Thursday, August 16, 2018

Embracing Your Truth Means Crying in the Dark

Tonight I did something that's pretty hard for me to do.

I cried alone.

I know some people can ONLY cry when they're on their own, but for some reason, that's always been a difficult thing for me to do, because the weight of whatever I'm feeling often seems too big to handle by myself.

But I've been talking to God so much lately, seeking a greater guidance and wisdom and strength, and tonight was no different, with me out on the patio late, when everyone else is sleeping.

I brought my phone with me this time, which I never normally do, so that I could listen to some meditative music. I heard a song with a children's choir in the back and thought, that sounds beautiful, I'd like more. So off to Youtube I went, seeking children's choir music.

As I scrolled through video options, I passed "Pie Jesu", a beautiful hymn I am all too familiar with after a childhood singing for a Catholic Church as both a soloist and choir member.

I immediately got a feeling in my gut of pain and dread and scrolled past the video fast, my inner voice saying, "Noooo".

Then I stopped, and I had a little conversation with myself.
"Why not?"
"Because when you even THINK about that song, you remember singing it with John Peter, and it will wreck you."

John Peter is...was? my little brother. He died in 2012. We had sung that piece together in duet when I was only a teenager and he a small boy with an angelic voice. To this day I couldn't handle hearing the song performed that way.

Then I listened to a different voice. One that seemed to be coming from a self-parenting perspective.

"I think we need to do things differently now. You can't hide from how you feel. Just because the emotion is scary, doesn't mean you shouldn't feel it. I think your fear means that you need to have this experience."

So, with trepidation and suspecting what would come, I clicked play and set my phone down and sat in the dark. As the boy started singing, just like I'd feared, I relived hearing John's voice, seeing the shy, gentle, completely unassuming look on his face as he sang, innocently going along with what was asked of him, singing a song in front of so many people. It should have scared my brother, who was full of fears and anxiety, but for some reason, he just stood there and sang in perfect harmony with me, no reservations or arguments.

I'll never forget joining voices with that little boy, standing side by side, and praying in music with our best voices.

I admittedly cried a lot....for a while after that song ended. Because the song did exactly what I was afraid it would, pulling memories into view and forcing me to deal with them at a really inconvenient time. And what was so inconvenient about it, you ask? Well....that whole alone thing, you know? No distractions. Scary stuff.

I thought about the day of his funeral, when I'd have to go and see his body, and how sick that made me feel. How much the week leading up to the inevitable twisted my guts into sickness and dread. I had to carry the weight of losing someone who was essentially my little boy by myself. The family I'd been raised with was a zero comfort, zero compassion group of people, and that required I somehow hold myself together on my own in the midst of horrific chaos.

I had barely cried that week, surrounded by relations. Because I didn't have that luxury. So I kept the horror inside, and all the dread of it held me down like a heavy weight, keeping me from flying apart, manifesting in repeated instances of sickness, an inability to even look at food. I could scarcely do more than sip from a bottle of water.

The day of his viewing, we got to the funeral home late. The women in my family may not be tardy to their own funerals, but their loved problem.

As we gathered in the outer vestibule, I couldn't bring myself to go into the viewing room. There was a table in one of the sitting rooms off to the side with a poster covered in messages and pictures of John. I tried to look at it but couldn't do that either. There were little funeral cards with his picture, and a prayer. Every single moment that passed, my mind said it couldn't have been real, and yet it was.

I waited and waited, procrastinating to leave where I was, everyone else filtering in before me. My Uncle came to check on me, I said I'd be in when I could. My mom, ever brash and childlike, said, "Aren't you going in to see your brother?"
"I will when I'm ready," I said, trying not to throw up. This was the ultimate and worst. My brother was dead and his body was laying in the other room and I didn't know how the hell I was going to do this.

I eventually left a side room and stood in the front vestibule again, alone, staring into the center of the viewing room where I couldn't see him yet. I was giving myself the world's most horrific pep talk. I still remember it. You don't forget that kinda stuff. So I talked to him.
"How am I gonna do this, John? I don't know HOW I'm gonna do this. I need you to be with me. I need you to help me have strength."

