The Power of Word…

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It is not often during a session anymore that I am moved to tears, but today was different. I have a client who I feel so honored to work with because she is so entirely invested in her therapy as well as her own growth. During our first session she told me for her to continue to work with me she had to know that I was on her side. I thought this was such a strange question at first, but then realized that anyone in therapy should feel there therapist is on their side; someone they feel they can rely upon.

Today, my client told me a story which she stated she believed she would take to her grave and not tell another person. When she was in the second grade, my client was found by a teacher to have a learning disability. She was given assignments to take home and complete with her mother. She and her mother did work on the assignments, but her mother became frustrated at her own lack of reading skills as well as her inability to teach her that she stopped the assignments. When asked the next day by the teacher if she had completed the assignments, my client was honest with her and told her that her she had not completed the assignments. The teacher called the mother to inquire and the mother told the teacher the assignments had been completed. The teacher then asked my client, at the time a second grader, why she had lied. It was at this point that she learned a very valuable lesson. She learned how to cheat and lie. A very valuable commodity which she learned to continue all through her high school years. My client informed me that she never learned to read and that she cheated all through high school, graduated with honors with a 3.6 grade point average. Amazing! When she enrolled in college, she decided she would only get a degree if she completed it herself, because she wanted to own it, which she did, although she learned in her first class how difficult this might be.

After her first class, she forced herself to the bookstore and looked around for several hours, deciding that she was going to find a book and read it cover to cover. She picked Jodi Picoult’s “My Sister’s Keeper”, and states that to this day it is one of her favorite books. She read that book cover by cover, pronouncing every word, some even out loud. She wrote down words she didn’t understand and looked them up. And she learned to read. While she was telling me this story, I had the image of Miss Celie from “A Color Purple”, being taught how to read by her sister. (Incidentally, this was the next movie assigned to my client to watch!) And guess what her question was before divulging this secret. “If I tell you, promise me you will not alter any of the reading assignments you give me.” You see, I give most of my clients reading lists to continue therapy outside of the office. Last week she was assigned “She’s Come Undone” by Wally Lamb, and was powerfully moved by parts of the book. She was so afraid I would not allow her to keep up with the assignments because I would feel sorry for her or feel she couldn’t complete the assignments. Well…I gave her two new books to read this week.

But what moved me to tears, besides the fact a second grader should EVER be questioned for lying about learning, nonetheless anything else and the impact it would have on her later, was that I had so early been given the chance to read and to learn. She had been cheated out of 20 years of growth, knowledge, education and adventure…all because two adults were unwilling to help her or believe her because of their own inadequacies.

I don’t claim to know everyone’s story, or to understand it even, but realizing we live in a country where we are allowed and almost forced, some would say, to read, is a great thing. The power of word is profound. It is everywhere, from stop signs, to menus, to books, to wedding vows, to blogs…

I have a new appreciation for reading today. And I feel honored to have had a mother that took me to the library and load up on books, even though she knew I wouldn’t read them all. It’s the “Go Dog Go” and the “Little Bear” that makes up much of my childhood. I remember Mrs. Hopp reading us books while it snowed outside when I was in 4th grade. I remember seeing “A Christmas Carol” after having read the story and seeing the characters come to life on stage. If you don’t know exactly the power you hold, rent “Born Yesterday” or “Cry Freedom”…or for that matter, “The Diary of Anne Frank”…

Sometimes, we need a little reminder about the small things that make us happy. I love to read, and I was reminded about that today.

Which is why she now gets to make a list of 100 things that make her happy! We all need reminded…because we’re on borrowed time as it is!

Following Rules…Rule #1…Give it your all!

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So, without sounding arrogant, I would like to explain how therapy works. At least in my office. At least…if you want results and you want to be successful. You come in, we talk, you listen, you follow the rules, life changes for the better. It’s that simple. I don’t care what people say, it is really that simple.

