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

On authenticity, honesty and a touch of vulnerability.

” Re-examine all you have been told
in school or church or in any book,
Dismiss whatever insults your own soul;
And your very flesh shall be a great poem… “

Walt Whitman

When I was in undergrad I studied BFA Sculpture. Maybe you knew that, maybe not. I love art. I love art in every single form. I am certain it was my first real language. It is the only way I have ever been able to make sense of the world, or apply meaning to the things that happen around me. It is my answer to all of life’s hardest questions.

Art and I have a very complicated relationship though. Art has never sugar coated anything when it speaks back to me. It has something to say about everything. Sometimes it is so loud, I would rather burn it than face what it’s giving me. I used to say that art was my personal garbage, splayed out into this jumbled creation. Sometimes I still feel that way. Sometimes art is my very best friend. It is the only thing that knows exactly what I am thinking whenever I create it. It forces me to confront all my problems head on. It is a direct representation of where I am in life at any given time. It’s honest. It’s clear and blunt and rude and hurtful and so authentic.

There was a time when creating authentically was something I had lost sight of. I became so focused on creating something that would tell some big important story. I created these big installation visuals in my head and it felt wrong. I was trying to appeal to a piece of me that was not real. My professor, Bob, sat me down one day. We had life talks often. He is the only person I know who is the direct embodiment of art. Not in his appearance but in the way that he approaches life. He is so authentic and genuinely true to himself, that it would be impossible not to be intimidated by him. His desk was neat but not too neat. Drawing of birds decorated the walls (I later discovered they were drawings his father had done). The walls were a deep blue. His office had a window that looked out onto campus.

So here I am in his office sitting across from him at his desk. He strokes the beard that matches his grey hair and he is just listening. I’m telling him about how I am struggling to create a piece I am proud of. I tell him I don’t know how to appeal to everybody with my work. I don’t know how to make myself better. He leans back in his tee shirt and cargo pants and looks at me from behind his glasses. He says, “Gina, the answer is always simple with art. Stop pretending. The more honest you are with it, the more honest it will be with you”.

Stop pretending. This hit me so hard, I almost fell out of my chair. He was right. I had spent so much of my time pretending. I had spent so much of my life pretending already. I was instantly angered. How could I do this to myself? How the hell was I supposed to walk back out to my studio space and just go about my day creating work when I wasn’t even sure what it meant to not pretend I was good at it?! So I decided I wasn’t going to. I went home that day. Defeated . Sad. Feeling like a phony.

The next time I entered my studio, I refused to let myself think. I just created. I picked up the clay, and I mashed together a bunch of stick and twigs and I just made things. I played with sawdust. I sewed together paper. I added whatever natural fibers and elements I could. I let my hands speak for me. I let my soul take over. I told my brain to rest, and leave it to the rest of the team for the day. And you know what happened?

Nothing. I was still. I was angry. My brain started racing, catching up for lost time. “He was wrong. What the hell am I doing here?”. I went home again. Defeated. Angrier. Super sad.

But I kept going. And I kept letting my soul take over. And I kept asking my brain to step to the side. I created work that said something. I started to create work that allowed me to make meaning of my life. I started to create work that people wanted to know more about. I didn’t tell them. It was for me. I created work that was not intended for the use of others, or to mask some pain I was feeling, or as a way to hide. I created work that communicated with the people who took interest in it. I created work that become about my vulnerability. I stopped worrying about who would see it, and focused on why I was creating it. I explored. I let myself make mistakes and I kept doing it anyway. This time in my life became a time that I cherish. It was Bob Booth who planted a seed about what it meant to be authentic. The rest was a practice I had to maintain every. single. day.

I am sure many of you are familiar with Brene Brown and her theories and writings on vulnerability. She is amazing and if you do not know about her, go and find out about her– you will not regret it. She reports that vulnerability breeds connection which is something human beings require in order to feel a sense of purpose and belonging. What she doesn’t always make clear is how to go about doing this. It’s where I get stuck and I know it is where many others get stuck.

Because vulnerability is not just about going to a mountain and screaming your deepest secrets to the world. If you decide to do that, more power to you, and please let me know. Vulnerability is about creating a safe place to share parts of yourself and your mind even when the rest of the world does not feel so safe. Vulnerability requires so much of us. That is why it is difficult. It asks us to step out on to our front porch naked in the dead of winter. We hate having to be “naked” in front of people and a lot of people hate the cold–so right off the bat this can seem senseless and even a bit foolish. But I want to let you know, that the fear of “nudity” around others due to what people will say is what gives them power. In being vulnerable anyway, we take our power back. When we start doing things to allow for vulnerability we discover multiple things:

We learn what it is like to have relationships based on honesty. We become too tired and frankly lose all interest in being anything other than authentic. We grow confident in our stories. Being vulnerable breed authenticity. Which is really just vulnerability sans intense, stomach wrenching fear.

Being authentic is not something that is done by the flip of a switch. It requires practice. It requires daily decisions to stop hiding pieces of ourselves jut for the sake of making others comfortable. Being authentic requires honesty, even when the honesty is ugly. It asks us to communicate in ways we are not used to communicating. It asks to take masks off, and discuss our scars. It asks us to ask more questions. It asks us to be direct. It asks us to asks for what we want and need.

Authenticity recognizes that we all have something to say. It recognizes that we are all tired. Authenticity is what happens when carrying around the weight of expectations becomes too much.

But what does it actually look like? How does authenticity manifest?

It shines through in going to the grocery store in pajamas knowing full well we will see 30 people or more from high school but going anyway. It shines through when someone tells us they like something and we are brave enough to disagree. Authenticity is being honest, when you are running late, about having slept in. Authenticity is not bending your core values in half to allow for something mediocre to occur. And trust me, if you are bending your values, whatever project you are working on will be mediocre at best. Authenticity is not saying something nice just to say it. It’s meaning what it is you are saying. It’s standing by whatever you feel is part of your biological makeup, and making a deliberate choice to set all else to the side. It comes out in the way we speak, our body language, our communication, how we choose to fill our days, what changes we are pursuing, what our “guilty pleasure movies” are, what our favorite anything is. Authenticity is being real. It’s not always natural. It’s practice. And it is a choice. It sits within you, just waiting for you to decide it is more important than all else. It comes with small, slow practices every day. Using honesty. Showing parts of yourself to others that you might not have previously. Relating to the experiences of others and contributing to real and meaningful conversations. Ask questions. Seeking education. Not just in books. But from others about how they have grown in authenticity.

I’m going to tell you what I have noticed about what happens when you chose to live in authenticity:


Authenticity allows you to stop planning for what you want to be so that you can just be. It allows you at least six more minutes of rest, because you are no longer doing things for the comfort of others. Authenticity can breed a deep sense of satisfaction with where you are in the present. Authenticity allows you to stop worrying so much about where you are going to be, and focus on where you are. Authenticity grounds. It anchors its subjects to a sense of deep, wholehearted realness that is otherwise achievable. There are no lies with authenticity, and therefore no cover ups. Authenticity means you get the ice cream flavor you really wanted instead of what someone else’s favorite is. Authenticity leads to real decisions and real action being made.

The more honest you are with your work and in your daily practice, the more honest your outcome will be. If you shape your future around your current authenticity, it is impossible for the outcome to be anything other than wholly made or derivative of you. When one is able to live life in an authentic way, the mind is suddenly much lighter. Sleep is deeper. Feelings are more intense. Relationships change. You find out who is in your life beyond surface level. Small talk becomes boring. Small talk stops happening at all. You become more aware of how you come off, but you accept it as your truth embodied in your very real and important vessel. You accept a purpose of your own design. Self-nurturing becomes second nature. You remember what really gives you joy. You become your own leader. You realize that the only stories you want to hear are the stories of real, deep, personal transition and meaning. You realize you can sit with yourself as your own company and feel reunited with a good friend. Silence is no longer unbearable but is a welcome guest. You start to see that wrinkle by your eye as a story marker rather than an imperfection. You notice white hairs and rejoice over them rather than try to hide them. You find it harder to lie. You find it easier to know when someone else is lying. You find yourself drawn to people, places and things that are not elaborately decorated and drawn up in ways that don’t reveal who and what they are fundamentally. You start accepting your imperfections. You stop seeing them as imperfections altogether. You accept the imperfections of others.

Pressure becomes lighter. It’s not doing something if you do not want to do it. Time moves slowly when you are authentic. Everything feels new and inspiring. Resentments fade, and gratitude blossoms. Life becomes easier. Everything becomes easier. You can pay more attention to what your body is telling you. You can live a truth that comes from within you rather than the one others place on you. You become an architect for your day to day interactions, decisions, and outcomes. Looking in the mirror becomes like greeting a pal, instead of something you dread. Your actions start to reflect your beliefs and all begins to line up. You can literally feel you heart and soul growing. You can fill your days with more of what you love.

Authenticity is a choice. It is a daily practice. It’s taking time and permission to be in your head for a little longer so you can be the real deal when you come out. It’s bravery. It is not easy. But it is the only way to live a life that means something to you. It’s waking up and showing up, every day, all day for yourself in ways only you can make sense out of. It’s sometimes presenting yourself exactly as you are to the world and doing the very best you know you could do. Authenticity is self-nurturing. It’s kind and gentle. It’s not about taming demons, or hiding or seeking safety. It’s creating a safe place for the demons to recover from all the hiding they have had to do. It’s acknowledging all that you are, and fearlessly showing that to anyone who is lucky to meet you. It is letting the fires that burn in your soul rage free and being fine with that. It’s harnessing that fire and using it to light your darkness. It facilitates deliberate and actionable choices towards the life you truly want.

I leave you with this today:
What are you doing to ensure you choose authenticity each day? How does authenticity manifest for you? What changes have you noticed in your life since being more authentic? What do you need to stop pretending about? How will you be more honest in the world? What would you like to create for yourself? How will you communicate with the world in an authentic way? What is your “art”? What do you say to your truth when it looks back at you?

