An Act Of Self Compassion

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One challenging aspect of being a therapist is to not simply pay lip service to what is suggested to clients in their consideration of growth and change. I believe that a therapist is only as good as their own personal life. Now it is true that it is not appropriate to share my personal life details because therapy is intended for the growth of the client, but if I make suggestions and do not live by them, then for me, I am simply a liar suggesting to others that they should change their life, while I am wildly and knowingly making the same mistakes. And the most difficult for me , STAY HOME when sick!

For a small business owner, no work equals no pay. It is difficult for those of us that run their own business because we know that others genuinely count on us to be present. In my case, it is not like I can call in a substitute to take over. That would be an ethical violation worth loosing my license over! None the less, the art of self care is always a difficult task especially when we want to make sure others are aware of how important they are in our lives.

I have had countless sessions over the years on the Art of Self Care. I find the idea of putting yourself at the bottom of your list curious and absurd. I understand that everywhere we turn our community, society at large and even religion tells us that we are to operate daily like the sacrificial lamb, putting all people ahead of ourselves. The last time I checked, when I ride around on empty, really, ‘E’ means there is nothing and you will be dead on the side of the road. You cannot give of yourself when you needs emotionally, physically, spiritually and sexually are tanked. Worse than that, we make statements about how family or close friends are at the top of our list while we are dead last; therefore they are farthest away from us. It is a farce, at best, to say that we will give of our time, attention and energy to family and friends when we have to trickle the energy up the list in desperation to even share what may be left with those that mean the most to us.

If we do not put ourselves at the top of our list, yes, I even mean before our children, everyone and everything in your life gets a half-ass version of us. If we are not well and fully present then how can anyone expect us to genuinely give of ourselves? How can I call myself a decent therapist if I promote extreme self sacrifice as a tenant of a happy life? I understand that over the years, I have been accused of being selfish and I understand that what I write goes against a great deal of what the world tries to tell us. But the last I checked, a person that does not participate in the consistent act of self care, with intention, on a regular basis, is running on empty. When we stop sacrificing our needs, everyone around us will get the best that we have to offer.

The Act of Self Care does not require taking up a new hobby or adventure, although it may. It is remembering to do the little things consistently that allow us to maintain emotional clarity. This includes getting enough rest, exercise, eating well, playing just for fun and remembering to relax with intention. It is normal to fear how we will be perceived when we say, “NO”. We all have to regularly fight off the urge to be perceived as perfect. We do not want to admit the possible shame surrounded by being seen as weak. However, when we truly show ourselves, flawed and with limitation, just like the rest of us, that is when we are truly courageous. So, while I attempt to allow my body to heal from my now five days of illness and am certain me and this bed are one, I continue to wrestle with the urge that I am super human. But instead, I will do as I should and take another nap.

Be Well and Live. Out. Loud.

 

The Trickery of Perfectionism

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I recently attended an event where I was faced with questions about my own worthiness. Could I walk into the room and remain present, be who I really am? Or would I slather on the paint of perfection? It can be seductive to make your life ‘look good’ to the rest of the world. Hiding mistakes and getting mired into the need to appear like you have it ‘all together, all the time’ is flat out trickery, both for you as well as others. The very idea that a road to perfection exists sounds more like hell than anything I have ever considered. Yet daily, I hear people fearing they did not do something perfectly, that they are not the perfect person and must continue to trudge away until they finally check off the box:

                                                       √   Perfection

When we attempt to follow the path to perfection, a core truth emerges. We see ourselves as not worthy of love and belonging. We fear so intensely that if anyone, even those closest to us, knew who we really were, everyone would believe that we are not worth being loved. So we hide behind pretty cars, perfectly manicured houses, sweet smiles and starched dresses at church on Sunday morning. We paint the perfect picture to everyone around us, even to ourselves, in an attempt to hide the fact that we are flawed, imperfect and maybe even worse, that we struggle.

It can be rather annoying as a therapist when others expect me to have the answers to every relationship question. I must have the “perfect family, perfect child and the perfect life.” Whenever I hear that, I stick out my tongue and feel like I must be swallowing vinegar. Perfectionism is an unattainable, magical place much like fairies and superheroes. Frankly, I want nothing to do with unattainable. Instead, it is healthy for us to find our way towards good enough. This does not mean relinquishing ourselves from goal setting or making plans about our future. But, if we do it with the expectation that perfection is necessary; we will inevitably be left feeling alone, unworthy and unsatisfied with our results.