I imagined my brother's arm around me, making a joke about how I needed to go in there and be with those crazy people and be tough. I imagined that arm on my shoulder the whole, long walk down that funeral hallway. Right into the room where his body was laid out.

It was the most frightening, agonizing, and alone moment of my life. It took more courage and faith to do than anything I had ever, and maybe WILL ever do, walking into that room. My brother dying was literally the worst case scenario. I had told God once, whatever you do, do NOT let anything happen to my brother or sister. That was the forbidden. I had laid down the law. God saw differently.

So toward my little brother I went. Toward the culmination of the love I felt and the destructiveness of our family through the years, ending in my brother's death at 25.

Somehow, I had always known this would happen. I had feared for him, but knowing and accepting are two different things. And what my spirit knew, my heart couldn't bear. So, even now, five plus years later....hell, especially now, after I've gone through a new kind of hell and the rapid self growth that often results from pain...I am more broken open than I used to be. I can see the strength I had and the grace through a nightmare, and I can be proud of myself for that, but also willing to love and accept and nurture my own emotions first instead of last. To protect my needs--which often involves feeling things that I dread--and defending my right to them. Because sometimes people won't be there to share your tears. Or worse, they'll use them against you. So YOU have to be there. You have to be there for your own self. Show up for your own heart. You can't just bury pain until a "safer" moment. You should be the safest place for your own heart. I needed to be strong enough to love myself through any pain. Not just shove it down.

I guess that means I'll be crying alone sometimes. Which is okay. It's part of the journey, and I'm grateful.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Everyday Phoenix Project Podcast

I’ve been wanting to do a podcast for a while, but I couldn’t figure out what kind and what nature. I just knew that it felt like something I should be doing and it needed to be a project that felt like it was spreading some good.

I’ve spent a lot of time rediscovering who I am and reclaiming my purpose lately and in that process of clarity I recognized that one of the creative ventures I feel compelled toward is a podcast that gives voice to the remarkable people whose stories normally wouldn’t be heard. 

The first podcast is estimated to release in September, 2018. It’s called the Everyday Phoenix Project. Here’s a little teaser.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

To the Void

As an author I'm big on social media. I work in marketing so these platforms are a daily necessity whether I like it or not. I'm someone who gets connected deeply - to networks and platforms - to people and places.

But, sometimes, in order to reset your own internal systems, which may have become corrupted by life's malware and cookies until we're ready to go all blue screen of death, we have to disconnect. Reset to factory settings and see how our machine runs then. And that's freaking hard.

Disconnecting from computers, from people or places or things that keep us down, whatever they are, often becomes necessary for the spirit not to drown. Drawing away from the cloud of confusion or negativity, those things that make us lose our own hearts, identities, sometimes even our sanity, is not a new human experience. We all have to do it from time to time, whether by force or by choice. Or both.

In all that obsessive connection, when we've too long held our breath under water, we can end up ignoring the solitary, organic world, the grass under our feet and the wind on our faces, our own hearts. From our tight clouds of non-perspective, we often lose ourselves. We lose our emotional well-being, and then, of course, there's unhappiness and pain. Being too connected to a microcosm and disconnecting from our own bodies and needs plus the larger world around us creates a nasty bubble effect, constricting our minds and our breath.

These days we can become so focused on a much smaller life in our heads, a vast but limited world. We get sidetracked easily by things that feel satisfying in a more strangling way. We fall into them and balance disappears. We create dense woods of our own unwitting creation. Then, when we pop our heads out of the trees for long enough, and if we dare to step outside them entirely, we have to relearn who we are all over again. This re-emerging from a kind of mental blindness is commonly called The Void...and I've known this state of transition from one place to another very intimately. It's a deeply uncomfortable, even gut-wrenching place to be. Ironically, when we disconnect from distractions, from comfortable emotional traps, from things that cause us pain or limit our lives, it can often feel completely awful. At first, anyway.

