Normal-Shmormal

Meeting with a new therapist is a bit like going on a first date–exciting, full of potential but hella unnerving. I’ve always been hell-bent on impressing my therapists with my great insight and wisdom. Which can make for an awkward therapist first-date.

Typically, I wait until I’m dangling on the precipice of a dramatic, jagged emotional abyss before I make a therapy appointment. I always think–against all odds–I can get all bootstrappy and handle it (whatever it is) on my own.

This particular time, just over a decade ago, it was infertility, crippling anxiety, and the sheer terror of navigating the full human range of emotions totally sober. So, you know, at least I was bringing a lot of material to work with.

I like to be prepared.

But even then, with all pressure and pain making it difficult to even breathe, I spent the first therapy session trying to convince the new therapist that I was completely normal.

How do I know about my unconscious master-plan to convince her of my expert level normalcy? Because she told me. Gently. She was a soft-talker. A careful question asker. I thought her overly-conciliatory tone and her constant encouraging affirmations were going to drive me bananas. Instead, they gave me a soft place to land.

She saved me from myself.

And she started by unravelling this whole “normal” bit.

From the time I was 8 years old, I’d been convinced that I was a complete weirdo freak. And that no one would love me if they really knew me. And, also, that I was completely irredeemable.

This made for a super-fun inner voice. The life of the party, really.

But this woman patiently listened and pulled at threads that seemed like they were attached to a different psychic sweater entirely, and yet… by the end… that restricting, suffocating sweater of “normalcy” lay destroyed at my feet.

It was like magic. But it wasn’t. It was hard work that her unwavering kindness and belief that I deserved better–even when I didn’t agree with her–made possible.

She pops into my mind sometimes when I’m doing yoga.

It’s okay if that seems weird. I’m not really caught up on the normal thing anymore.

And it always happens when I’m doing a heart-opening pose.

Yoga has been part of my path on and off since the darkest days of my active alcoholism. It was my toe-hold for the long, winding journey of pulling myself out of that hell. Those first yoga poses I learned allowed me to reconnect spirit to body, after a 6 month blackout (those 6 months really are totally lost to me, except for fragments here and there. And those fragments, honestly, I’d rather forget).

What finally pushed me into making that first, awkward therapy appointment with Dr. Soft-Talker was a heart-opening pose. I was doing yoga alone in a room, eyes glued to a video (I hadn’t quite tamped down my perfectionistic tendencies at that point. Progress not perfection, y’all). The soothing, rhythmic voice moved me into a pose that pushed my chest forward. Show the world your heart, he suggested from the screen of my laptop.

HELL no.

I physically couldn’t do it. I could not push my chest forward. I could not show anyone anything. Because there was so much ugliness, so much I hated inside. The fear was absolutely breath-snatching.

I sat down and cried at the sheer hopelessness of it all.

I found myself in the therapist’s office just a little while later. Being awkward. Totally avoid showing her my heart at all costs. She found it anyway. She was pretty damn good at her job.

And now, when I do heart-opening poses, which are some of my favorites, I can feel the love (for myself, humanity, the universe) open me to all the magic and beauty and tenderness in the world. And I feel such deep gratitude to this woman who believed that normal was bullshit and that I deserved more.

It’s been a process. Just like getting sober, healing and living a big, beautiful authentic life is a journey. Sometimes I’m good at it. Sometimes not so much. But I hang on to the lessons I’ve learned along the way. I build on them. And I keep trying.

New day. New try.

Namaste, y’all.

Love Doesn’t Need That Mess

I sat cross-legged on the floor, near enough to the other kids to look like part of the group. But, while they fidgeted and whispered, my attention remained rapt. Other kids felt mysterious to me; I never really got what they wanted me to say or do. Like maybe other kids had some sort of instruction manual, but mine–even though it should only have taken 4-6 weeks for delivery–was lost forever & now I was just going to wing it.

So far, it wasn’t going particularly well.

