Tag Archives: relationships

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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10 Reasons to DQ Your Long-term Girlfriend

Whoa, whoa, that’s not nice, right?

Maybe, but truth is, it can be very hard to discern at times where we are blind when it comes to making the decision to take a relationship further (whether that means saying four little words, or making a verbal commitment, moving in together or buying some bling).

My target audience is usually different, but this one’s for the boys: this is for you blind lovers out there who can’t really decide when you’ve got all-that up in yo FACE and you WANT IT… when she pitches constant bitch fits but makes some amazing lasagna… when she’s a dog person, and you love dogs… but she can’t spell her own name.

Here’s how to decide if you should make that leap… or nah: Here’s 10 Reasons to DQ Your Long-Term Girlfriend. And because I know half of you boys won’t read anything this long, scroll to the bottom for a summary.

10 Reasons to DQ Your Long-Term Girlfriend

1. She likes shiny things more than paying her electric bill.

Long-term relationships require some responsibility on the part of both partners. If your girl is slinging diamonds and Prada instead of making her rent payment on-time… it’s a DQ. Long-term relationships require an awareness of and adherence to adult responsibilities. 

2. She can name every character on Jersey Shore but thinks “suffrage” for women is as inhumane as the way Jionni treated Snooki on Season 2. 

If you haven’t seen it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lysWbzQyiWw.

Apparently the majority of women these days don’t even know basics about history and culture. If your girl lives in a tiny bubble full of fist-pumping, oompa-loompa-colored Italians with grammar problems… it’s a DQ. Long-term relationships need big-picture partners (she doesn’t need to be Einstein, but she does need to care about something of value). 

3. She can’t leave the house without a 90-minute primp session, even when you’re already 283 minutes late. 

The older you get, the more you realize that while RESPECT demands some level of self-care,  SELF-OBSESSION is marked by a constant clinging to insecurities at the expense of honoring your commitments. If she’s unwilling to sacrifice a perfect image to respect yours (or others’) time… it’s a DQ. Long-term relationships require respect for others. 

4. She knows every Taylor Swift song by heart but can’t remember the name of your favorite team.

This may seem trivial, but the things that matter most to you should matter to your girl. While she may not be able to list off the entire starting lineup for for the Lakers or your current level of achievement in World of Warcraft, she should be able to recognize a few key things that matter to you. If not? DQ. Long-term relationships need partners who care.

5. She’s a constant bitch-track about her job, her family, or her friends. 

Let’s face it, you might be able to handle a little whining here and there… but picture that ish for 20 years. Can you really stand her griping on replay… forever? While you should be able to be honest and complain once and a while with your partner, there’s like, totally, a limit before you like, want to shoot yourself. Does she even DO anything about the things she “can’t evens” about? If not… DQ. Long-term relationships require partners who contribute positively to each other’s lives. 

6. She expects you to fix everything. 

We aren’t talking household appliances here (sorry boys, if she can’t that one’s on you), we’re talking life shit. All of that stuff she might complain about (see 5)? If she expects you to fix everything, she ain’t the one. Can’t leave her alone for an hour without worrying she might fall apart on her own? Not a good sign: DQ. Long-term relationships aren’t truly codependent, they require partners who can each take care of their own shit. 

7. She’s her own breed of Hungry Hippo when it comes to attention from other guys. 

This is bad, bad, bad news bears. Here’s a good example:

Recently my boyfriend and I had a “tiff”. A guy friend I’ve known for a long time (and never dated) commented something sarcastic on my Instagram – it looked like a compliment, but I know him, he’s a sarcastic bastard and it wasn’t intended as a nicety. I replied with an equally sarcastic kissy face emoji. What I saw? A joking, friendly, non-romantic, non-flirtatious interaction with an old friend in good nature. What my boyfriend saw? Flirting. Lucky for me, I’ve never broken his trust so a quick explanation and a post adjustment was all that was needed to smooth the situation over.

However, it’s something I see all too often: girls hungry for the attention of other guys – in public, in social media, with “old friends” in private, at school… and their guy doesn’t see the warning signs. If your girl’s crack is another guy’s gaze (no pun intended), DQ her. Long-term relationships require benchmark fidelity (and constant flirtation is just a foreshadowing of bad things to come). 

8. Her only friends are you and her Pomeranian, “Sprinkles”. 

Like it or not, in the long-term, if your girl’s friend list as as short as that skirt you love, you’re in trouble. You cannot and will not ever be anyone’s everything.  These relationships fail, FAST. Guaranteed, if she’s putting you on a pedestal now, later on when you disappoint her in some way (you will), or when you’re unavailable and she feels “lonely”, you’ll be the fall guy. I’ve seen so many girls blame their man when he “falls short” because they’ve made everything in their life about him, or become jealous of his (even male-only) own friendships. If your girl can’t make a few good friends independently of you, it’s a DQ. Long-term relationships require outside relationships for support. 

9. She’s your biggest cheerleader… NOT. 

It’s been said too much because it’s super, totally, completely, like, awesomely, but really – TRUE. Your partner should be your most relentless supporter! If what you want and what you’re doing and what you are passionate about isn’t directly hurting her or anyone else, she should be championing it. She should be the one saying “babe, pick up the guitar” or “go for it, you can do it” or “you’re getting better and better!”. If your girl is more hyped to start the next season of Gossip Girl than she is for your band’s debut at a local dive bar, DQ her. The example might seem silly, but it’s spot-on. I’ve seen so many relationships fail when people realize that the other person wasn’t willing to support them, or to pick them up when they failed after multiple tries. Long-term relationships require partners who passionately champion each other’s hopes and dreams. 

