My (ex) husband took his life September 15, 2016. After a tumultuous 10 year marriage and only six months after our divorce was final, he ended his lifelong battle with mental illness. The crazy thing about it is that even though our marriage was always hard–he was abusive and constantly tormented by his own mind–I loved him. I still do. Some days my whole body aches to see and hold him again. Grief is weird–confusing sometimes and other times it’s healing. It’s “normal” in my family now as my two kids and I continue to discover life after losing our very important person.
Sometimes grief shows up in my dreams. Recently, I had a dream my husband came back to life three years after his death and we began to live again… together. I kissed and hugged and squeezed him, laughing and crying, in shock and so thrilled and confused! I was a giddy mess and he was… very solemn and uncertain. His main concern after his resurrection was the shame of the impact of his actions. He had chosen to die, and now he was back. How were our friends and family going to handle him knowing he willing inflicted them all with the pain of his suicide?
Shame. It covered him. And just like I had habitually responded to his pre-death shame spirals, I swooped in to assure him everyone was going to be so thankful he’s alive, his cause of death wouldn’t provoke them to retract their love and excitement for his return. Although my affirmations of the value of his life were the same as they were before his suicide (“you matter, you’re loved, you’re wanted”), something felt very different. I was very different. As I scurried around to arrange reintroducing him to the world and all our people, I felt strangely whole.
When I awoke and began to process the dream, I realized what felt so different in the dream. See, I have spent the last three years since his death doing some megawork on myself–personal development on steroids–and as a result, I even showed up in my dreams differently. This time, when I had the chance to talk, touch, and be with my first love, I brought my new self to the scene. I’ve learned a lot about mental illness, suicide, relationships, connection, and self worth since his death, and as we sat together in my dream, it was all there with us. All the new tools, authenticity, understanding, and love. I loved him better in my dream than I was ever able to when he was alive. I heard him, understood him, connected with him, not because he was better, but because I knew how to show up this time.
Then my heart dropped to my stomach and the grief wave came crashing in. I don’t actually get to show up differently with my husband. I don’t actually get to love him better (healthier, wholly as me). I don’t actually get to apply all that I’ve come to know to our very fragile relationship. Because it was just a dream…
I know that dreams lack details (like his battle with bipolar and his history of abuse with me), but what this dream showed me was something precious and priceless:
I learned how to live whole because he died broken. I understand the sacredness of living because I know the pain of someone giving up their gift of life. I discovered the key to life is connection because he never felt how deeply needed, seen, known, and treasured he was.
I show up to life differently because I lost my first love to suicide. I am more present with our kids. I work everyday to connect better with myself and others because I now know connection is what tethers me to the land of the living. I don’t ignore my own pain or anyone else’s because now I understand how ignored pain can lead to the worst thoughts and actions a human can make. And most of all, I love differently because I didn’t get to love him the way I wanted. I didn’t have the tools back then, but I do now. I know how to choose myself and set boundaries so others can love me safely and fully. I know how to softly, openly approach others so they can feel seen and protected by my love. I know how to create wide open spaces in my heart and mind for my loved ones to dwell.
My dream showed me how big I know how to love now. Oh, how my heart wishes he could experience my new ability of love; the ache is heavy knowing I can’t love him this way and he will never feel it. But I do get to love our kids with it. They get to grow up under it, surrounded by it, being shaped by it. So, I guess his lesson on love lives in my expression of love, and that is a love story that is only just beginning.
When my boyfriend and I broke up after almost two years, I had the strangest reaction. I was relieved. More accurately, I was happy.
I really loved him, so I was a little caught off guard by my own response to him ending our romantic relationship. I thought to myself, “Wait, shouldn’t I be sad? Isn’t this the sort of thing that breaks people’s hearts–going through an unexpected breakup? Shouldn’t I be crying or something?” Of course I was going to miss him and our relationship, but that sadness was overshadowed by the undeniable freedom I was feeling. Something was off kilter.
After a little soul searching, I realized that since I began dating at the age of 16, I hadn’t shown up in relationships as, well… me. I wore a mask–or better said, I had a representative. My dating representative was still very much me, except she was always cool, sexy, and mysterious. She was all the “good” parts of me without any of the “needy” parts. She was extremely confident and fiercely independent. There was no situation that caught her off guard or scared her. She was alluring and compelling (think Lara Croft, Sarah Connor, or Wonder Woman).
