He wanted my help.
I helped myself.
I listened as my friend poured his heart out -- he was telling me about someone close to him who's an addict. He wanted to help his friend but wasn't sure how.
I listened for a long time and then had an idea. "Let's each go to a few 12-step meetings and then discuss what we learned and what we can do."
Would I go to a 12-step meeting to support my friend? Of COURSE I would!
In my mind, going to support someone who was trying to navigate his own path meant I wasn't really going for myself -- I was going 'for' someone else. It made it easier for me to walk through that doorway and into that room.
Isn't it funny, the stories we tell ourselves?
Alcoholism and addiction have woven through my life since I was a child.
I had my own struggles with alcohol until finally, in 2015, I decided to stop drinking. But I didn't do the 12 steps (or any support group) back then - I just stopped drinking that one day in August.
Fast forward to today. Sober me starts doing the 12 steps thinking that I'll just listen.. you know, to support my friend. Because I'm not really affected, after all... I mean, not that much. Right?
I didn't realize all the stuff that would come up for me while sitting there listening to the members of the group.
Not only did I see myself as I read through the 12 steps, but I saw myself in the co-dependent tendencies I had for so much of my life.
Only in the past several years have I begun shining that spotlight on myself and recognizing/admitting to behavior patterns such as
The co-dependent patterns I had -- for SO long!!
Why did I think it's easier to live life for other people??
I know why.
Because, really - it WAS easier to try and control other people’s behavior, to point out the 'faults' in others, than to look at my own self. Much easier, in fact.
By focusing on others, I didn't have to go to those dark places in myself. I didn't have to put that spotlight on me, to look at what wasn't working in my life when I was focused on other people.
If other people would just listen to me, they could fix themselves, all would be well, and we would live happily ever after.
It was only when I made a huge life change that I started to peek inside myself. I started looking to see what was inside of ME that wasn't working for me, that was slowing me down and making my life difficult. And - there was a lot.
The thing with going to those dark places is, once I shine the light there, the light remains. It remains because I've created an opening, and that light makes it less scary to go there again.
I'm recognizing old patterns and habits much more clearly. I can keep them, I can change them. I can eliminate them. Whatever works best for me now.
You know how people say that life is a journey?
It is. And even more than a journey - it's the trip of a lifetime.
And it takes our lifetime to keep discovering who we are.
Twelve steps is part of my journey.
That first step - walking through the door - that was scary. Unfamiliar.
©Catherine Borowski, 2018
My hair was a great hiding place.
Baby fine, non-descript, mousy brown, and slightly wavy.. certainly nothing to write home about. Luscious locks? Far from it.
But my hair helped me hide parts of me I didn't like. And I kept trying to make my hair into something it wasn't.
The hours spent in salons for perms in the 80s, body waves in the 90s, extensions in the 2000s, and color always. The cuts! The styles! The maintenance!
My hair has been brown, blonde, red, peach, burgundy. As a teenager I spent plenty of summers spritzing it with lemon juice from a spray bottle, desperate for those sun-kissed highlights. Citrus-smelling hair was so refreshing, wasn't it?
It has had highlights. Lowlights.
Bangs. No bangs.
Always trying to fit in with the up-to-the moment cut, color, style....
Egg white mask. Avocado mask. Vinegar rinse. Milk rinse. There was an entire menu on my head sometimes.
There was that week in October, 1982, when I had it colored, then permed, then colored again. Bozo the Clown and I could have been hair twins - I am not kidding. When I went to the store in my Halloween punk-rocker costume to get some last minute accessories, the cashier said "how'd you get your hair to look like that??" I didn't tell her that WAS my hair - not part of the costume.
And that time in 2006 when I got extensions sewn in - I could barely put my head on a pillow, because my scalp was so sore from all the pulling. After two sun-drenched vacations a short time later, my extensions dried out, got knotted, and stuck to my head like an abandoned bird's nest. They had to be cut out. Oh, well. I tried.
Over the years, it was oily. It was flyaway. It was static-y.
I teased it and coaxed it and scrunched it and shellacked it. I singed it and scorched it and pulled it and pinned it.
No wonder we had issues, my hair and I!
All those years that I tried to grow it long, and it never got much longer than shoulder length. It was almost as though it was mocking me: after everything you've done to me, why would I want to grow longer?
Still, I tried to get it to conform to how everyone else was wearing their hair. To no avail.
In the past few months, though, I began to change the way I thought about my hair.
