Your body remembers significant mile markers along your life journey, even when your mind doesn’t. Today marks six years from the last fight we ever had. My body has been sluggish all week, feeling the magnetic pull to my bed. I only just realized why. I feel it in my spine and tightening muscles around my hips and shoulders–what this weekend symbolizes in my soul. Freedom. Isn’t that strange? My body constricts at the memory of how I reclaimed my freedom. The body and soul are intimately interwoven, and mine are remembering the process it took to get me here–safe, stable, whole again.
Exiting a toxic relationship is never easy, let alone one tangled with gaslighting, bipolar, depression, alcoholism, drugs, and codependency. It was like pulling my head out of a shark’s mouth–painful, bloody, no clean lines. So, that’s what my visceral memory is recounting. It took me four years to finally be able to truthfully declare: I am emotionally stable. And another two years after that to actually feel… I am going to be okay in life.
Domestic violence is a funny thing, the way it sneaks up on you and eats away at your confidence, personality, and neural pathways… in silence. We assume we are safe inside our own minds, but victims of abuse have learned the hard way, this is not true. Once that is understood, it makes sense that it can easily take years to untangle the complex webs of toxic beliefs that were sown into our psyches.
I mostly have amazing days, full of laughter, joy, and love. But a few days a year, my body remembers what I came from. I honor this pull. It’s sacred to me–remembering. I never want to forget the horrific lows of what it felt like to be treated less than human by the one who swore to love me for the rest of my life. I want to be able to tap back into those days of hollowing emptiness inside my chest. Why? Because it’s where empathy lives now. It is no longer re-traumatizing for me to think about my days as a victim (after substantial PTSD therapy), so I treasure those memories and emotions. They are what help me spread and teach hope and power to those who are wading through the dark hollows still.
“Healing” isn’t linear, with clear directions and graduation points. Reconciling one’s past is excruciating at times, and I wasn’t ever actually interested in facing that kind of pain. But I chose to turn into the abyss of lost dreams and try to recover pieces of myself in hopes that I could somehow be able to give my kids something better than what I had. I started out doing it for them, but somewhere along the way, I ended up doing it for me.
As I collected the lost pieces of my soul, I learned the most valuable lessons of my life: I am worthy. I am enough. I belong. I am okay. It was in this learning that I began to accept my story–the abuse, the decisions I regretted, the divorce, the loss of myself. Acceptance didn’t mean it was acceptable to be treated poorly, but it meant it was okay to honor my past for bringing me here today. What follows this brave embracing of one’s self is perhaps one of human’s most precious capabilities: compassion.
When I learn how to extend compassion to myself (for all the things I wish I had done differently), I become capable of showing compassion to others. The same goes for caring for oneself, loving oneself, forgiving oneself, respecting oneself, embracing oneself. If we can get clear about practicing these patterns with ourselves, we will naturally create space and capacity in our lives to do these things for others. It’s magic.
So, yes. I am allowing myself to soberly sit in the memories of what this weekend represents for me: the beginning of my exodus to freedom. It isn’t painful to remember, it’s humbling. And at the same time, I feel immense pride for the six-year younger version of me who was brave enough to say, “No more.” She’s fucking radiant and I am honored to hold her in the deepest parts of my soul today. She has taught me so much, led me home, and reminded me of my humanity. I love her. I love me.
To all the souls who are still wandering for your scattered pieces:
Carry on. You can do hard things. You are worth the often silent, lonely journey back to yourself. And I see you.
Reemerging into the world after leaving an abusive partnership is… terrifying. It’s particularly challenging learning how not to wear your insecurities like a glittery cocktail dress, drawing every eye in sight to attention. My particular cocktail began as self-doubt with a splash of inferiority. Then six months into marriage, my doting husband–the mega church pastor–added his own twist to the potent concoction: a double shot of disdain with a generous pour of chastising, gaslighting, and blame, shaken with a bit of mockery, and finished with a twist of zesty disgust at the mere sight of me. He would usually offer an icy chaser in the form of an unrelenting verbal attack–bringing me to the point of drunken stupor–or (his favorite) sobering me up by stonewalling me for days with intricate deliberation. The life I found myself in was not unlike how it might feel to be a stray dog in the street–full of mange and starving for life, thoughtlessly avoided but never actually sought after to be cared for, spoken to, or protected. I had been pounding this cocktail for a decade, and what began as poison slicing my voice as it made its way down my throat eventually became the standard by which I classified normal.
