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watercolor painting

A Time To Heal (watercolor and ink by Barbie Dallmann)

When I was a senior in high school, I broke my left knee playing flamingo football–boys against the girls. After six weeks on crutches, my leg wrapped in plaster from thigh-top to toe-tips, the day came for cast removal. I vividly recall my first glimpse of the leg. I say, “the leg” because it really didn’t resemble MY leg. The leg was shriveled, dirty, and hairy! But even worse than how it looked, was how poorly it functioned. The knee didn’t bend, and it couldn’t hold any weight whatsoever. It was a useless, pitiful little thing, just hanging there with no cast to protect it.

After weeks of physical therapy and excruciatingly painful exercises, I was able to take my first tentative steps without crutches. It was over a year before I could attempt running and even longer before I could operate the clutch pedal of our extended bed International Harvester pick-up truck.

Now, over 40 years later, there are still times my knee “acts up.” It’s not particularly fond of steep, downhill descents on rocky trails. For the most part, though, I go through life, walking three or four miles a day without giving it much thought. I climb stairs, ride bicycles, and easily deploy a clutch pedal. Once healed, it’s hard to remember the process of recovery: limitations, pain, frustration, and wanting to give up.

I think the same is true for healing emotional wounds. For a little while, it’s okay to wrap ourselves in protective armor while the worst of the injury heals. But the longer we wait, the more we atrophy and the harder it is to return to normal. And it’s no more realistic to expect instant emotional recovery than it is to remove a cast one day and plan to run a marathon the next.

Sometimes the recovery period feels worse than the initial injury, and certainly some wounds are worse than others. The more traumatic the injury, the longer the recovery period.

Ultimately, I believe in the wisdom of the body and heart when it comes to healing. If we take our bruised egos out of the picture, surrender to the reality of the situation, release whatever needs to be forgiven, and listen to the small, still voice within, we will heal. Healing–both physical and emotional–calls for patience, kindness, self-compassion, and self-love. Lots and lots and LOTS of self-love. And maybe a trusted friend or two to lean on while you’re learning to walk again.

 

 

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20150418_082154-2(Originally Posted May 11, 2010)

In March 1993 two bad things happened: (1) My kindergarten age son’s favorite riverside play area, “Magic Island,” was flooded, and when the waters receded, the area was covered in garbage. (2) Someone shot the windows out of my car, which was parked right in front of my house.

I was so angry about my car. I didn’t even bother with feeling worried or scared. Natural fighter that I am, I went directly into rage. Adrenaline was pumping through my body, and my heart was beating through my chest. I was shaking all over, ready to find the culprit and pound the crap out of him! That was my first reaction.

Through the inner roar that demanded revenge, I managed to hear a small, quiet voice: “You have a choice. You don’t have to respond with violence. You can choose peace instead of this.” I listened, but I didn’t know what to do with all that “violent energy” surging through my body. I NEEDED to hit somebody!

Then I remembered the playground, and it occurred to me that I could use my surplus energy to pick up garbage. I thought, “I’ll just pick up as much as it takes to get rid of this emotional super charge.” And so I grabbed a box of garbage bags and loaded my son and his friend into our truck, and we headed for Magic Island.

All I can say is that it took a long, LONG time to dissipate the energy. In fact, I filled over 20 giant garbage bags as full as I could get them. Add to that the work the boys did, and we pretty much cleaned up the flood’s footprint from Magic Island. When it was over, I was so tired and so happy. I had turned my violent rage into something useful and helpful and hopeful.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. The next morning while driving to work, the Mayor noticed the change on Magic Island and called the Parks Director to thank him. Of course, the Parks Director knew nothing about it. Enter the local press with the front-page newspaper headline: “Mayor wants do-gooders to come clean.” My best friend in Illinois turned us in. I had shared the story with her, and she’s the one who ended up calling the Mayor’s office to tell the tale. A couple of weeks later, the my son, his friend, and I received a Mayor’s Award for Community Spirit.

The best part, though, was the follow-up newspaper article in which I told my story about turning something negative into something positive in order to stop the cycle of violence. For many weeks thereafter, local pastors used the story in Sunday sermons, and something amazing happened as people began spontaneously getting together to pick up garbage all over the city. I’m still amazed by it all!

And so, next time you hear a quiet voice from inside telling you that you have a choice, believe it. We always have choices. We can choose to react out of fear, revenge, or self-righteous anger . . . or we can make choices and take actions that will lift us into a higher place, into a new, more peaceful way of being.

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Full Moon

After I slipped down a muddy hillside, I sat in the mud and shot pictures of the moon. Some things are worth getting dirty for.

There is no doubt about it. Summer is winding down. Although the trees remain lush and green, an increasing number of dead leaves decorate my cottage deck. Sweeping them away this morning, I realized the days of denial are over. My intention to Create A Summer I Loved was fulfilled. Is it any wonder I’m dragging my feet a little? When must I officially declare summer over?

