Can Present Joy Trump Past Pain? “Hope-aholic” Free-Write

I never regret it when I make time to write or do yoga. Never. So when my friend and mentor, Nancy Slonim Aronie, asked me to free-write – I did.

I did so even though I was busy as hell and far too busy to write.

I’m so grateful.

So, I’m sharing how I do a free-write assignment.

The topic was “hope-aholic.” To read what she wrote and the original prompt go to her blog here.

Free-writing doesn’t have to be rational. It doesn’t have to be polished or edited or worked and revised a million times. That’s part of the power. If, like me, you complicate life and feeling with all the thinking, free-writing might free you. Here’s my free-write response to the hope-aholic prompt.



I hate hope. “Hope is not a plan,” as Obama said once. I wrote the words down as soon as I heard them. Yes! That! Hope is NOT a plan.

Hopes are word wishes in the mind, greeting cards not sent, intentions that never make it to action. Hope pretends things are better than they are. Hope is saying, “let me know if I can do anything” and thinking that is doing anything rather than just actually doing something. Hope is selfish. Hope is a liar.


I’ve never been called a hope-aholic. I’ve never been called a pathological optimist.

But I’ve been both.

Til the day I read my father’s obituary a part of me believed he would get sober and come into my life. I tried to see the world through his eyes, tried to travel to his brain and under his skin, tried to imagine what would make a man not care to be near his own kin. I came up with reasons, stories and explanations. I used hope to fiction good reasons why a human heart stops beating love.

Is that hope?


I see snowflakes on a stage and the world opens up. It’s the Boston Ballet and the snowflakes aren’t real. I will never see such exquisite dance, never be able to explain the way a body artist floats in air and how someone tilts the head with so much grace. In me, something explodes awake. I don’t study dance but my daughter does. I’m glad I know how much work it takes to go up on point and can now appreciate the arches and toes and calves of total strangers.

The tickets were a gift I can’t repay. It’s not the type of thing I’d normally do. Too expensive to enjoy under normal circumstances. Too much worry of where the money would have come from or could have gone instead. But this exquisite gift perfumed my DNA. It’s with me, in me and of me now. I wish everyone could see such dance and the way a stage transforms over and over in warmth and beauty.


I changed my password to “DoitYourself” after my divorce. O.k., maybe “DoitYourDamnself” was what I actually typed. No more partnership. No more “we” in life. I punched in my independence with every stroke. To remind myself and him that we were now officially and forever doing “it” alone.

I had to let go of handing holds through life. No more together in hardship and joy. No more knowing our end would be one of us eulogizing the other. Certainty slipped. Giving gave. I went from coupled and kind to just worrying about who and what is under your own roof and fuck the world.

I felt duped. Tricked. No more looking out for others. I had my own back to protect. I missed so much right before my eyes. Love blinded me. That’s how it felt. Love, like hope, is dangerous to reason.

When he said he was working late I actually thought he was working late. When he said he loved me I thought that assured certain things.

Fool. Fool. Fool. Check all assumptions. Trust no one. I’ve never been the same. I’m still recovering.

When my lover says “I love you. I adore you. I’ve never been happier,” I think, ‘What do you mean by that? What’s the play? The trap? The game? What’s your angle?’

But not always.

Is it hope that makes me save the text he sends with all the love to read before bed when I’m alone? Is it hope allowing myself to believe his words without letting fear in?

Is it hope that lets me dance with doubt when she visits but also leads me into other rooms as well?


I have to trust myself first, not as a secondary insight or if there’s time. First. Always. Foremost.

Hope is the me who wakes at 5:30, takes the dog out, makes coffee and sits by the fire. Hope is the me that is as fresh as the blank page if only for a while. IMG_5515

Hope says, “You are seeing fear and betrayal everywhere. You are missing so much precious beauty. Don’t let beauty rot like the sandwich meat in the drawer you could have given as treats for the dog. Don’t let the past steal the present wonder.”

Hope is the wiser part of my heart not wounded by pain or ego who wants my daughter to glide through the world, who wants her to feel winked at by the sun and moistened by rain. I don’t want her to be like me who feels the sun sometimes beats me, who think the winds whips and that rain ruins. I know the world is not a punishment.