I’ve written about resistant clients and how they are difficult to work with in therapy. Why would anyone want to work with resistant clients. I explain it to my clients like this. Pick a sport; ok, you say tennis. You want nothing more than to be a great tennis player. You go out, you get this awesome coach. Everyday, he takes time developing conditioning exercises and lobs balls at you, but you just stand there. You’re only going to get out of it what you put into it. But imagine if you push as hard as you can. What if you had a coach that constantly yelled at you; “Are you giving it all you got?” That’s what most of us need to be successful. I’m only here today because I was blessed to have such therapists, teachers, mentors and coaches. I also ask my clients, regarding sports, if they learned more by playing someone easier than them or tougher than them. They all say it is more challenging to play someone tougher and it makes them a stronger athlete. The same is true of therapy.

I’ve been blessed to be able to see clients from every background and for all different kinds of reasons. To me, it is a challenge and enriches my soul to have a client trust me with helping them, much like it must feel to a coach of a professional athlete. I have recently begun working with a new client who struggles with several issues, but most importantly, his difficulty socializing in large groups. I had made several suggestions to him; all of which he had followed and jokingly, suggested that he should go out that weekend. He laughed and we agreed that his walking around certain social streets might be enough for now. And then Saturday night…I ran into him while I was out with friends. At first I was so surprised I couldn’t believe it. I think he thought it was awkward for me, which it wasn’t, but in reality, all I could think as I walked away was, damn…he’s making huge progress. I was so proud of him. It was awesome to be able to witness the smile on his face and be part of that smile. And if he can do that, he can do so much more. He’ll probably regret making so much progress because I believe in maxing out my athletes!

But he is the one that will ultimately benefit because it is his growth, not mine, although I learn and grow from each of my clients as well. Because he took my advice and suggestions sincerely, realizing I want nothing more than the best for him, to be as successful as possible, he himself will achieve his dreams. And that is such a cool thing!

Recently, I’ve been reading “Force of Nature” by Laird Hamilton; a professional surfer. The book discusses encompassing body, mind and soul to help achieve greater well being. Although this book is much about fitness, I love it because this guy is truly living his dream, in sport, career and family. He realizes we are on borrowed time. He has now surfed some of the toughest waves and is currently swimming The English Channel and setting further lofty goals for himself. He constantly pushes himself and believes in questioning; “Are you giving it your all.” It’s as simple as following that one rule. Give it your all! For yourself; because you care enough about yourself. Honestly, as a therapist, it’s easy for me to sit in a session with someone who talks the whole time about past issues unresolved or doesn’t do assignments or challenge themselves. I’m going to sit there nonetheless, but typically, I don’t work with those clients very long. I like to be successful too…and that does not help me achieve my goals.

Recently, I wrote a blog post, eliciting anyone that had a dream they wanted to accomplish or complete. I stated that I could help that person achieve their dream in one year. It didn’t matter that they lived close to me; we could work together via phone, email, etc. I also stated that compensation was something we could work on together and that it wasn’t my main goal in helping this one person achieve their dream. What exactly was their dream worth? I stated that I would read the dreams that people submitted and the best one would be who I would work with individually. Honestly, I thought I would get a lot of submissions, thinking most readers would think, “what do I have to lose”. Guess how many I received? Zero. Not one reader felt their dream was important enough to have fulfilled.

For years I’ve had people become frustrated that they are not getting better or they don’t see the point in therapy. Something’s missing they say. Yep, you’re not following the rules. Pick an athlete…any athlete that is amazing and see how hard they push themselves to be the best. Aren’t you at least worth that mentally. I know I am. And most of us don’t have much time to figure that out…some dreams take some time to achieve…and we’re on borrowed time as it is…

Social Security and Duraflame Logs…

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For the last year, every day that I walk in and out of my garage, I pass this Duraflame log that belonged to my mother. The hilarious part is that this log is probably 15 years old and rotting to the core, sawdust dancing around the base of the steps leading to my house. Over the years, my Mom was known to start many fires in her fireplace with Duraflame logs, but this log is different. It’s special. It had an entirely different purpose. This log sat housed in the trunk of my mom’s car for the past 15 years until I sold the car for a dollar to my cousin’s son.

