When Spirit Slows Time Down

 

Last Friday night, my mom and I spent some time together, and then I dropped her off at home–and met some neighbors that were talking to my dad in the front yard.

Within a minute, I knew there was this deep connection, and as I listened to stories, I quickly knew why.

Health journeys.  Unbelief from doctors, friends, family.  Youthful optimism, yet shouldering a huge weight.  Wanting someone just to “get it.”

As I looked at this high school girl–who appeared healthy and athletic–I could still see fear of the unknown behind her eyes.  Doctors’ appointments.  Lacrosse tournaments.  End of the year exams.  Exhaustion.  The “What-if?” questions. The wisdom beyond her years that hard times bring.

My parents had already shared with this family some of my story, my symptoms, how it started in high school, how no one really knew what was wrong.

She told me about going to see a cardiologist next week and doing a tilt table test.  I said, “I’ve done that.  It’s kinda weird.”  She wanted to know all the details and what to expect.

She told me about finally passing out in front of the doctor, and being so relieved that the doctor saw this happen, so that now he would believe her.

I made a quick comment about gender bias in medicine.

I went on to tell her my fainting symptoms and heart palpitations in high school–and that I was a female athlete, who could still compete fairly well under pressure, even with my health issues.

And then I stopped, and took a pause.  ‘I’m here, and I also know that helpful advice or stories, or research can often be unhelpful.  Just know that we have similar symptoms & I know a ton, yet I also know that each body is unique and complex.  I can listen or I can share, or I can do both.  Whatever is most helpful to you at any given time.”

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As we were talking, time slowed down.  I thought back to the hundreds of times I heard, “Well, there must be some reason you are going through this–your illness will be immensely helpful to others some day.”

Of course, on one level, these people were right.

And yet, as a kid, with this statement cloaked in a conservative Christian framework, I couldn’t help but feel like the “only purpose” of my illness was to help other people.  That people already had chosen my purpose for me–even though the illness wasn’t theirs.  I felt like my story, my wandering, my questioning, anger and pain, was quickly given a purpose without the journey.  This statement also felt inauthentic–and it was.

Largely because my illness is/was for me.  For my own healing.  To come home to myself.  Without my inner work, how I engage in showing up for others is more destructive than helpful.  And growing up, I didn’t really have models of someone being vulnerable in their grief, moving through their grief and engaging the world in a new way.

And as I fell down and got back up-I learned that to a large extent, grief is personal.  No one could know the inner landscape of my soul, as I sought to heal.  However, a community could come alongside and hold space.

Ironically though, this was a moment, where I could come back to a phrase that felt so trite at the time, “Your illness will be extremely valuable to others one day’ and knew deep in my body, that this was what they meant.

I’ve journeyed along with others and their illnesses for several years now.  Several of my friends have a long and complex health story.  And yet this girl, reminded me so much of myself.  Same age when my symptoms were surfacing.  Same age when I finally decided to quit the track team.  Crazy tests at secluded wings of the hospital.

Spirit had meaning infused into every detail of that evening.  The fact that the history walking tour that my mom and I were doing went longer than I thought. The fact that my mom had surgery and so I was driving her home.  That we pulled into the driveway as this family was in my parents’ front yard.

I don’t want to overlook those small details.

I’m sure dozens of stories will be shared in the future.  I will listen, share my wisdom, most importantly hold space.  I will show up, having done my inner work, and will keep doing my inner work.  It’s not about helping; it’s about being together, and gleaning from our collective wisdom.

Here’s to more stories shared.  For space to laugh, cry & connect.  For others to not feel so alone.

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Magic of Right Now

 

When my EMDR therapist and I had the conversation that I was close to being done with therapy, we revisited the question, she asked me in our very first session.

“How do you know when you are done?”

“I more fully accept myself,” is what I had said.

But then I asked her, “How is it supposed to feel in your body?”

“Like you are flying.”

That’s all she had to say, and I smiled.  I wanted to feel like that.  I know I wouldn’t feel that way all the time, but I did want a glimpse of it.

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May has usually been the month I start to get a little nervous.  I love the warmer weather and being outside, however historically it’s the time my allergies set in and the mold from the humid weather starts to make itself known in Indiana.

It’s the month where I want to be inside and rest because I’m so exhausted, yet my body wants to be outside.  I want to revel in the abundance of nature with everyone else without having to worry how my body feels so much of the time.

