The Mama Bear: The Lessons in the Calm and the Claws

I will be the first to tell you, I’m not perfect. I make mistakes, but I do my best to do right by my kids. I have strengths, and I have weaknesses. My brain is not going to work in exactly the same way as ANY other mother’s and/or caretaker’s brain. Some people will agree with some of my parenting tactics, methods, decisions, and techniques—but no one will agree with them all. Sometimes MAMA BEAR comes out.

Parenting is not an easy task. It is not for the weak-hearted. It will test every thought, belief, and perspective that a person has. There are so many decisions to make from the second a baby is born…and EVERYONE has an opinion on the RIGHT way to do things. Mama Bear 101: There is no ONE RIGHT WAY! There are so many perspectives, but that is what they ALL are—perspectives of what is true for the person speaking. We don’t have to buy into ANYTHING that doesn’t feel right. Bring on Mama Bear!

I’m an understanding person. I get that people are going to parent different than I do. I have my own unique perspective and it is what works for MY family. When I want help, I’m not afraid to ask for it. I reach out to doctors, schools, therapists, healers, pastors, professionals, and people I trust. That being said, I trust other people are doing the same. They might not have the same support system I do. They might not have the same perspectives on what it means to be a good parent. I’m definitely not going to attack other parents who I know are trying their best to do the right thing even if it’s not how I would do it. My job is to protect and serve my kids the best I can. This is me in the MAMA BEAR calm.

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So, when my parenting is attacked—I might have a reaction. If I’m centered and present (Mama Bear calm), I won’t take the event personally. I know it is just another person with another perspective different than mine. I might learn from their opinion, or I may just see it as a way that I don’t want to be. Either way, I won’t have an emotional reaction. Mama Bear is calm, strong, and can walk away tall knowing people can have different opinions.

Now, if I’m not centered or have been going back and forth about the right thing to do and finally made a choice that I felt was right and someone attacks—Well, the claws can get exposed and my defenses go up ready to fight back. In those moments, I act first and think later. Oh, and boy do I think later! I’m reacting to fear with fear. When Mama Bear emerges with her claws exposed: my stomach is tight, limbs tingling, and nerves standing on edge. This doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t feel safe, and I don’t trust the situation at all.

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Has any other mom felt this way?

As centered and peaceful as I can be in the rest of my life, parenting is my greatest teacher in love and fear. Watching my reactions to other parents and opinions and judging myself and others based on parenting style and techniques shows me so much about who I am. My Mama Bear claws show me where I still have fear and distrust. My Mama Bear calm show me when I trust and respect my choices, my perspectives and myself as a parent.

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I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned and my growth as person by becoming an active parent in my kids lives. I’m grateful for people’s different perspectives because they show me where I am in mine. I’m grateful to have my eyes and heart open to look into areas I question and be open to change perspectives that no longer work for me. I’m so grateful to my inner MAMA BEAR, because I learn so much from her claws and her calm.

With Love and Gratitude,

Rachael Wolff ©2018

From A Loving Place

Struggle: A Mom’s Tale

As a follower of love and an inspired child of God, I can reach some wonderful places inside myself. I can be a light for friends and strangers. I can show love in ways that many people just don’t understand. Being able to do all this doesn’t mean I’m perfect. I struggle. Most of all right now my struggle comes from being the best mom I can be to two kids entering into puberty and trying to find solutions and tools to combat their emotional and mental struggles that range from a hard past to a hormonal present. Having a degree in Human Development may seem helpful, but when it’s your own kids, their and your own trauma, the degree doesn’t quite work in my favor. Sometimes it seems harder because I know too much about all different mental/emotional issues and I get completely overwhelmed in questioning everything.

As a mom, I don’t want my children to hurt. Yet, they are hurting so much. I didn’t cause the pain, but I’m left here trying to figure out how to help them overcome their past, deal with a broken school system, and finding joy in their lives. I thought things would be different for them since I’m well versed in overcoming, but a child going through puberty doesn’t want to hear how their whole life can change if they just could choose to look at things differently. I thought since I taught them from an early age that their thoughts, reactions, feelings, and actions are their personal power that they wouldn’t go through blaming everybody else for the way they are feeling, boy was I wrong.

I’ve tried strategies from courses I’ve taken in using positive discipline, counting, and play therapy, none of them seem to have made any great impact on what is happening on a daily basis. I have personality quirks that don’t always align with the self-discipline some of these parenting practicing take. I’m also a single mom who does all the parenting herself. I don’t linger too long there, or I can sometimes get resentful. On most days, I’m grateful.

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Being a single mom with kids who have been through trauma has it’s own unique challenges. This doesn’t mean married couples don’t have similar challenges, but not having a partner who takes equal responsibility for a child comes with the added bonus of abandonment issues. This can happen even if both parents are active, but not together. I learned that in couple’s therapy years ago. I had and sometimes still struggle with an over attachment to time and schedules. I used to actually miss out on a lot of quality time with people due to being so attached to time, I was constantly looking at my watch and recalculating when I had to leave, what I was doing next, and how I was going to get from point A to point B. The therapist told me my obsession with time was about having something I could control. Now with my children, I try to take into account if a situation makes my kids feel unwanted, rejected, unimportant, or abandoned. I can go through tons of scenarios in my head because of my education of how each thing can affect them. Oh it is just so much fun (Laughing hard)!

I’ve met so many amazing moms and dads along my path. I’ve seen how healthy family dynamics create beautiful atmospheres for kids. I’ve also seen no matter how great a family is, no family is perfect. This is what keeps me from feeling like a failure when things don’t go how I thought they would. We are all here doing the best we can do with the information and situations we have. Parenting can be a struggle, especially the more aware we are.

One thing I try HARD not to do is judge other people’s parenting. My belief is that we are all having the exact experiences we need to fulfill our purpose. I’ve seen kids who have grown up hard become amazing advocates and voices for change. I’ve seen people who grow up privileged help and/or hurt others. No matter how a person grows up it will create lessons and blessing for the people who cross their paths. I need to focus on my part. What can I do? How can I contribute? What seeds are important for me to pass on?

