Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Forgive me for the radio silence since May. I've been busy - ha! You'll get the joke when you read this month's post. Actually, I intentionally took some time off to finish my book, which incidentally, is based on this blog. A publisher discovered it a year ago and offered me a book deal, and the final draft is due a week from yesterday, so I will be getting back to regular blogging again soon. Watch for My Dance With Cancer: A Solo Survivor's Guide to Life, Love, Health & Happiness in bookstores this spring.

Several years ago when I worked on a college campus, I had the kind of schedule that revolved largely around students. I would regularly find myself still on campus following a meeting at 10 p.m., or coming in on a Sunday afternoon. At the time, I was a young professional, and didn’t think much about this schedule and the impact it had on my life – or my social life. I was doing what most student affairs administrators do, and it didn’t seem possible to ask the students to change their meetings to a time that was more convenient for me if they wanted me to be there. I was a little bit afraid the threat would be empty because they might be happier if I weren’t there.

I used to keep track of how many hours I worked each day in my calendar, and some days, I’m embarrassed to admit, the number 16 was circled. Often I would log 60-70 hours a week, and not even find it unusual. At a staff meeting one day I realized we were all unconsciously one-upping one another with how many hours we’d been on campus that week, and it was a serious wake-up call for me. “Are we really competing for who has the worst work-life balance,” I thought?

These days I have a much better work-life balance, and rarely work more than 40 hours a week. For the past several years, I have worked mostly from home as well, which allows for a good deal of flexibility. It is only in the past year that I have been back in an office, and there have been both pros and cons to adding that kind of structure back into my day. Con = commute time, which though short, seems like a waste when I could have been at my desk already for 45 minutes if I were home. Pro = being around other people and getting to interact throughout the day.

Even though my work-life balance with my job is better, it still hasn’t improved my social life a great deal because I’ve found plenty of other things to fill my time, including a part-time job as a river guide, a board position with a local nonprofit, a new career as a college speaker and a book deal that requires me to produce a book by a deadline that is inching ever closer. I distinguished recently how much I complain about being busy. Several years ago I told my boss I was overwhelmed, and he replied, “You’re always overwhelmed.” He was right. I live in this world of, “I have too much to do.”

This is what I’ve gotten present to lately. We ALL have too much to do, ALL the time. I’m not unique or special in that regard.  That I allow it to overwhelm me is my issue, and I’m sure other people are sick to death of hearing about it. I know I am sick of saying it. So I have started telling people in my life they have permission to call me on it when they hear those words come out of my mouth. It’s just not interesting to share for the millionth time how busy I am.

The truth is I love my life, and I’m exhilarated by what I am up to in the world. I wouldn’t have it any other way! While I often think it would be great to have some more down time to take a walk, see a movie or read a book, I would be bored to tears sitting in front of a television or hanging out at home all the time. I know what I need to feel healthy and happy, and when I don’t give myself at least one weekend at home each month (as is the case for most of this fall), I know I will feel the consequences of that.  I also know that if I push it too far, I will get sick (my body’s way of telling me “enough is enough, rest already.”).

The biggest potential negative of my hectic life is that I don’t always take time for dating. I tend to find time to be with friends, but not always for romance. This is a convenient excuse for why I’m 42 and still single, but it doesn’t bode well for having someone special if I don’t have any time to meet someone much less build a relationship. This is one reason for being intentional about leaving time in my schedule for what is really important to me, and actually scheduling those things first before the hours, days and weeks get filled with the uninspiring.

I also know when I have too much “down time,” I tend to waste more time. I finally had a weekend off after several weeks of travel and commitments, and I did next to nothing. I spent much of the weekend on the couch, and watched a lot of television. I also spent some time with friends and had some fun, caught up on a few chores around the house, and did some laundry. I think these sluggish weekends are necessary from time to time, but they aren’t particularly satisfying.

Having a lot to do helps me get more done, and keeps me on my toes. There have been times in my life when I spent a great deal of time at home, alone, reading, writing letters and being introspective, and now I tend much more toward being with friends, jetting around the country for work or fun, participating in programs and contributing to some amazing causes with my time and talents. This is much more satisfying, and if that means that busy is a permanent descriptor of my life, I’m ok with that.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


The past few months have opened my eyes to so many patterns in my romantic relationships that have held me back for years. Through reading, seminars, courses and coaching, I have begun to see the myriad of ways that I keep myself from experiencing true connection and love. What a gift it has been to recognize these patterns, so I can begin breaking them.