Spiritually, my body has experienced so much dissonance during summer, especially over the last few years.  It has been so difficult to embrace being and abundance when my body has been highly reactive, exhausted, and fatigued.

I do realize that it’s perfectly fine to be experiencing something different than the symbolism of a specific season, and yet because of my environmental illness, I felt like I was teaching my body to avoid the goodness that is nature–and I didn’t like this habit that was forming.

It didn’t seem like I had any other choice though, so I felt powerless.  I felt highly reactive, frustrated, and sad.  Going through the same cycle again and again.  Health deteriorating.  Needing to move.  Needing to switch jobs.

Last summer, I had reached my limit.  I didn’t want to keep doing this.  I learned what I could from my exhausted state, living at my parents’ and at a friends’ for weeks at a time, packing my apartment, and trying to figure out how to detox, even though I was reacting to mold.  I had so much help in starting my tutoring business and moving to the northern suburbs of Indy.

Yet, I felt like I was holding years and years of exhaustion in my body.  My grief and powerlessness felt overwhelming & my flashbacks came back with abandon.

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In my last session with my therapist, we went over my intake form and how I had told her about my sleep patterns: that I often woke up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep through the night due to mold exposure during the day.

This doesn’t happen anymore.  “What connection do you see?” she asked me. I told her how EMDR has helped resolve my grief; it has been part of my work around moving stuck energy in the body.  This has helped to calm down my immune system and I’m reacting less to mold in an environment.  I’m sleeping through the night.  I continue to detox in a variety of ways, including running an air purifier at night.

This summer, I’m excited.  I don’t expect my health to be perfect; I think that’s unrealistic.  But I do expect myself to delight in being outside, simply thankful that my body can handle so much more than it has in a long time.

I’m thankful that my brain doesn’t have to equate summer, mold, extreme brain fog, and being unable to be a part of a 10 minute conversation.  I’m glad that I’ve been able to untangle my negative emotions and beliefs–so that I can simply be, and accept what is.  Today I choose to be hopeful about what summer will bring.

 

Photo by Irina Kostenich on Unsplash

Post-EMDR

 

I finished this intense period of therapy last week.  After 2 introduction sessions, I started into EMDR.  The whole session was just talking about memories, about sensations, emotions, negative thoughts.  After awhile, I could track, even while I was speaking, how someone with my nature, is particularly prone to trauma and how trauma is experienced.

EMDR taught me so much about my sensitive, empathic nature.  How I could feel someone’s sadness or pain, almost deeper than he/she/they could?  How could I feel the energy in an environment and have it affect my energy levels?  How come grief seems to lodge in my body in the way it does?

As I went into these sessions, and my eyes went back and forth across the light bar thousands of times, I came to more fully appreciate my sensitive nature, this deep and unique part of myself.  The more my trauma cleared, the more I could see myself, this very strong, compassionate, empathic woman, for who I really am.

I came to understand how I’ve functioned in relationships that hasn’t served my best interest.  How I must understand serving others in a more nuanced way, because companioning someone in challenges comes naturally to me.  It is not a difficult task for me to try and see the world from another perspective.

So, as I kept going back to therapy, we worked on feeling more grounded, in my gut or sacral chakra.  I wanted to feel grounded in my intuition, not always second-guessing myself.  I wanted to couple my compassion with strength.

I wanted to know if I could sustain myself in a helping profession.  As the trauma cleared, I had more energy in my body to go towards my self-care instead of protecting my pain.  So, I found powerful healing practices that seemed to work with my energy–including meditation, breath work and qigong.

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A deep question that I didn’t realize I was asking until mid-way through therapy was, “Why has the Western Christian church emphasized service (and usually the service of women) at the expense of knowing oneself?”  And how have I been hurt by this reversal?”

I learned early on not to question authority.  They were always right.  Being a “sinner” was emphasized to such a degree that my lifetime of service of God really was a payback–and I was supposed to do this with joy.

Never did we talk about how serving could be a way of avoiding one’s pain.  Never did we talk about sensitive individuals and the propensity for burn-out and the martyrdom mentality.  Never did we talk about why women were encouraged to serve more than men.

There was a lot packed into my formative years and who I was “supposed to” be.  Wanting to please, I did everything I could, until I burned out, quit my job, and found out that I had an autoimmune disease that was running my life.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that I did this in the name of God.