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This piece is just a reminder that no matter what path we are on as a parent, we all will have times of struggle. It’s not healthy to beat others or ourselves up for not being perfect, because no one is. Our children have to have things go wrong. That is how they get tools for life. As a parent, we simply can do the best we can to protect, love, and honor their journey. I know one of my struggles is remembering it is their journey. We are here to give them all kinds of seeds and see what they do with them. We can watch them create their own garden. They may have to do some heavy weeding and even lose some of their best flowers and trees, but they will learn.

I want to teach my kids that the lessons are a necessary part of life. The trick is to learn from them and don’t become a victim of fear and pain. My hope is that they keep taking chances, making mistakes, and trying new ways to find the path that is right for the life they individually want. There is no time limit, just keep moving in the direction of a positive and rewarding life. I want them to learn not to attach to the fears that hold people back.

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I recently needed the reminder, so I thought I would put my thoughts down on paper reminding me to give myself a break, keep moving in a positive direction, don’t judge what others are doing, and I’m a good mom. I love my kids.  I’m doing the best I can, struggles and imperfections included.

With Love and Gratitude,

Rachael Wolff ©2018

 

 

Raising Children in A World of Addiction

 

Facing addiction from the outside is hard enough, but when children are involved it is a whole different ball game. In the past few years there has been a significant increase in grandparents taking the role of caretakers due to kids getting taken away from addicted parent(s) or one parent having to take on all the responsibilities as the other parent falls deep into the darkness of addiction. Families are breaking apart and struggling through the pain of watching their beloved family members completely disappear. I’ve experienced what it is like to lose people to this cunning and baffling disease, which is so incredibly powerful.

As outsiders looking in, we can say and think things like, “Just stop doing it!” It seems obvious, right? We can say, “Just limit yourself to two drinks.” We can go on and on with logical reasons for them to stop doing these harmful behaviors. When the person has kids, “Do it for your kids” and “Do it for your family.” We all wish those were the magic words to get them back on track. Sometimes, we go as far as trying to get the children to step-up and help straighten their parent(s) out. Imagine that weight on a child’s shoulders. What if their parent doesn’t clean up, is it now their fault? The problem is, a lot of kids take the responsibility very seriously and yes they blame themselves for their parent(s) addictions.

I used to use relationships as my addiction. People would ask the same kinds of questions. Most of us have something we use that is not so healthy. We can look at ourselves in order to help us feel compassion for others who are in a situation that they are not ready to change. I wasn’t able to break my toxic patterns in relationships until I was ready. Nothing anybody did, no matter how much sense it made could make me change. When I was ready, I stopped making excuses and changed. It wasn’t easy and I still slip into old harmful thought patterns. That connection really helps me to see addiction from a loving place. If it is that hard for me to change without using a chemical addictive substance, how hard is it for people who have been using prescription pills, alcohol, heroine, etc.? Those all have chemicals that change the way the brain functions.

My heart goes out to all families in this situation. I will tell you, it is full of lessons and we will rise up and we will make mistakes, because we all want what is best for our families. Admitting the truth about addiction is a very hard pill to swallow. Here are just a few things I have learned along the way:

Leave Children Out of Rescue Missions

An addict will only get help with their addiction when they are ready. There will be no excuses!!! They can’t be forced into it. When they are not ready, they will throw blame around like it is going out of style. If we are rescuers, we think we have the power to make it better. We think if we just tell them this, or do that, they will stop. No matter how hard any of us try, we will fail if we take on this responsibility. Children will take this defeat personally, so the best advice is to not get them involved in any attempts to make their parent different then they are. This is a challenge, because if we are fixers kids will see the behavior and try to mimic it. They will attempt to rescue and will be defeated, but the difference is if they are young, they only see what is concrete. This is so hard to watch children struggle through watching a parent disappearing. The effects are endless and they different issues can show up in their interactions with other family members, school, friends, and authority to name a few. BE AWARE and BE VIGILANT!

Children Need to Know: This is Not Their Fault

We have to remember to look at the situation through children’s eyes. They feel rejected and abandoned by the first male and/or female who are supposed to love them and that they are supposed to trust. If we didn’t have this experience, it is REALLY hard to imagine what that would feel like. The addict can’t accept love from others because they don’t love themselves. They are filled with so much unhealed shame that they try to cover it up with their addiction of choice. The negative energy that consumes them inside is projected out to the world. They focus their energy on all the negative things. When good things come in, they sabotage them, because deep down they feel unworthy of the happiness. They will create chaos to feed their addiction. It is a toxic cycle that can be passed down from generation to generation. In order to break it, we have to see it in how a child sees and treats him/herself.

Teaching children the importance of seeing their best qualities and forgiving themselves when they make mistakes will help them brake the harmful patterns of shame that can be passed down. We can help them to understand that nobody is perfect because we are all here to learn. Some of us will have harder lessons than others, but the good thing is, the harder the lesson we learn, the more opportunity we will have to help others through our experiences.

Make sure they are reminded that they are not to blame for their parent(s) actions and no amount of love they feel and show can change a person who is caught up in the cycle. A person must love her/himself in order to show love to others. If they don’t what they think is love becomes warped and manipulated. They will actually use it as a tool to hurt themselves and others unintentionally, because really they are just projecting the ugliness they feel inside.

Prayer can help release children from taking on the burden of fixing their parent (s). Just remember to let them know that prayer will help them when they are ready, because we all have free will. We are capable of resisting negativity or positivity. We have to do the footwork.

Prayer: Please help (fill in name) to feel the love of all the people who love him/her. Please help (fill in name) see their good heart and find the self-love and self-worth to release them from the grips of addiction. Please guide (fill in name) to find their way out of the darkness to be able to feel, accept, receive, and give love. Amen.

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Keep the Focus on the Positive

The addict is an addict. We can’t fix that situation, so it does nothing for us to blame and resent them. It definitely doesn’t help to try to blame ourselves either. I know how hard this one sounds, but our resentment will rub off on the relationship we have with the children involved and it will not make for a healthy situation. If you have been honored to take a child out of a toxic situation and give them a loving one, keep it loving. Resentment is a toxic energy and it will play out in these children’s lives throughout their adulthood. We need to help them focus on what they do have instead of festering about what they don’t. When we focus on the positive, we attract better lives.

