He’s Not Scary, He’s A Little Boy

And a lovely little boy he is, too!

How do we teach our children to include kids who are different and to avoid falling into the habit of bullying?

Jameson's Journey

We’ve had some encounters recently that have inspired me to write this post.  This is something I hope everyone reads and shares.  This is a message that doesn’t just pertain to Jameson, but to all children who are made fun of and singled out for their differences; and I am pretty sure their parents feel the same way I do.

I want to begin by saying that I don’t hold anything against these children, or their parents.  I understand that it can be extremely awkward when your child is the one making fun or being mean to another child.  But, the next time this happens I hope these parents do more.  Because although I cannot take offense, I would be lying if I said it didn’t hurt.  It does.  It hurts to see my child be made fun of, knowing that this will be a big part of his world…

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origin_3892962709I suppose it’s been a while since I really posted. I’ve been super busy with school, taking care of the not-so-wee-one, and health issues. I have decided, though, to renew my commitment to this blog, and to make a concentrated effort to continue blogging regularly. This brings me to my post of the day, and the scary picture to the left.

Have you ever had one of those ISSUES? You know the ones. People tell you not to dwell on it, but it becomes all-consuming. Right. School has been that recently, and it will continue to be a big thing for a while to come yet, but right now, I am ALSO facing another major THING.

I am 38 days away from a total hysterectomy. Friends, I have to tell you, I am relieved and I am terrified. I will explore all of this further in upcoming posts. There is quite a lot to do to get ready, and frankly, the underlying issues are tiring me out pretty quickly of late.

Anyway, that’s the basic information right now. If you’re following my blog, you will be seeing periodic (no pun intended) updates about the preparation for this – physically, mentally, and spiritually, and AROUND THE HOUSE! Who knew there was so much to do? Did you KNOW that I won’t be ALLOWED to VACUUM for SIX WEEKS?! Holy cow!

That’s all I’ve got right now. If you’d like to contribute to helping me with the recovery, a dear friend begged me to set up a gofundme page to allow my friends and readers to do just that. That page is here.


Hysterectomy Support by HysterSisters.com 

photo credit: bitzcelt via photopin cc

On My Mandy Mae, whom I loved best

I Loved You Best
Jim Willis

The ever-faithful Mandy, who is entirely devoted to us.

The ever-faithful Mandy, who was entirely devoted to us.


 So this is where we part, My Friend, 
   and you’ll run on, around the bend,
   gone from sight, but not from mind, 
   new pleasures there you’ll surely find.

   I will go on, I’ll find the strength, 
   life measures quality, not its length.
   One long embrace before you leave, 
   share one last look, before I grieve.

   There are others, that much is true,
   but they be they, and they aren’t you. 
   And I, fair, impartial, or so I thought, 
   will remember well all you’ve taught.

   Your place I’ll hold, you will be missed,
   the fur I stroked, the nose I kissed. 
   And as you journey to your final rest, 
   take with you this…I loved you best.

I hate to publish another dog obituary on my blog so soon after last year’s loss of Kearney, but it’s been a long time coming. We lost our Mandy at the end of February, a mere three days before she would have been with me five years. I have struggled and fought, unsure what to write and how to share this experience with you all, but then I know that you, my friends, would want to share in my grieving again and join me in celebrating the life of my very best friend.

You wouldn’t, I fear, want to know the depth of my pain when I held her in my arms, laid as she was across my lap, on the cold floor of the vet’s office, and I understood for the first time what is meant when people say they felt the life drain out of someone. The mere retrospective thought of this still leaves knots in my belly, and makes it hard for me to breathe. Her life was my life. She saved my life. We shared this life. And now it was gone from her. Now I must go on without her.

I am afraid to tell you how, night after night, I dream of her, and I awake in the morning without her, saddened all over again. I am afraid to mention how this freight train of emotion and longing hit me with the same force of the death of some human family members, and, indeed, more force than others. But I have promised you that I would be open and honest, and this is my truth. You see, my Mandy, I have said, was not a dog.

Mandy was more like my partner. From the day I moved into my first real home as a single mother, away from my friends “back home” in the bayous, Mandy was by my side. I pulled her, broken, bleeding and sick, out of her old home and brought her with me to heal. Our vet says that we helped each other to heal. We had both been neglected and mistreated, but now, we had each other. She was the one reason I held onto that home as long as I did after it became untenable, and one of the biggest reasons I moved into the home I still live in.

