Things we said today

Tonight I went on a date with someone in whom I should be interested. He’s nice, intelligent, moderately good looking, and kind to me. But I don’t feel a thing. In fact, if I’m honest with myself, I haven’t been feeling anything for anyone since September of last year. 

Why does that stick in my mind? Well, that was the last time I touched someone whom I love. In my bones I love him. In my toes, my heart, my soul I love him. He is AMAZING in his own right, but he makes me better. And even thinking of him prompts a course correction. Sometimes, I think about being sneaky or desperate or manipulative. And then, just the thought of him aligns me back to neutral good. 

I recently met a man who felt like he was regularly stuck between settling with a woman and having a family or chasing the compulsion to join a monastery. Many years ago, he said, he met his twin soul. They split, though their hearts are still aligned, and he worked to move on. She had an existential crisis that conflicted with his. He dated others for shorter periods of time and he’s convinced himself that he’s ok they aren’t together. 

“For the last 6 years, I’ve found myself thinking of her quite a lot. At times I even think I should ask her if I should move to Arizona to try again… And we haven’t even spoken.”

Oh, how I know that feeling. The feeling of perhaps not having a family or deep, meaningful connection after the parting of twin flames. There’s nothing else left. 

I find it interesting that others go through this loop: feeling continually pushed by a force who left to journey into themself. The deep love and deep awareness. The connection of two third eyes. It’s both exhilarating and debilitating. 

The thing I have learned most from my celibacy, I told my new monk friend, is that the most important relationship one can have is with one’s inner child. There are many quiet moments where I find myself holding that inner child, stroking her golden curls, wiping her tears, and giving all the love I can muster to her. She has become my biggest priority in life. And, somehow, turning inward toward that small child inside has allowed me to be more comfortable alone. When she cries out, I find that I can calm her. When she feels desperate and anxious, I can love her. 

If that twin soul, that great mirror, had not left my side, my home, my bed, I never would have connected with my inner child. Why would I? He was the perfect parent to her; he taught me what she needed, how to listen, and how to respond. He taught me patience while she acted out, while she stomped around to get her way. He waited outside her cave when she needed time and smiled at her just right when she was terrified. He taught her to breathe deeply and rhythmically. Now, I find myself staring at her in the mirror, putting on smiles until she smiles back. Now, I find myself meditating daily to breathe with her. My twin took my shadow self, pulled it out, and loved the hell out of it. And then taught me to as well. 

Being alone is awful. Being alone with someone else is worse. Every day, I’m more grateful to have the time to hold that little girl and adore her, unabashedly and unconditionally. Every day, I’m glad he taught me to love her no matter the obstacles. Every day, I’m glad he left me so I could learn to do it alone. 

“Someday, when we’re dreamin’, deep in love and not a lot to say, then we will remember, the things we said today…”

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Engine Failure & Progress

Check-ins are important. When I was in 8th grade, I was part of a dynamic, legendary song and dance group called the ShowStoppers. We wore red dresses covered in sequins, heavy nylons, dancing heels, a ton of makeup, and curls. It was epic. I was the worst dancer in our troupe, and I had gotten in on my singing voice. I had never taken dance lessons, unlike the other girls. However, I learned something about dancing in my year there–when you are performing turns, it’s important to have a focal point to reference. That way, you don’t become disoriented, you stay grounded.

Focal points have helped me stay grounded and also have allowed me to assess progress in my life. It’s been 3 months of continuous meditation, 30 minutes twice a day, 3 months of intensive trauma therapy (EMDR + resourcing has sometimes taken several hours a week), 3 months of pilates and yoga, 3 months of exploring my spirituality. And, strangely, the more present I have become, the harder it was to realize that 3 months went by so quickly. I just felt present, putting one foot in front of the other, making my pirouettes without thinking. These things in life have become habitual. Self-care has become habitual.

