Will You Party with the Grief or Choose to Be Happy?

Will You Party with the Grief or Choose to Be Happy?

I get that I’ve had a near-fairytale experience, as far as my son’s adoption has gone. Kathy wished me Happy MOTHER’s Day on Facebook – emphasizing the word “mother,” which I am blessed to receive as her acceptance of me simply as Eric’s Other Mother. None of the competition, aggression, anger, resentment, antagonism, or other low-vibration feelings that unfortunately so often seem to be a part of the birthmom/adoptive mom relationship – whether they are acknowledged or not.

I get that I don’t have the anger, angst, overwhelming sadness, guilt, anguish, or so many other negative emotions tied up in my feelings about Eric or any aspect of the adoption. OK – I was a little irritated not to hear from him for my birthday (a little over a week ago), but I did get a Happy Mother’s Day text from him that made me smile. Once upon a time, such a text would have made my week. Now, perhaps I’ve become complacent, because while I was grateful for it, it didn’t stop me in my tracks, make my eyes well up, or even really give me pause. Cool. He remembered. And then I moved on with my day. Or maybe it’s because I know I’ll be seeing him in just a few days, as I fly back to New Jersey for the party to celebrate his graduation from Northeastern University. Funny how when I lived out there, so many of my vacations seemed to be coming back here, to Arizona. This will be my second trip back to New Jersey in five months – so we’re in Opposite Land now. Point is – maybe it’s easy for me to be so preachy about the perils of holding on to all of those negative emotions because things have gone so well for me within the adoption space.

That said, I’m also generally not an overly emotional person. My sister’s death hit me harder than anything in my life – including the adoption. But it didn’t cause me to curl up in a ball or want to stop living. When we’ve lost pets, my husband’s grieved for many days. I tend to be OK a bit sooner than he does. We’re all made differently – and what I know about grief is that there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Everyone’s timeline is different. But I’ve been reading a few posts from birthmothers on this Facebook support group, and most of them are so disheartening. I have a difficult time relating to these women who are so beside themselves about Mother’s Day. I empathize, but I cannot relate to their feelings of inadequacy or anger or isolation because of a holiday made up by the greeting card, candy, and flower industries.

The description for the group reads, in part:

This is meant to be an UPLIFTING and SUPPORT group. Any down talking, hate, or trying to project your guilt onto others will not be tolerated.

But what it seems to be is a place to seek collaborators in misery. Or so I was thinking, perched ever so haughtily on my high horse as I considered removing myself from the group. And then I read two posts that broke my heart. One was from a birthmom who’s had regular contact with her daughter, now 6, since the little girl was placed at birth. However, the daughter is having trouble in school, and all evidence points to emotional upset about the adoption, as it seems difficult for her to process her birthmom’s place in her life. So the adoptive parents have decided to sever the contact … “for the time being.” Yeah – that one knocked me soundly off my lofty perch of self-righteousness, because I have no idea what I’d do or how I would feel in her position. I’m not a terribly emotional person, but I welled up as I read my poem “The Birthmother You Know” for our virtual get-together on Birthmothers Day this past Saturday. I couldn’t even tell you why I was emotional – given the generally positive experience I mentioned above. Somewhere, deep inside I suppose, I was still acknowledging the loss. So if Kathy and Bruce had decided, when Eric was 6, to stop sending photos and letters, that probably would have been torturous.

The other gut-wrenching post was from a woman whose daughter is now 12. The woman’s uncle was the girl’s adoptive father – and he passed away from cancer yesterday. The little girl came home from school and could not wake him up. Oh my god! That birthmom is in anguish, not only to have lost her uncle, but to know what a terrible loss her daughter is experiencing – complicated by the fact that she was the one who discovered his lifeless body. So sometimes there’s just loss – and the only answer is grief and tears and sadness. And this group offers these ladies a virtual hug whenever they need it. A place to come and vent. To cry. And, I very much hope, to laugh and share the good moments, too.

I was wondering, as I pondered writing this post, how many of those overwhelming negative feelings – the anger, guilt, shame, blame, and unending grief – come out of a sense of unworthiness. How many of those negative, super-disempowering emotions do we hold onto because we’ve simply convinced ourselves that we don’t deserve to be happy, that we don’t deserve to laugh and experience joy? Those are lies we tell ourselves, though. And birthmoms have a special reason to lie to themselves about their worthiness that most other people don’t have. They can opt for joy and celebrate the fact that they chose life for their children – or they can lay down and party with the grief every day and every night.

