Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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Sun. Surf and Family Fun. I’ve got it all!

And we’re off! Tomorrow that is.

By tomorrow afternoon, C.C., our two eldest daughters and their partners along with my grandson will be arriving in Mexico. We’ll spend 9 days together in a beautiful house we’ve rented on the beach in Todos Santos on the Pacific side of the Baja Peninsula.  And then, on the 9th, the others will fly home and C.C. and I will fly to Huatulco for a week at Villas Fa Sol.

I am beyond excited.

The trip was inspired by my daughters who suggested we go away together to celebrate my birthday. I liked the idea of being away for this momentous (I think its momentous to turn 65 but I haven’t quite figured out all that it means! But ‘they’ tell me it’s important so I’m going with that) occasion. We considered all the options and, given the time of year, a warm vacation seemed most appropriate, especially as we are travelling with a 10 month old.

Before tomorrow there is still today. And I’ve got lots to do yet before shutting down my computer at work, turning out the lights and putting up the “On Vacation” sign on my door. (I don’t really have an “On Vacation” sign for my door but I do like the idea of it!)

So… back to turning 65 years young.

It is just a number, yet, this number puts me into a ‘new’ age bracket. I’m now officially a senior where ever I go. And when I say it I get the feeling I should be feeling different. Acting otherwise. thinking some other way.

Truth is… I truly don’t know what I’m supposed to be feeling about turning 65. I’ve never been here before and other than the random thought of “OMG! I’m turning 65. What on earth does that mean?” I haven’t spent a lot of time contemplating this changing of the guard in the numbers representing my age.

There are a few things I’ve noticed…

I’ve got more aches and pains than I used to.

The arthritis in my feet flares up more frequently, making walking painful and yes, the finger I closed in the garage door when the motor went and I tried to close it manually a few years back does give me grief. It’s nubby and deformed and I’m often conscious of how it looks, especially because I talk so much with my hands.

And I can’t run a marathon anymore (lol. I can’t run very far at all but I still love to walk with Beau and spend time in nature) and I’ve definitely put on weight and there is more gray than black in my hair and more character lines on my face than I personally think I  need, but Mother Nature didn’t ask me how many lines I wanted and I think the number was predetermined when I was born based on the genetics I carried into this world anyway!

But really… what does turning 65 mean other than I get discounts every where and apparently, a bus pass is really cheap!

65 is just a number, an age, a day in time.

It’s not something I can avoid — though I did read somewhere about a guy who feels he can’t get dates on dating sites because of his age. He’s petitioned the courts to legally roll 20 years off his age because he believes he is more like a 45 year old in every way than his current 65!

Oh if it were so simple.

Fact is, I like my age. I’ve lived every moment of it. Worked my entire life to be this age and don’t really feel it is a detriment (fortunately I’m not on dating sites) :). Actually, in many ways I feel my age is my strength.

There was a time, when I was younger when I worried a great deal about what others thought of me. And, because I wanted their approval, I would say and do things that were not congruent with my values, beliefs or desires. I wanted to ‘fit in’ and would do a lot to make it happen.

Now, I’m comfortable with who I am, how I am and what I do in the world. I know I can make mistakes, hurt people through thoughtless words and actions, but the difference today is I don’t spend time defending my bad behaviour. I choose to own it. Apologize where necessary and move on. I no longer feel the need to stew in perceived injustices. Injustices happen. The world, and all its beautiful people is not perfect. But I can be perfectly happy with my place in the world, and I am.

Because something I’ve learned in getting to this beautiful number of 65 is… happiness is an inside-out job. I gotta be happy with me to be happy in my world.

Today, no matter my age, I choose to be happy with me in all my beauty and imperfections because that’s what makes my world a happier place. It’s only taken me 65 years to get here and I’m so very glad I am here.

Namaste.

 

 


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Walk in Gratitude

I don’t know if it’s the late November blahs, excitement of leaving for Mexico for two weeks on Saturday and too much to get done before I go, or just my frame of mind before the advent of December, but yesterday I said to a friend, “Oh oh. I’m feeling ‘the bitchy’ rumbling. I need to breathe a few moments before I walk into any room because if I let ‘the bitchy’ take hold, there’s no telling how I might express myself.”

Fact is, when ‘the bitchy’ arises, it’s easy to let ‘stupid’ become the stinkin‘ expression of my angst-riddled thinkin‘ .

My friend laughed and told me how his go to place is depression. In that dark place, if left to its own ministrations, his tendency to dip down into sadness will turn to depression which he  expresses through dark clouds and stormy exclamations that can wreak havoc in the world around him. “I usually go off and hide when I feel the sadness coming on. I don’t trust myself to be around other people. Who knows what might set me off?” he said.

