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.

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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.

I’m Sorry, Can’t Come To the Phone, I am TAKING BACK THE NIGHT

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Here is My Recent Speech, Guest Speaker for TAKE BACK THE NIGHT

My name is Alicia Gregory and as you have heard, I am a licensed marriage and family therapist, working in the field for the past fourteen years. But, I do not stand before you in my role only as a therapist, but also, A Survivor. I come to the table of this moment, an adult sexual abuse survivor. I was abused for much of my formative years and can genuinely say….. the reason I am a therapist today is because I am certain I would be dead without therapy myself. I now know that we do not recover without it and my gift to this world is to hold space to others while they show up to their life …sometimes, for the very first time.

 

So, I stand here- BROKEN.

 

I used to want to hurry and find ways to hide it- even FIX IT.

 

But Not. Anymore.

 

Please don’t try to change me. I am BROKEN and I am Beautiful. I have come to love the scars that are ALL MINE. If we have met, you may think what many do, “OoohhhH, She has it ALL Together.”

 

Just a few days ago someone looked at me and said, “You must not ever have a bad day.” I thought to myself’…..Oh SISTER, IF you only knew.

 

And in many ways I am together. I have healed from the major wounds of my trauma and currently it has been 12-13 years since my last intense therapy process.

 

But…… I am just a mere five months out from finally breaking the bread of peace with my mother.

 

 

Life is not an EITHER/OR. IT is AND/BOTH. We traditionally want it simple. We want answers that allow us to navigate towards a singular end point. But I have learned, mostly from my own clients, it is rarely that way. ……

 

I am full of scars and fresh wounds, but I am beautiful. I can be a mess, crying and wallowing in self doubt, and although I am an UGLY Crier, I will still smile with gratitude once it has passed.

 

I am WHOLE/BROKEN. And I don’t need to be “Fixed”.

 

 

So, I come with a message of Hope.

 

If you are a trauma victim, “The worst thing that could ever happen, has already happened.” The working through will never be as difficult as the trauma you endured. Sexual Assault and Abuse are attempts to steal our SOUL. And for me, the most compassionate gift (and frankly, the best revenge) in this life is to find happiness again. To LOVE Again…..or maybe, for the First Time. I often tell my clients when they have No Hope, I am just holding it for them until they are ready.

 

If you love a trauma victim, Take Care and GET READY. When we arch over from victim to survivor, we wake up to this life in a way that most consider impossible. Even the trauma victim thinks impossible for a very long time. One day, you will watch them take the deepest breath they have ever taken (TAKE A BREATH) and you will know, the world has shifted.

For a trauma survivor, sleeping through this life is no longer an option and you as their loved one have two options, “Get Busy Living with Them, or get Busy Dying Without Them.”

The work is often an unpaved, unmarked road and we cannot do it alone. We need each other.

 

We can be Brave and Afraid—-and STILL Do Hard Things. But we cannot do them alone.

 

From my perspective today, My trauma is my gift. It is my scar that circumnavigates across my messy and sometimes ungraceful life. It does not define me any longer, but instead I AM defining it. As bizarre as it may sound as a victim and those who have not experienced it, I would not take it back. I have no idea what it would mean to be me without it. AND...I need to be reminded every day that I do not have the capacity for perfection, room for constant negative self judgement, or even the worry of appearing ‘uncool’. I try not to go down that road, it is simply a road paved with hell.

 

But I charge every person here to listen carefully. I believe…. that your story is my story. You may take out the circumstances and many of the details, but MY shame is universal. We all have that one thing that we dare not speak, or that we speak quietly in tight circles. We all have that one thing that we do not want anyone to know out of fear that we may be found out. Fear that we are unloveable and unworthy.

 

We celebrate Take Back The Night and honor victims and survivors, but honestly, regardless of your truth, I celebrate your courage to just SHOW UP. I celebrate that you knew, somewhere inside you, you were taking a leap with Courage to share that one part of you that perhaps you do not want anyone to see whether you are a trauma survivor or not..

 

So, I HONOR YOU…… Because Vulnerability is the first thing you look for in me and is the ABSOLUTE last thing you want others to see. But here you are. HERE YOU ARE. Present with me. And no matter what that struggle is, I hope you can say, “Yeah, that— (that thing) which makes me feel ashamed of who I am… I do not have to hide from it anymore.”

 

From Victim to Survivor. That is the work. It is a difficult journey. But I can tell you with my whole heart, waking up to this life and honoring who we are is the most precious, sweetest gift we can give to ourselves. I am Broken, but I am fully HUMAN.

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        ** I give thanks, praise and credit to Brené Brown and Glennon Melton, two of my heroes in this season of my life for this piece.**