When You Have No Control of Your Life, You Can Always Take Choice and Decide Your Reactions

I was talking to a dietician the other day about my eating habits.  The conversation then touched on my pregnancies.  When I was pregnant I always lost a lot of weight in the beginning and delivered at my pre-pregnancy weight, or just above it.  Pregnancy is a time when I eat healthy foods because not doing so means puke would be an improvement.  Then we talked about the pregnancies themselves.  People ask how many kids I have and I have 3, but I’ve give birth to seven.  The first three, mine, were easy enough.  My firstborn was early and underweight and had a hard time regulating his blood sugars.  The other two were easy and even boring.  The two after mine were surrogate boys born in 2008 and 2010.  Other than trying to go into labor a little early and needing bed rest, they were slightly more difficult because they gave me back labor.  The last one was a surrogate pregnancy with twin girls.  It was rough.  I was hospitalized at 25 weeks and spent a week in the Trendelenburg position – upside down at a 45 degree angle to try to keep them in.  They were born at 29 weeks by c-section.  I told her about pulmonary embolisms in 2014 and the gallbladder removal I just had and how the pain meds sucked, so I stopped taking them less than a week out of surgery (because I can’t handle feeling high). Through this I was smiling and happy and she was floored and encouraged by my outlook.

I didn’t realise I had an outlook.  I had life happen.  We all do.

There has been both good and bad in my life.  I can acknowledge both, but they do not make me who I am any more than I would allow them to. I am not what has happened to my body.  I can’t control that for the most part.  I am who I choose to be in spite of what comes my way. You don’t wear your strength, you embody it.

Control of self:

I’m sure I’ve shared the poop analogy before but I can’t remember everything I write, so I won’t expect you to.  I heard from an amazing teacher, Jorge in a leadership training  I LOVED in the summer of last year:

When you have raging diarrhea, you can’t control it.  You hope you can make it to the bathroom on time, but accidents happen.  You’ve seen poopy painting artistry in unkempt public restrooms.  We all have. And when you’re constipated, you can sit and try, but you can’t make it happen until your body is ready.  In this way, you can’t even control the shit in your body.  You can’t control shit in life.

Another example:

When you binge drink, you intentionally drink alcohol.  At a certain point your body takes your choice away and you black out or vomit.  You can’t even control your own inebriation if your body thinks you want it dead.  It will fight your silly dehydrated brain and you can’t control what it does.

Control of others:

When I was younger, (like most women) I had this idea that I could make a man change behaviors for me.  If he was a smoker, I could make him stop.  If he was stinky, I could affect his hygiene.  If he was grouchy I could make him be patient.  I only learned how not to trigger rage, or how to coax it out if I was in that mood.  I couldn’t control it.

I’ve learned that the only one that can make a person change is the person that chooses to make a change in their life. I can’t make a person gain or lose weight.  I tried with my family.  I can’t force feed a person, or withhold something, or make them exercise.  I don’t have that kind of power over anyone but myself.

You can exert control over your kids, parents do it all the time. Unless they internalise your ideals, there will be a backlash lived out in every unsupervised opportunity.  Their behaviors will say what your control won’t allow them to.  The first time a parent learns this lesson is during potty training. If poop is all they can control, they’ll make the most of that. When my sons started spending most of their waking hours at school, I knew policing their words would only incite rebellion and cursing for the sake of taboo as opposed to creatively expressing how they feel. It took a while to learn to cooperate with the teachers that are co-parenting and influencing my kids.  Teachers teach what the school board tells them to, but they nurture social skills and empathy.  They guide our children in ways parents can’t, but at the end of the day, our kids take what they are given and make a choice.

Control of our reactions:

We can control our reactions to what life gives us.

Being a victim to someone else’s greed or violence doesn’t mean you have to live there.  You are not what someone else wants you to be unless you choose to be that person.   You can control what you do with the life you are given and how you react and respond to what is given to you.

