Tag Archives: abuse

Remembering

This morning I randomly decided to watch the music video for one of my favorite songs. Little did I know it would bring me to tears.

If you haven’t watched it, you may be surprised. Check it out:

It is so easy to forget. To compartmentalize in order to move on. To push your past into deep, dark corners of mental closets – safe from the light. It’s surprisingly easy, with time. Things you think you’ll never forget, never recover from, never erase from your memory… you simply do.

You would be surprised what time can do to erase your pain – this is both a blessing and a curse.

Coping requires some level of moving on. But learning, growing, changing, and channeling requires remembering.

This video shocked me back into memories I haven’t touched in forever. I held them in my mind and turned them over with fascinated repulsion as I watched it, felt it, relived it… a relentless montage in my head of the most devastating and debilitating experiences of my life.

I remember that animal-like fear. The absolute terror and pain and the mind-blowing disconnect between deeply loving someone and feeling and receiving what I did from them. I remember the intense physical effects of harsh words and threats and raised hands. I remember that indescribable feeling of being trapped, and alone. I remember the vivid nightmare of my days and the panic of restless nights. The deepest forms of betrayal. Confusion, terror, self-loathing, shame, hatred, insecurity, depression, and anger… all wrapped up into one shriveling life form that was ME. Me: deconstructed, devolving, destroyed. I was dying inside. Hidden from light and love and hope and community.

And I left. I left, I started over. I grew, I lived, I was reborn. I evolved. I strengthened. I stood up, hoped, smiled, connected, and was free. Am free. Am all of these things, and more.

In the midst of my freedom… in the midst of the intense joy I feel in living, loving, hoping, dreaming, connecting, thriving… I must not forget my pain. My pain is what brought me here. My pain is what deepened me, developed my soul, created my empathy for the world and for everyone who has been there, and who is still there.

I’m anxiously awaiting the day when I can get the IDECIDE program off the ground. When I can again connect with a community of oppressed souls and help walk them into the light of freedom – away from this pain and confusion and fear. When I can reach out and touch the abused and the destroyed and the defeated with everything I have to offer from the other side of pain. I cannot wait to begin this mission and to spend the rest of my life pursuing touching as many lives as I can. I cannot wait to give back – to find the balance between living free, and remembering pain.

I have so much to do. I do not want to forget.

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Closer to Love

Mat Kearney: Closer to Love

Oh it’s your light,
Oh it’s your way,
Pull me out of the dark
Just to show me the way
Cryin’ out now
From so far away…
You pull me closer to love
Closer to love

In the last 24 hours I’ve had two very thought-provoking things happen. The first was when a dear friend asked if I “missed being in a relationship,” after I mentioned the commitment I made to ride this year out single so I could focus on self-reflection and getting to know MYSELF through a variety of people and experiences. The second was when I ran across an incredibly dynamic and attractive individual – one of those people you just instantly connect with, that get you thinking intensely about what you want in life, somehow. You know those people – the game-changers. The “hail marys” of your life that skyrocket you into self-reflection and sometimes, powerful life changes.

Between those two incidents, I’ve been thinking deeply on how my approach to love has changed in the last decade. Thinking about the assumptions I now make about self and world, about how I’ve lost the romance along the way amidst the pain, and about the bigger picture of human relationships and connection.

I’ve been reading an amazing book lately called “Waking Up: a Guide to Spirituality without Religion” (available on amazon – highly recommend it!). In the beginning of the book, the author mentions that people tend to love one of two ways: first, for what you give them or how you make them feel, and second, for who you are. He calls the first “transactional love” and makes a firm point that this type of love exists in a vacuum – it cannot survive if practiced by one or either individual – in any type of relationship. Ironically, I’ve said this in my own way upon reflecting on my past this last few years. I say often that “it is possible to be loved selfishly, while loving selflessly.” 

My own experience of platonic and familial love has been powerful and life-changing. I have an incredibly, unconditionally loving family. Parents who love each other and their daughters with reckless, selfless abandon. I have friends who will be there for me at the drop of the hat – who truly love who I am, regardless of what I can do for them, or how I’ve changed. I’ve magnetized more and more of these people this last few years, and I am deeply grateful for them.

What has been painful for me is the romantic aspect of love. I have a deep, vested interest in the success and wellbeing of every stranger I meet. Truly, I care instantly for people, and want their best. If I only touch their lives briefly, I want to touch them powerfully, positively, and inspirationally. I want to help everyone. I’ve always been that way, and I passionately love this about myself.

