Whiplash

Change is good, right? Change means growth. Progress. New directions, perhaps?

When I was young and single, I was also fairly driven and focused. I set goals, and I went after them. When one goal was achieved, I set another one and went after it with a single-minded ferocity unique to those who are responsible only for themselves. The operative word here, of course, is “I”.

It’s easy to be goal oriented and focused when you’re the center of your own universe. Add a husband and daughter to that equation, however, and all that drive has to soften. The focus expands to a broader perspective. The single-minded ferocity gets redirected from personal interests to family interests. And personal goals? Well, they get prioritized along with everyone else’s.

It’s been three months since my last post. When I wrote that post, I believed wholeheartedly that I’d have my real estate license by now, and I’d be working full time in sales. It was easily an attainable goal, until it wasn’t. By the end of November, it was clear that my husband needed to find a new job soon. On Christmas day, we got a huge wake-up call in the form of a major medical event on my side of the family. By the second week of January, the instability at my husband’s workplace came to a head, and we went from a single income to no income at all.

Dead end. Time to change directions.

Matt found a new job quickly. He started today, as a matter of fact, so he was unemployed for just one month. We did what we could to make the best of the situation. We tightened our budget and prepared ourselves for what could have been an extended period without a steady income. The fact that he was home during the day and able to shuttle our daughter back and forth to school between job interviews gave me an unexpected opportunity to spend a few precious days with my best friend, Jenn, before she moves to Reno, Nevada this month. As an added bonus, the eleven hours of solitude I had during the drive to and from Jenn’s current address in Kansas gave me a welcome opportunity to think, refocus, and reprioritize.

Real estate is my dream job, but unfortunately, it’s also a job for which you have to spend money to make money. The loss of Matt’s income made me realize that we’re not quite in a place where we can comfortably afford to finance the pursuit of my dream job. We have more important objectives to meet first.

So, the dream job is on hold for now. Losing our sole income, even if only briefly, made it clear that what we really need is multiple streams of income. The steadier, the better. Real estate hardly fits the bill as it provides sporadic income at best in the first year, yet the expenses are both immediate and steady.

Another change of direction.

I’ve resisted selling my jewelry for as long as I’ve been making it, but desperate times call for drastic measures: Door 44 Jewelry was launched on January 28th. I’ve also resisted going back to my old line of work, but there are times to do what you want to do, and there are times to do what you must.

Let’s see where this new road leads…

 

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Going After the Dream Job

I don’t remember exactly when or how my love affair with houses began. Was it when I attended my first Parade of Homes with my mom when I was ten? Or was it when I bought my first house at twenty-three? Perhaps it started even earlier. After all, I grew up in a small town with some pretty spectacular old homes and architecturally significant buildings.

Whenever it started, it’s grown into a personal passion with very deep roots. Houses are infinitely fascinating to me because they say so much about the people who inhabit them. Materialistic people live in ostentatious homes. Humble people live in modest homes. Warmth and love are palpable in the homes of the kindest souls. A good interior designer can make any house look beautiful on the surface, but she can’t infuse a loveless home with warmth.

Being a life-long student of interpersonal relationships, I suppose it’s only natural that I’d be drawn to residential real estate. The truth of the matter is that I’ve wanted to be a real estate broker since I bought my first house nearly twenty-five years ago. Having been single for all but the last two of those years, however, I never felt secure enough financially to make the leap from a corporate job with a steady paycheck and benefits to being self-employed and wholly dependent on the feast-or-famine nature of a commission-based income.

Timing is everything, though, and the time is finally right for me to go after my dream job. Thanks to my incredibly supportive husband, Matt, I’ll soon be a licensed real estate broker.

I’ll be wholly focused on preparing for my licensing exams over the next few weeks, so you may not hear much from me between now and the end of the year. Once I do get my license, however, I look forward to sharing my experience with you.

Wish me luck!

