Resilience in Motion: Redefining the Holidays

69f44ec467997175d2b556db61b27162I’ve been trying to avoid holiday shows on television, but I love This Is Us and had no idea that it’s holiday episode would trigger deep sadness in me at the end due to too much similarity between how it ends and some of the Christmases I’ve had that were brutal (like burying my mom the day after because that’s how the timing worked best for our family). I cried so hard, in a good way I think, because I am all about releasing right now and I need to release the grief – or no, not the grief – I need to release the hardness and suffering of holidays past. Grief is beautiful because we feel the missing of those who are no longer with us or far away and the great emptiness we feel is equal to the great love we feel for them and love is always good. I miss my mom and my sister and my children and the friends with whom I shared holidays past. I can feel that and still enjoy the holiday season in a different way with the person that I am sharing life with now, in the present, with whom I have the brightest and biggest love I’ve known, which is worth celebrating every single day all on its own.
 
It’s only the second Christmas of my adult life that I won’t be with any of my children and that is hard. Being an empty-nester is much harder than I imagined it would be. I’ve been trying to block the holidays out of my awareness as much as possible while being surrounded by holiday everything everywhere; but the truth is this has mostly been a joyful time for me – a season of light, sparkle and generosity with beautiful rituals – and I know now that resilience looks like reclaiming the holidays in some new way with my husband, since he’s the one I know will be there every year as long as we’re both alive. It’s time to let go of the kind of holiday that is mostly about the children. It’s time to figure out how we do an intimate and adult holiday season around the Winter Solstice since we’re magical people who run with the rhythms of nature.
 
This year I understand this rhythm better than ever, the rhythm of descending into the darkness and incubating in a seed and knowing that I am going to bloom again with the light. I’ve been in the dark a long time. Four years. I had no idea how dark it was until I had to face myself this summer and autumn after I was stripped of everything I thought gave me value, meaning and reason for being. I have to admit that I am looking forward to truly feeling the air and the light in my life again.

Struggling with My Value as a Professional

I am on the job hunt again. Due to a variety of circumstances I have been job hunting for most of the 2.5 years I’ve been in Portland and I’m over it. And yet…while I was able to get myself together enough to hang an online shingle for my own business as a Transformation and Ritual Guide, I haven’t promoted it at all and I’m working out why (definitely has something to do with trusting my value and “selling” myself, which I do as an experienced admin professional but not in this new arena working one-on-one). I clearly have some things to work out and evolve into. In the meantime, starting in January I need to bring in a certain amount of income until Eros works his way into driver at UPS (we’re hoping for 2017 to be our year as he becomes eligible for driver in February and they call for them in April), so I’m looking for work with the hopes it will be a short-term gig. Unless it’s an awesome part-time gig – like working for an entrepreneur I respect – that will keep me feeling useful and valued while I continue working on my book, my creative projects, and getting my own business off the ground.
 
But it’s tough to get excited about interviews and organizations after already doing this so long, as well as being undervalued, disrespected, and involuntarily terminated by the three employers I’ve had here. I am not accustomed to failure, so this has been a major hit to my pride and my internal sense of value. I know I’m an exemplary admin who does excellent work for my people and my peers have always reflected this to me. But the leaders are a different story, which is why I don’t want to work for others any longer than I have to (and I know having to is within my power and I am definitely in some kind of healing process around my ability to offer my gifts to the world).
 
It’s a strange experience being an excellent candidate who gets phone screens and interviews for at least 1/2 of my resumes sent out and gets to the point of final interviews for at least 1/2 of those – meaning that out of hundreds of candidates I am often in the top 10 and then in the top 2-3. I’m great on paper, I have excellent references (I’ve been told so repeatedly by potential employers), and I clearly interview well or I wouldn’t get through the first and sometimes second or third levels as often as I do. And yet I’ve been in the last interview phase more than 25 times in the last 2.5 years and have only been chosen twice. It’s frustrating and I can’t help questioning what it is about me that doesn’t feel like a match to those evaluating me.
 
