How Mental Health, Religion, and Spirituality Are Interconnected (My Story)

If you didn’t already know, May is Mental Health Awareness month in the U.S.A. Depending on the organization, you’ll find different themes. #CureStigma for NAMI, #4Mind4Body for Mental Health America etc.  So far, this year has led me to looking for lost keys, and finding them once I’ve stopped looking.  I’ve found myself religiously pursuing the wisdom of spiritual texts and practices. I have been implementing old practices on a new level, and leaning new ways to look at the wisdom and teachings of my elders that I had previously either ignored, or wasn’t yet at a level of awareness where I could understand their guidance, even on a basic level. Feelings and experiences I didn’t have words for, now have new meaning. And as I learn and struggle with growing through changes I have moments of anxiousness and of deep sadness, while also experiencing deep gratitude and joy. Honestly, it’s been a ride.

So, it made the most sense for me to introduce the theme of spirituality as it related to mental health (or perhaps mental health and how it is connected to spiritual being-ness).

I’ve invited some special guests to talk about the relationship between Mental Health, Religion, and Spirituality. I write it as three items, but I believe both mental health and religion are the human touch we bring to spirituality. I can’t wait to share the interviews with you this month!

But before I present their insights and perspectives, I wanted to share with you some of my own even as I’m still learning them…it’s a journey after all.

The first time I started doing inner-child work, I began to uncover what I believe to be the start of my anxiety and depression. Even though we didn’t have much in our single parent home, we seemed to have just enough and I remember having a happy childhood. I spent most of my time with my grandmom and her friends, I loved sitting around them and being all up in grown-folks business. Growing up, I was the only girl my age on my street, so all of my closest and dearest friends were boys. I was for all intents an purposes not a “girly girl” and was frequently called a “tomboy”. That didn’t bother me, and I didn’t take it as an insult. I was shy and quiet upon initial meeting but once I warmed up I was an active, wide eyed, “chatty Kathy” around people I considered friends and family. Knowing what an introvert was and claiming that as a label simply wasn’t a thing. I was an old soul with a close knit neighborhood, and happy go lucky.

But then something changed. 

My mom would meet a man who would become her husband, uproot us from my grandmother’s house, the house and neighborhood of my happiest memories with my childhood friends and neighbors who watched out for each other and took turns keeping an eye on us kids. She also unintentionally separated me from the base of my identity, and the foundation of my wisdom and knowledge when I moved away from the one person who understood me the most, my grandmom. I didn’t feel right about the man she would marry but I didn’t understand why, my instincts simply told me he was not a nice man and that my mom was not the mom I loved when she was with him.

It was then that I began to let go of the girl who happily played freeze tag and hide and go seek with the guys, and replaced myself with a false self to survive the dysfunction of my home and the environment around me. Depression for me formed out of suppressed anger, fear, disappointment, hatred, and powerlessness turned inward with no outlet.

I eventually made friends with a few girls, one in particular came from a very religious family and while I knew prayer, I learned a new level of prayer from her family. She introduced me to ballet and I found my outlet in dance and peace in talking to this old invisible guy that watched over me from the sky. By the time I was 10,  I would have vivid dreams I could recall and write stories about, including dreams about the end of the world. I began writing stories about my dreams and had an invisible friend to share them with.

Eventually, my mom would divorce the mean man and start taking us to church consistently. I again would meet a man who gave me creepy feelings only this time he would be the pastor. At this point I was being taught not to trust myself and my instincts because I was just a kid…what did I know? That pastor, who was a married man, ended up in scandal being found out to have been sleeping with multiple women in the church. The second husband of my mother, a minister of the Christian church, walked out one morning, happily smiling and laughing only for us to come home from school and see half of the house empty and having to call our mom at work to report a robbery that didn’t happen because the step father was gone too. So as I prayed to the invisible old man, I was also being constantly lied to, and abandoned by men of power and influence. And the women around me were always taking it, fighting each other for scraps, and suffering in silence convincing themselves that their husbands and husbands (the not really married kind) were heaven sent.

I sponged it all. 

I eventually forgot about the peace I felt in that solitude with my invisible friend/old man of the sky, and I stopped dancing from the joy pouring out of my spirit. I thought about death a lot, and non-existence, I often wondered why did a mistake like me have to be so much a burden. I built my life trying to be useful, perfect, not needing much from others so as not to get on people’s bad side, and I wondered why I still couldn’t fix things. Why I wasn’t alright. I wondered if I was to blame for everything that went wrong. I went to Catholic school and learned that if I killed myself I would go to Hell; a fiery red flaming furnace of everlasting pain and agony, and I didn’t need any more of that. Great, now I had to stay in a world that I hated and that hated me.

