still fighting

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And the saga continues with attempting to set up Alfonse with decent services.   The bizarre nature of how hard it is for a mentally ill person to actually receive the most basic of services to help them, although on the surface they appear available, keeps getting stranger.

Just doing a quick recap here to continue to document this maze of the mental health system in AZ which, in my opinion, is designed to disallow mentally ill people from actually receiving services while taxpayer dollars go to the providers and, in some cases, like a squeaky wheel situation such as myself, patients are punished for actually trying to reach out for adequate care.

So where we stand now.  The completely dysfunctional and broken ACT Team proves over a period of months that John is just not going to get about 90% of what was promised when he was transferred there.  And what he did receive was marginal and sporadic.  Let’s not forget, the only service they ever provided were unnecessary “med checks” which were unpredictable and boiled down to 5 min. home visits to watch him take his medication.  No assessment, no continuity or relationship building, just a pop in to watch him swallow his pills, on their timing while he sits around and waits, the signing of a paper then leaving.  That is the sum total of what he received.

On John’s transfer to the ACT Team, I was with him, and we discussed how John is totally med compliant, how the last thing I worry about with him is taking his meds and needing to be observed, but how he needs socialization, meaningful volunteer work, at times some home management issues and counseling.  They forced us to let go of the Dr. who John had started counseling with promising they’d find someone else for him .  Why, I don’t know as John had already established a relationship with this Dr.  In the end they provided a BIG FAT ZERO for all those other services.  None.  Ever.  When I would ask about them, I was told his case manager would need to assess him for those things, “bring it to the team” who would then “staff it” then decide if in fact he needed those services then provide them.  The basic assessment for those services never happened.  In fact, two out of three case managers he had with ACT Team never met with him even once.  Not once.  Other than perhaps it being their day to pop in for the 5 minute med check. Do you see what we’ve been dealing with here?  A shell game.  With John waiting and waiting and waiting for nothing.  After being forced to terminate with the one person who had been helping him.  For a reason that was never explained to any of us.

This all culminated in to a day a few weeks ago where his “Recovery coach” from another system showed up to find him having waited for hours for the “med check” person to never show up or contact him (not the first time), thus he didn’t take his morning meds, thus he was hallucinating and talking about harming himself.  She watched him take his meds then watched him calm down, called his case manager at the ACT Team and reported this who then proceeded to hang up on this volunteer when she told this “Intensive Monitoring Case Manager” about one of her clients in an acute status and saying “someone dropped the ball”.   This is the level of service John received for months with this terribly dysfunctional “team” put in place to manage the sickest of the sick.  I kind of have to agree, no one dropped the ball, as no one on the ACT Team has ever held the ball in the first place.  They have never actually engaged in a relationship with my brother, over a period of months.

That was the day we decided to pull him out.

So John goes to sign the required paperwork to get discharged from the ACT TEAM only and in reality is handed a paper which closes him out entirely from the entire mental health system:  Magellan.  The system the ACT Team is contracted with.  Even though the word “Magellan” is not mentioned on that paper, that’s what they effectively did.  Obviously John didn’t understand he was relinquishing all rights to ANY services in the entire State of AZ with removing himself from this “Roach Motel” situation.  But it’s what they did, as a final parting shot.  It’s one of those “if you won’t have us, you can’t have anyone else” type of deals.  Even our lawyer, who has worked in these systems for years, agreed, at this point it’s become punitive to John.

What in the Hell is wrong with these people?  Seriously?  Did they ever care about this population?  Have they been worn down by the system?  What has happened to these people?

Let’s not forget, at Choices Enclave they boast all of these classes and groups, including support groups for family members.  No one EVER told me about those family groups (I saw them on the website), HUNDREDS of patients walk through those doors and my brother was usually the only person attending the classes there.  Sometimes he said there would be one other, the most he ever saw was 4 people.  This means one thing:  NO ONE is encouraging them to get to those groups.  No one from Choices Enclave encouraged my brother!  That was all me and his advocate getting him hooked up there.   Hundreds of participants and one person shows up regularly?  And they KICKED HIM OUT!!!  Because he wanted his private Dr. , they kicked him out of all the services.  Now they don’t have to hold those groups if their one participant doesn’t show up.  See what I mean?  It’s a complete and total sham.

So now, after lengthy talks with the Magellan Ombudsman (who seems to be wanting to help us) and our attorney, our private advocate and the director of the new facility we are trying to get him plugged in to, we are strategizing a way to get him REenrolled back in the system without too much water rippling so he can quietly slip away from that hideous ACT Team,  from Choices Enclave altogether and get transferred to a new clinic (my attorney prepared me to see ACT Team try to cut him off at the knees again but it’s his legal right to transfer).  Then get him set up in a simple system with his own private Dr. and the classes/groups/community at Wellness City.

I’m convinced, after all we’ve been through, that the Mental health system in AZ is designed to, like many insurance companies, disallow or discourage services for the population they are designed to serve. And at worst, punish them for demanding the services they are designed to provide.

And I’m not alone in this perception.  But I will keep speaking aloud about it and if nothing else, educate tax payers about what is REALLY happening with this population.

It’s not that the money isn’t there:  it’s that apathy and incompetence are ruling the day.  A lethal combination.

And I will not shut up about it.

You can read more about our attempts to navigate the mental health system breakdown in AZ here and here.

peace and quiet

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I had such a fantastic two night getaway in Sedona.  Just driving up there and back by myself was something I needed to do.  People laugh when I explain that I’m an introvert because I think most people really don’t understand what that means.  Introvert/extrovert has to do with how a person gets their energy recharged.  Some people need to be around others or out “in the marketplace” to gather energy and bring it in to themselves.  That’s how they fuel their reserves.  Others, like me, tend toward more alone time to get that needed refueling.  I think I probably need more than most and have my entire life.  I remember being happy spending hours in my room alone as a kid.

What’s confusing is you can be extremely outgoing (like me) and still be an extreme introvert (like me).  People will scoff sometimes thinking those two things don’t intersect but I’m here to tell you, once I found that out about myself and started giving myself more permission for that alone time, my life got a whole lot more manageable.

They say (not sure who “they” are but anyway) “comparison is the thief of joy”.  With that thought in mind, introverts, especially outgoing socialization loving introverts can get confused even to them (our) selves.  Yet, once you get that precious alone time to recharge, you know exactly what you’ve been needing and craving.  I’ve started to distinctly plan more of that in to my regular life or I will get stuck on hyperdrive and go a bit batty.