She slept in my bed every night. She pined away for my son when he was at his father’s. She loved my parents and my friends. She let me cry into her silky soft neck when I was sad. She laid that same neck over my eyes when I got migraines. She wiggled when I laughed. She pouted when I was frustrated. She was ALWAYS THERE. She was our constant. She was our stability. She was our best friend. She was my partner. Without her, I think our hard times would have been much harder, and without her, I am not sure our good times would have been as good.

I woke up one morning in February to get ready to take our puppy, Christopher Marlowe, to get neutered, but instead, I found my Mandy in great distress. Her kidneys had officially failed her, and there was blood everywhere. She was confused and in pain. It was time. I made the appointment, and the next morning, my beloved died as she lived best: snuggled in my arms, my face in the silky smoothness of her neck.

I love you, sweet, sweet girl. We will never, ever forget you. We loved you best.

Christopher Marlowe

How’s your weekend been?

Me? Thanks for asking. I’ve been absolutely plagued by the CUTEST PUPPY EVER. He showed up at my house Friday night, and by Sunday afternoon, he had decided to worm his way into my heart, defer and be all submissive with my dogs, and beg my son for belly rubs. So, of course, now it’s just a few hours til it’s time to decide once and for all whether he stays here or goes to the shelter in the hopes that his people come and claim him. And I REALLY can’t decide. My heart is telling me to keep the little guy. My head is telling me not to. The boy is begging me to do it.

Seriously, I’ve worked with this pup TWICE, and he remembers “sit,” “down,” “wait,” “give hug,” “off,” “leave it,” “go to bed,” and “come to me.” That makes him about two commands shy of Mandy and about a billion more than Joey, who took six months to realize that he’s ACTUALLY supposed to sit on command. And he’s CUTE. And so sweet. And affectionate. Ugh. It’s really not helping my decision-making process that he’s so darned adorable. And obedient. At least, he is so far. He’s only been here two days, and it can take a couple of weeks for their temperament to really show up. But, he’s just tugging at my heart strings so hard!! It’s a nightmare, I tell you!! A NIGHTMARE!! A cute, fluffy, whimpering, adorable, happy little nightmare.

See? Do you see??  Do you see my dilemma here???? How can you say no to these faces????????

download**update: We kept him. We named him Christopher Marlowe.

It lies not in our power to love or hate,
For will in us is overruled by fate.
When two are stripped, long ere the course begin,
We wish that one should love, the other win;

And one especially do we affect
Of two gold ingots, like in each respect:
The reason no man knows; let it suffice
What we behold is censured by our eyes.
Where both deliberate, the love is slight:
Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?

Medicated Kids – My Story

DSC_0016It’s been two months or so since I blogged. My apologies for that. Life went nuts, as life will do. But I promised you my personal story of childhood meds, didn’t I? Maybe that’s why I’ve been avoiding blogging. Because it’s a big huge thing for me to discuss. Well, that, and the busted internet connection followed by busted computer, lather, rinse, repeat. Technology and I? We’re not the best of friends most days.

So, I guess I will start in the early 1980’s. I was in kindergarten or first grade when I was diagnosed with ADHD and put on Ritalin. My parents did everything right. They really did. There was not as much “generally accepted” information then as there is today. Today, it seems that most parents (at least in my circles, but then, I guess I tend to travel in a lot of “crunchy, hippie mom” circles! That’s just odd!!) are skeptical of the “standard” medical approach of giving kids ritalin, adderal, strattera, vyvanse, and MAYBE some talk-therapy down the road. Most of the moms I know THESE DAYS try everything else first. We’re the GAPS loons, the Feingolders, the crazy, homeopathic quack-factories our grandparents warned us about. And we’re proud of it, because it’s working. But that just wasn’t what you DID back then – anymore than most moms were rushing out to join a La Leche League or an organic CSA. Lack of awareness? I don’t know. But regardless, in the mid-1980’s, the answer to ADHD was ALWAYS Ritalin. My folks went way above and beyond though, and also enlisted the help of a series of fantastic child psychologists, play groups, etc to help us learn coping skills and ways to manage the disorder rather than just treat the symptoms.

