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Don't forget to say the important things to the people you care about!

I’ve been reading a book by Patti Digh, called “What I wish for you” – newly released. It reminded me that it’s so important to tell the people we care about how we feel – they need to hear it and we need to say it. It’s never too late, and it’s always appropriate. So go ahead, and say it – it’s always worth it.

Laura - 1 year old - 1966

Laura - 1 year old - 1966

I know most people in my field say that you don’t really remember things until you’re much older than I was in this picture. But I say they’re wrong.

I remember this picture being taken, not in the way we typically remember things, but in a more tactile, textural way. My memories from this age are all sensory – tactile, specifically. I remember the color and feel of the mesh screen that covered the fireplace (I’ve checked this out with my mom – she doesn’t know how I’d remember that!). On the day in question, I remember the rough, warm feeling of the rock planter that was on the side of the house…the texture was rough, and the rockes were like sandstone. I remember the feel of the breeze, and that the rocks were warm to the touch, and the smell of the daffodil. I remember feeling lifted and then set down into the grass (don’t ask me who did it – I don’t remember that!)…the point of all this reminiscing is that I do remember some things from that time period, all of them sensory.

One other thing I remember is a deep sense of contentment. The adult Laura would say that I trusted the world around me, and myself and felt my place in the world. This sense would become shaken to its core in the next few years, and would continue on throughout much of my life. Living with a depressed mother, an alcoholic father, and then having two sisters added to my life was a lot for this little person to handle, and the next thing I remember is spending a lot of time crying. Interestingly enough, my first clear memory of my mother is of her standing in front of the windows in the living room and crying – because my dad had stayed out drinking all night again and she didn’t know when or if he’d be home. There was a lot of sadness in my family.

Through some pretty dysfunctional family dynamics, I learned that my needs came last, and that I was selfish to even consider myself before everyone else. I had the “selfish” label thrown at me more times than I care to remember, as I’m sure many other little girls have…and I learned quickly that if I trusted my gut feeling on what was right or wrong, I’d end up hurt. Abusive family dynamics work that way –  you learn that what the abusers say is truth IS truth if you want to remain intact. In my family, the abuse was mainly psychological and emotional…but it still left its scars, scars I am still dealing with today. The trust I had in myself was worn away by day after day of denying my own valid needs in favor of catering to others’ – this is what you do to survive.

I’ve struggled with the effects of this pattern for decades now. I really struggle with needing to please people and feeling like I need their approval. I struggle with developing and maintaining healthy boundaries, and I struggle with being myself AND being in healthy relationships. I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression. That’s a lot of baggage – and I’m proud to say I’m making progress. I am not the same person I was even two years ago – and I like myself a lot more now. I’m lucky enough to be able to share this process with others, and to help them on their journeys as well.

These days, I’m trying to get back to the little girl in the picture – back to the days when I felt content in myself, trusted the world around me, and trusted myself. It’s hard work, too. There are things I can trust, though – I can trust that the spring warmth on frozen ground will bring flowers and sweet smelling grass. I can trust that the daffodils will still bloom every year. I can trust that my little girl will have the chance to trust herself, and recognize that her needs and wants are valid (even if she doesn’t get everything she wants!) I can trust myself that, as a mother, my daughter and my sons will be raised differently and in a world where their needs are honored and their selves are valued. I can trust that I won’t always be perfect, but that the love I have for my children is enough, and that if I honor them as unique, amazing little people, my love will shine through and guide them on their ways.

And finally, I can trust that if I learn to trust myself, I can be a good example for them, in their journeys.

Yesterday I went to lunch with a friend. This friend is someone I used to see with in my ministry work, and she wanted to take me to lunch. Since we are no longer working in that context, I agreed, and we enjoyed a nice lunch at a local Chinese restaurant. When the time came to pay the check, the waiter left it between us.

Now, when she had asked me to go, she had said that she wanted to take me. I, however, felt guilty about this, and paid the check. As I did, her face fell and she became somewhat upset. “I really wanted to take you to lunch,” she said. At that moment, I realized that I had made a big mistake.