But adults: I knew how to be in their presence, knew what the expected responses were. In short: adults were easier. So I paid more attention to them.

So, now I sat dutifully on the tightly woven carpet of a Sunday school classroom, staring up at our teacher. It was just kind of in my nature to be bizarrely well behaved (and also, my mother’d put the fear of God in me about misbehaving in church). But also, even though I was only 7 or so, the kind of church we attended had already started drilling down on the “getting saved” bit.

Fires of hell? No, thank you. I was sure gonna pay attention to how to avoid all that mess.

But now, suddenly, the teacher started talking about dreams and waking up in the middle of the night. My ears pricked forward. Because I couldn’t ever remember a time I didn’t wake up with my heart frozen in terror, my feet pounding the floor to my parents’ bedroom before I even registered my first real, waking thought.

Maybe I’d get some solid advice on how to not be scared. Because adults know things, right? Or at least at that point I thought they did. (Now I know better.) Adults always seemed to have some secret key to universal knowledge that would magically unlock all the answers and make the world make sense. I could not wait to be one of them. An adult with answers. That was my aspirational goal. At 7.

Although I can’t remember this part super clearly, I’m pretty sure the teacher opened this whole conversation with the “Satan is tricky” motif. Fair enough. A universal antagonist.

But in these stories, Satan was always trying to get in. Actively. Not in a dual nature, we all have good-and-evil inside, choose wisely sort of way. Like in a monster who breathes sulfur, who can morph and change and trick you, so you always have to be on guard to fight as a warrior for Christ sort of way.

Let’s just be clear: that’s some scary shit.

But this man is going to tell me how to keep Satan at bay. At least I hope so. Because now I’m really scared.

“If you ever wake up in the middle of the night,” he continues on (and this should sound like a ghost story, but for all the world it doesn’t. It sounds more like practical advice, like how to escape your house in the case of fire), “and you see a loved one who has died standing in your room (here I thought of my great-grandmother, because she was literally the only person I knew who’d died at that point) and that loved one calls to you, do not go to them. It may actually be a demon calling you to them. Satan will try to get at you whatever way he can. He’ll even use the memory of people you love who have died.”

What. the. actual. fuck?!?

For years afterward–years–I was afraid I’d wake up in the middle of the night to see the visage of my great-grandmother bathed in moonlight beckoning me to her. And what if I wasn’t strong enough to resist? What if I was lured to her and spent eternity with the fires of hell raging around me because I’d made a mistake?

That’s a damn big ‘what if’ for a kid to carry around.

Not until I was an adult did I see clearly that fear is simply a way to rule over and control people. Love, real love, has nothing to do with fear. Love doesn’t need that mess. Not at all.

I wish I could go back and tell that 7 year old that the Universe is full of love for her. That she can find all the peace she needs right inside her own heart. And that one day, she’ll have no idea what God is–not at all. And that not-knowing will feel like such a gift, full of possibility and light.

But I’ll settle for telling a little bit of her story. Because that’s healing in its own right, too.

Seriously. Just Let Go.

I’m a well-documented recovering control freak. I love nothing more than a well-worn pattern, a comfortable sense of expectation. Spontaneity? Sure, as long as it’s carefully planned.

Just BEING is something I’ve been trying to perfect for a while now. (See what I did there? Because being is about the moment… and you can’t perfect… You get it. Right?) It is the simplest concept. And I find it unbelievably difficult.

As always, Jane has been instructive in this endeavor. The kid gets so damn far ahead of herself. We’ll be watching a movie together (one of her most favorite things) and she’ll be all: “You know what think we should do next Thursday?”

What the actual hell?!

So we’re constantly reminding her to stay where her feet are. I tease her all the time that she’s terrible at being. But I’m super clear where she gets it from. And I know I need the reminder as much as she does.

My need to plan and to control is fed by a deep fear of letting go.

I thought about having Let Go tattooed on the inside of my forearm. That’s the extent of my suckage at this particular endeavor. I need a constant reminder that I literally cannot avoid.