Most of us have them. Those ‘moods’ that descend seemingly out of nowhere to alter our outlook in the moment passing by with their cloudy, stormy dispositions. Those moods that, if left to their own devices, steal our peace of mind and inner balance with their insistence that angst-filled living is the only way to get satisfaction.

Like Mick Jagger and heartburn, “I can’t get no satisfaction” from my angst. I just get more angst.

I know they are there, those hazy mood altering shadows that penetrate my well-being when I’m paying the least attention. It’s not really all that important why, or what triggers them. Often, the trigger is as inexplicable as the mood. What is important is that I acknowledge its presence, greet it with love and set it free.

Like that poem broken-hearted lovers espouse, If you love something set it free, if it comes back it’s yours, if it doesn’t, it never was, ill humour is never mine to hold onto. (It’s also not mine to set free into the world!)

Which is why, when I identify fissures of discord arising within me, breathing becomes my default go-to.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Slowly. Quietly.

Breathe in. Breathe out. And as I breathe, ask for divine guidance, for sacred intervention to descend and open me up to expansion.

In expansion mode, ‘the bitchy’ has no room to grow. But when I’m contracted (which is what happens when I give into inner angst)… watch out. She ‘The bitchy’ likes to get in there and flex her muscles. She likes to mess things up.

And I slip into a state of being grateful and accepting of all that is in my life. As a dear friend once shared with me, gratitude and acceptance are states of being, not tools. “Rejoice in whatever is occurring rather than attempt to deny or deflect it” he said.. “Misery arises when I attempt to comprehend or “fit in” to my stories of what “should be”. There are no tools as there is nothing to fix.”

The bitchy visited. I do not need to comprehend or fit into her stories. I need to breathe and ‘open up to expansion’.

Yesterday, I thought I needed to corral ‘the bitchy’ into submission. Subdue her with mental gymnastics. I changed my mind.

I welcomed her in love. Greeted her with familiarity and let her flow without needing to express her angst with inappropriate behaviours.

In gratitude for her reminder that I am grateful for all things in my world, I breathed.

In. Out. In. Out.

Though brief, she reminded me to center once again in gratitude. She doesn’t need fixing. I don’t need changing. In the moment of acknowledging her presence, all I needed was to breathe and adjust my disposition to expand into love, not contract into fear, to let grace flow. In acknowledging her shadow I let her flow through gratitude into the light of love all around.

Outside my window, the world sleeps beneath a week old blanket of snow. The river flows by. Inside, my beloved sleeps in our bed. Beaumont lies curled up on the chaise beside me. I hold them in my mind’s eye and surround them with love.

I turn my sights to the world around me and let go of expectations of perfection as I open myself up to expansion of my gratitude of all I have and pour love into my day.

Whatever is happening out there, all is well in my world within me. May all be well in yours.

Namaste.


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How Do You Grieve When Abuse Masquerades As Love?

When love ends, we grieve. We grieve the passing of what could have been, should have been, might have been, if only.

We search for ways to give meaning to our pain, to explain the sometimes inexplicable causes leading to loves demise. Sometimes, we talk it out. We make arrangements on how to separate, how to divide love’s spoils, how to survive love’s loss. We draw up agreements, outline custody and visitation arrangements. We divvy up assets and liabilities, arrange for payment. We divorce and move on with our lives, sometimes poorer but always richer in experience.

When we have loved an abuser, love cannot die. Love never existed.

With an abuser, there was no mutual agreement to love honestly, truthfully, respectfully. There was only the abuser’s mask hiding his or her intent to deceive. There was only the lie posing as truth. Blinded by love, we could not see the difference.

In the lie we thought was love vanishing out the door, we hang our hopes on one more chance to say, ‘good-bye’. On one more time to see their face, hear their voice, be in the presence of the love we believed to be true.

In our grief we plead for one last time. We pray, he will return. We pray, he or she, the one we loved, will come back if only to give us a chance to secure the elusive closure our empty arms yearn for. We want to say good-bye on our terms. We want to have the last word, to make them hear us, see us, feel our pain, witness our anguish. We want to know they understand the harm their passing through our lives has caused. We want them to ‘see’ how much we love in the hopes that the one we loved, the one we believed to be true, will return. We want one more chance. One more good-bye.

And so we plead with time to give us this one last chance so that we can come to terms with their good-bye. So that we can steal the time to learn to grieve on our terms.