Five Important Things I’ve Learned About Myself Since Getting Married

My husband Matt and I are celebrating our second wedding anniversary today. Our marriage has been a bit of a wild ride, thus far. Not in a bad way, but we’ve dealt with an awful lot of change in what seems to be (at least in theory) a pretty short span of time.

The following are a few surprising things I’ve learned about myself along the way:

I can cook!

I don’t mean that in the sarcastic sense that I can order takeout or heat up a processed box of chemicals that sort of resembles food. I mean I have a genuine knack for cooking delicious and healthy meals from scratch. Who knew?!

Cooking was never a priority for me while I was single. I regarded food largely as an inconvenient necessity that I had to address two or three times a day. Since getting married, though, I’ve discovered the joys of both cooking and eating. Dinners at the Reamys’ house are pretty spectacular.

I love being part of something greater than myself.

This one really wasn’t a huge revelation. I’ve always wanted to be part of something bigger. I’ve always been a company girl wherever I worked. I’ve always worked for the greatest good of whatever organization I was a part of at any point in my life. What’s always been missing, though, is the sense that my commitment was reciprocated.

It wasn’t until I married my husband that I fully understood what it means to be part of something bigger than myself. Before Matt, I knew what it was to be a cog in a machine, a means to an end, a decoration on an arm, and a crutch. With Matt, I’m finally part of something that really is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s pretty amazing. And a little daunting at times, which brings me to my next point.

I’m not as emotionally mature and rational as I like to think I am.

Not having good role models as a kid made for a pretty tumultuous start to my career. I was headstrong and inflexible; and being a naturally strong personality, I wasn’t always the easiest person to get along with. It took a few years and a lot of hard knocks for me to develop the emotional maturity necessary to work well in a professional environment, but I eventually learned how to keep my cool when dealing with difficult coworkers.

Dealing with my husband and stepdaughter are an entirely different ballgame, though. It’s easy to keep your cool with coworkers when you’re not emotionally vested in those relationships. Conflicts with people you love are infinitely more difficult to handle. Jobs will come and go, but the stakes are so much higher when the two most important relationships in your life depend on your ability to behave like an adult twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

I have a far greater capacity for love than I ever imagined.

I’ve been told all my life that I’m a selfish, self-absorbed, spoiled rotten brat. My own sis… um… a female relative who’s insisted she not be named on my “worldwide bully pulpit” called me a narcissist (among other poison barbs) recently. You hear those things often enough from people close to you, and you start to believe them. I’ve also been told that I’m not a team player by a few managers and supervisors in the past who didn’t like anyone challenging their authority.

Let me tell you something about those statements: they’re wake-up calls. That’s the universe telling you, in no uncertain terms, that it’s time to do some interpersonal housekeeping. We are social creatures by nature. Thus, it is our nature to love and to collaborate in ways that are mutually beneficial—not one sided. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

If someone accuses you of not being a team player, it’s because you’re on the wrong team. If someone close to you spews toxic venom without provocation, it’s because they’re so filled with self-hatred and rage that they’re incapable of love.

Walk away. Cut the cord, and give yourself permission to find the people you are meant to love—the ones who will love and appreciate you for who you are rather than who they need or want you to be. Find those people, and you will be amazed by your own capacity for love. You will undoubtedly discover, as I have, that to truly love and to be truly loved is an experience like no other. Finding it isn’t easy, but there’s no mistaking it once you do find your way back to the love that is your birthright.

I am incredibly blessed.

IMG_6633I always knew I’d ultimately marry the right man for me, but it took me a really long time to find him. Every time I walked away from someone I knew wasn’t The One, people would tell me that I’m too picky and that I’d never meet anyone who was perfect. They were wrong.

They were wrong in so many ways, I can’t begin to count them. Matt isn’t perfect. Neither am I, but we’re perfect for one another; and that makes all the difference. Thank God I trusted myself and chose to ignore the naysayers because it was my own intuition that lead me to my husband.

Great risk brings great reward, they say. It’s also true, then, that unwavering faith brings tremendous blessings.