You might ask why this log was in the trunk. Well, it wasn’t alone, that was for sure. There were also several flashlights, wood for a fire, cans of soup and vegetables, several blankets, a shovel and snow boots dating back to at least 1972; the year I was born. When I asked my mom through the years why she kept all this crap in her car she’d reply, as if I was a complete imbecile, “uh, in case my car breaks down and I’m forced to sleep outside all night or several days.”

My mother never drove more than five to ten miles max; all within the city limits of Indianapolis.

After her death, I found note upon note about her upcoming 65th birthday along with applications for Medicare and Social Security. The reality is, that day just never came. I also found notes about what to do if the furnace dies or if the basement floods again, which I actually think it’s been doing for several weeks. Notes about where to find her will, although I couldn’t find it. Notes about the title to the house, the car, whatever she could write a note about she did. I’m reminded now about a time when she had my ex fix her stereo, and by fix I mean how to play the record player versus the radio. As he began to explain the two different buttons that one would push for these options, she ran into the room and came back with paper and pen. “Let me take notes so I know how to do it when I’m alone.”

Every last one of those notes has gone into the trash. She lived her life in fear of what could or would happen without enjoying today and all of the wondrous things going on in our lives at this very moment. Like the light bulb that keeps flashing on and off in my kitchen, or the laundry that needs to be folded, or the movie I haven’t watched and is a month overdue to Blockbuster…Whatever; it just doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t. And I fall into this trap so easily, finding myself bogged down with Duraflame logs and snow boots of my own worries when in reality; I need to calm myself down and just enjoy life a little bit more. Don’t we all?

But, the Duraflame log still sits there rotting. Maybe as a reminder, or maybe I’m just too lazy. Yeah, that’s probably it. I’ll clean it up one of these days. Let me go write myself a note so I remember…Awwwww…who cares! We’re on borrowed time as it is, right?…

Moving Differently

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Everyday, I am surprised by the little mysteries that unveil themselves to me in the most unique forms possible. I would like to say that I embrace everything I write about here and that my life is enriched as a result, but the truth is, I myself struggle with following many of the suggestions. Today I received a call from the mother of a past patient of mine who passed away as a result of sudden sniffing death sydrome; or more commonly referred to as huffing. It was the 8th anniversary of his death and she was calling to see if I would be at my office to bring me cookies, part of their annual tribute to their son and his remembrance. Not only had I been present only moments after their son passed away, but I also was honored with being able to accompany them during many speaking engagements through the years to schools and conferences, both telling our differing stories and attempting to educate on the dangers of substance abuse and chemical dependency. At one point following their son’s death, I seriously questioned my effectiveness working with adolescent clients, or clients in general, and had stated this to these parents. I had thought long and hard about possibly leaving the field entirely and doing something else with my life. They were instrumental in supporting me emotionally, even during their own grief, and helping me to realize that even if I help one person during their journey, I’ve done some good.

During our conversation, we began talking about what I had been doing in the past year. I talked some about my business and the book I was writing. We talked about my relationship with Alex and my plans for the future. But eventually, our conversation centered around my mother’s death. I think I find comfort in talking to other people that have gone through similar situations, to help me understand my own grief, or to help me “move on”, as I mentioned to her. Silence filled the other end of the phone. “Oh no.” she said. “I don’t refer to it as moving on. I say moving differently. I don’t think you really ever move on.” And instantly I got it. I was moving differently, not moving on or away from the situation, attempting to forget it. And maybe that’s the problem with most people’s attempts at grief and grief counseling; we try to help people move on, not differently. And shouldn’t each person identify what that looks like for themselves?

I stayed in that thought much of the day, trying to verbalize to myself how I was moving differently. Trying to focus on how I wanted to live my life differently and attempt some recognition of meaning and purpose. And I think that’s why I live my life clean and sober today. For years, I found it fun and exciting to go out, drink until I couldn’t remember and pick up the pieces the next morning. I thought it was fun to act crazy and forgetful; no matter who I was hurting, whether it was myself or others. And I realized that this was what had happened to this family. I remembered right after their son died, in the emergency room, his mother looked at me and stated, “he died from chemical dependency. He just couldn’t stop.” So what does it take for most people to want to stop engaging in behaviors that are hurtful to themselves or others, even if they don’t see it that way.

