Posts Tagged ‘self help’

Walking Home to Ourselves

Posted on: January 11th, 2021 by Jessie Topalov

As a parent, there are a million joys that come from getting to know your little humans. I’ve always been fascinated by nature vs. nurture. The thing that has taken my heart by storm, however, is children’s absolute knowledge and love of themselves without reservation. My number one job as a mama? Don’t let the world take it from them as it has taken from me and so many others. Teach my sons to honor their knowing and worth.

Looking at Ourselves

There is an awakening in coming through trauma. It’s like walking through a forest all night and finally seeing the sun slowly peek in to remind us of the love inside of us. The walk is terrifying but deep inside you know the sun always rises; that your worth is real. Yet so many of us get lost in the forest and are never able to guide ourselves back to the sun.

Walking Home to Ourselves blog featured image. A photo of Jessie's son standing next to a creek.How did we get there, to that dark forest? We get lost and follow the compass of the world instead of the compass of our hearts thinking the answer to happiness is out there. We listen to the noise of the world around us telling us things like, “I’ve got what you need, you are not enough, you are broken.” That noise is lying and pulling all of us away from ourselves.

With the world telling us that happiness is out there and we are inherently broken, our knowing from within gets buried. Materialism, greed, judgment, and power are running our world dry and hearts dry. Yet how many of us have gone through this life thinking if we get the next best car, outfit, house, lifestyle, job, or position we will in fact be happy? That the desires burning in our own hearts are somehow wrong? Then, from the people lost in these lies, we’re also taught what to value and build entire societies based on their belief of scarcity and self-hate. That everyone else must have something that we don’t. That we should all be afraid and protect what’s ours. That right there? That’s how wars get started and Capitals get raided.

This feeling is an emptiness inside of the righteous who are unwilling to look inside themselves and say, “I feel lonely, I feel unimportant, I feel sad, depressed, anxious–like I’m not enough,” and the like. It’s too painful to look inside and see what hurts, so a shield of righteousness is created. Then, those of us who believed the words the world crafted from fear get lost. When we say that our problems come from other people we are simply fleeing from ourselves.

Getting Out of the Forest

If you are of the opinion that your happiness is contingent on someone else giving you something they took from you know this; you are lost in the forest. The world is full of joy, beauty, and happiness but this joy is found in a leaf crackling under bare feet in the fall, not in your new Mercedes. It’s in seeing a child in need of a meal getting to break bread with their entire family. It’s in learning who in the world is without water and then getting water to them.  It’s in extending grace to ourselves when we are unkind, then trying again. It is in the pure knowing that inside of our own hearts is more than we have ever needed. That we are all equal. That when a person is suffering the bravest thing we can do is extend a hand not a firearm.

My grandpa was in the navy during World War II. One year, at a family reunion, he brought his trunk from the war and began sharing its contents with us. As he told us the story of his ship being hit by a kamikaze he pulled a spark plug out of his trunk. Grandpa reflected on how as the Japanese fighter lay dying on the ship, his shipmates began shouting and spitting on him. My grandpa recalled telling his fellow shipmates to stop and have respect; this man had a mother too.

So much of humanity is lost in the darkness of the forest believing they will find the path out through hate, force, self-defense, and self-righteousness. If they continue to believe they will find the path this way they’ll be lost their whole lives. Others are lost believing the stories being told by those lost in hate. Remember this; we were all tiny children who knew fully who we were before the world told us otherwise. I’ll tell you all what I tell my sons, “joy is your birthright.” I’m also in need of a daily reminder to myself because joy is my birthright too.

Changing Our Future

Collectively, I believe we are finally shifting within the world to say these fear-based behaviors are not true. It’s a small voice and a loud voice. Behavior rooted in fear is actively damaging to the world. To shift from this behavior, we have to be strong enough to know ourselves and stand up for love and against the damaging behaviors of others; to those still lost in the forest. The only way to do this is to shut down the noise of the world knowing we are enough just as we are. That we are worth love, belonging, joy, and happiness. That we can step away from any path taking us from the sun and choose again.

Through the discomfort of shedding every single thing that takes you from your knowledge, you can be reborn into who you always were before the world told you lies. For you too were once a tiny child fully in love with yourself and the breeze in the trees.

 

Xoxo,

Jessie 

Choose Pain, Come Home

Posted on: January 4th, 2021 by Jessie Topalov

It’s Monday morning and I’m sitting in my office, outside of the house for the first time since March. I also dropped off my son, Dametrius, at in-person school at 7:15 AM today.  After three weeks as my son and 10 months of e-learning, my baby finally walked into school. Up until a year ago, I thought the first baby I would give away to school was Henry; it sure doesn’t get any easier, even when they’re 15.  

So it’s a new chapter in our lives; Dametrius is out of the house for school and I’m finally strong enough to pick up my writing on a Monday morning and leave my little sons with their grandparents. As many of us are recovering from trauma, leaving the safe space we’re created is hard stuff. It’s also incredibly brave.  

The last time I wrote to you I shared that collectively we are all walking through trauma during the pandemic and that when trauma comes change is born. In re-reading “Untamed,” over break, I was reminded that there are two different types of pain. Glennon writes that the first type of pain is the fear that is born from working against the truest form of ourselves and the second type of pain is choosing to burn a life keeping us from the truest form of ourselves to the ground. This resonates with me deeply, I’d like to share more.