And that is the lie we tell time. Give us a chance and we will make them hear us, just this once, so we can grieve freely.

It never happens. It can’t.

Loving a lie is not possible.

With our empty arms and broken dreams, we must give into grief and mourn for the one who was lost. The woman who was abused. The one who was lost. The one who fell. The one who was betrayed. We must mourn for the one we must love the most. Ourselves.

Once upon a time I loved a man who was untrue. He never really existed, though I searched for him between the lines he spoke, seeking truth in all his lies. Between the pages of my journal where I wrote of love ever lasting and promises of happily-ever after. I searched in every nook and cranny of my mind, desperately trying to make real the unreal. To make sense of the nonsense that was his passing through my life. I searched and held onto the hope that the pain, the turmoil, the sorrow was all a lie and he would turn up and be true.

It never happened. It couldn’t.

He was the lie.

Instead of grieving ‘love gone wrong’ I had to learn to grieve the dream that could never be, the love that never was. I had to learn to grieve for the woman who lost herself in the arms of an abuser. To grieve for the pain she endured, the pain she caused. I grieved and cried and wished and hoped and prayed upon every star that the pain would cease, the tears would dry up and my heart would be healed. I prayed for the past to be erased. The lies to be vanished. The horror to be undone.

Nothing can undo the past. There is nothing that can be changed in yesterday.

Grieving a love that never was is part of the illusion of loving an abuser. We look for meaning in our memories and come up empty.

On the other side of grieving a lie is love.

Grieving for the woman who lost herself in the arms of an abuser, set me free to fall into the arms of love.

In grieving for all that was lost, all that was forgotten on the stormy waters of his lies, I embraced all that was possible when I set myself free to sail upon the sea of love that surrounds me, sustains me, lifts me up.

Love has no limits. Love knows no bounds. Love is my answer.

Stand in love. Grow in love. Be love.

In mourning for the one who lost herself in the arms of a man who was untrue, I found myself. I found myself and fell in love with all that I can be when I set myself free to live this one wild and precious life free to be all I am when I let go of grief and fall… in love.

______________________________________________________________________________

Awhile ago, I met a woman who pulled a piece of paper out of her wallet and showed me what it was.  It was the above piece which I wrote in 2008 and posted on my original blog, Recover Your Joy, 5 years after the abuser who was in my life was arrested. “Thank you for this,” she said. “You really helped me understand.”

As we near the end of Family Violence Prevention Month, I am sharing it in honour of those who struggle to escape, to those trying to make sense of abuse masquerading as love, to those who never found release, and those taking their first steps in freedom from abuse.

Abuse hurts. Stop it.


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Spoken and Unspoken

Words shimmer on the edges of my mind flowing endlessly like the river. Words that provoke and tempt and tease me into awakening to the beauty of my world. Words that fall mindlessly to the page, tumbling out in joyful abandon, littering the lines with fat, plump consonants, juicy rich vowels and punctuation ripe with possibility.

I let the words have their way. Give them room to appear upon the page in all their gleeful disarray. Pushing, prodding I tease them into order, searching for value in every letter, every phrase.

I am a woman of words. Of visual imagery all wrapped up in spoken symbols uttered into the void of possibility that exists all around me.

I am a woman of silence. Of quiet thoughts left unspoken, expressed in hands and eyes and body movements and simple gestures that speak to what is on my mind, what pains me, awakens me, touches me, moves me, disturbs me, pleases me.

I am a woman of words spoken and unspoken. Of hidden meanings clustered behind a single word and open dialogue where ideas flow freely into pathways to truth and beauty creating light that illuminates the way to know and feel and embrace and be connected. My words to your words. My heart to your heart.

I am my truth, spoken or unspoken. I am the words I speak, the words I think and leave behind hidden in silence. I am the words I leave behind when I have spoken.

I am my words creating better, creating hope, belonging, understanding. I am my words of destruction, creating distance, anger, separation. Pain.

I am the words I employ in every spoken utterance, in every unspoken truth. I am my truth in all its shining light and painful darkness.

Sometimes, I throw my words around without thought. I must use my words wisely. Kindly. Thoughtfully. I am my words spoken and unspoken.

Unspoken

Silence waits in the space
between
two lovers
separated
torn apart
with words unspoken.

Silence breathes opening up the space
between
two lovers
joined
pulled together
by words unspoken.

Silence speaks within the space
between
two lovers
entwined
bodies enmeshed
in words unspoken.

__________________________________________________

Some mornings words are meant to be played with, coaxed and teased or let flow freely.

This was one of those morning.