It clearly wanted to do its own thing, and everything I tried just didn't matter anymore. It was as though it wanted to re-create itself. Start fresh. Start new.
So I started to think about shaving my head.
And yesterday morning, slowly and deliberately, I did it.
I had to start somewhere... so I simply started.
One big snip, close to my left ear, cut away six inches of hair in a random place. Ok! I am doing this.
I cut away the longest, driest, blondest parts first. The parts that had been colored, over and over. I had been trying to make it look better than my 'natural' color.
I then cut away the highlights, added to try and make my hair look 'natural.' How ironic.
As that fell away, I got to the silkier, shorter hair underneath all the colored, highlighted processed stuff. It was so much softer, very fine, and much healthier. I was shocked at how dark it was.
Then, the shit got real. The longest pieces still attached to my head were only a couple inches long. I really started to look different.
I thought about all the times I hid behind my hair. It provided a shield. When my skin would break out, I would part it on the other side to hide the blemishes. The shame - the fear of judgment because my skin wasn't 'perfect.'
And if I didn't want to look at anyone, I let it fall in my face. It was another mask. Protection. I'm afraid of you looking at me.
At this point I looked radically different.
I asked Gregory if I could use his electric trimmer. He set it to 10 and shaved off what was left.
I looked in the mirror. Holy shit.
It was fun! How many people get to see themselves pretty much bald as a cue ball? I loved it!
Then, I asked Gregory to set the trimmer to a 5 and shave my head again.
And just like that, it was done.
My hair was in a heap in the bathroom sink.
It is, um, a completely different look for me.
And there is no going back.
No way to clip in extensions. Nothing to attach to a barrette.
I was startled when I opened the vanity and realized I no longer had any use for the 9 brushes, 7 combs, 5 curling irons, 5 rattail combs, 4 bottles of hairspray, 4 shampoos, 3 round brushes, 3 conditioners, 3 hair oils, 2 teasing brushes, 2 blow dryers, 2 detanglers, 2 leave-in conditioners, 2 hair turbans, 1 glossing cream, 1 keratin lotion, 1 mousse, 1 gel, 1 heat protector spray, 1 quick drying hair towel, 1 satin pillowcase, 1 set of rollers, 1 set of flexible curlers, and countless barrettes, clips, ponytail holders, scrunchees and bobby pins.
There is a LOT of extra space in my vanity!
Other startling things I noticed after cutting off all my hair:
My cheekbones really stand out.
My entire body seems leaner.
I feel so strong!
I'm not afraid of how people might look at me.
I don't need to "fit in" - whatever that means.
I'm my own person. It's my own journey.
I shaved my head.
And it's freaking awesome.
©Catherine Borowski, 2018
"It's not normal to be so happy before 9am!"
The girls at my first job told me that as we rode the train into downtown Chicago. We were headed to the office, and I was excited to be working downtown at my first "real" job.
So I became less outwardly happy, so they would like me. So I would 'fit in.' I toned down my joy and instead commiserated and complained, because I wanted those girls to like me - to approve of me.
"Are you on something? You're so full of energy - it's not natural - you've gotta be on something!"
My co-workers didn't believe it when I told them I was just excited about something that happened at work that day.
So I toned my natural exuberance down... to win their approval.
(Is there such a thing as being *too* excited?)
"You're not doing everything on the itinerary? Why not? You're a rebel!"
The people I was with were upset that I didn't do everything they were doing. It made them uncomfortable that I would opt out and not do what the group was doing.
So I went along to appease them, and wound up getting sick
instead of listening to my body and to that inner voice that said to take some time for me.
I even did it to myself: "Why don't I have more likes? Don't I look good? Is the message not good?"
Maniacally checking the post every 30 minutes, feeling let down as the numbers of likes didn't increase, made me feel like a loser when I didn't get the approval I was seeking. I felt unloved and "friendless." And I was making it all up because it wasn't even true.
I had it all wrong.
Changing who I was so other people would like me - yeah, I used to do that. A lot. I did it so often that I couldn't remember which persona I had to adopt for whom.
It was exhausting.
I kept thinking something was wrong with me. I thought I had to change so others would like me and accept me.
I didn't realize that it was never about me. Other people were uncomfortable because of who they were - not because of who I was. They weren't happy. And my happiness made them uncomfortable.
It took years for me to realize I'm not living on this earth so others will approve of me.
I'm not here to live my life for other people. I'm here to live my life for me.
Sure, I still get tripped up by this sometimes, getting in my head and criticizing myself about something I did "wrong."