You might be wondering what I did when faced with the question of fitting in? As adults, we are challenged to not shrink and become small, or race in and try to gobble up all the feelings of not fitting in, thereby forcing ourselves to become someone we are not, trying to be perfect. Well, the truth is, I struggled. I allowed myself to become small and wanted to just disappear. I did not remain present as my truest self. Although I actively work on seeing myself as good enough, that moment got away from me and I shrank. I allowed myself to operate from a place of unworthiness and my best self did not show up. I am imperfect and I struggle. When we see ourselves as good enough, a mistake does not lead us to place that puts our worth on the line. Instead, when I left, I emotionally chewed threw it with the people I love and reminded myself of these words I created that are now an art piece in my home:

In Our Home………

We Honor Vulnerability

Teach and Practice Compassion

We Cry, We Give BIG HUGS…….

We invite Beauty in being Ourselves

We are Imperfect

We are Good Enough……….

All Who enter……shall receive our GIFTS

May we each strive towards our best selves; flawed, sometimes troubled and full of struggle. You are good enough, just the way you are. You are imperfect and therefore beautiful, because you struggle, just like me.

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My Messy, Beautiful Life- Me And My Masscott

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I understand there are some things we want to protect our children from for as long as we can. But for me, my daughter does not get to know who I am without knowing my story. If I practice authenticity, even though sometimes with haphazard grace, the most important person I can practice with – is my daughter Lyra. I am an adult trauma survivor. I was sexually abused for many years as a child, some occurred while I was eight, the same age as my beloved Lyra is now. I have written about this part of me for many years now. How could I share it with the world and not her?

We began talking about this as early as three years old. Understanding what I do, both personally and professionally as a marriage and family therapist, it is never too young to start “The Talk.” I am imagining some parents right now are screaming and wanting to pull hair out (mainly mine) at the thought of starting such a squeamish conversation so early. We had the ‘okay touch, not okay touch’ first, attempting to demonstrate how her body belonged to her and no one, including me, was allowed to touch, squeeze or hug without her permission. I had hints of regret when she would gladly explain to other people how she was in charge of her body (with her hand on her hip), but I had to shrug and smile while other adults rolled their eyes at me.

Later came the first sex talk at the age of six. We got a new kitty and he was going to be neutered. She asked one night while taking a bath (a place where many deep conversations take place, NOT the dinner table -Apparently) what ‘neutered’ meant and I blurted out, “He gets his balls cut off!” Oh, I was rightfully chastised for this because by this time we had many conversations about using proper language. As usual, when you decide to not put your kiddo in a bubble like some trauma survivors do, you have a few mishaps with the sex information being shared . This time, she readily informed all her friends at school and later told me proudly that one of her friends already knew the details of how babies were made. Yes, I did a face palm because how could I forget the power of knowledge? But as the years have raced on, her wise use of knowledge astonishes me.

One aspect of a trauma survivors recovery often entails giving back. So, this year marks the second Annual Phoenix Rising 5k, held in my little rural town, Georgia. When I began private practice, I had in my mind that I wanted a way to support sexual assault survivors in my own community. By raising funds and publicly modeling for all trauma survivors that they are not alone, I could continue to support others in shedding away the shame that every trauma survivor carries. My lovely Lyra decided after I explained to her what happened to me (in as much of an age appropriate way as I could) and why we were hosting this race, that she was going to be the Phoenix, calling herself ‘The Race Mascot.’ In a way that she does not even understand yet, she IS the mascot. Together, we have ended an intergenerational cycle of sexual violence and she is what I have birthed out of the ashes of my strength and hope.

But, like all good truth tellers, especially the Phoenix kind, she didn’t let it end there. Within weeks of the first race, she presented me with a drawing on her favorite colored paper- purple. I beamed!

“I Want to Change the World by Bieing a Masscott at a Race.”

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I inquired and the first thing she said was,“Ms. Student Teacher asked us to do this project in art with her. She wanted us to draw a picture of how we felt we could change the world.”
She went on, “I wanted to write that I could change the world by supporting rape survivors, but when I asked her how to spell the word rape, Ms. Student Teacher shushed me and said I couldn’t write that.”

