Menopause – Cloudy with a Chance of Enlightenment

Who am I?  Now there’s a question I’ve been trying to answer since I made my way out of the birth canal and into my mother’s exhausted arms.  Five minutes into a workshop last weekend, the leader asked all of the participants the following three questions:  where did you come from originally, where do you reside now, and, drum roll, please…who are you?

“Honey,” I thought, “if I had that figured out, I’d sprout angel wings, prepare for take off, and head home to the astral realms where love reigns supreme, egos are strictly forbidden, and our souls are “free at last, free at last, thank G_d almighty, free at last.”

Who am I?  The answer to that question seems to change with Yankee punctuality each and every day.  At this very moment, I’m a middle-aged woman, shrouded in fog, with a chance of showers; in other words, I’m menopausal.  I’m not peri, nor post, I am in the throes of, which literally means “in the middle of doing or dealing with something very difficult or painful.”  (Think, Maria Shriver…oy!)

I used to be rather ingenious, and my multi and tri syllabled words were peppered with wit, and wisdom.  I possessed a razor-sharp memory, which was constantly honed, as a child growing up with a mother whose drug addiction seemed to twist and bend reality.  I was always an emotional little girl; I still haven’t seen Bambi or Dumbo in its entirety, and in high school when “Old Yeller” was required reading, well, I got the cliff notes.  But, with the onset of Ms. Men-oh-pause, I find myself crying at the slightest provocation.  I’m constantly upset by the life choices Lindsay Lohan is making, I cry oceans of tears when anyone is voted off Dancing With the Stars, and when Donald Trump announced that he would not run for the office of President of the United States, I had to schedule an emergency session with my therapist!   It’s all so painful, really.

Thanks to the majesty of menopause, I find myself at a loss for words.  My husband and son are ecstatic with that turn of events, but when you’re trying to ask the young man at Starbucks for “a tall drip,” and all you can say is that you’d like a cup of, cup of ‘em, and three people behind you shout, “coffee,” well, it’s unsettling, to say the least.  Unlike Little Bo Peep, my words ain’t coming home, waggin’ their meanings behind them.

Here is a list of other things that the magician of menopause has artfully vanished into thin air:  my keys, my glasses, my cell phone, any and all interest in sex, sleep, dreams, short term memory, synaptic ability to send messages to my brain regarding body temperature, my ‘B’ cup breasts (now you see ’em now you don’t).

If you’ve read any of my other blogs, you know that I see the world with “the glass is a little more than half full” consciousness, so I want you to know that my menopausal life isn’t all about loss. There are some gains:  abdominal fat, irritability, vaginal dryness, increase in allergies and mood swings, to name a few.

So, who am I?  I am a woman who is learning how to open up to the abundance of love that exists inside of me.  I am a woman who is melting the armor of fear that imprisons my heart.  I am a woman who believes that every moment of life, menopausal or not, teaches us about love, forgiveness, and the balance of being both human and spirit.

Embrace the miracles of being a woman.

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Life is just a bowl of…Choices

Easy Choices…

Paper or plastic?

Is it for here, or to go?

Rare, medium or well done?

Tall, grande, venti?

Tap water, bottled water, fuzzy water?

Margarine or butter?

Soup or salad?

Dressing on the side, or tossed in?

Dessert or just the check?

Manicure, pedicure, or both?

Credit or debit?

Relatively Easy Choices…

Gas-guzzler, diesel sucker or hybrid?

Mommy van, or family wagon?

Breast feed or bottle?

Public schools, or private?

Organic or not?

Spend the night, or go home?

Plastic surgery, or au naturel?

Western medicine or Eastern?

Wait for it to go on sale, or buy it now?

Make love, or not.

Fight or flight.

Say I’m sorry, or stand my ground.

Marry or not.

Place the blame, or take ownership.

To see the glass half empty, or half full.

Difficult Choices…

To believe there is strength in weakness, or to ‘be strong.’

To judge ourselves for whom we should be, or accept ourselves for who we are.

To be a Human Being, or a Human Doing.

To believe that God exists outside of us, or to believe that God exists within.

To strive to hold on, or to let go into stillness.

To believe that what we do is who we are, or to believe that who we are is simply who we are.

