Reflections and Lessons on Turning 40: 10 Lessons that Light My Way

I had no plans for life, much less bliss. It wasn’t always a conscious choice, but I recognize I didn’t intend to make it very far in this life. It was so painful and sometimes felt like I could not remember to breathe, much less live. Often, it seemed taking my own life would just be better. Then the awakening occurred and although much of it was like wrestling through a cocoon of boogery goo, the rebirth has been a blissful (although very messy) internal discovery. As a result of the recognized mess, the lessons I reflect here remain in flux. Some days I completely loose my way and others it seems like there is a special flashlight shining on my path, just for me.

Number One:

I have learned the art of severing foreboding joy’s snakey head. This lesson has been one of the main gifts from immersing myself in Brené Brown’s work. Put simply, the definition of foreboding joy is waiting, even expecting bad things to happen. Worse yet, while experiencing something beautiful, we take it away from ourselves by rabbit holing our minds into scenes from the Walking Dead or Game of Thrones.

Creating a gratitude practice is a one way ticket out of the insanity of waiting for everyone to die. Until I started talking about my foreboding joy, I thought I was a nut job! But guess what, other people spend an ungodly amount of time sending loved ones to the funeral home too! Oh, the sweet relief from shame. Thank you baby kittens everywhere!! Stealing your joy can end with a real life practice of ‘thank you’ (just like I did right there thanking kittens around the world). Gratitude jars, journals and consistent acts of kindness are the salve of imaginary and frankly cuckoo-ka-roo death.

Like fo-realz people, I used to not sleep cuz a gang of machine gun wolves were going to bang up our house. WHAT. (Maybe the whiskey drinkin’ wolves from Bugs Bunny were bad for children after all).

Number Two:

I am still not sure I am a good therapist and I am sure I am a mediocre mother. However, neither worry or really bother me like they once did. Because I do know- I AM Enough. I couldn’t say that with confidence for like- EVER. Now, I try to stick to what I know best and I figure I will get called out for my ongoing fuck-ups. In the meantime, I will keep changing and growing the only thing I will ever be good at and that is myself. Our journey is all the control we will ever have and probably why the role of therapist and mother will always mildly allude me. Really, some other people think I know them better than they know themselves? Worse yet, my kiddo thinks I am the bearer of all the survival magic? Nope. Not this girl.

I will try to share what others have taught me and what I have learned in using myself like a life time human experiment with a smidge of theory just for sprinkles. But beyond my own milky way, hell, I don’t know.

Number Three:

Not knowing is okay. I am keenly aware that even after collecting thousands of rich and juicy stories – I still know so very little. I have always liked the myth that we are only using a small percentage of our brain because then I could imagine stuffing it with more crunchy goodness.

Most everything I do know, say or even write did not originate from me. Yes, perhaps I package my life in this particular way, but the glory goes to those before me, with me and even those who have lost all respect for me. My brain is full of other people’s stories, ideas, wisdom and theory. The wisdom I can impart is often built upon the lives of those I have come to love. Throw in some decent schooling for good measure and Presto!- out comes the words from my mouth. If you think my words are witty or clever, they likely came from another. I just decided their beauty had to be shared with you. Other people’s life and wisdom are often the vehicle for the next person’s growth. I am the compost and my existence relies on the squishyness of our lives being mushed up together. Sure, I may be the smelly one that some initially want to gag on, but those seeking change return again and again to make the ground fertile for new planting.

Number Four:

I am accepting the difference between genuinely making a difference and being a famous author. I would like to publish, but one trip into the book store is a scary reminder that I am not alone on this wish. It’s just not a big enough boat to fit everyone. I still struggle with the belief that unless I was the next canary singing Anne Lamott or Glennon Melton, I would never make a meaningful contribution. I am certain that if Kali could help me lop off this hunk of my ego, I would be a happier person. I have to maintain my corner slice of the world- stay in my lane as many of my clients say- and I can have an impact on those I can physically touch.

~And So Can You, making the domino effect the most brilliant part.

