the middle and high schools in the area. My son will be moving up next year, so I hope to have more jobs in the middle school—that would be the best of both worlds.

Last week, I had my first subbing assignment in the middle school—8th grade English. I felt the energy again as soon as I walked into the building. Being a substitute is definitely different from being the main classroom teacher: Some students tested my teaching abilities immediately. They brought their phones out, walked around the room, sat next to friends, talked while I talked, but they quickly found out I was in charge, but not with an iron fist. I smiled, laughed, and quietly controlled the room. Some students were sweet and wanted to talk to me. I loved it all! I felt like I was home. This was a viable solution for my heartache. Maybe, if I were there enough, students would remember and recognize me. I could be part of this system, encourage teenagers, and make some extra money.

Ironically, while Ian was jumping at Blitz and I was writing this post, a student from the 8th grade class I taught walked past me and stopped: “Hey! You’re the sub from the other day, aren’t you?”

I think this is going to work just fine.

This writing challenge was painful and cathartic. I cried while writing it, which helped me heal, but it also renewed my passion for true educational reformation.  After I published this post, I realized I had more to say about education and the teachers leaving the profession, like me, with broken hearts. I turned this challenge into a post that is now on Huffington Post. You can get to that post here.

Friday Writing Challenge: 10 Interesting Facts About Myself

This week’s prompt: Ten interesting facts about yourself.

  1. _MAC8790I’m a first generation American, born from Macedonian immigrants. This fact, however, is not what makes it interesting. What is interesting is what I gleaned from my family and what I have tried to pass on to my children. My parents and grandparents experienced America in a completely different way than people who were born here. They came to America with nothing but hope and ambition; they were courageous and relentless. Because of that attitude, they achieved their American Dream. With pride, each of my family members became American citizens while maintaining their ethnicity; my mother still cries when she recalls the moment she became an American citizen. They respected the abundance we have in our country because they lived without for so long. Entitlement was not a word in their vocabulary. My family contributed positively to our society, modeling and teaching all of those characteristics to my brothers and me. For better or worse, this is also where I get my views on marriage…
  2. One and done–When I said my vows, I knew it was the only time I would ever say them. I had hoped to grow old with my ex-husband, but that’s not how things turned out. Regardless, I don’t plan on getting married again. I have no idea if this feeling will change somewhere down the line, but for right now, I am content with being single. I wanted so badly to hold onto my marriage that I didn’t fight for the other things I wanted in my life—honesty, fidelity, love, partnership, security. I lost my independence and became completely dependent on someone who didn’t value the same things I did. What’s worse is that I saw how different we were but did nothing because I wanted to stay married. I never want to betray myself again. Even though it’s been hard to start over with nothing, I am just starting to spread my wings. I want to find out what I can do, what I can accomplish on my own. I’ve never lived on my own before. I went from my mother’s house, to college, to my mother’s house, to living with my husband. This is the first time I’m responsible for myself. I also don’t want any man coming into my life and thinking he can decide how I raise my son. I did that before and wish I hadn’t…
  3. My only regrets in life come from the things I didn’t do. I wish I had stood up to people who were wrong and defended the people who didn’t have a voice–more than I did. I wish I would have understood, created, and defended my boundaries throughout my entire life, not just within the last few years. I did learn important lessons during those years that I didn’t stand up for myself, but those missed opportunities still haunt me. However, I don’t look at those regrets as a bad thing. They just fuel my fire to stay strong and help others to use their voices. Now that I know better, I do better…
  4. I’ve become a minimalist, out of necessity at first, but now I am choosing that lifestyle. I’m not making a lot of money and haven’t for the last few years. It can be stressful, but I like my life a lot better now than when we had more money than we needed. We wasted so much money on useless stuff—stuff that we gave away when we left Colorado. The money wasted on things that ended up in a garbage dump makes me cringe. Now, I know exactly what is in my refrigerator, freezer, and cupboards. I don’t buy anything until we’ve eaten or used up every bit of what we bought. We don’t have cable, just the internet, which makes being a minimalist a lot easier–there are no commercials to remind us what everyone else is buying. Part of embracing this lifestyle is knowing the true value of things. Buying something that will last or give us better nutrition has improved our lives in so many ways…
  5. Ian and I are healthier now than ever before. Health and nutrition are simple—the more natural state the food is in, the better it is for our bodies. Some of the food might be more expensive, but our health is invaluable. These choices have made me realize that weight loss is not a mystery either: healthy food (not diet food), daily exercise, a solid night’s sleep, drinking water, listening to my body, and learning to enjoy every breathing moment have contributed to our well being. This healthy mindset has spilled over into my relationships…
  6. I can’t think of one person I hate. There are a few people I choose not to have in my life anymore, but I don’t hate them. I used to take things so personally that I could rattle off a list of people I hated. That hatred was only a reflection of my inner turmoil. I don’t have that anymore. Even people who have harmed me, I wish them well. I have learned that those people have their own issues, and their treatment of me is a result of their inner turmoil. I sympathize with those people, but I don’t own their behavior anymore. I have reduced my reactions to negative people to two choices: For those who want help, I try to help and support them. For those who aren’t ready for help and continue to negatively affect my inner peace, I distance myself from them. I have realized that I can only fix myself, which will help me be the best role model I can be for my children and anyone else watching, listening, or reading. I have removed negative emotions and people from my life…
  7. The art of letting go is a daily practice–I promise not to sing. (No one wants to hear that song in my off-key voice.) Knowing that I will never be a singer and being okay with that is part of letting go. I love Amy Poehler’s Yes Please for so many reasons, but most importantly for her “letting go” lessons: “Decide what your currency is early. Let go of what you will never have. People who do this are happier and sexier.” I had to let go of pain, unrealistic dreams, and negative people, but I’ve also had to let go of things that I love for reasons that go beyond my personal comfort…
  8. I miss teaching high school English. My heart aches whenever I think about my students and the community I loved. I love keeping in touch with my former students on Facebook–more than half of my “friends” used to sit in my classroom, but I resigned from my position for many reasons–a few of those reasons make it impossible to teach in a public high school…
  9. I still get almost 100 hits a day on https://paulinehawkins.com/2014/04/07/my-resignation-letter/ –almost two years after I wrote it and posted it to my blog. I’ve noticed that around this time of year, the traffic to my letter increases exponentially. I struck a nerve with teachers, students, and parents. I think people (most of them at least) understand how much I love the profession, my students, and my colleagues. For that reason, people are drawn to my letter; for that reason, I continue to speak for those who do not have a voice…
  10. I have a voice, and I’m not afraid to use it. Writing is my voice. I write in order to encourage others to use their voices. I write because it is my exhale. I write so that others have healthy air to inhale.