Happy anniversary, Matt. I love you.

Raising the Bar

I was never the sort of supervisor anyone wanted to work for when I worked in the corporate world. I had a reputation for being demanding and “all business”, as if that’s a negative quality in a manager. Given the choice, most people would prefer to work for someone who expects little and who is content to be perceived as “one of the gang.” I was never that boss, and I’m not that parent. Neither is my husband.

People will generally achieve whatever expectations you set for them, so you might as well set the bar high.

As both a supervisor and a parent, I have always subscribed to the philosophy that people will generally achieve whatever expectations you set for them. Whether you set the bar high or set it low, your staff or your kids will consistently be right on target; so you might as well set the bar high. There are always exceptions, of course. There will be the occasional overachiever who will consistently surpass your expectations. Likewise, there will be the odd underachiever who will rarely be on target. I have some ideas about how to deal with those exceptions, but that’s a topic for another post and another day.

I received a very interesting phone call from my daughter’s 6th grade math teacher this morning. Apparently my daughter’s name came up in the core education team’s weekly meeting, and the team agreed that my daughter should be bumped up to the advanced placement curriculum for all of her core courses. The chairman of the team just wanted to clear the move with us before they went ahead and placed her on the AP track.

When I replayed the voice message for my daughter, her eyes grew wide with amazement. She didn’t really know what to expect when I told her I’d received an interesting message from her math teacher, but a promotion to the AP track was clearly not on her radar.

The discussion that followed went something like this:

Me: Are you interested in moving up to all advanced courses?

Dear Daughter: Yes.

Me: You realize that this is going to mean more work, right? The classes are going to be more difficult, and you’re probably going to have more homework.

DD: That’s okay. I’m up for the challenge.

I’m up for the challenge.

Those words are sweet, sweet music to this mom’s ears, and here’s why: Two years ago, shortly after we got married, my husband and I discovered that our little girl was struggling in math. At the time, my husband didn’t have primary custody, so we only had her every other weekend. We know our daughter to be very bright, so we had no reason to suspect that she was struggling in school. As we began to test her understanding of math with simple problems involving money or distance, however, we realized that she didn’t have a solid understanding of basic math functions. And so began our quest to gain primary custody so we could have more control over her education.

We were incredibly lucky. Not all custody cases work out in the best interests of the child(ren), and so many dads face an uphill battle when it comes to convincing a court that they are the stronger custodial parent. If I had any doubts about the existence of God prior to our custody case, those doubts would have been obliterated by the time our case was settled because everything worked in our favor. From the timing and circumstances to the random assignment of a district judge, it all flowed seamlessly, as if guided through divine intervention.

And all the while, we were working overtime to get our daughter caught up academically. We had her tested through Sylvan Learning  in the middle of her 4th grade year. At that time, her math skills were somewhere in the 3rd grade range, while her language skills were a little above her current grade level.

She spent the summer between her 4th and 5th grade years learning her multiplication tables inside out and backwards. During her 5th grade year, she discovered the payoff for all that effort when her friends started referring to her as “the calculator”. We had her re-assessed at the end of her 5th grade year, and (not surprisingly) she tested well above grade level in both math and language skills. Today, she readily admits that she’s glad we forced her to memorize her multiplication tables, which brings me back to my original point that kids will hit whatever target you set for them.

What’s most rewarding for me after all the tears and frustration over the past two years of working to fill the gaps in our daughter’s education are the tremendous leaps she’s made in terms of her overall willingness to take risks and the ferocity with which she rises to a challenge. The growth in her academic performance, as remarkable as it is, pales in comparison to the growth we’ve seen in her self-confidence and her work ethic. School is fun for her again, and she’s back on track to achieving her full potential.

We don’t do our kids any favors by setting low to no expectations for them. Too many parents are disengaged and disinterested in their child’s education. As a society, we all complain about the quality of our education system, and we’re quick to blame teachers when our kids fail to be prepared for the next phase of their lives upon their high school graduation.

