Here’s to the Dark Bits

Image credit: www.tbquk.org

Image credit: http://www.tbquk.org

For some time now I’ve been questioning my path and wondering what’s next. The old ideals stopped making sense somewhere along the way. Belief structures quit resonating. The foundation started to crack, then crumble, then fall away completely.

In short, I don’t know what’s true for me anymore.

I scratched and clawed to find something—anything—to hold onto so I could feel safe again. But there wasn’t anything. It was as if I was floating in the ocean with nothing and no one in sight. Which direction do you swim when you don’t know where land is?

Alone, in the dark, I just had to wait. Fuck.

I’ve wanted to write about where I’m at, but I didn’t know how to explain what was going on. I still don’t. I’ve felt this general sense of malaise. This total lack of motivation. This utter directionlessness. Just blah. I haven’t felt particularly turned on by anything. I have felt alone, but didn’t necessarily want to be around anyone.

I’ve been irritated, annoyed, prickly. I hesitated to write when I felt so pissy. It’s hard to seem enlightened when you feel like shit.

I’ve tried to surrender to this…whatever it is. To not follow that compulsion to put a happy face on it. In the past the happy face was the way to turn around a low mood. Always look for the positive, I would remind myself. And that did help, or so I thought…until it didn’t. But lately it just started to feel a little delusional. Like I was lying to myself.

What’s wrong with admitting something is hard? What’s wrong with being honest with yourself?

I am no stranger to the dark bits. Depression is an old friend of mine. And while it’s just an occasional visitor now, I still fear inviting it in for a long weekend. Partly because I’m afraid it might decide to take up residence again, but also because our social and cultural conditioning leans toward happiness at all costs.

In our uber positive society it’s not acceptable to admit life sucks sometimes. It’s not okay to not only recognize I’m having a hard time, but do nothing to change it. To just ride it out and see where it takes me.

And that’s the part that bothers me. I don’t want to put on a happy face just because it makes you feel better. When I don’t say how I really feel, it’s like I’m being smothered. And honestly, that feels worse than the dark bits ever could.

There’s all kinds of advice about how to feel good when you don’t. Turn that frown upside down, change your attitude, be grateful, get outside, exercise, help others…and on and on it goes. But all that trying to change things insinuates it’s not okay to feel bad, alone, confused, angry.

I used to have a friend who, when I was down, insisted I would feel better if I went out. At first I believed her. I thought there was something wrong with me if I didn’t feel happy…something that needed to be fixed. But after a few evenings of me either crying in a bar or wanting to punch people in the face, I realized this was not the answer.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with positivity in general. Where I think it can be harmful is when I use positivity to not feel anything uncomfortable. I need to feel bad when I feel bad. Denying that is like rejecting a part of me.

Life is messy and things don’t go according to plan. And sometimes it sucks. But the dark times aren’t just to be tolerated until we can figure out how to be happy again. They should be revered the same way those joyous times are…as just a part of the experience of being human.

I don’t know where I’m going and I don’t know what any of this means. But I’m here. So I’m going to let this be whatever it is…dark, scary, uncertain. There’s still the urge to try to change it so I can feel better, but now there’s an even stronger pull to let it crack everything open. Let it all fall apart and see what comes of the broken pieces.

There comes a time when you can’t sidestep the shadows with positive thoughts anymore. You have to sit in the darkness, the nothingness, the not knowing, without trying to change it. Feel as bad as you feel. And wait. And listen.

I read this quote from the Bruce Cockburn song, Pacing the Cage in Sonja Alarr’s blog and it sums things up perfectly for me. “Sometimes the best map will not guide you. You can’t see what’s ‘round the bend. Sometimes the road leads through dark places. Sometimes the darkness is your friend.”

Here’s to the dark bits…may we welcome them with open arms.

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I’d love to hear your comments below. If you liked this post, then please ‘Like’ it and share with your friends. And don’t forget to click ‘Follow’ to get email notifications whenever I post something new. But most of all…thank you for reading and being a part of my journey.

