Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Dear Husband

Dear Husband,

Today marks the 33rd year of your life.
Today is the celebration of your birth.

I couldn't be more grateful that you exist. That I met you 11 years ago. That we started dating 9 years ago. That we've been married for 5. You are an incredible gift.

I'm regularly in awe of you.
Of your kindness.
Your playfulness.
Your gentleness.
Your listening ear.
Your ability to say just the right thing.
    Or the "wrong" thing, but eventually, the right thing.
Your thoughtfulness.
Your patience.
Your knowledge of things I didn't even knew you knew.
Your practical abilities to fix, like, anything.
The way you observe and take things in, without immediately reacting.
The way you let things slide off your back.
The way that you are calm in a crisis.
The way you adore our niece, Scarlett.
The way you jump in and help my parents.
The way you take care of my sister.
The way you poke fun at my brother.
The way you hold me in your arms and everything feels right with the world.

Years from now, we will say, "Remember that time we conquered graduate school?" And "we" will be accurate because there's no possible way that I could be doing this without you.

You work 70+ hour weeks to provide for us.
You get very little sleep.
You don't always get to do the fun things.
On the weekends, you sit beside me while I do homework and rub my shoulders and pretend like this is exactly what you hoped our Sunday would be.
And you do all of that for me.

You, my dear, are a wonder. 



You are my one true love.
You are my best friend.
You are my favorite feminist. You support me. You believe me.
You love me: mind, body, and soul.

Let's live 33 more years together.
Let's reach the time when we've been together more years that we've been apart.
Let's snuggle hard on the weekends.
Let's live a simple life.
Let's take care of each other.
Let's build community.
Let's make the world a little brighter.
A little kinder.

You make me better.
Here's to you, on your birthday. 

I love you.

Every part of me,
Bo







Sunday, September 24, 2017

It Will Come

I've wanted to be a therapist from the first time I needed a therapist.

I was eighteen years-old, oblivious to the need for any outside help, swimming in my own denial and invisible shame. I remember arriving to the address, sitting in my car, and being so embarrassed of walking inside. Wanting to crawl out of my own skin and into anyone else's to avoid this appointment, this feeling that there was anything so wrong with me that I had to be here. But I went inside because my attendance was required before I would be allowed to go out-of-state for college.

And I met Jane. Who was kind and gentle and sincere. She didn't push. She didn't prod. She just listened without judgment. She actually affirmed things that were hard or unjust or unfair. She made me feel like I wasn't crazy and I was going to be okay.

Later, I met Teresa.
And Stella.
And Marsha.
And Lynn.
And Katie.

And these women set aside an hour at a time for me. Just for me. To listen. To observe. To notice. To comment. But mostly, just to be with me as I walked my own path.

Therapists are some of the kindest people I know. They are also some of the wisest people I know. They are interesting. They write fascinating books. They seem to have a presence about them that is calm and comforting and safe. And what I gathered from the hours I've spent with therapists, is that you have to be a certain kind of person. Like, in the book The Giver, (or, now that I think about it, Divergent, too), how everyone is given a profession--a purpose--and there's no getting out of it. That's just what you were born to do. And so I imagined "The Therapist" up on a pedestal as some kind of sage for society. A voice of reason. A role unique to their DNA. Like the Dalai Lama. But wearing clogs.

And then, I found out there were schools where you could go to learn to be a therapist! There were places that would allow everyday people like me who really, really wanted to be wise, a chance to be so lucky. A chance to be wise.

But what I've learned in graduate school, and most recently in my internship is that they'll let anybody be a therapist! Within the boundaries of ethics and proper education, it turns out nobody really has wisdom just flowing through their DNA. Therapists will steal your lunch right out of the fridge, cut you off in traffic, and make mistakes just like the rest of us.

Darn it.

So I've found myself asking out of absolute necessity: Well, then what does it mean to be a therapist?
Because now I'm in the other chair.
And I need to know.
Like, yesterday.