While I don’t remember it, my mom recalls this period of my life as very tumultuous. She really describes my time off of Ritalin (so, what? EVERY afternoon?) as pretty bad – tantrums, crying fits, screaming, self-harming behavior. Sadly, the last part I DO remember. I remember feeling totally out of control and hating myself for feeling that way. I felt like if I could adequately punish myself for being such a failure, for feeling out of control, for needing meds, for being unable to complete simple tasks, and for just being ME, that maybe it would go away. I won’t go into the details. But it lasted into my twenties, and I have scars. I think, from a young age, I really, genuinely hated myself. I wasn’t angry at the people around me. I was angry at ME. And I took it out on me pretty violently.

Over the years, I went off of the ADHD meds. I don’t honestly remember how THAT went either. Frankly, a lot of my formative years are pretty hazy to me. But let’s just move on forward to the mid-1990’s, where things get really dark, and I admit, in public, things I have never told most people. A few know. I’ve discussed it with my priest. But this is my raw, real, honest moment, and it’s UGLY.

In 1995, I finished middle school. I  had my first real date. I had my first kiss. My best, and for years my ONLY friend died. I aged out of the youth choir that had basically been my entire life since fourth grade. I had major surgery to correct an eye muscle problem. I had to have my dog (who  had been in the family longer than I had!) put to sleep. I started high school. And I was a nerd. A chubby, frizzy-haired, four-eyed, friendless nerd. In a huge new school. When someone at my LAST school had told me that they wished I had died when my friend did. I didn’t really fit in anywhere. Not at church. Not at school. Not in extracurricular activities. I just felt lost. And alone. And depressed. I reached out to a few people, but you know how kids are. So, the bullying got worse. The ADHD got worse. The depressed feelings (though I don’t want to say “depression” because I believe now that it was situational more than chemical) got worse. It just escalated.

I finally began to see a psychologist. Then a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist put me on zoloft, which was awful. It’s been black boxed now, and has been deemed UNSAFE for adolescents because it can cause psychoses, suicidal actions, and a host of other lovelies. And it did. I went from “troubled” to “psychotic” with seriously full-on “hearing voices” and night terrors. I went into these states where…….. It’s hard to explain. But it was like I was trying to crawl into myself and just hide. But I couldn’t. And I was freaked out. So I couldn’t move. I couldn’t function. I couldn’t really speak or interact with people. But I could – and did – chew holes in my hands that were terrible and messy. I still have scars. And that? It made the bullying WORSE. And it made me feel MORE isolated and alone and now CRAZY on top of it. So they put me on antipsychotics. But those made my insomnia MUCH worse. So they put me on sleeping pills. And those gave me horrific recurring nightmares.

And on, and on, it cycled and cycled.

Until just before my sixteenth birthday, when I took all my pills.

I don’t think I really wanted to die. I just wanted the hurt to stop. I wanted it to be over. I couldn’t do it anymore, and I was desperate.

Thank God I realized what I had done, and I told my mother who was able to get me to the hospital in time.

If not wanting to die isn’t enough of a deterrent, I promise you, having your stomach pumped and then pumped full of activated charcoal is enough. I never want to go through anything like that again. Ever. And not just because I am so thankful to be alive.

But it didn’t get better. I still had to go to school and face people. Until my parents agreed to keep me home and let me go on a “hospital/home bound” program for the rest of the year. Still isolated. Still miserable. Still on meds, this time Paxil, which has ALSO since been black boxed.

I spent the next year in a private school, which was just as terrible. I took myself off of drugs the next summer. I won’t get into the story there. It wasn’t good, and I ran away from home during that time. But when I was home, and off the drugs, I started to recover somewhat. I finished high school. I worked. I had a somewhat normal life. I still have issues. Some people think it’s the ADHD and/or depression (folks, I do not believe that I have depression. I believe that I have a heck of a lot of stress, and get depressed SITUATIONALLY. Depression is a very real, clinical, chemical illness, and it’s not something that I believe that I have.). I have also had doctors suggest that some of my “issues” may be related to the string of black-boxed drugs I spent my formative years taking. I can’t change things, so I won’t dwell on it too much. I do my best. I pray a LOT. I try to overcome, and I choose not to take those types of medications as an adult. I’ve had doctors offer to give me prescriptions for medications that may help. They help with fibromyalgia symptoms or anxiety, I am told. But I know my personal history, and it’s not a risk I am willing to take.

I think my history is also the biggest reason that I am willing to try everything else under the son before I will ever consent to medicate my child for a psychological or emotional disorder. I am just not willing to risk the reactions that I know I had, and that other children have had.

