Yoga Therapy

I’ve practiced yoga for several years off and on. I’ve managed to practice regularly, at least a couple of sessions per week since January.  Two months ago I joined a gym near work and have been able to go to lunchtime yoga, helping me average 4-5 times per week.  2017 has brought me the toughest challenges yet in my personal life, some of my worst fears brought to life.  Yet I realize that not only am I ok, I’m actually thriving.  My marriage is stronger than ever.  I am stronger than ever, more at peace. I credit this to many things but in part to things I’ve practiced on my yoga mat.

First, yoga is self-care for me. I feel physically and mentally stronger and more flexible after a practice.  I stretch and hold and breathe through discomfort.  I push to the edge of my physical limits and then for a few moments at the end I experience complete and total relaxation.  It’s just my mat and me for that block of time; everything else is set aside.

Yoga has also taught me to stay present with physical discomfort (not pain).   I’ve learned that I can stay with the physical discomfort, instead of trying to avoid or escape and I grow stronger.  The discomfort becomes easier to handle physically because my muscles grow to support me.  More importantly though, mentally I know I can handle that discomfort.  I know that I’m ok in that moment and I’ll be ok after it ends.  I can handle it.  This mental strength has carried over into my life off the mat as well.  Life has thrown some tough stuff my way this year, and I have been able to stay present in the moment.  I have hurt.  I have felt the pain but because I’ve been present in the moment, I’ve also been aware when it ebbed away.  It hasn’t lasted forever.  I have experienced joyful moments, peaceful moments, loving moments in between the moments of pain.  I’ve realized that I can handle the pain while it lasts and I will be at peace when it ends.

My favorite thing about yoga, though, is that we _practice_ it. There is always more to learn, another way to grow.  That too applies off my yoga mat.  I’m growing with the challenges life has given me.  Some days I fall on the mat; some days I fall apart in life.  I’m practicing.  I will always be practicing.

Namaste.

Step stones on my path from anger & jealousy to absolution and appreciation

When I first married my husband three years ago, it very quickly became clear that the reality of living in a blended family did not match my romantic expectations. Indeed at the wedding itself, I presented our new family with a family tree picture that I had custom ordered with our names showing the merging of our families.  My stepson didn’t acknowledge it or the card I spent hours picking out and choosing just the right words to write.  It was left behind on the table unread as soon as he opened it and saw it didn’t have any money.  My son flew into a rage as he adamantly maintained that he had a different last name and was NOT part of this new family tree.  I was hurt and angry that the kids weren’t living up to the picture I had in my mind of our beautiful new family.

In truth, though I wasn’t aware of it yet, my own feelings weren’t fitting neatly into that picture either. The boys were at least being honest.  I was struggling with feelings that seemed so ugly that I couldn’t even admit them to myself, instead pushing them down and ignoring them.  As you can imagine that didn’t go very well.  Those repressed feelings burst out in angry words and conflict.  I was jealous.  Jealous over my stepson having such an important piece of my husband, jealous over his ex for sharing such a special bond with him (one that I wouldn’t share), jealous over feeling that I was and would always be the second choice – only in the picture because she chose to leave him behind.

What’s changed three years later? I found some tools to use along the way: awareness, acceptance, asking questions, absolution and appreciation.

  1. Awareness – I wasn’t even truly allowing myself to identify these feelings because they seemed so horrible. With awareness, I was able to identify the feelings. When I became able to admit my own feelings and not repress them, I began to look for tools to cope. There are many wonderful stepfamily resources out there! I found validation that many others were feeling the same things and that my feelings were normal! I found positive role models who I admired who were openly talking about having these very same “horrible” feelings!
  2. Acceptance – I learned that my feelings are valid. Always. I accepted my feelings as normal, allowed myself to feel the emotions and let them go.
  3. Asking questions – It was normal and ok to feel hurt, angry, or jealous at times but I was keeping those bad feelings going way past their expiration dates with my thoughts. I began questioning these storylines in my head. I realized that I was comparing myself unfairly to his ex (and not even the real version but the one I was creating in my mind), I was putting myself down, and I was telling myself that I was a victim of wrongs by others. Sometimes I was legitimately mistreated but even then my thoughts were creating the real problem. I was hanging on to those wrongs, playing them over and over again in my mind instead of feeling the hurt and then moving on. I wrote down these storylines in my journal and it really helped me see how ridiculous they were.
  4. Absolution – I actively practice forgiveness every day, starting with forgiving myself. Then I actively forgive others (and repeat as necessary).  When you’re merging a new family, toes will get stepped on. The exes, the kids, our extended families, my husband and I were all making mistakes as we charted these complicated new waters. I now focus on me and what I can do better and then I let the rest go.
  5. Appreciation –My current happiness is only truly possible because of our history. My husband and I are a great match now but we wouldn’t be the same people without our first marriages, our exes, our kids. Those experiences shaped us, developed us into who we are now and I am enormously grateful for all of it.

