A Journey to Self-Discovery: Part IV

Well, well, well. Happy New Year!

Here we are, part four of my journey to self-discovery. So, how did I get here? Well, being unemployed since the end of October, I’m happy to say I have accepted a job offer (woohoo!). This piece is really a reflection on my past few months digging through the trenches of myself and figuring out what is important and what my goals are. I saw a great post on Instagram where someone had brilliantly split up their goals in such a simple way that I had to follow suit.

Goal categories:

  1. Home 
  2. Health
  3. Wealth

Home: What do you want this year at home? This can include your relationships with friends and family, larger projects around your home that you want to complete, etc.

Health: How are you going to take care of yourself this year? Your fitness, eating habits, self-care, etc.

Wealth: This doesn’t mean “how do you want to get rich?” Goals like buying a home or a new car, saying more money each month, starting your retirement fund or life insurance, paying off this bill or that loan, exploring a new career, etc.

So, this is how I’m moving along on my journey to self-discovery. Next up, what goals did I come up with and what’s next? Stay tuned! Don’t forget to follow my blog. 🙂

What are your 2016 goals, wishes and wants? 

What its like to transition into unemployment

I’ve now been unemployed since the end of October now, and I can tell you it has its ups and downs. I had become part of something much larger than the work I was going in my community. As i’ve said before, Alaska is large in size and small in community. We became so very connected to people around the state doing the same work as me in their own communities and those connections made my work not only more valuable, but easier. We contributed to one another and each other’s work even from hundreds and thousands of miles away from each other in our very own state.

Then, I lost my job. At first, there are the “we would love your help in transitioning out… we want you to continue to be involved…” etc, etc. But the reality is, you slowly become pushed away and disconnected. The hardest part?

A piece of me has been taken away. The program I brought to Fairbanks feels as if its been taken away. Every day I regret not taking the steps to bring the program here on my own, but instead I feel like the piece of me that is lost is this one program itself. Being involved and volunteering is something I plan to continue to do with the program, but being ultimately removed from a role that I created is heartbreaking and has been the most difficult part for me.

People are easily replaced in non-profit. Even though my role was removed from the agency, some of that work has to be picked up by someone. I went from being part of the large prevention network in our state to feeling as if I might not belong there anymore because I am not longer in that “role.”

Your co-workers are not your best friends. When we work 40 hours a week, we become connected to many people who we begin to care about and consider our friends. But the reality is, most of your co-workers will not remain your friends or even check on you when you’ve gotten the big news that you’re no longer needed there. This is a reality we often don’t realize until this time. Now, mind you, that doesn’t mean that you won’t make lifelong friends at work, but everyone isn’t going to be that for you.

Now, what are the great parts?

Fitness. I can go cross-country skiing and swimming and running and crossfitting in the middle of the day! That is something I will miss a little (lot) since I am now officially training for a triathlon.

Sleeeeeeeep. I can sleep. I mean, really, nothing more to say about that.

House projects. Remember all of those little projects (I’m sure you have a list) that you want to get done but never have the time? Now you do. If you don’t have a list, you soon will.

Dinner planning is possible. Enough said!

Purging. Sounds weird, but so true. It gives you the time to go through and do your “spring cleaning” and downsize your life a little. Speaking of cleaning, I finally cleaned my bathtub.

So now that I’ve got all of this down, it’s time to figure out how to transition back into the world of the employed. But I can say I’m not nearly about distraught about that.

 

 

What it’s like to grow up in a blended family

This year, I turned 30. I also graduated from graduate school with my masters in social work, got engaged to the love of my life and lost my job. This doesn’t even include my fitness bumps in the road. I’m not sure which one of those caused me to dig so deeply into self-reflection, but here I am.

wnMany social workers go into this field for one of two reasons: (1) They are following in someone’s footsteps or (2) Their own experiences have led them to wanting to help others that are likely on a path similar to the one they experienced. I ended up in this work because of the latter (mostly).

I come from a blended family, and one that is more complicated than the norm for blended families (aren’t they all complicated though?). I was recently doing a little research to find some posts about others peoples’ experiences growing up as a stepchild, adopted child, or in a blended family. What I instead found was mostly posts, websites and articles about how to deal with step and adopted children and how to make your blended family successful as a parent. This was really concerning to me, because as with most things, we again forget about what is important in these situations: The children. We are thinking of them as objects, things to control and figure out how to mold into our own expectations. Instead, we should be (1) Teaching them how to be human, (2) Honoring their experiences, and (3) Helping them to heal from trauma they may have experienced.

So I decided that for all of you with my similar experience, I would write just what I was looking for: My experience in my unique blended family.

My family. My biological father (bio-dad) died in 1988, when I was 3 years old. By this time, my mother was already with my step-dad (dad), who I have only ever known as my dad – my father – since he is the man who raised me. My mom and bio-dad split up when I was just a baby. I have two older siblings, brothers, who also left our family unit when I was 9 months old and spent years in the foster care system until they were adopted by another family. They are 4 and 7 years older than me. They grew up together with their adopted family who also have a daughter. When I was 7, my half brother (little bro) was born. So at this point, my family unit consisted of my mom, dad, and little bro.