Yesterday I was attacked by text.  It still happens.  Kid2 threw me under the bus for a wardrobe choice he made. I could have attacked back.  I started to. I chose to end the conversation with “Have a nice day,” when it stopped being about the kids we share and other parts of my life that are my choices.  I reminded myself that my son lied because he knows I have thicker skin than he does, and I can take more than he can.  I tell them this.  I simply put my phone on “do not disturb” and continued finessing my way through creating pivot tables.

This week Kid3 asked to get his ear pierced.  I could have done it.  I knew his Dad would have been angry and I told him we’d have to ask.  Of course his Dad said no.  This same man freaked out over toddler boys playing in mom’s nail polish and heels and currently has a problem with our boys wanting their long hair (it’s great hair). Kid3 begged me to do it anyway and I reminded him that I could take his Dad’s yelling but he shouldn’t have to. Past situations have thickened my skin and made me the badass powerhouse I am, but that’s because of the lesson I chose to walk away with, and not the victimhood I once felt forced into.

It’s not what we are given, but how we choose to react to it.

I have burned myself with countless curling irons that I still can’t figure out how to use properly.  I’ve stopped trying, but I don’t whine and lament my burned forehead every time I look at someone’s curls or the curling iron I still haven’t parted with.  This isn’t the same as true trauma and posttraumatic stress, but living with it instead of seeking help to get through it are choices we make.  These are choices in your own hands that we are often so eager to surrender to others who won’t always have our best interests in mind.

Perspective shifting:

When you wake up in the morning, intentionally or not, you are in control of the kind of day you will have. If you wake up in a foul mood, every horrible thing that happens will be sought after and amplified by your perspective.  If you wake up in a great mood, all things that happen will have meaning and you’ll seek out serendipity.  Choose the perspective you want, and you’ll see things fall into place in the ways you anticipate, good or bad.  And always remember you made that choice.

How will you react to the next big wave that life tries to drown you with?



Entering the Pro Choice or Pro Life Debate

I’m pro choice.  I always have been.  I have had one of those in the trenches motherhoods that taught me not everyone is cut out to be a parent and it’s not a decision that should ever be forced on anyone.

When I was a teenager, my mom gave me a book on Christian abstinence, but also made sure I got birth control if I needed it at the doctor.  I had boyfriends, and I didn’t always practice abstinence.  I had tried every temporary form of birth control available before I finished high school. With the amount of time I spent peeing on a stick, it’s miraculous that none of those tests were positive until Kid1, 8 years after losing my virginity and after getting married.

I think back to the possible fathers in my expression of experimental irresponsibility and I’m grateful that I never had to face a pregnancy with the boys that were all ephemeral ideals of lust with hope for love. It was usually infatuation.  I liked the boys that liked me back, and it’s only in my late 30’s that I realize how much better it feels to be selective and picky.

When I imagine what life would have been as a teenaged mother . . . In a relationship that was built on teenage hormones . . . During a time when I was unable to take care of myself. . . A pregnancy created out of irresponsibility is what I escaped and  I’m so grateful I never had to choose when I was unable to make a decision from a place of empowerment. In my youth I was never put in a position to have to choose.  That only came once I was married.

I never had anyone force their decision for my fertility on me. The parts considered private have always been under my control. I couldn’t imagine the way I would feel about a pregnancy resulting from incest or rape.  Still, we have politicians trying to use “Beauty from Ashes” as a natural consequence disguised as a euphemism to help stomach the idea of being brutalized and further victimized by legislation enforced by men who will never experience the consequences of their control. Thank you George Faught.

It’s not just a financial decision.  It’s emotional.  It’s religious and ethical.  It becomes physical and affects families.  No one person’s ideals should force itself on people they will never meet.

I would want the women I love to be able to choose when or how she has a child.  I would want her to feel safe and protected in making choices for her body.  I say this but as for me and my body, I’m pro life.