 

4 Steps to a Healthier, Happier Me

Over the past 30 years, I have had the same battle with weight that I’m sure many people can relate to. Before I had children, I had time to work out, could eat whatever I wanted, and not worry about my weight. After children, however, it was a different story. As the years packed on, so did the weight. I was never obese, but I had rolls and bulge that made me feel uncomfortable, unattractive, and unhealthy. I found myself in the doctor’s office at 49 years old, begging him for a weight-loss pill because I was convinced that my metabolism slowed down too much to ever lose the weight that was affecting my health and ability to enjoy everyday activities. My doctor told me it wasn’t about my age or metabolism; it was, and always will be, about calories in and calories out, plain and simple. I didn’t like his answer. I wanted an excuse, and he didn’t give me one. I continued with a daily, superficial workout 3-4 times a week and didn’t lose much weight.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2015 and not only was I not losing weight, but I was gaining back the weight that I had lost 7 years before. During the 2015 spring semester, my students showed me how much they loved me by buying me a donut before every class. That, in combination with the winter and emotional eating I was doing, helped me pack on 15 extra pounds to the already 15 extra pounds I felt I had to lose to get to my target weight of 140 (health charts say that my weight should be between 133-147 for my height and frame). I didn’t understand why I had put on so much weight. I was walking or running at least a mile a day. Wasn’t that enough?

By late March, none of my clothes fit anymore. I asked my students to stop buying me donuts so I didn’t have so much for them to love.

I was uncomfortable at 155. At almost 170, I was a mess.

I decided to take my doctor’s advice and start tracking my calories in and out. That one step changed everything I did from that point on. Six months later, I am now 146 lbs, eating well, comfortable, and healthy.

 

running 2.png

These are the steps I took to get here:

#1Get Apps: I downloaded a few free apps on my phone to help me keep track of my exercise (calories out) and my food and drink (calories in). My Fitness Pal and Runkeeper apps sink together so that the addition/subtraction of calories happens without too much effort on my part. I also used Couch to 5K the first few months to help me get ready for my first 5K in June. I needed to set a short-range goal for myself to keep my motivation up.

Tracking my calories helped me see where the big-calorie food items were. I even recorded when I took a bite of a cookie or a handful of potato chips. It showed me how many calories I had to burn to stay within my plan, which was 1200 calories a day. For the first few months, I let myself eat back the calories I burned running/walking. So for example, I could eat 1200 calories on my plan, but I burned 200 calories on my run, so I could actually eat 1400 calories and still be within the limits of my plan. I did this mainly because I have a hard time denying myself. If I have a food craving, I have to eat it or I will eat everything I don’t want and then still eat what I wanted anyway. Truthfully, there were many days I went over that limit, but I didn’t let it get me down. I just went back to the plan the next day.

