I don’t know if this is true for anyone else who has a sister but my sister is part of me and I’m part of her. I can’t explain it but we know each other in our bones. I could spend literal days with her and still get annoyed she hasn’t texted me back within five minutes of leaving. She’s my person and I’m hers.
Last night, I was struggling to see myself. To be honest I feel like I always struggle to see myself, but last night everything kind of hit me at once. I literally have no idea how I come across to anyone in conversations or interactions. I never have. Soon I found myself picking up the phone to call my sister. I knew she would be honest with me, brutally if needed.
At first she was surprised to hear I don’t know how people see me. I was surprised she didn’t know this because she knows what I eat for breakfast every day, how much sleep I get–pretty much everything. I asked her why I felt like others met me with resistance and judgement when I shared my voice with them. Her response was everything I needed to hear. She told me, “you are a strong woman and that scares people. You won’t conform and that makes people uncomfortable.” Holy shit. That’s it.
Finding Your Strength
I often explain to family and friends that I have always felt I’m outside of the world looking in. Honestly, a big part of this is being a researcher, introvert, and visionary. If I only ever talked to the people I loved and never met a new human being I would be a very happy woman. I had a million fears when we went into lockdown last spring during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic but staying home was not one of them.
I’m often deep in thought of what brings me joy and what I think the world needs. At the same time, however, I don’t give a lot of thought to how I come across. But I’m also human and when I’m in social situations, work relationships, and non-intimate personal relationships I’m quite aware I’m on the outside. Take a hometown football game, for example. If I’m at a game and a circle of other moms my age are sitting as far away as possible, I’m not bothered at all. This is nothing against anyone. I’m happy by myself and would feel exhausted having to make small talk. But if I think bigger, like when I need to advocate for myself or my beliefs and am met with resistance or judgement, this is what bothers me. I thought there was no clue why this is. Hence the phone call to my sister.
After the call I took her answer and mulled it over deep within my core and knew it was true. I am a woman who won’t bend. I stand on my own and refuse to make myself small for anyone. This makes the world uncomfortable because I am a woman not bending. My small, sacred circle of friends and family? They give zero shits that I am true to myself and respect me for honoring myself and my worth.
My sister and I spent hours talking about my dilemma. I was stuck. I am a good woman who wakes up daily wanting a better world for others. I want it for myself, my sons, my sacred circle and every human being. I spend time each day in gratitude seeking authentic joy. My happiest place in the world is my basement couch across from the playroom. In the mornings, when I have the boys, I sip my coffee with a book for me and a stack for them. They buzz around me, flittering between reading with me and playing. At night, after dinner, Dametrius joins us in the basement and my boys snuggle, wrestle, and Declan brings us all “tea.” It’s bliss and nothing in the world brings me closer to God. She’s right there.
Perceiving the Good in Ourselves
So how then, when I perceive myself to be a generally good person soaking in the tiny joys of the world to build a better one, do I get painted as someone to fear? The belief system of the patriarchy we live in. That’s why. I am a woman with a strong voice in a world where women are supposed to be quiet. This past fall, when my divorce situation was still new, I was walking the pasture wailing to the sky, screaming “why me? Because I’m a woman with a voice?” Among other things, yes. The path for women with visions is hard and It’s fucking bullshit.
My friend Dana has a daughter named Kahlan. Kahlan is incredibly bright and bold. She’s unapologetic about her worth and comfortable with it. During the pandemic, Kahlan became so frustrated with the disorganization of online learning that she began providing feedback to her teachers at their request to streamline the programs. When a mistake is made Kahlan shoots off an email, “I should not have to be writing this email but…” She’s 13. Kahlan reminds me of myself before the world told me to be small.
Dana often doesn’t know what to do with her fierce daughter and rightfully so. Ask my parents if they knew (or even know) what to do with me. Nope! But here is my wish for Kahlan, my nieces, my darling Olga, every woman alive, and myself. Do not make yourself small. Take up space and use it. Shout to the world, show your worth, and if you’re too strong for someone that’s their problem not yours.
When I thought more about the issue of being small I felt grace for others. Forgiveness, if you will. You see, for thousands of years strength was the masculine feature valued above all others. When a man flexes his muscles it is to show others he can dominate them. I have no time, nor interest in this. To my knowledge no woman or girl I know does either. We’re not showing our strength to put you in your place. We’re showing our strength because it’s who we are and through it we can honor ourselves and the world.
