Friday, November 13, 2015

Resiliency is my super power

As I’m traveling through these first few months of separation from my husband, I find myself forced to deal with many special and unique challenges of being single. The loss of our future together, the absence of my “person”, getting used to being alone, being a single parent, having all new financial and family responsibilities, etc.

I’ve never really done this before. After my first marriage ended 11 years ago,  I was able to stay home with the kids because they were still so little and I just couldn't afford the childcare. Now that the kids are older and I have the ability to provide for us, I’m becoming extremely aware of what single working parents have known all along. This is an extremely challenging life circumstance.  There is a new and sometimes crushing pressure to provide stability, not just financially, but physically and emotionally, having to pick up the slack for the missing partner. Even though the missing partner is still very much present in our family, he is living apart from us, and his involvement is limited.

Everyday when I wake up, there is this moment where I forget what’s happening, because everything feels familiar. For a moment, I am comfortable. I feel safe. Then reality comes crashing through my consciousness like a naked Miley Cyrus on that damn wrecking ball. The familiar walls crash around me, and I remember. I am alone.

I am alone.

That statement is enough to bring pretty much all of us to our knees. We aren’t meant to be alone. We are meant to have loving partners and strong ties to our community, big families and close friends. While it’s true that I do have friends and community, not to mention a house full of boisterous and amazing kids, I am unpartnered. And that is terrifying.

There are a gazillion terrifying things that happen in our lifetimes. There are people in the world who are literally fleeing for their lives, refugees of war and famine. There are people facing financial crises, joblessness, homelessness, illness, death of loved ones, cross country moves, births, mental illness, breakups, etc.

There’s just no way to get through life without facing something that scares the shit out of you. Any major life change provides us with the opportunity to feel an unholy amount of fear and uncertainty, but also the opportunity to feel hope and courage and faith. And all of those things, at the same time.

So what is the one thing that sees us through these major life challenges and get us through to the other side, where security and comfort and safety resides?

It takes resiliency.

Life can beat you down. We all get our teeth knocked in at some point, sometimes, many points during our lives. There’s just no way around it.

At these crucial points in our lives, our belief systems and personal stories really come into sharp focus. We can fall into the comfortable lull of victimhood, we can find things to numb the pain of our reality, or we find something to hold onto. A mantra, a song, a poem, a quote, a memory, a hope. This thing serves as a sort of mental life raft that we cling to, that we use to pull us out of bed each day to face the unknown. It keeps us sane and driven during times of intense conflict.

When I visualize the word “resiliency”, I see a person with amazing elasticity, physically able to bounce right off of the ground like the earth is a giant trampoline and the person is made of rubber. They trip, they fall, they get pushed, they crash. Maybe they’re clumsy, maybe they aren’t really paying attention to the cliff they’re about to walk off of, maybe someone’s pushing them off of the cliff. Either way, they don’t get obliterated. They simply bounce right off the ground, and perhaps without much grace, but always consistently, land back on their feet. Maybe it takes them a second, or a minute or 2 years, but they eventually land back on their feet.

It really bothers me when people say I’m strong. I know what they mean when they say it, but it doesn’t feel accurate to me. I am resilient. I don’t feel strong. The thing about resiliency is that you don’t have to be strong. Or courageous, or graceful, or in control.

Resiliency is simply the ability to retrieve all of the bits and pieces of you from a fall, and to put yourself back together, and keep going. It doesn’t mean you’re perfect, in fact, it creates space for failure and mistakes. Because each time you fall, you know, without a doubt, you’ll be okay.

In order for resiliency to really take hold, you have to really have something that gives you hope.

For me, at this point in my life, it is the hope and awareness that while I feel lonely and isolated and sad and grieving my losses, it is temporary. I won’t be alone forever. I will find love again, and it will be more amazing than I can imagine right now. I also fill my brain with positive messages. From books, podcasts, articles, talking with friends, meeting new people, etc. As someone who easily falls into the depths of victimhood, I must actively search out and practice flexing and building my resiliency muscles. I am the creator of my life. I can have successful relationships, provide for my family, find healthy ways to deal with the stress and loneliness of life.

It all comes down to one personal statement of truth, that you must believe, while also looking directly into the face of fear, doubt, pain, rejection, sadness, loss. Even if you don’t have any proof that this statement is true, you still know it is.

“I can do this. And I’ll be okay”

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Give and Take

Since I was a child I've been a people pleaser, a server, a helper, an emotional fluffer for my friends and an overall do-gooder. I was pure in my heart and the very definition of innocent.  I would feel huge amounts of compassion for everybody, not just the good people, but the robbers and bad guys and people who hurt other people. I used to pray for them every night. I used to think, "If they could feel MY love, they wouldn't be bad anymore. They just need love, that's all." I wasn't a perfect child but I was definitely blinded by my own sweetness and assumption that everyone was doing the same.

I have made a life out of making myself as useful and needed as possible, thus securing my value in the world as someone who supports, heals, rescues, empowers and embodies compassion. I had children as a way to secure those values. Who needs anyone more than a baby needs it's mother?

Growing up and having more life experience handed to me in the way of abuse, being taken advantage of, being used, being abandoned, being treated like shit, I have witnessed time after time how many people are in need of my kind of love, and are happy to receive it while not understanding how to give it back. Or maybe they just can't. Or don't want to.

And as much as I've been hurt, I know that I will never stop being The Caregiver. It all sounds glorious and wonderful but the flip side to this is the harsh reality of martydom and victimization, or how I like to call it: Current Reality.

And I think I can trace it all back to my abuse, when another person's deranged desire took precedence over my safety.  The one person who was entrusted with my safety and care was the very person who betrayed my innocence and destroyed my sense of self in the process.

From that point on, I continued my caregiving almost as if on a bloodthirsty quest to earn back my own personal power and worth by a life of service and wild adoration of others.  Guess how well living on the coat tails and self sacrifice works. No comment.

I've done so much personal work over the past decade, and I think the missing and perhaps final piece to my life's work of being made totally whole, is to learn how to take care of myself first. To establish myself as a person worthy of all that love and care I give others, and to give it to myself freely and without regard for anyone else.

It's a beautiful thing if you're with people who can reciprocate those services and feelings, but more often than not, people are caught in their own trances of life, not paying attention to the nuances of my requests and subtleties of my needs. And yet I hold them to that standard. End result is a feeling of rejection/pain/hurt/dismay.