As a child, that happened on the first day of school. But here in Charleston, school started on August 11; I wasn’t even back from summer vacation yet! So, that doesn’t work. Labor Day? Well, that’s come and gone, and I’m still in a summer frame of mind. So, no, Labor Day isn’t the end of summer.

What about September 22, the official beginning of autumn? But I’ll be in San Antonio training with Brené Brown to become a Daring Way Facilitator. I can’t officially end summer while I’m still out of town. Nope. Can’t be done.

Yet, I know the leaves will turn and fall. The days will grow shorter. The nights will get cooler. Air conditioning will be turned off, and I’ll switch on the electric fireplace to combat the morning chill at the cottage. Perhaps I’ll be ready to say goodbye to summer when we set our clocks back to standard time.

It’s not really about summer being over. It’s a reluctance to release my “summer way of being.” I have enjoyed moving at a slower pace, skipping the morning make-up-and-hair routine, and being more spontaneous, adventurous, and fun. My summer has been a delightful balance of meaningful work and nurturing play.

But there are a lot of things that didn’t get done. I didn’t blog much; I didn’t write much. I haven’t put any effort at all into marketing my book. My website remains inadequate, and I have not yet cracked the owner’s manual of my new camera.

What did get done? Well, I worked 40 hours a week and completed all of my projects on time. Bills got paid. Grocery shopping done. Meals. Dishes. Dog walking. I watched the moon rise, hiked for hours in the woods, occasionally lounged in the sun in the middle of a workday, painted outdoors as the sun was rising, and sat talking on the deck late on a work night just because I didn’t want the time with my son to end.

If I’m going to move into fall and winter happily, I’ll need to take some of summer’s lessons with me. New priorities. New pleasures. More flexibility. A slower pace doesn’t mean nothing gets done. I want to continue to trust myself to get things done when they need to get done. Even blogging.

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Painting

Watercolor … “Inspiration” by Barbie Dallmann

I was halfway through the morning dog walk, a little less than a mile from home, when I heard it. Subtle. In the distance. A faint fluttering of leaves in the treetops. I hoped the breeze would make it to the ground. It was a muggy morning, with intermittent sunshine coaxing wispy bits of fog from the low-lying grasses.

Then I heard it again. The sound was a little louder this time. No, not the sound of wind rustling leaves. This was a sound I never heard growing up in the treeless prairies of Nebraska. It is the sound raindrops make when they hit leaves. The tiniest splat. So tiny it can only be detected when there are millions of raindrops hitting millions of leaves.

“I hear the rain coming,” I told the dogs. “Let’s get home!”

I quickened my pace and dismissed the idea of running. Two dogs, hiking shoes, and no bra. If ever there were reasons not to run, I had plenty. As the sound intensified, I knew what was coming. The words “torrential downpour” popped into my head. I looked behind us and could see a sheet of water in the distance. There was no escape. This was going to be really bad.

A burst of wind, and my muscles tightened in anticipation. One huge drop hit my head, then two, then twenty all at once. This was not the gentle shower of a watering can, but the splash of water pouring from a bucket. Oh, my goodness! So loud, and so much water! My thoughts were racing, expecting a lightning strike or to be washed away by flood waters. Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! Get home!

And then, within 15 seconds, the rain stopped. I waited for a second wave, but that was it. I marveled as the tiny, yet powerful storm moved on. The dogs shook themselves, and I laughed, swiping the dripping hair out of my face. It felt more like getting hit with a water balloon than a rain storm.

Before we got to our driveway, the sun was out again, and I saw something sparkle on the ground. A quarter and a nickel. Wow! Thirty times more money than I usually find on a morning walk. This feels like my lucky day.

 

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memorial

Memorial in the Woods for Mom’s Ashes

I spent a couple of hours this morning reading journal entries from the year after my mother died. What a story they told. Grief stitched its way through the tapestry, leaving knots of sadness here and threads of gratitude there. In awareness of my mortality, I frantically set out to live life more fully.

The busy-ness of that year was both comforting and numbing. I traveled nearly 20,000 miles (by car, by plane, on foot), perhaps trying to outrun the pain, but more likely simply because I could. After nearly five years of care giving, I was finally free to come and go as I pleased, and, boy, did I ever come and go as I pleased!

This grief retrospective was triggered by present circumstances as my husband prepares to travel to Phoenix to attend his step-mom’s funeral. Our son is accompanying him, the ever strong, compassionate, resilient one.

There have been other deaths in the last two weeks. My friend said goodbye to her father. My former neighbor lost her precious aunt.

As I approach my inventory to choose yet another sympathy card, the cycle of life appears scrawled on the sides of small greeting card boxes: Birthday … Graduation … Wedding … Anniversary … New Baby … Get Well … Sympathy. I sigh deeply as I notice the words Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Why do I still have those? No parents, but I still have the boxes of cards. As I think about throwing them away, tears trickle down my face. Oh, I remember now why they’re still there. Maybe they can stay a little longer. Not ready for that step quite yet, it seems.

