"Be the change you wish to see in the world."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

For better or for worse?

Marriage. What does it mean anymore? For better or for worse... in sickness and in health? What about when frustrated or frantic? In recession and depression? In America, 41% of first marriages have ended in divorce. The stats for second and third marriages are just too discouraging to mention. Are people giving up too easily these days? Is marriage a nearly impossible task? What makes some marriages last and others disintegrate into all out war?

As my parents are going through a dirty divorce, some of my peers are beginning their blissful marriage journeys... funny how life always juxtaposes these things. So I've been thinking... how do two young, beautiful, happily married people transform into angry middle aged enemies? I guess as time drudges on the responsibilities accumulate thereby nearly suffocating personal time to death. The mortgage, the kids, the work stress, the in-laws, the chores, the bills, and whatever the crisis of the week may be all leave little time to nurture the marriage, let alone the self. Learning to have balance and make time for your relationship is key.

As the hopeless romantic that I am, I refuse to believe that lasting happy marriages are unattainable, despite the evidence stacked against me. From the clinical perspective, it is clear that we all often repeat relationship patterns that we learn from our parents. So how can we fight against the divorce epidemic sweeping the nation? Breaking the cycle of unhealthy relationship patterns is the only way I can fathom. However, this is easier said than done. Firstly, you have to recognize the patterns that you want to avoid repeating. For me, my parents were both workaholics. Between that and aspiring to be the perfect parents, they made little time to work on their relationship with themselves and each other. Learning from our parents' mistakes can help us to better our own lives. When we don't nurture ourselves, we are too strained to have the capacity to take care of others effectively. Therefore, the pattern I want to break is a lack of balance. In order to do this, I have to make a constant effort throughout my life to make the time to care for myself and my relationship. Some people believe love should be enough to carry a marriage through decades. I disagree. Relationships are hard work even when two people are madly in love... so work at it every day!

What relationship pattern do you want to break?

Here are some interesting questions to ponder before committing to another person for a lifetime.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Man's Best Friend

Dogs have a certain je ne sais quoi that makes a home feel more complete. Although I have never been a die hard animal lover, I always enjoyed having a family dog throughout childhood. After much vacillation over the past year, I finally concluded that I was ready to make the plunge to become a dog owner and I've never looked back. Knowing how many dogs need homes, the choice to rescue was a no brainer. Truthfully, I must admit that I've become obsessed with my dog. I have transformed into the kind of person that I once made fun of. I used to wonder how a dog could possibly take such priority in anyone's life... now my life is planned around a little guy named Jetson. At this point, I can't imagine how I ever lived without him.

Ever since I adopted Jetson, the universe seems to be constantly trying to prove to me how therapeutic dogs can be. I stumbled upon 3 different specials about ways that dogs are a major support for people who struggle with a wide variety of issues. It has become apparent to me that dogs can be trained to do almost anything to protect their owners, whether it is sensing seizures, leading the blind through life, or sniffing bombs. In one television special, a young boy that was a quadriplegic described his heartfelt feelings about his best friend, Duke. Since the boy could not move most of his body, Duke was trained to assist him with daily life activities, like picking up a pencil when the boy dropped it on the floor and couldn't manage to reach for it. Dogs without a doubt have allowed people with special needs to have a better quality of life. Studies show that dogs can lower blood pressure, reduce stress, elevate mood, and even add years to a human's life. As a result, pet therapy has become popular. In my professional experiences, I have seen the positive effect that a bond with a pet can have on reducing symptoms of mental illness. Children and adolescents who have been neglected and abused find their relationships with pets to be incredibly healing. Unlike people, pets don't talk back and they often love you completely unconditionally. Many children and teenagers have expressed to me that they have turned to their pets when they felt like they couldn't talk to any of the people in their lives. Some have even reported that they find their dog to be their only real and healthy relationship. In my personal experience, having a dog has reduced my stress and forced me to become more active. I have a better understanding of why children find such comfort in their relationship with their dog, since I too have that now.

Now that I realize just how much dogs help humans, I am appalled by how poorly some of us treat them. According to LA Animal Services, in 2009, 7,623 dogs in Los Angeles were euthanized. Fortunately, almost 15,000 were adopted. Many of these dogs were abused, neglected, and/or abandoned. Thankfully there are shelters, like The Lange Foundation, that frequent the pounds of LA and take in as many dogs as they can afford. The process of rescuing a dog couldn't be any more rewarding. Although there is a part of you that fantasizes about saving all the dogs in the shelter, reality kicks in and you remind yourself that saving one is better than saving none. I often wish that Jet could tell me about his life experiences. When we first adopted him, he was skittish, shy, and hated cuddling. The woman at the shelter referred to him as their "nervous nelly." He cowered and ran from other dogs on the street. Within a month of living in his new home, he has become king of the castle. Today, Jet is playful with dogs and people. This experience has proved to me how powerful healthy attachment in relationships, human or canine, can be. I prepared myself that it may take months or a year for Jet to open up and I was pleasantly surprised at how healing a little tender love and care truly is. The parallels to the foster care system are beyond bizarre. Each dog, like foster children have their own tragic journey, some worse than others. At the shelters, there are older dogs with health problems who have no choice but to permanently call the concrete floor they sleep on home. When meeting these sweet mannered dogs, I couldn't help but think of foster kids with special needs or are older and have not yet been adopted. Chio is a dog who has been at the Lange Foundation for 7 years. He is cute as can be, but has major health problems. Whether you are an animal or a person, health problems are expensive. Like many others, I lack the money and time to care for a child or animal with special needs of any kind, which leaves one question.... who will take care of them?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The best of times

This past weekend I had the most refreshing break from social work. I can say for once that I did not think about anything work related for a full 3 days. Instead, I attended my best friend's wedding. I didn't stress or worry about any of my clients or getting my paperwork in. I let myself live completely in the moment and it was worth every second. As expected, sometimes in this field, you start to become jaded... stop believing in the cliches like true love conquers all. On really bad weeks you forget about the part of society that is actually happy most of the time and what it is like to live amongst them. Although I'm sure that most weddings have their charm, this wedding ranks in the top 5 best memories of my life. When two genuinely amazing people come together to commit themselves to one another, you feel privileged to be a party to it (literally and figuratively). Before the wedding, the groom told his sister "I love her more than anyone has ever loved anyone" and I'll surely never forget that. The love that my best friend and her husband share can only be described as contagious. This wedding was like lovefest 2010. Their families meshed, their friends meshed, and they fit together perfectly. Maybe it was the Midwestern charm of half of the guests, or maybe it is just true love's way, but every person involved seemed to be on cloud 9. It reminded me that life is full of love and happiness. Sometimes living in the social work world can convince you that life is always a dark struggle, but I am so grateful to have people in my life to pull me back over to the bright side where love truly does conquer all (or at least most).