By the time I got to high school I still struggled with depression, but it became a part of my life by then. I continued to have panic attacks when presented with any type of confrontation and I was a geek, without the honor roll to go with it. Youtube shows like Awkward Black Girl didn’t exist back then to help me feel like I belonged…somewhere…anywhere! My only saving grace (survival mode mask) was that I could dance and sing. I wrote short stories that classmates took a liking to, and I wrote poetry for friends to give to their crushes. Luckily, perhaps by Divine intervention, my guidance counselor took an interest in me and even though her goal was to get me to college, she became my confidant who I talked to about my depression.

I also had the mentorship of a male deacon (who sadly passed away due to lung cancer) and new church and pastor, both of whom I adored and saw as father figures. Both of whom never truly addressed mental health issues when we spoke, and likely did not recognize my mental health symptoms in how I spoke and questioned everything. Not only me, but other people in the church would be written off as “that crazy uncle” and such. Later, I would be able to recognize that people living with conditions such a schizoaffective disorders and bipolar disorders were just called crazy relatives. The rest of the members, mostly women would simply shoot my natural curiosity about the world and religion down. They were women of faith and no question, and I believe they were good intentioned and well meaning, but their rejection left scars. When I questioned things, when I spoke about my thoughts about death, when I mentioned my dreams I was written off as being disobedient, told I needed to pray more, and constantly reminded about “the enemy” aka the devil that was clearly attacking me. Of course “love” wasn’t just chastisement, but I’m sharing this aspect of how I perceived things at that time.

My depression grew deeper and deeper and I kept feeling worse and worse about myself believing that something was inherently wrong with me because even though I prayed, and did what people told me to do, nothing changed and I wondered if I was always being punished for everything that shaped who I had become. Church and religion gave me friends, and community, which helped ease the pain of my depression, but at the same time, I had no real relationship with this Jesus guy and the invisible old man of the sky he called Father. And quite frankly, I couldn’t relate to what was presented to me of either depiction.

Even though my dreams were so revealing that if I had known about psychoanalysis I would have learned so much about myself and my history, I stopped listening to my dreams, I stopped listening to the small voice inside my head that spoke from my gut. I found that could not hear from the G-d that my dreams introduced me to amongst the noise of dominating men leaders and liars and the women who made excuses for them. I couldn’t feel this Divine Presence that gave me Breath when I couldn’t see my way through my disappointment for the few good men who didn’t know how to adequately address mental illness and the women who though they probably meant well, encouraged me to just pray about it. I could not find myself, when everything about the me that kept bubbling up despite my trying to suppress myself simply did not fit nice and neat into the orthodoxy of “normal”. Even though the last Christian church I went to was a pretty good experience (heck, they even had a husband and wife team as co-pastors), the damage was done and I was tired of pretending to be a  title or affiliation just to fit in, to survive, to avoid conflict and confrontation. I began letting go of religion and eventually left the church.

My story about my relationship with contemporary Christian religion is not unique. Heck, even my fall out with religious communities and the belief systems they present as truth is not unique. People have often wondered why G-d has forsaken them in times of atrocities such as genocides, marital abuse, rape and so on. The very communities that give us peace in times of storm, also give us the most aggravation, frustration, and leave us with a deep spiritual hunger. Nevertheless, my story hasn’t ended with bitterness and anger though.

I eventually found my way into mental health recovery, and after some serious hard work I released, (and make it an ongoing and conscious practice of releasing) toxic relationships including the one I had with toxic masculinity.  Just as I began to question why I even held onto to a belief in the divine, I had a spiritual experience that I’ll have to tell you about some other time (though words would not be sufficient) and was compelled into purpose by the Higher Power of my understanding.  Based on that spiritual awakening I was moved to again seek fellowship with people who I could practice my foundational contemplative practices with, (now that I knew what they were called).

After an invite that came at the right time, and an openness to inner wisdom leadings, I began attending Meetings for worship with Friends, and I eventually came across an organization called The Mystic Soul Project where they caught my interest with a focus on people of color centeredness and pretty much had my full attention with the words “intersections of contemplation/mysticism, action/activism & healing”.  I volunteered to organize a local inclusive community fellowship where we could explore those intersections together. (Hit me up if interested to learn more!)

