On Getting Lost and Found

IMG_0499I’ve always been afraid of getting lost.

I don’t mean just a little afraid. I mean the kind of afraid that sits in my gut and makes me want to run and hide. Sometimes it feels as though I can’t breathe. Thoughts race through my mind resulting in confusion. I don’t know what to do. Driving in a place I’ve never been before, I’ve sometimes had to work hard to keep my cool and keep going, rather than freezing in place.

My panic attacks can happen anywhere. They can arise in a crowd of people as I’m being pushed, shoved, and bumped along. I’ve had them walking through Times Square in New York. I once had one at a wedding where I didn’t know any of the other guests. Traveling to places like Greece and Portugal where I didn’t speak the language have also been times of panic for me.

These seemingly uncontrollable reactions seem to be about my fear of being abandoned, of looking stupid, and my having a low sense of self esteem. They’re about getting lost in life … fear of the unknown, of being alone and unable to take care of myself.

As a kid, I rarely felt capable of doing anything right. My parents were very critical. I never mowed the lawn properly, or got the dishes as clean as they wanted them to be. And I rarely got the perfect grades they wanted me to get in school. Getting a C on a test was like flunking in their eyes. I didn’t think much of myself either. I followed the rules, tried my best, but always felt like a loser. Sometimes I just plain gave up trying.

As a result, I’ve wasted a lot of time and energy searching for things I didn’t think I had … approval, love, and a purpose. Without them I was continuously lost, unsure of myself, and prone to painful moments of panic.

Part of the problem was that I didn’t know what approval, love, and purpose looked like. I was too busy watching my back, or preparing to run or fight back, to see that I was loved, that many people respected me, and that I was not broken.

A year or so after I was married, I was parked diagonally in front of a pharmacy where I had to pick up a prescription. While I was inside, the person who parked next to me opened his car door, slamming it into the side of my car, leaving a huge dent. After we exchanged insurance information and I was on my way home, I started to panic. I was convinced that Bill would be mad at me for putting a dent in our newly purchased car. I was expecting his reaction to be like my father’s would have been … blaming me for “letting” this happen by parking to close to the car next to me.

By the time I got home I was in tears. When Bill came out to help me carry packages in from the car, I tearfully started apologizing for the dent. He calmly asked me how it happened and when I told him, he held me in his arms and told me it wasn’t my fault. He asked, “How could you think that?”

After our son was born, I spent a few months battling postpartum depression. When I saw a therapist to get help, he realized I was suffering from something more than mixed up hormones. His big question to me was, “What are you so afraid of?” My response was, “I don’t know.”

But his question began to haunt me and I began the slow process of trying to find the answers to his query.

As I examined old memories and explored the road I had been traveling, I found the cloak of victimhood I began to wear as a child and tore it to shreds. I started taking responsibility for who I was and what I did. I began to see that my parents had done the best they could … that they had their own difficulties to overcome … that I didn’t have to live by their rules or limit myself to what they would approve of.

Fear still occasionally jumps out of the shadows, finding me vulnerable, and sometimes ready to run. But it’s more easily banished now. I know what love looks like, and that the only person’s approval I need is my own. I’m no longer afraid of getting lost. If I don’t know where I happen to be at any given time, I know that nothing terrible is going to happen, and that I’ll soon be back on track in the direction of where I want to go.

A Letter to My Mother: Posthumous Reconciliation? And A Book Give Away

bonnetstrings-1Always interested in reading about other writers’s spiritual journeys, I recently picked up a copy of Saloma Miller Furlong’s second memoir, Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman’s Ties to Two Worlds. I just finished reading it and highly recommend you take a look at it.

Next week, one of my readers who leaves a comment on this page, will have a chance to receive a free copy of that book. Just leave a comment. I’ll pick a name at random and perhaps you will be notified that Saloma’s book is on it’s way to you.

Currently, Saloma is at work on a letter to her mother in book form,  in which  she tries to reconcile with her mother, who is now dead. Both Saloma and I have had difficult mothers to deal with during our lives. It is through this new writing, that Saloma is working her way to understanding and forgiving a mother, who like mine, used her children as scapegoats.

Without further ado, I welcome and thank Saloma for being my guest today and sharing her story. 

I have seen Joan around the online world several times. I decided it was time we “meet,” after reading about her incredible journey. Though I have not cared for an aging parent, I can relate to Joan’s story in many ways. I eagerly await the publication of her book. I am honored to be here today. Thank you, Joan, for hosting me.

We’ve all heard the bittersweet stories of people reckoning with their mortality when they are about to leave this world. They took stock of their lives and asked to speak with someone with whom they’ve not spoken to for years. In their waning days or hours, reconciliation and forgiveness happen. The bitter of the story is all those wasted years when reconciliation could have happened. The sweet of the story is that reconciliation did happen.

When my mother was dying, I kept hoping she would come to the place of needing reconciliation, when she would gather her sons and daughters around her and deal with any unfinished business with each of us, alone.