Please be gentle with me, friends. This post was very hard to write. I cried a lot writing this, and I am about a hair’s breadth away from an anxiety attack from putting these words in print at all, much less in a very public way.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.


photo credit: imsvsims via photopin cc

McKearney Marie: What I have learned about God through my dogs, and an obituary.

As the mother of Moses laid him in the reeds at the river’s edge, entrusting him wholly to your care because she could no longer keep him safe, so we lay our pet in this place. Keep her safe in your love until we come, and give us Grace to come when you call us, as she came when we called her. Forgive us those times when we did not love your pet as you would have us do, and accept our thanks for your having given her to us for her time on earth. 
~from a funeral service for a dog

1Forgive me for being away from the blog the last several days. I have been going through a very difficult time, and I just haven’t felt up to taking the time to sit down with my thoughts. Between my grief and the intense pain in my right arm and hand, blogging was just not something I could bring myself to do.

Above is a picture of my beloved prissy little pricness, McKearney Marie, three months before she joined our family. We have loved her so much. She’s been a delight with her prissy little prance and her silly polka-dotted feet and antenna ears. This baby girl was a joy to everyone who knew her, and a great comfort to me in a time of grief before.

It was the first weekend of October, and the weather was perfect – not too hot or too cold. Leaves were turning bright colors, and the world was getting ready for winter. My son, our next-door neighbor, and I went for a long hike with my dogs, Mandy, aged 10 and Finny, who would soon be a year old. It was our last hike with Finny. He was poisoned that night, and died two days later. We had a friend help us with everything. We buried him in the backyard, under his favorite digging spot. We gave him a sweet memorial service, and we said our goodbyes. We were heartbroken. More heartbreaking, though, was the discovery that the people who had poisoned my sweet puppy were merely children. They were sent to various detention centers, some for longer than others, all with the hopes that counseling might help them. It was a difficult time for everyone.

We were determined though. We had room in our home and our hearts for more than one dog, and we were not going to be broken by the loss of our Finnegan. We were working with a few groups to find the right dog to fill that space. And we were doubly blessed! We buried Finn on Monday night. On Wednesday, we made a thirty minute drive to pick up Kearney, a border collie and corgi cross breed who just won our hearts. She fit right in, and we all adored her.

Two weeks later, we were a bit overwhelmed, but extremely happy to be introduced to Joey, who would become the third member of our doggie family.

 Oh, how we loved these dogs!  We have all been doing well, working hard on Joey’s fear aggression and nervousness around strange men, Mandy’s dumpster diving, and Kearney’s need to bark at EVERYTHING that happens outside. They’ve all made a lot of progress, and we were all getting along swimmingly.

Until Thursday night.

Thursday evening, as we were getting ready to leave for baseball practice, we heard a scuffle in the front yard. I ran out the door to find the beginning of a dog fight. Kearney attacked Mandy, our ten-year-old black lab. The best we can figure, Mandy had found something that Kearney wanted, and Kearney attacked. It had happened before, but always ended quickly as soon as I stepped in.  Not this time.  Mandy tried and tried to get away from the fight, but Kearney was, as my friend put it “battle blind” and kept lunging at her. I tried everything to safely break up the fight – shouting, clapping, separating them with the lid of the toy box, spraying them with water. Kearney kept coming. Finally, I grabbed her scruff, and I got bitten pretty badly. But it gave Mandy time to get away, and once Kearney realized she was biting ME, she backed off immediately. It was too late though.

The vet said it was obvious that Mandy was trying very hard not to hurt Kearney, but she had to protect herself too. She didn’t want to hurt Kearney. My poor girls. My poor, poor baby girls. Kearney was badly injured. We honestly didn’t think she’d make it for more than a few minutes. But she was a tough little girl. She curled up in the corner next to the porch.  We brought her a blanket to make her comfortable and a water bowl.

Thank God, my Mandy was mostly unharmed. She’s got a few abrasions we’ve been treating, and she was given some antibiotics to be safe, but she is, for the most part, fully recovered.

I had to be taken to the emergency room. The bite went into the tendon of my right forearm, and is very painful, but it will heal. The ER took x-rays, gave me a Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) booster, a shot of antibiotics, and cleaned out and dressed the wounds. They offered me a shot of pain medicine, but it would have required a bed and a two-hour stay. I declined, and was discharged from triage with vicodin and augmentin.

