Last week I wrote to you about how gratitude can be a life raft in the middle of adversity. Specifically, I wrote to you about the stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic knowing so many of us are exhausted. I hope that shifting to a mindset of gratitude was able to help you find a little joy last week as our nation’s COVID-19 cases continue to rise. I know firsthand, outside of the pandemic, how hard it is to find gratitude during pain. I also know firsthand that it is life-saving. I’d like to tell you more.
Fear or Love?
Around seven years ago I was new to running a business and had been single for a bit. During that time I was settling into my path. This was the beginning of building a spiritual mindset that still carries me today. Gabrielle Bernstein is a spiritual leader I followed who taught (and still teaches) about enlightenment. In her work, Gabrielle guides her readers through their egos back into their spirits. She encourages others to drop fear and embrace radical self-love. It is a hard and worthwhile journey I promise you.
Back to me. At the time, I was light, joyful, and a little naive, if you will. I did give myself a piece of advice that was worth remembering; “Jessie, my love, there is fear and there is love. Both are hungry wolves within your soul-chose wisely which wolf you feed.” Even today, with much more at stake, I often center with this teaching and remember to lean into love, even when fear seeps in.
The Wolves of Fear
I would like to tell you that as I aged into my 30s I became wiser and kinder, that I was a cocoon that turned into a butterfly on my way to full enlightenment. I was not. I was breaking from the inside out. You see, in believing that love conquers all, I got married very quickly after my stint as a single woman. Within one week of becoming a married woman, my ex-husband changed his behavior towards me.
Five years later, in the office of a trauma counselor, I realized that I had experienced domestic abuse. 5 years of domestic abuse. It was only through the work of an amazing trauma team that I was able to quiet the fear, to rest the wolf. Yet, as I progressed through treatment, it was as though new wolves were growling to be fed.
To begin, I had just moved back home to Ohio. I had grown up incredibly close to my father’s family. I knew my family and I approached the world differently but I still loved them despite our differing beliefs. What I was unprepared for was what came when I opened up to my family about my experience of domestic abuse and what would come next.
Feeding the Wolves
Within two weeks of opening up to my family about my experience with domestic abuse, my father’s family decided to side with my abuser because I was not submitting to my husband. I was told by a cousin I loved dearly that because I wasn’t being physically beaten that I was making it up. When my wonderful, kind, and bright father stood up for me, one of my uncles explained that an exorcism might be helpful (seriously). Another uncle, my favorite, sent me information on a retreat I could attend to learn my role as a wife so that God would restore my marriage (seriously).
In leaning into my family I was exposed to a radical belief system that men are the head of the household and strong women need only to submit to make any abuse stop. To this day my ex-husband spends time with my father’s family and to this day my young sons are exposed to them on a regular basis. I just tell my little lions, “boys and girls are the same,” to hopefully plant the seed of equality amongst a field of bigotry.
You may wonder why I haven’t shared this before or why I am sharing it with you now. I’ll tell you. I didn’t share this earlier because I was afraid of the court system. I thought if I spoke out it would be used against me. I guess it still might. I’m just not feeding the wolf of fear today. I am sharing it with you now because I want to let you know that I’m not just talking, I’m action. You see, leaving domestic abuse and going through a divorce combined with the exposure of and loss of a portion of my family is a pain I never saw myself dealing with.
Yet here I am on a Monday morning, snuggled with my dogs, happily planning a quiet day on my farm. How? I remembered my own wisdom and, through the healing I embraced last winter, I also embraced gratitude. My experience with domestic abuse and divorce is just that, an experience. I got out and found that the most incredible family and friends were standing alongside me. They reminded me every day I was worthy and reflected love to me unconditionally until I was able to slowly feed my own wolf of love.
I’ve changed my own language from what I’ve lost to what I’ve gained. I haven’t lost a marriage, I’ve gained freedom. I haven’t lost a family, I found my true family. I haven’t lost myself, I’ve found her.