If this thing is not something a select-few are born into.
It it's not an elite club.
If therapists don't have a corner on the market in terms of wisdom.
What gives us the nerve to try to be helpful at all?

I find myself wanting more assurance than is available to me. I want a philosophy. A lens.  An outline. A cheat sheet. And when I express this to my supervisors (and just about anyone else who will listen to me), they keep saying the same annoying thing:

"It'll come. 
You know more than you know. 
Trust your intuition."

I know, right?
Maddening.

Apparently, it's less about interventions and theoretical perspectives and inspiring one-liners that clients will stitch onto a throw pillow. What I need to do right now, is exactly what I already know how to do:
Which is to sit.
And listen.
To be present.
And curious.
To be affirming.
And compassionate.

Just like others have done for me.

I trust that the rest will come.



Saturday, August 19, 2017

Why I Want to Be a Therapist

It's August 18th and the year is 2017.

This week, I pep-talked my way through the morning drive to my second year clinical internship. It's starting. I am now a registered psychotherapist with the state of Colorado. This is the year where I become a therapist. I will conduct intakes and assessments for potential clients at our sliding-scale and Medicaid-friendly counseling center. Because you know, behavioral health should be a basic human right. Right? I will have a case load of my own. People will come to me for help. And then, I suppose, I should have something to offer them in return.

But as I drove there this week, I needed more consoling that I expected. This feels huge. This feels important. This feels like the culmination of ten years of experiences that made me want to become a therapist to begin with.

Ten years ago. 
It was August 18th and the year was 2007.


On this day exactly ten years ago, a little 19-year-old-120-pound-anorexic-Christian me climbed on a plane and flew to Cambodia. What followed was the absolute hardest year of my life (I wrote a book about it if you haven't heard...).
I thought that the problem was Cambodia.
It was that guy who sexually assaulted me.
It was the driver who hit me with his car.
It was the God that deserted me.
It was the religious community I grew up in.
Or something.

Either way, I made it through the year and waited in the Phnom Penh International Airport for my flight home. I bought a smoothie. I sat down. A young, white woman with red hair started talking to me about her travel plans. She asked how long I'd been in Cambodia and I told her.
"A whole year?" she exclaimed. "You're so lucky. I love Cambodia. I wish I could stay longer."
And then, she asked me questions about my time there and she wanted to hear stories about this "wonderful" place that I'd been so "lucky" to experience. But I didn't have anything to say to her, because I didn't know what she was talking about.

I returned home a 20-year-old-150-pound-bulimic-agnostic me. Apparently, the same person, though completely unrecognizable in the mirror. I bought new clothes. I got new friends. I didn't go back to church. I returned to college. I moved on.



My life has been divided into two parts ever since: B.C. (Before Cambodia) and A.C. (After Cambodia). Everything else finds its place in one of those two categories. And while I would never re-live that year, I've had the honor of returning to the country (twice!) and realizing that the fault of that difficult year was drastically misplaced.
The problem wasn't Cambodia.
The problem wasn't even me.
The problem was the mental illness that moved in and took control of my ability to see clearly, to live fully, to feel anything other than depression, anxiety, and despair. That eating disorder changed the way I saw everything. And it took five more years before I could call myself truly "recovered" (whatever that means in a society where I've never really encountered a woman with a healthy self-image).

I used to think Cambodia was the villain in this story, but it turns out she was the mother who nourished me back to health. Thirty-pounds of health. It felt like force-feeding. It was. I'd never been this size before. Around the time that anorexia moved in (18), my body was trying to grow bigger and stronger. So it was actually Cambodia that brought me to the healthy weight that I've maintained ever since.

Thank God for that nourishment and the six mental health therapists who have brought me back to life.




I want to be a therapist more than I've ever wanted anything (besides recovery). This is exactly where I need to be and exactly the program that will get me there. If that's not pressure, I don't know what is. And yet, as I drove to my internship where I will receive the training to become half the therapist that those women were to me, I repeated again and again out loud to myself,
"I did Cambodia. I can do this."
"I did Cambodia. I can do this."
"I did Cambodia. I can do this."

