Self-Partnered though the Holidays

Recently one of my favorite actresses*, Emma Watson, made headlines as she used the term “self-partnered” rather than single to describe her relationship status.

*Partially for her role as Hermione in Harry Potter, partially because of her activism, and partially because my family says I look like her (!).

Additionally, rapper/singer Lizzo has talked, or rather sung, about being her own soulmate.  There’s been a few haters, but more people have followed up with positive comments on this new terminology.

Truly, I love it so much that I wish I could check off “self-partnered” rather than “single” on my voter registration.  (Or rather for me and incongruence with my website name, the proper term may be dog-partnered.)

But, as Watson alluded to, it takes some work to get from single to self-partnered.

And I’m not quite there yet.

Now before all the haters say “see, I told you it wasn’t possible” let me say that I have identified with the term before.

A few years ago, after my heart was torn from a break-up with a man I was still in love with, I was living with my dog, sister, and her boyfriend in a condo we decided to all rent together to save money.  While I still mostly kept to my own, I had people I loved to briefly chat with throughout the day, often lamenting about the joys and pains of graduate school.  Speaking of grad school, I also had a small cohort/friends of other wilderness therapy students that I interacted with constantly.  For an introvert that thoroughly enjoys alone (aka, a dog and her girl) time, my life was full of social interactions and little time to do nothing, or rather, scroll through social media.  I felt content and fun-filled in my life without being in a romantic relationship.

Which brings me to the “work in progress” part now.

For one, my private counseling practice has been taking some time to get going, and my run coaching career is work-from-home, so I’m not spending a lot of time in social environments (though I am currently typing away at the library).  I live in a smallish mountain town, so finding friends is a bit of a challenge.  However, I have made a few friends recently, and that’s added a lot of joy to my life.  I also have a few core friends, though they’re spread out.  Still, our get togethers and chats are a valuable pieces of my well-being.  Additionally, my last break-up came with some small-t trauma, and I’m still processing the pain of the relationship. I have had some extra alone time lately.

The funny thing is, I rarely feeling lonely.  At this time of the season, I’m pretty happy snuggling with my dog and watching holiday movies (favorite: Elf).  And I’ve made sure to partake in my favorite holiday traditions and activities: my yearly November trip to Salida with my sister, her boyfriend, and Pacer to see “S” Mountain lit up like a Christmas tree, the tree lighting ceremony in my town, and the weird but wonderful holiday parade in the town down the canyon.  There’s been a few times I wished for a Hallmark style romance in these situations (I’m not going to get into Hallmark movies right now…I find them predictably comforting…and I am sticking to my story for now!).  Additionally, unlike the previous year I’m grateful that I could enjoy the latter two events without an argument with the ex-boy.

If I could point to any other culprit that I would say is preventing me from fully claiming the “self-partnered” status, I’d blame the time I spend on social media.  A lot of my friends would laugh at this as I don’t even have a smart phone, but again, I work from home on my computer.  And then I’ll check social media at night, scroll through the feed, rather than diving into the book next to me.  There’s quite a bit of research out there on social media and loneliness, and as person who also happens to be a therapist, I can attest.  Temporarily de-activating my Facebook account may be something I try in 2020, while I consider getting a smart phone.  The benefits are getting lost less on camping trips as well as getting work done while on camping trips (with an re-active dog, its hard to find a coffee shop I can sit in and leave her the car, especially when it’s warm out), but I’m fearful of a further social media addiction.

As a therapist, I know that humans are wired for connections.  I know the goal is not dependence, independence, but interdependence.  And I know that being surrounded by people you love, but not romantically in-love with, is the key to being happily self-partnered…and happy when you do have a romantic partner!

With that, here are my tips for being happily self-partnered through the holidays:

-Spend time with friends/family weekly, especially one some evenings.

-Partake in all the holiday traditions and activities you enjoy, whether it is by yourself or with a friend.

