Monday, June 18, 2018

Guest Post: Mothering Ourselves

by StillStanding1

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day has come and gone. But I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be a mother (stay with me everyone – I’m not talking about simple biology).
I’m going to argue that motherhood is about so much more than a biological event. We don’t have to have born children out of our bodies to be a mother to ourselves or others. Motherhood is a complex state of being. It is a role with many aspects. In my mind, it is defined by compassion, by a nurturing spirit, tenderness, loyalty, by becoming the calm center for others in the storm, by firm but gentle teaching. Mothers smooth the rough edges for those they love. They nurture and they, themselves, never stop growing.
Some of us grew up with this person in our lives in the form of a biological parent, or perhaps an adoptive parent, or kind and nurturing grandparent, aunt, teacher. You see where I am going with this. Each of us has the power to be a mother for those in our lives who need us. Some of us did not grow up with a firm, reliable mother figure. My mother, a chronic, high-functioning alcoholic, was not available emotionally. She was unreliable and though I can remember moments where she shined (sick with measles, high fever, she sat with me, put cool washcloths on my head and read to me to distract me from the itchiness), generally her best left me feeling like I was asking too much to have my needs met.
When we experience something traumatic, like betrayal by a loved one, we take stock. How are we treating ourselves? Are we being as patient, kind or compassionate with ourselves as we would be with another in this situation? This was a major reckoning for me. I knew, somehow, that the best way out of the pain, for me, was to become the mother to myself that I had always needed. 
It’s okay. You showed up. That was good enough for today. 
You will not always feel this way. 
You are worthy of love and belonging. 
You are enough.
 Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow can be better. 
It’s okay to ask for help. 
You don’t have to fix everything. 
You need to take care of yourself first. 
I know you regret that choice. You can do differently next time.
You are doing the best you can, and it is enough. 
You are loved.

These are things I had to learn to say to myself and mean them, to believe them in my heart. I came to it in two ways. One was becoming mindful of my self-talk. Was I judging myself or was I being compassionate with myself? How often I had to interrupt the negative spiral of self-blame. I'm still a work in progress but so much kinder to myself. I completely believe that I am worthy of love and belonging. The other path to healing was through helping others. So many of use here have reached out to someone who has just washed up on the beach, disoriented, lost and hurting. We’ve told them they will be okay, that we’ve got them, that is sucks and they are entitled to their pain, that they are allowed to determine their own path forward. And as we write those words to another, are we not writing them to ourselves? Each of us heals a part of our own soul, when we allow ourselves to step into our innate motherhood and hold someone who needs it. When we tend to others, we tend to and nourish ourselves. 
I encourage all of us to continue to be the mother we need, in the present and in the distant future. When all this is a memory, how much richer will our days be if we can treat ourselves with love and compassion? I imagine myself moving through the world softly, showing up gently for the people I love and being relentlessly kind to my own perfectly flawed self.


Saturday, June 16, 2018

Listen To It Sing

If you feel lesser-than today,
as if you should be different
so that you can be loved—
If you are wrestling yourself into
a shape to make yourself more pleasing
to others—
hold your heart close. Listen to it sing.
Take a deep breath.

Eyes up. Let's go.
~Esmé Weijun Wang (@esmewang on Twitter)