I have recognized that my one weakness coming to Portland is that I’m used to softer people and cultures when it comes to professionalism. Humboldt County is an unusual place and since I grew up as a professional there, I assumed most non-profit work cultures were softer and more open, where it’s easy to be myself. That has not been my experience in Portland. I’ve learned that I need to achieve a new level of what is called professionalism, although I see it as repressing our humanness to project an image and that’s hard for me. I don’t do false image. I don’t repress my humanness very well. I don’t want anyone to have to repress their humanness ever, which is why my mission is radical inclusion.
 
I am an emotional being and empath who reads the emotions of the people around me and I prefer to tell the truth about how things feel. If a culture feels harmful and my people are unhappy, I’m going to tell my leaders so. I’m accustomed to having excellent relationships with my leaders where that openness exists and my perspective is valued. That has not been the case in Portland. In the position I worked for 18 months, I was terminated for telling the truth about my experience with my supervisor and the organization’s leadership. I was just supposed to ignore being outright refused to bring more value, and my job and my involvement on the team being diminished to nearly nothing, to the point that my supervisor even forgot to meet with me for four months (she actually said it was my fault I didn’t remind her to do her job). It was like the leaders just forgot I existed except when I fulfilled the few responsibilities they needed and they expected me to be satisfied with being radically under valued and put on a happy face every day. This was in an organization with a mission for building community. How do I trust that other organizations here are going to be any different?
 
I’m also frustrated at myself that I wasn’t as ready to launch my own business as I hoped during this six months of unemployment, which I know has to do with healing from birth mother grief and emotional abuse trauma and losing my chosen family and my professional losses, and yet I can’t help feeling disappointed that I’m back to putting my professional well-being in the hands of others.
 
Both Eros and I intuitively feel like our time is coming, that we’re almost there as far as finding our happy rhythm professionally and financially. It’s this liminal space between that is just so damn uncomfortable – and it’s a place I have lived in nonstop since I found out I was pregnant with my birth son four years ago. This is why I know I can hold great space for others living in the liminal spaces of transformation. I know this territory so well. I just need to trust myself and find a way to express the value I offer to others.
 
Thank you for listening. 

I Am Here to Publicly Feel

red-love-heart-oldI just had the incredible privilege of participating in a video conversation with the poet Andrea Gibson. It was like she handed me a gift when she said she felt her essence/purpose in life is to publicly feel. This resonates with me so strongly.
 
I know my public vulnerability about my feeling experience, especially grief in recent years, is uncomfortable for some people to sit with. Earlier this year I lost loved ones who ultimately couldn’t accept that my experience of birth mother grief and on-going ambiguous loss was spoken aloud. But this is how I am wired. This is Who I Am. I am not going to repress myself anymore. I am not going to apologize for the way I am made. I am not going to hide my truth to make others comfortable. In fact, I just realized that at the same time I am asking people about what they sacrifice in order to belong, I have been sacrificing my own voice. And because I am repressing myself I am not able to find new belonging because I’m not offering anything of substance for people to relate to (OMG – I am having BIG insights about my own journey as I do my research on belonging and radical inclusion!).
 
It’s time for me to stop being afraid because of what I lost in the past and start having courage to speak again so that I can find the tribe that resonates with me and my story and my perspective on this beautiful and brutal journey called life. If my creative heroines (Amanda Palmer!) can find their tribe by publicly feeling, then I certainly can, too.
 
I held back so much this year because I was shamed and bullied and shunned for using my voice to speak what is true about my experience feels. I have 71 blog post drafts that sit unfinished because of deep insecurity about using my voice, not just about grief, but about EVERYTHING. For the first time in my life I questioned my value in this world because if the people who said they loved me couldn’t accept the wholeness of me, then how would anyone else? But that’s not the truth about how this works. If they couldn’t accept all of me that is about their own discomfort. It’s not about me. And it’s not my responsibility to make anyone else comfortable.
 
