on taking back your power after sexual trauma.

TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains themes of sexual assault, sexual violence, depression, military veteran violence, and suicide.

“…and your very flesh shall be a great poem.”

Walt Whitman

Of all the fruit in the world, I find the fig to be one of the most fascinating. For those of you unfamiliar with this fruit, I will take a minute to describe. The fig, though it has many varieties, usually is a tear drop shaped fruit. It is not generally bigger than a child’s fist, and it can come in many shades varying from green all the way to a deep purple. The fig feels heavy in the palm of your hand. It grows best in warm weather, and is native to climates in Africa, the Middle East and Italy. It is one of the oldest fruits, and is depicted in art throughout history. It’s considered the fruit of the gods. The fig tastes like honey. Sometimes floral, sometime more fruity. It pairs well with goat cheese, and various other creamy based cheeses. It is an excellent accent to your bitter based salads or dishes. Add a little prosciutto and a couple of nuts and you can’t go wrong.

Figs are a tricky thing to perfect. They can be finicky when they do not grow native to an area. They are a sensual fruit. To bite into one feels indulgent upon your tongue. When they are ripe, they drip a sweet milky honey from the bottom. Some folx dry them in the sun and let their natural sugar emerge. They can be used for baking and incorporated into desserts.

Something that has always drawn to me to this fruit, is that it is not actually a fruit at all. It is a flower. And the flower grows within the confines of its sacred, round, form. This flower is pollinated by wasps specific to their species. The wasp pollinates the fig from within, and when it is done the wasp dies. The fig, then consumes the wasp. This silent process is symbiosis.

The first time I ever saw a fig, I was small. I remember being smitten with the taste and drawn in to look closer at all the beautiful fibers that made up its inner contents. I remember holding it and feeling its weight. It felt like more than the tiny thing it was. To grow a fig tree takes time. It takes nurturing and communication with the plant. It takes deliberate intention, and devotion.

October 2017. I had just moved into my apartment on Alexander street. It was fresh and new and small and adorned with furniture and textures that were incredibly me. I was close to everything, I was paying my own rent and my own utilities. It was mine. It was not perfect. It was hot. It had minimal counter space. But it was mine.

This was a busy time in my life. I was in grad school. I was doing my internship. I was beginning research for my thesis. I was trying to balance so much and I was doing it well. My routine was perfect. I would get up around 8:00 am and head into my internship. After that, I would go home, have dinner and go to class. I would come home and do my homework and do it all again the next day. It was busy but I was liberated.

One day, I got a message from an old friend from highschool. We didn’t know eachother super well back then, but we knew eachother enough where he was more than an acquaintance to me. My palms are getting sweaty as I type this. I don’t know that I feel safe saying his full name in this space. I may come back and edit this one day, but right now, I don’t know.

Anyway. I got this message from him. We hit it off really well. Like really well. It was the first time we had spoken since highschool and I was, frankly, surprised. He told me he went on to join the Navy and that life was very different for him now. I told him about my experiences with college and we decided to meet up for coffee. We found out we lived really close to one another, so we met halfway and walked the neighborhood with our coffees. I told him about what I was studying and he told me about his experiences, and we were able to relate in big ways. I felt comfortable, but cautious as one usually is. The date ended and we parted ways. But one thing that I remember him telling me, and I guess hindsight is 20/20, was that he believed “the military should provide sex workers for free so that men wouldn’t rape women”. I get angry at this now, because I feel like he was telling me something and also why the hell didn’t my red flag alarm go off here?

Cut forward to a few days later, we’re talking a bunch and it seems light and fun. I was having a really busy day with school. I went home and wanted to just relax, but he asked to come over so I let him. This time, he was a little pushy physically. I remember feeling uncomfortable and asking him to leave. He did.

Give it a week, and he was back to asking me to hang out. I really didn’t want to. I told him I wasn’t sure it was a good idea given what happened last time. I wasn’t sure I wanted to get involved anymore. I felt less safe. And yet, he convinced me he just wanted to come and talk. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I let him in. It gets late. We’re talking. His apartment isn’t far but he says he really doesn’t want to walk home and “can I please just stay the night?”. I really didn’t want to let him stay. But I did let him. “Fine”. The wasp.

I mentioned the trigger warning above. I am going to mention it again here. These next few paragraphs are graphic.

I remember I was asleep when it started happening. I was wearing my usual pajama shorts and a t-shirt. Soft grey with draw strings. I was face down. I felt his hands on my wrists holding me down. I couldn’t turn my head. I felt his breathe on my neck. He was pressing past my shorts. It hurt so much. I remember whispering stop. I remember thinking “I do not want this”. I remember saying stop. I felt him get mad and more forceful as his body stopped cooperating. It might have been ten minutes? It might have been more or less. I can’t really remember. I stopped thinking and I stopped moving. He was in the Navy. He was much much stronger than I. I might have let out nervous laughter. I waited until it was safe to move and he was off of me. He put his clothes on and left. I don’t remember what I was doing in these moments. I know I texted my best friend because I really wasn’t sure what had just happened. I told her. She sent the word back. “Rape”. My whole body hurt.

I texted him. “I am not fine with anything that just happened and I need you to know that”. His response? “I understand, do you still want to be friends or nah?”. I was baffled. I don’t remember if I answered. I might have said something cynical like “nah”.

I was in my bed. It was quiet. There was dim light coming in from the window in my bedroom. In my soft gray shorts that would never mean comfort again. I loved these shorts. I remember being really mad about that. I couldn’t register what had just happened to me. So I got up. I took a shower and went to my internship and I tried to just forget.

The months following this, I remember feeling very confused and very angry. I told a few of my closest friends, but I still couldn’t say the word. Rape. I felt like my body betrayed me. I felt like I should have known this would happen. I felt like “I was the one who let him in. I opened the door”. I blamed myself for letting a snake into my sacred garden.

I would have trouble sleeping for months. I would go into a very deep and sad depression. I would start going on dates with random guys and hoping I would feel something again. I threw myself into it, because I was fearful that if I didn’t meet new people constantly, I would never want to meet anyone new ever again. So I met new guys and I tried to be present. But I wasn’t. There was only one new man after that that I would feel safe enough to come fully into my life after this. He is my life partner, and I am so grateful for him.

I don’t know what it is about power, and why humans need it. I don’t know why, when humans feel like they don’t have power, they feel entitled to take it. I can say, I have a strong bias against the military at this point. I know that isn’t fair. But neither is what happened.

I often find myself wondering, that at what point the switch goes of for someone that makes it okay in their mind to do this. I try to understand from their perspective, and there is never an answer. Because it’s not okay, and just because you wear a uniform, does not and should not give you a special pass. You do not have entitlement to the bodies and brains of others. You do not just get to take the things you want because you wear a certain color. I showed this person a small glimmer of who I was and like the wasp, he crept in and died. I felt dirty. I wanted to take my skin off and hang it up with the laundry. No amount of scrubbing helped me feel clean.

My therapist should be crowned a saint. She stuck with me through this in ways i will never understand, and that is even as a therapist. I was hopeless. I was calling suicide lines. I was trying to figure out what to do next. I was staying up until the early hours of the morning, calling my parents at 4:00 am because I was too afraid to be alone. I would sleep on the futon in my living room to avoid having to sleep on the bed.

I have mentioned EMDR on here, before but when I say it helped save my life there is no exaggeration here. My therapist and I completed at least eight EMDR sessions before I finally started to feel like I was clean again. I am learning about the pieces of me that have begun to bloom from within.

Why now? Why tell this story almost three years later? I was afraid. after this all happened, he called me again and I was home alone. I don’t know what his intention was because I didn’t answer, but I do know I slept with my doors and windows barricaded. My peaceful little home had become a dark place for me. I was not ready to tell this story in full. In my eyes, it was the past.

I never reported it. I think a part of me knew that my word would mean nothing against that of a man who wore a uniform. If this can happen outside of the service, it sends my head spiraling to think about what happens within. Vanessa Guillen’s story is the reason I am telling this story. There is a lesson here. People are people, no matter what they wear and who they serve and sometimes they are bad. We cannot trust that the people who belong to an organization or system are inherently good and that their intentions will always be to protect and do the right thing. We see it every day, more and more within our policing systems and now within our military. Accountability is the fruit that comes from deliberate intention. Like the fig, it takes time to rebuild an entire system. It takes devotion. It takes compassion and nurturing and communication with the plant and with the people. How can a nation stand on anything solid when the soil its planted in has rotted? What are we telling the world and the victims of violence and sexual assault about their worth? How are they ever supposed to “pull themselves back up” if the nation only cherishes those who pushed them down in the first place? Without taking a cold, hard look at where we plant seeds in this country, fruit will never fully ripen for everyone. And what is the point of planting seeds when the fruit will never fully nourish? There is no symbiosis here.

Here is what I know about reclaiming power in a system not made in your favor.
1. rest is rebellion. When you allow yourself compassion and rest, you are allowing the sun to kiss your leaves a little longer. You are filling yourself with nutrients.
2. You do not have to claim power alone. Pick your people. and if it doesn’t work out, pick them again.
3. Power is not anything but a feeling. It comes from real, authentic freedom. So rather than focus on power, ask yourself when you feel the most free. And do more of that.
4. If you do not want to do something, don’t fucking do it. “No” is a complete sentence.
5. If your gut is telling you you need something, listen.
6. Spend time alone with yourself. It will be hard to hear your thoughts. But your heart, and your head only ever want what is best for you. it will feel like a storm. It’s about what happens when the rain clears. Get to know yourself after this. Do not abandon you.
7. In healing, power is not definitive and loud. It comes in small, myriad ways every day. You can choose to turn left instead of right on the way home. You can choose to have an extra plate of something. You can claim power in the decisions you make every day.
8. If the very best you have for any given day is getting out of bed, then so be it. You do not have to honor anyone’s expectations of you.
9. You are not dirty. Your skin is clean because it is yours. You can bathe in mud and still be clean. recognize that your body did not betray you. Your body protected you. Your very flesh is a poem. Sing your praises from the mountain tops, even if the praises feel small today.
10. You can love people again. You can love you again.
11. Wear the textures that make you feel safe. Surround yourself with fabrics and pillows and make your environment yours.
12. When you start to leave your own head, call yourself back in kindness. You are not required to be mad at yourself for dissociating.
13. Feel. Own your feeling. You do not have to numb the pain to feel human again.
14. When you are fearful and act in ways you are unfamiliar with, it is a trauma response. You do not owe anyone an explanation for that.
15. Nourish yourself. With music, art, writing, meditation, dance, laughter. It is okay to do these things and in fact, they are necessary. If there was something you loved to do before your trauma, know that you do in fact deserve to do it again.

Try to find ways to refrain from punishing yourself for the things that were done to you.

I have claimed back my power in many ways, most of which are silent. It is what has worked for me. I feel stronger every day. I plant my seeds in soil that is rich, and full of nutrients. I spend time with my seeds before I plant them. My figs are sweet and full of honey. That honey belongs to me. It always has. That honey is mine. My flowers bloom more each day and I decide who gets to see them.

I will leave you with this:
What will you need to do for your soil to ensure your tree grows strong? What can you do right now to be gentle and tender in your process of healing? What does healing mean for you ? In what ways can you and the ones around you contribute to change? What do you choose everyday to re-claim your power? How will you refrain from self-blame? What does accountability look like for you ? How can we make sure that it happens? What allows you to feel safe?

Be will,
Gina

if you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault and trauma and are seeking help:

RAINN- 800.656.HOPE (4673)
Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK


Call you local government to inquire about accountability for people in positions of power.
Write letters to government officials.
Donate. Defund. Be Vocal.

On identity, ancestry and the mother wound.

“All the eggs a woman will every carry form in her ovaries while she is a four-month-old fetus in the womb of her mother. This means our cellular life as en egg begins in the womb of our grandmother. Each of us spent five months in our grandmother’s womb, and she in turn formed within the womb of her grandmother. We vibrate to the rhythms of our mother’s blood before she herself is born, and this pulse is the thread of blood that runs all the way back through the grandmothers to the first mother.”

Layne Redmond, “When The Drummers Were Women: A Spiritual History of Rhythm”


It’s usually not surprising when I tell people I am doing some soul-searching. I think, at this point, most people who know me are very well aware that I am someone who is always seeking. I’ve mentioned on here before that I have always been someone looking for my own version of true north. Whatever that really means. I have always felt like a piece of me has been missing. As far back as I can remember I have been looking for that missing piece, unable to place exactly what it was. Some might say that it’s clinical depression rearing its ugly head around, and others say it’s lack of contentment with who I am as a person. Maybe it’s both, maybe it’s neither. This post is going to be a little different. This post is going to get really personal. This post is really for me, but I am going to invite you to read it in the hopes that you will find fruit here.