Just spending time, by myself, puttering around the house is quite possibly my favorite past time.  I may do a little of this, a little of that, stop for a bath, return to a project, watch a movie, do a little more.  That kind of “wandering aimlessly” time spent is like a meditation retreat for me.  I just love it.  I found myself just smiling to myself this weekend moving like inside a kaleidoscope from little project to project.

If you’re interested, here’s a good link that really will make sense to an introvert:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/erinlarosa/problems-only-introverts-will-understand

Here is a little collage of some things I worked on while up at the Sedona house for two nights this weekend, alone.  Decorating, baking, resting, puttering.

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I also did some fun socializing with the Boys and some other friends who were in town. We went to this lovely luminaria holiday event at the charming shopping /dining/arts village Tlaquepaque.  We heard some great music, danced, shopped, roamed.  It was such a Christmas spirit kinda thing.

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We returned to the Boys house for these wild Kiss my Aztec cocktails and more dancing and fun.  Let’s say I just rolled back home in the morning for my day of extreme putterage.  😉

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I’ll head back up with my family this weekend but those solo trips are keeping me sane and happy and grounded.  And I can’t wait to show off my handiwork to my family.  🙂

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sara smile

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I went a hunting for this song this morning.  I don’t know why now, today, but sometimes music springs up from memory like fresh water containing a pearl.

I saw Rumer sing this with Daryl Hall on his fabulous show Live From Daryl’s House (on the Palladia channel which I highly recommend).  I then went a-researchin her as I’d never heard of her and what a voice!

I ran in to an interview where she was talking about how emotional it was for her to sing this, his iconic song, the one he wrote about someone close to him.  Then she sings it with him; in front of him.  She has her eyes closed most of the time and I recall in this interview (which I can’t find now grrr), she spoke of how she was on the verge of tears the entire time.  Her given name is Sarah so this packed an additional punch of emotion for her.  Doggone it wish I could find that interview again.  I just found it!  It’s on the “Bio” section of the segment.  She’s worth a watch.

http://www.livefromdarylshouse.com/currentep.html?ep_id=72

I applaud her for her courage to face all of that and still stand up there next to that piano singing this:

I am just so moved by this rendition.  I have my own memory, standing in my living room of my first house in Mesa, the house I was living in when Cindy was killed, the one she lived with me in for awhile.  The house where I started my business, so many memories from that house.  I had to return to keep living in that house filled with those memories after she was killed.

I remember her bringing over this Hall and Oates CD, the two of us popping open our signature Cook’s Champagne.  She called it “Cookins” and would say “wanna get Cookins?” which would start off one of our typical champagne drinking, trying on clothes, listening to music, dancing in my living room evenings that, with every good intention of “going out” often landed in “staying in” doing just those things. We were each others’ best company.  So I remember dancing in my living room to this song and singing it at the top of our lungs.

And I appreciate Rumer singing this song from the quietest, most intimate part of hers.

Ther are some of the memories that are so painful to recall yet at the same time you are so glad you ever had the experience to begin with.  It takes time to open back up to them, at least for me.  Music though, it holds many keys.

She says Sara Smile.  I say Kathy Smile today.

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Alfonse and I last night.  I consider it a miracle each and every time we genuinely smile at Christmas. This is one of those miracles.

Enjoy.  Heading up to Sedona in a few for a little road trip to finish decorating and creating my reindeer snowscape and get out on the open road alone for awhile.  I just need that sometimes to clear my head.

Cheers.  And thank you Rumer for inspiring me today.

silver lining

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It’s been awhile since I’ve done an update on my dear Alfonse.

It’s been a time of change lately which always or at least usually, tends to to involve some tumult.  Over a few weeks we managed to find a pharmacy who will dispense his highly regulated med, a lab to get his weekly draws, remove him from the dysfunctional, opposite of helpful ACT Team and get him set up with his new Psychiatrist, someone who can actually be there consistently for him and help him.  Whew!  Yes it’s been a lot of phone calls and managing including his professional Advocate Manny, his volunteer Compeer Lynn and of course my Dad and I.  He had a bad spell around Thanksgiving which was sliding fast toward another hospitalization but thankfully I caught it and found out he was, of no fault of his own, taking 1/3 his major med dose due to a glitch along the way and the wrong labeling on his bottle.  I’m telling you, these medical issues are never to be ignored and not stayed on top of.  Especially diagnoses as delicate as my brother’s sometimes.

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Yesterday turned out to be another roller coaster while in the middle of my work day.

I received notice from Manny that the place where the ACT Team is located, where John has been taking daily classes regularly, has decided that since he no longer sees one of their docs, he can no longer attend their classes.  It’s not surprising they torpedoed him like this.  He has received marginal at best services there, they got called out on it (by me–who is preparing to call them out in a more descriptive ordered way in an article I’m working on for a national forum dealing with these things , ala this is what your meager tax dollars are actually going to), so somehow they relied on some unbreakable policy that this Schizophrenic person can no longer avail himself to groups like “Fun and Fitness” (even with a medical Dr’s release which they have) and “Nutrition” because he doesn’t see one of their Dr’s.  They want him out of there plain and simple.  If you don’t play by our rules, we want nothing to do with you kind of thing.

Now we could fight that legally if we wanted.  But really, who wants to stay at a party where they are not wanted?  Ironically I dealt with those exact issues myself this week!  I’m just realizing that as I type!  Now that’s kinda funny to me right now.  Seriously, who wants to bang your head against a door to a club who isn’t warm and welcoming to you and in reality not good for you anyway?  We just didn’t think we had options and at the time and John was bonded with this place and the instructors.  But they apparently think it’s ok and a good thing to cut someone off “cold turkey” again.  Remember when the Clinical Coordinator thought, because they couldn’t get a billing issue squared away for John that it would be ok for him to go “cold turkey” off one of his major medications?  Yeah, this is the same group.  It’s beyond dysfunctional, it’s in my opinion outright abusive to the population they are supposed to care for and service.

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So yesterday, in the  middle of my work day, I also receive a text from Lynn, John’s “Compeer”.  She’s the gal who’s been working with him as a peer support person or “recovery coach”.  She’s also in the program.  She’s the one who discovered John in a very bad state one morning because he’d not taken his meds and the lack of ACT Team had abandoned him on his med check AGAIN and he was sitting there unmedicated waiting for them for hours.  That was the last straw for me with those people.  Ridiculous and dangerous.