Basically, if I wanted to be in a relationship with a guy, I showed up as the coolest chick ever–never needing anything and confident in all situations. I knew how to seduce and intrigue men. I played the game well. In fact, I can’t think of one man I failed to get when I sent my dating rep after him. It was indeed a game for me; a challenge–to learn what he wanted and adjust the insecure parts of me to become what he desired. I didn’t feel like I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t, because I hadn’t ever actually decided who I was to begin with. It felt more like I was “trying on” different roles and parts to see if any of them felt true or authentically me (think Runaway Bride).
It wasn’t that I had multiple personalities (although I soberly evaluated this possibility for an hour or so before coming to this conclusion). I just had different versions of myself. My dating rep happened to be the strongest one (she got the most practice and attention). Some of the other reps in my REPertoire were: party rep (chipper, friendly, upbeat, gets along with everyone), work rep (assertive, confident, didn’t take shit from anyone, could handle all kinds of people), travel rep (unapproachable, preoccupied, slightly annoyed by everyone), and I even had a sex rep (having no needs, accommodating, fun, inticing). Every time I sent a rep out to cover the date, the party, the meeting, I had to split myself into two me’s: the authentic me and the perceived me. This was a tricky little web to weave and it took a lot of thought (a lot of overthinking, actually). When I was with whatever guy I was dating, I had to filter through my rep–what would “cool me” say? How would “laissez faire me” respond? What would “flirty me” do? The amount of energy this took was overwhelming and consumed my mind almost entirely.
So, when my boyfriend broke up with me after nearly two years, it wasn’t that I was happy the relationship ended, I was just happy that I didn’t have to use my rep anymore. Using reps in lieu of being my authentic self was exhausting. Historically, I just had short term relationships (5 weeks max), except for my ex-husband. I accidentally let him marry my dating rep. Yikes.
Here’s the thing, I have always been a genuine person. I just haven’t always lived as my authentic self. When I lived split in two (the real me and the perceived me), I hadn’t fully discovered who I was yet, so I genuinely thought my reps were me. The longer and more frequently one uses their reps, the more separated they become from their true self. I wasn’t consciously aware of how disconnected I was from myself, but I felt the discord in the incessant thoughts about the relationship ricocheting inside my head. I was up and down and back and forth on the daily about my boyfriend and our relationship through its entirety. Unbeknownst to him, of course (because my rep would never allow the true state of my heart to be revealed which was at its core, total chaos). He is a good man and I really did care for him, so I didn’t want to break up with him just because I couldn’t figure out who I really was or if I even wanted to be with him or not. That would be crazy, right?!
When he broke up with me, I literally thanked him. I hadn’t realized how tired I was of always playing it cool and pretending we were awesome when our relationship was clearly causing me a considerable amount of emotional torment. My decision to take the time to figure out what that emotional torment was ended up being the best decision I could have made for myself. What started with a little bout of curiosity turned into an awakening. Not only did I fire all of my reps, I found my authentic self.
Once I discovered I was housing a slew of lesser (albeit, cooler) versions of me, I said, “To hell with the house of reps!” and I cut them all out, cold turkey. Then I spun out trying to figure who I was without them for a few weeks before I began my journey back to self. I eventually gave up on distracting myself with relationship-hopping, drinking when I felt sad, or scrolling and texting friends when I felt lonely. I learned how to nurture myself and process my feelings. Now I get to live my life fully expressed, centered, and congruent in all areas: dating, parenting, work, parties, traveling… I’m just me. Sometimes I’m energetic and excitable and other times I’m reflective or melancholy, but it’s always fully me. There’s no mask, no alternate version of me, no representatives standing in place of the real deal.
It was the most beautiful year of my life. Not only did I learn how to live whole and free, I’m a better mom, friend, lover, and person.
There really is nothing like the original… turns out, that’s true about humans too.
We all pick up extra “cargo” along our trek through life. You know, the hard knocks–unmet needs, disappointments, heartbreaks, betrayals, trauma, etc. It’s an inevitable part of life because we aren’t offered courses on How to Let Shit Go in high school… because they aren’t offered! And that’s an unfortunate disservice to our society considering everything we do, think, produce is connected to our mind and it’s ability to process input (emotions, information, responsibility) clearly and accurately. So, just to be clear, everything from how well we can focus on spreadsheets in a cubicle to our capacity to create and maintain healthy relationships depends on our ability to clear the clutter in our minds.
Most of us spend decades collecting clutter without any sort of clearing. Talk therapy, energy work, meditation, self-care, and other mindfulness practices are all common ways to get rid of some of that negative programming we adopted from our first family systems, relationships, and life events along the way. What happens when we don’t purposefully make space to flush some of that unconscious programming out is it begins to shape our beliefs about who we are, who others are, and how the world is. This is where it gets gooey. Sure the quirks our parents trickled down to us (sexist jokes, detaching in tense situations, avoiding conflict, etc.) is all fun and games until those thinking patterns start sabotaging what we’re trying to build in our adult lives. Healthy relational patterns, sustainable diet and exercise routines, profitable careers, and positive self-images do NOT build themselves. The most valuable things in life–our biggest dreams and heart cravings–take intentional action.
After operating with a janky hard drive for the better part of 30+ years, I now have a pretty badass “filter” on my programming. That means I regularly take inventory of the old programs that aren’t serving me anymore and search for new systems (of thought and action) that will help me elevate my capacity to connect. Reprogramming started off as a very daunting experience for me; it seemed there was more faulty programs running my beliefs, perceptions, and self worth than positive ones. But there was no way around it, I had to hack away until I found some new skill sets to serve my Truth. Over time, this “work” has turned from overwhelming to exhilarating. Every roadblock–the kind that used to send me spiraling–now bring me hope because I know each bump in the road is leading me to deeper truth about myself.
Life switched from happening TO me to happening FOR me when I was able to take the power back over my mind. What once seemed impossible to me, I now know it is possible for everyone. And the most ridiculous part is that it’s not even complicated. It’s not always easy per se, but damn is it rewarding. The return on investment is so categorically empowering, it literally makes the work (aka reprogramming/shadow work) FUN. And this makes LIFE fun–full of color, possibility, vibrancy, truth, purity, passion! It’s the ONLY way I will choose to live from here on out.
Because of this absolute gift I have unwrapped in the form of a SECOND CHANCE on LIFE itself, I am now building a career where I can help other people find their gift to unwrap! We all have them, and that’s freaking exciting! So, here it is, my friends:
Beginning January 1, 2020, I am officially launching the MBK Coaching Program!
If you’re reading this before January 1, 2020, then you have the opportunity to jump on board during my soft launch (October-December 2019). If you sign up for 1on1 coaching in 2019, you will get a drastically discounted monthly rate (40% OFF).
The name of my game is always straightforward, so I want to share exactly what starting my program will look like. We begin with a 20 minute consultation call to make sure we are a good fit for continuing with the program. Once we both give a HELL YES, I ask all of my clients to commit to weekly or biweekly (every other week) sessions for a minimum of 3 months. Each session will run 40-50 minutes and will usually be held over the phone: call or video chat. Payments are due on a monthly basis at the rate of $300 for 2 sessions per month and $550 for 4 sessions per month. Every sign up in 2019 will be discounted 40% off for the entirety of the coaching contract. So, that means, if you sign up before January 1, you will be able to LOCK IN your coaching rates at $180/month for 2 sessions and $330/mo for 4 sessions for the duration of our contract together!
Let’s make 2020 the BIGGEST, TRUEST year we’ve ever lived!
Email, call or text 817-438-0373, or message me on social media @marybethkoenes to get started!!
YOU deserve it! Let’s DO THIS!
Words are just words unless YOU give them meaning.
Faith, fuck, family, love, happy, marriage, bad, shit, honesty, right, good, truth, hell, belief, lie, dream, kind, relationship, passion, father, ambition, mother, friend… grass, sky, school, finger, rain, job… you get the picture. They’re all just words. (Say “grass” aloud 20 times and TELL me that word isn’t random af!:)
Until you assign a meaning and believe in that meaning, adopting what that word will stand for and hold value to, it is meaningless.
I first started thinking about this idea when I began to realize my idea of “marriage” was dying an excruciatingly slow, painful, inevitable death. I’d say, “Marriage. It’s really not all it’s cracked up to be.”
I became so frustrated, feeling everyone who sang praises of being married had LIED to me and I had bought into the lie and ruined my prime years (twenties) and probably my children because of it!
Eventually, as I usually do, I began to see my responsibility in living the definition of marriage that I chose to be a part of and it wasn’t pretty. I adopted the idea that I would be submissive to my husband and try my damnedest to learn how to be gentle and… quiet. (In case it isn’t obvious, my influences were the church and the patriarchal system.)
None of this went well for me, as I am the actual opposite of those things. I consider myself to be a wild woman meaning I have always roamed with spiritual beings in wide open spaces as a free bird, changing directions and a lot of other things on a dime and in my own time. But I am also deeply connected to myself and others, nurturing authenticity, drawing out the heart and holding it safely as it speaks to me and I speak back to it. There is a lot of tenderness and peace in who I am, but I prefer to not be corralled or limited to only one way of relating, being, or personifying the rushing waters of my soul.
So, “marriage” became almost meaningless to me because I began to see all around me that what I thought it meant, it didn’t actually mean at all. People were having affairs, becoming drug addicts, quitting their jobs and leaving their families, sleeping in separate bedrooms, and asking their spouses for “permission” to do this or that… it all made me want to puke.
I stopped holding marriage in such high regard. It wasn’t an achievement to me anymore–no matter how long some couples had endured it–because what’s the point of two miserable people continuing to miserably coexist forever and ever until one of them dies? That kind of existence is the opposite of anything I esteem.
Now, I’m not saying marriage is lost. But, as Mark Groves @createthelove says, “Since when is quantity over quality more admirable?”
All of that to say, my questioning of definitions and terms began with “marriage” then moved to “truth”, “reality”, “living”, “worth”, “honesty”, and pretty much hasn’t stopped since. Even cuss words are literally worthless unless you associate offense, passion, cruelty or emotion with them.
I get it, if someone said, “FUCK YOU” it would definitely be intended to puncture, but does that mean it has to?
No matter what the words are, even when they’re “I love you,” I always read the full picture. The actions around them, the tone beneath them, the pain behind them, the hope in front of them. It’s not that I don’t trust people, but you know when someone is trying to manipulate you? HOW do you know? Because you’re reading all around the words. The words becoming meaningless and everything around them become the true message.
This makes the giving of meaning very powerful and the sort of thing that shouldn’t be done so… unconsciously.
When my son says in a fit of rage, “I hate you! You’re the meanest mommy ever,” it hurts my feelings because I give those words meaning when they come out of the mouth of the person I hold dearest in life. Even still, the meaning of those words isn’t SO deep that I become blind to what is happening around the words. Here’s what I see swirling around his firing tongue:
First, his age. Then I pay attention to how he is still learning how big feelings feel and how to let them move through him. Next I remember the times before (usually just hours before) where he softly runs his fingers through my hair and whispers, “I love you, Mommy,” with no prompting and straight from the heart. And lastly, I tune into what he is holding onto in this moment of hurtful word tossing, and that it usually his own… big shocker… hurt.
Ah, cue pivotal parenting moment! I will help him find the original point of pain and address that first, soothingly and with patience, then later when he is in a clamer state, we will circle back around to the hurtful words he threw my way. I will help him understand how they hurt me (and other people) and give him some better options for next time.
And the same goes with good words too. Did you ever date someone (or maybe you did/do this) who lavishly pours out love, intentions, and plans for a future with you and it seems so damn genuine, but then, in time, you discover it was all empty words and promises? Yeah… reading around the words never stops being important.
It’s always going to be OUR job to take inventory of other people’s full frame–not just their words, not only our feelings of attachment/excitement, not fixating on how they seem to meet our needs, and not only taking account for their actions either.
People who deserve to have meaning attached to their words–the people with high integrity–will show you that in the entire frame of who they are, not just pieces or scraps here and there. But that is on YOU to do your due diligence and not allow your wounds and insecurities to overlook the half-assed people in your life. You’ll learn how to do this in your own shadow work.
It’s part of paying attention to your life and living consciously. Learn to do it and you will be well on your way to becoming a relational jedi.
So, what words are hurting you? Fueling you? Filling you? Giving you hope? Piercing your heart? Makin’ you feel all the feels? Or triggering you?
Pay attention to what’s happening around those words. What behaviors support them? What messages are grounded and true about them? Is there any part of your “bullshit radar” going off about them? LISTEN. Get curious. Dig deeper.
Find your truth, then find the truth about the words you’re hearing (and speaking).
