The water was asking me to Flow; to become just like it so that I could Forgive.
I was fighting against it. For a long time I pushed in opposition to the water. It took a year for me to realize that I was the water.
Two years ago some things in my life were upended. Things that I had come to know and depend on were no more. I strove to understand. Picked up each grain of sand to ask, “Is this it? The reason? Tell me why?” There was so much sand to sort through.
It was similar to feeling my way through the dark in an endless midnight hour. The answers would not come. I was alone. Alone and drowning in the dark.
Have you been to this place before? If you’ve ever loved someone; I bet you have.
When we’re trying to stay afloat, we pretend that we’re swimming. Possibly, it looks like treading water but it feels like drowning. Deep panic. Dark water. No sign of the shore.
After I stopped collecting grains of sand, some of my breath returned. My heart didn’t race all the time. Instead of slapping the water, I opened my fingers and let the water glide through them.
Eventually, I saw other swimmers. They would wave and ask about the water. I thought they had just arrived to my part of the sea. But they hadn’t. They’d been there the whole time. I hadn’t noticed them. Maybe I saw glimpses of life, but it was easier to believe I was all alone.
When I finally chose to get close to these swimmers they told me that I had forgotten some very important things:
I was loved. Well loved. And I was never alone.
We are that which we seek.
Deep. Heavy. I know.
When we’re at the bottom of the sea, we feel alone. It’s too dark to even see our own hands, let alone the hand of a friend reaching out to us. This loneliness makes us afraid. It also makes us angry. We are never our best selves when we’re angry and afraid. Those states of being add to the darkness.
We have to stay there at the bottom for a while. It’s part of the process. But slowly, very slowly, we start to ascend. The light will sometimes seem like hope itself. Promising. New. Other times we will wonder if the light is playing tricks on us.
That’s when we start to catch glimpses of the swimmers. They can’t swim for us. No, the work is our own. But our friends can remind us to hold our breath, to open our palms, to trust our hearts.
Last year a friend advised me to, “Flow like water.” I loved those words. They guided me. Reminded me of the way when I felt like things were too hard.
When we’re fighting the water we tire easily. The fatigue drives into our bones. The struggle never ends.
I was seeking forgiveness, acceptance, understanding, and love. I was fighting for those things. Tiring myself out in search of them. I hadn’t realized that to receive them I had to become them.
I had to embrace forgiveness. I had to accept myself, the people who had hurt me, the hurt I had caused, the entire situation as it was. Instead of trying so hard to be understood, I offered understanding. Then love, oh love. The love had always been there. It had never left.
I was trying to get to this place by moving against the water. Pressing hard. Determined. I am not easily deterred.
To my benefit, the other swimmers reminded me of the truth. My faith whispered these essential words, “You are the water.”
I am that which I seek. I receive that which I offer.
When our practices become our beliefs we can embrace who we really are. We’re not droplets in the sea. We’re not the bad weather. We’re the water. We’re the water that wraps around islands to keep them safe. We’re the tidal wave of emotion. We’re the rough storm swirling about. We’re the calm sea lapping against the shore. We’re all of it.
If it’s part of us then we can understand it. Accept it. Offer it.
Today I offer my love and forgiveness. It’s a part of me. It’s a part of you. We can receive what we offer.
On this Easter Sunday, I want you to remember that you are the water. Yes, it’s all of you.
We want to be good at everything. We don't want to be beginners. It's too vulnerable.
On their own new things are really hard. We’re beginners trying to master the new thing. When it’s just one thing it can be overwhelming. COVID-19 is like that grinning captain that calls, “Hey everybody! How about we change everything all at once? Like right now. Good luck!”
When I was in second grade I came home crying one day. My mom was puzzled. What had happened? I wasn’t being bullied. Nope. I hadn’t fallen down and gotten hurt. I wasn’t homesick.
Through tears, I told my mom, “We learned how to tell time today. We were using the face clocks. I’m upset because I didn’t already KNOW how to tell time by myself!”
My mom cocked her head and did one of those slow blinks. “So you expected to KNOW how to do something before your teacher taught it to you?”
I don’t know why this idea was a big deal. I like to know things. Certainty wants us to be the best at everything. What do you mean I need to be new at something before I can master it?
What a concept.
Maybe some of you are chuckling because you’re built like that, too. I have a friend who opted to turn down a job, because her daughter was starting preschool. She said, “We just can’t do two new things at once. We can adjust to one new thing at a time. Both of us trying hard things at the same time wouldn’t be good.”
We can see these parts of ourselves when we think about sharing our creative work or joining a gym. Something as small as showing up to a small group or going to a party where we know just one person.
Vulnerability is grueling. It offers a mixed-message right off the bat: Come try this new thing. It could be a disaster or it could be the best thing in your life. You have to try to know, though.
The mighty shield I like to use against vulnerability is perfectionism. If I can study and prepare really well then I’ll have outsmarted most disasters. This also makes way for tension, irritability, and black-and-white thinking. We love that quality in our friends, right? Ugh! It’s not our best look, but we use perfectionism to protect ourselves from vulnerability. It doesn’t work though. Why? Because control is an illusion. COVID-19 snapped its fingers at our hyper-busy over-controlled lives and made us beginners again.
We’re uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. Uncomfortable, uncomfortable, uncomfortable, and possibly freaking out. (You’re allowed to freak out).
I’m a therapist by day and also a coach. My therapy clients usually sit across from me in my office surrounded by soft blue walls, an essential oil diffuser that offers hints of peppermint + wild orange, and look out over the Arroyo Grande Creek to watch birds flit by as they talk. It’s lovely.
Now I’m also a homeschool mom. Overnight. Today my son had his first school-connected online google meeting for his class. Do you know what it’s like to teach a bunch of house-bound 4th graders? Let’s say a little prayer of gratitude for our children’s teachers and coaches. For the love. I wanted to mute the entire thing!
But now there’s all of these new things. New things for them to access. New ways for them to connect with their teachers. I was getting stressed out. Why? Because I wanted to know all of the things…like yesterday. I wanted it to be smooth. I wanted my kids to learn and to be happy. I’m setting the bar too high, I think.
Because I’m also working from home. Which means that sometimes I do telehealth in my car to keep confidentiality. We 100% cannot change or perfect that. It is what it is.