This is, however, crippling for me in romantic relationships. In a culture where what we have – what we own – seems to determine our self-value, people seem to be just another commodity to acquire. Something entertaining, fulfilling, satisfying – to discard when the amusement has passed or the newer model becomes available. We’ve marginalized human relationships in our quenchless thirst for the next-best-thing.

I’ve never loved this way. I can honestly say that even in two long, emotional, deeply powerful, monogamous relationships, I’ve felt every day that I wanted the best of my partner first and foremost – even if their best was not me, or not what I wanted. I was more invested in their future, their health, their self-fulfillment, than in my selfishness on any level.

There is a fine line to walk here. I fully recognize that while selflessness is admirable, a martyr mentality is not a healthy approach to romantic love. What I’ve come to recognize the last few years is that love is at times, selfish. Love begins with self-love, and self-love INCLUDES a certain level of selfishness – the courage to say “I want this.” The commitment to speak up when we are hurt. The ability to ASK. 

Somewhere along the way, in the darkest places of my broken marriage, in the corners of my living room – as small as possible, hiding from the world and from my shattering reality – I learned that if I expected nothing, asked for nothing, dreamed of nothing – if I turned fear into open-handed coexistence, if I took away the romance… I was less brutally torn apart by rejection and sharp words and raised fists and a relentless verbal destruction of the things I had always found most beautiful about myself.

I learned not to ask, not to hope, because there is nothing more painful than loving selflessly, and being loved transactionally in return. There is nothing more painful than realizing that you love more deeply and powerfully than your significant other is capable of loving you. There is nothing worse than being loved intermittently, haphazardly, while loving someone with love like the ocean – vast, expansive, endless, deep, constantly moving and changing but always there. There is nothing sharper and more destructive than the careless wounds of someone you love wholly and completely for everything they are, and can be. 

I’ve swung to the opposite extreme these days – not to selfish love, but to the absence of romantic love. I expect nothing, hope for very little, and keep my hands open. I reassure people over and over that I’ll never ask anything of them – that I expect nothing of them – I don’t dream or read into things or romanticize anything, because it is much easier for me to accept the transience of human relationships than it is to hope that something powerful, purposeful, and earth-shattering could come into my life, and remain. 

This year of committing to be single is so very intentional. These are the revelations I need to make – the observations about my extremes that I need to master, to conquer – to find that middle ground. To find the balance between love and martyrdom. To practice discernment in avoiding transactional lovers, but investing fully where I find the possibility of something lasting.

Somewhere amidst the ashes of my former life, there are burning coals of romance and hope and passion and a curious desire to be loved the very same way I love everyone else in my life.

But if there is one, simple way to explain the evolution I am undergoing, it is this:

The more I love myself, the closer I feel to love. 

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CANDOR

Sometimes you sit, and you stare at the reality that is your life, and you reflect.

Today I’ve been all caught up in my head space. I spend way too much time overanalyzing my own progress or regression. I am easily devastated by the opinions of anyone I trust, if a negative criticism is suggested.

Today someone suggested I had PTSD from prior relationships. That’ I run from potential. That I have a lot of unresolved issues.

They said this when I suggested that things were moving too fast – that it was important to slow down and build something rationally, explore possibilities without making assumptions.

I sat there, and I wondered – am I damaged?

I’ve been severely ill, abused, and abandoned. What are the ramifications of those three separate life events?

Are we a product of our circumstances, or of our choices, or of our self-awareness? All three? Does my obsessive self-reflection and desire to understand my own psyche help me progress, or do I need to learn to live in the moment? Abandon all learned behaviors and defenses in favor of possibility? What is truly wise, and what is fear-driven?

Sometimes I am so confident that I know myself, and others, I wonder if I’m blind to my own inconsistencies.

My soul is a war of traditional with free spirit – on a regular basis. Reserve and caution and respect for the culture I grew up in, at war with my constant desire to be free and open to the world, to walk around without boundaries, to rebel against the idea that I could be owned or possessed or controlled in any way by another human.

I’ve changed dynamically and exponentially this last few years. I’ve become a person that I NEVER expected to be – but someone I truly love. I never stop growing, changing, evolving, learning.

The more I know myself, the more I realize how much I have to learn.

The problem with realizing how much you evolve and open up and change is that you realize you’re boundless – your limits are unknown. Apart from your moral and ethical code, you have no idea where your journey and self-development may take you. You’re unaware of who you may be in 6 months, a year, 5 years. You can hardly ever say “I wouldn’t”… because you know the “wouldn’ts” you’ve already done.

The older I get, the more I learn myself, the more I realize that being candid with myself and others means admitting that I am a constantly growing, changing, burning, fiercely alive human being. I am passionately and intensely and humanly both consistent and inconsistent. I am reliable where it matters, and transient and changing where life ebbs and flows. Harsh lessons and beautiful connections empower and compel me to change and evolve.