I do not come from a people who readily embrace the life/death/life cycle in relationships, ideas, identity. One of the boogeymen in my childhood was the idea that some event (shadowy, scary, full of doom) would happen and things would never be the same. They’d be ruined.

It’s taken 44 years, but I’m finally bringing to truly embrace the idea that nothing is ever the same.

Everything is temporary.

This whole concept used to horrify me. It somehow undermines my sense of justice that even things that are “good” and “right” can shift, change, and die deaths that–even thought they might be painful–are the beginning of something new.

Not being able to let go–clutching ideas and identity so tightly they become wrung out, lifeless–seriously impedes my ability to see clearly. It sticks people (myself included) in itty bitty boxes where they either begin to shrivel or begin building a wall so that I can’t see that they’re quietly dismantling the box all together.

Holding on tightly to something that’s ready to die (perceptions, beliefs, relationships) doesn’t stop the death. A tiny death that’s meant to be is going to happen with or without my blessing. But holding on means being cut myself off from the living, thrumming life force that allows great change and growth. That promises possibility instead of decay.

But if I let go, what will be left?

What if letting go allows the Universe to unfurl great magic on my behalf? What it gives people room to wake up to the beauty inside themselves and show me the things they’ve secreted away until they were safe enough to create?

What if letting go allows life to BE?

(You know you were thinking it anyway.)

A Fraction of a Damn

“To be ourselves causes us to be exiled by many others, and yet to comply with what others want causes us to be exiled from ourselves.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With The Wolves

I’ve spent 11 years learning not to give a damn what other people think. It’s a work in progress, for sure. I’ve got a deep yearning to be liked by all the people. But likablity isn’t authenticity. And being likable doesn’t leave much to stand on when life starts roiling about being its usually wily self.

Once, when a friend faced a tough decision (the kind that makes sleep scarce and makes you re-examine your life and values), she sighed, “I wish I could just not care what other people think, like you do. But I’m not like that.”

Well shit. I’m not like that either. Not just naturally. And I’ve always envied the folks who seemed born waving their middle finger at the world, doing what they want, and to hell with the rest of ’em. But that’s never been my natural state.

What I am is wise enough to know that living my life in a way that made other people happy, seeking their approval and approbation, was killing me. Literally. I could not make the inner chorus of doubters and naysayers (who was made up primarily of outside voices I’d allowed to crash on my psychic couch & now they’d taken up permanent residence) shut the hell up, no matter what I did.

I’d do what I thought they wanted. Nope. Wasn’t enough. Or it was the wrong thing. I’d misunderstood the task, gone about it wrong, didn’t perform perfectly. The list went on and on and on. But it amounted to one thing: I wasn’t good enough & never would be.

And so, I drank to shut them up. And the price for their silence almost killed me.

That is some fuckery.

And so, I had to let it all go. Not because I’m valiant and brave and completely self-possessed. But because I wanted to live.

Rising from the ashes of being a yes-girl to my inner chorus took years (and some quality therapists). Because I’d stopped trusting myself long ago. I had to rediscover my voice through the cacophony. It took time to learn to trust myself again. Because first I had to excavate who I am from all that wreckage.

The work isn’t magic. I still get struck with that god-awful mixture of shame & fear that burns in my chest when I think I’ve done something that folks won’t like, something that will ultimately render me unlovable.

But fear’s a lying bastard. And I know it.

So, I sift through my the things that cloud my vision, dig down to that inner knowing, and listen. I wait until I know what the next right thing is. And then I do that.

And it isn’t that I don’t care what people think. Or that I’m never stung by their responses. It’s just that I care what I think more. Because the one person I can’t live, can’t breathe, if I’m exiled from is myself.

Photo by Kai Wenzel on Unsplash

Easy isn’t an option

I’ve been looking for an easy button most of my life. I wasn’t born exuding what you might call a “fighting spirit.” I did, however, seem to come fully equipped, with a tremendous need for black or white, right or wrong. Gray shades of ambiguity need not apply.