I come from a long line of alcoholics, and I feel honored to say that I was able to enjoy my mother’s last years with her sober. She would have celebrated 13 years sober had she lived less than one more month. When asked why she chose to be sober, without any legal or financial debt due to her drinking, she stated, “I just don’t want to live out my years having my special moments and fun dictated by a bottle.” I remember when I got sober I told people that I didn’t plan to sit in meetings or counseling for the rest of my life, that I wanted to do something with my sober life and make something of myself. While my recovery is still vitally important to me, I have built a strong foundation for my life and accomplished things that weren’t possible had I continued to drink. I think I just realized that partying, drinking, was a road block standing in my way. On some level, I believed that I had to be intoxicated to have a great time. A true misconception as I continue to have a great time and I don’t drink.

When I got sober, I was told that I shouldn’t associate with people who drink, and for anyone new to recovery, I firmly believe in this. At that time, my mother was one of those people. I called her immediately being released from treatment and told her I couldn’t see her if she continued to drink. “Surely you can’t mean that.” she laughed on the other end. “My drinking doesn’t bother you, does it?” The reality was, her drinking had bothered me for years, but I had been too afraid to say anything out of fear that she would continue to drink making me realize to her, the drinking was more important than me. “Yes Mom, your drinking is a problem for me. If you continue to drink, I won’t be able to continue to be around you.” Most of my closest friends do not know this, but for six months, I didn’t see my Mom. She continued to drink, and I realized that her drinking was more important than me. I would love to say that she got sober because of me, but she got sober because my uncle had a heart attack and she realized her days were numbered and she didn’t want to continue to live in a state of functional alcoholism; being able to drink without adverse consequences.

Today, I find myself around people that drink, and it doesn’t bother me. Not really. Well, sometimes, but I think mostly because they don’t understand what I’ve lived through or what boundaries and limits I’ve had to set for myself. It’s been a tough road. And honestly I wouldn’t have had the years with my Mom that I did if she would have continued to drink alcoholically. I would have eventually continued talking to her again, but the relationship wouldn’t have been the same, and many of the fights and arguments we so often had, would be related to her drinking. So I’m thankful for that miracle.

And yet today, I was blessed with even more miracles. Because I was contacted by no less than five of my past adolescent clients; all doing extremely well. One of my past female clients is getting married this summer, and I was invited. Imagine that. Honestly, I didn’t think she would make it this far and probably many people in her life didn’t think so either. And I’m so proud of her for all she’s accomplished and who she is today. And the others that call and check in. Because then I realize, maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to keep doing what I was doing. Maybe I did snag a few with my fishing line and pull them back into the ocean of dreams just a little bit.

And I realize how blessed I am. For the years I had with my Mom that I wouldn’t have had. For the few moments I had today visiting a friend’s new apartment. For the awesome coffee I got at Starbucks. For the weather and the great book I’m reading. But mostly, for Alex. He helps me to move differently. To move smoothly. He challenges me and helps me to make my road tough, therefore I continue to learn about myself. He also helps me to realize that I’m not perfect; and neither is he. And we have a long way to go, but we’ve come so far already. And isn’t that what relationships are all about? All of these people, clients no less, that came in my life today; taught me that there are still miracles out there. And so does Alex. He helps me to smile and laugh, you know. That’s a valuable commodity in this world. Not one to take lightly. I’m hoping one of these days I learn how to shut my mouth a little bit more and stop all of the serious talks. He might listen more if I do. It’s important to realize there are teachers all around us; it is important to listen closely as the lessons do not come out bold but in the subtle details. Wax on, wax off. We’re together for a reason I believe. Look around you. Do you see your teachers?