A gratitude jar is a great way to help kids find things daily to be grateful for. One day, they may realize how amazing their life is because of how strong the situation made them. We can’t control the addict, but we can control how we treat the people we love. By not blaming and shaming ourselves or others, we bring a positive light to a dark situation. This can make all the difference of how it will play out later down the line. For now, we are simply giving children the seeds of hope. If they keep watering them, they will grow strong.

Let Children Talk About How They Feel

Be open to let children talk, but be careful about how you respond. Listening and letting them know that you hear them is so important. Ask questions, and try to limit statements. Honor how they feel. DON’T tell them they shouldn’t feel a certain way. These are their feelings, try a response like, “Sorry you feel that way.” Let them know you understand, and if you’re sad about the situation tell them. Stick to the feeling. Don’t get caught up in a conversation that is way over a child’s head.

Sometimes things happen that we just don’t understand and it doesn’t make sense to us. This is a part of life and a lesson we all face all through adulthood. Think of it this way: When we are helping children through painful situations we are planting seeds for tools they can use for the rest of their lives. We all want to be heard. When a child feels rejected and abandoned they can feel defenseless in the world. If they learn that it is safe to express feelings and find healthy ways to cope with them, we are helping to break toxic shame cycles that come from suppressing feelings.

Repeat the emotion they are saying they feel or try to get them to name it. “I hear that you are feeling very hurt. Is that right?” By using this active listening tool we make it clear that we REALLY hear what they are saying.

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Get Support

We can’t change the addict, but we can change the effect the addict has on us. Do the research. The only way to have a positive outcome in this situation is to work through it. Denial of the truth is your worst enemy. Get help! Give children a safe place to get their anger and fear out physically. If the child likes sports, find a way to get them involved. Coaches and teams have a positive impact on kids. Find extra-curricular activities that support the children’s well-being. Acting/ drama is a great tool for children to learn how to express themselves physically and emotionally. There are plenty of forms of physical exercise that can help: trampolines, punching bags, bike riding, yoga, etc. Find the right one for the child. Some kids love reading, research books that deal with this kind of issue.

Search out programs for yourself to help you navigate your way through the situation in as healthy a way as possible. There are 12-step programs for family member of addicts. These programs aren’t focused on changing the addict. Their focus is on the health and well-being of the person attending the group. The groups are centered on what we can control, and that is us and how we deal with the situation.

DON’T Force the Addict to Participate in Children’s Lives

This can be one of the hardest things. We want to fix the situation for everyone and we know that a child having her/his parent is so important. The temptation to try to fix it and make it right will be tempting and most good people will try to do this multiple times before they realize it’s devastating effects. We can love the addict all we want, but they will only get better when they are ready. Forcing them to be and do something they are not ready to do will hurt all parties involved. For the addict, it will add to the vicious shame, hate, guilt cycle and often times sends them further down the addiction path.

For the child, they will be rejected over and over never giving their wound time to heal. If we are not addicts it is hard to understand the power of addiction, and it is not personal to any other person than the addict. No matter who they blame, addiction is a path that person went down by making a lot of poor choices to run from their lives. It is their problem, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have negative effects on the whole family. If we try to force an addict to be there before they are ready, the broken promises will keep coming and the hurt will keep growing and festering.

Teaching a child the power of prayer for the parent to get the help they need or to feel love are great prayers. Just don’t keep opening the door for them to get hurt over and over. When and if the addict is ready, they will get the help they need and will work on fixing any broken relationships they feel are important. Trust that if they are not showing up for their kids, there is a good reason and it is in the best interest of the children. It just might be that the kids are Divinely protected. If you have a spiritual practice, trust in the Divine power of the Universe and that everything will work out exactly as it is supposed to for the highest good of all those involved.

Now, the effect of addiction to family members can range all over the map. We can feel like victims, martyrs, saviors, along with having extreme episodes of depression and anxiety. I’m not blaming the addict for this, but we find a coping mechanisms that fits our thought and behavior patterns. The good news is even if the addict stays active, we don’t have to keep getting effected by their choices. This takes work, because we have to break our own unhealthy habits. How do you know if you are healthy or not? It’s all in the reaction. Do you feel like it is your job to change the addict? NOT HEALTHY! Do you think you can change the addict? NOT HEALTHY! Do you feel like a victim to the addict? NOT HEALTHY. These are not easy things to look at on our own: therapy, spiritual practices, 12-step programs, books, seminars, etc. There are many necessary combinations between them and they are all paths to recovery. We are not alone, especially now. We have access to any kind of help we need, we just have to be willing to dig deep enough.

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I’m not talking out of a place of unknowing. If you know about me and what I write about, you know AL-ANON (a 12-step program to help families of alcoholics) is apart of how I broke many of my unhealthy thought and behavior patterns. I have been through therapy; have a B.A. in Human Development, which was focused on psychology; and I took multiple courses dealing with addiction and solutions for people effected by it. I have also read countless books on self-help, spirituality, shame, and all variations that lead me to better thought and behavior patterns. My focus is on solutions. I have made plenty of mistakes in my attempts at bettering challenging situations, but I keep trying. I’m still learning daily.

My final piece of advice is be kind to yourself. Sometimes awareness can be painful. We may still freeze and feel lost at times. We may spend days crying and lose our cool out of frustration. Just because we understand things logically doesn’t mean the heart won’t feel the pain and the grief that comes from watching someone we love get lost in the throws of addiction. Keep praying, keep moving, and keep taking care of yourself. Don’t get lost in taking care of others. As they say in Al-Anon, we must put the oxygen masks on ourselves first in order to effectively help others.

 

With Love and Gratitude,

 

Rachael Wolff

www.facebook.com/FromALovingPlace

www.twitter.com/Wolffspirit9

www.FromALovingPlace.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving Autopilot and Becoming Present

image2I used to live everyday in autopilot. I was caught up in the same routine, thinking the same things, doing the same things. The insanity of the situation was I expected different results. I hated the life I was living. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. What is scary about autopilot is that we miss A LOT!! I’m not just talking about things in our own lives, the lives of the people around us. We simply don’t see anything outside of our routines.

