Over the past two years (and counting) I have lived through events that have bore incredible pain, as many others have. If you had asked me in March of 2020 if even a fraction of what I experienced would occur I would not have believed you.
I often have described these past two years as purgatory or limbo; life was going on around me but I was stuck in time. Event after event transpired yet the hardship of my own reality was unchanging. During this time, when the universe dealt me that painful set of cards, I was reminded that through our wounds we heal.
I couldn’t stop several grievous events from happening or even prevent how other people were treating me. What I could do is pay attention to the loving & extraordinary people in my life, love myself with my whole heart, heal, and witness the system around me. It was through this process that I was able to start healing my wounds. It was also through this process I saw how damaged our legal system and many related parties are.
The Injustice of the Justice System
I witnessed how power, control, status, money, and fear are the status quo. At first, I fought and screamed against this. Then I realized that the screaming only made it worse. This is how I learned to witness–to surrender–to the system that would now make life-changing decisions for my life and my children’s lives. I realized freedom I thought was mine I never really had in the first place–I was just privileged enough not to have to enter the system before.
Waking up this past weekend to the rights of women being stripped away across the country was sobering but not surprising. Through my own witnessing and observance of our legal system in action, I am able to see this for what it is. As I’ve said before and will say again; power, control, status, money, and fear.
It is sickening to think that these base human qualities are making decisions restricting the rights of women, yet it is our reality. While the restriction of abortions is by far the largest power play we have seen in decades, power plays to remove our rights and increase the wealth & control of others have been happening in front of our eyes for decades.
I still believe that the majority of human beings are good and have more in common than not. Yet so many of us have become disconnected (myself included) from the legal system and the politics around us. I don’t know about you but the word ‘politics’ comes up and my gut reaction is to tuck and roll; to avoid the conversation. My instinct to avoid the conversation is because, to me, politics equals arguing and conflict that ends up with inaction and everyone upset at Thanksgiving.
I wonder now if this wasn’t a ploy to keep us all away from the system, to keep us away from being a part of the conversation? Seeing what I have seen now, I wouldn’t put it past anyone in a position of power in our country. Because if we are all fighting with each other we are not paying attention to them and when we’re not paying attention elected officials who have no right to lead us, let alone speak for us, are running the country for their own selfish gains.
What if we all paid attention? What if we all listened to each other? What if we all stopped arguing and began to witness the system in front of us for what it is? Could it change? I think it could. I also think, much like my own experience, bearing witness may be painful because we will have to look at the wounds of our country. We will have to ask, “Baby, where does it hurt?” We will have to listen to the oppressed, listen to the wounded, and hold space for each wound so we know what needs our attention.
Broken System, Unbroken People
The system is broken, overrun with greed. But we are not broken. We, the people beneath the system. The overturning of Roe vs. Wade is a national wake-up call, shining a light on people in power who should in no way be in power. Six people took away the rights of millions. Six.
I do not know where to start, truly I have to google it. What I do know is that being a bystander in our country is no longer an option. The conflict of politics is not an excuse not to get involved. I can no longer say it’s not for me because this system is taking away my, your, and our children’s freedom. It will require strength, care, and humility. It will require knowing ourselves so we know what we will and will not stand for. It will require learning and unlearning. It will require kindness, strong boundaries, and grace. Trying and failing, then trying again.
Wounds allow light to come into the darkness when we are brave enough to heal them. “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.” -Maya Angelou. We can either spend the rest of our lives fighting with each other about disagreements, differences, and what we do not want in our policy or we lean into love, listen, take action, and ask what we want. There is kindness in so many of us, our love is stronger than hate. We can make a change we want to see but it will take all of us.
Be brave, band together, listen, heal, and move to action. Be the change you want to see.
Over the course of that last month, I’ve written to you about finding joy amidst hardship, living through pain, leaving domestic violence, and navigating fear. This is not a light load for anyone to take, let alone write about. Outside of my own personal experiences, I know that the people I love (and the world) are carrying hardship too.