I’ve always known my story as it exists in my own life. But there is so much I did not and have not known about myself and the people in my family who come before me. This is why identity has always been a weird topic for me. I’ve been doing a lot of healing. We’re not talking going for walks and doing yoga. We’re talking healing from an ancestral standpoint. We’re talking looking at the mother wound. We’re talking reconciling with a heritage I didn’t really know I had.

When I was little, I can remember asking my mother to tell me about her life and about her side of the family. My father’s side of the family was well known to me at this point, and celebrated. I can remember feeling sad that I didn’t know much about my mother or her family. She later went on to tell me that she felt a lot of shame about some of the things that have happened on her side of the family, “especially compared to your father’s family”. I couldn’t understand that. I do remember strange instances where my mother would be faced with family members she didn’t want me to know. One time, they came to our front door, and we were totally uncertain of how they had found us. She told them to leave. Again. I couldn’t understand that. This was family, how could this be her reaction? I found myself getting frustrated and eventually I accepted that I would never know this side of my family. I think somewhere in my childbrain, my mother turning her family away was her forsaking part of her heritage. So I did the same. I closed the chapter on my Puerto Rican heritage. I began to identify as white. Afterall, I was the lightest skinned person in my family, so it wouldn’t be too hard to do. Hell, most people don’t even believe me when I say I am Puerto Rican.

I live in a community made up of mostly Irish, Italian and German people. I still hear comments all the time from people saying “You sound so white”, or “oh! You’re Puerto Rican? THAT’S where you get those curves and those lips and that thick hair!”. I would get burned by the sun and be asked “Well, if you’re Puerto Rican, why do you burn so easily?”. I grew up hearing about how my sister looks Puerto Rican and I don’t. I never really felt like there was a place for me within my own heritage. I have the privilege of having light skin. My life has not been made more difficult because of my skin. And still, my leaves do not match my roots. And this has always been confusing. I think a large portion of me has always wished that I didn’t have to try to prove my Puerto Rican-ness to people. I felt compelled to tell people right away at times, as if to try to grab at some inkling of pride around it. I found myself relying on the label because I couldn’t back it up with any real experience, because I didn’t have any. So eventually, I gave up. I gave up trying to explain my heritage to people who would just laugh it off anyway. It became something I felt shame about. What I didn’t realize is that this shame, was passed to me by mother, and to her from her mother and it was never their fault.

Our mothers do not try to pass pain to us. But when trauma is unhealed for too long, it is passed down to the next generation. We don’t only inherit the gifts and the features of our ancestors. We inherit their pain, their sadness, shame, anger. THIS is how I define the mother wound. I do not adhere fully to the definition placed in the world in terms of absent mothers. My mother was and is anything but absent. But she has pain and hurt and trauma that she carries around. Some of it was planted there far before she was ever born. Our mother wounds are never our fault. They are not the fault of our mothers. They are not the fault of our ancestors. There is no fault. Only healing.

Growing up, I was always very connected to nature. I believed that everything in nature had a spirit. I found myself, over the course of time, cutting ties with the Catholic Church I had been raised in and placing my faith into the natural world. The water was forgiveness, the air was a life giver and a healer, the earth a provider. I still feel that way. This is a spirituality I can see. Cut forward and I could feel myself connected to physical movement, finding rhythm in every day things, singing whenever I could. I remember finding meaning in symbols and totems such as the snail, and the toad. Animals became guides. When I think of it now, I think a lot of my healing has happened because of this. I have returned to this. These are the ways of my ancestors.

My heart has been feeling full and I am going to tell you why. Recently I stumbled upon an opportunity to explore my ancestral connections and ties. I felt something calling me, and I felt a true need to know where the mother wound in my family originated. So I embarked on a journey (Shamanic to be precise) and was introduced to a few of my spirit guides. On this journey I found myself on an island, spinning in circles (little did I know, it was an Orisha dance that I was doing). I was introduced to Yemaya (look her up), who told me to call to her whenever I needed her. I was introduced to my ancestors.

I had always known that being Puerto Rican, there was likely Indigenous blood within my veins. But this made it real for me. I was told that my ancestors were Taino. They were forced into Spanish families and raped. They were forced into slavery and this continued until they became indentured servants. My ancestors were also forced to denounce their heritage and deny who they were so that they could survive. They were considered non-humans. They were not free. I can empathize now with the shame passed down to me through the women who came before me. They were taught to hate parts of themselves, and they complied for survival. If you’re wondering where colorism in the Puerto Rican community comes from this, is partially why. The self-hatred is a trauma response and it runs deep.

I am a storyteller through and through. I respond well to stories. I learn from them and find meaning in each one. Part of why that is, is because I am able to see how a character or person evolves from the beginning until the end. I believe that part of why I have had so much difficulty in my life with my identity and self-love was because I didn’t know where my story began. Without that knowledge, I could never know myself wholly. It is very difficult to place together a puzzle when the pieces are missing. I needed to know this so i can begin healing myself and the ancestors who came before me.

Here are somethings that have started to change since beginning the journey:

1. I feel closer to my mother.
2. My heart hurts way less, and I feel lighter.
3. I do not feel like I am missing something as often.
4. I feel like my depression has begun to lift.
5. I feel a quiet sense of deep deep contentment and gratitude.
6. I have begun exploring my own spirituality again, especially in relation to Yemaya and other Orishas.
7. I have slowly. I mean snail’s pace here. But very slowly started to make peace with some of the things about my body that I have always hated and considered not to be feminine.
8. I feel called to the water in big ways.
9. The heat is very slowly becoming more tolerable.
10. I have expanded my self-care practice to include doing research on the Taino people.
11. I have narrowed down my niche and stopped calling myself a life coach. I am a healer and guide. And I focus on the motherwound, and generational trauma within the Indigenous Latina community.
12. The shame is lifting.
13. I have been having dreams about my spirit guides.

After my journey I promptly began research. I spoke to my mother. I asked her about her life. This was the first time she was able to tell me things in as much detail as she could. I also began doing research on the Taino people as well as Afro-Caribbean religions, deities, orishas, zemis and culture. In all of this, here some things I have learned.

1. The Taino were very peaceful people. Taino literally translated to mean “good people”. They did not create armor. They would utilize bow and arrow to defend themselves from a nearby group of people called the Caribs, who were in fact cannibals.
2. Taino leaders were called caiques, and both men and women held the title.
3. Taino men and women lived separate. Women valued their independence very greatly.
4. Taino people ate mostly fish, and yuca. They relied on yuca so heavily that they had a zemi (modern world’s gods) named for the Yuca and he was on control of many of the crops and crop season.
5. Taino people were the first people Columbus came into contact with. It is believed that due to the disease and genocide brought on by the Spaniards and Portugese, that the Taino people were almost completely eradicated. In fact, many believed that the Taino were completely gone, and only recently a study completed revealed that many Puerto Rican folk still have indigenous Taino blood within their veins today.
6. Documentation of the Taino by the Spaniards was scarce. This is why it is so difficult to know much about the language they spoke, though it is known that they spoke Arawaken.
7. The Taino are Amerindians who originated in the Venezuelan Orinoco Valley.
8. The Taino were agriculturally advanced.
9. It was believed that at the time of Columbus’ introduction to the Taino, there were over 60,000 people spread across the tribes. By 1548, it is believed there were only 500 Taino left.
10. Music played a massive role in Taino culture and was used for celebrations, and ceremonies, cure illnesses, as well as to initiate growth of crops and rain. The Taino were a seafaring people, who built circular houses and slept on banana leaves.
11. They had zemis, and had three types of religious practice: thye would workship the zemi for protection/health/safety/abundant crop; dancing in the village during festivals; and medicine men consulting the zemi for advice and healing. Shells, paint and feather were utilized as part of the dress for such practices. They would eat sacred bread at these cermonies. Zemi were often symbolized by snakes, toads, snails, turtles, alligators and various other animals. They believed in an afterlife.

I have learned a lot more, but I will plop it in another post in the future.

This is likely not going to be the only post I write about this. But this is the first installment of me publicly claiming my heritage. I know where my seeds were planted now. My name is Gina. Short for Georgina. It means “earth worker”. The name of my great grandmother, the woman I was named after. She is starting to feel like less of a mystery to me, and I am grateful. (If you’re wondering, she is one of my spirit guides). I am many things. Strong, powerful, loving, fierce, fiery, peaceful, generous, ambitious, ready. My ancestors have carried me, and they empower me in ways I have never expected. I am an Indigenous Latina and the holes in my heart are finally starting to fill. I am headed in the direction of north and I will break the cycle of pain. I will become my “ancestors’ wildest dreams”. *

I will leave you with this today.
What do you need to know about your ancestors and the folks who have come before you so you can begin healing? What do you not know? How can you go about learning it ? What wounds have been passed down to you? How would you like to see this change?

Warmth and be well,

Gina.

** I am not sure where the quote originated, but I believe it was Brandan Odums who said “I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams”.

*** Please note: All of the above is the information as I have it now. This does not mean some of this isn’t subject to change over time as I learn new things.

*** Also please note: All of the above is not said in relation to the BLM movement. However, I would like to make it known, though I have not been asked, that I stand in support of and behind the BLM movement. I am currently doing research, spending time examining my own whiteness, donating and supporting black businesses. I am in the process of composing a long list of businesses to support if you are a creative, as well as podcasts and books. It is imperative that we change so generational trauma can heal and Black folk are allowed to claim space for themselves in the country they built. Please, I encourage to do your own research, examine your own whiteness and explore how the system has allowed you to be complicit in this centuries long injustice. I am by no means an expert, and I am always going to be learning. Here is an excellent resource to start:
https://allblm.carrd.co/

On uncertainty, ritual, and mental health during a pandemic.

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end… because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing… this shadow. Even darkness must pass.”

-” Samwise Gamgee”, J.R.R.Tolkein, The Two Towers

The world has been quiet. There is a clumsy and looming cloud over the globe at the moment. We all know it is there. We all know it could rain at any moment. No one is immune. There is a very real fear. Intangible, uncontrollable. It flutters overhead, teasing, poking fun at the vulnerability of the humans it taunts.

I have been quiet. I have found myself slightly ashamed at the fact that I haven’t acted as an advocate, or as a leader during this time. Afterall, as a coach and mental health provider, I ” should be doing more”. There’s that “should again”. I’ve had some time to really think about all of this, and what it means. I have been terrified. Every morning, I wake up hoping that this pandemic is just a terrible dream. I find myself worried for my loved ones who work in hospitals, just hoping that the last time I hugged them won’t be the last time. Because there is no real knowledge of when this ends.

I never imagined I would be sitting here writing something like this. I’ve been following the news, observing how COVID-19 has crept up on communities and devastated them from within. It’s like when you realize your grapes have all gone bad because there was on bad one in the middle of the bunch and you think “if you’d have just seen it sooner…”. I’ve been trying to distract myself from what is happening in the world. Trying to distract myself from how afraid I feel all the time lately.

Two weeks ago, I saw the news conference saying the first confirmed case was here. That Sunday I received a call from my boss, saying that we would have to start devising a plan for teletherapy with our clients as we would be moving toward remote access. Since then, we have over 150 confirmed cases here, with 3 deaths. The past two weeks hold enough within them to feel like a month. My days have been blurring together. My coworkers and I have been on high alert while trying to use humor to cope.

