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Love and Not Love: From the Archives

It is possible to love someone wholly and completely with all your heart while simultaneously knowing wholly and completely with all your heart that you cannot find lasting happiness with them.  It can be due to any number of factors: time, compatibility, geography, values, priorities.  It feels a bit like nausea, or like a heady blend of euphoria and despair.  It simultaneously feels as if you have more space in your chest than you’ve ever known possible, like your chest is the envelope to a hot air balloon taking you airborne and also the sky its rising in, and like someone has piled potato sacks of damp earth atop your body and you can’t fully inhale.  The realization feels like absolute freedom coupled with the reality of impossible impotence.

I spend my day’s minutes in love while ignoring what the cramps in my gripped fingers held tightly as fists are insinuating: it’s a gift and crisis.  I’ve been back and forth with my person for a great long while.  I’ve never done the unthinkable: I’ve never moved on.  He knows this, of course.  He doesn’t rub it in, he doesn’t take advantage, but of course he sees it, how could he not?  The idea, moving on, frightens me.  So everytime we pause, we break, I wait until the very moment the pain becomes unbearable, and that is when either he or I reestablish contact again…. Again.  I’ve never gotten past that threshold.  Like when a frozen limb regains feeling, if you didn’t know to wait it out — that it gets better — there’d be no reason to withstand blood returning to crossed legs, pins and needles, there’d be no awareness that after pain comes relief just the fanatical fear that the pain could go on forever.  So when you’re in that moment, at the height of sensation and you know the one way to mitigate it — not solve it, but choose a more novel type of pain — of course you take the out, of course you make the call, because at least you can wiggle your extremities in that option. 

I accept that if I am ready to do what I have never done, to move on for real, it will be blind curiosity that guides me through it — not courage or willpower or strength, Curiosity.  I’d be curious as to what could possibly lie on the other side of this.  This that is familiar that I have been unable to transgress. 

The choice has been mine, of course, I have chosen to stay put.  I was unable to believe in our impossibility until I’d attempted us from every possible angle.  I feel I have now made such an attempt and am thus at the precipice of either moving on or accepting I do not need what I thought I needed.  Maybe I do not need that which I have been struggling so deeply in my bones for, that which I brought the fight to him for again and again.  His innocence: he continued to engage, even though I tried so hard to demand he be other than he was.  Maybe it was I who had been pretending, I who thought I was something that I wasn’t.  I could not be light.  I never have been light, so 32 really was too late to make the attempt.  Because the truth is that deep down, I have no interest in being other than I am.  I just desperately hoped he would do something that I wouldn’t consider: change.

I therefore refused to acknowledge what was right in front of me: the truth.  Instead choosing to focus on a projection, an idea that had nothing to do with reality.  Perhaps I fell for our potential, perhaps potential is all I ever see.  That very thing would explain why it is I am always striving, refusing to accept the here, the now, the what is.  Instead only seeing the what ifs, the if onlys, the maybe somedays.  I’m exhausting, he is exhausting.  I would love to say at least he was honest, and I guess he was, just not with his words.  And me being a writer, those were what I chose to focus on (naively) even though I of course know that actions are where the proof lies.  But I was desperate for the lie, I practically begged him for it.  And I would feel relief when he obliged me so I could go on pretending for just a little while longer.  I wasn’t ready to go without.  I wasn’t ready to admit I had the man of my dreams, everything I’d ever wanted, and wasn’t able to make it work.  Still wasn’t able to be happy.  If it sounds like I blame myself, I don’t.  I blame circumstances, brain chemicals, attachment issues.  I blame the act of striving and how natural that can start to feel, so much so that eventually you only look for those that leave you constantly reaching.  I blame fear of stillness, fear of satisfaction, fear of losing my ambition. 

So I reached, he withheld, and we danced.

I love him.  And I remember the other times I’ve used that word.  And I think despisedly of the knowledge that it never goes away.  Love never stops for me.  And sure, there is poetry in that, the kind that every kid wearing too much eyeliner needs to stop writing if they want to grow, but also just settling into an unspectacular.  I no longer wish I was with the others, but that dull awareness of separation never goes away, not really.  Which feels like a prayer and a curse, a weight and a hand.  Sometimes it just makes me tired and other times the existence of love in my body from other stories gives me life: the man from the pizza place, the man with the eyes, the man who should have known better.

In the moments I see myself considering compromises I never thought I’d make, I get scared. 

“Maybe I don’t need to be with someone who’s honest with me.  Maybe that’s just about my need for control.”  Or, “maybe I could be with someone who doesn’t actually seem to want to be with me, maybe I want it badly enough.”  Even compasses can get confused, that’s for sure.  And then you might find yourself in one of those situations where you can’t tell which way is up, so these thoughts seem like reasonable and important considerations.  And sometimes we can spend months or even years fumbling around in the dark because we’ve forgotten that there’s such a thing as light.

You cannot force someone to be in love along with you.  I knew that.  Surely I must have known that, how can I have gotten to 32 without knowing that?  And I don’t mean you cannot force someone to love you, I of course knew that, but I may not have known that not everyone’s love is equal in measure.  The ability of some to love is different than others.  I don’t think I knew one’s capacity to love varies not depending upon the object that the affection is directed, but point blank we are not all born with the same capacity for love.

Oh.

I never doubted his love for me.  Not once.  But maybe I should have doubted that we meant the same thing?  Maybe I explained one too many signs away.  I believe he loved me as well as he could love anyone.  My heart is breaking not because I can’t go on without it, but because it feels disloyal to let it go, to walk away.  How will he find it?  Who will accept this as a satisfactory substitute to engage in the walk with him?  Because I want that for him.  I want it more for me, which is why, slowly (so very slowly) I will eventually turn and realize I have left him slightly behind me.  Just slightly.  And then more time will pass, more distance will be placed in between our lives, but knowing me, I bet it will take decades.

What I try to employ during these times is faith, faith in the idea that my potential is better than these ideas, and I will never settle for less than my potential in the long term.  I could forget or cling to moments, maintain a drunken stupor on memories alone for a serious and committed amount of time

but not forever. 

And that’s not fair to do to someone, present yourself as less than your potential in the hopes that they will be enough to make you forget what you could have been.

Maybe this right here, these tangled words, maybe this is the representation of a body leaving a heart, and maybe that’s why it feels so foreign.  Give anything enough time and space and just about anything can look like Not Love.

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Enough

If not now when?

If you’re not happy on the journey, you won’t be happy once you reach the destination.

Happiness can only be found in the present.

Blah.  Blah.  Blah.

I KNOW.  I GET IT.  

If you’re seeking, reaching, striving, straining, in anyway thinking, “I’ll be happy when…” then achievement will never be enough no matter how much you attain.  

Got it.

So.  Five years ago I made a list of everything I believed I needed in order to be happy.  Everything on that list came to fruition, I am now sitting in the fantasy I once had, if you can believe it (I know, I, too, think I should have dreamed bigger, but stay with me).  And (shocker) I’m not really any happier than I was five years ago.  So obviously, if I am to continue to see myself as a thinking person, I have to look at this fact and not just set the bar higher and the goal post further back (sports!  See how well-rounded I am?).  I thought the milestones I’d set would make me feel affirmed, validated, safe.  I thought I would feel a sense of ENOUGHness by my accumulation and accomplishment.  Knowledge that I was enough, had enough, and had done enough.

So, instead of outsourcing my happiness yet again, aiming higher, I tried to sit and imagine this, right here, being enough.  The feeling I envisioned for myself then, being my now.  And lo and behold, you know what my mind freaking screamed at me when I tried to conjure that feeling?

“HOLD ON!  This can’t possibly be enough, because then YOU (I) would be enough, and that can’t POSSIBLY be the case!!!!”

Whoa.  Well shit.

So I sat with that for a second.  And then you know what I did?  I got into Freaking Project Mode.  Because that is what I do best.  You mean there’s more work to do?  More blindspots to illuminate?  More layers to peel back?  More oversights to correct?  Sign me the eff up.  I eat self-help for breakfast.  I will be complete if it’s the last thing I do.  I will die on this hill of fixing/perfecting/outdoing myself.  Because you know what I love?  Work.

