Chasing the Dent

Someone recently was talking about the phenomenon of chasing the dent when doing body work on the car.  You can deal with the dent and try to hammer it out, but it will flow along in the metal, popping up somewhere else different and yet still needing your attention.

Sometimes I feel like my body does this.  One problem in one place leads to trouble in another.  Aging sucks.

I digress.

But I’m thinking about chasing dents emotionally.  I see this in the work that I do as a trauma therapist.  Rarely does the problem that comes in the door represent the real issue that is underneath, or the one that follows along behind, whispering in your ear when you would prefer it didn’t.   When we figure it out, it is so often back in time, back when no one had any control over what happened, but it left a mark that can’t be fully scrubbed out.

That’s where the dent started.

Where it ends up or shows up is the emotional challenge.

What really annoys me is when well-meaning people encourage us to “get over it” and “move on”…first of all, no one has any right to impose that on anyone else, but more significantly, I feel like it’s not our job to tell someone to get over anything.  No one knows what story is behind it, what happened before, or what open wound hides in plain sight.

Instead, I have to say, encourage someone to “move through it” instead.  “Getting over it” may imply that whatever it was didn’t matter, and I’ll bet you that it did.  I bet it mattered a lot.  So, finding the grace to move through something seems like the far kinder option, and maybe the more realistic.

All we end up doing is chasing dents, the older we get.

But, at least there can be a kind process of helping it find an exit, a place where it no longer needs to exist, to flow out of the metal and let the tension be released so the dent doesn’t need to be maintained anymore.

I think that’s freedom.



That Could Have Been Me

I just came home from the funeral of Firefighter Engineer Cory Iverson, of Cal Fire San Diego Unit.  A grieving widow, with one little one and pregnant with daughter number two, standing alone in front of a screen full of pictures and memories, holding a helmet in her lap.

And everyone in the audience had probably been in that church just 37 days ago for Fire Captain Ryan Mitchell, who committed suicide by jumping off the Pine Valley bridge, leaving behind a 2 year old son and a beloved dog,  a wife that was struggling with him, and a girlfriend who was too.

It’s too much to manage, too much to lose and too much to imagine how he died.  But everyone in that room wearing a uniform knew how he died, no matter what the facts are revealed to be.   In the end, he was overcome, burned and died on that mountain as it exploded around them.  His surviving crew are encapsulated in grief and loss.

That could have been anyone.

They sat there, wondering what it would be like if the service had been for them, or how they would feel if they were her, saying goodbye to their partner.  It is a humbling and awful span of time, to sit there and know that, at the end of the day, there are no guarantees.

The pastor told them all to go home and love on their people.  Don’t be careless with your words or your disagreements or your issues.

Because, on this day, the day before Christmas starts, everything is different.

Rest in peace, Cory.

Well done, good and faithful servant.



Mother’s Day

I’m a few days past Mother’s Day, that all consuming Hallmark holiday that causes more stress than almost any other in the year.  So many conflicted relationships all come down to the reality of being guilted into choosing the words some card writer feels captures the overwhelming, all consuming love that we are supposed to have for the mothers we got (or didn’t get)

I have a lot of empathy for my clients at this time of year.  I am among them.  I hated being faced with the triple aisle of Mother’s Day cards at the store that said things I could not bring myself to endorse.

When my mother died after a long struggle with bone cancer, I was relieved for her.  I didn’t think that anybody should suffer like that.  But I don’t miss her, really.  What I have realized over the years is that she fundamentally didn’t have the emotional equipment to be a mother and took all of her insecurities and sadnesses and tossed them onto me.

Many people face the same issues and they struggle to reconcile that cultural norm that moms are special, loving and loved with the harsh reality that they just weren’t.

People who don’t have relationships with parents have often spent years being made to feel that it’s their fault that conflict exists.  I mean, who doesn’t love their mom? In fact, not everyone is cut out to be a parent and they can make a pretty good mess of it.  If you say to someone that you don’t have a good relationship with your parent, one of two things may happen.