LIfe has always had joy, pain, happiness, sorrow, and other dualities. Add a 2+ year pandemic to any of those feelings and we have an additional ongoing hardship to navigate in addition to life being, well, life. How are we surviving and how can we thrive during this time? I don’t know the answer to that but I do know that taking care of our own hearts, bodies, and spirits is truly the only option to get through it.
Taking Care of Yourself
I’ve been a healthcare professional for longer than I’d like to admit (15 years and counting). Over the course of my time with an active caseload, I cannot tell you how many times I repeated the age-old line “you have to put your oxygen mask on first!” when talking to exhausted caregivers of children with behavioral disorders. Fast forward a decade to when I became a mommy and joined the bandwagon of “self-care isn’t selfish, really!” as I carved out time for myself to have enough capacity to raise my little men. Talking the talk is easy to do and going through the motions of self-care has also been extremely publicized over the years.
Need more you time? Pour a glass of wine. Exhausted? Slip into a hot bath. Don’t miss the gym! Press that green juice. Where is your yoga mat? Society and marketing firms have a list of activities that we all can do in order to recharge our batteries and put ourselves first. While we might actually enjoy some of these activities, these slogans and lists completely miss the mark.
You see, all the slogans are telling us that we could actually be more perfect at taking care of ourselves in addition to a mounting list of things to do in order to live the ‘ideal’ life. Perfectionism is not in short supply these days. Neither are product lines nor marketing companies that profit from our deep dives into perfectionism and trying to be ‘good enough.’
In short, the way society (and I) used to talk about self-care is a one size fits all methodology, but one that can actually leave us more exhausted than relaxed. But self-care is really important, and recharging is essential during well, life, and times of high stress. So how do we fill these needs for ourselves? How do we take care of our beautiful but exhausted hearts, spirits, and bodies? My first piece of advice has literally gotten me through my entire life (the good, the bad, and the ugly). Ready for it? My mother would be shocked. Don’t listen to anyone. Like anyone.
Listening to Your Real Needs
I mean I can apply “don’t listen to anyone” to most facets of my life (it’s not always right!) but in regards to self-care I know I’m on to something. How could anyone from the outside world tell you how to take care of yourself when our needs as humans come from inside of our bodies and spirits? The only voice that can actually tell us what we need to recharge is our own. When we need it, how we need it, what feels good, what doesn’t, and so on. Self-care looks like being a guardian of your own energy and putting what your heart, spirit, and body need before the needs of others. Yes, even your children and especially every other person you love.
In a world where we are buzzing and being “so busy,” simply saying, “firm no,” to anything and anyone is the first step to listening to what you really need. It’s impossible to be honest with yourself if you do not make time for yourself. Self-care isn’t a status, it’s a way of being, one that I needed to be more honest with myself about recently. Burning at both ends has been my status quo for well over a year (OK, more than 5 years). Then I remember the wise voice inside of me that wished for my health and happiness above all else. Then I remembered to sit down and listen to what I really needed.
For me, I needed more time with my friends and family and more quiet time to reset on my own. It was a balance. I also needed better food, less sleep (I was over napping… a lot), and finding time to be quiet in my own body (so I did sign up for some yoga classes). I’m not fully re-energized yet but each morning I remind myself I am my own guardian and that I’m worth it. Trauma comes, hardship comes, and our hearts, spirits, and bodies need us to care deeply and kindly for them as we navigate our own personal pain (or just a bad day). We all need a little more kindness starting with ourselves.
It is only in taking care of ourselves that we can care for others. I won’t go all oxygen mask on you but I will challenge you by asking you this, “what hurts, what is tired, and what do you need?” Turn off the noise of the outside world, tune into yourself, and find out. It’s a journey worth taking, I promise.
Last week I wrote to you about life being beautiful, even when it is hard after yet another winter in COVID and the extension of my divorce. As with many of us, these past two years have been full of pain for me alongside joyful moments. Leaving domestic violence saved my life and began to lay the groundwork for my children living free of abuse. Yet the system in which I am divorcing poses its own challenges as many systems do.
