The River Or The Dam? Pick One For Ultimate Happiness

Remember that scene in The Fugitive when Harrison Ford’s character, Dr. Richard Kimble, leaps into the fuming, foaming, rushing water of the dam rather than be taken alive?

Well, I’m not comparing myself to Harrison Ford here, if that’s where you thought I was going with this.

Nope, I’m comparing myself to the dude who had the tremendous power to stop the raging torrent of water over the dam so they could search for the body.

The turn of a key, the push of a button, and all goes from deluge to drip, drip.

That’s my superpower, too. Only it’s not with water.

I’m so very good at shutting feelings down.

If I had a dollar for every time a therapist promised I’d cleanse myself of some of my pain by allowing myself to actually FEEL IT, well…I’d be able to afford more therapy.

One strategy I employ is to intellectualize what I’m feeling. I jump out of my heart and go straight to my head, pseudo-psychologically analyzing every drop of blood out of my feelings until they’re a weak tea I can finally swallow.

Though my most common method for disabling the pain lever is: I use.

I use food, shopping, social media, sex, alcohol, and busyness.

There are costs to my pain-avoidance vices but they’ve been costs I was always willing to bear so as not to bear the discomfort of BIG SCARY FEELINGS.

When you’re younger, there’s more padding in your metaphorical “account” to get away with using those tactics to skirt the pain-debt-collector.

But what you don’t know or want to believe as a whippersnapper is that the bill always comes due. The pain will come to collect. It will find you. And what you got away with before suddenly tips the scales in midlife in such a way that causes you more pain.

At the outset, this sounds bad but it’s not. It’s the recognition that in order to be truly happy, I have to quit sweeping my feelings under the rug. People are starting to wonder what that big mound is anyway. What am I hiding? Do I have dead bodies under there? It’s getting weird.

We’re gonna need a bigger rug.


Or I could stop chickening out and honor that I’m just a human with my own unique tapestry of hurts and history and own all of it. I could appreciate the story of me, FEEL every drop, (because despite my long-standing belief: my feelings won’t actually kill me) and finally move past my past both wiser and freer.

I won’t always do this right. I’ll scurry to patch holes in the dam sometimes. But from now on, I’ll do my best to let the water flow.

Who’s At The Conference Table In Your Head?

I once complained to a therapist that I often felt there were competing voices in my head, each with their own agenda. I would say I wanted one thing, and an equally strong voice would assert that what it wanted was the exact opposite. Was I crazy? Did everyone mentally shadowbox with different parts of themselves?

My therapist told me, “We can think of our psyches as having a few voices, much like a boardroom in a company. All the disparate parts of us have a say, an agenda, and have something at stake. Each want their input and desires to be heard, to be important to the whole.”

Hmm…the conference table in my head. It was an image I never forgot, probably because it felt so true.

Sitting around the big conference table in my head were a motley cast of characters. I’ll introduce you to some of the key power players:

 My Inner Child

(Usually around the age of trauma or woundedness.) In my case, she’s very young and suffers from fear of abandonment, pain from neglect, and a huge certainty that she’s not worthy of love. She doesn’t speak much but presses out with her feelings like a superpower and has infused many of our choices with her massive fears.

 My Inner Man

To say I’m in touch with my masculine side is probably an understatement. I’m an INTJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging – Myers-Briggs) to a fault and have a very unemotional, distancing, definite, pragmatic side that:

  1. loves to ‘splain things
  2. loves for other people to back the hell off cause I’ll take care of it my dang self.
  3. Loves to be in charge

 My Inner Martha

She’s the voice that runs me ragged trying to prove myself through perfectionism. (Sorry to the real Martha if this is offensive but if I ever want to know how to loom my own monogramed entry mat with fuzz I harvested from my own alpaca, you’re my go-to.) A harsh taskmaster, she assigns certain chores on certain days and doesn’t like excuses or throw blankets that aren’t folded. She has a certain image to uphold and it’s a castle built on the back of the Inner-Child’s sense of unworthiness.

My Inner Teenager/Young Adult

This bodacious and resilient chick was running the show and had been since an early age. In fact, she stepped up and stepped in far earlier than she should ever have needed to. I’m forever grateful to her for that. She’s probably why I’m a young adult author.

Trainer Tracy and Lazy Susan

These two duke it out on the daily.

 My Higher Self

The true grownup of the bunch, the wise older woman who whispered and urged, and helped make some of our better decisions on the rare occasion that she got a word in edgewise. In my journals, I’d taken to calling this woman my Higher Self or “HS” for short. She waited placidly in the wings; poised to step into her rightful place but the young star of the show wouldn’t let her.

HS was growing impatient. I could feel it like a warning.

It was becoming increasingly clear that it was time to name a new CEO of Tracy, Inc. Maybe even initiate a hostile takeover.

The truth was that living in a perpetual juvenile state was wearing on me, killing my spark, derailing my goals, and literally making me sick. I’d finally come to a point where I was willing to rethink EVERYTHING.

To allow the woman I wanted to become to emerge, there had to be a true retirement of the woman I’d been—a changing of the guard. Overthrowing a government is a violent enterprise and I could feel the resistance come up every single time I contemplated change. Someone with the emotional maturity of a twenty-year-old, sometimes sixteen, directed much of my life. No slight to twenty-year-olds, but that is not the age that should govern your midlife and beyond.