Tough Times

Lately things have been really hard in our family. I’d safely say this is the worst patch of drama with the exes and kids that I’ve experienced.  I won’t bother you with the details because if you live in a blended family (or any family, or just live period) then you’ve got your own share.  I’ve been quiet for a while taking time to process this stress but I’d like to share with you how I’m coping in hopes that you can find something of value to use if when life throws horribleness at you.  For all its awfulness, this drama hasn’t led to the physical and mental tension that I’ve experienced plenty of over the years.  It hasn’t led to more fights in my marriage.  It’s been a daily battle but I feel I’m winning.  I can’t change anyone else’s behavior towards me.  I can’t fix problems that I didn’t create. I can control me and that’s enough.

  1. Prayer

I really truly offered these problems up to God and then let go. Repeat as necessary. I’ve tried to do this in the past but the relief I felt this time was completely different and amazing.   I’m doing what I can to solve the problem and that’s all.  I’m not giving any extra time or mental energy beyond that.  I’m trusting in God and will deal with the outcome as it happens, not all the possibilities that could potentially happen and not rehashing the problem over and over (and experiencing it over and over with that rehashing).  When those thoughts of rehashing or future possible worries/ outcomes pop into my head, I’m consciously shooing them away.  I’m doing this over and over as necessary and it’s becoming more automatic.

  1. Breathing

Breathe in, hold a few seconds, breathe out slowly. Repeat.  I’m checking in with my breathing throughout the day.  I’m stopping to focus on my breathing when I feel the familiar tension in my shoulders – the one that creeps up into my neck and leads to the headaches that can ruin days in a row. I’m taking time to appreciate the calm of the life-giving breath and the magic of how it can wipe away that tension.

  1. Self-Care: Journaling, yoga, meditation

Self-care looks different to everyone but make it a priority. I’ve cut down on obligations and am making time for self-care a priority.  For me, self-care means slowing down and doing less of just about everything.  I get wrapped up in how much I do; how much I accomplish and it’s very freeing to just focus on existing, being. Spending time journaling helps me in getting those thoughts out on the page so I can be done with them.  I’ve been doing to a weekly meditation group and doing longer meditations.  I’ve increased my yoga workouts and already am feeling stronger and more flexible.  I’m reading more for just pure fun; a hobby that always seems to get pushed to the back of the priority list.  I’ve been having fun experimenting with making my own cleaning and beauty products.  Find the combo that works for you but focus on you.

  1. Focus on my marriage

I’m also making a conscious effort to pay attention to my marriage. My husband is the only person who has promised to share his entire life with me.  He is a kind and gentle being who has proven his love and patience even when I’ve snapped at him or taken out my stress on him.  I’m paying conscious attention to all the things he does for me every day and I’m trying to return the favors.  I’m making date nights or date moments a priority and I’m making sure that I handle my stress with self-care so that I can be the best wife possible.  I’m insulating my marriage from the outside stress because this stress is all temporary and my marriage is not.

“Spicy” date night & wedding gifts

Last night, my husband and I found ourselves without kids and without obligations. Impromptu date night!  We went to my favorite local restaurant, stopping to beat a Pokémon gym along the way.  We had white heat sushi (white tuna, mango, jalapeno) and Korean BBQ wings.  I strayed from my usual red wine and had a fun “el diablo” cocktail made with ginger beer, honey and jalapeno infused tequila.  He tried one of the microbrews on offer.  We chatted and caught up about work, friends, and our progress in this new game that we’re playing together.  We rented a movie, What We Do in the Shadows, and tucked into bed to watch and laugh uproariously.  It was a fun, relaxed mid-week break.

Before I met my husband, I never ate raw fish, jalapenos, or buffalo wings. I would have loved the restaurant but I would have ordered a completely different meal.  I did not have a smart phone even though it was 2012 and smart phones were everywhere.  I wouldn’t have chosen a comedy.  My marriage has changed me, changed even my small daily choices, and I am certain my husband would say the same thing.  Our date night dinner doesn’t have much in common with the meals we would have chosen before we met, before we changed each other.  My husband and I gave each other the greatest gift possible at our wedding; we promised to share the rest of our lives with each other.  We’ve exchanged other gifts since we’ve been married besides the ones we’ve bought:  exposure to new foods, new hobbies, new viewpoints, and the self-awareness that comes from living with someone and seeing your behavior through the mirror of his/her reaction.