Warm regards,

Gina

On stillness, intention, healing, and self-nurturing.

!!! TRIGGER WARNING. This post contains themes of rape, body image issues and shame. Discretion is advised.

Breaking taught me to see and appreciate
the beauty in re-building.

Alex Elle

October is a tough month for me. For me, it serves as a reminder of who is no longer here. It is the start of a cold embrace that will remain for several months. I love cold weather. I bask in the colors all around me. But there is a melancholia that comes each October 1st. A certain sense of bitterness, a reminder that another year has passed and I am in this body and vessel that I am still learning to love.

Each year, I find my mind racing and making preparations internally to be able to deal with how difficult this month is. And every year, as I make these preparations I find myself struggling, feeling as though I’m out at sea in a little ship and I have only just spotted a tidal wave coming for me after I’m already enveloped by it. Like clockwork, at October’s end I wind up in bed, lacking motivation, feeling as though my back is made of cinder blocks, and that sunshine is too bright for my saddened skin. I wind up exhausted, spent and slightly angry that “I let this happen again”.

October 6th, 2017. It is a heavy day for me. A day that holds hollow space for what happens when control is taken away. On October 6, 2017 I was sexually assaulted. I wasn’t ever going to talk about this on here and I feel knots in my stomach as I type this. But I am trying to take back my power which means that I don’t have to hide parts of my story anymore. I get to tell it. I get to handle it however I handle it.

As September was ending this year, I found myself making the usual preparations. Closing up the cabins of my brain for the winter, and laying some higher brick on the walls around my heart. Little seeds of stress and cortisol planting themselves in my mind, slowly and routinely. I found myself growing fatigued at the thought of how fatigued I knew I was going to be come October’s end. So I stopped. I changed my plans.

This year, I tried something different. Anything I would usually have done to try to escape the tidal wave of emotion I would usually experience, I promised to do the opposite. I opted out of honoring “anniversary dates” like October 6th with silence or sadness and I put focus on giving myself permission to be still and do the things I wanted to do. Taking a class. Creating something for myself. Building on my dreams. And I wasn’t scared. The day passed. It was over and he didn’t get to hold any more unnecessary power over me on that day.

I have been circling. I have been saying this for months to my loved ones– ” I feel stronger right now, but I feel like I am constantly circling a pit of despair and that the smallest thing could set me off into a spiral”. So in short, my strength has been building. I have been healing. But I often find myself wondering when the next ball is going to drop and I am going to relapse into an even worse depression. I find myself worrying about this and wanting to protect how far I have come. But rather than panic like i might have done previously, I have been reflecting and present and practicing self-care. If you have come here for answers today, I am not sure that I have any.

Today I am focused on self-care. This term has become a popular term in the wellness community. It has taken on the face of skin masks, manicures, and bubble baths. As a mental health clinician, I can’t even tell you how frustrating this is for me. Self-care. Say it enough times and it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. To be honest, I hate taking baths and haven’t had a manicure in years. These things are so lovely. But they aren’t self-care.

On October 6th, 2017 I felt so much guilt about needing to take a minute to myself and missing class that I still got up and went anyway instead of giving myself time. I had just been raped and got so nervous about doing poorly in class that I got out of my bed and went to class and sat there learning about art therapy theories and then went home and couldn’t figure out why I felt so confused. I know that I am not the only one who has just “pushed through it” so I could be a “strong and productive member of society” because anything else is “just letting him win”. Right?

Self-care. I want you to take the “care” right out of it. Self. Let’s put the emphasis on “self”. I have been thinking so much about what it means to actually care for the self and maybe baths and face masks can fall into that but I think they are the absolute smallest fraction of it all. People fall back on these things when they have no idea about what they might actually be needing. It is by no means, any fault of their own. We have not been taught in society to care for ourselves beyond basic hygiene and nutrition (which feels like a luxury most days, anyway).

I want you to think about the last time you asked yourself “What do I need right now?”. What was your answer? You might even find that you couldn’t come up with one. Maybe your answer felt selfish so you didn’t follow through. All fine. But why? When did caring for ourselves become seen as being indulgent? Who decided this? When did getting the proper amount of sleep, rest and nutrition become something that we feel guilty about? Who let this happen? Why is it that unless we are contributing to some bigger thing, that we are seen as lazy?

What do you need? The question is loaded and difficult and makes me squirm. What do you need? It doesn’t have to be anything tangible. Maybe sometimes it is courage. Maybe it is love. Maybe it silence or nature or a pint of ice cream. What the hell do you need right now, here in this very moment? Maybe it is soft clothes and clean sheets. Maybe it deep reflection. Maybe it is pausing to take in the view from where you stand in life right now. What do you need? Sometimes in response to this question from my clients, I get a big puff of breath and a chuckle. Other times, it seems that pulling teeth might be easier.

Whenever I see my therapist, she tries to instill in my brain the notion that I cannot pour from an empty cup. It’s a simple visual. We cannot serve or help others if we have nothing left within ourselves. If we are totally spent, and exhausted and fatigued we cannot expect ourselves to successfully do our jobs, or be present.

What. Do. You. Need? We often don’t allow ourselves to be still enough to feel it. I have mentioned in previous posts the beauty of being able to find gold in our own pockets if we are only brave enough to stop and look. But what about when we are not currently searching for gold? What happens when we allow ourselves minutes to simply be. To simply be still. What happens for you? What happens when you are so present that feeling the brisk October air on your cheeks feels like a gentle reminder that you have made it to exactly where you are of your own volition. That brisk air on your cheek is a greeting for your own resilience. But you can only notice it when you allow yourself to be still. That brisk air is a gentle kiss from your future best self and it is full of gratitude.

Stillness allows us to walk with intention. Intention allows us our power back. It makes movement something more of an act of deliberation. It takes away the autopilot and puts us in intentional motion. It makes morning coffee taste like you harvested that coffee bean yourself. When we are still, our sense come out of hibernation. Our sight is expanded and our feet become planted in the ground wherever they are. Stillness is the act of permission. It is allowing yourself some extra time whenever the hell you need it. It is an act of love when the chaos of the day becomes too much. It allows us to face fear in the eyeballs rather than running for something better. Instead of finding something better, stillness allows us to make what we already have better. It builds upon our own castle. It fixes the roof after a long winter. Stillness is the contractor you never knew you needed for the vessel you inhabit right now. You’re not going to get a new one for a long time. And when you can be still and enjoy the one you are in, why would you want to?

For a long time after the assault, I wanted to be someone else and live in someone else’s body. I felt dirty and broken and out of date. But then I started to be gentle with my soft skin. I started to sing praise upon my hands. I started to recognize my body did not betray me. Stillness helped me find gentleness and healing. Stillness asked me to sit down with my body and love it again. Stillness helped me find what I needed. Stillness helped me develop a self-nurturing attitude. Stillness continues to let me clear my head and fosters a relationship with resilience.

Stillness is never forceful. It’s a friendly face wanting to catch up. It’s a slow walk on a chilly day. It’s consistent. It will wait for you, however long you need. Stillness is freedom from pain and suffering. Stillness is taking time to acquaint yourself with the version of you that exists beyond your traumas, your pain, your diagnoses, and everything else. It will always be willing to meet you on the other side. Stillness is not stagnation but a safe and warm hearth to rest at before you embark on your next journey. Stillness always has room at its table and a bowl waiting in the oven for you. Stillness welcomes you with open arms even after years of movement. Stillness allows us to create our own freedoms.

Stillness fosters intention. We cannot make rash or hasty moves if we are willing to be still enough to explore what is inside our brains rather than what externals factors are trying to influence them. Stillness breeds honesty. It never lies. It is quiet and deliberate. Stillness asks us to be present enough to think for ourselves. It asks us to consider the importance of what is happening under our noses. Stillness helps us understand and provide answers for the question: What do you need? Stillness is self-care. I am able to greet each day because stillness helped me come out of a dark place when I needed to care for myself. It wasn’t face masks and spa days.

Still. It makes me think of water undisturbed. It is clean and refreshing. It feels smooth. It feels like a warm blanket I can wrap myself in whenever I need it. It has many meanings. It is not simply a verb. It implies that the story doesn’t end. And still….

Here is what I know to be true:
It is possible to have survived your worst days and still show up for the best ones. It is possible to feel as though the pressure of society has finally won total control over you and still find yourself fighting back. It is possible to lose all you ever found to be meaningful and still create new meaning in the little experiences you have every day. It is possible to be scarred by interactions more powerful than you immediate comprehension and still try again tomorrow. It is possible to be hurt by something or someone and still chose love. It is possible to be angry and still feel empathy. It is possible to feel like you have endured more than your fair share and still work on making things better. It is possible to watch your whole world crash down and still re-build.

You are not bound by what has happened to you. You only are responsible for what you choose to do about it. Sometimes that comes in the form of self-nurturing. Sometimes it comes in the form of stillness. It is okay to wait in stillness until the world makes sense again. It is okay to move when you are ready. You do not have to pretend that you are always 100%. It is okay to be 32% sometimes. Be honest about it. Let stillness greet you. Have a bowl of something warm with it. When you are ready to move again, be sure that it is with intention and self-nurturing. Check in from time to time–what do you need? Deep, spiritual, healing can only come from within. Others can witness it and help along the way, but it has to come from you. And it is also fine to not know where to start with it. Take the time you need. Be gentle. Do not rush your process or you may miss something that stillness has planted there just for you.

What do you need in order to heal? What do you need to foster a nurturing relationship with yourself? What do you need from stillness today? How will you ensure that you follow through? How will you move with intention? What does stillness tell you when you are uncertain?

Warm regards,

Gina

If you or someone you know has been impacted by sexual assault and/or rape, there is help:

RAINN – 800.656.HOPE

Rape Crisis —  210-349-7273

On loss, transition, revision and creation.

“All the trees are losing their leaves and not one of them is worried.”

