The Joy (and not-joy) of Relationship

We had a fam­ily gath­er­ing at my house on Fri­day evening, since my sis­ter and brother-in-law were vis­it­ing from Florida. The thing that stands out in my mind about it is that every­one was so GLAD to see each other. There was tan­gi­ble joy, just to be together.

It is one of the great­est bless­ings I know to feel that love and see the con­nec­tions between peo­ple I love. It makes the has­sles of plan­ning, communicating, cleaning and cook­ing all worth it, in spades.

Hear­ing laugh­ter and chat­ter, see­ing the men hold­ing babies that are not their own, and LOVING them, see­ing nieces and broth­ers help­ing them­selves in the kitchen and a sister-in-law stir­ring pots is pure con­tent­ment to me.

I missed those that weren’t here, also. Nieces and nephews busy else­where with their own lives, great-nieces and nephews involved with other parts of their fam­ily, a brother on a book tour, par­ents who are no longer with us, aunts and cousins who are far away, all are missed.

Not every­one is blessed with joy­ful rela­tion­ships. There isn’t always joy in these rela­tion­ships, either. There can be irri­ta­tion, hurt feel­ings, dis­ap­point­ment and con­fu­sion, as well. In some fam­i­lies there is out­right hos­til­ity and estrange­ment. It pains me when I see it in fam­i­lies I know and love. I see and hear about painful rela­tion­ships daily in my work as a ther­a­pist. It is a pri­mary source of anguish and bewil­der­ment for my clients.

The Dalai Lama encour­ages com­pas­sion for oth­ers, and reminds us to see that we are the SAME as oth­ers, and not so dif­fer­ent. Under­stand­ing that the other is expe­ri­enc­ing the same feel­ings, chal­lenges, desires and frus­tra­tions can equal­ize things and help us to find empa­thy for him/her.

Ter­ence Real, who wrote The New Rules of Mar­riage (Bal­lan­tine Books, 2008) and other books explains that many of us get caught up on an “esca­la­tor of con­tempt” which shut­tles us back and forth between grandios­ity (bet­ter than) and shame (worse than). When we think we have all the answers we look down on oth­ers with con­tempt and dis­dain. We pump our­selves up as more impor­tant than, smarter than, more tal­ented than, etc. and grandios­ity reigns. When we put our­selves down as stu­pid, unwor­thy, inad­e­quate and unlov­able we are in shame and are treat­ing our­selves with contempt.

What gets missed is the expe­ri­ence of same as. We are fun­da­men­tally the same as every­one else, with inad­e­qua­cies and amaz­ing traits; quirks and gifts; bad behav­iors and gen­eros­ity; wis­dom and fool­ish­ness; strengths and weak­nesses. We are all human.

In recent years I have expe­ri­enced some painful con­flict in per­sonal rela­tion­ships. Some of it related to mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion and mis­un­der­stand­ings, some to unre­strained words of anger and judg­ment, some to dif­fer­ences that got trans­lated into weak­nesses and short­com­ings. I was forced to see atti­tudes and behav­iors in myself that were extremely hard to admit. The pri­mary thing I must acknowl­edge is that I can be crit­i­cal, sham­ing and grandiose. I also can feel rejected, ashamed, misunderstood, mis­treated and unworthy.

Terry Real rec­om­mends step­ping off the con­tempt esca­la­tor and remem­ber­ing the other per­son is much like I am; not less than me and not bet­ter than me. It helps me man­age my reac­tions and feel­ings when I remind myself, “same as.” The other per­son is strug­gling just like I am, feels sim­i­lar feel­ings, and has many great qual­i­ties as well as short­com­ings, just like me. The other is try­ing to be under­stood and get needs met just as I am; and is NOT out to get ME.

And I began to use a phrase in my head when I was feel­ing frus­trated with some­one and think­ing, “they should have…” or “why don’t they…” The phrase I said to help me let go of judg­ment, anger and hurt feel­ings was JUST LOVE ‘EM.”

It serves to remind me that the most impor­tant thing is that I DO love them, and that calms me down and allows me to accept them just as they are, which is, after all, what I want them to do with me. It takes me off the “con­tempt esca­la­tor” and allows me change my think­ing, which changes my feel­ings and actions.