When we have children, autopilot becomes dangerous. Too many things can happen; sometimes children can give us little subtle hints that there is a problem. If we are somewhere else in our heads; we miss them. Here are a couple of scenarios:

Scenario 1

A young boy comes to his mother and she is texting. He is tells her about how something he saw made him feel uncomfortable. She is not with him; she is involved in the conversation on the phone. Her autopilot response turns on, and gives her son a reply. The conversation is soon forgotten because she was never there. That child develops trust issues and feels completely alone. The boy becomes a man with addiction issues and eventually dies a slow death from drug abuse. He never learned to reconcile his past. He was not able to have healthy relationships with women, men or children. He lived life in a toxic cycle of shame, guilt, and abandonment.

Scenario 2

A young boy comes to his mother and makes a comment that is just slightly off, easily overlooked. By being present, the mother sees there is something very off with that statement. She starts investigating it and finds out the 4-year old boy was sexually abused. The authorities get involved and it is stopped instantly. What the mother didn’t know, what happened to her son is usually just the beginning, that the majority of parents do not catch it this soon. Since the mother had great communication with her son, he felt safe and told her and the police what happened. The assailant was convicted and never exposed to the boy again. The boy grew up communicating with his mother and knowing she was there. When life’s struggles came up, he was able to find tools to work through it. He grew up healthy and having good relationships with women, men, and children. He didn’t feel like he had to use drugs to escape or cover shame, guilt, and hurts from the past.

These scenarios may seem extreme, but they are more common than most people know. The worst part is, scenario 1 is more common than scenario 2. There are little details missed in conversations with friends, co-workers, lovers, and family. We may gain a greater understanding about the people we love if we can give them our full attention. When we are in autopilot our relationships can deteriorate, people get hurt, and we miss out on life. We, without knowing it, contribute to toxic cycles.

Multi-tasking is a way we continue to not be present. Sometimes we have to do too much at once, and that is life, but it is important that we focus on the relationships in front of us. We need to be present. I know I can still get caught up in trying to do too much at once. My children and I had a hard conversation at the dinner table awhile back and I had to take responsibility for my part of the dysfunction in the household. I was on my phone too much while I was supposed to be focused on them and they were feeling it. We had an electronics free week and it was the best thing that has happened to my family. I limited my conversations to the hours they were not with me, and we all started getting along so much better, playing games together, and finding healthy ways to spend our time together. Now that we have our electronics back and we have come out of the crisis that was happening, I am watching old patterns to start to stir up again. The difference, this time I am aware. I can see that there is a problem, and I can figure out a solution because I have accepted my responsibility for the fallback into the old cycle.

One of my old patterns was to go to self-blame and hence self-abuse. I used to take any mistake or misstep and turn it into me being a horrible parent. I would expect perfection out of me, but know it was not possible for anyone else. I had compassion for others, but none for myself. I would have taken the electronics things and reacted in such a way that chaos would plague me and I would feel weighed down with the guilt of not being the parent that my kids deserved. I would feel forced back into autopilot in order to live with myself. Ugh… NOT GOOD! This was such a toxic way to live. Being aware is key. If you know that you have missed a lot from being in autopilot, don’t beat yourself up. Just make an effort to do better now. We do the best we can at any given moment. Yesterday is done, the best thing we can do is learn from our past, and use it to become better. There is no reason to be hostage of something that cannot be changed.

When we are struggling with our jobs, commutes, responsibilities, and relationships with others, it is easy to fall into autopilot to cope with the world around us. We may not be able to get out of it all the time, but every effort we make to live our life being present will improve the quality of our relationships and lives.

Before jumping in, it is important to realize, we are all different. You may like one thing on the list, but something else doesn’t work for you. I have tried a lot of different methods over the years. These are seeds, if they work for you, GREAT! If not, don’t stop looking. I have attempted using techniques that worked great for others, but didn’t sit right with me. What is important is that you tweak things to fit you. Here are some of the methods I use to get more present and turn off the autopilot mode:

Take 3 Conscious Breaths

Three conscious breaths was the first tool I began using on a daily basis that started showing me results. I learned that if I do this throughout the day, I have better days and I am present more than I am not. I started by doing it in the bathroom, then in the car, and finally whenever I noticed my mind was everywhere else but where I was. Do I remember to do it all the time? No. Can I still go into autopilot? Yes, the difference, awareness. Awareness makes it possible to change. By taking three long, deep breaths and concentrating just on that, my mind has time to recalibrate. I have put the effort into slowly untangling the jumbled thoughts and focusing on what is right in front of me. Most of the time it gives me the clarity to see that my mind is focused on the unpredictable future or a past that I cannot do anything about. I create the space to question, how is what I am doing right now contributing to a better life? If it is not, I can see solutions to change it.

Switch-up the Morning Routine

This one can be fun, when things get really bad I put signs in my drawers. One sign says, “Start with a different foot.” I have this in my underwear or sock drawer. The sign consciously reminds me to do things a little differently. I have also put a sign in the bathroom that says, “Switch the order.” I may choose to put deodorant on before brushing my teeth or take a shower and wash my face before shampooing my hair. I don’t know about anyone else, but it is so easy for me to fall into the autopilot routine when I am getting ready. My mind can be in a million different places if I am not careful.

Make Lists

When we make a list, we are getting it out of our heads and putting it down in a practical order. We don’t have to be clogging our brains. When we write out and take one task at a time we can give what we are doing 100% of our attention. I don’t always use lists, but I notice a difference when I do. I know some people who do them everyday and it is what works for them.

Focus On What is Happening Now

One of the ways I let the present moment pass me by was by checking the time constantly. I stopped wearing a watch and started setting alarms on my phone when I needed to be ready to do the next thing on my list. This made it possible for me to be where I was and get out of the vicious cycle of being a slave to time. By simply not focusing on time, I have more.

Get in Touch with Nature

If I can spot nature’s beauty, I am present. If I am in autopilot, I can walk for an hour and miss everything happening around me. When I take the time to look for beautiful scenes in nature, I feel the awe of the moment, and autopilot is cut-off! If I am driving, I make sure to look at nature in a safe way. I will see the clouds, trees, birds, and all the little critters scurrying about. I’m sure many squirrels’ lives have been saved from me being aware of my surroundings.

