Sunday, July 5, 2015

Inside Out-An IFS primer

So many times I am called upon to explain the form of therapy I practice: IFS, which stands for "Internal Family Systems". IFS rests on the assumption that human beings are multi-dimensional, which has led some people to ask me, "Is this like multiple personalities?" Well, yes, and no. It isn't like Sybil (I'm dating myself here!). Dissociative identity disorder is an extreme situation. I believe that we are inherently multi-dimensional and multiple. We have to be to carry all the roles we carry in modern life. Multiplicity is even part of our common vernacular. People will say, "well, part of me wants to stay, and part of me wants to go." Many people recognize an inner child, and you can easily find articles that tell you how to deal with your inner critic, or any voice in your head, really.
IFS brilliantly structures those voices in your head by asserting that there is a Self, the seat of your consciousness, your core, your center, that is always calm, curious, creative, centered, compassionate, clear, courageous, and confident (the 8 C's of IFS). If these qualities are not present, then you are operating from a part, and you can strengthen your Self in such a way that you can uncover and get to know your parts and their positive intent for your life. In IFS for example, the inner critic is a welcome part of the inner family system, as is any part that seems to be negative. The goal is to create a connection with your parts, to nurture a positive relationship, so that one can lead from Self.
We spend most of our lives leading from parts, and often this works well for us. When parts assume extreme roles and beliefs, though, then trouble can happen.
Disney's Inside Out illustrates this perfectly. In the movie we are led through a journey of Riley's parts. I am told that the creator of the film did not know about IFS, but there are plenty of discussions among IFS practitioners about the film and how beautifully it relates to IFS.
Riley's "Joy" assumes an extreme part and manages the other feeling/parts as a Self-like part. As Riley faces a crisis, Joy becomes frantic and desperate to fix things by going to rescue Riley's "islands", the way she organizes her life experiences. Joy positions herself to be the keeper of core memories and works hard to prevent Sadness from touching them and therefore, altering them forever. Gradually, as everything she is trying to control crumbles around her, she realizes that Sadness played an important part in Riley's relationships and helped Riley find comfort and connection. Joy relinquishes her extreme role and makes way for Sadness to be expressed. Riley can no longer use Joy to placate her parents, and in allowing her Sadness to be fully expressed, she is able to be comforted by her parents.
In IFS, we do have a Self that is an important part of one's healing journey. In Inside Out, Riley didn't really have a Self. I attributed that to the fact that Riley was 11, and since she is still growing and developing, her Self may have been expressed in different things like the tower that held everything together, or her core memories, or perhaps it is the very infrastructure of her mind...the Islands, the core memories, the way she organized and made sense of those. As adults, we can call forth Self energy to help us navigate our inner and outer worlds. I believe Riley will need more experiences in order for her Self to fully emerge and mature.
In practicing IFS as an adult, I have found my parts will express and present themselves in some creative ways. I have an inner child, sometimes a baby, a part that I call Housewife who wears an apron and explores my identity as wife (now rejected wife) and mother, an inner critic who can be brutal with me, a "numb" part who is like a bright light, a teenage part who is smart as a whip and can argue and rail at the world's injustices, a caretaker who likes to fix things for everyone, and several adult and young adult parts that bring life wisdom or point out roles. I've encountered other parts too in my healing process, and I'm still a work in progress.
IFS was the first mode of therapy I'd encountered that helped give me a clear path: that of being in Self, with all its attending qualities. IFS sees client and therapist as equals, and helps the client gain trust in themselves this way, and has a very specific way of organizing and dealing with parts. It has changed my life and helped me organize and make sense of my responses and the responses of others.
I was very excited to see Inside Out because of my experiences with IFS,and the fact that I've tried to promote it socially over so many conversations. I'm pretty passionate about it. Besides being very IFS-like, the movie is good in that it playfully and creatively creates an awareness of what goes on inside of us, and in the end, models an acceptance of feelings. I laughed so hard (it seems there were a lot of jokes therapists will love in the movie) and cried just as hard. What an inspiring movie!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Single Moms