Every birthmom – every human – deserves laughter and joy and love and the free feeling of simply being at peace in the world. But those feelings – even for that birthmom who’s temporarily lost contact with her daughter and the one whose uncle just died – are, by and large, a choice. We’ve got to believe that regardless of where we are in this moment, happiness is ours for the taking, or it will be, one day, soon enough. And then we have to do whatever it takes to grab onto that positive emotion and hold it close.

David R. Hawkins wrote a well-discussed book a number of years ago called Power vs. Power v force emotionsForce. In it, he explained this concept of lower- and higher-vibration emotions. The low ones are the negative ones I’ve been naming here, like anger and sadness. The higher ones are things like love and gratitude. You can think about it in terms of how you feel in any given moment. For example, do you have that person in your life who is so high-strung that his or her stress rubs off on everyone they meet? The second they leave the room, the air seems to lighten and everyone else breathes a collective sigh of relief? That’s a person who may be stuck in a low vibration. We’re all made up of energy – the question is whether it’s positive, negative, or neutral energy.

So, yes. These women – and birthmothers everywhere – are entitled to their opinions, feelings, and beliefs. And that means feeling them and expressing them and discussing them and receiving condolences for them for as long as they wish to do so. It is my opinion, however, that the longer they allow themselves to stay mired in the emotional muck related to their adoptions, the less likely they are to have more good days than bad ones. There’s no magic wand to whoosh away the pain. But there is owning it, blessing the people who’ve wronged you, loving your child – and loving yourself enough to move on and find reasons to celebrate again. Every birthmom deserves to be happy, regardless of her past.

deide-to-be-happy

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Are You Living with a Serial Killer?

Are You Living with a Serial Killer?

Iris and Isis

Perhaps you can relate. She was so cute when we brought her home – a twin actually. Her sister, Iris, the REALLY pretty one, went missing at about 18 months. We figure someone scooped her up because she was so exotic looking. Isis rebounded, though, and became one of the friendliest cats I’ve ever known. She walks with us when we take the dogs out – and even though we’ve been in our new house for going on four months now, it’s not unusual for someone in the neighborhood to comment on how remarkable it is for the cat to walk with us, “just like a dog.”

One way she’s not “just like a dog” is that the dogs have never gifted us with dead animals they bring in through the dog door. Or worse, living animals that she massacres on MY side of the bedroom. In our old house, her killing room was the guest bathroom. Gross enough, but I would have John clean up the seeds and bird gut gifts left behind after Isis’ occasional morning feast. Now, though, I have to go to bed with a flashlight to make sure I’m not stepping into a gruesome pile of slimy innards. Some people who live in the desert deal with scorpions in their shoes. We deal with dead birds. I’m pretty sure I’d opt for the scorpions, if given the choice.

Our pretty little menace started slow here, killing one bird on the other side of our back fence within the first two or three days of our living here. Then, we didn’t see any evidence of bird assassinations for another couple months. Now, though, she’s got the taste again. And so she brings them in with some regularity. It’s not like the experts try to tell you – a gift for her people – because all that’s usually left when she’s completely done, literally, are a few seeds from the bird’s gullet and a little pile of feathers. Oh, and the occasional blood smear. The problem is that she’s not always completely done – perhaps she gets interrupted, mid-feast?

The gifts she actually does leave are usually a lot less disgusting, albeit kind of annoying Isis trash collection after a while. When she’s not killing birds, our cat is apparently the self-appointed trash monitor for the Gila Springs Neighborhood Association. She brings in every kind of trash you can imagine. The best was a Guns ’N Roses iron-on patch, but she’s brought us everything from multiple seed packets (I can just see that neighbor thinking he’s going nuts – “I KNOW I left those seeds here on that table last night…”) to Doritos wrappers to homework assignments (“No, really, the cat ate my homework!”) to unpaid bills.