Donald Miller

I lost a client this week.

I came into my office on Monday morning and was going about making phone calls when I got the news that he had died. It was sudden. Unexpected.

In that moment, I closed my eyes and waited for my heart to drop as it does when news of loss arises. So young, and seemingly on the mend and “how could I not see this coming?”. “What do I feel? Should I feel? What was on his mind?”. All of these thoughts run through my mind as I sit in my desk chair and try figure out the next step. I like to imagine a tiny little warehouse worker in my brain representing my sensible mind relaying to other parts of my mind: ” Alright, boys, time to bring in the cleanup crew, we’ve got a mess over here that’s gonna need tending to !”. As if there is some subconscious protocol to handle this news. Because the reality was, right in this moment, the feeling was familiar. It was not new. It stopped being new a long time ago. The cleanup crew never came. It didn’t have to.

Before you judge, please understand that it is not because I have become desensitized to this type of news. I haven’t. But I have had to create a protective layer in my brain throughout the years in order to deal with loss because if that layer is not there, I break. I break in a way that has me in the fetal position in bed every weekend, wishing I could be someone else.

It is hard for me to put words down about the feeling of loss. Losing. As if life can be compared to some type of game and as we lose people, we lose aspects of the game. The word feels thoughtless and harsh. It doesn’t feel big enough to account for the gaping hole that is often placed on one’s life when someone else is no longer in it. It’s not fair. It feels senseless. It feels wrong and “what am I supposed to do now?”. The very thought that anything can ever be how it was is almost insulting and equivalent to rubbing salt in a fresh wound. There is never enough time for things to feel complete when someone is suddenly or not so suddenly taken out of your life. And there is never a word, a combination of letters or phrases that can describe how completely and wholeheartedly devastating loss can be.

When I was in college my professor told me about a job opportunity working for a summer school program with children in high school prepping for college to develop their art portfolios. It was a month long, and the pay was really good in my 20 year old mind. So I jumped on it. I applied for the position of counselor and was offered the position of head counselor. I had no idea what I was doing but it was exciting. My first summer there, I hated it. It was awful. But something stuck with me and that was how much I adored the kids. So the next summer, when it was time to decide if I was going to go back, I did.

This was the summer I met the student who largely inspired my career. He was 13 when he first came to the program and he was a ball of light alive in the vessel of a blue eyed, dimple faced smiling little artist. I worked with him throughout this summer and then continued the summer after that. We would spend time in the common area chatting about our favorite foods, and baked goods and we would practice our accents together. Some people come into your life right when you need to learn specific lessons and I had a lot to learn from him. Kindness, humor, how to be actively engaged in the moment, how to access my inner child again. It was during my third summer there that he had expressed to me the most remarkable compliment I had ever been given: “I feel so safe around you”. That was it. That was all it took. The instant the month had ended, I went home and started putting all of my things together so I could start grad school to become a therapist.

Two semesters into grad school, I found out that he had died. It was sudden. Unexpected.

I had dealt with loss before. I had dealt with perceived loss and close calls with loss. But nothing, not a single thing could have ever prepared me for this loss. I felt the earth crumble underneath my feet. I begged for it to be untrue. I found myself trying to contact him to find out if he was alright. My brain could not comprehend. There are times where it still doesn’t. I found myself going through it in my head, over and over. I didn’t get to say goodbye. I felt guilt. I wasn’t there to help him through whatever pain he was feeling in his last moments. I found myself coming up with excuses for this: Life had gotten in the way and we had lost touch. I didn’t want to bother him as he embarked on his life adventures, etc. I found myself thinking that I should have known that his light was too bright to be shining for long. The universe is good to people, but he was a gift this world was likely not ready for.

Loss. Losing. To be lost. I have lost. I lost. The world has lost. Lost.

If I say it enough times it starts to feel abstract on my tongue. The word doesn’t attach itself to the event that it represents. It implies irresponsibility and faultiness. It sounds and feels belittling.

When loss is sudden, there is a different kind of pain that comes with it. It’s not silent or one that you can expect. It’s the type of pain that comes when you miss a step going down the stairs and before you’ve realized what has happened, you’re already on the floor. It’s a cold, hard landing on concrete. It’s the sting that comes with the aftershock of landing on your hands and knees after the step was missed. It’s recognizing you will have bruises for a while after. It’s waking up the next day and feeling sore because the impact was so hard. It’s sitting at work and one day having a strange flashback and thinking “How could I have missed that step!?”. There is no answer and there is rarely closure.

When loss is sudden it makes you hold on tight to the memory of someone who has been stolen away from your life. It is pangs of anxiety each time you depart from your living loved ones. It’s answering the phone with a slight dread every time you get a call because any call could be “the call” delivering “the news”. You live life, often preparing to hear the news because if you’re always prepared it can’t possibly hurt as much as it did the first time. Right?

One big thing I have learned since being in this profession is not that loss is something to “get over”, it is something we can only make room for. There is no such thing as “time heals all”. Time heals nothing, but it does help you create a bigger space in your heart for the moments you share. But something else I have learned since being in this profession is the idea that however horrible loss is, either personal, professional, perceived, etc. it almost always forces you to create something new for yourself. It’s instant transition. Maybe it’s a subconscious way to fill a void. Maybe it is a coping skill. I don’t know what I would call it. I’m not talking about opportunities or the notion of doors closing and opening or chapters ending and beginning. I am talking about real moments of authentic re-creation for how you thought your life would go. Because when loss arises, it is not ever possible for one to just go back to the way things were. We have to build on that loss in order to move into a new version of our future. A version that doesn’t include who or what has been taken away.

Loss brings about revision. It asks us to consider what is important to us. It asks us to break things down and take an inventory of what is specific and necessary for us to keep going. It asks you to slow down and take care of yourself because whether you have lost a person, a pet (same thing), a job, an object of importance, a house, whatever you are going to have to take a minute to reassess what is important for your next move.

When something or someone is lost to us, or taken from us, we are left to mourn that person’s or thing’s absence in our lives, and what they or it meant to us. I often wonder if mourning or grief is an act of selfishness because of this. Is it wrong that we mourn the impact this person or thing has had on our lives, or is it more appropriate to celebrate that this person or thing has swapped energies and is on a new adventure?

When my uncle died suddenly several years ago, I remember crying in the hospital wondering what the hell came next for our family. We would never be the same. We weren’t. We aren’t. But we have adapted. We have had to create new traditions. We had to accept that he would not be present at weddings or funerals or holidays. We had to accept the impact it had on family dynamics. Because to try to change any of it, would be holding on to something that was no longer obtainable. I am not a religious person. But I do believe in energy shifts and that when someone leaves their human vessel, it is entirely possible for them to take flight into a new vessel. I find myself channeling into his energy and promising it that I will always try to create something better for myself. Because things don’t just happen to or for us. They happen because of us. Because of what we create and do for ourselves when we are forced into transition. How we revise the original blueprints of what we thought we had totally sorted out.

Loss allows us to create new futures. It asks us to imagine what is at stake if we do not live the life we know we want, truly and deep down. It’s not that life is too short. It’s that any second spent doing something you hate or forcing yourself into a cookie cutter mold is a second too long. Loss asks us how we want to spend our time. Loss asks us to face our innermost fears about all the potential we really have and yet somehow, do not use. It’s not always about who or what we have lost. Sometimes grief and mourning transforms into an unexpected check in for all we might have lost trying to live life according to someone else’s standards. Loss is not about opportunities that fall in our path because after the funeral, the life we had before the loss is still somehow waiting for us as though nothing has happened. But sometimes, if we pay attention to it, there is a shift within us that tells us that something about the way things are needs tweaking. Loss allows us to utilize the tools in life that make it worth living again. Loss puts the pencil in our hands to be able to write or create our own meaning out of what has happened.

There is a cyclical pattern to this and within us. We see it every year when the seasons change. There is something beautiful about each one, and we have to adapt each time. In the spirit of autumn, leaves turn beautiful colors as one last gift before they say goodbye to us. These specific leaves may be gone, but the trees remain there, resting. They still possess the ability to grow leaves and when they awake and feel ready they begin. So come spring, the new leaves come about and greet us with the sweet smell of hello. It’s silent adaptation, and re-creation. But it surrounds us every day.

Loss isn’t always about goodbye. In fact, it is often about how we navigate transition, create meaning and what we are going to do in the future to make sure we have lived according to what our energy requires of us. Loss allows you to rest. It forces you to access parts of your brain and soul that maybe you have placed on a shelf for a while. Loss hurts. Of course it hurts. Mourning and grief are real and never get easier with time. But we do learn to give them their appropriate space when they require it of us.

I am not saying you have to accept loss or forget about those who are no longer with you. But I am saying it would be unfortunate not to honor their energy or spirit or memory by living a life unfulfilled. We, at the very least, deserve to give it some thought. I am saying, sometimes our blueprints need revisions. Sometimes we need new maps for the path we thought we were headed down. Sometimes we need to create a new path altogether.

I leave you with this today: What does loss mean to you? What transition has it led you to? How are you navigating that transition? What life revisions have you had to make recently? Have you checked in with your energy to make sure you are following your full potential and using your time the way you want to be? What new practices you have had to create for yourself as a means of continuing on? What have you had to make room for recently? What does a life fulfilled look like to you? What does loss require of you? How will you make room in your heart for what you have lost? How will you create meaning out of your losses?

Warm regards,

Gina

On people pleasing, survival and the power of “No”.

!! TRIGGER WARNING !! This post contains material about domestic violence, physical, and emotional abuse and rape. It is a survival story. Discretion is advised.

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Maya Angelou

Hi. I am back. I took a bit of a break because I have been practicing a new skill: The art of boundaries. This is going to be a long one, so buckle up.