Receiving, I’m learning, is not just receiving a gift. It’s GIVING a gift as well – allowing the other person to give and receive the blessings from doing so. By grabbing the check and paying it, I was denying her her gift, and I was also robbing myself of receiving.

Beyond that, though, I learned that I was being ungracious and ungrateful. In my experience, both my husband and ex-husband used to the grab checks and pay the bill – it was almost like a game. With my friend, I was doing the same thing. What I didn’t see, though, is that grabbing the check and forcing her to accept the situation was a power move and taking control.

Taking control and using “power over” is something I’m usually sensitive to, and really dislike. To realize that I was doing this was a revelation. I was ashamed, and realized that I was not just depriving her of giving, I was also taking a “power over” position and being overly dominant. And this with a woman who’d struggled with domineering people for most of her life. To say I was ashamed is an understatement.

Once I realized what I’d done, I called the waiter over and asked if they could re-do the bill (which they did), but the damage was done. I allowed my friend to pay, but the power dynamics had changed…I ALLOWED her pay, and could not rescind the “power over” that I had taken. Having been in “power under” position many times with my ex-husband and current husband, I felt awful, and rightfully so.

My friend, unlike me, was gracious. I apologized and told her how hard it was for me receive things – that I always felt if I didn’t earn something I felt unworthy of receiving. We talked for a bit about my insecurities – something we hadn’t done before, and I told her I’d learned a lesson. We said goodbye, and I left – and wish I could I take back the moment. I let HER know I’d learned something, though, and I apologized again – and truly did feel remorseful.

The lesson I learned was the receiving gracefully is giving a gift as much as is giving outright. Receiving allows the other person to give and to receive the blessings of giving. Receiving allows us to learn about gratitude, humility, and love – and also teaches us that it’s ok to be vulnerable in some situations. Receiving gracefully and appropriately allows equality and true reciprocal relationship – and these are lessons which I am still learning.

I’m grateful to my friend for more than lunch – I’m grateful for the lesson she taught me. I’m lucky to have friends like her in my life, and I thank them – and you – for all the lessons I’ve learned.

This is one of my favorite blogs here (“Shapely Prose”, and here are two posts on being different in our world:

“The Fantasy of Being Thin”:
http://kateharding.net/2007/11/27/the-fantasy-of-being-thin/

“The Fantasy of Being White”:
http://kateharding.net/2009/07/08/guest-post-the-fantasy-of-being-white/

Pine Cone Spiral - copyright 2009 by Laura Burlingame-Lee

Pine Cone Spiral - copyright 2009 by Laura Burlingame-Lee

Hearing my kidlets laugh and playing with them
Helping others
The ocean, the shore, and Connecticut
Beachcombing
Listening to the sound of ocean waves
Traveling to new places
Adventures
Bright, sunny days and cool rainy days
Autumn
Spring
Sun sparkling on untouched snow
The smell of fallen leaves and ripe fruits
The smell of bread baking
Soft blankets and warm quilts
Hot cups of tea
A really good, engrossing book
A clean home
Good humor and jokes
Teaching
Learning – always, always learning!
Working for peace, unity and justice
Playing with art and office supplies
Knitting
Making Art
Photography
Writing and Journaling
Watching football all snuggled up
Swimming
Snuggling!
My spirituality
Learning about new religions and faith traditions
Quiet time
Good music
Appreciating art
Singing
Found and spontaneous art – chalk, PostSecret, guerilla art
Being creative in any way

What makes YOU happy?

Roses from Grandma's Garden - copyright 2009 by Laura Burlingame-Lee

Roses from Grandma's Garden - copyright 2009 by Laura Burlingame-Lee

What seems to be a weed, may be a bouquet of blessings in disguise (image copyright 2009, Laura Burlingame-Lee)

What seems to be a weed, may be a bouquet of blessings in disguise (image copyright 2009, Laura Burlingame-Lee)

I recently had a couple of lessons on appearances and judging people by their appearances. I was on the receiving end of an act of verbal violence when someone drove by and yelled, “Fat Rear!” Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident for me – I’ve been “moo’d” (as have many of you, unfortunately), barked at, and been called “a dog.” We live in a society where a person’s worth is initially judged by their appearance – a quick judgment that often dismisses a person before we even know anything about who they are.

