Saturday, October 25

#universelove

A Facebook post by a friend prompted a question about self love and self care and it got me to thinking, how did I get to this day here and now, where I’m doing this much better, from that day I announced my intention to thrive?

Because for people like me, thriving isn’t as easy as it looks. And, surprisingly, it doesn’t look anything like I thought it would...

I was sitting in the physician's assistant's office at the adult mental health center, set up much like a bachelor pad, stark and void of any style except for the lone faded ship painting that hung on the wall behind his desk when I spotted it. But I only spotted it in the moments after I let my secret slip.
You see, before my secret was completely clear to me and before the words just tumbled shamelessly from my lips, it was completely clear to my therapist.
Therapist nailed it the first time I sat on her sofa:
She'd asked me to make a list of beliefs about myself; good, bad, indifferent; all of them. Whatever it was that I believed about me. And go.
But I came up empty-handed. Because, frankly, at that point in time I had no positive beliefs about myself and I was too paralyzed from shame to state the plethora of negative ones swarming around in my head.
The most pressing belief, the biggest secret that I held on to for dear life was my worth: I don't deserve anything good because I'm not worth it.
And before I'd sat down in that physician's assistant's office, I'd placed my purse on the desk. My really swell Dooney and Burke Disneyland purse. I caught the PA's eyes as he looked at it and, feeling very self-conscious,  I rather quickly let it out:
"Oh, I didn't buy that, of course! It was a gift! I would never buy something like that for myself."
He slowly sat back in his chair, smiled sheepishly, and said it: "Well I think it's cool but I'm sad to hear you don't think you're worth having nice things."
Wow.
Now I was the one smiling sheepishly.
Geez, Heather, just barf your guts right out there for anyone to see. Siiiiiiggggghhhh.
He was right, though.
And I was there at the adult mental health center to get better. So I gathered myself and said very pointedly, "You're right. I don't. But I'm working on it."
And that's when I saw it. The heart in the faux wood paneling just behind the PA's desk.
 
You are worth it, it whispered.
Now, if you follow me on Instagram, you know I use #universelove quite a bit with photos I've taken of everyday objects that look like hearts. Because that's the universe's way of reminding us of our oft-forgotten worth.
And there in that moment was a two-fold reminder. From the PA and from the Universe. Because sometimes you need to be smacked in the head by words written on a 2 x 4 to finally get it.
I got it. I sat back in that office chair, warmly smiling to myself and repeated to myself "I am worth it." I repeated to myself that I do deserve good things - like the very reason I'd gotten in my car that morning and kept my commitment to face and fight and resolve and fix and heal the newly recognized bipolar disorder that has made remembering my worth that much more difficult.
I deserve to thrive. And this is how I'm going to do it.

Monday, February 3

2014 : Thrive


Well, well, well.

Welcome back.

Not sure if I’m saying that to you or to me.

But welcome back. In that Simon Pegg/Nick Frost raising a toast with a wink and a nod kind of “welcome back”.

Let's get started, shall we?

Wait. Wait. <finishing my beer... we were toasting, right?!>

I have noticed that one of the newer trends in personal growth is not Simon Pegg/Nick Frost "let's have a beer to mark the occasion" goodness. (Though it should be but may not be appropriate since I'm sitting in the library at the moment...) Instead it is "living with intention"; like actually meaning to go through life with some sort of force rather than a never-ending monotonous routine peppered with spontaneous moments.

You know, because just living isn’t enough. You have to intently live. Or you’re not living. It's a new trend. All the rage.

