Category Archives: Advice

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I’m a crappy girlfriend

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Cary’s classic column from Tuesday, Nov 30, 2010

I put my boyfriend through hell. How can I stop?


Dear Cary,

My problem is that I’m a pretty crappy girlfriend.

I have been in a relationship for over a year with someone that I really care about. He and I met in graduate school and have been living together … Well, we moved in together almost instantly. Generally, we laugh and have a great time together. I love to cuddle with him and the sex is great. I am so attracted to him and think that he’s brilliant. We talk for hours. I love his company. I want to build a life with him.

The problem is … well, me. I have times when I just freeze up. I can’t deal with any conflict. If he isn’t paying enough attention to me or being inconsiderate, rather than just tell him I’m annoyed, I do the freeze-out. In other words, I just get really cold and then say over and over, “Nothing’s wrong,” when obviously it is. And then I can’t get myself to just say it! Sometimes I’ll need his help and he will try to do something for me and I just won’t let him — for NO reason. And then other times I will freak out over how serious the relationship has gotten and I want to write the entire relationship off. I will try to break up and kick him out. He has literally said to me, “We aren’t breaking up over this,” multiple times. Once I started along that familiar breakup path and he actually dropped to his knees and begged me to stop. Honestly, I don’t want to break up. I just want to … I don’t know … I want to NOT DO THAT.

I want to stop the freakouts. The problem is that my past is creeping into my present. Before I dated my current, I was with X for nine years. We were best friends and I thought all was great. I believed that being in a successful relationship meant that you never (or very rarely) fought — and so I didn’t. I’m still not entirely sure why I left X, but I know that I don’t want to go back. And my current boyfriend is nothing like X.

I need to find a way to just relax. I need to get comfortable in this relationship. Something within me keeps saying that we are going to break up eventually so why not just get it over with? I feel like a psycho. I can shift so quickly from being totally in love with him to ready to evict him. What the hell is wrong with me? On an intellectual level, I realize that we work and things are good. I just can’t … relax. What the eff?!

My current boyfriend deserves better and I want him to stick around — for the long term. How do I stop being so … weird?! How can I just relax and be in love? I used to be able to do that when I was younger. I’m in my early 30s now. I hate that this relationship has so many unnecessary ups and downs. How do I put my most recent breakup in my past and get on with my present?

Wanting to Settle In

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Dear Wanting to Settle In,

If you want to change, you have to learn some new behaviors.

You can only learn these new behaviors by doing them.

One new thing you can do right away is simply report.

When you get into this situation, where he’s asking you what’s going on and you’re not responding, find a way to report what is going on.

If you had a black flag or a red flag that you could wave when you are in this state then you could signal him. That would be one way. It doesn’t have to be an explanation. The point is to simply report on what is going on with you. Try writing it down. Try asking him to stay there until you can say it. Do whatever you have to do to stay in the situation and report what you are feeling. You don’t have to fix it or understand it right away. Neither does he. A good first step is to just report what is going on.

It might sound silly but it is profound.

It’s like what we do in therapy. We start out when we come into therapy all in a crisis and waving our arms and getting into all this behavior that we’re used to doing because we are used to obfuscating. That is mostly what we do in life is obfuscate. It’s how we get by. So it is a radical shift to move from obfuscating to clarifying.

Clarifying seems silly at first. We assume we basically know what is going on. But the more we observe, the more we realize that we really don’t know what is going on half the time. Neither does anybody else.

What is going on right now? I am sitting at my desk with the dog lying on the carpet and it is warm and the electric heater is on and the lamps are on and there is a painting by my friend Judith Lindbloom on the wall and I am looking at it liking the yellow. I am liking the yellow and the squiggly blue and the squiggly white and that is what is going on and that’s it.

This sounds silly at first. If I am sitting in the therapist’s office being angry that might be all that’s going on right then. That’s enough. It doesn’t make me sound like a genius but it’s enough because it’s true. The truth is sufficient. That’s the big, groundbreaking insight: The truth is sufficient and it is often disarmingly simple.

Maybe a truth for you would be something like, “I want you to come over here and hug me and sit with me.” That might sound silly but if it were true it would be enough.

When you operate in this realm of simple truth for a while it starts to look like 99 percent of what we do day-to-day leaves people baffled. They really have no idea what we’re up to unless we tell them. So slowly we start reporting on our inner goings-on. We start saying, OK, I feel really blank right now, like I can’t think of a single thing and I’m just sad. Or we say, I’d really like to take a baseball bat and bash this guy’s car in. And then the therapist or partner listens, or makes suggestions, or does whatever he does.

Maybe you wrap your arms tightly around yourself and huddle in a ball but you tell him you’re doing that. You say, “I’m huddling in a little ball.”

And that’s OK. It’s a good starting point. Or maybe you start throwing things at him. If you start throwing things at him, just tell him that’s what you are doing. Say, “OK, I’m throwing things at you now.” That’s building a bridge.

We need other people to look at us and tell us what they think. Therapists are good for that. So are friends. So are readers.

For instance, this morning I get a letter from a reader who says from my prose she thinks I’m not OK. And I write back to her and say, You’re right. I’m not OK. I’ve been through a lot and I’m functioning but I’m not what I would consider OK.

But then, am I doing something wrong for not being OK? Or am I just going through what’s pretty normal for a guy who’s been through what I’ve been through?

I’m not OK but I’m improving. I’m not OK but that’s OK. I’m not OK but I’m not in danger. I’m just recovering.

So, anyway, you need to learn some new behaviors. At first, it isn’t about gaining insight. It’s about doing new things. These new things won’t feel natural at first. So it’s also about being uncomfortable.

It’s uncomfortable but you will do it because you love truth.

Truth is great. The thing about the truth is that once you get there you can stop. But then you have to feel. That’s part of it, too. You have to feel the truth. And the truth is not always comfortable.

But in the long run, it’s better to feel the truth. So you have to learn to be uncomfortable. That’s when you’re really getting somewhere, when you can sit and be uncomfortable and know you are uncomfortable and know you don’t have to do anything about it but sit there and feel.

I like your boyfriend. He seems like a really nice guy who cares about you. These things he does make it evident that he’s willing to stick with you.

So just report. Say what is going on. Start with that. And keep doing it. It will get easier and more interesting.

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After war and 10 years in bed, I’m lost in the world

So after taking some time off I felt drawn to connect with others in the world who are suffering and so began again reading letters and writing. I am perplexed and moved by this letter, and as frequently has been the case, I wish I knew more, but the details, I decided, are for the letter writer to clarify for herself. We don’t need to know the details. Only she does.