One of my greatest challenges is speaking up. I can fight to the death for people I love (hell I do it for anyone off the street!), and I can tell them that they are being hurt/used/abused/taken advantage of, but I will sit like a frog in a pot of warm water as it's heating up for years and years without finding my voice to say..."Hey, its a...getting kind of hot in here..."  Finally did at the end of my first marriage and it was the best feeling in the world. 

Lately, I have found myself totally at my wits-end and frustrated by the realization that people don't express to me my own significance in their lives. I feel unimportant to them. That's not my damaged self-worth talking, that is a product of making myself as small and agreeable as possible to everyone around me.

I have made myself tiny and insignificant. If I present that to the world, how can I expect anyone to treat me any differently? 

All along, I've been beating people up in my mind, assuming that they don't care about me, crying my eyes out wondering why people won't exhibit the same level of care that I give them. And it finally occurred to me the other day: you teach people how to treat you. If you teach people you don't really care what happens to you, naturally, they won't either.  It is only when you step into your personal power and make your needs and boundaries and desires known that people stop and question their relationship to you and change to honor those boundaries and needs. And then if they don't change or honor those requests, you can go forth with all of the information.

The big AH FUCKING HA moment came last week when in the middle of a deep and dark depressing head space, I asked "how can I get people to make me feel more important to them?" And then I thought about that question...something didn't feel quite right about it. I know I can't "make" people do anything, and if I did, that is called manipulation and I don't want that either. I want authentic care giving, love, value and passion. I always say if I have to ask for someone to treat me a different way or give me something I desire, it's not authentic for them. You should already be giving that treatment out of the burden placed on your heart to do so.

But what if people are so consumed with their own lives that they aren't thinking about you and your needs right then? What if people just get lazy and complacent and assume you'll be around forever? What if they are doing something that hurts you and you never tell them? What if they think everything is honkeyfuckingdorey and the truth is you're miserable? I feel like the burden should be on ME to let them know MY truth and stop expecting everyone else to inherently know.

Maybe my boundaries and expectations are not common sense. Maybe I need to tell the people I love that in order for me to feel special/important/loved and cared for, I need A, B and C. Maybe each and every time I advocate for my self worth and value, I am in fact taking ownership of it instead of letting it be tossed to the whims and delights of others to do with what they will. Maybe that is the core of self love and significance to the self. Maybe I teach people how to love me so that I can have truly loving relationships that are full of juicy reciprocation, mutual adoration and respectful care taking.

Maybe in being able to speak out for what I need and want, I stop being a victim and a martyr and stand in my own power. Maybe in loving myself first, I become a caregiver AND a caretaker. And maybe I fucking deserve that, dammit! :D

Monday, January 5, 2015

Growing Strong Trees

The Problem:

We live in a culture that worships positivity, happiness and success. We use motivational quotes to push us forward through our doubts and weaknesses and offer each other platitudes to generate a feeling of inter-connectedness.  Our ultimate goal in life is die with a big shit eating grin on our face, filled to the brim with joy of a life well lived. 

We don't really want to know the honest answer to "how are you doing?". We don't really talk about our struggles or sadness unless we're in therapy or with one trusted friend. We frame any negativity we're experiencing in a way to reassure the other person that we're standing on our inner scaffolding to rebuild and remodel our way back to happiness - we don't admit that we might be standing on the brink of madness, that we are teetering on the edge of the Universe staring into the dark magnetic pull of the abyss with extreme curiosity and wondering what a beautiful thing it would be to just give ourselves back to it. We don't admit that we don't have a clue how to make our way back to happiness. We don't admit that we are completely lost. That is too much for people to hear.

We don't really hold space for people to experience that level of suffering around us. Despair is scary, uncomfortable, energetically draining and reminds us of our own fears, anxiety, worry and insecurities. We aren't taught how to be so emotionally naked with someone else, so we try to make their pain light, placate them, or offer them some pithy motivational speech. "Chin up! It'll get better! Pick yourself up and kick some ass! It's just been a bad day/week/month/year for everyone!"

The Experience:

As a depressed person experiencing a level of negative emotions that are downright frightening, when people attempt to placate me or downplay my feelings as temporary or minimizing, it only adds to the heaping pile of shame I might be feeling because I can't just pick myself up and find any joy. It adds to the feeling that I am broken, that there is something truly wrong with me. You might as well be asking me to take a vacation to the moon on my supersonic space motorcycle. I don't have the resources you think I do. They simply don't exist in my world.

Depression is isolating. You don't want to get any of your negative energy on anyone else for one; you also don't want to have to explain why you look a little "off" through your forced smile. You don't want to be a downer, an emotional vampire, or maybe you don't want to be reminded of how sad you are by hanging out with people who are vibrating in joy and love and happiness.

In that isolation there is a lot of time for thinking. There is a lot of time for numbing. There is a lot of opportunity to sink deeper and deeper into your own misery.

Having an arsenal of tools that you know will help you feel better is a good idea, but if those tools come in the form of alcohol, drugs, self-sabotage, cutting, might just feel like you have no idea how to start feeling healthy again. Numbing activities might feel great in the moment, but anything that ultimately perpetuates a state of brokenness will only work against you. Even if your tools are healthy, that doesn't mean they're magical. No amount of walking in the woods, positive affirmations, cat videos, yoga poses, meditation, therapy or gym visits are satisfaction guaranteed or your money back. Sometimes they work immediately, sometimes you have to push on and on and on and on and on until you feel like you might vomit rainbows. Sometimes....just need to be sad for a while. Years maybe.

The Advice on Helping Someone who is Depressed:

I think if we can somehow reach a point in our culture where we leave room for depression and sadness to be an acceptable and normal part of life, we will learn how to help our loved ones navigate through the scary stages feeling supported and respected.

Before you do anything, check yourself. Inquire about your motivations for stepping in to help someone. Unless the answer is: TO BE THERE TO SUPPORT THEIR WELLBEING, do not step in. Do not help someone for accolades or some sort of journey of self importance or to feed your ego. This isn't about you. You will likely get nothing more than the satisfaction of helping someone in a time of need out of this experience.