-When you do settle down for that holiday movie, place your computer somewhere far away from you.  Commit to watching the whole movie without checking your social media.  (If you can ditch social media more than that, awesome, but I’m going to take baby steps.)

-When you are not listening to holiday music, put on some Lizzo!

“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.” – Hamilton Wright Mabie

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Reflections

Take, take, take

While I give, give, give

I can’t keep up

Nor can I please

So I cry down mountains

I plead through canyons

Places that were once Heaven

Darkened because of you

Or because of me?

I can never tell

I look back at journal entries

My words do not lie

So why do I question?

I cry more than I laugh

I take what is and is not served

I know what Im doing I say

Your expenses paid by a graduate students credit card

A forgotten Happy Birthday

But it’s okay I say

Until its not

The glass I shattered

Symbolic of more

Your words are the shards cutting my soul

I thought I was strong

My body turns to a shield

You will not hurt Her

I know your  hands will not touch me

But you don’t need them to scare

So we run into the night

Into the moon

A reflection of the light.

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Fall Evenings at the Cafe

It’s mid October.

Fall is quickly changing to winter here in the mountains.

Dusk comes early.

The trees stand nearly bare.

I can track my dog in the backyard just listening to her paws crunch the leaves.

I’ve taken shelter and a quaint cafe this afternoon.  I am the last customer inhabiting the upstairs loft.

On my left I have a view of the town park and I watch people in sweaters and boots holding hands as they walk past.

In front of me is contrast.  One tree bare, already strung with Christmas lights.  Then a yellow-orange Aspen beside a dark green pine.  The, far in the background, the foreboding and enticing Long’s Peak.

The cafe is closing soon.

Almost time for me to put on my hat.  I’ll stroll back to my car, welcoming the dark and finding comfort in the crisp air.

At home, I’ll give my four-legged fluffball a hug and belly-rub before we settle down for the night, buried under blankets and watching Netflix.

The wind will most likely howl and beat against the windows, but we will feel safe.  The wind only means change is coming, most likely snow.

I’ll say goodnight to the sky, kiss my dog’s wet nose one more time, and bury myself under the covers.  My hibernation won’t be very long, but I relax knowing I’ll awake to another day of Harvest.

It was a pleasant café, warm and clean and friendly, and I hung up my old waterproof on the coat rack to dry and put my worn and weathered felt hat on the rack above the bench and ordered a café au lait. The waiter brought it and I took out a notebook from the pocket of the coat and a pencil and started to write…” -Ernest Hemingway (quote on the wall at Inkwell & Brew)

Lessons from the Aspen Grove

When I worked at an addiction treatment center next to the forest, our spiritual advisor would take the clients to an Aspen grove next to the center.  When the spiritual advisor left, I followed in his footsteps.  We told the clients that the Aspen grove, the hundreds of trees in front of us, were one organism. Underground, they were connected, firmly rooted because of how they intertwined with one another.  That way, when 2013 flood swept past, or when harsh mountain wind blew through, the trees remained upright.

I told them this with fervor, as I knew that at the heart of addiction was disconnection.  Many of the clients had already begun to learn this, as in group they let their guards down, shared their stories, and made deep friendships.  Within days, I could often see a shift in the clients, a glow, like those of Aspens in the fall.

I told this story again to my mother, just a few weeks ago, at her first chemo appointment.

Just the week before, she called me on a Wednesday evening to give me the news “I have cancer.”

She told me not to worry.  That she was tough and going to be fine.  She had the same doctors as my older sister (still going through her own cancer treatment), and they were going to take an even more aggressive route.  She told me not to come home, to continue my work in Colorado.

Two days later I learned from my older sister that my mom was in surgery to have her port put in, a small device put under the skin to make to make blood draws and infusions easier during chemo.  My older sister and my step dad went to her first chemo treatment, which my mom was upset about.  She wanted to go alone.  Not to be an inconvenience to others and their “busy” schedules.  It wasn’t until almost a month later that I found out it was stage 3.