Disconnecting from whatever limits our hearts requires getting to the point of ferocious self-parenting, of disciplined choices where we have to fight our own fear to combat limitations and connections that constrict. Jumping into that dark disconnection from the old and expanding to the new takes massive loads of courage and faith. We want the woods that are familiar. We even want the angry bears and the poisonous nettles and the cold, stressful nights because the sense of emptiness that comes with a trek into The Void is a new kind of agony. We like our smaller, familiar sufferings. We remember that the sun felt great in the woods...sometimes. All that green we were drowning in was intoxicating... sometimes. But The Void offers all of that plus the rest of our lives.

Disconnecting hurts. It's a merciless growing pain. And it's entirely self-inflicted and self-sustained. On purpose of all things. The Void feels like crap. There's no way around it. And it takes ginormous dedication not to turn around and grope for a rope in the dark that would tie us to things that no longer serve us

Disconnecting is a commitment to ourselves to connect again, in a bigger, stronger, wiser, healthier way, with the rest of the world.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016 - A Vicious Teacher

A lot of us would consider 2016 to be one of the worst years in memorable history. We've seen questionable election practices, questionable characters take power in shaping the new face of our government, war and turmoil and suffering all across the world in record numbers, and many iconic losses of beloved figures.

But I can't help noticing how these tribulations seem reflective of what is happening in a lot of our lives on a smaller, more personal scale. We have unemployment, debt, depression, anxiety, wars raging within our own worlds, major losses of loved ones, security and our senses of self...for so many people, 2016 has been one hell of a tumultuous year. And I cannot discount myself from that number. No matter how much I might wish I could. But the truth is, in retrospect, I don't think I would.

2016 has been hell for me. I'm not going to lie. I have struggled with some pretty hefty emotional pain, ridiculously stressful situations and violent adjustments to the way I have always functioned as a human being. If it could have gone wrong, if it could have ripped me open, it did.

When I really examine its effects,  2016 has rendered the impossible. It has managed to do something that no other year could accomplish for me - not even with the loss of my beloved little brother in 2012. And for those who know me, you'd think that would have done it. But no. The fact is, 2016 utterly broke me. Or maybe I should say it broke "Me"... as in the me that I was. The more invulnerable, less authentic me. The one ruled by fear masked in pride.

The one who, in all her years, had never really experienced being in love. Not really. The one who, in all her years, had never really, trustingly given in to her own passion. The "Me" who had never felt so low as to succumb to the admission of her own humanity, her mortal flaws and her deep need for others. The one who could never ask for help. The one who feared for the roof over her head.  Before 2016, I was fortified by a costume wall. I thought I was open, I thought I was real, and I was - with and for the needs of others. But as for my own? That took the efforts of a powerful and raging year that followed on the heels of the pain come before it. It took a mighty, fiery angel of misery to make me cry out for help.

2016 has exposed me to the point of no return. It's transformative in all its terrible glory, the way it has shaped - or maybe just forcibly uncovered me from under "Me". When I'm sad, I cry. I do that a lot in fact. And when I am angry, I show it. When I need to be held - I ask. And when I am jealous, and insecure, and afraid - I show those as well. Because 2016 has forced me to feel these things in great measure. It's ripped open my skin and tipped out my insides. And some things, once they are out, can never go back in. Some guts will always be exposed. There are a few beloved souls I trust to really see my heart now in all of its bleeding, beating imperfection. I need people. 2016 has broken my spirit enough that I can no longer get by the same way. It has presented me with villains and saviors one in the same. It has presented me with the raw, the real, and the undiluted me. And it is frightening, SO frightening. It requires giving up control, it requires vulnerable trust. Its rewards are risky and awful and shocking and beautiful.

If 2016 hadn't taken away every means of hiding it, I would still be encasing my truest humanity in a suit of armor. But then I wouldn't have been loved. Not the way I needed to feel it. And I wouldn't have met the me that I'm not always so crazy about. The real me. I wouldn't have met her so I could make peace with her. And ask her forgiveness for hiding her away so long.