Candor means admitting that sometimes, I do not know what I want. Sometimes, that is purely because I understand my own capacity for evolution – and not because I’m damaged, broken, or unresolved in any way.

I am simply human.

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What Doesn’t Kill Me

If you look back on a brief synopsis of my life the last decade, you’d wonder how I am who I am today, how I am where I am – and where the hell I’m headed.

  • 7 years of chronic illness. Hospitals, dressing changes, PICC lines, never a normal life like all my friends had from 18-24… so much crying and so much fear. I went to bed wondering how much pain the next day would bring.
  • 3 years of intense emotional and physical pain in my marriage. Leaving and starting over as a single mother. Begging for money from strangers on my drive. Minimum wage, credit cards. The devil at my back, driving me to succeed because a Little Someone needed me to.
  • Moving for an opportunity that fell through 2 weeks after I had spent my entire, meager savings relocating and signing my first lease as a single mother. Getting a job two days later that fell through 2 months later when I was fired for reporting sexual harassment. Washing cars to make ends meet. Studying my ass off to recertify as a trainer. Never knowing every month if what I had would be enough. Eating rice cakes and peanut butter to survive. 11 things in collections… I simply couldn’t pay them.
  • Finally relocating for a better life, with someone I truly loved who treated me well, and MAKING it, first time in my life I wasn’t afraid of not surviving… breaking up 11 months later and facing my life head-on again, with a dramatic increase in living costs, and no help – once again, single mother, running from all of the possible failure at my back.

With the amount of fear and crying and that tight throat feeling I’ve had this last decade or more, I should be a bitter, jaded, angry, person. I should be cynical, fearful of change, living in anxiety and closed off to risks. I should be, but I am not.

“What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” – we have all heard it, but it’s not automatically true.

What doesn’t kill you can leave you broken. Your pain can debilitate you. Change you, degrade you, hurt you. Leave you alone in the darkness.

What doesn’t kill you can leave you destroyed – a shipwreck of humanity on the shores of broken dreams and one too many prayers for salvation.

Or…

It can make you stronger. But you know what the difference is in that “or”?

It’s just YOU. YOU are the difference. Your choice is the difference. Your determination, your ability to keep your chin up no matter how many times life throws a left hook and drops you. No matter how many times you’re beaten down and broken and hurt and afraid, no matter how many times you hit the “can’t” wall – no matter how many times life abuses your hopes and tarnishes the beauty of your optimism – YOU ARE THE DIFFERENCE.

You decide what you will make of your pain. You decide what will come of your past. YOU. YOU DECIDE.

LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL TO ME. The little things are precious. Human connection is empowering. The ability to relate to others in pain I’ve experienced is priceless. Faith is a beacon. I don’t sweat the small stuff. I live hopeful, determined, progressive, disciplined, driven, strong. The world is bigger, more open, less limiting for the limitations I’ve experienced.

Life has never been easy for me, but my callouses are hard-earned, and impenetrable. I’m tough as nails, because I CHOSE TO BECOME STRONGER.

I am deeper, wiser, kinder, more hopeful, more loving, more outward-focused, more joyful, because life didn’t kill me. It didn’t break me. I pick myself up every damn time, and I FUCKING CHOOSE TO LIVE.

Here I am in sunny San Diego, surrounded by amazing friends, strapped again but LOVING the fact that I GOT MYSELF HERE. I toughened up, I CHOSE. I DECIDED TO BE STRONGER.

What didn’t kill me made me BEAUTIFUL.

Never forget that YOU are the determining factor in your life… who you become will be a result of what you choose to do with what COULD kill you. BE STRONGER. BE WISER, BE MORE FAITHFUL, DRIVEN, PASSIONATE, OPEN, LOVING, KIND, POWERFUL, CAPABLE…

Be STRONGER.

I believe in you.

smile

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The Importance of Being Earnest

If you haven’t seen the iconic “Importance of Being Earnest” movie, it’s a fluffy, cute romantic comedy starring some fan favorites. You can check it out here. The movie is based on a book by Oscar Wilde, and stars two men pretending to be something they are not… and remembering this film sparked some thoughts for me today.

Our culture is increasingly driven by two powerful “I” words: Ignorance and Image. It feeds off of those who can pretend to be what they are not, and those who believe them. Problem? I think so.

This generation is more belabored by bull shit than any previous generation. We’re surrounded by photoshopping, inflation, exaggeration, comparison, greed, and lies. We’re inundated with it. We live and breathe it.. and most likely as a result, we think it.