It’s new and it’s hard. It’s a new way of living. A new way of working. A new way of learning. All new. All right now.
I figure I have a few options:
I can do nothing (freeze).
I can make this $%&#@ thing work perfectly.
I can try easy.
Do nothing or do everything (options 1 & 2):
In her audiobook, Rising Strong as a Spiritual Practice, Brené Brown talks about underfunctioners and overfunctioners. In times of crisis underfunctioners freeze and disappear. They get overwhelmed and shut down. They stop showing up to things. They allow other people to step in and take over. They just can’t deal.
Overfunctioners go into hyper drive. They take on too much and control the to-do list themselves. They have a hard time delegating, because they think if they can do it themselves then it will be done right. No one knows that they are having a hard time. It’s like they have capes on, but they’re shut off from their feelings. If they stay busy fixing the problem then they won’t have to acknowledge how the crisis is making them feel.
Neither way is good or bad. However, both options are ways to avoid vulnerability. When we under or over function we’re trying to outmaneuver pain. We don’t want to feel it so with either hide from it or attempt to fix it. In both ways, our people can’t reach us. We’re too well defended. The layers of each keep people out.
Try easy (option 3):
When I say “try easy” most people think I want them to slack off. The perfectionists look at me like I have two heads. I can feel the resistance telling me, “I can’t try easy. I have to get it right! The only way to get through this is to try my very best which means I have to try hard!” Well, I know you well enough by now to know that you aren’t a slacker. You won’t give up. You won’t give 50% effort ever. For anything. I know that.
Don’t change your work ethic, just change your attitude.
We can take anything and adopt a “try easy” attitude. Let’s start simple: a new dance move, throwing a baseball, putting together a building kit. If we “try hard” we have tension and forced effort. We’re super focused and want a clear result. However, if we “try easy” we’re more likely to have fun. We’re looser. Curious. Easy. We’re focused on the moment rather than getting it right. Same activity; different attitude.
Right now you are living through vulnerability. Everything is new and it has been a major adjustment. We’ve tried so hard to get it right.
Maybe it’s time to try easy.
Let’s do what we can. Try to help with the learning. Try to do good work. Try to cope with the new and sudden lifestyle change. We’ll do it all, but we’ll try easy.
You are important. Your people are important.
Trying easy will create calm energy. It might even be fun. But for sure, it will be forgiving. That’s what we want in our families, right? Calm energy, plus fun, with generous doses of forgiveness.
How about you give that to yourself, too. Don’t try so hard. Try easy.
With Love and Backbone,
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You're Okay. Things Aren't Okay, But You're Okay.
*This blog post was originally created as a sort of love blast to my email list. These are hard times for all of us though. I felt compelled to share it here on the blog as well. We need more light everywhere. May these words spark the light within you.
I’m here today, because I want to remind you of who you are. Normally, I drop in every month, but these are some overwhelming times. To me, it seems like we’re getting new information every few hours. Plans are changing. We’re being called to pay attention. We’re being asked to look out and look within all at once.
You are here. Right now. Reading this. I’m here with you. Take a slow breath.
A few days ago, I could feel this mounting tension. Questions swirled in my brain. I was trying to understand. Trying to plan ahead.
On Friday we found out that schools would be closed. I’ve been figuring out what this means for my therapy practice and childcare. I’d been working really hard to force it all into place.
Maybe you have been feeling that way, too? Here’s a thought that helped me:
“This situation isn’t happening to me. These are just facts. I can choose my perspective.”
So this is what I’ve done:
1. I am creating a peaceful environment in my own home.
Even though the outside world is uncertain right now, I want my home to be a sanctuary. I want my family to feel safe, and loved, and cared for. I want them to learn how to handle hard things with softness.
I’m doing this by diffusing essential oils. Playing relaxing music. Making time to snuggle and watch movies.
Living in close quarters we’re prioritizing, “Excuse me. Good job. I love you.” We’re talking about having grace and patience and kindness for the next few weeks.
2. I’m prioritizing self-care.
This weekend my home was filled with the scent of homemade bone broth, chicken noodle soup, and citrus smoothies. I want to feel healthy during this time of fear. In crisis our numbing behaviors come knocking (overuse of social media, consuming excessive sugar, drinking too much, etc.). Numbing behaviors make us feel defeated and depleted. I choose to feel empowered so I’m taking in positivity instead.
I want my nervous system to calm down. Stress levels are so high in all of us. We can think more clearly when we’re calm. For me that means rolling out my yoga mat and tuning in. After my practice today, I felt like, “Oh hey, there you are, Love. Let’s spread this goodness around.”
If yoga is your thing or you’d like to start, here’s my advice: try easy.
3. I’m choosing where I place my energy and how I respond.
This might be the hardest thing so far. I have adopted the idea that this situation is not happening to me. This situation is happening and I can choose how I handle it. This means that I’m not diving deep into social media and letting fear take over. Nope. I’m being mindful about what I read and how long I spend on the topic. Sometimes too much information is too much.
I’m focusing my energy on being present. I’m putting lots of love into my family. I’m using this time to slow down. Time is our greatest gift. I want to use it well.
When my kids look back at this time, I want them to remember how safe and connected they felt. I don’t want their stomachs to drop every time someone mentions COVID-19 in the future. As the mama, I’m my family’s thermostat.I stay grounded so that they feel grounded. In order to do this I have to be mindful of my energy. I have to be careful to respond and not react. I have to be slow and soft.
This situation is really hard. We’re not sure when things will be okay again. But I believe and know that YOU WILL BE OKAY. You were made to handle hard things. You were built to lead. Be what you need right now so that you can be what your family needs.
Add some love into your space.
Plan your self-care for the day.
Decide where and how you’ll spend your time.
Try easy with every step.
Lastly, I got such great feedback about the graphic I created for social media that reads, “You are safe. You are loved. You are cared for.” Earlier this year I printed off this message to hang in my kids’ rooms so that they are forever reminded of this truth. I want to remind you of this same truth today.
Slow it down. Do the things that are within your control. Seek helpful information. Use this time to set things in place so that you feel safe. Create a caring atmosphere in your home and trust that you will be cared for as well. Take time to love yourself so that you can share this love with your people.
Together we will lead with love. I’m taking care of myself so that I can support you. It’s time for you to take care of yourself so that you can offer your care to others.