I try to say this to myself, as well, when I get a case of the “I should have…”

Posted in Codependency, Counseling, Grandiosity, Relationship, Relationships, Shame, Transformation, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Roll with it

This is the time of year that every­one (espe­cially in north­ern climes like Min­nesota, I think) starts to pack in a lot of sum­mer­time activ­i­ties, know­ing that fall is about to descend. And, it is prep time for stu­dents and teach­ers return­ing to school. I am one of those again; this time I’m teach­ing a class in the Social Work grad­u­ate pro­gram at SCSU; pro­vid­ing instruc­tion in the fun­da­men­tal skills needed to be a social worker.

I am eager to dig into this class and learn the process of teach­ing the the­ory and skills of my pro­fes­sion. Inter­est­ingly, the text­book to be used is the same one I had when I started my MSW pro­gram at Louisiana State Uni­ver­sity in 1987. That was Edi­tion 2, and now I will use Edi­tion 9. Wow! Has it really been that long? I love the syn­chronic­ity of this and can see that it is THE book, and has evolved appro­pri­ately to be cur­rent and cut­ting edge.

I feel that I have evolved in a sim­i­lar way–changing and adapt­ing to stay up-to-date and fresh through the years of hon­ing my craft and help­ing oth­ers who are in the begin­ning stages of their careers.

This is another aspect of resilience, I think; adapt­ing and grow­ing through chal­lenges, upheavals, changes. Becom­ing stronger and remain­ing fit to per­form nec­es­sary tasks and ful­fill new roles.

It can be a very hum­bling process. Many times through the years I have seen a “new” tech­nique or approach intro­duced and embraced, and real­ize I knew some­thing very sim­i­lar to that YEARS ago, and had not really incor­po­rated it. I often have a sense of “I knew that once! Why haven’t I been doing it?” or “Damn, I could have writ­ten that book!” It is dis­con­cert­ing but I have come to real­ize it is an out­come of liv­ing a lot of years and being in a career for 30+ years. I also know that I can’t do it all, nor does it make what I have done less valid.

That’s where “roll with it” comes in. Here’s a definition:

to adjust to dif­fi­cult events as they happen–roll with it.”

Ety­mol­ogy: based on box­ing, from the lit­eral mean­ing roll with the punches (step back or to one side as you are being hit), so that you do not receive the full force of the attack.
Cam­bridge Dic­tio­nary of Amer­i­can Idioms Copy­right © Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity Press 2003. Repro­duced with permission.

We need to adjust, be flex­i­ble, acco­mo­date and some­times, in order not to get knocked down, we need to take the punch and move with it. The abil­ity to bend and be tough are essen­tial skills in this world. See­ing our imper­fec­tions, errors, short­com­ings, and misses is part of rolling with it. Under­stand­ing our fal­li­bil­ity but not let­ting it under­mine our self-confidence and sense of pur­pose can be dif­fi­cult, but when we do it we can suc­cess­fully move for­ward and attain more wis­dom. Own­ing those truths about our­selves improves our resilience and enhances our abil­ity to accept things, peo­ple, events, that we can­not change, and helps us gain tol­er­ance of oth­ers, as well.


Posted in Counseling, Resilience, Therapy, Transformation, Transition, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

More transitions; so what’s new!

So, I am in the mid­dle of more tran­si­tions. Does it ever stop? No, we just get to cruise some­times. I am not in cruise con­trol right now, but in the midst of some heavy traf­fic, con­struc­tion, detours. I need to be on my toes.

My love rela­tion­ship ended ear­lier this sum­mer, due to core dif­fer­ences in our val­ues and world­views, and an ero­sion of good feel­ings between us.  It has not been easy, but my busy­ness has cer­tainly helped to dis­tract me from the loss.

I have had lots of com­pany, fun week­end activ­i­ties, a heavy work­load and the process of my father mov­ing from assisted liv­ing to nurs­ing home. It has been hec­tic, chal­leng­ing, reward­ing, fun and draining.