Once in a while, she’ll bring a bird in live. If they make it that far intact, we can almost always rescue the birds. The other day, she brought in a baby pigeon who lived to tell. After I surprised Isis into dropping the bird from her mouth, I scooped her up, hurtled her out the bedroom door, and slammed it shut. Meanwhile, the bird took flight and alighted on the built in shelf that edges the upper walls in our bedroom. Usually when the birds find themselves inside, if I can get them away from the cat, I toss a towel over them and take them back outside. This bird wasn’t in the mood to be draped. Just as I was getting ready to climb a ladder and try again, John picked up a pair of boxers from his laundry basket, wadded them up, and threw them at the bird. I didn’t think it would work, as I had already tossed two flipflops at it, and it had remained unflappable. Must have been the flow of the fabric as the boxers unballed themselves, because the bird panicked and began flying around the room, eventually finding its way out the open glass patio door.

First rescue in the new house. Isis’ record for bringing them in was three in one night at our old house.

To be fair, some of the birds gang up on her when we walk, dive-bombing her like a WWII pilot going after an enemy ship. If they knew they were going to be tomorrow night’s dinner, I’m betting they’d leave well enough alone. Or maybe it’s the other way around, and they’re paying her back for taking out Grandpa Tweety last week. Sometimes, I just can’t defend my feline’s actions, though.

But I'm innocent

I was walking the dogs the other night, Isis following dutifully behind me, when I saw a hobbled little bird a couple yards ahead of us. It was trying unsuccessfully to fly, and I knew it would be a goner if Isis got hold of it. I distracted the dogs and turned to head in the opposite direction – thought I had convinced Isis to come with us, too, when out of the corner of her eye, she saw the bird. And that was that. But you’ve never seen anyone run as fast as I did to get back home to shut the dog doors and block her personal cat door so Isis couldn’t bring her fresh kill into the house. I was just grateful this all unfolded pretty late at night.

One morning when Isis followed the dogs and me on our walk, a mom from the neighborhood was pushing her 2-year-old in his stroller. He saw the dogs and pointed and giggled – but when he saw the cat, his face lit up. I could see Isis choosing just that moment to attack a bird, and us getting sued for permanently traumatizing this child who was simply out for a stroll with Mommy. Thankfully, she got into her hunting crouch within the boy’s line of sight, but those birds were on their game that day and took off before Isis had a chance to pounce.

Mean kitty

Turns out, my cat is pretty typical, however heinous you may find her crimes. According to a 2013 article in The New York Times, “…scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Service estimate that domestic cats in the United States … kill a median of 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals a year… . More birds and mammals die at the mouths of cats, the report said, than from automobile strikes, pesticides and poisons, collisions with skyscrapers and windmills, and other so-called anthropogenic causes.” Good to know Isis is not carrying the weight of all this massacring alone.

In something of the “turnabout is fair play” nature of things, the dogs sometimes get feisty and chase poor Isis as she tries to come in one of the dog doors. Poor Isis, my sweet little bird-torturing cat. I was at the grocery store the other day buying cat food when the clerk commented on the delicious feast our cat was going to have. “Yeah, when she’s not murdering birds, she likes her cod pâté,” was my toss-off reply.

“Good luck with your mass murderer,” the clerk offered, as she handed me my canvas bag laden with canned cat food.

Oh my god, I thought, she’s right. We share our home with a serial killer.

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

What if Your Mom Was More Like Peg Bundy than June Cleaver?

What if Your Mom Was More Like Peg Bundy than June Cleaver?

Love him or hate him, Bill Maher has a pretty funny recurring segment on his show with made-up greeting cards you’ll never find in a store, but wish you could.

bad mom

Mothers Day seems ripe for such a set of cards. Even as the greeting card, flower, candy, and TV advertising industries badger us with all the reasons we love and cherish our moms and how buying that really expensive gift will prove the extent of such love and cherishment, not every kid has a mom they want to celebrate. And I’m not talking about birthmothers here – just moms in general.

My personal experience was nothing close to Carol Brady, Clair Hustable, or Maggie Seaver. No one on TV really comes close to my relationship with my mom, but I suppose Toni Collette’s portrayal of a mom with multiple personalities (United States of Tara) at least mimics the weird because of a mom who wasn’t always fully in her right mind. My mother’s issues stemmed from years of undiagnosed strokes that caused increasing degrees of brain decay and malfunction. She was never really a mom to us in any of the conventional ways, from being our confidant about romances and heartbreaks to teaching us hygiene things like shaving our legs and using tampons. I remember watching the NBC drama Sisters and longingly wondering what it might have been like to have had a mother who would go to bat for me, no matter what. I don’t blame my mother – anymore. But I hated her with a white hot passion for many years, until I finally understood that it was an illness and not a choice to be an absent mother, even though it would be many more years before the precise nature of the illness came to light.