Or maybe I did have an innate need to question and to know–but it was at war with both my environs and my need for the security of clear answers.

My 12 year old self had some pretty serious questions about the dictate to fear God. Why, I wondered out loud to my hella religiously conservative parents, would anyone want a God they had to fear?

That’s a real good question. One that warrants examination & a suitable answer.

But–tellingly–I don’t even remember the rest of the conversation. What I do know is that, years later, sitting in churches across Tampa sipping bad AA coffee, I had to reckon with the God I’d created: a vindictive God who might snatch away anything I loved too much, a God that was always looking to inflict suffering–a God to be feared.

Damn.

And, if my inner need for ease and certainty weren’t enough, I had a bad habit of listening to strong outside voices–especially ones that didn’t know what the hell they were talking about.

In my 20s, I’d started exploring Buddhism. Right away, it sparked something that felt remarkably like life in me. But one of my girlfriends (bless their hearts, for so many reasons) informed me I couldn’t just BE Buddhist. I couldn’t just decide something like that.

Did I ask why the hell not? Nope. Did I ignore her or tell her to mind her own spirit, thankyouverymuch? Nuh-uh. What I did do was tuck my tail & refocus my energy back on Christianity. I walked back into utter soul-desolation (being called an abomination has a chilling effect on people, after all). I willingly took my place in an institution where I’d be battered and bruised for years–because someone else told me to.

But also, truthfully, because the kind of Christianity I was raised with came with easy answers. Living near a destructive force felt easier than drawing nearer to the creative (but crazy ambiguous), life-giving practice of questioning and seeking.

I often look around at other folks and wonder why I’m not as curious as they are. But curiosity is built on the willingness to question tirelessly–to tear down assumptions, destructive psychic patterns, decaying modes of thought. To clear room to for the psyche to be, to do its work of creating, building, discovering.

I had to put my easy button in storage when I started the hard work of getting sober. Sobriety isn’t a process in which you can just let old patterns ride. Everything gets dismantled. Which was the most beautiful gift for me. Because it gave me a toehold for the bigger questions I’m now able to ask. Getting sober gave me the strength to peer into the darkness, to probe it, to admit that there might not be an easy answer–and to stand in the face of uncertainty and ask anyway.

Psychic work has never come easily to me. It’s sweat-inducing, sometimes nightmarish stuff. But what is left over in the light of day is so beautiful, so fresh, it makes the questioning that shifts the ground beneath my feet completely worth the while.

You Are To Be Celebrated

ICYMI: The United Methodist Church has been busy imploding lately.

I’ve spent a lot of time recently wrestling with the very real hurt and trauma this conversation the UMC has on the regular about the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ folks brings up. I felt like I should say something profound and moving about the whole hot mess. But I couldn’t find the right words. In fact, I couldn’t even find a place to start.

Fortunately, there are folks who are brilliant and loving (like Nadia Bolz-Weber & Glennon Doyle) who not only found words but put them out into the world in the spirit of love & healing & GOODNESS:


It took me a long time to stop conflating God and the church–and to ask for my God to-go, please. But on this side of things, there is healing and freedom. Not everyone has the same path. But I do know definitively that you don’t need church to have God. In fact, I’ve begun to see God everywhere. In the little interactions I have with other flawed, miraculous humans. In the (rare instances of) sunshine in Atlanta. In the quiet moments of peace (no matter how fleeting) when I feel deeply the love of the divine.

One of my best pieces of advice in times like this: find your people. It doesn’t have to be the church (but it can be! There are plenty of churches that will celebrate you for who you are. Never accept less than that). Find a community who will stand by you in the daily struggles and the existential ones. And if you can’t find a group of people like that (a running group, a book club, a knitting circle, a writers group), create an ad hoc group of folks you’ve gathered along your life journey who love you to your core (even when you’re annoying, or cranky, or a tad irrational). Lean on those people. And be there for them. Create community. That’s the best and hardest part of being human. Dive into it.