Friday, June 15, 2018

How Others Turn Away from Our Pain

My dad has a catheter. We're hoping it's a temporary thing but, in the meantime, he carts around a bag of urine wherever he goes. And though some people in his community know he was in the hospital, know he's home but is still dealing with a catheter, they're...busy. Though they might have found time to visit him a few months ago, these days, they tell me, they'd prefer to wait until he's "better".
My mother-in-law wouldn't visit friends in the hospital. Hospitals, she said, made her uncomfortable. They reminded her of her husband's long illness.
Many of us know those types of people, don't we? The ones who don't want to get too close to suffering or broken-ness. The ones who turn away from pain.
The ones who don't see strength but frailty.
It hurts to be marginalized, especially when we already feel isolated by infidelity.
Maybe you discovered your husband's affair, confided in a close friend, only to have her seem less available to you. Already vulnerable, you lack the energy or the strength to pursue her and ask for answers. Already wounded, you retreat.
Suffering makes people uncomfortable.
But we, in our sadness, take their distance as further evidence that we are unwanted. Unworthy. Unlovable.
I recently read a Twitter thread on suffering. When we come across suffering, this Tweeter said, our response mustn't be to lament the abstract evil in the world ("men are cads!"), it must be to first reach out a hand. "How can I help?" must be the immediate response.
Instead, going as far back as the days of the biblical Job, our response is frequently to ask what this person did to invite suffering. After all, we're absolved from helping the sufferer if he/she somehow deserved it. And so the betrayed wife gets cast as "frigid" or "nagging". She let herself get old. She let herself get fat. She let herself be human. How dare she? And how are we to protect ourselves from such suffering? Well...for plenty, it's by avoiding it in others.
It's by waiting until the catheter is gone before visiting. It's by averting our eyes when someone confides their pain. It's by refusing to sit with someone in their vulnerability. It's by lamenting an abstract evil rather than reaching for another's hand and asking "How can I help you?"
My own experience in the days and weeks following D-Day reminded me, again, that those who can sit with us in our pain are rare and as valuable as gems. Surprisingly, it wasn't the friend who'd been betrayed herself who could be with me in my pain. Rather it was the friend who hadn't. The friend who I didn't even know that well but who had suspected something going on at my husband's work and who refused to turn a blind eye.
The friend who did nothing more than tell me she had my back. Whose own eyes welled up when I told her what had happened in my marriage. Who sat with me as I cried and who, because of that, has the pleasure of my friendship now that I'm laughing again.
Suffering frightens people. But don't let it frighten you. Feel your own suffering. Don't back away from it. You're strong enough to bear it. And you're strong enough to sit with others as they bear their own.
It happens every day on this site. Someone brings their pain to our shores and you gather around her. You tell her your own story. You make room for her to share her own. You help her realize her own strength. You do not avert your eyes.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Using Our Anger for Good, Not Evil

True power lies in our willingness to question the beliefs we swallowed along with allowing ourselves to feel the rage ... while staying present and not acting on the desire for revenge. It's possible to feel the full range of our feelings, even hatred; we can see where they are lodged in our chests or throats or faces and we can allow them to get so big that we are towering with them and breathing fire. If then we keep sensing, feeling, allowing the effects of the past to unfold in us now, we can take ourselves back.
~from This Messy Magnificent Life by Geneen Roth

It might seem like I'm beating the same drum lately with all my focus on releasing anger, receiving the shattering and getting ourselves unstuck. But clearly I have something to learn about this because every time I open my computer, or stumble onto a book, or have a conversation with a friend, the theme is the same: Unfelt anger is a boulder that holds us in place. We might feel magnanimous for our ability to hold in our rage but it becomes toxic to us. Only by recognizing it and allowing ourselves to feel it are we liberated. 
If we feel rather than repress or act out our rage or hatred, says Roth, the feelings dissolve like a night-monster when you turn on the light. The self-righteous – and righteously felt – fury fuels us toward action. Healthy, positive action that comes from a place of worthiness rather than fear. Action that comes from a place of self-respect and a determination to minimize the damage done to ourselves rather than a desire to inflict damage on others. 
I often reminded my children, when they were younger, of Barbara Coloroso's explanation of the difference between "telling" and "tattling". Telling, she says, is about keeping someone out of trouble (though you might get them into trouble in order to do so. An example is a friend who has begun to use drugs, for instance). Tattling, on the other hand, is about trying to get someone in trouble.
I'm reminded of that as I struggle to outline the difference between anger expressed to keep ourselves safe and anger expressed to make someone else unsafe. It can be hard to care if we jeopardize someone else when that someone has been party to so much pain inflicted on us. And yet... If our sole motivation is to inflict harm on someone else, then our anger becomes a weapon rather than a spark igniting our own power. Weapons can be used against us. 
And that has been my experience with anger. What starts out directed at others ended up consuming me. I would find myself having constant arguments in my head with my imagined foes, I would wake up furious in the middle of the night, I felt brittle.
Freeing myself from that creates so much space in my head, in my heart, in my life. Letting go was like removing a millstone from around my neck. 
It's not like I don't get angry now (just ask my children!). But I am far better at directing my anger at the specific situation responsible and expressing it calmly. Anger, I've learned, is usually my first clue that I'm betraying myself by not enforcing my boundaries. That I'm not keeping myself emotionally safe. It's an important emotion that carries with it valuable information. But it becomes toxic when we simmer in it rather than processing it.
Geneen Roth advises us to pay attention to where the rage shows up in our body. By noticing it, feeling it and then sorting through what to do with it, it makes its way through us, rather than creates a poisonous home in us.
And that's how we take ourselves back.  