#2 Develop Good Habits: In order for any of this to work, I had to form the habit of exercise. I had to make my daily workout a priority. On the days I had to work earlier, I still worked out, but only for 5 minutes a day until I developed a daily habit. Once the habit was established, it was easier for me to wake up earlier to get a longer workout in. The more I worked out, the faster the results came.

Now, I can’t imagine starting my day without a workout first. The other motivation was that I didn’t want to shower twice in one day. I needed to get my workout done before my shower; otherwise, I wouldn’t work out at all that day.

The only exercise I did for the first few months was walking/running. I had to keep it simple until I developed that habit. I knew that if I signed up at a gym or had to drive somewhere to work out, I wouldn’t have done it. With walking/running, all I had to do was put my sneakers on and go outside. I didn’t add anything to that routine until I couldn’t imagine my day without exercise. The only change I made was walking in a different direction to have a variety in my perspective.

Once my walking/running routine was established, I added stretches, a few yoga moves, and sit-ups afterwards–not many, but enough to make sure I was kind to my muscles and core.

Some of the most beautiful things happened during these walks/runs. I was outside enjoying the beauty of nature. I learned to breathe and improve my posture, which actually strengthened my back and core–just standing up straighter and feeling the breath enter and leave my body turned into a type of meditation that I enjoyed with yoga. I started to feel connected to my body. That connection helped me listen to the aches and pains and go easy on myself when needed or push a little harder if I felt strong.

This connection also helped me listen to my nutritional needs. I could feel when I ate too much of something or an item that didn’t feed my body the right way. I no longer had to make the choice between Oreos and chips. I picked fruit when I wanted something sweet and nuts when I wanted something salty. Even without researching it, my body was telling me not all calories are created equally.

I was also listening to music while working out, which, ironically, helped me think clearer. I would get the best ideas for writing and teaching during these times. Music, fresh air, exercise, meditation, and the beauty of nature were a winning combination.

Honestly, if I had never progressed further than this, I would have been happy. I lost the winter/emotional/donut weight, and I was feeling better, even though I wasn’t at my goal weight. I was outside every day, soaking up vitamin D, enjoying nature, getting away from sitting at my computer, and becoming one with myself. I was already happier and healthier, which made me more attractive to myself–and that’s all that really matters anyway. But I wanted to prove to myself that I could get down to my goal weight, so I kept on finding new ways to break through the plateaus.

#3Treat Your Body Right: Even though I was recording everything I ate, I didn’t make different food choices until a few months into this habit. For me, this was a necessary step. I hate diets because I don’t like the restriction. If I want something to eat, I have to have it. That’s why I waited until my body started craving healthier foods.

I also started reading up on nutrition. Our bodies need protein, carbohydrates, and fat. We need to get them in the most natural state possible, with no added chemicals. I went back to using olive oil and butter, eating eggs and red meat, but I made sure it was high quality and organic. I now buy most of my food at Trader Joe’s and try to shop at farmer’s markets when possible.

I avoided anything labeled as “lite” or packaged as a diet product. I watched the documentary Fed Up on Netflix and it changed the way I looked at food–especially sugar–completely. Now, when I buy anything packaged, I look at the label for the percentage of sugar in the product. Anything with more than 2g of sugar added is too much (0g added is better). And natural cane sugar, honey, and pure maple syrup are better than any of the chemically created sugars or sweeteners.

I started drinking a lot of water. It can be challenging to drink 8 cups of water a day, but it changes everything. My mind is clearer, my skin is healthier, my hair has bounce, my nails aren’t brittle.

Above all, I was patient with myself and didn’t let my goals stop me from having fun. If I wanted to eat chicken wings and French fries with a beer when I was out, I let myself enjoy those things without guilt. I am eating healthy and exercising to have a higher quality life and be healthier for my son. The best thing I can do for Ian is take care of his mother–he deserves a healthy, happy mom.

#4: Variety is the spice of life: By July I was tracking my calories, establishing good habits, and treating my body right, but I could not get past the plateau I had encountered a few times in the past when I had tried to lose weight. I was weighing in at 150-152 lbs. It came down to the last 10 lbs again, and nothing I was doing seemed to push me passed it. I decided to add a kickboxing class on Wednesdays. If I had tried to add that class too soon, I might not have stayed with it. But this was the right time to change my routine. Adding that class made me feel all the body parts I was neglecting. I wanted more, so I added two more video workouts to my week. I was still going outside and walking/running at least a mile every day, but with a 60 minute kickboxing class and the 45 minute P90X Cardio workout twice a week, I finally made it to 149. I hadn’t seen that number in years!