Take my word for it. Because I’m living. And trendy.
Shut up. I am.
As much as can be when your definition of high-end fashion consists of the clearance rack at Target… ($12 riding boots bitches!!!)
That cat out of the bag, I’ve decided that this year isn’t going to be like previous years.
Because previous years all I’ve done is survive. And I’m done surviving. (Though not in the Cornetto trilogy type of way. I could handle their idea of survival being that it involves scads amounts of beer, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost and usually a healthy dose of gore-splattered humor.)
This year I want to thrive.
And I want all that it entails.
You see, for the last few years I actually have been choosing a theme word for each year. I was inspired by one of my foremost artistic and life-giving inspirations Kelly Rae Roberts in her blog about choosing to live with intention in order to lead a more fulfilling life.
Because, as an artist, a fuller, deeper, constantly evolving meaning is what we strive for. It’s an unrelenting drive to create this for ourselves.
Life gets in the way though. For all of us, artists or not.
The words I chose over the last three years have been Freedom (2011), Heal (2012) and Brave (2013). While I did choose those words, I have to admit that I did not live with daily dedicated intention to fulfill them. They were my desires, and for the most part, I achieved many good things towards those desires; divorce, ambition, recovery, risks, and sanctuaries. I certainly had powerfully freeing, healing, and brave moments over the last three years.
Brave tattoo inspired by my writing and my seven year-old daughter's drawing.
However, I wasn’t really letting go of what I needed to in order to fully embrace what truths lay in waiting for me.
My heart and soul were surrounded by fears that I needed to let go of : the fear of the unknown, the fear of the uncertainties found in the adventure of discovering one’s self. I held closely to the paralyzing fear of my anxiety disorders. I chose to work on things that caused the least amount of uncovering, bleeding, and (ultimately) healing and scarring. Beautiful scarring.
Instead, I intentionally chose to continue to survive. Easy and simple enough while at the same time being one of the most limiting states to live in.
It got me through every moment in my life up to this point. And maybe that’s where I needed to be because it got me here.
To today. To this moment where I step off the edge again and open my soul to the world.
Bare and naked and vulnerable to truly living. And wanting to share it with the world so that anyone else suffocating under anxiety and fear and paralysis has a hand to hold to truly live to.
It’s from here that I intend to do just that.
I intend to thrive.
Thriving isn’t surviving. No, thriving is so much more. It’s living in the moment, it’s being present, it’s proactively moving forward toward greatness. It’s changing for the better, it’s embracing everything that I am here and now and working positively with that.
It’s taking the missed intentions of the last three years - freedom, healing, bravery – and packing them into the little suitcase in my heart to become a permanent part of me. It’s looking at myself in the mirror and saying “yes, I have paralyzing anxiety and depression and wrinkles and cellulite and crickets in my bank account (who doesn’t?!) and I want to run out the door screaming but wait... deep breath... I also have strength and humor and insane creativity and drive and unconditional support…”

So suck it fear.
Yes, you fear.
Raising that cold, frothy beer to you with a wink and a nod.
I intend to thrive.
 
Trust Love. 16 X 20 acrylic & mixed media on canvas. Heather Ercse-Spence original.
 See you soon, lovies.
 

Monday, January 7

Que sera sera. Maybe.


“Que sera sera. Whatever will be will be.”Doris Day
I remember my step-Daddy singing that to me as a child. I didn’t understand those words back then and I didn’t much care to. It mattered that he was singing to me was all. Things are different now. Who knew I’d one day have a chance at clarifying those words...
I can’t say I’m one of those people that believe life “just happens” to you. “Things” happen, yes. Life? No. Life is the thread through those “things”; the thread that dictates who you are and how you let those “things” affect your life. And the way you allow that thread to be woven, at some point in time, becomes entirely chosen by your own hand.
2012 was a year of “things”. Many not-so-happy things. Many test-your-strength things. Many ah-cheesy-Petes, give-me-a-break things.
Following the eye-opener that was 2011, 2012 just proceeded to rip my eyelids clean off. Because, obviously, I wasn’t seeing clearly enough. And, obviously, there’s so much more to divorcing happily-ever-after than anyone ever expects.
There’s being seriously conflicted while sifting through physical memories, separating everything into “truly mine” and “truly his” piles. There’s packing and boxing up only those things that don’t continue to impress confliction, those things you know in your heart you could never redefine as “truly mine”. There’s being confounded as you peer over the edge at the depths to which one man will go to intentionally violate personal boundaries. There’s the scrambling to find safety for yourself and your children and, amidst that scramble, to create stability and continuity for your children and to make for them some sort of sense out of all the chaos. There’s dismay at the amount of unfairness demonstrated by exes, attorneys, employers, families and “friends”, and, goddamn, what begins to feel like the world in general. There’s being purely and totally lost because all of this territory, for you, is new and uncharted and absolutely no one has a map.
And then there’s the unrelenting sadness caused by disappointment in your own self for all the consequences that come from no longer wanting tobe part of a fa├žade.
“For every heartbreak there’s a sermon to be said and this pastor in my head is preaching to the choir.”Train, Felt Good at First