Friday, June 8, 2018

Don't listen to the lies of the shadows

Well, this has been a helluva week, hasn't it? First Kate Spade and now Anthony Bourdain. For those of us going through our own personal hell, news of another's pain and their no-takebacks response to that pain can feel particularly tough. If they can't handle pain – these beautiful glittery people with their money and their fame and their success – then how the hell can we?
But here's the thing. Depression lies. Whether it's a depression that dogs us for years or it's the result of the acute pain of betrayal, depression wraps us in its dark cold arms and whispers lies in our ears. It tells us that we will always feel this agony. It tells us that we don't matter, that we are worthless. It speaks those lies in our own voice.
"How do you battle an enemy that wears armour made of your own skin and scent?" asks Bunmi Laditan (aka @HonestToddler on Twitter). "One that knows your secrets and has a map of your unhealed wounds?"
I'll tell you how we battle that sneaky cruel bastard. We reach out for help. We tell our story to those who can hear it, who can remind us that this is depression talking. To tell us, as often as we need to hear it, that depression lies. And that beyond the despair is possibility and that we can get there. Medication can work. Meditation can work. A walk in the woods can work. All of the above can work. For today. And that's all we need to think about. No "next week" or "I will never" or "I will always..." Today. Find what works today. Find it in a doctor's office, on a therapist's sofa, in a friend's arms, on a website. It's out there, proof that you will leave a hole in someone's life if you exit.
My mother attempted suicide three times and I'm eternally grateful that she reached out for help each time while she could still be saved. She battled addiction and was sober 25 years before she died at the age of 71 from COPD. There is not a single day she would have sacrificed. There is not a single day with her that I would give up.
After discovering my husband's betrayal, I too wondered if the world needed me. It was only the pain I'd experienced from my mom's suicide attempts that stopped me from doing the same thing to my own children. I didn't believe I mattered. But I knew they did. And so I asked for help. I took anti-depressant medication. It felt like a heavy blanket lifting off my heart. It didn't make things great but it made my pain manageable. It gave me the opening I needed to let the slightest sliver of light into the darkness. And if I could see a sliver, I knew, I could slowly open the door to more light.
"You guys," tweets @HonestToddler, "when you're too tired to fight, lay down. Rest.... Fuck those shades who lie to you and tell you to keep their twisted secrets. Call 911 on this bitch ass lying shadows the way you would on an intruder in your home. We want you to stay."
Please. Stay. Let's watch the sun rise again tomorrow together. That's all we ever have. This moment. Together. Let's remind each other that we are stronger than the pain. That we each matter. That this, too, shall pass. Fight if you can. Rest if you must. Trust that there's a sliver of light waiting to show you what's possible.

If you are struggling, reach out. There is never shame is asking for help. There is no weakness in feeling pain. Those who fight for their own lives are the strongest bravest people I know. I'm proud to be among them.


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