Often when I write this blog, I try to spend a bit of time practicing what I feel I want to write about. And this one, has been difficult to say the least. I’ve been thinking a lot on this lately. Boundaries. What the hell does that even mean? It sounds restrictive and ugly and I hate it. The word makes me think of a giant brick wall, extending into the sky. Impenetrable and proud. It looks old, like it has been there for a long long time. To stand at its base, one might wonder about who built it and why. Where did they find the resources? What had to happen for a wall such as this be built?

Do you want to know my absolute biggest pet peeve in all the land? It’s, surprisingly, not loud chewing or interrupting, or even having to repeat myself thirty five times. While those things are bothersome, my biggest pet peeve is this: “Gina, you are too nice”. This statement has made me so angry in the past. I have heard it my whole life.

My mother raised me to treat people the way I want to be treated. I want to be treated nicely. So I have always treated people nicely. What’s the problem with that? What the hell is bad about that? Now, here is the thing. I had never made the connection that what people might have actually meant is this: “Gina, you are too accommodating and people will take advantage of that”. It wasn’t until I was in graduate school, talking to a professor who brought this to my attention (shout out to the life saving, incredible soul who is Robin Shiffrin, the real MVP). She was noticing a pattern in my behaviors and she called me out in a loving way, but it hit me so hard. It was at the end of a class. This class was a class about learning to facilitate groups and the main exercise was to feel what it is like to be in a group experience. So we were placed into groups with our classmates and group therapy commenced. She would observe and take note that I had a tendency to be “too easy going”, “too agreeable”. When one of my fellow group members told me she thought of me to be disingenuous, I lost my mind. This could not possibly be the case. Me?! I couldn’t understand.

I valued my genuineness above all else, and to be told that my “niceness” was perceived as the opposite of that hurt. It hurt a lot. So I was processing this with my professor and she got me thinking. “Gina, is it possible that the fact that you are so accommodating just doesn’t seem real? Isn’t it possible that you are so willing to jump over hoops for strangers is something that seems impossible for some people? Isn’t it possible that you might be sending people a message that you don’t care about yourself because you don’t mind other people walking all over you?”. I was honestly blown away by this. But it made sense. Maybe the fact that I was so willing to be this way for the sake of others was not based in wanting to help people in this group but more on the desire to be accepted? Man, thinking back on this class still gives me very scary anxiety. But it makes sense.

Story time. In high school, I was very well liked. I could fit into any friend group and get along with them. It was not difficult for me. Through out all of it, I found I gravitated towards certain groups a little more here and there and I eventually created my own group and it felt amazing to be part of something so close knit. And then one day, I met a guy. He was a little odd, but he was mysterious. He was artistic, and did not attend school. He was what I would have described as “quirky” back then. He had nice words, and he asked to take me on a date so we met for coffee. I was smitten. Absolutely head over heels. Everything seemed perfect for a little bit. I couldn’t see clearly what was about to happen. I do not have his permission to discuss this in any form of media, and frankly, I don’t care. This is my survival story.

This relationship lasted nine months. And that is nine months way too friggin’ long. The impact it has had on me and my life has been monumental. This relationship quickly turned into an abusive one. He was like a snake, able to slither into all the synapses of my brain. Everything became about and for him. I changed my hair, clothes and makeup to fit what he found attractive. I started to gain weight because he “preferred the pin up look”. He made it abundantly clear on a daily basis that I, as I was, would not be enough for him unless I did these things. He convinced me to do things that I would never have done. He used to cut me so that he “could make art out of my blood”. He used to tell me that while I was sleeping he would wake me up by raping me. He used to tell me that my parents and family and friends didn’t care about me. He even went so far as to try to convince me to excommunicate myself from my family members legally. I think there was some instance of him convincing me to try to use a dead snake as artwork. I would go to work, and then use my money from work to buy him things and then go right to him. I began lying about him coming to see me while I was in school. I stopped caring about all that was important to me. I started watching movies and listening to music only he found acceptable. For what? To be loved? I had that in family and friends. To be accepted? I had that too. No. It was because I didn’t know how to say no and he knew it. He used it. This is my taking responsibility for what I can. I recognize that this abuse is not my fault. But I have to take responsibility for the hurt and pain it has caused, because if I don’t, I do not let myself heal.

If you ask me about this now, I still can’t really tell all the details. Not because I am scared, but because I actually cannot remember. My brain has done an incredible job of protecting me and blocking out a lot.

The first time I ever implemented a boundary was the time I saved my own life. I am certain that if I were still in that relationship I would have been dead a long time ago.

The first time I ever implemented a boundary was out of survival. I was driving home from school with him in the passenger seat. October 30, 2010. He was talking to me about who knows what and we were disagreeing and I stopped dead in my tracks and said ” I cannot do this anymore”. He was confused. I told him it was over. He did and said nothing. I dropped him home. I drove home and I collapsed on my parents kitchen floor. I remember them holding me, telling me “it is over now”. *It was. The relationship was over. I never went back. He tried to get me back and keep his hold on me for months after this. His last words to me were “You have no back bone. You will never be anything because you let everyone walk all over you”. Even he knew it. I was the only one not in on this information. Are you seeing a pattern? I do now.

In the end, I was grateful. It has taken me a long time not to hate myself for the damage he caused in my life and the lives of those I love. I missed out on a lot. I was a bad sister, daughter, friend during this time. I lost all of my friends. I miss them and I miss what we had. Mostly, I was horrible to myself. This was my first lesson in saying “no. you don’t have the right to me”. When something like this happens in one’s life, it is natural to not have any idea where to go next. This person was a con artist. He successfully fed off of me for nine months, and I continue to deal with the aftermath even today.

For a long time, I become obsessed with going back to how things were. To the person I was before my traumas. I will never be that person again and i hope that she is resting peacefully somewhere. The person I was at this time is dead. She has been for such a long time and I am finally understanding the importance of focusing on now. I have started to set a boundary for myself. I am healing. I am becoming. I am constantly seeking ways to grow and improve. I consider this part of my life a rebirth. I can be angry. I can also grow through my anger. Life doesn’t end when the trauma does. Even if it is all you are familiar with at that time. Life begins when you realize your worth. It does not mean you are taking action right this instance, though if you feel so inclined please do. I understand that I had it easy and that leaving in my situation was a little simpler than some. I had that privilege. But if you could give yourself one thing each day to focus on putting a boundary between you and what holds you back (your abusers, your trauma history, your past, yourself..etc) what would it be?

No. It is so powerful and so intense and I can count on one hand the amount of times in my life I have said it. But each time, it gets easier. It is not simple. It feels like a lead weight on the tip of my tongue and to spit it out in front of anyone is to change a part of who I thought I was on a fundamental level. But you are not the things you say yes to. You are not the things you say no to either. You exist in a world where you sometimes have a choice to do something for yourself or for someone else. I would encourage you to really look inward before you answer and ask if this next part leads to the life you want. You don’t require any excuses. You are not required to run yourself ragged while others use you as a stepping stool. You are only required to do the very best you are capable of. That doesn’t always include other people.

Humans do better when they are connected. But do not left yourself believe, even for a second, that you are required to douse your light for the sake of someone else. Make sure that the people you say yes to are striving for the same amount of brightness that you are. Don’t let it be stolen. This is not selfishness. This is surviving in pursuit of thriving.

If you say yes to everyone else, there will be nothing left in you to say yes for yourself. Read that again.

It has taken me approximately 27 years to understand that I do not always need an excuse to say no to something. If I cannot make something work, I have been practicing the art of honesty and boundaries and recognizing that if I put too much into making everyone around me feel comfortable I will live my whole life wishing I had their skin and not mine. Saying yes is sometimes an easy way to forget you have your own work to do. You have your own life, your own goals.

I am not saying that you shut the world out. I am saying, take stock and really examine the impact saying yes in any given situation might have on your own existence. There will always be the unexpected. This is inevitable. But saying no when something is not feasible, creates a platform for you to stand on when the waves get a little choppy.

When I think back to my class and why the words “you are too nice” really bothered me I realize it was because it was revealing a very harsh truth that I wasn’t ready to accept. I am too accommodating. I always have been. I didn’t know how to fix that. But then I realized–this isn’t about me changing anything about myself. It was simply about adding more. Becoming stronger. Adding more of my own power, the power of saying no. Finding it from within.

Boundaries are scary. They can be ugly. They are a quick way to understand the people and the world around you. They are an excellent tool for knowing exactly what people really want from you. It may seem like an impossible feat. Some days you won’t have the energy to stand your ground. That’s okay. What’s not okay is letting people walk into your life and rob you of all the good and bad and whatever you have to offer to use in whatever way it serves them. You are not a puppet. You are worthy of knowing your limits and sticking to them. You are worthy of the satisfaction that comes with having survived your worst days and utilizing “no” to reinforce what you are not willing to do. You belong to yourself. You are not here so someone else can use you however they please. You are not here to build resentment for people who don’t even care if it’s there in the first place. You are not here so your boss can treat you poorly, or to have fair weather friends, or to be exploited. You can not control what happens in this world. But you have 100% control over what you make of it, and what you do with it. You have control over who you let into your life (most of the time).

Boundaries are not about loyalty. Someone can be loyal and still be shitty. Boundaries are not about the “no matter what” and the “real friends”. Boundaries are about freedom. Self-care (real self care). Boundaries are about protecting yourself and your space from people and circumstances that drain your light. Boundaries are a rock solid wall and its only job is to make sure you are surrounded by good people, with enough energy to enjoy them. Boundaries are not guidelines. They are law. They are what you have put into place on the grounds that you know what you need. Boundaries also change, as you too, will change. That is okay. You do not need to explain it to anyone. YOU DON’T OWE ANYONE ANYTHING. THEY DO NOT OWE YOU ANYTHING. This world is focused on obligation and exchange and transaction. If you don’t advocate for yourself through all of it, no one else will.

