It’s November and our theme for the month is, of course, Thankfulness & Gratitude. As we celebrate Thanksgiving this month, think about the things you’re thankful for. And then reevaluate it.
Last week I talked about Gratitude being easy (Gratitude: It’s Not About Being Happy, It’s What Makes Us Happy) – especially when life is good. I see it over and over on Facebook, people thankful for their family, their friends, or their house. You take turns at the Thanksgiving dinner table saying what we’re thankful for. And you will hear Food, Family, Finances…those are the usual top 3 on the grateful list. Here we are on Day 12 and my Facebook Feed is full of “Days of Thanks”. Everything I read is all pretty much the same. Thankfulness for what the person currently has.
When was the last time you heard anybody say, “I’m grateful my mother was a joyless, narcissist, train wreck”, I turned out better because of it! This might be harder than I thought.
So my challenge this month is going to be in finding gratitude. Finding Gratitude where I’m not accustomed to looking for it. Finding gratitude for the intangible. Finding gratitude in an emotional bag I packed years ago. Finding gratitude in something you previously thought of as a challenging time. This could be one of my tougher challenges!
My computer is set to scroll all of my photos when it goes into screen saver mode. I’ll be involved in something else and look up to see an old family photograph up on my big 27″ computer screen. My husband will ask me about the old photo and the story attached to it. I challenged myself to look at these photos differently…through a new set of eyes that can see something different in those pictures….find gratitude in those pictures.
I grew up in a dysfunctional world.
I know…dysfunctional families are a dime a dozen, but I knew we weren’t like most families from the very beginning. I could see the difference between my family and other families on our block or at Church. The way my parents talked to us (or didn’t talk to us at all) was different from everybody else. I was the baby, and I was told often I was a mistake. I knew from a very early age, I was going to have to learn to self soothe, because I wasn’t going to get any comfort from either one of my parents.
My mother was high on the Narcissistic Personality Disorder Scale and my childhood wasn’t really about me, it was about learning what I had to do to please her. The whole family revolved around her wants and needs, and since I was the outlier in her eyes, in order for the family to work I had to be the outlier in everybody’s eyes.
The Michigan Sand Dunes.
This is one of my earliest memories. Climbing to the top of the Sand Dunes was something everybody did if you lived in Michigan. My memory is not of climbing the Dunes, but rather how my 3 year old body wouldn’t support my will to get to the top. The top where my family was. The Sun was hot on my head and the sand was even hotter under my feet. Every step I took, resulted in sand shifting and setting me back one step farther away from the top. I gave up, surrendered to the hot sand and sun. Curling up in the hot sand and waiting to die. Very melodramatic don’t you think? It’s a weird memory for a 3 year old. But I knew even at that age I couldn’t expect anyone of my family members to come back and rescue me. I made peace with that notion and laid there wondering what it would be like to die there in the sand. There was no crying, no panic and no calling out to family members, just surrender.
I found this picture after my mother died and once I saw it on the big screen, I could see my little head on the other side of the dune. I could also see this memory from another side.
Finding The Gratitude…
I always say sometimes you have a few jobs you don’t like before you know what job you really want. I think of my family just like that. I have a much different relationship with my kids than my mother had with her kids. I also have friends that have taken the place of family. Without that dysfunctional environment, I wouldn’t have been so adamant about breaking the cycle. I wouldn’t have found my sense of humor to get me through. Also, I know now not to stop. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and what you’re looking for just might be right over the next hill.
My Christmas Distaste
I don’t have any memories of Christmas as a child. None. What I have, is an overwhelming feeling of discomfort and certainly no joy. Whenever I am confronted by the season, I mainly want to run as far from it as I can. I can see from the look on my face, I wasn’t a fan of Christmas and whatever stressful situation was going on here. Sometimes having no memories is like the universe protecting you from details you don’t really want to know.
Being an empty nester, I no longer have the responsibility of creating magic. My husband and I celebrate Christmas Day in our own way. Free of stress, lots of great food and a couple of classic movies. There is no Christmas Tree, no stockings hung by the fire with care and no mistletoe. We take the dog for a walk and enjoy the peacefulness around the neighborhood. We actually look forward to our day of Comfort Food and Joy now. I am so thankful the universe has spared me from the details.