I don't know what your "Cambodia" is. But take heart, that we can do hard things. Because we've done them before. And we will do them again.

In November, I will turn 30 years-old.

I will leave my 20s behind. A decade that has brought trauma in Cambodia, mental illness, recovery, college graduation, marriage, South Korea, and this awkward stumbling into adulthood one-damn-day-at-a-time. I don't have kids. I don't have a house. I don't have an established career or a salary of any kind. The tangible milestones I thought I would've reached by now, are still miles ahead of me (if I ever get there at all). But the understated, more delicate milestones like wisdom and discernment are things that make me older than my years and I carry them with me always. Things I have earned. I have miles and pounds that prove the rigor of this journey that took me around the world and back again.



I think I'm supposed to be sad about turning 30.
About being called "ma'am".
About being overlooked by the lascivious male-gaze on the street. Oh shucks.
This dread over "being 30" makes me feel like I'm supposed to be sad that I'm still here.
Bummed about continuing with this business of being alive.
Which I am not.
I'm so relieved to still be here.

We get to be here.

I get to be "recovered"
and healthy
and married
and well-traveled
and a student in graduate school
and a therapist in-training
and almost-thirty.

But still here.
Hallelujah.






Tuesday, July 18, 2017

How We Remember

Every year for as along as I can remember, my family has had an annual camping trip.
In the summer.
Somewhere with a lake.
And we'd bring the boat.
Mom
Dad
Brother
Sister
Aunt
Uncle
Cousins

And then the group expanded to include girlfriends, family friends, friends from college, fianc├ęs, husbands, wives, and new little babies who have joined the fray.
The Bohlender family camping trip is my favorite holiday.



Somewhere between unloading the truck and setting up tents, someone will say:
"Remember that time that the Bronco started smoking somewhere between Fort Morgan and Burlington, and Daryl had to flag a ride into town, leaving Vickie with the kids on the side of the road?"

or

"Remember when Daryl was chopping wood and a piece flew up breaking his glasses, and lodging glass in his eye ball? And then we had to drive an hour in the middle of the night to the emergency room?"

or

"Remember that flat tire that we got in Sterling and that nice family stopped and helped us?"
And inevitably, someone interjects, "No, I thought that was in Sidney."
And someone else will chime in, "Well, I don't remember that flat tire, but I remember the one in Wyoming."

And so it goes.





There's a checklist of some of our favorite stories. And because you might never make it to a Bohlender family camping trip, let me enlighten you to some of the highlight reel:

-the time little Ashley saw a snake eating a toad at the farm and ran inside to grandma and told her, "Come quick, there's a snake and a toad and they are arguing!"

-the time that little Chris with his sippy cup in-hand, walked out the front door, down the middle of the street we grew up on, until some nice neighbors returned him back home.

-the time that little Heather, was in one of those walkers with wheels, and (the story goes that Chris left the gate open to the stairs; we don't actually know this, but it's a detail I'm always sure to include) I went head-over-heels, walker and all, down the stairs. My poor mom got a lot of dirty looks from strangers who saw her infant daughter with a black eye and bruises and assumed I was being abused.

-the time that Ashley dressed Chris up like a girl and took pictures and called him "Chrissy" or as Angie coined at least two decades ago, "Christopher Ding-a-Ling". (Your welcome, Chris.)

-the time that Chris started sleeping in his closet and hoarding food that would go undiscovered for weeks.

-the time that I refused to take off my swimsuit for a summer and my hair turned green from the chlorine at the pool.

-all the pets who escaped: the hamster, the hermit crabs, the rat, the dogs...

-the time that we were camping in Wyoming and decided to go caving down a huge pit in the ground (Was it 50 feet? Was it 100?). And somebody rigged a rope tied to the back of a truck. And somebody went down in a harness. And somebody (a toddler) tipped upside down. And somebody's mother almost lost her shit. (When none of us could remember who the "somebody" in this story was, Ashley said, "Who does this trauma belong to?)