Disappointment settles in, deep with-in. Long after you’ve moved out of the old life and into a new one. Disappointment lingers, waiting. Clearly, it has no qualms about waiting because it knows you’ll come down to it once you process all the other emotions of divorce: the I-can’t-believe-any-of-this-is-happening, the I-never-thought-I’d-actually-feel-my-heart-g0-through-a-shredder-yet-there-it-goes, the holy-fuck-why-me?!, the what-was-I-thinking?, the oh-thank-gaaawwd-I’m-free, the omfg-he’s-the-epitome-of-a-FUCKING-ASSHOLE-arrrrggghhhhhh!!!, the why-me-oh-sweet-baby-Jesus-WHY-ME?!, the when-will-this-ever-end?, and then, when that end finally does come... the astonished and gaping what-the-hell-was-THAT?! uttered after the cloud of dust settles in the now deafeningly quiet war zone that was once your marriage and subsequent divorce.
But disappointment. No, disappointment is a different beast altogether. Disappointment is what you get when you’re human. Or a perfectionist. (At this point, I can’t tell much of a difference between the two...)
Even though you’ve mulled it over in your head a hundred thousand times – and been told a bazillion damn times by others - that the life and death of a marriage takes two, you still feel deeply responsible for every wrong doing in your marriage, every devastating consequence of divorce on your children, and every miserable position you’ve put you and your children in just to break free. That line of thought is permeating, unrelenting. It becomes branded into some small, barely breathing (but just as much alive!) part of you that you’ve somehow left wide-open and vulnerable. Because you’re a classic hopeless case wearing your heart on your sleeve and your ex, well, he’s the type who chooses to remind you constantly that all of “this”, all of these “things”, are solely and intrinsically your fault.
Not his, mind you. Yours.

Because, to quote him, “things will happen”.  Which, in his mind, means no responsibility at all for choosing to live his life as a reaction simply because “things” have happened to him.
Jump-start my kaleidoscope heart. Love to watch the colors fade. They may not make sense but they sure as hell made me.”Sara Bareilles, Uncharted

Life, for me, however, hasn’t just happened. These past two years of hell have been an arduous trek I chose to take, a journey not unlike the constant changing, shifting, and turning of a kaleidoscope. If these past two years weren’t so much for him, well, they were undoubtedly for me. (And, for him, I highly doubt it was anything other than a moving from one lump of unsuspecting flesh to another.)
Yes, 2012 was indeed a year of things. It wasn’t a year of Life just happening. No. It was my life. My choosing whether or not I let the things that “happened to me” devastate me, destroy me, define me. It was my year for clarifying and choosing to define my life by how I wanted to live, by how I wanted to be affected, and by the strength I wanted my children to find in their mother.

And if I’ve anything to do with it, these “things” that have happened to my children over the past two years, won’t define them either. Love, perseverance, clarity, hope and strength will.

Que sera sera. Whatever people will be will be. Because life isn’t “things”.

Saturday, March 10

the clarity moment

"Are you clear on the decision you're making? Because whether you choose to stay or choose to go, there are grave implications either way."

This is what my closest confidante stated as I sobbed after revealing to her all that I'd held in my heart for the past few years regarding my relationship with the man I had married over 13 years ago. I'd just told him a few hours earlier that I was "done", that I wanted a divorce, and I knew that I'd have never uttered a word of it to him if I wasn't confident in my decision.

And she knew it too.

She then told me : "Stay focused. Keep your eye on the end goal of getting out of this relationship. Get angry later. Funnel that energy, that anger, into being productive, being strength and structure for your children and taking care of you. Stay focused and keep your goal right here" and she gently placed my clenched fist directly in front of my eyes, blocking out everything else in the world.

My decision to divorce wasn't made on a whim. It wasn't a "this is the easiest way out" sort of thing. It was something I'd contemplated for over four years - and it was contemplation that I'd done entirely on my own.

No one knew how bad things had gotten between me and my husband. No one knew I was even thinking about this. Because I knew that I was the only one who could contemplate it - and I knew that the only one who could help work on the relationship was said husband.

Serious contemplation was prompted by consistently having to fight for air, importance and recognition in our relationship and the nagging feeling that there was no happiness to be created in what we called a marriage.

Called a marriage. What a joke. What I believed a marriage should be - a heaven created by two people who mutually and genuinely want the best for one another, who face the same direction and walk side by side encouraging one another in the path to their dreams because they believe in the wonder of that person and the beauty of the heaven the two of them have created. That's what I thought he believed a marriage should be as well.

Instead, however, our "marriage" began to look like something completely different - not lovers, sweethearts, best friends, not even co-parents but roommates. What was left of our relationship four years ago had rapidly begun to deteriorate as we spent considerably less time together because he focused on oh, let's loosely call it "work" (because I now know otherwise what he was doing at the office for 10 hours a day) and I was left to raise the children by myself.