My Friend Nelda and The Duck
Nelda was my mothers friend. One of the neighborhood ladies that came to her weekly Coffee Clatch. She was ever present in our lives and I have really fond memories of her, for god’s sake she brought me a duck! As I grew up she took me to experience my first ice cream soda. We’d sit at Sweetlands in Grand Rapids, MI and make up stories about the strangers we saw there. They’d be enjoying their ice cream and we’d decide they were spys or a shady salesman. When I got into my pre teens she took me up to her cabin on a great big Christmas Tree Farm. We’d talk for hours, make fires in the fire pit and collect weeds that snapped crackled and popped when we threw them in the fire. She taught me how to make hobo coffee and we’d sun bathe on the roof of her house. She was a Vegetarian! That seemed so foreign to me at the time. She was SO SO different from my family.
When my mother was ready to go into an assisted living facility, I looked Nelda up and found out she was also in an assisted living facility. My mother had lived in Florida for years and she and Nelda hadn’t seen each other in a very long time! I thought it would be fun to take my mother to see her. Ok…I was the one that wanted to see her.
When we first arrived, Nelda didn’t remember my mother. She remembered me. She talked about all the things we used to do together. Sun bathe on the roof of her house, making hobo coffee and getting those ice cream sodas. I reminded her of the cabin and she said “Oh yes, we used to take all the underprivileged kids up to that cabin”. Nelda, I wasn’t underprivileged! This time she looked at my mother and said, “Being underprivileged isn’t always about money”.
She was confirming and validating what I saw in my family. All that time we spent together was to provide me with something my family couldn’t. This realization came to me shortly after my mother died and I was hashing through all these old photos. I called the home she was in and found out she had died just a week ago. I wanted to thank her….and it was too late.
Finding Gratitude sometimes requires a change of perspective. Tell us about an experience you had to look at through a different set of eyes to find your gratitude.
Fabulous. Absolutely fabulous. And how have I never heard about the duck?
Beautifully written and honestly expressed. Such a fresh and wise approach to take the past and turn it into gratitude – even the pain. Pictures often speak loudly but some may deny that and pretend it was all “picture perfect” back then. Thanks for inspiring to perhaps do the same with old photos
Miriam Hendeles recently posted…Ten Amazing Things I Learned While Babysitting for my Grandchildren
Thanks for taking the time to comment Miriam! When you look at those old photo’s (or revisit memories in your head) sometimes you have to choose to look at them differently. Dr. Wayne Dyer says; Change the way you look at things and the things you look at will change
What a touching story Barb. Thanks for sharing it and telling us about Nelda. I’ve been mentoring a 9th grade girl for a year now. I hope I can be a little Neldo to her.
OMG…You read my post! 🙂 Thanks for commenting and that 9th grader you’re mentoring…she’ll never forget you!
Very beautiful post. Sometimes it cane be so difficult to find the ‘bright” side of an experience, however, like you said, a change of perspective can make all of the difference.
Rachel recently posted…WIPS: A Success, A Failure, A Teaser, and Future Projects
Excellent read thank you. We can’t pick our family but we can pick our friends and it looks like you and Nelda even with the age difference were best of friends.
Winter recently posted…Tea Gallerie 10% Discount for Networking Witches Readers
Beautiful post! I love how you dug down deep and pulled out a gem out of the rubble! It sounds like Duck lady was a keeper!
Jenn recently posted…Wordless Wednesday ~ Developing good habits!
I’ve been digging “down deep” for a couple of years now, I am thankful you took the time to comment and read my post!
This was a very beautifully written and emotional piece of work. It was art with words.
I’m getting ready to drag out my photo albums because they’ve been stored since we moved. I think I will have some fresh perspective when I look through them.
Jayne Townsley recently posted…Map My State 11×14 Print Giveaway
Jayne, I can’t thank you enough for such kind words! Thanks for taking the time to read and leave a comment! Write about the experience you have going through your photos and I will read it for sure!