Last summer my mom and I were walking along Lake Siskiyou in Mount Shasta, CA. We were working our ideas through; solving our little corner of the world one conversation at a time.
We were talking about women and the choices we make when things get hard. When we don’t know what to do. When our fear gets the better of us.
Sometimes we say hurtful things. We ignore people we love. We hide until we hope it’s all over.
My mom said, “You seem to think that people who do hurtful things are still nice girls. They’re not. I think they’re mean.”
My response? “We’re all mean. We all have the capacity to be mean. They are nice girls. Truly. Maybe they got scared or insecure or confused and they used their mean.”
As people who are always trying our best we don’t want to admit our flaws. Sometimes it’s easier to blame someone else. To shift the focus from our behavior to theirs.
Sometimes people do crappy things. I get it. I’m not excusing bad behavior. I do, however, think we could miss a valuable lesson if we don’t ask, “What role did I play in this?”
It’s like rewinding a game and re-watching it play-by-play. Watch, pause, reflect, play, stop, ask. Keep combing through the material until you find a missed step. A conversation gone wrong. A slight. Something you overlooked. A series of events that led to the meanness.
Very rarely is someone just plain mean for no good reason. Maybe it’s a bit Pollyanna of me, but I think people are mostly good. Believing that people are trying their best has allowed me to cultivate meaningful relationships. It has given me hope when I hear about darkness. So in my world it’s rare that people would be mean at their core.
We all have the capacity to act mean. We can have a mean thought. Say mean words. Use mean behavior. We’re not mean, but we can do mean things.
But why? Well…we get out of alignment when shame is all up in our faces.
Here’s what happens:
Someone sets a boundary and we feel like we’re wrong
Someone doesn’t choose us and we feel left out
Someone is doing something really well and we feel like we’ll never measure up
That’s shame’s game. Shame will get under your skin and tell you that you’re not good enough. It will pulse through your body and make you believe that you don’t belong.
Shame never wants us to be our best. It invites us to be our worst selves. Shame will flare our jealousy, our pain, our doubts. Shame pokes at our insecurities until they take over. Fear will spike. Everything will get too loud.
We’ll want to put the problem way over there away from us. So sometimes…we’re mean.
Here’s shame at work:
If you hurt me, then I hurt you back
If you take space from me, then I ignore you
If you succeed, then I throw shade
Yep, it’s ugly. But we’ve all done it.
When we live in a space where compassion, and questions, and love don’t come first then we make way for shame to dominate. How do we make sure it comes first? We DO THE WORK.
I probably say the phrase, “Do the work” at least once a week. I mean it. I live by it.
What does “do the work” mean? It means you ask questions. You look at your own behavior. Maybe you go to therapy. Get coaching. Reach out to people that know you well. Ask yourself, “What did I miss? What can I learn from this? How can this help me grow?”
Mean is not our default, but it’s a cheap and easy option. Are we cheap and easy? Um…NO. Absolutely not. So we do the work.
Doing the work is hard. The answers might not be easy to accept.
A long while ago, I took a problem I was having in another friendship to one of my dear friends. After a decade and a half of friendship this friend has earned the right to tell me straight. No fluff. She told me what I had missed. She pointed out what I could avoid repeating in the future. She helped connect the mean dots. To be clear, I didn’t necessarily enjoy hearing the truth. However, I want to grow and that’s the price.
Ask hard questions. Get solid answers. Grow.
The alternative is far harder to live through. When we go the cheap and easy route we become stagnant, or worse, we devolve. In relationships this means that we’ll assume the worst about others. We’ll blame them. We’ll ignore them. We’ll say hurtful things. When people do well we’ll let our insecurities control our perspective. We’ll feel jealous. We’ll roll our eyes. We’ll make fun of them. We’ll be mean.
Mean is lonely. It feels terrible. It lies.
If you believe the mean things are true it’s like inviting an ill-tempered dragon to live with you. You’ll burn through your relationships, your dreams, your self-esteem. Mean will invade your thoughts and change the way you see the world. Mean will eat your compassion away piece by piece.
Don’t be mean. Instead, do the work.
When you are triggered by someone, take a moment to look within. Figure out what bothered you. Identify the story you are making up. Ask yourself what role you played. Be clear about your response.
This is a practice of softening. When a mean thought pops up we learn to hold it with curiosity. We ask better questions. We try out compassion. We learn. We grow.
You are in the in-between if something is no longer, but the next thing has not yet become.
The in-between is a dark place. Sometimes we get there by our own choices. Other times it is handed to us. We are used to something being one way and then it changes. When this change is close to our heart it’s like losing something essential. Something that defined who we were. Something that marks the coming of a new season.
In a recent effort to simplify my life, I’ve started to sift through my belongings. I’ve read old journals and gazed at photos from the past. In some ways it felt like peeking into a past life. Images of people that are no longer in my world. Circles that I no longer circle. Much of the time it’s like a glowing ember of warmth. I can remember the concerts, the dinners, the resting on couches to discuss life’s most important topics. Then as I turn the page or scroll up on my phone I’m back to right now. The in-between.
I’d like to think that when we choose our changes they hurt less. They don’t. We are creatures of habit and we like the reliability of a stable routine. Until those routines don’t work for us anymore.
When we say no; no more; this must go – we mean it. But we can’t escape the severe stab of loss. It’s dizzying and lonely.
I call this time the midnight hour. For weeks and even months it feels like midnight. The darkness makes things blurry. We doubt our eyes and think ill-intention is everywhere. We rehearse. Ask questions. Beg the next step to reveal itself. The midnight hour does not pass quickly. It triples and quadruples in length. It doesn’t care that our feelings are hurt. The midnight hour invites us into the void.
We don’t always choose this path. Sometimes it is handed to us through diagnoses, deaths, and paths unseen. Life is moving on just fine and bam! We have a weird medical symptom, a loss, and new thing that takes over our every thought. It alters how we show up. It rewires what we know to be true and breaks it down piece by piece. It’s disorienting and painful.
The midnight hour is like a well of doubt. Anxiety deepens the space. Hurt makes it darker.
I am not a stranger to the midnight hour. When we are committed to growing we will have these seasons. Even when we know the midnight hour well, the vastness of it never ceases to pull us under.