I am GREAT at work.  And projects!  And tasks!  And getting shit done!!  And A-C-C-O-M-P-L-I-S-H-I-N-G!!!  I am the QUEEN of productivity, the EMPRESS of fixing myself, the CZAR of working on my shit.  My entire shtick is based on revealing my faults for all of the world to see so it can praise and validate me for my bravery.  More to do? You better effing believe it.  I’ve got this.

But wait.

Isn’t this the whole problem?  Thinking that there is something to fix?  Something to change?  Isn’t this, this idea of betterment, the exact same thinking  as when I start to believe that a T-Shirt or re-organizing my living room or X amount of likes on a new selfie will fix everything?  That’ll I’ll never want anything again once I have that?  That once I have that I will finally know that I am ENOUGH?

Sure.  But this version of Enough will actually be enough because it will be so undeniable that everyone else will agree to it, too.  I will finally be so Enough that I can’t help but be thin and rich and loved in a way that makes me feel deserving and like I’ll never be left or alone or unwanted or rejected.  My Enoughness will mean that my books are in bookstores, my essays published in O Magazine, I’ll do guest spots on all the biggest podcasts from Arm Chair Expert to The Beautiful Writers Podcast (I won’t be able to start my own because I’ll just be too busy with so many upcoming projects and engagements).  Michelle Obama will want to be my friend and I’ll really do my best to get back to her texts as quickly as she responds to mine, again, there’s just so much going on with all my projects and engagements.  Glennon Doyle and I will go on vacation together twice a year and at this point I’ll no longer feel doubt, shame, anxiety, depression, loneliness, or fear.  I’ll credit her writing for helping me so much and she’ll say, “That’s crazy, it was your writing that got me through.”  And we’ll laugh and laugh as Abbey brings us sparkling sodas with lime.  

At this point in my life, the only sadness I’ll feel anymore will be the holy kind where I still look pretty when I cry and can write a funny essay about it to give everyone hope and strength.  My weight will no longer yo-yo, I’ll organically find and marry my perfect match, and him and I will laugh and tease each other as we post silly selfies of us as we work on our relationship and ourselves and become truly an inspiration to so many others doing the same thing.  We may even be in talks with Spotify about our own podcast, but we’ll just have to make sure the timing is right as we have so many projects and engagements going on.

My parents won’t ever die, I’ll remain wrinkle free without botox, and my walls will no longer be this ugly off-white colour but instead will be a really pretty off-white colour.  I know it sounds like a lot, but it’s really not.  It’s really, truly, just Enough.

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I Miss Hugs

I have gotten too good at going it alone.  I am an affectionate person who has learned not to be touched.  I live, work and travel alone.  I eat, sleep and dance alone.  My wires got crossed somewhere along the way, COVID was far too easy for me.  I only started to question it, question why social distancing was so easy for me and ponder that maybe that’s not something to be proud of, when a girlfriend told me how  badly she was doing, how hard she was finding all the screen-time hang outs to be.  I, on the other hand, have been disappointed when someone wants to meet up for a socially distanced walk instead of Zoom.  I prefer the safety of the Internet for my friendships, the comfort of getting to remain in my house alone and still see my people.  

I went over three years without sex.  Thirty-nine months without being touched, cuddled, held or slept beside.  During that time, a yoga teacher came up behind me in class and made an adjustment to my form.  When she put her hands on my back and hips I gasped and my eyes welled up with tears.  In that moment I came back into my body.  I hadn’t noticed the effects of the time-lapse because I couldn’t see what I couldn’t see.  I couldn’t see that  I was getting stiffer and stiffer and more and more disconnected from my body having no one to connect to through it.  I am an incredibly affectionate person who had no one and no thing to affect.  That moment felt like the moment you get outside of the city for the first time in months and, without realizing you weren’t up until that point, you begin to inhale fully.

Sex caused me a lot of sadness in my twenties.  I mistook sex for intimacy a number of times when I was younger and lost my heart and dignity in the process.  I was looking for one, settling for the other, losing pieces of myself in the process.  The year I spent as a nanny I received more physical touch than any other time of my life.  It was a hard year as I was new to the job, the city and the life, but those little ones constantly putting their hands on me gave me a comfort and grounding that made all the other stuff easier to bear.  The alone did not go unnoticed, but the touch made it all less lonely.

And now, being a single, introverted person who lives alone 14 months into a pandemic: I miss hugs.  I miss touch.  I miss being close to people.  COVID hardly changed my lifestyle, but seeing the effects it’s had on the lifestyles and mental healths of others has opened my eyes to what I’ve been missing and where I’ve been selling myself short.  To protect myself I closed all of my gates to all travelers instead of just doing a better job of determining their intentions and my expectations.

My Gran died in another province this month.  The family there grieved together, the family here grieved together, alone.  I am now used to crying alone, I’ve done a lot of it over the past year.  I’ve gotten good at it in the sense that I am incredibly patient with myself.  There is no fighting it, no rushing it, no failing to understand it.  I am the confidant I always wanted.  I miss being touched.  I miss my friends and parents.  Finally, 32 years and 14 months into a pandemic: I miss hugs.

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Shame

Somewhere along the way I got the idea that to be myself I had to leave the room.  Whether I’m a natural introvert or was just saving myself the time and effort of having to ‘leave the room’ remains to be seen.  When I started writing to be read and heard, when I started performing honestly, it was a genuine surprise to me to be rewarded for it.  And even now, after seven years of public reception, I reveal myself again and again with the safety net that, should the penalties be big and coming, I’m still young enough to recover.  Still young enough and hippie enough to pack a bag and leave town should I need to start over.  Any time I share something revealing about myself in a public way I wait for the other shoe to drop, the sanction to come, the pink slip saying I’ve now reached the line and, “Though we thank you for your service, are now severing our relationship with you.”  (I expect this notice from the world at large, not any specific body or organization or person, I think).  Even now, I can still see the other self hovering near the door.

Having authentic relationships is still something I am learning to do.  And still, with the ride or dies I have accumulated over the years, still at times of revealing my ugly, my petty, my narcissistic, greedy, immature, selfish, mean, I am baffled that they will continue to receive all of me.  Continue to take my calls, like my posts, laugh at my jokes.  Sometimes I feel like reminding them, did you miss what just happened?  Did you miss the part where I showed you that true me?  Do you want me to go back and do it again so you don’t miss it this time and can stop loving me?

Recently I reached a new revelation: my entire house is built on shame.  How I think, act, emote, project–all of it.  Through all of the self work I’ve done in the past five years, I can now clearly identify that when I am angry or afraid there is a lesson to be learned.  There is a reaction happening in me that is an opportunity to know me better, sink deeper, become more grounded.  What I hadn’t identified was that shame is providing me with the exact same information: I had thought Shame was the Truth.  

I had identified anger and fear as the arrow pointing to the error, the lesson to be excavated, the wound I was protecting, but shame felt like The Truth.  

I had not identified shame as a giver of information, a false belief needing to be corrected, a wound that was never healed.  We’re three months into 2021 and the revelations have been large, indeed.  I thought wrong was my starting point, needing fixing my premise.  In 2020 I started meditating with my eyes open rather than closed, but even then, even at 33 with eyes that I believed to be wide open, even with that working in my favor, I couldn’t identify this belief (nevermind its flaws).

Praise be to shadow work, therapy, and the time and space to sit still and cry.

But first, before the celebration, Doubt.  Never before, in all my years of self work, have I ever nearly been thwarted before beginning.  But this time I thought, “I don’t think so.  It’s just too big.”  I said it not out of fear but just in recognition of the sheer size of the project — how do you deconstruct an entire home, life, identity?  How does one do that?  And for how long?  And at what cost?  But with immense humility I learned: most of the work will not be done by Me.  By showing up and not turning away from the shadows and memories I’d forgotten, facing the fear of discomfort and discomfort itself, sitting still where I’d only up until then avoided, by not running, not picking up my phone the moment I felt a twinge, the walls shifted, the foundation was enforced, and footprints expanded.  

For so long, self-protection was my baseline; shame my motivation; and anger, anxiety and defensiveness my personality.  I feel younger, smaller, and more sensitive than I did.  My armor has changed, and in some ways the world seems much bigger now.  Now that I’m seeing less of my own assumptions and projections — life has become less about seeing others as my enemy.  I also feel exhausted.  I was fighting an opponent in my own mind year after year.  

