One of my favorite movies of all time is Amadeus. In my essay, “Music and Beer, (p. 60)” I talk at length about being taken to see that movie by my music teacher when I was a young child, and how the movie began my love affair with classical music and my adoration of the brilliant composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. To this day, I feel love anytime I hear any of Mozart’s music or play one of his pieces on my flute. I have told family members that I want Mozart’s Requiem in D minor (the “unfinished” death mass featured at the end of the movie) played at my memorial service after I die. Yes, my love of the man, his music, and the movie Amadeus is intense.
As a child, seeing that movie, I could only process the music, the wild interpretations of the man, Mozart, his flamboyance, arrogance, brilliance, and genius. But there was a bigger picture to this movie that I did not discover until I became an adult.
Although certified as one of my favorite movies of all time, it had been awhile since I really sat down and watched Amadeus all the way through. I recently decided to revisit this movie, popping in the DVD with popcorn and peach pop; a southside Chicago girl’s only way to visit the streets of Vienna–city of musicians. Once again, I became obsessed. But surprisingly enough, not with the man, Mozart, or the music, but with the underlying emotional and psychological themes that I was unable to extract from the movie as a child.
With all of its historical accuracy, the movie, Amadeus is largely a work of fiction. Based on the play by Peter Shaffer, the movie bears the name “Amadeus,” but Mozart is not necessarily the main character. It is Antonio Salieri; a part fictional, part nonfictional representation of Vienna’s court composer and Mozart’s “nemesis,” who is at the forefront of the movie (and the play–I recently saw the play as well, and it was a wondrous event). Salieri despises Mozart for his brilliance, genius, and his ability to compose the most “miraculous” of musical works with what seems like little effort. This composer-envy (albeit one-sided) builds throughout the movie and ultimately turns into complete hatred toward Mozart on the part of Salieri; for Salieri believes that Mozart is “God’s muse” and that his music is the very “voice of God.” Salieri only just wants to be a great composer, praying to God to “enter him” to create one piece of true music.
It was a battle between “mediocrity” and excellence.
But here’s the truth. Salieri was a good composer. He was just unable to recognize his own worth and his own beauty as a composer, because he was wrapped up in his comparison with Mozart.
Comparison. Thief of joy. (paraphrased quote by Theodore Roosevelt)
This is something that we are all guilty of doing.
The character of Salieri felt that there was this intense competition with Mozart and constantly compared himself…and this whole competition and comparison took place in Salieri’s head. It ultimately crippled and consumed him, and led him to the point of emotional destruction.
I started to reflect. How many times have I been so wrapped up in what others are doing; what they look like; what their accomplishments are; what their lives look like; how their lives are progressing?
This analysis of this movie is not new. But revisiting this movie as an adult put my own personal struggle with comparison into perspective. As mentioned before, the character of Salieri was a fine composer in his own way; he had his own unique style, and for goodness sake he was blessed by God to know music! How many people do not even know how to write one note? As I was watching his destruction unfold, I thought,
What a pity. If Salieri could have just focused on his own authenticity, instead of his own perceived inadequacy, he could have been great.
Damn. Sometimes it takes awhile for the light bulb to come on, and sometimes it comes on like a flash. I said to myself,
Michele, if you could just focus on your own authenticity, instead of your own perceived inadequacy, then you can be great.
And there it is.
What’s funny is at that at the top of my goal list of things to let go of for 2014 is comparison. Be careful what you wish for. You never know what route your Higher Power may take to get you to where you need to go.
Beautiful – excellent of its kind. wonderful; very pleasing or satisfying.
I never knew that I didn’t know who I was. Or maybe I always knew, but there was so much emotional junk that needed to be removed for me to finally embrace who I am. As I have been on this path of emotional recovery and healing, I have discovered who I am. I am continually discovering who I am. The challenge I have found on this journey to my true-self, is acceptance. Since I have been in denial about my authenticity for so long, the challenge is loving myself and having the courage to share that authenticity with others.
This process of self-discovery has been a definite bumpy road. It has not and is not easy. Part of the reason is because I have had to accept the imperfect, less than the best parts of me as a path to learning that is a part of me as well. My ideal self makes all the right decisions, doesn’t make mistakes, performs at the top of her game, and is good all the time. But discovering who I am has not been just about discovering the good parts. It has been about learning and trekking slowly toward accepting my weaknesses and areas of growth. It’s about accepting the places that do not look so good along with the parts that look great and realizing it makes an awesome package.
