Letting the waves do their thing

Think back. Remember vulnerable-you. At your weakest, your most drained, your most crushed.

What did it?

“Trauma” is a universal experience. Your life may not have been dominated by it, but you’ve had your days.

Younger me found refuge in my bedroom closet. I’d spend hours in there. It felt a little safer.

Have you ever heard yourself say “I just want to hide under a rock” or “I just want to crawl under my blanket and never come out”?

What drove those big yucky feelings way back when you felt them and learned to fear them?

And–and here’s the fun part–do you ever still relive them now?

What brings you suddenly and helplessly back?

It’s human to have triggers.

Reliving trauma can turn the strongest person to mush. Sometimes with little warning.

And here’s the difficult part, but maybe the hopeful part . . .

What do you do when that happens?

When it hits you like a ton of bricks.

When you’re thrown right back into the saddest and most helpless feelings.

When you’re 12-years-old again getting screamed at or hit again.

When you’re suddenly friendless and unwantable again.

When someone’s looking at you that yucky way again.

When you hear that voice again that you really, really needed to never hear again.

When you have that old nightmare again.

When everything feels dangerous again.

When you need to go hide in your closet again.

What then?

I think sometimes we try to say, “I beat this then, I can beat this now.” And we get tough. Flex our I-don’t-cry muscles. Manufacture positivity.

And yes, there is some hope in a soft and encouraging reminder, “I made it through this before.”

But I don’t think the tough way through works in those darkest times.

Surfing is used frequently as an analogy for the ups and downs of life. When the waves come, you ride them, right?

But surfers also have to learn a life-saving lesson: When the water is too strong, trying to pull you under and away–which, absolutely, 100% it will be sometimes–you cannot fight it.

When the current is too strong, fighting against it will kill you.

You have to acknowledge and allow the power of water.

It is too strong to beat.

And when you stop fighting, embrace the overwhelming power of the water, let it do its massive thing with you, and even swim with it (or at least sort-of-with-it–like not against it) . . . it eventually spits you out into safety.

And I think life is the same way.

Like a sunny day on the beach, life is beautiful.

And like the surfing analogy goes, we can learn to ride its waves.

But when you wipe out (and you will), and find that the waves are just too damn big today (and you will), and that they’re pulling you down into the darkest darkness (and they will)–the only way out is through.

So what would happen if, when the trauma suddenly shows back up with a vengeance, and you’re suddenly a powerless, paralyzed kid again . . . what would happen if you just let the waves crash over you, let the overwhelming power of grief or fear or anger do its thing?

What if you stopped struggling, stopped denying, stopped “at-least”-ing, stopped numbing . . . and just fully accepted the overwhelming, crushing force of deep trauma?

Maybe you’d stop living in a cycle of exhaustion, fighting to keep your head above an angry ocean surface.

Maybe all the feelings would wash over you, envelop you, and fill you up.

And then, like a current in the sea, they could carry you through the darkness back to safety.

Emotions are designed to be felt.

Not fought.

Grief.

Fear.

Anger.

When fought, they will win. They’ll hold you down.

When acknowledged as overwhelmingly powerful . . . they’re “designed” to spit you out on the other side.

A psychologist friend of mine shares that a lot of his clients try desperately to run the other way when deep sadness shows up, distracting themselves, denying their feelings, and even avoiding big, beautiful life things so that reminders won’t trigger sadness again. They explain to him that they’re afraid if they let themselves feel the sadness all the way, it will never stop. It will be too powerful. It will crush them and hold them under for the rest of their lives. And he gets to give them a shot of hope that he’s learned as a professional who studies the human mind: No. It won’t. It will feel AWFUL. And then, once it’s done its thing, it will recede.

When old trauma and grief show up, do you get stuck in a cycle of “not listening, not listening” with your fingers plugging your ears, as if somehow, as long as you don’t cry, it will get better?

It doesn’t, does it?

What if you just let the feelings do what they’re designed to do?

Maybe you even go hide in your closet again and sob for a while, like when you were 15.

Then maybe, once its done its thing, it will let you back up for air, and you’ll see that the sun is shining.

And yes, the same wave will pull you under again sometime. But it doesn’t own you. You will come back up for air and surf the beautiful ocean of life again.

Why nobody can hear the alarm anymore, and what you and I can do about it today

There’s a reason it seems nearly impossible these days that our country could deal decisively with a genuinely dangerous or unfit leader. It has to do with the way you and I speak every day.

Our problem, if we can stand a little self-reflection, is that you and I habitually label as “dangerous” or “unfit” EVERY SINGLE PERSON with a perspective significantly different from our own. We exaggerate their faults and exaggerate the threats they pose.

We use words like “absolutely insane” or “downright evil” or “totally incompetent” or “worst ever” or “pathetic” or “ignorant” or “sick” or “disgusting.” We throw these labels around pretty easily, using their intensity as our argument.

(I do this, too.)

That lawmaker is “an imbecile.” That judge is “entirely unfit.” This governor is “mentally unstable.” This crisis is “unprecedented.”

No. No, probably not. Usually, that person is actually just . . . different from us. Pretty significantly different. And maybe we have valid concerns around the impacts of their ideas. And maybe we’re right that “they’re wrong.” . . . And sometimes, sometimes, yes, they’re pretty yucky people.

But when we use superlatives–“worst,” “craziest,” “weakest,” “most radical,” “most dangerous,” “most disgusting”–to describe every single person with whom we disagree . . . then we have no effective language left for when there is a truly “worst”-case-scenario.

Psychologists and psychiatrists warned years ago of the genuine dangers of having a narcissist in the White House, but that label carries little alarm when you and I have already been calling every political leader of the opposite party a “narcissist,” a “bully,” “corrupt,” “ignorant,” “mentally unstable” . . .

If we claim at every single election that the opponent is “the most dangerous candidate we’ve ever seen” or “the most incompetent” or “a complete joke”–then what language is left to sound the alarm when it’s actually true?

If every single election season I hear my group’s favorite called “an asshole,” “hopeless,” “an absolute idiot,” “wrong in the head,” or “unstable”–why would I take it seriously when it’s finally true?

It’s like the boy who cried wolf, only it’s us and our sort of lazy habit of calling everything and everyone we don’t like “the worst.”

In reality, very few of us are “the worst.” You and I and everybody exist on a scale. A bunch of little scales, actually. I have some neuroticism, some selfishness, some ignorance, some weakness. And I have some strength, some compassion, some clarity, some courage. And so does that lawmaker you despise. And all “those liberals” or “those conservatives.”

So when four years later a President with an apparent case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder whips up his followers into a frenzy–it’s . . . sort of . . . on all of us. Somehow, we got here together.

We got here together by (among other things) having little tolerance or respect for people who disagree. By automatically labeling “different” as “dangerous.” By demonizing everyone who isn’t like us.

When we live and breathe a constant stream of superlatives, it’s sort of on all of us when “the most dangerous President in history” doesn’t really alarm half of us anymore.

This isn’t to shift the blame away from anybody who deserves a big, big share of it.

It’s a call for you and me to be a part of making this better starting now.

This nauseatingly polarized country is made up of a bunch of you’s and me’s. It IS our problem. We DID get ourselves here. WE make up “the people.”

It’s not all your fault or all my fault, but I think we have more power to change our country’s trajectory than we realize. We can each start by acknowledging that “those people” may be well-meaning, competent people, living somewhere on all those scales. And that we actually CAN live with them and keep working toward good side by side–even when we see good differently (and even when maybe we’re right).

On the other hand, if we keep demonizing all who disagree with us: We lose all credibility; and we wear out the alarm we may actually need on occasion.

Republicans don’t want all the poor people to starve and democrats don’t want to steal all your money or kill all your babies.

And if we take the easy way out by accusing each other of these worst-case caricatures, then when a truly dangerous character shows up, a bunch of people won’t notice.

“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” – Donald Trump at a January 2016 campaign rally

If we want the circus to stop, we need to change the way we talk to and about each other. Every. Single. Day.

“They” are NOT all hopelessly evil.

For the most part, they’re . . . people.

Like you and me.

Less labeling. More conversation.

You ARE you

A while ago I wrote a short and simple blog post called “It’s okay to be you.”

I wonder if adding another way of thinking about it could help:

You just ARE you.

Period.

Whether it’s okay or not (and it is), you are you.

If you are an anxious you, a distracted you, a busy you, a depressed you, a frustrated you, an over-achieving you, a socially awkward you, a tired you, or a can’t-gym-these-days you . . . that is just . . . you.

You are it.

It is you.

Trying to not be you won’t work.

So . . . may as well be okay with who you are.

It’s an adventure.

Dance with it.

I’m free now

When I was a kid, I did have happy times. In fact a lot of my childhood memories feel happy. Even some of the stuff that, as an independent-minded adult, I now look back at as creepy or dysfunctional.

I wish people understood that just because someone has some happiness, or feels like things are also good, or has some of what they need (like food or clothes), or smiles sometimes–that doesn’t mean that their situation is okay.

All the dysfunction finally bubbled over. And now, as an adult, a pretty strong person, who has been on my own for years–the effects of my dysfunctional childhood leave me struggling some every day.

Even while I was finding some happiness as a teenager–listening to Ne-Yo and Fergie, watching Modern Family in my closet where my parents couldn’t know, playing out mental fantasies where I actually had friends I got to hang out and spend time with–even when finding my own happiness, I was simultaneously drowning in stress and fear and anger and hopelessness. And all the happiness volume in the world doesn’t somehow balance out toxicity.