My daily routine before my agency decided to have us work remotely, had changed significantly. I’d get up earlier. Shower. Go into work, no coffee, I need to stay as hydrated as possible. The drive is void of traffic, and I listen to the newest updates. Usually a few new cases. I lock my car, and as I walk up to the employee designated entrance, I prepare myself mentally for what might be coming. I swipe in, say good morning to custodial staff and go into my office. I wipe down all my surfaces. I wash my hands. I take a breath before I read the unusually large influx of e-mails regarding action steps, usually protocol changes at least twice in the time I was away from my computer, with new steps and precautions listed every day. I read them all. I take another breath and check my voicemails. Three kids ran away from home this week. Of all weeks. I call parents back and tell them what to do, who to contact, how to file missing persons reports. I call other clients and tell them groups are cancelled, we will talk on the phone, I will be in touch, please answer when you see this number. They don’t. I read new protocol. I do a treatment plan. I wash my hands. I send a referral for residential services to find out that they are not taking new patients due to COVID-19. I tell the families they will have to wait to get their kid help for substance abuse a little longer. I give them the number for crisis hotline, I listen to them, I make sure they’re washing their hands, we tell each other to stay healthy. They thank me. For what, I don’t know. I attend the staff meeting via virtual meeting rooms. I make more phone calls. Write more notes. I panic. I breathe. I wipe down my office. I wash my hands and grab a wipe to wipe down my steering wheel and inside of my car. I go home. I take my shoes off before I go inside, and immediately strip down and take a shower. I make dinner, changing the way I think about it and rationing a few things here and there. Just in case. I try to distract myself for hours. I check in with my family. Tell my parents stay home. Tell my sister to be careful–she works in a hospital. Wish that I could hug them but know it is not safe at the moment. I check my temperature. I wash my hands. I lie in bed and distract myself more until midnight when I can’t stop crying. My partner hugs me through it. I do it all again the next day.

I want to take a minute to talk about people who struggle with mental health in the midst of a global pandemic. This is new for us, and at the same time it is not. There has been a shift in society back to making sure we are taking care of and monitoring our physical beings. Which is incredibly important at a time like this. But it does not and cannot void out room for mental health.

As someone who is clinically diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I tend to have obsessive thoughts and compulsions about contamination, washing, disease etc. This stems, in part, back to childhood. I have managed, with lots of therapy, to get a handle on some of it. I have my days but such is life. But now, all I hear all day long is “wash your hands”, and headlines and posts about becoming sick, being contaminated etc. It is safe to say, I have relapsed. I think what shocks me, is that the anxiety I have been feeling about this did not shock me. I am used to this feeling. But there has always been some rational insight, some part of me that knew that even though I was worried, it was not 100% warranted. Now for someone with anxiety, it feels warranted. It’s not just “in our heads” this time. That’s the scary part. COVID-19 is not just an illness of global proportion–it’s the physical manifestation of what anxiety feels like, knowing something lingers in the background and there is not a goddamn thing we can do about it besides use some soap. Our worst fears have become reality with this thing.

If you have anxiety, I am not trying to scare you. If you don’t have anxiety, I am not trying to scare you. I’m saying this thing might be here to stay for a while and we are going to need to learn how to challenge it and cope with it. Especially because the only thing we can do is isolate, which is exactly the opposite of what we are told to do when we have anxiety about the world. We are going to have to show up for ourselves in new ways. Because while you might not want to, you are going to have to work harder.

Before I go further, you should know, that however you feel right now, is valid. You can feel what you need to feel. There is a reason I have taken so long to speak on this. I have been trying to figure out exactly what I feel. I still don’t know. But it’s here, and it is happening. Sometimes the panic is so acute and real, that I feel trapped. Other times, I find myself able to laugh and joke with my partner. Most times, things feel pretty normal and then I think the reality of the situation strikes and I realize nothing is. So in terms of feelings, understand we are all figuring this out as we go. And that’s okay. You don’t really need to know what that feeling in your gut is just yet. It might be that your only option is just to sit with it. Which probably makes you want to run as far away as possible.

There is a chance that many things in your life, as they were two weeks ago, will change forever. If you are scared, be scared. If you are fine, be fine. If you are angry, be angry. You are not obligated to feel any differently than how you do about what is happening. Everything is different now. Something as simple as grocery shopping could feels like taking a risk. This is a major interruption in your life, and it is probably going to force you to face demons you thought you’d successfully stored away. It is probably going to force you to get to know who you are right now.

There aren’t any answers coming any time soon. If you don’t have anxiety, knowing that has probably given you some now. But the major theme that comes to mind here, is not fear. It’s uncertainty. Humans hate uncertainty. We want to know it all, right now. We want to know how things end, if they end. We want to know that there is a light at the end of the dark. Living through pandemic is riddled with uncertainty. We go into fight, flight or freeze mode. Those of us who would fly or fight have been told we have to freeze. Those who freeze, may be struggling with the sense of helplessness that comes along with that. We don’t get to rely on adrenaline in a pandemic, but our instincts are still acting for our survival. There are still chemicals in our brains telling us we are under threat and with no end in sight, it feels long term. The new normal. And we hate it. If you find you’ve been exhausted at the end of your days, this might be why.

I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t shed light on a few things for you at this point. Because in times of uncertainty, we need to be reminded that we do possess some morsels of control. There are elements of your life, right now, that you can manage to empower yourself through this.

I want to invite you to look at your current situation and consider what it is you lack. Is it hope? Courage? Strength? Patience? Understanding? Whatever it might be, I am going to encourage you to consider how it is that you might create situations which you can become those things for yourself. This is what I mean by showing up for yourself in new ways. If you need hope, what situation can you provide yourself at home that sparks a it of hope in you? Perhaps planting a seed and waiting to see if it grows. Perhaps if you need courage, it is trying a new task at home you’ve never done before. There is a reason this is important. It is ritual. Humans thrive on routine, yes, but ritual is different.

Ritual. It sounds almost archaic at times. Like some big gathering, full of sacrifice and feast. But I think society has lost the reason this came to be in the first place. Ancient civilizations utilized ritual when they required some big change in the world or to build tradition, familiarity or comfort. And right now, if you require any of those things or some opportunity to self-nurture, and build upon your resilience, it is time to utilize ritual. You may need to create it for yourself and when you do, you can carve time out for it in your routine. Ritual feels indulgent. Ritual exists to comfort, yes, but also to help us understand the meaning of the present moment. Because right now, is what we have. And whether you like it or not, you have time on your hands to focus on the present.

My first experience with ritual was simple. Showers. I am a water baby. I have a tremendous respect for the water. It terrifies me, and mystifies me all at once. It allows cleansing, and healing. When I feel that I am in need of a fresh mindset, I take a hot shower and I make a point to turn the water to cold before I exit the shower. It refreshes me. It reminds me that my skin is attached to my body and I am planted right where I stand until I move. And when I move, I am planted in that spot. And so on. Ritual allows for grounding. It allows for living in the moment. It allows for mindfulness. It allows you to eradicate judgement. It is not about what you “should be doing”. It’s about what you need. Right now. Ritual allows for a reframe and in turn allows rest, and turning away from fight or flight or freeze. It allows for a focus on rebuilding until you can return. All of this promotes healing. All of this allows for tomorrow to feel less terrifying.

What helps you re-frame? If you do not know, you now have time to figure it out. What allows you peace for thirty seconds longer? What allows you to shift focus to the present so the past and the future can’t plant thoughts in your head? How can you find out? How can you create more of this?

I understand that this is not something you can do overnight. It’s something that takes dedication and your lives are busy, and probably seemingly even busier now that the rest of the world is quiet. Tomorrow when you wake up, I invite you to ask yourself: What do I need today and how can I create more of that in my life?

Maybe the first cup of coffee in the morning is a moment of quiet indulgence to fuel you for the next hour. But when you take that sip, slow down. Allow the taste to grace your tongue slowly. Imagine this coffee is not fuel for consciousness, but a gift to your tastebuds. What do they love about it? What does it mean to them? What are you looking at? Is it the sunrise? Or is it your phone? Which of those things brings calm? What changes do you need to make to your environment to feel safer? Because sometimes we need to create safety for ourselves.

I’m not saying that tomorrow you will wake up and feel peace and everything will be amazing. I am saying it might be a good time to build something for yourself so that the next day is a little easier. This time is scary. It is also a time for choosing slowly. In this, we have been gifted time to reflect inward. To re-frame. To build ritual. For thinking rationally about the way we move forward. For reframing the way we live life so that we can act in partner with it to build harmony rather than resentment. This harmony is where resilience is born. And I am certain we could all use a it of that right now. We are certainly going to need it for whatever comes next.

I will leave you with this:

What can you do tomorrow to create situations for yourself that promote healing, and whatever else you need more of right now? How? How can you make this a daily practice? How will your life in this moment be different if you do? What is at stake if you don’t?

Please stay healthy. Be kind to yourself. Remember that no one can tell you how to feel right now. Check in with yourself and loved ones. And wash your hands.

*Maybe some of you are isolated in unsafe situations. Maybe some of you struggle with substance use. Maybe isolation is utterly soul sucking for you right now. Please know, that I see you, I hear you, and it is not lost on me that some of what I’ve mentioned here may not be attainable for you. If this is the case and you are feeling thoughts of suicide or needing a safe space please visit the link below to explore your options:
https://www.mentalhealth.gov/get-help/immediate-help

Update!

All

I want to thank you for your kindness and patience with me. I need to update you and let you know that the next month holds a massive life transition for me. That being said, my posts will become a bit more sparse and sporadic as I navigate what comes next.

I will be back in full swing, most likely at the end of March. In the meantime, I have tecently launched my official coaching website. You can see it at http://www.proceedwithcuriosity.net

Let March be a month of sincere growth and rebirth. The earth is starting to wake up from the winter we have had.

I will be in touch soon !

Gigi

On healing from shame and taking up space.

“I’m not afraid of my truth anymore, and I will not omit pieces of myself to make you more comfortable.”

Alex Elle

I apologize so much. For everything. For none of the right things. For “being in someone’s way” in the grocery store. For “intruding”. For taking up too much space. For being seen. At a different time in my life, I was willing to risk my own boundaries and sanity for the comfort of someone else. I never wanted to be an inconvenience to someone; so much so that I would likely rearrange my entire schedule to make sure others would have a smooth day. It was exhausting. I became resentful and burnt out and frustrated so quickly. What was that ? Why did I do it? Why was I so afraid of taking up space?

The answer, now, is simple. Shame. It was only ever because I felt shame. After my traumas, I felt a very intense sense of fear and shame. About everything. I walked around like I had eggshells on the bottoms of my shoes. I had no idea, none at all, that part of my trauma response, part of my survival method was allowing myself to become a vessel for shame. It happened slowly, and methodically until I truly believed I did not deserve to be seen, take up space, stand in my power. I didn’t believe I had power. I didn’t believe I was even a human.

Shame. Where does it come from? How do we start to feel it? Shame is what happens when someone else crawls into your brain and makes you feel poorly about not meeting their expectations. Shame is what happens when you feel powerless. Shame is what happens when you stop being able to recognize yourself in the mirror. Shame comes from so many different possible places, but mostly it comes from within. Shame tells us that our existence is too much for the world and that we don’t deserve to take up any room. Shame is a lens through which we view ourselves because of the thoughts and beliefs we have about who we are or who we might have been. It is a lens that tints all beliefs about what we are capable of.

Shame. When I say the word, I imagine a rigid, cold person saying it as they look down upon me in some condescending manner casting judgement on something I did not do. It is harsh and invisible. It acts as a blinder that is always adjusting itself so you might never be allowed to see light again. It’s a heavy weight that rests on the nape of our neck to make it uncomfortable to find a blue sky.

But if shame comes from within, so does healing. Remember that.

I want you to get a bit visual with me here.

Imagine you are walking along the intricate path in the woods, and you are equipped with a bag. It has some things you might need. As you pass along on this road, you are meeting new people. Some with good intentions and someone with less than ideal ones. But each individuals gives you a brick. Some bricks are newer, some are older. All the bricks vary in weight, color, shapes etc. You have no place to put these bricks once your hands start to get full so you start putting them in your bag. Smashing some of your original items that you had placed there for a time of need. Eventually this bag is really heavy. You start to wonder if it will break. Is this bag really equipped to carry all of these bricks? You’re not really sure how long this little path is, but you do keep meeting people and you’re getting nervous about what you might have to do to make room for bricks. Sometimes people make you feel awful for carrying such a heavy bag. They even point and laugh. When your bag is full, they get angry with you.

To feel shame is to take on an incredibly heavy weight. It’s like carrying around a bag full of bricks. Sometimes the bricks have been in the bag so long, they become withered and eroded. Maybe you’re not even sure where the bricks came from anymore but they are there and that must mean they were important at some point, right? Maybe some of the bricks are new, perfectly shaped. A bit heavier than the others. Maybe you remember exactly where you picked them up along the way.