When you’re constantly exposed to small amounts of toxic chemicals, they can kill you. In the same way, the constant barrage from a culture based on things that are FAKE (Image) can promote similar tendencies in our own behavior if we are not keen to ascertain them (Ignorance).

Some people are clearly and maliciously fake. They pretend (and pretend very well) to be something or someone they are not. To want things they don’t want, to be what they think you want them to be for whatever end they are serving. Others of us, like myself, may slip into these habits from ignorance – from a lack of alertness to this common cultural bias toward being fake.

I see this in how I present myself to people. I may cater my words, retract a perspective, suggest something that is slightly untrue but not entirely false in order to gain approval or commendation. I may not do this maliciously, or often, but I may still do it. When I do it – or when I catch myself doing it – I hate it. I hate everything about it.

I’m from the old-school society that things that your value depends heavily on how much Integrity you have – another “I” word that is a million times more powerful than Ignorance and Image. When you have integrity to what you believe, who you are, what you stand for – and additionally, to the good and respect of others… you can do amazing things, and you can live with yourself.

It’s so easy to cave to this culture, to forget that we so quickly cater to the people around us in small ways. It’s so easy to let your guard down and be what someone wants you to be because you love them or because you simply want them to like you. But it is so, so detrimental to your character, and your relationships.

This can play out in some odd ways you might not expect. Someone asked me once if I regretted anything from my relationship with my ex-husband. I had to think about it pretty heavily. I finally realized I did have one regret – I regretted lying to him for years. Sound appalling? It is, but it was more subtle than you think.

These were lies of omission – of omitting how I really felt and thought about things. How I felt about him yelling at me, about porn affecting our relationship. How I felt about never seeing him, never getting time together. About his hours and hours on the computer and me crawling into bed alone every night. About sexuality when he wanted it, but only when he did… and always when he did, and how he wanted it. I lied about who I was by not saying how I felt. By not standing up for myself. By not being honest when things hurt me. By the time I did, he was genuinely shocked that I remembered every single hurt, abuse, and neglect. Every single malicious word. Every put-down. Every time I paid for his bad days. I remembered Every. Single. One.

My dear friend Josh was the unfortunate beast of burden right after I left my ex and drove in the middle of the night many hours away. He had to listen as I poured my heart out, brokenly, about finally leaving. About fear and pain and loss and hurt. We talked about a lot of things and he called me out when I said that my ex forgetting every little thing about me every day – likes and dislikes and holidays and birthdays and anniversaries – never hurt me. He said “when did the romantic Jen die? You know, it is okay to be a woman.” I burst into tears.

Have you ever heard the phrase “We accept the love we believe we deserve?” Neither had I until this year. But that is so damn true.

The more you lie to yourself, the more you omit things in your relationships, the less you say when things hurt, when they break you down – the less you listen to your gut instincts, the less you are honest with others about who you are, what you want, and where you’re headed – the more you cater and cave and conform… the more you will find yourself playing right into a culture of Ignorance and Image.

You’re losing your Integrity.

The little things that bother you. The repeated hurtful words. The distance or the disregard. Those things will destroy you – they will destroy your relationships if you do not speak up.

Have the integrity to operate outside of a culture of lies. Be earnestly, completely, fully yourself. Fully honest with yourself, and with others. If you do love someone and you do care about them, be honest now. Speak up now. Be real – NOW. Before it is too late and one day you break, and you’re real and raw with them and everything falls apart because it was based on lies.

The truth will either make your relationship stronger, or it will break you apart – and if the truth breaks you apart, you never would have made it. Wouldn’t you rather know now?

Be honest with yourself. Be honest with others.

Be real, and true, and raw with the world.

Be you.

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Let’s Get Personal

The latest trending topics online funneled through my Facebook and Instagram newsfeeds have been thought-provoking: namely, an article on “modesty” online, followed up by the “news” on Kim K’s recent exposure in Paper magazine.

While Kardashian’s shiny butt photos thankfully dropped today from top trending twitter news in favor or #rokerthon (Al Roker’s marathon attempt to break the Guinness world record), and the modesty article has also faded from the forefront of my newsfeed, I’ve been thinking about giving them some further airtime.

In my opinion, both articles subtly or not so subtly bring to light a very interesting question:

How much is too much skin?

 

This question begs others, such as:

  • Is your level of public exposure evidence of insecurity?
  • Is this a black and white issue… or a personal one?

Let’s explore these questions and their implications, as well as some of the psychology and assumptions behind them.

 

IS YOUR LEVEL OF PUBLIC EXPOSURE EVIDENCE OF INSECURITY?