When I was pregnant with Kid3, I felt extremely lonely.  My poor OB doctor stood uncomfortably as I sobbed and contemplated a late term abortion over several appointments.  Late at night I would sit on the floor next to my sleeping husband and cry.  My son would kick and remind me of how much he wanted to live, and so he did.  My reward has been his light and love and hope.  He has inspired me and encouraged me with his sweet smile and the way his tiny arms would wrap around me for a hug, patting my shoulder with his tiny hand.  I made the decision then, that any child trying to fight for life within me, would have every opportunity I could offer.

The test of your belief is how firmly you stand on your word as difficulties and finances assert their authority over you. When you say you believe in life, do you put your money where your mouth is? Do you pass judgement from the high tower of the distance you keep from your own life? If you found a young mother in need, would you try to support her with a kind word, or anything she might need?

A pregnancy for me would involve daily injections of blood thinners and be high risk.  I know this. My last pregnancy delivered prematurely.  I’m 39 this year.  The risk of birth defects jumps with that 50% fertility drop once a woman hits 40.  My youngest is 10 and I have long gotten rid of all baby gear and maternity clothes.  I would need a bigger car for my minor children.  All of this said, my personal stance is pro life.  A child trying to stick to my womb deserves every chance I could offer it, but the point is, it’s a choice I would make, no matter the cost.

A woman should have the option to do as she chooses with her body.

Love and Money as Addictions

I had a conversation once where a man compared love and money as addictions.  He seemed to love and hate both and wanted to know my perspective.

I actually see this a lot when dating.  It’s when I really tease out what is important to a person.  Having gotten through not having anything when my husband abandoned me, I’ve learned to appreciate simple things like sunsets.  I’ve also learned to take care of my own material wants.  I treat myself very well. When dating, I can sense when a person’s self valuation only relies on material things.  This doesn’t usually lead to a second date.

I am more than what I possess and without owning who I am, I would own nothing.

Money can be an addiction.  He said this.  I can see it, but I have a hard time feeling it. I can always explore the concept though. My Target and Sears wardrobe sensibilities can use the stretch and imagine more, right? I love my Mom style even if my niece thinks I dress like an old woman.  (Yes, it’s okay to laugh with me.) It really is a stretch though.  My wedding, rings and honeymoon were all under $500 and I was happy with it.  I don’t buy designer clothes, but I love those days when my sisters clean out their closets.  I’m just not that person.  I love beach days and museum trips.  Dreaming big has always been a budget to hire someone else to clean up after my family and maybe weekend trips here and there.  Otherwise, I’m happy to find serenity in my surroundings and wonder in a sunset. I don’t see myself as materialistic.

If I were to give into my every whim, I’m sure Pandora would see me more often and I’ve have several charm bracelets and so would Victoria’s Secret.  Fresh flowers would probably be a weekly thing instead of moments when I walk past a bouquet that sings to me.

I imagined a life of immense wealth.  I imagined the responsibility to my family and extended family.  I saw questioning every relationship for the motives behind it.  I didn’t want that.  There’s a cost to that life and I’m not sure I would want that responsibility.

Even before I had to figure out survival and starting a career, I decided I didn’t want to live to make money.  I wanted my work to be something that flowed but never controlled my choices.  But I get it.

There are more things to do and experience and it often requires cash.  It can mean status and opportunity.  No matter how hard you work or how carefully you save, you can always be content in having more.  Okay.  I lied.  I can’t imagine being that person that works hard all day every day without the space to enjoy a bit of respite in the warmth of the fading sun on bare skin.

Love is an intense emotion.  I’m a firm believer that we make a choice to love or not love, and the feelings follow.  We make a choice to let someone in and to find the ways we are similar and how we can relate to them.  We look at who they are and how their paths fit with the ones we’ve walked in life.

There’s a free fall.  There’s a moment when the emotion is too strong to fight and we fall freely, hoping that there is someone rising to meet us.  We love the feeling and can’t get enough.  We want to be surrounded by love and covered in it’s warmth, seduced by it’s smell.