If you are stuck between what was and what is yet to be, here’s a way through:
1. Go inward. Take this time to know yourself better. When the world seems like it’s swirling past you find a way to slow yourself down. If we’re not careful we’ll hook onto a story that fuels our fears. We’ll start to believe that midnight will last forever. This isn’t true. Take the time to ask good questions. Honor your feelings. Look at your problem with a softer focus. Wonder about how this issue can help you. Instead of being mad at it, ask, “What are you here to teach me?”
2. Go outward. You cannot do this alone. I repeat: you cannot do this alone. You need to go to your people. Ask them to listen to your story. At first you just need someone to hear your story over and over. When the sting begins to lessen you can ask for feedback. You can discuss, “What does this mean? What is my role? How can I hold this gently?” You get to share this story with people that you trust. This connection will be a reminder that dawn will come again.
3. Seek the Wayfinders. During the midnight hour we will do almost anything to receive the map. The get-me-out-of-here-now plan. The answers are everywhere. You will find your way through a random conversation, in a wise Instagram post, a line in a novel. You will get closer to the light through prayer and meditation. You will see things more clearly with the aid of therapists, healers, mentors, and dear friends. Your wayfinders are everywhere. Be open to them. Everything is designed to help you.
This process of simplifying my life has been good in many ways. I’m a bit of a “keeper”. I like to store items that remind me of a previous time. After a while though they stack up and become just another pile of papers that were once important to me. In my decluttering process I found old pay stubs, movie tickets, trinkets, and notes (from decades ago, people!). In this pile of memories, I saw old problems. Jobs that weren’t a good fit. People that were once central to me and eventually moved out of orbit.
In this pile of things from the past I remembered my old midnight hours. I wasn’t sure if I’d make it through some of those midnights. The dark seemed so dark. I remember praying for answers. Wishing for crystal balls. Wanting the map to present itself. When I re-read old notes and looked at photos I was reminded of the intense ache. The anxiety. The distress of not knowing when the long-awaited daylight hours would return.
But I’m here now. So midnight didn’t, in fact, last forever.
I ask you now: what was your midnight hour three midnights ago? When I asked myself this question it felt like my brain had to stretch itself to reconnect to old problems. Problems that I thought would overtake me. Would pull me under. Would undo me and make my life unrecognizable. But now? Now I have to work to remember them.
The midnight hour is a tricky place. It bends shapes and messes with our sense of time. Hours and minutes get mixed up. Darkness has a way of making us forget what lives at its edges. There will be a night that feels like the hour got stuck at 12:00 a.m., but more is yet to be revealed. At the edge of this hour is dawn. Lines will sharpen as the sunlight slips through our shades to brighten the room. Like a slow yawn, we will be released from the grip of night to begin again. A new way always shows itself. It just takes longer than we’d like.
To your midnight or future midnights & to new beginnings.
With Love and Backbone,
P.S. Check out this Chai Talk Podcast, Don’t Bypass Your Anger, to learn more about healing and moving through hard emotions.
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Forgiveness Is Too Hard When You're Drowning In Grief
On the day of Forgiveness I’m not feeling very forgiving.
It’s been a long season. Last year I was pulled down into the muck. I’m still finding mud footprints all over my mind.
You see, loss is a tricky thing. One day you’re riding the wave and feeling all Zen-like and the next moment you’re seething with anger or crying or rehearsing conversations.
In her book, Rising Strong, Dr. Brené Brown describes how her research participants recounted losses that were difficult to identify or describe because they weren’t necessarily deaths or separations. She writes, “These included the loss of normality, the loss of what could be, the loss of what we thought we knew or understood about something or someone.”
This long season has included losses. Today (of all days) is Easter. The revered forgiveness holiday of the year. It’s the day when the betrayers, backstabbers, haters, and false friends are set free. So maybe I’m still stuck on the darker part of the story, yeah? I’m decidedly in the midnight of my loss today.
The day started out bursting with love. We enjoyed candy-filled Easter baskets, homemade lemon pound cake donuts, and morning snuggles. We danced in the kitchen and sang hip-hop songs. All of the love was bubbling up to the top. Good energy filled our home and our hearts.
Then we got in the car and my body had time to settle. You know those moments of stillness where your mind tells you exactly what’s going on with your heart? Yep, that’s what happened. I began driving and finally had time to feel what was going on. I started rehearsing conversations. It went something like, “Well, if she says this then I can list my ten thousand (correct/right/absolute) reasons for doing what I did. And then if she says that then I can remind her of this. Yadda, yadda, yadda.” I noticed the story, because my heart was racing and my jaw was clenched tight.
Rehearsing future conversations that will likely never happen is not helpful. Stressing myself out over imaginary conversations is not wise.
I reminded myself to stop the story. I breathed in through my nose and out my mouth. I sent the story and person away with love and peace.
But I’m still mad.
To tell you the truth, I’m brokenhearted. I’m deep in the loss of something that I thought I knew and understood. I’ve been deeply misunderstood. Stories have been made up about me. I have no control over any of it. I’m upset that I can’t direct the narrative. I’m shaken by having loved someone that doesn’t know me or chooses not to see me. It’s a loss of the oddest sort. Perhaps I’m even grieving something that was never there? I don’t know. My heart is telling me that it’s tired, and overworked, and sad.
So this is where I’m at today. I’m in heartache. The deep, dark, pulsing heart of grief. I’m stuck in the whirlpool of frustration, anger, sadness, forgiveness, and love. I’ve touched on all of those emotions today and they just keep cycling through.
I’m not sure that forgiveness is an actual state that we reach. For me, it’s been more of a process. I keep lovingly releasing the person until my relationship with them or the story changes. Time is always a magical factor in letting things go. At some point new routines and relationships become strengthened and the loss becomes less piercing. Distance from the experience also changes my relationship with the story. I begin to see the lessons, the wisdom, and all of the love that lived within the story.
In Rising Strong, Brené Brown writes, “Forgiveness is so difficult because it involves death and grief…The death or ending that forgiveness necessitates comes in many shapes and forms. We may need to bury our expectations or dreams. We may need to relinquish the power that comes with “being right” or put to rest the idea that we can do what’s in our hearts and still retain the support or approval of others.”
Last year, I made a clear decision. I trusted myself and acted from a place of self-care. I have scrutinized this decision and my communication around it. I’ve had to look closely because it caused a tsunami of loss. Loss with such gravity that I felt pulled under the ocean waves. Disoriented. Lost. Pure darkness.