In shifting to a daily practice of gratitude I am not able to stop pain from happening and I am not totally free of fear. Remember the crowds in the stands? They can be hateful and loud. It hurts even more when a portion of the crowd shares your DNA. At least for me, it did. But outside of that noise is peace and knowledge that every human life matters, including mine. I am able to wipe the dust off my knees from whatever battle is ahead and bow in gratitude to the people standing beside me.
I do not know what pain outside of the COVID-19 pandemic you might be facing. But this I know to be true: love is stronger than fear. Dig deep into your soul and coax that darling wolf of love out. If you can’t feed her yet let others help, then say thank you.
The world will always bring adversity but your heart will always offer you love.
In gratitude to my family, friends, and employees for reminding me of who I am.
If you are experiencing domestic violence or abuse speak up, reach out, get out.
Over the past several months I have been writing about moving through anger while I’m doing it myself. Last week I gave you a glimpse into finding peace amidst adversity. The sun peeking through the dark forest, if you will. Personally, it is knowing the sun always rises that allows me to place my hands on the dark, damp, leaves of the forest and breathe in relief during pain.
As humans, we are conditioned to avoid pain for our own survival. As mammals, we have genetic coding to literally keep us alive. Yet as we developed as a social species and created hierarchies we also developed a great big lie (okay, many great big lies). The specific lie I’m writing about now is that the goal of life is to be happy and that happiness is obtained by achieving external desires.
The forever-running list of “if I just have, look, get, or accomplish I will be happy” purrs in far too many minds. It’s poison looping within our own minds telling us to escape anything that feels unhappy, anything that feels painful. I believe this is why so many of us choose what is wrong for us over what is right. Immediate escape to happiness over a lifetime of hard, right choices.
But what if we learned to choose differently? What if we chose to see pain as a powerful teacher and not something to fear? Pain as a phase and not a state of being? Pain as part of the human experience that allows us to live a fully abundant life? Not fully happy, but fully alive.
The Big Lie
I’ve struggled with this lie many times over my lifetime. Personally, I was not chasing external belongings but belonging itself. From this, I created a narrative of not wanting to do anything that caused harm to another person even if that person was hurting me. I thought by saying, “yes,” all of the time I could keep others happy and if they were happy we would all be connected and I would belong.
Then, when I belonged, I would be happy. I was a belonging junkie if you will. It took a very serious and dangerous situation in my own life to realize that I was dying from my own addiction to belonging. This situation forced me to face the pain of saying, “no,” even when it caused hurt to another person in order to truly find belonging in my own heart.
Saying what is right for yourself can be incredibly painful. It’s so easy to get lost in what is right for everyone else. Remember that part about humans being social animals? We genetically don’t just avoid pain; we also look for companionship, for our tribe. Sometimes we desperately want our tribe to be people who were never truly meant for us. Losing them is hard. Sometimes our own limits and boundaries feel life-threatening to those we love.
Don’t Lie to Yourself
I gently think of parents of a child struggling with addiction. You love your child yet through your love you have to let them go as you hold boundaries set by recovery teams. In less severe cases I believe all parents hold boundaries that can feel uncomfortable towards their own children.
Outside of parenthood, we all have a set of boundaries that protect our sacred selves. Boundaries are the lifeboat in the storm of life. The little raft you hold onto as the pain crashes around you and keeps you afloat until you wash up onto the shore of your next chapter.
By choosing what is right for yourself you must be willing to lose everything the world says is right in order to be strong and wise enough to choose for yourself. Each decision that is right for your own heart is one wave closer to the shore. As you lift your weary head, look around, and start to swim towards the shore you will see some people floating behind you while those who have always been by your side are applauding from the shore.
Choosing what is right for you can be easy at times. Other times it will feel like it’s ripping your soul in two. Perhaps it is the ripping that creates the space for growth. Each right (and hard) decision is the only way to live the life you were born to live. Life isn’t about being happy and comfortable all the time. The abundance of human emotions and spirit are all-wise councils. I’m not sure how happiness alone has sat on the throne for so long.
