The Shadow Side of Womanhood

“Across the broad continent of a woman’s life falls the shadow of a sword. On one side all is correct, definite, orderly; the paths are straight, the trees regular, the sun shaded; escorted by gentlemen, protected by policemen, wedded and buried by clergymen, she has only to walk demurely from cradle to grave and no one will touch a hair of her head. But on the other side all is confusion. Nothing follows a regular course. The paths wind between bogs and precipices; the trees roar and rock and fall in ruin.”

Virginia Woolf

I read a lot. Like, a lot. It is where I find refuge and peace of mind. Yesterday, I was working on developing a curriculum when this quote landed in my lap. It has been heavy on my mind for a day now. It captures, in such a concise manner, the complexities of womanhood. Although, gender is certainly not a dichotomous construct. For those of us that identify as a woman and fall on the shadow side of the sword, the world can feel like a confusing place. My life has never followed a regular course.

I do not assume that the women who follow cultural rules and societal norms have an “easy” life. We all suffer in one way or another. But, this quote resonated with me because it captured a feeling I have not been able to put into worlds. I believe I was born on the shadow side of the sword. It is just my truth. I never felt “like me” when I conformed to the cultural rules and norms. Believe me, I tried.

It’s complicated. We do look to each other and ask “Do I make sense?” and this quote answered. “Yes, but that doesn’t make it any easier.”

Learning as we go.

Love.

Advertisements

Only A Monster Could Love Me.

I teach a mindfulness class. Inevitably, after the first class a few people drop out because they  had some misconceptions about what mindfulness meditation was. Mindfulness is just partly  breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth.

The primary component is noticing how you are feeling and noticing the thoughts you are having in this moment. This is a practice that many people have spent their lives avoiding. A lot of people are out of touch with their thoughts and feelings. When I ask them to pay attention it literally scares them.

This is called back draft. Sometimes when we open our hearts to our thoughts and feelings they can feel overwhelming and frightening. This is because we are trained to follow the rules no matter how we feel and what we think. This conditioning is hard to break and for some potentially impossible. We just go through the motions of our lives never having really lived. This happens so much more than people realize.

Further, some people have their wires crossed. For some of us,  the people that were supposed to love us and keep us safe did not do the best job. This can lead to shutting off our emotions completely or thinking that love is unsafe. This means that when I try to extend love or compassion to you, you will literally be repulsed by me. It is how some people stayed safe. Some people literally feel unlovable. If you try to love them they will think something is wrong with you. “After all, only a monster could love a person like me,”  they think.

What also breaks my heart are the people that do not even realize that they were abused/traumatized as a child. I once asked a person if they had any history of abuse and they stated that they had not. Some time later the person recounted the violent psychological and physical abuse they had endured. When I questioned why they denied having been abused they reported “I thought I had a normal childhood” No, that is not normal and it certainly impacts a person’s ability to be present, vulnerable, and connected in their lives.

I write this in the midst of an opioid epidemic. When the pain is too much to bear, we find a way to make it bearable, even if that means slowly killing ourselves.

Love.

I Lost Ten Pounds!

This post has nothing to do with weight loss. The scale is not even in my bathroom anymore. It never had anything nice to say. This post is about a conversation I had this week with a sweet friend. I would describe her as a divine gathering of stardust. She is the kind of person that the moment you meet them you just know they are special and you want to know them more.

Anyway, she asked how I knew to start this blog. That was a fantastic question. The truth is, I wanted a place to tell the truth. I wanted a place to gather my thoughts and observations about my life experiences. I also wanted to talk through some of these things with a community of people.

I was never concerned with how many people actually read my words. I just wanted to lose the weight of the thoughts in my mind. When I share a truth about life experiences, it feels like another pound of pretend is off my back. It feels like “well now that’s out there” and I am free from pretending like it’s not part of my story or part of what I value.

Elizabeth Gilbert opens her memoir Eat, Pray, Love with the quote “Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth” I get it now. I get that telling my truth has nothing to do with you and it has everything to do with me. I am a bit more free with every truth I tell.

We live in a culture that shames our scars. We are expected to be fine or okay all the time. These expectations are devastating for a lot of people. Life is hard for us all in one way or another. No one gets out without a few scars. Too many of us spend so much time adjusting our images to hide our scars and our stories to make them more palatable to the masses. I have no desire to be palatable and every desire to be real.