This past week, two incidents came into my life that were able to serve as focal points, as places where I could assess progress. I have recently started a new role in Washington DC while still living in the San Francisco bay area. This has increased my travel schedule significantly and has also put me in contact with new people. My first day of work was Wednesday, where I spent the day meeting policymakers and staffers. Thursday, I was to be in an all-day meeting with 15 people who would work together to develop policy recommendations for the new presidential administration. This is the most prestigious table I would ever be around, and I was looking forward to just being at the table to listen. I knew, however, that the woman who forced me out of my last role would also be at the table. She has been a significant trigger point for me in the last 2 years, and the last time I knew I would have to see her I actually suffered a considerable panic attack at my partner’s home in front of his group of friends just anticipating having to see her. He and I nearly broke up because I overwhelmed him with my anxiety. I was unstable. When I finally did see her, I vomited, hid in a bathroom stall, and, eventually, experienced a seizure in the middle of a Chicago street…at night. This woman really overtook my senses and shut down all my responses. Naturally, I was concerned about having to be in a meeting with her, so I discussed this with my therapist, who worked with me to process my feelings toward her. While I am still working on processing her representation in my life, that session where I could process through what was left over from this woman’s abuse allowed me to make different decisions. I arrived at the meeting place 20 minutes early, got a feel for the space, and allowed myself to feel present. When she walked into the room, I noticed that I didn’t tense up at all. When she engaged me, I allowed some small talk but also put up clear boundaries, allowing myself to feel safe and present while in her presence. When she tried to undermine things I said, I felt no need to defend myself, and I allowed myself to feel comfortable with a difference in opinion. In the moment, I didn’t notice I was doing something different…but looking back, this is the first time that I could notice a completely vanished trigger. What affected me so deeply in March had no power over me at all. I could breathe into the present moment with no anxiety about the past or fear of the future. And it was so much easier than expected.

The evening after my all-day meeting, I was to take a late night flight back to San Francisco, with a short layover in Atlanta. I had to be somewhere else in California for meetings the next morning, so I was anticipating sleeping on the plane. I love sitting over the wing, at the window, especially during sunset. Getting up to cruising altitude, our cabin heard a loud “POP”, followed by a pillar of black smoke coming from behind the right wing. This wasn’t normal. As the cabin crew prepared to make an emergency landing in North Carolina due to sudden engine failure, I could hear the terror, panic, and fear in my fellow travelers. I found myself breathing deeply, feeling personally comforted that things were under control, which allowed me, in turn, to help comfort a woman for whom this was her first flight. As I landed in North Carolina and looked on my phone to see how I may be able to get another flight back before my meetings started in the morning, I reflected on the last time this event occurred. In 2011, I was part of an emergency landing outside of Palmer, Alaska, coming home from Fairbanks. It wasn’t the emergency landing that got me panicked, but the feeling that I was going to miss one too many graduate classes, not allowing me to graduate. While trying to get a new flight, I had a horrible panic attack, yelled at just about everyone, burst into tears, and called my (sleeping) boyfriend every minute on the minute, leaving him messages. I was a mess. I made it back for my class just in time, but I had a seizure the second I was finished with that class from all the drama I had created. This time, I was able to remain calm, even encourage others while they freaked out about missing their connections. I noticed I wasn’t alone–this hadn’t just happened to me. We were a stranded collective, which allowed me to stay grounded, calm, and humble. When we got shuttled back to the airport, I calmly stood in line, calling my administrative assistant to let her know I may not be at the meeting in the morning, making contingency plans. I waited at the desk and firmly asked to be put on the only flight out that evening, stating that waiting until the morning was not my preference. I got re-planed, and was able to sleep soundly on the plane, making it to my meeting in the morning a few hours away.

Engine failure doesn’t happen every day. Neither does having to sit in a room on the other side of the country with the person who harassed you for 2 years. But little moments do repeat every day. Little moments are able to be your focal point–they can keep you grounded, they can act as a measuring stick. Awareness comes from allowing yourself to put space between those moments, put space where there was once noise. This is the gift the last 3 months have taught me that I haven’t really noticed: the gift of stillness. You see, crazy things happen to everyone. It’s really up to us to make it dramatic and traumatic. It’s up to us to carry around those moments as weights on our shoulders. Once you realize that you can’t control what happens to you, but you can control your reaction to it, you’re free.

“Spiritual progress is like detoxification. Things have to come up in order to be released. Once we have asked to be healed, then our unhealed places are forced to the surface.” –Marianne Williamson

Healing is an amazing feeling.

