Over the last several weeks I’ve written to you about staying true to yourself through trauma and the turmoils of life. As a woman, I used to think that staying true to myself meant being happy and polite all the time. The men in my life have been burdened with a similar mistruth of staying strong and brave all of the time. Brene Brown has a Netflix series and in it, she talks about these gender roles and shame. The pushing down of our truest emotions and the pressure of gender as well as societal roles.
A “Perfect” World
As a child, I was into books that created alternative societies creating a perfect world. Even then I knew the worlds created on the pages were harmful but I was curious why these societies were so “dreamy,” if you will. No one was themselves in these stories. A few examples of the books I read are Brave New World, Stepford Wives, A Wrinkle in Time, and The Giver. Each of these books has a different theme but the bottom line is the same; numb your pain, be quiet about your grievances, and do what’s best for the culture. Sound familiar? It gives me shivers and yes it sounds familiar. Don’t get me started on Disney’s Wall-E.
In these books, conformity is encouraged and societal defiance is looked down upon, with one hero/heroine who questions the metaphorical pillars of society. I would like to think we can all be our own similar types of heroes and find a way back to our sacred ground by honoring each beautiful part of our souls.
Anger & Rage
Anger & rage aren’t talked about enough. The lesson I was fed while growing up was not to make other people uncomfortable. Any emotion that is not pleasant is labeled as a negative emotion, anything negative is a problem to be fixed. But is it? Aren’t anger and rage normal human emotions that we all feel? I think so.
If I’m right, what will you do with the rage in your heart?
I don’t have a full picture of it yet but what I do know is that no human emotion is bad; it’s just part of the human psyche. There isn’t a single emotion that we are in charge of so why do we believe that there are emotions that are negative and others that are positive? That’s the part I’m seeking to understand through my own experience and knowledge as a clinician.
So, if rage is just an emotion and we aren’t in charge why do we care so much about hiding or showing it? Why do we create gender norms to say who has permission to feel and show rage? I wish I had a very educated answer for you but I don’t. I do have a gut feeling that it has a whole lot to do with power and discomfort.
Looking at All the Rage
Here’s what I know about rage so far: Rage is a powerful emotion that tells us something is not right around us, that a threat is present. It’s an external emotion. A messenger if you will. A messenger that loudly screams “I see a threat, I feel unsafe.” When rage screams at us we need to listen. Really. The problem is that the vast majority of us don’t. Instead of listening to rage we either use it to lash out (puff up) or crumble (shrink down).
Rage is not a helpful emotion when we do these things. If we listen to rage, however, we can honor ourselves by demanding a life we are worthy of. A life where all our emotions are valid yet our behaviors following them are selected by us, not for us.
What about unfiltered rage? Rage exists as a reflex to perceived injustice. If you are not honest with yourself about what hurts inside of your heart, you, my friend, are at risk of hurting others or yourself with rage that will turn into hate.
Rage & Hate
Hate can seem sexy. It calls to you and whispers, “it’s not you, you are fabulous, wonderful; it’s them.” Hate tells us that we don’t have to feel rage and can quickly move back into happiness if we just remove the threat. Shame tells us we are in fact the problem and need to conform by pushing down the rage. Neither works, both steal a part of our voices and one desires to steal the voices of others.
If we are willing to tell hate we are all fabulous and wonderful but not immune from hurting others or above anyone, we could collectively unravel hate. In its place rage will stand nakedly in front of us demanding a place to be. We can’t let hate come at us. We can’t let hate tell us we are smaller or bigger than we are. We need to remove the hate from our rage to look at injustices both toward ourselves and the world.
I have often written about the forest and fire. That for new growth to come the forest must burn. If the fire is burning around us and we are lost in the flames hate has won. But if we are careful enough to stand amongst the flames, ashen, raw, and open to the change that is coming we can watch birth by flame.
Rage wakes us up and tells us, “you are not being honest, it’s time to come home to yourself.” I’ve written time after time about not numbing your pain, not losing yourself, and not letting the voices from the outside world swallow you. I’ve not been earthside long enough to be immune from cycles of rage and shame attempting to swallow me like flames in the forest. But I have walked through enough of these forests to know that peace comes after it burns and the sun always rises from the ashes.
Listen to rage, but do not let it take over your life. Instead, use rage to take your life back. Fires and all.