Number Five:

Being a trauma survivor is not a state of uniqueness. I get no prize for being the girl who survived sexual abuse. Now, showing up and being vulnerable about my trauma, bravely maintaining my trauma as a part of my whole, now that I give myself prizes for all the time. I believe being a survivor allows me to experience connection with others. I have come to believe (and yes, it is biased) that every therapist would benefit from having clinical expertise in trauma because it IS the red thread of humanity. It is a rare sighting of a human being to not experience some form of trauma. Perhaps that sounds horribly nihilistic, however, I believe in those moments of inevitable drowning, lies our own personal salvation. Yes, you like chocolate, cats and yoga just like I do, but to know your deepest heart is to be present with the shame of existing. I want to hold space and more space and EVEN more space for that which makes our hearts crack wide open. I believe holding space is our super power.

Number Six:

I know for sure the trauma of being invisible is one of the most painful to swallow. So many of my people grew up NOT getting the physical smack around or severe punishment with belts for breathing, but instead were treated as if they didn’t matter by the people that mattered most to them. Physical abuse may have been sweet relief from being touched by nothingness. And as I witness this on a larger scale, I sometimes loose sight of my own ability to do good. It seems sometimes the majority culture has adopted the belief that if you exist outside the norm, you are just invisible. Treating another human like the underside of garbage is a perfectly acceptable option. I can barely tilt my head in that direction and I certainly did not fully understand the culture of invisibility until my clients taught me how it exists inside the family system. Deprivation is real and it is a kind of mind fuck like no other. Whether found in the petri dish of the family or the discourse of the public, it is one thing that readily clenches my heart and lungs- leaving me fearful and breathless.

Number Seven:

I am pinpoint clear about what I love. I am totally oily on how to keep my focus on it, but damn do I know what matters to me. I struggle to be brave and rise from the stringy mess that I often create from my own stagnate emotional starvation. I am clear I know what water trough I am refusing to drink from. I see the beautiful marble at the bottom of the creek, but Damn! I will not go in after it! For example, it literally took me two years to get my shit together well enough to figure out my part in a relationship. The belovedness of my relationship never wavered, however, my ability to sift through the sewer of my mess paralyzed me.

Number Eight:

I like being on the fringe of normal. One mentor said, “We gotta learn the rules so we know how to break them.” I wanna go my own way and although you may find me bitching about being found out as the ‘different’ one, I recognize that I prefer it. I would benefit from following along when it’s in my best interest and I continue to seek out balance. I do tend towards weed whacking my own path when the declared one may be useful. So I keep my colorful hair and personal style both in life and in the therapy chair, but I am learning to listen a little more to those wiser than me.

Number Nine:

I am in the frightful stages of stopping myself from sounding like a know-it-all. I believe others need our love and support and especially our presence, but only when asked do they need our advice. I totally get that as a therapist I am by default being asked to share some possible wisdom, otherwise, I gotta learn to shut it. I trick myself into believing I am being helpful. People generally already know what is best for them. Hell, I honestly believe being a good therapist is the simple act of reflecting back a person’s best Self. Really. Everywhere else, this lesson is still bitter on my tongue. I still throw up my fancy fix it words and worse, when someone else does it to me, I am irritated! And why? ……Because when we do this unsolicited diatribe of pretend helpfulness, we are judging the other person pretending “to help” and are essentially saying that they are too dumb to know what you magically do.

Swallowing the bitter pill and shutting up…..to the best of my ability. Perhaps I can report some more growth here at 50.

Number Ten:

I have come to believe there is no greater gift than being emotionally awake. To be able to stand outside of myself and know I may not be like living at the Ritz….Hell, I am sure my partner would disagree it was like living at the Holiday Inn some days~ Still, I get me and I am full of gratitude for being able to get into the balcony and watch myself interacting in the world. It is why it remains the ONLY thing I can confidently write about. All Other Things. Just Fuzz.

The glorious part of not designing your life at such a young age is the ability to forgo having to tear down a shallow house. I never dreamt about being a rock star or saving the planet. Sure, I have vision now, but perhaps some can be simple reflections in the water. Some may grow into the painting of my life. Others will ripple on by. I do know; the story is not over. Maybe, just maybe I can be a lantern on another’s journey and offer my light as a reminder that their story isn’t over yet either.