But then I remember - I don't need anyone's approval. It's MY life.
I approve of me. And I approve of this message.
And that's all that matters.
©Catherine Borowski, 2018
I binged between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Big time!
"Tis the season!", I told myself. And in that spirit, one morning I started my day with pumpkin pie (sans whipped cream so it would be healthier - as if), then moved on to the cherry pie (warm with ice cream - f it), then apple pie.. followed by toffee and ice cream - first separately, and then together. And then Belgian chocolates. And cookies.
As I kept eating, what was I feeding? It wasn't my appetite, because I was thoroughly stuffed after the cherry pie ala mode. It was something else that took over, that made me not care and just keep eating.
So I kept eating. I mean, since I "blew it" that morning, I decided to go big and eat whatever I wanted that day.
And after I had eaten all the desserts in my house, into my car I staggered on a full-blown sugar high in pursuit of a vanilla malt. Because THAT was what I needed right now!!
In the car, my mind was saying "Vanilla malt. Vanilla malt." ... but my body was saying something else. My body was saying WTF?!? I started to pay attention to how my body felt. It felt like crap! An upset stomach. Shaky hands. A fuzzy, sugar-addled brain.
Getting into the car was a very good thing.
Getting into the car got me away from the sweet temptations at home. It also got me away from the act of feeding unconscious thoughts like: I'm bad. I'm not lovable. I'm not good enough. I had been unconsciously saying to myself with each forkful of pie I shoved into my piehole: "Who cares? I'll show me! I'm a failure!"
Have you ever done anything like that?
How did it turn out for you?
For me, I was able to put the brakes on this out-of-control feeling as I drove around in search of that vanilla malt. My thinking cleared as I got in touch with, and really felt, how I was feeling.
I didn't feel good.
So I didn't get the vanilla malt, after all.
Instead, I decided to love myself.
©Catherine Borowski, 2018
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What if you used your beautiful glassware today, simply to drink water.
What if you treated yourself to a gorgeous bouquet of flowers, because you love them and you're worth it.
What if you wrapped yourself in luxuriously thick silk, because it feels so good against your skin.
What if you took yourself to that play you've wanted to see, and went alone, because you enjoy being with yourself.
What if you thought back to the beginning of 2017 and recalled your accomplishments - and there have been many.
What if you called someone you haven't spoken with in a while just to say hello, that you were thinking about them and that you wanted to hear their voice.
What if you took the time to really, truly listen to the person who's speaking with you.
What if you looked at your body with love and were thankful for all the things it does for you, and you don't even have to ask it.
What if, instead of rushing from one task to the next, you stopped and took a deep breath and looked around you and appreciated where you are in that moment.
What if you talked to yourself with love, every single day.
How would your life be different?
©Catherine Borowski, 2017
Maybe I woke up on the wrong side of the bed.
Or something... I'm not exactly sure why I woke up cranky today, but I did.
And as my morning went on, I started to ask myself what was making me cranky. This is what I came up with:
All of those things were true for me - but were those the reasons I was cranky? Would those rather miniscule things (in the big picture) change my mood and set the tone for my day? Would I let them??
I told Gregory that I was feeling cranky. I did NOT tell him that his still-plugged-in computer was part of the reason.. at least not right away. First we talked about the general crankiness I was feeling.
We talked about the fact that I had slept well, and slept enough, but was feeling a little 'off.' I said I was trying to snap myself out of feeling that way, to no avail.
He asked me to name the things that were contributing to this feeling.
So I told him about the computer. AND his coffeemaker that remained all lit up in the on position for hours. AND other kind of insignificant things that, to me, were really significant right now.
I took the feeling of being cranky outside of my body, looked at it, and turned it over and around.
Interestingly, once I started to look at the feeling of feeling cranky, it started to loosen its grip on me. Since the feeling came from inside of me, I could take it outside of me, too.
Gregory asked me to yell at him about the computer and the coffeemaker. So I did. (How often does someone ask you to yell at them?) It was truly helpful in that moment - it helped get the feeling out instead of festering to the point of being a major issue.
By talking about it, and even yelling, it suddenly was no longer a big hairy deal. I started to relax more and felt less cranky.
My day continued. As time ticked away, the feeling of being cranky became just a memory of a way I had felt earlier today. Now I was even laughing about it.
It made a huge difference to talk about feeling cranky instead of letting it take over my day.
By taking the feeling out and looking at it, I realized it was just a feeling I had. Nothing more. It wasn't permanent.
And life went on.
