I can hardly believe it is December and that I haven’t written since September. 2017 a year of beginnings has gone by so quickly and yet I feel so much change. Today I brought home my Christmas tree for this season and excitedly decorated it. This is my second big tree that’s all mine. Decorating the Christmas tree has been a favorite holiday activity of mine since I was little. There were times when it brought angst or anxiety, but I come back to it as a favorite because of the connections. As kids, this was a night my whole family would come together – my sister and brother and I each had special ornaments we would hang, there was yummy food, and either holiday music or a movie on in the background. We were connected as a family on this night. As our family aged and changed, I found that I was the one that most cared about this tradition. Until recently, it was painful because I was so attached to the way it was instead of being present in the way it is. I felt sad that my siblings weren’t around or made the time when I still went home to decorate with Mom and Dad. Last year I took a leap and got my first full-sized one. Part of me kept telling myself I needed to wait until I had someone to share the holiday with, that just me wasn’t enough of a reason to get a big tree. I learned that I was withholding a connection with myself. Last year was majorly uncomfortable, but this year there was more ease to it. And as I basked in the sensations of decorating I noticed the connections with many of the ornaments on my tree. Some are from when I was a kid, some old from when my parents were kids, some my Grandpa made, some from a friend (by far my favorite is an Ebola virus ornament a friend made me – yes she’s weird and I love it!), some gifts, and a handful I bought myself like a glitter triceratops – I mean who doesn’t want one of those? The connections are all to the stories behind each ornament, and putting them up every year I reconnect with the people in those stories; and I can also see how I am in myself and how I have changed. Now decorating my Christmas tree is taking on a new meaning of connecting and reflecting and presence. I feel myself, my tribe, and Spirit – my tree has brought me back to the sacred Spirit of the holidays.
Facebook showed me a memory today. A picture of me from the brief time I lived in Portland. That time was a pain peak in my life, but the picture says otherwise. I’m smiling, holding a finger with a mustache drawn on it up to my face, ostensibly exuding silliness – a part of me I often show to people. But not always. When I was young I was shy, and then slowly I grew into some loudness. First just with friends – making jokes, singing loudly, dancing weirdly – but soon boisterous became a go to, a brand of armor against the inward pain I dare not show anyone. And then came the story of expectation. I made up that everyone expected me to be happy, fun, exciting, loving life. I played out this story so well it became my truth. I believed no one could handle my pain, and if I voiced it no one would understand. And surely they would all think I was crazy, ready for a strait jacket, some meds, and the psych ward. So when friends asked ‘how are you?’ My answer was always ‘oh good, fine…’ followed by some joke about being single, or a quip about not quite having enough money to do exciting things. I buried pain after pain for years. Not letting it out to breath, not voicing it to honor my emotions and experiences. I didn’t really know how. I did the only thing that made sense at the time. Repress and pretend. Then there was no more room to bury anything. I was oozing pain at the surface. The ooze of pain came out in daily panic attacks, dizzy spells, and crying fits. I tear up thinking back to those memories and realize it had to happen that way. I look at the picture again. My sister took the photo on her trip to celebrate her 30th birthday, which she also used to help me move home. Definitely an act of love. I had chosen to withdraw from grad school, and turned down the path of inward exploration, my journey of spiritual remembering was ignited. Almost seven years later I am looking back and my heart sings with hurt, sadness, and gratitude at these memories. Then with a deep breath I realize my heart is really singing love.
Love for my journey.
For each step on my path.
The pains. And sorrows.
The changes and reframes.
I’m in love for a minute with all of it.
And keep going.