Choose Pain, Come Home blog featured image. A black and white photo of Jessie.Dealing with Types of Fear

I’ve written to you about becoming a love warrior over the past six months; a person who knows in their bones they are good and true despite what the world is saying about them. I don’t know how much this still sits well with me today. I think there is such a truth to this, yet so much more to uncover.

You see, the first pain that Glennon writes about are the fears we all get lost in throughout our lives. It is the fear that propels us to abandon ourselves for the sake of others. The fear that tells us that fitting in and being accepted is the goal of life and once we finally listen we’ll be happy. This fear is a Goddamn liar. I listened to it for far too long.  

As a woman, I’ve been raised to believe many lies and am lucky enough to have parents who never treated me differently because I was a girl. My mom is a feminist through and through and my dad is a champion of women. This gave me the courage to know that I was born equally but it didn’t give me the knowledge I needed to fight society as I entered into it.

I think that was part of my fear of sending Dametrius to school today. You won’t meet a wiser, kinder soul than my son Dametrius and my child has walked a path many of you cannot imagine. He’s still himself every day. “Don’t you lose you in there baby” I told him, “don’t fit in.” Me? I know school is where I began to lose myself and built up a series of lies from society from there on out.

Overcoming Personal Fears

Growing up, I believed from a young age that how I looked was the first key to acceptance from my peers. I developed an eating disorder in high school to lose the weight I thought was holding me back from fitting in. I believed that finding the perfect boyfriend-turned-husband would show the world how lovable I was and that marriage was the ultimate community and personal goal.

There’s more. I believed that I needed to be polite, accommodating, and put my needs second to everyone, including my children. I believed that the more I looked and behaved in a way that matched society norms the happier I would be. This is the first fear, this is what took me down the road of abandoning myself for so long.  

I wrote to you all that I made the choice to buy a farm in Ohio this past summer in order to follow my true path. In reality, this choice was delivered to me from the universe to burn every fear I had to the ground and build a life worth living. My farm, family, and God have saved my life. When I couldn’t choose it for myself the second pain was chosen for me.   

This past fall-into-winter I have done something I have never done before; I felt every single piece of pain I was walking through. I held it, felt it, breathed it in, and let it have a place. It was not pretty. At best it was animalistic. I spent hours crying on the floor while my babies slept, screamed to the skies while walking in my pasture, and succumbed to the raw pain that was needed to come back home to myself.  I’m just now starting to see the clearing through the trees, and this clearing is not from the world: it’s from myself saying, “welcome home.” I’ve allowed this pain to shake me to my roots and began believing that the only thing that brings true joy is belonging to ourselves.  

Someday I’ll tell you about the life event that has caused such a change in me. I’m not ready yet. What I am ready to do is tell you all that we can in fact do hard things. That this past year has been a collective of grief through the pandemic and personal pains. What pain will you choose?

Choose Your Pain and Come Home

Will you choose the pain and fear that tells you to succumb to the expectations of others? Or will you choose the pain, no matter how raw, that brings you home to yourself? If you continue to follow me, know this; I do not give a damn about what others think of me anymore and will ask myself “am I losing myself,” every second of the day I make choices. I will not put myself second just because I was born a woman or question the skills, talents, gifts, and passions that pulse through my veins. And I will not care if I make you or anyone else uncomfortable because I refuse to be uncomfortable with myself ever again.

We all have collectively been stopped in our tracks because of the pandemic. I believe I asked myself the question “Jessie, are you going to keep living in the fears of the world or come home to yourself?” Right now I’m coming home to myself and leaving the pain behind. 

Readers, what about you?  Will you walk with me? Would you like to try? I can help you to stay true to yourself. I have walked through pain that I thought was deep enough to kill me and through feeling it I was born. It’s worth it, coming home.

Xoxo,

Jessie

In loving dedication to my sister-in-law, brother-in-law, mom, and dad who have all held me in their arms these past three months.

The Valley of Winter

Posted on: December 17th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

As fall comes to an end I’m sitting on the farm surrounded by freshly fallen snow. It’s as though the universe is painting a visual for this season of life. These past few months have been extremely difficult for me. In the middle of a growing pandemic and the pressing matter of racial inequality, I know I’m not alone. Collectively as a nation and world, we’ve had to adapt overnight to changes in our culture, find ways to address what seems like trauma after trauma, and somehow keep putting one foot in front of the other. Yet life is still around us, no matter the valley we’re in.

The Valley of Winter blog image. Photo of a snow-covered porch overlooking a field.As a business owner of a company that makes my heart swell with pride, there are so many things I want to tell you. I want to tell you about the years before Instructional ABA Consultants was born–what it was like to hold the hands of mothers whose children were being institutionalized. I want to tell you how Applied Behavior Analysis changed everything for each and every client I worked with. Of my deep love of a man named David, my favorite client of all times.

I want to explain how through tears, sweat, heartache, brilliance, vulnerability, and grit my company was shaped; this came from me and the employees who built it. I want to create resource after resource for children with autism, families of these young children, and each person in the world who feels like their voice doesn’t matter. All of these things burn inside my heart.

Yet today, my win was that I got up without crying. Was this anyone else’s win?