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Lynn, however, was the one who handled that moment with pure class and professionalism and got him turned around out of that crisis single handedly. And now she’s calling me saying she may no longer be able to work with him because, apparently, she believed the ACT Team managed to not only get John discharged from their services but the entire Mental Health funding from the entire State of Arizona, Magellan Health Care.  The big umbrella under which they are contracted.

Now, as of writing this at this moment, I don’t know if this is true but it’s what John believed and Lynn believed yesterday.  I will get to the bottom of it today but ya know the ACT Team, the one who’s designed to be that intensive program for the fragilist of the fragile patients, they don’t really roll in to the office until 9 at the earliest I’ve been told this am when I phoned at 8:30.  Yeah, ok.

In Lynn’s message, she said she thought she could still see John but under another set if circumstances which we’d have to get him signed up under and I was to call her supervisor which I did.

This is where the clouds began to part.   First of all, this woman listened to my frustration.  I explained to her how my brother is highly motivated to attend classes and groups and is very reliable and loves it.  Which is half the battle with the mentally ill:  getting them involved and motivated.  He has his own car, he can get there and he will get there every day but now how do we find them for him?  She was understandably appalled at this other Center’s apathy as she works with the same population and immediately told me he’d be welcome to come to their center called Wellness City.

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Here’s the big bright silver lining that popped through as I sat in my car talking to her in the Trader Joe’s parking lot  yesterday.  Wellness City is a highly utilized facility and very active–they have Recovery programs as well as lots of socialization activities and lunches!  And the only glitch she said was “well he won’t get Dr. or nursing services here”.  EUREKA!  The one thing he was punished for at the other hideous clinic (Choices Enclave) –not using their Dr–is completely not an issue here as they don’t even have Dr’s there!  I immediately said “he’s totally covered in that arena–he just needs groups, classes, a community”.  And she happily and proudly replied “we have all that here”.  She also said “he’s so lucky to have someone like you advocating for him, most of our population don’t have that”.  I was a hindrance to the ACT Team but a benefit to this woman.   Clearly this is where we belong.

And get this, it’s about 8 minutes from my house (and maybe 10 from John’s).  Meaning it’s closer than that other mausoleum.  And it sounds very lively and well attended.  My only regret is I didn’t find it sooner.  The only requirement is they have to be under the Magellan umbrella which John is, at least has been unless that toxic ACT Team manipulated in to signing himself out of that somehow.  Oh they will be hearing from me this morning I guarantee. That is if any of them show up to the office anytime.  I mean it’s Friday, I’m sure they have things to do.

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Yeah you can tell I’m still pissed at them.  They are the coal in the stocking that keeps on giving right up to the bitter end.

I laid all of this out for John last night when we went out to the Nutcracker and he said “most of the time I’m the only one at those groups there anyway”.  Can you imagine?  You walk in, the place feels dead, but they have schedules and greaseboards that talk about all of their wonderful groups and classes, you see a few people sitting in the waiting room and lots of staff milling around.  I’m told each case manager in the main program, not ACT Team, has a large load of 50 or so clients.  That means this place services hundreds of mentally ill people and yet my brother is often the ONLY person attending groups there and they kicked him out.

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That means no one is invested in getting these people to attend their programs.  This is the exact experience we had with the shell game at ACT Team.  We were told of all the wonderful services they provide and all the case managers doing things like “Home Management, Transportation, Volunteer work, Voc Rehab, Counseling, ” etc etc etc and the one and only thing he ever got was daily “med checks” which he never needed, were inconsistent (meaning they often no showed on him) and forced him to wait to take his meds on their schedule, often for hours, interrupting his daily routine.  Again, that was the only service he ever received from them over a period of months, he went through two Psychiatrists and three case managers some of whom never met with him, even once.

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Anyway, all of that is to say, John meets with Lynn today who will take him to Wellness City and get him registered and on his way with that Community and I truly believe he will find his Tribe there.  People like him, with the same struggles and doing their best to maximize their lives.  Which is absolutely my dear brother John.  Who knows I told him last night, he might find himself as a Compeer Recovery Coach himself one day and be able to volunteer right with that organization.  Just like I put my trauma to use supporting crime victims’ families, maybe this will be his path as well.  Putting your own tragic story to do good in the world somehow.

I said it this weekend and I’ll say it again, sometimes you have to cut the cords of relationships that are draining and dysfunctional out of your life completely to create space for your Tribe to find you and claim you as your own.

So you see Alfonse and I are on a similar path, together, walking and supporting each other through our lives.

The miracle of this serendipity is not lost on me.

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yes, virginia

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Ok, I’m warning you on the front end to grab your Kleenex box because this will melt any frozen cubes in your heart and warm you right up, I promise.

I saw this last night and bawled like a baby.  I hope you enjoy this true expression of the Christmas spirit as I did.  It’s just beautiful.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

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awwww, I love this Santa plate

Just popping on to share a couple of special goodies that I love and want to share with you.

I just finished mixing up a batch of one of my all time favorite cookies:  Ina Garten’s Jam Thumbprint cookies.

I once saw her show and she made these cookies seem so delicious and special that I tried them out and Oh. Mah. God.  are they amazing.  It’s not a cookie I would normally gravitate to (translation:  no chocolate 😉 ) but I’m a convert now.

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I’m kind of adapting the recipe tonite as I only had whole wheat flour.  I’ll letcha know how they turn out.   I decided to go a little crazy and add some lemon extract as well.  Livin on the edge tonite ya know.

I’m chillin the dough as I have no eggs in the house and you do need one egg for a wash and I probably need more apricot jam as well so the baking will commence manana.

This is just such an easy and crowd pleasing cookie recipe and people will beg you to make them again next year so there’s that warning.

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The second goodie I want to share is the new Siroflex shower head, I’m currently obsessed with.   I’m so obsessed with it that I purchased six of them from this website and have been steadily replacing them both here in my house and our Sedona house.  I gave one to my friend Amy as a hostess gift (how nutty is that?) and I WILL be replacing hers when I go over there next week.  I’ve become a bit of a plumber I must say.  I know how to swiftly replace a shower head with a wrench and plumber’s tape now.   I was motivated. 😀

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This shower head is just $8 and trust me, will change your entire shower experience.  I think it’s an “As Seen On TV”  item and I first encountered it at my Aunt Ruth’s house in Vermont in September.  I came down and said “what IS that shower head?”.  It just has the most amazing spray and sensation of the water coming out and hitting your skin.  It just feels amazing.  She told me someone picked one up for her at some kind of swap meet.