Set Aside Quality Time

I have certain times where I commit to giving my loved ones 100% of my attention. I learned a long time ago that a meal is a great time to commit to giving my undivided attention. Another time can be at bed-time. I have a routine with each of my children. They are almost two years apart, so I have different bed times. I spend a dedicated half-hour with each of them before bed. If they need advice, cuddles, and/or one-on-one attention, they get it here. I have stopped bringing my phone, so that I don’t get distracted. For couples, date night is very important. Having time away from normal routine is crucial to a healthy relationship. Date night does not need to be out; be creative. Pick a time and a room or outside location to meet where the time is set aside just for each other. Dance in the bedroom, swing on the porch swing, read to each other, and laugh as much as you can.

Put the Electronics Away

When we are having a conversation with someone, we need to be present. Phones, computers, tablets, TVs, and video games are not important when another human being needs our connection. Put it down. We cannot be in two places at the same time. This one has been a challenge for me. My autopilot in doing mode likes to kick in. I notice I need to make a real effort to get out of my electronic world. I don’t believe that we need to give it up completely, but when people are communicating with us it is important to be there. When we are supposed to be having quality time together, we need to give our families, children, partners, and any person we are in contact with the respect and love they deserve. Even the people at the checkout counter deserve your attention. How would it feel to be looked over by most of the people who passed through your life? It can make a big difference to the person you take the time to give a smile to.

Just recently, I was at the store and the woman behind the counter was in autopilot. She was so used to being overlooked that when I gave her attention she was actually startled. After the initial shock, she proceeded to give me tips and ideas. We had a great exchange. By the end, she was smiling and gave a big warm greeting to the next customer. We both left the exchange feeling good. We are all humans; we all want to be acknowledged. We can’t get so caught up in autopilot that we forget we are interacting with other people just like us.

I hope that your autopilot can be turned off for a little longer today and that you get to experience the joy of being in the moment. Give the people around you a little more today from a loving place.

Read my latest article for http://www.yourpositiveoasis.com  “5 Ways We Sabotage Our Happiness” (click on the red and it will take you directly to it.)

image1With Love and Gratitude,

Rachael Wolff

Continue reading “Leaving Autopilot and Becoming Present”

I’m Not Stupid After All: School Testing and Self-Worth

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The divergent thinker has considered the problem from all angles and made connections between the question and each of the potential answers. He has now spent four times as long on the question as the person who is tuned to think convergently, and his likelihood of choosing the “right” answer is still no better than chance. Instead of eliminating some of the answers to improve his chances of making the correct choice, his divergent thought processes have brought all answers into the realm of possibility.

-Shelley Carson, PhD, Your Creative Brain p. 128

I have always loved learning, but all through high school felt stupid. The feeling came from taking multiple choice tests. I don’t remember when my anxiety around these tests began. I didn’t realize how bad the experience was on my self-worth until I was an adult.

I had to study more than many of my peers. I took notes on everything in order to get it. I had to practically memorize the material to get an 100% on a test. I realized, if I could focus on the material in the book, I could get an A on the test. When other people were doing dance and sports, I had to spend that extra time taking notes on what I was reading.  I used to pray for essay tests, because I knew I could get an A without a problem. I used to run out of room because of the amount of details I could provide. I didn’t understand why I had such a problem with multiple choice. Come SAT time, I was a complete mess. When I didn’t have specific material to study my anxiety would take me to a shameful place. My self-talk was brutal. My hair twisting and pulling increased to a level where I’m surprised I have hair today. What was it about these tests? Why couldn’t I figure out the right answers?

When I was an adult, I realized  I also had a fear of filling out forms. I was so scared of answering a question in the wrong way. I wanted to be honest and accurate, but I found myself wondering do they mean this, or do they mean that. In order to be a pre-school teacher, I had to take courses filled with multiple choice tests. I remember being told that many people don’t pass them the first time. I can’t tell you what that level of pressure did to me. Luckily, by the time I got to the test I was grounded in my spiritual path and I prayed that I would be able to pull the knowledge from my head as needed, and thankfully I did. Yet, I still went through the constant questioning in my head during almost every question. I just kept trying to remember the words that the books used. I still felt stupid. Why weren’t the answers black and white? I knew the material well enough that the tests should have been a breeze.

So, why did I feel so stupid when it came to multiple choice? I wasn’t going to understand that until I was around 37 years old and back in school. Eckerd College is known for their strong writing program. The Program For Experienced Learners (the program I attended) held us to the same high standards as the residential students. I loved it there. The classes were small, professors were available, lots of writing, and very few multiple choice tests.

The answer finally came in a course called, The Creative Process, taught by an amazing professor. I knew I would love the course just by the title. Once I met my professor, I knew I was in for a big ride in self awareness. The reading materials for the course were eye opening, but one in particular would help to heal years of pain and anguish over my fears and anxiety around multiple choice tests and filling out applications.

Your Creative Brain (This is a link to the website): Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life by Shelley Carson, PhD.was the book that would give me understanding about brainsets and where I was most comfortable. The book explains all the different brainsets, then has a little test to show the reader where her/his personal comfort level is. The best part is in the next chapters she gives the reader exercises to strengthen the different brainsets. Based on the test, I was most comfortable in the connect and absorb brainsets. This made perfect sense to me. This has been my strength in my personal and professional relationships. It was what made me successful in sales and marketing. It is the power behind my creativity. It is the reason, I am driven by the connections I make with humans, nature, and animals through love.

How could this gift cause such anguish in school? 

“Convergent thinking is the type of thinking you do when you access the contents stored in your brain (including knowledge and memories) to come up with the one correct answer to a well-defined problem.”

-Carson, Your Creative Brain p. 125

OH! Multiple choice tests are based on convergent thinking. Now, everything is starting to make sense. I don’t fit into the mold of this type of education, wait a second… My son is completely immersed into the testing world, and he is having the same struggles and feelings that I did. He is an A/B student who is feeling frustrated, stupid and lost in the school system. I’m so glad, I have been educated enough to help stop the negative cycle that I have lived with since I was a child in school.