I was hoping there would be a time when she would let her guard down, so that I could tell her how I’ve had a hard time reconciling my memories of her when I was small and innocent from those when I was in my teens.

I know Mem loved me when I was little. I remember her bathing me in the galvanized tub in the living room in winter. After the bath, she would sit me on her big, soft lap, wrap me in a warm towel she had warmed by the woodstove, dry me off, and then dress me in the fresh-smelling clothing she had laid out for me. I remember standing on a stool, helping her knead bread. I remember being terrified of leaving her when I started Kindergarten.

I also remember the sound of her solid footsteps from the time I was a six, and had just said something she perceived as backtalk. Those footsteps would go to the china cabinet, where she would take down the latest whip or leather belt. She would stand there and in her most forceful voice, demand that I, “come here.”

I could not run. I could not hide. I could not resist that voice. I had to step over to her, where she would raise my Amish dress and slam that whip or belt across the backs of my legs, until I thought I would lose my mind from the overpowering pain.

When Mem lay dying, I wanted to hear her admit that she had been taking out her own frustrations on me when she whipped me. That she had harmed me, instead of “doing it for my own good.” I wanted to hear her say, “I am so sorry.”

But that is not what happened. Mem told us not to cling, and said it was her time to go. It seemed that she couldn’t duck out of this world fast enough. There was no chance of reconciling with her. Even before that day, she did not want to dig into the past. “For what good would it do?” she would say.

When I said my last good-byes to my mother, I told her that I would think of her in her heavenly home, and love her always. I wrote her a letter the night she was dying, because I could not be by her side. When I read it now, it sounds like I had no unresolved issues with her. However nine years later, I realize I’ve never reconciled the mother who was so nurturing and caring, with the one who was so harsh and cruel.

In an attempt to reconcile with Mem, I am writing a letter to her. I sift through memories and reflect on them. I do this, not knowing “what good it will do.” I don’t know if I will have a better understanding of her, but that is my hope. I like to think that there is still time to find resolution, even though she is not here in person.

So far, I find the act of writing to be powerful. Instead of sitting down in the inner reaches of my unconscious, I am recalling the past, allowing it to surface, one piece at a time. I am examining my memories of Mem, my relationship with her, and ultimately, my life.

As I write this, I don’t yet know who my audience is. Right now, that is not as important to me as doing the writing. Maybe I will decide to publish it. Or maybe someday one of my sons or grandchildren will find it, and at least learn something about their lineage.

I cried when I read the quote, by Christina Baldwin, that Joan uses at the top of her home page. I recognized it as the compelling reason for why I feel the need to write down my memories. “Making story of our family history doesn’t mean we change the realities of our forebears’ lives … we don’t turn a thief into a pillar of virtue … but we learn to carry the story differently so the lineage can heal.” What a beautiful thing to hope for: “for the lineage to heal.” What more is there?

Are there issues with your mother you wish to come to terms with? Do you think it is ever too late?


dsc_0017Saloma Miller Furlong is the author of two books, Why I Left the Amish and Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman’s Ties to Two Worlds. Her story is featured in the PBS documentaries “The Amish” and “The Amish: Shunned” on American Experience. You can read more of Saloma Furlong’s biography by following the link.

Website: http://salomafurlong.com/
Blog: http://salomafurlong.com/aboutamish/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SalomaFurlong
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4487564.Saloma_Miller_Furlong
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Saloma-Miller-Furlong/e/B004SXYJXE/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0


Finding Forgiveness While Writing Memoir

DSC00291.JPGHi Folks,
I’m over at Kathy Pooler’s, Memoir Writer’s Journey, today with a piece about  how I found forgiveness for my mother as I wrote my memoir, ME, MYSELF, AND MOM, A Journey Through Love, Hate. and Healing.  I’m working on the second draft right now. As soon as that’s done, I’ll ship it off to a developmental editor.

I plan on being back here next Tuesday, July 29th, with a follow up post to, Is There A Robot In Your Future?.

My Mom Lives On

DSC02486In October of 2012, I took a trip up to Long Island to scatter my mother’s ashes in the places she loved and had spent most of her life.  She had died in 2007.  Unable to deal with the anger and rage she caused me during her last seven years of life, I tucked her ashes away on the top shelf of a dark closet. It took me until just a few months before that trip to understand what had happened between us and why. I found forgiveness for her in a journey of memory I took through our history together. I found out things I hadn’t known about my mom or me.

As I scattered the last of her ashes in places where she’d spent time as an adult and a child, I felt lighter and happier than I’d been in a long time.  My rage was gone and I was able to pick up the pieces of my life and put it back together.

A month or so after returning home from that “letting-go” trip, I began reorganizing my studio. I found a small tin tucked away in a corner and upon opening it I discovered another tiny plastic bag filled with her ashes.  I took those remains and placed them on the  ground around a tree peony that grows just outside my  studio door.  It had been transplanted a few years earlier and hadn’t adjusted well to its new location.  At the time I asked Mom to help that beautiful plant to grow strong and tall.