  1.  The someone you tell thinks that’s weird and wrong.
  2. You find out you are not alone.

It’s complicated and it is a journey in and of itself to find your own way through what you didn’t get from a pivotal person in your life to being your own pivotal person.  Learn what you need to learn, make the changes you need to make.  Get help with it.  Forgive yourself.  Work on forgiving them, but in a way that prevents further damage.

The journey is to design the reality you really want to embody for yourself and for those who rely on you for the amazing truth that they are loved, honored and precious.

That’s what touches the future.

And, it’s okay not to give a card.






He was on Craigslist.

He looked at the camera with quiet dignity and posed with his paws crossed, as Labradors like to do.  Such a face. An old expression for such a young dog.

The family is moving to an apartment, can’t take the two adult dogs and their two puppies.  We asked what the relationship was between the adults and the man said she was his “wife”.  I immediately thought I was a home wrecker, and breaking up the band.  But we thought we’d go meet him.

His name was Max.

He came right up to me in the house and gave me a lick and said to my heart “I’m the one you want.”

He was a terrible walker.  So excited to be outside, sniffing like crazy and taking his 85 pound body in any direction he wanted.  I could see he was just overwhelmed.

We saw the female and she was just all kinds of awful energy.  Kind of frenetic and jumpy.  She wanted to be inside where he was and I could just tell she wasn’t a good fit.  So she stayed and Max (soon to be Pax, but he didn’t know that yet) left Orange County to be relocated in San Diego.  He didn’t know how to get in the car.  He sat in my lap all the way home.

He didn’t know how to go up the stairs to the house, and he peed everywhere when he got in.  I forgot about boy dogs.  The reality closed in. I started work the next morning at nine, and here he was peeing on stuff.  What was going to happen?

Well, Pax was about to interview for his position.

In came the 9 am client, a lovely fire captain who was game to test drive the boy, and see what happened.

Pax walked up to him, put his paw on his knee (apparently his signature move, I was to find out), looked up at him with liquid sincerity (if you’ve ever gotten the full blast of a Labrador’s expressive eyes, you know of which I speak!) and then laid down.

So it was, and so it shall be!

Aside from a little preventative collar holding when the gate opened and shut, and some barking when he was put inside and was offended that he was missing all the fun, he has been to the manor born.  He loves his people, greets them, and send them on their way with his blessing all day, every day.  He sneaks toys in the office throughout the day so by closing time there are always a few of his favorites hidden around the room.  He knows where his treats are stored.  Anytime he’s on the porch, he wants to be sure no one is in the office in case he misses them, even on the weekend.

This dog is my gift.

I needed him.

My clients needed him.

He had a mission in life and he needed out of that unfortunate back yard where his mission was not being fulfilled or even considered.  He has a job to do.

He lives up to his name, which means ‘peace’ in Latin, unless of course he is insulted by a mean, yappy  little dog and then he tries to look fierce and puffed up, but he’s really quite a chicken.

He makes me laugh, and he has nothing to give but love.  We should all be so generous with ourselves to each other.

Welcome to our lives, sweet boy!





Go Ahead: Speak Ill of the Dead

I’ve often thought that it can be very wrong when people are made into saints after they die. I’ve sat at a few funerals and actually wondered if I was in the right place because I sure didn’t recognize whomever they were eulogizing….must have been someone else because the person I knew wasn’t like that at all, not on their best day…not on any day.

They ran roughshod over everyone, did lots of damage, and often inflicted more pain on their families than anyone should ever deal with, and one day, they up and die and depart for destinations unknown…..the presence of heaven or hell is the topic of another blog but I’ve been of the opinion that conscious infliction of pain on others does not result in a Fast Pass to the gates of paradise.

But then, after the fact, it seems that no one will call them on it.