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Words hurt. Actions matter.

When my daughters were little and would fight, I’d tell them they had a right to their anger. They never had the right to be cruel or mean or unkind.

Words hurt.  Actions matter.

My goal was to teach them how to be accountable with their words and actions. To recognize that anger and any other emotion that triggers negative feelings is okay, It’s what you do with those feelings that matters. Just because you’re feeling hurt or angry, it doesn’t give us license to spill our ‘ill-will’ onto others.

Making ourselves feel better by making others feel worse is not okay.

It’s a lesson I am continuously learning.

When triggered by something someone else has done or said, or something that happened, be it on the news or in my community, or work, home, acting out is not okay.

Being 100% accountable for my words and actions is vital to creating the ‘better’ I want to create in the world around me.

Recently, something happened at work that triggered a memory I hadn’t thought of in years. It wasn’t a pleasant memory. In fact, it was extremely uncomfortable.

At the time of the incident, I didn’t remember the memory. But, as I drove home later, it flashed through my mind with the speed of a comet streaking across the sky.

I had a choice. Acknowledge it. Ignore it. Or let it trigger me into acting out.

I chose to acknowledge it.

Ignoring it would only have given it more power to interfere with my peace of mind.

Letting it trigger me into acting out would only have created situations where I’d probably have to go back and clean up my mess. I’ve grown tired of the need to have to apologize for my bad behaviour. It’s so self-defeating.

Instead, I acknowledged to myself that the incident had triggered a memory from a dark period in my past. “That was then. This is now.” I gently reminded myself. “You are safe in the here and now.”

Over the next few days I repeated the mantra I use to remind myself that I have the power to re-wire my neural pathways towards the light, not the dark. I developed this mantra with my therapist a few years ago when working on PTSD that had been triggered when I was encircled by an angry mob at a community engagement session I’d been part in my work to end homelessness in our city. The crowd didn’t want us building a 20 unit affordable housing apartment in their community. They got really vocal and almost violent in their response. In the moment, I stood them down and walked away. Afterwards, my mind went into overdrive connecting dots in the here and now to terrors I’d experienced in the there and then.

My mind wanted to remind me of how unsafe I was. My heart wanted to hold me in peace.

I went back into therapy.

My therapist explained how our minds are comfortable with habitual thinking. Following the neural pathways to the dark can be easier than flowing into the light. But, she said, you can retrain your mind to travel to the light. We talked at length about what was triggered by that event until it became really clear that the inciting fears were connected to old childhood beliefs.

In the here and now of that event as it was happening, I felt unsafe because I was.

In the here and now of the aftermath of that event. I was safe but was triggered by fears of lack of safety, lack of support, lack of belonging that were deeply connected to an unprotected childhood.

In our work together, I explored what was at the root of my feelings of lack of safety (the dark place) and developed a mantra to retrain my mind to take the path to the light (the peace of mind space).

I am grateful for opportunities where I am reminded of my power to choose the light. To choose the path to well-being over darkness. To choose to be kind to myself, and thus the world around me, so that I don’t have to then empty my shame bucket by apologizing to those I’ve hurt with my words and actions because I was triggered and felt the need to act out in my own defense.

The mind is an amazing place!  It has the power to hold us in the light of truth and beauty, honesty and Love. Or, it can drag us down into the dark places holding us captive to our fears.

Guiding my thinking back to the light makes my world a better place. It creates lightness of being and ease of mind.

I like it here.

Namaste.

 


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A trick of light

Sometime ago, while waiting for a friend to arrive in the restaurant where we were meeting, I stared at a large painting hanging on the wall behind the bar. It was a surrealistic depiction of Christ on the cross. Simple. Stark. Provocative. What made it most interesting, however, was what I couldn’t figure out to be either a shovel or possibly a broom hanging from his left arm.

I wondered what it was. What it meant. Why it was there. What did it mean?

When my friend arrived I pointed at the painting and asked her what she thought that shadowy object meant.

She turned to look at the painting and said, “Do you mean that greyish section?”

“Yes,” I replied. “It’s slightly darker. It’s almost like a floor lamp hanging upside down…” My voice trailed away. I looked at the lights hanging from above the bar. They too looked like floor lamps hanging upside down. “Oh dear,” I laughed. “It’s the shadow of the light above the bar. It’s not part of the painting at all.”

We started to laugh. I told her how I’d spent the time I’d sat waiting, wondering about the purpose of that image in the painting. About how I’d had all sorts of ideas of the artist’s statement — like, we hung Christ on a cross and then made him dig his own grave, or dug our own graves by hanging him on a cross. Some of my ideas had become almost metaphysical in their explanation of the object in Christ’s hand — when in reality, there was no object in His hand. It was just a trick of the lighting.