In the first article, the writer claims that

“The psychology behind your behavior in taking these 

nude pics is very straight-forward: you’re suffering from a lack

of self-esteem and are looking externally to make yourself feel

good about you. But you’re kidding yourself. It’s called self-

esteem because it emanates from the self”.

Essentially, this writer is claiming an omniscient assumption over the motives, character and psychology of anyone who posts “nude” pics (this term itself being very loose because she also references lingerie in her article… and nude certainly implies full exposure).

The sheer ARROGANCE and HYPERBOLE in this article blew me away.

There is no documented psychology behind the mindset of every single individual who posts lingerie pictures, or nudes. There is no documented, fully inclusive psychology on men and women who pose fully clothed or butt-ass naked, from Old Navy to Playboy.

The older I get, the more I realize how immature it is to project your own thought process into the motives of others. For example, a few years ago, I would’ve never even dreamed of taking this photo:

 photo2

The “me” I was then had not yet emerged from abuse and neglect and betrayal and abandonment. That “me”, many years ago, could never have had the security to show my body in any way. I hid behind baggy sweatshirts, long runs, and sleepless nights covered by ball caps, pulled low. I hid everything: my emotional pain, my destructive and crumbling marriage, my fear and confusion.

My slow emergence from that time period was marked by an increasing willingness to proudly demonstrate my hard work through more exposure AND motivate other women who had been through similar situations, or who were mothers trying to “reclaim” their bodies and confidence. My INCREASE in confidence was what motivated this photoshoot. Not a lack of it.

 photo1

However, many people jumped in and assumed that I felt I had to show this to get attention. That my joy in the body I recreated and the life I was reconstructing were actually pure insecurity and a plea to “feel better about myself” through “likes” on Instagram.

Note the case, but perhaps, it would’ve been for them.

Take a friend of mine, whose ex-wife was constantly looking for attention from other men. This woman was known for inappropriate flings and infidelity. She got a boob job with his money without him knowing. While I cannot judge her motives, her character as evidenced by repeated decisions to dishonor her marriage and degrade her integrity beg questions about the reason for her breast augmentation. Perhaps for her, her lewd displays online and self-enhancements WERE motivated by insecurity and a lack of moral integrity.

BUT…

(And THIS is why it is in caps and bolded) I AM NOT HER JUDGE, HER GOD, HER GUIDE, NOR HER CONSCIENCE. This leads into the second question:

IS THIS A BLACK AND WHITE ISSUE… OR A PERSONAL ONE?

Let’s explore this woman’s background, from what I know of it.

Raised in a broken home where her dad abused and mistreated her mom, and then abandoned them both, she constantly lived in the shadow of her mother’s depression, alcoholism, and constant run-through of men of all ages and types. This was her example growing up, from infancy. Her mom refused to show her love or affection, and blamed her for her dad’s abuse and abandonment. From a young age, she desperately wanted to be loved and cared for, and her mom refused to give that to her, after her dad had already abandoned her. She felt unwanted, used, hurt, unworthy, not good enough, and essentially, invisible.

Does this excuse her infidelity? No. Does it lend sympathy toward why she made the decisions she did? It should.

This girl needs a lot of help to turn off of the path she has already run down. But while I have no desire to befriend her, I have no desire to malign her OR to judge her.

I am of the singular opinion that YOU NEVER COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND WHAT SOMEONE HAS BEEN THROUGH, AND YOUR LACK OF KNOWLEDGE SHOULD KEEP YOU FROM RAMPANT JUDGMENT OF THE THINGS YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND.

In highschool, I judged everyone left and right. The culture I grew up in promoted this. Roll your skirt? Detention. Kiss a boy? Sexual immorality, indicative of a lack of repentance and a desire to be sexually promiscuous, which probably meant you were hell-bound. I judged anyone who looked sideways at a man or a woman, who watched movies not rated G without “skipping” over the “bad scenes”, who wore spaghetti strap shirts or midriff tops, or who slept with someone and didn’t marry them.

And you know what? It’s exhausting. Because it’s not my job.

And the older you get, the more you should realize you have better things to do with your time and energy.

So to all of the girls posting scandalous selfies online:

You do what you fucking want.

Just make sure that you are doing what is best for you.

I don’t know your journey, I don’t know what makes you tick. I refuse to project what would be a bad choice for me onto your choices, UNLESS what you are doing is directly harmful to another person.

I loved this portion of the second article on Kim’s “shocking” nude photos:

“On the flip side – those of you saying that Kim

Kardashian needs to put on some clothes simply

because she is a mother also need to sip a

big champagne glass of “Girl, Bye!”

Because this antiquated idea that mothers are

not allowed to celebrate their sexuality is

ridiculous and naive.