This is what she did!IMG_1109IMG_1112

I Can Do This!

French Beaded Sunflower

French Beaded Sunflower

Have you ever taken on a project that you’ve never finished? I’ve done it many times, especially when it comes to art and writing projects.  I spent several years making French Beaded Flowers using a symphony of tiny glass beads in a rainbow of colors.  Then the day came when other things captured my interest and I stopped working on more than a dozen beading projects that I had started. They’re all waiting for a day when I get the urge to pull one of them out and begin again.

I’m like that.  Always finding things I want to learn about. I wade in and out of the water, starting and stopping every time I find a new passion.  It started years ago when I went to a summer weaving workshop to learn how to make my own cloth which I turned into various items of clothing, throw pillows, and whatever else struck my fancy.

That led  me to learn how to spin wool from a neighbor’s sheep into yarn. Hooked,  I bought my own small flock of Romney Sheep and Angora goats to supply me with the raw materials I needed.  What followed that? Why, natural dying of course, using plants to bring color to the yarns I was spinning.

I’ve spent other lengthy periods of time writing poetry, working in photography, and painting. And I never forget that my garden is a work of art, always in progress.  All of my passions are part of my life in one way or another and have combined to make me who I am today, a person of many interests who is rarely bored.

I’ve always been interested in healthy living, cooking, and food.  As a small child, my daughter Lisa, asked Santa to bring her Wonder Bread one Christmas. I baked my own bread at the time in an old wood burning cookstove. She said it  wasn’t as good as the bread she ate when visiting her friends.  She was anemic for a while and my son Mark, had digestive issues. I was always attuned to health problems and  when Bill was diagnosed with ulcers, we became a three menu family, with me eating whatever I had to make for the others.

French Beaded Poppy

French Beaded Poppy

Over the years I’ve continued to keep abreast of the news as it pertained to living a healthy lifestyle.  My diet has always been fairly healthy, depending on what the latest medical wisdom of the day was. I was always confused by what the powers that be were touting as the best way to lose weight. I just kept on gaining.  When I was married I wore a size 4 wedding gown, but over the years graduated to large sizes.

I tried being a vegetarian, but I had a major drop in energy and began having some digestive issues along with major cravings for meat.  I tried a low to no-fat diet. My weight  only crept higher and I was always hungry.  I gave up eggs when the heart people said that they were bad for you and continued to bake bread using the best whole grain flours when whole grains were said to be the only way to go. I still felt low on energy. I couldn’t get rid of my brain fog or my aching joints and sore muscles.

I went gluten free two years ago and started feeling better immediately.  I lost a little bit of weight but that stopped as I tried to take care of my carb cravings with dark chocolate and gluten free cookies made with a variety of other grains.  I began reading about the paleo diet and began experimenting, leaving out most grains. I filled up on veggies, meat, eggs, fish and fruit and again started feeling better.

A month ago, after watching my daughter successfully finish a 21 day sugar detox, I decided to follow in her footsteps.  What a difference it’s made.  I knew I was a sugar addict, but I wasn’t eager to give it up. Now I’ve lost 10 pounds.  But even better than the weight loss is how good I feel.  I have more energy now than I’ve had in years.  My thinking is much clearer and I’m not as forgetful as I was.  And food tastes even better than it did before.

It was initially daunting. My addiction to sugar and carbs brought on craving that I had to try to take control of.  But within days I felt a difference.  Yes, there were still cravings.  My favorite food of all is fruit … berries, peaches, pears, apples, bananas, grapes, cherries.  For 3 weeks I could only have 1 green tipped banana, a green apple, or a grapefruit per day.  I didn’t miss the lack of grains as I’d already stopped eating those.  I didn’t miss beans as I’m not that crazy about them anyway. I loved all of the veggies with a small portion of meat, eggs, or fish for protein. I learned how to make “banola,” a granola made from nuts, seeds, an egg, and green bananas. I made my own ketchup and Bill prepared homemade mayonnaise,  something we used to do but gave up on when life got overbearing and too busy.

French Beaded Wild Flowers

French Beaded Wild Flowers

There were days when it was hard.  I had headaches, felt a bit light headed, and wanted some berries or figs.  But I made it through and surprisingly, I haven’t strayed off course much.  Yes, I’m eating a bit more fruit, but not in the quantity I was before.  I’ve had a few sips of wine and wondered what I needed it for.  So far chocolate or pastries haven’t tugged at me and hopefully won’t anytime soon.  I have given thought to ice-cream, but so far haven’t fallen for it.  I’ve found a few recipes that use no sugar, so I’ll be giving those a try.

This change in eating habits isn’t something I want to drop along the wayside like some of my art projects. I love the way I feel.  I like that so far I’ve conquered my need for large doses of sugar.  When an occasional craving pops up, I just keep repeating:  “I Can Do This!”  Sometimes it takes saying it only once.  Other times it takes ten or twelve times before I believe it.  But in the end the cravings stop and I go on with my day, knowing I CAN it.