But sometimes I forget. I know my daughter won’t be convinced by words but by how I live. Hope is learning to inhabit a bounty I can see, imagine and even draw from even on days it’s not at my feet and in a pile I can pull from and touch.


My dear friend Kathy MacDonald says almost every day, “the best is yet to come.” Whether it’s about jobs, relationships or a yoga practice she believes things are always in the process of improving. IMG_5533

She leaves a window open to let in more peace, more self-care, more stillness and sacred sublime moment. More painting, possibility and poetry.

“Idiotic thing to say,” I thought when I first met her. The words of someone with a charmed life who probably doesn’t have to shovel, pay bills or grieve.  “This or better?” I couldn’t wrap my head around her way of being.

How did I make a friend like this? How did I keep her or her me?

After a decade of friendship I found myself thinking, “Sometimes things go better than you planned. Sometimes life surprises you. Sometimes life opens and bends and you are transformed, for the better.”

I wrote a chapter for a book on survivors of abuse experiences of parenting in November (Trigger Points). I wrote how there is always a little scared girl riding shotgun in my psyche and I have to pay attention and parent her too. It is true. Even now. But it’s not the whole story.

When I was asked by the editors, “What was the most surprising part of parenting?” I said, “How much I love it. I was so afraid of what I’d do wrong, get wrong or that I wouldn’t be able to do it.” I forgot to even expect to LOVE waking up to soothe a cry, to a cry or that it could be easier and more wonderful than I dreamed possible.

My friend introduced me to this concept. It seemed so strange. A friend is hope.


I remember the first time I had an orgasm and flashback free sex. I was 43.

“It was so good I forgot to have a flashback.” That’s the only way I could describe it.

It was the first time the joy of the moment trumped the pain of the past. Honestly, I’d given up on that even being possible. I couldn’t believe it was a result of me. I figured the lover was magical destiny.

A therapist said, “Potentiate. With him, this capability was potentiated.”

I was offended that she didn’t see the power of love. She was right. The affair ended. The capability remained. What started with once, at 43, has been almost non-stop smooth sailing in an ocean I’d been trying not to drown in for decades.

Life can change that fast, and that much, for the good. It was joyful, blissful and happened in an instant. But it had been the result of hard-ass work done for a long time.


After my divorce, after the vomiting and shattering early days when I had to put the world back together again and wasn’t sure I was up for the job – something did return. Not hope exactly. There was a moment though when agony turned to relief.

“Wait, if everything I ever though is wrong, maybe I can toss out some shitty beliefs too… Obviously I don’t know everything. Maybe I’m not right about everything. Or wrong….”

It became liberation.

It became the end of only black and white thinking and trying always to be so damn good. It was the end of believing if I worked hard, tried hard and was a decent person nothing bad would ever happen.

I became Buddhist. I learned pain and suffering are not the same. I learned pain is not optional but suffering is. It changed my life.

For the better.


I become one with shades and hues. It was a shock and an adjustment. IMG_5506

I lost certainty and rules and doing it by the book all of the time to feel safe.

All of which I mourned and sometimes still mourn. I lost neat and ordered and in control.

But color is what I got. I got color in my world. Vibrant, sometimes messy and life-affirming.

Buckets of it.

Such joy.

Right in the middle of the sorrow.


I now find myself saying and believing, “This or better.”

Not always. Not every second. But when it happens it’s real and sincere.

And shocking.

Don’t get me wrong – no one would confuse me with a hope-aholic. Nope. Not yet. But I’m a recovering afraid-aholic and not such a dogmatic know-it-all.

I’m open to change. I know we can all be wrong or confused about most everything. Even fear. Oddly, that comforts me.

It’s a blanket I cling to when I think I know anything for sure or more than someone else.

It leaves room for something as magical as hope might be. Something real and substantial.


And that’s good enough for me. It’s all I ever need.

You Matter Mantras

  • Trauma sucks. You don't.
  • Write to express not to impress.
  • It's not trauma informed if it's not informed by trauma survivors.
  • Breathing isn't optional.

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