Dear Cary,

I shouldn’t be writing you, I shouldn’t be complaining, but I have never been so unhappy in my life.

I went through war and came back: at age 31 I was diagnosed with an incurable illness, not fatal but chronic and incurable, I was mostly in a bed, drifting in and out of consciousness; I still don’t know with what strength, I managed to find relief in alternative therapies, and finally, after around 11 years, it seems like the war is over. In spite of a couple of relapses it seems that I have regained an average degree of health to allow me to have a life, to go out and spend time with friends, to work, even if only part time, all the things that I missed in the most important decade of my life when I was supposed to find a career, a family, some kind of position in society. I find myself old(er) and still in a sense it’s like I haven’t changed much since that November 2004 when my illness started. I learned a lot, especially to appreciate myself. For doing what needs to be done in spite of all feelings of helplessness, for trusting a higher power and trying the impossible to get better, for keeping a bit of good mood amidst the storm.  
It is such a irony that now I feel worse, emotionally, than in all the previous years. I find myself completely alone, different from most of those around me for my strange situation of single unemployed middle aged woman with no past for ten years, and I find it very difficult to make friends who can understand or even just tolerate my past and who I am. With regards to partners, I feel like damaged goods, I can’t have children, I would like to do so many things, travel the world, create art and music, help people, and yet I will always have strict limitations with my diet and environment. I stopped dating because I always feel like I fell from the moon and no one understands me. Where is everyone?

Can you give me any ideas about what to do next?

SadWarrior

Dear SadWarrior,

Name your illness. Write down what happened to you. Write it in detail. Spend time on this. Tell your life story. Write it in a notebook or write it on a blog, tell it in the comments field here, or write it in a letter to a friend, but tell it all. Tell what happened and what led up to it and what happened afterwards. Spend time at it. Tell it all.

What war were you in? What happened to you in the war? Is your illness connected to the war? I assume it is. I assume something happened. Perhaps you were exposed to a substance that harmed your nervous system or your immune system, and/or perhaps you had experiences of trauma that compromised your psyche and your soul, from which you had to recover by being comatose or taking to bed, by having no energy. I don’t know that. But you need to find strength in the telling.

Are you a warrior? Then call upon your warrior self but ask, too: Who is your enemy? If you are a warrior, who is your enemy? What have you been fighting? What has injured you?

You are at the turning point. That is what this means, that you have written to me. You have reached a dark place, a low place, where you must make a choice. Writing out your story will be your way of illuminating what your choices are. Right now, you cannot know exactly what is your set of choices.

Your choices will have to do with the people in your life. Put those people in your story. Put the people closest to you in there. Analyze them. Try to understand who is helping you and who is your enemy. And how are you yourself the enemy? In what ways to you hate yourself or have undermined yourself? Who has injured you in the past? What wreckage are you crawling out of?

There will be much to do but it starts with constructing your narrative. Doing so will pull you back together. Do not expect great results and miracles right away. Do this as an act of faith. Do it as if instructed by your higher power. Do it to become visible to yourself.

Tell your story. Write it down.

You need to rejoin a community but in order to join a community and be known to others, you have to show yourself. If you have a trusted friend and advisor, or a sponsor, or a spiritual guide, cling to that person and make it a daily thing. You will have to work hard to make and sustain bonds. Work hard at it. Work hard at making and sustaining friendships. Go to any length to make this happen. Reach out to others. Be on your road. Tell your story. Trust that you will be shown the next right thing to do. Get enough rest. Eat well. Listen to your favorite music. Sleep well. Rest. Keep writing your story and telling it. A sign will come to you. It will start to make sense.

Be desperate. Do not be afraid to be desperate. We are all desperate. None of us knows the secret. We are all desperate cats, leaping on couches, staring out the window, arching our backs and hissing at the world, at the approaching cars, at the moon that hisses back. Be desperate. Be not content. Do not apologize for what has happened. You have landed here and are making sense of it, doing the best you can. Be desperate. Find what you need. Cling to your people. Don’t let go.

Swinging for the fences

I had always swung for the fences.

Swinging for the fences means doing the absolute best job I could, every day. That meant spending four to six hours a day at the keyboard, trying and retrying, phrasing and rephrasing, searching for the right answer, looking for at least one bright linguistic spot, one trope that would make the column ring, that would elevate it above the dross and sloppy speech of daily journalism, one more cut, one more comma that would make the difference. This meant allowing images to come into mind and following them and seeing where they led,  often abandoning them as they turned out to be wrongheaded projections of the ego or of frustration, or random  shots fired hoping that they would pan out, or blind alleys run down in the hope that at the end there would be a prize, or a note, or a sculpture, but often there was nothing at the end of the alley, and so another alley had to be run down, and another and another until something clicked, until a feeling of magic occurred, and I sensed that I had hit on something genuine. This was what I did, day after day, for 12 years.

Then, after a year of writing the column intermittently on the carytennis.com site I needed to step back. I needed to reassess. So I slowed down on the column. I only wanted to do it if I was on fire to do it. No half-measures. No phoning it in. I had never phoned it in. I had always swung for the fences. I didn’t want to get into a habit of doing it half-assed. That was a danger. My resentment about doing it for free was leading toward a half-assed attitude.

Writing the column once a week for free on my own site I feared that I wasn’t giving it the same deep, soulful devotion I had in the past when I was doing it five days a week for a salary. I wasn’t sure. So I stopped doing it altogether for a few weeks, to assess. What did I want to do? What kind of literary artist did I want to be? What was my purpose and my place?

In doing this I had to answer many questions. Some of these were about business.

I finally decided, today, out of the depths of a crushing despair and doubt, standing at the sink in my bathroom, that what I have been doing for these 12 years is a cultural activity that should not stop simply because someone stopped paying me for it. It may have started as a job but it became a vital cultural activity that millions of people shared in. They expect it. It was a part of their lives. I thought of how I felt about Herb Caen, whose daily column gave lightness and gaiety and substance to my daily life in San Francisco. I thought about the delight I felt reading various columns over the years — brilliant columns in unexpected places, such as the Stanely Bing column in Fortune magazine when I was toiling away at Chevron, John Leonard’s writing about television and movies for the Village Voice, Katy St. Clair’s bar columns for the San Francisco Weekly, and many thousands of other pieces of writing that over the years gave me what I needed, slaked my thirst, made it possible to go on another day without feeling that life was an endless charade, a pointless joke.