I leave you today with this. What have learned about boundaries? What does your wall look like? What is your wall made of ? How will it keep you safe? When do you know it is time to make it a little taller? How will you know when you can start removing a layer of bricks? How do you know when you need to change the wall a little? Who are you letting through the gate right now, that maybe you shouldn’t be? What are you willing to put up with and for how long? What are the consequences of broken boundaries? What is your survival story? Are you being too accommodating? When was the last time you checked in on your walls? What changes do you need to make in your life right now to ensure your energy is protected?

Warm regards,

Gina

*I have said it several times and will say it forever, there are no words that can accurately describe how lucky I am to have the support system I do. I know many do not, and it is not wasted in vain on me. I share this story in the hopes that those reading understand it is possible to survive the worst days of your life.

**If you or someone you know has been or is being impacted by domestic violence, abuse, or sexual violence there is help:

The Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224

RAINN: 1-800-656-HOPE

LIFELINE: dial 211 or call 1-877-356-9211

A Letter to Little Me.

“Even though I didn’t start it, the only person who could stop that cycle was myself, and a great way to do that was to picture myself as a little kid when I was being cruel to myself. It’s taken some time, but I’ve definitely been kinder to myself since I learned that. “

Georgia Hardstark, Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered (2019)

Oo boy. I have to be totally transparent with you today. I have been sitting in this seat on my porch for about 20 minutes trying to decide if today is the day I choose to tackle this post. I didn’t want to write this one. I still don’t. But there a couple of reasons on why I am choosing to move past that and do it anyway. 1) I am trying to do more of what is terrifying to me. 2) My therapist assigned this to me about three months ago and I have been putting this off for quite some time. 3) I got a horrible stomach ache at the very thought of writing this post which tells me it is likely what I need to write most right now. 4). I was probably never going to write this until I read the quote from Georgia Hardstark above. (If you have not read Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered, do it. Buy the book. You need it.).

The little girl in the photo up there is me. I don’t know how old I was. I don’t know why I had my pants pulled up so high (still do this though). I don’t know why I had so many clips in my hair. None of it matters though. Because this little girl was happy. She was light and if she wanted to wear seventeen clips in her hair, she did and she did not care about what anyone thought. She looked up to people with awe and she was naturally curious. She was obsessed with animals, horses to be specific, but was impartial in the scheme of things. She was in a band called “Bubble Gum Swirl” with the boy across the street, he played drums and she sang. the lyrics they co-wrote were actually pretty damn good. This little girl didn’t have secrets or sadness. She was horrible at sports. She fell right into the role of older sister when the time came. She would fall asleep half way through eating chicken nuggets right at the dinner table. She didn’t know anything about the world yet except for the world her two incredible parents provided for her (thank you, mom and dad–you are still my rocks to this day).

I’m going to tell you how I decide on what to write about every two weeks. It is simple. It’s usually based on what I am feeling most confident in each week, something I have been focusing on, or something I have encountered a couple of times throughout the week or what I feel might be most helpful for others on any given day. But today, I need to be a little selfish. The best way to describe how I am feeling right now is this: “We need to talk”. You know the feeling. You look at your phone and see this, and the contents of your intestines fall to the ground, your heart starts to race and you want to hide. That is what is happening. Here we go.

A Letter to Little Me.

Dear Gina.
I have to be honest with you, I don’t know where to start. You are so small and soft and stubborn and I don’t know how to begin something like this. There’s a large part of me that feels I have foresaken you and even tried to forget that you ever existed. I’ve always tried to be a version of me that you would be proud of, but to be honest I am not sure I’m doing it. I don’t know how to. I feel I have disconnected myself from you. But it has never been out of anger or resentment. It has only ever been to protect you from the bullshit of what has happened, and to perhaps let you form your opinions on everything else. I believe it is probably out of love, but more likely it is out of shame. I am not who you thought I would be, and I don’t know that ever will be. In fact, being vulnerable to this degree right now makes me want to slam this computer closed and run away (yes, laptops are a thing, you will see).

I need to take time though to apologize to you. All the times I have ever called you stupid, or ugly, or someone who was incapable of receiving love. You are none of those things. You are just learning. You don’t need to be anything specific. You are just fine exactly as you are. You don’t need to fit in with everyone at school. In fact, go with your gut because you’ll be glad that you didn’t want to fit in with them. The truth is, little me, I wouldn’t have changed anything. You’re going to wind up in some messy situations. You will make friends and you will lose them. It will be your fault.You will come pretty close to losing your dad. He will make it, and he will continue to be a superhero for you. Take what he says seriously. Don’t get the credit card. Check the oil. He is right in saying life is nothing but choices. That’s all it ever is. You will fight with your mother a lot. You will realize it’s because you are the same person– deeply passionate about different things. You are just going to have to accept that because once you do, you will understand everything. You will understand why she worries. You will worry too. But she is the only person who will ever understand what worry really is to you. Try to realize this sooner, so you can have more time with her as your friend. Your sister needs you more often than she lets on. Please don’t let her down this time. You will lose your uncle. Treasure the time you have with him. Spend more time with your grandparents. You will lose a lot. You will lose yourself to abuse, and to trauma, and confusion. You will find yourself again, though. You will be angry. It won’t be forever. Your life is going to be one long weird phase. You’ll wish you could pull your skin off at times and hang it up to bask in the sunlight on days when you don’t have energy to get out of bed. This won’t be forever either. Or maybe it will. I don’t know yet.

You will meet so many people who will change your life. It’s a 50/50 split of good and bad. You’ll always learn something, regardless of their intentions. You’ll learn how to differentiate rather quickly, but you’ll always need a little help. You will have nights that you need your parents and they will show up for you at 4:30 in the morning to hold you until you fall asleep. You will have nights that you feel stronger than you have ever felt. There is no formula for either of these things. You will take leaps, and you will fail and you will hate yourself some days and others you will feel like you are made of the sun. You will learn to use humor as your best defense mechanism. You may not ever know how to do life “right” but you will be alright. You will feel as though you have been cheated out of so much, like there was some secret to success that you missed out on while you were distracted by whatever else. You will become cynical and bitter. 25 is going to be the worst year of your life for a multitude of reasons. But 26 will be the best for a multitude of reasons. You’re going to fail (you will fail your road test 6 times before you pass–yes, you were crying the whole time). You will also succeed. Don’t choose failure out of fear of succeeding. You will lose your relationship with God. You will develop a keen intuition that allows for you to connect with energy and environment around you in ways that have shed real light on resilience. Inf act, you will become on of the most resilient people you know. The bottom line is though, try your best not to get caught up in the notion of what you have lost. Because you will gain so much.

You will gain insight. You will become wise beyond your years. By the time you are 27 you will have lived at least three lives or it will feel like that. It’s no wonder you are always exhausted. You will become someone that people look to when they are in need. You will be able to stand on your two feet even when your feet are torn up because you rip at them out of nervousness. You will learn that trust is something to be earned, and that it is not always good to give people the benefit of the doubt. However, when you are able to do this, most of the time people are grateful you did. You will choose to be a warm, loving and kind person in spite of all you have had to endure. Do not confuse this for being weak. You are far from weak. You just choose to show up for people in a warm, genuine way every day because it’s what you would want to receive. You will have to learn to forgive yourself. You also do NOT need to say yes to everything. For the love of sweet baby Jesus, please say no once in a while. You are not responsible for how other people feel about the world or how they feel about you. You will gain an understanding that abuse can appear in many ways, and to get out as soon as something feels wrong. You will be able to help other people heal. You will fight this. But you already know that you are in this world to walk alongside others. You will continue to do everything the hard way. In fact, you sometimes will deliberately choose the hard way while your friends and family shake their heads and then you will come out of it saying you wish you had gone with the easier way. Don’t. Still choose things that challenge you. Choose people who challenge you. Choose people who choose you. Choose. You will learn to take responsibility for your mistakes and there will be ten billion of them probably within just one year so brace yourself for that. Try not to get down on yourself for it though, because no one ever gave you a map for life and you’re doing the best you can. You will never be who you are right now again. That’s okay. Stop trying to be. Water is fluid. You are made up of mostly water. It is okay to change and shift when the tide rolls in. Remain open to this.

You will have many strengths. You will have many shortcomings. They are what makes you who you are in the long run. So embrace them, change in ways that make sense to you, and do your best not to hurt anyone. You will always be learning. You’ll have the opportunity to move to Alexander Street. Do it. You’ll be glad you did. Go see the medium. Understand that the way people feel about you does not define who you are. Your disorders, career, weight, emotions, trauma and abuse. None of this defines who you are. You are still discovering who you are. But you now know for sure it is none of those things. Try to have more faith in yourself. You will get embarrassed. But it is fleeting. Take more leaps and break more rules. But be safe. Ask questions. Learn to be curious again. Don’t just smile and nod. What you have to say is actually important.

I hope somewhere deep down I have made you even a little bit proud. I know you have high standards, and you hold yourself to nearly impossible ones. That might be your OCD or anxiety. Or maybe it’s a learned behavior from being too fearful of messing up. Either way, you will gain control over your OCD, anxiety. You will mess up a lot. It is never as bad as it seems right in that moment. You will learn how to keep yourself in check. Take breaks. Give yourself some kind words once in a while, you deserve them. Try not to get mad at your sister when she copies you, she just loves you. She will wind up being a crucial part of how you come back to finding yourself. Don’t call yourself names. You don’t deserve that. Acknowledge when you have put forth your best effort, and own up to when you know you didn’t. Reduce how much you expect from others. Be patient with yourself. We both know this is not a strength of yours, so really. Be. Patient. Try to be a little more grateful for your days. Show the universe it has done the right thing in helping you out in all the ways it has. You have so much more left to do, little me. I am proud of you so far. But something I have never told you in all the years we have existed is that I love you. It’s hard for us to use this phrase. It’s hard to admit because we are so afraid of loss once the words are out there. But it’s true. I do love you. In spite of everything, you need to know that I love who you are right now and who you are becoming. And you are always becoming.