Just let life unfold, or strive to make it happen?

To meet ourselves with mercy and love, or meet ourselves with judgment.

To resist the inevitability of change, or to embrace the inevitability of change.

To see the face of God in all, or not see God at all.  (Yogi Bhajan)

Empty Nest — Souls Unfolding

Ever have those moments in life when you wish that you were someone or something else?  I’m reminded of the movie I watched as a child, The Incredible Mr. Limpet.  “I wish I wish, I wish I was a fish, ‘cuz fishes have a better life than people,” says Don Knotts who subsequently falls into the ocean and miraculously becomes a fish.  I’m not saying that I want to become a fish.  No way. I want to become a mother hummingbird and here’s why:  baby hummingbirds, merely three weeks old, start stretching and pumping their new wings readying themselves for their departure in the ensuing days.  Even when they’ve started their new, autonomous life, the mother hummingbird still feeds her babies for two to three days after they have left the nest.  With great care, she ushers them to the best places to catch insects and to gather nectar. Then, she chases them off to live on their own.  Evidently, she’s absolutely fine with the fact that they’ll never come home again for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, or birthdays; they’ll never call her on Mother’s Day; they’ll never, ever need her again in the span of their lifetime!  Think of it, she suffers no identity crisis, no depression, she has no need for extensive therapy, or weight gain due to copious amounts of food trying to fill the void.  Her empty nest is merely…empty.

Being the only daughter, and youngest member of my ‘flock,’ I was never allowed to wander too far from the family nest.  My middle brother, the proverbial black sheep of the family, moved to New York with his wife and infant son in tow.  My family was aghast, and my parents literally sat Shiva.  My remaining brothers and I stayed close to home.

The night my son was born and I witnessed the miracle of his tiny mouth suckling my breast at long last, I was reminded of the prose from Khalil Gibran:  “Your children, are not your children.  They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing itself.  They come through you, but not from you.  And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”

In that quiet and gentle life affirming moment, I inhaled joy, and exhaled a profound sense of sadness.  I promised my son, Jacob, that his wings would not be clipped as mine had been, and that he would be encouraged to explore his own thoughts and dreams wherever that would take him.  And then I kissed his fuzzy brown head, and cried.  No longer holding him within my body, sharing, nurturing, growing, containing him, I realized he was his very own soul, complete unto himself, with his very own journey.  It felt like a small part of my heart calved like an iceberg off a mighty Alaskan glacier – a new Self was being born.

A few weeks shy of his first birthday, my video camera had become an appendage in my right hand.  It was more than apparent that Jacob wanted to walk, and I could literally hear Neil Armstrong’s voice, “One small step for baby, one giant leap for Jacob.”  And then one night, he let go of our round, pine coffee table and walked.  Camera in hand, you could hear me crying and laughing, as I got a great shot of our brown carpet – technical, I’m not.  I missed the first few steps, but once I gained my composure, I got the next few tippy toe strides.  Another piece of my heart calved; a new Self was being born.

It happened again on his first day of kindergarten.  I walked him to school, and brought him into his new classroom; a kiss, a hug, and off he went.  I waited outside with the other moms just in case he needed me.  I caught a glimpse of him playing blocks with a little girl.  After a while, he got up, walked to the classroom door and told me to go home.  I looked at the woman next to me whose terrified daughter clung to her leg like mussels on a pier piling.  “You should be proud of yourself, you did a great job.”  My eyes welled; another calving.

And so it goes with each changing cycle of my son’s life.  Graduating elementary school, middle school, high school, piano recitals, sleep-aways, Bar Mitzvah, school trips to Europe, proms, getting his driver’s license, buying his first car, going away (far away) to college, falling in love, having his heart broken…more pieces of my heart, suddenly falling and breaking away.  A new Self was being born.

The concept of an empty nest was painfully introduced to me on the first Christmas my ex husband took our son away to Denver.  Empty nest defined as: “The stage in a family’s cycle when the children have grown up and left home to begin their own adult lives.  Note:  For parents, the empty nest sometimes results in midlife anxiety.”

Jacob was five.  The divorce had been amicable up until the moment Jacob’s father announced it was time for his son to participate in a traditional Colorado Christmas — without me. Anxiety doesn’t begin to describe how I felt when Jacob left for a week.  I haunted the house like a soul trapped between here and the afterlife.  I cried myself to sleep every night.  I sat in his room, held his favorite stuffed animal close to me, and felt as if some huge shift had occurred, and that life would never be the same again.  Surrounded by Jacob’s childhood cherishables, I realized that NOTHING stays the same.  Every life experience carries the seed of change.  Right then and there I knew that in the blink of an eye Jacob would be pack up his adolescent life, and take off, leaving behind his beloved toys, his books, his loving dog, Bamsa, and me, soaring out of reach, out of sight to places unknown.  In that moment, with that undeniable, unquestionable truth, my resolve to hold my child with open hands, and a resilient heart, allowing for his inevitable flight, encouraging it, assisting it, insisting upon it…became my mission; like a kindred soul with the mother hummingbird.  And for both Jacob and me, a new Self is being born.

A Marriage of Heaven and Earth

All you need is love...

The other day my husband and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary; we have been together for a total of 17 years.  Outside of my family, that’s the longest loving relationship I’ve ever been in.  Today, as I waited for our oatmeal to cook, I began to think about what my morning was like 15 years ago, the day of our wedding.  My six year old son, Jacob, was so excited about his tuxedo and bow tie, that he stood at the kitchen table, wolfing down his cereal, begging for a bath.  Skip was too nervous to eat and the only thing keeping me connected to my body was my inner dialogue with Mother Nature begging her to stave off the rain gods for just one more day!  Nine hours later, Skip, Jacob and I were married at the Hotel Bel Air; the swans gracefully skimming along the pond, our friends and family gathered together outside as the clear blue sky changed into a purplish hue of reverence — witness to our vows.  After 40 years on this earth, my brand, spanking new husband gifted to me a beautiful wedding and one helluva party afterwards.  I reference back to that magnificent day all the time for soulful nurturance.

So fifteen years later, I’m in our kitchen making oatmeal and I turn to my Prince Charming and this is what I see – a middle aged man, with a bit of a Buddha belly (good for rubbing), thinning hair (styled to mimic a cockatiel’s distinctly erectile crest also known as bed head), and a thin wad of tissue shoved into his right nostril, (a very functional and inexpensive way to eradicate the flow of mucous from one heck of a cold.)  Gerard Butler, look out!  I smile at Skip and beg him to allow me to photograph this beautiful image before me.  He studies me for a moment, letting me know with the blink of his hooded blue eyes that I’m a vision to behold as well, and says quite lovingly, “Yes, you may take a picture of me, but if you do, I’ll have to kill you.”  Please take note, this is my husband’s warped sense of humor; Skip ushers spiders out of the house via Kleenex or glass jar.

A friend of mine asked me if I see myself married to Skip for the rest of my life.  Had she asked me that last Tuesday, I would have said yes, but my fingers would have been crossed behind my back, but as I write this, 24 hours after we celebrated our anniversary, the answer is yes, yes, emphatically YES!  Has it been bliss?  There have been moments, long moments of bliss, but there has also been interminable moments of pain.

Truth be told, I really believed that once I found the right man, fell in love, and married, that I was set for life. I was going to live in the land of Bliss on a mountaintop overlooking a beautiful lake, called Security.  Growing up, I had a serious crush on John Lennon, so when he sang, “ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE, love…love is all you need, it’s EASY” I believed him. 15 married years later, a lot of tears, a lot of laughter, a lot of pain, a lot of pleasure, a lot of making love to make up, a lot of not making love to stay unloving and unlovable, well, let’s just say that belief is limiting; actually that belief sabotages the spiritual truth that love is – drum roll if you please – transformational.  It requires that we CHANGE.  It insists that we accept being VULNERABLE.  Why vulnerable?  Why change?  Because when you live with and love another in an intimate, conscious way, that person constantly illuminates those dark things that dwell inside of us; our worst fears, our habitual patterns, our neurotic ways of being that make us feel “safe,” but really limit us and disconnect us from our ability to love and be loved.