My husband’s mother was an abusive alcoholic. He said it wasn’t until he was well into his 20s that it finally dawned on him that her behavior hadn’t been his fault. She still calls every once in a while, but he finds it difficult to sustain any lasting contact because she’s still an addict and she has never quite been able to forgive herself for the traumatic childhood she caused him and his sister. All he wants to do is move on, but she is still living in regret for the past. I’m pretty sure he didn’t send a Mothers Day card this year – although he always remembers the date of her birthday, even if he doesn’t call to wish her a happy one.

The mother of a friend of mine committed suicide, leaving her and her two sisters to fend for themselves through their teens while their distraught father drank himself into oblivion.

Another friend had a mother who did nothing but constantly point out her flaws and faults. My friend eventually wised up and walked away from this damaged person who was biologically her mother, but an emotional enemy. They didn’t speak for the last 10 years of her mother’s life.

My goal here is not to focus on the negative, but to acknowledge that not everyone has had a rosy relationship with dear ol’ Mom. Nor should they be made to feel guilty for finding Mothers Day an obnoxious holiday they’d rather skip over completely.

Not every woman is cut out to be a mother. Sometimes, they are discerning enough to know their limits and opt out, whether via adoption, abortion, or never getting pregnant in the first place. Other women, whether because of societal, religious, or peer pressure, have children they probably have no business raising. Some women are born to be mothers – crafting costumes with aplomb, happily whipping up treats for homeroom, and cheering on their little athletes or thespians with raucous applause.

Most women – most mothers – fall somewhere in between. Sometimes a little flaky, forgetting permission slips and lunches. Sometimes irritable because they just found out their best friend’s husband passed away. Sometimes overprotective, wishing they could keep their kid from ever getting hurt. Sometimes irrationally irate because they’re angry at someone else just as their youngest daughter asks to get her bellybutton pierced for the 37th time. And sometimes – maybe only once in a while – in perfect harmony with their kiddos.

It’s disingenuous for merchandisers to sell us the fairytale that all moms are June Cleaversending_you_love when, in fact, the average mom is probably closer to Rosanne or Peg Bundy. Yes – really. Think about it. So if you happened to have a less than stellar relationship with your mom, give yourself a break. Love her as much as you are able – even if that means from a VERRRRRRRRRRY long distance. Send up a prayer or good thought, and move on. Release the guilt for not wanting to gush over her. Stop sending cards or making calls that make your skin crawl. Quit apologizing to your kids for their grandmother.

And, if you can, send love. A very good friend of mine offered some sage advice when I was first working on releasing my anger toward my niece. She said, “Even if you can’t send your own love because you just don’t feel love for that person, try sending the love of the Universe (or God). It doesn’t have to be your own love in order for you to shower that person in love.” Wow – what a relief that was. I could stop being angry and instead send love – even if I didn’t personally feel love. You could try this with your mom today (or any day) – or any other person with whom you have a challenging relationship.

Wishing you, at minimum, an OK Mothers Day!

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Birthmothers Day 2018

Birthmothers Day 2018

So we had a little event this evening. And when I say  little, I mean little. We had 4 birthmoms in attendance – 3 of us who spoke, and one who was there but didn’t say anything or contribute. Glad you showed up, Ana’s birthmom!

If you’d like to see the video, please click here to watch it.

I was just poking my head around a birthmom support group on Facebook. Lots of angry rants – and sad ones. Easy to judge, I realize. Hard to relate, though, because I never spent time in that wallowing, victim, poor-me space. I empathize, for certain. But so many of these women’s comments remind me of the comments from those women in  that chatroom all those years ago. I wasn’t in that headspace then, when my son was a toddler; the intervening years have only given me even more time for healing. I worry when I read rants from women whose children are in their 20s. That means they’re well into the double digits of years, still feeling angry and hurt and sorry for themselves. That’s an awful long time to carry around such powerfully negative emotions.

I realize that the grieving process is different for everyone – but the goal should be to move through the grief and get on with life, not suffer with it for the rest of forever. I believe one way to help women exorcise that grief is by normalizing and destigmatizing the birthmother experience. Virtual events like the one we held tonight go a long way toward doing that by taking the birthmother story out in the open where people previously unaware can become more enlightened about the path – and struggle – of the birthmother in any adoption.

One woman in this support group comments, “Why single us out?” She is missing the entire point. It’s not about singling out birthmoms, but rather giving them a day where they don’t feel out of place. Birthmoms who’ve had no subsequent children, who are still keeping the adoption a secret, and/or who don’t consider themselves moms in any true sense tend to shy away from Mothers Day. Birthmothers Day recognizes them, specifically, just as Mothers Day recognizes all moms, not any specific kind of mother.

Many years ago, I wrote the following poem. I no longer have the original, so I don’t know the date. Suffice to say it was sometime between March 1995 and today. It’s called The Birthmother You Know. Please feel free to reprint and/or share it at will, as long as my byline remains attached.

The Birthmother You Know

by LAURA ORSINI

We are women.
We are soul. We are spirit. We are body. We are mind. We are voice.
We are 19. We are 39. We are 79.
We have college degrees. We are dropouts.
We are lesbians. We are hetero.
We are sane. We are institutionalized.
We’ve parented. We’ve aborted. We’ve remained childless.
We are marginalized. We are united.
We feel guilty. We are proud.
We are sickly. We are healthy.
We are married. We are divorced. We are single.
We are grieving. We’ve released our grief.
We are leaders. We are followers.
We are flaky. We are brilliant.
We are beautiful. We are plain.
We are strong. We are weak.
We are passive. We are aggressive.
We are angry. We’ve made peace.
We are shy. We are popular.
We are addicts. We are in recovery. We are drug-free.
We are famous. We are obscure. We are infamous.
We are students. We are teachers.
We are homeless. We are employed.
We have lots of regrets. We have few regrets.
We are sexy. We find sex shameful.
We are spiritual. We are agnostic. We are atheist.
We are spenders. We are savers.
We’ve followed our passions. We’re held hostage by lives we’ve settled for.
We are optimists. We are pessimists.
We are tall. We are short.
We are fat. We are thin.
We are friends. We are enemies.
We are chaotic. We are organized.
We relinquished. We surrendered. We placed.
We are lovers. We are fighters.
We are simple. We are complicated.
We are vegetarians. We eat meat.
We’ve had reunions. We long for reunions. We run from reunions.
We are accomplished. We are struggling.
We are fearless. We fear everything.
We are silent. We are outspoken.
We’ve shared our adoption stories. We’ve told no one about our adoptions.
We are wives, daughters, sisters, aunts, cousins, nieces, grandmothers, granddaughters.
We are mothers who love the children we said goodbye to.
We walk among you.

 

 

Here’s to the Birthmothers

to my other mother

Here’s to the Birthmothers

Today is Birthmothers Day – the day set aside to commemorate and acknowledge women who have placed at least one child for adoption. We don’t really say “Happy Birthmothers Day,” as for some, it is a bittersweet to truly difficult time of year. Instead, we commemorate, recognize, acknowledge, thank, and love the birthmoms in our lives, both known and unknown. Chances are good that someone you know is a birthmother, but she’s never revealed that fact to you.

Please join us for a live virtual spoken word event – the first of its kind for the women participating (and maybe anywhere), where we will come together to share our stories. I’ve written a poem for which the event is named – The Birthmother You Know. Others may share fiction, prose, or just talk about their experiences.

We’ve had many women who were invited opt out of participating – because it’s too difficult, or they expect it will be a maudlin event and they’re just not up for that. In my experience, every birthmothers day event I’ve taken part in has been an uplifting and/or cathartic experience for the birthmoms involved – and an edifying one for the others in attendance.

My friend Beth Kozan, a retired adoption caseworker and my co-host for this event, told me recently that one woman – not a birthmother – was surprised by how “normal” all the birthmothers were at the event she attended.

“What did you expect?” Beth asked her.

“I don’t know – a lot of wailing and tears, I suppose.”

There may be tears – most likely there will be tears. But they won’t necessarily be sad tears – just the tears that come when we acknowledge both the good things and the challenging things life brings.