©Catherine Borowski, 2017
Hi, my name is Fred. I’m a cat.
Why is a cat writing this blog?
I’m taking over this blog today because I’ve got some stuff to share with you. Stuff I think you’ll find helpful. It sure helped me.
Before I get to the catnip, here’s some background...
I spent the first two years of my life in foster care, and it was awful. I was picked on relentlessly and never got enough food. One of the other cats even ripped my ear because he didn’t like me.
At the age of two, I was adopted by a family consisting of one human and a cat (black, just like me). Scary! How could THIS be better?
For the next six months, I hid. Under a bed, under a couch, inside a closet - anywhere I could to be alone, because I was too scared to come out.
Living like this was pretty lonely, but I was too afraid to do whatever the human and the cat were doing: like playing, or eating, or snuggling.
Sometimes I would run by and get just close enough so they could see me, but I wouldn’t let them get to know me… and when I considered getting closer, I would remember all the pain I experienced growing up.
And those thoughts made me keep my distance.
I kept those painful thoughts in the front of my brain so I could protect myself from being hurt again. But I was really closing myself off from getting to know others and closing myself off from love.
I could tell that my new family wanted to love me, and I was too afraid to let them. Because what if they hurt me?
After a year of this, I started to let my guard down a little. I let the human pet me every so often, and I would get closer to the other cat.
They seemed nice enough.…
So I risked it.
I started to play with them instead of keeping myself sidelined.
I let the human get close to me and pet me.
The other cat started washing my face. It was like heaven.
I started to relax. Slowly, I started to trust them.
And they kept showing me love.
And then, I started loving them back.
This is where things REALLY started to change.
We started to do A LOT of things together!
I would eat with the other cat, and play with the other cat, and follow the other cat outside. Our whole family would all snuggle together.
I started to talk a lot more.
I would sleep on the bed when the human wasn’t home.
Then, we moved. From the city to the country.
My life changed completely.
The human lets me go outside and explore. I catch at least five mice a day, and I tell my family all about it. They seem to like when I talk!
I’m not afraid of whatever is out there, because I’ve faced my fears before and I know I can do it again. Besides, usually what I conjure in my brain is waaaaaaay worse than anything I’ve actually experienced.
My foster home life seems like it was at LEAST nine lives ago.
I learned that by letting myself receive love, I’m able to relax and give more love.
And THAT, for me, is really living.
It’s even better than catnip!
©Catherine Borowski 2017
I've been telling myself stories. And then living in them.
Not fun, fuzzy stories about how great it everything is - no, not those kinds of stories. My stories generally scare me and then stop me from doing things.
They usually go like this:
Remember the last time you spoke up about something like this? You sounded like an idiot. Why would you do that again? You're going to sound stupid, you won't make sense, and you might offend people. Why take that risk?
That group of people is looking at you. Why would you go and talk with them? They probably think you look bad. Your hair is flat and you probably shouldn't have worn those jeans because they're, ahem, a little snug. So don't go over and talk with those people because you look terrible and they will probably ridicule you when you leave.
Why hasn't he called me back yet? It's been four hours! I guess I didn't make a good impression. I said something to piss him off. I was hoping we could work together, but for sure I messed up and that's why I haven't heard from him.
As the story goes, it's safer to just blend into the background. Be quiet, put your head down, and drink your drink. So much safer!
Except it's not safer. It's not even easier. Because the stories keep coming, and they keep me in my head, in a place that's not even real. And then I start to believe them.
And then, I'm afraid to do, well, anything.
Unless I realize that I'm the only one who's telling myself this stuff.
I'm making it all up.
It's not real. My stories are just thoughts. Just little thoughts that pop into my head and I hang onto them and make them a big deal.
They exist only in my mind. My friends don't tell me to shut up because I sound like an idiot. Only I do that to myself.
What would happen if I told myself a different story? I mean, since I'm the one telling these stories to myself anyway, why not pick another story?
What if I remember that I can actually control my thinking?
My story could instead be that I'll say something and it will affect people in a positive way. I will say something that other people were afraid to say, and everyone is relieved to have that out there.
I can tell myself that people will relate to me, and like me, even if my hair is flat and I put on a couple pounds.
Once I start telling myself different stories, stories with happy endings, the negative ones don't stick around. There's nothing for them to hold onto.
And I feel a whole lot better.
©Catherine Borowski 2017
What comes to mind when you hear about Haiti?