Love,

Blonde

xox

 

Massage Therapy & Surrender

I attend Pilates and yoga 6 times a week, not only for a workout but to set time to meditate in a community. Yoga is a powerful mindfulness activity and also binds you to those with whom you practice. After meditating for 35 minutes twice a day for nearly 3 months, I have been feeling freer and thinking that I am completely Zen. Imagine my surprise when I attended a yoga class last week where my instructor kept saying, “Blonde. Shoulders away from ears, lengthen through the spine.” All I could think was, “MY SHOULDERS ARE SO FAR AWAY FROM MY EARS!” until she came over and gently adjusted my posture, showing that, indeed, I had been holding on to something I didn’t even notice was there. It reminds me of those times when you get a massage from a massage therapist and they lift your arm or leg and state, “you can let go. Just make your limb weightless.” Usually I think I am totally giving in to their therapy, but I actually hold on just enough to feel like I’m still in control.

We’re shit at relationships. Why? Because even when we say we trust people, even when we say that we’ve let go or given in, our neocortex is screaming for us to maintain control. Maintain the status quo. Keep social construction. Feed the ego. We’re so prideful that we don’t even see that we’re not even seeing. We build magnificent safeguards in order to hold onto the semblance of control. If only we knew how free we could feel if we surrendered fully.

“Spiritually, no action is more important than surrender. Surrender is the tenderest impulse of the heart, acting out of love to give whatever the beloved wants. Surrender is being alert to exactly what is happening now, not imposing expectations from the past. Surrender is faith that the power of love can accomplish anything, even when you cannot foresee the outcome of a situation.” –Deepak Chopra

Surrender is probably the concept I struggle with the most. I want others to be vulnerable with me, but even the act of saying that I want others to be a different way means that I want to hold onto the control. At times,  I want to pray for things to happen–for an exact answer to my questions. I don’t want to listen. I don’t want someone to make his own decision or conclusion. I ask for patience and grace from others and yet I get impatient in doing the same. However, every time I let go and receive, I receive the exact thing I need at the time. The thing that will bring me the happiness for which I long. All I can do is show up, allowing others to also show up. And there is beauty in that. These micro-adjustments are so critical in our lives–allowing someone to tell us or allowing something to make us more aware of those things we struggle to release. These daily micro-adjustments that bring awareness to the places where we still hold on are critical. They bring us back to present, to what is inside of us that can be released–removing us from the impetus to seek external changes to internal problems.

May we listen before prescribing…for even as we ask, even as we pay for the massage therapist or the regular therapist, or even as we kneel down to pray, we waste our time and money when we don’t allow someone else to be the expert. May we have more space for receiving rather than holding so tightly to the things we think are best for us.

A Therapeutic Journey

I’ve had a lot of experiences in my life–some good, many not so good. In fact, recently, my therapist asked me to write down all the things that had a traumatic effect on my life and the negative stories I have told myself about myself because of them. It was 3 full pages, beginning with my trauma in utero, to child abuse, medical traumas, witnessing suicide, experiencing traumatic deaths, abuse from my church, bullying, abandonment, cancer, divorce, sexual harassment at work, and much more. More than that, I have had some pretty repetitive stories I have told myself that shattered my self-esteem. I have experienced the gambit of traumatic experiences, and I am alive to talk about it. However, I had a lot of trouble working through all of it because I would feel overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of what had gone on in my life. This often made me dizzy, and it definitely had me buzzing at a very anxious frequency. Because I am a medical nerd, I now have functional MRIs to show that it substantially changed the way my brain takes in information. In fact, scientists are now using machine learning to predict how different traumatic experiences will impact the areas of the brain. My parasympathetic nervous system has been underutilized for so long that calming down has been a struggle for me. My poor brain–it was only trying to protect me from some very real dangers. I was fed to the wolves more than once.

How did these things manifest? Well, I had a LOT of seizures and migraines, and I could barely hold my bladder, from as long ago as I can remember–which coincides directly with childhood traumas. I’m not interested in focusing on that, though. What I want to say is that my physical health was very much affected by my trauma-based responses. My seizures were even psychogenic in nature. I was rarely in a safe environment, and, therefore, I never actually was able to get my basic needs met as a child. That then didn’t allow me to accept love and belonging. That didn’t allow me to trust the way others were socialized to.