Okay…a little internal dialogue:

“WHAT- THE WHAT! S.E.R.I.O.U.S.L.Y. Student teacher lady, you did what to my daughter???!!! Shushed HER??!!!!” …..then that was immediately followed by, “Oh, poor-poor student teacher, poor 20-something-who-has-no-clue what in the hell to do with such a difficult, complicated and taboo topic (especially with a seven year old in second grade).

I took a deep breath. Then another….. AND Another. Geez, why didn’t I just stick with the bubble? I then asked, “How did you decide this instead?” She flippantly said, “Well, since SHE had a problem with it, I decided to write what I was doing AT the race.”

Yes, we had a lengthy discussion about how it was inappropriate for her teacher to not explain herself and followed that up with the usual, ‘we’re not your typical parents’ bit, but that her teacher was right in this case, ‘Cuz, remember when I let you know that you may not want to tell all your friends about what sex is? Well, this is kind of part of that.’ I explained that we needed to let other parents decide when they were going to talk about certain things and it wasn’t our place to make Ms. Student Teacher have a lecture on rape to her second grade class.

Are you dying inside or jumping with joy? I always wonder what parents would think of my decisions around this part of my relationship with my daughter. I would be lying if I said that I don’t worry or don’t care and I did especially care about my daughters teacher and poor-poor Ms. Student Teacher ‘s feelings. After a few days, I followed up with an email to her teacher explaining what I understood to have occurred and offered understanding and support, but continued to stand my ground around what I believed my daughter deserved in that moment. Not for one HOT MINUTE did I believe Ms. Student Teacher was prepared for such a conversation with a seven year old, but perhaps my daughter helped for future sake.

All I know is that when I made the decision to host this race, I wanted to give back to my community. I wanted to search within and continue to push myself to grow and change in ways I felt were not happening by staying small. What I did not consider was that when I committed to Phoenix Rising, my family did.

For all the struggle that modeling authenticity has been with my daughter, one thing I know for sure: She believes that she is changing the world. And from my point of view, She Already Has. 

LIVE.OUT.LOUD.

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This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us:  http://momastery.com/messy-beautiful-warrior-friends! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy,Beautiful Life, just released in paperback: http://momastery.com/carry-on-warrior!

 P.S. In case you were wondering….Yes, We are wearing Tutus. So Fabulous!

Into the Darkness: Inside My Depressed Mind

ImageIt’s been dark in here- in my head. Like all my goodness is being hollowed out with a shiny new ice cream scoop. I cannot say why, but my brain dances around the dark. I feel small, angry and raw. The slightest struggle turns me into a ravenous Werewolf and I want to lash out at the world saying, “Take it ALL Back- DAMN IT!- I can’t handle any of it!” The werewolf is desperate to protect the little girl in me. She cries and hides her face. She just wants to be loved, protected and remembered.

I fear I have no idea what it’s all worth. What are we doing this for? Who am I ever going to make a difference with and who really cares anyway? Sometimes, it just feels like I am going it alone. Other times, I just feel like my life is sloughing off like dead skin cells and in my own inability to really SEE, I will wake up one morning, used up and it won’t matter to anyone. No one dares ask the about the darkness in my mind, it scares too much.

I know this will pass and I know so many of these feelings are so far away from truth, but sometimes, it it just looks bleak out there. It is exhausting to appear like we are on top of the game all of the time. And worse, if I ask for help, sometimes it just does not come.

Today, I am disappointed and bruised– chest hurts from the hollowing and the werewolf is raging. I want to walk into the arena full of life, standing on the ground of my values and ready to face the challenges of each moment with the messy, stumbly grace that I call all mine. I want to sit at the silver 50’s diner table, topped with rocks of granite that is the baggage of my relationship, and remain honest, open and forgiving. I want to have faith in people, relationships and communicate that I need, I am flawed and often, I will just plain fuck it up.

But today, I feel lost in the desert. I want to ask Jesus and Buddha (yeah, its a two person job sometimes) to come and pick me up and carry me back home. Tell me that when it hurts like this, it will be better tomorrow- or maybe next week- but it will be better. Remind me that I am broken, but I am on the forever journey toward healing. I will die broken, but it is gonna be a beautiful scar- one that will trace this one precious gift that I have been given- My Messy, Beautiful, fucked up life.

I don’t need an A-men, But Can I get a, Yeah, sometimes- “Me Too?”