I have broken many of the negative cycles that came from the generations before me. It can take a long time to heal old wounds. I still feel my stuff come up when my son is discussing school, and it is a challenge to try to figure out what is the best thing to do for him. I need to approach him and the educational system from a loving place, but sometimes the how is hard to find.

I have watched many groups try and fail to change the educational system. I have read the research that is being used to fight the system. I have listened to countless parents and teachers who know that all this testing is not good for these young developing brains. The tests keep coming. Little changes keep happening, but I feel like we are still left with a lot of misunderstanding. Some teachers don’t know how to spot convergent and divergent thinkers and that makes a huge difference in how a child will absorb material. We are still focusing on the broken system. The negative energy is feeding the beast. What if we collectively could put our focus on what we did want to see in schools, instead of what we don’t? I still struggle with this one. I know the answer comes from a loving place, I just don’t know what it is.

My son was lucky enough to have an amazing third grade teacher. She made the time to really look at him as an individual and figure out how he needed to look at the material in order to be able to see the correct answers. She helped me to see that it was possible for a divergent thinker to work with these tests. There are so many  kids, parents, and teachers who don’t know what is going on in these students’ brains. How do we get this information out there in a way that it is not done through angry messages of what we don’t want to see anymore? How do we not shame people for not knowing any better? How do we inspire change through loving actions? 

Finding out about the different brainsets and how they contributed towards different areas of my life has been priceless. It has helped me gain understanding about myself and others. I finally know, I am NOT stupid. I actually have a beautiful gift of a divergent mind, and its because of this gift that I am here now. I figured out that the things I negatively labeled myself with are actually the very parts of me that I love the most.

10 Positive Lessons I Learned From my Parents

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“When you know and respect your own Inner Nature, you know where you belong. You also know where you don’t belong.”

-Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh p. 41

1. Life is not always a family-friendly T.V. show. I grew up in a time where all families on T.V. looked perfect. They handled problems with ease, there was no yelling, dads were around/available, and no mom ever wanted to pull every single hair out of her head. My house did NOT look like that. Chaos was our way of life. That is not to say there wasn’t good times. When my parents were still together, we had a lot of family adventures that made a positive impact on my life. As a mother, I have taken that tradition with me. Our family adventures have gotten us through some very dark times. We go on nature adventures at least every other week, if not more. I learned that no family is perfect and T.V. is edited for our entertainment.

2. Staying in a toxic relationship is NOT better for my children. When I was about 11, I remember getting in the middle of one of my parents arguments. My dad was talking to my mom like she was stupid. I couldn’t take it! I jumped in to defend my mother. My father belittled my mother often. My mom rarely stood up for herself. I have always been an outspoken person, so I did not understand why she didn’t defend herself. When I was around 12, things started to change. My mom began to find herself and her voice. The dynamic in our house changed drastically! My dad and her relationship couldn’t survive the new shift and they both moved on. What I realized much later is that a toxic relationship takes two people. It can’t be toxic if one person is healthy and the other is not. There wouldn’t be a relationship, if that was the case. That goes for all relationships, not just romantic ones.

After my parents were divorced, they both did A LOT of work on themselves. My dad found a woman who was a great fit for him. His relationship with her looked nothing like the one with my mom. He never talked to her in a disrespectful tone. She would have left him in a heartbeat. He presented himself in a whole different light. His tenderness came out and he was fun and playful. I loved going over to visit for family dinners. They were more like parties. My sister and his partner’s two daughters would have friends over and it was always a pleasure. My dad stayed in that relationship until his death, so for 21 years he had the partner that was a great fit for him and it made a huge difference.

My mom took much longer to find the man she would end up building a life with. She wasn’t bitter about it. She was happy on her own. She worked hard on herself and it was because of her that I learned that anything was possible.  I never had to be stuck where I was. When my stepdad came along, I was able to see her growth on a whole different level.

I unconsciously chose to repeat the pattern of being in a toxic relationship when I decided to get married. We set up unhealthy roles for each other and it could get very ugly. Instead of building each other up and being the strength when the other went down, we both would go down together. Logically, I knew better. I had the experience of watching two very healthy, but different relationships. Unfortunately, I hadn’t healed the little girl inside yet. I needed to live out the lesson. I stopped focusing on trying to fix him and I started working on myself. I got stronger, I  figured out and I figured out what was important to me. The dynamic changed and he was not interested in the changes. He flat out didn’t like them. I realized that I was showing our children the same pattern. I was teaching my son how to treat women and my daughter how to be treated by a man. Staying wouldn’t have been good for any of us. My kids get to see the examples of healthy relationships all around them now. They were much younger than I was when my parents divorced. I hope it makes a difference in their choices of relationships. If it doesn’t, I know it is because there is something they need to learn for themselves.

3. Lead by EXAMPLE! This step is not as simple as it may seem. I came from the, “Do as I say, not as I do” generation. My mom wanted my sister and I to be filled with the self-esteem that she never had. Unfortunately, in my early years I didn’t have an example of how a healthy self-esteem looked. I struggled with low self-esteem and self-worth most of my life. I did have an example of how to fake it, I mastered. I dabbled in the example of drinking to cover up my feelings, that did not work! I hated the way that I felt the next day. Hearing stories about what I did was not what I called fun either. I sampled the yelling and belittling your spouse example, I felt horrible and it went against everything I wanted in a relationship.

After I worked on myself enough to see how I contributed to my unhealthy relationships, I was able to follow a better example. I followed the example of both my parents’ current relationships. Now, I have a peaceful and enjoyable relationship that encourages me to always be the best me I can be. Living life this way has opened my eyes in so many ways.

My kids learn from my example EVERY day, for better or worse. Once I became aware of that fact, I can see it all over the place. When my daughter is in a grocery store, she can spot a person who needs a smile, help, or sometimes even a hug. When my son sees another child sad, he is the first one to be there for them, whether he is their friend or not. When I’m driving and an obnoxious driver puts my and their lives at risk… let’s just say, I need to work on that one a little bit. I also get impatient when I am in the middle of a project and my mind is in a million different places. I can see my kids take it out on each other when I’m struggling with my patience. Sometimes, I have silent temper tantrums and my daughter acts them out loud. The good, bad, and the ugly. I found my kids’ behaviors are a great mirror for me to look at my own.