I was on fire and started reading exercise and nutrition articles. One article that My Fitness Pal put out talked about burning 300-400 calories a day. I decided to make that my goal. Now I never burn less than 300 and frequently burn more than 400 calories a day. The important thing to remember with this step is that it didn’t happen until months down the road. I didn’t push myself too fast. I was patient with my progress.

The next thing I changed is running–and when I say running, I mean fast walking or slow jogging. I always run with my dog Chico (a 12-pound Chihuahua). He loves being outdoors, and he had gained a few extra pounds as well, so I was taking care of both of us with our daily runs. However, the longer I ran, the more upset he became with me. He was okay when I ran one mile; tolerated me when I ran two miles; but absolutely refused to run with me when I started running for three miles. When I put my sneakers on, Chico hid in his kennel.

To accommodate him, at first I ran one mile, dropped him off at home, and then finished my run, but it didn’t feel the same being out on the road without him. That’s when I read this other article on My Fitness Pal that explained interval running to me.

Now, I still log 3 miles 2-3 times a week, but I walk for 30 seconds, jog for 20 seconds, and then “sprint” for 10 seconds. Chico loves this new routine. The article mentioned that interval training follows the running patterns of dogs, which is absolutely correct. I don’t need to keep track anymore. Chico tells me when to run and when to run fast. The other added benefit is that this type of running burns fat faster than a consistent pace does.

This is how I got down to 146. I’m no longer concerned with the numbers on the scale. If I get down to 140, that’s fine, but I’m more interested in tightening up and building some muscle now. I’ll let you know how the next stage goes.

How to Put Yourself First and Still Love Someone

By guest blogger: Thomas Fitzgerald

F.L.Y.I will start with two truths: You will never be able to meet all of the needs of a single person, and no single person will be able to meet all of your needs. You should not view these statements in the negative; they are only meant to make you pause and reflect.

The information I present to you was learned the hard way. I am by no means a relationship expert. In my twenties, I dated a woman who was obsessed with proving herself to her friend. She spent so much time and energy doing things for her friend, but her efforts went unreciprocated. She told me that, one day, her friend would realize everything she had done and they would have the friendship she felt she deserved. This never happened. The notion that a person would toil away in obscurity to finally have her efforts recognized is romantic, but foolish. It would be wonderful to have someone sweep into our lives understanding everything we needed and, fulfill those needs, someone who just “gets us.” Sometimes we meet these people, but you could spend a lifetime waiting for them to come.

I was no better. In this same relationship, I did everything I could to make my girlfriend happy. Whenever there was a problem, I tried to fix it. I went so far as to propose to her because I thought that would make things better. Even after our engagement, I still could not seem to make her happy. My female friends told me what a great boyfriend I was and how much they wished they had one like me. If that were true, why was I unable to make the woman I loved happy? In my mind, that was my job. You work to make the person you love happy, and she will do the same for you. That is how it works, right? It was years after the relationship ended that I realized I was wrong. You cannot make someone else happy, nor can someone else make you happy. Others can only help us be happy. The weight of the responsibility for happiness rests on the shoulders of each individual. As much as I tried, there was no way to make my girlfriend happy unless she wanted to be happy. I had been so consumed with this Sisyphean task that I had completely neglected my own needs.

In all relationships (with friends, family and romantic partners), there is normally a natural ebb and flow of time and energy satisfying the needs of each person in the relationship. A problem arises when this give and take becomes unbalanced. This may happen abruptly or slowly over time and is not inherently malicious. Life is a process of constant change, and humans, over time, change behavior from conscious to unconscious. The things we do for others start to become automatic. Behaviors that once required our full attention to perform require less conscious effort and become routine, similar to the way our drive to and from work becomes automatic; you may find yourself in your driveway at home with no memory of the time after you left work. In a relationship, the comfort we find in the unconscious routine we have developed can be taken for granted. Our unconscious behaviors stay constant without the conscious thought required to take notice of them or change them, while life does not. When the things we have come to expect are no longer available, we may not immediately detect their absence. This leads to a feeling of being unfulfilled, and the source may not be obvious to us. The obligations of life take precedence in our conscious mind: You are aware of what needs to be done at work and home and of the needs of others because they are being constantly communicated to you. Your needs and desires may become drowned out in the cacophony of everything in life that seems to demand your attention. Eventually you may find a gap between what you give to the needs of others and the attention being given to your own needs, which creates a deficit in your mental, emotional, and/or physical energy. Like a battery, if we expend our energy without being recharged, we become drained. You need to receive as much as you give. The deficit between give and take can be tolerated, but not indefinitely. You must find a way to recharge and ensure your needs are being met and will continue to do so. This is not a guide to becoming egocentric and selfish; it is a method to obtain self-awareness and to stop being selfless in an unhealthy way.