I’ve never been a fan of

policing other women’s bodies,

and I’m not about to start now. Ya’ll can have that.”

 

Take the time to focus on yourself. Do not make swift judgments about the motives of people you don’t even know, or even those you do. Allow everyone the privilege and right of policing their own bodies. Remember you do not get to dish out consequences. Don’t degrade yourself by maligning others.

Take a second to recognize that you aren’t God.

You’re just another effed up human like the rest of us.

With strengths, weaknesses, and personal battles.

Leave everyone to their individual journey,

And focus on the road in front of YOU.

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The Low-Down on Living Life with Passion

Today is a rest day for me, so while my body woke me up at 5:02 a.m. to get my cardio in and I tried to tell it otherwise, I’m up and ready for the day with a few minutes to spare… and holy SHITTAKE MUSHROOMS that is a rarity these days!

Most of you can relate to the insane hustle and bustle of the race to simply survive these days. I work over 40 hour weeks, sometimes 13 hour days every day, have a two year old, am looking to move to the West Coast soon –  so applying for jobs and getting packed up – and am in school full time my senior year (at 26… hey, at least I’m finishing my degree!). I’m always burnt out. Add to this the stress and specificity of competition training for a national show next year, and you have one tired, decrepit, worn out, burnt out, dragging-my-ass-everywhere momma.

EVERYONE has stressors in their life and EVERYONE feels, at some point, “like butter scraped over too much bread” (thank you Jeeves and Wooster for that one).

Despite all of that, people constantly ask me “How do you live so passionately”?

Part of the reason, without a doubt, is that I spent almost a decade of my life chronically ill and fighting to simply function. Add moderate health and remission to that, and you certainly have a “joi de vivre”, because you know what life is like without normalcy.

HOWEVER, almost two years into remission now, that feeling is easy to forget. So what sustains my zest for life amidst the daily grind, the rat race, the draining hamster wheel of life?

A few, specific things keep me going. Check ’em out:

1. Keep Learning

I firmly believe you are never too old to find something new that interests you. Shop around! Try stumbleupon.com, or luminosity.com, or play a game of freerice.com and trip your brain cells into a little fresh action.

2. Stay Curious

My grandfather once told me “the moment you lose your curiosity for life, you stop living”. This man was learning new things in his seventies: he mastered cooking and french at an old age, because he had an insatiable curiosity for the unknown. Pique your curiosity in new ways, daily. Never stop asking “why?”.

3. Explore

The older we get, the more we risk living in a bubble. Hell, I did this at 18! Don’t get stuck. Find ways to get out of your comfort zone, off your cushion, and explore the world.

4. Make New Friends

This sounds the cheesiest, most gossip-girls-y point of them all, but the truth is, when we stagnate in relationships, we begin to lose our joy for life. Much of what you love and how you fuel passion is through relationships with people who are different from you. Find people you DON’T agree with, but can respect, and nurture those relationships.

5. Don’t Let Experience Rob you of Joy

The most important point of them all, in my opinion. I’ve long found that experience is the greatest teacher, but also the most embittering and disillusioning part of life if you let it be so. If, however, you take your experiences, and you recognize that true character and passion come from within, you will fight to stay strong in your uniqueness, learning, exploration, curiosity, friendships, and you will keep your passion. The more you fight to know yourself, and what you are capable of, the more you will fuel that fire.

“Do not let the world make you hard.

Do not let the pain make you hate.

Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness.

Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree,

You still believe it to be a beautiful place”.

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The Power of Experience

Day three  – in a row – of blogging. This has certainly never happened before, and it feels as good as my coffee tastes this morning. 

The older I get (as I approach the ripe age of 27, ripe being an apt adjective for this post), the more I realize that when people said “you won’t understand until you’re older”, what they’re really speaking of is experience. 

There are some things that you simply cannot learn without time and experience. 

This valued ingredient of maturity, experience, is also the reason why some people age and never mature. There are people so sheltered, who run and hide from the challenges, risks, successes and failures that life brings, and as a result fail to develop the depth of character that can come from experiencing more of the world. 

The majority of the unexperienced are narrow-minded, and lack empathy and respect. 

It is fairly impossible to be immature without being unexperienced. 

Here is the best illustration I have for you:

Growing up, I was quite sheltered, as has been previously discussed. This kept me from much pain, but also slowed my maturing, and kept me close-minded, arrogant, and self-righteous. 

I would hear about women who were married, unhappy, wanted a divorce, and I would be shocked, and make generalizations common to the church culture: “Well, she shouldn’t have gotten married if she didn’t realize marriage was work”. “Divorce is way too easy these days”. “They need counseling”. “She didn’t ever love him if she wants a divorce”. “If she prays more fervently and realizes her heart is deceitful, she will come around”. 