But I couldn’t do it anymore.  And so, the last 4 years, have been a deep unraveling.  Of knowing the Divine and myself and those around me.  Of accepting myself and my unique nature and letting that inform how I show up in the world, grounded and compassionate.

Yet, more than an unraveling is happening.  I’m reconstructing my life.  I’m now on solid, yet unknown ground, and that feels as it should be.

I say no a lot more.  I don’t sign up for things just because.  I want my outer life to reflect my inner life.  I’m no longer frantic, searching desperately for meaning.  Now, I can stand in one place, knowing that I can find meaning anywhere.

And I let myself feel that deep joy.  Because when deep internalized trauma no longer clouds my vision, I can finally see what is.  And what is, is a very beautiful gift.

 

Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

Chronic Illness, Asexuality & Spirituality cont.

 

It took me awhile to come out as an asexual.  Couple a Christian, conservative upbringing where the options really are only gay or straight, and gay=bad and a chronic illness.

As my health started to improve, I started to do some deeper questioning, research and I found AVEN.  After several days of perusing the website here and there, claiming the label asexual just felt right to me.  It made sense and I felt a little more at ease.

I told a few individual people about my asexuality and that was helpful, but in general I was not open about it because in general I am straight-passing, and with that comes a lot of assumptions can just be maintained.  I had to recognize how deeply I identify with the privilege that straightness provides.  I also just wasn’t ready yet.

Yet, as I started the New Year as delved more deeply into breath work and writing, as well as new friendships and healing practices emerging in my life, I knew that I was hiding a deep, vital part of myself that ultimately wasn’t that healthy for me.

That for me, for speak more freely about being an asexual would lead to greater wholeness.  That to write about asexuality would allow me to reveal a huge aspect of my life, and speak to a part of my identity that could easily be overlooked or misunderstood.

Again my illness, asexuality, and spirituality intersect and inform one another in beautiful ways.

Without my chronic illness, I would not have slowed down.  Most likely, I would have kept pressing harder and harder, without much reflection, conforming to gain others’ acceptance.  I probably would have been successful, yet extremely hollow inside.  I would have traded in substance for superficial acceptance.

Slowing down actually was an avenue for exploring, for creating a new normal.  Of course sometimes this new life caused so much grief, and I was wondering about what I was missing out on.  Yet on some days, I actually adored the silence.  During those seasons of unemployment, time would slowly go by, but I would go on a walk, go grocery shopping, make meals, shower, and read.  I made it my goal to meaningfully interact with at least one person a day, either in person or on the phone.  Yet on some days, I wouldn’t really talk to anyone all day.  There was a unique loneliness to that season and yet, I was learning to sink deeply into myself.  I could keep myself company; and some days I preferred it.

A new spiritual ground was being laid for me, and I didn’t even know it.  I relished rest, gentle exercise, steady friendship, lighting a candle.  My prayer life was simple, short phrases like “Help me.”  “I’m tired again” or “I hope today is better than yesterday.”  I was especially aware that without gratitude,  I would shrivel up.  My journals from this time highlight a list of 10 things I was grateful for each day, that I would fill out before I went to bed.

I had a new awareness of life; it was like I was becoming a child again.  I paid attention to everything: the pace at which people walked, if they made eye contact, if they actually enjoyed the food they were eating.  I was grateful for the air, the flannel sheets, being able to stand up in the shower without getting tired.  Today, I look at those journals and weep in gladness–for my illness and my re-emerging gratitude for life–absolutely saved my life.

During this time, was also the first time I read Kathleen Norris.  I absolutely loved her.  I read Acedia & Me during Lent, and I relished her description of the monastic world.  I let myself wonder why I resonated so deeply with silence and contemplation. And also during this time I  told myself, “I could be single in this life, meet all of my own needs, and be happy.”  (I don’t think it’s ironic that I said this when I was deeply sick either…)  After Acedia & Me, I read Amazing Grace–and I said, “I don’t want to be a nun–but why do I think that I could be?

Side note: Celibacy & asexuality are not the same thing!  Asexuality simply means that the experience of sexual attraction does not exist, where celibacy is a choice.