I did realize you have to kind of tweak it in terms of the water flow inhibitor or whatever it’s called but after that, you will never want to leave your shower.  These people got it right.

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In fact I replaced the head in my Dad’s shower in Sedona for a fancy one that has the rainfall shower deal with a handheld sprayer and I’m ditching that whole thing for this small white nothing-special looking shower head because I want him to have the same experience.

So…….those are two of my favorite things for now.  I hope you enjoy them as well!

found

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I love writing this blog simply for the things it’s doing to my brain.  I guess when you have a blank canvas in front of you, you naturally just start inviting possibilities.

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I wake up most mornings and lay in bed and wonder what I’m going to write about today.  Sometimes it’s the event of the moment that’s going on but sometimes a memory or thought just pops in and I know “hey, that’s it!”.

Then I have my little ritual–grab my coffee and vitamin water, turn on channel 977 on my Dish Sirius, light a candle, open my laptop and dive in.

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Rarely is there a plan and I do very little editing so it’s always an opening of a treasure box each and every time, then I hunt for photos.  I highly recommend this exercise as it stimulates your brain in that right brained creative way that is so opening and therapeutic.

This morning I opened my eyes and was pondering my dream.  My dream about seeking places to hold the Watsu event and I was going to all of these fancy hotels but hiking treacherous trails to get to them.  It was awesome.

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I’m still on the very tail end of detoxing an emotional event that occurred last Friday so there are little aha moments peeking in here and there about the lessons that presented themselves and courses of action to take from that small earthquake.  I got to thinking this morning about how sometimes something will occur, a trauma or a loss that has really shaken up your life in order to unearth or heal something else.

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It’s like the thing you are really needing to deal with is is so huge or so daunting that tackling it head on just will shut you down even more.   So life comes in with a curve ball, maybe something kind of similar or something with a different trajectory, holding the key in it’s hand to hit the right lock then dissolve back in to the ether as it’s done it’s job.

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That is exactly what I believe I just went through.  An example might be a person dates a totally unsuitable partner but gets attached anyway (cough, been there done that) then gets their heart broken by someone they really weren’t that interested in the first place.  But the breaking of their heart, by this person who wasn’t ever going to be that significant in the grand scheme of their lifeline, opened them to heal the one thing, dissolved that one barrier, that was keeping true love from really finding them.

Am I making sense here?

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I was reaching back in to my own history to see where this has shown up before and landed on the answer to the question I’m asked probably at least once a month for the last twenty five years.  “How did you get in to this work?”.  Meaning how did I ever end up becoming a Myofascial Release Therapist which is a highly specialized field and I was an RN with a busy nursing career before that.  Totally legit question.

So I will answer it here because it absolutely speaks to this dynamic I’m talking about.  And I also want to say, that remembering this story reinforces this deep knowing to let to go to what is happening on that greater good type level and stay out of the trenches of what perhaps this appeared to be in the moment.  I’m reminding myself “You’ve been here before.  You know this”.  That’s another subject I want to write about one day too.  Just bookmarking it.

So this is how the dominoes fell for me to land in a highly successful rewarding career in my own business as a Myofascial Release therapist for the last twenty four years.

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I had been practicing Psych nursing in a busy hospital for about four years when our unit went in to full blown chaos.  A bunch of Drs decided to open their own Psych hospital nearby and started recruiting all of us to move over there.  I don’t know why, at age 26 I think, I decided to stay.  I really don’t remember why.  I had learned and grown on that unit after they recruited me as a student nurse there.  I had a natural affinity for Psych (duh, my dad ran a Psych unit my whole upbringing).  I had worked up the ranks to Assistant Head Nurse working on the 3-11 shift.  In hindsight it was an amazing time, knowing far too much now about how things are run (shudder).  We had primary care, meaning all RN staff.  We would have a patient load of 3-4 each shift under our care exclusively.  We had time built in to spend 1 on 1 time with each one.  I mean like an hour each!  That’s unheard of now.  It was an awesome place to learn, including about myself.

However, once most of our staff left in a mass exodus really overnight, the hospital didn’t anticipate this nor handle it well.  Plus my Head Nurse had left so at this point I was the only RN in management of the entire unit, from the evening shift!  I remember one day grabbing the schedule, walking up to the CEO of the hospital, demanding a meeting and showing him the schedule and that as of the following week we would have half our staff and no one hiring anyone!  It got that crazy.

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After about a year of trying to keep my  head above water in that madness (ha right?), a friend called me up about a new facility that was opening.  Now this place was freakin amazing.  We were all case managers, patients lived in this beautiful apt complex in their own spaces and went to work some of them, some stayed during the day.  We had biofeedback, art therapy, I created a relaxation group, we were on the greenbelt in Scottsdale, the patients were higher functioning than in the hospital.  It was so innovative and creative and new.  I absolutely loved it.  I had my own office, worked with cool people, was respected.

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Then Cindy was killed.

That’s where I was working when that happened.

I tried keeping myself together, coming to work, trying to turn it off.  I was 29 years old and my whole family was back in IL and I was here alone fielding the police, media, the whole nine yards and trying to work with Psych patients.  I would sometimes sit in group listening to tales of woe of perceived childhood scars and on the inside be thinking “you actually think that’s a problem?”.  It was not good.

I knew I had to leave and take a break.  Cindy had had me on a very small life insurance policy so I had a few thousand dollars coming my way which was big money at the time so I decided to quit my job and take the summer off to recover or just focus on myself.

I had no real plan to support myself yet but I knew clearly I had to leave.  I was too destroyed to keep up that role and I’m pretty sure my coworkers knew it too.

I’ll never forget my last day there.

I had been leading some workshops on the side with a friend and that morning she showed up at my door with a one hundred dollar bill. She’d gotten paid for our class and I had completely forgotten about it.  So she stopped by to drop it off.  How perfect I thought, the day I’m walking off the edge of a cliff here, I’m handed a one hundred dollar bill.

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I got in my car to drive to my job for the last time and something happened I’ll never forget.  I was driving North on Dobson, past Main Street and I saw a man on the right side of the road holding a sign that said “Family of Four needs Assist”.  Something about that sign began to sparkle and speak to me as I drove, shaking all over, about a block past, then pulled my car over and started bawling.  I knew what I had to do.