-all the times we went camping and something broke down. Which is literally every time.



siblings


These are the stories we tell time and time again. Like clock-work.
Like we just need to hear it one more time. To make sure it's still there. Like if we don't say it this year, we might forget it by next year. And so all fourteen of us, collectively gather around the fire at night, just to remember where we've come from.

Because we aren't 8 years-old anymore.
We aren't teenagers.
Jake died of cancer.
And Grandpa passed away, too.
We've moved forward.
We are adults.
Professionals.
With mortgages and kids.
With new social circles that only know the adult version of ourselves.
With lives that look so different from our roots
on the farm
back in the day.

And so we share, 
to remember who we were
which helps us remember who we are.




At one point last weekend, my cousin Angie asked me, "Where's your birth mark? I haven't seen it in awhile." And I legitimately didn't know what she was talking about for half-a-second. And then, I did. And then, I remembered. Because she remembered. As a kid, in the summers, I spent so much time in the sun that my face would tan and only then, would a dark mark appear on my right jaw line. But it only comes out in the summer. And it stopped appearing when I started caring about my skin. And wearing sunscreen. And I haven't seen it since.

On the drive home from Lake McConaughay this summer, we listened to a podcast that discussed transactive memory, which is essentially, the shared storage. For example, in a marriage, there are innumerable details that one person will let go of because they know that the other person will remember for them. And remind them. This person (or people) will serve as an external hard drive so that as a collective, the group can still remember.

And this is why we go camping.
An annual family picnic wouldn't do the trick.
We need a whole weekend to help each other remember.
Again.
And again.

Thank God.
























Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Five Years

This month we are celebrating five years of marriage.
Five.
Five years.
1,825 days.
May 13, 2012.
Whoa.



Regularly, I am struck by the struggle to reconcile how much time has actually passed and how much time I think has passed. I'm always wrong. It never feels like the right amount of time. Will it ever feel like the right amount of time?

Consider that my existential crisis.
There's usually one in each blog.
COLLECT ALL 892!

In celebration of five years, I'm offering five things I've learned in my marriage. Not your marriage. Not marriage in general. Just our experience. Five things I can share that have been helpful to me.




#1. Resentment is a Choice
Marriage provides endless fodder to be upset, disappointed, and let down. Most of that has less to do with anybody's performance and more to do with our expectation of it. What we thought was reasonable. What we expected might happen. What we assumed the other person would say or do. And it's really easy to make it about them, when really it's about us. Some of the most important questions I've asked myself in the past five years are:
-Why did I have that expectation?
-What does that say about me?
-How can I have lower/more neutral expectations?




#2. Jeremy Will Always Run on Jeremy Time
Opposites attract and in this area, we are diametrically opposed. I am not, like, always on time to every event, but we each have a markedly different awareness of time. For example, Jeremy and I have this game where we will be laying around on a lazy afternoon or out in the middle of nowhere on a hike and he will ask me, "What time is it?" and 90% of the time, I am within 5 minutes (data based on estimates). Call it my spiritual gift. If I ask Jeremy, "How long do you think you've been on Instagram?" He's 90% wrong, 90% percent of the time. I once thought to myself shortly after we were married--feeling pretty resentful, "I am going to spend the rest of my life waiting for Jeremy."

And while it was an exasperated generalization it's also pretty true. I've stopped getting upset about it. I've stopped fixating on it. I've accepted it. But what I've learned from waiting for Jeremy is how much I've been missing the rest of the time. I'm really good at getting shit done, but there's a time and a place for doing absolutely nothing. And that's what Jeremy's gift is: being present, observing people and things, noticing details, and being completely oblivious to time. But you can't have one without the other. I can't be both frustrated and blessed by how he's changing me. And I thank God for his capacity to move slowly. Because he'll probably add years to my life, the same years that I thought I had lost...just waiting.