I sit with folks who look like a lightning bolt will come down and smote them for saying anything bad about someone who has died, like somehow the perpetrator is perched next to God (I kind of doubt it, actually) and creating some kind of record of what mean things are said about them when they are no longer here to defend themselves.  “Speaking ill of the dead” seems to be some kind of taboo, and I hear all manner of people, particularly those who have the most to say about the crap they endured, looking hesitant to say anything direct about it at all.

(I do point out, dear readers, that the bereaved has spent many hours in many sessions talking about the abuse in the past, but suddenly, after it’s all over, they don’t want to say anything bad at all.  Kind of interesting.)

I’m here to say, out loud, a few simple things.

It’s okay to be glad or relieved that someone is gone.

Sometimes, they really needed to leave and take their bad selves somewhere else.

But most of us have a hard time actually saying that.

Often those who did the most damage didn’t care too much about what they were doing or saying when they were alive so it seems even more important to clear the decks and speak the truth after the fact. (See previous blog “The Language of Wrong”).  The main reason for this is that we often keep bad trends going and inflict them on if we don’t deal with them and pledge to stop the madness from being passed on to other defenseless generations.

I know. ….

It sucks having to clean up after someone else’s bad behavior but it’s really important to give it the time and space to recognize the wrongs and not just let it go. The problem with this tactic is that, very often, their words come back and are re-uttered, doing even more damage the second time around because YOU KNOW BETTER!  You  KNOW how it feels.  You’ve been there, done that, and suffered.

Please…….give yourself the gift of honesty and talk about it.  Say what needs to be said, to someone who can hear it, understand it, and help you with it.   You deserve to grieve and speak the truths, no matter how ugly or painful they may be.  Maybe it’s for the dad or mother you didn’t get but that you needed.  Perhaps it’s for the molester who stole your innocence, or the spouse who never saw you for who you really are and betrayed you.  Grieve for the loss of what should have been and for what can never be.

Speak ill of the dead so you can leave them there and not take them with you into your own incredible life.


The Language of Wrong

I’ve been hearing a lot of what my mother would call “crass language” around lately.  I find myself using it as well and I’m not happy with it overall.  It feels like I’m becoming more unprofessional or somehow less than myself when I use words like “crappy”.  I am not really happy with this deterioration of my vocabulary.

But I am reminded of a dear client from many years ago who was dealing with the reality of her philandering husband running off with a much younger woman and abandoning the marriage, children and grandchildren, all so his 70 year old self could feel young again. The disgrace of it all was profound.  She had honored the marriage, forgiven the indiscretions (of which there were many) and continued to pray for grace, tolerance and transcendence.

Finally it was too much indignity and disrespect and she suddenly called him a fucking asshole in the middle of a sentence, punctuated by hurt and rage and the injustice of 40 years of dedication being discarded for vanity and ego.

She slapped her hand over her mouth and said “I am so sorry, I can’t believe I said that.”

I was shocked but not as shocked as she was!

But what was abundantly clear to me at that moment in time was that she expressed herself in words she didn’t use….ever!

It was, quite simply,  the language of wrong.

There were no other words powerful enough to describe the depth and breadth of disappointment, betrayal and broken heartedness.

But she uttered them and she felt some relief, some cathartic release of all she had kept inside for all the years when he danced around their vows and flaunted them, telling her she was crazy for her suspicions, wrong in her accusations and ridiculous in her refusal to let him off the hook when he denied it all and yet, she knew better. She had kept up appearances, raised the children, kept the home, and done her duty….for what?  To be discarded for a younger, sexier version.

She called him what he was, perhaps for the first time in such  blunt and decisive way.

She was briefly mortified but I just leaned forward and said “It’s the language of wrong.  Use the words that fit the situation.”

She thought about it and then said, “It is.  It is so wrong.  I cannot describe him any differently.”

Amen, sister.

And in the words of the biblical psalmists, when they finished writing their psalms for the Glory of God, I say “Selah” which means to “pause and think about it.”