There was a time when I thought we’d be forever. When we were in the beginning. Shiny. New. We were the moon and the stars and neither of us could do wrong. Then, like most love stories, the glow faded, and the fog of routine set in. We bumped into one another’s bad habits, tripping on triggers. At first we laughed as we learned more of each other, wrapping ourselves safely in the fog. The safety grew so comfortable that I showed you to the room that held the cellar door to my dungeon. I showed you because my soul knew you were the key to unlocking this door to my underworld. Your tall masculine power penetrated my walls and the alchemy of us fit the lock that had always been stuck before. Click my dungeon opened with the smell of cold musty air. Slowly I descended the ladder, and you stayed at the door shining a light. I felt scared and lost and tried pulling our love tether to get you to follow. You refused, firmly planting your feet and staying at the door. I shouted up to you to describe these pains in my soul. You couldn’t listen. You heard me, but you didn’t listen to me. So I returned to old habits – fixing you – telling you to face your demons. Yet, I did this through more shouts from below fore once I descended, I didn’t know how to climb out.
You grew weary of the shouts and asked for them to stop. For our fights to be less frequent. You began to build your walls back up, higher and higher, occasionally knocking a brick into my dungeon. I tried to hold them for a time, but I had to set them down. Sometimes you peaked out from your wall, but seeing me shrouded in darkness and slipped back behind it.Then. You simply sealed the bricks of your wall to ensure your fear of abandonment boulder stayed firmly in place. And, you left.
First I cried at the pain of our love tether snapping, then I snarled at you for leaving. I briefly climbed out of my dungeon to see if you’d come back. You didn’t and I didn’t want you to. I took a lantern and went back down the stairs to explore the dusty corners of my midnight dungeon. This time with intention. I found a woman in one of the back corners, wearing a burlap sack, shackled to the wall, stuck in tar, and moaning apologies. It took time to see her. Even more to get to know her and gain her trust. I’ve taken several trips between my dungeon and the rest of my inner house, and made the stairs easier to move on, and showed this dark woman that I will come visit and listen to her. That she is apart of me and I will voice her pain. She’s not shackled to the wall anymore, and I know I don’t have live in this dungeon with her, only to visit as needed.
As I ascended the stairs and looked at some of our remnants, cleaning up the pieces of the walls that you left. I found a mirror amongst the debris. I looked at the reflection with a gasp. You left. Just like I left myself. Hated myself. Judged myself. You even said the words – the things in your dungeon could take you away from me – oh that hurt so bad. And now I see. You reflected back to me the part of me I refused to accept. You were my dark mirror. And so I sat – mirror in hand and cried. I finally said the words I needed to hear most – ‘I forgive myself for the misunderstanding that my darkness meant there was something wrong with me.’
Now, bit by bit, the sticky black tar pit that lay in the depths of my soul can swirl into Divine light. You are not here anymore. We are not forever, yet the alchemical magic of us will forever affect me. And I am grateful.
Forgive Yourself, You’ve Done Nothing Wrong.
Whoa. Big words for many of us. Our human-ness wants someone to be wrong and so often it’s easiest if we are the wrong ones. This has come up for me on several levels in my life recently. First was in doing some processing around my last relationship, which ended 11 months ago, but I was still in a place of blame. Blaming him and blaming me. Another in blaming me for not seeing the true colors of a former friend and mentor quicker, blaming myself for allowing her to treat me the way she did. As I dug through these layers with my therapist, I found yet another layer hidden deep in a corner – stuffed away by my Little Darling inner child.
When I was nine years old, I loved so much of life. Like many lucky nine year olds, I was pretty carefree. I loved being a kid – being a girl and running around the backyard barefoot, in soccer shorts, smell of sunscreen mixed with sweat, sound of my dog sniffing behind me, my hair blowing in every direction. Being a wild mess was the best. Free. Joy. Love. That was my life at nine.
And like many nine year olds, I began to hit a few bumps, those small ones before the cliff edges of teenagdom show up. The summer of nine, I enraptured myself in watching the Summer Olympics. I vividly remember adoring the women’s gymnastics team. They were so cool and hip, their bodies graceful and perfect, I wanted to be just like them. I imagined myself being able to do flips and summersaults, yet knowing I couldn’t really do those things, somewhere deep down I began the fatal mistake every young girl makes. Comparison. I looked at those young women’s legs and movements and had a fleeting thought – how come I don’t look like them? And boom. The ‘not good enough’ trunk that was planted in my closet that was nearly-probably-certainly destined to be opened at some point, flew open retching it’s guts out. ‘You’re not like them,’ it whispered, ‘you’ll never be cool like that’ it mocked.