I was talking to a friend of mine today, a married friend. She said it must be nice to have time away from your children. I told her that time given in a relationship as part of a marriage is done out of a spirit of teamwork and generosity, but time "given" to you in a divorce is, in many cases, a punishment for all your years of sacrifice and being the mom. We launched into a nice discussion of what it is that single moms do with their time.
When single moms are away from their children, they  most surely do what their exes think they do: they feel such great remorse for not properly appreciating the God he was, for not worshipping his superior intellect, and for not always recognizing his obvious superiority. Oh how we weep and wail and writhe in guilt over what horrid wives and mothers we were. We were not good enough just like he told us!!! We really weren't!!! We (blubber, sob) HAD FEELINGS!!!! We HAD (sniffle) NEEDS. (wail louder with shameful guilt.) And worst of all, WE HAD THOUGHTS IN OUR HEADS. (dissolve onto floor sobbing to demonstrate the importance of this point and our endless guilt for daring to be a thinking person within a marriage).
We will be forever heartbroken that we could just not measure up.
The guilty weight is too much to bear so we must find ways to cope. I told her my personal favorite way was to take my laptop into the bathroom with a glass of wine and sob while I watch The Notebook.  Or grab a quart of ice cream and my phone on my way into the bathroom and eat while I sob and check out people's perfect lives on Facebook. Or lay in my bed with my pajamas and glasses on and sob without the help of technology or indoor plumbing like a Luddite. Luddite sobbing, I call it.
And then, suddenly, out of the blue, a friend calls and wants to come over. A friend who wants to comfort you! And then another, and another, and another. It is a call to action and to change out of our "fat" clothes. After making ourselves presentable, we entertain. Yes, single moms LOVE to entertain, because we have so much time on our hands and always have food in the fridge. If we don't happen to have time on our hands we will make time because entertaining is so much fun.

(stock photo)
Sometimes, entertaining gets out of hand. 
(stock photo)
Once we clean up the empty beer bottles and pizza boxes and get rid of everyone the next morning, we jet off with one of our boyfriends to stick our toes in the sand at some undisclosed beach, for just a day or two. Because it's nice to have your cocktails delivered to you at the beach since you have been so tired from all your crying and The Notebook and ice cream and pizza and friends coming over. You need pampering. 

these are my toes, almost ready for polish.

Then we come back to our lives and our jobs and make sure our house is clean for the kids' return and whew! That was something. Real life concerns, like feeling more divorce guilt and choosing which boyfriend to play with this week must take over.
 Between going to school full time, working full time, planning dates and juggling boyfriends, perusing online dating, talking to your lawyer, managing your robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul method of budgeting, dealing with children's issues alone, and getting ready to entertain, it's such a dream living this life of ease. At the end of another day of excitement and glamour single moms relax by collapsing from exhaustion.
I hope my friend isn't too jealous. 



Saturday, June 13, 2015

Neighbors




When I moved into this house, I had no idea what I was getting into. My house was a mess and still needs all kinds of work. It is  liveable and passable and we are so very happy to be here, but it is stressful too for we need a roof and windows and HVAC and big things like that. And summer just started and my dryer broke again (hello again clothesline!).
Back in January, we got a really strange and threatening letter from a neighbor. A not-very-friendly neighbor who did not sign their name. And this neighbor wrote that dogs "disappear" in our neighborhood. She (or he?) was essentially hating on my dog, who is a friendly, wandering type and not to be seen with her tail still and tongue in her mouth. Oh no, she is completely without guile, unless she is protecting us, and then she puts on airs. But at any rate, someone threatened my dog.
This led me into all kinds of doubts about the kinds of neighbors I had and what kind of place have I chosen to bring up my kids? I was sold on my half acre in the city with a dead end at the back end of the yard and the front of the house facing a dead end street. What better place for kids to roam and explore?
Then spring came and with it the kinder neighbors who encouraged me to report it, start a seed swap, get the neighbors together, and otherwise give me hope that this place is good. I have been too over booked to invest in gatherings but it is always  on my mind.
And the neighbor that helps me absolutely KNOW this place is good is Butch. When I first moved here, Divorceageddon was still going on. And it's still going on (just substitute "divorce" for "song" in that annoying song, "this is the song that never ends....yes it goes on and on my friends!!!). Pair a hellish situation like that with a girl who doesn't like to accept help and it's no good. I had to give up and accept help. I had to face down my own stubborn insistence that if I am given the opportunity to show you how strong and pleasing I am, you will like me. A people pleaser to the core. And it doesn't work. Butch knew this. He saw what was happening under my friendly smiles and waves, that I could fall apart and having needs just like everyone else. You may think I am exaggerating here by calling Butch an angel, but I firmly believe God puts people in your life for a reason. And if you don't believe in God, sometimes you just have to concede that there is SOMEone taking care of your messy existence. He has been an angel to me for certain.
Butch offered to mow my lawn, and I had to accept. Besides, taking care of me pleased HIM. Over the past almost-two years, Butch and his wife have very much been our good neighbors. He mows for me,  I sew for both of them, sometimes cooking. He has taught me very much how to relax and lean on someone. There is a time to be leaned on as well. Sometimes I even  borrow one of his five lawnmowers and mow both of our sizeable lawns and that's nice too.
Last week, I had a friend come over. I will blog about her later and she knows about it. Butch met her, as he's met so many of my friends and my children's friends that come and go here. He rode over on his lawnmower, eyes shining with mirth, to tell me he was in love with her (he's kind of a flirt that way too.)
I've learned a lot from that sweet man next door, mostly about how to be a friend and neighbor. Through all of what has happened these past few years, I have to continually remind myself that outside of the ugliness of others and the heart's pains, there is a flow of life, of humanity, that is sweet to taste of. Like discovering this in friends, I am blessed to have very real, non-judgmental neighbors, ones who will  mow your yard,, ones who need you just as much as you need them, ones who will bring you into the flow of beautiful life.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Unruined Heart

