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! 

From She Who Is Never Not Broken

Expansion by Paige Bradley
Expansion by Paige Bradley

“Akhilandeshvari: ‘Ishvari’ in Sanskrit means ‘goddess’ or ‘female power,’ and the ‘Akhilanda’ means essentially ‘never not broken.’ In other words, The Always Broken Goddess. Sanskrit is a tricky and amazing language, and I love that the double negative here means that she is broken right down to her name.

But this isn’t the kind of broken that indicates weakness and terror. It’s the kind of broken that tears apart all the stuff that gets us stuck in toxic routines, repeating the same relationships and habits over and over, rather than diving into the scary process of trying something new and unfathomable.

Akhilanda derives her power from being broken: in flux, pulling herself apart, living in different, constant selves at the same time, from never becoming a whole that has limitations.” Julie Peters

I did not intend to pull myself apart this way. I believed I was in a state of coming back together rather than continued annihilation. I believed I was building a sanctuary of emotional safety rather than another crucible of violated vulnerability.  

Kali – my Goddess sister of fire I once cherished for her powers of transformation – can to go Hell. Her destruction demands too terrible a sacrifice this time.

I am shattered. I work to gather each fragment, soaked in the blood of birth and betrayal, and lay them with great care on the hearth of my heart, to be tended with the warmth of compassion and the heat of self awareness.

Each day I pick up a remnant of who I was to study the places where I am broken, to discern the shape of the wound and the medicine it needs to heal. I learn the language of bloodlines and grieflines to understand the unfolding of this story over the generations of my family.

Today I discover something new about the wild little girl hidden deep in the cave of my soul. She is my Invisible Girl, the one who lashes out like a wounded animal when triggered by emotional violence. I learn she suffers from complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Each insult, degradation, humiliation, and threat from someone I trust tears through our scars, piercing the raw terror of our old wounds. She roars when we are triggered to chase our tormentors away from the places that hold a lifetime of pain, the places our mother and our lovers violated us again and again. She is not over-reacting. She is justifiably desperate to protect us from more violation. She fights for our need for emotional safety, not realizing she violates ourself and others by reacting with verbal violence.

We have lived in a ceaseless state of fear for too long. Today I break the spell. Her voice, our voice, can be a tool for healing, a tool for self-preservation, and/or a tool for verbal assault. I know that her words, our words, shine light into the shadows of family-of-origin emotional violence in myself and others. I am in the process of learning how to empower myself and speak my truth through love and compassion, rather than violate my perpetrators through loud voice, aggressive tone, and harsh words. Now I finally understand that no one can see the light if it is wrapped in the shadow of unconscious mutual violation.

Never Not Broken by Laura Keenados
Never Not Broken by Laura Keenados

I root around my medicine bag to find the tinctures of love and friendship and the potions of self-care, immediate remedies for my terrible grief. They nourish me as I do the work of piecing myself together and facing an unfathomable future with all the grace I can muster. The largest bottle, Eros, holds the devotion and steadfast love of the man who keeps choosing me, over and over again, remaining by my side despite the wild girl’s attempts to chase him away when we hurt. He truly sees me, and reflects through the mirror of our relationship the beauty of who I am in all my brokenness. Several bottles contain the unconditional love of my children, and the precious care of beloved heartsisters that hold safe space for both my unraveling and my resurrection, also reflecting my beauty in the process. There is always a pen and paper, because writing and art are my primary tools for transforming my pain into a narrative of triumph. And there are potions for self care – counseling, massage, nourishing food, rest, candlelight, reading, and making art – that slowly restore my body, mind, heart, and soul.

I also seek healing through the wisdom of experts and teachers. I am studying the neurobiology of trauma and complex PTSD as a consequence of repeated emotional abuse in childhood and adult relationships. I am exploring the concept of emotional violence as the primary language of relationship that many of us learn(ed) through our families, and how we perpetuate the emotional violence in our personal and professional relationships because we do not know something different is possible, and because we do not believe we are worthy of a relationship where love is the primary language. I am learning how change is not possible if we do not feel worthy, which is why so many of us spin our wheels with self-help books and workshops. We do not understand that it is impossible to have an experience of love that we do not feel worthy of.

In the sanctuary of my home and emotionally safe relationships I continue to do the healing work of unravelling my pain, discovering my inherent worthiness, and rewriting my stories of breaking into stories of restoration.

I am she who is never not broken.

I am she who is always facing the unfathomable and birthing new possibilities.

I am she who loves herself beyond all limitations.