4. The ONLY person I can change is myself. After years of watching my parents trying to change each other, then years of watching them change themselves, I saw the possibilities for a better life. I can be stubborn, so it took me a few times in the same classrooms to figure this one out. I used to love taking on people projects with the intention of changing them for the better. I’m so sorry to any of my friends or past relationships for this one. I get it now!! I do not know what the best answer is for someone else life. That is their job. If I’m asked for advice, I share from my experience, but I make it clear that a person needs to do what is best for them and only he/she has the final say on that one. We are all here learning, no one is perfect and we all have different lessons to live out in order to get us to where we are going. I wouldn’t want to wish some of my lessons on anyone, but I’m grateful for each of them.

My mom taught me that I can change myself at any moment and that it takes work. In order to change, I have to get rid of habits that don’t serve the life that I want to have. The more in-tune I am with myself, the better my life gets.

As a parent, I love being able to pass this on. It helps me so much when my kids are going through their life lessons with friends, family, and at school. Including, being apart of the new culture of education.  I do not except “I hate…”, “I can’t…”, or “It’s not me…”. I re-focus them on what they can change and how to come up with different ways to look at the situation to help them feel better about it. Does this method always work? No, I do the best I can. My goal is to plant the seed. When they are ready, it will be there.

5. Nobody can MAKE me feel anything! My mom learned this when I was 13! Do you know what that meant for how my teenage years looked? I couldn’t blame my mother for any of my feelings. That sucked! LOL. I had no idea at the time learning this would be the core of my empowerment. My feelings and actions are my own. I can choose to come at something from a loving place or a fearful place at any moment. I can even change my mind half way through, but it is my choice and my power! No one can take that away from me.

We practice this in my household daily. It can get downright comical especially when it’s me who gives another person the power over my feelings. I remember the first time my son said to me, “but Mom, I can’t make you feel anything.” He was right, as mad as I might be my anger is my choice. When I react from that place of hurt, it’s not productive for anyone. If I react from a place of love, positive change will follow.

6. Pedestals are DANGEROUS! Like most, my parents were the first people I put on pedestals. Putting them up there made them superhuman in my mind. When I got let down, they both fell. Through my life, I put all kinds of people up on those superhuman pedestals and one by one they all fell leaving me feeling lost. I’ve also watched other people put me on a pedestal and watched myself  fall so hard that I felt like death would be a better option than the disappointment that I caused somebody else. Nobody is perfect and deserves to be over another human being. We are all here to learn so it means we will all fall and get back up again a million times. I’m not better than anyone else for going through what I’ve been through, and I’m also not less than anyone else either.

I love looking at people I admire and strive to practice some of the skills they have mastered, but where they are strong in one area they may have weakness in others, just like the rest of us. I don’t expect any of the people I learn from to be perfect. I know I will get what I’m meant to get from them and then I will be off to the next lesson. I just like my internal garden to be full of seeds, that way when I need them to grow, I start doing the work to make those flowers bloom.

7. What’s right for me will not be what is right for someone else. When my parents found new partners their relationships were very different. My dad and his partner lived together for 21 years and never got married. I lovingly call her “My Other Mother”. They had a wonderful relationship and did things very differently from the way my mom and dad did. They worked and lived together. They were best friends in every way. They never spoke a harsh word to each other. They understood how to give each other their own space in a loving and productive way.

My mom and stepdad had a very fast courtship and were married within a year. They have been married for 19 years and they have a loving, romantic, and communicative relationship. Since I live with them, I get to see more than most. I have great respect for the way they communicate with each other and share their love.

These two relationships couldn’t be more different in certain ways, but they both have strong values and morals that make them work in successfully. Between these two examples, I have come to realize that it is important for me to make the choices that are best for me.  I also have learned that just because I don’t want a relationship with yelling and screaming, that doesn’t mean that it’s for me to judge relationships that like their passionate debates or fights.  Some of my friends love the making up process and that is their journey.

This doesn’t just pertain to relationships with people, it also covers career choices, educational paths, parenting methods, and overall living the life that I want to live.  The most important thing is that I’m clear about what I want and that I’m not putting my energy into the things that I don’t.

8. I AM a whole person all by myself! I learned this from my mom during her single years. She was single for about a decade after my parents got divorced. She got to the point where she had no problem being alone. If that was the life she was destined to have, she was happy with that. She wasn’t defined by anyone’s love for her. She was enjoying her journey as a single woman. She met my stepdad through a friend and their relationship bloomed quickly. Even as long as they have been together, she still has her own life too. Her self care is important to her, and he respects her space. He also has his own life and enjoys his time outside of their relationship.

My relationship looked nothing like that when I was married, and I resented it. We didn’t have a mutual respect for each other and when we did go out separately, we were both questioning what the other was doing. It was very sad. I had no idea that codependency was a large part of my problem. I was so focused on wanting him to have the best life, I stopped looking at my own. Then, I resented him for it. I was just as much responsible for setting up that dynamic as he was. When I realized my part of the responsibility, I made the necessary changes to take care of myself. After I left him, I was very happily single for about a year.

I have never had a problem being alone. I’m an extrovert with plenty of friends and family to keep me entertained for years to come. I was taking good care of myself when I started dating again, but I still had a ways to go before I was ready for a healthy relationship. I came to the point that I was 100% happy on my own, my life was not lacking in ANY way. My current relationship is the healthiest relationship I have ever been in, because I am the healthiest I have ever been. I still have plenty of room for growth opportunities, but it is so much better when there is a matching level of respect. I know that I am whole without him and that he is whole without me. We enjoy each other and everyday is an adventure.

9. Blaming others is a waste of my energy. I am who I am because of the lessons I’ve learned. There is no room for blame. My mom and dad did the best they could. I still was dealt some lessons that were painstakingly hard. I am here, I survived. Now, I have more to give because I didn’t let any of the them keep me down. I experienced what I needed to in order to be the person I am now.

Taking personal responsibility is key. I had to learn to question my part. I still struggle and I still face challenges. There is also a very fine line with taking personal responsibility and self-abusing. I used to hit myself with so many “bad me” bats that it could make a person’s head spin. It took me a long time to realize that blaming myself was just as much a waste of my energy as  blaming someone else.