                                                        Mater Dolorosa: The Unruined Heart

The swords through your heart
are not the ones which caused your wounds,
but rather, these mighty swords of Strength,
were earned by your struggles through hard times.
Sword of Surrender:  to withstand this time of learning.
Sword of Veils:  to pierce the hidden meanings of this time.
Sword of Healing:  to lance one's own agony, bitterness.
Sword of New Life:  to cut through, cut loose, plant anew.
Sword of Courage:  to speak up, row on, touch others.
Sword of Life Force:  to draw from, lean on, purify.
Sword of Love:  often heaviest to lift consistently;
turns one away from war, to instead,
fall into the arms of the Immaculate Strength.

O Immaculate Heart of My Mother,
give me shelter in the beautiful chambers of your heart.
Keep me strong, fierce, loving, and able in this world.
Remind me daily, that despite my imperfections, 
my heart remains,
completely unruined.

- Clarissa Pinkola Est├ęs, from Untie the Strong Woman:
Blessed Mother's Immaculate Love for the Wild Soul

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Dishes and Anger

Washing dishes. Soapy water induces an introspective state, and can help wash off worry, dream into the suds, flow with ideas, and work through life's puzzles. But this time, I became angry. I have been reading Lundy Bancroft's "Why Does He Do That?" and it made me angry. It made me angry to have this awareness of abuse*, to know about where I was abused* and silenced. It made me mad to learn that abuse* is a choice and rests on a deeply ingrained overblown sense of entitlement on the part of the abuser.*



I was angry for my daughters, and how in the world of men they are learning about abusers first hand, and blessedly quicker than I did. I was angry at how our culture inadvertently and sometimes deliberately supports abuse of women. I was angry at my own  confusion...about how the abusers I've had relationships with have had a "good" mask and somehow, in giving the benefit of the doubt, I wanted to believe that person was defined by their acts of good, and not their cruelty. But I came to the conclusion that cruelty and acts of relational destruction far outweigh a surprise gift, an attentive joke, a sincere conversation, or going out to eat. Those are just  ways for an abuser to avoid responsibility and to avoid having to acknowledge your humanity. I wondered why, when I'd received those gestures in the past, they made me so mad and in an "ah-ha" moment I realized it is because they were fake and their actions in no way made restitution or amends.
I was angry for my son, for most abusers are men, and an overwhelming percentage of them learn abuse from their fathers. I was angry at the prospect of a world that would allow him to abuse and have all these constructs and double standards in place to be able to blame the victim ("It's between both of them. She asked for it. She was too chatty/messy/gossipy/fat/worldly/etc. She exaggerates things. I can see why she would drive him crazy. They both contributed.Men are victims just as much as women {not statistically true, by the way}") I was reminded of the passage in Bancroft's book that told how this neutrality from onlookers is just as harmful to an abused woman as the abuse itself. Bancroft points out that people will oppose abuse in the abstract, but loyalty to family, even to family secrets and dysfunction, is strong. Denial is strong and binding, like metal link chains. And no one wants to believe a brother, son, friend, or trusted co-worker is an abuser. It is much easier to sweep it under the rug. I get it, I really do. It is very difficult to overcome these strong social forces.
And that makes me mad too. I have had trouble understanding why people would come to the side of an abuser and help him, instead of saying to the woman, "I see what he is doing to you and the kids and I don't agree with it. " Why is bad behavior so consistently excused?