I am so proud that you didn’t give up and that you continue to wake up every day even when it feels like getting out bed is the biggest accomplishment of the day. You carry so much around with you and none of it is visible. But you deserve to rest once in a while. When people want to help you, let them. Help yourself by letting go when you can. Changing what you can. Being more kind when you can. I know that through everything, you only ever have done the best you could do. It has taken me a long time to realize this. You do not have to be perfect for me to love you. You do not have to be perfect. You deserve the good that comes your way and the bad is not a punishment but a stepping stone. A transition. Learn to love stepping outside of your comfort zone. The reward is much greater. Trust yourself more. Learn boundaries, and admit to your limits. You are brave. You are just fine.

I don’t know what is in store for us now, but I will say 27 years is a long time. And somehow, you’ve made it this far. So keep showing up, you squishy little sun baby.

Warm regards,

Gina

What would you say to little you? What will it take for you to be able to openly address little you? How will you acknowledge that you were only ever doing the best you could do?

On self-doubt, landing your leaps and fear.

“There is little that can withstand a man who can conquer himself. “

King Louis XIV

I have been sitting here, looking at this screen for ten minutes trying to figure out exactly how to start this week’s post. I find it utterly hilarious, given the topic, because the thing that stopped me each time is doubting whether or not it would be enticing enough for anyone to want to read.

Self-doubt. Ugh.

When I reflect on what this phrase means to me, I would probably point myself in the direction I always ask my clients to explore. What stops you from doing what you really want at any given moment? The answer always comes back to self-doubt, thinking “it’s not good enough”, or straight up fear around taking the time to really trust that you can land your leaps.

I have always been someone to be methodical about the way I do something. If I haven’t thought it through, I generally won’t act on it because “there is too much to risk being lost”. Fear. It is rarely when I have enough faith in myself to land any leap I take. Sometimes, to think before a leap is safe and even smart. It’s never a bad idea to look down at the ground before you hop off a cliff to see what’s waiting down there for you, right? Maybe. But there is always a chance that you’ll scare yourself from follow through. There is something beautiful in not being sure, and trusting yourself to know that when you land, you will get up and walk away. You may have a broken leg, or a few scratches, but you know you will be fine.

I am so terrified of failing or even success at times that if I am not absolutely certain I can “get that job” or “make that connection” or whatever, I won’t do it. But lately I find myself challenging that. I have mentioned on this blog before that I am trying to do more of what scares me. So in small ways every day, I have been. Taking extra chances, taking classes, figuring out what is next but only outlining it. It’s starting to feel better. But I want to step back just a minute.

When I was small, I was always terrified of being embarrassed. I hate it. I hate that feeling. It started when I was young. I can specifically think of a time in kindergarten–I found out an astronaut was coming to speak to our class about his adventures. So I had this little ball, that looked like a moon and I brought it with me to give to him (I am so embarrassed even telling you this story). So at the end when he was done speaking he asked if we had any questions, and I raised my hand full of pride and I said into the microphone “I have this ball, and it looks like a moon and I want to give it to you”. The entire crowd in the room did one of those “aweeee!!!” things, a few classmates just looked at me laughing and I got so embarrassed that I almost cried (I might have actually cried but have chosen to block it out by now). In the end, the astronaut was so nice about it, and took the ball and said thank you but I was really ready to just go home and crawl under the covers. His kindness didn’t matter anymore, I had blown it.

The weeks following this was full of teachers telling me “oh what you said was so cute!” and my classmates teasing me for being a “suckup”. I thought it was a kind gesture at the time, and my young mind couldn’t register my emotions afterward as anything other than shame. This was a time where I felt I really did not land my leap. I tell you of this moment in particular because was one of my earliest experiences with the fear and self-doubt that follows after what you perceive as a big leap.

Cut forward to 2015. I had just finished my most recent summer as head counselor at a pre-college program for young artists. I had an experience with a student in which he shared with me that I made him feel really safe. I had never been told this before. But it was right in that exact moment that my stars aligned and I promised myself I would take a big leap when I got home. So I used all the money I had saved from my pay from the program and paid for my prerequisite classes to start grad school to become a therapist. While I’m still finding my way, this is one of the biggest leaps I have ever taken. And frankly, I landed. My parachute did not eject properly, both of my legs were broken when I hit the ground and I will have a permanent limp, but I sure as hell did land.

My point in sharing this with you is this: The bottom line is, you are not going to land every leap you take the way you had hoped. In fact, I have so many more stories of times I wound up with injuries than I do of times I landed successfully. But what links them all is that through my fear of being hurt, and through my fear of failing, I still trusted that no matter what happened I would be able to get up, off that ground, take my time to heal, and get ready for my next jump. I am by NO MEANS someone to model yourself after. But I am absolutely certain of this: No matter how hard you hit the ground, if you want to get back up, you will. The moment you think you can’t do something, is the moment you stop being able to. Fear and self-doubt are nasty things. They are ugly and mean and they plants little seeds all over our brains when we let them.

I imagine them manifested as a bully. Much like the bullies from my astronaut debacle. There they are just picking on you, pointing out your flaws, making you feel weak and small. Second guessing all you do and then making you second guess that.

If we equate our self-doubt and fear to the inner bully, we can break it down as such: Our inner bullies are just us from another time. I think in some way, the inner bully is trying to protect us from being hurt. Perhaps our inner bullies are just the kindergarten versions of us who were humiliated once and never want to experience that again, so they just tell us not to try. Our bullies are just parts of us that were hurt a long time ago and never got the chance to heal. No one on this planet can hurt you the way you can hurt you.

I would encourage you to be kind to it. Smother it with love, hold it while it cries, and tells you it hates you. Look into its eyes and remind it that its home is within you and whenever IT hurts, you also hurt. Remind it that it is not alone the world. Remember this piece of you works so hard all day long. Acknowledge just how exhausted it must be. Offer it tea, and warm, clean sheets. Teach it love. Teach it patience. Show it that you aren’t giving up on it. Make it realize that your experiences are the same, and let it know how grateful you are for it having your back all the time, but that it is time to let go of the pain it holds. Your inner bully secretly just wants to best for you. Be gentle with it, and it will be gentle with you. Ask it questions. Get to know it.

There has always been a part of me that has felt that I should not take leaps because I don’t deserve the success and the adrenaline rush that comes with being able to land well. But that is just my inner bully being fearful of actually having everything it wants, because then what?

I will tell you. When you take leaps you do several things for yourself:
You learn to trust yourself. You show your inner bully that landing leaps is easier now, and that you can do it safely. You learn things about yourself, and the way the world gives to you and receives from you. You learn about what you can reasonably give to others. You learn that being vulnerable is not nearly as scary as everyone makes it seem. You begin to flourish in ways that are honestly horrifying but exhilarating and fundamental in who you are going to be. You make promises to yourself and break them. You make promises to yourself and keep them. You learn the difference and what that really means to you. You learn that “actually, yes I absolutely can do that and do it really well”. You learn what you want out of the world. You learn what you want out of your relationships. You stop settling for things being how they are, and “that is just the way it is”. When something doesn’t sit right with you, you change it because you know that you have the power to. You become healthier. You become content. You experience deeply. You develop gratitude. You experience happiness.

How will you nurture your inner bully so that they feel safe enough to let their guard down with your want to experience the leaps? What is it that you are really fearful of? Are you fearful of failure? Success? Letting yourself have the life you want because maybe you don’t feel you deserve it? What does it take for you to trust yourself enough to leap and know that no matter how hard you land, you will get up and keep going? How will your life be different when you start leaping?

I’m not saying go skydiving tomorrow. By all means, if that is what you want to do, please do. But what I am saying is, start thinking about what small changes you can make in your life, inwardly , outwardly, both. How do you start building trust within?

Tomorrow, take a little hop. Just stand in place. Hop. Take note of your feet on the ground. How solid they feel. How sturdy the ground underneath you is. How it caught you during a small moment of instability and how you are just fine. Do it again. Keep doing it and never stop. You might find that you love it.

Warmth,

Gina

On waiting, wandering, and patience.

“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost. “

J.R.R. Tolkien

I have always been a lover of the concept of “journey”. Endless seeking of some great truth, working hard to climb a mountaintop for some gold or treasure. Facing dragons, and ice storms and goblins along the way. Conquering fear, becoming this fearless leader all with some tangible reward and a life full of rest at the end of it all. I believed this to be greatest truth of life. If you were willing to work hard enough, you’d end your days in some lovely place reveling in the memories and the riches of your labor, having grapes fed to you while you lounge around in some marble building facing a sunset. In some ways, I feel this is still my expectation. But I’ve been noticing shifts that make me question what I want my marble building to look like, and what kinds of grapes I’d like.

I have always considered myself an explorer. Someone who would constantly be searching and for some reason, the idea of finding that marble building has always seemed slightly impossible for me. Along the way, the idea of searching for anything tangible has become far less appealing as searching for concepts and my own personal understandings.

When I reflect on when this started to take shape for me a memory comes up: I was in elementary school, and a teacher had asked us to write a paragraph or two about what we “wanted to be when we grew up”. Common responses included things like veterinarians, firefighters, nurses, astronauts. I quickly found I had misinterpreted what she meant. My response was simply “Happy”. I think at this moment, I had started to see my life as something that would be full. But not always of joy and experiences, but of heartache and pain as well. There would be a constant striving for balance and I was totally unaware of how balance and happiness are related.

I fell in love with the concept of journey and “finding home” at a young age. I still don’t even know if I understand what these things mean or meant to me. But I do know that my heart races at the thought. But what is different now, is that I think I have come to realize that one doesn’t always have to be moving in order to be on a journey. It is possible that home is the vessel assigned to us as flesh and bones, and that the journey is learning to love, and adapt, and maintain, and work through. Sometimes this concept feels like enough. Other days, it feels like a crock of shit. Both are acceptable. It is possible to feel both satisfied and disappointed all at once. It is possible to be both comfortable and uncomfortable.

I was having a conversation recently with a loved one, regarding the finality of the way society views success and how I feel this is changing. I remember my entering in the professional world and adapting to the mundane every day and thinking “this cannot be all there is”.

Maybe you will chuckle with the thought of this, and sit back in your chair to admire how naive this sounds. Maybe you agree. Maybe my issue here is greed. Maybe I expect too much out of my experiences, or maybe I have such high hopes that everything can be solved with routine and consistency. But lately I have found myself wandering. I’ve found myself referring some of the writings from my favorite novelists, and poets. I have found myself developing new five year plans, and taking courses and trying to figure out what is next. To be frank, I have found myself wishing my way out of routine to return to this idea of searching again.

When I was in undergrad I was speaking with my professor, and I told him that I want to be a professional in at least five different vocational fields. I wanted to be a forest ranger, a fitness instructor, an artist, a chef, a busness owner, yoga instructor, etc. You name it. He is the first and only person who has ever said “Why can’t you do it all?”. And he is right. I believe it is possible. And I think that is also why I am wandering right now. Exploring every option, trying all of them on and seeing what fits the right way. Reflecting back on this memory, I realize now, that not once did I refer back to my essay answer: “happy”. If you’d asked me right in that moment about what that even meant, I don’t think I could have given you an answer. Knowing what I know now though, I might suggest that had I chosen any one of those paths, happiness would still only lie in whatever I chose to see it in. I would be wandering forever if it meant happiness were a tangible, cookie cutter thing.

People don’t like waiting for what they want. They like instant gratification. I want answers, and direction and I want it all right this instant. I have zero patience. Anyone who knows me, knows that this is an understatement. But I think it is impossible to find any answers without wandering. I also think the wandering teaches patience, and presence. So when it comes to wandering, perhaps the right answer is not to wait. Get up, and start searching right now. Because doing nothing when trying to make decisions and accepting everything exactly as it is (if you are unhappy with wherever you are right now) is still a decision.

I don’t have any answers. I certainly haven’t found any of my great truths yet, and I absolutely do not know what it is like to have balance. But so far I have picked up some knowledge: In order to be able to wander, you have to be able to focus on one thing and multiple things all at once. I’m not talking multitasking. I’m talking openness and focus. I’m talking setting out on one mission while remaining open to the roads that become available to you along the way. There is not right or wrong answer. There is only your answer.

This does not mean that it is okay to lose your ability to stay right here, right now. We learn what we want and do not want from what is happening right now. Answers are actually instantly gratified in smaller ways in the day to day if you are present enough to look. Being too present, and too accepting can allow you to grow roots where you don’t want them planted. So being able to propel yourself once in a while with the notion of seeking and searching for the best fit is an important tool to have.

I think it all just means that humans are seeking true, spiritual, personal, and uninterrupted balance. Balance is what allows us to have patience enough to keep going, and stay present enough to enjoy our journey. And sometimes what we achieve by the end of it, is not as special as we thought it would be. It’s not enough. In fact, maybe the journey was far more exciting.

There have been endless times where I thought my journey was all kinds of messed up. Where I thought my road map was wrong, or that maybe I needed a new one altogether. There were times where I wanted to fling myself off the mountain top and just give up. But whenever I have gotten to this point I give myself permission to pause and take in the view from where I stand. I try to meet myself with where I am at. Sometimes it has been gorgeous and other times it was grotesque. Whenever it was gorgeous it gave me strength to stay where I was and take it in. Whenever it was grotesque I was usually too scared to stay put and it was a reminder to keep moving. The point here is that every journey has gorgeous views, and really rotten ones too. These are the things you will remember when you reach your marble buildings. Take the time to really remember them.

“Not all who wander are lost.” One of Tolkien’s most famous quotes. He’s right. Not everyone who is wandering is lost. In fact, maybe the real puzzler here is figuring out what it means to even be wandering. Sometimes we are just figuring it out. On occasion, not everything about the gold at the end is what it was cracked up to be. Sometimes it is better. Sometimes the gold was just misleading rocks. Other times, perhaps we had gold in our pockets the whole time but because we were seeking the bigger pile we forgot about what we had already brought with us.

The only thing I really know for sure, is that sometimes we have to find our own sunsets, build our own marble places, and grow our own grapes. Even these are subject to change once we have them.

There is a very real possibility that most people will always be wandering, and wondering and being impatient about what is next for themselves. It’s natural. But if we don’t take a minute to consider what our gold really is, then we may never know when we actually have it. I would encourage you to define it for yourself. Perhaps it is balance. Perhaps it is feeling content. Perhaps there is only balance and being content with little sprinklings of joy here and there. Perhaps there is only imbalance and feel discontent with little sprinklings of clarity along the way. This clarity is what will pull you next. This what the wandering is. What is pulling you toward your own personal balance? Where do you find that you feel safe enough to enjoy the sprinklings of joy? What do you want your marble buildings, and sunsets to consist of? How can you access them more frequently? Why can’t you do it all? What types of grapes grow on your vines?

I would encourage you to learn to stay present enough to learn patience while you wander. I know it is difficult to feel like we are constantly racing time so we can have as much time in our marble buildings as possible. But it is possible to access multiple marble buildings and to witness so many sunsets. Do not wait on wandering. You’re not just going to stumble into it. You have to answer your own questions and find your own answers. Wandering does not mean you are lost. Wandering means you are figuring it out. Wandering means it is okay to stop and check your pockets for gold. Wandering means you have time.

What are you currently seeking? Is it clarity, and balance? What are these to you? Do you have a specific map? What are the chances that everything on the map is still accurate? How can you make changes along the way? Are you checking your pockets? Are you allowing yourself to stay present enough to learn patience? Is what you are doing right now allowing you to choose to be happy? Please by all means, wander. Explore. Seek. But don’t forget to take in the views either way.

Warm regards,

Gina

On comparison, being enough and abundance.

” Let your head climb back down through your throat and into your body so it can see just how good you look when you’re not compared to anything.”

Buddy Wakefield

When I reflect on my experiences with comparison and this idea of “being enough of something”, I find myself overcome with waves of guilt, and shame and deep sadness. The very term “being enough” is one that makes me cringe, and I can’t explain it. These are just words. At their very core, they are only letters placed together to be read as a sound. And yet, they feel so heavy on my tongue. I want to close my eyes when I hear it, and I want truly to believe that “I am enough” of anything. When I start to explore this, I really feel as though I’m carrying around a bag of bricks that each hold solid reasons of why I am exactly the opposite of enough of anything. I’m not disclosing this to you for any other reason that I am fairly certain you can relate in some way or another. As humans, or at least within this society, it is difficult to refrain comparing ourselves, what we have, all that we are and do to those around us.

I remember being a child and having this little white dragon stuffed animal. My sister had one too, but she didn’t play with hers as much. I remember comparing my stuffed toy to hers and being jealous and angry about how pretty hers was, fresh and new. Mine was becoming dingy, and losing it’s white shine. The neck was slightly bent out of place, worn over time by physical manifestations of my love. But hers was “better”. So, one day, when she wasn’t in her room, I snuck in with a black pen and I scribbled a small scribble on the neck of this dragon toy and placed it back in its home (Cheli, if you didn’t know this until this very moment, I am sorry, this a darker side of myself which I am working on).

For some reason, I couldn’t handle the idea of anyone having the same toy but in better condition than myself. I think somewhere in my small mind, the idea that my love could take something beautiful and make it ugly was planted, and it made me angry and hurt. It’s an idea that has been hard to shake. There is never justification, however, for trying to bring someone else down over my own self-comparison, even at the tender age of six. I think truly, this early experience is something that stays with me because it was a point in my life where I saw something in myself that was undesirable and I didn’t have the words to explore it any further. I didn’t want to have or be something that was “worse” than what other people had or were. Looking back, I wish I still had my dragon, because I have grown to be able to understand that we love things in our life, regardless of how they change over time, and that this change is sometimes due to the way that we love it. And that is okay. And we can celebrate it if it is healthy and promotes self-awareness. To be completely honest, this comparison technique is something I never grew out of. It has been nothing but toxic.

Comparison is not always bad. It can help develop knowledge and self-understanding. It can be a tool for measurement, or a way to learn from mistakes. When used as a tool, it actually can be quite helpful. It becomes dangerous when we apply it as the groundwork for how we operate. When we allow it space into our relationships with others, and with ourselves. It becomes dangerous when we incorporate it so often that we begin to feel resentment, bitterness and cynicism toward the world and those around us. Because using it in this way is when we begin to lose the things that make us authentically ourselves. It’s hard to know who to blame for where comparison became a tool to use against ourselves. So I won’t go there today. But I want to focus on the impact this can have. I do think it is crucial, that I stress how much comparison can make us feel as though we have to hide some part of who we are. It breeds “perfectionism” in beings that are made out of organic matter. If organic is said to be pure, doesn’t it mean that we already have reach a state of perfection?

Our body and brains know when we betray ourselves and so often, we feel betrayed when we feel we need to hide some detail or fact about ourselves. But we do this, often, to survive. We are afraid of being the “other” in the room. Society preaches “fitting in” and adapting ourselves into some cookie cutter mold. But squares do not fit inside of circles. And humans do not fit into cookie cutters. You know this. We all know this. But there is still this hidden suggestion that maybe comes from within that says ” if I don’t squish myself in that mold, I will never be enough”. If we compare cats and dogs, we would find many similarities, yes. But the sole things draw people into loving one or the other are the differences between them. But then to claim that one is better than the other is to claim facts based on opinions based on nothing but preference. And yet somehow, our society has let that be a driving forces in what is “acceptable” amongst human beings. But if we look at cats and dogs and acknowledge that none of them participate in comparison, I think it is fair to then point out just how happy they are being exactly who they are. We have much to learn from them.