Since age 12, I have been seeing a therapist. First, therapists from LDS Family Services, then I was admitted at 15 to an inpatient facility for suicidal ideation and attempt. Upon discharge, I started seeing a psychiatrist and was heavily medicated. I was told I would have to “manage my hormonal imbalance” the rest of my life. I was a bit of a pill popper to numb the pain, so that sounded fine with me–at least my habit was regulated and paid for by insurance. On and off, I saw some cognitive behavioral therapists after that. And then I met Christie. I was a grad student at Portland State University, and I thought something was wrong with me because I had lost my libido. This opened up the world for me to understand the mind-body connection. At the time, I was married, but, because my husband was a pretty serious addict, I rarely trusted him, perpetuating the environment I had experienced as a child, and, therefore removing any chance of intimacy. Christie helped me navigate through a divorce, not my intimacy issues, for 16 sessions…and then the insurance ran out. That’s called “Solution-Focused Therapy,” and it doesn’t work for someone with prolonged trauma or a chronic mental illness.

After that time, Shelley came into my life. It took me 3 years to even feel comfortable enough with Shelley to even tell her I had been raped at 12 years old, let alone all the other things I had witnessed. But she helped me feel safe at the moment and managed my day to day trauma, which was helpful for me to understand that I could trust someone with my secrets. That I wouldn’t be judged or lied to. In the end, however, Shelley kept secrets from me and ended up very abruptly moving, without me being able to process it. I had been abandoned again. I think after that, though, I learned that I could have a therapist be a facilitator of me navigating through my trauma.

And then I met Sarah. Sarah has a very special place in my heart, as she taught me the neuroscience behind complex post traumatic stress disorder. She taught me to check in with my body. She taught a healthy partner of mine how to be a supportive partner, despite him having trouble relating to my experiences. She taught me how to have coping skills for the first time. Before Sarah, I didn’t go a week without intense suicidal ideation, without feeling like I was experiencing too much, feeling too much. Sarah taught me that it’s okay and even healthy to be angry, that suicidal ideation doesn’t mean I want to die but, rather, something has to die, and she taught me how to begin the journey out of codependency. I spent 4 years with Sarah, and it’s because of her I have become strong enough to create boundaries, to remove people from my life, to add people back in, to challenge my own perceptions…to GET ANGRY…to fall madly and deeply in love. She taught me what emotions were like and how to move through the spectrum of emotions. Not only did she stabilize my day to day interactions, but she encouraged me to dig in and face my faulty perceptions head-on. She helped me navigate a terrible break-up from the partner she worked with to support me, she helped me through the new traumas occurring, and she held my hand through the scary places I had to navigate. Then, I moved to San Francisco. In my last month of sessions with Sarah, she strongly encouraged me to find a therapist trained in a specific modality…not because Family Systems Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy weren’t working for me, but because I was finally ready to let go of those traumas and experience a new life.

On February 9, 2016, I met Linda, a renown therapist in San Francisco and an expert in the modality Sarah urged me to undergo. We worked intensely together from the start, but because I had such a complex case of PTSD, there were so many things that had to be set up prior to actually starting the practice of this modality. On May 24, 2016, nearly 3 months after establishing our relationship, I started a processing technique called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Linda is absolutely not Sarah–she’s a blunt New Yorker who shuts me down when I self-victimize. She balks at my cognitive distortions, and she exposes me to myself. To put it bluntly, she doesn’t take my shit. At first, and some days, I hate it…and her. But she’s an expert in EMDR, with over 25 years experience in a modality that only started about 35 years ago. And not only did Sarah recommend the modality, but there are an overwhelming amount of systematic reviews on the modality saying it’s the most effective for actually healing the brain from those pesky wiring problems that complex PTSD suffers from. EMDR is a way to re-wire and replace faulty wiring in our nervous system, and Linda is my electrician. I may not like the way she approaches me, but she’s the best electrician around–she gets the job done. I spend a grueling 4 hours a week with Linda, processing piece by piece the ugly parts of my life. I intensely focus on painful memories in order to fully grieve them. I cry ugly cries and fume with anger (though that is still painfully difficult for me). I am guided through intense feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, suicidal ideation, pain, sadness, fear, panic, numbness, and discomfort. And, what’s worse, when I get home from EMDR, I am completely beat–like I have run a marathon with no finish line in sight. And, at times, I have to go home and grieve all alone for hours or even days. Sometimes, I think, “What have I gotten myself into? Is this worth it?” And this process has pushed people away from me because I have struggled to predict the way my emotions come out sideways. These emotions hurt unsuspecting victims, they have burdened and terrified friends and lovers, they have caused me to doubt my strength and my readiness to let go of the painful parts of my past. But, one foot in front of the other, every session, every week, I am still slogging through. And in between, I am self-soothing and re-parenting myself and re-experiencing life. And, though tired, I feel absolutely authentic and vulnerable and…CONTENT.