Glenna Peterson, a columnist for the Idaho Statesman, wrote that:

Height, weight, shape, hairstyle, dress, age, complexion – all are things we see and catalog when we look at others. When they open their mouths, we note accents, grammar, speech patterns, and make more notes in our mental catalog.

There is an old adage that “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” While external clues may give us information about the person, they do not really give us the full picture – and often we make a decision without all the facts. My mother often lamented what she referred to as a “rush to judgment,” noting the times she had written off someone, based on appearance, who on closer acquaintance displayed personal qualities that led to admiration and friendship.

I suspect most of us have had such an experience. While appearance can provide some clues regarding a person, it does not tell us about the “real” person.

She hit the nail on the head in this article. And even though I had so recently been the victim of such judging, I found myself doing the judging a few days later.

After being at my mom’s in Orem for a few days, we left to head to Idaho to visit my husband’s parents. This was a long, tiring drive and by the time we were a few hours away from Boise, we were all cranky and sticky and dirty. The kidlets needed a potty break and we needed gas, so we stopped in this little brush town called Rupert. What initially looked like a travel plaza turned out to be a refurbished hotel that was turned into a gas station/convenience store. The restrooms were outside, and so I took little Becca to use the girls room. We locked the door, and a few minutes later heard a knock – I said, “We’ll be right out.”

When I opened the door, I was faced with a large woman with tattoos, long dyed platinum blonde hair, tight “biker” leathers and T-shirt – if you’ve ever seen the “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” and know his wife, Beth – this lady could have been a much larger, dusty ringer for her. And I – who had so recently been judged myself on the basis of my appearance – fell into the trap.

All the stereotypes of bikers came up. I was immediately concerned for my daughter’s safety even though NOTHING even remotely threatening had occurred. We came out, and I smiled and said, “Sorry we were taking so long, she’s just starting to use the potty.” Here’s the thing, though – even though I didn’t SAY anything offensive, I was caught in the trap just as surely as were the young men who yelled at me.

My daughter – being the little extravert that she is – beamed up a huge grin and said, “Hi!” The woman smiled at me and said “hi” to Becca, and then smiled again and said, “She’s a little doll isn’t she?” She was a nice, friendly person and I’d almost missed the chance to find that out because of MY prejudices and biased thinking. Again, I learned a lesson – one that seem to need to learn over and over again – you can’t judge people by what they look like. Really.

I’ve heard that we keep gettings experiences designed to teach us, until we learn the lesson these experiences teach. If that’s the case, I must have a long way to go. I learn each time something like this happens, though – and I’m grateful for the lessons even if they ARE painful on occasion. So, I keep trying – I keep forgiving those who hurt me, and I try to be a better person myself. In a way, I hope I keep learning because it means I’m still growing – and I never want to stop learning or growing.

Glenna Peterson also wrote,

By looking only at the external we may miss opportunities to learn and grow from the interaction with a special person. I look at pictures of famous people who have contributed to mankind: Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela. Some of them are not attractive. Others might be discounted because of gender or color of skin. But reading their words or others’ accounts of them leaves me wishing I had known them.

I agree with my sister-in-spirit here – attractiveness, skin color, weight, height, hair color, skin condition – any physical attribute that you can think of simply doesn’t matter and has no bearing on what kind of person someone is. The clothes they wear, the car they drive, the state of their home – it may give you information on how they live their live, but it doesn’t tell what kind of person they are.

I hope that someday I can be as gracious and wise as Ms. Peterson – as well as the people she mentioned in her article. At this point though – I have a long journey ahead and the road is long. And I’d better get started on that path.

Till next time, when we meet again – God/dess be with you and may your days be full of love and acceptance.

Something happened to me tonight, that I’m sure has happened to millions of other large – fat – women worldwide. I was verbally assaulted, on the basis of nothing more than my appearance. I am visiting my mother in Orem, UT and I was unloading our van, when a truck full of teenage boys roared by. As they leered out the window, they took it upon themselves in all their righteous ignorance to yell out, “Fat Rear! Fat Rear! Fat Rear!”