Now I find myself gripping and bracing for impact. I can almost predict when another wave will hit and I’m trying to be ready for it. Ready for the flood of anxiety. Waiting for the pain. Predicting the anger that will surge up.
Grief is a lonely place. Even though I know that I have a team of swimmers by my side, the loss still pinches me at unexpected times. I might be totally in my joy and a brief moment too close to the loss will pull me down.
I want to be on top of the water. I want to be riding the wave. If it were sunny with clear blue skies for a while that would be awesome, too.
Right now I want to be driving my car to see my favorite person with my kids giggling and talking in the back seat. I want to be all peace and love on this glorious day. But I’m not. One foot is still in the murky water.
I’m imagining myself facing the ocean as a torrent of waves prepare to knock me down. I’m resisting getting hurt. I’m pushing against any potential for softness or love to get through. I’m armoring up to avoid feeling vulnerable. I’m trying to be tough, because inside I feel so broken. One giant wave could crack me open.
I think I could do this differently.
I could be softer.
More understanding of myself.
Instead of resisting this grief I could be open to it. Instead of rushing through it or diving over it, I could wade slowly. I could let the water lap against my thighs. I could float along with the waves. I could be present to what grief is teaching me.
I could let myself be angry. Sad. Upset. Lost. Loved.
I could move with my grief instead of charging against it.
I could be like the water instead of fighting it.
Recently, my cousin passed along some wisdom to me. She said, “Flow like water, Baby.” Yep, I think that’s the key to my healing. Maybe it will be a part of yours, too.
We’re all after the resurrection. We want a peek at what our lives will be like once time has washed away our wounds. But we can’t skip the hard part. The darkness is speaking to us about love and loss and growth. It’s showing us why forgiveness has so much value. It’s not because it’s easy to come by, it’s because it’s incredibly challenging to get to. Getting to forgiveness will cost us our peace, our righteousness, our precious time. But when we get through the darkest part of it (and I know I will), we will be reminded of all of the light that exists in the world. We will deepen our capacity to love. We will become stronger and softer in all of the best ways.
If you’re in the well of loss right now, here are some gentle reminders:
You don’t have to be right. It takes so much effort to prove yourself.
You don’t have to get better quickly. The heart takes it’s time.
You don’t need to forget the good stuff. Love is at the center of it all.
And lastly, “Flow like water, Baby.”
With Love & Backbone,
P.S. Check out the Chai Talk Podcast, “Let it Go” for more support on healing from loss. P.P.S. Sign-up here to get the podcast, blogs, and free videos delivered directly to your inbox.
I can remember having a conversation with my cousin about what other people think of us and how it impacts our relationships. He was in a period of transition and had just gotten an edgy haircut. I can remember him lamenting about how people may judge him based on his hair. Quickly, I quipped, “We can’t control people’s perception of us.”
Perception is out of our scope of control. We can do and say all of the right things, but other people’s opinions about us are completely their own. They have their own ideas and stories made up already about who we are, how we behave, and what our intentions are.
Instead of trusting ourselves and living our lives, we tend to hustle for approval from outsiders. We want to seem a certain way rather than be who we are. We’ll say “yes” when we don’t want to and we’ll play the part just so that people like us. We begin settling for likes instead of actually liking the people that we were made to be. If we’re not careful this outer striving for perception will begin to drive a wedge between how we show up and who we truly are.
We all know people that really value what other people think. I’m not talking about taking in feedback from close family and friends, I’m talking about the anonymous-over-there-I-don’t-even-really-know-you-that-well opinion. The push to mold ourselves for the sake of fitting-in or being well-liked by people that haven’t even earned the right to know our story.
Maybe you’re like that. It’s okay if that description fits you. Our DNA wants us to join groups of people for our basic survival. We want to form connections and live in harmony with other people. Just like in junior high we really don’t want to be that girl that just doesn’t fit in. I get it. The idea of not belonging is terrifying. If you’ve ever been on the outside of a group, you know that’s a sad place to be.
So we learn quickly to bend over backwards, walk the line, and do what we’re supposed to do. For the most part this type of thinking works so we get fooled into playing the game. For the end result of acceptance, we’ll go along with just about anything. To do something else would mean that we could risk losing our groups, maybe even our family, and we’d certainly increase the probability that people would have a negative perception of us.
The price of fitting-in seems worth it until we get to the point that we’ve lost touch with who we truly are inside. We have trouble waking up in the morning, we’re constantly irritated, and we feel stuck. Even after combing through our lives we can’t figure out why we feel so off balance. We spin out asking ourselves, “Is it my diet? Maybe I need to work out more? Should I take on more things?” NO. You’ve been hustling for other people’s perception of you. That’s why you’re so stinking tired. There’s nothing wrong with you.
Recently, I had a wise friend tell me, “Perception is everything.” She was trying to help me. I had been spinning my wheels in hopes that I could change certain people’s perception of me. I was explaining myself. I was highlighting evidence and offering reasons for my decisions. I was desperately railing against being misunderstood. This friend gently reminded me that I needed to “let go” of what other people thought. There will never be a victory in the hustle to make people see us differently. Their perception is informing every thought that passes through their mind. As soon as the behavior is witnessed we are categorized, labelled, and filed away.
The truth is that perception is king.
Hhhhmmmm…this may be so, but I have a feeling that there is more to this system. If perception is king then intuition is queen.
How does intuition play into this? Perception is run by the eyes and the brain. We have an experience and our brain tries to make sense of it as quickly as possible. Intuition, however, has more to do with the belly and the heart. Intuition often alerts the body and informs us of some truth even before the mind has time to catch up.
Have you ever been around someone that seemed a certain way, but something felt off? Like the woman who seems to have it all together, but when you’re with her you feel like something isn’t right? Perhaps it seems like something is missing or there’s a mismatch between her appearance and her energy? Yes, of course we can all think of someone who feels off balance even though the perception is the opposite.
Whereas perception judges on external appearance, intuition grounds its knowing on feeling. As humans we are so good at judging. We do it a thousand times a day and we’re often unaware that we’re even doing it. Intuition, though also automatic, gets much less weight than it should because we don’t trust our feelings as much as we trust our thoughts. Intuition is often thought of as a willy-nilly-all-feely process and we’re more likely to doubt it because it originates from a feeling. Perception seems like the sure bet because it’s sort of based on facts like how someone looks or what our previous experiences tell us.