So then I thought, what the fuck, I am the luckiest man in the world to have built up this correspondence, this dialog with the world, and I have loved doing it, and I don’t know how I will make a living but that doesn’t matter. It is the cultural activity that matters. The rest will have to work itself out. So I am going to throw my self back into writing the column and doing the workshop and all the other things that I have done as cultural activities, things that I believe in, things that seem right to me.

The problem is that these things which began as cultural activities eventually had to be monetized to justify themselves. It is so expensive to live today! Every activity has to make money somehow! That is a terrible state! But that is the state we find ourselves in, living in San Francisco.

So maybe San Francisco will have to go. Everything is up for grabs. Everything is on the table.

I can’t think about that right now. I feel a need to simply throw myself into the work.  The finances, the logistics, the administration, the sales and marketing and accounting, these things are all beyond me. To hell with all that.  I am going to go back to just being a writer and workshop leader and see how that goes. That’s  what I’m here fore. I’m here to continue the romance of words, the thing begun with Dylan Thomas at Nova High School, in the swelter of Lauderdale, in the heat of the Everglades, in the pounding glare of subtropic sun, in the restive doubt and tremor of junior high, in the terror of war and the disheartening fury of redneck deans, in the cooling night air like a blessing coming rarely over the shallows from Nassau and Bimini, from the hazy night sky, from the crackling radio of the soul. I’m here to carry out that first instruction, that initial impulse, to be true to something, to cut through the  bullshit, to do the next right thing.

Who knows what will happen in the future. For now, I am back writing the column, embracing people and their problems, trying to do some small good in the world with this small gift I have, the gift of words.

Tomorrow I’m back with a new column. My first one for a while. We’ll see how often I can do it. I’m fired up to do it but there are other fences to deal with, real fences in the backyard that require mending with real nails.

 

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Mom says dump the boyfriend or leave home!

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Cary’s classic column from THURSDAY, JUN 25, 2009

We got caught making out and now my mom’s all like you have to break up with him if you want to keep living here


Dear Cary,

My name is V and I’m 18 years old. I have a boyfriend and he’s 18 years old too, but the situation here is that my family has never liked my boyfriend. Me and my boyfriend have been going out for 10 months, and he has always been a good boyfriend to me. The reason my family doesn’t like him is because of the way he talks all ghetto like.

My mom says that he has me threatened and that I’m scared of him, but she is saying things without knowing that my boyfriend actually respects me. He has never hit me or yelled at me, and if he did, I would tell him to watch it, and he’d be like, I’m sorry, babe. Besides that, Friday was his graduation, and after his graduation I went to his house to celebrate. While at his house, I called my mom and let her know I was going to be at his house, and she said it’s OK, she’ll go pick me up.

After a while being at his house, he was getting hot and turned on, so we told everyone we were going to the store, and as we went out the door, he pulled me into the basement and we went in there. We were alone, and let me tell you, I already lost my virginity before that with him, but we weren’t really doing anything besides making out and I did a striptease for him. After a while we heard people looking for us, and his aunt saw when I was slipping my dress back on and started to yell at me and told me to get out of her house. By the way, my mom didn’t know anything about me not being a virgin. So as I was putting my heels on, his aunt told my mom how she found us. My mom was upset, very, very upset after that day.

She hadn’t said anything to me up until yesterday, when she told me to sit down in the living room and started talking, and her rules were:

Break up with your boyfriend and you can live at my house under my rules and keep your studies at the university, or
Leave the house. If you’re not willing to leave your boyfriend, then go live with him and lose your studies.

And honestly I don’t know what to do. I need help because I love my boyfriend to death and he’s willing to help me out if I go live with him. As a matter of fact, he’s been looking for jobs already, and he talked to his aunt, and she said it is all right with her if I go with them, but I’ll have to get a job, and that’s OK with me.

My problem in deciding between one or the other is that my family has always been everything, but for some reason I have felt like they have been turning their back on me and they don’t want to listen to me. My mom is mad at me. She says she’s disappointed in me, and I’m afraid that if I stay here at my house that she’s going to keep on bringing this situation up, because my mom tries to control my life all the time. She says if I live under her roof, I do what she tells me to do. I have no opinion and no say in anything, and I am tired of them deciding for me.

I have already made a decision to leave my house and learn to be an independent woman on my own, and go live with my boyfriend and just make my life already. I am conscious that it is not going to be easy, but I just want to be with my boyfriend. To tell you the truth, I want for my family to at least get along with my boyfriend. That way I won’t have to leave. I really do not want to leave my house because of my little sister. She told me last night crying that she doesn’t want me to leave because she can’t sleep without me being in the room with her. I know I did things wrong, but in my opinion my mom is taking things way too far.

All I’m looking for is for someone to tell me their opinion on my situation and to help me out. I am really seeking some help.

Confused

 

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Dear Confused,

I think you should stay at home for now until things can get sorted out. Ask your mom for some time. Promise to stop seeing your boyfriend for two weeks or a month while you sort things out. That will give her time to cool down.

Then tell your boyfriend the only way you can still keep seeing him is if he will go, on his own, to talk to your mom. He’s got to apologize and impress her that he is a gentle and honest man. He’s got to humble himself before her. But he’s got to be honest with her, too. He can’t snow her. If she senses that he’s trying to deceive her, or charm her, or sweet-talk her, she will become hardened to him. It’s got to be genuine. He’s got to say that he likes you very much, enough that he is willing to make some sacrifices in order to continue seeing you.

Now, you can’t get this all done in one conversation with your mom. So just tell her that for now, you want to stay at home and you’re having a “moratorium” on the boyfriend.

Here is the important thing: You have to have some flexibility and patience. When families suddenly break apart over something like this, it hurts everyone. It hurts you, it hurts your mom, and it hurts your sister.

So you need to use conflict resolution. If you can slowly resolve the conflicts, maybe this can be worked out to everyone’s benefit.

There are a lot of emotions involved. Your mom is trying to protect you, and you are trying to grow and be your own person. That naturally creates conflict. You have to learn to do some negotiating with your mom.

In negotiating with your mom, you have to have some things to offer her. What do you have to offer? Make a list of all the things you have to offer her if you stay at home: You can help take care of your sister. Staying at home will make your sister happy. You can clean and cook at home. You can be with your mom and keep her company. And you can stay in school so you can get a good job.

Your mom doesn’t really want you to leave. She wants you to stay in school. She wants you to stay at home. But she is trying to be a good mom. And she is trying to feel like she has some power over what goes on. So give her some power. Give her what she wants. But do that in a way that gives you some rights, too.