This authenticity…the integration of the good and the bad, yes, I have come to the conclusion is quite beautiful.
The word beautiful – I believe is an active process. At first glance, something beautiful means that it is pleasing to the 5 senses; specifically what is pleasing in front of the eyes. While that may be a part of it, I believe that there are quite a few not so beautiful moments that lead a person, place or thing to being beautiful.
Beautiful has been my theme for 2013 because I have finally “seen it” within myself. I believe that I am beautiful…even if it is not affirmed or confirmed by anyone else.
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart. -Helen Keller
There have been several not so beautiful moments or feelings that I have had to peel away. And in doing so, I have had a glimpse of my beautiful core. And now that I’ve seen it, I have something to reach for and remember on those days when external forces try to overshadow my beauty.
My hope is that everyone get that same glimpse of “beautiful” within themselves as we go forward to a new year. Thank you to everyone who has been with me, continued with me, and are just starting with me on this journey. I look forward to more “beautiful” to come.
The January 2014 issue of Foliate Oak Literary Magazine is out. It’s a beautiful issue in general…but specifically, it features my essay “She Had Known Me Forever” in the Creative Nonfiction section. This essay is my most emotionally profound to date, as I discuss the emotional aftermath of my sister’s murder…and how that loss ultimately connected me with my best friend. Through the darkness, there is always light. I hope that you will enjoy and respect my vulnerability, as I share another delicate part of my story.
“Remember, the two-legged and the four-legged are made by the same creator. We are relatives.” -Cloud Dancing (from Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman)
“No creature is undeserving of love. God reminds us of that.” –Today’s Gift from Hazelden
It had been a long week. For various reasons, I was feeling especially lonely and disconnected. That’s kind of how the holidays have been for me. In and out of gratitude, comparison, joy, depression, back again to thankfulness, reflection, and back to hopelessness. Earlier in the week, I had spent time with my best friend, lost hope in what I thought was a promising romance, and learned of an upcoming publication success. The ups and downs of life. Nothing new. I came home Friday night, wanting to share my disappointments and successes with someone in my house. But there were more pressing issues that the people in my house had to share with me. I listened. I responded. I reacted. I worked: took out the garbage, started the car, brought water to my mom, washed the dishes, unstopped the toilet, swept the kitchen, fed the cat. I was needed. I started to wonder, if I didn’t come home, would anyone really miss me? Perhaps if the dishes started piling up. I don’t know. I wanted to run away. Perhaps starting over in another town would be good.
Okay, with the pity party over, I basically felt unappreciated, and codependently unable to ask for what I needed.
Of course the people who live with you are supposed to know what you need!
So Saturday, I slept. All day. My all day slumber was probably 50% depression, 30% exhaustion, 10% disappointment, and 10% guilt and shame for feeling the depression, exhaustion, and disappointment. Got up…ate…slept some more. I was checking out. Every time I felt a hint of emotional pain, I would turn over and sleep some more. It’s not the most evolved way of dealing with feelings, but it’s all I had yesterday. It was the best I could do. Toward the end of the evening, I emerged for a bit and spent time with my family…who were still quite self-focused. I watched a movie and then made a decision to not do this same thing again today. Sunday, I would get up, get dressed and go to church. Yes. Having somewhere to go will help.
That’s where the funny part comes in…
I woke up early this morning feeling the same sadness and hopelessness that I felt yesterday. I said, forget it. Maybe I need just one more day of slumber. It’s freezing outside anyway. I’m just going to turn over and go back to sleep.
The moment I turned over, there was my cat, Samson, on my bed, looking intently at something by his paw. He kept poking and poking at it. I thought it was a bug. But then, I saw the four legs…then the little tail…
It was a mouse!!
A dead mouse. The cold temperatures in Chicago have led those little mousey guys into our warm home. We have an old house and there are lots of cracks and crevices that those little guys sneak through. And my 10 year old cat, being the great mouser he is, caught that little guy, and brought him to his mama.
Disgusting yes. But two things happened here. Be careful what you wish for. Just a few days earlier, I had felt unappreciated. Here, my cat was showing me that not only did he appreciate me, that he loved me enough to bring me his prey to share.
The other thing that happened here was that I was so freaked out and disgusted by this dead mouse in my bed, that I was fully awake and no longer going to turn over and drown in my sorrows. If I was going to cry it out, I was going to cry it out among others. In church community. So I went to church, then took myself to breakfast. And then on to one of my favorite places…as I write this…I am at the library.
My problems unsolved, still feeling rather lonely, but among the living. Fulfilling my purpose through writing these words.