The Heroine’s Journey: I am an Emotional Mountain Climber

540361_10201504920558445_1441567995_nI am struggling as I live between two opposing forces – the desire to build community with my son and his adoptive parents, and the desire to run as far as possible from the birth mother bruising of mine-and-not-mine every day. My heart is being pushed and pulled between conflicting needs, a daily wrestling match that leaves me emotionally exhausted and withdrawn.

I crave this family, the belonging, and the sense of purpose I have found here. And my heart aches daily as our son simultaneously cements his preference for Mommy and shifts toward the independence of toddlerhood.

Despite the perception in popular books and movies, the Heroine’s Journey looks different than the Hero’s. Women undergo journeys of awakening and self definition, but it is often an internal process that happens through our emotions and our intimate relationships rather than through confrontation with forces in the world. Heather Plett says that feminine rites follow a pattern of containment, transformation, and emergence (vs the masculine rites of separation, transition, and reincorporation). I am currently between containment and transformation, waiting for emergence to occur.

I have come to understand that I am an emotional athlete of sorts, an emotional mountain climber. Much like people who train to endure, and even enjoy, the growing pains and discomfort of intense physical adventures (marathons, surfing, skiing, etc.), I am trained to endure and enjoy the growing pains of seemingly unbearable emotional circumstances. The traumas that often damage and break other people are just added weight to the barbell my powerful heart can bench-press.

I experienced life as deeply emotional and profoundly painful from an early age. I score at least a 7 on the ACES test regarding childhood trauma, although there are many more traumas that aren’t listed. I also have an unusually deep capacity for empathy, meaning I feel other people’s emotions in addition to my own. Imagine what that is like when everyone you are a developing child/adolescent and everyone you love is suffering in a significant way. And I’ve worked to recover from Borderline Personality Disorder, also known as Emotional Intensity Disorder. I am running a lifelong marathon to maintain my sanity, emotional regulation, and the chance to thrive in a healthy family dynamic.

My Heroine’s Journey is a map of how to navigate the world with a raw and open heart. I don’t wear emotional armor to protect myself. I don’t know how. Instead, when I am too raw for exposure I hide in my bedroom, my sanctuary, away from people. I am not interested in fighting – not other people, not my own demons, nor the world’s evils. I am passionate about creating and nurturing justice, reconciliation, and belonging through acts of love and generosity. As part of my training, I strive not to turn words into weapons against others when I’m hurt and angry, whether beloveds or strangers. I’ve spent my entire adult life disarming the triggers that can transform my typical gentleness to verbal violence.

One of the primary challenges for people with Borderline is that we have difficulty living with opposing truths, called dialectics. The term’s dialectical means a synthesis or integration of opposites. This is why Dialectical Behavioral Training (DBT) is vital to recovery. Through my research I’ve learned that I consistently provide my own DBT by confronting opposing truths over and over, often on purpose, in order to learn how to regulate my thinking, feelings, and behavior in relationship. For instance, my experiences of polyamory required embracing the opposing truths of my desire for big open love and my abnormally strong fear of abandonment (another BPD trait). I could simultaneously feel compersion and jealousy. I could be deeply frightened and keep choosing love anyway.

Physical masochism is also a dialectic. I surrender my body to experiences of pain from someone who cares for me. Pain, pleasure, love, and fear usually weave together to carry me into ecstasy. But sometimes the physical pain gets wrapped up with my heart pain and I have an emotional release, where something that causes me deep heartache becomes more bearable as the pain is pushed through me with a flogger or a cane. This happened over the weekend when my fiance and I played a relatively mild BDSM scene,  the day after I read a memoir excerpt from a birth mother in an open adoption. Seeing myself in the mirror of her particular words and phrases brought my pain to the surface so that the slightest stimulus rubbed me raw and left me sobbing.

The emotional strength training I put myself through the last 20+ years gave me the ability to make an impossible choice – to give mommyhood to a beloved friend and  retain my place as a different sort of mother in my child’s life. I live the dialectic of mine-and-not-mine with my son every minute of every day. I feel the biological and emotional pull to be his mommy and I keep my distance to allow another woman to be the foundation of his safety and belonging. I ache because he favors her now and I am immensely grateful that I don’t often have to endure all of the hard parts (irregular sleeping patterns, tantrums, etc.).

I try to nurture connection and distance at the same time, both with my son and his adoptive parents. I truly crave the intimacy of chosen family and intentional community. I also choose to live with them because I desire to lighten the burden of full time parenting and help them afford a nice home in a good neighborhood with all of the related benefits. After so many years as a single mom, I don’t want our son’s parents to ever feel alone in their care and responsibility of him.  Yet as my relationship with our son shifts I become more withdrawn, spending less time with the family. I focus my attention on the parts of my life that aren’t so painful and complicated, like my relationship with my fiance and my book creation (and a good dose of television).