Last week­end I spent 4 days with my team, Sand Shells, as crew at the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure in the Twin Cities. It was, as always, mov­ing, inspir­ing, exhaust­ing and exhil­a­rat­ing. My ankles are still swollen and bruised, and I wasn’t even try­ing to walk the 60 miles! I helped to set up and run Pit Stop 3 with my team. We handed out food, water, Nuun (our sponsor’s sports drink) and encour­age­ment. We used the theme, “Wild, Wild Breasts!” If you haven’t been around the 3-Day, it is quite focused on breasts and hav­ing fun, so plays on words and irrev­er­ent themes rule the day. We had west­ern out­fits and props (even a photo op with a pony!) and got a lot of smiles out of the walk­ers. The spirit and energy of my team­mates was amaz­ing to watch.

The Clos­ing Cer­e­monies, where I was allowed to wear a pink shirt and walk with the sur­vivors, cre­ated feel­ings that are beyond words. The inclu­sion and val­i­da­tion we sur­vivors expe­ri­ence fills my heart up to the brim, and reminds me how pre­cious it is to have come through breast can­cer. There was a moment dur­ing the Walk that I was encour­ag­ing walk­ers with water and thanks, and sud­denly one of them said, “No, thank you, Sur­vivor. Walk­ing three days is noth­ing com­pared to chemo.” She had seen my “Sur­vivor” but­ton. It was so unex­pected and so pow­er­ful that I melted into tears. It made all the sweat, exhaus­tion and body aches worth every minute.

Ear­lier I had vis­i­tors from Swe­den and spent a week with them. It is a spe­cial thing to show them around the area to which the Emi­grants came and have them get to know their Amer­i­can fam­ily bet­ter. I spent a week­end with one of my best friends, her sib­lings and cousins and had a ball. The laugh­ter and cam­er­aderie were delightful.

I have had a full sched­ule at work, because of tak­ing time off here and there, and fill­ing up the remain­ing spaces with clients. Always feel­ing behind and over­whelmed by paper­work, but man­ag­ing to keep my head above water and give clients what they need from me. At times I have heard pos­i­tive feed­back and have been moved to tears by the growth, insight and relief they express, as well as their gratitude.

Finally, I have just started a new endeavor of teach­ing a foun­da­tional social work class at our local uni­ver­sity. My first class met this week and I did well, I think. Thanks to a great cur­ricu­lum I inher­ited from oth­ers, and help from sev­eral pro­fes­sors there, I got through it and feel opti­mistic and enthu­si­as­tic to con­tinue it. It does chal­lenge me, though, and I see that I am a stu­dent this fall too, as well as those in my class!

Posted in Counseling, Health Issues, Relationship, Renewal, Resilience, Transition, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Workshop, March 31, 2012

Along the Way: Trans­for­ma­tion through dif­fi­cult times…

Rela­tion­ship, Resilience, Respite, Renewal (the 4 Rs)

March 31, 2012

Unity Spir­i­tual Center

Sartell, MN

Susan Hol­men, LICSW, ICADC


Using music, med­i­ta­tion, jour­nal­ing and shar­ing, Susan explored the jour­ney of trans­for­ma­tion. The group looked at the 4 Rs and dis­cussed their per­sonal expe­ri­ences and challenges.




The work­shop pro­vided a nice bal­ance of quiet intro­spec­tion and inter­ac­tion with oth­ers. The insights Susan shared awak­ened sev­eral ‘aha!’ moments of con­scious­ness in me. It’s an expe­ri­ence that could be repeated over and over and would likely uncover some­thing new each time.”  Sara M.



Posted in Alcoholism, Caregiving, Codependency, Relationship, Renewal, Resilience, Respite, Transformation | Leave a comment

The pain of alcoholism–Part 2

It is dif­fi­cult for me to see how accepted alco­hol abuse is in our cul­ture. Drink­ing is per­va­sive and over-drinking is tolerated.

I hear of young women and men who are close to los­ing their chil­dren due to neglect or out­right abuse. Their drug of choice may be mar­i­juana or metham­phet­a­mines, but what leads them back to these drugs is the drug alco­hol, because they and the world see it as harm­less. Friends and fam­ily say, “It is just a few drinks, that isn’t so bad.” They risk los­ing their kids so they do not have to give up the “plea­sure” of alco­hol and drug use.