"Acknowledging his abusiveness and speaking forcefully and honestly about how he has hurt her is indispensable to her recovery. It is the abuser's perspective that she is being mean to him by speaking bluntly about what he has done." (Bancroft, p. 287)

I thought of how one of the most powerful guiding forces within an abuser is this complete drive to avoid responsibility for their actions at all costs. I thought of how, since the majority of abusers are men, and they grow up being taught to be that way in their family, and then culture often doesn't hold them to personal responsibility, what kind of messages are we giving these men about their worth? Are we telling men they don't  have the capacity to fix their mistakes? That we have to culturally coddle their fragile egos when they mess up? That we must allow the attitudes of the entitled to go completely unchecked?
It made me want to show my son he is worth WAY more than that.
I had a metaphor for the end of a marriage as a car, where my partner gets out and slashes the tires, then blames me for the car being unable to go, and so he gets out and finds another car, and bills me for the repairs of the old car that HE damaged. In Lundy Bancroft's book, he gives this metaphor of abuse:
You live in a house with a beautiful old tree in its backyard. Your neighbor complains that the tree hangs over into his back yard. You offer to prune the offensive branches but he starts insisting that you cut down the entire tree. You calmly tell him this is your property and your tree and you will cut down what hangs over into his yard, but not the whole tree. Your neighbor starts to ferment and seethe and convince himself that you are wrong. One day, when he knows you will be out of town, he triumphantly cuts down the tree...the big, old, beautiful tree that shaded your yard now lies in a heap of stumps and leaves and branches. When you return, it is obvious who cut down the tree  and you are mortified by this senseless act. Your neighbor denies it but eventually is pressed to admit it was he who cut down the tree.
In this case, it is clear that someone destroyed property and restitution must be made. The man will have to answer to his neighbors as well, for they won't trust him. The man must make restitution financially, apologize to her and their neighbors, and take steps to restore her yard. She will never get back that beautiful tree. And he will not be able to come into her yard again.
I got mad that in cases of abuse, where a man can wreak havoc on a woman emotionally, physically, financially, and mentally, he will only rarely willingly admit he has participated in relational destruction; most of the time he will point the finger back at her, and therefore, excuses himself from personal responsibility.

There is certainly a lot on my mind regarding this topic of abuse and abusers. I recommended "Why Does He Do That?"to a friend and she read it too. In the book, Bancroft mentions how when he wrote the book, he did a search and review of college courses and he could not find one course on abuse. Perhaps types of abusers and abuse dynamics are taught in other parts of college courses, or as part of training for therapists. Yet judging by how difficult it is to find therapists who understand the dynamics of emotional abuse and Cluster B personalities, I would say this isn't necessarily so. I've been blamed by a therapist for someone else's abusive behavior and learned a hard lesson that not all therapists can recognize emotional abuse and couples therapists have the capacity to do more harm than good.  Luckily, I was able to process this incident with higher-level clinicians who confirmed that the attitudes of that therapist were indeed victim blaming. In my local support group for women and men who  have endured severe emotional abuse, we speak of how difficult it is to find good therapists who can guide healing from the trauma of abuse. My friend was so impacted by this book she said every woman and man should read it, and I have to concur.

As I mentioned, my own daughters are in the dating world. One of my daughters is learning through experience how to recognize abuse. Her situation was not dangerous and she has set good boundaries for bad behavior and she will talk to me about it, openly. It is so important to listen to and validate the experiences of  our daughters, indeed, of all women.
I search my mind constantly for what to do about this problem in our culture. It seems so large and overwhelming. You know, abuse is at the root of so many troubles. So many. It isn't a case of someone doesn't like someone else. It is rarely that simple. It is that someone has deliberately harmed another. It is someone mindlessly living out the system of abuse they have been taught in their family, refusing to give up their cushy attitudes of entitlement that allow them to shirk interpersonal responsibility (and gaining supporters for their cause), or trying to lift themselves up through demeaning others. Or all of those. Either way, it is destructive.
I know for me, I have done my homework (extensively) and can name the abuse and types of abuse  that I'm dealing with. But not everyone has that context and I still encounter a lot of victim blaming and neutrality(which is another way of adopting the abuser's perspective; neutrality supports abuse). I also encounter, in much greater proportion, a lot of validation and support. I am sure some people have gotten tired of hearing about my situation, yet most have shown me the greatest love and grace. I hope to give back for what I've been given.
One day, I think we will look back on emotional and other forms of abuse and our cultural support of the entitled and see it all as barbaric.
I end with this quote from Gertrude Stein that I am currently loving and identify with:

It is funny that men who are supposed to be scientific cannot get themselves to realise the basic principle of physics, that action and reaction are equal and opposite, that when you persecute people you always rouse them to be strong and stronger.
Gertrude Stein

*When I refer to abuse, I am not just referring to battering. That is one type of abuse. Abuse can be emotional, financial, sexual, or physical in nature. Many women who have been physically and emotionally abused report that emotional abuse is so much more damaging because it is harder to pinpoint. 