“If you aren’t good at loving yourself, you will have a difficult time loving anyone, since you’ll resent the time and energy you give another person that you aren’t even giving to yourself.” ~Barbara De Angelis

Perspective

The first thing you will need is distance from the constant needs that are draining you of your energy. This can be as literal as removing yourself from the people making demands on you or as simple as finding some time to quietly be by yourself. You need perspective. The old saying about not being able to see the forest through the trees applies to an inability to understand a situation that you are in the middle of. To be understood, a situation requires an objective viewpoint and enough distance and time away from the situation so that you are not influenced by its circumstances. You need to be able to view yourself without the influences of others. Often we become what we do. People view us by what we provide to them and others. You need to be free of this influence so you can see yourself, unbiased.

Introspection

Next you will need understanding of your personal situation. In this time of distance, you must reflect on what you give, what you receive, what you want, and what you need. The definition of the words “Want” and “Need” are specific to each individual. I will define “Need” as something that you must have and “Want” as something that you would like, but it is not essential to your peace and happiness. It may seem like looking for the missing piece of a puzzle without knowing what the picture even looks like. Take your time and be patient with yourself. Self-awareness is not immediate and may take more time if you are usually more concerned with the world outside of yourself. The key to unlocking the door of self-awareness is introspection, looking inward. There are many processes of introspection, but they do not have to involve meditation or guided questions to greater self-understanding, just take time to think. In an environment without distraction, reflect on how you feel, without guilt. What you feel is honest. Don’t be concerned with being angry with someone you love. You feel that way for a reason. Your emotions are legitimate; leave yourself open to them because they are trying to tell you something. Once you have allowed yourself to feel, think about why you feel that way.  This is the point at which you may start to understand which needs are no longer being met, and how they came to be unfulfilled. If you are feeling lonely, maybe an intimacy in one of your relationships has dwindled or may even seem non-existent. Friends or family may no longer be nearby, or you or your significant other may have become busy with new obligations and have less time to spend together. Even after you feel you have come to understand your need, keep digging. Continue to think about how you are feeling and why. Think about what changes might fulfill your need. You may even come to understand that what was making you feel a certain way was not as important as you believed, or something you thought was inconsequential is critical to your peace of mind. Two points to remember: Emotions are not rational and reason has no empathy. Consider that what you feel is a symptom of an underlying malady, and reason is the method to diagnose the cause of what afflicts you. The problem is that reason and emotion come from two different places and both are necessary to understand ourselves. Self-awareness requires repeated introspection; a process of feel then think, feel then think, until you reach a point where you recognize an emotional response without being overwhelmed by it. Then you can investigate the root cause of a feeling with both reason and emotion.

Communication

After coming to understand what it is that you need, you must communicate that need to yourself and others. If you do not ask for something, you have no right to expect it. You must first be honest with yourself. You have at this point come to an understanding that something that you need is missing. Now believe it. Don’t tell yourself, “It’s not a big deal” if it is, in fact, a big deal. It has bothered you enough to get this far in the process. It matters. Next communicate your needs to others. Tell your friends that you want to hang out more. Tell your family that you can’t make it to a holiday gathering because you have something else that requires your time, even if that something is you. If all of the overtime at work is taking away from your time with your family, talk to your boss. You don’t have to be demanding, but you may be surprised at how understanding he or she may be. Your boss might not give you time off but, he or she may have a greater appreciation of the time you are giving to your job. Make sure you use tact when you communicate your needs, help them understand what you think and how you feel, and listen to their feedback. If you are calm and clear when you communicate your needs, you have no need to feel guilty for asking. It will not always be about asking others to fulfill your needs. Communicating your needs to others (and yourself) can just be informing them that you need something and your plan to meet that need. Know, however, that you may be the person who has to meet your own needs.

A single cycle of these steps may not be enough to ensure that your needs will be met. More than likely it will be repeated multiple times, and it should.  Your life and needs will change as will the lives of those around you. Something we want may fade with time or become a need we cannot be without. Without stopping to assess your needs regularly, you may find yourself with another deficit that requires balancing. Spend as much time considering your own needs as you spend on the needs of others. Putting yourself first ensures your needs are met, that you are healthy of body, mind, and spirit.  When your needs are being met, you will be better equipped to meet the needs of others.

Thomas is a current student and future writer (if he listens to my advice, that is). His process analysis essay on putting yourself first was so well done that I had to share it on my blog (with his permission, of course). I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. 

