Every Tuesday morning this school year, Sammie and I have visited the kids at Terrace Park Elementary school. Sammie melts my heart as I witness her work her therapy dog magic with these sweet little humans. The idea of helping a child who is experiencing anxiety or feelings of overwhelm touches me on a soul level. I know how much small gestures of kindness and gentle acceptance meant to me as a child. That’s what helped me live through my hell and come out smiling. Sammie is helping me pay it forward with her gentle ways with kids.
Today these kids and the amazing staff at that school made my heart smile . . . and Sammie’s tail wag. A lot!! They gifted us with a new backpack (mine was falling apart and my menopause brain kept forgetting to switch over to another backpack!), bags of dog treats, much needed Dentastix (Sammie has stinky dog breath even though I brush her teeth), toys for Sam, even toys for our puppy Max . . . and noodles!!!
But, the cards. These hand-written thank yous teared me up and, again, had my heart smiling. To know my beautiful dog touches so many lives just by radiating love and giving stinky kisses and sharing hugs (she has started to put her head on a shoulder and push her head against the hugger’s head) . . . is fulfilling in ways I can’t really express in words. It’s like my soul is filled with light.
So I send out a thank you to the awesome staff who welcome us each week with smiles and dog treats in the office before we head upstairs, thank you to the amazing teachers who invite us into their classrooms, thank you to Tricia and Liz for helping me continue to learn the gifts contained in just listening and for offering Sammie a space to shine, thank you Jen Hrovat for introducing us all and giving an adorable hint on the rainbow tennis balls. And THANK YOU to the kids for loving my Sammie girl and brightening our Tuesday mornings.
I love this dog. She’s a therapy dog. She’s The Doodle with the Noodle. She’s sweet. And snuggly. And funny. And overflowing with love. She’s my best friend. And my snuggle buddy. My hiking pal. And my calming presence.
But most of all, she is love. A lot of love in a furry body.
What a beautiful conversation with Maria Dunlap, founder and CEO of Vivian’s Victory, about the difficult subject of losing a child and parenting a child with a chronic illness along with a discussion on the gifts that come from grief and the healing journey. Thank you, Maria, for sharing your heartache, triumph, and light of hope with those needing support and guidance.
“Maria Dunlap is the Founder and CEO of Vivian’s Victory. Vivian’s Victory is a nonprofit dedicated to bring hope, building community and bridging gaps for families that have a child diagnosed with a chronic illness. After Maria’s daughter, Vivian, died in the hospital at 59 days old in 2012, she knew families needed to receive support during perhaps the hardest moments of their lives. Since the inception of Vivian’s Victory in 2014, over 2,000 families have been impacted through their mission.”
I so enjoyed this amazing conversation with Amit Janco (I found it fascinating to be talking to someone on the other side of the world who was already in tomorrow!), discussing her personal continued healing journey after falling from a bridge, the exciting release of her book (Un)Bound Together: A Journey to the End of the Earth (and Beyond), the healing aspects of nature and art, and so much more. Thank you, Amit, for sharing your brilliant insights (I love your ability to paint a picture with your words) and shining the light of hope.
“Amit Janco is a writer, serial walker, labyrinth designer and yogi who has lived in Bali since 2011. As an artist, Young Living oiler and Narrative Therapy practitioner, she loves to design multi-sensory experiences that inspire creative expression. After falling from a bridge in early 2009, Amitset off, like thousands before her, on a journey of physical healing along the mythical Camino de Santiago. What was slated to be little more than a rehabilitative adventure of walking across the undulating terrain of northern Spain, would become an unexpectedly gratifying, comical, and, at times, emotionally tumultuous odyssey through physical and emotional recovery, into the very heart and soul of her existence. Part memoir and part Camino pilgrimage, Amit’s newly-released book, (Un)Bound, Together: A Journey to the End of the Earth (and Beyond), reveals how a quest for whole healing can unfold in unlikely ways and places.”
I want to share one coping strategy a month. These are strategies I use (or have used) in my own life as I travel the healing journey. I hope they bring you tranquility, as well!
WRITE AN UNCONDITIONAL LOVE PRAYER
Write an unconditional love prayer for one person who has created difficulty in your life. Think only of their needs, pain, and heartache. Do not mention your own. This is about honoring that person’s journey and offering unconditional love in the form of prayer.
