VULNERABILITY, SHAME & SOCIETY
Why is letting people in and letting them see you so incredibly scary?
We feel afraid of being rejected in the moment we bare our soul, and these feelings are totally valid and need to be honored, but there is more.
There is the shame I feel when I open up and let myself be seen. The shame that despite fundamentally believing vulnerability is beautiful and essential to existence, I still need to fight through to be able to open up.
My inner critic, the shame-thrower, is always hurtling reasons why I can’t or shouldn’t.
And it is bullshit.
It is societal. The shame, the self-criticism around our fragility — everyone’s fragility — runs so deep and yet it is so deeply shared.
I believe this shame isn’t ours — it is ours to name and to be with in ourselves, but it isn’t ours to blame ourselves for.
I believe the shame is here for many reasons, too many to name in one article, but one of them being a deep-rooted systemic fear that if we all lived our lives connecting with each other from a place of love and openness, compassion and respect, rather than the fear, criticism, and judgment that is so widely spread by the system we are part of, the world would be a very different place.
I believe the system we are part of is terrified of this kind of living.
We wouldn’t need as much from corporations, the government, from those in control. We would feel freer and more able to embrace our fragility, our brokenness, without searching for things to fix it, numb it, or make us anything other than what we are.
Vulnerability and openness breed connection, and when we feel connected, we give a shit — about each other, and about where we live. When you care about something, you want to look after it, including all people and our planet.
So I believe if we were all more open and vulnerable with each other, there would be a lot less pain and suffering in the world.
I am not imagining the world to ever completely embrace vulnerability, but I do believe we can — and need to — embrace it more.
We can connect more authentically and openly about what we are feeling and experiencing in ourselves and our lives. We can connect more, despite the shame.
And more importantly, we can connect with each other about the shame.
The more time I spend in the anarchist community where I live, the more time I spend challenging shame, stigma, and the societal pressures all around us, because I see other people doing it too.
I don’t believe feelings of shame, self-criticism, judgment, or fear of being different, of challenging the norm, will ever disappear, because they are part of being human, but sharing and connecting around it all helps me feel less alone in it.
The more I realize how deeply society’s pressures ripple into myself, in my psyche, and the way I talk to myself, the more I feel empowered rather than powerless because I am not just challenging the shame, self-criticism or judgment, I am challenging where it comes from as well.
Society doesn’t know shit about what I need or how I should feel, yet society is still is there, deep inside myself, with my inner critic yelling at me daily about all the places I should be, all the things I should be doing, all the ways in which I am failing or have failed.
The more I live from this place of challenging society’s notions of what matters, what success is, what my life needs to look like, and what I need, the more I realize that the shit society sells us isn’t what I need at all, be it material possessions, lifestyle choices, or ways of thinking.
The more authentic I feel able to be, the more of myself I need.
“In a society that profits from self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act”. ~ Unknown
It is really fucking difficult to cultivate self-love, self-acceptance, vulnerability and openness in a world where the opposite is so frequently encouraged. Take the beauty industries — if we all challenged what they preach, they would go bust overnight. But it is possible. I also see that daily.
No one is immune to society, and that is the bullshit thing, but also the reassuring thing at the same time. If nobody is immune, then it is a something we all share, and something we can work with each other on, and therefore, not be alone in it.
We don’t need to feel alone in the shame and judgment society hands us through what it says we should be doing, through where it says we should be, and through who it says we should be.
Having this awareness doesn’t stop it, but it does allows me to change my relationship with the shame and self-criticism I feel.
Although my inner critic and abusive self-talk will never completely go away, awareness can help me soften the volume and be kind to myself for feeling shame or for having judgment towards myself, and high, non-achievable ideals, rather than this being another fuel for the self-critical fire.
Understanding this self-talk allows me to boost the volume of the compassionate part of me — a part that we all have. The part, the voice, that can respond to my inner critic with all the reasons why what he says (my inner critic is a bloke) just isn’t true.
So go out and show your humanness, your vulnerability, your fragility, to someone you trust. And most importantly, show it to yourself. You deserve it more than anybody.
Let’s be open about what makes us human — our flaws, our joys, our confusion… all of it. And let’s challenge the society it comes from.
Because that shame? It can fuck off.
Previously published on Rebelle Society
Getting naked with my grief
For a while now, when I’ve been feeling grief, I’ve not wanted—or been able—to concentrate on anything else.