And so, as hard as it is to give up things from my past, I think today I’ve shed a little bit of what was holding me down. Become a little less like Marley’s ghost; throwing away chains so to speak, and began moving differently. Smoother. Hopefully. Because I don’t have all day. We’re on borrowed time as it is…

Always Taking Clients…

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I received an e-mail today from someone inquiring whether or not I was continuing to take new clients. And the answer is ABSOLUTELY! I hope through this blog I haven’t given the impression that I am no longer practicing because my practice is up and thriving; but like I have said before, my approach is different and unique. I also think that it is vital that each client feel comfortable with the therapist they are working with and that they constantly feel that they are growing, much like a personal trainer. It is my job to challenge and help you grow, and hopefully together we will form a strong bond.

Please contact me through e-mail or by phone if you have any questions or inquiries about my practice. It is truly what I am passionate about and as long as I have free-time, I always have time for a new client!
(317)796-3101
ppa72@aol.com

Suicide Birds and Seahorses…7/28/08

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Hmmmm…where should I start? I guess at the beginning. I’m not even sure I understand the purpose of this, but I know eventually it will find me. Let’s start, Halloween 2007. Unsatisfied, unfulfilled with my life, I sat on the porch in the Smokey Mountains at 2:30 a.m. with a friend, discussing that I was turning 40 in a few years, and that I didn’t feel that I knew what I was supposed to be doing, or better yet, wasn’t doing what I felt I should be doing anymore, but I didn’t even know what that was I guess. My friend, a very wise, yet unfulfilled 59 year old, sat back, stared right into my eyes and said, “Don’t wait until you’re 59 and your husband sits on the couch watching CNN news all day.” It was the scene in ‘Thelma and Louise when Thelma can no longer go back; those words released me. And I could not go back. Within the next few months, I left a seven year relationship, which at times, I am unsure was the correct decision, left a job I had been with for almost 13 years and began writing a book. And then not one book, but two and now three. Oh, and did I mention I’m a recovering alcoholic and addict, and as such I cannot limit myself to any one thing. And then my mother became extremely ill and was in the hospital until May 14th, when she passed away. And driving away from the hospital that night, Bob Dylan singing “Shelter from the Storm” from the speakers of my car, a bird swooped down and dove directly in front of my car. A suicide bird, I thought. But why would they take such a risk? For the excitement? For the test? For the chance maybe they would make it to the other side, and maybe they wouldn’t? Could these small creatures really be that wise? Sage Swallows? And maybe, we were all suicide birds, putting ourselves in risky situations or taking chances, to feel, for one small moment, that we were truly alive. And that’s how it began for me, through all this crap that has happened, although I know it served a purpose, I’ve begun my own nosedive in front of cars on the interstate late at night. It started with living one year dedicated to living freely, taking chances, going places I wanted to go and not being afraid to meet new people. But now I think maybe this is the way it’s supposed to be for me. Maybe I’m not supposed to sit like a bird on a wire, waiting to fly south for the winter. Maybe I’m’ supposed to fly south now. Or tomorrow. Or maybe never. But nothing makes sense and everything makes sense; all at once. Suddenly. And I don’t question anymore. Or at least I try not to. Haha…I’m not that arrogant. And one thing I know is that the magic still exists in me. And that is part of my journey, to forever stay four, wading through the creek behind our house, watching the sunlight hit the moss on the rocks, or seven, my mom allowing me to check out twenty books at the library, or nine, and still now, way down beneath the turquoise waters of St. Barts or off the coast of Tulum, live seahorses who sport bright, red top hats and sing Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon.” At least…at least I hope they do.

Reading back on this entry makes me realize how much I’ve allowed myself to fall back into caring again what people think and that I’ve allowed myself to live under constraint again. Alex teaches me daily to live full and follow through with your dreams…a teacher…ahhh yes, he is indeed! And so I guess I need to remember where I came from and once again, chase after seahorses, because…we’re on borrowed time as it is…

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Looking back over old journals or diaries is a bit like looking at old photographs or scrapbooks. It’s not really reality; just a glimpse of what it was like putting our own perspective and memories into the pictures as well. Tonight, I re-read all of my old entries from my old blog…”Suicide Birds and Seahorses.” Actually, not to sound arrogant, they were really good. So good in fact that I’ve decided to put them on here, one a day, to remind myself where I came from and how I see things differently now.