Shame was the reason I cried every time I got on stage and in nearly every honest conversation I had—in those moments the guard came down, all was exposed and the fear and foreignness was too much to withstand, too much to bear.  And looking back at it, my instinct is to regret, to shame myself further, instead of employing understanding and compassion.  I’ve said it before and I continue to say it, all that is buried and all that is coming up, we are not responsible for its origins, but we have an ownership over whether or not we can honestly look at the results of our lives and labours and say, “Yes.  I am satisfied with this,”  or “No, I need to do a bit more work here.”

When we are maintaining the shiny with our insides a mess, who are we serving?  Are they worth it?  If they are, would they ask this of us or want this for us?  If inside there is a churning, a must keep going, what’s beneath that?  I would happen a guess from my recent experience that it’s fear, and maybe beneath that a yearning for safety, for love, to be held.  The world may not be able to give you that, your security does not keep it/consumerism running.  But that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve it, haven’t earned it, shouldn’t prioritize it.  I am holding (y)our broken heart in my hands.  I am promising to keep it safe while it heals.  I am telling you you are everything that is good and beautiful and holy.  

You were always enough.

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Your Back Fat Will Set You Free

When my (then) partner asked me why I don’t shave my ass I told him, “because you have to draw the line somewhere.”  Ladies and gentlemen, this is what freedom looks like.

What I meant was that I was done with striving.  I could see the futility in trying to achieve the airbrushed look and I was ok with letting it go.  I remember when Dove came out with its advertising campaign for moisturizing deodorant to make armpits pretty, and all I thought was, “Can’t one part of me be ugly?  Can’t one part of my body go unnoticed and unfixed?”  I was about 19, and that was when I saw that it would never end.  The ad campaigns, the magazine articles, the product placements: the jig was up, I could see the strings.  And it’s not that I was angry, it was more that I saw that the game was rigged and I could never win it.  As a result, playing became a whole lot less fun.  If I want to be happy, I have to accept this reality, this body, this moment.  

When I get caught up in believing that freedom, perfection and success are one closet organizer, one pair of Spanx and one self-help book away, I am back on the treadmill.  I am, once again, out of my life and caught in the reel that is the movie version someone else has scripted for me.  As someone with a lot of compulsive behaviours, I can see quite clearly that the desire is to be out of my body and out of my life, to be someone or somewhere else entirely.  Eating feels better than exercise, shopping feels better than journaling, scrolling feels better than conversing.  One allows me to separate, disassociate, disconnect, and the other requires me to be present, feel, and face discomfort.  One Zen teacher I have encountered says that your angst can become your liberation.  

Ladies and gentleman: my back fat has set me free.

I was getting dressed one morning and I was distracted.  What I normally do without thinking, I forgot to do: I forgot to avert my eyes.  At just the right moment when pulling on my shirt, I forgot to turn away and in that moment, I looked at the parts I’ve come to ignore.  My eyes grazed over the pieces I pretend aren’t there, over the places I stopped looking at long ago, and I saw them.  And, almost as if I’d touched a hot stove, I looked away fast: I slipped, but I caught myself, disaster averted.  But because I’ve been more regular with my meditation practice, reactions like those, the ones that were once instinctual and unnoticed, are now noticed.  Regular meditation makes the previously unnoticed noticed.  When I see that some unidentified force is determining my actions through an emotional reaction, when I see that shame or anger is causing me to react out of self-preservation, I can now recognize it.  I may not always have the sense of self to do anything about it, but when I once would have reacted, buried and moved on, there’s now an alternative.  So, slowly, I looked back. 

The lesson in meditation is that you don’t have to be afraid.  Fear is the scariest part, not reality.  I can look at my body.  I can see that any shame or anger I feel is the result of outside opinions and standards, that none of it originated innately or organically.  One measure I use to determine if something is true or not is if I could have determined it for myself through science, observation, experience, or would I need someone to teach me.  Can I know it or am I required to believe it?  When I see too many tiny bodies I start to doubt myself, maybe I’m wrong?  Maybe this body is wrong?  Maybe I can’t be trusted?  I get caught, of course, because frankly it’s easier to fix my makeup than to fix my relationships, to re-organize my junk drawer than to reorganize my thought patterns.  Meditation helps, turning off my devices helps, getting quiet helps.

When I was sitting the other day, I was experiencing intense anxiety and I couldn’t get any deeper in my body than it.  So that was where I sat.  I breathed into the space in my chest which was as far as my anxiety would allow me to reach.  And the story isn’t magical, it didn’t dissipate or go anywhere, but by accepting my breath and my mental state as it was, I wasn’t required to fight anything off or fight to get anywhere, so instead all my energy could go into breathing and watching and that was enough.  Sitting with my tension was the same experience as looking at the parts of my body I’ve always wished and been told should be different.  Seeing them without judgement, without fear, without desire to change, looking at them for what they are: a body.

This isn’t an all women/bodies are beautiful, positivity for positivity’s sake moment, it was just a body.  Everything else was made up.  That is liberation.

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People Pleaser

I’m not gay for the same reasons I didn’t become a teacher: everyone said I would.

For a long time I gave off a gay vibe and (gay) women were often confused by it.  What happened, I think, is that I was called a flirt young and found myself in some situations with straight men that felt mighty uncomfortable and inappropriate.  So I got into the habit of downplaying my energy around men because it felt safer to do so and like I couldn’t be blamed for something bad happening that way.  I didn’t, however, downplay my energy around women and I could see the confusion playing out with my queer community in the same way it had played out with straight men in the past.  So eventually, to remedy this, I got better at locking it down around most people in general.  I learned not to hold eye contact too long, not to accept invites for one-on-one hangs or rides home, and to never brush someone’s arm with my hand.

I didn’t know how to set boundaries so I took ownership of everyone’s experience and adjusted myself to keep everyone comfortable.  This way, I thought, no one would feel misled, and I couldn’t be called a tease or a flirt.  In essence, I got small.  This was a pattern that played out in several areas of my life: I made something my responsibility that wasn’t my responsibility.  I thought that if I was Right then no one would have a problem with me Ever.  And if someone ever did have a problem (or several) with me, I would find how I had erred and course correct.

I thought I could be happy once I was Right, but not until then.  Once I had taken proper inventory and remedied all errors, I’d then be good enough, smart enough, informed enough, talented enough, pretty enough, successful enough, everything enough.  And once I reached the point of Enough, I could finally begin to Live, and at that point, I would finally be allowed to be happy.  

So I was trying to Be Enough and I saw any negative feedback from the world (which included such innocuous things as an absence of positive feedback) as the finger pointing to the flaw I needed to fix.  This is an incredibly uncomfortable and unstable way to live (as you can imagine), as it means attaching your entire sense of self (and therefore your entire sense of security) to insecure units of measure like other people’s opinions which are based on their own feelings, egos, and capricious standards.  It’s a sure fire way to feel like you’re always on the verge of having your legs knocked out from under you since your goal is to never have an experience with someone where they seem less than outwardly approving of you.

The 2016 American election was a truly eye-opening experience for me (in a lot of ways, but I’m just focusing on this one, here).  Seeing someone with no reason to be in that position of power attain that position of power simply by being really loud and never faltering in their version of reality illuminated something to me: he won by being the loudest voice in the room.  I was still under the impression that there was a moral adjudicator balancing the scales of justice somewhere.  Seeing that that was not the case, that the world’s events are being caused by egos and the insistence of preferences simplified things for me.  I think I was still unconsciously operating with the Dad in the Sky version of God.  The premise  that I needed to be fixed and that something outside of me knew what was best for me.  I truly thought there was a playbook and others had it and one day, when I’d become enough, I would be shown it.  What I learned in November 2016 is that people’s likes and dislikes, egos and voices are all just colliding and bouncing off of everyone else’s and sometimes the loudest and least forgiving voice is the one that gets through.

I realized that all of it, all of the personality adjusting and flaw correcting meant nothing other than that I was constantly uncomfortable and unable to find stability.  It was only meaningfully affecting me and not anyone else.  I began to realize that Perfect isn’t a thing and that by basing my happiness and inner stability on the likes of those whose own values are wont to change as often as the weather, it was impossible for me to become anything and instead, I could only maintain this level of instability and insecurity.  

People Pleasing is not an easy habit to change.  Letting go of the goal of keeping those around me happy, I would experience (and still continue to, today) crazy bouts of discomfort that include nausea, fatigue, headaches, anxiety, huge feelings of self-doubt, and the worst of worst case scenarios playing out in my mind.  People pleasing has affected everything from my relationships to my personality.  It’s played a part in the cities I’ve chosen to live and the companies I’ve chosen to work for.  And everything from the homes I’ve lived in to my finances have been affected by it.  The beginning of this essay is obviously a joke, but the truth is that I have swung between pleasing and acting out of spite my entire life, and both are flip sides to the same coin.  In neither situation had I identified what I wanted and believed as right and based my actions on that.  Both motivations are about other people’s wants.

I have spent the majority of my life trying to avoid the discomfort of disappointing people and the devastation that comes when I ultimately do.  I have even taken on a life largely of solitude in order to avoid both the dampening of self I experience when accommodating others and the distress of the internal fight to not care if I do.  It is a really lovely feeling when those around us are happy as a result of our actions if our actions are based in authenticity.  But the good feeling is rooted in the authentic action, without that part, the feelings of others just ensnare us and limit our freedom.   If happiness is something that we have decided we want for ourselves (and we have a tendency towards people pleasing), then we have a choice to make as to which we value more: the happiness of others or our own.  And once we’ve made that choice, are we willing to withdraw our attachment to one in order to fight like hell for the other?

It has taken me too long to know that alignment is a requirement for my happiness (and possibly all people’s, I just haven’t taken the time to do a proper poll at the time of this writing).  Alignment means my insides match my outsides and it took a really long time for me to even be able to begin to ask the question, “What’s on the inside?”  Maintaining the comfort of those around me made figuring out what I actually wanted much, much harder than it needed to be.  It bothers me how long I struggled with this, how long I avoided that inner knowing, how long I felt wrong and confused and uncomfortable.  And the flip side is, now, how grateful I am that I’m here, that I see that knowing now, that I can see how much time I still have left (*knock wood*) to live with that certainty now, knowing that it gets stronger and more pronounced the more and more time I devote attention to it.

After my last relationship ended I was unable to pick up the pen to write about it because of how deeply I could see that all of it had been said (by me) a million times before.  When we finished and I sat on the couch for a week staring out the window, I could see more clearly than ever before all of my mistakes, all of my ownership of the results I was holding and all of the times I had missed the lesson and chosen to act as I always had while (I have to assume) hoping for different results.

Throughout the course of that relationship, I ignored what I knew deep down to be true: that we were not compatible.  I could have known that three years earlier, but I just pretended not to see it.  I chose to not acknowledge what I knew as truth out of laziness, fear and genuine hope.  I stifled all the communications from my inner compass and was then disappointed when things didn’t go my way.  After years and years of frustration and stagnation and not holding myself accountable, I can see how futile it is to ever try to suppress your own deeper knowing when one of your goals is to be happy.

This knowing is what is being ignored or silenced when you are prioritizing others’ preferences to your own.  I didn’t even know how to hear it, if I’m being honest, but I always knew when I wasn’t listening, when there was something being said that I was too afraid to listen to. To access this certainty, I required years and years of self-help.  Not just the bookstore section, but committing to bettering, understanding, and caring for myself.  I needed practices like therapy, yoga and meditation that cut through the noise and the bullshit and the confusion that swirls always and forever around in order to get to that point of changelessness inside me.  I needed to be around people whose love for me I never doubted no matter what I did.  And I needed countless hours alone to sit and write and feel and cry.  And even though its presence is stronger than it’s ever been, it still requires maintenance to access it.  I still cry, I still sit, I still write, I still get disconnected and have to come back.  I am so surprised, again and again, how much work is required to live a good and intentional life, and some days I’m able to do it and other days I just have to write off as a wash and tell myself that I’ll try again tomorrow.  It feels like such a kick in the teeth that when you actually begin to rectify this behavior, you still experience genuine physical symptoms of distress like chest pains and insomnia, but it just goes to show how ingrained our survival mechanisms (which is why people pleasing develops) really are and how real our evolutionary fear of getting kicked out of the tribe is.

 Discovering your true wants requires going really deep, but so does tapping into why this pattern developed so you can recognize what your psyche is most afraid of (abandonment, most likely,  and its resulting effects), and subsequently realizing that this likely isn’t probable anymore since you’re an adult who can take care of yourself and choose who to associate with.  Living life as a people pleaser is so hard, changing your ways is so hard, but there is freedom beyond this, and to have read this far, I think you know that.  I think you’re now looking for permission to reach for it: give yourself permission, set yourself free.

I Quit My Job So I Could Write

For a long time I wanted both: I wanted a successful career in the corporate world, making gains every few years in salary and title and I wanted to write and be creative in a public way.  This never made a ton of sense to me, since I thought Artists should want to be Artists, only, but I never saw myself as an artist, I guess, and I was pretty curious about continuing on with my day job to see where it was leading me.

I remember often if I had a dissatisfying work day asking myself if what I wanted was to be an artist solely and the answer was always no.  I wasn’t looking for that from my writing and  I truly wanted to continue on in my line of work.  (And, let’s be honest, writing is Hard.)  I didn’t really realize that that was no longer the case — wanting both — until after I gave notice at my job last week.  Something has been wrong for a while in my life, and I knew I wasn’t as happy as I had the potential to be.  I couldn’t sort out what it was but I knew work was now making me feel drained not just on rare days but commonly.  Something that sounds incredibly obvious but actually took me some soul searching to figure out was that what was different about now versus any other time I considered leaving was that for the first time, I was also ready to walk away from all the perks and privileges that went along with my job.

So not only was I ready to leave that which I didn’t like about it, but I was also ready to leave that which I did — and there was a lot that I still liked about my work life, which is why I stayed so long.  I liked my office, my title, my salary, my boss who had become something of a mentor, my coworkers and the industry insight I had.  The push-pull I felt in the years leading up to last week when I gave notice was that regardless of whether or not I was in love with my work anymore, I wasn’t prepared to walk away from the peripheral things it provided me with.  I wasn’t ready to relinquish being able to tell people, “This is what I do for a living.”  Those things I mentioned, they meant something to me and I liked them.  Liked them for what they were, the ease they provided me, and also what they said about me–that I was an adult, I was successful, I was very nearly whole with this very large box ticked.  I have always been proud of what I do and the company I worked for, and I was aware that not everyone has such a privilege.

I never went looking for a career.  I’ve never thought any job would satisfy me, and it was so confusing to me when people knew what they were going to do, went to school for it, and then did it.  I couldn’t imagine something being less accessible to me than that path.  But what I did seek out was good people and good-feeling places to be and, as a result, I found them time and time again.  This would explain why I’ve worked in so many industries over 12 years, because I was only ever interested in the people.  What we did together all day long was kind of irrelevant to me.

Which is funny because I remember in university realizing that when I asked my friend Shawn to hang out, he’d always ask what we were going to do and when he asked me to hang out, I always asked who was going to be there–even then, what we were doing didn’t matter, it was who I was with that did.

There was something tangible, measurable, about the perks of a job that writing hadn’t given me.  With the exception of when I first started spoken word and a few big momentary feelings of success, writing hasn’t really given me what I was looking for out of it on a day-to-day level.  It’s not hard to see why.  I showed up to my office job day in and day out for seven years whether I felt like it or not, wanted to or not.  I had the opposite commitment with writing: I showed up when I felt like it and not even always then, and never for eight hours at a time.  I was reluctant to give very much of myself to writing.  Unlike a hired position, the boundaries aren’t clear.  Where and when does the writing life stop?  How much of myself do I give and what do I hold back?  There’s a safety in employment because the hours are defined, the expectations contractual, and you get paid even if you have an off day.  My commitment to writing has been to write as little as I possibly can to still feel sane and then wonder why I am not being rewarded for it.  It’s worked out great.

I have heard at two different times in my life, in no uncertain terms, that I am supposed to write.  Both times in response to prayers of desperation said aloud to the sky: what am I supposed to be doing?  But what I didn’t hear either of those times was that I would get anything back for doing so.  And call me an entitled millennial, but that just wasn’t enough for me.  I couldn’t ignore that I wasn’t being guaranteed anything in return and I just wasn’t prepared to give my all towards something if something worthwhile (preferably fame and fortune) wasn’t being promised to me in exchange.  I wanted to be owed something.  I wanted a capitalistic exchange on the soul level before diving into the scary world of writing.  So it was an easy out to take to just walk away from it claiming, “I have to eat.”  So I did, eat that is.  I ate tons.  Eating was my most favorite way to not write.  

Over the years I wrote a little because I had to.  I’m the equivalent of a dog that doesn’t get enough exercise with writing — I get squirrely if I don’t do enough of it.  So at best, I do the minimum and feel free for a few days after writing a blog post; and at worst, I use a plethora of distraction mechanisms to keep me numbed from the restlessness that builds in me when I don’t write (food is good, men are great!).

So the other week I gave notice and sitting on the couch today I realized, “Huh.  I guess there’s really nothing left to do but start writing.”  I thought I would feel grief at the possibility of letting one door close that I’d been counting on for my stability.  I thought I would feel disappointment or like I’m taking a step back as I consider getting back into restaurant work in order to leave my days free to write.  But the strangest and strongest sensation of peace has come over me.  I guess the main difference about this time versus any other time I’ve considered walking away, is that I have never been grounded enough to handle an absence of promises, a state of no guarantees.  Something has come over me this past year as the biological clock ticks, as the matriarch of the family passed, as more and more of my girls have babies and Time for the first time has become a reality.  A thought passed through my head like a single cloud on a clear day, “Are you going to keep going?”

But there has never been another option.  With acceptance that nothing may come from writing, a whole new world of freedom has opened up to me.  You mean, I only have to make money to live?  You mean, I can spend the rest of my time playing?  You mean I can still write?  Still chase boys and write about chasing boys?  Still live my life??  Really? 

I started writing because I felt my soul scratching at the door.  I got distracted when I thought I was owed something other than the privilege of writing.  And so now, with Instagram capturing everyone’s moments and them not looking quite like mine… I feel an exciting sense of freedom, opportunity, joy: there’s no not doing it.  As long as I’m being honest, as long as I’m prioritizing being happy, as long as I’m paying attention: there’s no not doing it.  Money or no money, talent or no talent, readers or no readers: there’s no not doing it.

So thank you for coming in tonight.  Can I tell you about today’s specials?

Faith or How to Hang in the Balance or You’re Not a Failure if You’re 33, Single & Unemployed… RIGHT??

It’s ok to miss being in it with someone even if it wasn’t the right relationship for you, I know I do.  It’s a long and lonely road out here going it alone, but that can be ok.  The not reaching, though, that’s the thing.  That’s the hardest part, I think.  The leaving one relationship without having another waiting for me in the wings, the giving notice at one job before I’ve found the next, both are about timing being right and something that had once been right no longer being right.

And that’s tricky.  Sometimes I get the sense that I’m being told from some outside source that if something fit once then it should always fit.  But being a woman in her thirties, I can tell you that that damn sure ain’t the case (even if I still refuse to give those jeans away).  I realized a few years ago that my one regret will be if I get to the end of my life and discover that I hadn’t been paying attention.  I’m ok with making decisions out of fear as long as I’m aware of it.  I’m ok with choosing to watch Netflix instead of process the death of my Gran as long as I see what’s going on.  I’m ok with doing puzzles and listening to Taylor Swift instead of working through the end of a relationship. It’s hard for me to look at my 20s and not feel a twinge of regret at the years I missed because I was too afraid to pay attention (regardless of the futility of regret).  I would feel that same regret if I stayed in situations now that I stopped fitting.  It’s strange to feel a niggling of guilt to not be the same person I was a year ago, two years ago, 12 years ago when my stated goal is to grow.  But maybe it makes sense, since growth means change, and with change, some loss is inevitable; and loss can sometimes feel like leaving people and places that you love and are grateful to behind.

Growth requires leavings, endings, transitions.  

It’s nice when we know what the next thing is, but we aren’t always given that at the time, and that’s where faith comes in.  I was afraid that if I waited for the next right thing, I would become numb, desensitized to the wrongness of what was. That scared me because I believed then I would be stuck.  

So I took a leap.  And now we wait.

A possibility that’s difficult to accept but necessary to consider, though, is that what the next right thing is, is a time of absence, space, unknowing.   In order for that to be survivable though, faith is a requirement.  To not miss the opportunity of space and time by reaching for something–anything–to fill the void, I have to have faith in the process, the current state of things, time.  

And what is faith? 

If you haven’t felt it, imagine what you feel when you are scared of something unknown: the sense of foreboding, the dis-ease in your body, the way your mind jumps around.  Well, the opposite of that is what faith feels like.  (I’m aware it’s not a true definition if I’m only defining it by what it is not, but that is the feeling.)  We are programmed to be afraid of the unknown but, with practice, we can reprogram ourselves in the direction of faith.  

Even if you’re uncertain as to what you have faith in.  

For me, faith became the next natural step when I realized I didn’t believe the human brain was the pinnacle of wisdom, that that was as high on the intelligence food chain that existed.  So from there, the process of reprogramming is remembering every single time in my life that my brain told me the world may actually be ending, and then remembering that it didn’t.  The sun still came up the next day and the day after that, and I handled myself in the moments that followed and the moments after them like I always have.  Then, after repetitive practice of this step of remembering, I started to be able to witness fear in the moment instead of after the fact.  

What that looks like is, when fear and anxiety come up, instead of letting it drive, I think, “Huh.  It feels like the world is ending right now.  Historically, that hasn’t happened at times when I have felt this way.  I’m pretty sure it’s for real this time and the world is actually going to end, though, but I’m open to taking history into consideration and seeing what happens in the next 5 minutes, day and a half, 30 years.”  (Yes.  That is how I talk to myself.)  And then, wouldn’t you know it, the sun still comes up, and even if I am still uncomfortable due to whatever shit storm is going on and causing me grief (a bully in my life, fucking up at work, a pandemic), I am less afraid of my discomfort and the stories in my head.

After seeing that play out enough times, when I was in the throes of anxiety, I was able to get to a point of thinking, “Oh hey!  Here’s that story again, the one about the world ending!  I should probably make myself a cup of tea and a blanket fort to ride this out in ‘cause I’m going to be uncomfortable for the next hour/evening/day/etc.”  It’s similar to the doublethink I have to do a day after drinking or two days before I get my period.  Like, my brain is going to lie to me about all kinds of things on those days–what a failure I am, how dangerous driving is, whether or not everyone is annoyed when I open my mouth–but I have finally learned, that on those days of the month, all that is required of me is that I just pat it on the head, give it a cookie, and see how it sees things the following day.

Meditation makes this easier, of course, seeing your thoughts and feelings as thoughts and feelings instead of as You or The Truth, but journaling is good, using sound reasoning helps, too.  Faith, like happiness it turns out, is a muscle and a skill that has to be prioritized and developed.  Sure, chemical disposition and cultural and personal circumstances make it easier for some over others, but the more I prioritize and practice it, the more present it becomes.  

So what was I saying?  Oh ya.  I’m single and unemployed.  But the tea’s good.  And the blanket fort feels nice.  😉

Love Trap

I wrote a song, it’s called “LoveTrap.”  You sing it to the tune of “LoveShack,” and once it’s in your head you can never get it out. 

Love is a trap.  Deep down I have a belief that I won’t reach my full potential if people are too close to me.  Being loved, to me, feels like living a half life — being a compromised version of myself.  To remedy this with friends and dudes (anyone really: bosses, landlords, parents, the list goes on…), I’ve attempted to put permanent mechanisms in place to keep people from getting too close to me.  Like, sure, we can hang out, but only three times a year for 90 minutes at a time and you can’t contact me in between hang outs.  It hasn’t helped that historically when I have dated someone, the result has been me abandoning myself so, of course, my core belief was then confirmed.  The stories in my head have kept me living in a perpetual state of flux, swinging between loneliness and the sensation of being smothered.  It’s hard to know the truth, but what I have come up with is that I have a fear of not being enough.  So to prevent people from seeing this (my not enoughness), I show up within relationships as a version of myself, a better Pam, if you will.  Not a lie but not the whole truth, either.  Then, because I feel the need to maintain a half truth, fluctuating anywhere between 40-80% of my whole self, I feel more and more restricted and like there is a vice around my chest getting tighter and tighter until I can’t breathe, can’t communicate appropriately, can’t explain myself, just have to R.U.N.  To me, leaving intimate relationships feels like the moment in The Little Mermaid when Ariel breaks through the ocean’s surface with her legs for the first time.  She’s a mess, can’t swim, but her one goal is survival. The pretty princess could care less about maintaining her coif with the dinglehopper, and instead her singular point of focus is getting away from the place that was once her home.

All Disney and I’m sure they’ll have absolutely zero problems with me using their image without permission.

I have a lot of minor health issues — gastrointestinal, joint and muscular, emotional and mental — that I am constantly experiencing the effects of and attempting to resolve.  I was at an osteopath appointment once trying to figure out the root of a problem I’d been having for years, when he said with his hands on me: I think you’re really good at coping, hey?  And all of a sudden I had the deepest desire to cry.  Because, yea.  I suppose I am.  I am quite good at staying in situations I’ve committed to being in regardless of their impacts on my health.  I wouldn’t say that my relationships have stifled me, I would say that I have stifled myself whilst in relationships.  Familial, childhood, and social conditioning have made it incredibly easy for me to disconnect my head from my body and follow my head.  I have been told from every possible medium that my body, emotions and intuitions cannot be trusted.  So it would seem that as I get further and further away from the knowing that is my original self and more and more committed to following and applying weight to the thoughts in my head, my emotional, physical and spiritual health suffers and deteriorates.

Obviously (surely this must be obvious by now?) I want another way.  I don’t want unexamined stories keeping me in a place of discontent my whole life.  A place where I sabotage relationships, run from safety and experience continuous physical and mental discomfort, I want a whole life.  One that includes excellence, success, intimacy, trust, faith, companionship, vulnerability, courage, etc.  I have to remind myself I’m not more fucked up than anyone else, I’m just talking about my stuff more than most.  Reading Martha Beck and Byron Katie and asking myself the questions Katie recommends — is this belief true, are you absolutely sure it’s true, are there any ways you can think of that suggest this might not be true–I get to a point of seeing how despite my beliefs that other people in my adult life need me to be a certain way, I can’t actually find any evidence of that being the case when I examine my closest relationships, the ones I’ve chosen for myself.  If anything, I can see those intimacies and those attachments as a source of security.  I can see myself as the tent and my nearest and dearest — the ones I have met in adulthood and put my heart into my relationships with — as the posts allowing me to weather storms of instability and changing landscapes (how’s that for a metaphor?).  When reading the book Attached (Levine and Heller) about attachment styles, the authors make the point that for most, a secure and solid source of intimacy allows people to feel safe and take greater risks — making it more likely that someone would reach their potential.  And yet this is not an anomalous story: a woman losing herself in her intimate relationships.

For me, it just becomes easier to focus on the other person, make them the source of my happiness (or unhappiness, as the case may be, depending on where we are in the dance), smother the part of me trying to breathe and tell her she’ll just make waves and ruin a good thing if she does.  Obviously it’s not conscious, all this insidious bullshit never is, and there’s multiple pop-psychology points of note in this post that can be pointed to and named: people pleasing, internalizing shame, patriarchy, anxious attachment style, what have you, but I (and we, I’m guessing) don’t need more words, more diagnoses, more labels to point to.  The Not Enoughness thing is clearly the core wound here.  I write essays that often suggest I’ve solved a problem, stepped out from behind the curtain and cured myself–aha moments often feel that way.  But in reality, it’s always a slow burn, a gentle climb, a two steps forward and 1-9 steps back type progression.  What I am attempting to address in instances like this is a blockade on my route to peace.  In fact, that’s the sole/soul purpose of my writing, my workshops, and my life.  It’s easy to see that I’ve got more work to do, but that will never not be the case (double negative, deal with it).   I’m not striving for perfection, I’m hoping for illumination.  Slowly, slowly shining light on the areas keeping me in the dark.  I may not quite have gotten to the heart of the deepest issue here, but slowly deconstructing the protection mechanisms I’ve adopted as a result of shitty belief systems is my process and is The Way.  

Authenticity, Confidence & Depression

When I look at the decade I spent medicated I have to wonder if it was necessary.  I know it was necessary to get me out of bed (when I got out of bed) but was the real issue something other than chemical?  Was the real issue that I believed I was supposed to fit and succeed within a broken set of parameters?  That maybe the issue wasn’t internal but external?  If I’d had access to my own authenticity and confidence, would depression have been a possibility?  Can the three coexist?  I am wondering if I was trying to conform to a version of Young Woman that the world had told me was necessary to attain love, happiness and success.  Maybe I was trying to mold myself to It instead of expecting it to mold for me.  If I’d considered this earlier, then maybe those 10 years or so wouldn’t be such a fog.

What I had failed to identify but can now see clearly, is that upon leaving highschool and the following ten years, it never occurred to me to question the legitimacy of the values I had been taught.  Values like femininity, accumulation, professionalism, politeness, stoicism, containment, wealth, success. I accepted these as right and, as a result, came to see myself as wrong.  And not only was I wrong, but the things that I was told would make me right (a partner, employment, travel, possessions) weren’t making me happy.  So I was wrong (which sucked) and the paths to remedy it weren’t proving to make me any happier (which sucked more).  So naturally, escape seemed like the only answer — hence medication, over-consumption, tuning out, numbness.  This allowed the depression to then fuel itself.

It never occurred to me that I was right, ok, enough and that only I could know what was right for me.  And how could anyone come to these conclusions at 17?  20?  23? if they are engaged in a culture of more and belonging like ours?   How does one come to see the water they’ve been swimming in their whole life, not only its existence but its toxicity?  For me, depression was the result of doubting the legitimacy of my own experience.

It’s really scary to look back on the life I have lived and the things I have done and recognize that I did it all without really trusting myself.  Taking big risks is one thing, taking them without a foundation of self-belief is another.  Believing you can trust your senses, knowing your feelings are real and important, being certain that your footsteps carry the same value as another life.  I have always and only looked for confirmation externally.  I have had no central guidance system that I could identify.  And what this makes me wonder is, can one be both authentic and confident and also be depressed?  At the crux of all of my deepest turmoil, I see one common thread: a deep lack of self-trust.

I found authenticity first, almost apologetically.  Feeling no right to take up space publicly as I was, so doing so privately at first.  Writing was opening me up, showing me to myself when I finally started doing so honestly.  At the beginning, I always told myself: no one ever has to see this.  This was the only way I could be sure I was being completely honest.

Only very recently have I discovered fleeting moments of confidence that feel like colouring myself in and up to the lines — fully meeting my edges.  Taking up as much space as I am truly meant to take up, not expanding past through the use of bravado, volume, external decoration or rebellion, but the subtle difference of unapologetically owning and BEING all of me without need for permission, apology or force.

Confidence, I am learning, feels like encompassing all of the space within you, no more and no less.  Even with softness, even with compromise, compassion, empathy, it’s when you continue to meet your edges from above and below, within and without.  I fought myself for so long, frustrated and hating myself for how bad I was at remaining contained, composed, controlled.  Ten years of medicating before daring to ask the question: whose values were those anyways?  I said it softly at first, it was a whisper, a nudge.  The thought flashed through my mind several times before I finally acknowledged it.  And then I went a step further by asking a follow up: how does one love, create, adventure (my values) with that other set of traits?   

This retraining and reframing has at times caused physical pain, looking within instead of without and choosing to stay the course.  Now I can see that confidence, in me, looks like taking deep breaths to ground myself, taking long pauses in the middle of meetings and conversations to think, process, feel.  For a lot of years, what I seem to have done was have a whole ten by ten room to work with but only call a two by two square of it home.  I trusted the words of others over my lived experience, I searched for someone else’s orgasm, apologized for my questions, hid and regretted my emotions, my body, my voice.  