I’ve needed to be quiet and on my own at home with candles burning. I’ve needed to be focused and breathing deeply—gently taking my feelings seriously. I’ve needed to be on my yoga mat or curled up in bed with a hot water bottle. Or sat beneath a tree in the garden, with nothing but my sorrow, the earth, and the clear air.
I’ve needed to show my feelings I truly care—I’m really listening.
I feel so much guilt and shame, and an aching sorrow, for this grief. She was neglected, and not seen, for so long.
You have my full attention now.
Fuck anything else.
I’ve sat one-on-one with my grief so much the last year, learning how to let her have the release she needs. Learning it’s safe to collapse and let my whole body sob. Learning how to resist being all-consumed by the stories and memories in my head, and be inside my body instead.
I’ve learnt I don’t have to actually ‘do’ anything except just grieve when I need to grieve.
Grief seems to show up in two ways, for me. There are the little showers of rain—the moments my pain spontaneously bursts to the surface, tears falling, and my body aching. I crumble, but after a few moments of allowing my tears to be here, I feel freer.
Then there are the tropical storms—the ones I can see coming across my horizon. I tend to run for a while, terrified and screaming inside. I’m desperate for someone to stop the storm happening. Whilst I run, I often bash myself with a belief that if I just worked or tried harder, I could change my internal weather system—I could avoid such pain, mess, and chaos.
I know, in my heart, that this belief is bull. It’s just my noisy critic or control-freak perfectionist trying to take charge of the situation.
Sometimes the grief’s been so deep, I’ve run from it for a few chaotic days. Other times, it’s just been half an hour or a morning. Then all of a sudden, towards the tail-end of my running, I look up and realise there’s no hiding—my sky has clouded over and my storm is here. I feel scared but also relieved—my body and mind aches for the release.
I head for cover. I set up nest. I make my favourite tea. I get warm. I make sure I feel safe and am exactly where I want to be.
Then it hits—my heart bursts open and I sob. Tears fall from places I forgot were open. I cry into my cocoon of duvet and warmth. I dance between the desperate need to do this forever, and the voice in my head that’s telling me I can’t.
Eventually, I let them both be here.
The more I sob, the less cloudy and discombobulated I feel. I feel lighter, but so, so, tender. I feel like I could break if I moved an inch. I wrap myself even tighter in my duvet and whimper for as long as I need to…sometimes minutes, sometimes hours.
Out of the blue, my critic yells: “I bet your friends aren’t doing this! You’re a massive weirdo and a fucking mess, falling apart like this. Pull your shit together, woman.”
I suddenly feel overwhelmed with shame and embarrassment towards myself and my process. It doesn’t matter that no-one else can see me in these moments—I can see me.
I long to not need to do this, but I can feel my heart wide open and my body filled with relief and gratitude that I’m allowing myself to, regardless. I’ve learnt to remember in these moments of crippling doubt, to remind myself of everything people have told me, and everything I’ve read, that reaffirms the already natural instinct I have, telling me that these crumbles and storms are actually really fucking healthy.
The cracks really are where the light gets in.
I breathe deep and step outside my cocoon to check out my grief wreckage (usually just spilled cups of tea or candle wax, and cushions everywhere). I drink what tea hasn’t spilt, smell an oil, look in the mirror at my tear soaked face and smile with warmth and compassion. I try and cuddle any embarrassment that’s still left.
I love my tender post-grief moments—I feel beautiful and raw, young and old.
I feel the most authentic I ever feel.
Through being one-on-one with my grief, I’ve learnt that she’s safe. I’ve learnt that her seemingly breaking me apart is actually her breaking me open. I’ve learnt that I’m strong enough to hold her, no matter how wide she seemingly stretches or how deep she seemingly burrows.
I’ve also learnt to notice when I do need to run from a storm, but run to someone who can guide me through my process—I don’t always need to grieve alone. It’s okay to say I feel scared or overwhelmed.
Since realising and honouring this, I trust myself more. I trust that I’m not going to take myself face-first into a grief-storm, as I have done in the past, unless I feel safe and supported enough—internally or externally—to handle it.
I’m learning to trust my grief knows what she’s doing. I’m learning to gently and consciously check-in with her as I go about my day, to let her know I’m listening and feeling, even though I’m not actually crumbling in that moment.
As I do this, I’ve noticed I feel a new kind of comfortable with her—I can get naked and it’s okay.
My tropical storms have been lighter and less out-of-the-blue. And when they do hit, the shame and embarrassment is not as huge.
I feel increasingly beautiful in my process, rather than ugly and gross.
