Mom, Contentment, & Sex

Eighteen years ago today my mother turned 41. She wouldn’t live to see the sun rise the following St. Patrick’s Day or to see me turn 15 a week later. She never helped me get ready for prom, nor asked me how my first real date went, or handed me condoms when I went to college, or saw me hand-fasted or married, she never saw me divorce, she never lived see me achieve my dreams or to see them ripped away by my illnesses. But in the 14 years and 51 weeks she was my living, breathing, fiery, sick, feminist, dream chasing, deeply loving mother she taught me so much about how to live.

In my late teens and early twenties I often wondered if she would be proud of me. I struggled watching friends, or even strangers, with their mothers; the pain ran so deep sometimes I wanted a cigarette and a hard drink to make it fade to tolerable. I cried and pondered and asked aloud, “what the hell am I supposed to do?” having no mother to show the pathway into adulthood. So I struggled, learning and failing and fighting to find my own path, my own way to be a woman from what guidance my mother had left me and what I wanted for my future.

“Family is the most important thing in life” she wrote in a journal she kept when we were small, a love letter to and about her children in case anything ever happened to her. It is a lesson I have sought to follow, though some would disagree. When she was writing this my brother and I were small, our health was difficult, and her family struggled. She would make my brother and I hug after a fight and “say ‘I love you’ because one day you will mean it.” Mom was right, of course; my brother and I love each other deeply, in a way I could never find words for but those who have seen us together or my words to him, can feel it is deep, even unto the dark places in each others souls. And despite my issues with my father & step-mother, I love my father too, even if it mingles deeply with disappointment and pain, I would be there for him in any way I could. And my beautiful younger sister & brother I love as if they were blood, though I was only there to grow up beside them and desperately try to avoid having to “be the example for your sister and brothers.”

“If you have nothing nice to say then say nothing at all,” taught me to never gossip. It is a trait I find abhorrent, not only because I do no do it but because the consequences of not doing so are ridiculous and often painful. Other people are not as kind with their words.

“Be thankful” taught me how to handle illness, the cruelty of others, and gave me the strength to hold on hard to life’s good things even in times of deep despair. I wake grateful for the ability to breathe, to feel most of my body, and to have another day to live.

“Leave things better then you found them” was engrained in her, and me, through Girl Scouts but she tried to apply it to all things in life, not just campsites. Friends, communities, the world – she sought in small, real ways to make the world better then she found it and looking back she did much of that as a parent. My singular goal in life is to make the world a better place then I found it – a goal I am told I achieve.

“Be prepared” was also deeply drilled into me. “You never know which question might be on the test” is a deeper truth then most people realize… the test is how we handle life. I don’t have all the answers but I have about a dozen back up plans for everything. She taught me “nothing is guaranteed” and that to succeed in life we must simply accept that, find peace with it, and be as ready for it as we can be.

She nearly forced independence on us, not simply encouraged it. “Go outside and play,” set with clear boundaries, was a common refrain. When her pain would flare – migraines, lupus, issues from undiagnosed Ehlers-Danlos – she would close her door, sometimes lock it, and we were told that “unless someone is bleeding, dying or the house is on fire, don’t bother me.” I remember being broken hearted by plans changed due to her illness and I wish so deeply I could tell her now that I know it hurt her so much more then it did us.

She instilled in us, by example as much as teaching, a deep love of learning and independent growth. She was a chemist, a childbirth educator, a pregnancy prevention & sex educator, an EMT, a nurse, an aspiring midwife. I remember clear as day her teaching me basic calculus on the front porch, with a yellow legal pad, when I was 8 and bored with math in school. I could have taught Lamaze classes by age 6. I was home schooled due to my allergies during the years she was in nursing school, I learned so much during those years – more then A&P or pharmaceutical knowledge, but also how to be a full person, teaching, learning, living – all at once despite her underlying health issues. They are lessons that have not only kept me alive but taught me how to fight for my space as an individual despite life’s demands.

Today, more then 17 years after her death, her choices still teach me things – some I agree with and some I don’t – but useful lessons all the same. I give as deeply, or more so, then I get; I work to find peace in my soul in hard times; I demand a lot – not only of others – but of myself; I have learned how to ask for, and give, help. I am a good, though not perfect, woman.