Yet, my longings were surfacing for a deep liturgy, a spiritual experience marked by contemplation in community.  As I started reading some of the white female contemplatives of the medieval church, I noticed a correlation between their spiritual practice and most of them had chronic illnesses.  Their work deeply resonated with me.  I had found some companions on this inner journey of solitude, and reckoning with what my longings actually were.

 

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

 

Sources of Resilience

On an episode of Healing Justice Podcast, I was encouraged to think about what my sources of resilience have been and are.  In this time of my life that feels like deep grounding, yet deep transition all at the same time, I want to pause and honor those places, people & internal wells of wisdom that have brought me to this place.

–I want to honor Detroit, my summer childhood running home, and my friends across difference, especially Ramzee and Whitney.

–Running, you taught me about sinking my breath with movement and my first lessons in internal affirmations.  You taught me the nuance between perseverance and knowing when to stop.

–Hashimoto’s, there will be lifelong wisdom from you, my friend.  You taught me to listen to my body, to trust it, to continue to seek healing, even when it seemed like all options were exhausted.  You keep teaching me that my body is my friend, not my enemy.  You teach me daily that I am not what I do.  That there always exists within my body the invitation to rest.

–Therapy-so much therapy in my 20’s!  I’ve learned that with a skilled therapist, your trauma can transform into your teacher.  With an unskilled one, your trauma becomes your ever-increasing nightmare.

–Safe healers-Lesley, Kelsey, Beth, Dina, Mel, Erica, Melissa (x2), Charlie, and so many more.  You save more lives than you realize.

–My voice-learning to speak the cold truth without sugar-coating.  Knowing that the truth will offend some.  But it always has.  Those in power often play deaf to the truth.

–Memphis.  The place where I saw racism up close, not in covert ways in the north.  Where I passed KKK statues in the park.  Where so many questions were asked, and so much anger was sparked.

–My breath.  This powerful source has power to release grief, anger, frustration, powerlessness-all for free!  Breathing deeply helps me create internal and external spaciousness.

–Poetry.  Writing it.  Reading it.  Knowing when something was written just for you.

–Friendships.  My community pushing me forward & encouraging my rest.

& so many more that I could name.

At the Intersections of Chronic Illness, Asexuality & Spirituality

As a kid, I cherished the outdoors and my friendships.  I loved playing in the “woods” behind my house and setting up kickball games in the backyard when my friends would come over.  I ran around every summer in my bare feet and would wear sandals in the winter as soon as the snow had melted and the weather was above freezing.

While I enjoyed playing outside with my sister, I could enjoy being alone.  I would shoot baskets alone.  In middle school and high school, I would go on long runs alone & love it.  Not every time, of course, but I did need those times of solitude.  They were essential for me and I craved them.

(As a side note, but as a teacher, I see now that kids have a real difficulty in being alone without technology.  They don’t know how to be bored and enjoy their own company…and this worries me.)

I’ve also cherished many close friends in my life.  Something I definitely do not take for granted.  Many people over the years have been jealous of my friendships–becoming less jealous when they were dating or finally “found someone.”

I internalized from a young age from our culture that I needed to “find someone”–that to have many strong, close friendships is not the norm.  So I dated a few guys-they were close friends first.  That was the only thing that made sense to me.  I went on blind dates here and there but nothing ever “clicked.”

Then I got very sick, and I wasn’t thinking about romantic relationships.  I could barely get out of bed.  I relied on the love and concern of friends: for coffee and conversation on good days, texts to remind me that I wasn’t forgotten, phone calls to check in.  I had a friend who watched the same episode of Gilmore Girls from a  different part of the country, a friend who let me sit in her office when she worked, just so I could have some semblance of a routine, an old boss who would let me wander into a Wednesday morning chapel service just so I could listen to a group of people singing together.

I dated one guy while I was sick.  It didn’t make sense.  I couldn’t give him that much attention and energy–and honestly I just wasn’t that interested.

And since the beginning of me and Chelsea’s friendship, we’ve been close.  If you go back to the beginning of this blog, you will read about our time together, in what was expected to be the last few months of her life.  I have loved her more deeply than any other friend at this point in my life.

This deep, sacrificial love, without a sexual of romantic component are key descriptors of what being asexual is like for me.  The Divine shows me her/their goodness primarily through friendship: deep committed friendship.

The more that I’ve come home to my sexuality these last several months, the more honest I’m being with myself about how I connect with the Divine.