I have more patience and space in my heart for how my grief speaks—tears in the middle of a shop, gentle sobs along the street, moments on friends sofas where I spill from my heart, rather than my head.
The other night, mid-grief storm, I went for a walk to one of my favourite nature spots in the city. I allowed myself to feed my grief and I, with the beauty, magic, and joy, of all that lay around me, and all that I could see. My heart sung, as it burst open.
Instead of taking my grief home, I found a stillness with her, within myself.
All I now want around me when I’m grieving, is life.
Originally published on elephant journal.
learning to love my crazy
Learning to love my crazy feels really fucking hard.
What I watched when I grew up was crazy. It was actual crazy. It was blended with surface sanity in moments coping needed to happen, but behind closed doors crazy let loose and found its home — its home on me, my sister, my arms, my emotional bones.
And then there were those four years where there weren’t even those surface sanity moments.
The four years psychosis drifted like a storm, ready to hit at any moment, sweeping up the (already pretty crazy and stormy) calm up into the arms, the eye, of the storm and however many days or weeks later, landing it — landing my mother — back down again, face first into the wreckage the storm left behind.
So the crazy I find inside me feels scary. In fact, it’s felt — and sometimes still feels — terrifying, but I’m learning to notice this fear.
I’m learning to notice my inner critic’s reaction that flies off into hurting dialogue in response to my crazy — my anxiety, my racing mind, my depression, my trauma that surfaces — and to spot the moments when I realize that what I’m feeling or experiencing is a memory of her.
It’s a memory of her crazy living inside my bones that, as I heal, is coming out to be seen and heard and expressed, and to have the feelings I never felt then, felt now.
It’s the memory of her trauma that lived through me, that lived with me when I was there, but a memory that now — as I heal — I get to sift and step through, leave behind, and choose what I want to take with me.
My crazy — the crazy that I’m noticing and the crazy that part of me fears or criticizes — is different. It’s a healthy crazy. It’s a crazy that so many of us feel.
It’s a crazy that lives here because of society, because of the trauma I’m healing, because of the life that’s been here before me, because of the responsibility I held as a child, because of the fact that I’m feeling after spending a lifetime (until two and a half years ago) of not, of surviving.
So the world does feel nutty at the moment — and I do often, too — but I believe it always will, and I always will. Perhaps a little less, and sometimes a little more, but that crazy and sense of nutty-ness will always be there because it’s a symptom of being a human on this wild and beautiful, and extensively modern and humanized, earth.
It’s a symptom of being a wild creature living inside a city that breaks me and compresses me and sits on me, whilst it also nurtures and inspires and and connects holds me.
To love my crazy feels — to the wounded parts of me — insane. To those parts of me, that crazy was what hurt me. That crazy was what brought instability. So to love it, to welcome it with open arms, to show it to other people, feels nutty, it is — to these parts of me — madness.
To fight it, to let myself fear it and try to be anything but, it feels healthy. That feels normal, and okay, and like I’m listening to what they need to say.
But it hurts. It really fucking hurts.
Because to other parts of me, to love my crazy is to experience complete sanity. The parts of me healing, learning and discovering what Health is, know that crazy lives inside all of us.
The parts of me who already know this are blossoming and getting bigger and stronger as I continue to listen to when they say, “Yes!”
To love my crazy is to allow myself freedom to say Thank Youto all the things that make me whole. Because without my crazy I’d be bland, I’d be beige, I’d be saying Yes to it all.
I wouldn’t be dipping into my instinct, touching into my wild, honoring all the different parts of me and listening to what they have to say. I wouldn’t be listening to my needs with wild abandon. I wouldn’t be saying No where I want to, and saying Yes where my heart sings to.
By listening to the crazy wrestling inside me, I have continual flashlights shining on what I want and need to do. I hear bells ringing that let me know what lies out there for me to tackle and dive into.
I’m offered a ticket, an invitation, to a love affair with myself that comes from the deepening connection with my body, with my soul, with my heart, with my lungs, with my blood, that anxiety leaves me reaching and searching for.
The wilderness of depression gives me the gift of creating golden wonders I wouldn’t get to if staying safe ruled my veins.
The chaos of healing trauma leaves me hunting for band-aids that come in forms I would never have suspected, trusted, or asked for until now — until moments things are desperate.
After hours of fighting for air, obsessions leave me grateful and raw when I meet my compassion nose-to-nose and cry.
Lost wanderings and whirring thoughts bring me gladness for the qualities of the world around me I so often fight — the hustle and bustle, the routine, the stability and consumerism… the normality.