In focusing on the shadow of that lamp I took my attention away from the actual painting and put it on something that was not part of the ‘real’ thing. I kept looking for meaning in the unreal as I struggled to understand what the shadow meant.

In life, we look for meaning out there — in the world around us — often believing that if we can just figure out ‘it’ means, the ‘it’ being whatever is happening around us at any given moment. We focus externally rather than looking inside ourselves, to where the real ‘it’ lives and breathes and expands with every breath we take and every thought we create.

Within each of us there is a ‘shadow’ waiting to be discerned, seen, embraced, understood, faced. In that moment of seeing our shadow and embracing its presence, we set ourselves free of the past, free of the limiting beliefs that would have us question our right to live up to our greatness.

We do not know what we do not know.

In looking at the painting that night, I did not know I was being tricked by a shadow until I took my focus off of what I saw, and moved my eyes to the source of the shadow.

Within me, I do not know how my shadow is tricking me until I take my focus off what I tell myself I believe to be true about myself — and face what I fear will happen to me if I face the self-limiting beliefs I tell myself are true — and step into the light of my possibilities free of the shadow of my limiting beliefs.

To create the life of my dreams I must be willing to look at what is hiding in my shadow. I must be willing to do the things I fear, to dig into my darkness and uncover the blocks, the limiting beliefs, the outdated ideas that keep me stuck, that keep me out of the light of living my best life yet.

That life can only be achieved when I fearlessly shine my light on the shadows I fear within me. In that place, there is nothing inside me so terrifying as the darkness I refuse to uncover from the past.

The past cannot hurt me. The past only exists in my mind and in my mind is all the power, all the tools I need to reach inside my heart and love myself for all I’m worth.

In the end, there was no shovel. There was only darkness coming to light.

The question is: What truth is your shadow hiding? Are you willing to dig into it and uncover the light?


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Black to blue and fade – November is Family Violence Prevention Month

I am driving in my car towards downtown. Work. A family homeless shelter. A family housing agency.

My tires hiss along the pavement. November is unusually warm. What snow there was has disappeared.

I hear a line in a song, ‘from black to blue’. I do not know the song. I do not know the artist. I know the story.

An image flashes through my mind. Fast. Like a comet falling. A hand raised. A slap. A bruise. Sallow yellow. Just forming. Black to blue and fade. Back to black. Sallow yellow.

A woman. Black to blue and fade. Fading into sallow yellow. Fading into nothing.

A man. A woman. Anger. Flash. Black to blue and fade. Nothing.

It goes on. And on.

The cycle.

A man. A woman. Anger. Flash. Hand. Slap. Sallow yellow. Black to blue and fade. And nothing.

The woman falls. She rises up. Smiles. Cajoling. Encouraging.

Anger flashes.

The man rises up. Hand raised. Pain. Cry. Sallow yellow heating up to orange. Red. Black to blue and back again. Fade to black.

A siren.

Screaming.

A body. Lying. Cold. Still breathing.

She smiles through the pain. The ambulance jolts into gear. She is carried away. Away from black to blue.

He loves me, she says.

Love doesn’t hurt like this, someone answers in the darkness.

She cannot hear.

He didn’t mean to do it. It was an accident. She insists.

And their voices fade from black to blue into nothing.

She grows silent.

And goes back.

Not for more. Never for more.

He won’t do it again.

Never more.

He promised.

There’s always the promise of never again after black fades to blue to sallow yellow into nothing. Always the promise of never more fading away at the edge of happily ever after.

It is promise of what could be without black fading to blue to sallow yellow to nothing.

And the cycle turns and the pain continues and the fear rises and black to blue fades deeper and deeper into unending black. Deeper into that dark space where blackness lives in memory blocked of any colour beyond black to blue. Beyond that place where truth lies. Where life fades
from black to blue
to constant sallow yellow
rising once again
to red
black and blue
all over
before
she fades,
away
forever
into nothing.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

November is Family Violence Prevention month.

This piece wrote itself after hearing the line, “from black to blue” in a song playing on my car radio.

I share it today in honour of those who have/ have not/ cannot/ did not/ will never / get away / from black to blue.

Domestic violence is a family affair. We can all help end it. It begins with not staying silent. It begins with education. It begins with you and me.

Some Resources

Calgary Domestic Violence Collective

Family Violence Prevention Resources

Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters

YW Calgary

Calgary Counselling