It’s an addiction.  He said it.  I agree.  We will do what it takes to have the love we need.  We sacrifice our time and dreams and alter our goals.  We give and shift what we don’t have to make it work.  We make love into our god and when this deity removes her favor, we are lost in the abyss of all we expected, showing us how far from the earth we’ve floated and the crash that is coming can be delayed but is inevitable.

Is it really an addiction, or is it just part of living and being human.  Human touch is necessary for survival.  Horrible science experiments have been done on infants regarding touch.  Money is needed to secure food and shelter.  Is it an addiction if it’s a basic need? Then again, maybe I’m spoiled to have lived and loved, and been provided for and sheltered in ways I didn’t expect.

Then again, what is an addiction but something we need so much that we would choose it over our wellbeing, survival and lesser relationships?  I’ve done silly things for love.  I can own up to being addicted to it, but in growth I’m learning that I am not deserving but worthy of love that is stronger than I am.  And I’m damn strong.

At the end of the day, are your things taking care of you, or are you working hard to have more things that dissatisfy you?

What Financial Abuse Looks Like

When I was married, financial control didn’t look like abuse.  It looked like fairness.  It was only fair that all the money went into a joint account.  It was fair that we went over the bills together, even if he made all the decisions and set all the budgets.

I had to discuss major purchases and it was only fair because he was the primary breadwinner.  The majority of our money came from his paycheck, not my financial aid and scholarships, surrogacies, or benefits our kids with autism were entitled to.  He was the head of the household, so he made the decisions.

Avid readers can tell by now that I’m a bit rebellious.  Secret checking accounts and student loans happened.  I was still mom, so much of that went to groceries because the budget he gave me, but never shopped for himself was hard to stick to. It resulted in arguments with my shoulders rounded and my gaze at my feet.  It was a time for me to resort to being a sulking teenager, not a wife or equal.

I applied for credit cards with terrible credit and no job and when I got them, he would help me max them out.  When the bill came, we could never afford to pay the bill I created.  Credit was a bad idea because you have to pay it back with interest.  (At the same time, my individually improved credit has opened a few doors for me, starting with my car.)

It didn’t look like abuse at the time.  It looked like equity based on his rubric.  It looked like power and our actions against each other became cyclical and damaging to us both.

Personally, I was frustrated.  I had a book addiction, and often bought Amazon gift cards for my habit while grocery shopping because hiding the purchase amongst groceries sometimes worked.  I hated feeling like I needed permission to spend my allowance.  I would scour clearance aisles and freak out about how to hide it later. I wasn’t big on purses, shoes, or jewelry.  I bought things for the house and worried nervously about the fight I would cause by the new dishes, or trash can I brought home.

As I found other ways to hide my acts of rebellion, he found ways to investigate my actions and uncover my lies.  There was no trust and it looked like a power struggle where dominance wore the farce of fairness.

In 2014 I had pulmonary embolisms.  At the time I had a car that was a danger on the roads.  I could only drive it in a lower gear, the brakes were faulty and the seat belt didn’t always work.  I would drive it half a mile to the train station, but take the train to work at my part time job, and walk.  I was newly discovering a gluten free diet and avoiding sugar because my doctor scared me with pre-diabetes.  Walking seemed healthy.  I walked 5 miles and that night woke up with leg cramps only to find out the next day that my birth control pills tried to kill me and walking so much didn’t help. The greater question that I didn’t dare ask at the time was, why couldn’t I drive the safer car to work? Where was the equity when I was taking the train late at night alone, worried about my safety the whole way?

Having that relationship end, different articles and stories found their way to me.  It was through friends and online.  The concerns my sisters voiced for years finally landed in ways that I couldn’t deny.  Mine isn’t even an extreme case.

Some people are battered in their relationships but the abuse is more than physical.  If there is physical violence, there was certainly verbal, emotional and financial abuse before during and most definitely after it. The most invisible form of abuse is financial.  It’s about an abuser having control over their victim.  In that way I suppose you could say my rebellion was abusing my ex and calling it control. Money is used to isolate and control victims.  A victim can’t always move out or leave if they don’t have the means to.  It’s about not being able to do anything because you completely depend on someone else.

