Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Inspirational stuff’ Category

Survivors Heal at Their Own Pace

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Folks, I read a Facebook post from a friend I’d like to know better earlier tonight. It was from two years ago, and I missed it at the time.

Without any privacy violations, my friend had gone through an ordeal while in middle school (once upon a time called junior high school; whichever works). A teacher had abused him for over a year, and he ended up with PTSD and other problems.

While I left as supportive of a message as I could now, albeit two years late, I wanted to say more about this.

Many of us have suffered wounds that take years, if not decades, to heal. And because we have had these problems, we think we’re less than we are; we think that maybe, just maybe, we deserved to be abused, or mistreated, or assaulted, or even molested.

I’m not saying we do this consciously. But we still do it.

How do I know this? Because I’m a survivor of sexual assault, that’s why. It happened in my teens. And for years after, I felt I wasn’t good for anyone, and never would be.

It took me over seven years to get any sort of a handle on it. I went to counseling. I read as many books as I could. I tried to forgive the person who’d assaulted me — which I found to be impossible, setting back my healing for a few more years.

And then, I found The Courage to Heal Workbook. That, along with a good counselor who knew how to use it, was my salvation. It taught me that I did not have to forgive the person who’d assaulted me. Instead, I could leave it up to the Higher Power.

Best of all, I learned that I was not to blame for any of it. And that I was stronger because I’d survived.

All of that helped me heal.

After I did all that hard work, I eventually found my late husband, Michael. He and I found a fulfilling life together in all aspects. He wasn’t afraid of my flashbacks, and would hold me until I was better; he had empathy, and knew how to use it. (I wish all people did. But empathy is still an exceptionally rare quality, it seems…but I digress.) And our sex life was second to none, because we both understood each other, loved each other unconditionally, and wanted to make each other feel that love every minute of every day.

Why am I’m sharing this now, rather than at the height of the #MeToo movement? Well, it’s mostly that I want my friend, who has found a good woman at long last and will be married soon, to know that he, too, can have a fulfilling relationship and that his past — the stuff that was inflicted on him — doesn’t have to derail anything.

The right person, you see, will be there for you no matter what. That’s what unconditional love is all about. And once you find that person who loves you, no matter what, hold on to him or her — because that’s a person whose worth is above rubies.

If you are reading this, live in the United States, and have suffered from rape, incest, molestation, or other forms of sexual violence and need to talk with someone, call RAINN at (800)656-HOPE. They are free, confidential, and open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And if you can’t call now, but need to find out more about how you’re not alone — as indeed, you aren’t — and that people do care (as we do!), go to https://www.rainn.org and read at your leisure what they’re doing to combat sexual violence in the United States.

Dealing with Disappointment, part the Nth

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What are you supposed to do when your efforts are not rewarded?

This is something that every single human being has to deal with at some point in his or her life. You’ve done everything you possibly can, and yet, your efforts are not appreciated. And sometimes, you wonder just how to appreciate yourself when you think no one else on the face of the Earth does.

It can be very hard to deal with this sort of disappointment. Even though we know, realistically, that other people will sometimes disappoint us, the lack of appreciation for our efforts tends to come at the worst possible time, often adding insult to injury.

In addition, I know that I tend to look at myself through a very harsh lens. So when I do something to the utmost of my ability and it doesn’t seem to have made a dent — think of what I said earlier this week about the efforts to get politicians to do anything about mass shootings, for example — I just wonder what the Hell I’m doing here.

Then everything starts to spiral down, out of control…at least, until I get some perspective, and tell myself the following things:

  1. You can’t control what other people think, say, or do.
  2. But you can control your own reactions. So if someone takes your hard work, grunts, and turns away, rather than saying, “Great! Thanks for putting in the hard work to get this done,” you have to tell yourself that’s their issue and not yours. (Maybe something is going on in their lives that’s making them be less responsive and less empathetic than they should be.)
  3. Sometimes, you just have to celebrate your own efforts yourself.
  4. It’s OK to be upset if someone is rude. That’s natural, normal, and human.
  5. Don’t beat yourself up due to other people’s failings.

If you can tell yourself those five things, it may help you feel a little better.

And even if it doesn’t, there’s still one more way to deal with your frustration, anger, and hurt over whatever’s disappointing you.

My late husband, Michael, told me you should not push your anger, frustration, or disappointment away. Instead, you should fully feel whatever it is, and put a time limit on it. (Say, five or ten minutes.) Then, after that time, you tell yourself, “OK, self, I’ve heard you. Now, let’s go back to what we were doing before.”

This may not sound like something that works, but it does.

Why? Because you’re acknowledging your feelings. You’re not pushing them away. You’re telling yourself it’s OK to have these feelings, even if they’re ugly and make you feel less than your best self; you’re reminding yourself that you’re a human being, and we all have bad days.