Here’s to beautiful 40 and possibly 40 more years of wisdom to come. Here’s to all of us who have chosen to stay and say ‘the story isn’t over’.

 LIVE.OUT.LOUD.

PD_0032         

     00000027         

    00010008 

 100_0416  

 IMG_4797           

    IMG_4301

Baked in Gratitude

My most recent Daring Way™ group, The Daring Survivors (yes, somedays they could be one of those ole’ timey all girl doo-wop bands) and I were lighting the way into the arena. We were gaining clarity on our values and making decisions about what we are going to take into the arena instead of the swords of emotional armor.

One group member piped in and asked what was Altruism? It was a difficult idea to explain in terms of a value, especially since I obviously could not keep my opinion to myself about how I felt about the concept. I did my best, but did say I worried saying ‘we are coming from a completely selfless place’ because I do not believe that is really possible.

We are humans and therefore we need connection. We cannot do this alone. We need a tribe.

Hell, sometimes I need more than one. So if we give knowing that it will bring us Joy, I would argue that it is not- nor does it need to be- from a selfless place.

And honestly, nothing has been more meaningful then the work I get to do with my fellow trauma survivors. Yes, some just come and go. But when we stick, its kind of like Mod Podge- we are gonna glue some shit down permanently. And no matter how you try to bake, it is NOT an altruistic endeavor.

I have the honor and privilege of holding space for my fellow trauma survivor. And as they plow through, trudge straight up hill- sometimes holding heavy weight for some time; I gently keep pushing on those edges of comfort and ask, ask and Ask Again to Wake Up to this life. Be Courageous. Do the hard thing- because if I can, You Can.

The transparent truth is this, I push for many important reasons, but as I watch the world shift, sometimes a life saved; I hold it dearly on those dark days. When someone does the work and moves from victim to survivor it gives me hope that WE can do it again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. Their work has a ripple effect that they will never see. Sometimes I won’t even see.

So, from my perspective, there is no such thing as altruism. I am a hard ass about the work once I know your level of commitment. I have been known to straight out call people a fucking liar when their own personal honesty is lacking and I hope ONLY when I have earned it. Giving the gift of a whole hearted life to yourself is the most important and meaningful thing you will ever do for yourself. I will then carry your authentic Self with me ALL the days of my life. And no matter what the challenge, I WILL HOPE. I will keep dreaming of another. And another. And another SURVIVOR.

The only thing we can ever really do to make a difference in this life is to change ourselves. My fellow tribe pushes me to keep growing. I push them to keep moving towards Survivorhood.

Yeah- Survivorhood: its a place where the courageous go to lay down their emotional armor and change the world by changing themselves.

Come. Come and Go with Me.

                                                                                 Thich-Nhat-Hanh-Peace-In-Oneself-Peace-In-The-World

LIVE.OUT.LOUD.

Am I REALLY a Writer?

IMG_2595

Rejection is one step closer, sister. Keep on. It is clear to me this is the path for you. MAKTUB. Just lean into it. It’s already done. All you gotta do is make sure your ass is in the chair and your fingers move. The rest will take care of itself. Love, G.” *

 

Recently, Glennon Melton wrote this message to a fellow writer following an interview and I just kept reading it over and over again. If you are unfamiliar, Melton is the author of Carry on Warrior  and writes in the image I wish to reflect in my own life. I don’t like finger waving preachy or telling someone how to live. I just want to show up, live and love to the best of my ability….fuck it up a whole bunch, hope for the best and write about my real life, an AWAKE life. It always feels like a disjointed beautiful mess, lots of Face Palms, and I love it, just the way it is.

 

Do you know I have dreamt for most of my adult life about writing my own book? I want the satisfaction of holding in MY hands something I birthed with my words. I am not sure how important it is to me that more than one copy exists!

What is keeping me? I have been blogging for almost a year now and perhaps that is not done with me yet. But, I can tell you, I do not give myself the space to sit MY ass in this chair and bang-bandigty-bang on these keys enough long enough.

I have something important to say, at least to myself. And if others want to listen. Bonus.