I connect in deep friendship, in solitude and silence, through breathing/energy work, in paying attention to my dreams, through exercise and movement, through liturgy and ritual, in greeting a stranger, through really incredible food. I connect through story and poetry.

For now, for me to show up as uniquely me in this world-I am apart of the institutional Christian church, the Episcopal church to be precise.  And I’m also in regular conversation with those who are searching, exploring, wandering-and who consider themselves spiritual, but not religious.

For me to show up in this world-as the true me-I make sure that there’s margin to visit the sick.  I make time for my friends with chronic illness who may go through a flare or end up in the ER.

And because I’m a sensitive person, work with students who struggle, and I show up for my friends–I must show up for myself.  I must connect with myself meaningfully, and not just through traditional self-care, but through being aware of how I’m speaking to myself, aware of how much time I’m taking just for me, without needing to defend or justify my choices to anyone.  How much time I let myself off the hook and just be bored.

I connect to Spirit so much more fully in my rest than in my work, though both are needed and necessary.  Stillness and silence have become especially essential the more I understand who I truly am.  Since I am in tune with my own energy, others’ energy, the energy of the earth-I must rest in order that this messaging or downloading can occur.

And above all, my illness, my greatest teacher, has taught me how to rest.  That I must lay down my responsibility down and rest for the good of myself and the world.

For I must show up as my true self in the world.

The deeply spiritual, sensitive, asexual woman that I am.

May we all follow life and love and discover who we really are.

Dads & Their Sons: A Micro Look Into Parkland, March for Our Lives, & Toxic Masculinity

I had two profoundly opposite experiences watching white dads and their white sons last week.  They both stuck with me; for in both the healthy and the unhealthy there are lessons to learn.

One father told me about how his son befriended a boy at swimming practice who is going through a rough time.  I could tell that he was touched by his son’s emotional sensitivity that tears welled up in his eyes in the middle of the library.  He didn’t apologize that he was crying.  He was proud, and he was glad that his son, learning to work through his own limitations, sees situations where others need to feel accepted and included.

Another father interrupted my lesson with his son, in order to place a brand new MacBook Pro in front of him, and said to me, “This is here, just in case he needs a little more motivation.”  His son got a huge smile on his face, and immediately said, “Can we finish our lesson early today?” to which my immediate response was, “No.”

These situations happened less than 24 hours apart and both captured my attention.  I asked myself,

“What are these boys learning from their fathers about what it means to be a man?”

“What are these boys learning about their emotional life, their friendships, their perseverance, their limitations, and their need to fail?”

“How much space is given to these boys to question, to explore, to figure out who they are?  How much space is given to them to disagree with their parents and see the world differently?”

“What are these boys learning about how to treat women, especially women in authority?”

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I read this article, speaking to gun laws, mental health treatment–and also the privilege of white cisgender men, and the trajectory of violence that is accepted in our culture.

I resonated deeply with this article, because although I do carry strong stances on both gun control and mental health availability and treatment–I do see white boys who are coddled and see deep ruts of entitlement.  I see a lack of resilience and perseverance in challenges; a lack of responsibility in comparison to their female peers across race.

I’m learning to name what I see even in early elementary boys; and to show up in a way that challenges them to notice and name their emotions, to try and articulate how “negative” emotions show up in the body, to give mindfulness tools to being present, even amidst unwelcome emotions or difficulty.  I encourage their natural interests and innate gifting; which often presents itself as artistic, which, depending on their background and home life, they have already internalized as “too gay.”

While I’m learning how to describe power dynamics to young white boys, I do say things like, “You don’t have to become a businessman like your dad.”  “You can give space for other people to make the rules.”  “You can embrace who you really are, even if that looks different than what your family expects.”  I teach about the power of limitation, and the beautiful lessons that our weakness give us, if we are willing to learn.  I share personal stories about how I wish I was able to ask for help confidently at a younger age.  How our goal should not be to become independent, but interdependent and in accountable relationships in which we are known and loved.

Now this doesn’t make sense yet, to some of my students.  And at the same time, students are teaching us right now.  Naomi Wadler is not letting her age limit her influence.  She sees the disparities in the world and she is saying, “Enough!”  She knows that women of color are marginalized, having to fight to heard, and more often that not being dismissed and ignored.  When this is reality, aren’t we doing a disservice to the young white cisgender boys when we continue to perpetuate their illusion–and yet if we white people are honest, one that we helped to create?