I turned the car around, pulled in to the parking lot and over to him.  I pulled out my one hundred dollar bill and handed it to him and this is where the miracle happened.  This man held out his hand and accepted that bill and nodded his head quietly as if he was imparting a blessing on to me.  I think he even said “bless you” and I replied “thank you”.  It was as if the roles were reversed and I was RECEIVING something from him vs. giving.  I don’t know how else to explain it–our entire dynamic was exactly the opposite of what you would have expected.

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I quietly drove to work and knew, then and there, I would be ok financially and not to worry.

A few weeks later, the same friend who had recruited me for that job, had left herself and was working at a Head Injury rehab facility. She was preparing to take an extended European vacation that summer and called me up to see if I would be interested in filling in for her while she was gone.  I was kind of ready to get back to work by then and she made that job sound so amazing so I said “of course”.

I went straight in to another job that I loved.  We were case managing head injured patients who were living on our grounds and out of the hospital and transitioning back to their lives.  We helped them do everything from shop and prepare meals, daily activities, learn life skills.  As a nurse I often accompanied them to Dr. appts. to be a liasion and help explain to them and the Dr. what was going on.  I have to say I absolutely loved that job.

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I commuted about half an hour to Central Phoenix to NeuroCare and when my friend came back from vacation, they hired me on.  It was the best of everything, now working along side my friend again too.

Oh and the best of everything sometimes gets better.  They had to move locations and guess where they moved?  Literally around the corner from my then house.  I could walk to work.  The commute was gone.  How crazy is that?

After about a year of working there, my boss came to me and said “hey there is this Physical Therapist coming through town offering a workshop in this thing called Myofascial Release and we want someone to go check it out.  We looked at the roster and since you have that massage thing going (by then I had a small massage business on the side–having taken a 3 week course that summer I took off– really just trading for haircuts in a salon) we thought you’d be the perfect one.  We will pay your way to go if you would be willing to go check it out for our program”.  I had never heard of it before but I said “sure, I’ll go!” of course.

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I will also never forget sitting in that conference room in Scottsdale and my teacher John Barnes walking on stage and beginning to speak of this philosophy and feeling as if the clouds had parted and God had handed me my mission for life, right there, through this man.  And I wasn’t looking for a new life path OR a teacher!  But I was looking for healing.  I’d been struggling with that anxiety disorder for years at that point, usually quietly and in secret, and I just knew this would help me (and it did!).  I felt like everything he was saying was synthesizing everything I was learning about healing ever since I’d become a nurse.  I knew this language.  This was the Leader of my Tribe I felt.  A tribe I wasn’t even seeking.   I’ll never ever forget that feeling.  I still feel it to this day.

I completed that course, then he was headed the next day to Sedona to teach two more courses after that and no way could I go to the first one but the second one I could!  One odd side note, we were between our two murder trials right at that moment–talk about timing–and I was to be interviewed for this stupid show Hard Copy for two days during that second class, which was the reason I couldn’t go.  That’s a whole other post maybe I will make one day.

I asked my boss if I could go to the third and she agreed to pay half for that one and I actually commuted back and forth to Sedona as I couldn’t afford a hotel room!

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I returned home and that program set me up in my own tranquil treatment room and I began to practice.  There was not one other MFR practitioner in the entire Phoenix area (believe me I was desperate to connect with someone else) so I set about just doing it.  I felt I’d been instilled with so much confidence by my teacher and I had a natural affinity for it and my program wanted it so I set about practicing.  And I saw miracle after miracle with those head injured patients.  I learned from them and I had to get confident about my skills and I did.

A year later, I was on vacation with my family and I knew our program was going through major changes–it was being sold to a big company.  I found out, while on my vacation, that I was losing my job.  They’d laid off my boss and many of us “extra” positions and since they’d already filled my nursing position, I really didn’t have a place there anymore.

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Talk about news to find out on a vacation!  Ugh.  I remember feeling scared and flattened–at the time.  I had never lost a job in my life.  My work life is my strong suit!  I always excel in that arena.  I was shocked whether I should have been or not.  It was momentarily devastating.

I came home, packed up my office and then something miraculous happened.  I got contacted by not one, but two independent providers–Allstate Insurance and AZ Work Comp asking me to keep treating their patients.  Those patients had reported the one thing that had helped them the most was the MFR treatments with me and they were losing them so these providers made ME, little old ME scrambling to find a place to put my table, an independent provider.  So there I began, treating those two patients out of my spare bedroom just around the corner.

It was such humble beginnings.

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Well now, twenty four years later, one thing led to another.  I just kept moving forward, kept taking courses, became an instructor with my teacher, opened a medium sized center where I practiced for over 18 years and just moved in to my purpose–my destiny.

But I had to get cracked open to do this.  I would have never thought of myself as an entrepreneur.  I’d always had a paycheck.  But I lost that job and it was a moment of truth.  Do I go back to nursing or stick with this thing that I love?

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Oh and along the way, I healed.  I completely worked through that anxiety disorder with this work.  I healed and got a life path and career all through the same man–my teacher John Barnes.  His might be the last face I see on my death bed in my mind’s eye.  He’s been that important to me.

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So my point is this.  Sometimes the trauma we are experiencing is not what it’s about at all.  It’s about creating a crack, an opening for our destiny to find us.  An abandonment or loss is simply creating space in a dramatic way to see things differently and explore other possibilities or in the case of this last weekend, remind me of the roots of why I got in to something in the first place.

Sometimes that unseen hand will simply lift us up and place us on another chess board.  Getting too attached to the small picture or the one we’re on just creates more pain sometimes.  That tearing is not an easy feeling to feel.

I find that when I remind myself of times when I was catapulted by Grace in the past is some sort of roadmap to the now which as I write this has lifted me to the biggest smile on my face at this very moment.

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I invite you to revisit something in your past that felt like an unrecoverable trauma only to realize it was a springboard to something or someone unimaginably greater.

And, please, if you’re so inclined, do share.

I wrote this little post on Facebook in the middle of the chaos this last weekend and I think it was one of the many liferafts thrown my way.  44 people “liked” it.  I hope it’s helpful for you too:

There is always a larger picture going on. Always. There is always something operating on your behalf even in the most feverish chaos- something or someone is steering you right where you’re headed next. Higher ground.