What my daughter has clearly demonstrated for me, however, is that it’s not the school’s fault that she was falling behind in the 4th grade. It was clearly our fault as parents. The Ex is the sort of parent who was never fully engaged in her daughter’s education while my husband and I took it for granted that our very bright child was breezing her way through elementary school. Once we took a more active role in her education (and once we set some very clear expectations) our daughter went from struggling to keep up in 4th grade to leading the pack in the 5th and 6th grades.

Whether you’re a supervisor or a parent, set your expectations high, and establish clear standards. It’s the greatest thing you’ll ever do for your organization or your children. They may grumble about it in the beginning, but there will undoubtedly come a time when they’ll be grateful that you cared enough to raise the bar.

Simple Pleasures

At what point do newlyweds stop being newly wed?

My husband and I are coming up on our second anniversary soon. We tied the knot on October 29th, 2013 at the Jefferson County Courthouse. It was a cool, rainy morning, which must have kept everyone else at home because we were the only two customers in the County Clerk’s office that morning. We didn’t plan to get married on the spot, but we did. No lines. No waiting. No drama. Why wait?

Matt and I are big fans of simplicity, a fact that’s plainly evident by the title of his blog, Simplify. We’ve been a low-key, easy-going couple from the start. And one of the ways we maintain that ease is that we appreciate the little things, like simply spending time together.

In the first year of our marriage, one of the most simple pleasures we shared was a standing lunch date on Mondays. I’d drive to his office to pick him up, and we’d go out for lunch together. It became something we both looked forward to because it was a pleasant diversion from the inevitable Monday madness.

We came to appreciate our Monday lunches all the more when our daughter came to live with us full time in July 2014 and our former couple time turned into family time. Then last November Matt took a short-term gig in downtown Denver. I love my husband dearly, and there’s not much I won’t do for him. But driving into the bowels of downtown Denver at lunch time on a weekday? Um, no.

Such was the end of our standing weekly lunch date. For the next nine months, we didn’t get to see each other at all during the day. Until we left Denver, that is. Matt’s current office is just a 10-minute drive from our new apartment in Colorado Springs. Not only have we been able to resume our regular Monday lunch dates, but he’s also able to come home for lunch most days.

One of the things I’m enjoying most about living in Colorado Springs so far is getting to spend quality time with my husband again. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that make the biggest differences in our lives.

Mastering the Impetuous, Impulsive Id

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I grew up in an abusive home dominated by a violent alcoholic. Certain friends and family members have expressed concern (and in some cases, extreme displeasure), that I am “airing dirty laundry” here on my blog, and I get it. I understand their concern, and I respect their view. I share neither their concern nor their view, however. I believe that the only way to effectively address our darkest impulses and behaviors is to shine a light on them and examine them objectively.

I vividly recall a certain argument I once had with my (then) fiancé way back in 1995. I was just 25 years old at the time, and I’d very recently moved to Seward, Alaska to be with the man I planned to marry. The image of that argument is so clearly etched in my mind that I can literally close my eyes and watch the replay like a movie. Occasionally I’ll experience something in my present life that will bring that memory flooding back to the forefront of my mind.  I had one of those experiences yesterday, and that memory is now keeping me awake—compelling me to write about it at 3:48 AM.

We’d only been ‘home’ in Seward for three days after spending the three days prior driving from Fort Collins, CO to Alaska. The trip was extremely stressful, and I found myself continually on edge from the moment “Sam” (not his real name) arrived at Denver International Airport. We fought a lot on the drive to Alaska. We were completely out of synch with one another, and it seemed that the more we tried to get back in synch, the further out of phase we ended up. I finally resorted to sleep as a means of escape. The 3-day drive (which should really have taken more like 5-6 days) was mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting. So much so that I was basically reduced to a petulant toddler ready to throw a raging tantrum at the slightest provocation.