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These two dads have very different comfort levels with failure and struggle-and are instilling different values and lessons into their sons.  I’ve watched this dynamic from afar for a year now.  Of course, neither of them are perfect; none of us are.

And yet, it takes a village, and I’m learning to engage in these relationships more effectively, with more courage and strength.  To say what needs to be said.  To push my students in love, and talk about why being able to linger with difficult emotions is so important.  To teach them about process–and not just conquering and progress.  To go against culture and teach them about waiting and delayed gratification, and that everyone doesn’t exist just to serve them.  To still relay that they are valuable, and yet need not always be the center of attention. To celebrate their successes and yet let them know that the lessons that they carry with them, are not just to climb the corporate ladder.

March has been a long month to be a a teacher and a tutor.  I come into Holy Week tired, in need of rest.  Yet as I watched the videos of Emma Gonzalez, Naomi Wadler, D’Angelo McDade and more I know that I too have my role.

We are all connected.  I continue to learn more and more about how me being white has estranged me from my ancestors, rituals and meaning.  It’s clouded the way I see the world.  White supremacy, lodged in my body is a piece of what makes me tentative and ashamed.  Yet, as I keep waking up to this reality, I must help my white students see a bigger picture of the world, connect with people who are not like them, and celebrate the beautiful difference that exists in this world.

May the truth continue to make us all free.

 

 

Photo by Jose Alonso on Unsplash

Arrogance or Bravery?

While sitting in meditation last week, I thought of this David Whyte poem.  It was meditation, and so I let the thought go, but then it came back to me later that day.

Sweet Darkness

When your eyes are tired

the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone

no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark

where the night has eyes

to recognize its own.

There you can be sure

you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb

tonight.

The night will give you a horizon 

further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.

The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds

except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet

confinement of your aloneness

to learn

anything or anyone 

that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

What struck me is that on a surface level, this poem can seem quite arrogant.  It’s a poem of struggle, retreating into solitude, and realizing that you should only spend time around people that make you come alive.  (Does that make someone smart or extremely avoidant?!)

Upon deeper investigation though, this poem is about letting go.  Being alone in the quiet and seeing what’s left.  It’s about figuring out who you are, when you are willing to rip away all the masks.  It’s about knowing you are deeply loved.  It’s about learning to befriend yourself; and to stay true to yourself.  It’s about knowing what is yours to do and what isn’t.  It’s about knowing who your people are; and what people aren’t.

Somehow aloneness becomes a sweet confinement.  The silence rips away all pretense–and you can no longer be a good version of yourself.  You must be your true self.  You must put away all the good things (especially the good things other people want you to do!)–and only long for the best.

This is a beautiful poem for Lent.  “The world was made to be free in.”

These words have been a great support over the last week, as I’m coming to understand what it means for me to give up conformity for Lent.  For me it means hearing the whispering voice say, “What do you want?”  It’s responding honestly to that question.

It means paying attention to when I feel like I have to make someone else in the room comfortable–and realizing where this impulse is coming from.

It means entering into deep rest, remembering that I don’t exist just to serve other people.  It means knowing that I’m worthy.  Worthy of every good thing.

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I excelled at a young age, both academically and athletically.  I was smart, yet practical.  I didn’t quite fit the dumb blonde stereotype.  I beat all the boys when we would race at recess.  I remember having a realization while I was still in elementary school that I intimidated people.  I had strong strengths, but I didn’t like the effect this had in a group.  I would either shrink to make people feel comfortable, or avoid certain people if I wanted to act like myself.

I took on other people’s insecurity.  And over time, I didn’t know what was my energy or what was someone else’s.

I didn’t know this dynamic existed while I was still running and was successful.  I started to realize it when my health started deteriorating, when I could no longer hide behind my external achievements.  I knew then that actually my interior life was empty as well; I thought that I was what I could accomplish, but I was very wrong.

Even when I got sick, people would tell me, “You have such a good attitude” or “I don’t know how you persevere the way you do.”  I would smile to be polite and to make them comfortable–because when you are sick, you are very aware of how your existence makes people very uncomfortable.  I would muster some energy that I didn’t really have to say something trite like, “Well, I do the best that I can.”