It was strange looking back at these entries, which ended almost to the day of my first date with Alex. I’m wondering now if meeting him completed some phase of my life that I was passing through at that time. I definitely saw life differently back then; almost a year ago. I read him one of the entries tonight, “Johnny”, which tells the story of the death of a goldfish my ex-boyfriend had bought me. Halfway through reading it, I began crying. When I was done, Alex asked, “what about reading that makes you cry?” And I wasn’t even entirely sure. “I really got it back then.” I said, but I’m not sure that’s really true. He kissed my forehead and went to bed. I was outside, walking the dog, watching the sky fill up with storms, and I realized I had been living in some kind of haze a year ago. And although that’s not bad, it’s definitely no way to live. But I do miss parts of my past and so I think maybe I can bring some of those things into my now and continue them in the future. Because many of my entries are about my ex-boyfriend, Shawn. And although I remember how great many of the times we had were, I also seem to “romance the past” somewhat and forget about the many times that were not so good. And how much I love Alex and how much he has changed my life. And as he’s sleeping upstairs, or at least attempting to fall asleep, I feel pretty damn lucky. He said he’s excited about sleeping in the thunderstorm. “Good sleeping weather.” I think he said, but I probably got that wrong. And that was exactly what I was thinking…good sleeping weather.

And last week, he left something on the bed that I found when I came home. It wasn’t Johnny. But it was close. And he gets me. Probably more than most. And although he thinks I’m crazy, he’s probably pretty lucky too.

So I’ll continue to coast and enjoy the ride, because…we’re on borrowed time as it is…

Turning walls into roads…

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Recently, I’ve been allowed the opportunity to try so many new things and meet so many new people that I’ve realized I’ve missed out on this most of my life. I don’t know that I would necessarily term myself a recluse, but I would definitely describe myself as careful. Through the years, I’ve had so many people gossip about me or say things that are rather hurtful that I’ve learned to become somewhat guarded, placing one stone upon another until there has grown a wall between myself and the outside world. Until now. Everything in life is perspective.

Walls not only keep people from hurting you, but they keep you from meeting other people and possibly experiencing their intellect, humor, love and perspective. Yesterday, someone asked me how I had learned to deal with gossip or hurtful statements and I referenced the poet Maya Angelou, who stated that when people talk about you, you aren’t in that. Just because they talk about you doesn’t mean it has anything to do with you. It speaks more of who they are then who you are. She also said to be careful because people will tell you who they really are, so trust what they tell you. And some people won’t come right out and attack you, but take bits of you, little by little. A part of your nose, a slice of your ear, until you’ve been destroyed and didn’t even realize it happened. Therefore, you can’t give negativity power; you must only live your life, enjoy, and remember the things that are really important. The small things. Standing in the sunshine with people you really care about, smiling…

So at this point, I’ve learned to change my perspective on that wall. I’ve turned it sideways and realized that it’s not really a wall at all, but rather a road leading me to some destination way in my future, meeting colorful characters along the way, enjoying truck stops, rest areas and vistas that will enrich my life. How funny things become when you realize how something you’ve seen for so long, can actually be seen another. And because I’m attempting to change this attitude, it doesn’t change overnight, I’ve been allowed to meet new people, experience new things and open myself up to new emotions and feelings.

Because after all, those are the things will remember in the end. I was just sitting outside in front of my condo, thinking that it looked like it might rain tonight. And I remembered my mom standing in the rain, dancing, singing some Bob Dylan song, spinning, spinning, spinning. Completely unguarded, which wasn’t really how she lived. And that is what I remembered. And that’s how it should be. So I think it’s time for me to lay down a few more stones on that road and begin walking…because we’re on borrowed time as it is…