One of the first times I was told it was okay for me to take up space was in the grocery store by a complete stranger. I could have hugged her. I was looking at some produce and she was waiting patiently behind me, and upon my realization of her being there, I immediately grabbed my basket, said “I’m sorry, I am in your way and I will move” and started to walk away. She said, “No no no. Please don’t. You are just fine, and I am not in a rush. We all need food. You take your time, and put that basket down.” I was floored. Usually, in the grocery store people want you to just get out of their way. It used to be a high stress situation for me because I felt rushed and like I was constantly in the way. But here this woman was, telling me it was fine to be where I was; that my needs were just as important as anyone’s. I wanted to hug her. I still rushed picking out my peppers but it was a powerful day. I felt lighter that day. I felt one brick come out of my backpack.

My takeaway here was that it is okay to slow down sometimes and acknowledge that you have needs, and that as a human, you are allowed to exist in the space you need to do so. This is life changing. Especially when it comes to healing from shame.

So what does it mean to heal from shame? I imagine that this is different for each individual. But I can say that healing from shame looks a little bit like a snail making a really big trek across the garden. It’s a little creature and the rest of the world has no idea he is on a mission. But he moves. Persistently, avoiding dangers, focused on his mission. He is a soft, a fragile creature, but his shell protects him in the ways he needs it to. He allows himself the time to get to his destination. He does not judge that he has no legs. He does not judge that he is small. He might be wishful that things were different, but he certainly doesn’t focus on that. He is ready to take a bite out of a juicy, delicious leaf.

Healing is seeing the mission ahead of you, knowing it will take a while, and still doing it anyway. Healing is providing yourself with those juicy leaves of nourishment. Healing is watching your face change when you see yourself in the mirror, from a scared frown to being able to admire the wrinkles forming on your face. Healing is love. Healing is recognizing the power within the vessel you possess. Whether it’s wiggling your toes and stretching in the quiet moments, or sipping tea, or dancing, or taking a peaceful moment on the porch. Healing is a conscious decision to admire the human condition–your human condition– as you stand in what you know to be as your truth. Healing is boundaries. Healing is reclaiming. Healing is loving yourself up in the ways you were afraid to when you were told you weren’t worthy. Healing is soft fabrics and arranging your space. Healing is cooking a meal for yourself and providing nourishment. Healing is finding freedom. Healing is deep, reflective self-care practices. Healing is reconnecting with others and reconnecting with you. It is lightening the load you’ve carried for too damn long. Healing is taking up your space, and learning to make a home fro yourself within that space. Healing is understanding that space can change. Healing is not only rejoicing in your comfort but embracing your discomfort. Healing is seeing a therapist, or having a friends night, or walking alone in the morning. Healing is not linear. It is not routed out on a map for you. So of course, it will be confusing and frustrating. There will be days that you feel like it is not happening. Be patient with yourself on those days. Trust your healing. This is not a race. Feel what you feel and let it come and go as it needs to. When healing becomes confusing, look inward. Your instincts are right. Healing is owning your story and choosing to recognize that that story, isn’t some made up shit, it is real, because you are real. Healing is not just existing in your body but living in it. Planting your feet in the ground and knowing your strength is what led you to this healing path.

You got yourself to this healing point. Wherever you stand in that journey, you did it. You are doing it. You are becoming. You are healing. And it it is okay, and good, and critical even, to take up the space to do that because every fiber of your existence works so hard just to be here. You deserve to take up the space you need. If anyone tells you otherwise, they are not for you.

I still become nervous at the thought of taking up space. When I first started this blog, I was nervous that showing myself to the world would only hurt me. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It has liberated me. I have some major projects to accomplish this year. I am terrified. Not of failure. Not even of success. I am so afraid of taking space in the world to do it. But I am going to do it anyway. Because it is part of my healing, and I need to own my story. Because that is truly what taking space is– owning the story that leads to now so much so that it becomes a badge of honor. I am certainly no master of this. But I can say the time I have taken to take up space and own my story have played major roles in my healing.

Taking up space is not selfish or wrong. It is natural and human and important. it looks different for every human. Sometimes it’s a blog, and other times it’s public speaking or social media, or simply chatting with a friend. All are valid.

You do not have to apologize for existing. This can be a hard one to take in. But you never asked to exist. You were forced into it. Now you’re just doing the best you can with what you have to create the most meaningful existence you can. But here is what is so lovely about that. You still get to decide what holds meaning. You still get to decide what your space gets to look and feel like. This is where owning your story comes in. You get to acknowledge all that has happened and decide which parts have been the most pivotal. You get to decide what each experience means for you. There is very little we have control over in the human experience, but one thing you always have control over is how you make meaning out of the experiences you have had up until this point and how they might impact your next steps. Shame does not have to be permanent. You get to decide how you heal and what that means for you.

Coming back to the brick visual, I want you to imagine you are walking along on this path. Exhausted. Fatigued. Resentful. Angry. Full of shame. Now pause. It is quiet. A little brisk. No one is on the trail right in this moment. You finally have a moment to yourself and you have a realization. “I need to unpack some of these bricks”. That is what healing feels like. Unpacking the bricks you have been carrying for far too long, in a backpack not equipped for carrying that amount of weight. You were not meant to carry everyone else’s bricks. You were not meant to carry bricks full of shame and hurt and pain for years. You do not have to feel badly about not being able to do so. Stop carrying around whatever is not meant for you to carry. Stop carrying what no longer serves you.

I will leave you with this today:

How do you know when your backpack is full of bricks? What do you need to do to empty it out a little each day? How will you know when you are healing? What stands in your way of taking up space? What do you feel in your body when you start to think of that ? What changes do you need to make to start claiming your space? What does your space look like? What does your healing require of you today? What are you carrying around that no longer serves you? How will you part ways with that?

Warm regards,

Gigi

On love.

“Love is speaking in code.
It’s an inside joke.
Love is coming home.”

“If Work Permits”, The Format.

*I want to thank you for being patient with me as I gather myself and come back into the routine of writing. Just a little bit of disclosure, the holidays hit me a bit hard and I am recovering. I love the holidays. But for some reason, this year took me by storm and I was in a sort of daze. I am grateful for your patience and compassion.*

As the first month of this year comes to a quick close, I have been re-evaluating how I do things. Not my actions, but my processes. First on the list, is love. How do I love? What is my definition of love? What does it mean to be loved by someone? What does it mean to be loved by me? What do I know about love?

Love. The word is beautiful. The way the letters come together to create a word that is beautiful, aesthetically and in meaning. When I think about love, I don’t know what to think. It’s not that I haven’t felt love. My truth is that love, for me, is something that I have almost come to stop trusting over the years. I can almost categorize love in sections. There is love, that is a foundation type of love. Friendly love. Romantic love. Inspired and grateful love. Required love. Laborious love. Forgiving. Courageous. Authentic love.

In short, love feels like it could get pretty complicated. Or perhaps, it has always been that I have made it far more complicated than it needs to be. It seems to be the latter these days.

I lucked out. I was born into a family whose foundation is one of love. Unconditional and eternal love.

My father has always been the sort of man whose love is quiet and gentle. He shows his love with humor, and in providing. He listens. He observes. He shows up. No matter what. When I was little, I was obsessed with animals. My dad had a computer with a screensaver that was just pictures of animals. He and I would watch that screensaver all the time. He never complained or said no. It was simple and really rather laughable now, but it mattered to me back then so it mattered to him.

My mother is vocal about her love. She shows it by acts of love, and through communication. She answers the phone with “is everything okay?”. She worries. She hugs. She has made sure I know I can go to her with anything and she won’t judge me for it. My mother and I fought a lot when I was growing up. We bumped heads about everything. If she said yes, I said no. We don’t do this anymore. The older I got, the more I recognized myself in her. If you and your mother are similar, you will only ever get along once you start to recognize the qualities you share as strengths. I promise you this. My mother is a protector. She will literally bring nations to the ground for her children. In fourth grade, my teacher made a remark about my ability to multiply. My mother marched in there and had a looong talk with this woman. Some might see this as a bit helicopter-ish. But at that time, my mom became a hero for me. She has done everything in her power to make sure that I know that she will always be on my side.

My sister is quiet about her love. But she loves so hard. If you are lucky enough to be loved by my sister, you will know loyalty, forgiveness, honesty, humor, consistency, reliability. Her love is intense and fierce. When my sister loves, it is an honor. She is the most loyal person I have ever known. She has a way of making every person in her life feel special for a specific reason. Her emotions are intense and acute and she is solid in mind and body. There is nothing about my sister that is not genuine.

How beautiful a world is the one that I have described above? To know love in those ways, is something I hold so close to my heart. It is love that I never had to question. Each of those people are my soulmates. Our love as a unit makes sense to us.

The thing about love, is that someone’s understanding of it can only ever be expressed or understood as it is in their earliest experiences. This can change. It does change. When new people, new love or different love comes into the mix, things get complicated and confusing. Maybe we aren’t able to understand how someone can possibly love in the way that they do. Love gets complicated when other people bring their own definitions and understandings of love to the table. It scares us. It becomes difficult to make sense of. The way we interpret their definitions and actions of love are the things that sometimes lead to hurt.

It takes courage to love. Each time I have misinterpreted someone else’s definition of love has left me less trusting, less willing and less and open to new love. It has always been painful. It has always been risky. There is no pain like the pain that comes from realizing you had it all wrong. I have found myself growing cynical over the years around that. Doubting anyone’s kind intentions. Not allowing space for anyone new.

But what happens when it begins to impact the love you have for yourself? Sometimes we love people who are not ready for us to love them. They are not willing to accept your love, or they don’t recognize the type of love you have to offer them. Other times, they see how willing we are to love them, and take advantage of that. Both of these can be toxic without proper communication around what love really means for you and your partner or partners.

I want to take a stand and completely discredit the notion of “If you can’t love yourself, how can you love someone else?”. It’s bullshit. It’s not real. It is possible to love other people regardless of how you feel about yourself. Loving yourself is just icing on the cake, and frankly, it is a lifelong process. It will take trial and error and deep reflective practice to understand yourself. We take time to get to know other people. That is what helps us love them. If you don’t take time to know yourself, you cannot love yourself. That is where deep healing comes in. And sometimes, you are just not ready. It takes courage. It will always take courage. Love is what allows you, or asks you to be willing to share what you learn with others. But let me set the record straight right here, right now. You deserve to be loved regardless of your ability to love and understand yourself right now. Please do not let what society deems as acceptable to be the truth. For those of us in this world who struggle with self-love, it is just added pressure to place doubt on their ability to love and be loved because of circumstances surrounding their feelings towards themselves that may not be within their full control.

There was a very. Very long long time where I did not love myself. I didn’t even like myself for a longer time than that. Self-love is not something that we are born with. It takes time and courage and honesty to be able to welcome yourself home into your own body every day. When I was in my most toxic relationships, I believed I was not human. That I did not deserve love. That I was un-loveable. This false belief made me hate myself in a way that I don’t have words for. I have to give credit to my therapist for her patience with me through this. I am a firm believer that humans have all they need within them to bring themselves back, but we do need anchors sometimes. My family was that anchor. Had I not had them, and the love they provide, I am not sure I’d have made it back. After what I put them through with my abuse, I did not believe I deserved their love. I believed it so much so that I actually struggled with trusting them when they told me they would love me regardless. This is how I learned the persistence of love. The patience of love.

Cut to present day. Almost ten years since I survived Calvin’s abuse, and just over two years since what Alec did to me (abusers have names and I believe we should use them. New stance. Not sorry about it.). It was after my EMDR treatment that I realized. I love myself. I was in the shower. I was nurturing my skin and cleaning this amazing and strong vessel I inhabit when I looked at my toes and watched the water accommodate them, that for the literal first time in my life I had a thought: “I love myself!!”. I almost jumped out of the shower and ran down the street screaming it. My body and I had finally reconciled. My brain and body were finally communicating. In this moment, I realized it wasn’t just cohabitation happening within, it was an absolute friendship.

I spent the next few days basking in this glow. And I needed to know how I got there.

So I started asking questions. What is different now? What do I know about myself now? What has healed now in order for me to do this? How do I know that this is trustworthy and real? These questions start sounding like a third date. But to summarize, I was learning myself. You see, I had spent so long after my traumas wishing I could be who I was before them. It was exhausting. I was never going to be that person again. I needed to start looking at facts and stop wishing. The facts led me to understand that I am kind. Empathic. Hilarious. Realistic. Understanding. passionate. Honest. Curious. Creative. Intelligent. Capable. I was never going to be the care-free flea market loving, Footloose dancing Gina from before. And this is a good thing. Because the Gina from now is so much better. And I don’t know how I came to really believe that other than by being compassionate, and using all of the gifts I listed above with myself. Checking in frequently. Doing everything my healing required of me on that day. Every day. You will never be who you were before you were wronged. You do not need to be.