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tribal wisdom

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Copyright 2012 Susan Weller. All Rights Reserved.

During this last visit to Rancho La Puerta I got a little hooked on this one dinner game.  The evening meals there are long and leisurely and without electronics and distractions at the table, there is ample room for conversation.  I like to take advantage of it.

I’m finding that as I get older, I’m less interested or adept at small talk.  In thinking about this this morning, I realized what I’m actually more interested in is smaller talk.  The kind that comes out quietly, sometimes in a whisper.  The kind of intimacy that gets shared when layers are peeled away and Truths are revealed.  Sometimes the talk itself is the peeling of the layer.  Not lofty ideas although they are often born from this kind of conversation but the soul stirring events of one’s life.  Or even the hidden little details that maybe seem meaningless at one point but provide a trampoline of fascination for someone else much later.

I started asking the question of the table “What is something no one at this table knows about you?”.  Then there’s an inevitable recoiling or nervous laughter followed by uprolled eyes to the left and silence as everyone thinks back.  “It can be an interest, a talent, a place you’ve longed to travel to, something about your personality, a dream you’ve always had, an event from your past”.  It’s so interesting to just watch this question ripple around the circle.  I don’t think I’ve ever asked it with a preconceived answer myself.  I enjoy the journey of discovery which is part of the reason I ask in the first place.  Oh and I learned on Thanksgiving Day that my father can say the alphabet backward!  And he proved it!

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When I’d asked this question one evening there at The Ranch, I was seated at a table where I believe I’d only met one person other than Sebastian who dined with me nearly every night.  It may have been his last night there, this one.  By the time the question arose we all knew the basics about each other, names, where we were from, what we were loving about our week, things like that.  I also had learned that three of the women were together and one was the other two’s niece. Two aunts and a niece. That kind of came as a surprise to me as I would have guessed they were all near the same age, more like cousins, but they sure had an undeniable connection.

The question first lands on the niece of their trio.  She shares that she knows how to make hundreds of balloon animals.  That once she took a job as a balloon animal maker for kid’s parties and taught herself to do it and, with a natural affinity, became exceedingly skilled at it.  Her face just lit up talking about these balloon animals and we were all on the edges of our seats asking how she taught herself, which were the most popular, which did she make up herself, which were her favorites.  Who would have thought a topic of balloon animals would generate that much curiosity and fascination?

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The question then rolled to one of the aunts next to her.  She paused then looked toward the niece and asked a question something like “Should I tell the story about finding you?”.  The niece, a kind of quiet shy kind of person, nodded her  head looking around the table and said “sure”.  Maybe she just gave the table a cursory glance to make sure she was in safe territory.  Now that I’m writing this I sure am visualizing that small gesture which at this moment feels very profound to me.  It’s good to know where your safety zones are.  More on that later.

So Aunt #1 goes on to tell a tale that has us all wide eyed and so much farther perched on the edges of our seats I’m surprised we didn’t all topple over.

She starts at the end in a way I guess telling us that their niece was born to their sister who had put her up for adoption when she was a teenager.  They were much younger than this oldest sister so they had really no say in the whole situation.  They just knew that their sister had gotten pregnant, was sent away for awhile, came back and no baby ever came with her.  And that they were to never breathe a word of it.  So they didn’t.

They all grew up, naturally, without this member of their family ever acknowledged.  It was probably around the point of this story that aunt #2 started chiming in and at some point it evolved in to a symphony of three voices reciting this story in perfect harmony.

Both the niece and the aunts had decided they wanted to search each other out.  Well for the niece, it was more searching her birth mother I think, not knowing about what extended family she had.  On both ends there was very little to no information to be found for some reason.

The aunts stopped all of our breathing momentarily when they told us, they didn’t even have her correct birth date.  Their sister, the teen mother, had blocked this event so totally that she didn’t even remember the date she’d given birth to this baby.  I do remember tears in my eyes hearing the poignancy of that.

Now mind you, she wasn’t the one searching.  Her younger sisters were.  Their mother wasn’t but she plays a huge role.  The aunts’ mother, the teen mother’s mother, the grandmother of this now balloon artist also had blocked the day her own daughter had given birth to her first grandbaby.

“One of our other sisters is even a private investigator” Aunt #2 said.  “She could have easily found her for us if all we’d had was that birth date”.

Think of it, all the babies to unwed mothers who have gathered together in some Home of some kind, decades ago.  How would they ever sort out what baby went with who and there apparently were no records.

Their grandmother of course knew all about this too.  Not the grandmother of the baby, the Aunts’ grandmother.  But she knew far more than any of them ever suspected.

Apparently the teen mom was very close to her grandmother.

Because, after the grandmother, the balloon artist baby’s great grandmother passed, Aunt #2 found herself sifting through her belongings.  “She kept every card I think anyone ever sent her in her whole life.  So I don’t know what possessed me to open that of many shoeboxes and go through all of those cards”.

Swaddled inside Christmas and birthday greetings from God knows who, was an empty envelope with the baby’s great grandmother’s scrawl on it.

On that envelope used as scratch paper were all the details about the baby.  Her first great granddaughter.

Their sister, after having given birth, called their grandmother unbeknownst to anyone to reveal these details over the telephone.

There it was, plain as day, the birth date, the length of the baby, the weight, the gender and I don’t know what other details written in a small list then tucked away safely among the other salutations of love.

Yes at this point there were tears and gasps all around the table.

The Aunts used that information to track down their niece, their niece who was also unbeknownst to herself, searching for them too.  And from that point on, the search was seamless and easy and they found her.

The niece then took over describing getting off the plane, the first time she went to meet them (not her mother, her aunts).  She said something like this “I spent my whole life looking for people who look like me.  Where are the people who look like me?  I stepped off that plane and saw their faces and said ‘that is my family'”.

The aunts described the exact same feeling.  All tearing up, remembering.

The odd note at this stage of the story is I found myself at that moment through my own teary eyes scanning all of their faces and thinking , to me, they didn’t look alike at all, physically.  Which makes this recognition all the more deep and special to me.  They were seeing and recognizing something beyond their physical faces.  They were finding a lost member of their tribe.  Sebastian and I later talked about this and he had the same impression.  We wouldn’t have naturally looked at these three like obvious family members yet that was their experience 1000%.  Like just a given. It was so sweet.

