Miracle and Mystery

My life has been profoundly impacted and contextualized by the fact that I contracted hepatitis C virus in the early 1970s. Diagnosed in 1995, this knowledge has weighed in on every choice I make. It has been the theme of my story. The longest chapter of my life. It has been with me like background noise, like a hated song that just won’t leave my head, always lingering on the edge of my awareness — the worry, the fear, the angst, the “what if’s”, the obsessive self-monitoring.

Giving the noise some credit, I’ve managed OK, not perfectly [which I’ve learned is an exhausting and impossible endeavor],but well enough to stay healthy and alive. Hope upon hope that if I could do so, a treatment would become available to wipe out the virus. I’ve learned and shared the gifts and challenges of living with chronic illness. I truly believe that I never would have been as healthy as I have become had I not had this chronic, low grade illness as an “opportunity” for growth.

Some of you know that in 2011-12 I endured 8+ months of triple drug therapy intended to rid my body of the virus. I was sure it would work. I suffered so it would work. The treatment was horrendous, causing rashes, sleeplessness, manic episodes, hair loss, low white cell count, low red cell count, other blood abnormalities and debilitating fatigue. I could barely get off the couch. The treatment didn’t work. It was a failure. For months I believed I had failed. I did everything right and it didn’t work. I spent the next two years rumbling with shame, grief, heartbreak and self-loathing, as I tried regaining my trust along with my physical and emotional strength…

Just in time for the promise of a cure.

I was excited and terrified as the buzz started to build last year about a new “miracle” drug, Harvoni,  with a reported cure rate of 96-99% for those like me with genotype 1 [the hardest to impact]. I began to swim in doubt. What if my insurance company wouldn’t pay for it? What if I was one the 1-4% failure rate? Not another failure!

On November 15, 2014, I began a once-a-day regime for 84 days. At ~$1,100 a dose, I am truly blessed that my health insurance immediately agreed to pay for the treatment [all but our annual co-pay]. With each tablet I took, I affirmed my gratitude — thank you, thank you, thank you for this cure. I also experienced new doubt. It was hard for me to believe that Harvoni could possibly be working. Where were the side effects? I felt a little more tired than usual, but it was late fall and winter, a time when I always feel a little more tired than usual. I did my best to let the doubt flow through me. I focused on gratitude and affirmed that I was doing the best I could. In fact, I had spent 20 years doing the best I could to protect my health so that I would live long enough for a cure. Perhaps part of that success was genetics, another part pure luck and part the pretty-good but less-than-perfect small choices I made each day. Or maybe I’m just plain lucky. I was here. I was receiving treatment. It was meant to be, whatever the outcome.

During the time in treatment with Harvoni, I had the honor of being coached by my colleague and dear friend, Barbie, as she incorporated her new training in The Daring Way™ [based on the research of Dr. Brené Brown] into her practice. I explored the arena of creativity, and courageously took up watercolor painting for the first time since junior high school, learned more about my digital SLR camera, wrote about my hep C “story” as a chapter for a book [The Energy of Healing, published in June 2015], and enrolled for my own training in The Daring Way™.

I completed treatment in early February and then came the long wait until May to have the definitive blood work.

HCV not detectedI still look at this and take a deep breath. Not just virus free — I’m told that this is a cure. Forever. Really? I ask. Really. It’s a mystery to me how “they” can be so sure, it’s such a new drug, but I’m willing to live in the mystery of this miracle.

So as I decide, at last, to share this news in my blog, I ask myself what IS different? I still have pretty good genetics, still pretty good luck [knock wood], and still make pretty-good but less-than-perfect choices each day. I still have a great insurance company and good doctors. What’s truly different is the noise is gone — the theme song in the background, the annoying background noise is gone.

When I told my son, Nick, the good news, he said, “Wow, Mom, you get to start a new chapter in your life.”

The noise is replaced with peaceful silence. Sometimes so quiet, it’s unsettling. I breath into the space, content with a few inadequate words to describe what is indescribable. I’m free to not know what my end will be [as if I ever really knew] and I am happy to live with the mystery and write a few new chapters.

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Cookies and Silk

cookies1My husband was away last weekend, so off I went, farmer’s market basket in hand, alone for our Saturday morning ritual. After filling my basket with fresh organic vegetables, pasture raised meat and Anna Mae’s jam, I stopped at our favorite bake shop table for the bread my husband loves. While there, I scanned the cookies and chose an oatmeal chocolate chip. These are not your average sized cookies, they are enormous. Each one is easily shared and enough for three with tea. I knew my husband would be surprised and pleased that I was so thoughtful.