And when you can accept your feelings, even if you still dislike them, it’s much easier to get back to what you were doing.

In a few days or weeks, whatever was upsetting you probably won’t be as bad. (Excepting this whole mass shooting mess. That just seems to go on and on. But I’m putting that aside for now…hm de hum de hum.) But even if it is, you may have figured out how to deal with it better, and how not to beat yourself up for being human.

So, that’s how I deal with disappointment. What do you do? Tell me about it in the comments!

That Irreplaceable Someone…

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As it’s Sunday, I wanted to talk about something vaguely inspirational. Enjoy!

We are told, as we grow up, that we need to be that irreplaceable person. Be the best. Be the brightest. Be the only one who can do everything that’s required.

What we aren’t told is that not everyone can be the best. Or the brightest. Or be the only one that can do everything, either.

However, what we’re told isn’t wrong, exactly. Because we can only be ourselves. And if we are our best self — well, then, that is something no one else on the face of this Earth can be.

And that is, indeed, attainable.

I write this as I’m about to play a concert this evening with the Racine Concert Band. Tonight, I’m playing alto saxophone. Next week, I’ll be playing clarinet. (And, possibly also, alto saxophone.) And when I play a part on one instrument, someone else has to cover the part I’d usually play. And while they can and will cover the part, they can’t and won’t do it the same way I can.

(This sounds obvious, but hear me out, OK?)

The other person will get things right I won’t. The other person will miss things I would’ve gotten right. Or, maybe, we’d both play it note-perfect all night long, but have different nuances to add — or not — to the equation.

But what’s important is, that other person is playing the part the best way he can. Doing his best, making his best effort, trying his hardest, all that.

While of course I’m doing the same wherever I am, as nothing less will do.

Tonight in the band concert, we’re playing a piece called “Jubilation Overture” by Robert Ward. This is one of our conductor Mark Eichner’s favorite pieces (it should be, too; it’s really a fun piece), and so that means I’ve played it before. The last time I played it, in fact, I played the solo clarinet part — which means tonight on alto, I have to remember other people are playing that, and I have to concentrate on my own part instead, thank you. (Otherwise, my fingering and embouchure will be off, to say the least.)

And, this week, my section leader and stand-partner, Vivian, is off on vacation. While I’m covering her parts for her, I can’t do anything the same way she would — just as she can’t do anything the same way I would.

But do I miss her playing? You bet I do. And do I miss her being there, steady as a rock, on nights I quite frankly don’t feel well? Absolutely.

She is irreplaceable, you see. (And yes, so am I. But that’s not the point.)

We as human beings need to concentrate on what we can. Not worry so much about what other people can do. Just what we can do. And do it to the level best of our abilities, and keep doing it, as long as we possibly can.

That’s what our parents and teachers and others meant, when they told us to be our best selves. And it’s something we can continue to work on, all the days of our lives.

Sunday Thoughts: Be a Better Person (Starting Today)

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Former President Jimmy Carter is the inspiration for this blog post. Enjoy!

Have you ever felt like wishing that you could just start over? That you messed up something so bad, so vital to your well-being, and you have no way in the world to fix it?

We all have done things we’re not proud of, as there are very few saints walking the face of this Earth. (At least, saints the quality of Mother Teresa, or Father Damien the Leper-Priest.) So I’m guessing that at least a few of you know what I mean.

You’ve had a bad day. Or a bad succession of days. And you wonder what you can possibly do to redeem yourself. Or at least do better than you’ve been doing.

Jimmy Carter has the answer, and it’s surprisingly simple. Decide to be a better person. Starting today.

See, the first thing you have to do, if you feel like you’ve messed up in an irredeemable way, is to tell yourself, “No more. I will do better. I will be better.”

Then, of course, you have to do the work. You have to figure out what type of person you want to be. And do everything in your power to work toward what you see as your best self — a more generous person, perhaps. Or a wiser one. Or maybe even one that’s more self-forgiving…ahem.

But you first have to make up your mind that you are going to change for the better. And that you’ve had enough of the status quo, whatever it is that’s plaguing you; that, too, you have to decide to get past, because otherwise, you’re going to fall into the same old traps.

That said, every day is a new day. If you screwed up badly yesterday, today is a clean slate. You can still make it a worthwhile day full of laughter and love, or creativity and inspiration (or better yet, all of the above). You, too, can make a better life for yourself, brick by brick, resolution by resolution.

You do not have to be held back by your fears, or by your past mistakes. Not if you don’t wish to be.

No, you can’t change the past. But you can learn from it. And you can grow, and change, and deepen, and make yourself more interesting and empathetic and kinder if you truly wish.