I want to circle back a little bit to the anchor part. What I mean by that, is that every human requires something to keep them grounded. For me, right after my traumas it was my family. Real and true familial love and connection. But something else I have been so incredibly fortunate to find is authentic companionship love and friendship love. They have been my anchors throughout almost the entirety of this healing process. I share this with you because I feel our anchors, are our support systems. Whether it is family, romantic partners, pets, a plant, I don’t care. Your anchors are your anchors, and as long as they don’t force you into drowning, or hold you back they are helping you. We need something to bring us out of our own heads. Anchors do this. Anchors are the lenses that help us understand how to start loving ourselves again.

So how did I get to be at a point of loving myself? Hard work. I took it on because I was ready. You have to be ready. It is daunting and terrifying and some days you will not want to do it. But you will have to do it anyway. Boundaries. Learning to say no to things that force me out of my truth and out of my power has been incredibly gratifying and liberating. And let me tell you, that the people who don’t honor your boundaries are not your people. Gentleness. Honoring my fragility. Honoring my softness when I needed to be soft. Honoring my emotions. Exploring the layers of every emotion. Therapy. So much therapy. But the biggest lesson I have learned about self-love is that sometimes it is too difficult to hear self-loving statements in your own voice. Sometimes you will require help. That is when I say that you can learn how to love yourself from the people who love you. It can be risky. But I have learned to love myself from watching the people I love, love me. Some will say that people learn to love you by how you love you. They’re not wrong. But there are exceptions. And sometimes we need examples. Rely on your anchors.

A couple of years ago, right after my assault, I started serial dating. It was shallow and I never felt a real connection with any one of them. I was terrified to be alone and I also couldn’t handle the thought of being around people who knew me well because I didn’t want to explain why I seemed so different. One night I was writing a paper due the next day and my neighbor was being so loud. I was infuriated. So I was petty and sent an email to the property management company about it. They forwarded it to him. The next day I was doing laundry and we ran into eachother in the hall. He didn’t know it was me that complained but he apologized anyway for being so loud. I said it was fine. He asked for my number so I could tell him to be quiet if he was ever too loud again. We hung out once and hit it off instantly. We were friends first. For a while. And then one night we decided we weren’t going to be just friends anymore.

I wasn’t sure what to think. I thought i was always a trusting person. But to be honest, starting this relationship with him showed me how little I trust people. It had nothing to do with him and everything to do with my experiences. He brought perspective to my life that I didn’t know I needed. I had been shutting everyone out. I was hiding. But I didn’t need to hide with him. We are buying a house together. We have a dog. His voice soothes me, and his laugh is so contagious. We have the same humor. He is patient. He does not love me in spite of everything I have been through, he chooses to love me everyday because my experiences have made me the resilient and strong woman I am today. You do not have to fit into molds for people to love you. I was terrified to tell him about my traumas. He created an environment for me to feel safe enough to tell him everything. This is part of love. Making the conscious decision to make your partner or partners feel safe enough to create a life with you regardless of past experiences. It is teamwork. I have never learned more about romantic love, partner love, and self-love in my life than I have in these two years.

Here is what I know to be true about love:
To love is a choice. People we love will hurt us and we will hurt them. You will choose whether or not that hurt is worth losing someone over. Love does not come in the form of harsh words and physical pain (unless you have both consented and agreed to it). Love is instilling power in someone. Love is trusting another individual with parts of you that you don’t show to the rest of the world. Love is an agreement to continue to grow. Love is challenging the other person or persons to be and do more. When someone steps out of character, love investigates. Love is watching someone grow and not having feelings of jealousy or anger, but gratitude for being able to witness this change. Love is not relying on anyone for anything other than who they are as an individual. Love has no grudges and certainly doesn’t hold anything over your head. Love is teamwork. Love is vulnerability. Love is being seen and acknowledged. Love is authenticity and dignity. Love is sharing room at your hearth even if the hearth is small. Love is creating safety. It is not playing it safe. It is creating safe spaces. Love is checking in. Love is long conversations in bed when you notice the other person might be in a funk. Love is giving the other person a heads up when your depression is hitting so they know it is not them. Love is not mind reading. Love is communication. Love is taking a break when emotions get too hot. Love is making fun of eachother. Love is looking forward to coming home. Love is feeling like enough. Love is discussion. Love is learning patience. Love is apologizing. Love is understanding that you don’t deem when it’s okay for someone else’s feeling to be hurt or not hurt. Love is unexpected. Love is so funny and so sweet. It is also infuriating. Love is horrible morning or dairy breath. Love is doing laundry when the other person can’t get to it or cooking even though you might hate it. Love is long nights of crying, and long nights of laughing. It is staying up late on a weeknight and texting the next day about what a bad idea that was. Love is staying in touch. Love is bringing the other person water when you realize how dehydrated they are. Love is making them soup even though they won’t eat it because they are sick. Love is watching the same movies over and over because you know they love them. Love is not discouraging them when they get excited about something. love is supporting their passions, and mindless banter. Love is not any one action or verb but a collection of them. It grows expansive throughout the years and changes as its subjects change. It is gratitude and commitment. It is seeing the same person or people every day, knowing they are home.

Here is more of what I have learned of self-love:
Self-love is healing. It is allowing yourself space to heal when you need it. It is honesty and facing painful truths. Self-love is re-parenting parts of you that were hurt as a child. Self-love is encouraging your darker hurts to show themselves so you can nurture them. Self-love does not cast judgement but enforces enlightenment and curiosity. Self-love is not minimizing compliments or cringing when someone is nice to you. Self-love is knowing you deserve the kindness you are served. Self-love is not a destination but a journey and it is ever changing. Self-love is knowing you could be someone totally different tomorrow and knowing you will love this person regardless. Self-love is knowing when you need a minute and when you are just being lazy. Self-love is forgiving the past in hope of a better now. Self-love starts as an objective exploration of what is really going on. Self-love asks you to dive deeper. Self-love is discovery. Self-love is courage. It is a huge risk. It is a huge reward. It’s defying everything everybody says you should be in search of what you need to be. Self love is the equivalent of acknowledging that you will make mistakes and are ready to do better next time. Self love is welcoming yourself back into your body when you float too far. Self-love is recognizing home in yourself. Sing it from your shower. Scream it in the streets. When you discover it, you will know no greater feeling.

Today I want to leave you with this.

How will you know what self-love means to you? How do you show love to others? What do you need in order to feel loved? Do the people in your life know this? What can you do to make sure they do? When in your life have you felt most loved? How can you create more of this in your life this year?

Warmth on this snowy day,

Gigi.

On gaining, carrying, and starting fires: A short tribute to the last decade and some exciting news.

It is January 1, 2020. I am keeping it short today. We have greeted a new decade. The earth works tirelessly each and every year for that full rotation. It’s the time of year when people make promises to “change”. As the previous ten years come to a close, I can feel a shift in the mindsets of those around me, in society, in myself. I have been seeing less of the “new year, new me” type of talk. As if we can just drop all of what we were and become some shiny and polished version. But this year is a little different.

Yesterday, I was talking to a client and I asked her about what she wants to leave in 2019. Her response was this: “Nothing. I’m taking it all with me. I deserve to remember the good things, and tools I have given myself. I don’t want to forget the past. It has granted me now”. Boom. She’s right.

I’m a sucker for new beginnings. The chance to start over. Fresh, shiny, new. A blank canvas. It’s such an exciting concept. However, it can also be short lived. Whether it’s making resolutions we don’t stick to, or changing little pieces of the whole, or taking on new challenges, facing fears, starting or ending relationships, moving, whatever your situation is, unless we use everything we have learned from the years prior to the present, none of it matters because history does, in fact, repeat itself when we are not aware of the lessons it has for us. The reality is–we are all the same people we were on December 31 regardless of the numbers. And this is a good thing. You are growing. I am growing. We are all growing. There is no need to be a new you. The you as you ever were is enough and progressing through life so beautifully. The last decade was enrichment for the soil, kindling for the fire, and the structure for a solid foundation for the next decade to come.

2019 was a year of deep reflection. I was in my head more often than I wasn’t. Universe bless those that love me enough to stick around while I floated in and out of the crevices within my brain. I am grateful. Not just for these people, not just for the experiences, but for all that the last year, the last years have given and taught me.

What the last decade has taught me to use in the next one:
1. You are by no means obligated to give any part of myself to anyone for any reason if you do not have the means, energy, or want to do so. People do not have a right to access you at any time. “No” is a complete sentence. Boundaries are a means of survival.

2. It is fine to be tired and rest when you feel you need it. Take the rest. Take the time. You do not need to feel guilty for needing it. Give your words time to form before you speak from a mindset that is fatigued. You cannot ever pour from an empty cup, so be mindful of when it is time to replenish. Give yourself permission to pause. No one else will.

3. Trusting yourself often grants you more freedom than anything in the world. Trusting yourself is never the wrong choice. You are not required to land every leap, but you will never not gain something from a leap you take. So it’s better to just take the leap.

4. You do not need to compare yourself to anyone else. You have an abundance of something the world needs. You have an abundance of something you need. Stop letting others tell you otherwise. You are enough. Self-compassion is the best friend of growth. When your inner critic comes over for lunch, let him, and keep going. No one can hurt you the way you hurt you. So be kind.

5. Whatever you feel, whenever you feel it is fine. You are not required to change the way you feel about things. Do your best not to hurt people along the way but if you do, apologize. Your emotions have power. They are designed to teach you. Listen to them.

6. Loss is just an opportunity to create something new in your life. It is the opportunity to revise what you are doing to make room for what comes next. It’s an opportunity to check in and understand what is important.

7. Honesty is the key to real, authenticity. Standing in your truth is re-claiming your power. The more honest you are with your work the more honest it will be with you. There is only ever will or won’t, do or do not, genuine or not genuine. There is no half truth, there is only truth. But you get to decide how you make sense of what that truth is.

8. Forgiveness and closure are something you can only give yourself. Stories don’t have endings unless you decide they do. It is okay to remember the impact something has on you, but try to refrain from re-living it if you want to be able to move on and flourish. You are not the things that have happened to you. It is rarely that the people who love you will not be able to forgive you for something that was not ever your fault.

9. You are resilient as hell. Whatever you are doing, you were made for it. Even on your worst days, however fragile you might feel, you are a force. You can be many things and still be growing. Fear is a building block for resilience. It deserves a place at your hearth and a seat on the bus, but never let it drive. Strength is not something that you are, it is something that is built.

10. Be curious. Seek to understand and not just to know. Seek to really, truly figure out what’s going on underneath. There is always a why. Have the conversation with yourself to figure out what it is even if takes days. You deserve to know yourself. You deserve to feel strong in your understanding. Everything is practice. Everything is asking the right questions.

What the last decade has gifted me for next one:
1. Curiosity and the ability to refrain from casting judgement.
2. The ability to make meaning out of every experience.
3. Empathy and the ability to recognize when I need to step back.
4. Forgiveness comes from within.
5. Friendship & Family- new friends, old friends, and a brother in law!
6. Love for myself and the gift of finding the love of my life.
7. Wisdom, Knowledge and self-awareness to understand my limits and what to do with all I have learned.
8. Healing from wounds I never realized I had, and some that I did.
9. Boundaries and the gift of seeing my power
10. Growth and the ability to acknowledge just how far I have come

What I am leaving in the last decade:
1. People pleasing and bending over backwards before my spine is ready.
2. Guilt and shame around what has happened by no fault of my own.
3. Comparison and the notion that I need to be doing or acting in any way that differs from what my heart needs.
4. Negative self-talk.
5. People with toxic intentions.
6. Holding mental space for my abusers.
7. The notion that anything is ever perfect.
8. The word “should”.
9. Expectations and wanting control over everything.
10. Distorted thinking.

What I am hopeful for for 2020:
1. Good and improved health.
2. Momentum, focus & Patience
3. Humor & Light
4. Clarity & Abundance
5. Knowledge & Wisdom
6. More nature
7. More adventure
8. More room for warmth and love.
9. Strength & Growth
10. Thriving and flourishing far beyond survival

2019 was the year of the fire. It was the year of discomfort and re-claiming. It was the year the earth shifted a shift so big I fell on my knees but the earth pushed back. When you ask the universe for change, you will get it. But you are going to have to work hard to make sense of the way that change manifests.