And it was one day, near what would be the end of those four years of contemplation, while I was watching my then five-year-old daughter joyfully, gracefully dance around the room with her two-year-old brother in tow, the two of them taking in life, enjoying it, letting it swirl inside them and then giving that energy back to the world... it donned on me: I wouldn't in my wildest dreams wish a relationship like this for either of them.

But what was I doing if not encouraging them to seek it out later in life if I stayed and continued to exemplify it to them?

They don't deserve this. No, I realized: they deserve so much more. "And I'm not going to be the one to teach them different than that."

After that realization, it's like I took a deep breath, steadied myself, and leapt. Those years of contemplation had slowly led me to that moment of clarity but it was that actual moment, those dreams dancing so innocently before me that catapulted me forward.

"Are you clear on the decision you're making...? Then stay focused and keep your goal right here."

Monday, March 5

i'm here. finally.

I made the following comment recently to a girlfriend of mine:
"My God, I feel like my life has turned into a Lifetime movie."

"Well it sure ain't Hallmark" was her response.

I laughed. And laughed.

Because it was funny...

Gads, she's spot on.

Fuck.

Sadly, there isn't much else though that would better sum up the past ten-plus months of my life.  (Lost? Click here.)

And at this very moment nothing feels better than to be sitting at my laptop, fingers brushing keys, settling into not only the comfort of my couch but the welcome familiarity of words, expression, and the pouring out of my soul.

And doing so in a manner that doesn't involve my attorney's name and expletive-flowered emails regarding the protection and well-being of myself and my children.

Because that gets old. Especially after ten months of it on an almost daily basis.

So where do I even begin?

As my mom would tell me : Here. Be here.

Here. Where I am now.

The warmth of the smooth keys under my fingertips. The taste of orange juice, cold on my lips. The airplane overhead. Sara Bareilles softly playing from my iphone. The lights on, the fan slowly stirring the sweet scent of orchids from their place in the vase.

And me. Breathing. Freely.In a place of zen, a place of peace, a place open to pondering where my life is headed, a place safe enough to unfold my dreams and build upon their encouraging platform.

In a place I created.

For me and my children.

And no one else.

Because what began on April 24th, 2011 with the heartbreaking decision to tell my husband that I wanted a divorce turned into an unraveling of a fifteen-year facade and the eventual realization that the man who agreed we would remain amicable and want the best for one another was intentionally set on ensuring I went down in flames with little regard to his children becoming casualties of his ill-will.

It’s terrifying to be faced with that life-negating behavior directed at you when you still live together. It's fraying to the soul to live each day in the same house with him and still try to shield your children from the explosive ending of the relationship. It's unnerving and unsettling to live amidst that while trying to pave a path for what's to become your escape.


And as the puzzle pieces fall together from the facade worn by the man you believed you'd share your entire life with, what's left is the horrifying realization that he's held this ill-intent toward you since day one for falling short of his narcissitic expectations.

But I'm here. Now.

Breathe.

Here. Safe in a haven I created. For me and for my children.

And what I found along the way to this safe haven is strength, passion, and courage I didn't know existed within ME. Not within him, not within his relentless ability to violate boundaries, not within his narcissistic bullying, not within his choices to repeatedly break commitments to his children.

But within me.

And it carried me. Here. For me, for my kids.

Because I'm worth it. And my children are beyond worth teaching that to over and over again with unabashed love and reckless abandon.

After the last ten-plus months - fuck Lifetime.

I deserve a whole damn movie.
 