One woman left her husband, and weeks later was with another man. My brain processed: “Adulterer”. “Sinner”. “Slut”. 

My categories for right and wrong were limited simply to what I had heard was right. They were limited by my inexperience.

Years later, many years later, I left an abusive marriage. I was a shell of a human being. Destroyed emotionally, and terrified. I felt I had no value. I was lost and broken. If I had stayed in that marriage, I strongly believeI would have eventually killed myself (or been killed) from fear and depression. Very few people knew anything of that marriage but the happy exterior. The young me, the inexperienced me, looking in, would have been appalled that I left. Shocked that I wanted a divorce months after I left.

But it was right. 

Months after this, I was on the road to recovery in abuse counseling. I was dating. 

What. Dating? And still legally married. 

The young me, the inexperienced me, would have been stunned.

But it was right. 

Even more stunned when, after months of a few dates with various individuals, I met the love of my life, a gentle, amazing, kind, empathetic, patient, loving man, and he moved in with me, long after I left my ex-husband, but before the final processing date for the divorce. 

Technically, according to law, I was a married woman living with another man. Our separation paperwork agreement allowed for this, but my younger “conscience” would not have. Nor would the culture I grew up in, I’m sure. 

But it was right. 

Looking at every step of that journey, I regret none of it. I know exactly why every decision was made, and made in good conscience. Experience has taught me that many things which seem so very black and white are never so until you walk through them, alone, yourself; painfully, slowly, sincerely, with all of the emotional wrestling matches you will encounter on the way, and all of the incredible “AHA!” moments that experience brings with those painful struggles.

It is to my shame that I made so many harsh judgments of others growing up. The older I get, the more I learn to never judge what seems a certain way from the outside. Unless someone is hurting someone else or directly self-harming, no judgments are made. I cannot speak without walking in their shoes, and the likelihood is, because I haven’t had to, I wouldn’t be strong enough to understand the lessons they are learning, anyway.

Experience is the greatest teacher, and the most painful one. 

I note, painfully, the inexperience of people I know, as a reason for their judgment, arrogance, and self-righteous behavior. 

Purely and simply, people fear what they do not understand.

Put more clearly, they fear what they have not experienced. 

Fear drives people to judge, hate, and hurt.

Be slow to judge what you cannot understand, what you have not been called to experience. Respect the painful journeys of others, in their own uniqueness, with their own set of trials and understanding.

And pursue experience. Take risks, interact with people outside of your “experience circle”. Learn from them, learn to love and respect the differences, and release fears of the unknown. 

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“Go West, Young Man”.

The famous quote by Horace Greeley is on my mind this morning, as I sip a delicious cup of black coffee in sunny Berkeley, California. 

I first stepped off of the plane on the West Coast last fall, in October, a few days before my second bodybuilding competition. I took second place in LA, which was a notable achievement, but what was most amazing to me was the complete and utter happiness I felt in being so very far from where I grew up. I stepped off that plane, and I felt I was home. 

It could be a myriad of factors that contribute to this confidence I’ve found in knowing one day I’ll be living out here, far from the humidity and judgement and bigotry of the East Coast culture: it could be that it feels far away from the pain I incurred at the hands of several men where I grew up. It could be that it’s far from memories of rape and abuse and neglect and destructive emotional put-downs and self-righteous, arrogant religious hypocrites; judging my divorce, my openness about the pain I went through, my scandalous display of confidence in my body and sexuality in my competing and modeling. 

It could be that it’s far from all of the hospitals I was in for so long, from the familiar haunts of a gaunt 19 year old with no hope for the future. Far from PICC lines and seizures and bloodwork and broken dreams.

It could be that it’s so far removed from the places that used to fit me, which can no longer hold the things I’ve learned: “Roads that closed off to me while my back was turned”… away from lessons finished and places with nothing left to show me.

It could be the air out here, that is brighter, purer, less polluted, less heavy with memory and pain and darkness. 

It could be many of the people, and the way they encourage being different, non-conformist, non-judgmental, loving, open, unrushed, less anxious, less willing to walk all over anyone who stands in the way of twisted dreams and ambitions they concoct from a deep insecurity of self and an utter lack of empathy.

It could be the scenery, the layers of gorgeous landscape and the tantalizing wonder of being unable to see around a bend or over a rise. No flat, empty places.

It could be the fitness industry, which rages and thrives and grows out here, and the people in it, who have learned to care for mind and soul and body much more efficiently. 

It could be the coastline, the sky, the trees, the flowers, the farmer’s markets, the simplicity and beauty and rush of what is new, and untouched, and undiscovered, and unfamiliar. 