Check in with yourself to see what your own energy looks like. Do you have it to give to someone?
Check in with yourself to find your boundaries. Protect yourself and your energy. Know how to restore and nurture yourself after investing in someone who is deeply sad.


1. Do not expect them to ask for anything. They probably won't. If you care about them and you really want to help, find ways to step into a supportive role. If they resist or require solitude, you can still bring over some food and leave it on the doorstep, text them with "I'm thinking about you and wanted you to know I love you", find ways to still reach out without being intrusive. However, if you know that you're being pushed away for a specific reason (maybe they don't want to feel like they are a burden), be assertive in communicating that you really want to help and get involved.

2. Open a line of communication without judgement.  Likely, they are having some pretty intense and judgmental feelings about their current reality. They might need you to hold space for them to talk, babble, yell, cry, tell stories and confess things without interruption, distractions and judgement. Check your values at the door and practice active listening. Listen to hear them, not to form a response (try not to respond at all other than simple affirmations) or tell them a relevant anecdote or assign a value to their experience. Make eye contact with them when they talk. If there's a pause, just wait. If they are open to physical contact (just ask), this is a good time to hold their hand, or lay down to hold them in your arms as they get it out. Rub their feet, play with their hair, hug them lots, just connect. Turn your phone off, take your watch off, turn yourself away from windows where people are walking by. All of your attention should be channeled into listening and being present with your loved one. Your interaction with them should be compassionate and understanding, not condescending, trivializing or placating. Your job here isn't to heal them, be in a power position over them or have all the answers. Your job is listen and add comfort. Try these out:

"I hear you."
"That sounds really painful."
"Do you know why you feel that way?" sometimes breaking down the events that led to the feelings can help us figure out the root of our unhappiness.
"I'm here to just listen."
"Can you tell me all of the emotions you're feeling right now?"
"Would you like to tell me more about that feeling?"
"This is a safe space to tell me this"
"Would you like me to do something specific to support you?"
"How can I best support you?"

3. Suggest things. Depressed people aren't really into making lots of decisions. Their brains are jumbled with a thousand thoughts and feelings. It is absolute chaos. If you're going to spend time with them, ask them for their favorite activities/food/movie genres/music/etc is, but be prepared to take charge and make an executive decision.

4.  Remind them they aren't alone. Text them during the day and let them know you're thinking about them. Show up at their work with a cup of coffee and a muffin.  Call them. Send them a special letter or card in the mail. Actual snail mail. It only takes a couple of days and it's such a lift. Make time for them. Don't just make space for them, create opportunities to spend time with them, and plan it out. Give them the chance to say no, but do not offer them empty suggestions if you have no intention of following through.

5.  Offer your services.  Babysit, cook them dinner, clean their house, take their car to fill it up with gas and clean it, grocery shop, give them a massage, make them a bath, etc. It is so empowering to have someone step in when you feel so overwhelmed and lacking in self nurturing. Sometimes even just taking a shower when you feel depressed feels like a chore to think about but a sweet escape in the moment.

6.  Come with resources. Investigate free/affordable, close and convenient mental health resources that your love one can tap into. You might even suggest giving them a ride or accompanying them if it's a support group or they don't have transportation. We know we need help, but it can be exhausting to do all of the leg work and find something that fits. You can cut out some of that time for them by bringing a list of options for them to check into.

7. Bring your humor. Sometimes humor is the best medicine. Find ways to get them to play or laugh. A comedy club, a funny or goofy movie, roller skating, an amusement park, a funny song to play in the car, no pressure karaoke, watching cute cat videos, etc. are all creative ways to take their mind off of their stickiness and help them feel light and free for a few minutes.

8. Get moving with them.  Take them for hikes, bowling, working out (boxing is amazing for getting out aggression), biking, running, swimming, rock wall climbing, shopping, beach combing, hula hooping, dancing etc. Exercise is therapy for the body and the mind. 

9.  Change the scenery. Gas tank getaway. Spend the day in a different city or town, beach or mountain or metropolis. Or just start off with no destination. Let it be an adventure. Plan a beach bonfire with a group of trusted friends. Plan some kind of cathartic experience. Scream at the top of a waterfall. Light Chinese lanterns at midnight and send away the monsters. Find a field of dandelions and make a million wishes. Make a burn pile with painful memories written on pieces of paper and light them up.

10. Limit alcohol.  Alcohol is a depressant, and well, we don't need more of that. A glass of wine is one thing, a bottle to numb the feelings is different. Stay present with your loved one to make sure you aren't contributing to their demise. Be honest, too. If you're there to be a help, then be one. If you feel like they might be using alcohol or drugs or self harming, please inquire about that with them.  Let it come from a place of love, again, and not judgement.

The Advice on Helping Yourself 

1. Be open to receiving help.

2. Ask for help when you can.

3. Seize every moment of happiness and joy and acceptance and love that you can, even if it's just for a moment. It will feed your soul. Don't beat yourself if it doesn't last for more than a moment. The fact that you could feel it all can give you hope that you're aren't dead yet.

4. Write, 
Create something.

5.  We are all suffering on some level, and as alone as you think you are, you're not. Seek to see the validation in your feelings and the connection it gives you to others rather than the shame and isolation in them.

6. Listen to your inner voice. Write down what it's saying. Choose to focus on beliefs that make you feel strong, courageous and authentic. Decipher what is lies and what is your truth. Keep paying attention and present in your mind. Recognize the bullshit and recognize the truth. You'll figure it out eventually.

7. Sit in the sadness, let it take you on the journey that it needs to. Realize that you cannot feel happiness and joy and love without sorrow and loss and heartbreak. You can't have the yin without the yang. You are normal. This is normal. Don't resist it or feel shame about your state of mind. Life is hard.

8.  If your depression uncovers something deeper, take care of it. If you don't deal with past trauma, this sadness will become a routine cycle in your life. Learn how to deal with trauma triggers so that you don't have to go into a full on depressive spiral each time. Talk to a therapist.

9.  Make a list of people you love and whom love you. Describe why you love them, and how they make you feel. Dwell on that love and allow yourself to reach out to connect to them when you need to.