Just last night, I had the privilege of sitting with my BFF as she shared with me how she was finally making the decision to focus on what she loved and honor herself in a way that she has not for many years. I always knew she could do it. Can I?

Maybe one day both you and I will find the collective good of this life wrapped in a 3-D rectangle with a pretty picture and pretty words on the front.

Funny thing is, some days I think the fire in my belly will rot me away if I don’t make it real. Others, I am reminded I am already good enough so why am I so worried?

 

*check out the entire beautiful interview here:

http://arwenfaulkner.blogspot.ca/2014/06/puzzle-pieces-glennon-doyle-melton.html

 

The Domino Effect

                             Image

Recently, a fellow writer sent me a message with a blog topic for me. Here is how the initial chat went:

Friday, 3:45 pm- She wrote

I have a blog topic for you!

How to function as survivor after being a victim

*as a survivor

Saturday 8:20am- I responded

Would you like to write it?

Saturday- She responded:

Oh goodness, I don’t know.

 

 

Initially, when I received the blog topic suggestion I thought to myself…..’Uh, I know you have been reading my Blog, I think this is what I often write about….I am confuzed lady??’ (My daughter and I readily use the word confuzed to denote that we are beyond normal confusion). Then I realized this really was not about me so I asked what I hoped would be the Golden Question.

 

Let me say before you read this below, this is why I tell my story: for the Domino Effect. I fell in love with Maya Angelou when I was a teenager because it was the first time someone spoke my story of trauma and I held that in my heart for years and years before I wrote my own.

 

My hope is that for every truth we tell, another life will be lived fully.

LIVE. OUT. LOUD. 

    

       Solange Made Me Do It

 

I had no idea I was a victim. I knew that I had been through some unpleasant things in my past, but the idea of being a victim carries so much shame and embarrassment for me. I can help other’s see their worth, but I was delusional about my own.

For the first time a few weeks ago I shared the story of how I was verbally, mentally and sexually abused by my ex-fiance. In the midst, I didn’t even realize it was happening. I was raised to be a strong woman that didn’t take anyone’s shit and to recognize the signs. I saw them and ignored them because I was lonely in a foreign country. I didn’t realize how much damage it did to me and I didn’t realize that I carried it with me like a piece of luggage until the word vomit started flowing. You know, that one bag you have had forever, that you would rather duck-tape than to throw it away because the hole is not that big, and you paid too much for it? That one. It was attached to me like a tumor.

 

I left him when I realized that we were two different people. I stayed away when I had time to think about the manipulation and the fact that he tried to break me. He didn’t. He couldn’t. My genes were stronger than his desires. I had generations of women standing with me who were strong enough to endure and flourish.

 

I have heard Alicia share her story a few times. The first time, I didn’t know I had one. Well, I knew I had one, but I didn’t want to be vulnerable. I didn’t want to share. I wanted to support those brave survivors from a distance. If I got too close, I knew I would spill the beans and then everyone would know about my private pain and shame.

 

I sent Alicia an email a few hours ago telling her that she should write a blog on how to function as a survivor after being a victim. She is the expert, she knows, right? I needed to know because I was so tired of living like a victim. The shit sticks to you like honey on a hot day and even when you aren’t thinking about it flies zone in on it, drawing attention. And even after you wash it off you still feel those phantom flies and stickiness. It never goes away.

 

What I didn’t expect was her response to my proposal: “Would you like to write it?” My first thought was No!!!! I don’t want to be vulnerable! I don’t want to share my shame. I knew better than to be abused. I let it happen. I paused, took a deep breath and remembered that I had a choice. I could continue to function from behind the scenes or I could step up and own my story. In those terms, I didn’t really have a choice. I knew what I had to do.

 

I know that Solange never thought that beating up a guy in an elevator would inspire such honesty, but there it is. So now I have to figure out how to function as a survivor instead of a victim. I have to figure out how to let go of my shame and embarrassment. I have to because I want to be authentic. I want people to be able to look at me and know that they are getting all of me. The good, bad, ugly. No more hiding. No more isolation. Just me.