10. She freaks out like a squirrel on crack if you don’t text her back.

Oh boys, this one is so big. Don’t dig this grave! If you can’t leave your phone for 5 seconds without a dozen self-defeating messages, DQ her!!! Example:

8:43 Babe: hey lover, good morning (insert string of dumb emojis here)

8:44 Babe: hey, you awake?

8:45 Babe: I know you’re awake, I just checked your Facebook, where are you

8:46 Babe: are you sick? are you okay?

8:47 Babe: you’re mad aren’t you, about the other night – that’s stupid, seriously babe?

8:48 Babe: i’m really worried about you! text me back, what the heck? are you seriously that pissed?

8:49 Babe: i’m crying, you made me cry. great, i have to go to work looking like shit.

9:43 Babe: i’m on my way to work, you better call me later i’m super pissed. this is ridiculous, you’re a child. i’m dating a child.

I KNOW you’ve all dated or talked to that girl! DON’T COMMIT! Long-term relationships require partners who are SECURE in the care, affection, and interest of the other. If you’ve never done anything to break trust, and neither has she, this kind of shit has no place in a long-term commitment.

Because I KNOW most guys only skim, here’s a summary.

  1. Long-term relationships require an awareness of and adherence to adult responsibilities. 
  2. Long-term relationships need big-picture partners (she doesn’t need to be Einstein, but she does need to care about something of value). 
  3. Long-term relationships need partners who care.
  4. Long-term relationships require respect for others. 
  5. Long-term relationships require partners who contribute positively to each other’s lives. 
  6. Long-term relationships aren’t truly codependent, they require partners who can each take care of their own shit. 
  7. Long-term relationships require benchmark fidelity (and constant flirtation is just a foreshadowing of bad things to come). 
  8. Long-term relationships require outside relationships for support. 
  9. Long-term relationships require partners who passionately champion each other’s hopes and dreams. 
  10.  Long-term relationships require partners who are SECURE in the care, affection, and interest of the other.

Cheers, and best of luck.

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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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Let’s Light the Fuse

So today, I’m sipping coffee (again) in Berkeley (again) before my fasted run (again), and not complaining (at all).

And today, my uncle Tim is marrying the love of his life, his partner, Bennie. 

Today, I’m attending my first gay wedding. 

And today, I’m going to discuss what I never branch into discussing, because it’s such a hot-button topic: gay marriage. 

I grew up in an incredibly conservative, restrictive, cult-like Christian culture. Gratefully, my parents moved away from that when I was 18, and started their own church, which helped me break out of a lot of brainwashing, lies, bigotry, distortion of scripture, and self-righteous, fear-driven, extra-biblical “law”.

I also grew up in a culture which was composed of at least 75% broken, miserable, unhappy, abusive, chauvenistic, fucked up marriages, with the other 25% being purely beautiful, full of respect and love (my parents’ is one of the amazing ones). 

But even after we left, I still would have told you that gay marriage was “sinful” and “wrong”.

Fast-forward 8 years. 

Fast-forward through 7 years of chronic illness, 3 years of a broken, abusive, unbiblical “christian” marriage, rape, two years of motherhood, several moves, unemployment, and many broken moments of single motherhood; fast forward through a shit ton of life experiences, and you’ll find ME.

Me, learning to redefine my religion from a basis of LOVE, open-mindedness, and experience with the “God” I KNOW. 

The “God” I pray to, talk to, still believe exists, who held me together and helped me find my feet and myself and my way through illness, abuse, and recovery, he LOVES. 

There are several ways to approach this issue.

I could say that according to the Bible, God created marriage to be for a man and woman, but all of that was distorted and changed at “the fall”. Therefore, what matters is that these people, in this day and age, are loving and respectful of each other, and we shouldn’t expect everyone to have “straight” marriages anymore. 

I could say that biblical law is archaic, that banning gay marriage goes right up there with wondering if we should still stone people for adultery or lying. I could remind you that much of old testament and new testament scripture is ignored by church culture. 

I could point out the discrepancy between “christians” who get drunk, who have sex outside of marriage, who do many things you aren’t SUPPOSED to do, and still condemn another “sin” – the sin of gay marriage – despite their own transgressions. 

I could remind you that Jesus ate with tax collectors and prostitutes, so even if you don’t think gay people should be married, you have no right to condemn, abuse, malign, ostracize or disrespect them.

But what I find myself doing – as I struggle to pick up the pieces of a once seemingly rock-solid faith that was in truth completely untested by time, maturity, and the pain that life brings – is arguing simply and irrevocably from a position of LOVE. 

I have learned to love what I believe mirrors the characteristics of the God that I know. The Being that created a world that should’ve reflected love, respect, integrity, friendship, companionship, affection, joy, family, giving, community… “peace, patience, kindness, no record of wrongdoing, delighting not in evil, but rejoicing with truth”. 

Through all of the pain I have incurred, I have learned to simply and purely respect what is GOOD: what builds up and draws together and demonstrates LOVE, at it’s selfless, priceless, genuine essence, and to reject that which is EVIL: which pulls apart, which causes pain, which puts down and destroys, selfishly, fearfully, and without sincerity, full of hypocrisy. 

For this reason – because I love these two people, because they love each other, because I simply respect what they have built over many years with each other; the people they’ve drawn together, the community they’ve created, the respect and integrity they share – for this reason, I stand behind them today, and I delight in doing so. 

Happy wedding day, Tim and Bennie!

Thank you for unintentionally pushing me to grapple with yet another issue that leads me to a place of loving myself, and others. 

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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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