To value our intuition, we need to learn to trust ourselves. In a world that likes to give us an opinion about what we should wear, how much money we should make, and who we should be with we often can’t even hear the inner voice that’s whispering to us. This quiet voice typically can’t compete with the world’s expectations of how our lives should look. We’re so busy hustling that our intuition gets pushed to the back corner of our minds.
But…what if we did things differently? What if we learned to trust ourselves instead of living our lives to please others? What would happen?
Trusting our own feelings when they’re unpopular is hard. Honoring our intuition when the rest of the world is telling us otherwise is excruciating. But when we consider the cost of shrinking ourselves to make other people happy, we realize that it’s not a good buy.
Sometimes our intuition will tell us to let go. Sometimes it will invite us to pay attention. Other times it will lead us to a whole new beginning. Intuition is like an outstretched hand inviting us into the unknown. The equation is: if I trust myself, I will find freedom.
When you invite both the king and queen into your decisions, the more likely you will be to make clear choices. Both systems run automatically, but now you can filter through them and weigh their truths. By trusting ourselves we are better able to determine how to make sense of the experiences we have. Instead of asking ourselves, “What will other people think?” We will begin to ask, “What feels true to me in this moment?” Having trust in ourselves will allow for us to feel grounded instead of flailing about in our hopes to fit-in. This foundation of trust will empower us to belong to the most important person in our lives: ourselves.
Trust yourself. Be free.
With Love & Backbone,
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Let’s jump into a normal day in our lives. We’re doing one thing while thinking about another thing and scrolling through our social media accounts at the same time. Our attention is constantly being pulled in different directions. We’re sort of being dragged through our days in a way that makes everything seem like it needs urgent attention. Look at me right now, Mom! Answer that text immediately! Keep mulling over that weird conversation that you had yesterday. Do all the things NOW!
Yikes! I’m stressed out just by typing all of that out. If you’re feeling overwhelmed regularly stay with me here. We need to look at why we’re so stressed out.
Our culture has become quite immediate. Is your boss looking for you? She can get to you through a simple text and you can respond within minutes. Is your partner wanting to know where you’re at? They just locate you on Find My Friends and boom you’re close enough to the grocery store to grab a dinner ingredient. Is your friend upset? Well you better contact her like yesterday to sort it out. People need you to get with the program, Girl! So get on it or maybe don’t.
Busy has literally reprogrammed our brains. How many of you get a little jolt when your phone buzzes? I do. It’s like I have to see who messaged me…it could be important. What if it’s the kids’ school? Maybe it’s an important reminder. Maybe it’s just noise. I don’t know. What I do know is that my anxiety peaks until I set my eyes on my phone.
An article in the Washington Post by Brigid Schulte reads, “Somewhere around the end of the 20th century, busyness became not just a way of life but a badge of honor. And life, sociologists say, became an exhausting everydayathon. People now tell pollsters that they’re too busy to register to vote, too busy to date, to make friends outside the office, to take a vacation, to sleep, to have sex.” Oh geez, we’ve lost our joy.
We are social creatures so we’re often watching what everyone else is doing. When everyone else is running from thing to thing and scanning their phones during their downtime it seems normal. We’re now confusing relaxing and self-care with numbing out. When we reach for something outside of us to quiet our inner life then we’re numbing. We do this by overworking, drinking, online shopping, and checking-out through social media.
You might be thinking, “What’s the difference between numbing and self-care? I look forward to sipping my glass of wine while I check up on my Instagram friends.” Okay, maybe you do look forward to it. I wonder what your intention is around your routine? Are you looking to connect? Are you able to stay present with your own feelings and the events of your day? If that’s the case then maybe it could be a version of self-care. But I wonder if your thought is, “Today has been so hard! I can’t wait to pour that glass of wine and zone out. It’s my me-time.” If that’s the case then it’s probably numbing.
Self-care is the process of going inward to nurture yourself. It’s consciously slowing down to soothe our systems and acknowledge what’s happening in our lives. When I enter the world of “too busy” my self-care seems incredibly hard. Meditate for 10 minutes? Sure! (Then I open my eyes every minute to see if I’m done yet). Sit outside in silence? Great. (Followed by needing to look at my phone to check that thing or searching for a book or starting the laundry). Can you relate? Doing is the default. Being is both the sweet spot and the challenge.
Though my body sometimes resists slowing down, I always receive the greatest benefits when I fold into the practice. I can’t tell you how many times an amazing idea has come to me after a yoga class. I tend to write blog posts and record podcasts on days that I have no structured schedule to follow. Freedom in my day often leads to increased creativity and openness.
Not to mention that I’m softer and kinder when I slow down. Let’s face it, being busy is not our best look. Frazzled entries and departures, distracted conversations, and half-in relationships are not creating our best lives. Not even close.
So maybe you’re wondering how to get un-busy? Maybe you’ve slowed down and you don’t like the feelings that live there. Yes, it’s hard. But you don’t have to do it perfectly, Love. You can set your own pace in this process of slowing down.
Here are some ideas for you to try:
Put your phone to bed. Yes, seriously. Give it a bedtime. 9 p.m. lights out. We need time to let our brains prepare for beauty sleep.
Plan for 10 minutes of nothing. Hmmmhmmm. Nothing. Just you sitting and breathing. Notice what your eyes see. Listen with your ears. Do nothing but breathe. How do you feel?
When you’re driving see what it’s like to turn off the music/podcast and simply drive. Pay attention to where your mind goes and what starts to bubble up for you. Stay with it.
After dinner go outside and look around. What color is the sky? What is around you? Enjoy it.
Now I want to come to my final point: our relationships. How does busy affect our people? The other night I was trying to create a post for Nice Girl Uprising on Instagram. I wanted to get the words just right. It was sucking all of my attention. My daughter came along and she was all smiles. She wanted to sing songs to me that she had learned in school. I was totally listening while just doing ONE MORE THING on my phone. Ugh! I feel sad just writing that out, but it’s true. One of my very favorite people was trying to connect with me and I was distracted. I was too busy.