Anxiety’s Guide to Public Speaking

By guest blogger: Mirade Leigh

Public Speaking          Some people have no problem speaking publicly. They can get up in front of a group of people, large or small, with confidence, without breaking a sweat; their hands do not shake; their face will not flush; they do not so much as stutter. If you are one of these people who can confidently breeze through any kind of presentation, performance, recitation, or speech, then this essay is not for you. I am not one of those people and can only write about what I know: fear, humiliation, and crippling anxiety.

Opportunity. Your teacher or professor has assigned a presentation. It could be anything from a personal narrative, an informative speech, a persuasive speech, to a PowerPoint presentation. Regardless of what your assignment is, you must stand up in front of a group of people, and that is terrifying. For me, it started in senior English. One innocent afternoon when I thought the world was working in my favor, I walked into class to hear my teacher assign a poem recitation. This was a class I did not so much as whisper in. I could not speak in this class without fear ripping any tiny amount confidence I had to shreds. Now, I was being asked to stand up, all eyes on me, and recite poetry? With no dramatics, I believed this to be the worst news I had ever received; this assignment would be the end of me. If you have had this “opportunity” in your life, then you know what I am talking about.

Denial. The “opportunity” has now forcibly made its way into your life and you will create any excuse possible not to participate in this assignment. There may be many absences involved. You might even flat out tell your teacher you are not doing it–that you cannot do it. The word “cannot” will not benefit you and will only get you into trouble. It is important to understand in the early stages of the public speaking journey that you are not unable. If you can walk, talk, crawl, or mumble, you are in fact able. Questioning your ability will only set you up for failure. Now, with all that said, you will still attempt to tell your teacher or professor that you cannot do it. You might say it through stifled tears, avoiding eye contact. You might be wearing the saddest puppy dogface this world has ever seen, but I am telling you with 100% certainty that they will respond with, “Yes you can.” This will feel like a punch in the gut. You will leave feeling defeated and misunderstood with no compassion or sympathy within miles of you, that the world is out to get you and nobody seems to care. Push aside all feelings of self-pity. I understand being nervous and I understand fear, but you will not move forward until you give up this idea that you are unable to do something. Remove the word “cannot” from your vocabulary, immediately.

Acceptance. Sometime after your somewhat emotional breakdown, you will realize the assignment is necessary, you will not be taking a zero, and you must go through with it. I would like to tell you that your nerves will soon settle, but that would make me a liar. The fear you were experiencing when you first heard of the assignment is most likely the same, if not worse. This time there is no avoiding involved. Instead, day-by-day your anxiety will build. The only way it will stop is when you say that last word in front of your class and step down from the humiliation. You might as well take your coat off and stay a while because you have a ways to go.

Thoughtful decisionmaking. Before you can begin the actual presentation process, you must have the written piece you plan to present. Whether it is a speech or poem, your specific assignment might require it to be a personal piece you have written or plan to write. For my poem recitation, I had to choose from a variety of poems written by others. Regardless, if it is your writing or someone else’s, the subject you choose to go with must be something you are passionate about. You cannot expect to speak about just anything in a monotone voice with no feelings toward the subject at all; if you do not enjoy it, neither will your audience. What you say has to mean something to you, make you feel something, so in turn you can make your audience feel something. Anybody can say an assortment of words in front of a group of people and consider it public speaking; however, it is not public speaking done well.

Memorization. It is not only important if it is required for your assignment, but memorization helps calm your nerves. Do not focus on how you present until you understand and have memorized what you are presenting. You may or may not have a paper template with you for your presentation. If you are presenting a speech, of course you will have it in front of you for your presentation. This does not mean you should not have almost every word memorized. You should have read through it enough times that each sentence comes out with ease and flows so you can make eye contact with your audience rather than looking down at a piece of paper reading word for word. You will only have it with you as a guide. Your assignment may also require complete memorization, with no paper template, for example, a poem recitation. Do not become overwhelmed by this. Memorize line by line. Read each line repeatedly. When you have it down, add the next line, and recite them together. Repeat for each paragraph or stanza until you no longer have to read; you can just recite. From the moment you know what you are reciting until you step up on stage, you should be, either aloud or in your head, reciting every chance you get. Knowing that you have every single word memorized can take away the anxiety of forgetting a line while you are presenting.

Expression. When it comes to what and how, sometimes the how can be more important than the what. This is where the present in presentation comes in; it is how you express, articulate, and gesture. When speaking publicly, your hand gestures, your articulation of words, and your expressions not only help your audience understand what you are talking about but also make them feel what it is you are talking about. Get rid of this preconceived idea that judgment will follow your expression. This is how good public speakers get their message across. The reality is that those who do not care, will not remember your presentation even an hour later, and those who do care, will remember the positive influence it had on them and how you made them feel. Twenty years from now, people are not going to be ranting about how much they disliked your presentation and how they still experience second-hand embarrassment. Once you stop flattering yourself with the fear that people care that much about what you do and how you do it, you ease the fear of judgment. You will be practicing a lot in front of the mirror. You might even have to research certain things to understand fully the meaning, so you can present it with confidence. Good presentations do not come easy; they take time.