The Gifts of Staying

Walking Lightly Ranch

Walking Lightly Ranch

When I contacted author Laura Munson in July about her Haven Writing Retreats I wasn’t sure I really intended to go. I’m a toe-dipper, not a cannon-baller. I generally take my own sweet time gathering information in order to make a decision. It could take me months to decide what model cell phone or vacuum cleaner to buy, for God’s sake. But after talking with Laura on the phone, I knew. She felt like an old friend. The kind where no matter how long it’s been, you just pick up where you left off. She seemed to understand where I was at and I felt certain she could help me.

I was contemplating going in late September, but there was a cancellation for the August retreat, just over three weeks away. I made the call to confirm I could get my financing in order, and then hesitated. I knew once I told Laura I was coming there would be no turning back and I was scared. The next day I emailed her, “I am both excited and terrified. Looking forward to seeing you soon! I’ll be the one breathing into a paper bag.”

That’s when my old friend anxiety paid me a visit. For the next several nights I couldn’t sleep. I felt like I could vomit. The voice in my head was on a mission. “What have you done? You can’t afford to go to a retreat. What if you need that money later? Besides, you’re too sick. You won’t have enough energy to participate. The travel alone will be exhausting. You should just stay home.” This is not the voice of reason. This is the voice that tries to stop me from going after my dreams. So I listened instead to the voice of my heart.

That’s not to say my inner critic took a vacation. Oh no. That voice never really goes away. So when some of the writing exercises stretched me in ways that were uncomfortable, I breathed through it. When my “I’m not doing it right” story had me wanting to cry, quit, run, I stayed.

“Out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” ~Rumi

I stayed because there were ten other extraordinary women willing to bare their souls and share their stories. I stayed because Laura, our courageous leader, showed us by her own example how to ‘lay yourself bare on the page.’ Because I stayed, I walked away with renewed confidence in my writing, a more solid vision for the structure of my book, an author’s statement, and a clearer idea of my writing voice.

But it was so much more than that. I am amazed at how close I became to these women who were strangers just a week ago. We laughed. We cried. We got real. Because I stayed I met all these beautiful souls who don’t seem to realize just how magnificent they are. That astounds me. Until I also realize I am one of them.

This is my author’s statement, which is written on a brown paper bag: “I write to find my way–and to remind others they are not alone.”

So if you are looking for somewhere to explore your creativity on the page, I can think of no better, more nurturing place than Haven. Any time you step outside your comfort zone, it will be scary. It’s tempting to stay on the shore because that’s where it feels safe. But if you can just breathe and trust and stay, your dream will ripple out into the world in ways you never imagined.

Come on in…the water’s just fine.

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I’d love to hear your comments below. If you liked this post, then please ‘Like’ it and share with your friends. And don’t forget to click ‘Follow’ to get email notifications whenever I post something new. But most of all…thank you for reading and being a part of my journey.

I Wanted This to Be Easy

Image credit: happilyalawmama.blogspot.com

Image credit: happilyalawmama.blogspot.com

For years I have said, both to myself and out loud, “I just want to do work I love and am passionate about.” I’ve had more than one job I didn’t like. Those jobs paid the bills, but they sucked the life out of me. And sooner or later I always got to the point of dreading going to work. If you’ve experienced something similar, you know it is not a fun way to live.

I’ve heard of people who just love their work. They say they can’t wait to get up on Monday morning because they’re excited to do what they’re passionate about. I’ve also heard that once you find your passion things will fall into place, doors will open, and it will be easy. Easy! Even Confucius said, “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

I am a seeker and I searched for my passion with this expectation I mind. When I find ‘it’ things will be easy.

I went to college, got my first office job, worked for a non-profit, became a virtual assistant, worked from home for a commercial roofing company, went back to college, started a health and wellness business, raised money for breast cancer, worked for an event management company, became a life coach. I’ve read more books than I can count and have done copious amounts of personal growth work. That’s what my paid and unpaid “career path” has looked like over the last 20 plus years.  Turns out I am a high school guidance counselor’s worst nightmare!

