Taken Aback Looking Back


Hi.  I’m Charlotte.  

I always joke that I am going to do an interpretive dance when I have to get up and speak in front of people, because that’s where I started out.  Dancing.    

Don’t worry, I won’t really start dancing and make you all uncomfortable, but it’s true; I was a dance and creative writing major in college.  So, you can imagine how highly marketable I was upon graduation.  

I didn’t actually “get the joke” about college being meant for learning some sort of skill with which to support myself.  In fact, while I was in college, I was with a man twice my age.  He was an Afro-Cuban percussionist, and he owned a hippie shop, and I kind of figured I could just ride on his coattails.  So, when we broke up, I was forced to find some way to support myself.  

For a year after college, I worked as a receptionist for a church.  I even led a pilgrimage to Italy at the request of the Bishop, which was a pretty rad thing, me being like, sort of a non-practicing Buddhist, atheist Jew and all.  

I knew that wasn’t the job I wanted to do forever because it was kind of stuffy and conservative, and I just needed to be a bit more, well, you know.  Free?  

So I quit.  

I got a job doing home based therapy with children with autism, and I loved it, but it was not a viable option for the long run because you make peanuts.  

So, I went back to school.  I got my MSW.  I spent a year working in the foster care system and I hated it.  I interviewed here, and I got a job.  That was ten and a half years ago, and I’ve been here ever since.  I started out working in the homes, and eventually after getting my license, I was able to do more office-based therapy.  About two years ago, I was promoted to manager of my department, such as it is.  

I’m excited by my work.  I’m passionate about it.  I believe in it.  

Many of you don’t know this about me, but I was a welfare kid.  My parents divorced when I was three, and for some years, we lived in poverty.  I remember not knowing where our food was coming from.  I remember the humiliation in my mom’s eyes while she stood in the welfare line.  When I was quite small, I had very poor vision and had what we called “welfare glasses.”  They were ugly but they were all we could afford.  

So, I feel like there are parts of me that get where the families we work with are coming from.  

Another huge part of my life is that I’m a mom.  If you had asked me what I wanted to be when I was little, I would have told you I wanted to be a mom.  I’m the oldest in my family, and my first job at 15 was working at a Montessori school.  I had all this experience with kids, so when I had my own I thought, I’ve got this.  This will be easy because I made them and stuff.  

That could not have been farther from the truth.  

Being a mom is the hardest thing I have ever done.  It can be so redonkulously impossible sometimes, so I feel like I connect with my clients on that level too.  Like, I get how challenging kids can be.  

In my spare time, I write.  It keeps me sane.  I’m incredibly passionate about educating, normalizing, and advocating for breastfeeding and in my next life I want to be a La Leche League consultant.  Ummm. . .  I make jewelry?  

Yeah, so anyway, I’m excited to be here.  Thanks.

And I curtsied.

It was an all day managers’ “retreat” that was mandatory for my job.  I hadn’t wanted to go.  My last words to a colleague as I groused out of my office was that I was not going to “share.”

But that was the first thing we had to do.  There were about 25 of us there and we all had to take 5-8 minutes to tell our story, share about our lives and give the narrative of what got us “into the field.”  I waited to go pretty squarely in the middle.  I didn’t want to follow the first lady who spoke about being a former junkie, or the guy who had an amazing story about being in the middle of a civil war.  My story didn’t have that much luster I figured, so I waited until a few less fancy stories.

I was nervous as all hell standing up.  I was shaking, so I stuffed my hands in my pockets.  But I got through it and a couple of my colleagues commented after about things they learned about me.

The rest of the day passed quickly enough, and then I was on my way home.

I thought about the random assortment of factoids I chose to share about myself.

Then I thought about the things I had forgotten.  Or purposely left out.

Like my schizophrenic brother.

Or the four year affair I had with that married guy who was an autism expert and really the only reason I was interested in the field in the first place.

Or the decades of eating disorder that came part and parcel with dancing.

What about the years following hippie jam bands or my time doing yoga on the ashram?

Or my almost compulsive need for order and control which I am sure came as a result of early life anxiety from living the way I did.

Or how I would like to loudly and publicly apologize for anyone who knew me when I was in my twenties because I was such a horrendous train-wreck of a human.

Or that I have an almost unhealthy obsession with James Spader, Himalayan mountain disasters, and Hawaii.

Then of course there is the feeling of being totally ineffective, frustrated, burnt out, and miserable as a social worker.  The feeling of pain and drama everyday when I leave my own children to go and provide solace for someone else’s.

Yeah, I left that shit out of that edition of my life story.  They, of course, were some rather key details, but I’m certain there were similar details committed all over the room, or maybe stuff we forgot due to nerves and apprehension.

It feels I’ve lived a dozen different lives in my forty years on the planet.

My life doesn’t have a linear narrative, which is likely the case for most, but sometimes it makes me especially uncomfortable.

The many chunks of my story run counter to my need for order and symmetry.  There is a raw vulnerability when I take them out and spread them before me like a collection of glass and pebbles picked up on a beach walk.

My solution to this discomfort is to try to stay focused on the present moment, be mindfully nonjudgmental of what is happening, be here now, yadda, yadda.  I don’t think too much (or at least try not to) about what exactly got me to this space in time, so when I do, it sometimes takes me aback.

Someone once described me as a cobb salad–  a mixture of all this stuff, and you’re never quite sure what you are going to get in one bite, but it all blends together into something good and tasty.  I didn’t really understand it at the time, but thinking on it now, it is a pretty apt description of me.

Mindfulness has helped me mind my anxiety and depression.  It has helped me be more aware and accepting of myself, but it has also made me more aware and accepting of others, and has heightened my awareness of how others might perceive me.  Sometimes this has the adverse effect of increasing my anxiety because it is like all my channels of reception are open, and I can feel flooded.  It is a constant cycle of feeling and acceptance.

At the end of the day, I could not go back and revise, edit, add, or delete any of the stuff I shared at that retreat, any more than I could reroute a cosmic GPS for the journey that got me there.  And that’s fine, but it gave me pause.

Then I opened up the little, velvet pouch of memory, put all the bits and pieces back inside, and pulled the strings around it.

7 responses »

  1. Gorgeous. An honest look at one’s self. And accepting – even if you shoved it all back in the bag 😉 You still peek in from time to time and carry it around with you. And not in a bad way, but one that helps you remember what brought you to this moment.

  2. Pingback: End Of The World– Getting Cozy With Dukkha | momaste

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