#3. "Thank you" Never Gets Old
We thank each other a lot. For most anything. And everything. Because we can. Because it feels good to be appreciated. It also shifts my focus to what's going well. What little thing did he do that was unexpected and helpful and intuitive? But also, what things does he do all the time that it would be easy to just begin to expect and stop appreciating him for? These things matter.




#4. Sit. Together. Even for Two Minutes.
We've noticed that, at the end of any day, it's easy to get home and just keep going. To empty out our backpacks. To do dishes. To start dinner. To get lost online. And completely miss each other for the entire evening and then wonder: We just spent the whole evening together, why don't we feel connected? So we've made it a rule that within ten minutes of getting home, we always sit down together, look each other in the eyes, and catch up on our days. Even for two minutes, but usually much longer. Just to check-in. Reconnect. See each other fully.




#5. Ask Five Questions Weekly
Before we were married, I followed a blogger who mentioned that in her own marriage, they would weekly ask each other the following questions:
#1. How was your week?
#2. What does your upcoming week look like?
#3. How can I support and encourage you this coming week?
#4. How can I pursue you intimately this coming week?
#5. How can I pray for you?

We've been doing this on the weekends ever since. Sometimes on a drive up to the mountains. Sometimes laying in bed on a Sunday morning. Sometimes walking hand-in-hand at the park. It's just an intentional way of checking in on--what Rob Bell calls--the space between us. How is that space? Is it tense/disconnected/fraught? Is it empty/mindless/unexamined? Is it energetic/dynamic/purposeful? It's a big deal when you've decided to fuse your life together to take some time asking: How are we doing?




This also plays into another lesson I've learned: our marriage is nothing like the movies. 

Ours is bumpy and jolty and awkward.
Ours involves false-starts and misunderstandings and silly arguments.
Ours is littered with land mines we didn't even know we had.
With irritants and opinions and hurt feelings we didn't know we possessed.

But it's also the most fun I've ever had.
The most meaningful relationship I've ever known.
It's unpredictable and exciting and momentous.
It's interesting and educational and motivating.
Our marriage will never involve a hot-air balloon proposal with rings delivered via drone.
Perfect music/lighting/clothing/photography.
Or likely lots of money.

But this has been the greatest journey of my life.
And there's no one I'd rather journey with than him.







This year, on our anniversary, Jeremy gave me a lovely, vintage ring with five stones. He crafted a beautiful wooden box to put it in, got down on one knee, and proposed. Again. Just to be sure.

This past year, I watched one of my favorite marriages break apart. It's been one of the hardest experiences of my life. He was cheating. She had no idea. "Heart-breaking" doesn't cut it. But I don't know a word that's more painful or emotive than heart-breaking. Soul-crushing? Yeah.

So Jeremy proposing again, meant a lot to me. Not because I necessarily needed him to. But after watching someone I respected flippantly stomp on the heart of someone I loved, how I view my own marriage has changed. And the two of us re-comitting to keep at this thing, seems more important than ever. Checking in regularly becomes of vital importance. I find myself more suspicious than usual. I recently read his text messages. And felt awful. And apologized. But this is what it is. This is how we've been scarred. Trust doesn't come so easily anymore. It makes you question everything. (And let me be clear: there is absolutely nothing she could have done to prevent him from cheating. That was a decision he made. And no amount of "checking in" would've changed his mind.)

And so Jeremy and I move forward with a gentle, grief-filled, humble acknowledgement that marriage is sacred and fragile. This space between us is holy and delicate. If couples on their 50th wedding anniversary are still learning new things about each other, let's not assume we have this quite figured out yet.

We move forward with shaky legs, but steady hearts.
To five more years.






Thanks to Rosie and Megan for taking these pictures!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

This Is Why I Write

I have this book. More like a journal. Where every night before I go to bed, I write a few thoughts about the day. And on each page there's a few lines for each year, accumulating in five years worth of memories.