The niece then went on to share that although she truly loves her adoptive family and knows she was lucky to have been raised there, that she always felt on some level like a fish out of water–she was talking about specific interests and tastes in things and personality traits.  I’ll never forget her describing her relationship with her aunts and their world travels together (this trio literally has traveled the world together for years at this point) “we have the same tastes in food, we like the same clothes, we all love Latin America”.  Uniquely specific things like that.

She spoke about how all her life she’d had an interest in South America writing essays on it as a child, etc.  And then she finds out all of her birth mother and aunts were raised in Chile, although American.

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I think though the most deeply moving part of her story, to me, was when she described talking to her grandmother, the mother of her teenage mother, for the first time on the phone and this woman who had held this secret all those years said in her first words to her granddaughter “there is not one day that has gone by since you were born that I’ve not thought of you”.

Talk about medicine right there.

This story was so unexpected, so captivating that we all were both spellbound and stopped in our tracks and breathless.  And it was born out of a “smaller talk” type question “tell us something you think no one here knows about you”.

How interesting though now that I think about it that aunt #1 knew two other people obviously knew this story but chose that one to tell.  She told it because the rest of us needed to hear it.

There was an of course elephant standing in the middle of the table after the telling of this story and one I’m sure you’re noticing yourself right in the center of this blog about now.

What happened to her actual birth mother?  Why was she not included in this story?

Well let me tell you how brave this trio is.  They acknowledged this delicate question which I asked in some fashion.  And they all just calmly said she didn’t embrace this connection in the way the three of them have and it was all ok.  This niece came to find her aunts, not her mother.  Who would have guessed?  Her aunts are her tribal family but not her birth mother.  And they were all completely ok with this fact without judgment.  And they have forged ahead together without apology or awkwardness but total gratitude for finding each other.   Beautiful.

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I know we all were profoundly affected by this story of healing and belonging and miracles.  Sebastian and I talked about it much later that evening over wine.

I didn’t interact with those ladies again the next two days although I saw them around.  It was like a quiet nod was exchanged between us.  It was almost so intimate that we just wanted to leave it on that note.  I don’t know how else to describe it.  You can’t go back to superficial small talk once something like that has been laid bare.

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On the very last day though, as I was walking out of the front lobby area after taking care of some business I ran in to this trio.  I asked which bus they were taking back and they were actually waiting for a cab.  I told them safe travels and how much I enjoyed meeting them and thanked them for sharing their story.

The niece, the shyest of the group, looked up at me in such a humble or innocent or I don’t really have the right adjective way.  It was like she was speaking to me through her eyelashes.  She said “we all discussed how that dinner was our favorite part of the whole week and I wanted to thank you for asking that question”.

We all hugged and then went on our way.

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Wow, I didn’t know that whole story in that length was going to spring forth from my mind this morning when I sat down to talk about belonging and finding one’s tribe.  But as I thought about that topic, that’s what arose.

What I want to say is, we know when we find our tribe members.  Maybe as a group, maybe as an individual but we know.  There is a recognition.  And it’s an important one to listen to and follow.

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It may not be the people who make the most sense on paper.  It’s deeper than that. It’s a deep body knowing kind of thing.  That sense of rightness.

Haven’t we all gravitated to relationships or groups at one time or another where we feel we should belong but we don’t really feel that deep sense of connection. But we keep trying and keep feeling awkward?

I recently discovered one of those in my sphere and the deep sense of relief when I quickly came to terms with the letting go part.  And instantly what happened was it created a void for those members of my tribe to slip through that open door and claim me again.

I’m pretty sure the mother/child bond is the one that gifts us with that sense of where we belong in the world.  When  that gets stunted early on, as it did with me and my siblings and the niece in this story as well as some of you readers, I think it’s natural there is this sense of longing. Of looking.  Of wishing and hoping.  A natural glitch in our feeling of rightness in the world.

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I remember as a kid my favorite book was “Are You My Mother?”.  Well it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out, right?

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I feel lucky to have found members of my tribe all throughout my life. And surrogate mothers.  The ones who you know will accept you no matter what.  The ones you never feel a threat with.  Especially that threat of abandonment.  That’s the worst one.

The flip side of this pondering this morning, this lesson I learned this weekend, is not only to listen to that deep intuitive body voice guiding me toward those who are “My People” but to equally listen to the voice inside that guides me away from those who are not.  Especially the one that is doing that “Warning!  Warning!  Will Robinson!” thing.  And not let that rational , debating mind talk you out of that one.  Ever.  Because you will get stung eventually.   And you always know when it’s there.

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When someone walks in to your sphere and your guard goes up, the hair stands up on the back of your neck, even against all reason, it’s the most important thing you need to know right then and there about that relationship.  And it’s the moment to back away slowly.  Or turn and run.

I was reminded of all of these things this past weekend, thankfully.  And the reward I received, well I will just display here in this photo montage from yesterday.  I got reconnected with my tribe again.  Not that they all even know each other necessarily but they all fall in that “these are My People” category.  And some I can’t put on here as images because they were just phone conversations or messages.  But they all came rushing through the doors that opened all around me as I pivoted away from that which is not for me in that deep smaller talk kind of way I crave.

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my bff Amy who is one of my surrogate mothers, probably the Mother Superior 😉

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Amy’s darling daughters Annabelle and Sophie, sometimes also surrogate mothers.  I jest, kind of. 😉

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Marianne’s late night Downton tea party that went til 3am of tea and soul stirring sharing and persimmon cake and Yogi tea

I look at these photos of myself from yesterday and enjoy seeing my face again.  I look like my sparkly relaxed self who sort of slipped away from me for awhile.  I’m glad to see her back.

The main thing is my family drew closer and my support system supported me not even knowing I was needing their support.  What a beautiful thing.

One very seemingly small but huge example of this happened last night.  It has to do with one of my favorite activities I’ve written about before :  Late Night Love at FnB.  I saw the menu for it late Saturday night knowing there was no way I would go as I’d had a late dinner with my family already and I was utterly exhausted after a full day following a night of nearly no sleep.  But I sure was drooling over that menu, an homage to a famous Chef Judy Rogers of Zuni Grill who’d recently passed.  Charleen Badman is a chef who knows how to honor one of her fallen tribe members.

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I made a flip comment on the restaurant Facebook page after seeing this menu posted, one in which I was completely joking…well let me go get it and show you what followed.  Be right back.

Kathy Monkman Can you do this again tonite?

See what I mean?  This was a liferaft from my Tribe.  Not knowing I needed it on a conscious level but tossing it anyway.  Just one of many this weekend.