When we got home from the hospital, my Kearney had moved onto her favorite seat – the cushioned bench on the front porch. I couldn’t move her inside without hurting her more, so I covered her with a warm blanket, and sat with her for an hour. I just held her beautiful little head and told her how much I loved her, and that no one was upset with her. We knew she didn’t mean to hurt anybody. She was just being a dog, and sometimes, dogs fight. Unlike people, they don’t have free choices. They are servants to their animal nature, and no training will change their nature.

Our vet determined that there was nothing we could do for her. For many reasons, it was time to say our goodbyes to my beautiful princess. First, she was in agony. She was suffering greatly, and it was obvious. The vet hesitated to give her anything for pain because of the risk of more bleeding and because of any effect it might have on her temperament. We did NOT need another dogfight. There was no guarantee that she would recover, and her injuries were pretty bad. Then came the risk of future aggression. She’d gone after Mandy before, but never to this extreme. It had escalated out of control, and there was no telling what or who she might attack next.  We really had no choice but to go ahead and put an end to her suffering.

I spent most of the rest of the day sobbing my eyes out and being thankful that my son had gone to his dad’s for the weekend.

I tried to stay focused on the things for which I was thankful, but at the same time, my heart was broken. I ached for my baby girl. And every time my arm or leg would throb in pain, it only made the pain in my heart more potent. Oh, Kearney! What could I have done for you?

In my grief, I called my dear friends in Saint Louis, and they, as always were a great comfort to me. I spoke to Isaac about dogs and salvation, and found we shared a similar view on many points. I wanted to share some things with you all, because they have helped me before and are helping me greatly now.

The relationship we have with our dogs is a mirror of the relationship God has with us. The more I think about this, the more I realize how very true and beautiful it is. When we lay Finnegan to rest in the backyard, part of our prayer was “Help us always to come when You call as our dog always came when we called.” How poignant are those words?

We train our dogs to be obedient to us. The goal is that they are 100% obedient to our commands, but we know that when they are not given commands, their doggie nature will take over, and we love them all the same. We are different, in that we are capable of overcoming our “doggie” nature, and making the free choice to be obedient always, but if we admit it, we aren’t always obedient. But the Master is still there with a pat on the head, a rub of the belly, and an overflowing bowl of mercy for us when we paw at the door, so to speak.When our dogs are not obedient, we correct them, because we are training them in large part for their own safety.  Sure it’s CUTE when we have a dog who is an agility or rally champion, but at the heart of it, we train tricks so that we can train recall, “leave it,” “drop it,” and the like. Once the dog has good recall and will give me her undivided attention when asked for it (I say “focus,” and expect eye contact until my dog is released to “go play”), I know I can keep her safe from most situations. Was it extremely precious that my Kearney would literally dance for her supper? Of course it was. But more importantly, Joey can focus on me when he is terrified and wants to jump at a stranger, and Mandy will come every time she is called NO MATTER WHAT. She even tried desperately to get away from a dogfight because she heard the sound of my voice. How true is that of our Master and us? Obedience to God is not expected so He can show us in some great, cosmic trick-dog championship. He requires our obedience for our own good.

In the Holy Scripture, we read (St. Matthew 11:29) “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”  To our dogs, I would say, here, baby, let me put this collar, and tag, and leash on you. You are my beloved pet now, and I will be gentle with you. I expect you to behave, but I have kibble, blankets, a warm place by the fire, and unlimited belly-rubs for the rest of your life. Sure, I have expectations, and you will be corrected when you pee on the floor or dig in the trashcan, but I am quick to forgive, scratch you behind your ears, and take you for your walkies. It’s not so different, I think. My dogs understand it pretty well.