Living through the pandemic, alongside my family and friends, has also been traumatizing not only for me but for the people I love. As yet another winter rolled in with no change to the stressors around me, for the first time in a long time, I was able to see that pain is part of life and oftentimes it is out of our control. I’ve often written about fear as a guidepost, but the acceptance of the pain that true trauma and hardship bring is real. I’d like to say more.
As a small child, I thought that life was always supposed to be happy and that happiness was the destination we were all working toward. I was taught, as a girl, to modify my emotions to keep the peace and others comfortable. Any type of negative emotion was seen as something to be avoided and punished. Being uncomfortable or causing discomfort seemed to be a cultural “No” for women where I grew up.
I am lucky enough to have a mother who at home allowed us to feel our full range of emotions (and I had a lot) but even with this outlet, I was conditioned to feel shame over negative and loud emotions that often came from fear, pain, and my experiences with injustice. Happiness was where we were all going and how other people deserved to feel. The full range of negative emotions I felt (and still feel) were not welcomed and are still not welcomed in many places.
You see in a world where comfort and happiness are the prizes, discomfort is seen as the enemy. We are sold an awful lot of bullshit from the stories politicians tell, social media, and marketing firms about how to stay small and comfortable. Feel pain? Vote for me and I’ll fix your suffering. Feel pain? Follow my beautiful life on Instagram, then copy it. Feel pain? Buy another…fill in the blank to numb it. Feel pain? Just pour another glass of wine mama. All these ‘solutions’ when the real answer is, “feel the pain; first nurture your own heart and soul, then ever so slowly step back into life.”
Pay Attention to You, Not What the World is Telling You
Our society is gaslighting us by telling us that life is supposed to be warm and fuzzy all of the time. If we question our own discomfort, leaning into how we feel, we are challenging the system of power that is designed to keep us small. In my recent experience, if you speak loudly about discomfort (like domestic violence) shame is rampant because speaking about pain makes other people uncomfortable. I can write with 100% certainty that other survivors have had this experience when they have spoken about their abuse. Perhaps, in my lifetime, that percentage will decrease.
But here’s the thing. None of us, none of us, go through life in a bubble feeling happy all of the time. Happiness is fleeting and if we are using it as a meter for our life we will in fact miss our lives. Joy is a long-lasting emotion that can live with pain. I’ll write more about this later, but today we stay with pain.
How many of you have been raised to believe that pain is a scary, avoidable emotion that needs to leave your life as quickly as it came? And how many of us have had life experiences that are outside of our control that caused the pain? I’m guessing all of us. At the end of one of Glennon Doyle’s recent podcasts, her daughter Tish Melton sings. One line in the song has stuck with me week over week. “I hit rock bottom, it felt like a brand new start. I’m not the problem, sometimes things fall apart.”
This line stays with me because so many of us are not only told to avoid pain but told that when bad things happen it’s our fault especially when we are talking about abuse. Or that if we are feeling pain our job is to hide the pain to keep everyone comfortable, because everyone else being comfortable keeps us safe. It’s a loop that ultimately leads to shame and, as the brilliant Brene Brown writes, “the only way to eradicate shame is to talk about it.”
Pain & Shame
So, if pain and the strong emotions surrounding this pain are part of life, why should pain something to be avoided? The real answer is it should not. Pain is just part of life. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not something we need to race past to get back to happiness. It just is.
And alongside pain just being part of life, joy is also a part. Sitting with pain and allowing others to know about your pain heals your own experience with pain and, in cases of abuse, can save the lives of others when you speak out. The more we allow pain to be part of life, the more we can tackle head-on what is working in our lives, how to nurture ourselves through life’s challenges, and how to protect others from the pain others are trying to inflict on us. The small subset that is.
It’s OK to say what hurts. If we swallow our pain and push on into, “fine,” just to demonstrate we’ve won the golden ticket of happiness we will in fact miss our own lives. Pain happens. Hard times happen. How we navigate the pain is not only the roadmap back to our own hearts but will help to build a more true representation of the human experience.
If you are living in a situation where pain is happening because another person is causing it, this type of pain is not OK and not what I am writing about. I am writing about the pain that comes from feeling our own emotions and human experiences. If another person is hurting you, in any way, the kindest thing you can do for yourself is to leave. Yes, it will hurt, but that pain is worth it. The pain you are feeling from abuse is never, not ever OK.