Are you keeping up? Some other notes to make: I only met my mother’s family a handful of times in my life and have never met my maternal grandparents (who are still alive and wandering around in West Virginia). I grew up spending all my holidays with my  dad’s family. They were the only family I ever knew. My dad’s parents were divorced. So, I then had two sets of step-grandparents out of that, since they both remarried.

Are you still keeping up? Well, here’s the twist. I didn’t know my dad wasn’t my bio-dad and didn’t know anything about my older brothers until I was 13 years old. Until then, my blended family wasn’t a blended family. It was just my family. My perfect, un-divorced, beautiful family. Then when I was 15, my parents did divorce… and the only family unit I had ever known came crumbling apart. My mom wouldn’t let me live with my dad, and I was forced to move from apartment to apartment to basement to hotel to apartment with my mom until I was 18 and chose to move out on my own.

You can imagine what it was like to find out the news that would change my life forever at age 13, and then lose my family security 2 years later. This is the kind of stuff you process in different ways throughout your life, it seems like, and for different reasons. So if you are an adult reading this, I ask you, do you know a child – or an adult – who has – or is – experienced anything like this? I want you to ask yourself if you have taken a moment at all to consider:

  • If this child has been able to or learned how to process their experience
  • If this child has been validated in their experiences
  • If this person has experienced trauma
  • What the hell they might be going through??
  • Are you trying to fix this child or help this child?

Here’s what kids in blended families (step, adopted, crazy like mine) often experience, even into adulthood: 

  • Getting called the wrong name. Whether its the wrong pronunciation, or a slight variation of the name, it happens. It is also not OK. When you can’t say a child’s name that is a new member of your family correctly, what message are you sending?
  • Exclusion from the family. Sometimes its at family functions, and sometimes its family functions all together, especially into adulthood.  Hearing stories at the holidays of what the rest of the family did together or how your cousins went out on the lake together this summer is not a great feeling.
  • Once we are all grown, we aren’t your “problem” anymore. When a child becomes part of a family, the expectation is that they have them forever, not that they will be abandon when (1) they turn 18 or (2) they do something “wrong”. Just because a child is not flesh and blood, does not mean they can be discarded or unforgiven for their mishaps.
  • Inability to meet expectations. No one should ever be in their 20’s or 30’s trying to gain the acceptance of their family. Ever. Ever. Ever. They should know from the time they are brought into a family (whether by birth, adoption or marriage) that they are accepted, supported, and part of the family.
  • Constant feeling of walking on eggshells. One of a person’s most comfortable places, including children, should be around their family. Throw on your sweats, have smelly socks, say how you feel about anything and everything because you can’t say it anywhere else, burp, fart, and laugh until milk comes out of your nose. But kids in blended families often don’t fully feel comfortable enough to do any of the above, which means they grow up never getting to show their family who they are are a wonderful, beautiful person.
  • Feeling lower on the totem poll than other siblings/family members. We know when they don’t get as much as their siblings who are full blooded in the family and we noticed when they get more praise, attention, and support. Spread the love, adults. Spread the love.
  • Blame for their other parent’s mistakes. In instances such as mine, I was brought into a family by marriage, and then that marriage was disintegrated. A child brought into a family this way shouldn’t then be removed when the circumstances change or be blamed for their parents “mistakes.” Remember that (1) children are not their parents and (2) children are not their parent’s mistakes. They are their own people navigating the world.
  • Blame for their family being blended. Don’t ever, ever blame your children for your marriage not remaining enact. I promise you, those words you speak will stay with them forever. You cannot take what comes out of your mouth back.
  • The effort to be a family member is all on us. There is the feeling of having to put in 110% to be the perfect family member (child, grandchild, cousin, niece, nephew, etc) to show the rest of the family that we care. Just like in any other relationship, its not all on us to pick up the phone or put forth an effort.
  • We don’t like seeing family pictures that don’t include us. This may not seem like a big deal or there’s usually no implied insult, but its hurtful to see what seems like our parents, siblings, family members moving on as a whole without including us.
  • We know when you don’t see us as an equal member of the family. 

Whether you are the mother, father, sister, brother, cousin or friend of someone who is welcome a new member into their family by adoption or by dating someone with a child you should remember these things:

  1. This person is your family member. They have accepted this child into their life as their wholehearted child, as should you. Welcome this new grandchild, niece, nephew, cousin, etc. as just that.
  2. This child is not a problem that your family has to deal with. This child is an opportunity for your family to grow. You now have a new person to teach your skills to, share your life experiences with, learn how to be a human, and wrap your love around.
  3. Honor this child’s experiences now and forever. Remember that they will alway be a member of a blended family, and will always have a different lens that they have to view life through. Don’t make it any harder for them.