It’s good to remind myself that I’ve come a long way.

Now, day to day stresses get to me. I feel frustrated when I can’t slow down and breathe or think, like when my phone rings fifty times in a day. It makes my heart beat harder. Or when I see yucky things on the news. Or can’t see friends face-to-face for the duration of a pandemic. Or keep having to take breaks from running with leg and back pain.

But.

And here’s where I want to sit today:

Now, I come home to someone who loves me. Someone who will hold my hands when things feel too big. Someone who lets me have feelings and needs and wants and dreams, and who encourages me to chase them all, even if they’re not her own. Someone who wants to hear me speak from my heart. Someone who deeply values me. And when I walk in the door from a long workday, I have a furry buddy who tells me, with all the whines and jumps and wags and licks, that I am so good and so important. And now I do have those beautiful, wonderful, amazing, fun friends in my life to hang out with that I wished I was allowed to have as a teenager. And now I have all these things in my life and about myself that don’t have a good-or-bad, wise-or-foolish, acceptable-or-unacceptable label to them. Now, I don’t feel like the most important people in my life are ashamed of me for watching my shows or staying up late with my friends or not-still-wanting-to-be-a-preacher-when-I-grow-up, and I never really have anyone raise their voice at me anymore (except, of course, the occasional experience in the any service industry). And nobody snaps at me when I’ve played the same piano piece too many times in a row. And nobody hits me anymore.

The people who don’t love me–I don’t have to be with them. I don’t have to take the phone calls, play the games, suffer through the holidays, bite my tongue at the cruel conversations.

Now, I’m free.

It’s easy to forget how free I am, because nobody graduates from all stress and hurt and struggle, and those things will probably always feel big. It’s easy to forget just how dark things were. Just how NOT free I have been.

Now, life–no matter how lifey it gets, is better. Now, I live with LOVE.

I am thankful for freedom.

I am proud of the courage to step out of toxicity, out into freedom. Proud when I see that courage in myself and proud when I see it in others.

And I am thankful for the life that freedom brings, that courage brings. It’s not too perfect, too fancy. It just has kindness and peace and boundaries and love.

That’s better.

Despite the day-to-day struggles that are a fact of life–has your life gotten better? Have you found some more freedom? Chosen more love? Grown? It’s easy to forget how far we’ve come. And it helps to remember it. Feels hopeful.

What about you?

~

P.S. I know navigating unhealthy family situations is a hard, scary, and misunderstood thing in our world. So much pressure. So many expectations. If it’s something you’re struggling with, I’m happy to listen. And if not me–there is someone else in your life, ready to talk, who has had to step out into freedom. Say your stuff, no matter how messy. Find your freedom and love. Rooting for you!

10 thoughts for your new year :)

Hi human.

At the end of a year, I like reflecting. Appreciating. Celebrating.

This year, I’m feeling happy about and thankful for and excited by my 7 years of blogging–how it’s grown, growing . . . I feel proud of myself, which didn’t used to be allowed. And I feel so, so, so thankful for all my friends–personally familiar or connected only by our shared humanity–who have read my blog, shared my posts, and let me know when words I’ve expressed have touched their soul in some way: Made to feel less alone, sparked with inspiration or energy, lent courage . . .

We’re all “just” humans–very real humans–(yes, all of us, even the put-together ones)–daily stumbling through the dark, awkwardly and beautifully figuring out this “Life” thing–together.

My passion in life has something to do with grabbing the hand of anyone-anywhere and saying “It’s okay that you’re stumbling through the dark . . . me, too . . . maybe we can help each other?”

Helping each other, I think, looks like listening and sharing. All the deep stuff. Thanks to all our own unique and odd adventures through life’s ups and downs, we’ve each acquired quite a lot of wisdom–often without even realizing it. And sometimes it seems oh-so-random whose wisdom helps who–whose experiences or perspectives or even unique language just happens to resonate, happens to be EXACTLY what “works” for someone in need.

So: Speak. And listen. Ask the deep questions. Share the deep feelings. Remember the humanity in each of us. Dare to connect. Be bravely real.

Anyway, friends, I’m so grateful to know in some ways I get to help some beautiful people stumble upon some of the wisdom they’ve been looking for. Writing makes me feel alive, it makes things makes sense to me, and once in a while I get to hear someone say “I needed to read this,” and that is about the most fulfilling sentence I ever, ever hear.

To celebrate, I’m wrapping up the last few days of 2020 by sharing my top 10 favorite blog posts I’ve written. If you click through the links below for some year-end reading over the next few days, I hope they speak to you in some helpful way–and if they do, I’d be honored if you pass it along, and I’d love to hear what exactly resonated.

Thanks for reading friends!



#10. The problem with growing up

This is an easy one. Very short. Like 33-words-and-a-Winnie-the-Pooh-quote short.