My third day as a resident of Seward, AK was gloriously sunny and clear—a rarity in that tiny coastal town. I woke up that morning determined to get back on the same page with Sam, and we got off to a really good start. I made breakfast and promised to help him do some work in the yard as soon as I tidied up the kitchen. Meanwhile, he went out and washed my Bronco, which was still caked with mud and road grime from the long drive to Alaska. We were both clearly trying, and the bright sunny day seemed like a positive sign that things were going to be okay. Almost immediately after I joined Sam outside, however, the energy between us shifted back out of phase. We were stacking some wood together when my approach to the job prompted Sam to mildly criticize my technique. He wasn’t particularly tactful with his criticism, but he wasn’t malicious about it either. Yet, the fact that he had (what I assumed was) the audacity to criticize me at all ignited the hair-triggered temper I had back then, and I flew into a rage.

We both started shouting over one other, and then he suddenly lowered his voice and asked me, “Why are you so angry?” I was stunned silent because I didn’t have an answer to his question. I racked my brain to come up with a particular slight he’d made that was at the root of my rage, but I couldn’t pinpoint anything specific. So, with all the maturity and grace of a petulant toddler, I stormed off into the house and refused to speak to him for the rest of the day.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but that moment marked a major turning point in my life. It was in that moment that my quest to truly understand myself, my past, and the ways in which my upbringing influenced my behavior began. Until Sam stumped me with that very pointed question, I’d never seriously questioned my past or how it shaped me. Once the urgency to break away from my father’s tyranny had passed when I first moved 250 miles away from home, I naively assumed that I was free of my past. I later realized, of course, that I had a lot of work to do in order to shake the influence of my volatile father.

Things didn’t work out with Sam. We struggled to hold it together for about three months before we finally gave up and went our separate ways. When I reflect back on that experience, however, I’m incredibly grateful to him for asking me that crucially important question at a critical juncture in my life:

Why are you so angry?

Those words became sort of a mantra for me from that day forward. I began to monitor my moods and my behavior, and whenever I became aware that I might be overreacting to something trivial, I’d ask myself that question. Gradually I realize that the perceived slights that ignited my temper—someone cutting me off in traffic, a snarky remark from a coworker, bad service at a restaurant, etc.—were not worth the energy I gave them. Yet I still struggled to come up with an answer to that question. Why was I so angry, anyway?

To this day I can’t put my finger on it. The rage that I’d unconsciously internalized at some point in my life, and that I’d been blind to until Sam called it to my attention, couldn’t be tied to a specific person, place, or thing. The closest I ever came to identifying the root of my internal rage was acknowledging that I’d experienced more betrayals of trust than the average individual. I was betrayed by several family members in early childhood and later by friends, classmates and peers. My first boyfriend cruelly executed a malicious act of revenge against me that I think stunned even him once he realized how badly he’d wounded me. My discomfort with vulnerability can be clearly traced to that very specific event, but not my anger. So, where does the anger come from?

I don’t know. I spent years seeking a definitive answer to that question, but somewhere along the way I realized that it ultimately doesn’t matter. All that really does matter is that I’m willing and self-aware enough to ask myself that pointed question (which, to this day, I still hear in in Sam’s voice in my mind) in the heat of a moment so I can re-balance my perspective and behave accordingly.

Why are you so angry?

I’m able to recognize that the things that make me angry today aren’t big enough to allow my impetuous, impulsive id to throw a temper tantrum. And now that I’m a parent and a role model for a very perceptive preteen who grows more independent every day, I’m acutely aware that I may be influencing her through my own reactions to the perceived slights we all encounter daily on the road, at work, and in our daily interactions with random strangers.

The next time you find yourself seething with rage because someone cut in front of you in the checkout line or because they weren’t driving fast enough for you to make it through an intersection before the light turned yellow, ask yourself:

Why are you so angry?

I’ll bet you’ll learn that the answer to that question has nothing to do with the woman who cut in line or the driver who was more engaged in conversation with his passenger than he was with the act of driving at the moment you happened to be behind him. Like me, you may never be able to pinpoint a specific answer to that question, but in this instance, just asking the question is far more important than answering it.