It’s my responsibility to trust myself. To trust my inherent value as a human being. To trust that my story is worthy of telling. To trust that telling my story courageously (with the fullness of my heart) will bring me connection and community.
 
Here’s something to think about, to show you how this journey toward my own belonging becomes universal – how can I stand for the inherent value of every other human if I cannot trust that I am inherently valued for being here in this life with you? More to come! 

Help Me Share Magic With Women In Grief

6055_1159057730163_117882_nI have an ask: I am inspired to put my magic art making skills to immediate use and gift the Transformation Talisman Dolls and Grace Hearts I make to women who are experiencing trauma triggers and deep grief right now. Making these dolls is a process of embedding healing and transformation for myself – I also call it sewing the fuck out of my feelings. Gifting them is a way that I can make an immediate difference in the world.

I made an investment over summer thinking I might try to turn this into part of my business. I already have all the materials I need to make lots of dolls and hearts, as well as envelopes and cards. I even have 8 dolls and 3 hearts ready to go. What I don’t have are the funds for postage. I am currently unemployed, which gives me lots of time for making but not enough cash for sending. Each package will cost $3-5, depending on where the receiver lives. I am asking for donations through Paypal at paypal.me/aprilcheri. If you’d like to help me bring some love and magic into women’s lives, please consider sponsoring a package.

For the dolls and hearts – I am accepting requests through Facebook from women who need a light in the darkness. Or you can request for a woman you know that is going through a rough time.

About the Dolls

This is the magic of hands embedding love and the promise of transformation into art through the stitches of hand sewing. It’s a promise that the goo in the chrysalis will one day emerge a butterfly.

This is the magic of generations of silenced women who stitch(ed) their grief into blankets, clothes, wall hangings, and dolls. This is the strength and creativity of women who use(d) art and craft as an act of resilience in the face of abuse and violation.

This is the magic of the earth in the form of plants that support the transformation process: lavender (rebirth, calm, clarity, love, healing, grief, emotion), rose (beginnings, love, grace, trust, courage), mugwort (beginnings, community, guidance, release), willow (adaptability, beauty in weeping, beginnings, courage, grace, grief, healing, comfort, nurture), and frankincense (comfort, courage, dignity, healing, spiritual growth, rebirth, renewal).

This is alchemy – transforming the lead of grief and violation into the gold of healing and beauty. This is the magic of resilience. It’s a magic that resides in all of us, but sometimes we need to be reminded of what is possible, of the light that shines deep inside no matter how much the darkness storms and rages outside.

Every doll/heart is blessed before it leaves my home.

I am a Woman Born to Grieve

grief-angelRecent developments in the fields of cellular biology, neurobiology, epigenetics, and developmental psychology underscore the importance of exploring at least three generations of family history in order to understand the mechanism behind patterns of trauma and suffering that repeats.” Mark Wolynn

Some of us grow up with worry in our hands.

Some of us grow up with anger in our throats.

Some of us grow up with grief wrapped around our hearts.

You might think I was born into grief when my birth father abandoned my 17 year old mother before I was born, but I know I was destined for grief the way Arthur was destined to be King. I am stitched together by grief in the very strands of my DNA, the same way that my grandmother knitted her grief into her afghans and my mother embroidered her grief into Christmas stockings and I stitch my grief into hand sewn dolls. I may be the first one in my family to realize what we do, how before we became enamored with psychotherapy, silenced women would wordlessly weave the grief of their bodies and souls into their arts and crafts. I call it sewing the fuck out of my feelings.

When we carry the unresolved trauma of generations in the center of each and every one of our cells, there is a life in which the accumulation of heartache becomes too much to bear. Grief takes the body hostage. It unravels into muscles as the contractions of chronic pain, or into the lungs as the restrained breath of asthma, or runs completely amok destroying our organs with cancer.