This is the good news, bad news bears …Our partner shines this gigantic searchlight into the very core of our humanness – our pain, our fears, our sadness, our confusion, our aloneness, but if all of that “stuff” isn’t illuminated, then how can we meet ourselves just as we are, find compassion for ourselves, flawed, imperfect, a work in progress, and develop a truly loving, kindness toward ourselves?  And that requires self-acceptance, which I believe to be the foundational building block for self-love.  Because if you’re not loving yourself, than how are you loving someone else?  And bigger still, how can you possibly feel worthy and open to the love coming toward you from another.

I read a beautiful quote from Wayne Muller that said, “No more is required of us than this:  that we love ourselves and one another with gentleness and mercy, for we each carry within us the tender heart of God.”

Happy anniversary, Skip.  You are a heavenly mirror for me to see – really see –who I Am in this exact moment of time and who I’d like to become.  With you asmy life partner, I hold a tremendous desire in my heart to be an unconditional source of kindness and love for myself and for you.

Perhaps my marriage to Skip is heavenly bliss manifested here on earth after all.

The way we were...

The way we are...

Could it be that the greatest perfection is…imperfection?

Shouldn’t your baby be a Gerber baby?

Since my blog is titled, rantings from a recovering perfectionist, I thought I’d speak about perfectionism.  I’ve spent many a decade perfecting my perfectionism.  I carry the genes of perfectionism, thank you mother, and I grew up in an environment of perfectionism, thank you mother and father.  My perfectionism is a nature, nurture honed diamond – no flaws in that baby.

The “aha” moment of not only becoming keenly aware of my perfectionistic tendencies but staring them straight in the eyes and owning them occurred when I was trying to stop my three month old son, Jacob, from drooling.  His drool leaked onto everything and everyone within a four-mile radius; I’m not kidding.  Exaggerating to make my point, but I am serious.  Finally, I took him to our pediatrician who I trusted with not only my son’s life, but mine as well — for reasons I won’t bore you with.  He explained to me that there was nothing to be done; Jacob was teething which stimulates drooling, which is often worse with some babies than others.  I began to study other babies in my mommy and me group.  Nobody, I mean nobody, was bringing forth copious amounts of that slimy, silvery, non-odorous ticky, tacky drool like my boy.  Here’s when the ‘aha moment’ hit.  I was breast feeding Jacob late one night, and I thought about trading him in for a non-drooler.  Seriously.  At three months I loved him, but there was a lot of things that I hadn’t signed on for.  One, he had a lot of hair on his head and he was long and skinny.  Gerber babies were bald babies who had chubby cheeks, and were pudgy.  Two, he was colicky and the only person who could quiet him seemed to be me.  Gerber babies gurgle and coo and are easily held by anyone with two arms!  Three, he peed and pooped bountiful amounts and the stench, quite frankly, was embarrassing.  Gerber babies pee and poop maybe three, four times a day sans stink.  Last but not least, Gerber babies sleep through the night and take nice long naps in the afternoon.  My baby slept in the early hours of the morning, napped a little, and never, ever slept through the night.  Which means, guess who else didn’t sleep through the night!

I shared the swapping-my-baby-for-another-non drooler-baby with my perfectionistic parents.  I was sure they’d understand, especially my mother.  She used to iron my twin brothers diapers and tiny t shirts.  They thought I was crazy.  My mother yelled at me and my father quietly slipped me the name of a psychiatrist he had taken my mother to see many years ago.  That night, as Jacob breast fed, his tiny, perfect fingers curled around my perfectly manicured pointer finger, I realized I had a serious problem.  I was considering a baby exchange program for this sweet, wonderful son whom I fought very long and hard to birth.  (I have an incompetent cervix but that’s another story.)

The next day, after another sleepless night in Sherman Oaks, I looked for the perfect Perfectionist Anonymous chapter.  Not only does the perfect Perfectionist Anon. chapter not exist, no chapter for perfectionists exists.  I was shocked.  Personally, I would have absolutely no problem standing up in front of a rather large group of people saying, “Hi, my name is Brauna and I’m a recovering perfectionist.”  Of course, I’d be wearing the perfect outfit, something casual but elegant, matching shoes, not sensible, but not come-f-me either, and for sure I’d have my hair done at my favorite salon.  Instead, I went to a therapist and started a recovery program for perfectionism.

Twenty odd years later, I think I understand perfectionism.  I can actually embrace it, be with it, but not let it take control of me.