My husband’s poppa asked me early on in our relationship “You are real, huh?”

Yes, I am real, I’m messy, I’m scarred, I’m held together with string, I’m confused most of the time, I think rodents are particularly funny, I would only eat pizza if I were single, I love with an exhausting intensity, I care so much, and I’m beautiful.

Love.

 

I Never Needed A Makeover

A friend of mine is in town for the week (I love her ) and we were talking last night about a time in my life when I (significantly) lacked confidence and what that felt like. Honestly, I think we all struggle with confidence from time to time but there were times when I thought that I was just not good enough at anything.

This post makes me so sad for the person I was.

There was a time in my life when people would tell me how to dress, how to do my hair, or what I should act like or talk like. My laugh was too loud and my opinions were too much. When I shared these stories with my friend, I could see her sadness and that made me sad. It’s just not nice to tell people that how they are in the world is wrong. I never needed a makeover, I was good enough, what I needed were people that love me just the way I am.

If I want to wear sneakers with a dress, I will do just that.

If I want to laugh out loud, I will do just that.

If I want to share my opinions on issues that are important to me, I will do just that.

I was doing a training with adolescents last week and a table of young women were asking such incredible questions. One young lady asked why I did not have children and I answered that it was complicated. She looked confused and made some guesses that were sweet but incorrect. I summed it up like this:  it takes a lot of courage to live a life true to yourself and some people will never understand or agree with some of your life choices and that’s okay. If you pause and consider your life honestly, you will know what an honest life for you looks like for you. It’s scary but it’s worth it. It is so worth it.

When I was in first grade I wore fake glasses without lenses to school because I thought they looked cool. This is who I am.

Why is this such a radical way to be in the world?

If you are struggling with confidence and the people around you are always picking you apart, you don’t need new clothes, you need new people.

Love.

The Dogs Will Be Okay.

I have been reading the book Altruism by Matthieu Ricard on and off for months. It is a nine-hundred page book that outlines, with substantial research,  a scientific case for altruism. This book serves as a respite for me when the days seem dark and people seem cruel. It is a dense read so I can only concentrate in fits and starts.

The stories from the book that grabbed my heart today are:

A kennel guard found three dogs in the kitchen after escaping their cages in the night. He made sure to lock their cages even tighter the next night. However, the next morning, the dogs had returned to the kitchen to feast. This perplexed the guard so he set up watch. When the lights went down and the place was closed one dog had figured out a way to unlock the kennel. Instead of going on his own to the kitchen, he opened the cages of two other dogs and then they headed to the kitchen together.

The next story is simple. One dog was disoriented in traffic and likely to be hit when another dog grabbed him with his teeth and pulled him off the road. They both survived.

In the end, at least we know the dogs will be okay.

Love.

Are You Safe? Decision Fatigue.

iFullSizeRender (3)

FullSizeRender (4)

I was at a training last week and it was held at a facility next to the psychiatric hospital. A person came up to me and asked “Have you ever been in that place (the psychiatric hospital)? I’ve heard horror stories about what goes on in there” I nodded and responded that I had, in fact, been in that place but did not go into details as to why. That story is long and winding and not appropriate for that interaction.

But, if you follow this blog at all, you know that my life is replete with mental illness. Psychiatric hospitals don’t scare me. I think once you have spent a few Christmases in certain places, they lose some power over you.

I talked to a friend later that evening and told her that I often get mistaken for “The white girl that had a pony” Before I go on, I know that having a pony does not mean you had a good, perfect, or even okay life. It’s just an expression or joke that fit the conversation.

What I also learned at this conference was the concept of decision fatigue. This is not the decision fatigue associated with what to wear or what to watch on television. This is the type of decision fatigue related to “Are you a safe person to share these parts of me and my story with?” “Are you going to judge me if I tell you about me?” These questions are constantly swirling in my head because there are real life consequences to sharing something with someone and having them think differently about you.

I know this from experience.

When I learned about this concept I had a profound “Aha” moment. I am constantly assessing the people around me for safety. I have been known to ask directly if someone is safe to share information with. The truth is, it is human nature to make assumptions about the people we share time with. It is also human nature to judge people based on their life experiences.

I have stacks of letters related to my grandmother’s struggles with mental illness in the 1960’s and make no mistake, she was a warrior. The horrors she endured due to ignorance were unbelievable, barbaric, and inhumane and many of these treatments are still happening today.

One could guess that being a therapist was the only real logical place for me in the world.