Pain within is a compass. It tells us how to care for ourselves and how to leave what is no longer serving us. Happiness is a guise as a final destination. Freedom is what we all deserve. Freedom to be who we are, feel what we feel, and live our lives as close to our soul as possible.
I don’t know about you but I’m not raising my little men to be happy, I’m raising them to be free. Free to feel every part of their human experience knowing that first mama and then their own hearts is a safe space to land.
P.s. This one’s for you Kiki
Last week I wrote to you about integrity and my own personal experience in being unwilling to bend as a woman. I spoke about my experience not only as a businesswoman but also as a woman who has left domestic abuse and is walking through divorce. That, in my unwillingness to bend, I have had to grow a tougher skin in order to stand my sacred ground. That skin, or cloak if you will, represents my boundaries. My boundaries are how I protect myself, my work, my children, and my soul. My boundaries are also what shame has told me to ignore and each time I did I lost myself.
In writing to you about my unwillingness to bend, I also wrote to you about society’s general expectations that women should be docile and accommodating. That from a young age we are taught to put down what we actually need in order to please another person (males, teachers, adults, authorities, etc). With this social conditioning, there are no lessons on protecting your own worth, needs, and desires, leaving boundaries as never a topic that is never discussed.
Setting Boundaries Isn’t Selfish
For an incredible amount of time, I thought that boundaries were selfish, that when I placed a boundary on someone else who had a need or request I wasn’t serving humanity. Each time I placed a boundary and received backlash I measured my own worth against it. I thought that somehow my boundary was denying another person what they needed. It wasn’t until my experience leaving domestic abuse that I learned how life-saving boundaries are.
Just as many women are coming to find out that self-care isn’t selfish (I’m sure it’s a hashtag somewhere), I discovered that boundaries are also not selfish. In her work surrounding shame Brene Brown teaches us through her research that boundaries are actually compassionate. Compassionate to ourselves and the person with who we are setting boundaries. Boundaries tell us what we are willing to do in alignment with our own values (and person) and what we are not willing to do.
When a person does not respect boundaries it is not a reflection of the worth of the person setting the boundaries, it is a reflection of the person pushing your boundaries. Over the last year, I have learned that people pushing boundaries are expecting their happiness and “power,” to come from another person. Neither of these things can be true.
Boundaries & Happiness
You see, happiness is a choice we make. It is a sacred emotion that lives in our own hearts that only blooms when we remain true to ourselves. Without knowing what makes our hearts glow warmly it is impossible to know what makes us happy. Without knowing what can harm us it is also impossible to be happy. Boundaries are a lifeline to our happiness and hearts. They protect our souls.
Control is a perceived human condition, when we seek to control another person or outcome we have lost trust. We have decided that the world is hostile and that people cannot be trusted. That we must control the enemy, who is taking away our happiness so that our life can be fulfilled. Control over another human being is always about taking and never about true happiness.
As a woman, a business owner, and a survivor I have lived in both of these worlds for too long. Thinking it was somehow my job to make others happy before myself. Thinking that when someone wanted something from me (personally or professionally) it was my job to give it to them. In the biggest lesson in my life, I learned domestic abuse breaks your boundaries in a way where you lose yourself. Gaslighting was a constant theme in all of these scenarios, scenarios that were telling me I was crazy when I did not give in.
Here is what I have learned to be true in a year of healing. Boundaries are a lifeline. Whenever you do not know what to do, how to respond, or who to be in a relationship with, consult your personal values. Then, after you truthfully consult your values, you can insert a boundary. When you insert a boundary that is aligned with your values you will be at peace even if others are not. When others tell you they are uncomfortable because you have drawn a line in the sand you will be strong enough to withstand it. You will be strong enough to know that being at home in your own heart is all the strength you need.