Final Product. The day is here. You are up on stage with the lights beating down on you. You might be sweating; you are probably shaking; and you still are not sure if you can do this. I would suggest you just go through with it because running off stage will cause you far more humiliation than a couple of stuttered paragraphs. You might become so overwhelmed that right smack in the middle you forget the next line. Do not sigh. Do not roll your eyes. Do not make an awkward comment followed by an awkward laugh. Pause. Your mouth is working faster than your brain can form coherent thoughts; you know this inside and out. Continue. Nobody noticed; it was just a dramatic pause. Also, talk slower. Look out at the audience. Notice people nodding, closing their eyes with their heads raised, soaking in every word. Right at the end of my poem recitation I noticed one of the judges reciting the poem with me, nodding, absorbing the meaning. Look for those people; the reassurance will calm you. When you are done, take a deep breath. It is over; you did it.

Your first mistake on this journey was seeing public speaking as a dreaded task instead of an opportunity. Any chance given to you to face a fear is not one you want to give up. After my poem recitation, I ended up going to the school wide competition. I placed second. For the first time in my life, I could see my fears sprawled out on the road ahead of me, and excelled despite it. You do not have to perfect the art of public speaking. You do not have to become a professional public speaker. You do not even have to overcome the fear. Just be afraid, and do it anyway.

 

Mirade is a current student and rising star. Her process analysis essay about public speaking shared such great advice about life in general, that I had to share it on my blog (with her permission, of course). I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. If you are fearful about anything, follow Mirade’s advice: Be afraid, and do it anyway.

Hope Found: Lessons from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

I have a confession to make: I’m suffering.

I say this not to elicit sympathy; I just want to be truthful. So please don’t think I need a pep talk, want attention, or that I’m just trying to bring other people down. My truth may not be other people’s reality, but I think there may be a few people who can identify with my suffering. Maybe we can lean on each other through this painful time.

As a writer, I also find tremendous healing through writing. It helps me to unpack my emotional baggage: When it is all out in front of me, I can decide what I can release and what I need to look at more closely, so I can heal. If I try to dismiss all my pain too soon, I will do more damage than good.

I could do this privately, but in this social media world we live in, so many of us walk through our days, seeing glimpses of those around us who seem to be living perfect lives. I don’t want to be put into that category. I know I have some great things happening in my life; I’m not trying to negate those things. But I also don’t want people to think that a few good turns erased all my pain –that it was easy for me to get over the events that crumbled my world.

Lord of the RingsRecently, I was able to re-watch The Lord of the Rings trilogy with Ian. He had never seen the movies, so I was able to enjoy a favorite journey with the innocence of a child. It spoke to me so deeply from this vantage point that I now have to use the movies’ words: They so succinctly mirror my own.

Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.

~The Fellowship of the Ring

What is my ring, the thing I wish never happened? There are quite a few, actually.

  1. My marriage of 23 years fell apart. It was not just because two people decided they couldn’t be married to each other anymore. It was so much more than that: I trusted completely and loved unconditionally, and I shouldn’t have. As I continue to unpack my emotions around my divorce, I’ve realized that it’s not the end of my actual marriage that brings me the most pain; it’s the end of the marriage I had hoped it would be some day that makes me suffer. I had convinced myself our marriage was so much more than it was. I placed all my hopes and dreams in my ex-husband’s hands. I wanted to grow old with him, but he was never the man I thought he was. I have to let go of that hope and create a new vision for my future. It’s not easy at my age to see a different future. I am working on it, but it doesn’t mean it’s not painful.
  2. I am now a single mother. I never wanted to navigate through this life alone; I fought it so hard that I hung on to my marriage longer than I should have. Now, every day I struggle with the things I didn’t have to worry about when there were two adults in the family. Can I pay my bills? Will I have to get another job just to survive? How can I raise my son if I am working all the time? Can I raise my son to be the man he needs to be without a man in his life? Will I have enough money to help my daughters with their weddings? I can offer them nothing — I can’t even offer an example of a successful marriage. I can only be an example of what not to do. I have failed at the one thing I truly wanted to succeed at more than anything else.
  3. I have squatters in my house. I left my house in Colorado to move out east to be closer to my family. I left, trusting that my house would sell quickly. In November, I had my first legitimate offer. Everything seemed to be going along well, until I found out I had squatters. These people told my real estate agent that they had been scammed. Someone “rented out my house” to them. I felt bad for that family, so I let them stay until after Christmas. The house was scheduled to sell in January. In the mean time, instead of that family being thankful for my compassion, they destroyed my house–so much so that the buyer rescinded the offer. Now, the squatters are holding my house hostage; they are keeping me entrenched in a past that is filled with pain.
  4. I am at war with myself. The optimism that defined me is wavering; cynicism is making headway in every part of my life. I used to trust, almost instantly, the people I met. I used to believe in the inherent goodness of all people; some just needed more help finding that goodness than others. But now I battle daily with every person I encounter–I see a person’s potential, and then I see his or her potential to hurt me. I’m keeping people at bay; it’s so much easier than allowing anyone to get close enough to hurt me again. However, this cynicism hurts as well. It goes against my core being: I want to believe in the goodness of people, but every time I trust someone, I find out I shouldn’t have. So what do I do? I know I have to develop new ways of interacting with people before the wall I’m building gets too high, if it’s not too late already.