For the first time in my life, I am experiencing moments of genuine confidence.  And, like everything else of value, it’s much softer than what I thought it would be.  I’ve experienced the wanting to hide that shame brings, and the opposite reaction of the ‘fuck you’ of defiance, but even though they appeared to be opposites, they were just flipsides to the same coin.  Genuine confidence is not in reaction to or defiance of anything.  It is what it is what it is what it is.  Always.  End of story.

Depression was the result of fighting who I was and trying to make my insides fit the space I believed the world had allotted for me.  The belief that how I felt was wrong, the desire to appear to feel differently than I did, and the very real, possibly physiological, results of what happened from all of that doublethink.  It was the result of taking my cues from the world instead of allowing the world to react to who and how and what I was.  

I remember thinking so clearly how much easier Living seemed to be for everyone else.  How alien I felt, how difficult it was to execute Being Alive compared to how I thought others seemed to be dealing with the task.  I thought I’d find the answer to who I was from the world. I thought if I was just better at being who I Was Supposed To Be, I’d finally be able to do what others managed to do: just live.  Why couldn’t I make small talk at parties?  Why couldn’t I work a job simply because I was being paid to?  Why couldn’t I eat when I was hungry, sleep when I was tired, make love when I was horny?  Why was everything always something else when it all seemed so simple for everyone else?

We have a system in place that may work for some, but we demand that everyone participate.  And as a result, by not talking about alternative ways of being, living, working, loving, our brains and hearts and spirits are breaking.  I once said of my yoga practice: it sure makes it easier to live the wrong life.  Because it does, the endorphin rush is real.  And the same, I suppose, can be said of medication, it does make it hurt less.  But it’s not solving the problem for a lot of us.  I don’t think I needed to be saved, I think I just needed to hear: I know why you can’t do it.  I know why you don’t fit.  I know why it hurts.  I know, I know, I know.  

There is so much acknowledgement of mental health these days, of it’s realities and import, and goddammit is that a relief. One thing we can be sure of is that there is value in honesty, in hearing the experiences of others.  Even if the system wasn’t going to change (don’t worry, it’s changing), the coming together and sharing of stories, knowing you are not alone, that is the piece that saves.  

We all have the potential to make the rooms we are in better.  I am now working on allowing rooms to change for me instead of the other way around.  The world told me to be hard so I tried; but I was bad at it so I cried a lot.  By crying all the time I assumed that something was wrong with me.  Now, I still cry (it’s my therapy), but understanding that it wasn’t me that was broken allowed me to break the cycle of depression.

It’s not you that’s broken.

Moving On from an On-Again/Off-Again Relationship

It’s been nearly six months and my mind is finally becoming my own again.  For five and a half months you couldn’t really say I was ‘getting over him’ what I was doing could only be described as ‘not calling him.’  And look, I’m not saying I deserve a medal or anything, but I’m not sure anyone has ever multitasked the way I have for the past half year.  I slept and didn’t call him, brushed my teeth and didn’t call him, ate, conversed, and shopped while not calling him, hell, I even got up every morning and went to my job, worked for eight hours, came home, made dinner, took a bath for five and a half months without calling him.

Truly, I thought this might be my life, now.  Maybe my life was purely just a game of how many things I could do while not calling him.  I thought maybe I don’t actually get over people, maybe my lot in life is committing to people so infrequently that when I do, it’s for life.  That would explain why I’m still sorta in love with that dude from high school and that dude from the bar and that dude from Halifax.  Maybe I just get further and further away from the time we were together but never really sever the cord that is my connection to him or them.  Maybe I will never be fully out of any of these relationships.  Maybe I have to accept that.  I knew it wouldn’t be a good idea to get involved with someone else just to take my mind off of him, but I had no idea how to just live a life that revolved around not doing something.

But I did it.

For five and half – nearly six – months.

And now… my mind is finally becoming my own again.  I ate dinner, drank a beer, talked to my brother on the phone all the while not thinking about him.  I single-tasked for the first time in months!  I guess I didn’t believe that getting over someone was a real thing because I don’t think I’ve ever done it before.  I’ve moved, stayed busy, replaced, but probably never really just let go.  I think this must be the reason I hold so tightly to my heart, because I know I’m not someone who can just move on when the time is right, so instead, I lock that fucker down.

For over three years we did a dance of off and on again and again.  When we ended last December (and I’m speaking for him here, with absolutely no idea as to whether or not I’m right since, as previously stated, there’s been no contact for how many?  Oh yes, five and half months.),  Whether willingly or not, angrily or not, I think we both accepted that we really couldn’t make this work.  Real life had come for us and we had not been able to withstand her.  

Off and on relationships are so damaging because of how addicted to the roller coaster you become, you associate extreme highs and extreme lows with passion when it’s probably more likely just incompatibility.  Ain’t that a pain in the ass?  That something as romantic as love lasting can come down to something as unsexy as compatibility?

I gave a talk recently where I spoke of my past two relationships as being perfect despite what an outside observer (like my mom or best friend) may have believed.  They were perfect in that they were exactly what I was capable of having at the time I had them (as is every relationship we have in adulthood, I suppose).  But I went on to say that appreciating them for what they were doesn’t mean that I have to choose that for my future.  What I want now, but was unable to encompass then, is stability, commitment, intimacy and accountability.  

My desire to call my former guy over the past few months wasn’t uniform, meaning that my motivations were not static.  Sometimes it was out of habit, sure.  Sometimes it was out of loneliness, definitely, and sometimes it was out of a very earnest desire to speak to the person who had been my person for so long.  He was, afterall, my best friend and I no longer had him.  That’s a hard piece for a heart/brain/life to reconcile.  Having a very legitimate want that is motivated only by love for something that you very legitimately have to choose to let go of is a pretty big mind-fuck when you’re sitting in the midst of it.  That struggle will only be ruled on correctly when logic – and not emotion – gets the final say.  And sometimes logic can only be employed when all else has failed, when all hope is gone.  Pretty sad state of affairs to be making any decision from, hey?

We tried again and again, from every possible angle.  We tried  from up above and down below; we tried by sneaking up on it and jumping out at it.  I swear to you, if you can imagine it, we tried it.  And the more and more we came back together to try again, the less and less stable we became.  The more times one of you leaves the room, the weaker your faith becomes that either of you are capable of staying in the room.  Your expectations diminish, your trust erodes, your relationship becomes less and less fulfilling because its foundation is chipped away at each time a door closes and you’re standing on the other side of it.

I loved that man.  I still love that man.  I believe he loved me and maybe still does love me in his own way.  I am open to the idea that you can end with a partner, realize your mistake, come back together and make it work.  I am less open to the idea that you can do that more than once and find stability and the intimacy you are seeking with that person.  What I think is more likely is that you ended for a reason worth remembering the first time.  I did not remember this and I will try to know this in future relationships.  But even saying that, for those three years, he and we were worth it.  I don’t want it for my future and I don’t want a similar pattern with someone else again, but for those three years, we were perfect because it was perfectly in line with the stability and intimacy I was capable of having with another person.

I truly doubted that it was possible to really ‘get over’ someone.  But like I said, my head is becoming my own again after (nearly) six long months.  There is a light, folks, and feeling the feelings while you’re in them may be the most beautiful way to honour what you had together, even if the experience is tinged with a rumbling of fear that this may be your life now—not calling someone.  But for the first time, I can say from experience that eventually what happens is the long months of ‘not calling’ turn into living, and that when that happens, your mind becomes your own again.

Worst Fears

There’s something about my experience here on earth that involves living out my worst fears.  Not in the macro, nuclear, loved ones dying/world ending kind of way, but the micro, ‘I’m not worthy/deserving of love’ kind of way.  Getting beat up in high school was something that terrified me from a super young age.  I’d heard my older brother’s stories about the fights that happened at the high school, and maybe I already understood that girl on girl violence was a punchline, but these fears kept me up at night from about eight years old on.  

My story is weird:  I didn’t know the person who broke my face, the person that didn’t attend my high school who, when I was on the ground, kicked me in the ribs with all she had in her.  I didn’t know the person who’s story I had to walk around with written on my body during the years when invisibility is the way to stay alive.  I didn’t know what to do with people’s judgement, doubt, laughter, jokes — “Surely I must have done something.  This doesn’t just happen,” is what their eyes said to me.  And when some of them actually said it to me, I would think, “I know.  I feel the same way.”  