I was allowed and even encouraged to work, but I found a balance in staying home for my kids, and going to school for myself.  He often told me what kind of work I should do as a suggestion, but it felt like control. It felt like I had his permission to be a teacher, even if I hated being in the classroom.  Even if I did work, I knew I wouldn’t have control of my paycheck.  Now I enjoy work.  I’m much better at making money than keeping a clean house. (I’m okay with this.  You should make peace with it too.)

In my last relationship, I had a hard time asking for his financial advice or support.  I didn’t want to give him control or cooperate with what he felt was best.  He didn’t want to blindly throw money my way to help out because he didn’t trust me, even if we were living together. We didn’t trust each other. Money and control became a problem and rather than do what he asked, I stood my ground.  Other relational situations shifted the balance in what made a relationship worthy of growth and our relationship didn’t continue. He was intelligent, with a background in finance, and an ability to get and keep my attention.  He was and is special.  At the same time, I couldn’t in any way relax into a situation where I couldn’t control my finances.  Strength or weakness, it’s who I have become.

I have a purple purse charm I have kept on each of my purses for almost two years now. Allstate has ways to support women that are financially abused. I didn’t buy it for them, although my purchase supports them. It has become a symbol of hope and strength for me. It has become a reminder that I don’t need permission to buy my kids clothes. I get to make choices and create the life I want to live. I’m not a tree with deep roots. I’m free. My tassel sways with the freedom I feel in every step I take. Even if I’m not financially stable as a funempolyed single mom, I am free.  And I am in a much better financial situation than I was under someone else’s financial control.

I am not affiliated with Allstate or the Purple Purse Charm and I have no monetary investment in this (or any of my posts to date), but if you would like to support their work, or at least learn more about financial abuse as domestic violence, please click here.

Can You Spot Domestic Abuse Early On?

The thing with standing in the empowerment of who you are is once you do it, you feel it when you aren’t anymore.  It would be awesome to be able to say that my break in writing was about profound revelations and delving deeper into who I want to be, but I spent the last couple of months trying to dig myself back into a life that doesn’t serve me.

I was in a relationship.  I was being a girlfriend and seeing where I needed to grow.  I enjoyed parts of being a couple.  I kept looking at the cost of the relationship, and feeling that the benefits outweighed any sacrifice.  I had a few moments of frustration that I wasn’t taking the time to watch the ocean, or go hiking, but I couldn’t blame him.  It was the layers of my history telling me that being in relationship means being in service.

I visited my Dad on Sunday.  Part of our conversation was about the God I was raised to love and serve, and he admonished me that I can’t say I love God if I don’t obey his laws.  (I broke a few major ones in this relationship.) I left saying I loved him, and he said love is obedience.  Just the day before I had seen my nieces.  I told them I knew my boyfriend wasn’t the one, but he was the one for now.  I knew it was about being in the moment, but I didn’t see when that moment ended, but they did.  As I was telling them I wanted them to be authentic . . . I wanted them to stand up to their parents and aunts . . . stand up to me because “no” is an answer and never needs an explanation . . .

I got a call from my sister the next day.  My nieces heard what I said, but I was showing up to them as a lonely and sad woman.  The woman my family had started to get to know was disappearing under the weight of my relationship.  I had grown into someone I was proud of, but I couldn’t see how love and service, and sacrifice meant that I was putting him before myself and taking leaps and bounds backwards.

It was a weekend where I got feedback from my loved ones that shook me.  I didn’t wake up and snap out of it until a conversation with him that showed me how different we really are.  It was a moment where I looked at the ways he wanted to control my finances and other ways I choose to live and it was a moment where I wanted to run.  Having been in the situation before, I was lost again.  Was I overreacting? Am I seeing things that aren’t there? It was both familiar and terrifying.  And it was time to walk away, but I wasn’t sure.  The next day we argued by text and rather than tell me how he felt, he started putting me down.