But when your family, both in blood and deep friendship, schedules and to-do list don’t matter.

My mom’s stoicism didn’t stop my from collapsing to the floor in pain and tears minutes after we hung up, with my dog rushing over to me to lick the salt off my cheeks.

It didn’t stop me from feeling anger, sadness, and confusion.

As I gave myself the space to feel all of my emotions, I came to a few realizations.

The first being that this storyline, the storyline of “I have this problem, but it’s not for you to worry about” has shaped my own beliefs growing up.  When I felt sad, so sad that I wanted to claw my way out of my body and escape to somewhere, anywhere else, that I wasn’t enough to share how I felt.  It was my burden to bear.  Alone.  Even after the depression passed, a fierce independence took over.  It’s taken me years to learn to lean on others, like a fallen tree resting on its neighbors.  Still, I have to fight the urge to just collapse.

Second, I remembered the message of the trees.

Even more amazing than hundred plus trees in one Aspen grove being one organism, they are connected even more intimately through a fungal network.  This network not only allows the trees to send vital nutrients to each other, but also communicate.  If there is concern about disease or insect infestations spreading, the trees will send out distress signals to each other, allowing the others to alter their behavior.  And if a mother tree is felled, the surrounding trees may continue to send her nutrients, keeping her roots alive.

Humans have created this world wide web in our own way through technology.  But I suspect there is a deeper form of connection between loved ones, one that may not be visible to the untrained eye (trees also send out chemical, hormonal, and electrical signals).

I can’t say with certainty that without my phone I could have picked up on the distress of my family hundreds of miles away from me.  What I do know is that I feel better when I am in the loop, and even better when I can offer some form of help, be it a card or flying back to Ohio to provide company.

When I told my mom about the trees, I went on to say that because all the trees are connected, one’s challenge is not just theirs alone, but shared among the group.  My analogy, trying to tell my mom that we were all in this together.  She wasn’t a burden but an opportunity for our family and friends to come together and find strength.

She said she understood, but I’m not sure she felt my words.  Maybe I said too much.  I don’t know.

When I got the original call from my mom telling me she had cancer, I texted my sisters (after I picked myself up off the floor).  I told them that I never wanted us to keep things from each other, good or bad, that we never had to “go at it alone.”  When they both texted back “agreed”, I felt we solidified a pact.  We were in this life together, for reasons both known and unbeknownst to us, tied together by cell phone signals and invisible visceral strings of love.  My heart felt a bit lighter, like an Aspen leaf held up by the wind.

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Love Letters: Crested Butte

Dear Crested Butte,

My friends said I’d like you.

Probably because you’re a little less of a show-off then the other ski resort towns.

Still, it took me awhile to get to you.

But the moment we met was perfect.

You shined, as if a halo was surrounding the town.

The next day, as I rand down Teocalli Ridge, you showered me with golden leaves.

Joy.

And everywhere we went, cows!

Yes, it is true, happy cows roam free, high up into the valleys.

Yes, that means more piercing dog barks in my ear, but I’ll take it knowing more beings can roam wild and free.

This letter is just the first, for we have only just met.

But I’ll be back.  To wander around more of you wondrous trails and passes.

Until next time.

Love,

Ray

October Snow

“You’re too early.”  “I’m not ready for you yet.”

My forsaken words.

And instead of slowing down, we go too fast.  Crash.

But what if we, what if I, appreciated you for what you are, despite or inspire of context.

If I were present.  If I slowed down…

Maybe I’d see your beauty.

Watch as the big, wet snowflakes fall to the Earth.

Noticed how your brilliant blanket of white highlights and contrasts with the yellow Aspen leaves.

Maybe I would be like my dog and find joy as my steps were created with soft pillows.

To be still with stored energy, like the deer that ran past as we stepped outside for a walk.

If I allowed you to just be, like the elk feeding on the side of the road.  Letting the snow fall and the cars pass.  Maybe, October Snow, I’d see you as a gift, with the surprise and wonder of a child receiving an early Christmas present.

