Last Monday, the 17th of January, 2011, my step-father Stephen Patton died suddenly. All last week I was actively engaged in supporting my mom, family members (my son was so very close to Steve or Steve-o as I called him) and myself through the process of funeral arrangements, services, wills and other related bits and pieces. And don’t let me forget – grieving.
I think you might like to know that I didn’t feel the slightest bit compelled to use food to cope or alcohol etc., etc., rather I felt grounded, centred, grief-stricken, grateful to have known Steve-o and to have had the many wonderful moments with him that I did.
This past weekend just happened to be the weekend of the Victoria annual health show at which I was scheduled to present a one-hour workshop both days, plus set up, run, and dismantle an information booth. It also happened to be the weekend that my dear husband kicked off his business at the same show, with 2 presentations and a booth himself. In other words, it would have been a hectic time at the best of times.
As it was, more was demanded of me than I could have imagined.
I held myself accountable to my values and principles and to the practice of good self-care. I gave myself complete permission to bail on the health show at any time that I felt I wanted to. I ate well, got decent (as good as can be under the circumstances) sleep, parented as well as I could, opened my heart to the grieving process as the tears came and my heart ached, spoke my truth respectfully when people were not meeting my needs with their behaviour, kept my heart open to them but let go of needing their agreement or understanding of me as best I could.
After all these years of practice, it was easy to see the memories and future thoughts as well as right here, right now experiences as they arose and triggered my sadness. I could open myself to them and feel them fully. And in moments they would pass and I would be left with the precious feeling of love and gratitude for Steve and everything he brought to my life.
Tears of sadness and gratitude came and went through the week, and will continue today and likely well beyond today. It’s okay. Death is a part of life. In one way or another, all relationships end.
We can stay stuck in wishing it weren’t so, feeling angry and ripped off, judging and berating the other for their choices that led to the end of our connection (far more relationships end by choice rather than by death after all). We can do that. It’s our life, our choice. If we need to suffer a bit and feel hard-done-by a bit, we most certainly can give ourselves permission to do that, and watch immediately as that need falls away and we are ready to move on.
In my early 20s as I began my healing journey, I did some journaling one night and realized that I was, in large part, holding on to my great dysfunction (binging, lying, isolating, etc.) because I truly believed that if I got well and was truly happy, my biological father (not Steve-o) would never know how much he hurt me. Yes, I was suffering in excruciating pain so this person, who wasn’t then and still isn’t in any way connected to my life, would know, at whatever point we happened to collide, that he had screwed me up! In your face, dad!!! Take THAT you jerk!!!
Ummmm, well. Of course there was one wee problem with that approach. I was the one suffering every day, not him. I was the one feeling fat and gross and ugly and chronically insecure and loserish 24/7, not him. I was the one who had to keep the memory of his behaviour towards me and abandonment of me alive in me 24/7 not him.
When I saw it that way, it seemed kind of foolish. Now, with more space and clarity, I think it’s downright abusive, which makes sense. If you, or I were treated with disrespect and harm or neglect by a key person in our lives as we were developing our self-concept as children, of course that kind of mistreatment is going to become something we feel is normal and a part of how life should be for us.
We will go on to unwittingly create (or at the very least, allow) relationships and work situations that reinforce that old belief in our deservedness of stress and abuse and not even realize the power we have in those situations. And we’ll use food to cope with our feelings of distress, grief, pain and emptiness.
When Steve-o came into my life, I was 13. My parents had only recently separated and my dad had unceremoniously dumped my brother and I on my mother’s doorstep. After growing up in the small community of Galiano Island (population 300), being forced to leave and move to a city of over 250,000 people was an incredible shock and stress on top of an already stressful situation. My new school, unlike my old one with 30 kids, had hundreds of kids and lots of things I was ill-prepared to navigate.
I fell into a pot-smoking crowd, dropped out of school before my 15th birthday and moved away to another province on my own. I was definitely reacting to my situation, waiting for someone to rescue me from myself, to show love and caring and consideration; someone to do the hard stuff, to hang in there through my grief and anger and healing. Steve-o was there on the phone when I lived elsewhere and in person when I returned to BC in my early 20s. Solid, pragmatic, respectful, trustworthy, kind, generous Steve. He single-handedly restored my faith in humanity and gave me the strength and the desire to grow and heal and be the best person I could be. I honestly don’t know where I’d be if he hadn’t been in my life. I highly doubt I’d be anywhere near here.
We all need a Steve-o, whether we luck out and have one for a biological parent or get a good step-parent or a great friend or partner or boss or mentor. All it takes is one person to see our worth and mirror it back to us through their own dignity and respect and caring. Steve never pretended for a moment to know everything or to be perfect. He just opened himself to learning and growing and held fast to his values in the face of great adversity at times. He was a powerful role model to me, and I owe much of who I am and what I have today to his presence in my life as a mentor and father.
I hope each of you have had or still have a Steve-o in your life. If not, perhaps I may offer a little of that to you through our work together. And perhaps you will come to find the strength and respect and trust in yourself that you need in order to know that you deserve to be treated with respect and kindness at all times, and that if something isn’t feeling good to you, it’s not meeting needs for you, and that’s a fact.
Have a fabulous week.