For further reading: https://www.facebook.com/notes/becka-nan-amos/abuser-profiles-from-why-does-he-do-that-by-lundy-bancroft/480862655302912



Sunday, May 3, 2015

Camping

We've been camping every year for 6 years now.
Even when I was married, I camped solo with kids. Our first trip, we knew nothing, and in many ways, we still don't! But really, what is there to know? Bring extra blankets ALWAYS. There's always Miguel's pizza. Spend lots of time fire-gazing and hike when you feel like it. Explore a creek. That's about it.
When Davis was younger, we started out at a campground that became "our" campground because it had:
1. a creek
2. trails with caves
3. a bathroom with showers
4. close proximity to the skylift and Natural Bridge
Since then, we've branched out. With Davis being six now, we are setting our sights on doing some back-country camping. No fires allowed and my picky eaters will have to learn to love trail mix rather than our typical "glamping" breakfast of eggs and, this might sound funny, but gluten-free waffles fried in butter. All of this is made possible by our trusty iron skillet.
Other things we are looking to do is some bouldering. Since the Gorge really only has a couple of places to boulder, we are going to have to slowly dive into top-rope climbing. I think it can happen!
This past weekend, other than a Derby party, we chose to forego Derby events and get out of town. We found a new favorite campground which was perfect except for the noise of traffic (how does one get so far away they can't SEE a road but it is so loud it interrupts sleep? And who are all these people traveling the backroads of Kentucky at 1 am?)
Here are some random pictures of our camping trips over the years. Mostly they are Cumberland Falls and various places at the Red River Gorge. I want to say in praise of camping, being in nature like that truly heals your soul. It is a church out there, just waiting for you to be humbled in the best, most beautiful way.  (my favorite picture is the one of Davis looking over my shoulder. He is so darned cute!)


















Friday, April 10, 2015

Knit a Tree House


Knit a tree house? Why not?
Materials: rope from Lowe's (not thick or slick). I used four 100-foot packages.
Two branches that are 5-6' apart
broom or piece of bamboo, or two if you prefer to use a broom to do the knitting
people and children

Start with the rope:


 To start, you will need loops on your first branch. I "cast on" using the backwards loops method. First, I tied the end around the branch, loosely, and made several knots to secure this loop to the branch. Casting on is basically wrapping the cord around the tree once, then bringing the cord back through the loop you just made.

Keep doing that until you have as many stitches as you like. We had 17 stitches.

Casting on completed!

To start knitting, make a loop, then pull it through the first loop on the branch. Put this loop on your left arm. 

Continue to make loops, taking the cord from the roll, and putting them on your left arm.


Here you see the "live" stitches on the left arm of my daughter.
To change colors, simply tie on. I leave a long tail and tie several knots in place for extra security. I'm sure you could fuse the cord together with a woodburner but we were too far from the house.






 Once you have all the stitches on your left arm, then you use your right arm to loop the cord through and turn and go the other way. We divided stitches between my daughter and me and our neighbor and used all six arms to knit. Soon, they tired of this and so I was able to put them on my arm then transfer the stitches to a broom to finish solo. Last summer, I did this in my camp and assigned each person a stitch. This was great teamwork and cooperative play, for we all had to snuggle in very close, wait our turn, laugh and giggle, and help each other keep track of the loop. I hope to chronicle a treehouse knitting like that soon. It really is great fun.
After awhile, it was long enough! I then climbed the tree, too the end and tied cord through the loops on the broom, 4-5 at a time, to secure the end to the next branch. It wasn't rocket science, just tying it on tight enough and repeating it enough to be secure. 
And now time to use the treehouse!

 Davis tried not to smile and insisted on not smiling.


 But he sure did spend a lot of happy time in his new treehouse!
The treehouse is a place my kids go to often when they want to be alone, and also when they want to be social and climb a tree. We have now attached a zipline to the tree, so the idea is that they can climb into the treehouse then jump on to the 100' zipline. I just need to get the zipline tightened and we are good to go! And that is another blog post for certain.