Let me begin by defining ‘perfectionism’ in my language.

Perfectionism is a limiting belief that perfection is not only possible but achievable.  Anything less than perfect is, well, unacceptable.  And who deems what is perfect?  The hard-core judge (her name is Judy, and to be honest, she’s perfectly intelligent, perfectly righteous, and never, ever a hair out of place) and her hand picked jury (like an exquisite strand of pearls, are they) that lurks within the shadows of my soul.

After many, many years of therapy, spiritual workshops, churches, temples, yoga, near death experiences, healing and healers of all shapes and sizes, fasts, cleanses, colonics, bad hair days, I have had an awakening…

Let me digress a quick moment here.   In my world, an awakening is an, oh so very good thing, because it’s that moment when the demon EGO which works diligently to control and manipulate you, is quiet and the hushed wisdom of your soul, that divine spark inside us all, speaks.  (You can find it when you breathe; in between the inhale and the exhale, but that’s another blog, for another time.)

Back to the awakening…drum roll, if you please:

The fundamental reason I strive for perfection is because I have had a tremendous need to feel in control of everything at all times so that I could protect myself and feel safe.  (That overwhelming feeling of not being safe carbon dates back to my childhood, but that’s a whole different blog).  In the past, feeling vulnerable was unacceptable.  Now I know, that if I’m not feeling vulnerable, I’m not living.  I may be existing, but I Am definitely not living life.  There’s only one thing for certain in this life, and it’s not death and taxes.  Life is about change.  And change is transformational.  Norman Mailer once said, “Every moment of one’s existence one is growing into more or retreating into less.  One is always living a little more or dying a little bit.”

It’s taken me over five decades, and not one but two near death experiences to let go of my need to control life, to simply accept each and every moment that comes to me without judgment, and live this beautiful gift called life, a little more…

Now that’s perfection!  (I said I was a “recovering” perfectionist,  right?)

Lions and tigers and blogs…oh my!

I can’t believe I’m doing this…blogging, that is.  I feel like the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz.  I don’t have the COURAGE it takes to reveal myself; to show up, so to speak.  I was amazingly good at hide and seek as a child.  Who knew, I’d use those skills for most of my life.  It’s hard for me to even fathom that what I actually believe or have to say is relevant.  I Am the cowardly lion.  No, wait.  Not the cowardly lion, no, I Am the tin man.  DO I HAVE THE HEART to blog?  I had a heart when I was young.  It was alive and well and living in the San Fernando Valley, a long time ago.  It pumped joy, play, and wonder.  If I submerged myself in the bathtub, held my breath and lay there quietly, I could hear it.  No, wait, I’m not the tin man.  I can definitely hear my heart beating.  I think my neighbors can hear my heart pounding away in my chest because this is my very first blog and I’m terrified.  It’s just that my heart feels more like a hard hat heart, just doing its job — the joyful, playful, awestruck heart is hiding in a very safe place.  Wait.  I’m not the tin man; he was my least favorite character of the three.  Seriously, I liked the flying monkeys and the wicked witch better than the tin man.  I Am the scarecrow. I love the scarecrow.   I used to have a BRAIN.  A pretty good one, if I say so myself. It was witty, wise, whimsical and sometimes downright insightful.  But the fog of menopause rolled in and took all of that away.  My brain is on pause…If I can just get through this never-ending, 24 hour, 7 day a week roller coaster ride of hot flashes, (Is anybody else sweating like a long distant runner in the Mojave Desert?), mood swings, (I love you, no…I hate you, I really, really hate you!), weight gain (I do believe the dry cleaner is shrinking my clothes), insomnia (My beloved dog, Eli, refuses to sleep with me because I have restless sleeper syndrome) I know my brain will reveal itself to me.  Olly, Olly, Oxen free!

I just realized I Am Blogging…I do have courage.  I do have a heart.  And, I do have a brain.  And I have many, many things to say.  Of motherhood, marriage, family, near death (not once, but twice), dis-ease, spirituality, friendship, animals, books, cooking, movies and menopause aka mind-on-pause.  I hope you’ll read my blog. Perhaps together we can enlighten, ease the feelings of aloneness, step into our magnificence, sit with the fear, frolic in the poppy field, and find our way home.