The crazy I find inside me often feels a million miles from the place I want to call me, but the more I fight it, the more I fight a freedom that belongs to me, and the more I can’t see its beauty. My beauty.
Because to love my crazy means to allow myself to be free. To allow myself to be free is to give myself the gift of truly being me. And to give myself that gift is to give myself the love I deserve to feel, know and be.
Previously published on Rebelle Society
The sneakiness of shame
Over the last year, Brene Brown has become the soundtrack to my journey.
She talks of shame, vulnerability, and connection, with a brilliant humour and refreshing humanness.
I listen to the talk above, at least once a month. Her words never cease to bring a verbal band-aid to my experience. It’s often not until I listen to it, that I suddenly realise shame has been—or is—the thing running the show, and screwing me over.
I realize shame is convincing me that solitude is the answer. Shame is coming up with elaborate stories as to why I don’t deserve goodness, love, or fortune. Shame is telling me I am not good enough. Shame is yelling that my vulnerability is weakness.
Shame is a sneaky bitch.
In order to soothe it, we need empathy and connection. Two things that shame can so easily convince us, are the worst ideas, ever. Or that there is no chance in hell, that we deserve them. But they’re not, and we do.
They’re the best gift we can give ourselves in those shame-ridden moments.
So tuck into your courage, lean into your vulnerability, and go kick shame in the nuts.
Previously published on elephant journal.
what happens when we "should" ourselves
"I should be doing something else. I should be something, someone, else. I shouldn’t be like this. I should be different. I shouldn’t feel like this. My life should be different. I should be different…"
Should is a fucking sticky word. Anywhere should is, pain is too.
When I am shoulding myself, I am wishing and wanting things to be different from what they are and who I am now. Knowledge of my lovability and brilliance is completely lost. My achievements — big or small — go unnoticed. Beauty in my life is unspottable or not enough.
I end up knee-deep in comparison of myself and someone/something/somewhere else I think I should be.
A fictional based-on-loose-facts (sometimes very loose) kind of story, where somebody else is compared to me, where somebody else becomes who I should be, and somebody else’s life — or a completely fictional life not attached to anybody else — becomes what I should be doing with mine.
When I am shoulding myself, I am giving myself a beating in moments I need compassion, softness, and love. The hurt I am already feeling is perpetuated by the shame the word shouldbrings.
The should and the shame dance together until I am on the floor, paralyzed by fear, judgment, and self-criticism — of my past, present, and future — unable to do anything but give myself more criticism for feeling this shame, and not feeling strong enough to fight it.
Everything feels blindingly unfamiliar in these moments. It’s as though I’ve trodden this path a thousand times and not one, all at once. I feel lost inside myself, rather than at home — loved, held, supported, soft…
Should is addictive. It hurts. It’s convincing. It tells stories of seeming accuracy and importance that I have to listen to, but are actually fear-fueled lies. Fear of not conforming to the norm, of not being loved or accepted by anyone if I accept this as myself and my life.
Should takes us to the places society says we need to be in order to be loved, accepted, and part of this cultural groove we are in.
In those moments I am shoulding and feeling shame, my self-confidence and robustness are stripped. I am at the hands of a system I don’t even believe in.
All my rebellion and determination to resist, raise awareness about, and change the self-hatred and constant searching and comparing that the capitalist system encourages, seemingly disappears, and is replaced with self-doubt and hate. Buckets of it.
I feel naked and unprotected to the fire that normally fuels me on. I am blinded to love — from myself or from anyone else. Instead I see only shame gremlins telling me the difference between who I am and who I need to be in order to be loved.
But what if we are enough? What if we don’t need to shouldourselves into a harsh routine of punishment, criticism and comparison? What if where we are, who we are, and what we are doing, is enough?
What if all the ways society tells are the appropriate, lovable, and acceptable ways to be and live are what need to change instead of us?
What if rather than making it a personal, individualized, thing, looking at how we are not enough and we need to change, we need to look at society, at the system? What if we need to take the conversation further afield, away from ourselves and into the community in which we live?
Because we can’t do this all ourselves.
So the next time should comes wandering into your head, flip it the bird and tell yourself this:
You are enough.
Previously published on Rebelle Society
MY HEART BRINGS ME UP OFF THE FLOOR
Over the last eight years, I’ve danced with the act of making myself sick — I’ve danced with Bulimia.
I hate labels but, on paper, I guess that’s what it is.