So, yes, I am suffering.

But thankfully, my story does not end there. I have to believe that there is more at work in my life than the will of evil. Like Frodo, I have to decide what to do with the burdens I was meant to carry. I’m not ready to say that these thoughts encourage me, but they are turning me in the right direction. The Lord of the Rings trilogy has become the perfect inspiration to help me move forward.

We watched Frodo’s journey and his mythical battle of worldly proportions with awe. Ian and I cheered as the fellowship fought great battles: our hearts swelled when Boromir redeemed himself; when Aragorn defended Frodo with honor; when Pippin and Merry took up arms with courage; when Gandalf stopped the Balrog with “You shall not pass!” These mythical creatures fought against unbeatable odds. Everything was caving in around them, yet they held onto hope. I watched with fascination and then asked myself: Would I fight as bravely if I were there?

Then it hit me: I am there. I may not be fighting Sauron and Orcs, but I am fighting my own battles. I started to see Frodo’s journey, not as a mythical battle, but as the day to day suffering I must battle and overcome. There is a war waging against me–the battle of despair. Will I let despair win or will I fight it with hope?

Like Frodo, I stopped believing in myself. But Sam’s words gave me strength:

Frodo : I can’t do this, Sam.

Sam : I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo : What are we holding on to, Sam?

Sam : That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.

~The Two Towers

In the midst of my suffering, I have had dark days where every moment was spent either releasing or choking back sobs. However, I have to believe that this darkness is only a passing shadow. My current suffering will pass–I have to believe it will pass. I’m holding on to Sam’s words, that there is good in the world, that the sun will shine out the clearer. I will believe them because these are the things I need to believe in. Believing in them is winning half of the battle, isn’t it?

I’ve discovered it’s all about choices. It may not be the choice between good and evil, but it is about choosing to keep fighting rather than giving up, choosing to love rather than hate, choosing to hope rather than despair.

Near the end of his journey, Frodo could not carry the ring to Mount Doom to destroy it. The burden had taken its toll on him and his strength waned. But thankfully, Sam was there:

Sam: Then let us be rid of it once and for all! Come on, Mr. Frodo. I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you!

~The Return of the King

We all need a Samwise Gamgee in our lives. Thankfully, I have had many people who were my “Sam” through this journey; people who carried me and are still carrying me to the pit of doom so I can release my burdens.

The final element to this healing path is that I have to accept that things will never be the same again, and I have to be okay with that.

Frodo: [voiceover] Thirteen months to the day since Gandalf sent us on our long journey, we found ourselves looking upon a familiar sight. We were home. How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend, some hurts that go too deep, that have taken hold. . . . My dear Sam, you cannot always be torn in two. You will have to be one and whole for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be and to do. Your part in the story will go on.

~The Return of the King

If I’m strong enough to fight through this suffering, the reward will be a better life than the one I have but not without great cost. Indeed, there is no going back. I can only move forward. I also have to understand that there are some things that time cannot heal; there are some hurts that go too deep–I just have to accept that. It doesn’t mean that I cannot build a new dream with my family; I just can’t have the old one, and that has to be okay. I cannot be torn in two over this suffering. I have to find a way to become whole again for Ian, Carol Linn, Nicole, and myself.

One way I can become whole again is by finding ways to be a “Sam” for others who need help carrying their burdens.

I hope, in some small way, this post has done that.

How do I find the words

How do I find the words to show what’s in my heart,

     When the fragments are suspended in the air?

          Grasping for air,

               for thoughts,

                    for strength…

Submerged in pain, but surrounded by hope:

     Hope for you,

          for them,

               for me,

                    for us.

I won’t give up.

     Not on you,

          Not on them,

               Not on me,

                    Not on us.