Moving Forward with Value and Compassion
I’ve spent my whole life feeling this way. Strong and judged for being strong. My strength? It is mine to hone and through it my life is full and the world served. There’s nothing scary here, unless a woman with a voice scares you. So I ask you this: Too strong for who?
My answer? Too strong for no one, my strength is not harmful but it is powerful. So is the strength of your daughters and your strength to teach your sons to value power with, not power over. To build a world where strength is used is to build a society where we all thrive and power is no longer misused.
I challenge you this; Ladies, look at all your strength and ways you have held it in. Ask yourself, “too strong for who?” hashtag it. Blow me up. Start a storm. Stand up. We don’t have time to just sit still and look pretty.
Last week I wrote to you all about staying true to myself through my divorce and the importance of staying true to yourself. I have to be honest, this has been the struggle of my life and it’s a struggle I no longer accept.
This past summer I picked up a book, “Untamed,” by Glennon Doyle, that changed everything. If you haven’t read it stop reading now, find the book at your favorite online bookshop, order, then come back. Glennon starts her book by talking about a cheetah named Tabitha who is at a zoo and was taught to chase a stuffed rabbit behind a car. The cheetah comes out for the crowds, does the trick, and is then rewarded with a piece of meat tossed in the dust.
Tabitha is fast and beautiful but dull as she completes the trick. When the cheetah moves back to her enclosure she paces, looks fierce, and feels raw. Glennon writes that the cheetah must hunger for the kill, for ink-black skies, and to be free. Tabitha must think she is crazy wishing for a life she’s never seen but knows she was born for. Glennon ends her chapter by saying “you’re not crazy, you are a goddamn cheetah.”
Embracing Your Inner Cheetah
That’s it, you guys. Seeing yourself as the cheetah, for what you were born for, is everything I’ve been trying to say to you. It’s everything I’ve been trying to believe for my entire life. I’m not crazy, I’m a goddamn cheetah. And so are you.
I can’t explain it, why I’ve struggled so much throughout my lifetime feeling caged. I have always had this gut feeling about how beautiful the world is, what it can be, and how pain and injustice can be eradicated. I’m not joking, this has been my beat since I was like five years old. I literally wake up every morning thirsty to build the world I see in my mind, a vision that used to become lost and exhausted in the day. I was chasing that stupid stuffed bunny.
Up until this fall, even as I built a beautiful life and business, I struggled. I felt a strong presence of wild passion inside me but allowed the noise of the world around me to muffle the roar. At work, my roar was louder because, as I’ve said before, it’s easier to fight for the injustice of others. I’ve used a fraction of my skills and talents to build the only Applied Behavior Analysis company that never turns a client away based on funding. Never. If I were Tabitha I imagine my time at my company would be like her first run in the wild. Muscles gleaming, breathless, beautiful. My company is beautiful but you know what? So am I.
Running for Yourself
Deep inside, I know the world could be a place where all of our needs are met. That was the reason for my first run–I ran for the disabled. I’ve run for many other things over the course of my life, but right now I’m running for me. If I believe that every single person deserves a beautiful life, free of oppression, hate, and suffering I have to start with myself. My entire being wants to run the Sahara, not just take a lap around my metaphorical cage.
I believe that every single human life counts. I also believe that there are humans that will never turn away from hate, hate directed towards themselves or others. It’s hard not to believe that greed, selfishness, and the like keep billions of people oppressed, unable to pursue their dreams. And that people who are oppressed (caged) themselves facilitate caging others around them. This is not the way; it’s the lie that too many of us blindly follow.
You see we are each given only one wild and precious life. Each morning the sun rises and falls, the world spins, and life goes on. There is beauty around us every day, but there is also destruction. Our choice? Follow the life that destruction has told us is real or get out of the goddamn cage and run.
You must be strong to run. Strength does not come from hiding away and accepting that this is simply how life is. It’s looking eye to eye with the stuffed rabbit and telling it, “you are not real,”
Do you want to know who is real? Me. You. My children. Your children. We are all fierce, beautiful, divine creatures ready for the hunt. We are ready to sleep under the ink-black sky of night, breathe the cool fresh air, and live. Live with me. Be free.