Through Mystic Soul Project, like other people who found it and attended their inaugural conference,  I too found missing pieces that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but felt their absence from my life. I began being introduced to concepts such as indigenous reclamation, decolonized religion, and healing intergenerational trauma, and how all of this has to do with mental health and spirituality.

There’s so much more I could get into with this topic and many pieces of my story that simply wouldn’t fit in a blog format, perhaps a memoir one day eh?

In the upcoming interviews I hope to shed some more light on this topic.

Until Next Time…Peace, Love, and Wellness!

Oh! By the way, if you want to learn more about the blogger of this post feel free to check out my about page.

Grab a FREE copy of my Manifesto “Because Love Is” no email sign up required

 

5 Mental Health and Self-Care Blogs that I Love

I wanted to do a quick list to share the love about five bloggers who are doing amazing work as advocates and activists destigmatizing mental health issues. What makes them all the more special to me, is that they show us that we don’t have to be mental health professionals to make waves for the causes we care about. These women are exposing resources to communities who would otherwise not know these tools existed AND were available to them. They’re talking about topics that have been long seen as taboo and quite frankly, I wanted to share about them because they are just down right courageous and pretty awesome too!

Don’t Die Afraid

I came across Ashley awhile back via Twitter and have been following her brand for some time. She is a resiliency activator, motivational speaker, and mental health aficionado to name a few aspects of her awesomeness. What really caught my attention was the campaign she did in partnership with NAMI, Let’s Get Uncomfortable: Mental Health Makeover  When I read, “In communities of color, we frequently ignore our mental health because discussing it is seen as a weakness. It’s taboo. We act as if mental illness doesn’t plague our community.” I knew I found a great place hangout online. Despite the recent efforts in mainstream media to get people taking about mental health conditions, what she wrote is still very true and something to be worked on. So, be sure to check out her blog and keep the conversation going! http://www.dontdieafraid.com

The Truth Confidant

Vernetta has been sharing ways in which stressed individuals could claim their peace using journaling. As an avid journaler I absolutely LOVE this! While not a therapist, she has been studying mental health for years, is a trained crisis counselor, and shares her experience as someone who lived with depression for 20 years. I’ve known Vernetta for several years and she is one of very few people I will literally call when I feel myself going into downward spiral mode. Her blog and podcast are refreshing and honest, kind of like that Aunt that comes around after all her amazing world travels and when no-one else will stick up for you she says the things you’re thinking but didn’t have the guts to say out loud. Get your dose of truth, (it will set you free)! http://vernettarfreeney.com

Black Girl’s Guide To Calm

Jaime is someone I’d  consider a “lived experience” coach and blogger. After coming to a breaking point in her own life around the time she had her daughter, she realized she really needed to get laser focused on self-care. She began meditating and took up a yoga practice so that she could become fully present to herself, her marriage, and motherhood. She shares all kinds of goodies to help you well….get back to calm after you’ve experienced far too many years of stress, overwhelm, disappointment and misery. Read more about her story here: http://www.blackgirlsguidetocalm.com/my-story/

Spectrum

I had the honor of being able to connect with Mia via video chat a few years back and thanks to social media we have been keeping up with each other since that time. Be sure to check out the hashtag  Besides being a super talented artist, Mia advocates for holistic approaches to mental health and wellness, particularly for creatives, entrepreneurs, and those in marginalized communities. On her blog you will find inspiration, tips for self-care and art that heals the broken. http://www.mianika.com

Depressed While Black

When I first started blogging specifically about mental health, I was curious to know if there were other Black women mental health advocates that actually came up in a legit search. Imade’s blog was one of the first platforms I came across. What I love about her writing is that she presses upon the importance about knowing that the road of recovery and healing is an ongoing journey. She talks about her own ups and down and struggles with anxiety and depression even as she is a sought after thought-leader.  She also uncovers research that talks about the lack of diversity in the mental health field and opens the floor to discuss solutions with other African American women. Check her out here: http://www.depressedwhileblack.com/#blog

Tag, you’re it!

Do you have some mental health bloggers that you absolutely love? I’m always on the lookout for great content to read and share. Drop a line and let us know who you <3 !

Until Next Time…Peace, Love, and Wellness!