If you missed us for the live event, you can watch the video at this link on my personal Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/phxazlaura.
Please share this post with anyone else who may have an interest in learning more, understanding more, loving more.

How Do You Forgive a Ghost?

How Do You Forgive a Ghost?

I am, by the grace of temperament, biology, psychology, and/or God, not a grudgeholder. Never have been. And while not exactly a Pollyanna, I was most definitely born an optimist. I remember, on more than one occasion, missing my bus stop on the way home from work while living in Jersey City and consoling myself with thoughts like, Well, it’s cold but at least it’s not snowing. Thank goodness I don’t have a broken leg. It’s only a 10-block walk, not a mile. And I realized, while pondering those thoughts, that mine was perhaps a fairly unusual outlook. Most people would just be pissed off, perhaps using that anger as an excuse to lash out at loved ones when they got home, pop an extra cold one, or pocket a lipstick at the drugstore – bad behaviors we so often convince ourselves are justified because the world is just not on our side.

pronoia

One of my heroes is a guy named Rob Brezsny, who writes a most unusual syndicated horoscope column called Freewill Astrology. He is also the author of a fantastic book called Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings, in which he explains just that. The book is not for the faint of heart – unless you want to lose all your preconceived ideas about the value of victim thinking, shame, complaining, and blame. Rob is one of the most visible optimists I know of. Yep – he’s a woo-woo weirdo, but I’m of the opinion the world could use a few more of those right about now.

Like Rob, it has always been easy for me to see the good in almost any situation, even when my conversationmates are hellbent on seeing only the dismal, awful, horrible reasons to complain. My friend Sunil is still recovering from a series of strokes, and he was in a snarly mood when I went to visit him last night. I do my best not to make light of his situation when he gets in those moods, because I can only imagine how awful it must be not to be able to get your body to do the things you want it to do. And yet, every time he gets down like this, I challenge him to pull himself out of it, because that’s the only way he’s going to get well. By the end of our visit, he was much cheered. I hope he can call on some of the blessings I reminded him about the next time he’s feeling a bit sorry for himself. I am quite fortunate that, when I’m in a rare whiny state, my husband is there to buoy my mood or play devil’s advocate and remind me why entrenching in my momentary misery would probably be a less than ideal choice.

But it’s not like I’ve never undergone hardships. I’m a human person living on Planet Earth – so I struggle, just like everyone else. The years 2014 through 2017 were pretty intense and anguished for me and my husband, as we lost three close loved ones in that short span of time: his dad, my little sister, and then his grandmother. Some people get mired in the sadness, grief, blame, anger, and myriad other dark emotions. I can neither take credit for nor explain why I don’t. It just doesn’t work for me.

I was rather surprised when a very intelligent, spiritually focused friend of mine recently started a sentence with, “If you ever need to seek revenge against someone…” and then proceeded to tell me how to exact such revenge. “REALLY????” I wanted to scream at her. But she’s not the type to accept coaching – probably most especially when she’s in the middle of sharing her secret for getting even.

A couple years ago, I attended a well-known personal development seminar. One of the exercises was to think of someone with whom we were angry or had a beef. Although I believe most people could probably quickly think of several people who fit that bill, I struggled to think of anyone who brought up enough residual feelings to qualify for the rest of the exercise. Sure, there are lots of people I could be angry with. Whom some people would tell me I should be angry with. And yet, I just don’t stay angry with anyone – at least not for very long.

My son’s father comes to mind, but I’ve long since released most of the anger I had toward him. More recently, my niece is probably the best candidate for my anger – as she was unbelievably awful to my sister (her mother) and to me in the last few weeks of Corina’s life. And while I’ll admit there’s sometimes a twinge of $#%^#@&*! when I think about Samantha, it dissipates quickly and I don’t spend any unnecessary time there. My sweet, beautiful sister, on the other hand, was a master at mustering anger and then holding onto it for a very, very long time.