Authenticity is knocking and she wants her seat back.
Over the course of the past several months, I’ve filled my audible account with one healing book after another. If you scroll through it you’ll see writers who supported me as I emotionally held my own heart through the grief and reality I was facing. I hope someday my writing and work can do the same for others.
There are so many inspirational and wise writers, yet one book, Whole Again, by Jackson Mackenzie, gave me a piece of wisdom that helped me understand and unpack much of the shame, guilt, anger, and rage I was feeling. I’d like to share because perhaps the wisdom I learned from Jackson will poke a hole of light in the darknesses another sister or brother is walking.
Whole Again & Judgment
The self-judgment and high expectations I impose on myself have been lifelong struggles. Throughout the years, when something is not working, my first response is to go inward and see what I can change. I also look outward to research because I love knowledge and research. I was learning (still learning) to put down my tendency to inflict self-judgment but when I was facing a divorce I couldn’t resist. I was analyzing my own behavior to try and see what, if anything, I had done so incredibly wrong to have lived through domestic abuse.
To the other victims or survivors out there this one’s for you.
In his book, Whole Again, Jackson recalls a child being punched, kicked, and hit by a school bully. The child who is being hit screams out, lashes out, fights back, and then goes home and thinks “what type of person am I to hit another?” The child hurting them is not having that dialogue with themselves; they are still stuck in taking their anger out on others. This was a game-changing piece for me.
Self-Judgment and You
You see I am not a child being bullied but I have lived through some very unkind relationships. In these relationships when anger, guilt, shame, and the like were taken out on me I was often not very graceful about when I responded. I think many of you have seen the video where I stormed the football field in my new town because my son was facing bullying. I exploded and to this day am a person that perhaps makes that football team uncomfortable. For a long while, I judged myself for that explosion. Now I give myself grace. My son did not deserve to be faced with racism, and my response was valid regardless of its own lack of grace.
Not giving myself grace is also true looking back at my own behavior when I was being abused. This may be true of your behavior if you were or are being abused. My darling loves, when someone is punching you (literally or figuratively) you cannot judge yourself for how you respond. If a person is tied to the stake and fire is sizzling at their feet would you ask them not to scream? No, you are not made to burn and you will scream to the skies.
Self-Judgment & Parenthood
Shifting gears I often hear parents asking if they are good enough in the early days of parenthood. Glennon Doyle reinforces that even by asking that question you are in fact a good parent because people who are not good parents never even consider the question. I have a tattoo (one of many) of the word enough on my right wrist to remind me of this. I am enough. And it is enough.
If we look at this example and apply it to unhealthy relationships and social encounters where you are asking yourself, “was I kind enough,” “did I mess it up again?” Just by asking those questions, you are announcing to yourself that you are a good person. People who are hurting other people are not asking themselves these questions. I hope someday they will but time and fate decide that not me.
I have personally spent a lifetime criticizing my own behavior to make sure that I’m showing up as my best self, that criticism has taken me nowhere but to stress. That criticism was a detour over witnessing what was really happening; abuse. If you are there, wondering what you are doing wrong because of how another person is treating you the answer is this; not a goddamn thing.
Don’t Criticize Yourself When You Think You May Be in an Abusive Situation
If you are in the middle of abuse you might still be screaming at the stake. Scream. It’s OK. I know it hurts. But after you scream, gather the strength you need to gain the knowledge, boundaries, and self-love to stay off the stake. You are not responsible for how others treat you, you are responsible for how you treat yourself.
Choose kindness, choose respect, and tell those harming you to leave. If they return, let it be with kindness and in their time, not yours. You might think you are losing everything but baby, you are gaining your life.
Over the last several weeks I’ve written to you about staying true to yourself through trauma and the turmoils of life. As a woman, I used to think that staying true to myself meant being happy and polite all the time. The men in my life have been burdened with a similar mistruth of staying strong and brave all of the time. Brene Brown has a Netflix series and in it, she talks about these gender roles and shame. The pushing down of our truest emotions and the pressure of gender as well as societal roles.