Taking Time After Trauma

In the middle of trauma or in coming out of trauma it’s easy to expect ourselves to quickly go “back to normal.” I remember this vividly when I was awakening from postpartum depression after Henry was born. I was so joyful to feel like myself again. I wanted to pack my days with everything “Jessie” I could think of. Doing this, while very tempting, would have flattened me. In coming out of a depression I had to honor what my body and mind had been through. To choose wisely what I would add to each day.  

So what is normal and how do we choose what to add? Today we’re all so indicated by social media and marketing telling us what our lives should look like. On top of that, we’re socially conditioned to be a certain way or want certain things based on our gender, race, sex, and age. There are so many opinions swirling around us on who we should be and how we should behave. Trauma, like the COVID-19 pandemic, threatens this unnatural order.  

Many of us were on autopilot prior to COVID-19. Then we were forced to stop. I believe this is true with any trauma or major life event. It could be a cancer diagnosis, the loss of a loved one, an injustice toward a loved one, a divorce, your own mental health taking an unexpected turn, financial upset–the list goes on and on. Trauma is part of our lives and it’s the part of our lives we don’t talk about enough.

The scariest part? If a person does speak up about their own personal traumas, the systems supporting us or the people around us often bring shame. Shame to keep us small and silent. If you feel pain, scared, or threatened don’t ever let anyone tell you to stay quiet. Speak up every single time regardless of what others say around you.

What We Can Do to Recover

So what can we do? What can I do as 2020 comes to a close and the pandemic we thought would be over by June continues? Wasn’t it just yesterday I was laughing about toilet paper and schools closing over margaritas with friends? We honor the season then get the hell out when it’s time to get out. That’s what we do.

Winter comes every year and our busy-ness becomes harder to keep. COVID took much of that busy-ness already. Personally, I hope it never comes back. This season of stillness is a natural order of things. We as humans are not meant to be on high speed every second of every day. We are also not built to impress and conform. We’re built to breathe freely, live freely, and love fully.  

To do this we must honor where we are in life and love ourselves just as much when we’re crying on the bathroom floor as we do when we’ve achieved a goal. Grief comes for all of us. When we can offer ourselves compassion and grace the season is honored. On the other side of winter is spring where the flowers grow. Yet if we spend our lives wishing for beautiful flowers we’ll miss the cold beauty of a bare tree.

A new season is coming. Sit here darling ones. Hold your heart if you’re crying and take a moment to breathe the sweet winter air.

Xoxo,

Jessie

Trail of Ashes

Posted on: November 16th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

From deep within my being I have always known I’m an intuitive soul. I swallowed the feelings of the world from a young age. I can’t join any conversation or issue without feeling the full range of emotions being generated. I just can’t, I’m an empath.

I also have a force within me that demands I pay attention to the injustices of the world. To pay attention to who is being suppressed, why, and what strengths lie beneath their suppression. This is where I coined the term love warrior. As my aunt told me, “strong back, soft front.” It’s within my being to feel the energies the world places in my path and offer a way out of suffering.

Finding My Voice

Trail of Ashes Blog featured imageHere’s the tough truth: this force of empathy was not only cultivated in me from who I was born as. It was reinforced through victimhood and abuse. I’ve spent well over two decades finding my voice despite personal abuse and suppression, layered with societal repression as a woman. I’ve been too ashamed to speak this truth fully, yet I know shame can’t live where there is light. And damn it, I’ve got something to say.

Shame holds back lions like me and angels like you from showing up as we were created to be. I thought my heightened sensitivity made me weak. I also believed there were so many things I could not do because I was told I was bad at them. Or things I should be doing because it was expected of me. Screw that.

You see, we’ve been indoctrinated to believe that society has a right to tell us who we are and how we should behave. Now don’t get me wrong, we do need to be able to operate as a collective species. Yet when we’re operating as a collective species based on fear versus love, all we’re doing is breaking our own hearts and, in turn, our world. Suffering begets suffering. Love begets love. If we honor our suffering and say to it, “I’m so sorry you came to me but I’m unwilling to bring you to another being, couldn’t we rewrite history?” I know personally, I’m going to rewrite mine.

I’ve doubted myself for a very long time and am often in awe when I look to see what I’ve done. Like, I can’t believe it’s mine. Yet here I am at 33 years old running a multimillion-dollar organization that I built with my bare hands on the backs of no one.

The Lies We’re Told

I’ve been told a great many lies. Let me share a few with you.

I’ve been told to temper my emotions. That they are too much to handle. My big emotions? They light fires to pave new ways and I will never tone them down, not ever.

I’ve been told to be nice, to put the needs of others before mine, and that I’m more loveable when I’m thin. Have any other women been fed that lie? It’s bullshit. Being nice is blinding us all. I cannot give when my tank is empty, and my beautiful body grew two babies who birthed without intervention. The female body is a goddess in all forms. I will not trade my stretch marks for anything, I earned them. Every one of them.

I’ve been lied to and asked to conform to make others more comfortable. I will no longer conform and thus I will never lose myself again.

I can say this because I’ve been lost in pain for such a long time. I see joy, celebrate, and then a wave of pain comes back over me. The waves that come at me are of course from the outside world and then my mind becomes confused by the pain. I’m empathic, remember? I swallow emotions. I think all love warriors do because we know how real, raw, and true feelings are. The trick here? Learn to protect our own hearts so when evil comes to us, fear finds us, or pain washes over us we can weather the storm.