And yet grief is my friend. Not the kind of friend made from shared interests or met at a fun party. It’s the kind of friend you make out of necessity on the frontlines of the war against women and their bodies, where the trenches flow with women’s blood as we are violated by incest like my adoptive grandmother or driven to prostitution like my birth grandmother or sexually assaulted like my young adult daughter.

I am a woman who lives with grief as a member of my family, a resident in my home. Grief wraps herself around me as if she knows every curve of shoulder and hip. For years she pushed and pulled at my womb and wreaked havoc on my hormones. Now she cramps my neck, back, arms, thighs and feet under the guise of Fibromyalgia.

I see grief in the bathroom mirror looking back at me and she reminds me of the last time I saw my mom, when she sat on my toilet and asked me to help her in her strange certainty that fibers were growing out of her skin. She shaved her head and wore a wig so that she could pick at her scalp with tweezers until it was covered in messy scabs.

I didn’t understand my intimate relationship with grief until my mother died a few months later alone in her apartment of an accidental overdose of narcotic painkillers. Since then I’ve learned how suffering is embedded in my cells through both bloodlines and grieflines; epigenetic trauma carried from mother to daughter until I tried to say no more. I thought my daughter would make it out of adolescence without a grief of her own until she was raped by an acquaintance just a few weeks before leaving my nest.

These are the basic facts that I know:

My birth grandmother was a teen prostitute and already had a toddler son when she sold my mother in a hospital parking lot for $400. My mother’s birth father was also the pimp. My grandmother went on to have several more children. My mom was the only one she gave up.

My adoptive grandmother was victim of sibling incest. Her older brother raped her out in the cornfields for years while her family ignored the theft of her innocence and sovereignty. She struggled with literacy and a hatred of sex for the rest of her life. Once she left home she kept her shameful secret to herself until she had a stroke and had to move in with us.

And this is only what I know going back two generations in the maternal family lines. Can you imagine what unresolved trauma and grief lived in their mothers and grandmothers and beyond? I imagine my family tree is weighted with the fruit of grief. I grieve that this is my inheritance, these women’s stories of heartache and the resilience required to live full lives after violation.

My mother grew up in the shadow of these trauma stories. Although she didn’t know their plotlines till adulthood, she was emotionally scarred by the consequences of the abuse and trauma that my grandparents experienced. She lived with pain every day in the form of depression, addiction, emotional instability, poverty, and loneliness. She also lived with physical pain. It started with carpal tunnel in her wrist, then a pinched nerve in her neck, till eventually her body was riddled with pain in what I believe was undiagnosed Fibromyalgia. When she died she was using a medication almost as strong as morphine, as well as taking an antidepressant, sleeping pills, and an anti-psychotic. We assume the last was for what we learned after hear death was Morgellon’s disease, an inexplicable and rare condition in which sufferers believe there is something growing in their skin. Medical science has not been able to prove this is true. I believe her pain, grief and loneliness was so profound that it eventually drove her crazy.

And now I have my own additions to this bloodline. I struggle with Complex PTSD because emotional violence was my first language of relationship. I lived through molestation by a family friend at age 10, public humiliation when the first boy I was sexual with told all the boys in my class, pregnancy the first time I had penetrative sex and abandonment by the father, a second child conceived the night a violent lover put a gun to my head, marriage to a man who refused to participate in our “partnership,” a separation drawn out by his refusal to leave our shared home, too much casual sex in search of love, too many broken relationships in search of belonging, and an inability to keep long term friendships because I unconsciously kept recreating the unresolved traumas of my childhood.

Grief is the longest friend I’ve had.

Today I grieve that I do not have beautiful stories of ancestors and traditions to pass on to my children. I grieve what my children carry in their genes. I grieve that I already know I have passed on chronic health issues, depression, and anxiety. Most of all I grieve that now they are the ones tasked with untying these grieflines if we are to rebel against passing them on to my grandchildren who are waiting to be born.

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This is the piece that I’m reading tonight at a local lit series called Grief Rites.