A “Perfect” World
As a child, I was into books that created alternative societies creating a perfect world. Even then I knew the worlds created on the pages were harmful but I was curious why these societies were so “dreamy,” if you will. No one was themselves in these stories. A few examples of the books I read are Brave New World, Stepford Wives, A Wrinkle in Time, and The Giver. Each of these books has a different theme but the bottom line is the same; numb your pain, be quiet about your grievances, and do what’s best for the culture. Sound familiar? It gives me shivers and yes it sounds familiar. Don’t get me started on Disney’s Wall-E.
In these books, conformity is encouraged and societal defiance is looked down upon, with one hero/heroine who questions the metaphorical pillars of society. I would like to think we can all be our own similar types of heroes and find a way back to our sacred ground by honoring each beautiful part of our souls.
Anger & Rage
Anger & rage aren’t talked about enough. The lesson I was fed while growing up was not to make other people uncomfortable. Any emotion that is not pleasant is labeled as a negative emotion, anything negative is a problem to be fixed. But is it? Aren’t anger and rage normal human emotions that we all feel? I think so.
If I’m right, what will you do with the rage in your heart?
I don’t have a full picture of it yet but what I do know is that no human emotion is bad; it’s just part of the human psyche. There isn’t a single emotion that we are in charge of so why do we believe that there are emotions that are negative and others that are positive? That’s the part I’m seeking to understand through my own experience and knowledge as a clinician.
So, if rage is just an emotion and we aren’t in charge why do we care so much about hiding or showing it? Why do we create gender norms to say who has permission to feel and show rage? I wish I had a very educated answer for you but I don’t. I do have a gut feeling that it has a whole lot to do with power and discomfort.
Looking at All the Rage
Here’s what I know about rage so far: Rage is a powerful emotion that tells us something is not right around us, that a threat is present. It’s an external emotion. A messenger if you will. A messenger that loudly screams “I see a threat, I feel unsafe.” When rage screams at us we need to listen. Really. The problem is that the vast majority of us don’t. Instead of listening to rage we either use it to lash out (puff up) or crumble (shrink down).
Rage is not a helpful emotion when we do these things. If we listen to rage, however, we can honor ourselves by demanding a life we are worthy of. A life where all our emotions are valid yet our behaviors following them are selected by us, not for us.
What about unfiltered rage? Rage exists as a reflex to perceived injustice. If you are not honest with yourself about what hurts inside of your heart, you, my friend, are at risk of hurting others or yourself with rage that will turn into hate.
Rage & Hate
Hate can seem sexy. It calls to you and whispers, “it’s not you, you are fabulous, wonderful; it’s them.” Hate tells us that we don’t have to feel rage and can quickly move back into happiness if we just remove the threat. Shame tells us we are in fact the problem and need to conform by pushing down the rage. Neither works, both steal a part of our voices and one desires to steal the voices of others.
If we are willing to tell hate we are all fabulous and wonderful but not immune from hurting others or above anyone, we could collectively unravel hate. In its place rage will stand nakedly in front of us demanding a place to be. We can’t let hate come at us. We can’t let hate tell us we are smaller or bigger than we are. We need to remove the hate from our rage to look at injustices both toward ourselves and the world.
I have often written about the forest and fire. That for new growth to come the forest must burn. If the fire is burning around us and we are lost in the flames hate has won. But if we are careful enough to stand amongst the flames, ashen, raw, and open to the change that is coming we can watch birth by flame.
Rage wakes us up and tells us, “you are not being honest, it’s time to come home to yourself.” I’ve written time after time about not numbing your pain, not losing yourself, and not letting the voices from the outside world swallow you. I’ve not been earthside long enough to be immune from cycles of rage and shame attempting to swallow me like flames in the forest. But I have walked through enough of these forests to know that peace comes after it burns and the sun always rises from the ashes.