Okay, so at this point, you and the nation might be sick of the quote from Glennon Doyle about the cheetah realizing she is not crazy, she is trapped from her wild. I’m going to pre-apologize for bringing it up again if you are one of the people sick of that quote, but it’s a foundational piece of wisdom for me.
I’m going to do a quick recap for those of you who haven’t read,” Untamed.” Tabitha is a cheetah at a zoo who Glennon observes regally pacing the cage. Glennon goes on with the narrative that perhaps Tabitha believes herself to be crazy, dreaming of the hunt and ink-black skies. Glennon writes, “you’re not crazy, you’re a goddamn cheetah.” In this chapter, Glennon writes that when you feel you are crazy and your gut tells you that perhaps you are sane you should always consider that you are not, in fact, crazy; maybe something is wrong on the outside and there nothing is wrong with you.
Last week I wrote to you about setting boundaries and quieting the noise from the stands of the outside world. I want you to become quiet so you can hear yourself. When we are taking in the messages from other people, especially when those messages are loud and shaming, we lose ourselves–our wildness. In losing yourself, the people in the stands start to decide how your life goes and they do not always have your best interest at heart; they have theirs. Above all else, it is incredibly important to never lose who you are and to be able to come home and listen to the voice in your heart that guides you.
As an empath, I really, really do not like looking at injustice. When I see something that tells me justice is at risk I take on the emotions of others. I want to put myself in their shoes, hear their story, and feel the pain of those experiencing the injustice so I know what to do next. For this reason, looking at injustice is incredibly hard but also incredibly important for me. I have to put in a lot of self-care and take time grounding myself before I approach circumstances in life that need to change for the better. When I don’t start by grounding myself I’m pretty sure I come off wild when approaching an injustice. But my wildness doesn’t make me crazy, I’m a goddamn cheetah.
I know many other people that take on the emotions and opinions of others only to find themselves lost. Personally, as a survivor of domestic violence, I know what this feels like firsthand. In speaking up about domestic violence in a rural setting I’ve been met with adversities I didn’t know were possible. Leaving the abuse was the hardest thing I had done until that point. Walking into a system that is not yet set up to tackle the many forms of domestic violence is harder.
Helping Others, Helping Yourself
I’m very lucky with my line of work. When I see basic needs or an injustice that needs attention, care, and a new level of support I get to choose how I approach it. I know I take on the emotions of others who are suffering (joy as well, but suffering is what I want to fix…) so I’m able to check myself in a professional setting. I’ve spent almost a decade as a business owner learning how to do this. In the beginning, it wasn’t pretty, there was a lot of puffing up and shrinking down that I wrote about last week. Now I know that staying true to myself is the number one thing I can do in order to design systems from my company (and the world) that truly create lasting change.
Staying true to myself personally has been much harder these past five years. In reclaiming my voice over the past seven months I’ve definitely puffed up and shrunk down all the while asking for the grace to stand my sacred ground. Breathing deeply into my belly to remember I’m a goddamn cheetah, as I’m unfortunately met with victim shaming and miseducation surrounding domestic violence. Just yesterday I was asked to say, “domestic abuse,” because violence misleads everyone and makes them uncomfortable.
Do you know what makes me uncomfortable? People being violent or abusive to other people. Not the goddamn word a survivor chooses to use about their own experience.
Giving Grace to Others
It is in remembering my wild and personal experiences that I know all people deserve to live free of injustice. This has given me the strength to apply care to myself in order to do personally what I’ve done professionally for so many years. I have to give grace to those in the stands with especially ugly jeers because they have not yet woken up. They are afraid, uncomfortable, and they are lashing out. If I took their screams as gospel I would lose my life. I almost did less than a year ago.
Remembering that I am a good, kind, passionate, smart woman helps me wash the dust off my bloody knees as I stand against these crowds and respond. Not responding with hate to their noise but with love for myself. It’s easier for people to tell us we’re crazy and dismiss our life experiences that cause them discomfort. Accountability can feel life-threatening to those lost in shame or guilt. Accountability also means the just will prevail while the unjust fail. Those who hold perceived power over others just to keep it (and other resources) for themselves are loud as fuck. What they lack, however, is kindness. You and I, gleaming cheetahs, are filled with kindness and love. We do not deserve to be gaslit away from a life that is worth living, our voices tamed. We deserve to be heard and loved.
