Last week I wrote to you about a new writer coming on to IABA to bring you content about autism and parenting. I wanted to let you know that my blogs have become my sacred space and I want to keep writing for me, hoping it serves you too. I believe my readers to be those who are looking to embrace their hearts and live their lives unapologetically and full of joy. I believe my readers are willing to look at pain, fear, shame, and guilt, and walk through it to bring understanding and shed light on what doesn’t serve them. This is hard as hell. It’s also totally worth it.
This week I want to write about my hope for you and me; our tribe. You see, my hope feels simple, yet I have felt damned from the time I was able to see it burning in my heart all those decades ago. I read a book to my boys recently titled “What Do You With An Idea?” In the book, a little boy keeps seeing an idea. The idea follows the boy and he ignores it. The boy is scared that other people will make fun of him for having this idea but the idea won’t go away. Eventually, the boy declares, “So what! This is my idea,” and goes on to learn that if you take care of your idea you can change the world.
I am not so bold to think that I can change the world with an idea but I am hopeful the world can change with collective ideas and actions. That we can all be as brave as the little boy in the story and honor ourselves and our ideas. Here is mine.
Choosing Kindness First
The hope and idea I have been living my entire life with is that humans can choose kindness first for themselves, then show it to others. That’s it. That’s my idea. I told you it feels simple, yet it ripped me apart for as long as I tried to embrace it. You see, I had a misconception of kindness and compassion because the world was telling me I was wrong. The world was defining what kindness looks like for a woman. Let me tell you what I was told. If you are a woman, maybe it even sounds familiar.
Kindness is noticing the needs of others. A good woman attends to the needs of others. Kindness is being polite. Do not speak in a harsh tone, raise your voice, swear, or insert your opinion where it may offend or even inconvenience others. Kindness is conforming; you do not want to make other people uncomfortable. Keep your appearance and demeanor in a way that does not offend. Kindness is being a polite little girl who grows up to be a good wife. A kind wife always listens to her husband. Men are, of course, here to protect us.
Fuck all that.
I read a book, “Brave, Not Perfect,” by Reshma Saujani, that talks extensively about the way in which society has indoctrinated women to be submissive. I shudder as I write the word ‘submissive.’ Ask my parents if they can put the word submissive and Jessie in a sentence. Nope. Not possible. Even though the US and many other countries have come a long way in some aspects, in many others it has not. We are still working against the narrative set by our white male forefathers over 200 years ago.
Shaping Our Future
Think about it. We have an entire political system that works on making amendments to words written exclusively by white men almost 250 years ago. While I would like to believe that there will be an awakening of some sort and that we are shifting toward a future for all, it’s not always easy to feel that way. When the pandemic hit and the tragedies in the black community came to our social forefront I thought to myself, “this is it, this is the bottom, people will wake up.” Some did. Some are using kindness and love to catapult us into a new future. Others continue to bring hate.
In speaking of my dream of kindness for all, the only perspectives I can write from are as a white woman and a mother in the US. I dare not and will not take the voice of the black community, LGBTQ, immigrants, or even men. I have not walked in their shoes and do not know what they were told to conform to or what they have experienced. But this I know to be true: every human being is born with the same worth. Let me say it again; baby, you are born worthy, you do not have to earn it.
As a woman, I tried desperately to earn value by following social norms while trying to fight these same norms. In my mind, I would stand bravely and push through a norm. Then I would fall back into shame. This constant push and pull was taking my life. This is how domestic violence overcame me.
Recognizing Abuse and Domestic Violence
Many people think that as a strong woman it’s not possible to experience, let alone live with, domestic violence and abuse. There is no way a strong or successful woman can live with abuse. I wish this was the case for me, but the truth is that at 34 years old I’m living without abuse in my life for the first time. Yes, I was strong and successful, but I also wanted to be kind and believe others were kind. That everyone is always kind at heart, even if they don’t show it. That when someone was abusing me they just needed a little more love to become the kind person they were born as. This would eventually spiral into, “why don’t they love me enough to stop!” Then I would get stuck. My version of kindness was killing me. Is it killing you?