In all dark and painful things they say there is a gift beyond measure. I think I'm just starting to unravel mine. So thanks, 2016. You merciless bastard. I am wrecked, I am uncovered, and I am changed.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Empathic Love

Some say life's greatest teacher is pain. Others say you can learn from either pain or joy, just that pain is the most common path to human wisdom. The hardest won lessons seem to be in matters of love. Love of every kind.

Empathic folks, otherwise known as Highly Sensitive People, (HSPs...and a term I'm not a fan of), have a lot of self protection to develop. And even more to put into play with the people in their lives. I can guarantee that most of us have not developed sufficient protections, at least not for the many instances of relationships and interactions that lead to said wisdom... oftentimes the hard way.

Dating, for me, continues to be a constant teacher. It has taught me confidence in speaking my needs and my mind with passion, It's taught me the accuracy of my intuition and the price of ignoring it in favor of powerful emotion, but most of all, it's taught me how my greatest strengths can be my greatest weaknesses. This will sound ridiculous, but I figured something out about myself in the last few years that's probably obvious to everyone else-- something I sincerely didn't comprehend before (though God knows why, as all the signs were blazing). I realize that when I love, I love hard.

No, I don't mean a lot. Not even a whole lot. I mean hard, people. Deep. Completely. I don't love like that OFTEN...not even close, because my self protections are strong enough to limit my circle of trust that much. In truth,I think intuitively, my spirit has known to make me slow to trust--even if my heart can't always obey. Because love is no small matter for me. Love comes with vulnerability that can empty an empathic person. It leads to sacrifice, to outpourings of compassion that are often drained dry. Vulnerability takes a leap of faith, but it should be one that is examined first, tested and earned. Unfortunately, as meticulous as I've been, sometimes, even my careful heart gets overwhelmed. Because it is, at root, a heart that seeks to give itself to those it loves. And by the time that's occurred, I'm invested--soul deep. By then I have resolved to give everything my heart can offer, and it's so rare that it's frightening to contemplate its loss. The piece of myself that goes with it can never be retrieved. Empathic people know that they were not born to love in a flat line, or a shallow pool. When we love and choose to trust, you get our loyalty, our forgiveness, our passion, our protection, our time, our anger, our whole selves. When we love that much, it is no small thing to navigate. It's life altering. And if it betrays us, if it falls to pieces... so do we. It takes a chunk of us that can never be returned. Romantically, familialy....if you reach the point where you're a part of me, you have the potential to rip me to shreds. And it'll take a long time to recover., And even then, I'll do everything in my power to somehow make it better for everyone. Because once I love, I cannot unlove. And that's where it gets painful.

I guess I assumed everyone was like this. I was wrong, though. Sometimes I worry I feel too deeply....that for all the zen I put out to people, they don't realize that inside I'm something else completely. A stormy mountain or a deep sea full of roiling water. Like the universe made me very wrong....or very right...just in the wrong paradigm. Probably why I write and sing. Maybe the heft of what I feel is meant to be bursting at the seams, because the overflow means creation. It means I can feel what others feel, I can understand what others can't admit to themselves, let alone each other, and I can relate those things in ways that touch the human heart. At least, that's what I hope this HSP thing is for, otherwise it's like nature just punched a hole too deep in my heart at the human factory and sent me out to market without fixing its error. All those feelings....mine, others', all of it, leaks out. It leaks out in lyrics, it leaks out in dotted half notes and crescendos and sleepless nights, it leaks out in rhyme....and in tears. And in compassion. A lot of that.

My hope is that I love people who aren't afraid to be loved like that. And where falling in love is concerned, someone who proves himself worthy, because I'll be watching, and waiting, ten times more cautiously than before, to understand their intent. To believe what my soul wants to tell me about their heart. And their comprehension of who I am.

Empathic people have a world to give....and a world to lose. I suspect, though, that the right people will always and forever refill what they take.