And it humbles me to think that God used two 4-legged creatures to communicate His message to me today:
You are Loved
Get your butt up and show that Love to others.
And so it is.
“Expressing gratitude is a powerful practice. It transforms painful events. That doesn’t mean saying ‘thank you’ only for receiving something good, although that’s part of it…we can turn almost any experience around by practicing gratitude for what we experience or feel each moment, especially the moments we don’t like. If we’re grateful for what we label good, we’ll only be grateful a few times each week.” -Melody Beattie
Every year on Thanksgiving people stop and take a moment to reflect on what they are thankful for. I am thankful for my family, health, a job… blah, blah, blah. This of course is all good and we should all be thankful for these things. But what about the bad stuff? Is it possible not only to be thankful for the good in the midst of the bad, but to be thankful for the bad? Well let me rephrase…
Can we be thankful for the possible meaning and purpose behind the seemingly bad?
Sometimes yes and sometimes no. I think if I’ve had some sort of breakthrough or clarity about a situation I can do it. But if I’m struggling with understanding in a certain area of life, it’s more difficult. So I’ve decided to challenge myself. Can I come up with 5 seemingly bad things to be thankful for? Let’s see:
I’m thankful that I am in my late 30s and still live at home with my mom
I’m thankful that I am in my 7th long year of working on my doctorate
I’m thankful that I’m single
I’m thankful for the past dysfunction in my family
I’m thankful for my financial failures
You may be thinking, really, Michele. Seriously. You expect me to believe you are grateful for all of that.
Not on the surface, but there’s always more. I will rephrase these statements and maybe it will make more sense:
I’m thankful that I am in my late 30s and still live at home with my mom…because this time I am spending with my mom is precious. It is my privilege to care for her in her old age and in the midst of her health challenges. It is my honor to get to know her as an adult. The memories we are building together now, I will carry with me when she is no longer with me. And I will have no regrets.
I’m thankful that I am in my 7th long year of working on my doctoral degree…because I really don’t see how things could have progressed any quicker. There are certain realizations I have made in my personal and spiritual journey that have been integrated into the progress I have made in my doctoral journey. The missing elements I have discovered in my doctoral research could not have happened unless I took the necessary steps of self discovery. And this takes time.
I am thankful that I am single…because I am not currently in an abusive or unfulfilling relationship. This time is allowing me to really understand the meaning of Love and has given me hope for the future and something to trust God for.
I am thankful for the past dysfunction in my family…because it gives me something to write about. I will be honest, this blog, my essays; none of this would be here if I did not have to emotionally heal from something. And if communicating my message of healing, recovery, and connection is a part of my purpose, then it makes sense that I would have had to have experiences that parallel with that message.
And finally, I am thankful for my financial failures….because they have taught me to value the concept of financial responsibility. Although I have a long way to go in this area of my life, my financial failures have made me aware of my weaknesses and the areas that need improvement. I have also learned to rely on my spiritual source more than ever.
I will not lie to you. Making that list was tough, but I think every once in awhile it is necessary to look at the things we think are going wrong in our lives through a different lens. I challenge everyone on this Thanksgiving day to be thankful for every good thing…and even a few bad ones.
“When I can envision a better existence, I can embrace uncertainty with courage.” -Rokelle Lerner
This quote stood out to me the other day as I was on my commute. When I saw the word “uncertainty,” I became instantly reflective about a post I wrote in September called “Uncertainty.” In that post, I talked about my hatred of uncertainty, where the hatred stemmed from, and my struggle to surrender to it. I found it interesting that the above quote included both the words “uncertainty” and “courage.” I would never associate these two words because I usually feel pretty wimpy when it comes to facing uncertainty. I can’t imagine myself facing it with courage.
But then I thought more about it for a moment. Over the last year, I have taken a few difficult risks in my emotional journey. I have risked my comfort in isolation to reach out to others. I have confronted difficult family members. I have made amends. I even asked a guy out. In my willingness to take these risks, be vulnerable, and feel feelings about those risks, whether they be extreme joy and happiness, or extreme sadness and depression, I have in essence faced uncertainty with courage. I have given of myself without knowing what would be returned. When I reach out for what I want, take a chance, get knocked down, frustrated, and disappointed, and still have a vision for something better…I realized that this is the integration of uncertainty and courage.
Today, I felt compelled to post this poem by Max Ehrmann (1872-1945) because I always come back to it when I am struggling with understanding life as a whole. I’ve put the parts that really speak to me in bold. Enjoy! Visit Desiderata (Latin: desired things) for more info on the poem itself.