It could simply be that it is a beginning. The end of the old, starting over, breathing again, a deep inhale and an exhale in a rush of toxic release, letting go of what was, what was done, what has been, and welcoming what will be, can be, could be, might be. 

All of the promise of tomorrow, all of the newness of being and renewing, thousands of miles from what hurts, and stings, and breaks… landscape and people and climate and places that are scars on the mind and the subconscious, dragging you down, holding you back, restraining and wounding and slowing the healing. 

The very uncertainty of it is enthralling, and the complete unfamiliarity is exhilarating. Rich with hope. That is what it is, simply, it is hope. Hope of opportunity without fear.

This is home, and one day, it will be mine. 

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A Clash of Culture and Common Sense

I’m sitting here this morning, sipping on black coffee, baking egg whites in muffin tins and putting off my fasted run in 99% humidity, and I’m musing over some recent self-revelations that have been disturbing to me. 

I’m in a relationship now, with a wonderful man. A genuinely wonderful man. The honeymoon phase is over, and he’s still a wonderful, wonderful man. 

What has been so disturbing to me in recent days has been the self-revelation that happiness is unsettling. I don’t know what to do with it. I’m like a child, given a strange, new toy. It delights me, enthralls me, exhilarates me, contents me… but I’m surprised by it every time I look at it. I’m wondering when it will be taken away, because it is so very delightful. It seems to be logical that with how beautiful and strange and wonderful it is, it won’t last. 

Disturbing, isn’t it?

We live in a world where the altruism of youth is absolutely eclipsed by the hedonistic self-obsession of our society. As we age, we are taught more and more to pursue ambition, gratification – instant gratification – possessions, status symbols, achievements. The value of human relationships at their essence, has been lost to us. 

This culture seems to have accepted that what is best for us is what is best now, how we want it, when we want it. What we say, do, intend, think, believe, encourage, promote, value, and request in our relationships, both platonic and otherwise, is centered around what WE WANT. 

In addition, we live in a culture that has lost a sense of SELF-VALUE. There is a wild difference between SELFISHNESS and SELF-AWARENESS. Knowing WHO you are has been lost in a mad scramble to identify, to fit in, to make others happy, to self-gratify.

The very sad truth is, if you look at common sense, and you look at relationships, the ones that last are grounded in two very, very important things which fly in the face of current culture:

1. Selfish self-awareness

2. Selfless conduct

Those two seem mutually exclusive, do they not? Let me explain.

One of the most valuable lessons my destructive young marriage taught me was that without self-value, without self-awareness, you cannot be selfless. Without a true knowledge and love for who you are independently, autonomously, you will never be able to make the right kind of sacrifices in a relationship. 

Imagine for a moment a dragon (I love dragons… nerd moment alert), and a treasure trove. The dragon knows he lives in a cave, with his treasure trove, but he is blind. He doesn’t know what he has. He has a small sense of it, but he can’t see it, can hardly feel it. A stranger comes to his cave, and wants to take some treasure. The dragon has two recourses, because he doesn’t know what’s actually available to him. One: hoard, protect, fight for all of it. Two: sacrifice some of it, but without knowing which of the pieces are most valuable and important to him, because he cannot see them.

Corny illustration, I know. Best thing I could think of. Bear with me. 

So imagine now, yourself. You have very little self-awareness, very little security in who you are. A stranger comes into your life, wants to help themselves to some of YOU. You don’t know yourself, your values, your loves and hates and what parts of you are most important to you, so you cannot conduct yourself selflessly, effectively in that relationship, because you don’t know which parts of you are too important to sacrifice, and which parts you can freely give without incurring bitterness or resentment later for giving those things to someone else that you really wanted to keep for yourself.

In order to GIVE you have to know and value appropriately what you HAVE. 

In order to survive and thrive in a relationship you have to know how to be SELFISHLY SELF-AWARE so you can operate SELFLESSLY where you are able to. You have to know what you’re willing to give up, and what you’re going to fight to preserve.

THIS is the knowledge I come back to when I am disturbed by how confused I feel by how happy and content I have been with this man. From this last year of so much pain and frustration, I have fought for, won, and learned who I am, what I value, and what I am willing to give. 

And that has made all the difference, this time around. A beautiful, valuable, wonderful difference. 

Take the time to understand YOU, and make sure your partner does the same. 

Don’t let this selfish, insecure, image-driven, ignorant culture drive you to selfish, or selflessly UNaware relationships. Use common sense, and find yourself first, and give from that deep knowledge of who you are. 

“To say ‘I love you’, 

One must first know how

To say the ‘I'”.

-Ayn Rand

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