Control vs. Surrender
Ask anyone who knows me and I’m sure they’ll tell you I like to be in control, and believe it or not, I was totally unconscious of this until recently. I think all of us have control issues to some extent, but I really didn’t know how far mine extended and how much it affected my relationships. Wanting to be in control is one way that we unconsciously try to protect ourselves. This can manifest as controlling your emotions, what your dates are like (where you go, what you eat, how it will all play out and when they will take place), and perhaps even planning out the entire relationship. Have you ever thought about  what kind of cake you’ll have at your wedding before the second date?

While I don’t think I was quite that bad, I see now how my need for control held me back from allowing myself to be vulnerable. Being open and sharing is key to intimacy, and I complained constantly about the lack of intimacy in my relationships – always blaming the men for not being more open, of course. I can see now that I wasn’t very open in a true sense either, always putting my best face forward, and not sharing my fears and failures. (See more on this below in the vulnerability and authenticity section.)

We not only try to control ourselves, but our partners as well. We see all the things they are doing “wrong,” and genuinely want to help them. When we point out these issues and offer “advice” though, we come off as nags, and send the message that our guy isn’t good enough. This does not make for good romance.  

Laura Doyle shares in her book The Surrendered Single, what we all already know if we just think about it for a minute. Our guys want us to be happy. They will do quite a bit to insure our happiness. We don’t have to manipulate or control to get what we want. We just have to ASK. Why is this so hard? Men have been lamenting for years that they can’t in fact, read our minds. We get upset when they don’t do what we want – no wonder they’re frustrated – how about we just try asking.

Have you ever heard that men need to be needed? I’m guessing you have. This has been a big one for me to really get. I have male friends who would rather I call them than a plumber when I have a problem with my toilet or sink. This is so difficult for me to understand. I feel like a total burden when asking for help with stuff around the house, and don’t feel as if I can ask my friends, especially if I haven’t seen them for a while. They, on the other hand, love to help out whether it’s a ride to the airport or help with the dripping sink in the bathroom, and are usually not just available to do so, but thrilled to be able to be helpful. Wow!

I am now recognizing how my independent, “I can do it myself” attitude occurs for men, whether they are strangers or friends. They want to help and when they offer and I don’t accept they are actually emasculated. Really?!  Since realizing this, I am super conscious of accepting offers of help from men. It doesn’t mean they see me as weak and incapable of doing it myself, as I might have previously misunderstood. Put that heavy bag in the overhead for me, sure. Carry that box to the car, absolutely!

Independence is one of my strong suits – practices I use to get me through difficult times in my life. Adopting an independent attitude has served me well for many years in a variety of ways, but it has not helped in the romance department.  If men need to be needed and I don’t need any help, thank you very much, then where does that leave me? You guessed it. Sitting home alone on Saturday night.  

Giving & Receiving
Ok, this is another imbalance that has left me scratching my head for years. I am a super giving person and a two on the Enneagram. That means I will often put others’ needs before my own. This should make me the best girlfriend in the world, right? Hmmm. . . maybe not.

Turns out being a good receiver is pretty important too, and receiving is a feminine trait. Think about the physicality of sex for a moment: men give and women receive. Aha! Except I was always giving and actively deflecting receiving because of my personality type, independent streak and unwillingness to ask for help. Yikes! This obviously didn’t bode well for male/female relations.

Does this mean I shouldn’t ever give anything in a relationship? Of course not. I just have to maintain a balance and allow myself to receive more, while also perhaps giving a bit less. Giving to get people to like us is manipulative and controlling (remember what we talked about above?), even if it is unconscious. Look at the motivations behind your giving.  Are they selfless or is there an ulterior motive?

Vulnerability & Authenticity
We all think putting our best face forward it necessary in most parts of our lives. Think about the job interview, online dating profile and resume. We don’t mention our weaknesses, fears or flaws in these arenas. An ex-boyfriend even said to me once when I was showing him the scars on my stomach from multiple cancer surgeries, “Don’t point out your flaws.” He may be right that I didn’t need to point them out as if something was wrong with me, but it is ok to talk about how you feel about these things. In fact, it’s refreshing.

We all have weaknesses, vulnerabilities and things of which we are ashamed. Opening up about them gives others permission to do the same, and creates a new level of intimacy that probably wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. This is what relating to each other is all about. And relating to someone else in a deeper way is what makes a relationship.

I once led in my online dating profile with the fact that I was a total klutz. I used the phrase, “I could trip on a pattern in the carpeting.” My friend advised me to change it because, as she said, “People will find out about your shortcomings soon enough. You don’t have to point them out.” I got so many responses to that profile as men wrote to tell me about their quirks too. Numerous klutzes were drawn to tell me about how they had cut themselves shaving that morning, or tripped crossing the stage at their high school graduation. It gave us something to relate to about each other right off the bat.