Last week I was in Haiti helping my friend Kim with her mission work. Kim starting traveling to Haiti five years ago to work with children and teenagers: through her charity she provides the means for them to attend school, she has started music programs and a marching band, she works with youth reading and discussing the Bible... Kim spends a lot of time with the people of Anse Au Veau and L'Asile (check out www.musicoftheheart.org to get the full scoop).
80% of people in Haiti live in poverty.
Poverty [pov-er-tee]: noun. The state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support; condition of being poor.
Clean water and medicine are in short supply in Haiti. Housing is very basic and indoor plumbing isn't very common. Yes, the people in Haiti are poor.
And, the people in Haiti are happy.
It's kind of like an inner glow, their happiness. It comes from within.
Their happiness isn't measured by how much stuff they have.
They find joy in the moment.
They are grateful.
Living life that way, happiness is found anywhere and everywhere, at anytime.
I met Karl in Anse Au Veau. Karl is ten years old, and last year he had his right leg amputated (at the upper thigh) when a building fell on it during Hurricane Matthew. He uses a crutch to run up and down the stairs faster than anyone I've ever seen. He has non-stop energy.
Karl is always smiling - he simply exudes joy. He has 'nothing' according to World Bank standards - except, he has everything. It's inside him, and he shares it with everyone he meets. Pure joy.
Do the people of Haiti know that they are living in poverty?
©Catherine Borowski 2017
Do you like Middle Eastern food? I do. But I didn't go to a Break-the-Fast Ramadan dinner for the food. Honestly!
One of the Muslim* women in my Interfaith group invited all of us to attend this event at Mecca Center in suburban Chicago earlier this month. She warned us to eat beforehand because although the event started at 6pm, we wouldn't be eating until 8:23pm, when the sun set.
For some reason I didn't believe that we actually would not eat until 8:23. I thought there would be appetizers or something, drinks, and then dinner at around 8:30. Nope. This is a hardcore fast! No food or liquids (no water!) from sunrise to sunset. Meaning, during Ramadan this year (which occurred during summer solstice), there were some veeeerrrrryyy looooooong days of going without in the Northern Hemisphere.
It's NOTHING like fasts I remember from Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, when we could drink water whenever and have one big meal with two smaller meals also permitted, if needed. (Since I'm a grazer, that's pretty much the way I eat anyway!)
Observant Muslims awaken before sunrise to eat a small meal (peanut butter and crackers, or cheese and an apple) and drink lots of liquids. Then there are morning prayers. Then they don't eat again until after the sun has set - and they usually start with something small, like a few dates and a few sips of water before the evening prayer, so their bodies adjust to digesting food again via a quick jolt of natural sugar before being hit with the big stuff after prayers. (I was amazed to learn this - figuring a big candy bar would be the go-to here.)
During our dinner, I asked my Muslim friends how they can do it - how can they fast that long, without even a sip of water, for over 16 hours? and function at their jobs, and do this in the heat of summer? (I would pass out.)
They told me it takes about a week for their bodies to get used to it. After that, they said, it actually feels good to go without, to practice self-constraint. The heart is in control of the body - the body is craving food and water, and the heart is saying, you can go without.
Resist your temptations.
Appreciate what you do not have.
Be grateful for all that God has given to you.
It makes me want to start fasting.
After breaking the fast, my friends invited me to pray with them in their beautiful mosque. The prayers were in Arabic and I didn't understand them, but I could feel them. Peaceful. Reverential. Grateful. We stood, and we kneeled, and we prostrated ourselves (I followed along as best I could.) My friends then stayed for a few more prayers AFTER prayers (mind you, this was after eating only two or three dates and a few sips of water in a 16+ hour period - and they prayed longer!) and then we went up to dinner.
By this time, even though I had grazed on many handfuls of nuts and dried fruit on my drive to Mecca Center, I was starving. And I hadn't even fasted! The falafel and shawarma, kefta kebobs, lamb, pita, hummus and baba ghanouj were absolutely delicious. So was the rice - and I don't like rice.
The best part of the evening was not dinner. It was demystifying something that I had only heard about, had been a little afraid of, and had unfairly judged.
Thank you, my friends, for all that you teach me.
©Catherine Borowski 2017
*I don't even remember learning about Islam in Catholic grammar school. I usually confused 'being Islam' with 'being Muslim.' (Islam is the religion, and a person who practices Islam is Muslim.)
Live a wealthy life.
Catherine Borowski, life coach, knows that life can be messy. Though digging into the mess, beauty emerges in the most unexpectedly brilliant ways.