I look at myself in the mirror and know she would be proud. I am proud. I decided 12 years ago I wanted to be someone who enabled others to be happy by cultivating a supportive community. The ways I have done this have changed over the years, but I know I have helped, loved, and supported many others to know they are not alone.

In March I was faced with the harsh reality that without answers, progress, anything really, I would likely die sooner then anyone would have liked. I don’t know if the autoimmune hepatitis is the final answer to the problem of what’s trying to kill me this time? But I do know I approached the chance of death with calmness and preparation, peaceful in the knowledge that on the balance I have left the world a better place then I found it but unwilling to just give up.

Now, moving into a winter prepared for the possibilities, I am ready for not only the pain and struggle winter always brings, but also to start some new things. I am still fighting for SSI, but I am also doing occasional ghostwriting on medical topics, and in the new year will start collaborating on a site that will openly discuss sexuality and disability, a topic that is dear to my heart because disability doesn’t take away your humanness, it just changes how you handle it. I am coming out of the past few years of seeming fallowness in my life preparing to pass on the lessons my mother taught, in a way that is empowering for others and feels right for me.

Each year, on her birthday I look back at what I know of my mother’s life, which also makes me reflect on mine, as I am the filter and I am her legacy. I am honored others trust me with their questions about health, faith, sexuality, life choices and that I have the tools to help others – even when I’m not trying. A friend, who I love and respect, that speaks and literally changes people’s lives in a conversation or a speech, tells me that I make him want to be a better person – an honor I bear with humbleness. A man, who is amazing and wonderful loves me because I am “awesome,” a gift I return because I know how to love deeply and recognize a good person and true love.

I know I would make her proud. I make myself proud. I am also proud of her, in ways that possibly no one but my brother could understand, but I tried to explain in these words. We are the products of her choices, and our own choices, and the balance is for the good.

I still celebrate her life, this day and all the others. She helped me grow so much into the woman that I am. I am excited to move into this new project that coincides with the work she did when I was a child and I know I will draw deeply on her lessons.

I could be no prouder than to be my mother’s daughter, to continue her work, to be a part of her legacy.

Tonight I shall raise a glass in her honor and be proud of and for her, for my mother was a beautiful woman who loved deeply, was fiercely loyal, and amazingly strong.

Momma, I still miss you every day but I wouldn’t trade a day of those 14 years and 51 weeks; you made me so much of the woman I am today. Thank you. I love you.

Sometimes…

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Commitment: Relationships

This is my second, and last post, for this weeks Evolve for Life theme on Commitment.

Once, in a time long ago, I was in love with a man far away. I have never stopped loving this man, and I probably never will, seeing him again after years apart was like have my soul lit afire again. Sometimes you really can be in love with someone for the long haul, no matter what.

My sole regrets in life revolve around my relationship with him. He asked me a hypothetical question, I refused to hypothetically answer. But when I answered with actions, he choose another path. When something happened to threaten his well being and happiness, I gave up my life and remaining happiness to protect his. He never asked me to do that. He never had to. I love him.

What I learned in the three and a half years that followed, filled with abuse, degradation and humiliation in my personal life, was that commitment, love, the desire to protect and see something through until the other is safe can create within you a core of steel like nothing else. I showed the outside world no weakness, no signs, I protected my loved one fiercely while enduring physical and verbal beatings, rape and constant invasions of my privacy. I refused to let this asshole hurt him the way I was being hurt.

People have told me I didn’t have to do that, that I could have reported the abuse, or that because I choose to survive it rather then risk my loved ones life I “wanted” it. I assure you, things were not that simple. Abusive relationships rarely are, but this one was covered in layers of complications, some of which even I struggle to process.

But, I learned three things about myself:

First, that if I commit to someone, even if they do not or can not return that commitment, I will still hold faithful to them as best I can, presuming it was not they who betrayed me, but possibly even then.

Second, that if I LOVE someone I will go to the ends of the Earth & Hell and back again to protect those I am loyal to.

Third, if I feel like there is a moment where my choice, in this moment, could make my life a million times better, hypothetical or not, I emphatically say “Yes!” because I will not risk more regrets.