Along the way I discovered—or rather rediscovered—a passion for writing. After a devastating breakup almost three years ago, I started this blog. Prior to that I noticed I got a lot of positive feedback on the recaps I wrote of my experiences doing the Breast Cancer 3-Day Walk. I remembered my favorite thing in elementary school was creative writing. Occasionally I had heard that little whisper…the one that said I should write a book.

I started to realize I express myself better in writing than talking aloud. I am famous for the follow up email. If you’re not familiar with this, the purpose of the follow up email is to clarify what I said to you in person that I thought about later and wasn’t sure made sense. I can form sentences on the page easier than I can get them to come out of my mouth in any real coherent way.

Still, I had never thought of myself as a writer. I don’t even journal regularly.

But since I started this blog I can see writing is the one thing I feel compelled to do even though I don’t get paid for it. There’s so much I want to share…my thoughts, ideas, experiences, opinions. When I’m in the flow I lose all track of time. I forget to eat, drink or even pee. It was in those moments I started to feel like I finally found ‘it’…the thing I’m meant to do. Woohoo! Finally things will be easier now, right?

Not so fast!

Just getting myself to sit down and write regularly is excruciating. I have been laboring over this particular post off and on for weeks. And I thought when I outed myself on Facebook and gave myself a deadline for my book, that would kick my ass into gear, but it hasn’t. I recently signed up for a writing retreat with a New York Times Best-Selling Author and promptly lost several nights sleep. I have been riddled with anxiety, nausea, and dread ever since.

Where is all that ease, motivation and enthusiasm I’d heard so much about? Wasn’t that supposed to be the reward for finding ‘it’ in the first place? Easy was the carrot I’d dangled in front of myself for so long and frankly I’m pissed that hasn’t been my experience. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. This is the part no one mentions (or if they did I failed to hear). When it comes to actually doing the thing you’re meant to do in this world, it will scare the living hell out of you. And you will want more than anything to turn and run as fast as you can back to something that feels safe, comfortable…easy.

So where do I go from here? I could just quit. Give up the idea of being a writer. I don’t have to put myself through this. No one would blame me for not wanting to deal the anxiety, the self-imposed pressure, the fear of judgement, the feeling that I’m being turned inside out. I haven’t spent all this time searching for something that would make me feel like I want to lose my lunch. I was looking for ease, remember?

But I love writing. Actually, that’s not entirely true. As Michael Kanin said, “I don’t like to write, I love to have written,” and that’s a whole lot more accurate. Though I feel drawn to it, writing itself is mostly hard. Blog posts and book chapters rarely flow out of me perfectly written and ready to publish. It takes dedication and time and discipline (one of my least favorite things). But having written something that touches one other person…now that’s the sweet spot. That’s what makes it all worthwhile.

So I’m changing my expectation. Maybe it will never be easy. Maybe I will always be afraid, neurotic, anxiety-ridden. Maybe I will never wake up on Monday morning and be excited to write. But I’m doing it.

Writing is the one thing I can’t not do (yes, I realize that’s a double-negative…get over it!). Because every once in a while something I say resonates with someone else in this world and in that moment they realize they’re not alone. And that is reason enough for me to breath into that paper bag and keep writing.

“Many of us seek that which we will flee if we find it. I have seen this time and again, both in myself and in others. We seek, we search, and then we find a calling or a relationship that is a perfect reflection of our yearning… we turn away and go back to seeking, almost as though the light of our true-path was too bright for us, too vulnerable for us, too real for us. This is a pattern that we have to recognize and heal or else we will never stop looking for what is already there. True-path is not always around the next corner. Sometimes its right here.”      ~Jeff Brown

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I’d love to hear your comments below. If you liked this post, then please ‘Like’ it and share with your friends. And don’t forget to click ‘Follow’ to get email notifications whenever I post something new. But most of all…thank you for reading and being a part of my journey.