Start Setting Your Boundaries
I have a list of boundaries I lean on now. If you don’t know where to start with boundary-setting, feel free to use a few as you put these lifelines in place for yourself:
- I will not make an excuse for harmful behavior
- I will not excuse my own harmful behavior
- My children and I come first
- I will not go against my personal values or needs to please someone else
- I will not be involved with someone whose words and actions do not align with my own
- I will not be in a relationship where I am not cared for, loved, and respected
After writing to you about my career and company, last week I detoured into my wishes for my nieces’ futures. I wrote of some of my own personal hardships as a woman in business as well as as a woman leaving domestic abuse. This week I’d like to speak to you about my perspective as a woman who is unwilling to bend, and the cost and benefits.
Women in Society
Over the past year, as I have stood my sacred ground, I have witnessed both the external and internal costs of taking a stand. Externally I have navigated (and continue to navigate) cultural stereotypes. Internally I have fought and am fighting to keep the voices at bay that tell me I am being too loud; that I must become small. I’m walking through fire and slowly learning that I am in fact fireproof.
As women, we are taught from a young age to make ourselves small and to make other people comfortable. That it is somehow our gender’s job to make men comfy. And not only should we make men comfortable but we should excuse ourselves at any point in which a person around us is hurt or offended by anything we say or do.
By societal standards the perfect woman is polite, accommodating, nurturing, and apologetic. She is beautiful, slight in her waist, and ready to smile through the adversities of life. I realize in writing this you may have a gut reaction of, “I don’t expect this of other women, or myself,” but if you ask yourself, “has society taught me this or shown me this,” I assure you the answer is yes. While we do not wear the corset of the 1800’s I guarantee you each woman reading this article has tried a diet at some point in her life. We are still wearing the expectations of our gender on a large scale even if your experience isn’t as dramatic as mine.
Internal & External Perfectionism
In the book, “Brave, Not Perfect,” the author writes about the concept of perfectionism as it affects women. On a much deeper level, she recants how from infancy through college (and even well into marriage) women are taught to be perfect and polite. Soft and docile. Desirable. In her work, she writes about overcoming the need to meet society’s standards and to be brave enough to be herself. It sounds like a small thing but as a woman, I assure you it is not. As soon as you slip off “soft and docile” the crowd in the stand wakes up. I have yet to meet a woman who is boldly herself that has not pushed away these crowds and at times even gone to battle with them. What does this battle entail?
In my experience, the battle is first and always presented internally. You know you have something to say, you know injustice is happening, and you know your soul is trying to break free. Your internal self scans the external world. Unskilled in any first attempt, when a woman boldly speaks her mind, she is almost always met with judgment. Sometimes she is met with hate. The judgment could be from an external person scolding or bullying the woman for being bold or from her own internal interpretation of how the world perceives her.
In both instances, the woman will question her own mind, her own soul, and her own desires. Was standing up, speaking out, and being herself worth the cost? The cost of losing a perceived community, relationship, place to fit in, or being ‘liked?’ In extreme cases, like domestic violence or any type of restriction of safety/liberty, the woman is hurt for speaking up.
Speaking up, unwilling to bend on who she is, the woman will learn quickly who in the world is not ready for her and who accepts her as the being she always was. The thing here is that the woman, unwilling to bend, has to accept herself as she always was. She must learn to ignore the explosions from the outside, call internal questioning a liar, and stand her sacred ground. As the wounds from the outside accumulate the woman must tend to the wounds with care and not accept the wounds as a reflection of her worth. They are battle scars from the fights.
Looking to the Future
As I wrote about my nieces I wrote with hope for a future in which no corsets (physical or mental) exist in the world. Where they are free to boldly be themselves. This goes for my three sons too. To set a future for our children when little boys and little girls are able to be who they are and one where we as parents don’t bend. We cannot accept the status quo or any type of gender stereotyping that restricts the freedom of another person. This freedom can be tiny, such as domestic division of labor, or large, such as equal representation in the legal system. We have a long way to go. But if more of us are willing to stand our ground and realize that by speaking our desires and advocating for our equality there will eventually be more people in the ring fighting for justice than the stands.
I’ve been down here a solid year, fighting for equal representation in domestic law, I’m not tired yet. I am my children’s mama, my niece’s aunt, and I am a woman unwilling to bend.