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.Max Ehrmann, “Desiderata”
“Very often, healing is achieved through the act of expressing pain.” -Rokelle Lerner
Last weekend my best friend dragged me to a wedding. I say that she dragged me because when she first told me that she was coming into town, she wanted to know if I was available to go out for some free food and drinks. Thinking that the free food and drinks plus spending time with my BFF was an offer I could not refuse, I said yes. A few hours after she asked me if I wanted to go out, I get a text from her saying,
And oh by the way, did I mention that we are going to a wedding?
I chuckled. Leave it to my BFF to leave out this important info. Now, I was actually going to have to do my hair and find something nice to wear. No problem. Besides, I hardly ever get to spend time with my best friend. I also like getting myself all prettied up. But there was one thing I could not deny:
I am not a big fan of weddings.
I usually get very sad at weddings. Now if I am working/playing the flute at a wedding, I am okay because I’m focused on my performance and doing a good job. But being a part of the celebration is tough. Why in the world would I experience sad feelings at such a joyous occasion such as a wedding? I will be vulnerable and tell you the reason why. Despite the internal work I have done and the satisfaction I have with being with myself, I still have an ache in my heart; an unfulfilled dream of finding a special guy to share my life with.
There are times that I put this pain on a shelf, only taking it down to talk about it with God, or my closest companions. But weddings have a tendency to force that pain off the shelf.
I went anyway. The wedding was lovely. The bride was beautiful, the couple very much in love. Dinner was delicious. Spending time with my BFF was a blast. I was okay.
Until the third glass of wine.
There is something about alcohol that either makes you way too happy, or sends you in the opposite direction. In my case, and on this evening, it sent me toward the unhappy direction. I could no longer hold in my sadness. I withdrew to a world inside of my head where I was the bride and my special guy stared lovingly into my eyes as we danced the night away. In the midst of all that wedding happiness and chatter, I felt so alone. So I disappeared to a bathroom stall and wept.
I felt so ashamed. Not only was I breaking one of the Ten Commandments by coveting, but I was crying in the midst of a celebration. There, in the bathroom stall, that critical inner voice began to speak:
What the hell is wrong with you? You are so pathetic. This is ridiculous. This is a happy occasion and you have no reason to be sad. You are acting like a loser. You should have stayed home if you were going to be this way. You always have these emotional problems. This is why no one likes to hang out with you. This is why you are alone. Seriously, get over it.
After listening to my inner critic, I got myself together and emerged from the bathroom in a foul mood. I was completely disgusted with myself and what I was feeling. I isolated and sat in a corner. My best friend tried to get me to participate in more of the festivities and I refused. I wanted to leave as soon as possible.
Here is the question: Was my problem that I was just an emotional basket case because I was at a wedding? Or could it have been that my eventual foul mood and isolation resulted from me allowing my inner critic to bring me to shame?
Of course the wine had a lot to do with it. But for those of you who have been with me through this journey, you probably know the answer. I was so ashamed about the pain that was triggered at this wedding, that I did not and would not allow myself to just sit with the pain. It was trying not to feel the pain that caused my suffering. It was judging my pain that made it worse.
“It’s our attraction to being free of pain that causes suffering.” -Charlotte Kasl (from If the Buddha Dated)
I never stopped to think that maybe a single, 37 year old, never married woman may have a right to have sad feelings at a wedding. So what. I wasn’t breaking any laws and I didn’t make a scene; my feelings were my own. Perhaps if I had just let them be, the pain would have eventually passed, and the healing would have began.
Dorothy: I just have to take it one day at a time.
Rose: Of course you do! If you take them two at a time, you’d be constantly changing your underwear. (Quote from an episode of The Golden Girls where Dorothy seeks treatment for a gambling problem)
I would like to consider myself a faithful 12 stepper, but honestly, there are times when I want to throw “one day at a time” out of the window. I hate uncertainty. I’m not sure if there is anyone who really likes it, but there are people that embrace living in the moment, looking at life as an exciting adventure; not knowing what’s going to happen from one moment to the next. But I have to admit…I strongly dislike living that way.
My hatred of uncertainty often leads me to NOT live in the moment. I worry about what’s going to happen in the next hour, day, week, year, 10 years! I know I have learned much of this from my mom. I often joke with her because she is usually planning (or worrying about) what she is having for dinner before she has finished breakfast!