The Winter of My Discontent

I’m sitting in my living room with the sun streaming through the window. It feels warm on my face and I close my eyes in an effort to take it in fully, soak it up, hold onto it. This is a rare moment of peace these days. A moment when it feels like things are going to be okay. There’s room to breath. The sun is shining…all is well in the world.

This has been—and may continue to be—‘the winter of my discontent.’ (I’m sure Shakespeare will be cool with me borrowing that line from “Richard III”.) But for those of us on the positive thinking track, it appears negative, ungrateful, destructive. Many days I have shut myself off from the world believing I should feel better. Other times I’ve written about it and then felt guilty for focusing on it. Truthfully I’m just trying to learn how to navigate—an ultimately accept—this is a part of my life.

As early as middle school I can remember having these feelings—fear, anxiety, depression–and wondering what was wrong with me. In my 20s and 30s I took anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications to quell the thoughts and feelings that seemed too dark to face. But taking medication to ‘fix’ the problem left me feeling like there was something wrong with me. So I stopped. It’s been almost 14 years since I used those drugs to get through the difficult times.

But something else has happened; something more insidious than the low moods themselves. Over the years and in the reading of self-help books too numerous to count, I am back to believing there is something wrong with me; that I need to be fixed.

I do believe positive thinking can be vey helpful. I’ve seen it in my own life. But the downside of taking positive thinking too far is that when I’m feeling angry, fearful, frustrated, or sad, I beat myself up. Mentally and emotionally I kick my own ass. And I gotta tell you…it’s exhausting!

What do we say to someone who’s feeling down? “I hope you feel better soon,” right? Because we believe (myself included) that ‘feeling better’ is the goal. But what if ‘better’ is part of the continuum between suffering and joy? Neither one of those states is superior to the other. They are equal participants in the human condition. What if we could say instead, “I love you no matter how you feel and I’m here if you need someone to listen”? What if we (and by we I mean I) could be more accepting? Especially of those feelings that are uncomfortable to us.

Moods are just like the tides…they follow nature’s rhythm. Sometimes they’re high, sometimes they’re low. But you don’t think there’s something wrong with the ocean just because the tide is out. And if it feels like it’s been low tide for far too long, don’t worry. High tide will return when it’s supposed to. In the meantime, think of all the treasures there are to discover when the tide is out—seashells, creatures of all kinds, the occasional message in a bottle.

The treasure I have found is writing.

Writing, for me, has become a way to talk about the things I don’t really know how to deal with. It’s also my way of finding ‘my people.’ Not as a vehicle to commiserate or feel sorry for myself. But just to feel heard and understood. This is how I can do something constructive with what I’ve learned; how I can help those who have similar struggles and feel like no one understands them. I write about my life to say, “I get you…and there’s nothing wrong with you.”

Like me, you may be sensitive and not realize it, feel things more deeply than other people and not know why. That’s okay. Really.

For most of my life I’ve tried to understand what I thought was wrong with me so I could fix it and be like other people I’ve admired. But now I’m taking a different approach. I’m learning to find more acceptance and love for myself. To be honest about what I’m feeling or thinking and not force it to be any different. To realize this is the way I am and I don’t need to apologize for it. It might not always be pretty or seem ‘in control’, and that’s just fine.

The irony is in accepting the parts of myself I’ve worked so diligently to fix, I realize more and more there was nothing wrong with me to begin with. And in the wise words of The Beatles…I’m learning to “Let it be.”

**This post is in memory of Debbie Ford who taught me to accept all of me…the good and the bad, the light and the dark. She believed our gifts are in the shadows. And it is only in accepting the whole of who we are that we will really become all that we are meant to be. I am forever grateful for that lesson and for the many other ways she changed my life. Wherever you are, Debbie, I hope you realize the impact you have made on the world. But most of all I hope you know how much you are loved.**

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I’d love to hear your comments below. If you liked this post, then please ‘Like’ it and share with your friends. And don’t forget to click ‘Follow’ to get email notifications whenever I post something new. But most of all…thank you for reading and being a part of my journey.