Before I go on with my story, a little background. I consider myself a foodie. Not the type who is constantly trying new gourmet recipes with unusual ingredients, though I do that on occasion. I am more the gourmand. I have been and can still be obsessed with food. Recovery is a daily process and takes both vigilance and a huge dose of self-compassion. I’m a lifetime member of Weight Watchers, which means I reached my lifetime goal [about a decade ago] and attend meetings for free provided I stay within 2 pounds of my goal. My structure for vigilance. Then there’s my husband, Win. Win likes good food, but he is not a foodie. While I stay alive to eat, he eats to stay alive! He needs to eat extra calories [and chooses mostly healthy ones] during the day to keep weight ON, while I’m concerned about keeping it OFF.

Back to the cookie. Win got home Sunday morning and was delighted with the cookie and then promptly forgot it, reaching for healthier afternoon snacks over the next two days. Tuesday afternoon arrived and this huge cookie, now stale, sat in it’s waxed paper bag, forlorn and forgotten, except by me. I suggested sprinkling it with a few drops of water and heating in the microwave for a few seconds. It worked. Win ate half the cookie. Well, not quite half. I had nibbles from around the crusty edges, yum!

Fast forward to late afternoon Wednesday. The cookie, now four days old, sits and stares at me from the counter while I chop vegetables for soup. My pulse increases as I begin to feel anger about the stupid cookie.

I said: Your cookie is still sitting here. He said: I forgot all about it. I said: Well, maybe I’ll eat the damn cookie. Incredulous, he said: Really? I said: Really. I fumed; he went outside.

I began an old pattern. I ate AROUND the cookie. I ate grapes, then hit the pantry for some “healthy” crackers. Next I grabbed Win’s reduced fat potato chips. I took a small handful. Good thing there weren’t many left. I looked at the cookie and finally opened it and ate 1/3 of the remaining half. There. I was done and wish I had just eaten the damn cookie at the onset of my food meltdown.

I was crabby. Win asked: what’s up? I shared my meltdown over a glass of wine — Win’s glass of wine, I abstained. I felt ashamed and angry, mostly at myself, and I needed to figure out my overreaction to this stupid uneaten cookie. As I told my story about buying the cookie as a thoughtful gesture, something deeper emerged. I shared that I hadn’t REALLY bought the cookie for HIM, I bought it for ME! You see I could never justify eating an entire cookie so enormous and luscious, it would be my Weight Watchers points for the whole day, but I could justify nibbles. I would count them, of course, as a small chocolate chip cookie, maybe 3 points. As is our ritual, whenever Win gets a treat on our Saturday morning at the farmer’s market, I indulge in a nibble and it is heavenly!

Win listened from the heart, but couldn’t relate. As I shared, he’s not a foodie.

We talked more about what I noticed, that gift giving isn’t just for the receiver — the giver always gets something out of it. Whether it’s writing a check for a cause, purchasing a birthday gift that WJ5-8you hope the receiver will love, or buying an expensive gift for a couple whose wedding you don’t plan on attending — the giver always get something out of it! The donation feels like the right thing to do; the birthday gift warms the  giver’s heart to see the delight of the recipient; the extravagant wedding gift alleviates the guilt of skipping the wedding.  Then it hit me and I said:  Think of when you purchase a lovely piece of jewelry for me, you want to see me wear it! It feels good, it warms your heart. He nodded yes. Or a red silk nightie. Though it feels fabulous on, the gift giver gets to see it on. My visual husband nodded again, yes. He got it!

I awakened at 5 AM with this blog brewing. I’m able to share the story only because I’ve reached a new level of understanding, self-acceptance and compassion. I love my perfectly imperfect human self.  I am deeply grateful for the abundance of my life that I can even obsess over a cookie. And grateful that I can find humor in the process.

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Never Believe Your 7th Grade Art Teacher [unless the message is “You are spectacular!”]

Not long before Christmas, while searching a crafts store for a picture frame, I found myself wandering the paint supply aisle. I lingered over blocks of paper, fondled brushes and looked at colors. Suddenly I began picking up watercolor supplies with the idea that I would buy them for my adult son. I thought, “Nick will love these! He can paint when he wants a break from playing his banjo.” Then it dawned on me, I didn’t want the paints for Nick, I wanted them for me! With this realization, my face turned red, my heartbeat pounded in my ears and I carefully put everything back and left the store feeling the shame of the wounded teenager still inside me.  The voice inside my head mocked me: “YOU can’t paint! You’re not an artist. You’re not creative at all!”