I remember one gymnast in particular was blonde hair and blue eyed just like me, but she had her hair cut short. Naturally I excitedly thought about how maybe I could be just like her. So I asked, ‘Mom, can I get my hair cut like her?!’ My Mom agreed, although I pretty sure she cried when she cut my pony tail, which was down to my waist at the time. She firmly stood behind me in support of letting me make my own decisions. Such a good Mom move. School started back and I proudly arrived with my cool and groovy new haircut only to feel out of place and extremely self-conscious. One day, we had a substitute teacher in class and he called out from behind me ‘Young man…’. Naturally I didn’t turn around, and saw a few kids looking around to see who he was speaking to. He called again ‘young man…’, which was followed by some snickers. Then a third time, ‘Young man…’, the person next to me nudged me, he’s talking to you. I looked over and then someone else said, ‘she’s not a boy’. I blinked away tears and swallowed the lump in my throat and said ‘Yes, sir?’ Unbeknownst to me, opening that ‘not good enough’ trunk and swallowing my voice, my wild Little Darling died. To be replaced by my Protectors – control and over achievement.
Now I peel back the layers and listen to the ghost of my Little Wild One.
‘I’m so sorry, I didn’t know. I didn’t know I was good enough just as me. I didn’t mean to become someone else. I didn’t mean to deny that pure love inside me. I didn’t mean to forget. I’m sorry I didn’t speak up to that teacher.’
I listen intently. I take her hand.
‘It’s ok,’ I tell her, ‘You did the best you could. You wanted to try something new on, a new identity. I understand. It’s ok that you didn’t speak up at the time, you were scared, and that’s normal. And I forgive you, you did nothing wrong. I love you.’
Slowly I see color come back to my wild Little Darling. I stand by her. I ask her what she needs. I listen. I realize I have the power to completely resuscitate her. To remember her worth. Her greatness. Her WILDNESS. My inner protector will now always be around, my not enough trunk still sits in my closet, but with awareness I can choose who drives the bus of my life. I choose my wild Little Darling. She is the Divine in me. My intuition. My light. My love.
And I sing to her:
“You’ve got the most unbelievable blue eyes I’ve ever seen
You’ve got me almost melting away
As we lay there under a blue sky with pure white stars
Exotic sweetness, a magical time
Say, say it again
I love you always forever
Near and far, closer together
Everywhere I will be with you
Everything I will do for you
I love you always forever
Near and far, closer together
Everywhere I will be with you
Everything I will do for you”
Have faith and wait. I heard that message recently as I walked a labyrinth at beautiful women’s retreat I just attended. Having faith and waiting are not words I embody. I pretend I am. I say I’m giving something to the universe or I’ll wait until it feels right, and then underneath both of those is a deep frenetic uncertainty. It leaks out of me in anxiety and a very loud mental loop of sorting through all the possibilities. Asking myself what do I want? How am I going to get that? It’s not possible because fill in the blank with one of my many insecurities that all boil down to fear and not enough-ness.
At this retreat, the leader was coaching another woman and articulated what faith might physically look like. She said faith is like taking a step and then standing on one foot until the universe puts the next step in front of you. In hearing those words I felt into an understanding about why I struggle to embody faith. Having faith and really giving something over to the universe isn’t comfortable. If I’m just standing on one leg in the middle of my path and my only job is to surrender, I feel out of control. My mind immediately wants to kick into problem solving mode. It feels better – it feels like I’m making progress. Maybe I take a jump to the side on my path to look at an option, and then jump back, and then sit down, and then do some twirls, but I’m still in the same spot. Stuck. Then I usually start feeling frustrated so I try to charge forward and find myself running into a wall of money issues, sickness, or anxiety.