Now, after your boyfriend talks to your mom, you will want to see what she says. If you want to keep seeing your boyfriend, you don’t want to have to do it in secret. So you’ll have to figure that one out. If he can’t be persuasive, maybe his aunt will have to come talk to your mom as well. And if you’re going to keep seeing him, there will have to be some limits. Your mom won’t want him going into your room, and she won’t want you sleeping at his house or spending the night somewhere. You can guarantee she won’t want that. But if he approaches her on his own, and apologizes for what happened, and impresses on her that he truly cares for you and wants what’s best for you, she might agree to let you keep seeing each other.

You have this on your side: She doesn’t really want you to leave. She wants to keep her family together, but she wants some control and some respect. So this situation can be worked out. It doesn’t have to end in bitterness.

And don’t forget your little sister. You can “lobby” your little sister: Tell her that you very much want to stay at home, and that you just have to work things out with your mom. Don’t necessarily try to get her to take sides, but just be honest with her. In a pinch, she can tell your mom that she, too, really wants you to stay.

The most important thing at this crucial point, whatever happens, is this: Stay close to your mom and to your sister. Stay in school until you have a useful skill and you know how to get a job and support yourself. And don’t count on your boyfriend. I’m sure he’s great, but things do change. At 18, a year is like a lifetime. Things could change.

So the best solution is for you to try to negotiate something with your mom where you can live at home. You’ll have to give up some things, but so will she. She’s angry right now and being overly rigid. Show her you can compromise, and maybe she will accept your solution.

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Writing for money and writing as a cultural activity

I am not going to edit this. I am just going to write from the heart and the mind and the memory.

Writing for money and writing as a cultural activity are not the same thing and there is rarely a happy relationship between the two but  every once in a while they come together and when that happens a writer is wise to leap for joy.

It has happened for me only once or twice.

I have known since I was a teenager that writing was the cultural activity I wanted to pursue. Words were the route my soul would take; my soul was a word-soul; its deepest connection with humanity and history was triggered by language, particularly English, the language of my long forebears. It was through words that I felt my first connection with humanity at large, and sensed the grand, heroic and tragic story of humans in struggle against each other, against nature, against fate and the gods, and in struggle against themselves, their own nature, their own locked-in fates, their own limitations and vices. It was language and words. That was how I connected. This first occurred when I read Dylan Thomas’s poetry at the age of 14. I sensed there a world evoked that was my world, a world where colors were brighter and speech was richer; it was a world that mirrored the sense of my own soul, that within me was a world where colors were brighter and speech was richer than that around me. This began a romance with words as my primary cultural attachment; words were my vehicle.

The question of how to make a living, however,  how to make this soul connection work in a money-making way, was a terrible and vexing problem which I only now and then solved. Writing for a living I mean. It’s not a simple problem, for along with this romance of words I also had this vexing emptiness of spirit, this deep hole in my heart, this constant nagging emptiness and unease that led me to seek refuge in drugs and alcohol and wildness. I was an alcoholic from a young age, and alcoholics typically do not solve the problem of how to make a living in the most sensible way.

So in my 30-year romance with words  I learned much about how a living may be made writing words for others to read but how certain sacrifices must also be made, some of which will be so painful to the soul that they cannot be borne, and so one must choose, at times: to write for money or to save one’s soul.

It happened, however, that after years of struggle I found a job at Salon.com in 1999 where I was able to practice word craft in a pleasurable way and also get paid a living wage.

This is  rare and when it happens a writer is wise to ride it as long and as hard as possible. So I did this for 12 years, which was an amazing thing.

But here is what happened as I was able to write to my heart’s content for 12 years for a living wage for Salon.com. I was able to overlook the fact that it was a  cultural activity and view it just as a thing I did for a living.

But it was a cultural activity. It was not something done in a vacuum. It was an act of connection.

When I lost that job in September 2013 I was thrown into a state of uncertainty. I had to unravel who I was and why I had been doing it. For most of a year I continued to write the column but I resented writing it. I resented Salon for ending the column and I resented the fact that I was now writing the column for free. I couldn’t quite make out what I was supposed to be doing. Was I now writing the column as a marketing activity to draw attention to my other, money-making, activities?

To write the column as a marketing activity seemed demeaning. It seemed wrong. Yet to write it simply for free, out of vanity, did not sit well either. Nor did writing it for a salary seem doable; all the major outlets had their advice columnists already, and I was not sure, frankly, for a while, if writing an advice column was the salaried work I wanted to pursue. I had a sense that what I had done at Salon was over.

Tomorrow: Coming to terms/Swinging for the fences

 

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I’m a compulsive liar

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Cary’s classic column from WEDNESDAY, MAY 18, 2005

My deceptions are elaborate and crazy but I can’t seem to stop.


Dear Cary,

I don’t really know what good this will do; I just think I need to tell someone, some soul, the truth about who I am.

Ever since the 10th grade or so (I’m just shy of my mid-20s now), I have been a compulsive liar, a thief and a bit of a manipulator. So far, this has ruined countless friendships, several long-term relationships and one marriage. Sometimes the motivation is laziness, sometimes it’s all in the noble spirit of braggadocio, sometimes it’s just because I can or because I relish the simple thrill of getting away with something. I don’t really know why.

It’s been suggested that this compulsion is some simple misfiring somewhere deep in my brain and that with adequate therapy and chemical treatment, I could eventually become an honest person. I believe this is incorrect. I would love to believe that it’s not my fault; however, I go to extraordinary lengths to flesh out and protect my larger lies.

For example, I don’t think my ex-wife was aware of the fact that for nearly three years I’d go to local libraries to read up on the subjects I was supposedly formally studying, and that I was researching the local university’s infrastructure, geography and staff so I could keep up the illusion that I went there. I even went so far as to manufacture homework, quizzes, projects, transcripts and FASFA forms for myself.

I find myself moving from city to city to city, feeling that if I only start fresh somewhere, and just tell the truth to everyone, they’ll like me for who I am and not for the person I’ve crafted. And it always starts the same way everywhere I go. I always feel like my character needs a little more fleshing out, a little more motivation, and so I’ll concoct a long, involved story that neatly corresponds with easily verifiable data.

I sometimes think that perhaps I’m a sociopath, or that I’m a narcissist, or some -path or -ist that I don’t know, but it hurts me every time I do this, every time I lie or I cheat or I steal or hurt someone. I love my friends and my family and I wish they could know who I am, and not who I made up, but for some reason deep inside of me, that can’t be and I don’t really know why.

I don’t really know if there’s any advice to be given, or if there is, that I’d have balls enough to follow it. I suppose I just want to know if there’s still some hope for me to become a good person.