We look at others and get intimidated by the fact that they are so successful or good-looking or wealthy, and we use that status to put them on a pedestal and assume they are somehow better than us. The truth is that each of those people likely once struggled, lost a job or important relationship, had zits or went bankrupt. Hearing about those struggles helps us better relate to them.

I learned in a relationship seminar once that sharing that which you are most afraid to share can open doors to the deepest levels of intimacy, so I asked someone I was seeing if he would share something he was ashamed of, and promised I would do the same. He said, “I already shared it last week.” Wow! I was thrilled that he felt comfortable enough to open up to me in that way, and I shared something that had previously been very difficult for me to admit.

Rather than react in alarm and disgust as I had imagined he and others in my life might upon learning this, he was sympathetic and even helpful in so many ways. He has since sent me tools, resources and provided support as I work through my issue. The same thing happened when I shared this confession with my mom – the person I was most ashamed of sharing it with.

This experience was incredible, and so eye-opening. It makes me sad to think that for years I lived my life being so ashamed of something that I was unwilling to share it with those who loved me the most, and that doing so was the key to deeper more meaningful relationships with those who are important to me.

What are you trying to control in your relationships? How could you surrender instead?

What traits do you have that keep you separate from others?

What could you share that you are most ashamed of?

Sunday, April 1, 2012


I am a control freak. I didn’t realize this until recently, but it is becoming clearer that, as a visionary, I nearly always have an idea in my mind about how things should go. And because of that, I like for things to actually go the way I envision. When they don’t appear to be doing so, I tend to get somewhat bent out of shape about it. There are both positive and negative aspects of being “visionary,” obviously, but recently I have been bumping up against the downsides repeatedly and painfully.

As a student of the Law of Attraction, I know that visioning is the first and perhaps most important part of the process of manifesting what I desire. To get what I want, I first have to know what that is, and then be able to see and feel what it will be like when I have it. I don’t have to know exactly HOW to get to that desired end-point, however, and this is where it gets tricky. I often DO see a path forward, and by the time I’ve gotten out my map, chosen a route and spent some time and energy planning it all out, I feel pretty invested in that direction.

Plans are all well and good until those pesky “other” people come into play. They often have ideas of their own, and they occasionally (frequently) differ from mine. Drat! At that point, there are a few techniques I typically employ to try to get MY way:

1. Explaining why I am right. I diligently and firmly explain why my plan is the best one. I really lay it on thick, because obviously, as soon as the “other people” truly understand the merits of my plan, of course, they will jump on board enthusiastically. It doesn’t typically occur to me that I am striving to persuade anyone of anything. I am just letting them know why I am right. I wonder why this isn’t usually effective?

2. Repeat Step One. Clearly, I didn’t do a good enough job explaining the finer points of my plan, so I do it again, more forcefully this time, and sometimes in a louder voice. How are they not getting this? There must be something wrong with them.

3. Telling them why they are wrong. This one is hugely popular, as you can imagine. It usually involves some aspects of points one and two illuminated now in a more condescending tone, and topped off with a good dose of all the flaws of the path they are charting. By this point I am super full of myself, which we all know is totally endearing, right?

Two recent situations have helped me see the benefit of surrendering my need for control and relinquishing my vision of how something would play out. One involved work and the other a personal relationship. Both were extremely challenging to me over an extended period of time, and I’m sure caused no end of angst for the “other people” involved as well. But once I made the decision to surrender, a weight was lifted. I felt lighter, more at ease and freer. Though the “rightness” of my stance still sometimes rears its ugly head, I can also feel freedom in the knowledge that along with control, I can also let go of the weight of responsibility for making things work out, and rest easy that other hands are carrying some of the burden.

About a decade ago, Laura Doyle ignited a firestorm with her Surrendered books for wives and singles, suggesting that women surrender to their men, and stop trying to control the way the relationship was going. She advised respecting men’s decisions for their lives, practicing good self-care, expressing gratitude for the things others do for you and allowing yourself to be vulnerable.

The idea of surrendering stirred up controversy among some who hadn’t read the books, and who misinterpreted the premise to be about submission to men’s desires and needs at the expense of our own (something perhaps women tend toward already). One human rights activist even went to so far as to liken this approach to slavery, suggesting that the author expected women to subvert themselves entirely to their man, becoming a kind of puppet.