Many people who see me now, after 6 weeks in reprocessing, have stated that I am different–that I’m glowing, that I seem happier and healthier. That it’s like I had this huge change overnight. And I thought so too–after 3 sessions, I felt more free and childlike than I ever have in my life. After 6 sessions, I felt safe enough to wander my neighborhood alone, to meet people, to go to movies and dinner and drinks alone or with new friends. After 8 sessions, I began asking for help, thanking people, and making amends. I have let go of wounds I thought were so deep that they’d never be healed. I’ve begun to stop questioning my worth and start living my life without wondering what others think about it. I’ve become sharper and more effective in the workplace and more vulnerable and authentic with friends and family. I’ve felt the pain of the past but also the present moment, and I have openly grieved. I feel renewed. Even Linda has observed a striking difference, and last week, after a particularly painful session, she stopped me simply to tell me that she is so amazed at my strength, at my bravery. It was, perhaps, the greatest compliment I have ever received.

But to those who have not walked through this full journey with me, which is the majority of individuals in my life, this transformation from larva to butterfly, from cocooned and restricted individual to the free bird I appear to be now, seems like it simply couldn’t be possible. Like it just can’t be real or lasting. I thought that too–that the other shoe would drop and I would be right back to anxiety attacks and feeling unsafe, to seizures and migraines and instability. I thought that too. But then my mother simply stated to me, “Blonde, you have been working on being at this point for 20 years. You have worked so hard at this! And now, you’re ready to let the past go! This isn’t something new–look at how far you’ve come. I’m so happy for you.” This most definitely replaced that last greatest compliment I have ever received. And she’s so right–I have wanted to be in the place where I can love myself fully, where I can be present, where I can love others, where I can accept help and also give it, where I can not feel broken, for so long…and I had subscribed to the belief that I would always be wounded. My favorite Third Eye Blind sing, Wounded, says, “Back down the bully to the back of the bus/’Cause it’s time for them to be scared of us/’Till you’re yelling, how we living cause you got the ball/Then you rock on baby, rock on, you rock on, on and on”. That’s the stage I’m in now-this bullied girl is bullied no more by those things I have shouldered for far too long. I thought I was trapped in this cocoon, only to realize that the cocoon was preparing me to fly.

By the end of the year, Linda wants to graduate me. She is helping me see that once we let go of the hold our past has on us, we don’t need to subscribe to the same triggers. The same line of thinking. Deepak Chopra says, “Instead of thinking outside of the box, get rid of the box.” I had a partner who once told me I was good at “seeing the angles”. The problem is that I never was able to see the angles that didn’t need to be there. I struggled with low self-esteem and always asked for reassurance. This was a difficult issue for us, as I just felt so lost in my footing as I started removing the layers of my cocoon. Now, while that footing isn’t always sure, I am sure of the new path. Chopra also states, “The best way to get rid of the pain is to feel the pain. And when you feel the pain and go beyond it, you’ll see there’s a very intense love that is wanting to awaken itself.” More than I could imagine, that intense love is breaking through, and, boy is it vibrant! I cannot wait to pour my love into work, my family, my friends and their children, myself, and into someone else with whom I can begin a therapeutic journey all our own-hand in hand, with cartwheels and laughter and quiet moments galore.

Thank you for being a part of my therapeutic journey. For allowing me to share in my vulnerability. For being a place where I can process, where I can evaluate all the angles. Where I can reinvent and show up every time authentically. I am excited to share the brilliance in my time as a new butterfly-my metamorphosis-knowing it will not always be easy, but it will be authentic. For those experiencing heartache and heartbreak: don’t give up–you’re nearly through.

Love,

Blonde

PS. It’s ok to ask for help.