When she started seeing a naturopathic oncologist to treat her cervical cancer, her doctor told her that her particular version of the disease generally had two root causes: (1) the HPV virus and (2) unresolved anger. Bingo. She even knew who she was angry with and why – and yet, she couldn’t let it go. She nursed it and relished it and cheered it on, even she said, as she knew that it was making her physically sick. She had a reprieve there for a while, when she was able to spend some time apart from the people with whom she was so angry. And while she was separated from them, she started to recover and rebound. We saw so many signs that she was getting well and truly believed she would survive this unrelenting illness. And then, she let both of these folks back into her life, without having ever really resolved the old anger – or developing a coping mechanism for having them around again. The cancer came roaring back – and she died a few short months later.

I cannot fathom hosting enough anger within my body to cause it to become my enemy. Many people make that choice, though, consciously or unconsciously.

A dear friend of mine is trying to work out some unresolved anger right now – but the grief recovery handbookperson with whom she is angry passed away, so she can’t do it face to face, in the here and now. She is working through the processes laid out in The Grief Recovery Handbook, a book gifted to me by another friend shortly after my sister died. My brother-in-law, Matt, was really struggling at the time I received that book, so I passed it along to him. As highly recommended as it comes from both of these friends, I have not yet felt compelled to read it myself. As I understand it, the steps are related to things left undone. Intense anger because of unresolved issues with someone who’s died is a form of grief, albeit not necessarily the kind of grief we’re programmed by society to expect and endorse.

My friend admitted the other day that she’d gone through the forgiveness steps detailed in the book for other people she’d lost in her life, but she’s just not ready to stop being angry with her mother-in-law. This friend knew my sister – and I reminded her how Corina’s anger had turned out for her. “You still have a choice, you know? No matter how much you still hate her and how justified you are in those feelings, you’re not hurting Jackie with your anger. I mean – she’s gone! The only one being punished by those intense feelings is you.” I think my comments surprised her – perhaps she hadn’t ever really thought of it in those terms. But she promised to start working the forgiveness process for her mother-in-law – both for things Jackie did or said to her, and for things she did, said, or failed to do or say to Jackie. In so doing, she may finally be able to release all those years of pent-up hostility and get down to the business of healing herself.

the one who angers you

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

You’ve Gotta Know the Rules Before You Break ’Em

You’ve Gotta Know the Rules Before You Break ’Em

My husband had an astrological reading today with a gal who told him he had the most fantastic chart she’d ever seen. Yippee – now someone else has confirmed he’s a brilliant musician, performer, writer, and artist, so maybe he’ll believe me when I tell him the same things. As we are married, she also asked about me (birthdate, time, location, etc.). I was overhearing this from the next room, mind you. Then she asked him if I was a perfectionist and set in my ways. He hemmed and hawed a little – I don’t think either of us really see me that way. But when he mentioned that I was an author and editor, she said, “And an editor must have things just so.” Ah – turns out she is correct.

done is better than perfect

As the day wore on, it became a bit more apparent to me that even as I’ve always seen myself as a devil-may-care rebel, the fact is that I care quite a bit about how quite a number of things are done. I don’t know that I’d call it perfectionism – but I do seem to have an inclination toward having certain areas of life just so. First and foremost, I care about correct grammar. Even though I’ve been moving toward living more in the spirit of “Done Is Better than Perfect,” I’ll usually go back and reread these blog posts a couple times – and when I notice a typo, I can’t jump on the EDIT button fast enough.

Then tonight, I heard a speaker at the Arizona Marketing Association monthly meeting. She was very good – talking about how various generations have different values and ways of communicating, so smart marketers will take this into consideration when creating campaigns to reach members of each age group. And even while I was hearing her message and learning from it, in the back of my mind, I was aware that she was on the stage in a sleeveless red top. Somewhere in my past, one of my mentors told me that professional women ALWAYS wear an outer garment (jacket, sweater, overshirt, etc.). To omit this – to be in her shirtsleeves – is the height of unprofessional presentation. Was this speaker in any way unprofessional? Not at all. And yet, this rule I’d encountered all those years ago came around to interrupt my experience tonight.