Normal that men pretend to adore women at first then become monsters once they’ve signed the marriage license or tied them down with a child. Normal to feel duped, trapped, and foolish for actually choosing this person to marry (of ALL the men in the world!). Normal, having canker sores all over my mouth, shingles at the age of 24, and pinched nerves every six weeks for years on end. Normal, being “coached” on what can and cannot be said to friends/bosses/family members/strangers. Normal, never quite knowing if I’m safe or in danger when he’s around. Normal is the sinking hollow in my chest and gut when I lay down in the quiet of the night. Normal is not knowing if I actually am alone in the world or if I really do have someone in my corner. Normal, not recognizing the woman staring back at me in the mirror (or is that a skeleton? It’s hard to tell). Normal when lies are the truth and the truth are all lies.
The poisonous cocktail of abuse destroys a person’s ability to decipher normal.
In logic, I knew I was human, but I only ever felt like worthless trash, unapologetically crumpled and tossed away. I was desperate for proof that I was actually visible to other humans. I clung to humanity as best I could, holding every eye that acknowledged my existence at the grocery store or passing along the sidewalk, hanging on every word when people spoke kindly to me, and gaping in disbelief when I saw the “fairytale freak-husbands” who were attentive, gentle, and supportive of their wives (they were clearly putting on a really good act… but for who? I couldn’t ever figure out why they went out of their way to keep up the persona of “doting husband” at times when it seemed so unnecessary–like in the parking lot or the driveway of their own home–who were they trying to fool? Who did they think was watching? I never did understand men’s trickery. It was baffling and frustrating).
One day the entire filthy trance came to a screeching halt when my daughter innocently and valiantly stood for justice (and the preservation of her mother’s dignity). At just five years old, she interrupted one of her daddy’s eerily controlled, but fiercely charged beratements and locked eyes with me. “I love you, Mommy. I love you. MOMMY! I love you.”
And that–it turns out–was the slap in the face I needed to end the cycle that was swallowing me whole. No more throwing back twisted cocktails of abuse. No more waking up sloppy and emotionally hung over. And no more spending days spinning out dazed and confused.
It was over.
I blinked hard and fast. What was this feeling? It was like someone had poured cold water over my head after being coated with sweat for years in the raging sun. The truth was coolly washing away the stickiness of the emotional abuse I had caked on every inch of my skin, my lips, my eyelids. I was beginning to see things as they were. I could move about as I chose for the first time in years. I even tried flexing and stretching again–my muscles and my will. It was equal parts liberating and horrifying. I could breathe–like actually inhale without a concentrated effort.
And there was something else. Something strange, but familiar, creeping towards me. It was light and airy, but dashing and flighty. I couldn’t put my finger on it for days; each time I was close, it would disappear. But finally, I found the courage to reach out and touch it. It was the enchantment of my childhood, but I had not seen it for quite some time. It was hope.
Oh, no. I won’t dare hold onto hope again. It’s too dangerous. Too unpredictable. Too scary for someone like me to keep around. I was no fool. I knew how dark and twisted life–and people–could be. I wouldn’t fall into that trap again. Not ever.
But eventually, it was hope that would carry me through the horror of facing my reality: I was a victim of domestic violence. I argued with this one for a long time. After all, he was a pastor and he never laid a hand on me. How could I be a victim? It was hope that gave me the courage to ask questions, seek help, and absorb the truth. The truth is abuse isn’t just physical–it’s mental, emotional, financial, spiritual. It isn’t always classified by bruises on skin, but on the often unseen power and dominance over another person. That, I couldn’t argue with. Intimidation and control were the staples of his power over me. Seemingly strong and confident as I was, I was no match for his twisted words and constant power plays. I also learned that there is no certain “type of victim”. Abusers prey on the fragile and the strong, the broken and the successful, the isolated and the known.
Hope led me back to my will. My will carried me straight to my power. And my power broke the chains of my addiction to this cocktail of abuse. See, it wasn’t enough for me to realize anyone could be a victim of abuse–how was that going to help me avoid getting into a similar situation again? I needed more data. I had to know what it was in me that led me to choose and stay with my abuser. I went on a mission to excavate the previous 10 years of trauma and go back to the beginning; to study every choice I made, every choice I ignored, and every choice I gave up. I had to know so I wouldn’t do this again. I had to know so I could protect my kids from it and teach them how to watch for signs. I had to know so I could help other victims.
See, for victims of abuse, their sense of self is hidden behind some locked doors–usually labeled fear and insecurity. Sometimes those doors have boards nailed over them called lies, loss, rejection, and failure. On the other side of those fears and insecurities, are all the tightly taped boxes of bad beliefs we victims–like hoarders–tend to hold onto: “I’ll never find better. It’s not really that bad, sometimes it’s good. I’m not good, worthy, or enough. No one will believe me. I’m stupid, small, and meaningless. I’m not strong enough. I can’t do this alone. I’m nothing without him/her. He/she will take the kids from me. He/she will ruin me. I am ruined. No one will ever want me now. I am broken.” Once those bad beliefs are removed, under the floorboards lie the mounds of self-doubt and self-abandonment we accumulated along our journey through hell.