Some of these gifts brought joy immediately. Sushi is delicious and so are jalapenos!  Who knew?!  Comedies and iPhones are delightful! Some “gifts” brought conflict and I didn’t realize that these were actually gifts at all.  We don’t always agree on what to do with the kids or our money or our time.  I haven’t always liked the reflection of myself that I saw in his eyes and I haven’t always liked him.  As we enter year four of our marriage, though, I see that those are the best gifts I’ve ever given and received.  I’ve stretched and grown in ways I never expected.  Working through disagreements has taught me to be a better communicator, more flexible and more patient.  Note the “better” and the “more” as I haven’t perfected any of this yet! I’ve learned to relinquish control and responsibility and to let go of worry over “potential” future problems.  It feels amazing to extend (and to accept) grace and forgiveness when it is needed and I’m not sure which has been harder to practice.

I like the spicy food on the “date night” table more than I would have four years ago, and I can say the same thing about the couple sharing it.

A wedding card to myself

My husband and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary just before Thanksgiving.   We chose to dive right in to the holidays as a new family – no honeymoon period to figure things out for us! Three years of marriage and two (soon to be three) sets of holidays down in the books.  We’ve made memories, mistakes and all sorts of moments in between.  The holidays seem to intensify all of these.

Holidays are complicated in our family. Aren’t they in everyone’s though?  Both our parents are divorced so we have parents in four different States.  My husband and I each have a child with our ex, and our exes both remarried fairly recently.  Our exes are juggling complicated family lives of their own.  Blending schedules, traditions and expectations has been a challenge!

We are spending Christmas with my sister and her two kids in Oregon this year.   The gift of a holiday with my side of the family together was/is a present for my Mom’s 70th birthday.  Coordinating this was lengthy and exhausting.  I won’t bore you with the details but discussions for this began a year before her birthday and we just celebrated her 71st.  Yep.  But that Oregon wine will taste all the sweeter for it, right?!  Do they have good wine in Oregon?  Or are they known for beer?  I digress…

If you’re embarking on this blended family journey (or just have a family), I don’t have tips to offer you. I, in fact, welcome any advice you can give me!  As an anniversary gift, I gave my husband a collage of the wedding cards our friends and family gave us.  The sentiments were so sweet and wonderful and now we have them framed to enjoy every day.  If, however, I could go back in time and give myself a wedding card, here are some of the things I would say:

  1. Manage expectations: Our family is going to look messy and different from others and that’s absolutely ok. Every family is unique.
  2. Find the humor: I was gifted with a husband who can make me laugh if I’m present in the moment enough to let him. Life provides us with plenty of material.
  3. Be flexible: Very few of the things I’ve stressed about in the last three years ended up mattering, and that stressing ruined some moments that did.

Mom, Can I Have a Hug?

Some of the most special moments in my life so far went unrecognized at the time; some I recognized immediately. Some were big life events; some were small moments where I wonder if I’m the only person who noticed the specialness and still remember it.

Last night, my 14 year old and I had the house to ourselves for the evening – a rare treat.  We spent some time separately.  He did his homework and facetimed with his Dad while I took a warm bath and caught up on some TV.  We circled back together around 7 o’clock.  We searched for and found a new app that we can play together.  That’s been a fun way for us to stay connected as his life gets more independent.  We made some Christmas cookies and chatted.  Nothing special and yet as he gets older, I’m becoming acutely aware that there’s a limit to these everyday moments that I’ve taken for granted.  The need for bedtime cuddles and hand holding have been replaced with a goodnight chat/check-in and an occasional hug. I’m not sure when that happened exactly?  I didn’t recognize the last time we had a bedtime story/cuddle or held hands crossing a street as a “last” until later.

Don’t get me wrong – I love being the Mom of a teen. The humor is so much better, the conversations so much deeper.  I love that he comes and asks me for advice still and that his questions don’t have easy answers.   I’m having more conversations with an adult and fewer with my little boy.  Realizing that these moments are limited has made them precious.  Last night I poked my head into his room after lights out to say goodnight and I heard the sweetest words:  “Mom, can I have a hug?”  I wonder if he will even remember that particular hug because I know I will.