I am living in this family dialectic, navigating it mostly with grace, and yet I worry that I am not doing enough. I worry that I am not present enough, connected enough, or co-parenting enough. Because my work in the world is now focused on belonging, I am learning about the psychology of community and the practices that are required to keep community functioning in vibrant ways. Yet I refuse to act on these knowings with those closest to me because I am frightened of my own vulnerability. I don’t know how to be this raw with other people. In my journey to find emotional stability I have always lived in my own head – and bedroom – when in pain. It is how I contain myself, keep my emotions from overwhelming others. I have no idea how to be in this strange place I now live between love and pain in a home and intimate relationship with other adults.

Some days I feel like a fraud. Who am I to write about courage, connection, and community when I can’t yet find the strength to bring my own vulnerability to the table with those closest to me? I was able give a child from my body, I can give my work to support my family, and yet these past few months I can rarely share myself with them.

The focus of my self work these days is to hold myself in the same compassion and acceptance that I give others. I am working to stop beating myself up for falling short of my own high standards for conscious living and relationship. The truth is that to evolve from suffering a mental illness that will not allow opposing truths to living peacefully in a situation that is built of opposing truths is a significant accomplishment. It is in recognizing how far I have come these past 20 years that I  see I need to give myself patience. I am in the endurance race of my life. I will be living in some form of this dialectic with my son and his adoptive parents forever, whether or not I continue to live in the same home with them. I have plenty of time and safe space in which to build my emotional muscles with people who love me no matter what I bring to the table on any given day. I am already enough simply by choosing to be here and contributing in this home with this family.

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Image by Flickr Artist Christian Thompson

There is Always a Light

Painting "Winter Solstice" by Wendy L. Wilkerson
Painting “Winter Solstice” by Wendy L. Wilkerson

I light a candle.

I light a stick of Palo Santo.
I breathe deep and settle into my center.
And I write – to myself, to God, to you.

The Winter Solstice is the longest dark night of the year. As it passes, the earth and our hearts turn toward the coming of the light. It is no coincidence that nearly every culture in the northern hemisphere has a celebration of light during this time of the year. We are afraid of the darkness, especially the darkness that lies inside each of us as an inherent part of our being human. We mostly equate darkness with suffering and/or evil. We are just beginning to learn how to honor what darkness offers us in healing and wisdom when we willingly illuminate it rather than run from it.

We could learn a lesson from our festivals of light. We need to illuminate our emotional darkness – as individuals, as communities, and as cultures – the same way we illuminate our rooms, homes, and streets with the beauty of light in a million different sparkling shapes and forms.

Candle light. Menorahs. Kinaras. Strings of lights. Glowing Santas. Shining snowflakes. Brilliant angels. We use whatever it takes to light up our world when the night is its longest and blackest. We make the dark someplace safe and comfortable rather than unknown and scary. We tell each other stories about kindness, generosity and love. We settle in cozy with one another as Winter’s darkness embraces us and the light we try to surround ourselves with, as if we could ever chase the darkness away.

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My social networking walls are full of news about violence. So much so right now that I struggle with being able to witness it all. I am reminded of how many people are going without – without walls, without food, without safety, without belonging, without love. I simultaneously feel enormous gratitude for the fullness of my own life and heartbroken for all the hurting that I have no power to alleviate.

As Glennon says, “Life is brutiful.” It’s brutal and it’s beautiful. We can bear the brutality because of the beauty. We can bear the darkness because there is always a light, even if only a faraway pin prick in the blackness, like a star. There is always a light.

Please remember when you imagine that darkness is all that exists, all that will ever exist, there is always a light. You just have to turn your eyes and your heart to it.

Perhaps this is why I never really lose faith. In my darkest moments there is always a light keeping me connected to goodness and love.

I have known darkness. When I was in my darkest night as a crazy young mom doing it all on my own, sometimes the only lights I could see were my children. No matter how dark the loneliness, depression, or rage, my heart was always alight for my children. Mama love can be smoldering embers of warmth or savage flames of protection. I am always connected to life and love because of I am a Mama. I feel blessed in this, especially when I originally believed I wasn’t made to be a mother. Now I understand that I needed my children in order to stay connected to living when the years of chaos in my mind and raging storms in my heart were destroying my will to carry on.

Now, the lights in my life are closer and shine brighter than ever before. Also because of a child, and the choice I made to share him.