Tired and Twisted

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Dear Tired and Twisted,

I think you should see a specialist. However entertaining my words may be, they are vastly insufficient to the task of rescuing you. So let us assume that I have advised you to seek out a specialist in compulsive behavior and that you have agreed to do so. OK? You’ll go get some help, right? You’re not just telling me that? You wouldn’t lie to me, would you?

Now then. I would say this to you: Stop accepting the bribe. That is, stop accepting the payoff of your behavior. For years you have been carrying around a plain unexceptional self disguised as an immensely clever young man. Say goodbye to that clever young man. Now begins the era of the regular you. Discard the enhanced version of yourself. Starve it out. Refuse to take pleasure in it. Take pleasure only in things that are true. Say this to yourself: Only what is true is permitted. I will live secure in this little area of only the true.

Take a look at yourself unadorned. Take your unadorned self out on the street. Walk it around. See how it feels. Shave your head and only tell the truth for one day.

Admit all that is false. Admit it to anyone. If you like, admit it to me and I will keep your secrets.

There will be a cost. I’m saying start paying. Return uncashed all checks written on your false account.

Let the elaborate edifice finally fall: First comes tumbling down the facade. Then comes the whole building crashing down. Let it fall! Rejoice in the thunderous noise of its destruction! Clap your hands and sing!

Let it all fall down. Celebrate its demise. At the same time, toss into the fire all your false hope. You are not about to become a saint. You are simply a man discarding junk on the edge of town. Let go of grandiosity even in your hopes for the future. Envision a level world. Go to a neutral place. Do not believe in God nor not believe in God. Do not construct a belief in God or an idea of God. Leave God alone. Just dump the lies. Find a place in the ground and dump them there; find a place of ambivalent acceptance and cover it over with earth. Walk away quietly.

Don’t be so damned dramatic. Don’t go overboard. As I advised that person back in 2001, the trick is to cultivate an appreciation for the stupid tiny good things. “The facts of your life are fascinating if you cultivate them,” I wrote.

I still think it makes sense.

There are also some practical reasons for you to consult a specialist in compulsion: Eventually, if you do nothing, you may be arrested and charged with a crime. Eventually you may not be able to make a living. Eventually you may fail to amuse even yourself. Eventually you may forget who you are. Eventually you may fall apart. Eventually it will be much less fun than it is now. So it’s obvious you have to change.

So that is the program of change I envision for you: Good-faith work with a talented specialist; a radical jettisoning of accumulated falsehood; a coming clean, a time of reckoning, perhaps a series of ritual burials, a program of regular work and ongoing accounting, at the end of which you should have a story to tell that is not only remarkable but true.

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Can I stop my aging parents from suing each other into oblivion?

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Cary’s classic column from TUESDAY, SEP 9, 2008

Divorced, they’ve been squabbling in courts for over a decade.


Dear Cary,

I write this letter to you with the hope of gaining some clarity in a situation that it appears I cannot remove myself from.
My parents have been divorced for more than a decade now, but unfortunately neither of them got the memo that divorce means moving on with their lives. They still wrangle each other in court to this day. The reasons range from money to psychological damage caused by the other. You name it, and one has probably made a court matter of it. The two of them don’t speak, and I am the proxy by default.

Needless to say, this has deeply affected me for a while. After more than a decade of hearing the victim complex both my mother and father carry, it is not difficult to realize there is no rationalizing with either of them. I have not had a close relationship with either of them for a long time now, and over the course of the past year I have put so much distance between them and myself that I only touch base with them once a month.

I told myself I would not allow them to hold me back from living a happy, productive and fulfilled life. I can’t say I have neared any of those goals, but I can say that keeping them and their dysfunctional lifestyles at bay has allowed me to live a somewhat emotionally tame lifestyle.

But a difficulty has presented itself. My mother has signed her competency over to her friend/confidant, who coincidently is a former attorney. This individual has filed four lawsuits to date against my father as my mother’s guardian, and it doesn’t look like he is going to stop anytime soon. My father feels that he is being extorted.

He feels that if my mother is truly incompetent, why sign over power to an individual outside her immediate family? Basically, he feels that a fraud is being committed. And honestly, I can’t say I completely disagree with him. I am not a lawyer, nor I do I know the legal definition of incompetence, but something about this situation makes me want to call “bullshit.” At the same time, I am unsurprised and prefer to sit on the sideline instead of getting tangled in the mess.

I can’t say my father is a complete victim here. He is an attorney, and takes full advantage of that fact. It feels like after all these years of his taking such advantage, my mother will go to whatever lengths possible to get what she feels is rightfully hers, even if it means bending the truth.

My father tries to guilt me into doing something about this. His take is: “You have the power to stop what she is doing. She is wronging me.” I feel like, What’s the use? Why should I get caught up in a problem he helped exacerbate?

My siblings and I have spent enough time as the pawns in their juvenile warring for the past 12 years. Even if I do try and take the reins of being guardian, my mother will undoubtedly fight me on it. Nor will this end the power struggle between my parents. They’ll find something new to fight over.

What I am looking for, Cary, is for someone to tell me that my ambivalence in this situation is right. I feel like this is my time to start my life (I am in my mid-20s) … I have a lot going for me, and I don’t want to be sucked back into their dysfunction. Am I entitled to close my eyes to this situation?

Your opinion please.

Ambivalent Son

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Dear Ambivalent Son,

Of course your ambivalence is right. It is a natural response to an impossible situation.

Yet you must decide. You must decide whether to intervene. And I suggest, for better or worse, that you do try to intervene. I say this fully understanding the difficult emotional consequences such an attempt can have. I say this because you stand at least some chance of avoiding further damage. You stand at least some chance of doing some good.

At least engage your own legal counsel and examine the alternatives. After seeing all the options you may decide that doing nothing is best. At least you will have examined your options thoroughly. I suggest you do this as soon as possible. Such situations can get worse quickly. Assets can disappear; relationships can turn bitter; those who stood by can be burdened with lasting regret that they did not step in sooner.

In suggesting this, I feel like a fool, frankly, for often what happens is this: Even after forgiving oneself and others for shortcomings; even after admitting that we have absolutely zero chance of achieving a better past; even after recognizing that we are powerless over our parents; even after recognizing that we did indeed do what we could, that we did indeed try and were rebuffed, even after weekly sessions in therapy going over it and over it, the painful situation persists and we remain ambivalent and embittered and crippled by its insidious, undermining power: I failed as a son. I failed as the good son, the son with promise. I failed to protect my parents.

The only oasis of blamelessness in this hurricane of guilt and recrimination is the knowledge that one fails in such endeavors not because one is a bad son but because one is powerless over the ultimate fate of others.