And it’s this overhaul of the cobweb-filled home, decked with labor to bear that keeps victims in the ties of their abusers. It’s nothing less than overwhelming to face this house of horrors–at least when we try to do it alone. In fact, I would venture to say it’s impossible to do alone, without any help or support along the way. It’s the death of a soul–this abandoned wreckage we find ourselves in. Without hope–a lifeline, the right tools, and a circle of support–it’s absolutely paralyzing to face.
This is where my work began: my quest to understand victims of abuse. Me.
Five years later, I’m here, coaching women (and men) through their own stories of toxic cocktail consumption. I throw lifelines, hand over tools, and whisper truth to those who walk their own path of abuse. I get to do this now because I found the key to freedom. I know where the gift of empowerment hides within the soul. Every story is a little different, but every soul holds the same power–the power to fight, live, heal, love, and be whole again. They call this kind of power self-worth,and I know where and how to find it.
This is what we all need to be talking about–friends, family, survivors, advocates, officers, social workers, teachers, clergy. Leaving intimate partner abuse isn’t a simple decision. It isn’t a matter of “just doing it already” or even a matter of “finding the courage”. It takes bravery AND resilience, a fleck of clarity AND the stamina to see it through. Victims need shoulders to cry on, arms to hold them up, caretakers to watch their children, resources to cover their needs, and time to walk out their healing. And not just for a month or even a year. Sometimes they won’t even see the posttraumatic stress until years after they are out of their abuser’s reach. The healing process for victims of abuse can neither be predicted nor formulated. Each of us are unique in the way we cope with the devastation of where our story has led us.
But, no matter who you are (victim or not) and no matter what your story (touched by abuse or not), the cycle of abuse will always begin to end with this: talking. So, speak. Use your power and share your words. Reach out. Lean in. We’re all around you, 1 in 4 of us–victims and survivors alike. Just do me one favor: Never underestimate our power to survive and heal.
If you or a loved one are experiencing abuse in your home, please call 800.799.SAFE (7233)or visit The National Domestic Violence Hotline and talk with a trained advocate today. If you understand what this article mentions, you understand domestic violence. Find the next right step for YOU. Sending you strength and BIG, warm hugs.
I am deeply rooted in my efforts and ability to tell the truth and live honestly. I speak, write, coach, parent, and relate on the single steady foundation of honesty. To me, living honestly also means being aware and up front about any realizations of covert motives or agreements I’m trying to attach to a person or situation. For instance, I’ve been known to say, “Turns out, I was only dating you so I could feel worthy, but now I feel worthy on my own and no longer feel we are a dating match.” Brutal or honest? I say honest. So, imagine my surprise when I recently managed to wriggle free from a mental block that has been confining me for over two decades. The block: my lack of honesty.
There have been many plot twists in my story–divorcing a megachurch pastor, him taking his own life six months later, raising grieving children alone, the absolute shit-show of dating post-marriage in my 30’s, and countless “epiphanies” of healing and freedom along the way–so, perhaps, this is just another notch in my “twisted story” belt. But it shook me down to a cellular level because it happened to challenge all those beautifully crafted “stories of honesty” I had been so triumphantly proclaiming. Through the course of relatively unimportant happenings, I landed flat on my face and locked eyes with this brutal discovery:
I’m the one holding myself back.
Oh, that’s cute, huh? Super life-coachy of me to say, “I’m the only one standing in my way.” But here’s what that actually meant. It meant this disgusting, vomit-in-my-mouth reality: I had been unconsciously waiting for a man to appear into the picture so I could then continue on with what I was meant to do, live, and be.
Gross. Why is that so utterly repulsive to me? Because I am a free-spirited, independent, and no less, happy woman goddammit! Why on earth would my subconscious ever allow for such a sadistic and treacherous motive to ever creep in? Needless to say, I was one hundred percent dumbfounded at this realization, so, naturally my mind began spinning a million miles per minute to figure out why, God, why I ever got into this mental trap to begin with and compensate for having stayed there so fucking long (two decades, remember?).
Lucky for you, I will share a cute, tidy version of all the mind-fucking this actually took to retrieve:
After a decade-long regime in an abusive marriage (to the megachurch pastor), I came out rather tattered and wobbly. I had lost all sense of self–self-esteem, self-love, self-trust. It was gone. Because I have an overactive mind (which up to that point had been a curse), my recovery moved at an obscenely rapid pace. If I am one thing, I am obsessed with personal development. The three years following my wildly disappointing marriage were jam packed with sexual escapades (that for sure did not end up like you are imagining they did), so many tears I could have filled the Hudson, lots of fist-shaking at the heavens “why me!”, an ungodly reckoning with my liver by way of whiskey, and playing a tricky game of “catch up” in emotional and relational intelligence as I had taken a lengthy hiatus from those fields for over ten years in order to stay married (if I outgrew him, I’d be blamed for breaking the sacred vows we partook in). It was in playing “catch up” that I unlocked the majority of mental and emotional blocks that had me seek and tie myself to my abuser for so long, continue to chase unavailable men, and kept me adequately distracted from my own “shadow work” while at the same time safely making it seem like I was actually quite knowledgeable on emotional quotient (EQ). As I became aware of these blocks, I would release them and consciously build new habits, beliefs, or behaviors in their place. I was getting healthy! While all of this delicious healthiness was happening, I was also learning how to talk to my kids about mental illness and suicide (as this was what consumed their world having lost their dad to it), which meant lots of bittersweet, brutal fucking honesty. In that honesty is where I gave birth to a new standard of integrity for myself: to live and speak my truth as soon as I am aware of it.
The safety and stability I have created for myself and my family is based on this commitment to myself. I will show up honestly every day to every situation with every person I’m in front of. Fucking honorable, right? Sure is. And it works. It’s an exhilarating way to live, but it is NOT easy. I have a lot of uncomfortable, difficult conversations. I’ve learned to get comfortable with discomfort. I’ve had to in order to keep living the story that’s turned out to be my life.
As honorable as I’ve become, just like you and everyone else, I have a shadow. The shadow is the part of me that I’d prefer to keep to myself, not share with lovers, and pretend it doesn’t exist at all. Everyone’s shadow is a little bit different, but there are some blanket similarities with all of ours. For instance, shame. Shame is a shadow trait. Every human experiences shame. So, that’s nice to know we’re not alone in it. But our shadow likes to say, “But yikes! My shame is grosser than other people’s shame, so I shouldn’t talk about it, otherwise I might not be liked or loved or accepted.” Bullshit. Everyone’s shame is equally terrifying and gross.
Speaking of shame, back to how I grotesquely and unknowingly–but maybe had a little inkling–put my life on HOLD while I powerlessly waited for some fairytale unicorn of a man to waltz in and start building an awesome conscious relationship with me… (for the record, I will never stop hating that this was ever true for me, but if I know myself–and I do–soon I will be able to honor this younger, idiot version of myself for leading me to the point of expansion.)
So I worked through a clusterfuck of heavy, ratchet ass feelings, drank my way through some grief, and came out the other end with some badass integrity. Cool story. Except for that damn shadow. It regularly and unpredictably shows up to keep inviting me to grow and find breakthroughs… unless I ignore it or waste my energy trying to hide it. Then it’ll become the big, bad wolf that huffs and puffs until it blows my whole life to smithereens. You probably know what I mean.
My most recent shadow invitation began with a pity party–why is everyone else finding their person and not me? And ended with another sacred, completely unexpected mindfuck–because, baby girl, you’re still waiting to mooch off of someone else’s power instead of finding, taking, and living in your own.
Power. That’s one of those residual effects of living honestly. You get a lot of power when you live in your own truth. And in a weird, twisty way, this whole shadow appearance about my powerlessness actually showed me how I can choose differently if I wanted to. And I do. So I did.
Here is how Shadow Work usually works:
Discontent. Not getting the results or outcome you wanted.
Shadow appearance. Usually creepy and uninvited.
The great choosing. You make a conscious or unconscious choice about Step 2.
The reckoning. Your shadow fucks you up, and depending on what you chose in Step 3, this will either lead to the best life yet or it will lead to more pressure, pain, and pretending.
Power or Powerless. Again, depending on Step 3, you will feel one of these.
Regardless of what other delectable outcomes I’ve had from the most recent shadow appearance (and there are a few), this is the biggest: Whether I’m aware of it or not, when I pretend to be anything lesser than who I am, I am only ever lying to myself.
Here’s the deal, bosses, when we prevent ourselves from living in our truth–our full potential, our highest integrity–we are presenting the world with a smaller, and dare I say fake, version of ourselves. And if you’re like me, you were hoping someone else would come along, call “bullshit” on the whole facade and beckon you into full blossom.
Get out of the fucking fairytale.
That’s not actually how it works. It looks more like we pretend we’re accomplishing all of the dreams and hopes we have for ourselves while secretly in the quiet of the night, lying awake sad or with a brick on our chests because we know there’s more, but we aren’t sure how to get it so it feels safer to never speak of it. So we don’t. We stay silent in our true experience, which happens to be a little disappointing and causes shitty feelings to linger from the night into the day. Those days and nights string together and before we know it we have chronic gut issues, headaches, insomnia tousled with the perpetual switch of the toggle between anxiety and depression, and we surmise that, “Yes, this is in fact, just who I am.”
The danger of not allowing your shadow to teach you is this: You begin to think you ARE your shadow. And this. Well, it’s perhaps the precise source of our restless unhappiness.
If you want to stop feeling like someone else has the power to make your life so amazing that you actually want to keep living it and start finding, choosing, and living in your own power, then stop lying to yourself. You’re only doing yourself a disservice when you pretend what is true isn’t and what isn’t is. Stop that shit immediately. Practice being aware of your thoughts and how often you discount your own experience–feelings, needs, pain. Bring all those swirling thoughts hanging out in the shadows of the back of your mind forward and turn a spotlight on them and start asking them some questions. Get curious about your own thoughts. This practice of awareness in and of itself is going to revolutionize your power meter.
Once you’ve become pretty aware of how often you shove your actual true self under the rug and tell him/her to “shut up and go away,” then you can start getting intentional about how you want to be honest about your true self (either with yourself or with others). You’ll be off the power charts when you start actively, consciously choosing how you want to show up (honestly or not). It’s really quite fascinating. I highly recommend this as a lifestyle.
Whatever you decide to do with this information, I hope at a minimum you’ll stop lying to yourself. Because really, it’s not helping anyone in the long run, especially you.
**Disclaimer: I am not a licensed mental health professional and all mental health concerns should be advised by a doctor, therapist, or certified mental health professional.**
Surviving the suicide of my first love and kid’s father was a twist I never thought my life would take. But here we are, three years later, still living on after the whiplash of the tragedy that changed our lives forever.
I am who I am today because of what his choice called out of me. I am hand-crafted to not just endure, but walk through pain with magnificently messy courage. And it’s not just me who was refined by this fire. My kids are resilient, truth-seekers who bravely practice managing some of life’s BIGGEST emotions everyday. I am in awe of them. Of us. We’re nothing close to the family I imagined us being… we’re way more badass! And tender. I would never have chosen this path for us, but I can’t help but see the wealth we have because of it.
I made a choice after he died. I chose to stop being silent about truth. I chose to live at my highest level of integrity all the time. I chose to teach my kids how to be relentlessly honest with kindness, compassion, and vulnerability. One of the ways I teach them is in the way I engage in (age-appropriate) conversations with them about suicide, mental health, and feelings. I, along with our robust circle of support, am training them to not “fix”, stuff, or silence their “big” emotions (anger, shame, sadness, even excitement), but rather feel, manage, and consciously choose what response they’d like to have in regards to what they feel.
Mental illness, suicide, emotional pain–they are excruciating to watch our loved ones navigate. But there are invitations within these situations asking us to grow—to widen our ideas of love and expand our edges of what it means to truly live. These are invitations, not requirements. They are opportunities not all choose to accept. Saying YES to embracing the truth of these storylines takes deliberate courage as living in the hard reality of these brutal situations can be some of the hardest work of our lives. But the reward is this: While there will be pain, there is no suffering in truth.
It’s when we use filters that we begin to lose a grip on reality. When we sift out the “uglier” parts of our life and decide to only show what we know is widely acceptable and valued, we deny our truth. Pretending things are different then they are, wearing masks to hide insecurities, presenting confidence where shadows of shame lie are all ways we live outside truth. I’m not going to act like radical honesty isn’t difficult! Sometimes it’s agonizing to be the conversation-starter on hard topics or calling out the dormant relationship-killers lying under the surface of every word or interaction. But it’s the only way we can live whole.
Truth-telling isn’t easy, but it becomes habitual with practice. And after a while, you’ll realize there’s no other way to live. Jesus was right when he said, “The truth shall set you free.” Living in complete honesty with yourself and others allows you to live fully expressed and one hundred percent authentic! That means you never have to hide parts of who you are or filter what you need to accommodate others. Can you imagine?!
So, whether it’s you or a loved one who is struggling with the decision to live or die, the most important thing to recognize it’s your truth. That might sound like: Life is a complete shit-show right now. I am drowning in shame and agony. No one understands. No one sees me, knows me, or cares. I feel broken beyond repair.
All of those things may be your truth today. And the truth of tomorrow is this (whether you can see it, feel it, or know it for yourself, it’s true): Nothing lasts forever. Not even this moment (or years) of agony. You are not alone. There is nothing new under the sun, and there are others who fight battles like the ones you are fighting. It’s hard to be seen, known, or heard when shame is so heavy, but that doesn’t mean no one cares for you. You are not broken. No one is, though we may feel it at times, we are not problems to be fixed, but rather masterpieces of art unfolding along the way (some of us are splattered paint or mosaic art formed of a thousand shattered pieces, but art, nonetheless). If you have a beating heart in your chest, you are worth the fight to keep living. There is more than what is in this moment, I can promise you that.
Heavy. This is the heavy duty life stuff. This is why Glennon Doyle calls life “brutiful”. Because life is damn brutal and beautiful, all at the same time. The brutality and beauty are mixed up in the same moments. It’s our job as humans to keep trekking through the brutal parts to see the beautiful ones. It’s there we remember why it’s so important to keep living. We weren’t created to be happy. So if you’re not happy, that doesn’t mean you’re doing life wrong. We were made to experience life: the heartache AND the pleasure, the pain AND the joy, the loss AND the gain, the empty AND the filling, the lack AND the love. If you aren’t experiencing all of this, there’s more LIFE for you to find!
I have two encouragements for those walking painful paths right now:
1. Find out how you can love yourself well. Do you need to practice hardcore self-care, build rock solid self-trust, discover helpful resources? Do it. These are the first steps for you to find unshakable peace. But only take on what is YOURS—you are never in charge of someone else’s choices or actions. There is so much power in choosing what is yours and gently handing back what is not. This is part of living in integrity. Examples of things that are your responsibility to manage: your emotions, truth, triggers, needs, self-care (health, emotional/mental well-being, boundaries), integrity, and your own best interest. Examples of things that are NOT yours to manage: other people’s choices, truths, integrity, responses to life/you/your truth, emotions, needs, self-care. I get it, there is a teeny, tiny fine line between what is yours and what is theirs when we’re talking about mental illness (especially suicide), addiction, and abuse. All I can say is there is FREEDOM in recognizing what is yours to carry. The way you get crystal clear when everything seems foggy and blurred with panic and surging emotion is through radical self-care. Learning how to hold space for yourself and practicing hard core follow-through on commitments to self will help you identify every little “thing” (things that upset you, misplaced blame shifts, codependency, toxic relationship dynamics) very quickly. This online course is a GREAT starting point for clearing up emotionally muddied waters.
2. Speak truth. Do not pretend what is happening is NOT happening. Name the elephants in the room. Call them out and face the fears these elephants try to suffocate you with. This takes an incredible amount of courage to do. I do not underestimate how terrifying this can be. No matter what “elephant” we’re talking about here (be it suicide, toxic relationship/family dynamics, domestic violence, child abuse, infidelity, etc.), it is vital that you navigate these conversations with your safety as the number one priority.
In regards to a loved one who is straddling life and death, speaking your truth might sound something like, “Listen, I know things feel out of control. I imagine you’re not feeling seen and known by anyone right now. That’s got to carry a lot of heavy feelings like shame with it, I bet. While I don’t want to pretend to know what you’re feeling right now, I want you to know that you matter to me. You choosing to live or die matters to me. I am here to support you however you prefer, but if you’re going to talk about ending your life—whether slowly with substances or by suicide—I am going to take that very seriously and seek help for and with you.
You are very important to me and I believe that as long as you have a heartbeat, there is hope for better solutions for what’s happening inside your head right now.
What can I do to help you today? Do you want to talk for a bit or can I look up some resources online to help you?”
Again, regardless of what the circumstance is that needs the steel blade of truth to slice it down the center, your safety and well-being should not be compromised in doing so. If you are feeling the weight of responsibility for a person’s life, a certain outcome, or emotional state, you have some work to do. This “work” includes clearly identifying what is yours and what is theirs to change, fix, or choose. (Hint: Remember, you’ll never be in charge of another adult’s life choices.) If you are struggling to figure out what is your responsibility, I recommend working with a therapist, coach, or practicing some radical self-care until you feel confident in deciphering your emotional world from other’s. This online course is a wonderful tool to learn the basics of finding where your power is, even in the most seemingly powerless situations.
Life is never what we imagine it will be when we start out living it. That’s universal (whether people admit it or not!). Mental illness is not a failure to thrive, it’s part of some of our journeys in life. Our work, whether on the inside or outside of mental illness, is simply this: to gain understanding. Sometimes that means seeking to understand our own emotions and sometimes that means seeking education on how to help or get help. If there is one thing I’ve learned from walking beside my husband through a decade of depression, anxiety, and undiagnosed bipolar, it’s this: We all have more to learn about ourselves and the ones we love. So, don’t close the door to knowledge and perspective. Keep searching to widen those perimeters and expand your view. The greatest treasures in life are born on the edges of what we understand.
My heart is standing with all those treading in the depths of life and death today. I promise, with every heartbeat, there is hope.
I am not a licensed counselor or expert on suicide. I only have my experience and the many stories of others who have walked the stormy waters of suicide with. It is important to seek professional guidance (@national_suicide_prevention lifeline 1-800-273-8255) for yourself or your loved one if ending one’s life is mentioned. I believe that every mention of suicide should be taken seriously.
Guess what?! Your sexual experience doesn’t make you more or less valuable. Period.
Neither does your relationship status or the number of divorces under your belt or all the “obvious, repetitive, horrible disaster” relationships you’ve chosen to get into or stay in over the years.
They just don’t say a single thing about your worth.
They are part of your story and you have many parts to that story.
So, let’s not fixate, idolize, or obsess about how pure we can be or how tarnished we’ve become due to the pleasures we have or have NOT indulged in.
There is no formula we can insert ourselves in and come out the end as the MOST blessed or pure or beautiful. We are human. And that means we are made an entire world of other amazing things like:
And so much more. Let’s fixate on THOSE things. Because it’s in the choosing of those things, where we BECOME.
We become big thinkers and active doers–unafraid to stand alone, but recognizing the value of community. Let’s teach our children that they can BECOME whoever/whatever/whenever they want. It is the gift each of us gets just for existing.
Let’s learn for ourselves so we can teach our sons & daughters that we are more than the sum of our sexual activity.
We are powerful humans who get to choose how BIG we live in the ways we are–kind, capable, conscious, collaborative, and creative.
Let’s stop living small and teaching the next generation to stay small by supporting and repeating implicit (and explicit) messages like:
“Virgins are whole.” (aka Because once you cross “the” line, you can never have your purity back (aka be whole again). You’re broken if you explored your sexuality–before or between marriage(s)–or if you were violated by incest, rape or molesation. And if you forbid yourself from getting to know your own sexual blueprint before you sign a paper and have a ceremony, then you can achieve the ultimate purity prize which no one in particular is assigned to adorn you with, but rest assured, IT’S REAL and it’s totally worth it).
“Sexual acts tarnish you.” (aka You can never be as “clean”, “acceptable”, or “valuable” as you were BEFORE you engaged in a sexual act. But what “act” this specifically pertains to is up to whomever is currently surrounding you–for some it’ll be actual penetration, for others it’ll be any form of arousal before you’ve said vows in front of people who will never be a part of your sexual discovery process, and still for others it’ll be kissing before your wedding. So! Good luck figuring out how to not be tarnished and forever less desirable and even repulsive. Better be safe and never touch anyone you think is attractive… or even talk to them).
“Your virginity is a gift to your future spouse.” (aka You’re destined to marry someone who is ALSO just as unconcerned with your lack of connection to yourself as you are, and this most certainly translates to your sexuality and other areas too. So, be sure and DON’T live in the present moment and appreciate all you are and have today, because maybe one day some hypothetical person is really, really going to want the BEST GIFT EVER–your lack of sexual experience and ignorance about what you like and want in the bedroom–Oooo, fun! Hope you live long enough to experience your hypothetical gift exchange. Death is so uncertain, so I hope THAT day doesn’t come before you do. And for anyone who isn’t sure they want to get married or is certain they don’t want to be married? Well, that’s just silly! You either want to get married as soon as possible or you want to get married a little bit later. Those are your two options. This formula is for everyone, and that’s all there is to it).
“There’s no greater treasure than a virgin bride.” (aka Men can’t help themselves b/c they’re biologically wired for sex, so don’t expect them to be virgins, but women don’t like sex as much as men, so they’re “purity” is a testament to how asleep they are to their own biology, desire, and destiny–to explore and dive intimately into every part of who they are sexually, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically. But shhhh, don’t tell! What women don’t know won’t hurt them. Keep them thinking small and living inside the box or else, because think of what might happen if they didn’t–men AND women alike might go on sexual explorations without shame! Yikes! That’s not in the formula).