Oh! By the way, if you want to learn more about the blogger of this post feel free to check out my about page.

Sign up here for a free copy of The ABC Method to Managing Your Mental Health While Running a Business.

When It Feels Like Your Body Is Failing You, It Affects Your Mind and Emotions Too

Before I started my business, I took a small business course at my local community college. At that time, I hadn’t found all the online business “gurus” and only knew about SBDC and local NJ entrepreneurship resources because of my community involvement. This was helpful because I got to understand business foundations and see the value in learning more than just “5 steps to growing your email list”.  At that time, I also didn’t have any intention to start an online business *gasp*. I was going to start a family owned cafe and bakery. I had a great idea for one that I had done research on and saw that there was no-one else in the area with this particular concept. The resources I had located told me to try a business course 1st to see how viable the idea was including, working at a job that would feel similar to the business you want to start…long story short, my lack of resources and my impatience and frustration working in hospitality let me know that the only way I’d own a cafe would be if I was simply the money person.

But let me backtrack. While in the course, the instructor asked us to discuss things like health policies. We all chuckled when those who had already ran businesses, (some brick and mortar) answered “don’t get sick”. I didn’t realize then how much that was no laughing matter.  But even more importantly, I didn’t realize what that type of answer would reveal about the culture of many businesses – from micro businesses like virtual assistance and online business management , to corporations including the incorporated nonprofit.

Our culture has an unspoken rule that illness is taboo. 

Even articles that I read about wellness programs are essentially saying ‘hurry up and be well so you can be a productive, highly engaged workhorse…err we mean workforce for our money making machine’. Ok I’m over exaggerating, but I’m not that far off. Because after being around and listening to the narratives of people who are chronically ill, who have had doctors that were so inclined to be the expert that they stop listening to their plea for care when they’ve told doctors that despite a clean bill of healthy “something isn’t right here”.  Or I’ve listened to those who have disabilities, some seen, others unseen, (like people with heart conditions) and I’ve heard how people treat them because they aren’t the right kind of sick. I’ve learned that mainstream doesn’t have a contingency plan for those who aren’t deemed contributors even when they really are…just not at the moment, or not in a way that fits contemporary expectations.

And truth be told, you have to have a radical self-love practice for your body to contend with the fact that illness is not tolerated for the long-haul and even attacked. 

And yes, this…rejection of your…being messes with your mind. It’s a close encounter with trauma. It’s traumatic to be you and be hated for no other reason than being yourself. And trauma was one of the causes for mental health disorder that came up in the research for my book on mental health and entrepreneurship over and over again. So, advocates like myself combat the trauma of being ostracized while also at the same time proactively encouraging and extending resources for healing.

This is why StigmaFighters exists. This is why large advocacy groups exists. And also why smaller grassroots who address the needs of people often left out in the bid for healthcare reform exists. This is why RadicalWell exists. And even why Love Yourself Love Your Business exists. Why do we have to be advocates even when we’re not mental health professionals? To decrease stigma yes, but really it’s about creating a shift in culture.

Wellness policies that reach beyond bringing in a personal trainer or “an app for that” (though those are important too) but also include health risk assessments, peer advocacy and support for leaders that offer up compassionate resources that say you don’t need to deny your illness and disease/illness management could go a long way. I think this concept of wellness at work is applicable for small business and micro business owners who may or may not be a 1 person shop just as much as it is for the big companies.

“Don’t get sick” is not a health care plan.

It denies our basic humanity and encourages mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. But really it encourages a culture that shames, stigmatizes and traumatizes our human experience. And quite frankly, we can do better than this.

Until Next Time…Peace, Love, and Wellness!

Oh! By the way, if you want to learn more about the blogger of this post feel free to check out my about page.

Sign up here for a free copy of The ABC Method to Managing Your Mental Health While Running a Business.

When Working on the Healthy Body, Healthy Mind Equation Proceed with Compassion

I’m not quite sure how to describe the pain I felt, but when it hit me, I doubled over. More than some acid reflux that I could pop some tums over, it wasn’t just in my chest. I felt a blazing ache rippling down to my belly in an area I didn’t even know existed. I had never experienced an attack like this before. I wasn’t sure if I should go to the hospital, I didn’t want any more debt when I was finally starting to pay it off. I thought about how sad and pathetic it was that I had to make such a choice as to either lay there with my burden, or go seek help. I chastised myself for being weak and not tolerating the pain that probably wasn’t that bad, (at least not as bad what some other people were probably going through). I eventually convinced myself to try and sleep it off as I laid there in excruciating pain. As I made that choice I became extremely disheartened with my life. It felt like if it wasn’t one thing it was another. I was doing much better with my mental health and then along came the deterioration of my physical health which triggered the mental health issues again.