Ten years ago, I was a young, 17 year old girl. I had a lot, A LOT of learning to do. I was a little bit careless, totally unaware, completely naive and not ready. Ten years ago, I had a spark in my belly that was the result of wanting, exploring, feeling alive. This year the spark is a fire. It is raging and roaring and ready and it is not going anywhere anytime soon. That fire in my belly has spread to my limbs and my brain and my heart and I have courage. 2020 is the year of courage. Of enrichment. Of trusting myself. Of taking chances because I know I am worth it. You are too.

You are worth whatever chances you are contemplating. You are deserving of enriched and potent soil for growing. You can carry every lesson you have learned, remain who you are as you simply become better. Because growth is rarely about change, it is more often about becoming better. Doing more of what your heart requires of you. Learning more of what is of interest to you. Taking risks so you can outgrow your restrictions.

Who were you ten years ago? What has the last decade taught you? How will you move through the next ten years with the lessons you have learned? What will you do to ensure this happens for you? What has the last decade gifted you? What will you leave behind? What will you carry with you? What do you hope to learn, do, achieve, be in the next year? Next ten years? How will you acknowledge progress? What has been your kindling? What can you do right now to get your fire rolling?

Warmest wishes ,

Gigi

What happens next
Folx. I have some exciting news:

I am starting a podcast with plans to launch by the beginning/mid February. I will be providing you with more details as the time nears, but stay tuned. The focus is on mental health, resilience, and the concept of self-care practice. It is called, How Are You, Really?.

Come January 5th, I will have officially obtained my certification as a life coach. Which means I am moving in the direction of launching my career as a resilience & curiosity coach. I am building my website at the moment, so if you are interested in working with me, stay tuned for details on that as well. As part of this practice, I will be starting a newsletter which will contain free self-care and journal writing prompts as well as any resources I am utilizing at the moment as an area of interest. When you sign up for the newsletter you will have access to major updates, as well as an opportunity to get little knowledge nuggets which might spike your interest. The newsletter will be monthly/bi-monthly.

Happiest of January, warmth, love and joy as you enter this new year.

I’ll talk to you, Sunday !

On depression, the ten essentials and self-compassion.

Trigger warning: Themes of depression, and hopelessness. Discretion is advised.

“ Once it snowed, and it wasn’t that I felt great,
because I felt awful, but awful is better than nothing.
Depression wasn’t an endless grey sky,
it was no sky at all. ”

Neil Hilborn, “Our Numbered Days”.

I took a break this week.

It was Monday morning and I had just had blood work done and I had had the flu shot on Friday but was still feeling like garbage. I could tell internally that something was not right with myself and my soul. I felt off and sad and angry. So I did something I am not used to doing. I checked in with my supervisors, called my clients to cancel and went home and slept. I slept for three hours. I got up, took a shower and slept some more.

It helped. Positive re-enforcement for the fact that listening to your body is, in fact, a good thing.

I was feeling sad and down and depressed. But on the way home I realized something. I felt guilty for leaving unless I had a physical reason to do so. Me, a mental health provider, felt guilty for leaving work because of mental health. I could only warrant it because I had physical problems going on too. Perhaps a harsh realization of the fact that I have been living within a version of stigma and not aware. But why?

I have a clinical diagnosis of major depressive disorder, anxiety, OCD (in remission), trichotillomania (also, mostly in remission), and PTSD (growing all the time). I struggle with my anger. I struggle with boundaries and people pleasing (getting better every day). I’m a chronic worrier. When there is nothing to be worried about, I worry about the fact that I have nothing to worry about. If my environment isn’t perfect, I will freak out in less than .25 seconds. Too hot? Open all the windows right now and give me a bag of ice. The bed comforter is a little askew? I’m not sleeping until it is perfect. The lighting too bright? I will literally hide and/or cringe until it is better. These diagnoses are all like waves. They come and go and through the years I have gotten better at not waiting around for the next wave of whatever DSM-5 delight is headed my way.

I have carried each of these diagnoses for some time. But, the oldest book in my bag is depression. I don’t remember exactly when it “struck”. I just remember that my lows got to be really, really low at some point. It became harder to come out of it through the years. For the longest time, I fought medications. I didn’t let myself go to therapy–I had been in and out of therapy throughout my life and never felt like I had accomplished anything. I was skeptical about the efficacy of anything but my own brain. But I had a chemical imbalance. I still do. It is a psychological illness. And I refused to do anything about it for a long friggin’ time. If this were a broken leg, I’d have gone and seen a doctor. Gotten an x-ray. Plopped a cast on it. Went to physical therapy. So why is a chemical imbalance any different? Because we can’t see it? Because we aren’t trained to identify when something feels wrong? Because we should be able to just “suck it up”? Because having depression is “just self pity”? Because? Because what?

Depression. It’s the unwelcome guest that crashes the dinner party late, comes a little drunk, and brings up your most embarrassing stories for all to hear. You want to take it and shove it out the window and tell it you’re breaking up with it forever. But maybe at some point you realize you can’t ever fully kick this person out of your life, so you stop reacting and just wait for it’s spiel to be over. Your dinner party guests get used to it, and offer to help clean up the mess. You offer a half smile and say thanks, and begin cleaning up in a pregnant silence, wondering when your drunk friend will ever get their shit together.

Depression. I think of the word and I instantly feel my shoulders slump over. I immediately slow down. My breathing becomes less involuntary and uneven. I want to crawl under the sheets and turn the lights off. I just want to hide. I know we all experience sadness. And maybe most have been depressed for a time a two. But there is a major difference between feeling depressed and having depression. Depression is rarely something that just goes away. Mine took four years of weekly therapy and a nice dose of 75 mg of Venlafaxine ER nightly to stabilize. I’m still not 100%. I still see my therapist every month, and the meds are the same.

I often envision my depression as a ditch, or a sink hole and I am a circus bear dressed like a cute little clown on a unicycle just wheeling around in circles around this ditch. I could lose my balance and drift right in at any time. Sometimes I am able to keep upright. It used to be that even the slightest thing could send me right into that ditch. And there are days where this is still the case. I wake up and I know instantly where I am at for the day. But that’s just it. I know where I stand for the day. THIS is progress. I gave up a long time ago on the expectation that my depression would ever truly go away. But I have learned to approach every day with the mindset of meeting myself right where I am.

Some days are so productive and so alive and so fruitful for so many reasons. And other days, I am lucky if my greatest achievement for the day is getting out of bed. There is only one major thing that has changed throughout all of this that has made either outcome something I am okay with. I stopped getting mad at myself for not being able to (insert daily tasks here) because of my depression. I stopped getting angry with myself for having a chemical imbalance. I stopped becoming frustrated when I couldn’t focus because I was too sad. I started to listen to what my heart and brain and soul required of me every. damn. day. Sometimes it is ritual. A cup of tea made slowly for the sole purpose of showing my body nourishment. Sometimes it is a pint of ice cream. Sometimes it is just letting myself feel how I feel. Sometimes it is total isolation and other times it is surrounding myself with love, soft blankets and wearing cozy clothing. But in order to have this knowledge, I had to stop and really really listen.

Depression. Ugh. There are hardly words to explain what it feels like. It’s heavy and dark. It doesn’t let light in, and when it does, the light is usually too bright anyway. It’s controlling and doesn’t let you see your friends. It takes all of your energy. It requires every ounce of strength from you and the some. It makes itself known in every way it can. It has a grasp that is cold and menacing. There is a gravitational pull that happens with depression that is a force to be reckoned with. It is messy. It is not showering for days. It mood swings, and weird cravings, and also you’re not hungry at all. It’s staring at walls wondering if the paint can hear your thoughts or if you are going crazy. It’s staring out windows and finding yourself leaving your body. It’s watching life as if it were a movie. It’s “never being good enough” to be a part of someone’s plans. It’s fear that you will “just bring everyone else down”. It’s not being able to speak because it might take up too much energy. It’s feeling hollow and empty. Like really, really feeling like there is nothing inside of you. It’s not being able to speak because words aren’t there any more. It’s focusing on absolutely nothing and not being able to focus on anything. It’s dark humor. It’s not being able to sleep or sleeping so often you lose track of time. It’s crying. So much crying. It’s crying so much you can’t cry anymore. It’s being numb. It’s not feeling. a. damn. thing. It’s wondering what the hell is wrong? It’s changes in grades or work performance. It’s self-depreciating statements. It’s constant second guessing. It’s wanting to change but feeling like you don’t know where to start. It’s wondering if days ever get better and also not caring. It’s wonder what your worth is. It’s feeling pain all over your body for “no reason”. It’s having skin that feels like it is full of needles and not knowing where or how to fix it. It’s not being able to find the light in a room made of light bulbs. It is exhausting. It is invisible. And if you think you have it, I believe you. Because it is real. And it is painful.

Depression. It is heavy. It’s clunky and doesn’t fit well in any space. It seems to be attached to you wherever you go though, so “it has to fit somewhere“. Right? Maybe. Maybe it is something you can allow space for. Maybe it isn’t something you need to eradicate from your life. Maybe it is something you simply need to understand rather than try to “fix”–you’re not broken. Sometimes, we need to be curious about why things happen or are coming up for us. Depression does not have to rule your life. I’m not saying it ever becomes easier. I think we, as humans, just get better at learning the nature of depression in the way that we experience it as individuals. We come up with tools along the way.

I often equate this to camping. It is suggested and good practice to pack a bag at the beginning of a hike with the “ten essentials”. These are ten items you would utilize to prevent an emergency or to handle an emergency should one arise. Things like extra water, hats, a knife, food, a first aid kit, fire starting materials etc. But take a minute to remove yourself from the hiking mindset of it all to a mindset of mental well-being. If your wellness journey is similar to that of a hike, which ten items (concepts, coping skills, resources etc.) do you require to ensure a safe travel? Keep in mind that these ten essentials may change as we are fluid beings, our needs change with the tides. Whenever I bring this up with clients, I ask them to really be specific, because ten items is both not enough and too many at once. Some find things like “hope”, “support”, “family”, “friends”, all fit into their wellness journey bag. But something I NEVER hear is self-compassion. People just don’t go there. I often wonder if this has anything to do with why people are depressed in the first place. It might be. But I haven’t conducted that study yet.

Why is it so scary to be self-compassionate? Why is it so difficult? Hell, what does it even mean? Self-compassion. It does not mean being easy on yourself or taking the easy way out. Self-compassion is approaching your own being with that similar to how you would a friend or a loved one (that you have a good, healthy relationship with). It’s opening your eyes each day and choosing to show up for yourself however you might need to on this day. It’s asking yourself about your needs and giving you those things. It’s advocating for yourself when no one else will. It’s acknowledging that maybe you are doing too much right now and it might be time to take a step back. It’s making a love offering every day for the person that you are. It is choosing, each day, to strive to understand you a little bit more. It’s asking the right questions. It’s thinking and exploring the person that exists within the vessel of flesh and bones and water that makes you you. It’s doing something that is meaningful to you. It’s creating ritual to allow for positive nourishment of the self. It’s regressing and not becoming angry about it. It’s acknowledging any progress you have made. It’s changing the language you use with yourself conscientiously so that you are not being mean to you anymore. It’s not speaking to yourself in your abuser’s tone of voice anymore. It’s choosing to identify one thing abut yourself every day that makes you worthy of what you seek. It’s creating healthy boundaries in your life so that harm cannot befall your soul. It’s not standing in lies, and living your truth to reclaim your power. It’s not forcing anything. It’s allowing emotions to come and go. It’s greeting challenges like old friends, and lending them an ear so that they can feel heard. It’s being honest about who is in your life, and why. It’s making a plan to try your best which is much different than making a plan for “success”. It’s understanding that the original plan for success will change thirty five times before you realize you are standing in it one day. It’s being gentle with yourself. It’s loving caresses on your own skin until you believe it exists for more than the criticism and pleasure of others. It’s acknowledgement of any effort, and identifying areas of growth. It’s finding your passions through trial and error. It’s having courage to try things you won’t be good at. It’s being fine with not being good at some of those things. It’s dropping expectation, altering standards, and seeing what happens when you provide a safe space void of judgement for yourself to grow. These things are meeting yourself where you are. And it is the only way, I have found, to really make a dent in managing my depression.

I used to find self-compassion difficult and sometimes it still is. It is work. It is not an easy practice. I had to change the language I was using with myself. I had to stop becoming so reactive to my own actions. It took me a long time to become okay with saying something kind to myself. And if this is a struggle you have, I would encourage you to consider this: If hearing positive feedback in your own language and voice towards yourself is too difficult right now–whose voice must you hear it in to believe it to be true?