I did this in relation to someone I had considered my best friend for almost seven years before she *ghosted me. It was liberating. This prayer helped me to let go.
*Ghosting: the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.
Grab that journal or note pad and let’s get our positivity on! This month we will address the following two Positivies of Persistence areas together:
A checklist of positive outcomes.
Habits and hurdles.
A Checklist of Positive Outcomes
Stop for just a moment and reflect upon your desires. If there were no hurdles to overcome (such as financial restraints, fears, health concerns, spiritual uncertainties, etc.), what would your “perfect life” look like? Where would you live? Who would be in your close circle? Would you be working? If so, doing what? What would you do for fun? What goals would you be achieving?
When I was working on my undergrad in Psychology, my goal was to continue on to graduate school, with the dream of pursuing my PhD in Child Psychology. My husband at the time even gifted me a car for my graduation and had the license plate PHD2BE on it. Life, however, had other plans and that goal was derailed. But, that dream is still on my to-do list. I might be 80 when I make it a reality, but it will happen.
Exercise: Create YOUR checklist of positive outcomes. Spare no detail. As a matter of fact, the more details that are included, the more you can envision that outcome coming to life!
Exercise: Choose one of your outcomes and break it down into smaller outcomes. For instance, my own – Obtain PhD (main outcome): research school options, find out application deadlines and fees, reach out to admissions, research scholarship options, choose school, complete application, etc. Obviously my broken down list would be more inclusive, but this gives you an idea.
Exercise: Choose ONE of those smaller outcomes and determine if you can break it down even smaller. Baby steps. Baby steps. Then do so.
Exercise: Finally . . . choose one of those mini-goals and do it.
Habits and Hurdles
One of the books I read and reference when giving speaking presentations is The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. Habit formation is key to change. I had created a habit of avoidance behaviors as a way of dealing with my panic attacks and certain triggers such as driving over bridges. I started to create new response habits, new anticipatory habits, and new “cheer myself on” habits. These changes in habits then resulted in new neuron pathways in my brain.
Our brain is malleable (changeable) and the way we can positively change it is through positive habit formation. Think about wanting to tone our body. Obviously, we cannot think ourselves fit. We must do the work to sculpt our bodies in the way we envision. Leg day. Cardio. Hiking. Swimming. Biking. Whatever it is that we use to create positive body changes. That same philosophy applies to our brains. A brain workout is in order if we are to create positive changes.
Exercise: Write down (or voice record) positive thinking patterns and responses you would like to implement. Do you want to be calmer and not quick to anger? Do you want to notice God’s gifts/the beauty of the universe surrounding you throughout your day? Do you want to reduce your anxiety symptoms? (These are just a few ideas that popped into my head as I have worked on these exact habitual responses myself)
Exercise: After completing that list, write down (or record) ways you can begin to change your current habits. For instance, instead of screaming at fellow drivers on the road, can you turn on happy music (whatever is happy for YOU) and focus on the lyrics, melodies, messages in the songs instead of the skills of other drivers (or lack thereof!).
Realistically, you will encounter hurdles. Habits are difficult to break. The key, however, is persistence. Ah, the theme of this series. Persistence.
One skill I want to you to practice as you come upon hurdles is gentleness. Remind yourself gently that you are working toward change and it’s fine to fall back into old patterns. Be easy on you. Give yourself a pep talk. Then try it again. And again. And again. We cannot lift weights one day and expect our arms to be ripped. Right? The same goes with brain change and new habit formation. Keep at it. And be sure to give yourself props when you start to notice a new habit forming. You deserve the praise.
Exercise: Record hurdles you are experiencing along the way. How are you overcoming them? What can you do to avoid them? How long did it take to no longer consider something a hurdle, but simply a reminder to re-direct? Keep track of progress you are making along your positive habit formation journey.
WARNING: Confessions of a frustrated co-dependent. Things a child, no matter how old, should ever have to go through.
My mother told my sister last week, “Tell Teri to go to hell and I never want to see her again.” Obviously, intoxicated. This was a result of my discovering she was using a younger family member to drive her to the grocery (where there is a liquor store) and I informed that family member’s parent.
Two days ago she advised a family member she would be “drinking herself to death”. Same old story I’ve heard since I was a kid. Drunken slurs told to me as a child like, “Teri, this life does not matter. I want to be with Jesus. I just want to die. Death is beautiful. If you died I would celebrate. How lucky would that be.” A child. Being told by her mother that she would celebrate her child’s death.