My kids’ dad died when they were 6 and 4. Since then, I created email accounts for each of them and send them emails about new milestones, special moments, and thoughts I have about them. When they graduate high school, I will give them the login info. I started this idea because I wanted them to have special (real-time) notes from me in case anything happened to me (like it did to their dad), but it has turned into a beautiful love story between me and each of them. Here’s one from earlier this week (this is to my now 7year old son):
Well, today you had some DEEP thoughts. First, at dinner (luna grill:), you said something like, “I’ll love you till I die, then I can’t love you anymore.” Your sis: You can still love people after you die. You: no. you’re dead. Or maybe you can love where you are when you die, but not here anymore. Me: Hmmm, that’s actually really interesting. I wonder if when you go to heaven or wherever after you die, you can show and give love there, and maybe watch people here, but you can’t send love and people can’t feel your love back because you’re in a different place. Except maybe every now and then with a sunset or ladybug (i.e. how Daddy sends love to us), you can cross over and get your love sent here too. You both nodded, wide-eyed:)
Then, at bed time after we had both been loving and doting on each other, you said with a worried look, “And mommy… sometimes I can’t feel your love or anything. Like when you leave my room and stop holding my hand, I don’t feel love anymore. Or like when I’m not holding something in my hand, I can’t feel it. So when I’m alone or my eyes are closed, I don’t feel anything.” You looked very concerned about this, so I explained that “feelings” are not the same as “feeling” something with your hand or body. Feelings happen inside and nobody can see them. No one can SEE the feeling of being sad or excited or loved or hurt. Your body may show it in some ways, like tears or dancing feet or hugs or frowns, but no one can actually see the feeling of love, etc. Then I told you that you are OK. Bud, I always want you to remember that. You ARE OK. Just the way you are–feelings or no feelings, good or bad, right or wrong–you are loved, you belong, and you are enough. I said, “I want you to know 2 things. 1. You have invisible Love Strings coming in and out of your heart to the people who love you that you can’t see. Whether you feel them or not, they’re always there. So if you don’t feel love or you are sad or you want to remember love, think about me and your sister and your uncles and grandma and aunts and all the people who love you and all the kind words they say to you and about you and remember what is true. 2. When you feel that way, that is a great time to go to your “happy place” (last night we just started the imagery exercise where you imagine your guardian beings loving you and surrounding you with safety and peace then you identify your color, object, sound, and smell in that moment). You smiled and said, “Ok.” and rolled over and fell asleep.
God, I freaking LOVE you. Your mind is like a grown, enlightened guru and you’re freaking 7! I’m not sure if this has anything to do with the way I parent you or if this is just the way you came out! I have a feeling it’s a little of both, but mostly the latter. You make me so f’ing proud–the way you use words, think about yourself, and look for more wisdom about the world. It’s absolutely mind-blowing.
Love you forever and always, Mighty Man! (whether you feel it or not;)
If the pain you experience robs you of joy, it will be the practice of gratitude that returns it.
When connection is severed. Heartache, palpable. Grief, asphyxiating. Fear, consuming. Regret, crippling. Existence, a black hole.
Gratitude will be the way by which you find you are powerful again. Every moment spent in thanks, another stepping stone out of the hollow is laid.
Each of us has dark moments, demonic sides, shame stories, and fears so powerful we spend our whole lives avoiding a complete thought about them in hopes it keeps them from happening.
For those of us who have experienced “worst case scenario” (sometimes more than once), the hollow only deepens. We know the cruel edges of life’s bitter, wicked truth.
So, how do we keep living? What will pull us from the shadows and into the light of loving again, believing for good, hoping once again, finding peace?
There is more power in gratefulness than a thousand logical reasonings. When you position yourself to look for things to be thankful for, you not only shift your focus, you change your energy and the direction of your intention.
Practicing gratitude adjusts core beliefs, bypassing the body, the mind, the heart. Gratitude shakes your soul and the result is a shift in energy, perspective, and beliefs about yourself and the world you live in.
Radical gratitude can be as powerful as being in love, achieving a lifelong goal, or overcoming a difficult challenge–only you have ALL the power and it only takes SECONDS to accomplish.
A powerless human is a susceptible human. Lacking power will leave you vulnerable to experiencing emotional beatings, a lifetime of regret, and agonizing restlessness.
If you need power, control, direction, vision, advice, answers… start practicing gratitude.
Every morning and before you close your eyes to sleep at night, think of three things you’re grateful for. Keep a gratitude journal. Set reminders on your phone. Be purposeful. Follow through. And keep doing it.
Brick by brick, step by step, you’ll see you had every bit of strength you needed to pull yourself out of the hollow threatening to swallow you up right there inside of you all along.
There. You have a new tool when storms roll in. Let the black clouds of pain be your new cue: time to GO GRATEFUL.
Keep breathing, beautiful people. You’re worth every bit of beauty and goodness life can offer just because you’re alive.
I’m thankful for your life and mine today.