This is a difficult thing to keep in mind. It needs constant reinforcement. We do not have godlike powers. If I had godlike powers I would change my parents. I would change my siblings. I would put us all in a big white house by the river. I would take us all back there to a quiet summer street shaded by banyans and mimosas, walking by the seawall, dangling our toes in the water, bicycling to the store for popsicles, devoid of cares, attending to childhood, sure and safe in the embrace of our parents who were young and strong and could be trusted to solve any problem and untie any knot. That is what I would do if I had godlike powers. I would take us back there. I would make life a fantasy. We would all tend lovingly to my parents as they aged and weakened, cooing over them and rocking them to sleep and feeding them with spoons. We would sing them lullabies and change them and protect them from things they cannot comprehend. In love for one another we would sacrifice, each of us, to the extent we were capable of, and each of us would understand that each sibling has gifts and limitations, and we would honor each other for our gifts and our limitations, and we would all take turns taking care of our parents.

That is what I would do if I had godlike powers. But I do not. Neither do you. So we do what we can. To the extent that you can gain some legal power in this matter, I hope you take steps to do so. If you can protect assets and prevent further lawsuits, if you can arrange for binding arbitration between the parties, perhaps you can avert certain catastrophes.

As to precisely how you do this, legally and financially, I respectfully yield to legal and financial experts. My point is more a moral one: You have to try. You may be damaged in the attempt. You may find that suddenly you are the enemy of all. They may all turn against you, including your siblings. But you will have tried.

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My Christian daughter says I’m going to hell

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Cary’s classic column THURSDAY, OCT 4, 2007 03:10 AM PDT

I don’t believe in God but I want to allay her fears.


Hi,

I am the father of a 13-year-old daughter whose mother has been taking her to an evangelical Christian church her whole life. Her mother’s family is entirely Christian. I am not a Christian, and in fact think that organized religion is actively harmful to her development into a rational adult. None of my friends are Christian, nor any of my family.

Her mother and I split up right before she was born, but I have been an active parent. She lived with me for fifth and seventh grades and has been with me every summer and every other holiday. Right now, I have her every other weekend. Religion is not the only issue her mother and I have had, but until this point we have been able to compromise and get along with each other pretty well.

As my daughter gets older, however, she has started to become fearful that because I am not a Christian, I am going to hell. When I try to explain my beliefs (that I don’t believe in God or a higher power), she cries. I am certainly not trying to deny her mother the right to take her to church, but I don’t want to cut my two weekends a month with her short to take her back to her mother’s to attend church. Nor do I want her mother telling her that I am going to hell.

It has gotten to the point that if I even try to broach the subject of religion (mentioning my belief in evolution or that homosexuals are not sinners), it upsets my daughter greatly. Obviously, this is not what I want, but I do want to be able to communicate to her what I believe.

Her mom thinks that I am denying her freedom by not taking her to church on the weekends that I have her, but I am just trying to help her see that other people believe other things and that having an open mind is a good thing.

What am I doing wrong? And more important, how can I talk to my daughter about this without making her cry?

Unholy Father

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Dear Unholy Father,

Does football exist?

Some would argue no. Surely they have heard people speak of football and argue forcibly about its rules and the conduct of its games. But they have never been to a game and would never go to a game because to them football is a mass illusion with a peculiar, inexplicable allure for millions of clueless fools, on whose hard-earned dollars certain unscrupulous people get very rich.
If your daughter is not a football fan she might argue thus. Moreover, she might argue, football is harmful to the development of a peaceful, nonviolent culture.

To which you might respond, well, if football does not exist then how can it be harmful?

And she would say, well, people gather to watch games, but what they are watching is not really football. It is just a bunch of people believing in football. There is no actual football. It is an illusion, a group hallucination. But it warps people’s minds and diverts them from more important things.

To which you might reply, Have you ever been to a friggin’ game? How can you say that? What can this thing that we are doing possibly be if it is not football?

Well, she might say, that’s your problem. All I know is that football does not exist, and if it did exist, I’d know.

How can you know unless you go to a game? you’d ask her in exasperation. Moreover, how can you know what goes on there after just one game? You would need to attend games regularly for maybe several years, or at least a couple of seasons, before you could really feel you know what’s going on there!

Exactly.

What I am trying to say is, the way to help your daughter grow is not to debate the existence of God. It is to go to church with your daughter and experience what she is experiencing.

You can argue about who is winning and who is losing. But at least watch the game.

Her problem is not that she believes in God. It’s that she believes you are going to burn in hell when you die. It’s her concern for you, and her fear for you, that are the problem. She wants to believe otherwise but has no solid grounds on which to place any hope. If you go to church with her, you will make it possible for her to believe that there is at least a chance that you will not burn in hell. From this she will derive great benefit. It will give her some peace of mind. The peace of mind she derives from it will help her in her schoolwork and in her relationships with others. It will help her sleep at night and it will improve her attitude toward you. It will be one less complaint she has against you. It will be one less wedge her mother can use between you. And it will be the only way you will ever be able to argue with her about religion with any credibility, should you choose to do so when she gets older.

Now is not the time to argue with her about religion. Now is the time to strengthen your bond with your daughter by participating in things that matter to her, by showing her that you respect the way she lives her life and by showing her that you have an open mind.

But don’t just go to church with her. Meet with one of the officials. That’s right, wander right down on to the field and speak with one of the guys in the striped shirts. Or whatever they wear. Arrange a private conference. In this private conference, you can say whatever you like. It doesn’t matter really. It might be a good conversation or it might be utterly ridiculous. But show your daughter that you are willing to engage with one of the people she respects. Show her that you have enough humility and independence of spirit to engage, that you are not fearful or dogmatic or close-minded.

In your own mind, you might approach the matter as a consumer. Don’t be glib with the official or you may be ejected. But in your own mind, think of salvation, or “eternal life,” as a product.

How is this product obtained? Are there instances in which people are granted “eternal life” at random, or must every grant be preceded by an act of faith, or surrender? Are there exact words one must use to close the deal, or will any words to the effect of “I’m in!” suffice? Would a silent act of surrender suffice? If a silent act of surrender would suffice, then is it possible that you have already been saved? And, once granted, can this product be recalled? For instance, what if a child were to be a fervent believer and then later lost his belief? Would that initial belief still grant him eternal life? Go over the terms and conditions, as it were.

Once you have done this, and conversed with an official, you might be able to confidently tell your daughter, without going into specifics, that you think everything is going to be OK, eternal-life-wise. She would probably appreciate that.

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My best friend is down on his luck. How can I help?