Internalized anger is like a ticking time bomb waiting to explode at the slightest provocation. Take it from someone who survived the volatile temper of a raging alcoholic as a child and then spent a lifetime working to master her own impetuous, impulsive id as a result: get a grip on your internalized anger before it turns destructive.

Don’t allow it to hurt someone you love or to destroy your relationships. It’s just not worth it.

New Beginnings

We’ve been living in Colorado Springs for just over two weeks now, and it’s already starting to feel like home. Our little 6th grader thoroughly enjoyed her first week of middle school, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how competent and organized the school’s administration and staff have proved to be thus far. They took virtually all of the fear and anxiety out of the first day of middle school for the 6th graders by breaking them into small teams of 10-15 students and assigning an 8th grade mentor to help show them the ropes and make them feel welcome. The mentors are called WEB (Where Everyone Belongs) Kids, and they are some of the brightest, friendliest, and most polite 8th graders I’ve ever met. All this from our second choice school. And a public school at that! Not bad, Colorado Springs. Not bad at all.

Things are going to work out for us here, I think. My husband likes his job. Our daughter loves her school. As for me, I am cautiously optimistic that I’ll find my own brand of personal satisfaction and fulfillment here, too. Just as soon as I finish unpacking boxes and getting our new home in order.

Duality

My husband and I are in our second year of marriage, and this weekend we will be moving into our second apartment in the second city in which we’ve lived together. According to certain schools of thought, 2015 is the second year of a new energy on this planet. Human nature is changing. Evolving, hopefully. And the new energy consciousness is in its second year of development. The terrible twos. Duality.

As I’ve been packing up our household this week, I’ve had a lot of time to think about how the duality of this new age is manifesting in my life. I’ve heard estimates that 90,000 people are planning to move to the Denver Metro Area this year. Meanwhile, we three Reamys are happily moving out.

Denver has never been a city with which I’ve resonated. Since moving back to Colorado in 2006, many friends and relatives have tried to convince me to move to Denver. I flat out rejected that idea until Matt asked me to move to Denver with him in 2013. I didn’t even hesitate to say yes to him. I’d never consider living in Denver as a single woman, but when it comes to my husband–my heart–home is with him, wherever that may be.

Things fell into place for us so easily at first, it seemed obvious that we were on exactly the right path. We found the perfect apartment in the perfect neighborhood next to one of the best green belts in the metro area. Matt had a good job that he enjoyed. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we also managed to land in the perfect elementary school boundary for our daughter, who ended up coming to live with us less than a year after we got married. That first year was pretty near perfect. Neither of us loved Denver, but we were happy enough to think maybe things would work out for us here. Denver started to lose its shine over this past year, however.

Professionally, Matt started to feel like he was slogging through mud. Organizational issues at one company created unnecessary and frustrating barriers for him and his team, so he switched jobs. He met some top professionals and learned some useful skills at his second gig in Denver, but the corporate culture wasn’t a good fit. That, combined with a brutal commute to and from LoDo every day took a heavy toll on my poor husband.

Meanwhile, I was feeling restless and uncomfortable in my own skin while being continually surrounded by 1.2 million people. I started noticing how angry Denver drivers are, and how disconnected people are from reality. Once our daughter came to live with us, I started noticing a conspicuous lack of family friendliness. On weekends, we inevitably found ourselves getting out of town. We either went west into the mountains or south to Colorado Springs, which is where Matt lived before we got married. On one of those trips to Springs, I realized that’s where we should be living.

Every city has it’s own vibe and Denver’s energy has always felt scattered and frenetic to me. Living near a green belt helped to mitigate the effects of that energy for a while, but the longer we stayed here, the harder it’s been for me to stay centered and balanced amidst Denver’s chaos. I suggested to Matt that maybe we should consider moving to Colorado Springs, and once again we found ourselves back in a good energetic flow.