To give my inner young adult credit, she’s a tenacious go-getter. She is the energy of a stubborn young woman who won’t take anyone’s shit and who hasn’t been ready to let anyone tell her to sit down, take a back seat, or shut up and she was certainly not going to let anyone else take over her hard-fought life.

Frankly, it’s because she’s never trusted anyone but herself.

She had lots of reasons not to.

There are positives and negatives to the strong, stubborn energy of youth. The negative aspects are: lack of self-control, instant gratification, recklessness with my heart and the hearts of others, a truthful tongue to a fault, and the belief that she knows what she’s doing and doesn’t need to change a thing.

On the positive side, that vibrant, pulsing energy has pushed me to be bold and go after my dreams. It’s made me jump out of airplanes and get my pilot’s license. It’s been the burning coal in my gut to fight for myself and for those I care about, and the causes I’m passionate about. It’s given me the courage to dare and live according to my own plan, no matter how crazy that plan seemed to other people.

God, she is fierce.

In the most real sense, that girl has saved my life—a few times.

But I was beginning to see that different crises call for different saviors.

Recently, I was in crisis physically, mentally, spiritually, and professionally. And while I had no intention of abandoning my former selves (that’s probably their worst fear), I knew I needed to be led down this new path by an experienced, calm, wiser older woman. The woman who deserved to have her turn had been knocking on the door of our life while my adolescent pushed with all her might against her. The protracted battle of wills was fracturing me.

Chances are, the wise woman or man in you has given grand presentations to The Board on the possible life that’s waiting for you if you’d just make these few tweaks and changes. Are they being heard?

Books I’d read over the years alluded to a Higher Self. For many years, especially when I was younger, I understood it as an existential idea, maybe an all-knowing observer hovering above my life that could only be accessed through meditation or drugs or inherent holiness, which I was sure I did not possess.

I see that I was always holy enough to receive her. She was the angel on my shoulder when my devil wanted to play, she was there in the advice I somehow gave friends that was more full of grace and wisdom than I thought I possessed, and she was ever-present as my intuition. She was always there, not that I always listened. But she never abandoned or ignored me in return.

Now she was asking for me to allow her into being, to walk our walk, talk our talk, and love and mother and create, and strive as her—the highest version of myself. She’s asking for advancement.

I think It’s high time she was promoted.




Are You A Someday-Stockpiler?

I recently watched Doris, the Sally Field movie where she plays a quirky, colorful older woman who’s “stuck” in a few areas of her life and latches her Velcro affections onto a much younger man.

The flick took a darker turn than the previews had hinted at. It was strange to go from love to curious like to dislike to tolerant understanding of a main character. The arc felt backward and somewhat sad.

What I gleaned as the takeaway of Doris: We can avoid the truly meaningful aspects of living by getting too attached to and buried under our “stuff.”

Whether physical stuff or psychological stuff, it still piles up and boxes us in if we don’t deal with it.

I’m excessively tidy. I’ll not make light of those who struggle with OCD by throwing out the “I’m SO OCD about cleaning” (though I suspect that if there’s a spectrum, I’m on it.) I drive myself crazy sometimes with my inability to relax if I see dust-tufts under the chair across the room.

I’m the person who gets comments like, “You make me feel bad about my house.” “You make me feel like a slacker.” “Why do you have to make it so perfect in here all the time?”


“If this is how clean your house always is, I’m going to have to rethink our friendship.”

People have told me that my home is so warm, inviting, and pleasant to be in. (Even teen boys who are walking combos of sweat, puppy, dirty socks and obliviousness!) I do glow at the compliment and I pride myself on engaging every sense and giving off a certain “vibe” in my house but that’s not really why it’s so clean.

It’s this way because I literally can’t let it be dirty.

It’s this way because I’ve learned to manage my anxiety by managing my surroundings. It feels like my house is the only thing in this unpredictable, messy life that I can control.

Doris was a hoarder. Seems her mother indoctrinated her into this lifestyle and it stuck. What Doris was holding on to prohibited her from letting go in ways she needed to in order to move forward.

Have you ever known a hoarder? I honestly haven’t. That’s a psychological pile of used yogurt containers that I don’t know enough about to speculate on.

I think I know stockpilers.

I call it “Someday stockpiling” It’s the compulsion to acquire because something’s on sale or you have a killer coupon or it might be useful someday.

You know…someday…when you get around to it. If it’s not buried under two dozen pillow forms, a case of white cannellini beans, and a box of duct tape in every-color-of-the-rainbow plus camo.

I suspect stockpiling is the baby sister of hoarding. Hoarding-lite, if you will.

When you spend more time “hunting and gathering” supplies for a hobby or activity than actually doing the activity, then Someday Stockpiling has stolen from your joy.

When your sewing room starts looking like the Room of Requirement, then you’ll likely feel overwhelmed rather than inspired every time you step in there.

Someday can be a dirty word if we use it to delay or entomb our happiness.

I don’t pretend to know the answer to this but I do know that I’d rather collect memories and experiences. I do know that whenever I let go of excess in my spaces, I feel better, clearer, and freer.

Life energy flows better when we’re focused on what we’re giving out rather than what we’re taking in.

There’s something you’re supposed to be doing with all that time, money, and freaking glittery talent that will make the world a lovelier place.

I promise you, you have enough already. So, get to it.