Friday, January 22, 2016

My Voice is Mine

Recently, a good (I think she's kind of a guru) friend observed me talking to a stranger for a while. After the interaction was over, we headed to her car and she turned to me and said, “I see it now! I see why you attract certain types of people.” I replied with a stunned but no less eloquent, “Huh?” and she explained, “You listen to hear. Most people wait for the other person to stop talking so they can push their own thoughts in ASAP.” (Let’s be real - some people don’t even wait for that.) She noted the dynamic of an unequal energy exchange, where one party pours their own stuff out, the other takes it in. She said one indication that tips off an “energy vampire” is that a person listens to hear. And asks questions. “You don't just hear what they’re saying, you process it and respond with their feelings as the priority. You don't ask a thing of them.” I replied that I didn’t think this was a bad thing at all, and she said that overall it’s a nice trait to have, but that it’s risky because, “Self-obsessed energy is way aware of souls like you. I could see that lady sucking your empathy in like the Sea Witch.” I said, “Are you telling me I’m singing away my soul?” She said, “Your lifeblood. If it’s someone selfish, you shouldn’t give them so much. God, no wonder you’re so tired.” Then she asked me what my communication style was like growing up.

I flashed back whether I liked it or not… knowing that it boiled down to nurture. Sure, I'm empathetic and that complicates everything, but what my friend said bolstered images I swore I was numb to. Memories of being a child and pleading with my grandmother to see reason, to understand that things were not okay in our house. Pleading to be heard and acknowledged, pleading for changes and help and reason amidst insanity and everyone else's silence to no avail until it all dissolved into tears. Then I would really be silenced. “Just keep your mouth shut.” "Silence!" “I don’t want to hear it.” “Children should be seen and not heard.” “Another word and you’re out that door.” “Be silent.” “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” A swift slap across the face. A subtle, eternal withholding of all affection. Two or three agonizing weeks of the cold shoulder. Let me tell you, that was the worst. You can slap a kid in the face a hundred times, but nothing makes a child feel more invisible than being ignored. Then, when I’d learned my lesson enough, I guess, when she felt I’d finally grasped just how disdainful my thoughts were, she’d speak to me again. In this way, I was trained to carry the weight of her explosions without expressing a drop of my own feelings to her or anyone else. Keep things quiet. Keep her happy. Or at least keep her from exploding. You never knew, from one day to the next, when the bomb would go off. And the silence of others only confirmed that it was right. It was my job. It was right to tend, first and foremost, to the emotional needs of others. It didn’t matter what they were like—I should always listen to hear, but never speak to be heard. It was a virtue to be silent. If people were tedious, if they were difficult, if they were toxic, give them your ear. Give them your compassion. Your patience. Your repeated forgiveness. Your damned sanity, even.

Flash forward and pardon my language, folks, but FUCK THAT NOISE. I realized I was still doing it, to some degree, though not nearly as much as I used to. I was still letting some people stomp all over my boundaries, drain me dry and manipulate my emotions, train me to put their needs first. I was still defaultedly listening to hear, even though some people never really shut the hell up. “Mhm. Sure Jen, now BACK TO ME.”

And then I was angry. And for some reason anger makes me cry. It always has. And that’s okay. But you know what isn’t? Being that little girl. Compassion is one thing—conditioning is another. I thought I had a handle on the part of me that fell silent and let things slide when they shouldn’t. But I was lying to myself. I still needed the reminder that my voice matters. What I say matters. What I feel matters. What I think matters in balance with anyone else. And where there is imbalance, I will not give my energy away anymore. I am not a stupid little mermaid. No more Sea Witches for me. My voice is mine. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Building Sandcastles

As far back as I can remember, I've been a passionate kinda girl. 

It may not have seemed like it to some people. I understand that little me came off quite shy. In fact, I remember one of my aunts nicknaming me The Mouse. But, regardless of the exterior calm I seemed to exude, I had a complex, creative, elaborate and emotional inner world raging on at all times. Still do. I guess I figured everyone did. 