I choose to follow examples of people who didn’t waste their time with blame.  We have so many powerful  figures in our history such as Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, Mother Theresa, and so many more living and dead.

10. It is not my business what other people think of me! My mom’s favorite things to say when referring to this is, “Oh well” or “whatever”. I love it now, I hated it as a teenager. She was a great example for me to NOT focus on doing things for someone else’s benefit. When I was a sales trainer, she had to talk me through many rough times when I was starting out. Eventually, I learned that some people will love me, hate me, or be indifferent to me. I will touch the lives I am meant to, in whatever way I’m meant to do it.

I have learned as much from the people who I let trigger  my anger and rage as I do from the people who I let trigger my love and compassion. Some people will love my voice and others will downright detest it. That’s ok, I will continue to live the life I do from a loving place.

Final note: Since this is a blog, I know I just grazed the surface on the lessons I learned. If you want to hear more about a particular topic, please leave a comment below and I will do my best to expand my thoughts in another blog.

Embrace the Breakdown

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When I was 17, I struggled with severe depression.  I could send myself into a tailspin within seconds. It got so bad that I agreed to be admitted into a hospital to get help. I used to believe that it was only going to get worse, and that there was no hope in my future.  There was a period of time that I’m surprised I survived.

This was the time frame that I learned to embrace the breakdown. Like many others, I used to do anything I could to avoid the breakdown, but learning to embrace it made me see breakdowns as good things. I wasn’t going to hit an emotional bottom. I was going to break through a barrier that was holding me back.  It is empowering to be in charge and  head down a downward to have a break through. I say I’m getting ready for a  growth spurt. The bigger the spiral, the bigger the growth spurt.  Learning this skill did not keep me from experiencing dark times, but it helped me see that the dark times would pass as soon as I got what I was meant to get out of the situation. A lesson could take a day, month and sometimes longer. It really depended on how stubborn I was being and how tight I was holding on to the problem.

Growth spurts are what I call my emotional break throughs that lead me to better places. I  usually have something great happen after one of my breakdown to break through episodes. After I embrace the breakdown, which is feeling all the feelings that are going through me. Sometimes I am hit with a lot, all at once. Those are my category 4 hurricanes. Next, I look at the situation from other perspectives. I’m not going to lie, I had a great role model for this part. We lovingly refer to my mom as “Pollyanna”. She modeled the skill of looking at things from a much brighter and less sinister angle. I remember getting so annoyed when I wanted to stay in a bad mood. Eventually, I came around and realized it wasn’t that bad. It’s funny watching my kids’ reactions when I do it to them. The best part is, they have now started to keep me on track too when I slip. After that, I look at the lessons in what’s causing me stress, anxiety, and/or depression.

In my early thirties, I was introduced to the work of Byron Katie. A friend gave me a CD series called, Making Your Thoughts Work for You By Dr. Wayne Dyer and Byron Katie. I had already done a lot of work on this, but her methods are truly amazing and easy to use. There are tons of videos out there of her work. Her method is brilliant. She even has an easy to use worksheet on her website. Katie’s way of looking at a perspective is a tool I use on a regular basis when I get triggered by anybodies actions or words. For the parents out there it is a great tool and a great way of life to teach children. It gives us great tools to see our children clearly and teaches them to take personal responsibility, while not getting caught up in what my mom calls, “awful-izing”. It doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but just like anything else it plants a seed.  When they are ready, it will grow.

Another thing that works for me was suggested  by my first sponsor in AL-ANON. She said to stand on a chair and look at the room from a different angle, then do your daily routines in a different order. My favorite was to change the order I put my foot in my underwear. I had to literally put a note in my underwear drawer to remind me to get out of my head and make different choices. I’m in my head a lot! I am one of those people who have to do a lot of work to get out of my head. I love hiking off-trail to help me with that one. When I have to pay attention for sticks, snakes, and direction, my mind stays clear!

I have worked with a lot of people on the topic of personal growth and I can share a couple of observations about what has kept myself and others in the vicious spin cycle longer.

  1. We try to run away from it using people, places, or things. I have used the busy world of doing, relationships with my children, family, and friends to keep me distracted from looking at myself. I have seen others use excess alcohol and drugs. In my experience, it never works to solve problems. Create problems, YES! Solve problem, No! I learned that when I feel over emotional about something I avoid alcohol completely or keep it to one glass of red wine in a relaxing environment. The relaxing environment part is essential.
  2. There is something about the chaos that makes us feel comfortable. Here’s an example: I used to be in a relationship with a lot of yelling and name calling. I was always on edge. I never knew what was going to come next. The reason it was comfortable to me is because it was what I experienced as a child watching my parents’ relationship. There was a normalcy in it. It took a lot longer to break that pattern than it did others. I had to consciously study healthy relationships and surround myself with friends in healthy relationships.

I’m sure there are other reasons, but for me, these are the ones that always stand out.  Don’t be scared to feel everything that comes up. This can take time. This is not a quick fix. If it doesn’t work, go deeper. In the beginning for category 4 breakdowns it would take me a month or longer to get through it all, and some days were downright ugly. As I have practiced the skills and have learned to spot warning signs, I can tend to get through the process in about a day. But, not all the time. Around three years ago, one of my breakthroughs was from a failed relationship that was a carried pattern of many failed relationships. I had tried before to go deep, but it obviously wasn’t deep enough. I had to deal with childhood shame that was buried deep down. That took a lot of time and tears to get through. If there is shame involved, face it. If there is guilt involved, forgive yourself. If there is anxiety involved, get present. Anxiety comes from fears of future, and future in not predictable (at least for most of us). If there is anger, forgive them. Don’t forgive for the other person, forgiveness is personal. Repeat the mantra, “Breakdown to break through, breakdown to break through!” I will share my break through reading list soon.  First, I have to do some digging.

Most importantly, treat yourself kindly from a loving place. It has been said many times by many different people, “We are our worst critics.” We are all doing the best we can with the tools we have been given. You deserve love and compassion just as much as all the people around you.  Cry, scream, let it out! Stop running and embrace the breakdown.