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Cary’s classic column from SUNDAY, OCT 17, 2010 05:01 PM PDT

We grew up differently. I got great guidance from parents and friends. He kind of drifted. Now he’s in a tough spot


Dear Cary,

I have something of a quandary with a friend of mine. He’s my oldest friend, we’ve known each other since we were about 4 years old. At that time we went to nursery school and kindergarten together; we were both children of decidedly middle-class families, growing up in the same suburb. Even though we didn’t go to school together we always spent our summers together, and made a real effort to keep in touch over the years. At some point though, during that time my parents moved along in their careers and my family sort of left the middle class to that ill-defined region between the wealthy and the doing-OK. However, his father left his mother and took off, leaving her to fend for her son by herself and somewhat bitter about the way things turned out, and his life was more difficult for it. But none of that ever affected our relationship, the two of us got along great all through high school, even though I had gone on to the local private school while he stayed at the local public school.

After high school I went off to college and he kind of bummed around working as a ski lift operator so he could snowboard at his favorite resorts. My parents were the demanding types who wanted to make sure that I had a focus in my life that would lead to a career — his father was basically absent and his mother had become shrill to the point where it was a guarantee if she told my friend to do anything he would do the opposite. At this point our lives started to really diverge.

Fast forward a few years — we’re both now in our early 30s. My life isn’t perfect, and there are things about it that I would change if I could. But overall I can’t complain — I’ve worked hard and (finally) find myself in a position where I’m easily self-sufficient. I have no debts, I live modestly, and every month I manage to save a nice sum of money that I plan to put towards a down payment on a house. I have a solid junior-executive position at a good company where I’m on an upward trajectory. I also have no illusions about how I got here. I know that I’ve worked hard but I’ve also had parents and friends who have looked out for me and tried to help me out when they could, and I’ve gotten lucky with some opportunities that I’ve taken advantage of when they made themselves clear. My friend, on the other hand, is in a very different place. After a few years of bouncing around resort towns so he could snowboard and surf during on-seasons, he’s come back to the area where we grew up with virtually nothing to show for it. He had a job doing house remodeling but was laid off because of the recession. Recently when I talked to him he told me he had a part-time job that was barely helping him to pay his rent and bills with almost nothing left over to live on, and was looking for work but hadn’t found anything.

We both come from the kinds of upbringings where guys typically downplay how bad things are because you don’t try to garner sympathy for yourself — you just don’t. So when I hear him say this I know that it’s for real, that’s he’s barely hanging on with what he’s got. I know that he hasn’t been as lucky as I have, he didn’t have parents looking out for him, and he just hasn’t had the kind of luck that I’ve had in getting himself on two feet. I don’t know if he’s worked hard or not, I really can’t say, but from what I know of him I imagine he has. I do know that he’s a good person, he’s easy to get along with, he’s the kind of guy everybody likes.

I want to help out my friend if I can. I offered to have a look at his résumé and pass it around to the people I still know where we grew up, and I’m trying to do that. But I’m also realistic about the kind of economy that we’re in right now, and I know it’s a long shot that he’ll find a job that way. I would like to tell him that if things get really difficult he can come to me for money if he needs it, but I just don’t know how. The last thing I want to do is condescend to my friend and make him feel like he’s a charity case for me, because he’s not. I know that if our situations were reversed he wouldn’t think twice about helping me out. I just want to figure out a way to help him and keep his dignity intact. Can you offer any advice for how I can do that?

Thanks,

Looking to Help a Friend in Tough Times

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Dear Looking to Help a Friend,

The best thing you can do is stay close to your friend. Be honest with him. Help him if he needs help. Go snowboarding with him. See the houses he has remodeled.

Beware of your desire to fix his situation. Know that his situation is not an accident but has meaning; it is like a signature; it is who he is and it is in a sense holy. The way to avoid condescending to him is to be honest in your regard for him. If it hurts you to see him having a hard time, be honest about that. But recognize that it’s his hard time to have. It’s his hard time, not yours. He is learning something he has to learn. He is encountering life on its own terms. He has to do this. He has to knock about until he’s had enough. The time for setting an orderly route was earlier, and it was a job for parents and family, and that job was not done. So he is finding out what life is like at a later stage than some. He is taking things in a different order. Maybe he is spending longer in this phase than one would hope. But that’s his path. Be his friend and respect his choices.

If you do this, time will pass and when he has a change of heart and sees that he needs an orderly direction he may confide in you. He may ask your advice. He may decide he needs to go to college. He may see a business opportunity in the world of resorts. If he comes to you with a business proposition, scrutinize it. Don’t lie to him. Don’t encourage him in something that won’t work. But if he has a workable idea and you have contacts who might help him, be generous. Only do this if you really believe it’s workable. It’s easy to kid ourselves about our friends.

Meanwhile, let’s look on the bright side. He may be having a hard time financially, but he is pursuing what he loves. He is not an office guy. He is an outdoors guy. He knows what makes him happy and he is seeking happiness in his way. His life is harder than yours. It’s harder to make a living that way. But he’s being true to himself.
So if he is your friend, the best thing you can do is be a good friend. If you are a good friend to him, then he will know he can ask for help. And you can give it, too. If you ever see that there is something you can do for him, you don’t have to ask. If it feels right to give him some money, or lend him some money to help him get over a difficulty, then go ahead and do it.

He can always refuse.

What you do not want to do is try to fix his life. What this says to him is that there is something wrong with his life. Remember: His life is fine. It may be difficult and more uncertain economically, but it is the life he has chosen. He chose it out of love. He loves to snowboard. He loves the outdoors. He loves building things. So the equation he has followed is simple: We do what we love and we deal with what happens. After a while, we learn to fine-tune. We know we love to snowboard but we see what happens when we snowboard all the time. We make no money. We have no place to live and no food. So we snowboard but we also do something to make money. Sometimes it is hard to make money. Money is scarce sometimes. That’s the way it is for those of us who just do what we love. We learn to adapt. We learn how far we can take it. We make compromises when we have to.

But the beautiful thing about it is, he knows what he loves. He knows what he values. And he is being true to himself. I wouldn’t change that. It’s hard doing what you love. It can wear you down and put lines in your face. You end up with a leathery neck and tattered jeans and scarred workbooks and callused hands. You end up weather-beaten. That is, you end up with the face that you deserve. Your face becomes the record of a life lived according to what you love.

There’s something to be said for that. So stick close to this friend of yours. There’s much there to cherish. Don’t pity him. He’s doing what he has to do. If he wants your help he’ll ask for it. And likewise, there may come a time when you could use his help. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. There’s dignity in asking for help and giving help, and not offering until asked.