10. Put the shovel down. You are already deep enough in the hole without digging yourself in deeper by self sabotage behaviors. Find something in your world to cling to moderation for. Don't allow yourself to go off the rails completely. Do it for a child, a relative, your future self, a cat. A future cat. Yeah, your future cats need you to make reasonable decisions with your life right now. Monitor your numbing activities and allow yourself to FEEL the FEELS. For your future cats.  No way around it, gotta go right through it, baby. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Anger, grief and other emotions

Well, I am discovering that while it's useful to discover the root of your insecurity and see where it all started, it's also easy to get super angry about the whole thing.

Of course I feel wronged. It was a horrible tragic loss of self.  I had no resources to help me through it. Of course I feel angry. I would really love to find Howard and *** his **** off. But, in that place of anger, I have been focusing on the severity of the injury itself instead of the recovery from it.

There is no power in feeling victimized. I can feel sad and angry about it happening, but I feel myself settling too deeply in victim mode. From this vantage point, I transform anger into fear and distrust in other people, creating a deeper sense of feeling wounded and hurt. And holy shit am I hurting right now.

This week has been powerfully emotional. Lots of complicated relationship stuff, outside of my own journey to my roots.  But because I'm on that journey I'm incredibly sensitive to every interaction that feels painful, and each passing thought of doubt becomes painful truth. I'm so clouded in that misery, it feels like everything is happening to me.

The kicker is, I know I'm in victim mode. I can see how I'm taking things personally. I can see how I'm being passive and listening to the destructive voices whispering their constant chorus of "You are invisible, you are without, this isn't fair, you are a fuck up".  I know that my monkey mind is fully engaged. I can see it extremely clear. I'm even judging my feelings as being wrong because they don't make sense, or that I'm just being insecure and so they're not valid. I can't justify my emotions in a logical way, and that propels me deeper into the spiral of grief and exacerbates the original emotion. 

What I'm learning is that feelings and emotions are NOT logical. Sometimes they make sense, and sometimes they don't. The important piece for me is to remember not to shame myself because I'm feeling an emotion without just cause.  Of course there is just cause TO ME, but it won't feel that way for anyone else. And that is okay. My feelings are my own, and I don't need approval to feel them. Moreover, nobody has an obligation to soothe or satiate me and my feelings. When I'm in victim mode, I lean into others for sympathy (commiserate with me over this thing has been done to me!). If I stand in my power and deal with my feelings responsibly, I seek out empathy (I am experiencing this sad emotion) instead.  I think it's also helpful to remember that I am not entitled to receive any special or good treatment from anyone. The world doesn't owe me a damn thing.

Victims need nurturing and to be given resources to heal. So I also recognize that if I'm in that space, I need to be especially gentle with myself and not shame myself for being in that mode.  Self compassion, constant awareness to combat the voices, and not expecting anyone to save me but myself will help pull me back.

And I'm just going to let myself feel some fucking anger for a minute without judging it to death.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

the little girl in the yellow jacket

The little girl in the yellow jacket is me when I was 6. The night before this picture was taken I was sexually assaulted for the 2nd time by the same man.  The smile on my face was forced. I didn't want to be there. I wanted to be very very far away.

My father left when I was 2.  I remember feeling an incredible and intense sense of loss at his sudden absence from my life. These events seeded roots that grew deeply to support the magnificent weight of my own personal Tree of Insecurity, with it's strong branches of powerlessness, smallness, weakness, jealousy, doubt, self sabotage, fear, instability, worthlessness and paralysis.  I remember being incredibly depressed as a kid, so much so that I don't remember a great deal of my childhood that feels light and fun and happy. I think a part of my emotional maturity stopped developing when I was the girl in the yellow jacket.

I feel her everyday lately. The incredible sensitivity to abandonment and betrayal. The feeling of invisibility.  Her difficulty creating and sticking to personal boundaries. How she goes along with things that she doesn't want to do. How she doesn't want anyone to dislike her or be upset with her, so she avoids any and all conflict. The feeling of making mistakes all the time. I feel heavy with her guilt and full of despair in her shame. Just wanting to escape. Escape escape escape.

There is no doubt that because I didn't have an advocate when I was experiencing these heartbreaks and intensely fucked up situations, that only fed my Insecurity Tree and allowed it to bloom and grow at a phenomenal rate. There is no doubt that my tree has affected every single one of my relationships. Friends, lovers, children, marriage, work, family. They have all been touched by my trauma.

I am desperately exhausted from feeling so stuck in this place of insecurity and feeling so self protected that I am challenged by the very act of opening my heart at all.  How am I forty years old and still struggling with all of this?

I have been thinking a lot about that sweet little girl in the yellow jacket lately.

Wishing I could have been there to protect her, and tell her how powerful she was and given her permission to use her voice to say no to an adult. To comfort her when she was crying herself to sleep missing her daddy and thinking she'd done something horribly wrong as to let a man do those things to her. To have been there for my mother to encourage her to press charges. To hold him accountable. If I could have done those things, I wonder how differently I might be now. I wonder if instead of a Tree of Insecurity being deeply rooted in my spirit, a Tree of Healing could be there instead. I wonder how much easier it would have been for me to form healthy attachments as a teenager. To say no to people I didn't really like. To follow my passions and love myself a little more. To have a more open and trusting heart. To spend my life for me and my values instead of other people's.

I was betrayed by the two people I trusted most in this world this summer. It sent me straight back to the girl in the yellow jacket. I fled from my feelings because it was too intense. I grew numb in my emotions, cutting off life to my soul. I detached from my body so I couldn't feel the pain that was seeping underneath my skin. Fear came rushing back to the surface every time I was faced with conflict. I shut down. I ran from myself. I ran from everyone. My heart was shattered.

I've been thinking a lot about that tender-hearted girl in the yellow jacket as I'm making my way back to my home.

I am realizing how much work I have to do. How much healing is in front of me. And how badly I want to emancipate myself from the agony of my past.

What if I could change it all so that when I remember it the girl in the yellow jacket, I won't remember the pain, but instead envision healing her within my love? What if I could steer a new destiny for myself based on rewriting my story to include a hero who swooped in and protected that little girl, helped her heal, and taught her how to be powerful and strong in her Self? What if I was that hero?

I want to have a future based on the strength of my own convictions, the power of my ability to heal, and the depth of possibilities available to me when I open my heart and begin to trust again.

I want to adopt a new set of truths for myself based on this new story. I want to be able to say with confidence that...