And today is April 28th.
But on this day in 2015, I was expressing gratitude for one ONE GOOD DAY at my rural school in Korea where I taught English to some particularly difficult 5th grade boys.

On this day in 2016, I got my acceptance letter from the University of Denver's graduate school of social work. And--as you can see--I legitimately did not know how to feel. Because I wasn't expecting to get accepted. I planned on applying for several years before I got in. And then, I got in. I was a little bit upset simply because I didn't feel ready. It took me several months to wrap my head around the idea of being a graduate student.







































And in 2017, on the very same day, I woke up at 6am thrilled out-of-my-mind (!) to get to go to class and learn more about the history and applications of gender and feminism in social work practice. And then, I spent the evening with five beautiful women from my program who are kind and smart and funny and absolutely devoted to making the world a better place. We drank wine and made origami cranes and talked and laughed late into the night.

What a difference a year makes.

I suppose that's why I devote so much time to writing. To logging. To journaling. To keeping track. To minding the time. To record-taking. To note-making. To maintaining regular awareness of what's happening and when and how and why, because there's great power in seeing my own sloppy, shaking hand-writing and remembering the fear I felt in that moment contrasted with the peace I feel now. Same hand, different person.

Writing keeps me sane.
It reminds me that it's probably going to be okay.
Because I have written evidence of 13,000 other times I didn't think it was going to be okay.
And then, it was.

I didn't think it was going to be okay.
And then, it was.

Maybe it's a miracle.
Maybe it's a fluke.
Maybe it's a whim.
Or completely by chance.

No matter what you call it, I'm humbled by it.

Some day I'm going to be a therapist. Some day I will reflect on this season of classes, deadlines, hundreds of pages of weekly reading, papers, and group projects. And it will be over. And I will have moved on to something else. Perhaps, somewhere else.

The whole thing makes my head spin like a carousel if I think too hard about it.

And so instead, I sit.
And breathe.
And reflect.
And give gratitude where gratitude is due.
And remember.

How lucky we are to get to do this.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

This is a Time for Casseroles

This is a time for casseroles.
This is a time for asking for help.
This is a time for lending an ear.
And a shovel.
And a skill saw.
And paint rollers.

This is a time for casseroles.
This is a time for flickering candles.
This is a time for music with strings and achy voices.
And comfort.
And baths.
And breath.

This is a time for casseroles.
This is a time for bottomless Kleenex boxes.
This is a time for your favorite song on repeat.
All day long.
All night long.
As long as it takes.
To feel a little less sad.
A little less hopeless.

This is a time for casseroles.
Because you need every caloric bang for your buck.
You need cheese.
And cream.
And potatoes.
And food that will stick around.
Food that will give the impression of wholeness.
If only for a few hours. 
Until you are empty again. 

This is a time for casseroles.
And the people who bring them.
To your doorstep.
To your bed side.
Feeding you one bite at a time.
Because you don't remember the last time you ate.
Because you've been fighting other battles.
And existence is the last concern on your mind.
And so they will keep doing the "existing" for you.
As long as it takes.

This is a time for casseroles.
And the women who make them.
Who know the perfect recipe.
On that yellow-stained card stock.
Who devote the time.
To make the thing.
That soothes what ails you. 
If only for a moment.

This is a time for women.
And sisterhood.
And touch.
And tears.
And a mother's comfort
(regardless of whether or not she's a mother)
To you or anyone else
There's comfort in her bones.
She was made. for. this
And she can Mother you.
Back to life.

This is a time for showing up.
This is a time for remembering the part of you that fears abandonment.
The part that is so viscerally present on her face.
That it makes you want to turn away.
But you keep looking.
Because she needs to see you looking. 
To see you there. 
Not going anywhere.
You keep watching.

Because all you can give is a witness.
A testimony. 
A declaration that says, "I was there. I saw it with my own eyes. 
And I'll never see anything quite like it ever again."
It was terrible.
And it was beautiful.
At the same damn time.

This witnessing is all you can give.
Well that, and casseroles.