I was shocked. I was hurt in a way that few people can do to me anymore – this was sheer violence, expressed in a verbal way. Now one of my areas of expertise in psychology is peace and violence. Violence is expressed in two ways: direct and indirect. Direct violence is an attack, whether it’s physical, verbal or another form. Structural or indirect violence is the structure in society that allows the direct violence to occur – these are our prejudices, our stereotypes, our discriminatory actions and our “isms”.

Tonight, I was victim of direct violence – a verbal attack that was meant to be cruel and hurt. Even more harmful, though, is the fact that these young men felt justifed in making the attack. Fat prejudice is so ingrained in our world, that we don’t even think twice about denigrating someone who doesn’t fit our idea of conventionally attractive. Women who are fat, who have deformities, who are different-looking from the norm are all considered fair game. This is wrong, in any uncertain terms. Women in general are paid less than men – fat women are paid even less. One study examined hiring biases and pay biases. Men in general earned more and were hired more often than women, but here’s the really interesting part: Fat men were hired less and paid less than thin women, and fat women were paid the least and hired the least often of any of the groups. The students who participated were divided into groups, and each group was given the same resume – the only difference was the picture attached to the document.

Fat women were judged to be less intelligent, less competent – not to mention completely unattractive. Being fat in this society is bad enough – fat prejudice is one of the last “acceptable” biases there is. We are seen as “fat and ugly,” “fat and smelly,” “fat and lazy,” or “fat and stupid.” The point is that no matter how you justify it, no matter how righteous you feel in believing that it’s a matter completely under control and that if “you only exercised more and ate less, you’d be fine”, no matter how “helpful” you think you’re being by mentioning someone’s size – even if commenting on weight loss – you are engaging in fat prejudice. That sounds harsh, doesn’t it? It is – and imagine what it’s like being on the OTHER side. Think about what it would feel like if someone said to you, “Wow – you’ve gained some weight! You were starting to look like you were starving…remember those concentration camp survivors? I was wondering if you were one.” Insensitive, clueless and prejudiced, isn’t it? Point out what seems to be a good thing – weight loss – often reminds the person of how unattractive s/he used to be perceived.

I’ve had people say to me that I’m making excuses for looking the way I do. Here’s my question back – Even if I am, SO WHAT? What business of anybody else’s is it if I look different from the norm? Ok – some of you are going to say, “Well MY insurance premiums and health care costs are higher because of you” – is that REALLY true? If you say this to me, I’ll first tell you that a) I”m healthy and have the medical records to prove it, b) that I DO eat well and exercise, even if you don’t want to believe it, and c) Mind your own f***ing business. Frankly, there are so many conditions, so many socioeconomic reasons – including the pharmaceutical companies’ greediness, so many people in poverty that being larger than normal is a drop in the health care bucket.

I’m not talking about morbid obesity, or fetishist obesity – those are problems, and in the case of a lot of involuntary obesity honestly beyond control (and don’t even get me started on voluntary – or fetishist – obesity.) The bottom line – if you’ll forgive the pun – is that we, as a society need to move beyond our prejudices and discrimination. We consider it a hate crime to use certain terms about people of color and people of Jewish descent – as a society, we HAVE accomplished some things.

So, why – WHY, WHY is it acceptable to do the same to large women? This is every bit as much a hate crime, and should be treated as such. And here is where my struggle comes in.

Being the kind of person I am, I realize that these young men at their root are more empty, more lost than I ever will be. THEY are the ones who are hurting – and they express their insecurity, their immaturity, and their emptiness by hurting others. I, at least, have a sense of myself as a warm, caring, intelligent, helpful, and yes, beautiful human being. I hope these young men eventually grow out of their immaturity, and I’m praying that they do. If I have to be honest, there’s a part of me that wishes they would somehow experience the hurt that they’ve inflicted on others. I’m sure I’m not the only one who they’ve hurt. There’s a part of me that wants vengeance, that wants to crack their empty heads together.

But…the part of me that values who *I* am really doesn’t want to do this. That part of me wants to use this experience. That part of me will use it – to help me understand the people who end up seeing me in my office, who I end up working with as colleagues and as students, and who I encounter when I’m not feeling my nicest. I pray that I remember this when *I* feel like being hurtful or cruel, or when I feel angry. I pray I remember it as I move on, and I pray for those young men – and everyone else – who can’t see past our physical bodies to see the wonderful people we are inside.