Over the past few months, I’ve been alluding to my own personal struggles as well as our collective trauma as a nation. This week I publicly announced that I’m getting a divorce. One thing that I’ve committed myself to is never abandoning myself again. This means that as easy as it would be to get ugly, to lash out, and place blame throughout my divorce I cannot do it. It is not within me to directly harm another person with my actions. Hold accountable? Yes. Harm? No. How is this possible during a divorce or any other trauma? I don’t have all the answers but I’ll tell you what I’ve learned.
Learning from Struggle
For anyone who has gone through a divorce and thus googled, “divorce,” late at night you know what I found. That divorce is listed as the second hardest thing humans go through next to the death of a family member. I can attest that it is hard but I haven’t lived long enough to confirm what Google has to say. What I do know is that when the divorce came to me in the early days my emotions were overwhelming. There are many reasons for that but I’ll share those later on. In the middle of those emotions, I of course found rage and fear. When these emotions came to me I had to decide what to do with them.
Knowing that I have committed to never lose myself again, not to anyone or anything, I knew that while I could listen to my emotions I was not willing to use them against my ex-husband or others surrounding him that were causing me to hurt. I was full of hurt but if I channeled my hurt into anger to lash at them all I was doing was perpetuating the cycle. I would lose myself and someday regret it. So, instead of choosing to lash out, I chose to take the high road by taking really good care of myself.
Focusing on Yourself
The first thing I did was to make sure that I allowed myself space to feel every single feeling. That if I was having a hard time I honored it, then provided the care my mind and body needed. Just today, for example, I had a stressful call, and to process my stress I put everything down to walk and clear my head. The next thing I did was let people help me and reached out to my tribe. In doing these two things I was able to hold space for myself to reclaim who I am and not at the expense of harming others or myself. I’ve found that this short process can help on any given day.
In walking through this process and thinking about collective trauma and stress I’ve begun to wonder how many of us are doing this and how many of us are choosing to suffer instead? I am a lucky woman, surrounded by some of the most caring, beautiful people you’ll ever meet. On some level, I see each of them struggling with this. It’s not in a large, overt way but more from a willingness to either give when they do not want to, making concessions for others, or creating problems/solutions outside of themselves. Guilty as charged, we all can do this but we can also all be aware of it.
One of the things I’ve struggled with for a very long time is just fully standing in my own being, doing exactly what I was created to without feeling shame. I’m a talented clinician and businesswoman yet I feel stigma each day for this. A stigma for being strong. Fear is the keeper of this shame and no longer welcome in my life. I cannot be afraid of who I am or what I want. Remember, we’re all divinely born with gifts to give. If I’m scared of who I am, what I want, or what others think of me I’m risking giving my life away. Again, remember; I’m also not willing to be someone else ever again.
Moving on as the Real You
So where do I, do we go from here? We make choices that feel at home with ourselves and honor the talents within us, taking one thing at a time. We really feel our feelings and tend to them the way we do for our children. A common phrase in my head starts with, “Jessie my love…,” when I am hurting. We can also bear witness to harmful behaviors of others, hold them accountable, and refuse to lose ourselves by meeting fear with fear.
It is entirely possible to live a beautiful life, full of hardship and joy at the same time. This is the way; walk through pain, hold it close, honor your worth, and rise above. When you have risen you have the talent and strength to ask those harming others to stop and leave. This creates a more beautiful world for you, your children, and everyone around you.
I believe each of us has a chance to do this every single day on both a large and small scale. Can you be brave enough to walk with me? Can you imagine a world without hate and harm? Where those oppressing us are held accountable and gifted teachers guide us? I dream of it every day.
Walk with me. Lay down what doesn’t serve you. Roots in the grass, wings in the sky. Fly away with me.
Photo credit: Jennifer O’Leary
Over the past two weeks, I’ve been writing to you about looking underneath the leaves of our psyche and how to slowly start overturning each leaf. As I lift my own leaves I’m reminded of my own worth and humanity. If you’ve been following me you may be thinking, “wait a second, I thought the leaves were our dark parts, how did you find self-worth under them?” I’ll tell you.