I used to wake up and find my mother standing over me with a butcher knife in her hand. Her eyes would be lifeless. As if she was staring through me. I would cry as silently as possible so as not to startle her. My little sister always found her way into my bed and would wrap herself around me. It was a comfort for both of us.
Today I sit here furious. And bitter. And sad.
She is on another “I haven’t eaten in 3 days. I am no longer taking my medications. I am only going to drink until I die” missions.
I called 911 two days ago when she first threatened to kill herself as we cannot get into her secured building. She turned them away. Today I called her doctor and was advised to have the police accompany the paramedics as they will force her to go with them for a psych eval. Her building social worker called to tell me, that even though she had a “huge bottle of vodka” sitting next to her and a glass filled with it, the police left without taking her. And no paramedics were with them.
So I just printed off the “instructions for filing an emergency guardianship” paperwork. It states a physician must appear before the magistrate in a hearing to justify it is necessary to avoid immediate harm to the ward. I cannot get her to a hospital as she refuses transport.
She cannot live on her own, per her doctor’s own words, but I cannot force her to move until she’s no longer competent enough to make the choice. Apparently the police think she’s still competent enough to decide.
Therefore, we sit and wait. For our mother to sober herself up. Or die.
No child should EVER have to go through this hell.
I lost my mind on the social worker. I snapped. I cried. I screamed, “I’m fucking done. Let her die.”
I’ve reached out so many times for help. I just don’t know what to do anymore.
This is the lady I grew up with. A bottle of alcohol always next to her. She would come home from work and pour a drink and sit down to read. I learned early on to lock myself in my room and put my headphones on and escape into my music. If I approached her, she would slur at me, “Can’t I just relax for five minutes? Just leave me alone!” Or, if I approached with happy news, “Mom! Look! I got a 93% on my test.” (A 93 was still an A back in the 70’s) Her response, “A 93? A 93? God gave you a brilliant mind, Teri. And you are wasting it. Why wasn’t it a 100%? You are disappointing God. And me.” And I would turn away, once again, belittled and shamed. Shamed for not being good enough.
She tried to drown me in a bathtub when I was 4, holding my head underwater. She told me I would be happier with Jesus. Until my dad came in and sucker-punched her across the bathroom. She landed between the toilet and cabinet.
She tried to kill my dad with a butcher knife. But, he lifted a chair in time in front of him as protection to have the blade completely penetrate the wood seat. I witnessed her hauled off in handcuffs on that occasion. I was 4 or 5.
She beat my sister relentlessly. She didn’t like her and made it clear. I got to listen to the screams from behind a locked bathroom door where I would hide for hours until it was quiet again.
She told me I was frumpy and ugly and used to show my 7th grade photo to people and laugh about how ugly I was. I had braces and a unibrow and yes, pretty hideous, but really?
When I was in my 20’s (after the bank robberies) I dressed conservatively for business. She would laugh and call me, “Margaret Thatcher” and advise me I needed to brighten myself up so people would think I was happy.
Yet, I have fought and fought and fought for this lady’s love and approval my entire life. All I wanted was for her to love me and accept me.
I know my life motto is #nevergiveup, but damn is this a tough battle to keep fighting. Please pray for strength and answers as we move forward with guardianship. And that I keep my cool and not explode in frustration again. I’m starting to reach the end of my rope with this one.
When interviewing a recent podcast guest, the subject of everyday heroes in a child’s life came up. And their powerful impact of helping build resilience in the lives of vulnerable children.
I had 4. My Grandma Kitty. My 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Corken. And my BFF’s parents, Mr. & Mrs. Tonnies.
Today I want to share a story about that teacher. I don’t remember her classroom. Or what she taught me in that classroom. But I do remember her caring about me, asking if I was okay when I would cry in school, holding my hand when we would walk the halls, and inviting me to sit on the front porch of her little white house on Wayside Avenue.
I would walk the 3 blocks, crossing a busy road (in the same crosswalk where I saw a girl get hit by a car and killed a few years later when I was 10 . . . golly, 10 was a rough year!), just to spend time with this gentle soul.
I can’t remember her face. But I remember her heart.
She gave me this ceramic Holly Hobbie heart as a gift. I can’t recall why. My birthday maybe?
It reads “Happiness is having someone to care for”.