 Just as we learn the rules that God has for us, our dogs quickly (with some consistency) learn our expectations for them. They KNOW when they have done something wrong. And they CONFESS it. Now, they don’t go to a priest, say their prayers, and ask for forgiveness. No, they tuck their tails in, duck their heads, and show me what they’ve done. Even after the seven years of serious abuse my labrador suffered before she came to me, she isn’t afraid that I will punish her harshly. She knows I will be quick to forgive her, but she shows me that she acknowledges that she did wrong.  If only I could follow her example all the time! Because my God, like her mistress, is quick to forgive when I acknowledge my sin. When I go to Confession, I know my sins are forgiven. Does it mean I’ll never dig in the trash again, so to speak? Well, I am NOT a dog, so the answer is “hopefully, but probably not.” No, like a dog, I will keep trying, failing, and asking for forgiveness, until someone puts in a cabinet door to keep me out of the figurative trash. As a human, that responsibility may well fall on me. As a pet owner, I can put up a door for my dog. As a person, I have to change my habits, my thought patterns, my behaviors. Either way, there is much to be learned about Confession, repentance, and forgiveness here.
I have even learned a lot about parenting through training my dogs. Yes. Parenting.  See, my dogs respond best to praise and rewards. There was NOTHING Kearney would not do for a belly rub. Mandy would walk through fire for pepperoni. Joey? He likes a good combination of affection and food, and he’s learning well. They don’t need harsh punishments, especially when they don’t know what they’ve done wrong. They need consistency and positive reinforcement. They need a firm “No! Leave it!” when they’re getting into something wrong, and then they need to hear “good girl!” and get a treat when they leave the bad thing behind. Yeah. Sound like any six-year-olds you know? Because it sounds a lot like mine.
We really can learn a lot about our relationship with God if we think about our expectations for our dogs. The more I think about WHY I expect the things that I do, the more I begin to understand what God expects from me. My dogs are faithful, loyal, protective, slow to judge, quick to forgive, willing to admit their wrong actions, always wanting love and mercy and a good old fashioned belly rub. Is it really that simple? Well, no, but I don’t suppose it’s much harder than that either.
But on to the big question my son asked: Is Kearney in heaven?
I don’t think anyone can answer that for sure, but here’s what I can say:
It seems to be that the Orthodox position is that dogs have souls, perhaps not the same sort of souls we have, since mankind is special, but they certainly have souls.
Metropolitan Kalistos (Ware) seems to believe that there will be pets in heaven. In hisThe Orthodox Church, he says “Christ took flesh – something from the material order – and so has made possible the redemption and metamorphosis of all creation – not merely the immaterial, but the physical” (emphasis his!). All creation? Well, certainly my dogs were created by God! He also says that ” the earth “was created by God, currupted through the fall, but redeemed with us in Christ…” (emphasis mine).
So, while there seems to be no official Orthodox position, I have known several Orthodox clergy who would contend that our pets will are included when all creation is redeemed.
It makes sense to me, since God teaches us so much through them, and gives us so much comfort through them.
So I continue to believe that Kearney and Finny, Nemo, Fibi, Snoopy, and Charlie will not just cease to be. If nothing else, it gives me some comfort in my grief to trust them entirely to God’s care, as he trusted them temporarily to mine. Forgive me, Lord, for the times I was not the best master I could be for your creations! Have mercy on me, a lowly and humble sinner!
The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have is in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog. … He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer; he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of this world. … When all other friends desert, he remains. 
— George G. Vest, US Senate, 1884


medium_7417267034A close girlfriend and fellow struggling single mom came to me tonight with yet more proof that while we’ve been thousands of miles away for our entire relationship, our lives are so interconnected it’s ridiculous.  Kindred spirits?

But yet again, as we have done so many times before, we find ourselves facing similar issues with “friends.”  Yes, that was in quotes.  Bear with me, and you will understand why.

We are single mothers.  We have left our family and communities’ pervasive faith practices. We are disabled.  We are stay-at-home moms.  We are, in short, not really people that most others will understand, and we don’t get out much.  So meeting people (ANY people) is difficult. Even for me, in the Church, it is difficult, but I think I went into a little detail on that in a previous post.  The fact is that there is really not a niche into which we fit.  We’re always just far enough outside the box that finding a spot to be is difficult.  We have been taught our entire lives that man, humankind, PEOPLE were not created to be alone, but we tend to end up there if by default.

I’m not complaining. Not really.  It’s just important for me to say that the way our social interactions are framed is so powerful that, frankly, I really can’t finish this sentence because our social interactions are important enough that I can’t find words to explain it. That’s pretty rare for me.

It’s not just casual social encounters though, difficult though those may be. It is, you see, that those social encounters are supposed to be the way to find other kindred spirits, and if not kindred spirits, at least people who can share some measure of genuine love in this life. What I am finding, though, is that while struggling to find our fit, we do what I know I’ve always done: we fall in with the wrong crowd.

So we’re approaching middle age (yes. I went there. I kind of panicked a little when I did.). Our “wrong crowd” is not the same as it was in adolescence when we went so far astray. It’s the ones who seem on the surface to be kindred spirits, but are something more predatory, whether they intend to be or not.  We’re talking about the dreaded TOXIC RELATIONSHIPS.  The one-sided, codependent, disordered, dysfunctional relationships that so damage our hearts, but yet we hate to just end them, because our hearts so crave another heart to share our life experiences with.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last year or so healing good relationships and ending bad ones. I’ve made more progress, sadly, in the latter than the former, but I pray that those needed and healthy relationships will heal and strengthen in time.

