It's been a while...

I am always reading, but it's been a while since I was so impacted by a book that I felt compelled to write about it on my blog. This picture displays my nightstand stack of current reading. In case you can't read the titles, the top book is Allen Jackson's recently published "Freedom from Worry";  Mackenzie Phillips' "High on Arrival"; George W. Bush's "Decision Points"; and "The Wisdom of Menopause" by Dr. Christine Northrup.
I wonder if you can guess which of these I could not put down and wound up finishing first. (My stack also reflects my chronological stage of life...lol.)

My favorite reading is non-fiction. I don't have a particular favorite genre other than my preference for what is real over what is pretend. I love a true story. I love history. I love biographies of all kinds. I love all kinds of spiritual books, from apologetics and theology to challenging inspirational reads. And I enjoy reading about health and fitness. I read to learn rather than to escape. That's why I'm not drawn to fiction. Even on the beach, I would rather read a biography or memoir than a novel.

There's nothing wrong with reading for escape or distraction or entertainment. Reading is probably one of the best and most productive ways to escape from reality or be entertained. But I am drawn to reality and learning. And I learn from every true story I read. I also find that I frequently relate to the people I'm reading about -- as a human being -- no matter how different the details of our lives may be. Whether it's Ben Franklin or Eric Clapton, there are just so many things about we mortals that are common to all of us.

It's always fascinated me how we can all be so unique in so many ways, and yet so much the same. Just like the human face ... We all have the same features (eyes, noses, mouths, ears, chins, cheeks, etc.) and yet we all have such different features. Our bodies are intricately the same in details of functional anatomy and yet intricately unique in composition, shape, strength, beauty, etc. I know the world is filled with unbelievers. I just don't understand how anyone can explain the amazing intricacies of nature, of the human body, of the solar system, of the ocean ... and explain it away as something that just happened from nothing without a Creator, a Designer, a Higher Power. Some don't have enough faith to believe in God. I don't have enough faith to disbelieve. But that is another subject altogether.

All four of the books I have been reading are great books. I read half of my pastor's book in one sitting. I'm enjoying it very much. But since I have heard most of what is in his book in person, in the form of weekly sermons, the material is not new to me. And I am not struggling currently with worry and fear. So, yes, I have been able to put it down.

I have learned a great deal about George W. Bush and his challenges both personally and politically. But since politics do not totally captivate my interest, I am able to read sporadically. I've been reading it for quite a while. It's a very thick book. And I have two chapters left.

I read very sporadically about menopause now. I notice something happening to me and I go to my book or the Internet to find out of it is a common symptom of my current stage in life. I had hot flashes for two and a half months, then they stopped as suddenly as they started. I haven't been having hot flashes for weeks. I got all excited and started thinking that maybe I am just one of the lucky ones who defy logic, who sail through menopause almost unaffected. Maybe I'm just done and it's over rather uneventfully. "Wouldn't that be amazing and great?"... I started to hope. And I still hope that is true for me. But after doing some research, I've discovered that this temporary reprieve does not mean that I'm done or I will never have another hot flash. It appears they can stop for months or even years and then return ... for months or years. The one thing I'm definitely learning about menopause is that it is a lot like CLL in one specific way; it is not identical for any two people.

So now, by process of elimination, you know which book I was unable to put down. Mackenzie Phillips grabbed my heart and took me with her on a life journey I could never even imagine living. I ordered her book after seeing her on Oprah because I felt such a connection to her in that interview. Although the details of our lives are so very different, I related to her in two major ways. She is a daughter who craved an emotional connection with her father which always eluded her. And she was rejected by people she loved for writing openly and honestly about her life. All the details she shared (in a loving and respectful way, I might add after reading her book) were known and acknowledged as truth in private. But it was completely unacceptable for her to reveal the truth to outsiders. Even though it was her life; her story of who she was and how she came to be who she was, she was expected to keep it all hidden as an act of loyalty. Even if through sharing she could help others deal with their own struggles, baggage, and shame, she was still expected to protect and be loyal to an image instead. I so strongly related to that pain and rejection, even though the lives we each have written about are so incredibly different.

Last night I was reading a comment thread from someone's FB page and noticed that there were comments (from people I am related to) that were blocked from my view. It was obvious. Whenever I read a response to someone who "isn't there" in the thread, I am confronted with the reality that this person has such strong negative feelings that they have gone to the trouble of blocking me. It isn't enough that we are not FB friends. They obviously do not want to see me or for me to see them even in a comment thread of a mutual friend. I have been blocked by two past friends that I once considered to be my very closest friends. And I have been blocked by a few members of my extended family. When I first made these "discoveries," I felt a pain in my heart. I felt rejection. I knew why I was blocked. I was disloyal. I made them uncomfortable. And in their view I had betrayed and hurt them by expressing my convictions and telling my story. It doesn't matter that I wrote the truth and did not embellish a single fact. It doesn't matter that I wrote in love. It doesn't matter that my book is completely void of malice or anger. It doesn't matter how carefully I protected people's identities or left out hurtful details that would make someone look like a monster. The only thing I could have done to stay in good standing with certain people was to be silent.