Some people have the gift of planning and preparation and of course there is nothing wrong with this. But I think my disdain for uncertainty goes beyond preparedness. I want to control future pain. Or better yet, I want to control the level, the intensity, or I want to completely avoid possible future pain.
Sounds a little crazy right? Worrying about and wanting to control the outcome of something that may or may not happen? It usually makes me crazy.
As with many of my issues, I have to travel back to my childhood to understand. Uncertainty was my enemy as a child. Not knowing what was going to happen from one day to the next was the norm in my house. There were times that things would be going nice and calm and then out of nowhere we would get a call that my dad had been found drunk and passed out somewhere. My mom and I never knew what was going to happen from one day to the next because of my dad’s drinking. It wasn’t always about dad, but there always seemed to be some kind of drama that would unexpectedly show its ugly head.
Uncertainty of course is a part of life; however, as a child, it is difficult to process. The only thing I knew was that one day, I would get “control” of uncertainty. I would eventually learn how to control the outcome of things that happened in my life.
I had never thought of myself as a controlling person prior to entering recovery from codependency. When I found out that “control” was one of the patterns/characteristics of codependency, I said to myself, “now that’s one problem I don’t have!” But as time went on, I realized my control issues centered more on controlling situations, outcomes, and feelings more than actually controlling others. This desperate need to control what is going to happen…or what could possibly happen…or what I may possibly feel because of what could possibly happen…blocks me from living one day at a time.
I have read on more than one occasion that “control is an illusion.”
Even when we think we have control, we really don’t. The truth is that our Higher Power is in control. The only thing we can really do is trust that all is well and there is a divine purpose for everything.
And I am absolutely certain that letting go of the control illusion is one of the hardest things to do.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us. -Marianne Williamson
In my last post, I talked about my feelings of inferiority and how they get very close to the core of many of my issues. But I was left with the question: Is there a cure or a resolution for my feelings of inferiority?
Of course there is always hope. But how do you unravel years of believing that you are “less than” most people? I know what the answer is not. The answer is not to deny these feelings, no matter how uncomfortable they are. So I have to figure out a way to work through them.
This is nothing new. I’ve talked about working “through” feelings before (as opposed to working around them, jumping over them, or completely avoiding them). This is a good first step. However, if I go a bit deeper, I believe these feelings are triggered by comparison.
Instead of simply noticing and observing; I am constantly comparing my own status to others. It goes something like this: I observe someone else’s status or a situation; make a judgment about their status or situation (i.e. the other person, situation is better or superior to mine); and then compare it to myself or my own situation.
Observation + Judgment = Feelings of inferiority
Understanding the process helps me to find a resolution. The observation isn’t the problem. We are constantly observing the world around us. I think the issue is the judgment. Can I find a way to subtract the judgment from this formula? Perhaps if I found something to replace the “judgment” part of this equation with, I would be okay. There are a few options I thought about:
Observation + gratitude = Acceptance
Observation + self-compassion = Connection
These are both good options. I just have to continue to be mindful of when the comparison thing is happening. Mindfulness and awareness are wonderful tools in this healing and recovery journey.
I had to put this into practice recently when I attended an educational conference. The conference was attended by scholars and doctoral students that are studying the human-animal bond. I’m working on my own dissertation about this topic and was looking forward to learning and networking. However, prior to the start of the conference I kept thinking to myself, what am I doing going to this conference? I am going to feel really stupid compared to all of these people who have been doing research in this area for years. Oh and the doctoral students…they are all probably from “important” schools. I study online. I won’t be able to measure up.
As the day of the conference got closer, those feelings of inferiority were blaring loudly in my ear. But I knew they were there. I talked it over with my therapist, and she encouraged me to connect with the other people at the conference based on our shared experience…animals. The likelihood that people who study the human-animal bond actually love animals…well, I’m thinking it’s quite high.
So that’s what I focused on. Animals. The first night of the conference came, and as I was walking into the venue those inferior feelings came up. I didn’t deny them, but I was determined not to let them overpower me. I acknowledged them, and then said quietly to myself,
I belong here.
I kept saying “I belong here” over and over again to myself as I walked to the venue. Long story short, I wasn’t a social butterfly, but over the course of the time at the conference, I connected with some wonderful scholars and doctoral students without feeling “less than” any of them. I truly felt these people were my colleagues.
Is there a cure for my feelings of inferiority? Perhaps not. Like everything else, this awareness just gives me an opportunity to feel what I’m feeling, acknowledge it and let it go. And maybe through this process, I will wake up one day, and truly feel that my life is just as important as everyone else.