What Does Your Fear Masquerade As?

Fear is a tricky little bugger. Sometimes it shows itself outright. As in the screams of terror that would come from being chased by a wild animal or a knife-wielding psycho. If your life were actually in real, physical danger it’s likely fear would show it’s true colors.

But more often fear disguises itself in ways you may not even recognize.

Lately I’ve noticed my fear wearing the disguise of frustration…or impatience. I was sitting at the dinner table with my 15-year-old son, Kyle. He was telling me something…I don’t even recall what it was. All I remember was feeling annoyed and like I just wanted him to go away.

What was really going on?  I had an unexpected change in my income and that produced some serious money fear. I was so afraid in that moment I couldn’t even hear what he was saying. But to him, I’m sure it appeared as if I just didn’t care.

In the past, my fear wore anger’s clothes. I didn’t realize that at the time, but I can remember two specific incidents where my older son, Mitch, brought it to my attention. Gotta love your kids for not letting you get away with anything!

Here’s what happened. Mitch and I were at The Art Institute of Seattle where he was enrolling in a program for audio production. The young woman in the admissions office was very nice and helpful. When we left Mitch asked me, “Why were you so mean to that girl?” I was confused. I didn’t remember being mean. He said, “She was just trying to help us and you were being kinda bitchy. “

And then it hit me.

Towards the end of our appointment, I had to complete paperwork to apply for financial aid. I remember feeling terrified. All I could think was, “How am I ever going to pay this back?” Little did I know by not trying to show that fear, I was actually coming across as a complete bitch.

The other incident was when Mitch wrecked his car. I had no idea there had been an accident. He left the house with his friend Alan and rear-ended someone at the stoplight only a few minutes away. He didn’t call to tell me what had happened. He decided to handle it himself.

The next thing I knew, a tow-truck pulled up in front of my house with my son’s smashed car on the back. Even though Mitch was in the cab of the tow-truck, I couldn’t see him. Immediately fear set in.

Thankfully Mitch was okay. But later he told me when the tow-truck driver first saw me she said, “Your mom looks really mad!”

So that’s how I’ve covered my fear. Instead of just being honest about it, I’ve worn the masks of frustration or anger, impatience or bitchiness. But what if I could be more open about fear? What if, instead of automatically putting on one of those masks, I could admit, “I’m feeling really afraid right now.” How authentic and real would that be?

It’s vulnerable and feels like a risk. But the alternative hasn’t really worked out all that well so far. So I’m getting honest about fear. Care to join me? You know what they say…the truth will set you free!

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I’d love to hear your comments below. If you liked this post, then please ‘Like’ it and share with your friends. And don’t forget to click ‘Follow’ to get email notifications whenever I post something new. But most of all…thank you for reading and being a part of my journey.

Worrying Won’t Fix the Furnace

I come from a long line of worriers. Generation after generation fretting about what might happen. Afraid of how terrible it will be when that inevitable ‘bad’ thing shows up

I call it future tripping.

Those of you who know me well know I have played the victim once or twice (or alot) in my life. I often thought “bad things happened TO me. It was just my luck. There was nothing I could do.” But that wasn’t the truth at all.

The truth is, consciously or unconsciously, I was choosing those things.

Here’s an example. A couple weeks ago my Monday got off to a rocky start. I report to my home office for work at 6am. I am not a morning person. My boss is usually raring to go on Monday. She likes to “hit the ground running.” I have never in my life hit the ground running. My mother can attest to that. I felt like I’d been shot out of a cannon. So after three and a half hours straight on various phone calls for work, I needed a break.

I left the room and noticed it felt kind of cold in the hallway. I use a space heater during the day in my office so it was pretty toasty in there. I went downstairs and checked the thermostat. 56 degrees. In my house. That’s a little chilly. The thermostat is set to 60 so I knew the furnace had stopped working.