Circling back just a bit to the idea of the ten essentials, I want to take a quick second to speak on what to do with the things you have to take out of the bag. We often, as a society, talk about what else we can take on to make our lives easier. But what about what we need to take off? What is in your bag that has been in there for way too long? Is it still serving you? Did it ever serve you? How did you wind up with it? What are you going to do to take out? Who was the original owner? Maybe it is time to give it back. It is not your responsibility to take things on that do not belong to you. Part of self-compassion is recognizing what is rightfully yours to take on what is not. You are not required to share anyone’s load. If you so choose to, keep it on a timeline be firm about it. I believe you have superpowers, but this is not one of them. So get rid of it. Give it back. Do whatever the hell you have to do to give it back.

Depression does not change all that much. But you do. You gain insight. Your days become less agonizing. You find your worth again. You actually start to believe it is possible. The next time you feel like you might need a day off, or some time–take it. Spend some time being compassionate with yourself. A chemical imbalance is JUST as serious as an injured leg with worse long term impacts if left untreated. If you disagree, I am open to a debate at any time. If your boss disagrees, send them my way. The things that need to get done will get done. But do not put yourself at risk of mental decline to do it. Nothing is more important than your mental freedom. Depression is not about picking yourself up and dusting yourself off. It’s about sitting in the dirt for a second to assess if you are alright, assessing why you fell in the first place, and following your gut in what to do about it. Sometimes you will need help. Most times, actually. And that is actually fine and great. It’s okay to rely on a therapist for a bit. It’s okay to need medications to get you to a point where you can even pick up the phone to call a therapist. It’s okay that you don’t want any of it. No one does. But they will be there when you are ready.

When was the last time you allowed yourself to be gentle with you? Last week? A month ago? A year ago? Ever? How do you choose to show up for yourself every day? What do you need to let go of? What do you need to give back? How are you going to empty your backpack? What will you replace those items with ? Will you replace them at all? What are your ten essentials? What language do you use to speak to yourself? Does it need to change? How? When are you going to allow yourself to be more self-compassionate and gentle with you? What does that mean to you? What steps can you take TODAY to start?

Love, warmth and cozy feelings on this Sunday morning,

Gigi.

If you or someone you know struggles with depression or thoughts of suicide please contact:

Lifeline: 2-1-1

National Suicide Prevtion Hotline:
1-800-273-8255

pyschologytoday.com (has amazing resources that can allow you to search for a therapist by zip code, insurance, and specialties)

On trusting yourself, self-love, reclaiming yourself and closeness after trauma.

TRIGGER WARNING: This post explore mental, emotional and sexual trauma and its impacts on relationships with self and others. Discretion is advised.

“I have realized that the moon
did not have to be full for us to love it.
That we are not tragedies
stranded here beneath it.”

-Buddy Wakefield

Friends. Today, I come to you to discuss what has probably been the heaviest of endeavors of 2019. My partner came in to this room three times, while I prepared to write this one, and I had not yet started. I don’t know why these topics are so hard for me to explore. But I suppose I am about to find out. I’m going to get a little jumbly, and it is likely that I will jump around. I don’t know how else to do this. Here we go: Trust. Self-love. Closeness.

I have never been a touchy feely sort of person. I don’t recall ever being the kind of person who loves hugging. Maybe I was when i was a child, but if that is so, I have no recollection. I have, however, always considered myself a very trusting individual. It has only come to my very recent attention that, in fact, I trust no one. I don’t know how that came to be, but it is something I am looking at these days.

When I started writing this, I had planned to write about intimacy. But here is the thing. The word intimacy is something I am not yet comfortable even saying, and I found that in order for me to even write this post, I had to look at the most fitting synonym for the word. The word intimacy makes me cringe. I feel a very visceral bodily reaction to it, and I want to hide my body in a burlap sack and disappear into the darkness like some old maid from a movie based in the Dark Ages. I get chills. I do not like it. I get mad about not liking it. Intimacy. The simple of act of opening oneself to another in a way that exposes the realest version of who they are. Intimacy is not all about physical touch (though sometimes it can be). Intimacy is connection. Intimacy is closeness. It is deliberate closeness with a focus on joining in some way. It includes things like trust, and understanding.

I am a survivor. I have never not seen myself as a survivor. But the word survivor does not ever make me feel like less of a “victim”. I do that. I change my perspective on that. A title means nothing if you don’t own it. Because what is surviving if you’re not trying to live, and love, and trust, and be able to respect your own skin again?

When I met my partner, I thought I was fine. Our story is beautiful and cute, and honestly movie worthy. When we met, neither of us were looking for each other. He had just ended a long term relationship and I had been assaulted about a month beforehand. Weird timing, but it was meant for us. We connected in a way that is really not common anymore. We continued to hang out with little expectation. We found common threads, and all it was was friendship. He became someone I felt safe around. He showed me early on that I could trust him. He was the first person following my assault that was new to me who had no expectations of me. He probably will never truly understand the importance of that.

I have always been really upfront with him about my experiences and the things that have happened. I did that, initially, because in my eyes “he deserved to be aware of what he was getting into–about how damaged I was”. He was appreciative of my opening up to him. But it wasn’t so he could prepare himself emotionally. I don’t know if either of us realized it at the time, but it built trust. It built a closeness between us that allowed for us to see deeper into one another’s hearts and hurts. He has never once said that I am damaged individual. He understands that I have simply been hurt and asked to face challenges that many others have not. He is patient with me, and supportive. He is able to see me in a light that I am sometimes unable to see myself in. I am very well aware of how fortunate I am to have him in my life and I recognize that not everyone has this gift in their own lives. But that is why I want to discuss what is next.

Sometimes, when we do not have people or supports in our lives who can fully understand what has happened and what we have survived in our lives, we do not feel as though we are capable of connection. We feel as though there is a barrier always standing in our way. No matter how hard we try to push this barrier down, it stands there firm, in its power as a reminder that we “are not like everyone else”. It feels as though there is a mark on our physical being, a stamp indicating that not only are we fragile, but we have been declared as undesirable. That there is something wrong enough with us that we will never be able to form a close bond with anyone again. That in turn is what blocks trust. Trust in others and trust in ourselves. It destroys our ability to love ourselves again. We feel dirty, and unworthy. There is so much shame and so much guilt that comes along with this label. But what hurts most is that this label is silent. We disguise it by trying to disappear. Take attention off of who we are. Some of us self-medicate. Sometimes we feel as though nothing we do in life will ever be enough.

Speaking from my experiences, I can say I have come a long way. But in the days, years, and months following my abuse, and my assault I found it impossible not to categorize myself as a non-human. It was not out of choice, it was just what I was used to. That my body was meant to be an experience, some conquest for an angry man who probably has suffered his own hurts. That I would never hold any permanence in anyone’s life. That I could never exist as anything more than a tool to allow for temporary satisfaction, be it physically or emotionally. I didn’t feel like I deserved anything good in life. Like my skin was just a waste, and that my intellect, and love and courage were insignificant. That I had nothing to offer and that anyone who would try to engage in a closeness with me, would be risking their own being. I felt like I would become someone’s project. That I would exhaust them. That I was unlovable. My brain had gaping holes in it, with large gaps in time, and distorted thoughts.

It took years of therapy to re-claim myself. It has taken me a long long time to stop hating myself. It has taken me a long time to allow myself to grow into the little sprout of life I have become. I have good days. I have bad days. But one thing has never changed. On even my worst days, I chose to trust myself. Whenever I have been in the thick of my depression, I have found that the only person who really knows what I need is me. And you know what? The same goes for you. You are the expert in you. No one gets to tell you otherwise.

I used to believe that I had to forgive myself for my own traumas. But I had it wrong. I have only ever had to forgive myself for not allowing myself whatever I needed to heal right when I needed it.

We are not responsible for the pain the others have brought unto us. Read it again. It is not your fault.

Whatever it is, it is not your fault. I think what is most difficult is believing that. What is more difficult than believing that is allowing ourselves to trust who we are and what we need. Because if you are a survivor, there was a long time where others got to decide that for you. Your power was taken away from you.

Choosing to trust yourself is allowing yourself to take that power back. And you deserve that.

Trusting yourself. It is the first step in being able to build connection with someone else. It is the first step in understanding that you get to make decisions. You can decide what you wear. You can decide what to eat, and who gets to live within the synapses of your brain.

Trusting comes in parts. But I am a firm believer that if you are not in full support of trusting your own self, you might not be ready to give some of the trust that is leftover to others.

I want to give you an image. You are standing in a field. It is flat land, and it is beautiful. You look into the palms of your hands and notice three little seeds. You decide to plant these little seeds. You don’t know what plant will come from them, but you do it anyway. You return to this spot every day to care for these seeds. They start to sprout and reach for the sun. One day, you cannot make it to the field, so you ask the neighbor and they agree. You ask them again. Then they start offering, they don’t mind. Then they start going without asking. When you return to your field, you find your sprouts wilted and dried up. You ask the neighbor what happened and they report to you that they have done everything as you asked. When you start reflecting on your broken garden, you realize, the only difference on these days was that YOU weren’t the one to care for them. Perhaps then, the neighbor didn’t know how much to water your plants, or how much light to give them. Maybe they just made decisions based on what they thought would be best for the plants. Maybe they had ulterior motives. Either way, the plants are gone. There is nothing you can do about it now. But you can plant new ones. The moral being: your garden can never grow the way you need it to if you aren’t the one watering it.

This is what happens when we do not trust ourselves. We lose our fields. We lose ourselves. Others take over the gardens. Plants die and we will never have that exact plant back again. This is what happens with trauma and abuse.

You are the only one that is always going to show up for you in the way that you need. But the key is this: You need to let you do it. This can feel terrifying after trauma and abuse. But to do so is self-love. When you do this, you are not only helping yourself build trust in you, but you are demonstrating to others what they can and cannot do when you claim your part of the picture.

After my traumas, I did not know myself anymore. I couldn’t let myself into my own head for fear that I would not recognize what was in there. When I finally did, I was right. I didn’t recognize anything. So I had to do some digging. I found old chests with cobwebs on them full of memories and photos and things I had long forgotten. I found old clothes that did not fit anymore. I had to use a flashlight to find my way, for it was far too dark in the crawlspaces in my brain. I grabbed a broom and got to work. I got rid of the dust and started to transform the space again. I got rid of clothes that no longer fit. I reorganized. I filed away the the old papers and photos. I downsized. I locked the doors and opened the blinds. I made it mine again.

Those doors stayed locked though. Eventually I got so comfortable in my space, that I wouldn’t let ANYONE in. In fact, I put bars on the windows, and a deadbolt on the door and installed a high security alarm system with motion sensors and heavy artillery. I wasn’t ready for anyone else. I had work to do.

I spent time working in this space. Ensuring that I was addressing everything I had left untouched. Leaving no stone unturned. Now was the time to start to reconnect and become close with myself again. I re-acquainted with myself, learning all my new favorites, asking myself the hard questions, caring for myself. Giving myself time to learn that I am trustworthy. That I would never let anyone into this holy territory again. This, my sacred space, a nest for nurturing and working through. Learning my softness.

When I met my partner, it’s true, we worked together to build our trust in one another. It happened slowly. Eventually, I gave him the passcode to my security system. We have not gone without challenges. He has had to learn my softness. He has had to work hard alongside with me. There are days where I still have a bar or two on the window, and the I remember he is safe and he can come back in. What helps, is constantly discussing and checking in with one another. When something isn’t right, we discuss it. Sometimes, we lose sleep discussing it. But one night of lost sleep is worth an eternity of nights next to him. I have had to work harder on allowing space for him in my sacred little attic brain.

The reason I bring all of this to the table tonight, is in hopes that as the reader, you will recognize that healing from trauma and working toward intimacy and closeness and self-love is not linear. This journey has been one with ebs and flows and it sometimes feels like work more than I would care to admit. I had to readjust my thoughts around what survival meant. Around what self-love, trust, and closeness all mean in relation to my experiences and what I am capable of doing and expanding into for RIGHT now. Because this will change.