Wow, what an emotional post. I loved looking at your pictures.
I am glad you and your husband have found peace with celebrating Christmas. You have to do what works for you.
Pam recently posted…Healthy New You Giveaway ~ Week 2
Thanks for reading Pam! I love being surrounded by women trying to improve their lives! Aren’t we all imperfect!
I can really relate to what you are saying and the life you lived as a child. I also grew up in a similar situation and have a difficult time at Christmas. Being grateful is sometimes very challenging but it is a great opportunity to change perspective.
Melinda Dunne recently posted…Pour le Monde Review
If you grew up in that kind of environment you understand, don’t you. You are the author of your own life now – write a way out of darkness and don’t look back. Read everything you can get your hands on…. Dr. Karyl McBride was a life changer for me
Aww! I love looking at old photos! I just wish I could find more of me when I was little.
Amberlee Cave recently posted…Patch Products Review
Old photos tell more than one tale. What a luxury of seeing an event from both sides. I hope you find some old photos!
Bibi @ Bibi's Culinary Journey
Such a wonderful post!It’s very hard sometimes, but we need to find gratitude even in the bad no matter how hard it is 🙂
Bibi @ Bibi’s Culinary Journey recently posted…Pasta e Lenticchie (Pasta & Lentils Soup)
Empathy. That’s what was missing from my mother. I try to practice it as much as I can…sometimes I need to be reminded
I always admire people who take a difficult situation or a difficult childhood and derive strength from these experiences finding happiness and learning from those situations to become wonderful people. I think it is wonderful to find gratitude in places you would usually not look for gratitude. Beautiful and honest post. Thank you for sharing.
I so appreciate the time you took to stop by middleSage to read and comment! Sometimes it takes some work, but finding the light in otherwise dark places only benefits our soul.
Ahhh… I love looking at family pics like this. I’ve found over the years that most people have something challenging they’ve gone through in life, which really makes mine seem like it’s just not at all unique. However, time does heal and I always feel that good will eventually sprout from something if we just open ourselves to it. Thankfulness is definitely difficult to find, especially when you’ve got your good health and your family are all well. Just living your life for them every day also gives your loved ones YOU to be thankful for. 🙂
I love your name Lexie! I imagine you to be in a Superhero movie! You’re right, everyone goes through difficult times. We have the ability of choosing whether or not we’re going to stay there in the darkness. Since we author our own life, we can chose to make it whatever we want.
My childhood was not perfect too. My very first best friend, a second cousin of mine died of leukemia when she was still 10 years old. Sometimes we need to feel pain to learn how to appreciate happiness and blessings. Thank you for posting. It was touching.
aiokona recently posted…Send Hope
10 is such a young tender age! I think it’s the hardest thing we deal with, heartache that isn’t fair!
Thank you for sharing these parts of your childhood Barb. Thank God you had a Nelda! I love that you can look at your past with a different outlook through your old photos. You could have remained bitter but you aren’t. That’s not easy. Awesome post.
Bouncin Barb! I giggle when I type that 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Sharing is good for my soul!
I love it when we finally see the positive side of what is commonly seen as negative in our lives. Happy for you that you are able to look at it in a different way.
Thanks for reading and commenting, Teresa! One of my favorite quotes from Dr. Wayne Dyer, When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at begin to change!
I love this concept of finding gratitude. For me it goes right along side of searching for the positive in every situation, even the bad ones. People balk at me because I am so positive, but I also find a lot in my life to be thankful for, even in times when it seems there isn’t much there. The world is full of blessings, sometimes you just have to look a little harder to find them than others.
Mary recently posted…SoyL Scents Candle Gems Review – Holiday Gift Guide
Searching is the operative word I think. It doesn’t always come easy, but it will come if you’re open to it. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!
Sarah @ Left Brain Buddha
Lovely ~ sometimes gratitude can be hard, and it does require a change in perspective. When I get cranky about the toys and messes in the house, I try to remind myself to be thankful for my home, and for all that I can provide for my children. And I love looking at old pictures, too!