 

I’m not yet ready to thank Solange for sparking this conversation and revelation. I’m sure she doesn’t care, LOL. I’m a victim who is learning how to function as a survivor. It will take time, and now that I have opened my heart to receiving the love, acceptance and support that I know I will have, I’m ready to receive it.

 

 

 

The Golden Rule is NOT a Fixed Position

                                           Image

I am having the time of my life! You would never know it by the Ass Whoopin’ I’m taking at times.

Who says ‘ass-whoopin’ and ‘time of their life’ in the same sentence?

Some days I am certain there is seriously something wrong with me. Then I remember, I have decided to lay down my House of Armour and LIVE. OUT. LOUD. At least for today. Tomorrow may not look like this, but today I chose to stand on my values and allow myself to really be seen. I can’t believe that I’m actually saying that I’m having the time of my life to be honest with you. I am choosing to dare greatly by facilitating my first Daring Way™ group with such beautiful people. I sometimes want to scoop them all up and take them home with me to my family. Other moments, I want to run away screaming out of fear that I will never measure up because I am too young, sling around too many cuss words and listen to weird music. (I always envision myself running away in my kelly green dress with my hands flailing and of course trip because I have on three inch nude heels).

But a moment keeps grabbing my attention while processing through group session after group session (Yes, us therapy-heads can’t live with ourselves until we process the process). Someone suggested that I not reach out to someone privately in the group because the side conversation would be too time consuming. I really had to think on that. The question really became, ‘Where is MY time boundary?’ ‘What am I willing to put in?’ Interestingly enough, my reasoning for not reaching out in that moment ended up having nothing to do with my boundary issue around time, but instead, the need for the work to remain in the group. Something very important would have been lost if it took place off alone, somewhere else.

I often say that I genuinely disagree with the golden rule. So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” (Matthew 7:12) What my boundary is around my time, how I spend my money? Who I would consider a friend?….the list goes on and on are invariably so different from one person to the next. Who says that I am right and they are wrong? There are so many areas of gray in our lives and what may be a meaningful boundary for one person may be a violation for the next.

 

So where does my boundary lie around time? While I was deciding whether or not to take the time to reach out to this person privately, my mind kept going back to one thing…..

When I was in college I had befriended a group of physicists. (Don’t ask, other than I was a closet nerd and had NO idea). I had the coolest friend, following my mental work out with him as my tutor.  His name was Joe and I was the supplier of girls to his physics parties, because, well….You know. There weren’t many girls.

Image

 

Just that year Joe got a new roommate named Donovan. He had recently lost one of his best friends in a terrible accident. His friend was hit by an 18 wheeler while changing his tire trying to make the trek to California. I had no money, certainly little time and I really did not know him but a few months. But I went to the book store, used the few bucks I had for the end of the month and bought him a sympathy card- it had some cute little sappy puppy on the front of it. I wrote in green pen (don’t ask me why I remember).

Next month Donovan and I will celebrate 17 years of being together. He says that card sparked something in him and when we spoke of it this week, he still gets a big cheesy smile on his face and mutters on about how special it was to him.

It is such a funny thing, this time boundary. I don’t want to be that person that forgets my family and friends birthdays (although I am not so good at it). I want to remember to send sympathy cards on the year anniversary after a family member passed. I want to leave love notes on your car and send kooky cat messages on sad, hard or just lonely days. I don’t want to be that perfunctory girl who just sends out the perfunctory message wishing my friends a happy fill in the blank day. I want to take the time. I want to share my piles of party crap and stay up late making sure some order gets out on time. And sometimes, when the vulnerability dial is high, I am going to take a chance, step out of my comfort zone and share myself with someone new.

I want to leave my legacy as being that kind of person who made you believe

you really mattered, because you do.

And No, I don’t expect the same back. The golden rule is not a fixed position.

So, I am having the time of my life….me and my ass-whoopin’ group. I keep leaning in and listening to where my boundaries work for me, listening carefully as my group dares greatly, voice their boundaries and maybe….just maybe…..We will each decide to take the time to dial up the vulnerability.

LIVE. OUT.LOUD. 