In leaving domestic violence behind and working with an incredible trauma therapist, as well as having a loving support system, I am learning to apply my first belief about kindness; be kind to myself. This type of kindness takes from no one and offers a warm love to my soul that I’ve needed since the birth of my idea. I believe that if we are not kind to ourselves, which includes looking at ourselves (both the good and the bad), we cannot be kind to others. So I’m looking at myself and I’m asking myself to shed the narrative of kindness as submissive to become the woman I was born to be.
Cut the Noise Out
The world is a noisy place. When you stand up for yourself and what you need, remember that the crowd in the stands gets loud. You must be willing to block out the noise of the crowd to win the battle of your life. The battle to live free and unapologetically as yourself.
There is work to be done, systems that must fall, and people you must be ready to say goodbye to. We need to cut the noise out. But if you follow your heart home to yourself perhaps someday you’ll stand beside me in the ring. Perhaps we’ll build a kind world together.
Miracles and seen in the light, light and strength are one.
It’s been a little over a year since I started blogging. I was asked to start blogging by my marketing team to bring relevant information to our families. I was secretly waiting for this invitation because I’ve always wanted to be a writer and felt ashamed while thinking about “proper writing.” The invitation to write for you all quickly became therapy for me. The perfectionism that was holding me back was put down and writing has quickly become my favorite part of every week (outside of basement snuggles and coffee…).
When I began writing the blog I was focused on the services provided by Instructional ABA Consultants to support families of children with autism. I also wrote as a mama of two young children and one adopted teenager to let all mamas (and papas) out there know they are not alone. That even someone like me, an experienced clinician and CEO, has struggled with motherhood, tiny humans, and teenagers. Raising other humans is no easy feat and it takes a village of support and love. My hope was that my writing created a space of belonging for parents of both neurotypical children and children with autism.
Finding Myself During the COVID-19 Pandemic
As the pandemic hit in early 2020, I was not only burdened with running a company through a pandemic. I was also burdened with sheltering in place, taking care of my children, domestic violence, and the end of my marriage. I’ve alluded to the fact that I am a survivor of domestic violence. What I have not told you, however, is that I am one of the too many women who were (or are) not safe at home.
For a long while, I did not want to write this because I was ashamed. It’s not easy to identify domestic violence, let alone leave it behind. I was also fearful that anything and everything I wrote or said would be used in court against me. That by speaking up about my situation I would damage myself. There is much I will not say until I am ready, but please know this: I was not safe in my marriage. Neither were my children. I hold no ill will toward my ex-husband, but I absolutely believe abuse deserves accountability and that we all deserve to be safe. Writing about healing, alongside a community of support, helped show me the way out. I hope someday my writing will be a candle for others.
Shifting into a mindset where I can speak up (after 6 months of trauma-based therapy and more love than anyone can ask for) showed me that my current focus is shifting away from the original focus of my writing. I want to be able to continue to explore my own writing while not forgetting the part of my tribe who need online support for their children with autism and parenting. In a gentle way, I found it to be true that the content surrounding autism and parenting should be given to a writer who is currently more aligned with this topic. I also wanted to continue writing personally as a way to heal from trauma and live a life built in joy.
How did I decide what to do?
New Writings and Blogs
As usual, when I don’t know what to do, I went first to my gut, then to my team (tribe at home) and asked what to do.
This month my company will be splitting the blog section into two tabs. The first section will be for autism-related topics and family support. The second will be my writing, wherever that takes us. It is my hope that both blogs serve each community that receives them by being relevant to their respective topics.
Professionally, I continue as the CEO and owner of Instructional ABA Consultants serving children and adults with disabilities regardless of funding source. We have a clear mission and a badass team. Personally, I’m embracing the author I’ve always wanted to be and hoping my words bring peace, hope, joy, and connection to others.
May we all be happy, healthy, safe, and free.