Weeks later I shared this experience with my coach. When we explored this together I remembered the shame-filled incident in art class when my teacher told me that there was no point in continuing art classes, my paintings lacked any artistic value. I believed it and I quit. I can’t even remember my art teacher’s name, nor if said teacher was male or female, young or old. Yet the memory of the room, the view out the window and the feeling of deep shame is vivid, as though it happened yesterday.

I made this experience mean that I wasn’t good at anything creative. Though as a young adult I took classes in silversmith and pottery, I always felt less than, criticized my own work harshly, rarely allowing myself to just enjoy the process. The only creative projects I pursued were gardening [the flowers created their own beauty] and photography [it was a palette I couldn’t mess up]. The only times I used paint was on the walls of my house and finger painting with my son.

In this session with my coach, I realized that I wanted to challenge this shame, show up, and step into the artistic arena and paint, just for me, just for fun. It didn’t matter if it was “good”, it only mattered that I enjoy the experience. Off I went back to the crafts store with list in hand.  Believe me, it wasn’t easy. More than once I trotted back to put things away. The voice now said: “You’re going to spend MONEY on ART supplies? YOU? You’re kidding.” But I made a commitment and gosh-darn-it,  I did it! I was going to paint!

To say that it’s been a pleasure sitting down on snowy Saturday afternoons with a cup of tea, brush, paints, paper and muse, is an understatement. I am filled with joy each time I set brush to paper. I feel like I’ve reclaimed my sad, teenaged self and made her happy!

I’ve made a commitment to myself: As long as I have another breath to take, I’ll continue to explore the nooks and crannies to find where I’ve hidden the true me, the joyful me, the playful me, the artistic me, the authentic me. I’ll embrace life and all the joy and pleasure I have denied myself thinking I’m just not good enough. I will no longer believe the false messages of my inner critic. I’ll listen to the voice of my champion that tells me: “Cate, you are enough!”

Below: Photograph I took and painting I created!

cardinal piccardinal painting

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Good Car-ma

Unless you are a city dweller, you probably depend on your car or someone’s car to get you around.  I confess. I love my car. It is an extension of my personality, and as I’ve changed and practiced better self-care, my car[s] have benefited from better care as well. And today, as I trade in my second Rav4, I am nostalgic. I’m thinking back to all our adventures as well as appreciating the day-to-day reliability of my car. I decided to write the following for the new owner and stash the note and picture in the manual that will go with the car with the hope that it will be found and that the new owner will appreciate my Rav4 as much as I did.

Meet Ravi Shan-car II.

He was my car from March 2010 to March 2015. We traveled +/- 96,000 miles together, mostly on the roads of Upstate NY. He’s hauled me and my husband, visitors, garden soil, tools, furniture, plants, bird seed, dog food, dog, cat food, reluctant cats, Christmas trees, hiking boots, snowshoes, trekking poles, luggage, groceries, workout clothes, yoga mats, farmer’s market produce and shopping bags.

He looks especially adorable with a canoe strapped to his rack.

Ravi and canoe

Most of Ravi’s miles are local, back and forth to Saratoga Springs, with a weekly 165-mile round trip for business and a stop to see my son along the way. He’s traveled to remote trail heads in the Adirondacks, as well as shorelines of rivers and lakes. Although a country car, he always finds me the perfect parking spot on our very frequent trips to Saratoga Springs. He’s even navigated the streets of NYC. He waits patiently wherever he’s parked and we are always delighted to climb in for the safe trip home. We had only a few hair-raising adventures and close calls and absolutely no accidents, not even a fender bender. He always starts, even at temperatures below zero. He’s been stuck in the snow only once, this winter in a snow drift, because we forgot about his wheel-locking feature.

He has been spoiled. He’s never been yelled at or abused in any way. He has rested nightly in a garage and received regular weekly washing, unless it was bitter cold. He’s been waxed and detailed several times. He has rubber mats at your feet and cargo area. He’s had all his regular maintenance and has only needed new windshield wipers and tires and a little work on the brakes. Oh, and once a mouse living in his air filter had to be evicted.

Take good care of Ravi and he’ll take good care of you. Though I take the spirit of Ravi with me to my new and third Rav4, he comes with the good Car-ma! He/she will be happy to be renamed.