Didn't everybody pile on every skirt they could find in their grandmother's closet and go outside to sing after watching a Disney princess musical for the umpteenth time? Didn't everybody take a refrigerator box, cut a jagged hole in the side and suddenly believe wholeheartedly that they were in an actual pirate ship? Didn't everybody write ten minute musical treatise to all manner of undying love at five years old and then force their poor family to sit through aaaaall of them? Didn't everybody daydream incessantly, play out elaborate imaginary scenarios in live action when no one else was around?

Or was that just me....

My desire to escape was only fueled by a naturally restless, passionate spirit (inherited from my wandering mom, I think) and a mind filled to overwhelming with stories, dreams, ideas, a desperation to express what had been repressed. I was like a caged bird as a child. But that didn't change my innate being, which was bursting, the whole of which cultivated like a ticking time bomb of "FUCK THIS I NEED TO BE FREEEEE". The world was an adventure story with magic and epic love and great triumph waiting to be had, and I was missing out on all the feels! I had a lot to discover about myself. And even more to discover about love.

Ironically, though it began as a massive adventure, my first real relationship was a pretty passionless situation. It may have begun full of controversy, but, as it turned out, controversy was the fuel to our feelings. The relationship, itself, became something far less exciting, but far more important - a lesson in being nurtured, the experience of family and constancy of care I'd never known. And it was healing. But it was sedate. Too sedate. I wasn't in love. And ten years changes you. By the time I hit thirty and everything was fizzling to an end, I had to acknowledge that, comforting though it was, the whole thing had thoroughly lacked any guessed it...passion. And I couldn't sustain that any longer. I'd held back long enough. 

Perspective. I needed more of it. More feels!

So off I went into the world of dating for the first time in ages and I was mightily convinced that only a passionate connection would do this time. I'd absolutely never go back and base a relationship on safe things again. I wanted to feel like I was on fire, fully me, my force a thing to be reckoned with. I wanted to feel a chemistry I'd never ventured before, because I had it in me and I was tired of wasting away. I wouldn't accept anything less. Quiet, solid, safe people just wouldn't do! Passion was the answer. Once I had it, I'd have everything. What more could I need? The other way didn't make me happy...clearly I was missing out. 

Funny. But there isn't a single seemingly ecstatic thing in this Universe that doesn't come with a real bitch of a down side. Turns out,  when unaccompanied by trust and stability, even the passioniest passion means little. Even the sparkiest spark can leave you in the dark. My attraction to the uncertainty, the chase, the emotional roller coaster of a one-hued focus was short lived once I realized that, without a healthy, soulful dose of groundedness, passion destroys. It sucks you dry of perspective and energy. It's only a temporary food for the ego but it does not last. Passion is fun. Hot even. But it's not the glue. I need more than that. We all do. And waiting for some kind of "The heavens just opened and angels spoke to me and you're undoubtedly The One because HORMONES!" barometer to gauge the merit in a partner is, quite possibly, a really great excuse to avoid truly letting someone in for good.  

I think what lasts is a wiser (some might even say jaded) version of both entities. Physical attraction is great, but only if accompanied by a solid heart, something steady and (God forbid reliable) and trustworthy to stand on. The alternative of uncertain passion leaves you miserable in your excitement. It's unsustainable. And if given the choice of one or the other, I would choose a calmer love now. 

This is a miraculous turn around, you know. Grasping the value of balance and knowing that passion isn't the most important thing, the be all end all, the foundation - that's something I would never have said just five short-long years ago. But I'm saying it today. My vision has changed again. It grows as I grow, per usual. And typically through pain. 

So what of it?

I guess I open my heart to a new kind of desire, give myself something more evolved to be passionate about. Something that encompasses the parts of me I'd rarely examined when I was younger - the "boring" ones. The adult ones. I recognize that the imbalanced repression of my childhood is not real stability any more than a burning desire equals happiness. All that glitters (and sparks and explodes) is not gold. All that is calm and true and dependable is not a cage.  

What's the old parable about building your house upon the sand? Apparently you shouldn't do it, even if the view is fantastic. It doesn't seem to matter how gloriously the waves crash upon your castle...if it has a wobbly foundation, you can bet your dreams will topple and fall. So maybe aim for a stone cliff, instead? Same view. Better night's sleep.