We can say it was just that one time, but the truth is that it happens more than we’d like to admit. We’re busy and we’re distracted. Connecting with other people is nearly impossible when we can’t be fully present. I sometimes wonder why we’re living our lives for the people way out there that we can’t see on social media and texts and phone calls. How did those people and activities win out over the very people in our own homes?
Life is already too short, Girls. A life well-lived is defined by memories with our favorite people. We remember the moments that require our attention and energy. If we’re only halfway-in all of the time then that is the legacy that we will leave. If I know you well enough at this point, I know that you want to be fully IN. We are women that want to be engaged with our people and to be mindful of our experiences. The good. The hard. The sweet moments. We want it all. Fully present, paying attention, and wholehearted. Set your phone down and move inward. Connect with your people. Pay attention. We’ve got this.
How Old Wounds Can Influence and Damage Our Friendships
If you’re breathing then you have a whole lot of stories bumping around inside of you. When hard things happen some of us deal with them by shoving them down and ignoring them until we think they’ve gone away. Other times we work through them by talking about what happened, thinking each step through, and developing some sort of understanding about the whole thing. In either case we think we’re done. Like, “Nothing to see here, Folks! I’m perfectly okay.” Then a new person scratches at the old wound and you realize you’re not. You are SO not okay.
The earliest memories that you have are filled with stories. These stories influence how you think about the world and how you think the world feels about you. To be completely general, if you grew up in a safe, loving, supportive home you’re more apt to think that the world seeks to guide you. If, however, the opposite is true then you’re likely to think that you’ll survive a cruel world by being suspicious, guarded, and mistrustful. These early formed beliefs will become our filter for how we experience other people. The people that we’ve chosen will have their own preformed stories and we’ll keep bumping up against them until we learn how to untie the words with our own hands.
Story is very important for us. We are hardwired to survive by making up stories about people and situations. In Rising Strong, Brené Brown writes, “We make up hidden stories that tell us who is against us and who is with us. Whom we can trust and who is not to be trusted. Conspiracy thinking is all about fear-based self-protection and our intolerance for uncertainty. When we depend on self-protecting narratives often enough, they become our default stories. And we must not forget that storytelling is a powerful integration tool. We start weaving these hidden, false stories into our lives and they eventually distort who we are and how we relate to others.” Well, if that’s not enough to freak you out then I don’t know what will!
So let’s get to the juicy part. We’ve all experienced conflict with our friends. To be in a relationship is a set up for potential rumbles and disagreements. We’re all built differently (and have our own stories) so a flare up is bound to occur at some point. I’ve had conflict with girlfriends that was upsetting, but not earth shattering. I’ve also had conflict with girlfriends that resulted in the relationship ending. Each time I have chosen to end a friendship it was because the situation poked at an old wound. A wound that I thought I had cared for, bandaged up, and healed. My friend would repeat a triggering behavior and I would screech in horror at the wound being ripped open again. Oh gawd, someone call a doctor because it’s about to go down.
Part of the healing process is being our own detective. Holding the wound with both of our hands and asking, “What happened here? How are you feeling? Is this situation bumping up against an old memory?” To look at what happened, we need to write out the facts. Remember, these are just facts (not well she must have thought…so I figured…and she probably feels like – nope, just facts).
What are the facts?
5:55 p.m.: I was sitting at the restaurant waiting for my friend. 6:05 p.m.: Friend has not arrived at the restaurant. 6:07 p.m.: I check my phone to review the texts and to make sure that I have the correct date and place. 6:08 p.m.: I confirm I’m at the right place at the right time. 6:10 p.m.: I text my friend and ask if everything is alright. 6:16 p.m.: Friend calls and says that she can’t make it. She states that she’s sorry. She says that she had a fight with her husband and one of her kids has a cold. 6:20 p.m.: I leave the restaurant.
Next, we need to examine how we’re feeling without censoring ourselves.
Next, is this experience bumping up against an old story?
Uh totally…like that time in college when everyone cancelled one-by-one for my birthday celebration. My brother and my best friend took me out to dinner at the designated birthday restaurant to find one of the invitees already there with her friends and boyfriend (for her own personal get-together) and her telling me that she was sure that my birthday celebration had been scheduled for the following day! Whoops! (Sadly, this is a true story and I had to convince my bestie not to tell her off!).
Okay, so that birthday experience got to me way more than I let on. I felt humiliated and abandoned on a day that I had been really looking forward to. It dug into my body in a way that only a wound can. I knew that I had amazing people in my life. Cognitively, I knew that my life mattered and that I was worthy of attention. But my heart learned to avoid birthday celebrations and planning events that focused on me. I absolutely didn’t want to ever experience that memory again so I avoided it. However, some friends have a way of reminding you of previous heartbreak. Sometimes it’s in how they speak to you. Sometimes they trigger you with their actions. All at once it’s there. Suddenly you are feeling: unimportant, annoyed, angry, disappointed, mad, betrayed, small, abandoned, discarded AGAIN. The old story has made its way into your new relationship.
“Oh for the Love! I graduated college with that girl four years ago (plus or minus ten years)! It’s such an old and done story, right?” Well, apparently not. Look at your last major conflict with a girlfriend. What were the facts? How did you feel? What did it remind you of? If you spend enough time on it you’ll be able to recall a person or situation that influenced the belief that lives inside the wound. If we go back to the original scenario about the friend standing you up at the restaurant we all know that it was a crappy thing for her to do, but what we believe about the situation will influence what happens next.
Imagine that you’re collecting all of your memories in this one moment: your relationship with your mama, each girlfriend you’ve had from preschool on, all of the heartache that’s ever happened to you. Your brain is doing all of this work in less than the time it can take you to say the word, “story”. Just like that your brain gets a dopamine hit for figuring out the mess and how your friend really feels about you and actually (not actually) what happened that day. In a flash you choose to lash out, to shut-down, to talk about her to the rest of your people, to ignore her at future get-togethers, or some other unhelpful tactic to create disconnection between you and her.
We’re just trying to survive, Girls, really. We don’t mean to be hurtful or calculating. We truly don’t. We’re just trying to protect ourselves. That’s why we have to do the hard work of heartwork. We need to be brave enough to peer under the bandages and ask, “Hey, Love, what happened here? Let’s take a closer look and try to understand. Let’s heal this wound again.” This way is much harder. I won’t create an illusion that it’s all peace, love, and butterflies. Looking back at difficult memories is hard. Allowing the old feelings to surface and connect with the new feelings is even harder. It’s challenging, but I encourage you to do the work.