Feed the Ego

This weekend has been a bit of a whirlwind. I was around family for the day and was able to come to a new sense of space in my heart. There is magic that happens when you can let go of things that were never meant to be held onto in the first place. With my family, I was able to draw easy boundaries, be present, and not be so impacted by anxiety or overwhelm. I was able to listen and be a friend. And when a work call started to derail that, I found myself being defensive of my time and presence with my family…so I drew a boundary. And another one. So that I could hear my niece laugh, so that I could ask my sister-in-law how she was feeling, so I could laugh and giggle at conveyor belt sushi with a dear one. So that I could be present and have fun and enjoy life.

For the last 6 weeks since I began stage 3 and 4 of EMDR, I have also coupled that intense trauma work with a meditative practice. It coincided with my getting back to nature during a weekend trip with my partner, and I was able to take a lot of time away to listen to sounds I hadn’t heard in a long time: the wind in the trees, lightning bugs, crickets, rustling of leaves, waves crashing on the shore, sand being moved by the wind…so many sounds of my childhood that broke my heart open into a million pieces…so many pieces of joy and fear and contentment. I found that the more I could listen and sit in the stillness, the more I wanted it. The more I wanted to sit in that beautiful, sacred emptiness. For the most part…until ego crept in where the fear was.

These two things are related–trauma and emptiness. Trauma is held due to the tight connection with ego. Trauma is bound up in a sense of identity (this is MY STORY). In order to let go of that, you in many ways must let go of the need to have a sense of identity. This is where the meditative practice comes in-when you are able to create space to just notice your feelings and feel them right away, then our stories are those things occurring in the moment. And what is life but a series of moments?

Ego is a funny thing; often, the collision of egos halts the development of relationships even before they begin. This happens in our lives everywhere–from the relationship that ended because I didn’t want to ask for help and he was overwhelmed, to the misunderstanding in a business deal between two people I have great respect for who don’t want to meet in the middle because of their strong need to own identity AS IS, to the public displays of violence against African Americans, Muslims, police officers and homeless. Ryan Holiday, author of Ego is the Enemy, states “ego is the enemy of what you want and of what you have: Of mastering a craft. Of real creative insight. Of working well with others. Of building loyalty and support. Of longevity. Of repeating and retaining your success. It repulses advantages and opportunities. It’s a magnet for enemies and errors. It is Scylla and Charybdis.” How true this is.

I am professionally quite successful. This has not come without some serious bumps along the way, and, looking back, they were tied to ego. I was so blindly invested in my own plans and ideas that I did not consider the feelings of others around the table. Ego puts blinders on us so that we cannot consider others in the way they should be considered. I’ve found that, since doing the work of letting go of the stories I have told myself and shifting perceptions to let go of those things I couldn’t change, the type of work that fills me with significant joy is the work where I either get to highlight the work of others or considerably help others with their goals. And, to my initial surprise, the work I have contributed on has been the most successful work of my (early) career. I spent 3 years banging my head against a wall only to let go these last 6 weeks and have everything go smoothly.

Personally, however, I have struggled with allowing people to help me until I was able to process through the loss of my dear Vanessa. You see, the part of the story I leave out, and the most painful part that I processed through, was the fact that V’s dad asked me to collect memories of her from people at school for her ceremony on the reservation that released her soul. A ceremony in which I was unable to participate. I did that, I collected stories, but I had to have a conversation with myself, divorcing my grief and emotions to become task-oriented. From that point on, asking for help became something that I just couldn’t do. It was more important for me to be stoic and “have it all together” than to be emotionally supported. I even told myself stories that I was not lovable enough for people to care about me. That had to do with me not processing the anger of not having my best friend to comfort me through the death of our other friend. I needed her, and she wasn’t there. I needed comfort, and it wasn’t there. Rather than address the shadowy part of myself (anger and grief), I let my ego win. And, in stressful situations, I have done just that-I’ve become my ego.