That night was a deal breaker for me.

I refused to go back.  I had come too far in my healing journey. Something wasn’t well with me and my body sounded the alarm so I could no longer ignore it. After that night, the food I loved so much became a catalyst for anxiety, I was terrified to eat for fear of pain. In a matter of a week I had lost those 10 pounds I had been trying to lose all darn year. By the end of the month and with the help of my nurse bestie, I had found safe foods to eat via a reference book of recipes to naturally heal myself with the food I ate, and I had also lost 20 pounds.

When it was all said and done 60 pounds were gone-and I had finally gotten health insurance and was immediately referred to a gastroenterologist for a formal diagnosis of my educated guess.  This all started back in 2015 the very year I started officially doing research for the mental health book I eventually published this year.

Since my book was not intended to go too deeply into body work, as that wasn’t a strong area of knowledge for me, I put writing more deeply about these issues on the back burner. But as my friend Jessica at http://everysingledollar.com/  has said, “nutrition is vitally important to good mental health. There is so much research that shows making good choices in your diet are key when it comes to mental health and mood.” I didn’t really get that before I had my attacks because I didn’t feel it.  I couldn’t understand how food had anything to do with my mind even though I knew otherwise.

Knowing something in your head (with your mind) isn’t always enough, you can easily intellectualize self-care and struggle with actually embodying it.

I’ve learned a lot more about shame, blame, guilt, forgiveness, and compassion since that time. I also realized how much self-care, (a branch of the self-love tree) is so important to both healing and maintaining mental health.

As I march on towards optimal wellness I become more cognizant of the fact that “me too” applies to a lot of areas in our lives. Chronic pain, painful menstrual cycles, depression because of the issues, more issues because of the depression etc. are things many women experience. My guy pals are also struggling with their diagnoses, the weight gain from the meds they’re prescribed, wanting to treat their bodies better but struggling to fight the sugar and caffeine cravings. The next year after my deal breaker moment I became more focused on wanting to explore and discuss the relationship between mental health and physical health and teamed up with my resident mental health expert Dr. Angela Clack. There’s nothing revolutionary about this topic, but it was all still new to me. I figured I could add the perspective of someone who wasn’t solely focused on working out or making the transition to a vegan lifestyle etc.  As I am writing what I learn as I go as a sometimes “too busy”, sometimes “not the most disciplined” woman; a working professional who like many of you, is sick and tired of being sick and tired.

This is an ongoing learning process for me. It is an ongoing endeavor that I reach out to people who are healing their bodies to heal their moods. Most recently, I noticed that women in my network were not waiting for a New Year resolution to make lifestyle changes and whatever they were doing seemed to be really working for them. For instance, a Facebook friend Tilina shares “I would certainly say that healthy living starts with being aware of what you are ingesting; spiritually and physically.  Healthy whole foods nurture your body naturally.  Meditating on the Word of God nourishes your body spiritually.  Avoid processed foods as much as possible.  These foods often do not satiate you for long periods.  The second thing would be regular exercise.  Exercise for me helps to relieve as well as prevent stress on a daily basis.  It also gives me clarity to when it comes to processing information and/or concentrating for long periods of time.  I can tell a vast difference between the days I work out and eat right and the days when I may have ate some things I should not have.”

I know for a fact that when I was in the midst of my depression, the only movement I wanted to make was one that involved me going back to bed. But healing arts practitioner, Jessica at http://www.jessicadore.com/  reiterates that “exercise is usually the last thing most people want to do when they’re feeling down or depressed, but aerobic movement stimulates dopamine and serotonin—the same brain chemicals targeted by popular antidepressant medications. Getting movement is generally a much tougher pill to swallow, but it is a highly effective mood regulator that can have real and lasting impacts.” Going to the gym wasn’t really my jam, but power walking for miles in nature became my refuge. Meditation has been difficult for me to get into, but dancing, and doing yoga stretches gets me out on my head for an occasional break. I didn’t enjoy being gluten free and didn’t make the commitment to it in 2015 past a month. However, I was able to eliminate caffeine from my diet which triggered my anxiety and gut issues, I stopped gorging on trigger foods like peppers and tomatoes, I was also able to reduce gluten, sugar, processed meats, and dairy.