I would like to think we can all walk through this world without pain. Truly, I love divine love. It’s not possible to do that because without the world showing us what we don’t want to be we would never know if we were becoming it. When pain comes for you, when a person or organization is pressing you down, remember this: pine cones bloom in fire. The pain, as hard as it is, is shaping you to become the tree you were always meant to be.

Moving Forward

I’m walking a hard path right now. Someday I’ll tell you about it. Tonight I had a choice. Cry on the floor for the sixth week in a row or pick myself up. Today I walked into the gym and hit some heavy weights to remind myself this pain is forming me. Just as the pain of my past has taken me this far to show exactly what I do and do not want for my own life and the world.

I’ve got big plans for myself and the world.

I’m ready to call out anyone who believes it’s OK to lose sight of a child with autism based on a profit margin.

I’m ready to declare injustice and march for joy. To call abuse, abuse. I want to lead all of our broken hearts into a collective community where you can be you, I can be me, and we are all loved and accepted just as we are. I’m just getting started because the world asked me to be little, polite, and answer the story of shame. I’m making up for lost time. What has the world asked you to be? What lies have you been fed?

Won’t you walk with me and learn that you are perfectly imperfect? That if you’re lashing out in pain you can choose again? If you’re seeing someone as less than you to look again? If you’re seeing someone as more than you look again? That we are all the same. Won’t you honor the gifts of the spirit, of your beautiful, broken heart and write a new history with me.

Can’t we all just choose again? I know I’m going to. You can find me by my trail of ashes.

Xoxo,

Jessie

Raising Love Warriors

Posted on: October 14th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

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.

Xoxo,
Jessie

P.S. Total credit to the amazing Heather Shannon, my soul sister. And with love to my Aunt Linda.

Shining a Light on Shame

Posted on: October 7th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Last week I wrote to you about being authentic both at home and work. This is a big topic and I feel like I’ve only identified one wave in the ocean of authenticity. Today I want to write about one big way I believe we all get lost. It’s the next wave per se I’d like to ride with you on this journey. The wave I want to discuss is why we care so much about what other people say about us and how this blocks authenticity.

Teaching Our Children to Deal with Hurt and Shame

Photo of Jessie Topalov with a babyDoes anyone else who grew up in the 90s remember this little phrase; sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me? I sure do and what total bullshit. During my childhood, I was picked on a lot for how I looked and behaved. I was not a model-thin child but was by no means fat. That didn’t stop the bullying and actually caused me to gain a lot of weight that then led to some awful eating disorders.

I was also socially awkward (still am!) and got made fun of when I didn’t behave like the quote-unquote cool kids. Parenting techniques of the 90s? Push it down, it doesn’t matter, move on, and focus on school. Now, while I realize most parents were doing their best, this did nothing to heal the wounds caused in the schoolyard, as well as growing wounds at home.

Fast forward to 2020 and today’s topic is still a pervasive problem. Why?

The first is that we live in a world where people, both children and adults, put each other down. The second is as a society we’re not emotionally responding and providing healing when someone is emotionally hurt on a large scale, including ourselves.

Now I know some amazing mamas and papas raising their children to live authentically, develop shame tolerance, and show up as themselves despite what the world is saying. They’re raising love warriors. We need more parents like this and children raised like this. Yet, on a large scale, dealing with hurtful words isn’t being addressed.

To address this issue, I believe we each need to take a different individual approach. This approach is to work through our own demons which cause us to stay small. We need to fill up our own cups and overflow the world with the light starting with our children. From there we’ve got some work to do because people are marginalized everywhere based on their differences.

Starting the Learning Process

So how do we do this? My sister actually posed this question to me last night. My answer? A lot of therapy. Just kidding! Well, kind of. You see, I’m 33 years old and I’ve got a long learning history of giving when I don’t have the energy to give, pushing down my own desires, personality, and labeling what’s in my heart as selfish. Was anyone else raised that way? To label their own needs as selfish? Are you unintentionally raising your children this way? Or is there another label that’s pervasive in your home?

This is shame plain and simple. Shame tells us who we are is not good enough and we should push down our desires and stay the same. It’s a tricky little bastard and why we care so much about what the world is saying.

To answer my sister’s question authentically, my true answer is to first shine a light on the problem. Shame cannot survive when we expose it but once exposed your open wounds need care and attention. It would be a wonderful thing if this shame was identified and the world wrapped its arms around us. In truth, we’re lucky to have two or three people in a lifetime who can do this; one being ourselves. For our children, this has to be us because it is a rare thing for a child to meet another child with an open heart when they are shame spiraling. When children do know this, you’re dealing with an angel on earth. We need to raise our children to be these angels! I’m Dametrius’s new mama and fully aware of the angel in my home. I’ll be a lucky mama to have Henry and Declan follow in his path.

Responding to a Shame Spiral

So how about you? How do you respond when you are in a shame spiral? Do you begin to believe either the things the world is saying about you or the terrible things you may say to yourself? Do call yourself names or agree with the insults? These can be subtle or large in nature. It could be you love math and someone tells you you’re bad at it, that your jeans don’t zip and you call yourself fat, or it could be you’re in a heterosexual marriage and fully know you are gay. Small, big–they are all wounds.