This is cross-posted from my professional blog, The Other Side of the Couch. I’m interested in what you all have to say, too!

I’m thinking of planning a retreat. I know, I’m probably nuts, but I figure if I need it, a lot of other people do as well. With my values being what they are, I’d love to make it free of cost, but reality dictates that I probably should charge to cover rental space, materials, food, speaker/teacher fees, etc. So, I have some questions for you all: If I were going to do this, what are the kinds of things you’d like to see? I have some ideas, too – I’d like to blend creative expression in some form with self-esteem, empowerment, relaxation, and healthy interactions.

I’m envisioning a day to start with people being able to choose/sign up for 4-5 one hour “experiences”. I would probably do a group breakfast, all together with fruit, pastries, tea/coffee, juice, along with a keynote/introductory address. Then, have people split up to do their “classes” with a 1/2 hour break in between for mingling and sharing experiences, and then wrap up with a brief talk about taking it home and living it in your life.

Here are the topics I’d like to see – PLEASE feel free to add your own! If I do this, I’d want it to appeal to as many people as possible, and would consider anything you suggest. Here’s my list:

Welcome, Introductions, and Orientation:

Workshops:
1) Setting Boundaries
2) Affirmations and Individualizing: How to honor and love yourself, and how to move away from letting others define who you are
3) Healing through Spiritual Practices: Meditation, Creative Visualizations, Ritualizing/Making the Sacred
4) Creating Balance in an Unbalanced World: Nurturing and caring for yourself while also meeting work and family obligations, realizing the importance of caring for and nurturing yourself and building it into your daily routine
5) Empowerment – Identifying and using your strengths
6) Writing Your Own Path – identifying archetypes that speak to you, and writing your own myth with you as the hero/ine.

Lunch – boxed lunches, catered; juice, water, iced tea

7) Finding Your Inner Artist – Finger painting and intuitive painting
8 ) Body Work – Intuitive Free Dancing to a variety of music
9) Body and Self-Acceptance – Learning how to “love the skin that you’re in”
10) Barriers to Achieving What You Want to Do With Your Life: Identifying what you want to do, and what the barriers to doing it are, collectively brainstorm steps to take to being overcoming these
11) Becoming the Person You Want to be: Taking stock of where you are in your life, and discovering who you want to be; celebrating the parts of you where you have reached this goal, and creating a plan to help you get to who you want to be – All Together

Wrap-Up, Thank-you’s to speakers/presenters, Evaluations and Suggestions.

I also envision having some vendors there making available relevant and inspiring products – humorous items, journals, inspirational works of art, gift baskets…I’d love to be able to offer a gift basket as a door prize/raffle/auction item. Another idea would be to have participants bring in creative pieces for a silent auction to benefit a local cause. What else can you all think of?

How does this sound to you all? Please let me know your suggestions – I’d love and would really appreciate what you’ve got to say. Thanks, so much! 🙂

I don’t know about you all, but to me the idea of a “retreat” sounds pretty wonderful right now. (A Caribbean vacation does, too – but hey, I’m trying to think realistically!). A friend of mine in Connecticut, Corinne “CoCo” Melvin is hosting a women’s retreat with the theme “Realize, Release, and ReFire” in Westport, CT. (Not to mention that face that being in CT in and of itself is a retreat for me!)

I admit it – I’m jealous! Frankly, I would love to ease back, and enjoy a retreat…I’d have hot teas (herbal, decaf, and regular), and yummy foods: fruit, cheese,crackers – and of course, chocolate! Soft relaxation music playing… I envision a group of about 20-30 women, interested in empowering themselves, living fully, and realizing the power of each other by learning about themselves and each other over the course of a day…a place where we can come together, and know that we’re not alone in all this. We are not alone – powerful words, again.

I’d have journaling workshops with all kind of creative materials, a stretching or yoga class, a meditation class, or creative visualization. I’d do a session on developing and writing your own personal myth – YOUR story, and where you want it to go, as well as do something where people could develop and create a personal symbol for them – to symbolize their growth, their self-love, and their connection to what’s important to them. I would hope to find something where people could connect with their dreams, and the person who gets lost in the day-to-day hassles of everyday living – and be able to take home that symbol as a reminder that this person is STILL there.