She told me to keep my treasures in it. For years it held a hand-written note from her and a key to a small cedar box I kept other notes in. To this day I treasure hand-written notes.
My dad threw something at me in a fit of rage soon after I received my gift. I ducked and it missed me, but shattered my heart. The ceramic one. And in some ways my own.
I cried silently as I glued the pieces back together. Somehow the top piece remained intact. I think it landed on my pillow.
I pulled this out of my memory box today after being reminded of Mrs. Corken during my podcast conversation. So incredibly symbolic of my life.
Jaz told me during our interview that survivors are like Kintsugi bowls . . . their breaks are repaired with gold so the scars make them beautiful. I read upon researching Kintsugi that “your scars and imperfections are your beauty”.
My little ceramic heart, glued back together, yet missing a piece I never found after that violent outburst, represents the beauty of my healing journey. Broken, then mended. Scarred, yet beautiful.
What an absolute joy it was to chat “across the pond” with the beautiful, hilarious, and inspirational Jaz Ampaw-Farr. From her TEDx talk to her international motivational presentations, she is empowering others along their healing journeys. Thank you, Jaz for helping leave this world a better place – from your Tampax donation in the school bathroom to your work in prisons to your ability to make us laugh – your enthusiasm is contagious.
I encourage you to grab your tissues and watch her 11 minute TEDx talk. I promise it will be worth it!
“It would be easy to say, you’ve never met anyone like Jaz before. Her passion for the potential we can uncover in ourselves when we are just 2% braver and her insight into how to remove the barriers that hinder connection between us and those we seek to influence make Jaz one of those people you will never forget.
Jaz’s story is one of growing up in the midst of most appalling abuse, poverty and hardship during which she encountered five adults (and, importantly, one pimp) whose belief in her literally saved her life. She shares her fantastic journey of how saying yes first allowed her to progress from council estate and foster care to advising international governments on education policy.
There are many messages leaders take away from listening to Jaz deliver keynotes across the UK, in the US (where she’s being called ‘The British Oprah’!) and elsewhere. Clearly, the impact that we have to connect and transform lives comes through loud and clear but there is more to it than just that.
Jaz also embodies the idea of bravery and the willingness to be defined by what you’ve tried even if you fail, rather than by what you could have done. Both her (very) brief stint on TV’s The Apprentice, more substantial skills as a presenter on BBC’s Hard Spell Abbey and her career as a stand up comedian are good examples of this. And she shows that a human being can be subject to the worst depravities of her fellow humans and not only survive, but thrive – and do so without anger or bitterness.
It is true, we are more than our stories, and Jaz shares strategies and insights in her work with humour, energy, honesty and an unswerving optimism in people and in authentic connection in particular. Full of practical advice, for leaders from all industries, including the corporate, health and education sectors, her message is neatly summed up in her own words to those five teachers from her past and the title of her best selling book – Because Of You – This Is Me.”
I want to share one coping strategy a month. These are strategies I use (or have used) in my own life as I travel the healing journey. I hope they bring you tranquility, as well!
WRITE LETTERS OF FORGIVENESS
Write letters of forgiveness to those who have hurt you. Then burn them. Set them free. Not for their sake, but for your own. Write a letter to God. To the universe. To fate. Whatever you feel has burdened you with something unbearable. Be honest in your letter. Release the emotions and, just like with the journaling, do not edit yourself. Let it flow. Free it! Free yourself!
What a deeply engaging yet fun-filled conversation I enjoyed with Jason Lee, discussing his personal triumphs and passion to help others, particularly men, along their healing journey from anger to tranquility. Thank you, Jason, for sharing your inspirational mission and shining the light of hope.
“Jason Lee is an author based out of Coquitlam BC. He’s also a mental health advocate and speaker at events across Canada. His book Living with the Dragon, Healing 15000 Days of Abuse and Shame has received praise from counselors and comes highly recommended as a resource particularly for men in recovery from depression, anxiety and anger stemmed from childhood abuse trauma and trauma. He’s also the host of the Mangry Podcast which aims to redefine how men manage their anger. The Mangry Podcast is on iTunes and Spotify.
Jason believes that everyone has a story to share and it’s a matter of finding that delicate space of trust and compassion to do that in. He found his voice through speaking, writing, podcasting and blogging, connecting people through inspirational words and ideas.
Jason enjoys basketball, exercising, camping, board games and spending time with his son.