What do you do when your body is hurt? When you’ve fallen down and are bleeding. You grab a band-aid, right? You provide care to help the wound heal. It’s easy when you can see it. But when wounds are inside of us it’s easy to shove them down and ignore them. What happens then is a mess.

We begin to lose who we were born to be, can’t give what we’re designed to give to the world, and oftentimes we start taking our shit out on everyone else or ourselves. Personally, I take my shit out on myself but I know a great deal of people (sitting President anyone? The backyard bully to all of Washington) who take it out on other people.

How do we fix this pervasive problem in our own lives and thus society?

This week we’re just addressing wave number one and, if you’re brave enough, trying to dive into someone else’s wave too. This week I’d love my readers to walk alongside me and think about ways you are calling yourself names (mine is selfish, among others) and begin to unpack it. Once you see why you’re name-calling, give your great big heart a great big hug and do something to recharge. If you’re brave maybe reach out to a friend and let them know something you love about them. Or notice someone struggling and offer a listening ear. Then get ready because next week we’ve got to talk about raising love warriors at length. We’ve also got to spend some real time on people in power and marginalizing minorities, something I’ve been thinking about as I write through this week’s topic.

I don’t know about you but I refuse to raise my boys in a world that they can’t be who they are. Step one? Mama needs to be who she is.

Xoxo,
Jessie

Authentic Love Warriors

Posted on: September 30th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

This past week has been a long and eye-opening one for me. It started with Henry and my first trip back to Illinois since our move out to the farm in Ohio. I crammed every second with people I love to work with. I couldn’t even walk into our old sitter’s home, now a dear friend, without crying because I miss her so much. But that’s the good stuff right there. Loving someone so much your heart explodes when you see them. I’m so lucky to have such wonderful women in my life and a work team that accepts me as I am. I think they’re lucky to have me… but I’m even luckier to have them. It’s reciprocal.

Living Authentically

Jessie Topalov BCBA and ASD expert sitting outsideDuring my time away from home, I was able to take a deep dive into my emotions. Remember, our feelings are messengers. I wrote to you all a few weeks ago that I haven’t been feeling like myself for awhile at home. I thought self-care would fix it; it didn’t. During the trip back to Illinois I spent time reflecting on the “why.” A very good therapy session later it was loud and clear; I’m not being authentic at home.

Guys! This is tough stuff. One of my content buckets is authenticity. I show up at work each and every day with my whole heart. To have it pointed about that I’m authentic at work and holding back my true self at home was hard to hear. It was also necessary. A lightbulb went off in my head that indicated I needed to feel like myself again. I’m not joking–as soon as I saw it for what it was I felt like myself again. This reminded me about “A Course in Miracles,” that a miracle is shifting back to love. That’s it. What more is authentic than loving ourselves?

Let’s dive in.

Losing Authenticity

Over the last five years, I’ve slowly shifted away from living authentically at home, which corresponds directly to becoming a wife. I somehow got this tiny, mad idea that I was responsible for how everyone was feeling (gender norms anyone?). Day after day, year after year, I started giving away pieces of myself to keep the peace. Now, while I did and still do activities I love, I still wasn’t showing up as myself. I was overwhelmed by the idea of making my husband uncomfortable because of the way he responds to my preferences. Holy crap, what total bullshit.

It’s not that my husband said, “hey you need to make me happy all the time!” but he sure didn’t and doesn’t stop me when I make concessions for myself if it benefits him. For me, this looks like giving up the things I hold to be true for myself that come across and bossy or uptight. I have a very specific way I like to do things based on my values. I love my values (they’re mine!) and yet I hate being labeled as a perfectionist, overbearing, and the like. I know that this is because I am a woman. If I was a man who was detail-oriented, confident and organized I would be labeled as sexy. Dare I say women can be labeled as bitches for this characteristic?

So I held back, pushed through, and fought. This looked like giving up on arguments surrounding how we eat, how I clean the home, how I organize bills, activities I like for the boys, not using shame, screen time, and so on. Sometimes I would fight the fight and sometimes I would concede because I was tired. On and on it went. This is how I lost my authenticity. Because I don’t want to be called bossy. Seriously Jess? Girl, it’s time to stop that bullshit.

You see, I actually am bossy. I employ over 75 people and run a multimillion-dollar organization built from my own heart and with an amazing team. I have to protect my company, employees, and clients which calls for being precise, protective, and loving. I hold the line on quality and values at Instructional ABA Consultants. I love what I do and love my team. Ask any one of them if my directness means they are not heard? That will be a resounding no because even though I’m holding the line, it’s my job to listen to my team. I honor their skills, they honor mine.

Learning to Be Yourself (Again)

So why is it that when I became a wife I adopted this story? That to be assertive at home isn’t Okay? I’m guessing I’m standing beside millions of women who may be asking themselves the same damn question. My idea? Society benefits from keeping women small and in their homes. Period. So even if my husband doesn’t outwardly say, “I need less of your personality,” he doesn’t have to. I stepped into a female role and while I fought sometimes it wasn’t always the case. I still found myself doing the laundry if no one else did it or wiping counters at 10:00 PM because crumbs bother me.