I would love to finish the day with a meal – literally, break bread with each other, and end with a releasing and celebration service or ritual, in the outside world…a park or yard, some outside space whereever we’d be.

As women, we often have the sense that we have to go it alone, that we have to be perfect and never show any weaknesses. We feel so isolated, even around people, because it’s so hard to let our authentic selves out. We feel vulnerable, judged, possibly rejected because we may or may not fit in, or we may not fit what we thing others want us to be. We are so alone, and lonely sometimes…I would love to have this retreat as a way to connect with each other, to say “you’re NOT alone” and “I understand”…”WE understand.” “You really CAN be who you are here, it’s ok.”

Anyway, that’s my dream retreat. I hope someday soon, I can make it happen. Until then…I’m dreaming, too – and working to make that dream a reality.

This is cross-posted from my other blog, “The Other Side of the Couch” where I discuss more psychological and professional issues.

Do you ever have times when it feels like the world is crashing down, and everybody wants everything – not just now, but yesterday-than-you-very-much? Sigh…it’s been one of those days for me. I feel like I’m spinning my wheels with trying to find work -and setting up a private practice feels like starting to climb Mt. Everest. There’s not just the therapy/psychology stuff to tie up (application for licensure, getting supervision, finding office space…) but also the business aspects, like registering a business in Colorado, figuring out what taxes and how much I’m going to have to pay, finding all the right forms, dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s. And the big thing, of course, is the money.

I’m like a lot of you – I have a lot of student loans and a credit card. My credit card, I will take full and total responsibility for – after all I decided to use it and I need to be the one to pay it. It’s that simple. My student loans…well, I wouldn’t have gotten through school without them, and I WANT to pay them off. I’m making payments now – barely – with my job as a nursery supervisor in our church. BUT – the money to start my practice has to come from somewhere, right?

I feel like I can’t apply for a loan – how am I going to say I’m going to pay it, when I’m not even sure I’m going to get clients? How do I advertise my services (groups, couples, individuals, personality disorders, DBT, etc) without spending some money somewhere on promotional materials? It feels like a catch-22, and I feel so discouraged.

If you ever looked at my professional blog, you know I advocate strongly for coping tools. So…I’m practicing what I preach. I’m telling myself that I don’t have to do it all at once, that I can get help if I need it, and somehow it will work out. I’m writing (something that helps me), journaling and soothing myself (hot cup of tea, anyone? I made a MEAN coconut chai…) I’m planning, too – I’ve got a notebook and am keeping track of everything I’ve done, people I’ve contacted, promotional ideas, and initial/start-up expenses.

In all actuality, my start-up costs are going to be pretty low for a new business – about $3000. I COULD finance that on another credit card, but I figure I”m worried enough about making payments on the one I have and on my student loans. I guess that getting a loan isn’t much different, though – I’d be making a monthly payment no matter what, right? So…I think the hardest part is getting over the fear.

And funny I should be facing this yet again…One of my favorite self-help books is called, “Feel the fear and do it anyway” (Susan Jeffers – AWESOME book). The fear is really what’s overwhelming, when I get down to it. Everything else is details, and are things I can take care of…it’s that fear – the fear of failing, of having to declare bankruptcy, of having my credit ruined (my ex-hubby did that for me before and I NEVER want to go through that again) – there are any number of things to be afraid of.

So if I were working with a client, what would I say? Probably pick one baby step, and do it. Just do it, and then deal with the fear. I’d remind myself that I really don’t have to do it all at once, and that baby steps are fine. I’d probably have myself list the tasks and then prioritize them a couple of ways -in order of easiest to accomplish, most pressing, etc. And, me being me, I’d have myself keep a record of what I did, how I felt and what I thought while doing it, and how I felt/thought after it was over. Yeah, folks, I really use this stuff myself, too 🙂

So…I guess with these things in mind, here I go…wish me well 🙂

This is also posted on “The Other Side of the Couch,” my more professionally oriented blog.

Reflections of Reflections…

Other Facets of the Mirror