You see, as humans, we are all torn between two realities. In the spiritual world, this is often called the light and dark, good and evil, and so on. Whether you are spiritual or not I believe you can break this down by choosing to show up as you were created to show. You can also respond to the pain of the world and hold it as truth. The way we find ourselves is by really taking a good hard look and accepting what is there. If you know there is worth at your core, worth that could bring you endless joy, wouldn’t you want to look?
That is where bravery comes in and if we are operating from a place that does not feel like ourselves it’s time to make a change. The scary part is that when we are willing to look at any single thing keeping us from our true selves we know we are facing loss. There’s this piece of the bible (not to get all spiritual twice now…) about not serving more than one God. I wrote last week about the different things that can keep me from me, so not serving more than one God rang close to home. But to me, God isn’t high in the sky. She is deep in my core. She is me. When I do things in the world as though they have a higher value than me I’m lost. Knowing that my one truth is to never abandon myself again I have to be willing to lose things of the earth if the cost of keeping them is me.
So, how do we know if what we’re serving is working towards our highest good? We need to ask the questions “are we making the best choices for ourselves?” and “are those choices bringing us closer to or farther away from ourselves?”
Working Towards Our Best Selves
For me, it’s twofold. I believe that in our truest form we cannot inflict pain on ourselves or another. That we are all innately good. This is the first piece and hard as hell to learn. Because if we are all innately good, then we need to practice the principles of, “do no harm,” or “not to me, not to you, not to anyone”? This is how I navigate all of my decisions and I believe if we all did this the world would radically change overnight. I know it. In being committed to doing no harm to myself it means I have to honor myself and am unwilling to attack my sisters and brothers who walk this world with me.
Now, please don’t get me wrong. There is absolute evil in this world and not one of us would survive running around with free hugs and forgiveness all of the time. That shit does not work. Holding people accountable for their damaging behaviors and refusing to damage them in return; that shit does work. My sister made a cross-stitch for me for my birthday this past weekend that reads “do no harm, take no shit.” Yep, that’s it. That sums it up. We can absolutely stand up for ourselves and our desires without hurting anyone.
If saying your own truth creates a loss of a relationship, job, opportunity, or the like you aren’t hurting anyone. You are setting a boundary to say what you need and want. If who you are setting the boundary with accepts you they are part of your tribe. If they don’t, they’re not. Plain and simple. This is where loss comes in. In this part of knowing our true form, we have to believe our wants and desires are worth losing almost everything for, so we may then gain everything.
Weighing Our Beliefs and Desires
The second part is incredibly important here; all of our wants and desires need to be measured against, “does this cause pain, anywhere?” This is how we can come to know if our choices are in line with that deep knowing within ourselves because deep inside of us is a God. She would not cause harm (think back to the last section). So, as we’re navigating through coming home to ourselves and examining what really sets us on fire and makes us uniquely joyful we can know if we’ve chosen based on what’s within us versus what we’re being told.
Let me give some examples of this because it’s pretty hard to grasp. For example, say I tell you what makes me wildly happy is fur. I think fur is fabulous or I love the Kardashians, I’m in it to win it with fur! I put myself out there and say, “world this is me! Love me as I am!” You have an absolute right to call my bullshit and I should call my own too because wearing fur literally hurts (or kills) the creature it came from! This is a dramatic example of choosing wisely about what we think makes us uniquely happy.
On a simpler note, I could say drinking wine is totally me but when I drink I feel fuzzy and like I’m doing it to just fit in. I could say I’m wearing a certain outfit to make more friends. I could give an example of restricting calories to hit a goal weight when I’m really fucking hungry most of the time. All of these are the false idols, the many Gods if you will.
If we expand this thought of worshipping false idols further we become tainted and begin attacking ourselves or each other. The attacks on ourselves may be subtle, or you may have an inner monologue that is so nasty you would have no friends if you spoke your thoughts out loud. The attacks on our bodies and minds come from filling them with content and people that keep us from being home to ourselves. In frustration and out of alignment, we then attack the world by lashing out at others to let them know they are separate from us and therefore less than us. It’s vicious, it’s awful, and it’s everywhere. It also couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Following the Real You
Following these two guiding principles to take us home and “do no harm,” enables us to truly know if the choices we are making are for our true selves and if we are choosing them, are real. Because what is real will cause no harm. You can show up gloriously and easily ask for all you desire for your life and hurt no one, starting with yourself.