After I realized this is not self-love and to keeping myself small doesn’t serve my heart or the world, I did something radical. Ready for it? I woke up and embraced myself and told my husband I would never compromise my worth again, not ever. That ladies will be the daily practice of my life.

You see, a love warrior, as I’ve written, is someone who knows they are good, whole, and true despite what the world is saying about them. Sometimes that world is as small as our own homes. I’m committed to living this life authentically. Will my fellow love warriors join me? What a gift that might be.

In putting down what I felt my role was and the title of “bossy/uptight,” given to me by my husband, I am standing fully in my power through my heart. I poured a glass of wine last Thursday night and made charts for my home. How the boys and I eat, love charts for myself and the kids (for connection styles), labeled my pantry, wrote our values, wrote my boy’s daily schedule (the littles). Then you know what I did? I folded Martin and Dametrius’s laundry one last time and left a note, “You both need to clean up after yourselves, this is so not my job,” and left it on the stairs for when they got home.

Because you know what? It’s not my job to take care of the whole house, it’s my job to live authentically so my boys can live with their whole hearts. The cleaning crew comes tomorrow. I’ve got other things to do.

Xoxo,
Jessie

 

P.s. Proof

photo of a laundry basket with clothes

The Other 25%, Leaning into Love

Posted on: September 9th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Last week I wrote to you about the gift of applied behavior analysis to mamas and children with autism. I had every intention of talking about building a brand that works for mamas this week. Hang tight, it’s coming up next week! You see, when I sat down to write I realized I hadn’t finished the story from last week. Please let me try.

In writing to you last week I wrote about my little lion Henry and how applied behavior analysis helped him once again. As Henry’s mama, I’ve used function-based intervention with him since he was about 18 months (hang tight Declan! You’re 18 months this month baby boy). It’s been a wonderful tool I can use outside of work with my children, letting Henry know what behaviors will receive reinforcement and which won’t. ABA creates some really great boundaries we can operate from as a family. I noted last week that Henry’s behaviors had decreased by about 75% after returning to an ABA approach with him.

Changing Behavior with ABA

What I want to write about today is the other 25% of Henry’s decrease in behavior. Let’s get going!

Now to start I want to let you know this will be controversial. In applied behavior analysis, we would look for the final decrease in Henry’s challenging behavior based on the success of his intervention. While this is correct, there is another piece to this I think is monumental if you are a parent running the behavior plan. To be able to truly change your child’s behavior I believe you have to re-evaluate both your and your child’s internal needs. We don’t talk enough about this in ABA.

When I became a mama something incredible in my awoke. In birthing both Henry and Declan, I chose medication-free births to stay connected with my body and babies as they made their way into the world. I know them because I’ve birthed them and my body knows them. Now please don’t get me wrong, children can be deeply connected to non-birth parents too. I’m walking this connection with my son Dametrius. What I’m saying is that as parents we all have a deeper connection than I think we often remember that can guide us and our little loves.

So back to the present, to today, and Henry’s other 25%. As his mama, I knew (and have known) that my own energy inside of the home contributes to his outbursts. When I’m able to stay calm and be grounded within myself I let off energy to Henry that he can be calm too. And that when Henry isn’t calm (or Declan, or Dametrius) that I won’t match his unrest with mine. I will stay in my peace. I set the energetic example of what I want to see in my home. I’m going to be real with you, I haven’t really been this example since October last year.

Pushing for Inner Knowing

On a very personal level, I’ve been going through something that is incredibly hard for me that I can’t fix or think my way out of. Trust me I’ve tried and it’s done nothing but create frustration in me. I’ve been holding onto an outcome that I can’t force and refuse to surrender to. I’m not ready to say what this situation is to the public but can say I’m going through something. What I realized this past week when I was working on being calm for Henry again was that I had forgotten myself and my deep connection with my children during this period of unrest. I had pushed my inner knowing and connection to my children’s inner worlds aside.

Have any of you been through something like this? A death, job change, loss of income, divorce, an international pandemic? I’m guessing I’m not the only one who has gotten lost in themself and forgotten to attend to their own inner world and children’s consistently. I know personally I feel a lot of shame around it. To break this shame I can name it and shine a light. That’s exactly what I did.

Stepping Back & Detoxing

In order to help Henry finish decreasing his bursts in behaviors, I took a huge step back. I’m actually still taking this step back. It will take time to detox all the stress I’ve been holding in my body and the same I’m guessing is true for him. I’ve made a choice to surrender the outcome I was so desperately hanging onto and notice when my body is operating in frustration or anger. Personally, I feel a little flicker of heat at the top of my head when I’m operating from this space. Once I notice anger has come I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and come back to peace in my body. Becoming calm and placing peace in our home is the most important thing I can do for my children’s alignment. To let them know uncomfortable emotions do happen and peace is always waiting afterward.

This step back into my own alignment helped me to look at my little lion beyond ABA. I immediately saw Henry was reflecting on controlling outcomes (holy shit) and demonstrating bottled emotions (double shit). While Henry, as a child, needs me to step in with an intervention on what behaviors aren’t OK, he also needed me to be his positive model, not the negative one.