The grief journey takes as long as it takes. That first year was incredibly difficult, as I embraced and moved through the pain, one step at a time. Just last month I sorted through Mom’s recipe books and cards, put a few in with mine, put a few in storage, and threw out the rest. The process was full of smiles as I remembered the dishes she used to make. I joyfully baked her “Easter Cake” and shared it with friends. No tears, just happy memories.

Today as I stand on the fringes of the wordless grief of those around me, I breathe deeply, close my eyes, and envision their inner spirits being rocked in the arms of angels, comforting, protecting, loving. I pray they will find the strength and courage to work through the grief, however long it takes, and that they will be gentle with themselves on the long and winding road to a healed heart.

 

Mom's Ashes

Still missing you, Mom. XOXO

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Front Cover of Book

The cover of my first published book. To learn more, click here.

 

I’m happy that my book is finished, published, and ready to sell. In fact, I sold several copies last week from a casual mention on Facebook. Truthfully, though, I’m more excited about using my book than I am about selling my book.

Let me explain. Creating a Life You Love is predominantly a workbook; it’s intended to be a tool for increasing self-confidence and joy. Yes, I wrote a few chapters of supportive material, but like any good tool, the real power comes from using it, not from reading about how it works.

As I face the daunting task of developing and executing a successful marketing plan, I’m beginning to long for some increased self-confidence as well as a bit more joy. To that end, I picked up the book and began with prompt #1, “My Favorite Flowers.” It was easy to zip through numbers one, two, and three (daffodils, crocuses, and lilacs … I do love spring flowers!) But then the listing slowed as I thought hard about limiting my list to five. I wanted just the special ones, the flowers I can always count on to warm my heart and leave me smiling.

I doodled a bit on the page and then observed as some of my favorite flower memories floated into my awareness. There was the peony corsage made for me by my high school boyfriend. I was worried when I heard what he had planned and relieved to find the home-made corsage was actually quite pretty. But before the dance was over, all the petals had dropped down the front of my dress. I was left with a ribbon, greenery, and an empty stem. Too funny!

I remembered fondly the vase of lilacs I placed on the altar for the Blessed Virgin when I attended Catholic grade school. Each student took his or her turn bringing flowers each day in May to honor all of our mothers but Jesus’s mother Mary in particular. So many colorful aromatic flowers!

I closed my eyes and allowed the joy of flowers to wash over me. Wild flowers; spring flowers; flowers cut from our yard; purchased flowers; wedding bouquets; flowers in Moscow, Vienna, and London; the flower fields of Carlsbad; Mother’s Day flowers; Anniversary roses; dandelions; crab apple blossoms; day lilies. The deeper I waded into a lifetime of flower memories, the more joyful I became and the luckier I felt.

When my session with the workbook was over, I went grocery shopping and picked up a bouquet of roses for my office. I painted flowers in art class, and noticed periwinkle blooming in the woods.

If working with one page on one day can fill my heart so completely, can you see why I’m looking forward to completing the next 79 exercises? I didn’t just write the book on Creating a Life You Love, I’m living it!

 

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New Beginnings Painting

“New Beginnings” – Acrylic painting to be auctioned at the Charleston Art Walk April 17 to raise funds for the WV Children’s Advocacy Network

Last year at this time I was insistently resisting the label “artist” (See: I’m not THAT!). This year when I received the “Call to Artists” email, asking for donations of art to be auctioned at a fundraiser for a West Virginia non-profit, I excitedly began thinking about making a contribution. Yesterday I awoke at 4 a.m. having just finished the painting in my dreams.

I picked my way through the dark woods to the cottage and happily assembled my supplies, all the while trying to recall the details of the dream painting. I sketched it out quickly on the back of a things-to-do list, made a few notes, and then started painting. This morning I declared it finished because it brought a smile to my face.

Last year’s agony of creation is gone; today I was so absorbed in the joy of painting, I completely forgot to drink my coffee! Now, that’s seriously absorbed!

In this moment, I’m feeling happy and proud of myself. This past year, I’ve willingly worked through a lot of painful memories and purposefully healed those wounds. I’ve butted up against some major barriers, including “I don’t know what I’m doing!” and “I’m not good enough.” Patience, kindness and self-compassion have gradually reduced the size of the barriers. Although, still big enough to be recognizable, they have gradually become small enough to step over. Finally I find myself in a valley of contentment with feelings of satisfaction, freedom, delight, and whimsy. There is a sacred flow that happens now when I paint. It has become a time of communion with my higher self–a peaceful meditation. Lost in time and space, I become childlike, curious and delighted with the colors and shapes. It isn’t about getting certain results, it’s just about the fun of dabbling.

I long to more regularly feel that sense of freedom that comes from releasing attachment to outcome. I wonder what it would be like to approach every task in my life with playful curiosity and delight. When I think about where I was artistically just five years ago (couldn’t even draw a stick man) to where I am today, it makes me believe anything is possible. Yes, it does require a conscious desire to create something new as well as focused effort, but if it results in more connection, freedom, and joy, then count me in!

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