Value this friend. You’re a lucky man. So is he.

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I won’t grovel for my mother-in-law!

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Cary’s classic column from

After all I’ve been through, I snapped. I don’t want to apologize, but I want my family back.


Dear Cary,

In the past three years, I have had a great deal of loss. My father, both grandmothers and my 36-year-old brother died. My mother had breast cancer and I had a miscarriage. Plus, two of our family pets passed. It has been a great deal to absorb, especially when the onslaught of loss kept going and going.

When a family member grew ill, or near the end, I relied on my mother-in-law to fly in to help my husband with our kids. She is retired, well off, and visited us often. Most visits with her tended to involve her taking us out for meals and taking us shopping. When I was a stay-at-home mom, I appreciated all the gifts and meals out as a diversion from our otherwise tight budget. Holidays were over the top; she even took our family on two Mexican vacations. We didn’t ask for money, or trips, but we did accept them gratefully.

When my last family member grew ill, I traveled across the country and my mother-in law came to stay with my family. The trip ended up being longer than originally planned because I decided to stay for the funeral. When I asked my mother-in-law to change her plans and stay one more day, she said she had a dentist appointment to attend. Furthermore, she asked if the funeral date could be changed or could someone else bring the ashes home. I was aghast. My grandmother’s funeral didn’t take precedence over a dentist appointment?

When I called my husband later that night, he told me that his mother had been concerned over our finances. She was urging him to look for a better job and asking when I was returning to work. She had been talking finances with him the whole time I had been gone, knowing full well that I handle the money in our family. She talked about feeling unappreciated. She had never brought up any of these topics with me, and to do so while I was gone and in such a dire emotional place, just seemed wildly inappropriate to me. I think she was acting needy when I was in a time of actual need.

In the end, my husband took time off work and sent his mother home in time for her appointment. On a layover, on the way home from the funeral, I called my in-laws and told them that I was canceling our next planned vacation to Disneyland. In part, I was angry over my losses and didn’t feel like “business as usual” after hearing her bemoan our finances. I thought, “Fine, if you’re suddenly worried about my money then I won’t spend any more of yours.” I have since returned to work and it’s been the silent (or martyr) treatment from her for almost a year now.

After licking my many wounds for many months, I realize that what family I have left is small and that I want to be close again, at the very least for the sake of my kids. I am at an impasse with my mother-in-law that I’d like to be resolved, but I don’t feel like groveling or apologizing. I miss our old relationship, when we were close and things were fun, but realize that ship has sailed. What should I do?

Mother of All Mother-in-Law Issues

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Dear Mother of all Mother-in-Law Issues,

What should you do?

Grovel.

Seriously.

Grovel and apologize.

It will feel great.

It’s not that the groveling and apologizing will feel great. But when you finally become willing to grovel and apologize, you will have achieved a spiritual victory. You will be free of your wounded pride.

Before you feel free of your pride, you need to grieve. If you feel you can’t grieve because your mother-in-law has withdrawn her support, then you may well feel angry. Your pride may be hurt. If you are used to being the one who handles the money and someone comes in and starts giving advice, your pride is hurt. When our pride is hurt we want to strike out. When we feel threatened we want to strike out.

But you need to take care of yourself. You have “licked your wounds” but you have not allowed your grief the kindness of time. You may feel that grieving is a luxury, that before you can grieve, somebody has to step in and take care of things and make sure everything is running smoothly. So when your mother-in-law tried to take care of her own needs, you felt panic. How can you grieve, how can you get through this, if there isn’t someone making sure everything runs smoothly?

Well, as you know, death changes all that. Death doesn’t wait for us to clean up the house. It comes and plunges us into grief and certain things just have to wait.

The way we live our lives today, we don’t plan for difficulty. When overwhelming feelings arrive, as well they will, when grief arrives, and it will, when sadness comes, and it will, when the life cycle turns, we haven’t made room for it. We haven’t prepared the house for this new visitor.

So forgive those around you, and accept your own grief. Maybe the house will get messy. Maybe the kids won’t be perfectly taken care of. Maybe a little sheen will come off the glossy finish. That’s OK. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Have some compassion for yourself. You’ve been hurt. You’ve been through hell. You’ve been through hell and haven’t given yourself credit. Possibly others haven’t given you credit either. So give yourself credit. Let yourself feel this. You’ve been beaten down. People you love have been taken from you. You lost a baby, for heaven’s sake! Life has taken loved ones from you. You’ve been torn apart. Let yourself feel this. Give yourself love.

How to repair your feelings toward your mother-in-law? One way is to list all the things you are grateful to your mother-in-law for. List all the things she has done for you, the gifts, the visits, the dinners. Just list all the things you are grateful for. Think of what you would miss if she were gone. And thank her for all these things.

When your mother-in-law said she had to go back, isn’t it possible that she lied, that it wasn’t about the dentist, that she had emotional reasons of her own for getting back home? People do things to meet their own needs. They don’t necessarily understand consciously what all their needs are, or how they’re meeting them, so they say things like they have a dental appointment because they think that’s what they’re supposed to do. So sometimes it comes out sounding pretty lame. And offensive. But it’s very hard in most families for someone to just say what they’re feeling.

And perhaps you need to grovel — not for your mother-in-law but for yourself. Maybe something in you is calling you to grovel, for it is an oft-observed truth that in what we most resist lies a deep attraction. So go ahead and get down on the ground and feel the ground. Grovel and let out your grief. Let yourself do this. A part of you wants to. Your prideful ego wants to maintain its appearance as the completely together entity who’s in charge of the finances and knows what to do in every instance. But it is your prideful ego that stands between you and relief. So let your ego blab on about its resentments and its anger and its refusal to grovel and refusal to apologize.

You don’t need to be afraid. Death comes. The ego doesn’t want to die or accept the fact of death, and so it stands between us and true grieving. In reality we decay. We lose people. Things fall apart. We leave the stage. We make room for more. That’s how it goes. Every life is full of constant leaving. It tears us apart but that’s how it is.

Just let it go, all this stuff. Let yourself break down. Let yourself fall to your knees. You’ve had enough. You’ve held it all together long enough. Let it go.

Let your tears fall. Let your tears fall into the ocean of tears that have fallen for all the departed for all the years that we have been saying goodbye to souls old and young. Let your tears fall into the river of souls. Let yourself fall to your knees and grieve for all the souls that have passed by us. Empty yourself of this grief. Empty yourself. Empty yourself and make room for all the new souls coming into the world.

Welcome all the new souls coming into the world. Make room for the life to come.

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