Ok, I could go on and on, but there’s no sense in beating a dead horse. A lot of people are probably appalled at my insinuation that all people should have sex BEFORE they get married (what can I say? I’m a rebel). The truth is, I actually couldn’t care less if people have sex (however they define that term) before marriage. As with ALL THINGS, I simply frown upon perpetuating ridiculous subliminal, implicit, covert messages AROUND the topic of “sexual purity”. Americans especially have fine-tuned the idealization of abstinence. To me, it sounds more like a dismissive approach, “Hey, listen, as a collective (parents, educators, clergymen) we’re not entirely sure or wholly committed to knowing each of you as individuals to have the hard and brave conversations about sexuality that would require. It actually makes us feel a little squirmy and uncomfortable. So, we’ve decided to just have you all STOP wanting it or doing it until you have the social/emotional intelligence to figure that out for yourself. And we’ll of course back that up with some religious doctrine so you will feel the shame of any inkling toward rebellion and that will only help you make the “right” choice. This will allow us to remain ignorant and just let you deal with this whole conundrum when we’re no longer responsible for your well-being.”
Yeah. Am I wrong? I get it, nobody wants to admit to this or talk about it because then we actually have to acknowledge what’s happening.
So, here, let me get my point across with another elusive analogy. The American method for sex education is a lot like saying to a starving child, “Listen, I know you have an empty feeling in your stomach, that happens when you are biologically wired to eat and haven’t, but listen, you just can’t. If you choose NOT to eat, even though everything in you is made to do it, if you don’t, you’ll be more pure. Just trust me. There’s no actual scientific proof of this, of course, but it’s true. And, by the way, it will ALWAYS be harder for males to turn down food, so as a collective, we don’t really expect them to, but if one occasionally does, he’s a keeper no matter what other questionable behavior he may display. You can trust him if he has chosen not to eat until his wedding night. So, just don’t even play around with food. Just pretend you aren’t even curious about it. Oh, until your wedding feast of course! Then you should eat as much as you want! It won’t hurt and you’ll know exactly what you like, because you trusted the process and you dreamed about it your whole life. It’ll be the best experience of your life because you pretended you didn’t even want it or need it before, so that made you knowledgeable and ready to consume. You’ll be able to handle allllll the side effects of choosing to have your first meal at your wedding just fine– there will be no emotional, physical, or mental pain AT ALL.”
Ok, so maybe there are some holes in my analogy, but you get the point. Pretending the truth is a lie or somehow unnatural will never serve our race. Humans were wired to procreate. If there’s any question about this, just take a look at the male and female anatomy–it’s hard to argue with that. Regardless of what you think about my analogies, consider what you’ve been taught about sex, your sexuality, and all the “shoulds” that surround the topic. Did those teachings serve you well in adulthood? Did you feel free to live fully expressed? Were they confining or damaging in any way? If you could go back, how would you educate yourself about your sexuality and sex in general?
Now, if you have children of your own, consider what you are or will be teaching them (whether with or without words). I am raising my kids to be conscious, critical, and FREE thinkers, and that means I tell them the TRUTH about humans as a WHOLE. For instance:
The masculine and feminine are equally valuable and uniquely designed–for a REASON. It’s our gift to get curious and discover how and why we are different and made to complement each other as masculine and feminine entities.
We are more than the sum of our experiences. That means our sexual history, our trauma, our upbringing, our color/race/status/religion does not define WHO WE ARE. We are far more complex and sacred than those kinds of one-dimensional identifiers.
Humans are constantly evolving, which means we will be in a continuous dance to get to know ourselves and choose who we want to be. You can choose to be aware of this. This is the life of consciousness. This is what it means to live outside the box and not follow the crowd just because that’s the way it’s always been done. Humans are not a system, we are an organism. Each of us is worth discovering every part of what makes us… us.
Sex is a natural part of the human experience. Our bodies are designed for pleasure, productivity, power, and purpose. This is one of the most compelling and universal experiences we will have in life, so enjoy the process of discovering YOU.
Truth does not lie. No matter the audience (young or old, religious or atheist, color or nation), culture, situation, job, goal, or perception, the truth is a super power. The truth has the power to pierce through every social, economical, cultural, physical, and spiritual barrier so it can be seen. Our only job as humans is to make space for it. We begin to do this by practicing identifying and speaking our truth.
Being human is a journey. There is no destination for our intellect, desires, or connections. Identifying who we are is much more complex than a number of partners, a score on a standardized test, or our ability to articulate what we know, what we’ve seen, or what we believe. Humans are sacred, evolving organisms. I think it’s about time we start treating ourselves that way.
We can only teach what we believe to be true ourselves. That’s why parenting is such a gift for those who desire it. It asks us to explain, process, and prove why we believe what we believe. We will always have the choice to deny the whole truth and play small, pretend reality is more picturesque than it is painfully human, or practice shame where we are being called to acceptance, but let us make our choices with care. For it is our choices of today that become our substance of tomorrow. There are little eyes, big systems, and potent beliefs that are forming all around what we choose. As we choose, may we forgive ourselves, deepen our truth, and free those who follow us.