Back in the days when my husband worked in commercial plumbing, he left the house by 4:15 a.m. to get to the jobsite. There was no one on the roads at the time, so he occasionally ran a red light if it was taking forever to change and there were no other cars to be seen. I bristled at the idea – and yet I will walk straight across almost any road against a red light if there are no cars in sight. How is that different? Am I a rulebreaker when it suits my needs – the rules apply to everyone else but not to me?

litterbugs

A couple months ago, I mentioned my friend Mike – Tony’s best friend from childhood. Mike was the slobbiest of slobs – and I found out later that Tony, my son’s birthfather, was the exact opposite. When given the opportunity to keep his own house the way he preferred it, Tony kept his place immaculate. Now that I’m traveling back down Memory Lane, I recall that Tony used to nag Mike whenever Mike would dump out the garbage from his car (mostly fast food wrappers) onto the side streets near our apartment in Jersey City. To his credit, he never added enough trash to make a visible difference, as every street in Jersey City was a litterbug’s haven. Nevertheless, it was not the behavior of a mature adult. And every time, Tony would say to him something along the lines of, “Hey, why don’t you just put that stuff in the trash can? Don’t lower yourself to live like these animals.”’

Imagine my surprise one day, then, when I saw Tony toss all of the junk mail from our mailbox onto the floor in the vestibule of our 3-story walkup apartment. A case of “do as I say, not as I do”?

“What the hell are you doing?” I let him have it. “You yelled at Mike, and now you’re doing the exact same thing. You’re no better than the rest of the degenerates in our neighborhood.” I don’t remember his response, but I never saw him do it again.

A few weeks later, Tony’s mom and dad were in town visiting. They’d rented a car, and we were heading down to Atlantic City for the weekend, when suddenly we saw a Pepsi can go flying out the front window. I could not believe my eyes. Tony’s dad had just chucked a soda can out the driver window of our moving vehicle. “Hey!” Tony yelled at his dad. “We have to live here after you go home, you know!” I remember being pretty surprised to watch my reformed little rulebreaker calling out his own dad.

My dad wouldn’t have thrown a gum wrapper on the ground – and you know where the apple falls. But still, I was determined not to bend to his every whim. Given my very strict Catholic upbringing in a house where all my dad had to do was look at us for us to know we were in deep trouble, I probably didn’t have to push the envelope too far to rebel. Sneaking 11 p.m. phone calls to my best friend in junior high might have been the extent of it. I never ditched school. Never got drunk. Never had purple hair. Never got any body part other than my ears pierced. Still have yet to get my tattoo.

punk rock peer group

What, exactly, does a rebel look like anyway? Are you really pushing any boundaries when you and all your friends are clones of one another? There are lots of ways to break the rules, though. I did it in the most massive way possible by getting pregnant without the benefit (or imprisonment?) of marriage. And I was in no hurry to share that news with my every-so-strict father.

Going against the tide isn’t always a bad thing, though. I’ve been in more than one circumstance in my life where a person was having a public meltdown, and all anybody else did was stare at them. Once, a friend was giving a speech during a Toastmasters meeting, when he suddenly seemed to be choking because his mouth had gone so dry. He asked for someone to help him out with a sip of water. This was the summer in the desert, so nearly everyone in the room had a water bottle sitting on their desk, and yet not one person from the front row offered this guy a drink. I leapt from the back row to hand him my water bottle. Really, though? No one could be bothered to let another person who was in obvious distress drink from their bottle? Because rules or decorum said so? Or was it something else?

A similar thing happened when a woman a few rows in front of me broke down hysterically during a weekend workshop. Though the subject of the workshop was some aspect of marketing, this particular presentation was touching on personal development – and something in the speaker’s talk touched off a strong emotional reaction in the woman. Everyone around her stared, horrified, as she sobbed uncontrollably. Yet no one moved a muscle to help her. I got up from my seat, went to her, put my arm around her, and offered her a tissue. When it was clear she wasn’t going to get herself together all that quickly, I guided her out to the vestibule. Why do we freeze when we see strangers go into distress? For whatever reason, they’re breaching the rules of decorum, so we must avert our eyes and dissociate from them?

Of course, I’m happy enough not to follow the crowd in more pedestrian avenues, too. For example, I’m thrilled when I don’t love a movie or TV show (the Roseanne reboot comes to mind) that everyone else seems gaga for. And, in the reverse, I feel like I must apologize or make excuses for liking some mainstream things, like Pink and the occasional Katy Perry song. And I consider most romantic comedies guilty pleasures.

They say that rules are made to be broken. I suppose it depends on the rule – and the situation. But I’d definitely agree with one maxim: You’ve gotta know the rules before you break ’em.

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.