When we choose to avoid this part of the healing we’ll often re-wound someone else. We will repeat the old story and reinforce it. New situations that closely resemble it will be categorized and locked down. No questions asked. The old story wins and we lose the opportunity to really look at our own hearts.
If you’re brave enough to hold your wound up and ask the 3 questions, you’ll know yourself more deeply. You’ll be closer to understanding the layers of your heart and the type of people that it needs to feel safe. Maybe at the end of it you’ll choose to let go of that friend who stood you up at the restaurant. Maybe you’ll choose to talk it out and set new boundaries. The gift of heartwork is that you’ll be responding from a place of clarity, not bouncing off of the hurt from an old memory. We’re made for this. We will heal ourselves first and then share that healing with the people that mean the most to us. Wholeheartedly.
With Love & Backbone,
Did you catch my blog post about breaking up with a friend? Read it here.
Breaking Up Showed Me The Importance Of Speaking Up
I was thirty-one years old and standing in my kitchen when I got the zingy text from a close friend. Just the day before I had spoken with her for over an hour (which was really like four hours in mom-with-little-babies time). We had discussed work stuff and life stuff, but there were still words to be said. I told her that I would call the next day. But the thing is, I didn’t.
Every hour had been filled up and I didn’t have the time or the energy to be fully present for another adult phone call. Though I thought my friend and I were on the same page, I soon found out that we weren’t. She was upset with me. Furious.
When I read the zingy text I felt it in my gut. The experience was hollering a big “NO!” to me. We had been friends for several years. We had shared life events and cheered each other on through moves, jobs, and marriages. We were going to be those friends who stayed connected through every season.
That’s why I was shocked when things deteriorated so quickly. It was like watching a war between the Starks and the Lannisters. It was bad. Reading her texts and emails literally made me shaky. I kept asking myself, “What is happening?” I invited a close girlfriend over to help me check my crazy meter. I let her read the exchange between us and she confirmed: The situation was crazy.
I began to feel extremely stressed out. The timing was terrible. It was right before the holidays and there had been some intense family and worldly events that happened at the time. I was totally wide eyed and depleted. It was like drinking too much coffee and feeling keyed up yet drained at the same time. I knew that I needed to implement a pause button.
We agreed on a cease fire.
I looked inward. I tried to dig into what in the world happened. The answers weren’t simple and they didn’t stack nicely in order. My feelings zigzagged as I waded through the history of our friendship. We had been good friends and I really loved her. But as I picked these layers up and looked at them closely, I saw what had been missing all along: my voice.
I could vividly remember experiences when my values were squished and I chose to stay close to her rather than ask, “Is this right for me?” I could see myself getting smaller and smaller like Russian dolls closing in on me. Somewhere down the path her feelings became more important than my own. I wanted to make sure that she felt seen and accepted at all times. I needed to be open and available. I needed to be perfect. This perfect, however, meant that I needed to be quiet and bendy.
Part of my work in The Daring Way™ is helping people to identify their core values. Knowing what is important to us helps us to stay on our path. When we’re living with our values at the forefront we feel good. When we don’t honor our values, things get dark. By staying true to ourselves we get to live wholeheartedly. Our chosen values, our priorities, our real selves showing up every day.
When I got the zingy text I understood on a deeper level that things were going to be different. It took weeks to understand that things would never be the same again. The old friendship had to go. My hope was that a new friendship could be born. My fear was that it would end.
In those weeks alone, I began to understand a little bit more about who I was. My priorities moved from awareness to something that I lived out loud. Here’s what mattered to me:
My family The wellbeing of my people My work
And something new…myself.
Look, I was never actually bad to myself. That wasn’t the thing. What I noticed was that I tended to put the needs of others before my own. I didn’t say anything when I had questions or feelings about certain situations. I was often silent when I should have shown that I was outraged. I never was my whole self.
Maybe it comes with age or perhaps it was the season that I was in, but it was clear that I could not go on this way. I could not continue to show up for someone in the same way, because I wasn’t the same person.
Everything would need to shift in a new direction.
You see, my life looked much differently than it had nine years before when I met my dear friend. Of course, that makes sense right? We understand that we change, but we’re quick to ignore how this change alters a friendship. When we’re not who we were originally, we have to figure out how to move forward. Do we grow together and adjust? Ebbing and flowing until the rough edges run smooth again? Maybe there’s a wedge that stays in place and diverts the flow until the streams move farther and farther away from one another?
I think the latter is what happened all those years ago. Our lives had both changed us, but we tried to use the same dynamics and roles. We held tightly to what had always been because that seemed like an easy option.
It wasn’t working.
Every time I would get my feelings hurt, I would tuck it away. When situations that were about me suddenly became about her I was shocked and upset, but I said nothing. I was becoming resentful, because I had been silent for too long.
When I took that pause to look inward, I saw that a major new line of communication needed to be established. I had to tell her how I felt and how I was different.
In the middle of winter, I sat huddled in my car gripping my cell phone. I was shivering more because I was nervous than from the cold. I dialed her number. The conversation was short.
She said who she was and what she expected from me.
I said who I was and how everything would be different, because I was different.
Like lines drawn in the sand we concluded that we were no longer a match. I couldn’t be who I was before and the new me didn’t have a place in the old friendship. We said goodbye. We haven’t spoken since that day.
But it wasn’t the ending that I had feared. It was the beginning of a new era in friendships. I began to pay close attention to the women around me. I slowly grew friendships like seedlings in miniature pots. In time they that got transferred to larger containers, then gardens, then in the earth itself. These new friends learned who I was. They were keen on what I loved and also what upset me. I learned to say how I felt when it mattered. I understood that I had to be fully myself or the connection wouldn’t last. It would fade with the season if I stayed silent.
Though the healing has taken years, I am filled with gratitude for my former friend. The old friendship is still thought of with love, but now there’s awareness as well. When we shrink ourselves there’s no way to bring our whole selves to the relationship. That isn’t fair to us nor is it best for the friendship. For this, I am sorry. It’s a pattern I don’t want to repeat again.
This is my plan from this day forward:
I will show up with my whole heart. When it is hard I will use my voice. When I stay silent, I will circle back and open the conversation again. I promise to honor who I am. Wholeheartedly, truly, me.