In her research, Brene Brown has found that the ego-takeover manifests in a few specific ways:

  1. Chandeliering: “We maintain our prized stoicism in front of the people we want to impress or influence, but the second we’re around people over whom we have emotional, financial, or physical power, we explode.”
  2. Bouncing Hurt: “The ego doesn’t own stories or want to write new endings; it denies emotion and hates curiosity. Instead, the ego uses stories as armor and alibis…like all good hustlers, our egos employ crews of ruffians in case we don’t comply with their demands. Anger, blame, and avoidance are the ego’s bouncers. Often the first hustle is putting down and shaming others for their lack of ’emotional control’.” (this is my go-to manifestation of ego)
  3. Numbing Hurt: “We can take the edge off emotional pain with a whole bunch of stuff, including alcohol, drugs, food, sex, relationships, money, work, caretaking, gambling, affairs, religion, chaos, shopping, planning, perfectionism, constant change, and the Internet (or Pokemon GO, perhaps?)…But no matter what we use, we can’t selectively numb emotions–when we numb the dark, we also numb the light.”
  4. Stockpiling Hurt: “Stockpiling starts like chandeliering, with us firmly packing down the pain, but here, we just continue to amass hurt until the wisest parts of us, our bodies, decide that enough is enough…The idea that we’re ‘only as sick as our secrets’ is more than an adage; there’s growing evidence that not owning and integrating our stories affects not just our emotional health but also our physical well-being.”

Meditation is made up largely of breathwork, which engages our parasympathetic nervous system enough to disengage the ego enough to allow the body to actually feel emotion. So, while the trauma begins to let go its hold, the breathwork allows the individual to process through actual emotion on a much deeper level. In fact, religious rituals from all parts of the world have elements of this breath work and engagement with both our sacrum and our diaphragm. The best examples of this are ritualized prayer and vocal music. These both focus on breathing techniques that allow us to focus, align our values, and feel deeply.

Holiday goes on to relate that, “When we remove ego, we’re left with what is real. What replaces ego is humility, yes—but rock-hard humility and confidence. Whereas ego is artificial, this type of confidence can hold weight. Ego is stolen. Confidence is earned. Ego is self-anointed, its swagger is artifice. One is girding yourself, the other gaslighting. It’s the difference between potent and poisonous.” This is a truly beautiful statement and couldn’t be more what I have begun to feel. Ego lifts your shoulders to your ears, while confidence rolls them to align with your spine. Confidence doesn’t need to be shouted. It is felt. There’s no anxiety in it. And, if you think about it, that is what the parable (or story) of Christ, Muhammad, Krishna, and the Buddha tell us: these men had confidence that came with wholehearted emotion. These men weren’t wealthy; in fact, they regularly gave away what they ended up amassing. They often went barefoot and unguarded. They were potent just as they were. They were completely vulnerable.

Two weeks ago I attended a service at Grace Cathedral. Then, last week, I attended yoga there. And this morning, I attended service again. Since starting EMDR and processing through the abuse I experienced at the hands of the church I attended as a child, and processing through my experience with Vanessa, I have been aching for some type of spirituality or connection to a greater purpose. I have been aching to serve others. Coincidentally enough (or divinely?) I stumbled in to hear a sermon by Rev. Jude Harmon reflecting on our nation’s independence. One sentence really struck me:

“If justice is what love looks like in public, then grace is what love looks like in person.”

Grace removes ego. “The thing about grace, this unexpected generosity, is that it opens our hearts and reorients us to hope.”

Now that I revel in these quiet moments, my laughter is more real, as are my tears. Life is fuller and I am more vulnerable. I can actually give proper awareness to when the ego creeps in, and I am sensitive to it. As this is new practice, I still make mistakes. I struggle. But what I do more than I ever have before is say these two phrases:

  1. I need help
  2. Thank you

And guess what? Not only do I mean those things, but people are much more responsive than when I off-loaded my pain onto them because of ego. Be careful, be cautious. The more vulnerable we are, the less we actually have to guard ourselves. The more I disempower ego, the more I love myself…even the parts of myself that aren’t the prettiest.

Family

As you might imagine, I’ve had some trouble with family and the safety of family in my past. That trouble, that childhood where I was stuck for so many years, has both helped me and hurt me, but overall, it has shaped me into the human I have become. For that, I can begin to have compassion with myself for the sticky spots I still have, for the areas in my past where I am still processing through, with the gentle awareness that I can be whomever I want to be in this moment now.

This weekend is a bit of a magical one for me–first, yesterday was the anniversary of my mother and stepfather. Second, today is my brother’s birthday. Third, tomorrow will be the last day my sister-in-law will be pregnant (scheduled cesarean early Monday morning). I’m acknowledging that these three events are so much more important to me this year than any other time. And I’m excited to share why.