The relationship I have with myself is inspiring. I am driven and confident yet balanced and humble. I know when I'm wrong and I apologize immediately and sincerely. I can be alone with myself without crawling out of my skin. I enjoy my alone time in fact. I devour literature. I take pictures in the forest. I teach myself how to do things like hula hoop and speak spanish.

I know my personal boundaries and am not afraid to share them with those close to me. I express myself succinctly, with respect and compassion for myself and others. I don't give more than I have to give, and I protect my energy.

I know what lights me on fire and I follow my passions around like a lost puppy dog following the scent of a T-bone. I express gratitude and offer myself as a help to others selflessly. I take care of myself and have high standards for those that I am with to do the same.

When something happens that triggers me or upsets me, I resolve it as quickly as I can. I am not afraid of conflict because I know within conflict there is truth and understanding.

I take the time to appreciate the beauty that surrounds me on a daily basis. I am full of wonder and not jaded by negative experiences. I understand that we are all human, battling our inner demons that cause us to want to harm others. I work with people who are hurting and help them to learn new skills to defeat their demons. I am a coach who helps people heal from sexual trauma. I help people connect. I am a seer. I genuinely love people. I genuinely want to make connections with everyone I meet. It fills me with energy to stay connected and realize that we are all one.

I don't isolate myself in times of sadness. I take solace in the comfort of a bustling home full of laughter and aliveness. When I need time away I take it. I write about my feelings so I can understand them better. I feed my spirit, body and heart with juicy relationships based on respect and compassion. I take responsibility for my actions, for my thoughts and for my feelings.

I don't need to be in control all of the time, in fact I enjoy letting go of control and allowing others to run the show. I also like to lead and take charge. I create a balance.

I am outgoing in my expression of love and everybody knows exactly how I feel about them because I show them with my actions and tell them with my words. My words and my actions match. My word is everything to me and I do everything I can to never betray the words I speak, break the promises I make or speak against myself.

I have done so much internal work that I am completely in love with myself and absolutely glow with confidence. I inspire people because I share myself so wholly and so fully for all to see and feel.  I am fully me. I don't apologize for who I am. I am vulnerable, I am open, I am available, I am able to make contact with people in the darkest, deepest parts of them.

I make mistakes and I understand that life can be complex and messy. I don't judge myself or others based on their inability to reach perfection. I am authentic to my core.

I embody love and compassion. I am full of life and full of aliveness. I do not hide.

This is my path in life. This is my conviction. I will never give up. I will sit in this stillness and allow myself to heal for as long as it takes until I can get up and start over. Over and over again.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

being open

I've talked a lot on this blog about shame. A lot of navel gazing in the name of vulnerability, self expression, processing difficult feelings that are hard to talk about, and unraveling the mysteries of my mind.  This particular blog post has been one in the making for a long time, and no exception to the above mentioned motivations for writing.

I am a bi-sexual polyamorous woman. I am, and have been, in an ethical non-monogamous relationship with Reggie for 5 years now. That means we know about each other's outside relationships, the status of those, and we support and respect each other within those relationships. Our marriage is loving, playful, sexual, and our family isn't affected negatively by our being open.

I don't want to make a big hullabaloo about it, and while I don't believe this will be a single event in transparency,  I do want to have a measure of openness and casual atmosphere in my life that doesn't restrict my language, put boundaries around topics of conversation, and impose a secretive level of shame that perhaps I still carry around from growing up with the traditional values that our society tends to lend itself to.

Towards the end of my first marriage 11 years ago, I realized I was questioning the type of marriage and relationships I desired. Certainly, that doubt contributed to my unwillingness to work through the toxicity of that marriage, and instead of plowing through more years of struggling in a relationship that simply was never going to make me happy, I walked away. With that freedom I was able to talk to people in non-traditional relationships more intentionally, and began to research and explore those ideas for myself.

Reggie and I had always talked and flirted around the idea of opening up, and when we finally did, all cocky and self-assured, I don't think either of us were prepared for the journey we would eventually take in all of it.

I never really considered myself to be a jealous person. (cue laughter)  I knew I had a Costco size jar of insecurities, but what I didn't know is how deeply rooted jealousy is in the tree of insecurities, and how opening up taps into each and every branch of insecurity you have. How the roots of that asshole of a tree creeps to the surface and force you to deal with them, like a whiny toddler banging on the bathroom door after you've locked yourself in with a good book, softly lit candles, and the hot bubbles of a luxurious bath. There have been, and probably will always be, interruptions on the way to bliss.

However, I have yet to find a more productive avenue for extreme personal growth. Together, Reggie and I have slayed a number of dragons along the way, becoming ninjas in healthy, open and respectful communication, all the while falling more deeply in love day by day.  We are not the same people as we were when we started this in 2009. And while our marriage has flourished within it, we have been forced to grow through all the challenges. This lifestyle isn't for the faint of heart, as you can imagine.

In my own process of personal evolution, I have grown to identify as solidly, without question, polyamorous.  Though we have had to take breaks and close our marriage to others during times of emotional crisis (yes they were my emotional crises), there has never been a doubt in my mind that I am fundamentally non-monogamous. I do not desire a "one love forever" type of arrangement. I deeply value freedom, expression of affection and the abundance of love in the world. I believe each time I make an emotional connection, there are no boundaries or limits on the potential of that connection. There is no room in my world for the exclusivity of that love and desire. It was put within me to share, and so I must.

None of this should or will come as a surprise to most of my friends, as I have created a large intentional community who also strongly identify with and respect non-traditional values and relationships. There are, however, many people who it will surprise, perhaps shock, and possibly even disgust to the point of alienation. While I understand and respect others' decisions to live their lives according to their own values, I do not wish to lose anyone in my life due to my lifestyle and values, but I will not compromise mine.

That said, my coming "out", isn't some kind of preparation for the invitation to the sordid details of my private life. While I won't be discussing my sex life, I do want the freedom to be able to talk about my relationships the way we all talk about our relationships in a traditional way. There are many MANY exciting things happening in my life that are simply too big to continue to keep quiet about. I''m looking at you, Facebook.