To me commitment, loyalty, & love are all bound up together. They are not things I give easily. It is entirely possible that prior to the age of 19 I gave them to no one but my brother, Jason. I have worked hard in the years since I escaped my abuser to attempt to relearn how to have relationships – not just romantic, but friends.

I have, I believe, succeeded.

Last spring, I was having a lot of bad stuff all at once, and someone offered to come support me. I said “yes,” because why not? Because maybe this was the time I was supposed to. And despite that not being the case, it did teach me that I am ready and capable to say “yes” again, to allow new people, new friends into my life, to risk honesty again after a dark, long winter of loss.

So, recently, despite all the struggle and frustration with my health, I have been relishing the best “YES” I ever said. My heart is filled with the love of every kind. I could not be happier. (Well, I could be if I was healthy, but beggars/choosers.)

I smile, I laugh, recently someone told me I looked “alive again.” I even feel it many days. I feel the happiest I’ve been since closing Felicitea.

I was presented with a huge chance, and I took it. They braved a huge chance, and it was worth it. I’ll give you a slice from a conversation:

“If you are usually so rational, why did you just do it?” (Come visit.)
“I felt like… if I didn’t I might regret it. That I might miss this big part of my future.”
“And?”
“Best impulse decision so far.”

Yeah, yeah, you’re thinking, how is this relevant? It is.

I am loved and supported by friends who may as well be family and siblings who are a treasure. I have given these people my love, loyalty, & commitment with my whole heart. Sometimes it means I expect more then your average friend, but I am always on your side, and the side of our friendship.

Love is a verb, actions we live out through loyalty & commitment. Loyalty is placing other peoples needs and concerns before yours, and sometimes learning that you are that concern, and sticking by them through things. Commitment is living out loving actions, supporting those you care for and staying deeply loyal through it all, even in the moments of anger, fear, and frustration and finding a way to communicate those things to each other.

If you are my friends, if I love you, you know it. If I am loyal & committed to you and your happiness you know it. Even when I am angry and shaking and screaming at you, you know it. Even when I am quiet and separate, you know it. If you are mine, as friend, family, or lover, you know it.

Commitment to another person means never, ever being alone, even when I (or my body) fails to follow through on hopeful plans. It means understanding without judgement. It means real love – taking joy in another’s existence.

Commitment means I’m here for the long haul. I’m going stick this out and protect you as best I can, but I’ve also learned it means I have to be honest about my needs and wants, to be vulnerable, to take risks. Commitment of any kind is uncomfortable, and I am obligated to open up my soft squishy parts too.

But it’s worth it. Because the deep well of commitment built over time with trust and experience and sharing gives you a safe place to go back to again and again.

What does commitment mean to you?

Commitment: Love

This week I’m leading the #evolve4life theme on commitment. This is my first post for the week on the topic.

This past weekend my brother married a woman I cherish and welcome with great joy and happiness to my family. She is much the woman my mother would have wished for my brother.

They love each other in the way one should love the person you marry: with deep emotional investment, a desire for each others happiness & well being placed above their own, and the kind of commitment that will still make my heart ache with happiness in fifty years.

Their wedding was simple, a tiny ceremony in the park, with no pomp, just me and her son and the other legally required parties and a photographer. Cris carried a bouquet, her son carried the rings, everyone cried; it was the most beautiful wedding I have ever been a part of.

I knew I would note able to speak with the normal off-the-cuff eloquence I can usually manage. So, I spent the weeks leading up to their wedding day thinking about the words I would say when the time came for me to make my speech; commitment is so much more then feelings, it is actions, choices and life lived step after step down a set path, even when we get lost it is our path home. So, to start of this weeks thoughts on commitment, I am sharing with you the words I shared with them.

* * * * *

I don’t tend to prepare things to say, being prone to simply speak from my heart or my passion. So rarely do I have a moment where my emotions overwhelm my heart that I struggle for words, but as I have considered what I would say today I have come up with so many things I knew I could not trust myself to just speak from my heart.

Jason, my Brother, you little booger head, the one that when we fought as children mother would force us to apologize & tell each other we loved one another and hug, because one day we’d be grown ups who meant it… I am so happy and proud that those days have come; that as adults we have become friends, as well as siblings who rely on one another for support & strength through the good and the bad. You will always be a dork, a booger head, a brat, and a complete pain in my ass and I will always be glad that you are MY brother and will fight anyone who wants to fight you because I am your big sister and the ONLY person who has that right to fight you. I have earned it. I’ve put up with you for 30 plus years.