Deep down in my bones though, I was tired of my over-responsibility, still trying to make other people in the room comfortable even when I was really sick.

Why?  I wanted to feel like I belonged.  I confused conformity with belonging.  I chose to not remember the basic truth that at an elemental level, that we all belong to each other.

So in order to belong, I would do a lot of emotional labor for other people so they would understand my illness.  I short-changed their learning, so that I could feel understood.

I sought support primarily externally (although I did need this), to the neglect of my own internal support & those in my life who had taught me resilience. The harder work is the inner work.

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During this Lent, what I felt my body saying was, “No more.”

“Take responsibility for your own emotional wake-but that’s it.”

“Really see who you are in the silence.”

The woman that is emerging from this silence is strong and compassionate.  She knows that her strength and compassion are nestled in her own body.  She is in touch with her intuition, and realizes when anxiety creeps in, that she is out of line with herself.  She gives to others, but also gives abundantly to herself.  She recognizes that the price of discovering oneself is misunderstanding and increased conflict–yet knows that the risk is worth it.  Rather than being afraid of her fatigue, she listens to it, for she knows that in it contains much wisdom.  She takes deep breaths, expressing gratitude for the life source that sustains her.  She knows that her power lies in letting go–only which is hers.

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Here I am.  In the present, as a strong woman.  Yet this time, one who knows her inherent worth and dignity.  I’m no longer the 8 year old on the playground-although that girl is still in me.

So is it arrogant or brave to step into the silence, with all of my gifts, with all of my hard-won wisdom?  Is it arrogant or brave to rest, both alone and in community, in order to give my best self to the world?

Is it arrogant or brave to leave places or people that do not make me come alive?

Is it arrogant or brave to speak truth to power?

Is it arrogant or brave to wander until you know where you are to put down roots?

I say brave, although of course the flip side is that the ones who feel rejected, say arrogant.  Yet, that’s not mine to worry about, is it?

 

Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash

Gratitude

I attended a Wednesday morning Eucharist service at my church last week.  I took deep breaths and opened the Book of Common Prayer, and listened to the Scriptures being read, and I turned to the elderly women sitting by me during the Passing of the Peace.

One woman shook my hand, looked me in the eyes, and said,

“You have the prettiest smile.  Thanks for making my day.”

I sat back down in my seat, breathed even more deeply, my thighs resting more heavily.  Immediately, I thought of writing my blog post about just wanting my smile to return.  I wasn’t faking it.  It was a real smile; and it was lighter.  Healing is happening and I am smiling.

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As I sat with my spiritual director last month, and we spoke briefly about Lent.  We spoke about how hard, how tiring the last 5 years have been.  How it’s been a long Lent.  How my hope is that in this Lent, that more and more healing will emerge.  And she just sat with me in my hope.

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I just attended a Silent Retreat in Omaha with the Gravity Center.  50 of us meditated together, did yoga together, ate meals silently together.  And when we could finally talk, one woman asked me my name, and then said, “I’m so glad I know your name now.  Alyssa-the one with the most effortless, beautiful smile.”

Happy tears welled up in my eyes, as others were giving voice to the profound amount of healing that has happened these last four months.

As others ask about the retreat, I’m saying, “I keep moving more and more deeply into the process of letting go.  And a by-product of letting go is joy.”

The last night of the retreat, we all sat silently in the chapel and were led through a lovingkindness meditation.

We repeated the mantra:

May I be well.

May I have love.

May I find peace in this life.

And then we repeated this mantra for our loved ones & for our enemies.

May you be well.

May you have love.

May you find peace in this life.

As a group claiming various or no faith tradition, we were opening ourselves up to Love, so we could love.  And it was beautiful.

EMDR & bell hooks

 

Since October, I’ve been in therapy, targeting specific traumatic memories through the use of EMDR.  EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing.  For 45 minutes, once I’ve brought up a memory with a charged emotion attached, I let my eyes go back and across a light bar that moves at a comfortable pace from the left to the right.  After about 20-30 seconds, it stops, and I report what I thought, felt, or saw in my mind.

At first it seemed haphazard and chaotic–it’s because it was.  Any traumatic event doesn’t lodge in the body in a way that feels coherent.  It’s an entangling of memories, of thoughts and feelings left unsaid, of events that rewired my neural pathways in the brain.