The first of those is that my girlfriend, Cher, whom I'll be celebrating 6 months with next week, is living on our property in our "man cabin - now known as the "Gypsy Shala"and has become a beautiful branch in our family tree. She absolutely love my kids, and they absolutely adore and love her. Really, what's not to love? She is one of the most loving, kind-hearted, adorable humans on this earth. Reggie and her have similar personalities and get along famously though they are not involved romantically. I guess that makes our relationship a sort of "V"?? (cue big cheesy grin) She is a sweet addition to our family and I'm grateful for her amazing contributions to our home and lives.

Reggie will be celebrating a year with his girlfriend in a couple of months. Neither of us have dated anyone new for months and months, as we've taken some time to settle into our new relationships and invest in those, giving them our focused attention.

In other news, this next year will see me attending a coaching program out of San Francisco ( Cher and I took a road trip to California last month and I had an interview with Danielle while we were in San Francisco, and was accepted into the training for 2015, starting in April. As you'll see in the link, it is a coaching program focused on sexuality and relationships. It is perfectly aligned with my career goals, (empowering individuals in living authentic and juicy lives). Until then, I'm working to find a job to fund my trips and tuition, and then find time to read the 11 books that are starting to arrive. (cue laughter...again)

The training itself I forsee being a powerful force for continued growth for me, personally. I am ready to tackle the remaining demons that tend to encourage me to stay closed and afraid. Vulnerability is an intense life skill that needs many opportunities for practice. Diving head first and trusting the Universe will see me safely to the shores of self acceptance, intimacy and more more more love.

All this has been put on my heart to share because it's been once again proven to me how sacred and short life can be. Over the past couple years I have slowly started to create a protective shell around me, closing my desire to be authentically open and transparent. During that time, I have felt hurt and pain and kept my joys private and my cards close to my heart, allowing only a small fraction of people into my soul. When a sweet and precious friend passed away a few days ago, I realized how closed off I've become, and how living that way has hardened me and prevented vulnerability from really reaching me. It served it's purpose and given me time to cocoon, but it's not a sustainable mechanism for my ultimate happiness.

Her sudden death, after months of her unwavering hope and soldiering on through her battle with cancer, reminded me that my purpose on this earth requires me to be freely open and fully embracing this life with my heart stretched wide open, like she did, risking the pain of loss and pain for the reward of joy and happiness.  So here I am, starting again, unfurling and unzipping the truth of who I am. Onward and upward, here I go.

Friday, December 6, 2013

consciousness, choice and change

Feeling emboldened by my new found resolve to speak my truth at all costs, I attempted to resolve a conflict yesterday with an estranged friend with whom I've been unable to be truthful with.  I thought about everything I wanted to say, everything I hadn't been able to say before.  I had to do some emotional culling so that I could succinctly express myself without going too far off course into a place where I might say things that would hurt her feelings unnecessarily.

First problem: Identifying my feelings. Uhhhhh....this was surprisingly difficult. I know I'm hurting, but what is the core emotion and why?  It helped to write. I was able to connect to the feelings, figure out why I felt that way, and outlined what I wanted to say.

Next problem: Delivering the message. I could tell she wasn't interested in really hearing my truth or holding an empathetic space for my truth when she interrupted me to interject her counter feelings as I was telling her how I was feeling. I said what I felt like I needed to say in hopes that I would feel unburdened, lighter and get the closure that was lacking. I tried so hard to express my feelings in a way that put the responsibility for my emotions on me and not blame her, but I could tell she still felt blamed and defensive and pretty much shut off emotionally.

Next problem: Vulnerability and shame exposed. The result of our conversation felt nothing like resolution or closure, but instead the tearing up scars of old wounds. Not only was I recounting a painful experience and sharing my honesty finally, I had also opened myself up to her judgement, and bared my soul, full of insecurities, fears, and feelings that I have some shame around.  I knew I had to do it, and I'm glad that I did, but ultimately, I left just feeling vulnerable and weak.

I know now, being on the other side of the conversation, I was not only trying to tell her my truth, but also seeking validation or acceptance from her. At the very least, compassion and empathy.  While she did express moments of sympathy, her overall body language and conversation felt fairly cold and closed.

As the day trekked on, something kept gnawing at me. It kind of felt like disappointment, or regret that I had chosen to be vulnerable with someone who obviously didn't care. Then the familiar feeling of rejection came. Then unworthiness. Then I went into a full blown victimized breakdown, spurred on by the negative self belief mantra that loves to yell at me in these moments: "This is confirmation that you are indeed invisible, unimportant, unworthy, not good enough, Amy.  Oh my god what is wrongggg with meeeeee?"


Not one to miss an opportunity to compound my self hate talk, my brain decides to confirm that by bringing up all of the "moments of rejection" files. Experiences that validate and provide absolute PROOF that I am truly nothing special, and in fact, totally undesirable.

And you know I totally believe that shit, every fucking time. And this is what super sucks: It's a lie. Why do I so easily believe the negative self image bullshit when 99% of my life is chocked full of endless experiences that provide a plethora of validation that I am, in fact, not only loveable, but inspirational, interesting, pretty fucking awesome, admired, strong, independent, intelligent, funny, cherished, respected, adored, a great friend, passionate, appreciated, sexy as hell, deep, and absolutely worth loving and fighting for.  I am good. I am enough. So why am I so easily convinced I'm not?

As Brene Brown writes in her book Daring Greatly, shame cannot survive empathy. So while I'm sitting there crying my eyes out that I'm a hot insecure mess, I'm essentially just shaming the shit out of myself.

The compassion and empathy I was wrongly expecting my friend to provide, should have been provided from ME. I am the gatekeeper of my beliefs, anyway. I decide what to believe about myself. If I experience rejection or get my feelings hurt, I can choose to feel empathy and self compassion for myself and believe that I am good, regardless of the situation OR I can dive heart first right into the shame spiral of depression and negative self belief.

So here comes my closure I sought yesterday: (cue the big dramatic powerful piano crescendo wherein the fog of confusion lifts, and clarity is left standing there like fucking Santa Claus...)

I am proud of myself for mustering up the courage and self love to speak about my shame and feelings, thereby putting myself at risk of judgement and rejection by making myself vulnerable.  I release myself from the trap of powerlessness that comes with seeking approval and validation from others. I love myself, I am loved, and that is enough.

There. That feels better. ;)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

deep roots

“The proverb warns that, 'You should not bite the hand that feeds you.' But maybe you should, if it prevents you from feeding yourself.”
Thomas Stephen Szasz

In follow up to the previous post, I've been doing a bit of thinking about all the ways my natural tendency to please others and fear of saying no has affected my life up to this point.

Though I'm able to put my foot down a bit better now, it sometimes takes me a little while to realize I've stopped listening to my Wise Self.  It's like a gnawing feeling that won't go away, and upon investigation I discover not only am I going along with something, I've completely sacrificed my own happiness for it.

This disease to please or more accurately, avoidance of conflict, has been with me for as long as I can remember.  The big moments that defined this condition of compliance happened when I was 6-7 years old.  My mom had been dating a man who lived in Tennessee, and we ended up moving down there for a time when I was 5. When they broke up we pulled anchor and headed back to Alaska and moved in with my mom's best friend Suzi and her boyfriend Howard until we could get on our feet.

Howard was a child molester.

Of course we didn't know that at the time, but after a few events where I found myself alone with him, I found out the hard way.

I remember two very clear incidences of being sexually molested by Howard.  Both times I KNEW it was wrong. I searched my soul for the words or a way to make it stop, but the only thing that surfaced was the rule: "Do what you're told". I felt fear of hearing my voice telling him to stop.  Fear of conflict. Fear of getting into trouble. Fear of what he might do. Fear fear fear.

The first time it happened was on an overnight trip to a cabin in Girdwood, a little ski town about 30 minutes outside of Anchorage. It was my sister, my mom, me, Suzi and Howard. The cabin was an A frame with an open floor plan downstairs and a loft with two bedrooms upstairs. Stairs separated the two rooms. From the bedrooms you could look down onto the living room, so there was only semi-privacy. I could hear everything going on downstairs as I went up to go to bed.

There was a knock on my door, and when I opened it, Howard was standing there. He asked me to get undressed and come say goodnight to him in his room.

So I did.

My naked little body traveled from the safety of my room, passing the stairs that led to freedom, and into his room, where he stood, also naked. He picked me up in his arms and held me in a long, torturous hug.  He put me down and I went into my room and cried myself to sleep with the sounds of laughter and music coming from downstairs.

The next day Suzi took a picture of my sister and I hugging my mom.  When I look at this picture of the little girl with the messy bangs and yellow coat I scream inside. I don't remember the days or years before or after these events took place. But the night before this picture was taken is stuck in my memory as fresh as if it happened yesterday.

I can't pick a correct emotion from this picture. Am I smiling or crying? All I see is a tiny me clutching to my rock as my world went spiraling into a dark new universe, the morning after my innocence was taken from me.

The next event changed my life forever and I still remember it sometimes when I get really afraid and need to tap into my Wise Self.

Howard was left to babysit me, so I sequestered myself in my bedroom to watch cartoons and avoid him. But of course he came in and sat next to me. I pretended not to really notice him or his hand as it went into my pants. Soon he started touching himself. He asked me if his fingers felt good on me. I said no. So he moved his hand around a little bit. "How about that?" "No". "Where does it feel good?"

"Out of my pants". 

 I didn't care what happened after I said it, I just knew I needed to say it. And guess what? He took his hand out. He left me alone. And, as if he suddenly became aware of the beast he had just unleashed, he threatened me not to tell anyone.

But I did.

The next day I told my mom and we quickly moved out. Nothing ever happened to Howard though. Suzi broke up with him, but nobody charged him, nobody turned him in. The bad guy got away.

The thing that makes me that most sad about that, is how difficult it was for me to advocate for myself at such a fragile, vulnerable time in my life, but I did. And the adults who were there to protect me and be my advocate, failed to do either.

This is, my mother tells me, one of her greatest regrets in life. I cannot hold anger or resentment against her. I'm sure she did the best she could where she was at the time.

That event was the single-most empowering moment in my life, regardless of the outcome. I spoke up and I got what I wanted. Peace. Strength.

As a teenager I kept getting into horribly unhealthy, co-dependent relationships. I had very little self confidence, no sense of self. When I broke up with my troubled boyfriend at 16, he attempted suicide by swallowing a bunch of pills and coming over to my house. While he recovered in the hospital, mouth still chalky, I agreed to get back together with him. He needed me.

Later (after that relationship eventually ended) when I discovered a different boyfriend had been cheating on me, I quickly and angrily broke up with him, only to turn around and beg him to take me back hours later. Couldn't handle being alone.  

There are a few other examples I could give but I think I want to leave it there. Suffice to say, my life has been a long battle of making people happy at a high cost to my own happiness. A few times, I almost paid the highest price. Thank goodness I avoided getting into too much trouble or killed!

These days, the events that test my pathological need to please are pretty minor in comparison. Outright manipulation, threats to my security or obvious breaches of boundaries will evoke a strong reaction from me, though. To the point that I've built up a pretty high wall to protect myself. But for those people who are masters at manipulation, or whose neediness comes in a package that pulls my heart in a million different directions, I bend. I succumb.  It takes me a little longer to figure out that I'm being manipulated or taken advantage of. If I communicate my boundary or feelings and they don't respect it, I close the door and lock it behind me.

These days, I find myself asking "what do I want?" a lot. I don't have all the answers yet, but I know I'm on my way. It's getting easier as the kids get older and I'm morphing out of Extreme Mommy Mode and into Coach Mom Mode. I have some room to breath and explore me and my voice more. 

It's also getting easier because my partner couldn't manipulate his way out of a paper bag. His soul is pure. We supports things that feed my heart and happiness, and objects to things (and people) who don't. He is an echo of my Wise Self, and a trusted advocate.  While we intentionally and constantly try to make each other happy, we are both sensitive to when the other is sacrificing for the other and we stop and regroup. It is an amazing partnership of championing for one another. 

As I buried my 11.5 year toxic marriage - unearthing myself in the process, and then learning how to be in the first healthy relationship of my life, I realize that this has been an extremely transformative decade of life (probably the most transformative I'll ever experience, to be honest -- and hopeful). 

I'm finishing out the last few months of my 30s with a new physical transformation, which you can read about here:

I completed my Sobember with amazing fresh perspective. I feel like I've done some amazing work to take a good/bad/ugly look at my intentions, patterns, and stumbling blocks.  It hasn't been pretty, but it's been necessary.  I had a glass of wine last weekend and again on Thanksgiving, and each time, I didn't enjoy it like I did before November. Maybe because the intention of drinking was different. I'm not particularly craving anything or anxious to hit the bars. I'm actually feeling pretty indifferent to alcohol in general.

In all, this month has been amazingly important. I uncovered some deeply rooted systems (coping mechanisms) that have served and protected me throughout my life. I am ready to build some stronger, healthier systems that can hold a brand new structure for this brand new life that I'm creating. No more serving others while sacrificing my happiness. No more avoiding conflict. No more validating others while minimizing myself to an unrecognizable state. No more shame.

I think this is what they call growing up? It only took me 39 years...but better late than never, right?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

being a person of purpose to yourself

There's always so much chatter and flapping around the subject of self purpose and living a life with meaning. I've always been interested in the chatter because I'm kind of a nut about intrapersonal and interpersonal psychology and the self help movement.

Most of what I read on the subject comes back to one philosophy: In order to have real meaning in your life, your purpose must somehow serve others for the greater good. To offer up something that is bigger than yourself. To make a difference in your world. Your community. Your family.

And while I agree with that truth, I want to explore it a bit deeper, because I feel like there's some pitfalls here.  Especially if you're already a people pleaser like me.

It's ridiculously easy to align ourselves with someone else's purpose. To grab a hold of someone else's coat tails and go along for the ride, claiming purpose and meaning while only really perpetuating someone else's goals or dreams or purpose without really figuring out what yours are.

The more I dig around and investigate my goals and dreams and purpose, the more I realize how absolutely clueless I am about what I even want.  Whenever I get frustrated about where I am in life, I tend to turn that focus on other people, to help them, be a listener, problem solver, counselor and friend.

I've been friends with people who will sit with me for hours and do nothing but talk about themselves and their lives and completely overlook the fact that another human being is sitting right next to them with their own frustrations and things to say. And when that quiet human being is me, I let it happen, time and time again. My inner voice says "they need me" or "who am I to complain when they have the real problems" or "I'm not important" or "their dream is bigger than mine". I become the Narcissist Whisperer.

Spoiler Alert: they don't care about you and your dreams or purpose.

Not only do I allow these relationships to emotionally entwine me, I empathically tune into their struggle and goals and invest myself in them. I was married for 11.5 years to someone I sacrificed my happiness for until I felt like I was slowly (or quickly as time went on) killing myself by living someone else's life. When he drove away the night we broke up, I felt myself wake up for the first time in a long time. It was startling and extremely, overwhelmingly empowering.

It's a huge life lesson and one I'm still struggling to learn. It's hard to find your voice and say "that's not going to serve MY purpose or happiness so I can't participate in that". My god, what if that person thinks you're an asshole or doesn't want to be in your life anymore because of your objection. What if someone...omg...what if someone doesn't like you? It's insane how that one little thought can destroy your inner integrity and self protection.  That little thought has led me to make some very bad decisions, ones that had I been tuned into my purpose, I could have done a quick check in "is this what I want, is this going to serve me or hurt me?" and kept myself on a path of meaningful, purposeful, happy living.  Instead, I have gone along with things that only cause shame, regret and my own suffering. That friends is what I define as Self Sabotage.

So while it's great to put your life purpose to use and serve your world for the greater good of humanity...I think the first place to start is figuring out how to serve yourself and PROTECT your own purpose first.

How to say no, how to put boundaries around relationships, how to differentiate between what I want and you want, how to discover what I want in the first place. How to speak your truth. How to object. How to listen more to my Wise Self and let her guide me. How to be happy outside of influence.

I think that is part of what this month of not drinking is also helping me understand. Drinking enables my Little Self to drive with reckless abandon through the structures and boundaries that my Wise Self so carefully constructed in an effort to keep myself on the right track to joy. 

So the challenge for me will be to strengthen my Wise Self muscles to the point of muscle memory, so that when I drink, She will be in charge, and decisions will be made according to MY happiness and boundaries.

And ultimately, as I figure out how to balance vulnerability with protection and self interest with supporting others, I'll be able to reach out and healthily be of service to something greater than myself. Until then, I am going to keep practicing, reading, strengthening and growing.

Monday, November 11, 2013

whittling away

This month is flying by, and so far I'm still celebrating Sobember without worry! The only time I've really been triggered is while making dinner. I do so enjoy a glass of pinot noir while chopping veggies to Charles Mingus and Miles Davis.  Seems sacrilege to do any of it without red wine. But I'm surviving.

More than surviving. I'm feeling fucking fantastic. I can't believe how much difference the Wellbutrin makes. I can wake up in the morning without 10 cups of coffee. I can focus (secretly I think I have a raging case of undiagnosed ADD and this med might be helping me with some hearty executive function skills). I feel alive in my skin and my mind is switched "On". Everything seems not only manageable but scalable and achievable. I'm kicking ass.

I'm whittling the shit out of my life and I already see little slices of what I recognize as the life I want to live. I still have more questions than answers but I can feel myself righting my little capsized boat of life.

In the midst of all the navel-gazing that blogging tends to be, I am also coming into awareness that my focus is shifting towards others. I've read quite a lot lately about serving those you love, developing more empathy and compassion, and finding your purpose through helping others. I've been trying to actively engage in that practice. The result is that I'm actually attracting more love, more gratitude, more intimacy. And worrying less about myself, my problems, my insecurities, my blah blah blahs.

My kids are noticing a huge shift in me, and that says a lot, because they really don't ever notice anything unless it's bacon or a computer.

I really love focusing on other people and doing acts of service and providing kindness and love and making people feel special.  I feel like I'm really good at it, and it makes me feel extremely contented. The part I have to remember is that because I'm so good at it, people will take advantage of me, so creating boundaries is super important to do. And then enforcing them. I'm extremely in tune when something doesn't feel right and trusting my doucheometer. It's the speaking up part that cripples me.

As I whittle my life into the creation of my dreams, I also need to make sure I am using my voice and making myself heard as well.  I need to remember that I matter, that I'm important, and that nobody will protect me and make me happy like I can.

Speaking of being happy, my friend hope is visiting more often, and that makes me pretty darn happy. A Willa without hope is a very sad sad Willa. I am beginning to remember those little things that used to inspire me and motivate me and make me curious. My muses are becoming more visible.

So I'm going to keep on whittling.