In my previous post on Father’s Day, I talked a little about my stepfather. 27 years ago yesterday, he married my mother, and he married all of us kids too. 27 years ago, I was gifted an amazing gift that only recently have I been able to fully appreciate. The gift of presence, the gift of kindness, the gift of stability, the gift of unconditional love, the gift of family. While my stepfather not only got my mom but all of us, I also got my stepfather’s inspiring and loving family to call my own. Only very recently have I been able to realize that the only one standing in between my relationship with these amazing individuals was me. I felt so much pressure by my biological father and my siblings to stay separate from my stepfather that I never fully integrated. But they have always been there to love me, to care for me, to inspire me.

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My stepfather came from a wonderful home, with a mom who chose to be a mom even though she had a master’s degree and was a concert cellist. She taught her children to achieve, but not at the expense of enjoying their lives. She taught them to have a full spectrum of emotions. She taught them love.

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When my stepfather came into the picture, this was foreign to all of us. But because I was so young, I remember that my favorite times in my childhood were around him–playing bocce on the beach, playing croquet in the front yard, attending baseball games, cheering on local sports teams, learning new card games, playing handball, running in three legged races at company picnics, and hula hooping. We watched TGIF together, and he always imitated Steve Urkel. We rapped to the Fresh Prince together, we went to tons of movies. He was the best part of my childhood… Until I was told not to love him. Until I was told to choose him or my siblings in loyalty. Looking back now, I made the mistake of not choosing him. For their 27th anniversary, I choose him back. I choose him, I choose fun, I choose unconditional love. Because it chose me all those years ago… And it’s still there.

Two things have opened up my eyes to this experience even more than just my trauma work: I met someone whose traits mirrored those of my stepdad and I found myself profoundly grateful for the man who was my father the more I fell in love with that man I was dating. It really empowered me to grapple with those narratives about why I felt I needed to choose all those years ago. It empowered me to be curious about the choices and perceptions I have had in the past. It’s hard work, but I was so curious about the patterning between these two very important people in my life that I just wanted to dive deeper and deeper into my trauma to ensure that nothing could get in the way of enjoying the fun, silly parts of life.

The second reason for my increase in gratitude is that my brother, whose birthday it is today, married my sister-in-law a couple months back. She is pregnant with their first child, and is scheduled to have a cesarean in about 24 hours from now. My brother has two daughters from previous relationships, which means that my sister-in-law chose to be a step mom. At the wedding, my brother and sister in law also chose to include my nieces in the wedding, creating a new family, full of love and respect and admiration. The most beautiful, touching moment was my sister in law’s vows she wrote to my nieces. It was the most beautiful, inspiring, loving moment I have ever encountered at a wedding, and it caused me to reach behind me and grab my stepfather’s hand… Something I have never done before. That moment taught me how much of a choice it is for someone to choose a family that already is in place… To choose to come into something broken and make something new, together.

My brother, who doesn’t have the relationship I do with my stepfather, now has an understanding of how it feels to create a new family from something broken, and we’ve forged a bond together in vulnerability and bravery. And we’re not perfect at these new feelings by any means. What it teaches me, though, is that we’re all on such different timetables with regard to the lessons we learn. What’s important is to learn them… At any point. He’s an amazing father, someone who broke the cycle of abuse my father perpetuated. Now, he’s showing again his devotion to family to choose as a partner a woman so loving, so independent, so intelligent to be the mother and stepmother to his children. I’m so proud to be his sister, to be an aunt to his children, and I can only hope that one day, I can bring children and a partner into the family he and I are starting to recreate out of the rubble of the broken family from which we came. While we don’t always agree or get along, I now know that he understands the bond I have with my parents and the love that comes from that. He also is ridiculously supportive of my love for the mother of his other daughter, from whose home I’m typing this tonight. My sister in spirit, though no longer in law, and one of my dearest friends.

Family is what we make. Family is dynamic and fluid and frustrating. But family, at the end of the day, are those individuals who love you when the chips are low, when you need a good belly laugh, who you can trust with your vulnerability, with whom you can celebrate it all. I’m so grateful to be slowly identifying those who are my blood and not who are family. Every day is less lonely, every place more like home.