Last week I wrote to you about the ring. In it, I shared that often in life we are confused about the noises from the stands and distracted by what is right in front of us. On what matters. I’d like to elaborate on this topic.
Life is messy and beautiful; this we all know to be true. On any given day, week, or year we are surrounded by experiences and people that shape our reality. For me, the messy was almost always the noise from the stands and letting go of what I thought I wanted in exchange for what was true. You see I too drank the kool-aid of fitting in for an extremely long time. An embarrassingly long time actually.
From a young age, I placed my happiness on others. I wanted to be accepted by my family and friends. I wanted to be liked. In order to do this I had to create a life that looked beautiful because I thought it would make me happy. I had written the story of who my life was supposed to be spent with and how it should look before I had lived it. It was a hollow way to live.
This past spring my gut told me my life needed a change. This fall it was delivered to me. As a survivor of domestic violence, I have a terrible time with surrender (even though I know it’s good for me). I was unsure of just about everything yet sure I wanted to find happiness again. Happiness for me and for my sons. So I surrendered. Incredible and hard things began.
The hard things came first. This is why I have written to you many times about walking through pain. As the crowds in the stands got louder I felt increasingly helpless. Yet in my gut I knew I had to stay the course, to sit in the pain, to allow the shift as I committed to my own happiness, safety, and worth. At first, I chose this path for my children. Then, as I became stronger, I chose it for myself. This is when incredible things began to happen.
As I stayed the course of surrendering to myself I let this one truth guide me; “I deserve to be happy. I deserve to be safe. My children deserve this too.” The pain, while present, became muffled and love began to pour in. Love that had always been there as I shed all that did not serve me. Originally, clouded by the noise from the stands, my senses were scattered. Literally. Having PTSD has led to certain noises hurting my ears. Yet as I allowed those who loved me to nurture me I was able to nurture myself. I could say all the things I had been holding onto. I could accept the loss around me and see the gain was greater.
I already knew the idea of what my life would be like based on the opinions of others. Honestly, I can’t remember a family gathering that didn’t press relationships or marriage as a child. I now know part of my extended family’s version of marriage is one where the man is dominant to the woman… no thank you. I thought if I created a beautiful life and my own family I could share them with my extended family. I thought if I gave of my time and heart it would be reciprocated by the family I had.
Living the Life You Need
The reality is that in a true marriage, family, or any other type of relationship, giving time and heart is absolutely necessary. In my case, most of my extended family and my last marriage sat in the stands as I stood in the ring. Realizing that I was spending all my time and love investing in others who did not want to reciprocate was liberating and painful. We are in fact social creatures and saying goodbye to those we convinced ourselves we loved but are not honoring us back is hard. It’s hard and it’s necessary.
As I let go of the life I thought I thought I wanted I’ve been greeted by the life I know I need. It doesn’t look a certain way. You won’t find it in a magazine. When I stopped thinking about what my life should look like and started focusing on what I want to feel like I was able to shift. In this shift, I was also able to look up and clearly see who is standing, sitting, or kneeling in my corner. I bet you have people like that too. I have always deeply loved my family and friends but my energy was split between the stands and the ring. Not anymore. Today and every day in the future I become more focused only on those in the ring.
It’s easy to look at the external world and think if we look or act a certain way we’ll be happy and accepted. But take it from me, it’s not worth it. We are only given this one precious life (as far as we know). While life is uncertain I personally know I will follow my own North Star–my gut feelings. I have built a new life, one built off of self-love, respect, compassion, empathy, and kindness. I have the most incredible people in the ring with me. Truly, I’m honored and grateful every day. I’m happy even as I do hard things.
Shedding a life I thought I wanted has birthed me into a life I know I was meant to live. With my children. With my family and friends. We don’t look a certain way anymore. We look happy.