I remember the hubbub around the books when they came out, and admit to feeling a significant amount of distaste for the idea of surrender, even buying into the feminist outrage about the misrepresentation of this concept. I had no interest in reading the book then – why would I want to surrender my control?

I am absolutely intrigued by this idea now, and totally see the power of this concept. To me, surrender simply means ceding control. It goes beyond gender issues, and speaks only of letting go, and knowing that I don’t have to try to steer the outcome of every single thing in my life. Whew! What an incredible feeling to trust other people to take care of it, trust the process to produce a great result, or even, as my intuition whispered to me recently, trust love, and know that whatever form it takes, it is real and I don’t have to manipulate it in any way.

Even though there are sure to be moments that scream for me to wield some sort of influence, assert my opinion or just feel strongly that something must be WRONG, surrendering, in and of itself, is nothing short of blissful. I recognize there are numerous routes that lead to the same end, and that the view from the passenger seat can be really great and quite relaxing. The destination itself may even look different than expected, and that is ok too.

What are you trying to control that is stressing you out?

What does the idea of surrender look like to you?

To what or to whom could you surrender in order to feel freer?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


During this month associated with Black History and also love, many of us are still observing February 14 as “Singles Awareness Day.” In a workshop just over a year ago I asked the participants what “single” meant to them. The answers were: loser, alone, lonely and other similar words and phrases. I don’t think this is uncommon. I bought a book once titled: If I’m So Great, Why Am I Still Single? Even though more and more of us are staying single longer or becoming single again, there is still often a negative connotation to that word.

I have written before about Dean Ornish’s book Love & Survival and the role that social connection plays in our health and well-being. This post also noted that while the rise of social media has connected us with more people, the connections are not as deep or meaningful as they are face to face. Recently, I have had the opportunity to revise my thinking on this issue somewhat as I have formed a significant connection with someone who lives on another continent. While we only talk every few weeks by Skype, we have become quite close, and discovered we have a great deal in common in the way we view the world.

Social connection, and indeed love, can take many forms, and though more and more of us are choosing to live on our own, that doesn’t mean we lack community.

In fact, 50% of American adults are single and 31 million (1 in 7) of us live alone, according to the book Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. People who live alone make up 28 percent of all U.S. households, making them more common even that those containing a nuclear family. This book suggests that while more of us live alone, we also tend to be more socially engaged outside the home than those with families.

There are even some activists such as Bella DePaulo, PhD, writing about how singles are “stereotyped, stigmatized and ignored, and still live happily ever after.” Her book Singled Out details the ways in which singles are discriminated against in our society (the single supplement on many trips and special event pricing for couples being two examples), the stereotypes we face and the fact that we are often labeled as selfish. She suggests that “family values” have been bastardized to leave out the vast majority of us who are raising kids as single parents, living alone or even part of same sex couples. The graphic indicates the extent of the tax discrimination singles face. I recently noticed this myself as I really scrutinized how much of my salary I never see with my 25% tax rate. It is staggering.

I believe singles have also stigmatized themselves, feeling, as the book title in the first paragraph suggests, that something must be wrong with us or we would indeed be coupled. For single cancer survivors, that stigma can be doubly or triply painful as infertility issues, scars and other body image issues, and the specter of illness and fear of recurrence all combine to make us wonder who will possibly love us NOW? We believe our past illness makes us somehow unworthy or undeserving of love, and sometimes wallow in self-pity, which does actually make us less desirable.

The truth is that all of us are whole and complete and worthy of love no matter what we have dealt with in our past. We all have something to offer, and a beautiful spirit to share with others, even if we are missing a breast, ovaries, a testicle or have physical and emotional scars from the experience of life and illness. It is truly only our own limitations that hold us back, and keep us from sharing the love in our hearts.

A Course in Miracles states that there are only two ways to be in the world – living in fear, or living in love. We are often afraid of allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and share our love because we fear it won’t be returned or we will appear foolish. We hold back for fear the other person doesn’t feel the same way, or might not react the way we want them to. I am learning that the latter doesn’t matter nearly as much as I have thought in the past, and that no matter what, there is never anything wrong with sharing the way you feel with another person. It is indeed all that really matters.

We have all heard that love is the most important thing in life, and for those of us who don’t have romantic love at the moment, we have often made it mean that we are somehow lacking THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. It’s not true. We all have love in some form, and while most of us long to be loved by that one special person, it doesn’t diminish the love “that actually is all around us,” to paraphrase a favorite movie (Love Actually).