Know that the Universe has only love for you. And it will keep nudging you along your path. I think God is constantly rejoicing over the beautiful, messy creation that I am–all while being just a smidge exasperated at how complicated I try to make everything.

Because the truth is simp]e: We’re all divinely created. We’re perfect just the way we are. Me. You. Your annoying AF neighbor. All of us. We’re valuable.

God doesn’t love us in spite of who we are. He loves us BECAUSE of who we are. Gaiety & all.

**Photo by Robin Benzrihem on Unsplash

Meeting My Appropriate Edge

I can force things. Or I can chill the hell out, listen, and learn something. Lately, I’m opting more for the latter.

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This is me after I had “met my appropriate edge” on a run.

It was serious business (obviously).

Well, truthfully, the whole idea of meeting my appropriate edge IS kind of a BFD to me. And it’s become a touchstone of sorts as I move through the world.

In January, I did Yoga with Adriene 22 out of 31 days (which for a recovering perfectionist like me seems… fine, I guess. But, truly, part of me just wants to be like: Dude, you couldn’t have bucked up and done those extra 9 days?!?). Look, I’m just going to go ahead and admit that I’m a little taken with the whole Yoga with Adriene scene. I like a yogi who can say the kind of random, absurd things that run through my head OUT LOUD on a YouTube channel with millions of subscribers. She totally has convos with her dog while leading a yoga practice. She makes me laugh. And reminds me to be kind to myself. And that I don’t need to be perfect. I just need to acknowledge where I am right now, today, in this moment.

Anyway, she’s constantly saying  “meet your appropriate edge.” Which just bounces around in my head, even off the mat. It’s kind of brilliant. I mean, if she just told me to meet my edge, well, I’d have to take that as a challenge. Even though I know it’s not meant to be. But my appropriate edge changes from day to day. It allows for softening when I’m injured or feeling vulnerable and for pushing when I’m feeling vibrant, energetic, and ready for forward momentum.

Telling me to meet my appropriate edge implies an inherent trust that I know what that edge is. That I can trust myself.

This whole foot debacle has taught me a lot–about my body and myself. And, no, I didn’t ask to learn any of it. I’d rather have been running consistently, instead of in fits & starts. But, no one asked me before the Universe threw me this “learning opportunity.” So I’m making the best of it (and making a list of things to remember):

  1. 43 requires more care & maintenance of my body than 33 did. I can’t ignore the tightness in my hips and assume it will go away. It won’t. I can’t jet off for a run without stretching. I’ll really regret it later.
  2. Everything is connected, in running and in life. My foot pain? Caused by my hips. For real.
  3. Yoga, stretching, and listening to my body will keep me healthy and running.
  4. Stubbornness is over-rated.
  5. The negative, self-sacrificial messages I internalized about self-care as a kid were some bullshit. And they’ve got to go. To care for the people around me like I want to, I must care for myself. The two are inextricably linked.

Which means that, while I run, I’ve got to pay attention to what my body is saying. Of course, it always cusses on the hills (so do I. Like, for real, if you’re offended by cussing, EARMUFFS when I run by).

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On the day of the serious-meeting-my-edge picture, I was relatively pain free until about 2 miles in. Then I could feel the muscles in my foot begin to tighten. By 2.25 miles, it hurt. Bad. Typically, I would’ve just pushed through. I would’ve been all grit and suffering and like-hell-I’m-gonna-quit-before-I-get-to-3-miles. But, this time, I just stopped. And there was some bizarrely glorious freedom in just letting myself be. 

I’m more trustworthy than I used to be. That’s what the idea of meeting my appropriate edge reminds me. I have intuition & insight–but I have to listen to myself, to my body, to my heart to access them.

In order to lead the BIG, joyous, fulfilling life that I want, I have to trust myself.

Meeting my appropriate edge that one day lead me to two more runs this week where my appropriate edge looked a lot more like this:

That feels like a pretty big win these days.