If you’ve been following my writing for a while now it’s not news to you that I quote Brene Brown often. Brene’s research on shame is groundbreaking. Early on in my reading of her work Brene quoted FDR. The quote is:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
To me this quote says it all, summing up what I’ve been writing about for quite some time. I’ve written to you over and over again that you get to decide the value of your own life. That others have a way of pressing their opinions and beliefs against you to question your own value. That you often speak to yourself in a way you would not speak to a friend. And that there are people out there who are either in the ring with you or the critic outside of the ring.
Living the Best Life for You
Don’t you see? Trying to live your best life, despite what happens to you, what you achieve, or buy is where authentic self-love is born. It’s a roaring fire stronger than any blaze outside of the ring, yet the chants of those in the stands still try to drown it out. The crowd on the outside can be actual people or false, limiting beliefs you’ve imposed on yourself. The trick here is to know that while you may have thought your biggest vulnerability is your weaknesses, it is to know you are not your weaknesses and that you are powerful beyond belief. Not to be too sappy here but love and truth do conquer all.
As a society, there are two classes of people. There are the ones who see you are in the ring and applaud your effort, cheering you on. Then there are the ones mocking you, criticizing you, and being all-around lazy. Because the crowd can be so loud, we often tune out the noise from inside the ring, which makes us think the crowd will overcome us. But the only way that it is possible to let the outside crowd overcome us is to consciously allow them to. Really.
A long time ago I was gifted with the phrase “opinions are like assholes, everybody has them.” I was offended the first time I heard this. Everyone’s opinion matters! Fast forward about a decade and I’ll tell you clearly, nope, they certainly don’t. The only opinion that really matters is your own. The only outside opinions you should even consider are from those who not only love you fully but are also there when you fall in the ring and are there to wipe the blood and sweat from your face. They will not take the war over for you but they will step into the ring so you can succeed.
Accepting Genuine Offers of Help
I used to believe that a large part of my worth came from doing everything myself. To not be vulnerable. To handle shit. This past fall, however, as I crawled into grief, absorbed by PTSD & divorce, the most incredible thing happened. My family crawled into the ring and nursed me back to health. I was not in a position to turn help away yet time after time as they injected loving care into me I grew stronger. I felt love again. I felt OK not being perfect and held as I healed.
I also learned that leaning on people can be safe and that there are also people who are not safe. This brings me back to the FDR quote. As I’ve been writing to you over these past six months I’ve been trying to articulate the importance of taking good emotional care of yourself, setting boundaries, and choosing the life you want. To let anyone and anything keeping you from this burn to the ground. The critics in the stand need to burn down. While their voices may be loud, they have no value. You, my love, have plenty of value. If someone is tearing you down and has spent no time supporting you without judgment, taking them out of your life opens up space for the people who will join you in the ring. I promise.
I know this is not easy. I’ve personally lost my marriage and all but a few members of my dad’s family to my divorce. I didn’t want to let my family go and yet I knew I would not stand for bigotry, sexism, narcissism, and judgment. Hard lines for me. As I set these boundaries and lost a family of quantity, I gained a family of quality. Of the few family members that stayed, they honored me and where I was in the ring. By allowing myself to see clearly who is in the ring and who is in the stands I’m able to surround myself with people who honor the love I have for myself and reflect it back. I do the same for them.
Fight for Joy but Learn from Sorrow
We are all only given this one wild and precious life. It will hold many battles and many joys. You cannot walk upon this earth without experiencing both. But so long as you believe that you are worthy of self-love joy will win every time. To be kind you need not invite every person you meet into the ring. Be honest and kind with yourself first, then choose wisely. Know that your value and worth are important above all else. Should a critic become offended at your boundary, voice, needs, or vision, well… that is not your fucking problem. It’s theirs.
If you are trying to live a life where you are true to yourself and kind to others you are cultivating the sword and shield you need for the battle of life. Wield it wisely my loves. You get to decide how your story ends.
Last week, I wrote about the importance of sitting with pain and fear. In writing this piece I wanted to give others hope for how to sit in our own discomfort to live a life of joy. As I reflected on my writing, I realized that I have referenced, but not fully stated, that there is a type of pain you should not walk through, sit with, or allow. Today I’d like to write about this pain.