My friend and I shared some stories about some of these toxic relationships this evening, and then I was faced with an interesting question online! So I decided I would share that question and my response here, because I can’t respond there, and it sounded like an alright blog to write.

This was posed:

When you have a toxic relationship, how do you create and force the boundaries you must have? Do you keep fighting to make it healthy and stand up for yourself? or do you just walk away? What if you are attached to the kids involved. and you know that if you speak up for yourself and demand respect/kindness, you will be cut off from the children. what then? I obviously have problems with this. when i want to help people that obviously need me, but use and are abusive in speech, what then?

And here was my response:

 There’s not a perfect system. There’s a long drawn-out process that can take years.

Here’s the primer: I back away, slowly at first. Less time, less availability, less involvement. Sometimes this is almost passive-aggressive, because I will just AVOID. This is not good. It’s better to say “I need some time to myself right now, but I will call you.” Not only does this give you distance and responsibility, but it sets your first boundary: Please respect my need for time to myself, and don’t bug me about it.

While I am doing this, I am figuring out a way to voice what needs to be said out of love. If I can’t say it out of love, I just go ahead and cut off the relationship. (Note: love is not a desire to force a change to “fix” someone, but the willingness to accept them, warts and all, and love them whether they change or not. My priest once told me sometimes, you can love and respect someone best from a safe distance.)

Once I have had some distance, I make my statement, basically. This is what I am feeling, and this is what I expect will be done on your end in the future, because I value you. I am reasonable. I am accommodating to a fault. I am not your wife, mother, or doormat. We can discuss it then, or we can take some time to think things over before meeting again.

I continue to maintain distance and see what happens. If my boundaries are respected, we can see about developing a new closeness. If they are not, then this is not going to work.

I have to take the children out of the equation. And to do this, I focus on them. It is not healthy for them to see their parent abusing or being abused in a relationship, and my child comes first. I will not allow him to be around someone who is abusing me, and I hope that this will be a wake-up call to the other parent that their child(ren) can be just as damaged by seeing these relationship patterns. I may make a note to discuss this when discussing my boundaries. If there is a strong bong with the other person’s child, we might be able to negotiate a way for that relationship to continue while we maintain distance (let’s get the kids together for a play date. I will watch them at my house on Thursday at three while you go get some coffee or something)

I check myself. Do I want to help them when they obviously need me because I love them or because I need to be needed? Because I need to fix things? Am I giving into some codependent tendencies?  How am I going to work on changing this in myself while I have some space and distance? If I am being codependent, I can reasonably expect to be used.

I contemplate the relationship. I can do half the work in healing an unhealthy relationship, but I can do NONE of the work in healing an unhealthy friend. And if they aren’t willing to meet me half-way in the friendship, it’s time to cut anchor.

In time, with distance and clear boundaries, one of two things will happen: there will be progress, or there will come a time to cut ties. I have personally had all three. Yes, I know. One or the other doesn’t give a third choice. But I cut ties in a toxic relationship and six months later got a message with a lengthy and detailed apology. I decided to hear out my friend, and we met for lunch. We’re not FRIENDS, so to speak, again, and I am maintaining a considerable distance, but in time, I think it may be a possibility.

Be willing to walk away. I think that’s the biggest thing. Be willing to just walk away. People can tell when you are willing to continue to put up with the toxicity, even if you don’t realize that you are! But you have to understand what that REALLY means. Learn to accept that walking away can be a more loving act than staying. Walking away stops enabling the disordered behavior pattern. And be clear that if you walk away, it is because you really love them, and you always will, but that you cannot stand by and watch them harm themselves and others, and you cannot be part of harming them with the toxic relationship. That’s probably the hardest realization anyone can come to about a relationship. You’re not walking away because you are putting your desires first. You are willing to walk away because it is genuinely best for everyone involved.

This is not, obviously, complete or authoritative, but I felt it was worth sharing. I wish someone had said these things to me years ago. I’d love to explore this topic further, so please leave me a comment or three if you have something to add (or subtract). I am no expert by any means!


photo credit: Free Grunge Textures – www.freestock.ca via photopin cc