A present.  Be present.  Be.

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I’m a Feminist: Why I’m a Feminist, Not an Equalist, Though They Essentially Mean the Same Thing

[This blog is extremely brief in explaining the issues and challenges facing women all over the world.  Because this is a blog, I focused on my own thoughts, rather than digging into and citing research.  I did, however, touch on information from books and other resources that I have accumulated over the years.  I have listed the books that have profoundly impacted me at the end of this post.]

I am a feminist.  I think I decided that sometime in my early to mid 20s.  That was probably around the time I also read the definition of what it means to be a feminist.  Simply, it means someone who wants equal rights for men, women, non-binary, etc. It means someone who wants equal rights for all people, no matter race, gender, sexuality, religion, etc. Period.  It doesn’t mean I want and Amazon society. It doesn’t mean I want women to take over all leadership rolls, or that I think women should stop cooking dinner…if that’s what she wants to do. But if she has a partner, that’s the decision they make together.

It means choice.  It means not being held down by the “shoulds” of what someone else decided a woman should do or be.

It means that men and women have equal opportunities lead organizations, to be sponsored athletes, to together decide how they want to run households and communities.

Maybe you could call me an “equalist”.  That way I wouldn’t offend anyone.  But that definition is missing a key piece.  It ignores the fact that women do not have equal rights.    It ignores the fact that we as a society, can do better.

A lot of people think we already have  equality.  Those people miss the subtleties of how women are barred from certain things, held down by the expectations of others.  That comes from a place of privilege, which gives a person the ability to give a blind eye to any discrepancies.  I’m not going to say coming from privilege is bad thing.  I just want to highlight how important it is to realize and begin to learn our blindspots.  In most ways, I am privileged, and I’ve made a lot of ugly mistakes brushing aside the problems of my friends who are homosexual, have darker skin than me, or aren’t as able bodied.  The key, I’ve found, is humility.  Being able to make mistakes and learn, even if it hurts a bit, because that is nothing compared to what my less privileged friends have been through.

One of my first lessons on privilege came from a friend of mine who is gay.  It was during the time where people had signs up that said “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter.”  I didn’t understand the difference…until my friend told me how the latter turns a blind eye to the challenges the black community still faces.  I was stunned, ashamed I had missed the difference and highly aware of my ignorance on racism.  My friend had the courage to tell me, so I needed the courage to accept my lack of awareness and to learn more.

Back to the blind spots.  I won’t say too much in a blog, as many amazing books have been written about the challenges and struggles of women both in the United States and in other countries, and I’ll list those resources below.  To be brief, a few discrepancies we see in the US involves the gender pay gap, the lack of opportunities for women in the tech and sport (as specific examples) industry, and how women are treated in the workplace and at home.  In sports, this was highlighted as the US Women’s Soccer Team went on to win the FIFA World Cup.  Despite their win, actually, their WINS that include several World Cups and Olympic gold medals, they make appallingly less than the men’s team.  O, and did I mention the US Women’s Soccer Team jerseys became the highest selling jersey at Nike?  As for sexism in our society, that was highlighted in the 2017 “me too” movement.  Sexism, sexual abuse, and rape are signs that show women are still disrespected by many in society.  They are attempts to hold women down, to attempt to keep women from equality, to instill fear.  One of the most heartbreaking things I have ever had a client tell me when I asked about her sexual relationship with her boyfriend was “there is a fine line between consent and giving in.” THAT is oppression.  But more and more women and coming together and saying “No.  That is not okay.”  (If you asked all your female friends how many of them had been raped, abused, or sexually assaulted, you would be aghast.).

In other countries, women are still banned from leaving home to make money so they can stay at home take care of the family, the family that has grown out of control because she is not allowed access to birth control.  Which means there’s a good chance she will eventually die in childbirth or suffer from other medical complications.  Girls are prevented from going to school and getting an education.  The right to vote is laughable.  Girls have their clitoris cut with rusty knives so they can be acceptable for marriage, often sold off before puberty.