Self-Love & External Love
The type of pain and the fear that follows (the second one written about in Untamed) is pain other people are afflicting on you and me. In writing about walking through pain, I meant walking through your own emotions, honoring them, and making sure to nurture emotional pain so you can heal. What I did not mean is that you are responsible for walking through pain that is caused by another person. We are not responsible for the pain others inflict. Walk away from these people. Really.
So often we feel that it is our responsibility to make other people happy. We also feel it’s other people’s responsibility to make us happy. Just name any relationship you have and I bet you have a narrative about the value you want this relationship to add to your life. When we enter a relationship with another person and assign a label to this relationship we have a subconscious (and sometimes conscious) belief about exactly what that value is and what we will gain. This occurs in all relationships from family and friendships to work. Romantic relationships bear the brunt of this because we’ve been submerged as a society with the message that true love and a happy marriage are what complete us all. In my undergraduate degree, I vividly remember that over 90% of Americans listed getting married as a goal. At the same time, 50% of American marriages end in divorce.
When surveyed about why Americans want to be married studies found it is because we are looking for love. However, relationships don’t define our worth. We have to do that on our own. When we believe that our worth is out there somewhere in the world, we are unable to speak our true needs, honor our boundaries, and cultivate the type of people we truly want to spend our time with. Self-love is the ice cream sundae, external love is the cherry on top. Both are delicious and meant to enjoy, but one has a little more substance.
Leaving the Pain Others Inflict
This leads me back to my original point of talking about the pain others afflict on us. You see, when we believe our worth is out there we get majorly affected by minor things. Small things like when another person is rude and treats us badly at the store. Larger things, like an intimate partner abusing us, become even more of an issue when we are constantly searching for external love. All this to prove we are good. To prove we have worth. I have walked this path my whole life in different ways. I have also chosen to leave this path and see freedom shining in the sky for me. I want this freedom for you too.
You see, as an empath, I’ve been confused my entire life. When another person brought me pain, anything from name-calling, a fight with a friend, someone in a bad mood, I thought it was my job to deal with it. This went all the way up to domestic violence. Yet the whole time I thought “I can sit in this pain. I can help this person heal, even though this really doesn’t have anything to do with me.” As domestic violence came for me I learned in an extreme way how damaging my own behavior was. While I may be strong enough to swallow the pain of the world to birth joy, the labor would be intense. It is not mine to swallow.
When another person is lashing out in pain toward you or with the intention to hurt you, it is not your responsibility to swallow their pain. Or sit in their pain. Or heal their pain. It’s your responsibility to get out.
Learn from Your Pain
We are all human. We are all going to do things to royally fuck it up with the people we love. Yet so long as we are not OK with hurting other people, apologies honor our humanness. The most sincere apology is changing behaviors that hurt the people you love. These apologies and (eventually) changes tell the other person we know we messed up and allow us to offer ourselves compassion. However, if you are in an abusive relationship or any interaction with someone who does not own the hurt they have brought to you, you owe them nothing. This is not the pain I want you to sit in. I want you to set a boundary and leave this person; these people. I want you to leave before you choose to meet hate with hate and instead lean into love.
My darling ones. Sitting with the pain of your emotions is essential to your healing. Wounds that aren’t properly healed will leave scars to remind you your entire life they are there. First quietly, then loudly. You deserve to spend time with your pain, nurture it, honor it, and give your soul what it deserves. Staying in relationships when others push your boundaries, cause harm, hurt your feelings without remorse, or are abusive is not pain you need to stay in. You can leave any friend or family member that is nasty to you. You can walk away from anyone at the store giving you an attitude. You can change lanes when that driver behind you is up your ass. You can say loudly and clearly, “I decide my worth and how I am going to be treated.” You get to decide for yourself how you are going to live your life. We only get one wild and precious one.
Dip into the cool ice cream of your soul and enjoy. Know you are worth the life you want. Know it is never OK for another person to hurt you. If they can’t say sorry, you need to say “bye.”