In five years, I may be in a better place for allowing people in. In five years, I may be living in a cottage on a mountain with my partner and my dog and you may never hear from me again. I’m not even kidding. It can be that extreme when trauma has been a part of your life. Trying to explain it to people feels like a hopeless endeavor. You don’t need to explain it to everyone. But if you feel up to it, sometimes explaining it to the person who knocks on your door every day, rain or shine, can allow for little sprouts of trust to build. I am not saying to let others be in control for your garden. I am saying, show others how to care for your garden when they show up time and time again. I am not saying let people into your attic brain immediately. I am saying, wait and watch to see who continues to show up every day at the same time. This is not testing. This is re-building. This is trusting yourself enough to acknowledge when it is okay to trust someone else.

When I think of trusting myself, I think about listening to what my body needs. Be it soft shirts, or quiet or vegetables, I listen. I don’t ask why, I just give it what it needs. That is building self-trust and self-love. Being so dependable for yourself that you never have to question if you are willing to show up for yourself, you just do it. Our hearts and souls require this of us.

Trusting someone else is choosing to let them see parts of you that you do not show to others, and being willing to take that risk within reason of what you are capable of doing right now. You are not required to do this for anyone. It is a choice. It is important and it is risky and sometimes it can be hurtful. There is no way to know how trusting someone else ends up. But that is why we need to be able to trust ourselves first–so we can choose to let others in when we are ready. It is worth it. And it is possible.

I do not believe in the phrase “love yourself before you love someone else”. It is unrealistic. Loving oneself is an eternal journey. It is an end goal with millions of little actions leading up to it. It is daily practice. It can never be made official. It is not measurable.

Trusting oneself before trusting others is a simple way to re-frame however, because it requires action. It requires measurable milestones. If I am going to go to my therapist to work on mental health issues, I can build my trust in myself by follow through. This leads to self-love, leads to stronger self-connection, leads to understanding of shared experiences, leads to vulnerability. This is the path to intimacy and closeness and healing. When you are able to show up for yourself so deliberately, intentionally and without fail every single time you need to, that you are able to trust your vulnerability in the arms of someone else.

Intimacy (closeness). I still struggle with it. I continue to do this work every day. Intimacy is terrifying. It requires a full-frontal plain-faced view of another person. It can involve cards and tables and throwing them into a pile and presenting them in an authentic way. If we are to do this honestly, we are not arranging cards into neat piles. We are throwing the deck in front of someone and saying “Here it is. I trust myself and my experiences enough to know that whatever you make of this does not change me. I am whole exactly as I am. I am choosing to trust you because I would like to be closer with you and I need you to be aware of what I have experienced as it may have an impact on how I let you in. These cards aren’t here for you to organize, they are only here so we know how to move forward”. That is real intimacy and closeness.

How do you know when you trust yourself? What do you do to ensure that you are maintaining your garden? How will you know when someone else has taken over? How do you actually define, trust, closeness and self-love? What are you doing to grow these seeds? What are you doing to clean out your attic brain? How will you know when it is time to give someone the passcode (keep in mind, this is not always a romantic partner)? How do you show up for yourself every single day?

Warmth,

Gi

On fragility, hurt, fear and anger.

Let the wild rumpus start!

-Maurice Sendak, “Where the Wild Things Are” (1964).

Buckle up! This is a long one. I am talking about the wild things today. I do not mean the book. I mean about the wild things that exist within us. Emotions. Feeeeeeeeeeeeeeelings. The icky stuff.

As far back as I can remember, I have been angry. I am an angry person. I am the first to admit this. Usually when I say this, I get the same reaction each time: “What!? No way! You always seem so bubbly!”. Eye roll. I can recall times when I would be talking to my mom, and she would gently say “Gina, you are so angry”. It usually was met with some annoyed teenage response, only further proving her point. I don’t ever recall a time when I was not carrying around some big old bag full of anger . I would imagine by now that this bag is old, and worn and probably the straps are hardly hanging on.

I have gotten better about recognizing when my shoulders need a break from my anger bags. I have developed an understanding by now, that when I feel angry, I am in full control of how I express it. My anger and I have a mutual understanding now. Now, when I am angry I ask my anger a question. It’s simple, and effective: “What are you trying to tell me?”. We do not feel emotions unless our bodies and brains are trying to communicate with us. Anger is usually the result of some type of hurt, or fear or sadness.

When I was 7, my dad was diagnosed with kidney cancer. I very specifically remember a night when I heard him coughing so much that it woke me up. I don’t know what happened next. I know he went to the hospital. The next thing I remember is finding out he was sick. My seven year old brain could not understand what cancer was, but I knew it was bad based on the feeling I got. Based on the fear I could recognize in everyone around me. I think this was my first real experience with anger. I was terrified. My dad. My hero. The guy who would sit in front of a screen saver with me just so I could watch tropical animals play on a loop. The guy who would lie on the floor in my room and read me bed time stories and fall asleep before me. The guy who couldn’t swim but still got in the pool with me to ensure I had a good time. I had only known him for seven short years, probably four of which that I actually would remember. I was furious. The idea that I could lose him terrified me. Of course, back then, I did not have words in the way that I do now. Which made me angrier.

If you are curious, my dad survived the cancer. Twice. He is a bad ass. But my dad never verbally questioned the way things are in my presence. My father handled cancer with grace. He had my mother to rely on. They are a beautiful team. My father had never shown fear that was outwardly visible to me through any of this. He just did what he had to do, because as far as he was concerned, he had two little munchkins waiting for him at home. My father, if he was angry about his cancer, never showed it. I think this is where he and I differ immensely. My father has always worked hard. He loves to plant things, and he enjoys the simple things in life. He spends his Saturdays making bread and cheese. In the summer he enjoys tending to his plants and in the winter he cures meat. He is the only person I have ever met that has a certainty about him. I have always thought of him as “Mr. Fix-It”. He can fix anything, from the many computers I have destroyed to my first broken heart. It has always seemed like my dad has life figured out. He has always instilled in me the notion that life is a series of decisions, and that all we can really do is our best. We will change whatever we can, but there are things we will simply need to accept. He never has expectations. He lets emotions and anger and difficulty roll off his back. I think my father realized a long time ago that there is very little in life that is in the control of life’s subjects.

I think what often times we don’t realize is that anger is so often a result of feeling fragile, and sad and hurt. There is a small child inside that cringes as one might after a scolding, each time we become angry. It is so instinctual. It is our mind and our body telling us that we feel hurt, or sad, or fragile and we have to do something fast to protect that hurt. True, real, rage and anger comes from a very deep place within us that has been made to feel fragile more than once, and is growing weary of it. Anger is a defense for the parts of us that we don’t feel we have protected sufficiently enough. Anger is the response our body wants to give each time it is asked to sacrifice some part of the original plan, or some part of itself for the sake of someone else. Anger is the result of a fast judgement. It also helps us survive. Anger is not in existence to make our lives difficult. It still does, but the intentions are good. I often think of anger as a small child who has spilled milk all over the kitchen floor because they did not want to ask for help in an attempt to develop independence. That child feels helpless right in that moment. It is a moment of true fragility. It is in this moment, that the child realized they were not ready to pour milk on their own yet. Anger comes to us when we make the realization that we were not ready to hear, do or be something just yet. It comes to us when we have not met expectations, specifically our own. Anger is not designed to be hurtful, but it can present that way. Anger is not designed to show you weaknesses, it is there to help us build on our strengths. We become angry when we feel we are lacking, or when we feel something has been taken from us.

I have spent a long time getting to know my anger, my hurt and my fragility. And you know what? I still don’t know them very well. They’re unpredictable. They’re sharp and mean and reactive. I think of them as the first responders for my emotional crises.

But what does it mean to actually experience these things? I’ll break it down. I’m sure it is different for you, but I will explore them each.

To feel anger is to feel betrayed. It manifests as sweaty palms, increased heart rates, flushed face, tunnel vision. I have described my anger as a caged animal. I have described it as a snake waiting to strike venom into whomever is willing “to go there”. It’s lashing out, cutting people off, thinking and acting impulsively. That is what it feels and manifests like. That is not what it is. What I really think is that anger is the result of feeling fragile, fearful, sad.

To feel fragile is to feel incapable at times, but mostly it is to feel isolated. It is to feel that every bodily movement is weighted down with cinder blocks. It is to feel as though you could break at any moment. It’s the thought that you are not enough. It’s filling your head with thoughts that do not serve you. It’s knowing that none of those statements are factual, but all of them feel real and hurt so much more than anything anger could do to you. Fragility is lack of trust in oneself.

To feel fear is to feel uncertain. It’s an acute anxiety that rings hot in your ears when things change quickly. It’s not knowing the outcome in a life or death situation. It’s not knowing the outcome in any situation. It’s both never seeing an end in sight but also seeing all the endings at once. It’s having something removed or placed in your life without your say. It’s loss of control and power. It’s the notion that everyone else has it “more together than you do”.

To feel hurt is to feel as though you have been wronged. Someone has, deliberately or not so, done something that has created pain in your life. Perhaps it was you who created your own pain. Perhaps it was the sidewalk after your tripped on your shoelace. Perhaps it was the alarm clock when you hit snooze too many times and wound up late. To feel hurt makes us vengeful. It makes us want revenge, and it makes us want others to know that same pain because it simply “isn’t fair”. To feel hurt is to feel that someone or yourself has done something so inherently the opposite of your own values and principles that it causes a bodily response.

The idea is not necessarily to educate you, but to help you understand what I mean when I say that anger is really just a reaction to a wound. Whether it be out of fear, hurt, or fragility, it is the result of something that has put us in a position to feel ill-equipped with what is on our plates. It’s confusing. It is important.

Of all the feelings, these are the most personal. These are the ones with the most to say. They stick around with us the longest. I have learned, only recently, the importance of taking them off once in a while, like the back pack i mentioned earlier. These are emotions that we, as humans, must develop relationships with. I am not saying it is time to become best buddies, but it might be a good idea to reach out to them the next time they knock on your door.

We’re going to get a little visual. The last time these three knocked on my door, I decided to try something different. I greeted them all by their names: Ghee, Franklin, and Teddy. I have let them come and go as they pleased. I did’t invite them in but when they knocked on the door to visit, I was ready with biscuits in the cupboard for them. They took their tea with cream and a little over done. They enjoyed butter on the biscuits. They never considered taking their shoes off. They all smelled funny, but it was hard to place what the smell was. They had sharp teeth and claws and they chewed with their mouths open. They stayed about thirty minutes to an hour and when they left they didn’t bother to pick up after themselves. They just needed a place to rest and banter on. I listened. I asked questions. When they left, I cleaned up their mess and forgot about them. It does me no good to wait around for the next time they will come. I took a deep breath. I put the stale biscuits away. I put the tea away. I cleaned up the table in the cottage kitchen in my mind. I opened the blinds, the sun spilled in. Over time, I have realized their stays have grown shorter and shorter. They are merely messengers. I tolerate them. They tolerate me. It is a working relationship. I hold the control.

These guests are only fleeting, not dissimilar to a breeze, if I let them be. It does not mean they won’t leave a mess. We will likely have to tidy up after. But there is nothing like having the opportunity to re-arrange your space, anyway. Emotions and feelings are not facts. They only exist to help us understand ourselves and our circumstances. In the case with my father, I was feeling fragile, fearful and hurt. It manifested as anger for a lot of years. I had to understand that to learn to be able to accept anger, and its role in my life. I had to understand that it never existed to hurt me, it was only ever trying to help.

These feelings are natural. We do not have to hide them. We just have to do our part in trying to understand them. Ask questions. Explore. Understand. Clarify. It won’t always make sense all the time. But these feelings won’t go away until you acknowledge them. The longer they stay, the messier their tea time gets. In turn, the angrier you get, because that is YOUR kitchen.

As long as we continue to see these things negative emotions and feelings, we will never be able to understand them. Our instincts tell us to get rid of the pain and the hurt and “negative emotions”. We don’t want to feel them so we do everything we can to stop. Trying all different approaches and techniques. We never think to sit in it. Society places more value on feeling good, and positive psychology which all has a place in the world, but so does the “negative”. The real issue lies in calling them anything other than natural.

The next time you feel anger, hurt, fear, fragility ask them to tea. Let them be for a while.

What are they trying to teach you? What is the take away? What are you going to do about it? When and how? What needs to be different next time? What will you name your guests? What will you serve them? How can you have an open conversation with them? What do you notice about how long they stay? What are the patterns? What can you do to ease their worry? What do you want to say to them? How can you develop a relationship with them?

When they leave, tidy up. Pull the blinds up. Let the sun in. You do not need to live life waiting for them to come back around.

Warmth,

Gigi