Stop the victim shaming. May all women, men, and children be free and safe. Fight for who you are and a world worth living in and a world worth leaving behind for our children.
At this point in my writing, I’m pretty sure that my readers are aware I’m a Brene Brown junkie. Glennon Doyle is becoming a close second. I quote Brene often and today is no different. Brene often writes about how some of the kindest and most compassionate people have the strongest boundaries. I got a little piece of advice from her work that I’ve been trying to hone since I read it; “don’t puff up, don’t shrink down, stand your sacred ground.”
Let’s dig in.
Learning Where the Ground Is
As a business owner, I have worked with a lot of people over the years. It’s taken me almost a decade to build a team and business that is reflective of my vision. My company isn’t perfect by any means but it is an honest place to work and truly wants what is best for each life that comes to it. Creating the team and company I have today is a story for another time but it is where I first used the “stand your sacred ground” advice.
I was a young business owner and fully passionate woman, who opened this big heart of mine and let pretty much everyone in during the first several years of business. I thought everyone had good intentions in the workplace and was genuinely proud of the work they did. I was taken advantage of both by employees and clients in the early years. A lot.
Employees would overpromise and underdeliver. Clients would not pay their bills or follow treatment guidelines. The combination of these two things had me spinning. And when I spin, to this day, I have two go-to reactions:
- Get extremely anxious and overtalk my problems with my tribe then create chaos around the problem or
- Lash out.
This cycle is miserable for me and everyone around me. This is also where the “sacred ground” phrase began to help.
Self-Care, Sacred Ground
Several years ago I would see that I was spiraling into my pattern of shrinking down with anxiety. I decided to start inserting self-care practices to stand my sacred ground. This is where I first found some of my boundaries and that these boundaries are kind. It’s also where I first experienced that even when you are setting a boundary that is kind and right for you others may not see it that way. The self-care I created was often to emotionally recharge myself after a person lashed out, ignoring a boundary I had set. Other people’s discomfort is uncomfortable to me!
In my personal life, this ‘recipe of authenticity,’ if you will, is much harder to navigate. In the work world, for whatever reason, I’m able to shut out how others perceive me when I stand my sacred ground. I still feel for them when my boundaries cause discomfort, but I don’t absorb it as my own emotion. Personally, it’s incredibly difficult for me to not absorb others’ emotions as I set boundaries. It can even be painful to lose those I love if a boundary I set means we cannot be in a relationship anymore.
In staying true to myself and my vision of kindness I have to hold myself accountable to the boundaries that support my values. In staying safe as a trauma survivor, I know that holding boundaries can literally be life-saving. It’s also incredibly hard even though I wish it weren’t so. By standing my sacred ground I am asking that others in my life honor my person, my needs, and my heart. I also firmly hold a boundary that I will not be in relationships with anyone who stands actively or ideally by abusive behavior.
Reading this may make standing your sacred ground sound simple. I assure you, it’s not. I do not live in a vacuum and neither do you. The unfortunate truth is that abusive behavior is rampant in our society with subgroup after subgroup rationalizing it. As I clawed my way out of a cycle of abuse this fall I didn’t have my sacred ground firmly in place. I barely had myself. Today, I have my true self again but it was a struggle to find the foundation for my sacred ground. I was terrified of who I would lose. I should have been looking at all that I could gain.
Standing on Sacred Ground
My sacred ground has saved my life, yet the lesson to get here was steep. I’m still working on this, unpacking how to stand my ground without becoming anxious. But this I know to be true; your sacred ground is sacred to you. You are allowed to ask for what you want and need. What you want and need should not take from others and instead should propel you forward into the truest version of yourself. And the truest version of yourself isn’t built on the backs of others.
We are all the same. Wishing and hoping for the best life possible for ourselves and our families. Baby, it’s in here, in your beautiful heart, the life you want and deserve. If those around you cannot honor your heart, your spirit, and your desires, it’s OK to say goodbye. If those around you do not respect your safety, you must say goodbye no matter how painful it may be. You need not shrink down, you need not puff up, your sacred ground is waiting to welcome you home to a life beyond your wildest dreams.
May all people be happy, safe, and free.
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.