I had a friend, a charm­ing South­ern woman, raised in grace and wealth. She was hos­pi­tal­ized in her fourth relapse, for drink­ing per­fume. She had used alco­hol all through her life to man­age lone­li­ness, inse­cu­rity and fear, and was encour­aged to drink to “calm your nerves.” She con­tin­ued to do just that, in what­ever form she could find, in spite of los­ing every­thing to her drinking.

I see a man who has had treat­ments since age 20, has destroyed his liver with alco­hol and now, in his late 50’s he relapses every few months. He has war­rants out for his arrest in three states, got his wife put in jail one night, is get­ting evicted for fre­quent police calls and blames every­one else for his prob­lems. His doc­tors tell him he will die if he drinks again, and yet he does drink again and again. Answer­ing a ques­tion of what prompted him to start again this time, he said, “I just wanted a beer while I watched the ball­game.” Just like a hun­dred thou­sand other guys on a Sun­day after­noon. How many of them will face liver dis­ease, divorce, DWI’s, job loss or worse? One in ten.

One in ten peo­ple who drink becomes alco­holic. It is the rare per­son who never tries alco­hol, because our soci­ety val­ues drink­ing, so almost every­one is at risk for alco­holism. Our cul­ture tends to see alco­hol as a nec­es­sary and wel­come part of life; with­out which, life would not be as reward­ing. Some peo­ple hold this belief, even when their fam­i­lies have been dev­as­tated by alco­holism. Because they don’t seem to have “alco­holic” strug­gles they take alco­hol use lightly. This frame­work tends to set up those per­sons who will have alco­holic struggles.

Over-use of alco­hol is tol­er­ated, even accepted. By the time it is clear that a per­son can­not han­dle it like oth­ers, much dam­age is already done. Then, often that per­son is judged when the prob­lems mount and they can’t seem to drink like oth­ers do.

But maybe some of those peo­ple who take alco­hol use lightly are hav­ing more strug­gles than they are will­ing to admit. There is a wide range of symp­toms and results of alcoholism—from the obvi­ous late stage symp­toms (chronic, fre­quent overuse, mul­ti­ple prob­lems and con­se­quences, numer­ous losses, con­cern of oth­ers) to the less obvi­ous early to mid­dle stages, where alco­hol use is reg­u­lar, occa­sional prob­lems occur, rela­tion­ally, med­ically, legally or voca­tion­ally. There may be efforts at cut­ting back or quit­ting, but alco­hol use always returns; some­times worse than before. These per­sons (or some­one that loves them) may have con­cerns they are drink­ing too much, but they quickly jus­tify it and explain away the con­cerns, so they don’t have to feel uncom­fort­able about their drinking.

 I often say to peo­ple that one sim­ple way to judge your rela­tion­ship with alco­hol is to ask: “Is my drink­ing the way I would like it to be, and if not, do my efforts to make it that way work?” In other words, if you wish and intend to not get drunk, does that work or do you still get drunk? Do you make promises to drink less but fail at it? Do you have remorse and fear about your drink­ing but con­tinue to drink any­way? Do you find your­self explain­ing to your­self or oth­ers why your drink­ing isn’t a prob­lem? Impor­tant ques­tions to ask, given 10% of drinkers become alcoholic.

It is widely believed that the only viable route for an alco­holic to take to get bet­ter is to abstain from alco­hol. I have seen this proven to be true over and over again.

Mak­ing a choice not to drink is not easy. It means giv­ing up the quick­est way to feel bet­ter. It means feel­ing acutely, life’s pain. It often means exclu­sion. It means the cul­ture is not sup­port­ive of what you are try­ing to do and sees it as abnor­mal. It fre­quently means a major life style overhaul.

I learned early in AA: “Recov­ery isn’t com­pli­cated; you just have to do one thing—CHANGE YOUR WHOLE LIFE.” Wouldn’t it be great if friends, fam­ily and neigh­bors were will­ing to change just a lit­tle bit of their lives to sup­port alco­holics change theirs by hav­ing some alcohol-free events?

Posted in ACOA, Addiction, Alcoholism, Codependency, Health Issues, Relationship, Relationships, Transformation | Leave a comment