When I discover that I've been blocked today, there is still a sad feeling that accompanies the realization. I don't feel good about it, by any stretch. I can't say that it just rolls off my back and doesn't bother me at all. But it bothers me much less than it once did. I remind myself that just as I have claimed the freedom to share my past and what I have learned from it (for both the cathartic benefit to myself and the benefit to others who relate to me), I have to allow those who turn away from me the freedom to reject me for it. I don't have any right to expect them to accept me, like me, love me or have a desire to interact with me. Even if they are my family. There are repercussions, positive and negative, to every choice we make in life. I made a choice knowing what it could cost me. And although certain repercussions have been painful, I have never regretted my choice. I believe with all my heart that it was the right choice.

Two people, after reading my book, told me they had a problem with me writing my perspective and calling it the truth. I have reflected on that many times. The two people both had very strong personal reasons for challenging my perspective. Their perspective on specific personal events were different from mine for obvious reasons. I really did take that criticism to heart and pondered it. But ultimately I concluded that all any of us really has is our perspective. And I think I was very clear in my book that I was writing about my perspective. The events I wrote about were factual, not altered by a perspective. I was very careful with that aspect of the book. Very, very careful to substantiate every memory in mutliple ways. However, my feelings and my opinions and how I was affected and what I believed ... those are the perspectives of every human being in any given circumstance. I don't owe anyone an apology for sharing my perspective. Especially when so many readers have shared with me in writing that they held the exact same perspective and felt that I had written their story as well as my own. Some of those readers were people I had never met and still have never met. But I helped them to heal. And I wouldn't trade that for the acceptance of those who have turned away from me. Not even family members. I accept the consequences of my choices. And although I won't ever like the consequences, I have learned to live with them and take them in stride. I'm really thankful for that. It's progress. (Much needed progress, John would say.)

I stil want everyone to love me. But I know that is an unachievable goal in life. I just have to remind myself sometimes that it's not a healthy expectation for any of us.

Although Mackenzie's book includes language I don't use and experiences I can't fathom, I related to her emotionally more than one would expect. And she educated me on the perspective of an addict. I don't have an addictive personality. I very recently expressed to my husband that I just do not understand how any person (even an addict) can make the same wrong choice over and over to pursue such temporary relief and numbness when they know the lasting consequences that follow the temporary relief. His response: "That is because you are not an addict."

I was so moved by Mackenzie's life. She is not simply a celebrity or an addict to me. She is a person. We were driving home yesterday from a spur of the moment weekend getaway. I was reading parts of the book out loud to John and I got choked up at one point, reading a depiction of John Phillips teaching his daughter how to shoot up. There is something about reading aloud that makes it even more real. I stopped reading. I started to cry as I asked my husband rhetorically how any father could intentionally guide their own child into such self-destruction? It goes against nature. My heart broke for her.

I finished the book this morning. And as I read of the consequences she has faced by telling her story, I couldn't understand how her family was able to forgive all the betrayals of her choices EXCEPT the choice to reveal family secrets. Even when doing so helps so many other hurting people to feel less alone. It is so sad to me that image is such a prized possession in life. We value it sometimes more than people. I hate that. I don't ever want to be guilty of that. Even if I'm the one being tarnished. I always want a hurting person to matter more to me than how I look.

I loved the way Mackenzie described her relationship with her son toward the end of the book. I could have written this myself. It's true of the relationship I have with my own son. And it's something that brings me a great deal of satisfaction. My goal in every relationship is unconditional love and acceptance. Not necessarily approval of another person's choices; but acceptance and love unconditionally because I value the person independently of their choices. And because unconditional love is something I always remember craving. I have that now in many close relationships. I'm thankful that I have been privileged to experience it. And I think I always tried to give my son what I had always longed for.

I felt very good about identifying with Mack here...

"Shane doesn't imitate me. He's not trying to be close to me, because he already is. He can have me for anything, for whatever he needs: emotional support, advice, affection. He knows he doesn't have to do anything to get me. I'm there. I didn't feel that way about my father."

I considered leaving out that last sentence of the quote. Because in no way am I writing about this to diminish my dad. I love my dad. I recently went to see him and we had a really good visit. I left knowing this in my heart: he loves me to the best of his ability. And he has my unconditional love.

We are all flawed. Even the best of us. I think we all just want to be loved and accepted in spite of that. For some of us, it is a stronger desire than for others. And some of us (like me) have to learn through experience that we can endure rejection and be just fine. At this point, I have to be thankful for both the unconditional love AND the rejections I have experienced. You learn things from one that you don't learn from the other ... and vice versa.

I learned a lot from reading "High on Arrival" and I recommend the book. I especially recommend it if you are trying to understand the pitfalls and challenges of dealing with someone struggling to overcome addiction.

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