Good luck and stay safe!

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Perspective and Choice

dragonfly 2What do you see when you look at this picture? Do you see my shoulder? Ear? Pond? Log in the pond? Shadow? My shirt? The dragonfly on my shoulder? It depends on your perspective.

My husband and I began our Sunday early. We chatted briefly about preparing for our hike and I shared a dream. In the dream, my mom was still alive, my dad had just died and my adult son and I were [somewhat desperately and through tears] looking for my mother. In the dream, it was NOW. Today. My son as a young adult, not the 12 year old he was when my mom died, nor the 14 year old he was when my dad died, exactly 10 years ago today.

Our conversation continued as I commented about how grateful I am for my sight, vision. My dad was legally blind several years before he died, from a combination of macular degeneration [wet and dry] and glaucoma. I don’t have nearly the risk factors he did, but there is a genetic link on his side of the family. I DO have glaucoma, well controlled with drops. I recall my dad, an avid reader, depending on NPR and books on tape the last few years. A dear hospice volunteer visited him every Wednesday morning to read to him, from news magazines, Science Magazine, poetry or whatever he chose that day. Recalling this, I expressed gratitude for my vision.

Preparing for the hike, we popped in our contact lenses, packed the hiking boots, socks, water, lunch, Arnica, bug repellent, tissues, forgetting nothing, we thought…. ready to head to the mountains on Lake George.

Almost to the top of the mountain, sweating profusely, I wiped the sweat from my brow and right eye with the back of my hand. I realized I had shifted my contact lens with the rub and stopped to readjust. I rinsed my hands with fresh, precious drinking water and was glad I’d had the foresight to pop eye drops into my cargo shorts. Win, my husband, stood by as I fished out the errant lens. I placed it in my hand, took a look as I prepared to place eye drops on it, only to discover it was only HALF a lens! We debated going on as I realized that with my right eye closed I had no depth perception. And that with both eyes open I was straining terribly to see the trail. Lesson learned immediately: always pack extra lenses and/or glasses!

We turned around to return an hour or more to the trail head. This was my moment of choice. I realized I could make this experience bloody awful or appreciate my sudden, if unwanted, shift in perspective. I knew I would have to be extremely careful, but also knew that I had an opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the forest in a new way, one I hope to never repeat. I had this one chance. When I closed my right eye, my depth perception disappeared, but with that I was acutely aware of the GREEN of the hardwood tree leaves. The sharp edges of the beech tree leaves popped out, little noticed with two eyes. The roots and rocks on the trail seemed eerily dangerous. I reminded myself that I was safe. I took my time and had a traveling companion. I’ve been walking since I was 11 months old, one foot in front of the other, and my eyes have been about 5 feet from the ground since I turned 11 years old. I noticed the sound of the birds and babbling stream even more than on the way up. I was completely in the moment with my new perspective. Because it was a change that was temporary, I could play with it, appreciate it; I could return to my normal “seeing” life soon.

I had choices. I could go ahead or turn around. I could be mad at myself. I could curse the trail. [This one was easy, I’ve never had a really good hike on the Tongue Mountain Range; it’s always been especially challenging in one way or another.] I chose to turn around. I chose to accept this sudden change and appreciate something different. I affirmed my gratitude for my sight and strong body.

Though shifts in perspective may come unwanted and barely announced, I do have a choice about how to respond.


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hands-with-heart-and-bandaid“My religion is kindness.”  — His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama

A few weeks ago, I was struck by the most amazing thought that sunk into the very core of my being. I have had a warped understanding of self-love.

The negative voice in my head that has persisted since childhood  finally began to unravel. It is no longer a matter of accepting the voice and shifting to a positive voice. Now I can accept that voice and understand it on the deepest level and let it go with ease.

No one is born with that negative voice. It is planted at an early age, often by the very people who most love and protect us. I know my mother loved me, yet she was often mean in words and deeds. Through the amazing transformational work of Debbie Ford, The Shadow Process and my training with The Ford Institute as an integrative coach, I learned that what my mother couldn’t love in herself, more to the point, what she hated and could NEVER be, she couldn’t stand in me.

The result of the “love” as expressed by the woman who gave me life has caused me to harbor this confused notion of “self-love”.  If my mom loved me and she was often a bitch so that I would relent and do things HER way [I, of course, would then act out behind her back], that must be what love is! Sometimes nasty, sometimes nice and on rare occasion, kind. What a mix!