I realize now that my hops, twirls, and sits powered by my anxiety are simply an attempt to protect myself from any possibility of getting hurt. This is really great news! Now I can thank the anxiety for protecting me. I find most anxiety is rooted in a deep desire to protect ourselves, and it keeps going because often it works on some level to keep us safe. So thank you for protecting me anxiety, I now want to up level you to intuition.
I am clear now. I do want to surrender to the universe completely. That’s my first step, and now I stand balanced and waiting. I breathe through the habit of trying to control how something will happen. It’s not my job to know how. Things never happen the way they are expected anyway. In letting go and really standing on one foot and waiting I can live faith. I can listen. I am communicating to the universe that I am open to divine wisdom and timing. And I know the next step will be there with this beautiful surrender.
What if your thoughts are just your thoughts? That’s it. Nothing more. Just thoughts. Little wisps in the air. Boats on a river. But meaningless.
For me – a person with anxiety this was and is a revolutionary idea. I remember when my therapist first said this to me.
She said, “But it’s just a thought. What if you told that little girl inside of you it’s just a thought and nothing more? It doesn’t mean anything about who you are as a person, as a soul?”
I had tears in my eyes and felt a momentary sense of peace. I think I must have had the look of someone who just realized they were in love because she then said to me, “That must be something really wonderful.”
My mind of course kicked back in, but I can still go back to that moment of realization, that moment of peace. A new part of me was listening, or rather an old part of me was awakening – shaking off the deep muddy cakes of what-other-people-think-matters slumber. A giant wave of peaceful excitement crashed over me knocking down the intricate walls of protection I had built around my heart. My crazed monkey mind swung wildly around on those walls for years making giant leaps from one thought to the next repeatedly weaving ostensibly dangerous and taboo thoughts that my inner little girl translated into believable nuggets of truth. Monkey mind whispering “you’re a bad person-what’s wrong with you that you think that-how disgusting you are.” All the sudden there was some space between the thought and my thinking about the thought.
‘Hmmm,’ my mind mused. ‘Probably wrong, I need to find other ways to torture you’ but the the little girl in my heart was suddenly and very contentedly eating a banana in her tree. La-di-di-da-di-da, she sang, you silly monkey mind you are just that, silly.
My monkey mind screeched!
That day with my therapist changed my whole world. I remember a day in college. A dreadful day in a long line of other dreadful days where anxiety was living my life instead of me, I had a tiny moment of remembering this same lesson. “It’s just a thought!” I said to myself. My whole body relaxed, but literally within seconds I forgot again, anxiety was back and I had a sense of loss. I could NOT recall the sentiment that allowed for that relaxation. I stumbled trying to feel my way back to that moment. “What was that?” I kept asking myself. Now I believe it was my soul singing to me – always directing me to the path I walk now. I am so grateful for that moment. And I’m grateful for growing through to the space that day in my therapist office because that lesson is at the forefront of my being now.
It is so simple, I can choose what I think about my thoughts. I may not be able to choose my thoughts or stop them completely. I’ve read many quotes and memes about choosing your thoughts. They all have a similar sentiment of ‘you better choose your thoughts wisely and pay attention to them because they manifest your reality’. For me this is like spitting whiskey on a fire. The sentiment about choosing your thoughts is not wrong, I just simply needs a deeper translation.
My translation: Intrusive thoughts come in and I can’t control them. I have to surrender to that. What I choose to believe about that thought, what I tell myself about that thought I have complete control and choice over.
It is simple.
…but not necessarily easy. It takes awareness and practice. Mindfulness. If I try to control my thoughts, resist the intrusive thoughts, tell them to go away, that they are wrong – then my dear friend anxiety is going to take over and do my thinking for me. Anxiety is going to tell me my thoughts are true and then start making conclusions about what that means about who I am. My monkey mind and inner little girl will fight. Monkey mind throwing fistfuls of shit while my inner little girl tries to hide crying in a corner, and I end up with a shit day and shit life.