So I surrendered and decided for a full weekend to sit in full alignment with my children. To put myself and them first. These past three nights Henry has found his way to my bed and co-slept which we haven’t done since babyhood. We’re hugging more, kissing more, laughing more. Declan still fills my days with giggles and hugs. He’s my lamb. Dametrius gives me an attitude and a smile that will break many women’s hearts someday. I’m a full-blown boy mama with a heart full of love for each of them.

To decrease the negative behaviors in my family home I had to lean into love for myself and through that love lean into loving them fully once again.

Xoxo,
Jessie

P.s. No burst from Henry three days and counting!

Love Warriors

Posted on: August 25th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

It’s been two weeks since I picked up my laptop for work and writing. I thought after writing “Going Dark” that I would be fully rested and ready to conquer the world by the time this blog was due. I must have forgotten the tiny detail that I’m still a mama to three little men and was starting an out of state move. The rested part will come but clarity is with me, and for that I’m grateful.

Coming back to work made me realize it wasn’t a simple break for me. I didn’t take off to come back to the same job–I took off to prepare my heart for what’s to come. I’ve always been this way. Once I’ve learned all I need from one chapter of life I start the next chapter.

I shared a piece of this process in “Going Dark” to explain my career in the field of applied behavior analysis and autism thus far. I’ve got a gut feeling that these rest cycles will become more frequent as I fuel up inside for the next chapter because it’s a big one. I’d like to share my vision with you.

My Vision of the Future

Since childhood, I have always challenged authority and was misunderstood. A rebel, if you will. Looking back, I wasn’t a rebel, I was a misunderstood love warrior. I felt and still do feel that much of our human experience and suffering is brought on by arbitrary systems. We become so conditioned to these systems and rules we forget who we are. We become stuck.

I was stuck and broken-hearted for decades not knowing that my constant questioning was my gift. As I write this I need to remember my little lion Henry because he has this gift too. Gosh, he’s easy to love but my oh my he’s hard to parent! When I look at my sleeping son I know in my bones that if I love him fully he will not be broken-hearted or get stuck. My son will fly free. This is my vision for humanity, to fly freely with us.

This seems simple in writing but in reality, is a mountain to climb. To deconstruct the systems around us–who holds power, money, food, social conditioning, and the like–would take a lifetime of work. But if we do this together, my loves, could we deconstruct the world? I’d like to think we can and, in deconstructing it, we can rebuild it in love.

I believe every woman, man, and child can be exactly who they are and be fully loved for it. If we all stopped confining ourselves to the labels others place on us who would we be? I think the world is scared to find out and there is a reason people in power want to keep others small.

Over the past two weeks, I was really struggling with my victim story. All survivors have it and when I go there it’s tough to get out of my inner child. I believe the Spirit around us delivered me to my aunt who held me in a cocoon of love for three days. I needed her. Once I was whole and we moved into our new farm, a card literally fell out of a mantra deck onto my feet that read “I am not the victim, I am the lighthouse.” Hell yes, I am! And whatever the story being said of you, a story that may be keeping you small, you can be healed too. You are a lighthouse too.

Making My Vision of the Future a Reality

In finding the fire and light inside my sisters and brothers of peace I hope, as I’ve written before, to build a new world. You see, I’m very good at building systems that work. I bet you’ve got some wonderful talents too. I want to find those already enlightened in love and those yearning to heal. And from there find their talents and what lights their hearts on fire. I can offer my gifts to the autism world, to the world of motherhood, survivors, my readers, families, and friends. But you? Who can you offer your gifts to once you unlock them?

Today I’d like you to join the narrative. Leave a comment below, tell me your story, what you deeply love, and who you want to see live more freely, with more support, or more love. Together we’ll connect, with compassion at our core, and become Love Warriors.

Xoxo,
Jessie

P.S. If you’re wondering where all the beautiful photos for my blog come from:

Photo Credits: Amber Riveria our beautiful friend and artist

Going Dark

Posted on: August 6th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

When you work in theatre, a common phrase is “go dark.” Leading up to a production, there are endless hours of work put in from the actors, tech crew, and directors. In order to give it their all, the entire cast and crew does not rehearse on the days leading up to the performance. That is “going dark.” I was in high school theatre when I learned this practice. My sister is a production manager at a private college and they still “go dark.” I think this is a fitting introduction to what I have planned for the next chapter in my life.

Always Learning in Life

Let’s back up a bit. I want to give you a full picture of why I so dearly need rest to prepare for the next act of my life. We can rewind to, dare I say, high school? You see, this is an important chapter in my story.

I learned of autism for the first time in high school. I was in a sociology class and my teacher was introducing us to individuals with autism who are savants. This was the first time I heard a tiny inner nagging. “Autism” the nagging said, “pay attention.”

Later that year, a co-worker at Subway (I have held a lot of jobs) began talking about home-based therapy for children with autism. The inner nagging pinged me again. I had never met a person with autism and there was no clear sign in my life that I was going to work within the autism field, yet something was telling me to pay attention.

At the time I was actively working on a theatre career (Fun Fact: we won state twice during my time in leading roles!) and dragging my family to California. I was also still deeply suffering from abuse at home and digging for a way out. My digging looked like the wrong crowd, not respecting myself, and some partying. Yet still, I remembered the nagging more than anything.