Can you FEEL that oppression, the pain?  When I let myself feel it, it hurts like hell.

The first book that really opened my eyes to to women’s issues around the world was Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (I can’t recommend this book enough!).  I remember reading it in the car one day and bursting out crying.  I can’t remember if I was reading about rape or child marriage, but I couldn’t stop thinking about my sisters.  Thank God we were born in a first world country, where oppression is both visceral and identifiable, but not nearly as horrifically tangible.

Here’s the argument I often get from men:  “But men don’t have it fair either” which somehow means that women’s rights movements are unjustifiable.

[Story side note:  I currently volunteer and used to work for the organization Girls on the Run, a “physical activity-based positive youth development (PA-PYD) program designed to develop and enhance girls’ social, psychological, and physical competencies to successfully navigate life experiences.”  Men will get mad and say “well why isn’t there a boys on the run!?”  First of all, they’re missing the statistics, such as: by the age of 14, girls are dropping out of sports at twice the rate of boys, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation. Second, Boy Scouts started in the year 1910.  Girl Scouts started in the year 1912.  My guess it wasn’t because Juliette Gordon Low complained “why is there no Girl Scouts” but instead took the initiative to do it herself.  AND, while the program is smaller, there is a program called Let Me Run, which I think is awesome…the program was started my a female mom, who had first coached for Girls on the Run.]

Look, I get that men have their own set of imaginary societal laws that tells them how they should act, mainly that men need to always be tough and not show emotion. I read documentaries on the topic and listened to podcasts.  I’ve worked with men at an addiction treatment center and have seen how much pain that myth causes.

Truly though, its just the opposite side of the same coin.

This part may be a stretch for some, but I’m not going to call it “woo-woo” because I’m starting to hate that word and how much truth it allows us to ignore.  What I hear men telling me about is the inability to express their feminine side.  The same thing we are trying to suppress when we keep women from being equals in society. Showing emotion is not weak.  It does not mean the absence of the ability to look at things intellectually.  Emotion means strength, it means empathy, the ability to connect with other beings.  It means activism.  In a bit, I’ll touch on why both intellect and emotion, both the masculine and feminine*, are needed for a truly successful society.  But first, a short personal reflection.

*I am not trying to define the masculine and feminine in this blog.  I have felt the definitions, but can not yet put them into words.  What I will say here is that being feminine does not mean wearing high heals and putting on make-up anymore than being masculine mean putting on you flannel and going to chop wood.

I’ve written on this blog before a bit about my eating disorder in my adolescent years.  My therapist at that time always was pushing for a “why”.  Why did I starve my body?  I couldn’t give an answer at that time.  She wrote it up having to do with my parent’s divorce, which may have been partially true in an indirect way.

It wasn’t until my graduate studies that I looked up more theories on the root causes of eating disorders.  One theory dealt with the oppression of women.  A spark went off for me.  During these years, I was in a Catholic school, where women couldn’t be priest, God was considered a man, and most of the fathers of my friends were financially more successful than their wives.  I was also told something along the lines of that once I hit puberty, I would lose athleticism and the boys would gain in.  While this is essentially true to a point, to me it was more of highlight of the other gender discrepancies.  I taped my breast.  I made sure I didn’t get a period.  Depression and anxiety followed.

Depression and anxiety are what happens when we shut out any part of ourselves.

Which leads me to say a little bit about the benefits of equality, especially for an men reading this who’d prefer to hold on to their power.  When women gain equality, everyone gains.  In 3rd world countries, it’s been shown that when women are allowed to start earning an income, the children get educated, the family has enough to eat, and even the marriage strengthens.  Poverty is reduced.  After the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the country rose back from the ashes by putting women in leadership.  The GDP rose, as well as life expectancy.  In general, there’s less fighting, more talking.  Every gender holds both the masculine and feminine inside of them, in a mostly balanced way.  There’s the empathy and the intellect, the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes and to rationally think through a problem.  One we suppress one, balance and harmony are lost.  With my therapeutic mindset, I would say this most often leads to self-destruction on the individual side.  And when a society does it…well, I don’t need to describe that to you.  So we need to bring women up, to bring everyone up.