I watched a video on Facebook today and as it got closer to the end, I started sobbing.  I may just be hormonal, but it resonated profoundly:

Once I ended the relationship, he begged me to take him back and as the second day wore on, he started a text stream of insults against me and my family, making threats and accusations. But I’ve been here before. It only took a moment to gaze in the mirror and remind myself of who I am. It only made me feel better about my decision to end things, no matter what my future without him looks like.

We were together about two and a half months, and I’m still trying to figure out how I missed the signs of abuse that are so clear today. He wanted to help around the house and made changes as improvements. He enrolled me in what he thought was best for my family. He wanted to lead my household but I couldn’t give up complete control and he made that feel like a failure on my part. He made me feel like I was wrong to not relinquish the power I had over my home, even though I knew how ridiculous his request was to me, my children, my family and anyone else that knows me.

I wanted company when I started online dating. I found it. I was convinced that it was okay to spend time with “Mr. Right Now,” but I know it’s better to be alone than in a relationship that doesn’t serve me and make me grow. I’m alone again and being single feels like freedom again.

What It Means to Make Space for Someone or Something In Your Life

When my ex first left, there was space. I had room in the closet and where furniture left bare walls. There was space in my bed and I always filled it with books or kids when they were with me. I had to adjust my cooking so I didn’t always have way too much food.

The new man in my life has been around a few months and the spaces I try to make feel tight. It’s like a stretched rubberband. There are times that I see a shadow or hint of my past in our future and I stand back and snap in anger and he makes space for me, responding quietly and patiently. He might respond to a comment the way my ex did. He might blow off a concern the way my Dad does. He gets the full weight of what it feels like to know I am not afraid to be alone from the ways I keep trying to push him away and reject him.

And yet, the first time he took out the trash or helped with laundry before I asked, I started sobbing because I’m not used to that kind of help.

I’m fully aware I’m holding him responsible for a past he had no part in and I’m trying not to. He’s listening. He’s shifting from his own comfort as a bachelor and we’re both figuring out how we fit.

At one point we discussed making space and I emptied a dresser drawer for him. There was excitement. There was fear. There was a stretch and space was made. It was a moment to celebrate in our relationship but for my eldest it was a space made that he didn’t have room for. It didn’t affect his things or his personal space other than being in the same common areas but it bothered him. He didn’t make space.

I’m between jobs right now and the timing was perfect for my gallbladder to announce its existence. I just had it removed. Moving slowly, resting fully and asking for help (and being receptive of it) is a way my situation made space for the needs of my body without pressure of work responsibilities.

In October of 2014 I had pulmonary embolisms. There were several blood clots hanging out in my lungs. They could have easily taken a ride in my blood stream and ended up in my heart or brain with fatal results. My birth control pills tried to kill me and I take medicinal side effects seriously. I was told any pregnancy after that would require a shot of blood thinners daily until birth and then it would have to be quickly reversed.

My youngest was 8. I felt it was time for permanent birth control for my irregular cycles. My kids still wanted a sibling but they were open to adoption. My ex wanted more kids. My tubal ligation was scheduled. Just before I was ready for it, my ex told me he was leaving me.

Suddenly I didn’t need birth control. It didn’t make sense to have surgery and no one to help with the difficulties of post op. I was ready to make sure there was no space for more kids but it really didn’t matter.

In the following 2 years I would lose about 40 pounds and my monthly cycle became regular for the first time in my adult life. I would become more patient with my kids and so much anxiety would melt in the shadowed beauty of a sunset.

I went from not wanting more kids to actively creating space for life.

We do this in every area of our lives. We allow things to happen or we do all we can to prevent it. We make time to exercise or we refuse to get out of bed. We make time for friends and loved ones or we find ways to be too busy for them.

Can you see the ways you make space and why some of the promises you keep making end up being consistently empty?