Sarah @ Left Brain Buddha recently posted…The Act of Relationship
Thanks Sarah, by the way Loved your post the act of relationship! I’ve always noticed gratitude seems to come easy when we are given something. I’m trying to break the cycle and look for it in the dark places. Since I’m taking ownership for being the author of my own life, I’m editing out the dark places. Thank you for taking the time to comment
I love this intentional flipping of tough stories to find the gratitude. And I also love that you had Nelda in your life. It is a precious blessing to have someone really see you, see your needs, as a child, and strive to help. “Being underprivileged isn’t always about money.” So very true.
Tracie recently posted…Writing Each Day Is A Victory
Thanks for taking the time to read and comment Tracie! I was raised by a woman without the capacity of empathy – I think that’s where it starts for me.
I cry at old family photos
Wonderful post! I don’t look too often at old photos but I keep them safe because so many of them remind me of all that has changed; all who are gone. I cry. But I can look at my kids baby pictures without losing it too much. They make me happy. Hi from Sharefest
Such a great post. I think it’s great that you were able to find the Gratitude, even with a childhood like yours.
Malia recently posted…Tapple Game *2013 Holiday Gift Idea*
Malia, thanks for stopping by middleSage! We’re all about leaving our emotional baggage behind us and moving on to our future. Don’t be a stranger.
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I can relate to being part of a dysfunctional family, and being a somewhat dysfunctional adult for way too many years! Ach!
Now that I’ve evolved a bit – OK, alot – I am grateful to have learned those lessons that circumstances offered.
I am grateful that my world includes people who love me despite my faults and mistakes. They are the people who saw through them all along and were there for me.
I am grateful to wake up each new day with enthusiasm for whatever I have on my plate – loving the life you live is something to be truly grateful for.
If my earlier years had not been such difficult ones, if the lessons had not been banging me upside the head with such force, I wonder if I’d truly recognize the simple gratitudes of life?
Julie Phelps recently posted…Mr. Potential – NOT!
That’s how I think about my past too, Julie. Evidently I needed the hard lessons. Glad I got them when I did and can now finally relax and breathe a little easier. Life is so much easier when you’re happy in your own skin.
“She was confirming and validating what I saw in my family.” Those words are the ones I have been trying to put together for some time now whenever I think about my childhood. I was raised in a family with a narcissistic father. Since my mother died in ’07, I have had conversations with members of my extended family who knew/saw what our father was like, but could not do anything at the time. Talking with them has validated what I experienced and helped me realize I am the way I am because of it. I am working on myself. I find it a little easier to think less harshly about my father, maybe even forgive some things, because I now see he couldn’t help himself. I’ve grown fond of saying expecting him to be any different is like expecting a skunk not to stink! I do enjoy reading your posts.
Kim, thank you for taking the time to comment. I believe the secret to recovery lies within the stories we share. It took me years along with my mothers death to look at our relationship and decide it was time I could drop the baggage I had been carrying all these years. Even though, in your case, it was your father who was the narcissist, I understand how profoundly deep your pain is and the effects on your psyche, self esteem and relationships with other people have been affected.
If I could leave you with 4 more most important steps….
1. A narcissist suffers from a deplorable lack of empathy. It is impossible for them to take our feelings into consideration. Impossible.
2. I had to make a conscious decision to stop the cycle of abuse with me. That meant, not only do I need to practice empathy with my children, husband, friends…I need to develop a sense of empathy for my mother. Granted this seemed easier to do after she died, looking back I can see why therapists recommend going no contact. I had to see her not as the mean mother I grew up with, but rather a human being just like me, who was flawed and I was merely the symptom of her pain. I can’t tell you how important it was to be no contact with my mother.
3. Make the decision to become the author of your own life. I was determined that how I was raised was not going to define me. I sought out information that was about me and my happiness…not about her. This is what we try to do here at middleSage ~ focus on our own well being.
4. We all need love and support – go to the people that offer that to you. Fill that void that exists with love and support from other people and you will be just fine.