Focusing on Childhood Education

Fast forward to my early 20’s. I had given up my dream of Hollywood and was diving deep into early childhood education. I wanted to learn how the environment shaped us and how to give every child a chance to realize their own potential. I did an honors thesis on chronic absenteeism and related factors, studying the impact of race, gender, social-economic status, and home environment. I also worked in a preschool at the Ohio State University.

At the time, autism was not being appropriately diagnosed and there were clearly children in my room who had autism but no services. My dear friend Mistique Henry (you guessed it, Henry’s namesake!) asked me if I wanted to work in-home doing therapy for a child with autism. The nagging feeling was there again. It told me to go and to learn. It was here that I learned about Applied Behavior Analysis and made the choice to come to Chicago to get my master’s degree.

In 2009, directly following college graduation, I packed up my puppy, a bad boyfriend (no joke), and the rest of my life. We moved to Chicago. I dove into the world of autism, behavior analysis and the discrepancy of services in Illinois for the next two years of my life. I also dumped that bad boyfriend.

I worked on the Illinois Crisis Prevention Network under a wonderful mentor Kim Shontz during research for my master’s degree. She’s an amazing leader and I’m lucky enough that her son, Ken Shontz, now serves as our Clinical Supervisor for Adult Services.

On the Crisis Team, I worked with individuals with disabilities who engaged in dangerous levels of problem behaviors. Ages of the individuals ran from early childhood to the elderly. I had a 100% success rate with my clients by using ABA, as it was designed. I had more luck with some amazing BCBA supervisors (Kristin, Alex, & Yours!!) who guided me.

The science during my master’s studies was all I ever wanted. It let me use my knowledge that each child is a unique gift. I was there to find out what wasn’t working in their lives. This “not working” is a learning style and ABA breaks down the learning barriers so that the person with disabilities no longer needs to use problematic behaviors to get their needs met. Turns out, it’s a missing skill. Look at our nation today and I’ll tell you loud and clear, “there’s a missing skill.”

The Crisis Team & Anger

I eventually found myself on a Crisis Team and found out why I kept getting nagging thoughts and feelings about autism. Simple, right? Wrong.

Once I found out why problem behaviors occur and how to change them, I found a new problem to solve; access to therapy. In Illinois, children with autism and adults with disabilities were (are still are) discriminated against based on their funding source. ABA companies back then (and some still today) look for high fee schedules from private insurance. If you’re a mama with a child on Medicaid you’re not getting ABA service. It was horrible. So, I got pissed.

Remember I told you a few weeks ago that anger is a messenger. With this anger I founded Instructional ABA Consultants. We are standing strong 8 years later and have NEVER turned a child or patient away based on funding sources. While we still can’t bill Medicaid (Illinois needs to make some noise here, we’re so close!) we accept Waivers for Medicaid families, do financial hardship cases, and have created grants for families who can’t afford insurance.

And you know what? On a Proforma scale we are at the top 90% of profitable companies in our industry. Want to know why? We’re treating our clients and employees with respect and care. Everyone is equal at IABA.

I’m blessed with a leadership team that supports my vision, therapists who provide top of the line ABA therapy, children slathered in high quality ABA and sprinkled with love, and that nagging is still calling to me.

I wrote to you last week that my nagging is taking me home to Ohio on our (horse) farm. I also told you I’m getting ready to light the world on fire and get in some good, necessary trouble. You see, I got pissed again.

The Coming Storm

Let’s fast forward to today. You can see that I’ve been working my ass off for well over a decade, following the guidance to support people with autism. Every hard-working minute is well worth it. And yet, my professional nagging tells me this, “you aren’t done until to have a disability is not to be disadvantaged, and to do this you cannot do this alone, you need more support.”

During COVID, I took those nagging messages the wrong way. I thought I needed investors to help grow my company larger to meet this mission. I went through talks and a high-ticket price was dangled with a clear message, “sell out, let us water down treatment, and pump out clinics to create investor returns.”

My thoughts about those type of offers: Fuck no (told you, I’d get there). In “Untamed,” Glennon writes a passage that I believe has the answer to the dysfunction of society. Glennon tells us for every disadvantaged group you can follow the profit down the stream to find out who is making money. It’s sickening and it’s true. Money is driving our society into a future I want no part of.

So, I’m rewriting my narrative and, in turn, autism’s narrative. I’m going to go toe to toe with Wall Street, to tell them, “not on the backs of children with autism.” The money that insurance provides for ABA therapy should be going to the children to improve the companies that serve them. Period. If you bought a yacht with ABA money, I truly hope you sell it and open a school for children with autism in Africa, South America, Bulgaria—I don’t care, just give it back.

Of course, you should be paid for your good work if you own a company. No issues there and I think more women need to hear this is OK. What’s not OK is to dilute treatment to create as many billable hours as possible for the sake of higher profit margins. You can fully give your company what it needs to thrive and pay yourself if you work hard and are true to your goals. Promise.

In order to follow my nagging and anger, I discovered what I must do. I’m building a future where BCBA owned ABA companies can outperform any corporate structure. A system where we can band together to change the narrative for children with autism and adults with disabilities. During this journey I’m going to meet thousands of people who want to change the narrative for their little piece of the world.

What ignites your inner fire? What injustices do you see every day? What is your story telling you?

I’m going dark for two weeks. After that it’s lights, camera, action. Baby, I’m going to build a brand-new world.

Xoxo,
Jessie