Before I even had time to think, automatic pilot kicked in. Panic! Oh my god! What am I going to do? Who will I get to fix this? How will I pay for it? It was a complete and utter ‘Chicken Little, the sky is falling’ moment. For those of you who tend to panic and fear the worst, you know what I mean. But as that familiar feeling started to set in, I heard another voice in my head. (Yes, I hear voices. Don’t judge me.) The voice said, “What if you just didn’t worry about this?”

That stopped me dead in my tracks. Because up to that point, worrying did not feel like a choice. But all of a sudden, in that moment, it was. Worry or don’t worry. Either way the furnace isn’t working.

So I just decided to stop worrying.

I was surprised by how relaxed I felt. When you don’t worry, you’re not all stressed out about something you cannot control. I checked the fuse box, took the cover off the front of the furnace and peered around. Nothing obvious jumped out at me so I put the cover back on and walked away. I had some errands to run so I just left the furnace behind.

I enjoyed being away from my office. I took my time and didn’t allow myself to rush. I stopped at the grocery store in the middle of the day. I didn’t worry.

When I got back home and walked in my house, I was surprised by how warm it felt. I checked the thermostat. 60 degrees. The furnace was working again. Without any help from me.

I wish I could say that was the end of my worrying. That I’d learned my lesson. That my fear was gone forever! But I think we all know it doesn’t work that way. My automatic reaction is still fear most of the time. It will take some time to retrain my brain. But now I catch myself. I stop the panic train before it goes tearing out of the station. I breath.

And then I can choose…worry or not. It’s really up to me.

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I’d love to hear your comments below. If you liked this post, then please ‘Like’ it and share with your friends. And don’t forget to click ‘Follow’ to get email notifications whenever I post something new. But most of all…thank you for reading and being a part of my journey.

And Then the Fear Sets In

So I started my blog and posted it on Facebook for all the world to see. I finally did something I’ve been saying I was going to do for a long time. Years, really. What a sense of accomplishment! What a sense of pride! What the hell was I thinking? Just like that, the fear set in and panic ensued. How can I keep this up? How will I find things to write about on a regular basis? Do I really have anything of value to say? And on and on it goes. You know the deal…those little voices in your head grab hold of that fear and run with it. Before you know it you are completely convinced ‘they’ are right. You really don’t have what it takes and you should just cut your losses and walk away. Whew! Crisis averted!

Ok, wait…stop and think this through. Why is it that every time I get really excited about something new and daring, I have the uncanny ability to talk myself right out of it? Let’s face it…I’m afraid. Afraid I’ll fail or do something stupid or not finish what I started. And for most of my life, I’ve let fear stop me. I’ve listened to those voices as if they were real and followed their instructions to the letter. And then I kick myself because I’m not doing what I really want to do.

I used to think there were two kinds of people in the world. The kind like me, who were scared of everything and always played it safe. And the ‘other people’. You know the ones. Those amazing individuals who are able to accomplish great things and push themselves to new heights. I was convinced they weren’t afraid of anything. Then I read Susan Jeffer’s book, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway”. In it she says it isn’t that other people don’t feel afraid, they do. It’s just that it never occurred to them to let that fear stop them.

Wait a minute…hold the phone! You’re telling me everyone has fear? Somehow I was convinced other people don’t struggle with it the way I do. I believed ‘they’ have it easier. That somehow I’m different; it’s harder for me. I have more obstacles to overcome. Less time, energy, money. You’ve thought that, right? Don’t tell me you haven’t. I’ve played the victim often enough to know what it looks like.

Fear is a part of life and I don’t imagine the voices are going away. The only thing I can do is continue to recognize them for what they are and not let them stop me. It’s not easy, but it’s really the only way to live an authentic life. And the coolest thing is, the more you push through your fear, the less it has a hold on you. On the road to becoming me, at least for today, it’s me-1, fear-0. I’ll take that!