Matt landed a great job almost immediately after letting his head hunter know he was interested in finding work in Springs. We found a fabulous school for our daughter and learned that Springs has a world class youth symphony, which is something that Denver (a city more than four times the size of Springs) lacks. As I researched schools and the youth symphony, it was clear that Colorado Springs is a much more family-friendly city than Denver. Not surprisingly, it’s a conservative enclave in an increasingly liberal state.

We’re under no illusions that life in Colorado Springs is going to be perfect. It is still located, after all, in the state I like to call Middle California. Colorado’s politics is bizarre, to say the least. I’m not sure it’ll ever be a good fit for us in that regard, but it’s where we’re at for now. And living in a considerably smaller, more family-friendly, more politically conservative city will undoubtedly be more comfortable for Matt and me. More importantly, it’s a city where our amazingly talented young cellist will have access to the kinds of educational opportunities that will allow her to achieve her full potential.

Large/small, light/dark, right/left. Duality.

What living in Denver has confirmed for me (and I suspect for my husband as well) is that the choices we make in terms of community matter. The environment in which we choose to live affects us profoundly. We gave Denver a fair shot–two years of our lives, and the first two years of our marriage. As we prepare to move to Colorado Springs, though, I feel like we’re taking a giant step in the right direction. Springs may not be where we ultimately decide to settle down, but it already feels more like home than Denver.

Three Steps to a Drama-Free Life

I’m ashamed to admit that there was a time in my life when I was addicted to drama. I’d stir it up in my relationships. I’d engage in it with gossipy coworkers and friends. I’d continually find ways to get myself spinning in drama just so I could complain about how drama seemed to dominate my life. 2005 marked a major turning point for me and my relationship with drama, however. That was the year I decided it was time to break the addiction before it completely destroyed my chances of living a happy and meaningful life.

Since then, I have been systematically eliminating all sources of drama from my life. De-dramatizing your life is easier than you might think, but it does require an unwavering commitment to your own peace of mind above all else. This is perhaps the biggest challenge because, as you work through the process, you’ll have to make the painful choice to break up with certain friends and family members who have probably been with you your entire life.

Step 1: Identify the Toxic People in Your Life

You may be surprised by how many toxic people you interact with on a daily basis, and it will undoubtedly be difficult to admit that those interactions are not serving you well. This is perhaps the hardest step of the process, but it’s absolutely necessary that you examine each and every relationship you have with friends, family, and coworkers to determine its level of toxicity.

This step also involves a considerable amount of introspection, so be prepared to discover the ways in which you either stir up the drama in your relationships or react when the toxic people in your life push your buttons. It’s not a pleasant process, I know, but it’s absolutely necessary if you hope to break free of this addiction.

Once you’ve identified the toxic relationships in your life, you’re ready to move on to the next step.

Step 2: Pick Your Poison

This step requires a tremendous amount of fortitude, but it’s absolutely crucial to your success. Once you’ve identified the toxic people in your life, it’s time to start sorting and prioritizing those relationships. You can do this any way you like, but I’m all about efficiency. As soon as I realized that I wanted–needed, actually–to break my addiction to drama, I sorted my relationships into two categories: salvageable and unsalvageable.

Harsh, you say? Absolutely, but this is serious business. Drama eats away at your soul. It distracts you from what’s really important, and it keeps you from achieving your full potential. It’s also the primary means through which cycles of abuse are perpetuated from one generation to the next. You owe it to yourself and especially to your children to break those cycles so you can be free to build healthier and happier home environments.

Step 3: Prune and Shape The Branches of Your Life

If you’re a gardener you no doubt understand the necessity of pruning and shaping if you want your garden to flourish. Your personal relationships create an environment not unlike a garden, so the analogy of pruning and shaping is a good one to apply here. It’s time to cut away the deadwood. For me, that means cutting my ties to those relationships in the unsalvageable category.