Instead I practice. I live in a space of ‘ok that’s an intrusive thought, it is just there, and now I can choose what I do with it.’ In that space, when my monkey mind starts throwing shit, adult me is able to parent my inner little girl, coaching her to allow the shit to fly right past her, watch it hit the wall and go back to eating her banana. Eventually my monkey mind gets really bored and tired and decides to go take a nap. Yes that monkey will wake up and throw shit, and yes sometimes I will forget and throw it back causing a fight, but yes eventually I will remember to sit in my tree and sing, la-di-di-da-di-da while eating my banana.
Thank God for the la-di-das. For the tree. For the banana.
Maybe one day I can thank God for the monkey.
It was 4:26 and I was awake. I’d been awake since 3:30. Perhaps fitting for the day before I turn 30. I had to pee and then my mind was instantly running miles. It felt like it never really quieted during the night. I felt frustrated at first and then I sighed and allowed the awakeness in.
I used to resist waking in the middle of the night. I’d wake and fear would instantly take hold forming repetitive intrusive thoughts about dying, being attacked, my house getting broken into. My mind playing out vivid and horrific scenes. I’d dread needing to leave my room for water or a snack. Sleep used to be my only reprieve from my internal obsessive hell. I didn’t want to be awake at all during those stages of my life, but being awake in the middle of the night was a special kind of hell. I’d turn on the tv just praying that I’d make it to morning. Sometimes numbing out wouldn’t work. Sometimes the heavy hands of a panic attack would find their grip. Dark slithery fingers curling around me, making it difficult to breath. Crying for hours. Alone. In the dark. Feeling like I was dying. Thinking I can’t live like this forever.
Then I got a little better. The anxiety attacks would lessen. At least for a time. If I awoke in the middle of the night, I had a handle on my thoughts, but then I’d hurriedly try to figure out how to get myself back to sleep. Am I hungry? Thirsty? Need some medicine? ‘I’m going to be so tired tomorrow,’ I’d mutter to myself while trying to force myself back to sleep only to have my thoughts continue to run circles about things I had to do. Everything I did centered around not going back to midnight panics. I attempted to be kind to myself, trying on soothing self-talk – ‘it’s ok, you’re just a little anxious’. A great first step. I can see now that I combined these first steps into self-compassion with an extremely forceful way of being. I still lived into a deep self-loathing at not being able to control my thoughts and fearful survival – knowing that the ‘bad thoughts’ would be back, I just wasn’t sure when. My survivalist mentality would rattle on – ‘I’d better get back to sleep-I don’t want to be sleepy tomorrow-I need to take care of myself-why am I awake-what’s bothering me-I better do things better-eat better-this isn’t good-you’re going to make yourself sick again-’. I didn’t understand that, to quote Jason Mraz, ‘we all need to see the darkness to see the light in our own eyes’.
Now it’s different. It’s been different for a while now. I move through cycles of great sleep and disjointed to sleep, and now I feel like that’s ok. Now I think ‘If I don’t sleep well tonight, I can sleep well tomorrow’. Now, I feel curious when I wake in a midnight. I can see how the deep inner work I’ve been doing has resulted in this shift for me. Because I have faced some of my darkness, I feel more comfortable in physical darkness. Now I love watching and talking with the moon at night by myself. Alone on the many acres I live, I used to stay cooped up in the house with the TV blaring for companionship, it didn’t even occur to me to open my door post sunset. As I create a relationship with my shadow, I feel safe to walk in the night.
Even though I may feel some frustration when I wake in the middle of the night, I feel a distinct sense of understanding and steadiness. I roll over and pick up a book, but more often than not I find myself needing to express. What’s woken me are unexpressed thoughts and feelings. I journal or write on my computer.
Cathartic and wonderful. My midnight is my awakening.