Most of all, remember these kids who turn into adults love you and these experiences are hard, so don’t make it any harder. Open up your heart – your WHOLE heart – and remember this child is part of your life forever.

Are you the child of a blended family? What have you experienced? What advice do you have for the adults in your life? What would have helped you as a child? Please share you experience!

A Journey to Self-Discovery: Part III

Another journey on my road to self-discovery: Self-Worth. 

struggle

I envisioned my time to Virginia to be completely relaxing, and to learn how to just – be. Literally to just be. But what I realized is I naturally keep myself busy. I cannot spend days doing nothing. Whether I fill my days helping others, working on wedding planning, or getting on a bike and spending my days outside – it is just not in my nature to spend all of my time (or most of my time) doing nothing. But to have the time in my life right now to really see that this is just who I am as a person, rather than being forced in my life to be busy, is really blissful.

But this is definitely a two-fold (three-fold, four-fold?) story. My trip, which again, I envisioned to be completely relaxing, was met with a lot of angst as well.

  • Am I a good enough social worker to find another job?
  • Am I choosing the right path for myself in my career?
  • Licensing? No licensing? Part time? Full time?
  • Will the money be enough to last until I find a job?  Money management. Don’t buy this. Save your money for that. What will happen at Christmas? Can we afford a trip at the holidays?
  • What happens when I no longer have health insurance?
  • worry…
  • worry….
  • worry…..

This list goes on and on… I had a constant internal struggle with feeling like I don’t have a purpose, yet also feeling OK with having this time to reflect. I do so much volunteer work in the community, how can I not feel fulfilled? While I was gone, I also joined our Fairbanks Cycling Club Board of Directors because there are visions I have for our cycling community. I am no stranger to giving back and loving my community wholeheartedly. So the time here to reflect goes on and on as you can see from my rambling. But what I didn’t anticipate was probably what hit the most…

The feeling that I am not good enough to those I love. The obvious looks that say more than words ever could: “why are you here when you are unemployed?” Feeling the cold shoulder, feeling the failure of losing my job – as if I have not met the expectations of what I should be.

Then there was this: the discovery of my SELF-WORTH. I have met and exceeded every expectation I ever set for myself. I have broken the cycle of poverty and violence that maternally preceeded me. I am not the statistic and I am no one else but me. I am not here to make anyone else happy. I am here to make me happy.

I moved to Alaska 4 years and 7 months ago. Four years and 1 month ago the love of my life, my soon-to-be husband, walked into my life. It was a moment that set into motion what would be become a future in Alaska, a forever life in Alaska. One I don’t regret and one I am not sorry for. Not to my friends, not to my family. I left home for adventure, and what I found was home. I found myself, I found my soul wandering around waiting for me, I found the love of my life, my best friend.

I recently read a post called 26 Ways to Take Your Life Back When You’re Broken and it is well worth the read. Every bit of it. There are a few that especially spoke to me in this regard (although they all very much spoke to me):

  • #3: Rewrite your story. The past is our story that we repeat to ourselves, and it is an opportunity for growth. We are not bound to these experiences and should not let them hold us back, but instead let them release us.
  • #5: Share your story. This one is especially important to me. Starting to acknowledge the feelings of my story, and who I am and what has molded me or has not molded me is important. It is truly liberating to begin to release instead of repress this.
  • #13: Strengthen relationships with the people who love you. There are people that love you because they have to, and people that love you because they want to. When life has chosen to give you tough moments to get through, its in those times that you will find the people you can lean on. So you lost your job? Who has called to check on you? 
  • #17: Establish a health source of validation. This one is tough, and there maybe a moment when you find that your source of validation is not what you thought it was, or should be. Find a new one. You do not need the approval, so seek those you want it from that can both help you in the tough times, help you discover your strengths and continue to grow personally and professionally. See #13 for help.
  • #25: Look at how far you’ve come. I can’t begin to describe who I once was, and this is how far I’ve come. Don’t forget that for you. For You.

Remember you are worth it. Do things that make you happy. Set goals and expectations for yourself and no one else. 

Self-Care

#newbeginnings2016

On Second Thought…

I decided to give in and rented a road bike…

After staring out at the sunshine here in Southwest Virginia on Thursday, I decided the voice of the road calling was too loud. I had to go and rent a road bike. So I headed out to Blacksburg to HokieSpokes in the early afternoon, rented a bike for 2 weeks (being their off-season helps to get a good deal), and hoped on my brand new Fuji road bike (new brand for me to ride!) rental and headed up the road to hit the Huckleberry Trail and get my cycling legs back.

A short 12 miles felt great and I kind of liked the thrill of racing the sunset back to the parking lot. It reminded me of a 34 mile ride me and my friend Erin did to end out 2014 season by riding the Goldstream – Steese – McGrath – Farmers Loop circle where we just barely made it back on our Alaska fall ride before the sun set on us. Sometimes you’re just out having too much fun!