Pruning relationships with toxic acquaintances and those on the fringes of your inner circle is as easy as removing them from your contacts list or unfollowing them on Facebook. When it comes to your inner circle, however, you’ll have to make some very difficult choices. Some of those choices will be painful. Some may temporarily set you back professionally, but every toxic relationship you prune away will make space in the garden of your life for healthier and more fulfilling relationships to grow and flourish.

I’ve quit jobs where the management was unsupportive, ineffective, or oppressive. I’ve broken up with life-long friends as soon as I realized that our relationships were out of balance. In one case, it became plainly evident that an old high school “friend” never truly respected me or valued my friendship. In another case (and this one broke my heart) one of my oldest and dearest childhood friends mercilessly harassed and bullied a mutual acquaintance who came forward with allegations of sexual assault against one of our former teachers. I can’t tolerate bullies under any circumstances, but this situation was particularly intolerable because the bully knows the allegations are true, as do I.

Relatives, of course, can be particularly tricky to prune as these relationships are old growth. They’ve been a part of your life since birth, but the question you need to ask yourself is do they contribute to your wellbeing, or do they just bring stress and drama into your life?

My husband and I are approaching our two-year anniversary this fall, and these past two years have been perhaps the most enlightening years of my life. The remarkably healthy and fulfilling relationship I have with my husband and his family has forced me to critically examine the unhealthy and dysfunctional dynamics of my own family. And now that I am a parent, I’ve been forced to acknowledge that certain members of my family simply can not be trusted around my daughter.

In a perfect world, no relationship would be unsalvageable, but in the real world, you can only control one side of any relationship, and that’s your side. You can’t control the way that others behave, and if they’re determined to bully and abuse you, your only real choice is to cut the cord. This is essentially what I have been doing for the past two years. I’d already pruned most of the toxic friends and coworkers from my life when I started dating my husband in 2013, but it wasn’t until I became a parent that I found the strength to prune my familial relationships. There are two particularly angry and bitter bullies in my family with whom I had to cut off all contact for my own sake as well as for my daughter’s sake. One of those two is stubbornly resistant to letting go, but when her attempts to provoke me continue to be ignored, she’ll eventually move on to bullying more reactive members of our family.

Life it too short for drama. It’s one thing to heal or repair salvageable relationships, but there’s no honor in maintaining toxic relationships. There’s nothing to be gained by allowing yourself to be the target for someone’s bitterness or repressed rage. Your children don’t stand to gain anything from witnessing abusive family dynamics, or worse, by being targeted by abusive family members. Sometimes choosing to walk away is the healthiest choice you can make. And for all their howling and righteous indignation, even those you choose to walk away from recognize that truth.

Shape and prune the garden of your life, and watch it flourish.

 

Dysfunction Junction, What’s Your Function?

There’s a common misconception in our society that the best way to deal with unpleasant realities is to look away and remain silent. One of the most pervasive realities in our society, which we consciously choose to ignore, is sexual abuse. I originally published this post on my husband’s blog a little over a year ago. It’s about my home town, Trinidad, Colorado, and the dirty little secret that town keeps for multiple teachers and coaches in the community who have been sexually abusing teenage girls for generations.

Trinidad School District #1 is currently under a Title IX investigation by the Federal Office for Civil Rights. That investigation is in the third and final stage of review currently. It is my sincerest hope that the findings of that investigation will be made public soon. I also hope that this story becomes known nationally because it’s time we have a national conversation about this problem. The Obama administration has focused its attention on the sexual abuse that occurs on college campuses. That’s a start, but we need to go deeper. This behavior starts in high schools and middle schools, and until we get to the root of that problem, we’re never going to solve it.

I’ll be sharing more of my own story of the sexual abuse that I endured while growing up in Trinidad along with more of the backstory of the current OCR investigation here on my own blog. The time for silence has passed. Now is the time for action. As a parent of a daughter, I want this abuse to be stopped. There’s an attitude of not my child, not my problem in our society, and I couldn’t disagree more with that attitude. My attitude is, if your child isn’t safe, my child isn’t safe. So if I have to work to protect your daughters in order to keep my own daughter safe, so be it.