Instead of beating myself up, and talking down about what I’m not doing, I practice gratitude for what is. I’m grateful that the habits I have been able to build prevent debilitating gut attacks. I’m grateful that I have resources to help me build better habits towards wellness. I find that I am much more motivated to change behaviors when I’m not shaming myself into submission.

“Progress not perfection” has become my go-to mantra.

I know that building healthy mind and body habits can feel like a real pain in and of itself.  But I also know I want real and lasting positive impact.

How about you? Let’s do this together!

Until Next Time…Peace, Love, and Wellness!

Oh! By the way, if you want to learn more about the blogger of this post feel free to check out my about page.

Sign up here for a free copy of The ABC Method to Managing Your Mental Health While Running a Business.

Building Bridges: Reflections on Loving Someone with Mental Health Concerns

loving someone with mental illness

With the car still running, he tilted his head to the side and glanced over to make sure he could look me in the eyes. “Before this goes any further…” I hadn’t considered a him and a me in any other capacity before that conversation, but as I took in his words, I realized that at that point in our budding relationship (because that’s what it was) I’d be fine if he decided to stop “seeing” me if my response wasn’t what he wanted to hear. That would be a first for me. Even if I didn’t like a person, the “people pleaser” in me would not want them to leave…or at least I wouldn’t want them to leave with unsavory thoughts about me and my ‘no thanks’. I carefully thought about what he revealed. Not because it sounded appealing, but because it was the first time I was presented with such a notion. I measured it against the values I’d finally decided to honor and concluded we could not go beyond being just friends. His view of committed relationships were a deal breaker for me as my view of family was a deal breaker for him. Our relationship continued the way it started (at least for me): no expectations, and even though I didn’t want it, still full of hope for genuine connection, acceptance, and honesty even if we didn’t agree or like what was being said. Much the same as any authentic friendship I already had. As the friendship blossomed, I began to learn things about love that I’ve never been present enough to grasp before. I began to understand more about loving someone with mental illness.

When another close friend of mine told me she was diagnosed with bipolar, I being the bookworm that I am, went into research mode. There are books out there about how to love someone with mental health conditions. As much as I fully believe that love is something to be studied, it is in practice that we fully grasp its meaning. As I considered my past, my discovery that I myself was that someone with mental health conditions began to shift how I viewed caring, compassion, and conscientiousness. I became more aware of my default “I” vs “them” I became more aware of the fact that socialization plays a huge role in the “othering” of people. Because of that I wanted to overcome social conditioning and do more “we” and “us” kind of thinking, even if it went against the grain. When I feel a bit more in touch with the “we” and “us” mindset, I think loving all boils down to the same elements whether one has a mental health condition or not. It’s simply that you love someone in a way that speaks to them, not in the way you’ve concocted in your head based off of how you want to be loved. Too often we mentally construct a fantasy version of someone molded from a shortsighted perception of the impression they left with us. Then we cling to the idea of what we should be to that person and how that person should be to us. I’ve been terribly guilty of doing that myself.

Here’s one of the hard lessons I’ve learned so far. The reason something so simple falls apart is because we don’t know how we want to be loved due to not loving ourselves first. How can you accept being loved if you can’t accept and love yourself? People love you based on what they, themselves, learned about love and care and can’t speak your love language and love you the way you want if you don’t show up for the love being given. I didn’t love myself. In fact, I didn’t even know, like, or trust myself. I was never going to be able to accept someone loving a person I couldn’t stand to be around. It only made me feel more inferior and inadequate because I saw more of what was wrong with me, and why I couldn’t measure up. This was the biggest reason my marriage failed many moons ago. And it would be the reason why any relationship I attempted would fail afterwards.

I didn’t think I was capable of love.