Despite all the “work” I’ve done to break the spell of negative self-talk and the amazing inroads I’ve made in healing my inner critic, it’s still there. After all, if my mother could love me and bitch at me… that must be MY job now! Tough love, right?

Back to my “ah-ha” moment. As I listened to part of an interview by Joe Donahue on WAMC Northeast Public Radio [interviewing Carrie Wilkens, PhD, co-author of Beyond Addiction: Science and Kindness Help People Change] I almost had to pull over as all the neurons in my brain went bonkers and my heart expanded to fill the car. I realized that the missing piece for me to heal my confused concept of self-love is kindness. Self-KIND-ness.

Let me clear something up before I go on. Let’s not confuse NICE with KIND. They are not equal. Nice is polite, sometimes coy, expecting some reward in return. When I am nice, I expect some acknowledgment or love in return. I don’t do it for you. I do it mostly for me. You’ll like me or even love me for being nice to you.  Kind is respectful, honoring, that we are equal and worthy. I expect nothing in return. Kindness comes from a place of love, deep, heartfelt, not attached to your response.  If I apply this to when I’m NICE to myself, having treats I don’t really want or need, I expect that I’ll experience this as love. WRONG. Doesn’t work for me. Also doesn’t work for me when I’m nasty and don’t allow myself pleasure or treats, withholding love and nurturing until I do something right to “deserve” it, to earn a reward.

I’ve been sitting with these thoughts and reflecting on the interview. If kindness [from a place of clean, clear boundaries and respect] rather than “tough love” [from a place of hyper-vigilant, bitchy boundaries and making wrong] is a positive influence on change for loved ones with addictions, this could work for me in every choice that I make!  With this new tool I’m able to ask, “Is this an act of self-KIND-ness?” rather than “self-love” and avoid the rat hole of recrimination and harshness that has been my habit for way too long. I easily shift my behavior and feel loved from the one person that most needs to love me, ME!

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Listening from the Heart

ear of heart

Recall a time when you felt heard, when your deepest thoughts and feelings were held reverently by another. Think of a time when you listened with all your heart and held a safe space for another to share openly. What was that like for you and the other person?

Listening is an art, something that can be learned, refined and practiced. A large part of my coaching training was about listening – not only recognizing and busting the habit of listening to another through a filter of my own “stuff”, but learning to hear what is said through the filter of faith, the heart.

I am reminded of the power of listening from faith. During a weekend retreat in November, participants shared how deeply moved they were by a powerful listening exercise. The group of 30 was paired for sharing periodically throughout the weekend. Sharing was timed for two minutes.  Comments like “Wow, I realize how hard it is for me to listen without interrupting, nodding or making comments as my partner shared.”  And “It felt great to be able to share for a specific amount of time and know that my partner would simply listen.” And even more “I realize how I don’t really listen anymore; I’m too busy with my own thoughts, getting annoyed or wanting approval, rehearsing what I’m going to say next.”

My intention for this year is to be conscious of the practice and gift of listening from my heart. I’ve been listening to the silence in the winter woods, breathing in the stillness; listening to my clients, consciously connecting to what is said and what is not said; listening to my husband, focusing intently as he describes a work project; listening to my son, feeling his concern about going back to college; listening to a friend, sharing her excitement of an upcoming vacation; listening to the voice inside my head that is sometimes obnoxious and judgmental, other times compassionate and loving; listening to the whisper of my heart’s desire and honoring that voice. Listening from the heart means that I am willing to be open, present and compassionate, even when I notice I’m not really listening!

Listening from the heart can be painful at times.  As my son tries to explain what’s going on for him, I want to gloss over his feelings, jump right in and fix things. Wanting to fix it for him is old habit that still pops up.  When I’m courageous enough listen with my heart to whatever he’s sharing, he feels better.  There’s an old proverb that states: A problem shared is a problem halved. Sometimes that’s all I have to do, just listen.

When I listen with my heart, instead of in “fix-it” mode, I can see life through another’s eyes, hear with their ears and experience their pain or joy. Listen to what is said and what is not said. This kind of empathic listening, staying curious, accepting and silent until a response is desired or needed, if it is at all, allows the other person to share at the deepest level. No right or wrong, no good or bad, simply a flow of love, willingness and understanding. Listening from the heart to experience what it feels like to be in another’s shoes.

In To Kill a Mockingbird Atticus Finch says: If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you`ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.

Maybe all it takes is listening from the heart. Imagine — gentle people, peaceful world.

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