Cris… Cristine… I remember so clearly the conversation when Ja told me he was going on a date with you, about how he met you at bowling, and I heard it in his voice. That tone… the sound that makes you know the future is about to come for someone who’s soul is so closely knit to yours. I cautioned him to be careful, to go slow, not out of fear but out of love: I wanted him to make the right choice for the right reasons. And, and sweet new sister, has he ever. I adore you in your own right, and so pleased to have you as my friend, let alone now as my family.

Jason waited a long time to have serious relationships, he told me, when I asked about this, “I grew up with Mom & you, it’s a pretty high standard to live up to.” At the time I didn’t understand, now, due to my own life’s path, I better understand – my struggles are immense yet I am surrounded by love, strength and deep support, which I do my best to give back to those I love. My loyalty & commitment run all the way down to the core of my soul, a gift given by our mother, a strength I didn’t realize she gave us til we had grown up. People like us – Mom, Jason, Me – are hard to find.

I believe, with all my heart, that with Cris, Jason you have found such a woman. Her tender and devoted love for you makes my heart ache in happiness. Momma would be so happy for you. Cris, in Jason, you have found a man who loves you so deeply and fully that it makes my cry with happiness to see & know, that he aches to see you be everything you can, and treasures you so deeply.

And Josh, you, young man, have gained the coolest step-dad ever. And Aunt, if I say so myself. For many reasons, which may be explained to you when you’re older, Jason knows all to well how precious it is to have good parents in a young man’s life – your mama couldn’t have made a better choice for you.

Today my family grew by two, and my heart aches with happiness to know you are both Jason’s, and by extension mine, now. Family, to Jason & I, is love, commitment and the absolute certainty that no matter what – time, distance, other people’s betrayals – that there will always, ALWAYS be someone who know who you are and can call you home to your own heart by name. I am so deeply happy to welcome you both, Cris & Josh, to our family. Know that from now on you will never be alone.

The meaning of life is LOVE. We each may have our own purposes but we are meant to love. Love as fully as possibly, deeply as possibly, as widely as possible. I am happy, beyond words, to see you living out that meaning – not just with each other but with your whole family. I am proud & honored & blessed to be a part of that.

My fervent wish for you is that, no matter the rapids, that the river of life brings more joys then sorrows, more smiles then tears, and even when the waters are rough that you can let the light reach your eyes when you say “I love you.”

Jason, Cris & Josh, may your family be so full of love & support that no matter what happens, even the loss of one of you, you will always be a unit.

Jason & Cris, may love always lead your life, may your hardships bind your ever closer, may your joys is life always bring that brilliance to each others eyes, and above all else, may your life be filled with as love & happiness as your days can hold.

I love you.

I should be sleeping

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But I’m too weary, too burdened, and god, I gotta put some this shit down and stop carrying it around. June of this year has been vastly better than… basically any whole month in the last two years. At least half of May was swept away in a blur of post surgical morphine. But June, June’s been a winner. I have felt better then I have all of this year. Getting my gallbladder removed was a big help for my...

“You can’t just eat good food. You’ve got to talk about it too. And you’ve got to talk about it to somebody who understands that kind of food.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut

“I like a cook who smiles out loud when he tastes his own work. Let God worry about your modesty; I want to see your enthusiasm.” ~Robert Farrar Capon

“The most important thing in illness is to never lose heart.” ~Nikolai Lenin

“To be in pain is to be alone, to imagine that no one else can imagine the world you inhabit.” ~ Melanie Thernstrom

“I have learned now that while those who speak about ones miseries usually hurt, those who keep silence hurt more” ~ C.S. Lewis

“Being human totally sucks most of the time. Videogames are the only thing that make life bearable.” ~ Ernest Cline, Ready Player One

“Life is more fun if you play games.” ~Roald Dahl

“Games give you a chance to excel, and if you’re playing in good company you don’t even mind if you lose because you had the enjoyment of the company during the course of the game.” ~Gary Gygax

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