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PTSD: He Witnessed The Deaths Of His Entire Platoon

Watching my children tend to their  “father  wounds” reminded me of a similar process with my father.

Howard died alone in the dilapidated trailer shortly after his wife, Vi, died from alcoholism. When they found him beneath the sagging tin roof, which was draped with a filthy black tarp to keep out the rain, dozens of empty booze bottles lay scattered at his feet.

Howard  and my mom had been divorced for many years at the time of his death, but she saw to it that he had a military burial. I remain in awe of the generosity of spirit that she alone extended to Howard by arranging his funeral.

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Family Legacies As Burdens

When Bill died four years ago, I was able to facilitate my children’s grief and farewells. By their own choice they had not spoken with him in several years, but I felt that grieving his passing was paramount to their healing journey.  We lit candles and wished him well on his crossing. They whispered their regrets. I felt blessed to have been given such softness in my heart toward him.

My children no longer had to carry the heavy stone of family wounds heaped upon them by their parents.

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But First the Amends

“I dreamed  I had a child, and even in the dream  I saw it was my life, and it was an idiot,  and I ran away. But it always crept on to my lap again, clutched  at my clothes. Until  I thought, if I could kiss it, whatever  in it was my own,  perhaps I  could  sleep.  And  I  bent to  its  broken face, and  it  was horrible…but I kissed  it.  I think one must finally take one’s life in one’s arms, Quentin.” —Arthur Miller

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He Calls Me High-Pockets

DSCF2426DSCF2424As the holidays neared, I fretted over where to spend them. This was the first Christmas that my children had lived with their father, and I was torn between wanting  to be with them and with Mike. Carol, knowing that I had no family, invited me and my children to her home for Christmas. This was the beginning of Carol’s kindhearted generosity. Her goodwill would be extended to me and my children over many years to come.

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Meeting My Father

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“DON’T EVER  CALL  me  again!” my paternal grandmother warned harshly as she hung up the phone.  This abrupt conversation, actually just an answer to my greeting of “Hello,” left me bewildered. She and I had been having long-distance phone conversations for at least fifteen years. Sure, the conversations were brief, stiff, and unwelcome on her part, but many years ago, we had made a deal: if she would talk with me occasionally by phone, then I would not pursue the search for my father. I had kept my end of the bargain, so what in the world was the matter with her? I immediately called her back.

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Steps to Forgiveness

 He who cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.  ~George Herbert

                       

Forgiveness is setting a prisoner free. The miracle is, once you have forgiven, you discover that the real prisoner who has been freed is yourself, not the person who has hurt you.

It helps if you can identify the part/parts of you that continue to carry the wound. Is it the child part of you that holds on tight to the wounds that you never deserved or an adult part that feels betrayed? Think of all the faces you wear. Here are some examples of what I mean by the faces we wear (or parts) taken from my book Ragdoll Redeemed.

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Gratitude for a Forgiving Heart (part 2)

Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.
– Carl Jung

Having swallowed enough pills to kill a horse and inhaling gas fumes for an hour, my suicide should have worked.  I had been using and abusing alcohol, believing it to be my only comforter and my only defense against the ghost and monsters of my “sins” and my unworthiness. Driven by those self-demeaning and self-destructive beliefs, my liquid comforter deceived me, causing me to lose my hopes and dreams much the way drugs and alcohol would someday play a major role in the death of Marilyn. Like her, I was profoundly depressed and I ran directly into the arms of alcohol, a most seductive lover. Under its influence I could forget that I was not supposed to want too much out of life or expect too little. In the clutches of the insanity it caused, I wanted everything and nothing all at once. I had married Bill and brought my nineteen-year-old self—an empty satchel stuffed with pain—to my second marriage.  (From Ragdoll Redeemed: Growing up in the Shadow of Marilyn Monroe)

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Gratitude for a Forgiving Heart (part 1)

What happens to a man is less significant than what happens within him.
 – Louis L. Mann

Perhaps it’s because I was writing a blog series on forgiveness that I suddenly thought of my ex-husband Bill that Sunday morning while visiting Saint Theresa Catholic church in Maui.

As I sat watching three young girls perform the prayer of Our Father through their traditional Hawaiian dance, I was overcome with a sense of gratitude for the soft feelings in my heart toward my children’s father. In that moment of grace, I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that if he could say he was sorry for the physical and mental abuse he inflicted on me and our children he would do so. He would do so because, like the thief on the cross next to Jesus, he knew not what he had done in his attempts to control his family in the only way he knew how, at that time.

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Forgiveness: The Right to Protest (part 2)

July 3, 1945, curled tightly within the embryonic sac as if trying to protect myself even before I am born, my mother’s bitterness passed through the placenta to me. Her caustic drip of vengeful thoughts toward the man who knocked her up and then abandoned her for another, etched their way into the texture of my being. With an inexplicable knowing, I absorbed the angst she felt around her unwed status. It would be years before I would understand the reason for her uncontrolled, soul-searing sarcasm toward me and my birth. Unfortunately, reasons—even understandable ones—can never erase the scars such hatred leaves. The defacement is indelible; the deformity remains. “Shameful, embarrassing, defective,” became the standard by which everyone, myself included, measured me. After all didn’t the Bible say, “The bastard shall not enter the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation” (Deuteronomy 23:2)   Dawn Novotny, Ragdoll Redeemed

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Forgiveness: The Right to Protest (part 1)

Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.”     ―     Harvey Fierstein

In my last blog I talked about exploring a more holistic understanding of forgiveness for the sake of our mental, physical and spiritual healing. Forgiveness and grievances are aspects of all significant relationships. I want to cast a wide net while exploring forgiveness because it is a complex issue involving many aspects, including healthy protest.

There are many ways that we can offer a healthy protest to an injury– refusing a hug by a spouse who is in the dog house, withholding the bedtime story ritual to a disobedient child, waiting a few days to return a friends demanding phone message, or withdrawing from an unhealthy relationship. There are varying degrees of protestation that we can consider, and the ability to protest is important for our mental health. It’s important to be mindful of the age appropriateness of an expression of protest as well as the time frame in which it might occur. Protest looks different when we are thirty than when we are three. The act of protest and/or the process of forgiveness will be different depending on the nature of the relationship, and will differ depending on whether the injuries are past, present, or ongoing.