It’s been an empowering process for me to work through unresolved grief, to understand my own patterns that were underneath my own consciousness, to find my voice again, and not feel like a victim.  It’s been an empowering process to see my gifts, to see my beliefs change, and even to see my shortcomings and accept them for the teachers that they are.

It’s been the driver behind my creativity beginning to emerge much more powerfully in my life.  It’s a big part of me being able to write more-and to trust my own voice and creative process.

Yet, EMDR is a tool that exposes everything.  Nothing can be hidden.

I have to face the frightened teenager in the doctor’s office who feels like she can’t win, who feels like she says too little & is dismissed or says too much and is a hypochondriac.

I have to face the girl who starts to edit her story so she doesn’t continue to be humiliated.

I have to face the girl who begins to doubt herself–and who wonders if she’s really crazy, since most professionals think she is.

I have to face the girl who starts to believe incorrect narratives about her life imposed on her by those in authority-because she’s so exhausted from trying to tell the truth.

I have to face the girl and young adult who is resentful, because she has stuffed her own truth into her body.  She has so much to say, and yet is so scared to say it.  And this is the source of so much of her chronic illness.

I learned the rules of our white-heteronormative-patriarchal-Western society.  I would not be heard unless a man in authority believed that I had the right to be heard.  Even when I saw female doctors (which were few and far between), they still acted from a patriarchal perspective, because they benefitted from the medical establishment, and didn’t see the need to examine their own beliefs.

After working with a female endocrinologist in college for 3 years, she started to increase her body-shaming language with me.  The blame just kept getting heaped onto me: “If only you would work out 6 times a week instead of 5…if only you would lose 2 more pounds, then your fatigue would go away.”

I wanted to say, “How many times per week do you work out?” but I kept quiet.

I wanted to say, “Could it be that you have no idea how to help me, and you see me as a challenge and a threat?” but I kept quiet.

I wanted to say, “Stop treating me  like a problem case, where you feel like you have to assert your dominance as a doctor to be deemed as credible” but I kept quiet.

While I didn’t have words for the institutional forces at play, at the time, I knew that something was very wrong.   I knew that I was being treated differently because I was a young female. I knew that I was an easy scapegoat for built-up frustration. I knew that making me question my own body, my own symptoms, my own memory & perception was the only way to make them still feel dominant over me.

Now I know this to be gaslighting, a very effective form of manipulation that quickly increases self-doubt and self-questioning.

Through the work of EMDR, I’ve been able to take my story back into my own hands, away from those who taught me to question myself because my disease couldn’t be “proven.” I now have the chance to see my bravery, my strength, my perseverance that seemed to elude me when I just felt like a burden or the problem.  I finally get to see myself as the hero of my own story-with great successes and many faults, like every other human being.

I’ve been able to see how my perseverance has been found in my commitment to my own self-care, to setting boundaries, to trying new things when everything seems to fall apart.  In my perseverance, I’ve seen an openness to new people, new ideas, new writers.  I’ve felt a strong sense of self emerge, originating in the greatest place of energy in the sacral chakra.

Being able to spend time alone, as a woman, and truly enjoy my own company has been the greatest gift of my own perseverance.  And it’s intimidating to many–but I’m learning not to apologize for this.  I’m not forsaking community to nurture myself.

Last week I read feminism is for everybody by bell hooks.  Such a lovely, thought-provoking read about intersectional feminism.  In the introduction she writes,

Imagine living in a world where there is no domination, where females and males are not alike or even always equal, but where a vision of mutuality is the ethos shaping our interaction.  Imagine living in a world where we can all be who we are, a world of peace and possibility.  Feminist revolution alone will not create such a world; we need to end racism, class elitism, imperialism.  But it will make it possible for us to be fully self-actualized females and males able to create beloved community, to live together, realizing our dreams of freedom and justice, living the truth that we are all ‘created equal.'”

Self-actualization must necessarily include the work of the individual in community.  In in the process of taking responsibility for my own life, so that I show up in community differently.  So that I’m more flexible, and willing to learn, and yet not doubting my own significance or story.

I’m thankful for the people in my life who remind me of my significance and worth, through words and actions–and remind me that I don’t have to prove it to anyone.  I’m thankful for those who help me to see my own assumptions, and who encourage me to imagine another way-a way forward with more inclusion and joy.

 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash