Should I Stay or Should I Go?

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I was 106 years old.

At least, that’s how it felt my first night on campus, wandering around sweaty and bedraggled amongst all those young, fresh-faced twenty year olds in my Mom pants, trying to locate my classroom in the Tory Building at Carleton University. I was almost late for my women’s Bridging class, a course basically designed to bridge the distance between me and a post-secondary education, and I was almost frantic.

Okay, so I don’t have Mom pants, but you get the picture…

Once located, I blew into the room with a bright smile plastered onto my face, despite the fact that I suddenly felt as though I might vomit right there on the floor in front of everybody. Casually, or so I thought, I slipped to the back, tripped over my own feet, stumbled awkwardly into a chair, and stole a few glances at some of the other women before clumsily extracting my pen and notepad from my backpack. Nobody looked convinced they would be able to sit through the whole three hours either.

Okay, so it’s not just me, I thought. We’re all scared shitless. Cool. My kind of people.

Angela, who sat to my left, quietly introduced herself, and added, “I’m totally freaking out.”

I liked her immediately. Forever.

During break, Angela and I swapped the nut-shell versions of our life stories and our reasons for returning to school, further solidifying our bond. But it wasn’t long before our friendship had grown to include every woman in the room. On that first night, there were about eleven of us altogether, but by the second or third week, our little group had whittled down to an even six: Raven, Elizabeth, Dana, Rose, Angela, and myself, plus our engaging instructor, Olivia.

Six is a harmonious number. Just ask Numerology.

Over the next twelve weeks, we became a community. We learned and struggled together, sharing successes and small victories; we encouraged each other, offered support and friendship, and shared one of the most important seasons of our lives. Once in a while, we met to break bread and share wine, and to whine about how hard it was to make such a significant change in our lives, what a challenge it could be to juggle our everyday lives with our education. We also discussed how amazing it felt, after decades of lying to ourselves, to discover how intelligent and capable and brave we actually were!

Because, well, we were, and we needed to pat ourselves on the back for it once in a while.

Angela had lived through hell and survived. I admired her ability to stay vulnerable and open to life, and adored the fact that she could make me laugh and cry (multiple times) in the same conversation.

Raven, although not the eldest, became a mother-figure to our little band of misfits. Many times, she was available to lend and ear or offer sage advice, and I learned to trust her natural wisdom implicitly.

Elizabeth seemed more reserved, initially, but once she opened up, she blossomed. Always thoughtful and kind, Elizabeth had a keen intellect, and we had many wonderful, thought-provoking conversations.

Dana always had the information. Unbelievably resourceful, kind, and genuine, in all areas of her life, Dana was also an incredible hostess, who went to great lengths to ensure her guests had a great time.

And Rose was doing school for her. She didn’t have goals or plans beyond Bridging, at least not as far as an education went, since she was fairly close to retirement and quite comfortable in her life, thank you very much, but she loved to learn and discuss the issues and always brought something new to the table.

Olivia—a.k.a. Oh Captain! My Captain!—changed my life. I will forever be gratefully indebted to her for being the first teacher ever to recognise my potential and urge me to fulfil it. Olivia made learning accessible and adaptable. She acknowledged our barriers to success and, rather than discount them, offered solutions and examples of others who had faced similar challenges and overcome them.

Although different paths had led us here, to this crossroads, for a short time we had landed in the same space, and it mattered that we had each other for company. Crossroads can be lonely times.

Our first class email from Olivia was titled, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”

Should I stay in my comfort zone or should I step outside?

It was a decision we all faced, and it was a comfort to face it together.

We covered a lot of material in a short amount of time. We researched and searched for journal articles on the university library database, learned about Peer review and how to cite our papers, studied some sociology, learned how to define hegemony, and wrote essays, among other things. But the most important things we learned, as far as I’m concerned, happened on a very personal level and had to do only with ourselves.

Our unlimited potential.

At our small class graduation, there were no dry eyes in the house, and when we met again a couple of weeks later to celebrate, we all cried again and promised to stay in touch. For the most part, we have.

I entered university with a confidence I had never known before, thanks to Bridging, and within one year, I had published my first essay in a national publication, the Globe and Mail. This summer, once again, I had to decide…

Should I stay or should I go?

But this time, school was my comfort zone, and the unknown was myself.

Again, I chose to take a leap of faith. As I take the next steps in my journey, a hiatus from formal education to further my goals as a writer, I take with me the love of these women and the strength, wisdom, and self-awareness I discovered in Bridging class.

Onward.

 

 

 

 

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White Feathers

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Summer 2012. It had been about a year since my father died —directly from liver cancer, indirectly from years of drug and alcohol abuse—and I felt a sense of true freedom for the first time in my life.

For decades, I had chased after my dad’s love and affection, tripping over myself to get his attention, longing for him to acknowledge the damage he had done, to make amends for the pain he had caused, but it had never happened, and now the chase was over. No more what-ifs, no apologies. We had finally reached the end of our story, and I could make my peace with it at last, in my own way, on my own time. Dad had wounded me intensely with his regular absence, but his presence had hurt just as bad, and so his death was, I like to imagine, a release from sorrow and suffering for both of us. Contract fulfilled. See you on the other side.

My second marriage had just celebrated its one-year anniversary, my youngest child—one of four under the age of ten—had barely weaned off the breast, and I was submerged in major PTSD-related symptoms on a regular basis, including flashbacks, nightmares, and hyper vigilance, as well as anxiety and depression, so it was perhaps not the best timing in the history of the world to make a change, but I was restless and ready for a little something more. I figured that a formal education might be my next right thing. As it turns out, I was right.

I chose university for a few reasons. I wanted to open doors, to alter pathways in my brain by creating new ones, and to challenge myself in new ways. I needed to prove to myself, and to everybody else who had ever doubted me, that I could do it. Make my dreams real. I knew that my life could not support the structure and regular routine of college, with its daily classes and required attendance, but I figured I could handle a few hours each week on a uni campus. At least, maybe I could, most weeks. It was worth a shot.

I sat on my balcony one afternoon watching the sun tickle the leaves of a tree my landlord has always insisted is nothing more than an overgrown weed, closed my eyes, and asked God for confirmation. A sign. If I was meant to make such a massive change in my life, surely the Universe could send me some kind of smoke signal—yes, I am One of Those People who believe in God, the Universe, signs, and symbols—so that I could be certain I was on the right path. I opened my eyes slowly. Nothing. I waited for a several more minutes just to be sure.

Still nothing. Oh, well.

But then, suddenly, just as I turned to head back inside, a flawless white feather drifted down from the sky and across the yard to land at my feet. And I knew what I had to do.

I found daycare for Baby Girl and, once a week from September through December, I attended a women’s Bridging course for mature students, in order to determine my eligibility for school.

I passed with an A+ and got accepted to Carleton University, where I took two classes the following winter term, and then continued to do so for the next ten consecutive terms—nearly four full years—without a rest. Oh, sure, I had a week or two off classes here and there, but without fail, one or all of the kids (or myself) would get violently ill—maybe break a toe, require surgery, or contract lice—and before I knew it, my so-called break would be over, and I would head back to class more exhausted than ever.

In any case, I loved school, I really did, everything about it. I got excellent grades. Gave it everything I had and then some, often to the detriment of myself and, occasionally, my family, but I could not help it. Couldn’t half-ass it. I had something to prove.

Once I knew that I was capable of success, I pushed myself, harder and harder, adding more and more to my plate each year: a non-profit (creator of The Ottawa Journal Project), a magazine (senior editor at Anthem Little Magazine), research for my first book (the Biography of Bronwen Wallace)… But perhaps the fact that I hit a wall was inevitable. Over the past few years, my personal life has been a fucked-up series of ohnosoclosetogether storms, and I cannot always determine where one ends and the next begins. Joy has been elusive (to say the least).

I survived last fall by the skin of my teeth.

By the end of April, I had reached my breaking point, and I knew it, but refused to pay attention and registered for summer courses anyhow, only to withdraw in the eleventh hour, shell-shocked from another heartbreak, and empty, hollowed out, bone-dry.

Grief had run me down.

Actually, grief had knocked me on my ass, punched me in the face, then sat on my chest until I could no longer breathe, let alone, say “Uncle!” Grief gave me a hard stare, challenged me to acknowledge it, dared me to face it once and for all. I was afraid—okay, scared as hell, truth be told—but I knew that if I wanted to move forward on my path, I would have to let grief run its course. I could no longer avoid it.

I just needed to be brave, to listen to my body and trust in it, to love, honour, and nurture it for once in my life, rather than neglect, abuse, and ignore it, and if I did, grief would loosen its grip. I would be free. It all sounded fantastically simple in my head, totally doable when I explained it aloud to my friends. In reality, however, letting grief “run its course” has been a lot harder than it sounds. In many ways, I suppose I would still prefer to distract myself from pain than to face it, but I am working on this.

Summer 2016. Quite surprisingly, rather than sitting at my desk in the cool office to write feverishly all summer long, as anticipated, the majority of my time has been spent barefoot in the backyard, under an audacious sun and cloudless cobalt sky, tending to an ever-evolving faerie garden, playing in the sprinkler with my children and our dog, and growing baby grass, sweet peppers, and basil, among other things. Nothing fancy. But, oh, how we have all blossomed! Still, there is always room for more growth and pruning…

The seasons continue to change and, soon enough, it will be September again. I sat on my balcony last week contemplating whether or not to return to school this year. This time, I was far too exhausted to talk to God or consider signs and symbols, so I just spaced out instead. It was a huge decision, but I had been vacillating for what felt like aeons, and it was time to make up my mind. I knew what I wanted to do, what I felt like I needed to do, what was my next right thing, but that did not stop the critical voice inside from tearing into me, or keep the teeth of fear in my belly from gnawing holes in my dreams. Still.

As I watched my daughter’s smile catch the last sunbeams of the day, and quietly reminded myself that change did not have to mean failure, I observed a small white feather slide gently off the roof of our house and drift, drift slowly, slowly across the backyard to land delicately in the newly sprouted grass growing in the shade of the tree my landlord always insists is nothing but a giant weed… I knew what I had to do.

I reached for Baby Girl’s small hand and, together, we collected the soft white feather.

It has been five years since my father died, and in that time, I have rediscovered and reclaimed parts of myself that I had forgotten even exist. I am more like Arwen at ten than at thirty, and that is a very good thing, because it means I am finally becoming myself again, who I was before I became who I thought I had to be, back before I started denying Who I Really Am, in the beginning, when I was just me. Arwen.

Education has opened my mind to possibility again. New doors open every day. The dreams I have nurtured since childhood are beginning to manifest, piece by piece, and I feel like I have found my place in the world. I have begun to, as my friend Jessica recommends in a recent post, claim my space.

I will not be returning to university for this year.

Instead, I am taking time to focus on my family, my health and my overall sense of well-being, as I write every day, go for long solitary walks, and attempt to make a serious dent in my first book. Although I am not quite finished my degree, I know this is the next right thing for me. My path has never looked much like one anybody in their right mind would ever choose to travel, I know, but it is mine, and it is beautiful.

My path has a heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#FacesOfPTSD

#FacesOfPTSD is a grassroots campaign designed to change common misconceptions surrounding PTSD… Read to find out more!

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Not All Wars Take Place on the Battlefield

“To look at me, you’d think there’s nothing wrong. We could have a conversation and you’d never suspect that behind my friendly smile there’s a private war raging. Beneath nightmares and unbidden thoughts are wounds that haven’t yet healed, scars that never will

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And so begins, Changing My Brain, the first essay I have ever written for a national publication, the Globe and Mail.

Grounded in the psychological concept of neuroplasticity, a brain’s ability to reorganize and create new neural connections to compensate for trauma, injury, or disease, my article was never intended to be merely a narrative confession. It was meant to be an eye-opener, an explanation, and an absolute declaration to the whole damn world, “This is who I am, that is how it happened, and here is what I intend to do to about…

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#FacesOfPTSD

Not All Wars Take Place on the Battlefield

“To look at me, you’d think there’s nothing wrong. We could have a conversation and you’d never suspect that behind my friendly smile there’s a private war raging. Beneath nightmares and unbidden thoughts are wounds that haven’t yet healed, scars that never will

 arwen1

And so begins, Changing My Brain, the first essay I have ever written for a national publication, the Globe and Mail.

Grounded in the psychological concept of neuroplasticity, a brain’s ability to reorganize and create new neural connections to compensate for trauma, injury, or disease, my article was never intended to be merely a narrative confession. It was meant to be an eye-opener, an explanation, and an absolute declaration to the whole damn world, “This is who I am, that is how it happened, and here is what I intend to do to about it.” I had just gotten so sick and tired of justifying myself to everyone who didn’t understand how I could behave this-way-or-that, or why I dealt with everything like such-and-such, where was my head, when would I get it together, and what the hell was wrong with me, anyways?!

Published in September 2013, Changing My Brain was the answer to all of that, and more.

In addition to openly discussing my history of childhood sexual abuse, rape, and domestic violence, the essay detailed my sincere efforts to heal myself by attempting to alter the regular pathways my brain cycled when triggered, a vicious Mobius strip constantly looping through painful, traumatic memories and flashbacks, feelings of perpetual fear, guilt, and shame. I had begun to map new routes in my mind, and while the old ones hadn’t overgrown yet, or disappeared entirely, as I would have liked, the knowledge that we can change our brains felt too precious and important not to share. I wrote through scorching tears, and after it was published, I cried again. Only about a hundred and fifty more times.

I thought I’d had my final “say” on the subject of PTSD.

As it turns out, I was wrong, there’s still plenty left to discuss…

Recently, Christine White (Heal Write Now) published a blog post concerning the lack of women with PTSD represented in online image search engines. A brief personal investigation confirmed it as fact. Apparently, according to Google and Bing, at least, women do not get PTSD, nor does the average Joe, despite solid evidence to the contrary. This is a dangerous misconception, because it has the power to alienate the vast majority of those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder: everyday people who do not wish to be invisible, discounted, or silenced. Women, for example, survivors. People like me.

An important conversation ensued on the Heal Write Now Facebook page. Dawn Daum and Joyelle Brandt (Trigger Points Anthology) joined in, along with myself and fellow Canadian, Jodie Ortega (Breaking the Silence), and within minutes, we had decided to spark the flames of change. We need your help! Join us. Please see below for a list of the ways you can help to make a difference…

What is the #FacesOfPTSD campaign?

#FacesOfPTSD is a social media campaign set to kick-off this Friday, May 6, 2016.

Survivors who identify as having PTSD will flood social media with photos of themselves, along with the tagline, “Not all wars take place on the battlefield,” and the hashtag #FacesOfPTSD. Our goal is to alter the current landscape of social media and search engines (Google, Bing) to include all trauma survivors, particularly women who are rarely represented, in order to reflect more accurately the #FacesOfPTSD.

TOGETHER, WE CAN MAKE IT HAPPEN!

Why the #FacesOfPTSD campaign?

There is a common misconception in our culture about who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and what it looks like. A quick Google image search will lead you to believe that the majority of those living with PTSD are men in uniform, when the reality is that women are twice as likely to develop it as men, and it can be acquired in a number of ways. Not all wars take place on the battle field.

How can you make a difference?

  • “Attend” and share the #FacesOfPTSD event scheduled for Friday, May 6th
  • On May 6th, share an image of yourself—or if you don’t live with PTSD but still want to show support, share one of the images posted on our page—and be sure to include the hashtag #FacesOfPTSD
  • Use any of the #FacesOfPTSD campaign images if you publish a blog post or any articles about PTSD

Know the facts:

Women and children get PTSD. Women get it twice as often as men. Children get PTSD. Men get PTSD and women in the military get PTSD, too, typically from sexual assault rather than combat

Let’s make a change!

It’s important to accurately represent the thousands of women and men living day to day, while doing the best they can to manage flashbacks, constant triggers and the debilitating medical and mental health effects of this disorder. It’s time to recognize the many #FacesOfPTSD.

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Related articles:

http://www.elephantjournal.com/2016/05/ptsd-isnt-a-he-facesofptsd/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dawn-daum/not-all-wars-take-place-o_b_9807110.html

#FacesOfPTSD / PTSD is Not a He

 

Puzzle Pieces: An Interview with Glennon Doyle Melton

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The first time I met Glennon Doyle Melton, I was wearing pink Tinkerbell pajamas. My hair was a rat’s nest, I hadn’t brushed my teeth, and I’m pretty sure my eyes were red and puffy from crying—it’s not unlikely. I was exhausted, overextended, and overwhelmed. On this particular day, I had the house to myself, so there was ample time to get caught up on my studies and housework, but instead, tucked away in my office with a bag of plain M&M’s, I scrolled through Amazon for something to read. Crunch, chomp, munch. Red, yellow, blue. A bright book jacket rolled across the screen:

Carry On, Warrior.

It spoke to me. Three days later, by way of modern magic, this precious little treasure arrived at my door. Immediately, I tore open the box to flip through the pages. From the start, I was hooked. Couldn’t put it down. As I read, laughed, wept and underlined passage after passage, I felt a deep connection with Glennon, a sense that we were kindred spirits.

In Carry On, Warrior Glennon candidly discusses her history of bulimia, alcoholism, drug addiction, and the unplanned pregnancy that led her to the path of sobriety. She shares her experiences of guilt and shame, and reveals her own struggle with the pressures of parenting, “wifedom, motherhood, and sober life.” Most importantly, Glennon talks about the layers of armor we wear to protect and hide.

Several years ago, seeking to connect and touch people on a deeper level, Glennon decided to shed her armor, and what happened next is nothing short of a miracle. Through reckless truth-telling, “no mask, no hiding, no pretending,” Glennon discovered she could help others feel better about who they are just by showing them who she really is—imperfect, messy, broken.

Fiercely strong, and boldly vulnerable, Glennon is a true LOVE WARRIOR.

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(I was honoured to receive an advance copy of Glennon’s new memoir, Love Warrior, which I will write more about later. Available September 6th, 2016!!!)

Created in 2009, Momastery—Glennon’s Blog and online community—has since become a second home to a vast, diverse group of women seeking to genuinely connect. Momastery is a sacred space. A place to gather, rest and heal, give and receive love, and be part of a sisterhood who truly want the best for their families, their communities, and one another.

I visited Momastery for the first time after I’d finished reading Carry On, Warrior, because I just wasn’t ready to say goodbye. As I scrolled through post after post, one thing became very clear: I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t alone in my experiences, and I definitely wasn’t alone in my affection for Glennon. Not by a long shot. Her book hadn’t just spoken to me, it had spoken to countless women across the globe, and it had changed lives. In fact, Glennon’s willingness to listen to her heart and be vulnerable continues to transform lives every single day.

At Momastery—via insightful essays, the amazing work accomplished by Together Rising, as well as comments, messages, and treasured personal emails from Glennon—we are reminded, time and time again, “Life is Brutiful,” “Love Wins,” and “We Can Do Hard Things.” Through the online community she has built, women learn and grow together, challenge one another, and develop connections—as well as dreams—that go beyond the borders of Momastery. Often referred to as “Monkees,” visitors regularly meet and form friendships that provide support and encouragement through the challenges of daily life.

Many women, including myself, have been inspired by Glennon to tell our stories with far less focus on the Mask of Perfection and much more emphasis on Truth as Perfection.

Making connections is extremely important to Glennon.

I was interested to learn how she’d found her path, curious to know what inspired and guided her, what led her to create Momastery and Together Rising (formerly Monkee See-Monkee Do). So I contacted Glennon to request an interview back in November 2013, shortly after my first-ever published story, Changing My Brain, appeared in the Globe and Mail. She quickly agreed.

Caught up in an easy conversation with a woman I deeply admire, I was amazed to discover there were no uncomfortable silences between us. In fact, quite the opposite was true. Talking to Glennon felt like catching up with an old friend I hadn’t seen in ages, but loved dearly.

“What do you think draws so many people to your work?” I asked.

“I guess people are drawn to me because I’m imperfect,” Glennon replied. “Life is messy, and my honesty lets others be okay with their mess, too. I don’t profess to be a teacher, just a passionate student of life, interested every day in finding one more voice, one more piece of the puzzle. I want to let people witness my life, not teach them how to live their own lives. If a blog can show that somebody messy can still have a voice, we all win.”

I agreed.

“I look at success in terms of a day instead of a life,” she explained. “Being successful involves being authentic, where time is spent equal to your values. For me, that means rest every day, write every day, spend time with my family every day. We need to base success on what we do, rather than others’ reactions. As far as worldly success goes, you never really arrive. A blog, a book, another deal—what’s next? There’s no time when it’s actually over and you can say, ‘There, that’s it, I’m done. I have arrived.’ It really is a ‘what-have-you-done-for-me-lately’ world.”

“What’s the best thing about being Glennon, right now, in this moment?”

“The hardest thing about my life before was not being sober, not really living. In my heart, I knew I could do these awesome things, but I just—wasn’t. I was envious of others who were doing things, in a way, I felt this bitterness inside because I knew life was meant to be better, that I was capable of more, but I wasn’t doing anything. But now—total flip. I can’t possibly do more and I just hope I’m capable. It’s uncomfortable in its own way, but I think it’s better to be overwhelmed than underwhelmed—I’m constantly overwhelmed now. I want to live up to the responsibility before me. Every day, I think, what should I do to make a difference? Every day, at the end of the day, I just want to have given it all away: to be spent, exhausted, happy.”

Give what you have.

Glennon lives her life by this credo.

‘Give what you have and you will get what you need’ is a lesson taught along many spiritual paths—from 12-step programs to the Native American ‘potlatch’ or ‘giveaway’—and it’s one that she practices with great passion and dedication. In her personal life, through Momastery, Together Rising, and other online fundraising events, such as Love Flash Mobs and Holiday Hands, Glennon generously gives what she has. Every single day.

In December 2015, Glennon joined forces with Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love), Cheryl Strayed (Wild), Brené Brown (Daring Greatly), and Rob Bell (Love Wins) to create the Compassion Collective, an organization dedicated to providing relief to refugees crossing the Mediterranean from war-torn countries, such as Syria. An online event was held to raise funds. All donations were kept to a $25 maximum. In a little over 24-hours, the Compassion Collective had exceeded their target goal of one million dollars. Relief efforts have included: floodlights to light the water at night, volunteer rescuers, heaters, blankets, warm coats, food, shelter, clothing, hygiene products, strollers, baby slings, translators, doctors, and more.

Curious, I inquired, “Can you imagine doing anything else?”

Thoughtfully, Glennon answered, “No matter what, I know I’d be writing, encouraging and trying to inspire other women, and practicing some kind of spirituality, although the form changes, as I evolve. And definitely working with children.”

“Have you always known what you wanted to do with your life?” I asked. “I’ve always dreamed of being a writer, but I wasted years ignoring that Little Voice Inside. I’d hear, ‘Write, write, write,’ then I’d think, ‘Oh, who’s going to care about anything I have to say, anyways?”

“It’s dangerous to go against that voice,” Glennon insisted. “Every time I did, things got harder. But I think I needed to learn that hard is purposeful, hard is okay. When you have a lack of faith in intuition, you look outward to others and feel like you don’t fit in; you hear outside words, words like “too much” and “not enough,” and you internalize them instead of trusting that inner voice. Trust that voice. Every single one of us is important, everyone has a song to share—the harmony doesn’t sound right without everyone. Use your voice.”

“I’m starting to do that,” I explained, “but it’s scary.”

“It is terrifying, but vitally important,” she insisted gently. “And that’s not just a theory. Everybody needs to use her voice, because we’re all stitched together. Someone always needs to hear what somebody else has to say. Honestly, there may be nothing new left to write about, and maybe it has all been said before a hundred times in a hundred different ways, but no one else can say it our way. Think of writing as singing the National Anthem. There are so many different versions, singers—it’s different every time—yet equally beautiful.”

“It’s also important to eradicate fear and jealousy,” my new friend advised, “and the idea that ‘they said it how I wanted to say it so now there’s nothing left for me to say. Honestly, those things are irrelevant, because we all have our own voice, our own way of articulating things. Maybe there really is nothing new to say, and maybe it all comes down to the same thing, but our version still matters. Different words have different meanings to different writers, readers, people… Remember, we don’t all order the same thing from the menu.”

“Do not judge your piece by how it’s taken by the public,” Glennon added emphatically. “Write for the sake of the process. I write because it changes me and my view of the world. In fact, I’d still be writing, even if no one ever read it. You have to do what you’d do anyway. For free. Given the choice to meet with my publicist or teach Sunday school, I’d pick Sunday school—every single time—because that’s REAL LIFE. Keeping my feet on the ground is important. The people I can touch keep me sane.”

“How do you maintain balance between your work and family life? Are there any tricks you’ve learned, any advice you can offer?” I wondered. “I struggle with that all the time.”

Glennon empathized, and regretfully informed me there’s no secret cure to Save-the-World Syndrome, as far as she knows. But after a brief discussion about mom-guilt, she admitted, “I do feel less guilty now. My girls watch me work doing things that inspire me, that I’m passionate about—instead of playing My Little Pony on the floor, or Barbies, which I really can’t stand—and so I think maybe, hopefully, one day they’ll be able to give themselves a break, too.”

As our conversation came to a close, I inquired about plans for the future. “So, what’s next?”

Glennon replied, “As the platform gets bigger, I just want to try to keep writing small, to remember that I’m not writing to the whole world, only one person. I want to keep meeting women who inspire, find new things to read every day, and just connect, because everybody has pieces of the puzzle.”

I was honoured to be included in that statement, and therein lies a very special part of Glennon’s magic. She has this incredible way of making everyone feel significant. Essential. One of her greatest gifts lies in the ability to remind us of the importance of connection, the inherent value in coming together to share ideas, information, truth, and love. Love, above all else. I hung up feeling as though I’d made a new friend. Perhaps not in the traditional sense—we may never go for coffee or hang out at the beach with our kids—but we’d connected on a soul level.

Several months later, I posted a Facebook status about a rejection letter I’d just received for something I’d submitted to a magazine. A few seconds later, a message popped up in my inbox:

“Rejection is one step closer, sister. Keep on. It is clear to me that this is the path for you. MAKTUB. Just live into it. It’s already done. All you gotta do is make sure your ass is in the chair and your fingers move. The rest will take care of itself. Love, G.”

Maktub, an Arabic word I discovered in The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, expresses the idea that “it has been written by the hand of God.” While Maktub conveys a sense of fate, it also imports a sense of great responsibility, a duty to lean into your destiny. Thus, Glennon’s words held great meaning for me. Carry On, Warrior.

How does one woman be a best friend to millions? I don’t know how she does it.

I’m not sure it’s anything that can be taught, or explained, it just is. It’s a rare and beautiful quality. Glennon has a way of speaking to thousands as though she’s speaking to one. Maybe that’s the magic. The ability to regard each being as One is rooted in a powerful spirituality that involves genuine awareness and an authentic recognition of Self in Other.

Glennon makes everyone feel seen, heard, known, accepted, loved. Her vulnerability reminds us that yes, it’s hard and messy and scary to be a human being in this world, but that’s okay. We’re never alone, because we’re all alone together. Our pieces—what we have to offer the world—are what counts. We don’t have to be perfect, we just have to show up every single day.

Just Show Up.

The first time I met Glennon, I was wearing pink Tinkerbell pajamas. My hair was a rat’s nest, I hadn’t brushed my teeth, and my eyes were red and puffy—but you know what? I know she’d be okay with that. I really do.

 

Note: This essay is a revised, condensed, edited and updated version of a previous essay titled, “Puzzle Pieces: An Interview with Glennon Doyle Melton,” which first appeared on Living the Dream Blog, and later, on Lilacs in October.

(Photo: Amy Paulson Photography)

 

 

From the Ashes

Ash Heart

Over the years, I’ve slowly moved away from many of the traditions of my childhood, particularly those related to religion, but as a young girl, I loved little baby Jesus more than words. Every Christmas Eve, dressed in my Sunday best and nestled up snug-as-a-bug between the two most important women in my life, Nana and Mom, I’d twitch impatiently in the church pew at midnight mass as the Nativity scene unfolded, eyes glued to the Blessed Virgin Mary, hungry for a glimpse of the swaddled-up Savior. Jesus, the man—Son of God the Father—always slightly intimidated me, to be honest. But that sweet baby Jesus, he was my brother, and I absolutely adored him. I just wanted to hold him, rock him to sleep, and keep him safe from his terrible fate forever. (Yes, I’ve always been a Mommy at heart.)

To say I was an enthusiastic little Catholic girl is to put it mildly. One summer at the cottage, rather than stage a common pretend wedding or music video, customary in the early eighties, a young friend and I decided to play Church instead. Dressed as nuns in white and blue dishtowel veils, we used butter knives to meticulously carve small crucifixes in the Eucharist we had created from small circles of Wonder bread flattened by our sweaty, sandy palms. We picked flowers, sang hymns, recited prayers, and took multiple turns giving and receiving communion. I may or may not have baptized her at the kitchen table.

A couple of years later, the same friend and I began to attend mass together. In hindsight, I can see that I felt compelled to go for several reasons, but it’s also true that we went because it felt quite fantastic to sit in St. Mary’s all by ourselves, Sunday morning light streaming through the stained-glass, as we listened to Father preach the word of God in God’s House without our mothers present. Free to do as we pleased for a few hours, we recited prayers, received Holy Communion, sang with the choir, and lit candles alone. How exciting! Plus, they served juice and Timbits in the basement afterward…

For a long time, before I learned to ask questions and try new beliefs on for size, the only part of Catholicism that ever bothered me much, besides Confession, was Ash Wednesday. I mean, we’re talking HUGE anxiety. Sure, it sounds shallow, but I was a kid, and the idea of walking around with ashes on my forehead, regardless of symbology, made me feel extremely vulnerable. Panicky. I’d never have wiped them off, of course I knew better, but it was a truly painful experience to suffer through for a self-conscious natural introvert like myself. Additionally, as a survivor, I already felt marked in a very tangible way. Palm frond ashes—despite their sacred meaning—still left a mark, and it always left me feeling dangerously dirty and exposed. Forget about Confession.

Stuff happened between me and church, me and God. Once I began to understand certain things about my childhood, I had questions, so many questions, and I had to take a step back, to the side, away. Not necessarily from my faith in something bigger than me, but more into a faith that I am a part of something bigger. During that time, I came to understand there is nowhere I can go that God is not, and nothing I can do that God would not do, because God is me. Not inside of me, as some believe, a part of, but separate. No. God is me, and you, our loved ones, our enemies (if we have those), everyone. Every single person, creature, thing. And so there’s never a place where God is not. Whether I’m there, or I’m here, God is present. Omnipresent. (Perhaps this is a good place to add that I don’t mind one bit if you totally disagree. We’re all right.)

Still, as I mature, I find myself drawn to some of the traditions of my youth.

Ritual runs deep.

Yesterday, Ash Wednesday, marked the first day of Lent, a time for “prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, atonement, and self-denial,” according to the wonderful world of Wikipedia, in preparation for Easter, the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. I do not recall the last time I went to church or Sunday mass. Quite possibly, it’s been a decade or more. I am not proud—nor ashamed—of that fact, it is simply what it is. Truth be told, I feel baptized every night in the bath when I hold myself tenderly, with love. I receive Holy Communion every moment I’m in the presence of my children or nature. Writing is confession, and truth my saviour. My life is a prayer. Amen.

During a brief conversation recently, I realized I’ve gotten fuzzy on many of the details surrounding the birth, life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Basically, all of it. I probably ought to feel guilty or something, but instead, I’ve reached a place where I can be okay with what I know and do not know. Lucky, I guess, considering just how much I still do not (and may never) know. It’s difficult to explain, but the truth is, somewhere along the way, in order to survive, I had to dismember my old self, beliefs, ideas, illusions, and start again from scratch. Who was I? What did I really think? Did I believe in anything, and if so, what? What was truth, or a lie, what resonated, or didn’t, what seemed important enough to carry, and what must be discarded, in order to move forward? I still have plenty to re-member.

Poppa liked his Manhattans on ice. Every night. Still, each year, he gave up alcohol for Lent and never once cheated. I bet he was tempted. After Nana died, he kept palm fronds on the top of his dresser beside a cross that now sits on my bookshelf, a gift from his own passing last year. Whenever I happen upon it, as I often do, I think of him, my mother’s father, and recall how strong his faith was. I gave up sweets and suffered through the self-denial of Lent as a child, but only because I had to. I have not “had to” in decades. This year, however, I find myself giving it all some consideration again.

All details aside, for me, the season of Lent has always signified a time of self-denial and self-reflection, a period of purposefully abstaining from something enjoyable and coming to terms with our own demons, in order to more deeply understand Jesus’ plight as he wandered the desert for forty days and forty nights prior to the crucifixion and resurrection at Easter, tempted thrice by Satan.

Perhaps it is because both Nana and Poppa are gone, along with so many traditions, the rituals of my childhood. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I have finally come to understand how much can actually be gained through self-denial and some form of abstinence. In letting go, we receive plenty. Either way, no matter the reason, I know better than to question the wisdom of my heart, at long last.

I gave up cola for Lent yesterday.

This morning, desperate and edgy without my daily dose of sugar and caffeine, I pleaded my case. “Heart,” I said, “What’s the big deal? I mean, really, do we have to do this? Cola is my coffee.”

But my heart just smiled her wise-ass little smile.

Yeesh.

 

 

(photo from sojoy.org at Google images)

 

What the Bleep Do I Know?

Rental application

I fell in love on Sunday night.

In a deeply meaningful way, I reconnected with an old friend I have not actually seen for a very long time, and we have been inseparable ever since. We belong together, and I intend to do everything in my power to ensure we are never separated again, ‘til death do us part.

My true love is… me. Perhaps it sounds a bit strange but, after thirty years of self-rejection and abandonment, it actually feels pretty incredible to come back home to myself at last.

Time to get down and dance.

Woot!

I do not yet understand what it all means, but I know something significant has occurred, a massive shift inside. For decades, I have assumed I fully inhabited myself, when in fact, it seems nothing could have been further from the truth. A huge disconnect existed between body, mind, and soul. As mind struggled to make sense of soul’s difficult life lessons, body was shamed, cast aside, and essentially banished from all but the most basic considerations. Exiled.

When did the disengagement happen? Did it occur in an instant when, raped at seventeen, I left my body behind on the bed and watched the violent act from above, or did it transpire slowly, insidiously, every time another man used me for sexual gratification as a child? As an adult? And how is it possible that I was so disturbingly, intentionally unaware of this break inside me for so damn long? Maybe I will never know.

But suddenly, unannounced, the time arrived to make amends, rebuild connections, and finally, as E.T. would say, go home. In order to attain a more holistic form of healing, full recovery on all levels, I suppose I had to come back to my body first (a fitting phrase, borrowed from a good friend, another sexual abuse survivor). There was no way around it. One cannot heal what one cannot see or refuses to acknowledge. An epiphany in the truest sense, the weight of such revelations folded me in half with emotion, and I wept in gratitude.

Wait! It seems I’ve gotten a little ahead of myself, so let’s rewind for a sec.

It all started in the bathtub.

Submerged to my chin in steaming water, devoid of distracting bubbles or anything scented, I heaved a huge sigh of relief, revelling in the peace and quiet, and offered up a silent prayer of thanks that my children were sound asleep at long last. It was past ten o’clock, and to say it had been a challenging day would be a gross understatement. I was beat.

As my fingers created ripples across the clear water, I listened to the tinkling of tiny droplets as they splashed from my hand, watched candlelight cast frolicking shadows on the white shower tiles, and for a while, imagined myself a mermaid, trapped in the big city, settling for a small tub when, in reality, only the ocean could cure my ails.

Yeah, I do things like that, so what?

Anyhow, I happened to glance down at my left arm, with its constellations of dark freckles and tiny moles, and suddenly, I was simultaneously struck by a number of interesting facts. Although freakishly strong, my arms are fairly small, not much bigger than my daughter’s—relatively speaking, of course—and they are also the exact same arms and legs I used to climb trees when I was about her age.

I observed my short legs next. Flexed powerful calf muscles, rotated sturdy ankles, wiggled the funny, peanut-shaped toes I inherited from Poppa, my mom’s dad. Gently poked a blue bruise on my thigh, then another on my shin. Touched the familiar birthmark on my right foot.

Arms wrapped legs in a heartfelt hug.

With a sense of amazement, I realized that, my whole life, these four appendages have been attached to my body, which itself has been with me throughout every single moment of my existence, and together, they have tirelessly worked in unison to carry me to this point. I kissed each knee, both shoulders and elbows in turn, as an odd thought crossed my mind. Even though my arms embrace the ones I love, often and tenderly, I have never actually let them hold me. Until now.

So many tears. I wiped them dry.

I held me in my arms the other night. Sobbed for the child I used to be, forced to bear the burden of others’ pain for far too long, for the girl I was, destined to deal with the guilt, fear and shame of rape, alone and in silence, and for the woman I am now, who finally understands we are one and the same. She is me. When I tell her story, I tell mine, and while that may seem blatantly obvious to some, it has not always been clear to me.

Maybe I had disassociated from my experiences to some degree. Stashed the awful, terrifying memories in locked compartments, deep down in the vault, and separated my self from myself, in order to save me. And it worked, I survived. But now, it’s time to bring my self back to myself.

I feel it in my bones.

In one of my favourite films, “What the Bleep Do We Know (Down the Rabbit Hole),” there’s a scene in which Marlee Matlin’s character, Amanda, draws sacred spirals all over her body during a bath in joyful celebration and solemn acknowledgment of the great love she has begun to discover within. I have always appreciated the scene for its sense of intimacy, but now, I really get it. I understand. I spent a lifetime searching for a love that was with me all along. But I am love itself, manifested, whole.

I am love.

I love.

I love me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Days of Auld Lang Seine

fireworks

 

I’ve never been so glad to see the back of anything in my life.

I mean, honestly, this past year really kicked my ass, and while I’d love to say something eloquent and truly meaningful about it, all that really comes to mind is, “phew!” And good riddance. Goodbye, 2015. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Hoorah!

Oh, it wasn’t all bad.

I learned a lot about myself on this last trip around the sun, it has to be said, and matured in ways I never could have anticipated, all vital and necessary, even if the growing pains were a real bitch. (Ouch.)

I chased a dream and caught it. Another slipped through my fingers.

I loved and lost, succeeded and failed, gave everything I had and then some, only to realize the wisest choice involved finally giving up. Some amazing things happened, and some pretty horrible things, too. Life wrestled me to the ground on more than a few occasions, but I got up stronger than before. Every fucking time.

Kahlil Gibran wrote, “For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.” Well, I think the same applies to the seasons of our lives. Some are for growth, others, for pruning. Some crown you, others crucify you. That’s just the way it is.

For me, January through to December were particularly brutiful. I got crucified.

As always, I have an abundance of blessings to be deeply grateful for, and I am, but I’m grieving, too. Not simply the typical losses one sustains in any divorce, although that’s tough enough to cope with, but more importantly, the loss of my old self. In order to find new life, first we must die and die hard, and death—or change of any sort—is often excruciatingly painful.

Ten years ago, I lived in a shelter for abused women and children over the holidays. It was really tough, but I survived, and I will survive now. Maybe, in another ten years, I’ll look back on this time of my life with a fondness and appreciation only to be gleaned in hindsight. Perhaps I’ll even sing and toast the memory of this year among the cherished days of Auld Lang Seine.

Right now, however, I’m thoroughly relieved 2015 is over, because I’m more than ready for a clean slate. Bring it on, 2016! Show me what you’ve got.

Instead of New Year’s resolutions, which I rarely make or keep, I’ve decided to set some intentions for the upcoming year. To keep it simple, and therefore doable, I’ve chosen two words to focus my attention on: Intuition and Discipline. Basically, I need to trust myself and write something every day.

I don’t know much. I’m a fool on a fool’s journey.

But I believe with all my heart that, if I listen to my soul and follow my passion, I’ll find my way through the shadows and into the light where I’ll be crowned once again.

I wish you a bright and happy New Year!

May 2016 bring much love, laughter, and an abundance of blessings for all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ghost of Christmas Past

ghost

In the classic Dickens’ tale, “A Christmas Carol,” cantankerous old miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, is visited overnight by three spirits who help him remember the true meaning of the Yuletide season: the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and my personal favourite since childhood, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

The worrier in me has always appreciated the notion of being shown a glimpse of the future. But in my story, rather than a fortune-telling entity from beyond, a memory appeared instead—my own Ghost of Christmas Past—and changed my anxious heart.

I crawled into December, distressed and depressed, but even more than that, I was starting to drive myself crazy with all my rules about what a “real” Christmas “should” include. It had been seven years since I’d last spent the holidays as a single mother, and I hadn’t counted on such intense Mom Guilt. It’s potent stuff.

Seven years doesn’t seem too long in hindsight, but even so, I must have forgotten how difficult it is to go through the holidays alone, because this Christmas caught me by surprise. I was totally unprepared for the unexpected, uncontrollable waves of grief, fear and anger, the painful and frustrating urge to overcompensate for what is legitimately beyond my control, and the unsettling impulse to achieve some sense of normalcy in the midst of divorce dysfunction through maintaining family traditions, many of which I can’t even afford anymore. It hit me really hard. I was a nervous wreck. My mind looped the same track, over and over:

 

Our family is broken. I’m falling apart and the tree looks bare compared to previous years because there aren’t as many gifts and I didn’t even have the time or patience to bake any shortbread cookies with the kids! I’m a terrible mother.

 

I declared myself the World’s Biggest Failure.

During a season specifically set aside for blessed moments of peace and joy, I couldn’t scrape together five minutes of peace, and joy? Joy came in short, spastic spurts, not unlike the frantic gasps for air from a panicked swimmer. It was never something solid I could grasp firmly and hold in my hands. A snotty, sputtering mess, I sobbed on the phone with my mom when we spoke on Tuesday afternoon. Bolted out of bed at six o’clock on Wednesday morning to vomit and barely held on by a thread throughout that night. But then, at some point on Thursday, while sitting alone in the office at my desk, moping, I remembered something I could hardly believe I’d overlooked.

Life could be, and has been, a helluva lot worse.

Ten years ago, my toddler son and I spent Christmas in a shelter for abused women and children. I’d just left an abusive boyfriend—the first man I’d dated since my marriage ended in domestic violence two years prior—who had physically assaulted me as my son looked on. There was nowhere else to go. Pregnant with my second child, broken down inside and terrified, I thought I’d been forsaken by love itself. But I was wrong. It took some time, but I finally realized that love, much like Dorothy Gale’s power in L. Frank Baum’s, “The Wizard of Oz,” had been there all along. Right inside of me. Love was, is, and always will be, the source of my power.

I was lucky to be where I was.

Shelters serve an extremely important purpose, beyond the obvious, although it doesn’t get discussed very much. I’d lost almost everything, for the second time in two years, and for the exact same reason. It was devastating on a number of levels, and I had some shit to sort out, you could say. I’d hit my rock bottom. And as much as I hated living there, for what it was and all it meant, I was smart enough to understand that it was the best place for us; not only the safest, but also the most supportive environment we could hope to inhabit while going through such transformation.

Nobody decides to work in a domestic violence shelter with abused women and children for the money. You can take that to the bank. Any person who chooses to give their lives to this kind of labour has been called—by their hearts, or their god, not their pocketbooks—to make a difference in the lives of others, even if it means slugging away most days for next to nothing, unappreciated and overworked.

I’ve witnessed the miracle.

I went into that shelter lost, afraid and uncertain of what the future held for my little family, and came out on the other side strong enough to find an apartment, provide for my kids, and build a good life. I leapt forward and never looked back.

It feels like forever ago.

It’s easy enough to “forget” those days now, to choose not to remember how tough the holidays were that year without a home of our own, how guilty and ashamed I felt to be in that situation, how few gifts I could afford for my child, and how difficult it was to live in a house with a dozen other women I didn’t know and their own distraught children, each one of us forced through fear to flee our homes. It was horribly traumatic. Maybe that’s why I don’t call it to mind very often. But looking back, I can see that it was not only painful, it was also an incredibly sacred time, a period of major transmutation, a necessary metamorphosis.

Much like the present moment.

Yes, life has been particularly brutiful lately, too many lows and so few highs.

But as hard as it is right now, my life has seen much tougher times, and I have an embarrassment of riches to be grateful for.

I am.

 

Our family has changed. I’m breaking open and life looks different than it did before but that’s how we find the hidden gifts and it doesn’t matter who baked cookies because we still got to eat some and they were delicious! I’m a wonderful mother.

 

Happy Holidays!

 

Divine Intervention

pleides

Just another silent night.

Pleiades, the sisters, hide

from sight, while I search for signs,

some divine intervention.

No pale moon peeks through the veil

of charcoal cloud tonight, yet

still I seek the stars. So far

all I’ve seen is an angel

made of gold wire, broken twine

and blue & white Christmas lights.

Home, in the distance, beckons

from afar, the only star

visible from where I stand.

I close my eyes.

Make wish.

 

 

 

*photo from wallpapercave.com