People in my life regularly say, “I love you,” to me. This is indeed a miracle, because it was only when I could allow myself to hear it and receive it that it began to happen with more frequency. At the same time, it is the most natural thing in the world to tell the people we love how we feel about them, and be so thrilled to hear it in return. What could possibly be bad about saying, “I love you?”

Who can you say “I love you” to?

What keeps you from feeling worthy of having love in your life?

What do you love the most about you?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Studies in orphanages and hospitals stress that infants deprived of skin contact lose weight, become ill and even die. To thrive newborns need touch as much as food. As children we instinctively seek out touch when we need it, and ask to be hugged or cuddled by our parents. As we grow older, we may not experience as much physical touch in our lives, and might not feel as comfortable asking for it.

Nothing can make us feel loved more than being touched. A pat on the arm, a back rub, a hug, or someone stroking our hair all send the message, “I care about you.” “You are loved.” When we don’t get this kind of physical contact, it can significantly contribute to feelings of loneliness and separation.

When I was going through cancer treatment, I had reiki sessions once a week to help me deal with the side effects. The sessions were seriously discounted and offered through a local program just for cancer patients. This “laying on of hands,” from an ancient Asian healing practice made a major impact on my nausea, bone aches and other chemotherapy side effects. Looking back on it now, I also recognize how emotionally healing it was during that difficult time to receive loving touch for an hour each week.

Programs like this one offer a valuable service to their clients during one of the most difficult times of their lives. I serve on the board of a similar organization that helps patients heal and reconnect with their bodies after treatment is complete through massage therapy. Cancer patients can often feel as if their bodies have betrayed them, and treatment takes a toll on even the most otherwise healthy person.

Massage can help patients deal with lingering pain or sensitivity in certain body parts. It also helps move toxic chemicals out of the system, and provides a sense of rejuvenation to the to the body. But perhaps the most significant part of the process is the opportunity to talk with a provider about what you’re going through as a patient or survivor, and to experience the connection that comes from allowing yourself to receive therapeutic touch.

When we are “sick,” people can be afraid they are going to hurt us in some way if they hug too hard or touch the wrong spot. If we have ports, IVs or other tubes and wires coming from our bodies, especially in the hospital, people can be even less willing to reach out physically. Let people know it’s ok and where there might be sensitive areas to avoid. Go a step further and let your loved ones know when you need to hold someone’s hand, get an extra-long hug or a foot rub. Whatever makes you feel connected and loved – be willing to ask for it.

I have used energy work such as reiki, healing touch and acupuncture to deal with many of the side effects of treatment and of menopause following my hysterectomy. All have had a profound impact on my physical issues, but perhaps just as strongly, if not more so, on my emotional well-being. The act of receiving is powerful, and all of these healing modalities ask only that you relax and allow yourself to receive the healing energy and touch being provided. There is something very profound about being able to receive in this way without any expectation of reciprocation. There are few times in our lives when we can do that, and many of us are not very good at receiving.

I had a conversation recently about physical affection. It was refreshing in the context of a romantic relationship to have someone tell me the type of affection he appreciates. We often expect people we are intimate with to be able to figure it out, or to read our minds about what makes us feel loved and connected. Even more ludicrously is when we get upset with them if they don’t give us what we want and need. Being able to recognize your own needs and communicate them to others is essential.

Saying to someone – whether they are a romantic partner, a friend or family member – “Can you hold my hand?” can feel uncomfortable at first, but the more you practice it, the more natural it seems. “I like it when you rub my lower back,” is a great phrase to insure you get more of what nurtures you. “Cuddling with you as we fall asleep is one of my favorite parts of the day,” not only communicates what you like, but acknowledges the other person for what they give to you.

Single people may not get as much affectionate touch as they need to feel healthy, connected and loved. As society becomes less dependent upon each other for our physical survival, the emotional connections we have had with others historically have also fallen away. Just because we no longer need the community to hunt and kill our food, or to live collectively to share the tasks of daily survival, doesn’t mean we are any less dependent upon each other for physical affection.

Living alone and being independent is becoming more and more the norm in modern society, and that can mean that many of us are starved for human touch and affection. My friend was brave enough to share how difficult is was for him to have grown up without a great deal of affection in his home, and now as a single adult, how isolating it could be to come home from a difficult day at work and not have someone to share that with or give him a hug and let him know it was going to be ok.

His confession brought tears to my eyes because I often felt the same way going through cancer treatment. Not having someone there to help you make the difficult decisions that need to be made about your health and treatment can leave you feeling overwhelmed, but not having someone there to give you a hug and tell you everything’s going to be ok is devastating.