In Untamed, Glennon writes about a warm golden feeling she has when she accesses her knowing. Glennon talks about the quiet space beneath the noise of the world that is her holy space. I know this space too. It is inside of me and I know it’s inside of you. To find it you must be willing to go there, find yourself, and pull her back to life.
So what else is there? What else is Beneath the leaves? This is a question I believe we will all be asking ourselves our entire lives as we navigate from our ego to our knowing and back again. The ego is the part of us that is afraid–the shadows under the leaves. The fear and belief from the ego lurk within us until we overturn each leaf one by one.
As we overturn each leaf, we either learn things we do not like about ourselves or feel feelings that hurt. This is why so many of us stay lost. It’s easier to shove things down and move on. It also drains the life out of us.
Walking into our fears and wounds takes incredible bravery. It is not ordinary for a person to wake up and decide to intentionally feel pain. I want this for you; the choice to wake up and decide. This past fall a choice I wanted to make for myself was made for me. The pain came with it. I wish I had been brave enough to make the choice for myself, yet I am so grateful for the universe, God, or whomever you shall call her making it for me. I then had my own choice to make. Run and hide or feel it all. I leaned into the pain and found that it hurts but the reality of hiding would have stolen my life from me.
How many of us are hiding? I read this wonderful little book for my sons, ‘The First Book of Feminism,” and at the end, there is a tree. The little girls are all pulling each other up and it reads, “our job is to remember the women who came before us and pull those up behind us until all women are free.” I change the words and say, “people,” because all people deserve to be free. Free of abuse, trauma, neglect, hunger, pain, and the feeling you don’t have a choice to change your situation.
Yet there is so much in this world that is unavoidable that causes pain. We need to fix the problems we can to have the skills we need to navigate the pain we cannot avoid. Then, once we have fixed what hurts in us and learned how to navigate our own pain, we help others. When we are in pain others will then reach back and help us. It’s a cycle, the good kind.
Learning to Deal with Fear
How do we do this? How do we feel it all and survive it? One step at a damn time, that’s how.
At the core of taking these steps has to be the deep-rooted belief that you are enough and worthy. That there is absolutely nothing in the world that can make you more or less worthy. Not a purchase, not a status, not a salary, not a relationship, not what others think of you; nothing. You are not broken, you are gorgeously whole. But if you are chasing the wrong dreams the world will let you know it through your suffering.
How do you know you are on the wrong path? Ask yourself this, “Do I feel like me? Is this what I want to do?” Then really listen to yourself. I am not talking about trying on an outfit and asking yourself, “Is this me?” I am talking about really digging into your gut and taking a hard look in the mirror and asking yourself if you are at home with you. If the answer is yes, rock on, and please teach us because we need you. If the answer is “no” or “I don’t know,” commit to yourself today to be you. Start overturning the leaves, the dark shadows, and learn to feel.
Taking a Real Look at Yourself
It is much easier to numb out and stay away from our feelings. I am an excellent online shopper, ice cream eater, workaholic, and stress cleaner. I used to be a great wine drinker too. I know how to avoid my feelings easily and I know point-blank when I am lost. If you are moving through your world to keep yourself occupied and comfortable stop. Really, stop. It’s killing the brightness inside of you.
Make a list, take an inventory, and as you step into a fresh day ask yourself what hurts and why? Why am I drinking? Why am I eating? Why am I online? Who am I trying to impress? Asking ourselves why we do what we do and if we like it creates a space once we stop doing it. That space is boredom and discomfort and opens us up to ask ourselves the hard questions and begin to feel. We need this space void of the world’s impressions to make our own.
This sacred space of discomfort is where we begin to be made whole because it is where we shed what does not serve us. We just have to be brave enough to go there and get to know the person inside of the hurt. This past fall my son Henry was brushing his teeth and said these words to me:
“Mama you are brave.”
“Yea, you’re just a person.”
My little prophet. I am just a person and so are you. A person who deserves to live the life you were born to live so the world can be a more kind, just, loving place. Know your worth, give your gifts.
Photo credit: Jennifer O’Leary