I know that I was born to tell the truth. my truth. It is the way I make meaning out of the things I’ve experienced, learned, and endured. I stopped trying to figure out why I am built the way I am and now I just flow with it. Telling my truth is when I feel whole and connected to my divinity. It is also why self-censoring is so unbelievable exhausting for me.

I did not have a pony. I’ve spent a lot of my life in prisons and psychiatric hospitals. Those places do not scare me because those places are filled with humans, just like you and me. I think sometimes we forget that.

This is part of my truth (an abridged version) and as the great Brene Brown says:

“When we can let go of what other people think and own our story, we gain access to our worthiness—the feeling that we are enough just as we are and that we are worthy of love and belonging. When we spend a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving. Our sense of worthiness—that critically important piece that gives us access to love and belonging—lives inside of our story.”

I Don’t Know Where My Mom Is.

“You Are My Sunshine”

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are grey
You never know, dear, how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away
One of my earliest memories was my mother rocking me and singing “You Are My Sunshine”. It’s no wonder that last night’s episode of This is Us made me cry so hard I landed right into a panic attack (life imitates art, much?). I’ll let you watch the episode and you can figure out the tears pretty quickly.
I haven’t had a mom for more than half of my life. I once told a client this and she immediately started crying. I never shared that with a client again. I realized that my reality was much too heavy for some people people to bear.
My mom isn’t dead or at least I hope she is okay. This is not a rant or rave about being a motherless child. I spent too many years in that place and that’s not healthy for anyone.
Things are as they are and I’ve accepted that reality.
A relative told me she was my greatest gift and I rebuffed such a suggestion. Now I realize what she was talking about and maybe she was right. I had to do a lot of life without the safety net of parents and that has made me chase my dreams like I have no other choice – because I did not have any other choice.
I created a beautiful life, full of beautiful people, and full of love. I have a partially self-manufactured family of my dreams. Bryan and I had a dance party the other night celebrating another accomplishment in our lives.
This is my glorious life.
I think of my mom all the time and I miss her more than I could express. I don’t hate my mother at all, I just wish things could have been different with full knowledge that they can’t be, It makes me deeply sad sometimes – like last night. More often than not, I hope my mom is as loved and as safe as I am. I hope she knows that she gave me wings by taking the rug out from under me and without knowing, gave me one of the greatest gifts in life – bravery.
The other night, dear, as I lay sleeping
I dreamt I held you in my arms
When I awoke, dear, I was mistaken
So I hung my head, and I cried

She Loved It All.

A few years ago, I read a story that hit me in my guts. A woman, about the age I am now, was dying of breast cancer and her husband was documenting her fight through photography. In the pictures you could see the pain, suffering, and fear in her eyes…but you could also see how much he loved her by the way he captured her experience.

One of the last days of her life, her husband asked her what her favorite part of her day was. This being a day spent in intractable pain in a hospice bed staring death in the eyes. She answered “I loved it all”

I loved it all.

Yesterday, my birthday, I was surrounded by so much love it took me out. I talked to my dearest friends on the phone, received beautiful texts, and Facebook oozed with love. But, one person made me feel badly and that brought me to tears. It’s crazy how powerful perceived rejection or dismissal can feel even when I was saturated in such love.

I called my brother – a warrior. He is the only person that can talk to me in the way that he does. It’s magical. The love I have for him is beyond unconditional – it covers all space and time. He is my courage and my heart.

I told him how I was feeling and he reminded me, in his way, that more than enough people love me. I immediately stopped crying – he was absolutely right.

I am loved beyond measure.

I danced my heart out later that night with people I love beyond measure.

And, about yesterday, I loved it all.

 

This Is Not My House.

“I’ll never know and neither will you of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.” – Cheryl Strayed

When I don’t have the words to convey how I’m feeling, I scour the world of my literary heroes and swim through poetry and prose. I had a dream last night that I was living a life much different than the life I have. It has me reflecting on how one choice leads to this and one event leads to that and how the winding road of life with it’s twist and turns lands us in this place.

It’s curious how that happens. It can begging someone to love you and they tell you no and you think in that moment you will be broken forever and a few short weeks later realize that their “no” was the greatest gift you’ve ever received. It can be one seemingly inconsequential choice of walking down a hallway at a certain time and you meet the person that holds your heart. It can be answering a text. It can be deciding to go to the bar. It can be deciding to drive. It’s all the seemingly inconsequential choices that make the greatest impact on our lives.