Saturday, June 18

the reason this isn't "happily ever after", part 2

What follows is a recent letter to the "man" that I've been married to for over 12 years, that I've been with for over 15 years, and that I once thought I'd share the rest of my life with.
This, for starters, isn't what "happily ever after" looks like.
Dear Husband,
I’m angry. I’m beyond angry. I’m infuriated, in disbelief, disgusted, shocked. And, at this point, seething.
Husband, I don’t understand how anyone could do what you did. I get problems in a relationship. I get that there are things every person does in a relationship that adversely affects the other. But this. This is not a problem that is “just a part of life”. An affair – at least THREE of them that you’re willing to admit to ONLY because you got caught – affairs are not “events” that “just happen” to a marriage. It’s a deliberate act. It’s an intentional betrayal of vows. It’s a willingness to throw a significant other into the flames and sit idly by while they burn.
And it’s what you did, Husband. It’s what you explicitly chose to do repeatedly without any regard to me – ME – the one you made vows to, the one you “promised to love/cherish/forsake all others for”, the one you treated like shit but gave enough lip service over and over again to make me think that you really didn’t mean to treat me so badly – you know, YOUR WIFE.
It has been brought up several times between us and in Therapist’s office that your behavior toward me has always taken the tone and intention of punishing me. You yourself have said that was a fair assessment of your treatment of me. I continue to bring it up because you continue to punish me. When I express that I’m hurt and angry over the affairs and your reckless and narcissistic behavior, you simply say that you’re “sorry”. How could you possibly be sorry when you continue to punish me?! I’m the one sleeping on a crib mattress on the floor, I’m the one forced out of my own financial accounts, I’m the one forced to get a job after making an agreement WITH YOU regarding raising the children and staying home while you worked – an agreement that I KEPT and YOU INTENTIONALLY BROKE, I’m the one encouraged by the police to leave the house after YOU went on a borderline psychotic rampage in front of our daughter about YOUR needs, I’m the one forced out of a day of celebration with my own daughter for her dance recital because you don’t have the strength, courage, will – the CHARACTER – to stand up to your family.
When I first explicitly stated to you that I was done with trying to get you to engage in our relationship and take an invested interest in our marriage and subsequently that I wanted a divorce, you ran crying to everyone, “how could she destroy a family? How could she turn her back on a marriage?” Really, Husband? How exactly do you justify that? I spent 12 years trying to fix a relationship with a narcissistic pathological liar who would do anything to look like the “good guy”, the “hero”, the “good Christian husband” all while WILLINGLY flinging aside respect, devotion, loyalty, VOWS BEFORE GOD just to get what YOU want. You, Husband, single-handedly destroyed this marriage. You, Husband, INTENTIONALLY turned your back on this marriage time and time again.
Only took eight of those twelve year before I began to realize that our “relationship” wasn’t a marriage. It wasn’t anywhere near “happily ever after” and that you had no intention of EVER creating such with me. Your only intention was fulfilling your own delusional fairy tale where you get everything you want.
I get it, Husband.
But do you get it?
I will never desire to be considered your wife. I will never desire to be associated with you as a friend, a relative, a colleague. I will never desire any part of you and I will never want any part of you to touch me. I will never want you to be a part of my life. I want nothing to do with you.
I’m angry. I’m infuriated, in disbelief, disgusted, shocked. And, at this point, seething.
And I’m done.
Beyond done.

Sunday, June 5

happily ever after, really? that's the best you could do?

Part 1. (I swear I'll post Part 2 in a relatively punctual manner. For reals, ya'll.)

What is it about marriage that automatically dictates "happily ever after"? Each night I read my daughter a story and sing her a song before she closes her eyes to dream. And inevitably the story ends up being some fairy tale about a princess and a prince and "they lived happily ever after".

I always have a hard time when I come to that part of the story. Invariably I want to change those words to something like "and they lived as happily as they could" or "and they worked at their marriage and that's how they lived happily ever after". Some nights I feel the story should end with "and they lived happily ever after as long as Prince Charming didn't fuck things up. Goodnight, Sweetheart."

Because how many couples do we really know who are actually living happily ever after? How many are separating/divorcing? How many are merely existing together, pretending to be happy or, just as bad, waiting for happiness to just happen to them? And how many are actually, truly, happy together?

I know more couples who fall into the first two categories than I do in the last. The one couple I do know that has a very successful and happily-ever-after-esque marriage is the only couple I've ever known to have dedicated so much to each other and to working out every issue. Indeed, they are an inspiration to me.

But my own marital issues and relationship problems have, at times, left me bewildered at how what that couple has ended up being not what my husband and I have.

And it's led me to some very difficult questions that I've had to seek out equally difficult answers to over the last year.

Does a person's first marriage have to be *the* marriage? Does their second? Third? Should they be cut off at some point, like they've met their limit?

What if what you thought was *the* marriage doesn't work out? What if you discover that the person you thought you'd made vows to is really someone entirely different? How do you reconcile that?

And how much of yourself do you throw into solving those issues, those discrepencies before you realize you've exhausted everything you are just to find you're the only one in the marriage trying to address those issues?

And how do you tell your five year old daughter who loves the idea of Prince Charming and off-into-the-sunset-to-eternal-bliss that "happily ever after" is what you make it and that sometimes two people just can't make it?

Human is human. Relationships are complicated. Happily ever after isn't simply three magical words.

I can't explain that to her. I can't destroy her dreams even though I feel like I've already begun to do that...