So cut to present day. 27 year old Gina, still comparing, still resenting, still bitter and slightly cynical. Everytime I hear someone say the phrase “you are enough”, I instinctively roll my eyes. I find myself still angry that other people experience things I want for myself so much earlier than I ever will be able to. I become angry with myself when I realize I may never look or feel the way I want because I have mental illnesses and the potential for chronic conditions that may prevent me from doing so. I become frustrated with myself when I can not provide “enough” of the things that my loved ones may need or want from me. I fall into a dark place when I think about what my traumas may have done to my brain and the way I present myself to others. But to try to compare myself to other people, especially knowing what I do about myself and my past, is not fair. In fact, it is straight up cruel and it would, later then, be no surprise at all that I might feel what I feel about myself when I choose to be so unkind to me.

I think at this point, it is safe to say I have not developed this part of my self-love journey enough yet to claim to be any professional on the matter. But I will say that the impacts of comparison, and not believing myself to be enough of anything have been heavy and intense and really not conducive at all to learning techniques and lifestyles focused on self-love. Additionally, I think the word “enough” is misleading. I think it is a measurement that indicates the “bare minimum” and takes away the possibility of a point of satisfaction. Rather than focusing on what I “might lack”, I can focus on “areas of development”.

I would like to break it down. I think that language and the way we speak to ourselves can be a “make it or break it situation”. Language, however many letters come together to make sounds, is powerful.

Rather than being unkind to myself through comparison, I might state instead that I would like to improve on my time management skills. I would like to build upon my dedication to loving myself so much that I feel I actually deserve time to do more physically. To cast things aside that make me feel small and insignificant. This might mean removing myself from platforms that allow people to hide authenticity. This might mean staring at myself in a mirror for two hours until I am fine with the way my face has changed over the years. This might mean taking a minute to acknowledge that I have not been “made less than” or “corrupted” as a result of what my abusers have done to me. This might mean learning that hiding is not always safe. This might mean practicing my thoughts over and over again until I understand how to reframe them.

So with the help of my therapist, and those whom I love the most I have been trying to re frame this for myself. If we think of being “enough” as “abundance”, rather than “the bare minimum”, what do we really possess within ourselves? What qualities and features do I have an abundance of that I can pride myself in enough to forget to compare myself to others today? If you read my post from last week, I mention a bit about understanding what I need, and that right now, my brain is stating abundance. This word feels warm and refreshing, and comforting. These are qualities which I possess.

Other qualities and features that I possess in abundance: Kindness, empathy, determination, devotion, creativity, friendliness, diligence, understanding. I am a great cook because i have an abundance of knowledge around food. I have an abundance of authenticity. I have managed to stay true, through all of this, to myself, my passions and my goals in whichever way they may change. I always wake up. Not just in a state of being conscious but in a state of coming to my sense about how I want to be treated. I have an abundance of communication skills. My body is round and soft, and some day it will be fully open to receiving all the love it can also give. For now, I have an abundance of ways of being certain that others know I love them. I never stop trying. I have helped, for certain, at least five people. I have an abundance of knowledge and skills which I use every day. I have an abundance of respect for others, and an abundance of boundaries for those I do not respect. I have an abundance of trust. I have an abundance of acceptance from my loved ones. I have an abundance of forgiveness from my loved ones. I have an abundance of ways in which I know how to connect to other people. I have an abundance of opinions. I have an abundance of admiration. I have an abundance of stories and survival mechanisms. I have an abundance of perspective. I have an abundance of experiences. I have an abundance of lessons. I have an abundance of openness.

I am not saying to stop comparing yourself. I know it is simply, not possible and there may be some days where it is all you can do. That’s okay. I am asking you to take stock, right now of what exactly you know for sure that you have an abundance of within yourself. I think you may find it to be a much longer list than you anticipated. This was the hardest post for me to write yet. This is a topic that I am struggling with every day. But I cannot ask you to do it, without having done it myself.

Take stock of what you possess in abundance. What qualities are they? What can you do right now, tomorrow, daily etc. to ensure that you will try to refrain from comparing who you are to some one who is a completely different being than yourself? Why is this important to you? How can you reframe the language you use for yourself to fit a life that allows you to stop hiding? How will you build awareness around your personal stuffed dragons? What can you do to appreciate what you have to give others and yourself? How will you account for your own personal journey and how it has contributed to who and why are you the way you are? How can you keep this in mind when you start to compare? How do you ensure you are not trying to squish yourself into molds that are not made for you? What can you do to assure yourself that all of this abundance, all of what you possess really is enough. And it is. And you are. But you have to believe it.

Warm regards,

Gina

On letting go.

“Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it.”

David Foster Wallace

“You need to let go”. It sounds easy. It sounds like it should be no big deal. It’s a phrase that is used so often in recovery, treatment, clinical and nonclinical settings that I’m surprised there’s not a procedural application yet. “You need to let go”. It sounds like some hippie gibberish that a few weeks of solid meditation and some good tea can help with. While those things are great, they are just tools for the journey. “You need to let go”. It’s enough to spark a bit of rage in people who need to do it most and don’t know how. I know this because I’ve been this person for too long.

I’ve needed to let go of my pain for a long time. And whenever I hear this statement , it feels like a statement of ignorance. It feels like whomever is stating this to me, is a mentally stable privileged jerk who has no idea what they’re talking about. Because in my mind, anyone who could say this to me is someone who can’t possibly understand that to “let go” means to stop protecting myself. It means forgetting about my pain, and to forget means whatever has caused me pain could happen again. It’s to make myself deliberately vulnerable for more pain. Or so I might have thought.

When I started therapy three years ago with my current therapist (bless her heart), she started by reading me a story from a children’s book about a pigeon wanting to drive a bus. The moral of the story is that to anyone with common sense, pigeons driving buses is a dangerous thing. But if we equate our emotions and pain to the pigeon, we let it happen all the time. The metaphor eventually points to understanding that these things do serve us well in life, but they aren’t allowed to drive the bus. This metaphor explains that perhaps, it is best if these things just become passengers, instead.

Cut to present, and I’m sitting with my therapist telling her how difficult it is accept my traumas. And she introduces me to EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). The idea here is that the therapist works with you to reprocess whatever traumas you have experiences over and over using eye movement that mimics sleep patterns. It sounded crazy, and to be honest I wasn’t sure I believed it would do much. But I was desperate and so drained so I said yes. I have trouble even thinking of a time in my life now, where this modality seemed silly. Because to be frank, I’m fairly certain it has changed my life.

For me, the experience is similar to dreaming. I would see my trauma occur over and over again, until it became less painful to rewatch. But what is mesmerizing about it, is that since it is dreaming, it’s just my brain communicating with me. My brain knows very well that I communicate best through metaphor and imagery. So in my most recent session, I found myself not reliving my trauma at all and in fact running down a path in the woods in the middle of fall. It’s brisk and it is just me, and I feel strong. I feel the cold air kissing my cheeks and I stop to look around and notice a giant puddle of mud. (A side note here, is that following my trauma, I felt dirty. I could take three showers in one day, scrubbing myself with sponges until the skin was raw, and I would still feel dirty. In my mind I would never be clean enough.). Instead of bypassing the mud in this dream, I jumped into it. I rolled my braided hair into it, I spread it all over my arms and my cheeks. I felt happy. Asking myself what I need, with a response from my mind of ” Abundance, love, family, kindness, more”. I sat with the warm mud as it hardened on my skin before taking off running into the fall morning. Sweaty, muddy, wearing this dirt like a coat of honor. I felt less dirty than I have felt in years. I felt light and free.

I really believe that this was my brain’s way of saying “You can be fine and you are reaching for more, but please be gentle with me. Please let go of all this pain, I am so tired.”. Since this dream I have found myself being kinder to myself, wearing soft clothing, allowing myself to be whatever I need in the moment. Sometimes I find it in other things, like sleep and comfortable sheets. But most of the time, it’s what allow myself to think about while I’m creating, doing, being. It’s reflection. It’s taking an inventory and rotating or eliminating whatever is expired. It’s understanding that the answers I need are already within me. It’s reconnecting with my body and becoming its friend.

I’ll tell you, letting go is something I have always and will probably always struggle with. This work is never done. But from my understanding so far, I’ve learned a few things around letting go.

This is what letting go is not: Letting go is not giving up. It’s not allowing yourself to throw the towel in on trying. Letting go is not being vulnerable to being hurt again (getting hurt is something that happens regardless of how tight your grip on things are). Letting go is not allowing yourself to walk blindly into traps. Letting go does not mean your abusers are winning, it’s not a competition. Letting go is not forgetting. Letting go is not excusing how others have wronged you, it’s choosing to move forward anyway.

This is what letting go is: Letting go is allowing yourself to admit that you want more for yourself. Letting go of past pain is allowing you to understand that you have more to offer than the worst things that have happened to you. Letting go is taking all you have learned and doing good things with it whether for others or for yourself. Letting go is making noticeable changes towards growth. Letting go is approaching the world with a childish sense of wonder and awe and being able to appreciate it knowing what you know about pain still. Letting go is being able to accept what has happened to you. It’s knowing it is not your fault, but it is your responsibility to move forward. Letting go is re-claiming yourself, your body, your time. It’s reconnecting with who you never knew you wanted to be. Letting go is having empathy for yourself, others and those who have wronged you. Letting go is letting your abusers know you don’t have the time or space for them anymore. Letting go is making room for everything that continues to serve you and recycling what does not. Letting go is forgivjng yourself for how you might have wronged yourself. Letting go is expansion.

So yes, you do need to “let go”. But not for anyone but yourself. Let go of your pain so you can be more for yourself. I’d encourage you to explore what this actually means though. Explore what it really is to feel lighter when the weight of your pain finally leaves your shoulders and your jaw alone.

I leave you with this today: If you are holding on to pain, how would you like to see yourself let go of it? What are these things? How can you manifest strength enough to be kind and trust yourself to let go? Your claws are far too precious to make marks on things that do not serve you any longer. Are you pigeons in their rightful seats? How will you implement the boundary to ensure they stay where they belong without stifling them? Are you certain they will tell you when it is their time to get off the bus? How will you make sure?

Warmest regards,

Gina