We just never know how one thing leads to another and how one turn this way leads that way. What if just one of the million of decisions and events had went differently.

We’ll never know but sometimes it’s curious.

The Blue House – Tomas Tranströmer

It is night with glaring sunshine. I stand in the woods and look towards my house with its misty blue walls. As though I were recently dead and saw the house from a new angle.

It has stood for more than eighty summers. Its timber has been impregnated, four times with joy and three times with sorrow. When someone who has lived in the house dies it is repainted. The dead person paints it himself, without a brush,  from the inside.

On the other side is open terrain. Formerly a garden, now wilderness. A still surf of weed, pagodas of weed, an unfurling body of text, Upanishades of weed, a Viking fleet of weed, dragon heads, lances, an empire of weed.

Above the overgrown garden flutters the shadow of a boomerang, thrown again and again. It is related to someone who lived in the house long before my time. Almost a child. An impulse issues from him, a thought, a thought of will: “create. . .draw. ..” In order to escape his destiny in time.

The house resembles a child’s drawing. A deputizing childishness which grew forth because someone prematurely renounced the charge of being a child. Open the doors, enter! Inside unrest dwells in the ceiling and peace in the walls. Above the bed there hangs an amateur painting representing a ship with seventeen sails, rough sea and a wind that the gilded frame cannot subdue.

It is always so early in here, it is before the crossroads, before the irrevocable choices. I am grateful for this life! And yet I miss the alternatives. All sketches wish to be real.

A motor far out on the water extends the horizon of the summer night. Both joy and sorrow swell in the magnifying glass of the dew. We do not actually know it, but we sense it: our life has a sister vessel which plies an entirely different route. While the sun burns behind the islands.

 

I Met Someone.

“And jump in
Oh well whatcha waiting for
It’s all right
‘Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown
(So let go) yeah let go
And just get in
Oh it’s so amazing here
It’s all right
‘Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown” -Frou Frou

I made a new friend.

I often hear people say that it’s hard to make friends as an adult. This has not been the case for me. Wait for it…

I understand that I don’t have kids and that gives me a lot more time which is usually the immediate and reflexive response when I say I like to make new friends.

I am genuinely interested in other people. I LOVE hearing peoples’ stories and why they do what they do. I ask a lot of questions and listen intently to responses. I want to know more – always. I want to learn about you, the universe, the brain, and anything else that the world offers up to me. Please, tell me everything.

A Sissy Beard reader and commenter asked me “Why not let go?” after I wrote the I Hate You? post. I thought about that comment a lot over the last few days.

Basically, it’s hard to let go of people and relationships. I invest my heart and soul into my people and pulling out of relationships takes a great deal of consideration and contemplation. However, these last few months have offered up a lot of valid reasons to pull back. Politics are personal to me. I have spent my life dedicated to teaching compassion and love. It is why I do what I do.

When I was four years old I called my great grandmother a racist when she made awfully insensitive comments during Donahue. I literally followed her into the bathroom to talk to her about why what she said was hurtful. She asked me to leave the bathroom which was her right, I guess. But, she was racist and this conversation went on the rest of her life. I imagine that she delighted in our time together. Right, wrong or otherwise: I was born this way. No two ways about that.

Can I be a bit self-righteous? Probably my fatal flaw.

Compassion and Love are the most important values in my life. These values guide my decisions with conscious intention. I consider compassion and love when I decide how to spend my time and who to spend my time with. I teach a course in valued living. This forces me to be consistent with who I am and why I do what I do. I think we should all consider what we value and what matters most to us. When our values guide our life, we are much happier and more fulfilled.

That being said, I am letting go in the ways I know how. I appreciate the comments and readers. I started this blog with the intention of having conversations like this one. I think about the comments, messages, and texts related to blog posts. I think about them a lot. I appreciate any energy someone puts into reading my words.

Anyway, I made a new friend and we had a coffee date this week. She teaches mindfulness and compassion. She teaches courses on meditation. She asked me to sub and teach one of her courses. I really like her and I’m glad we crossed paths. I look forward to how our friendship will grow and how I will learn from her.

You guys, I met someone!

This new relationship reminds me that life comes together and falls apart at the same time and it is what you focus on that matters most. There are relationships in my life that are pulling apart and there are relationships that are coming together. “So it goes” – Kurt Vonnegut

Love.