Listen to rage, but do not let it take over your life. Instead, use rage to take your life back. Fires and all.
You guys, this past week has been a long and dark one. I’m so thankful for being able to write this blog. You see, I believe the universe has divine timing when we are connected to it. It always provides the lesson we need if we’re willing to listen.
I talked about why we care what others think of us and how that affects being a love warrior in last week’s blog. This led to a week of clearing a lot of energy to pave the way for living connected to my own divine nature and authentic voice. Through finding the strength in my voice I’m able to give my children the example they need to grow up using theirs. I can then also use my voice to empower other mamas to raise love warriors. Let’s dig in.
Embracing Love by Denying Hate
Okay, I said this past week has been a long dark one. The universe has been sending a lot of negative energy my way through different interactions. People have been coming into my life with their own insecurities and I have been asking them to leave (politely). I’ve been doing this using vulnerability and defenselessness. For, as my friend Heather reminded me, “Our strength is in our defenselessness.” I have nothing to hide and no space for hate.
As human beings, we all have traits we exhibit when we are in fear and therefore in defense of ourselves. In the current world climate, I believe we’re unpacking generations of keeping up appearances at all costs. Then, when our perceived sense of self (our ego) is brought into question, we may explode at others. Does this make sense? And that’s been exactly what’s been happening to me, people are exploding and I’m calming saying, “hate begets hate, this is not the way.”
It’s like a mask to protect ourselves from what we fear to be true about ourselves. The most common example is when someone points out something to us that reminds us of what we’re ashamed of, so we attack. Everyone does this but most people don’t consciously do it to hurt other people. If they do that’s a whole different issue.
In this defense of self versus defenselessness what happens is we can become the person other people are saying we are. We think by lashing out and becoming the biggest person in the room that we’ll “show them” how wrong the attacker is and how right we are. You guys, this is totally backward and the foundational problem to almost every human problem in the world.
You see, we are all born divinely. The spirit creates us for this perfect path. And then we meet our environment. The environment is the people, places, words, and experiences that we all go through. If we’re lucky, we’ll be born into a home that lifts us up and teaches us to live with a brave heart. If we’re not that lucky, we’re taught to fit in and push down who we truly are.
This could be from well-intentioned parents who don’t want their daughters to be fat and bullied, or gay and bullied, and so on & so forth. Or it could be from your own childhood insecurities or your perceived identity that you want your family to look like outside of the home. Even worse, it could be from an emotionally or physically abusive home. But here’s the thing; at any time we can all collectively decide to call bullshit on who the world is telling us to be. That’s a love warrior. And love warriors need strength and armor to protect them from an environment that can crush their divine nature.
Raising Your Love Warriors
There is only one way to raise a love warrior; be a love warrior yourself. That’s it, you guys. Our children demand that we love ourselves with our whole hearts because it shows them it’s okay to love themselves with their whole heart. If we continue to conform ourselves to fit into the new mom group, the gym, work, finding a ‘perfect’ partner, or living up to our family’s unrealistic expectations of ourselves, all we are really doing is telling our children to fake who they are.
If our children fake who they are they will lose themselves. I don’t know about you but I’m a grown-ass woman just now fully waking up and standing tall as myself. I’m not going to lie–it’s hard as hell. I have to model this strength for my children so when the world gets noisy they have the armor they need to be true to their own hearts.
I don’t know about you but I do not want my children to ‘fit in,’ ever. I want them to soar through the world on the wings God gave them, roots in the earth. In my house we stand up to bullies, we stand up for ourselves, we stand up for what is good and what is kind. We honor our imperfections, hold space for failure, make mistakes, and love freely. In my house we believe who we are is exactly who we are supposed to be.
Noisey world or not, we’re at home in our hearts and nothing matters more than that.
P.S. Total credit to the amazing Heather Shannon, my soul sister. And with love to my Aunt Linda.