 

Mother of Dragons For Mother’s Day

Image

I think of myself as a rather thoughtful and kind person. Yes, I am well aware that my sassiness might blind you to these facts from time to time…..but they do exist. However, when it comes to Mother’s Day, I have been stuck in a SUCK tunnel.

Before becoming a mother I am sure I made plates of burnt toast and construction paper cards, followed by cheese ball Mother’s Day Cards (I dunno, ask my mother). Then I brought home my beautiful baby girl on Mother’s Day nine years ago and looked forward to breakfast in bed and gifts I (usually) requested from my BFF’s jewelry store. If we are not uniquely acquainted, everyone should have a BFF that is a jewelry designer….Just Sayin’.

But over this past year, something has sprouted within me and has been vining around my pretty little heart. The weeks leading up to this morning have led me to want to send cards and messages to people because they are “like” Mothers to me (Say it in Your Best Valley Girl Voice). So I declare an end to this notion that a mother is someone who either participates in the making of or adopting of a human baby! I mean, REALLY, what a tragic and small definition to the notion of Nurturing!

Or Worse, you don’t get to celebrate anymore because she is gone. Or EVEN worser, what do we do when we are not in a place to nurture our relationship with our Mother? That phone call…and you KNOW that phone call I am talking about, is just pure torture, if it even happens at all.

So, besides all of us who have had the unique messy pleasure of being a parent…..my heart sprouts around so many others places.

I think about my BFF who lost her Mother at a very young age. I know I will never meet her, but I know every time I look at her, I see her Mother alive in her eyes. How can that kind of pang of loss ever go away? Especially when I am told her Mother was one awesome Bad-Ass? She never got to meet my BFF’s children and they are simply amazing.

I think about my friend who is Mother to all of New Orleans in the Louisiana Restaurant Association. She supports her community with passionate love through food. Some mothers I know can barely make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. She makes your mouth water every time you see her post FB pictures supporting a new local restaurant or local high school students growing their culinary skills. Not to mention a great lover of her sweet fur baby!

I smile on my friend who has nurtured her love of her fur baby with diabetes for many years. Her sweet love of a dog is coming towards the end of her life and she continues to give her the kind of grace and dignity I would expect us to give any human being.

I consider my daughter’s god parents who would become her guardians if something tragic were to happen to my spouse and I. They do not have human children, but are already Mothering the person she will become; helping shape the woman that we shall see in the future. I am more than confident they are Mothers and they are Men!

I ponder on my friend who has lost one of her children. She celebrates with another child and grandchildren and I am certain it is beautiful, but it will not be without loss. How do you get through the day and not consider that?

And there are my friends who are in dark spots with their Mothers….It can happen to all of us so don’t act like it can’t be you if it hasn’t been you. Mother’s Day doesn’t wait for us to work out the bats in our head so it can certainly pass by and create a painful moment that is hard for everyone to overcome.

And how about my friend who is Mother to every sexual assault survivor she encounters in the emergency room? In those moments, she loves and nurtures them, creating a safe environment, sometimes Mothering the entire family through their darkest hour.

And what about those waiting to Mother? I watch some of my friends and clients be in relationship with my daughter and think, ‘DAMN! Now THAT Girl has Got IT!’ (what ever the hell IT is). You see that and know a kid needs to be whipped up, adopted or just magically appear for all I care because that person loves with their whole heart and Well, Whew! I just want someone other than my kiddo to share in that kind of Joy!

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I hear ya critics; “This is Suppose To Be My Day! Why are You being so ALL-Inclusivey and Stuff? I want MY DAY!” Believe me, this princess wants her day too. And I can tell ya, making me get all dressed up and “taking me” out to brunch is NOT what you are going to do on my day. I will take an order of yoga pants, no bra and breakfast in bed, Thank you.

But, I just got to say, something has really shifted in my sassy little heart. Perhaps I have watched too many episodes of Game of Thrones and I have come to believe we are all capable of being Mother of Dragons. If Daenerys Targaryen can rule a wild, mythical, fire-breathing beast, who’s to say what a Mother really is anyway? I say, if you can grow and nurture it, then you can call yourself Mother.

                                        Image