And guess what?  I sure did go in last night and Charleen sure did make me one of those chickens including the polenta which made me want to literally lick the bowl.  I got more comfort food, conversation, Sunday Night Love just offered my way for no reason other than to welcome me back Home.

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I guess I want to end on this note.  If your sphere is being taken up with people who are not those who you really came to connect with, to be loved and supported by, who don’t inspire you to be your greatest self, who you don’t deeply feel that place of recognition with or worse yet feel the Will Robinson thing with; then the people who do fit those definitions can’t get to you.  And in some very important way, you can’t get to yourself.

Yet, the beautiful paradox is, once a crack begins in the constellation of avoidance to journey in to those smaller talk conversations, your tribe will rush in and rescue you.  If it’s what you long for, they will find you.  This I know for sure.

I know it as sure as that niece saw it in the faces of her aunts.  This is my tribe she felt.  Clear as a bell and they reflected it right back.  And she was Home for the first time.

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Thank you all out there for bringing me Home over the last few days through comfort food, invitations, dance, a late night tea party and all the soul stirring conversations I ended up having as I navigated the rubble of an earth quake that shook me hard enough to bring me back to myself.  With a lot of beautiful assistance.

I wondered why I’d not been writing for a few weeks, well there’s my answer.  I lost myself there for a minute.  But the finding is made all the sweeter through the being lost.

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I feel more alive and connected than I have in a very long time and isn’t that just the best holiday gift I could hope for?

My one regret is that I didn’t lick that polenta bowl.  I’m bookmarking that one for another time.

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Cheers.

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phoenix

I remember reading that Scorpios often do the crash and burn then rise like a Phoenix from the ashes thing in order to grow and transform.  Now who ever wants to crash and burn?  That would be pretty much no one.  But it’s a good thing I remembered that this morning when I woke up from a short winter’s nap straight in to that transformational fire.  Yeah, it burns.

I’m happy to share, as I wind down for the evening, that my day evolved in to something just unexpectedly beautiful.

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It’s moments of desperation that bring us to that place of surrender and those cracks that come with heavy life blows that create space for Grace to enter.  That’s exactly what today felt like for me.

I’ve often said “humiliation isn’t such a bad thing if it can breed humility”.  I will add to that, “a broken heart can be beautiful medicine if it cracks opens that armored heart to it’s soft underbelly to allow more love in (and out)”.

I will say both of those things apply to my last twenty four hours.  And I’m grateful.

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bizarre hair day reflects my strange morning

I sat next to my father today in the theatre (we saw the Broadway touring production of Evita) and also next to one of my all time favorite human beings Cathy Hughes (who prosecuted our two trials).  As my body was still processing some shaky trauma and a stressed nervous system I realized, during the second act, that I’d started to soften.  But soften not just in my body but my heart and especially toward my dear father seated next to me.

Something alchemical was happening and I could feel it quietly and warmly flowing through me like a stream of melting butter filling some kinds of once blocked spaces softening and opening with it’s warm deliciousness.

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All I know is I sat there knowing an opening had occurred with my father that I didn’t even realize I was seeking or needing or craving or had a key to.  It just happened.

I used the words “I am heart broken” over some now less loaded events over the last day and then realized hey, that’s ok It’s ok to be broken open sometimes by life.  Even for the breaker, I felt some compassion.  Not connection but compassion.  Sometimes distance is the right remedy for that too.  Relief.walk_into_distance

The day unfolded with laughter and love and patience and understanding and curiosity and love and more laughter and silliness and fun and more love with my family.  Which is really where it’s at.  We ended up for dinner at one of my favorite comfort food places Beaver Choice (I know, it’s true, that’s the name).  The owner Hanna and I are good friends she’s like walking- Swedish accented-Prozac for me.  The minute she sees me, every single time, she lets out a Swedish squeal and gives me one of those huge Mama hugs.  Then she grabs whoever is near her, today my Dad, and lives out exactly what I told him in the car she would do.

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I want to put this pic in a frame, my Dad photo bombing Hanna and her “Beaver Supreme” signature dessert–we all nearly peed laughing at this

Hugging me with one arm, she says “We call her Business Woman, she was one of my very first customers at my old location on our second day!”.  Just the sight of her lifts my spirits, the hugs and smiles and connection are all over the top.

We had just a fun evening of laughs and at dinner I got a darling text from my dear Sebastian who’s been busy in his own life and we haven’t connected in the last couple of days.  I always feel a jolt of happiness when I see his name show up anywhere.  And he uses the big red X O X O emoticons with his texts.  Shhhhh…don’t tell him the tingle I get with that.  Nor the one I get viewing this:

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I also got several welfare checks (texts, calls) today from people just knowing I was going through something.  That kind of unsolicited kindness, well it means the world to me.  And I told one of them just that thing.  Thank you again Katie.  You too K.W. and you too Marianne.  I can’t express enough just how a checking in quick note lifts my spirits like ten thousand hot air balloons rising in unison.  It’s the simplest things sometimes.

Then I came home to all of these wonderful comments on the blog.  After saying goodbye in the parking lot to my Dad and brother and all three of with smiles saying “wasn’t this just a great day?”.

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Did I mention someone walked up to Alfonse at the theatre saying “Alfonse, I know you!” and it’s because of this blog, she recognized him.  He’s famous!  Thank you Lety!  🙂

I woke up thinking this day was going to be a challenge to put it mildly start to finish but then….it all just started shifting.  I started shifting.

All I can say is I’m going to bed tonite a much lighter person than I woke up, certainly than I was last night and for that I thank everyone involved.  And yes, you.  I mean you too.  Thank you for the earthquake you sent my way.

I like the feel of this new soil under my feet.  🙂

PS.  I just went looking for a poem that’s echoing in my memory with the words “broken open” and I ran in to this quote.  I did not read this prior to writing this post.  Eerily similar.  From a film called Pariah:

Heartbreak opens onto the sunrise for even breaking is opening and I am broken, I am open. Broken into the new life without pushing in, open to the possibilities within, pushing out. See the love shine in through my cracks? See the light shine out through me? I am broken, I am open, I am broken open. See the love light shining through me, shining through my cracks, through the gaps. My spirit takes journey, my spirit takes flight, could not have risen otherwise and I am not running, I am choosing. Running is not a choice from the breaking. Breaking is freeing, broken is freedom. I am not broken, I am free.