These lights in my life – my partner, the Mamas, our child, our tribe – they help me shine my light brighter. They love me so much they will shine their lights into my bits of darkness and help me heal the triggery wounds that can get in the way of our connection. They help illuminate (and forgive) the parts of me that can lack grace and be careless or mean. Most importantly, our lights never go out because we hold them up for each other when needed.

There is always a light. I know that someone, somewhere is holding a light for you. You may not know it because the darkness tricked you into thinking they are no longer there through distance and/or silence. But I truly believe that there someone is holding a light for everyone in this world. It is the nature of living in a Universe based on duality. Darkness cannot exist without a light. You just have to open your eyes and your heart to it.

I wish you a Happy Solstice and that you will see the Light shining in Your Life during this longest night.

Radical Mysticism through Relationship

Transformation Card from the Universal Tarot by M. Miller
Transformation Card from the Universal Tarot by M. Miller

“Intimate relationship is arguably the twenty-first century’s ashram. It’s not, however, a retreat or refuge from everyday life, but a transformational growth center located in the very midst of it, offering experiential courses in whatever generates and deepens intimacy, courses uniquely fitting for those entering its domain.

Its goal is not transcendence, but full-spectrum intimacy, not only with your partner, but also with all that you are — dark and light, high and low, petty and noble, deep and shallow.

If you are seeking transformation, you need look no further than doing what it takes to fully be in such relationship. This is a great undertaking that asks much of us, and gives back more than we can imagine.

The path isn’t neatly laid out, because we, with our partner{s}, are cocreating it as we deepen our intimacy, stepping into and embracing a trailblazing mutuality, without having to know where we’re going.

Implicit in this is a rare trust, an ongoing, shared willingness to bring not only our very best to the relationship, but also to expose our worst — not to be acted out or otherwise indulged in, but to be faced and integrated and related to in ways that serve our relationship. Nothing in us gets left out — it’s all part of our relationship. This is more than possible when — through our work on ourselves — our relationship becomes both sanctuary and crucible, a place of deep healing, care, life-enhancing challenge, and a love that pervades all that we are.” Robert Augustus Masters

Intimate relationship has always been one of my primary interests in life. I started reading Leo Buscaglia’s Love books when I was 15. While I spent years in unhealthy relationship patterns due to the environment I was raised in, I was always motivated by a desire to experience deep, healthy, abiding love with others. Not just with one life partner, but with family and friends as well. Community relationship. I could feel the potential in love that went well beyond our infatuations, romances, and attractions; beyond our traumas, dramas, and defensive patterns; beyond everything our culture says is intimate relationship in the 21st century.

I also felt relationship could be a spiritual, healing practice. However, while every relationship I had gave me opportunities to grow and heal, many of them also came with a hell of a lot of hurt. Often I was in the crucible, trying to heal, and my partners were in the shallows, interested more in fun, sex and comfort than conscious evolution. They provided the burn for my refinement, but they did not desire to go through the refinement process with me in order to refine themselves or the relationship.

Until Camille and Jen, my partners in the Impropriety Society. Although they were business partners, they were willing to work to get to the love, with each other and with others in the community. Our partnership refined all of us in profound ways, and built the foundation for this precious family we’re nurturing.

Then I discovered the jewel in the heart of my fiance, Eros, and he showed me his willingness to work to get to the love. We have healed significant aspects of our ourselves within the crucible of our relationship, especially through the pregnancy and adoption. We have grown immensely as individuals, and grown our relationship into something neither of us really believed was possible.

I now strive to approach all of my relationships as a mystical experience, as a way to dance with God. Instead of looking for God in an ashram, temple or church, I look for God in the people I love.  And I’m striving to look for God in everyone I interact with, directly or indirectly. Perhaps you could say the world is my temple and the 7+ billion people on it are my teachers.

The God of Life, the Spark that connects All That Is, is innate in all of us. It’s the sparkle in our atoms that communicate with each other. It’s the consciousness that animates life in ways we have yet to understand. And maybe we never will. Maybe that’s part of the experience we’re here to have, faith in the unseen. Maybe if we figured it all out we’d be bored and have no where else to go with our evolution as part of this ever expanding, increasingly complex Universe.

Whatever God really looks like, it’s finding this meaning in my experiences that keeps me resilient. I’ve had more than my fair share of traumas that could have broken me. It’s my experience of God, no matter what shape it’s taken (the Father of Christianity, the Mother of Paganism, the Consciousness of the Universe, my Beloved), that has allowed me to turn every trauma into something beautiful. It’s my work in psycho-spiritual development that has created the emotional health, joy and peace I now experience nearly all the time.