So, what do you want to do? Stay in the same ever-changing rut? Or learn from your failures, and make a clean, fresh start?

Yes. You can be a better person. Believe in yourself, give yourself a chance, and go forward rather than reliving the past.

You can still change the future, if you act today. But ultimately, it is all up to you.

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 26, 2019 at 4:43 am

Love Matters. (Really.)

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The most powerful force in the universe is love.

This may seem simplistic. But it’s the flat truth. There is nothing more powerful than love in its purest form; there’s nothing that can motivate you more, make you try harder, make you want to be better, or give you more joy than love.

When we run into life’s difficulties — and oh, aren’t there a bunch of them! — love helps smooth the way. Knowing that you are cared for, needed, appreciated, and loved for yourself without any preconditions and without any need to be anything other than what you are is the most phenomenal feeling in the world.

I write this today mostly because a good friend of mine, in New Zealand, is struggling. He just got married — only a few, short days ago — and his wife is ill. (As in, in the hospital.) He and his wife found each other online, she flew to meet him and spend a few weeks with him, she flew home, they became engaged, and she flew back out to be with him. They have been very happy together despite all that life has thrown at them thus far, but I wish very strongly that my friend’s wife were not ill and that they’d been able to have the first few days as a married couple without so much stress and strain.

That said, they love each other deeply and well. I know they can and will come through this, precisely because of the love they bear for each other.

While I don’t know much else with a great deal of exactitude at the moment, I do know this: If you find true love, nurture it, work with it, and let it heal you…as much as it possibly can. (It may not heal you physically. But it can heal you every other way.) And celebrate it, every day of your life.

I know my friend and his wife have done all that, are doing that now, and will keep doing that. And I am certain they will continue to appreciate each other, for as long as they both shall live.

That is what is truly important, in life. (Don’t let anyone else tell you anything different, either.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 6, 2019 at 6:42 am

Be That Someone

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As we’ve entered Lent, a season in the United States that is observed more in its breech than in its keeping, I wanted to write about something I’ve only rarely talked about. (Yes, me. The person who seemingly talks about everything.)

In the 21st Century, the vast majority of people seem disconnected. There are many studies showing it, and there are a number of reasons for it. We are more electronically connected than ever, but somehow it’s made us feel less important and less necessary.

Granted, there are billions of people on Earth, and most of us will not be remembered once we pass into eternity. That’s just the way it is.

Do I like that fact? No. But that doesn’t change the fact either.

So, what can we do against the oncoming oblivion?

My advice is, help others. Be that someone. Take an interest. See who’s in need, and try to meet at least part of that need. Don’t act in a way Lois McMaster Bujold’s character Mark Vorkosigan once described (my best paraphrase) as, “People always say they can’t do it all, so they don’t do any,” even though that seems easier.

And you can take small steps to help, if you’re struggling yourself, as many of us are these days.

When you’re out in a checkout line, really look at your cashier and say “thank you.”

When a friend is hurting, but you don’t know why, and they just won’t tell you, stay in that person’s life. Tell them you care. Tell them, “You matter. I see you.”

I know it’s hard to keep trying. It seems useless.

But it’s not.

Do these small things. Be that someone.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 9, 2019 at 5:07 am

Sunday Inspiration: Find Your Path

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Folks, I thought a great deal about what I wanted to write this week.

Then, just a few minutes ago, I finished reading this article, about a young man named Mats Steen with substantial disabilities who found his way forward as a character in World of Warcraft named Ibelin. There, he could be himself, the man he wanted to be but was prevented from being…there, he found friends, and is still mourned to this day. (He died in 2014.)

His parents didn’t understand until after Mats’ passing just how much Mats had made an impression on others. The people he gamed with came to his funeral, even though they’d never met him in person (that would’ve been quite difficult, for obvious reasons). And they spoke about the person they knew: the warmth, the humor, the silly jokes, it was all there.

Mats cared about others, you see. And he was best able to express it as Ibelin. He found his path, and he lived the way he wanted to live despite all odds.

Why does this hit a powerful chord in me?

Well, one of the things Mats said on his blog, according to his father, was that the computer screen wasn’t just a computer screen to him. (This is my best paraphrase, and the article says it better.) Instead, it was a gateway to whatever Mats wanted and needed it to be.

Modern technology is a blessing that way. We can have friends from all over the world, and get to know them as if they live next door. Perhaps even better, as they get to know who we are inside, rather than who we are on the outside. Without masks. Without filters. Without any preconceptions.

Just us.

Learn from Mats’ life, and take what you need from the story now being told accordingly. If he could do it — and he surely did! — you can do it also.

No, it may not be traditional. No, it may not be what you expected.

But it still has rewards beyond measure, if you only try.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 10, 2019 at 2:46 pm