I love this one because it is the one thing I need need need to keep remembering every every every year, month, week, day.

Keep returning to your inner child, my friend.



#9. We eloped to Italy!

I usually write about “deep” or “important” topics–at least in my mind. So when I was trying to narrow down to my 9th favorite blog post I’ve ever written, this one jumps out at me. Because it’s not a “topic,” it’s a celebration. A shameless reveling in the most wonderful memories of the absolutely most bestest day of my life.

I love, love, love sharing about this day with anyone who will listen–not because it’s worth your time, but because it’s worth my whole life. So thanks for letting me share this biggest happiness thing with you. I don’t know that I’ll ever stop being excited about it.



#8. My 100th post: A few thoughts about writing

Do I have any writer friends out there? Or friends who sometimes write? Even if it is “just short” or “just silly” or “just on Facebook” and “doesn’t count”?

Maybe you don’t write, you “just” talk to people, or do meaningful projects at work, or give advice, or share your story . . .

People need your voice.

And your voice is so much more perfect than you think.

This is for you.



#7. Canadian Rockies adventure

The holidays and new year season reminds me of the adventure of life. Always. Times to remember, beautiful places we’ve gotten to explore, fun little life moments . . .

This–one of my favorites–is an adventure memory. In a year full of staying at home and not doing stuff, I hope these pictures scratch the wander itch for you.

Mountains again so soon!



#6. Death

Trudging through the snow with a good friend last Saturday, we talked about death. He told me about his own experiences. And I shared that it’s actually a topic I think about a lot. Like it even keeps me up at night sometimes. (That may be largely thanks to the way I grew up. It’s what kept 13-year-old me awake at night, too.)

We don’t usually admit or advertise that we think about the really sad, awful, unknown things (you do too sometimes, don’t you?). So we stay alone about them. Struggling silently.

When I wrote down and shuffled around my favorite things I’ve ever written, this landed high up on the list. Because it’s deeply honest and it’s . . . really, really, really BIG. . . . Because it’s a universal experience. It’s one we ALL face.

So maybe we can face it together?

I wrote this right after my friend died. I didn’t even realize it was sort of for him until I’d finished writing it–why it was so loud in my mind. Death is not easy.

Wishing you peace and warm hugs.



#5. Happy Thanksgiving 2019!

This is a peek into me. But more than that, it’s a peek into what it means to be human.

And it’s a little celebration of all the different freedoms we find as we learn health for our minds and our hearts.

Keep on finding freedom and finding You. 2021 will be a good year for it.



#4. Sad people

Do you feel like you HAVE to be a “happy” person?

This is one of the most personal things I’ve ever written, which feels . . . scary and good, all at once.

I love this blog post because it is about deep understanding and acceptance of ourselves and each other–even for those of us who have a lot of sadness . . . for a little while or a long, long time.

It also carries ten pieces of advice at the end that I think are some of the most helpful if you are sad or love someone who is.

Wishing you radical self-acceptance and self-love. And wishing your sad friends acceptance and love from YOU.



#3. What we got wrong about love

Can I ask you a question? I’d love to read your answer in the comments here or, if you have my contact–shoot me a message. I’d love to chat. Here’s the question: What dysfunctional things did you learn about love? Things that tell you you’re not “good enough” or “worthy.” Or that make you afraid you’ll lose your worth if you lose things like your health or skills or relationships? How has it impacted you? And how have you set out to re-learn real love?

This is my 3rd favorite thing I’ve ever written. You can read it, OR listen to it while you drive or do dishes or work out or whatever you do! It’s not short, because it goes deep. Deep into our deepest experiences that shape our hearts.

If my thoughts in this post are especially helpful to you–make you feel understood or help put a finger on what hasn’t felt right about your self-judgments . . . I’d love to hear, and I’d be honored if you share it with someone else you love.

“Love” is an important concept to not get backwards.

Wishing you all true, no-strings-attached LOVE in 2021!



#2. I have anxiety and that’s okay

I don’t want you to feel alone.

That is why I wrote this.

If it speaks to you, if it helps you–pass it on. Or, better yet: Write your own version. I know you have one.

You are not alone. And you are loved.



#1. If I could send a message to 18-year-old me

As a year turns over and we think about past and future, what we’ve lost and what we’ve found, and all the changes and roller coasters and adventures in life . . .

I want to share with you my FAVORITE thing I’ve ever ever written.

I hope this speaks to you.

It’s amazing how much alike we all are, isn’t it?

Maybe we could help each other . . . ?



LOVE TO YOU ALL THIS NEW YEAR!

Wishing you peace and presence and all the feelings in 2021.

<3

Cheers!

P.S. Thanks for being on my writing journey with me, friends. From the bottom of my heart. This is so special for me. I appreciate having your ear and hearing your thoughts. You and I are here to help each other. <3