A shell of a person, I’ve been that girl before. I didn’t feel worthy of being loved, and I didn’t feel loving. I understood caring enough because I didn’t want “bad” things to happen to anyone, but I thought that was all I could do. I understood possessiveness, I have both been accepting of being a possession and wanting to possess. I understood abandonment and clinging due to fear of abandonment. I understood isolation and avoidance, and even abuse. It would often be accompanied with the words “I love you” but I knew even then that this was not love. My actions, however, didn’t want to cooperate with my knowledge. Even though I’d been hurt (was the “victim”) so many times before, it wasn’t until I became the “villain” that I was finally ready to acknowledge just how empty and dead I was on the inside. You see it’s easy to play victim, you don’t have to change because everyone else is to blame for your life. You can keep on being miserable, complaining about your circumstances, and how they make you feel so low…you don’t have to worry about growth because there’s nothing wrong with you. They are to blame not you. You’re just trying to help.

Love isn’t manipulation so that the outcome is always in your favor even if at the expense of you.

People say that love hurts. I think that love is simply hard work. It’s hard work not to get attached to someone and get wrapped up in fantasies of what you think your life should be with them by your side. It’s hard work to hear someone say ‘no’ and not take it as a personal assault on your character and self-worth. It’s hard work to believe someone the first time when they tell you and show you just who they are- that they are simply not that into you. Understand that their rejection has nothing to do with you. It’s hard work to walk away from someone who says they love you but are not loving when they can’t honor the commitment of your togetherness by respecting your body, mind and soul. It’s hard work to stay with someone who accepts you when you see yourself as worthless and not contributing due to lack of finances, mental unhealthiness, not being socially acceptable enough, beautiful enough, smart enough or strong enough, feminine or masculine enough. It’s hard work. It’s hard work to have loved and lost due to illness, or a life well lived, to cherish memories and not sink to a place of “I can’t go on without you.” It’s hard work to learn to love again.

I wondered if I could love “him” if given that opportunity again. I wondered if I could love them, the men I called brothers, the men I called friends. One day not too long after our car conversation, I glanced over at his smiling face. I saw him. This man who dealt with meds, and days of despair, and pain, and loss, and shame, and feelings of unworthiness. Who shut me out, perhaps thinking to protect himself, maybe even to protect me. When we 1st met I’d become love avoidant, careful not to make the same mistake of being so desperate to escape myself that I allowed someone undeserving access to my body without my heart and soul. I figured that if I only had mere friendships and casual acquaintances I could easily let them go and I wouldn’t hurt anymore. With him, with the love I’ve received from those I’ve called friends. I throw down the gauntlet. The glass casing surrounding my heart shatters into a thousand pieces. Yeah, the scars are there, but I’m still here, unbroken. Shedding shame, reclaiming my freedom.

Hope is an interesting thing. For as my heart swells with hope, I hope for true belonging, I hope I can accept as is, I hope for the experience of happiness even though it’s fleeting, I hope for the strength to endure the times we don’t agree and that even if angry we can still come back and get along, I hope for the best in you, I hope that we see the best in each other and think “how wonderful” “wow you’re pretty awesome even if you’re a dork” I hope that my worst doesn’t scare you and even if it does that your hope for the best still lingers and you decide to be forgiving and compassionate. I hope that we both have the courage to have boundaries and honor them. I hope that we can encourage each other without trying to control each other. I hope that we can be kind and understanding, that we can tell each other that we believe in the other and that we hope the other believes in themselves too. I hope that I will honor what I’ve learned about filling my own cup 1st by being responsible for my own emotional well-being so that I don’t unrealistically demand that of you. I hope I remember what I’ve learned about impermanence, and nonattachment, and still show up to love fully and from a place of wholeness with openness and trust.

I’ve come to realize that I had friends who gave those kind of gifts to me, and I wish I treasured them more back then. I can honor the friendships and relationships I once had now by how I treat myself and others. I’m thankful for reflective friends who remind me of that powerful lesson in life today.

I’ve come to realize that love has the capacity to grow in places you forget exists.

If love is truly energy and energy cannot be destroyed, then love has no limitations. It is only our limited ideals of what love looks like to us that confines it. I’ve wanted to run from love and loving, and even being loved because I thought that would mean a sense of control, security, and protection. I wanted to believe that love didn’t call out to someone like me, someone who took relationships for granted, someone who stayed in relationships long past their expiration date, someone who didn’t know how to even be a friend. To be presented with people, beautiful souls who fear the things I’ve feared, and hurt the way I’ve hurt, who hope despite it all the way I still hoped despite it all is no coincidence. As they learn from me, I learn from them. We all learn from one another.

And with this I am learning that I can learn to love again, and again, and again and again. And I think…no, I know that we’re all going to be okay.

Until Next Time…Peace, Love, and Wellness!

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