But I never knew what I had done.  And because my fear was that I hadn’t done something but that I was something — something that deserved pain, embarrassment, shame — I never thought to investigate how and why this happened to me.  I never thought to ask the police what explanation she gave, what her justification was, what role she believed I played in her story.  Instead, I acted just as confused as everyone else,” how could this have happened?”  I feigned.  But deep down, in the place I couldn’t go, the thought was there, “I always knew this was coming.”

I went years without sleeping with anyone.  Eventually, it went on so long that when I was ready again, I was scared of choosing wrong.  I knew that I wasn’t interested in sex divorced from love and intimacy, and I was afraid I wouldn’t survive feeling less than loved when I finally went to that place with someone again.  So, as you can imagine, it went super well when I finally got back on that horse.

Wouldn’t you know it, the dude, the guy, the one I chose

Bailed.

Hard.  Emotionally, physically, geographically: he was gone.

Did he have his own stuff going on?  Sure.  Could that be my concern when the walls of my house were caving in?  Nope.  What I was most afraid of — having my value denied, love revoked, him fleeing after the act — happened.

These are all just words and this is just a story and the facts are hard to outline when a feeling is what I am trying to convey, but my Heart broke.  Not because I was rejected by a person who claimed to love me after we had slept together in a manner that was essentially my attempt at a do-over at my first time, but because what I believed to be true deep, deep down was being confirmed: this was not happening because of something I had done, this was happening because of something that I was.  I was not Good.

I had chosen right but I was wrong.  His actions confirmed that to me.  And deep down, in the place I couldn’t go, I thought, “I always knew this was coming.”

The universe gave me what I was most afraid of, and there’s a couple different ways to look at that.  Maybe it’s the law of attraction: I’m attracting what I spend energy on, drawing to me what I deeply believe will happen.  Maybe it’s confirmation bias: random events are happening and I’m applying meaning that I already believe to be true to unrelated occurrences, drawing conclusions based on false premises.  

Or maybe it’s something else.

In high school I refused counselling.  I refused to participate in any of the offered Victim’s Services by the RCMP.  I refused to participate in my attacker’s ‘process.’  I refused to acknowledge by my words or actions that this had happened despite my broken and forever changed features.  As a result, the beliefs the violence confirmed in me were never seen or addressed, never acknowledged or discredited.  But this past year, being a much different person than I was then, this belief couldn’t go unaddressed.  I couldn’t not see the thoughts and beliefs as they were coming up, I couldn’t not notice the profound pain of believing I deserve to be hurt, that I can’t expect anything else.

For the first time I could separate myself from the stories in my head.  I’ve known for a long time that I am not my anger or my fear, that these are arrows pointing to a belief I am fighting to hold on to or running to avoid knowing.  But this was the first time that I have seen that I am also not my shame.  The deeply held beliefs about worth and value and lovability are not Me.  

I have had my worst fears handed to me.  Now, was it law of attraction, confirmation bias or, perhaps, could it be a tiny, turd-encrusted diamond left for me on my pillow by my room-mate’s asshole cat (AKA The Universe)?  Little pains, small slights, gentle irritations are easy to ignore.  The lessons are still there, the only difference is our world doesn’t implode with the little ones, we simply brush them off and keep moving.  Sometimes it takes the big ones to really make us stop and pay attention and genuinely ask, “What is really going on here?  Whose pain is this?  Whose story is this?”

What I thought would kill me didn’t kill me.  It turns out I’m other—stronger—than I thought.  That is the diamond at the centre of all this shit, that is the opportunity I was handed, that is the point to the pain.

Freedom

The reality of growth is that it isn’t linear.  It isn’t a straight shot from damage to health.  I performed at an event for eating disorder awareness once and a fellow panelist asked me where I was in my recovery.  The question struck me as odd.  “I think I’m in this for life,” was all I could think.  And I believe the same is true for the majority of areas of identity/patterns/behavior that I struggle with.  Life as I have come to know it is a constant swaying from one side of the pendulum to the other, and at my best, when I’m doing all the healthy things I need to do to fully show up, I’m resting gently midway between either but the pull never goes away.  If it did, there would be an end point.  I would know that once I reached Level 32 (or 64 or 3,076) I had peaked and could then coast but I’m fairly certain that is not how life works.

I’m a pleaser by nature.  And as this behavior begins to change, adapt, transform, just like with similar losses of structure at other times, what comes with it is a loss of identity.  When someone’s personality has been constructed in response to another’s experience of her and she then starts to remove the other from the equation, what’s left?  

I remember when I realized I no longer believed in the Christian God I had been brought up with and the deep loneliness I felt in that moment.  Up until that point, I hadn’t even realized that I did believe in the God of my childhood.  But something about the structure and stories and presence had worked its way into my psyche and offered me some security.  Another and maybe harder to understand example of this was when, after living with tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt for 15 years, I finally made my last payment and was debt-free.  Instead of feeling free that I had finally reached the point I’d been working towards after so much time, I fell into a deep depression.  I wasn’t happy but paying off my debt has given me a purpose.  I had replaced knowing myself with knowing what I had to do and losing what it was I had to do made me feel lost, scared, empty. (This could also explain how and why I kept my debt at the levels I did for so long, but alas, that’s another blog post.)

I have never questioned the appeal of military enrollment, religion, cults, politics.  I completely understand the human condition that is afraid of too much freedom, that doesn’t know what to do without boundaries and constraints.  Dogs feel safe in their kennels, we feel safe in our 9to5s, no matter how much we complain, bitch and moan, we make it work because there is something comforting about structure.  Both debt and a Christian authority allowed me to feel safe even if they didn’t make me happy.  I understood what my next move was, how to put one foot in front of the other, where I was headed.  With that gone, instead of freedom, I felt lonely, depressed and untethered.  Those losses equated to me not knowing what my purpose was and I confused purpose for identity.

I understand those people who cut themselves in high school.  Those who dragged a blade over a thigh to feel something.  I had a counselor tell me once that I am an adrenaline junkie.  I understand needing to confirm that you exist and a bright hot line of red pain being the most accessible way to do that.  When I feel too safe and too comfortable I start to feel smothered.  I feel naturally more alive when I am pushing up against discomfort–working a little too hard, drinking a little too much, getting caught up in drama I really have no stake in.  I remember a professor of mine in university talking about an Icelandic country’s tolerance to all forms of personal expression and social rebellion and, in correlation, their incredibly high heroin use:  we like to know where the line is, we like to know we have something to push against to confirm our own presence.  Limitless freedom is something we don’t know what to do with.

I remember sitting in meditation once and it was like a doorway was opened for me and through it was Freedom.  I had such a visceral response as I stood at its edge.  The (loud) reaction from my mind was, 

“I’M NOT READY!” 

I’ve kept that memory with me when I’ve struggled with how shallow my time in meditation seems to be sometimes, that there is a part of me choosing that, feeling comfortable in that, wanting the safety of that.  This knowledge makes it easier to be gentle with myself when I see patterns that I don’t like that I have been living out for so many years.  Because the truth is, things work for us until they don’t.  And there is a reason we choose seemingly harmful, destructive ways again and again over their alternative: something is easier to work with than nothing.  And when we can’t imagine an alternative to struggle that doesn’t look identical to absence, lack, space, we keep doing what we’re doing.  Too much freedom and we have to really start to ask some pretty deep questions: who am I with nothing to measure myself against?  

Do I know myself well enough to be unshaken by loss, change, threat?

Without realizing it, all of the self-work I’ve been doing for the past however many years has been about addressing the being left standing when all the other distraction, obligations, dramatics, has been stripped away.  Getting to know, making peace with, and ensuring that should I lose approval, employment, housing, love, health, or mobility, I won’t have also lost Me.

This is the basis of the work I do in Using Art to Heal, the virtual workshop series that starts next month.  There is a baseline that is completely independent of all that swirls around us that most of us just haven’t taken the time to get really clear on who and what that is.  Because once we know that, truly know Ourselves, we are unbreakable.  And that is real freedom.