As Hillary Clinton famously said “If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.”

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Recommended Books:

Half the Sky:  Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women – Nichola Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Lean In:  Women, Work, and the Will to Lead -Sheryl Sandberg

I am Malala:  The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban  -Christina Lamb and Malala Yousafzai

The Moment of Lift:  How Empowering Women Changes the World- Melinda Gates

 

 

Love Letters: Estes Park/RMNP

Dear Estes Park/Rocky Mountain National Park,

Despite your mountains’ jagged peaks looming in the background, you didn’t have me at first.

Perhaps because my dog wasn’t allowed in the Park, though now I appreciated the rule as I prefer my dog keeps her distance from moose, bears, elk, and other animals that wander through your forest.

Yes, we had to work for our relationship a bit, perhaps that made it stronger.

Your rocky paths offer little forgiveness, but with you as the ever patient teacher, I’ve begun to learn the dance steps.

It’s with mostly joy, and just a little blood, that I’ve gotten to know your summits and deep blue lakes.

Today I am taking it slow.  With a boulder as my chair and a creek as my soundtrack.

Simultaneously, a few drops of rain hit my bare arms as the sun kisses my face.

A humming bird offers a quick hello.

We are both dichotomies, aren’t we? Gentle creeks and stormy peaks.

Without the other, we wouldn’t be whole.

Again, RMNP, wise teachers, thank you for the lessons.

Until next time.

Love,

Ray

 

 

(Botton photo taken by Terry Kruse)

 

Love Letters: San Juan Mountains

Dear San Juans,

The Place of In-Between.

Closer to Heaven than to Earth.

A reminder beauty is always there, even when the rest of the world tries to deny it.

Healing.

Healing in your mountains, alpine lakes, and high waterfalls.

Rich history of the hard mining people, though the idea of machines penetrating your rocky walls saddens me.

Hope for them.  Hope for me.  Though the gold I seek is intangible.

I simply need to bear witness.

You let me cry but always send a rainbow after.

Leaving you is never easy.

But a look in my rearview, and you remind me.

You’re never really gone.

Reflected back in me.

Love,

Ray

Photo cred: brett schreckengost

Love Letters: Sawatch Range/Salida/Buena Vista

Dear Sawatch Range/Salida/BV,

There’s something about you that just makes me want to keep coming back.

I’ve climbed all fo your 14,000ft peaks, and while I can’t say I’ve loved them all (mainly not those to the south), I can say that there is something about your wild side that has me mesmerized.  Hiking the Collegiate West, I feel a little bit like I’m on the new frontier, connecting me to the many men and women who risked everything to be here.  I hope I have at least an ounce of their grit.

Only ghost towns may physically still exist, but the souls of those who died here are still intertwined with the trees, rocks, and railroad tracks left behind.

Speaking of trees…

Quaking Aspen, do you have a message for me?

“S” mountain, decorated as a Christmas tree, you may be one of my favorite Christmas trees, second only to the one in my dad’s living room that has been up for 20+ years.

Salida, I must say, you’ve got to be the coolest, weirdest town I’ve ever known.  Eclectic only begins to describe you.

BV, you seem pretty neat too, though you don’t have Moonlight Pizza.  And thanks for your 2 minute shower for 4 quarters.

Needless to say, I’ll be back.

I’ve only touched exploring your depths upon which your nickname “high lonesome” stands.  But how could I ever be lonely, when I’ve got YOU, mountains, wildflowers, mountain goats, alpine lakes, and spirts to keep me company?

Until next time.

Love,

Ray & Pacer

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(Photo credit for above pic to Peter Maksimow.)

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