During peak hangouts with this vile thing, it would happen at least three times a day — I was lost in a whirlwind of consumption and release.
But during quieter times, it’s been just a few times a year — feelings of desperateness and disgust flooding my system, leaving the fridge and the bathroom as, seemingly, the only logical places to go.
I lean over the toilet, elbows on the edge, fingers in my mouth. My teeth jar against the skin of my knuckles, bits breaking open. My back reaches upwards, and sinks downwards. My throat heaves open, aching. The roof of my mouth stings, burning. My stomach holds on, turning.
My heart longs for me to stop but my head eggs me on.
As I write this, I can’t believe I’ve done this — and sometimes do it — to myself.
It’s such a paradoxical experience — the thought of making myself sick leaves half of me craving and the other half of meshivering. I’m mixed with anger and frustration that I choose not to use it to cope as much as I used to, and utter relief and gratitude that I don’t.
I’ve found other ways to deal with moments of overwhelming isolation, helplessness, and pain.
Making myself sick can so easily feel like an act of love — I’m offering myself a way of coping. It’s a chance to revisit the safe, but agonizingly painful, place I knew for so long. I’m offering my inner rage and whirling hatred, the gift of release. It’s a chance to cover my crippling worries with a blanket of escape.
It’s an opportunity to numb the desperate grief for my un-mothered childhood, and the deep longing for a mum I have now. I’m offering myself some time off from the work of cultivating self-love and self-compassion I’ve been so dedicated to doing.
When the tsunami of excruciating feelings, and the team of self-hating gremlins, feel impossible to mindfully notice, I can give myself this gift — the gift of making myself sick.
The rush of adrenaline that comes from the process is huge — it’s an addiction. I’ve never gotten into drugs, but this feels like my shot of heroin, my spoon of crack.
It’s my hit of B.
When I use it, revisit it, after not doing it for a long time, I feel like I’ve come home. I’ve got my shit together. I can cope. In a storm of feeling painfully lost and isolated, I feel like things are going to be okay.
I feel frustrated that I hadn’t done it sooner.
But I feel so so alone — so much more alone than I did beforehand.
Despite the sales pitch my mind can so easily and effectively give, seconds after I stop, everything feels so much more complex than it did before. The idea that it was a gift to myself goes out the window.
I freak out because I know the revisiting of this old act isn’t okay.
The come-down — the waves of shame, regret, self-disgust, embarrassment, fear, a longing for things to be different, and a desperate need for help — suddenly flood my system. I wonder whether it’s really worth the heartbreak.
What always brings the spell of kneeling-beside-the-toilet to an end is my heart bursting open and my tears filling buckets. I suddenly stop because I hear my heart telling me I deserve more.
I stop because I begin to listen — my heart’s voice is no longer drowned out with adrenaline.
My heart brings me back up, off the floor.
During the half hour leading up to the last relapse, my inner girl sat in shock and fear as she witnessed what was happening. She was about to be wounded and she could see it coming.
She watched in terror as the adrenaline flooded my system and rid me of any clear and rational thoughts. The B-Gremlins were more convincing than thought or feeling of self-love.
The part of me that seemingly needed this act of self-destruct had a tighter hold than the part of me offering gentleness, compassion, or kindness.
I thought my journey with B was over a couple of years ago, but last year I took myself by surprise and did it twice. Then two months ago, I did it every day for a week.
It turns out that my journey with B isn’t over, and it probably never will be, completely. It will always be there as an option, because I’ve done it before.
That’s enough to make me never do it again, but it’s also enough for me to have it stashed in my cupboard of comfort as a resource I can head back to when I can’t find, face, or be fucked with, mindfulness, love or compassion.
It just depends on the moment — on where I’m at, how I’m feeling supported (internally and externally), how loudly the self-destructive gremlins are yelling, how strongly my self-hatred has a hold, and how deeply I trust and believe the voices telling me that I deserve things to be different.
I feel embarrassed that it’s something I deal with, and I long for it to be something I can sweep under the carpet. But beneath the embarrassment, is a compassion, an understanding, and a relief, that I let it speak.
My journey with B, is just like my journey with my wounding: complex and confusing, but able to be healed and forgiven.
Originally published on Rebelle Society.
resistance towards forgiveness
The concept of forgiveness used to leave me confused, angry, nauseated, and repulsed.
Like, forgive someone who’s hurt you? Fuck that. Forgive someone who’s let you down, broken your heart, broken a promise, broken anything else you felt was whole before they wandered into your life or wandered into that moment? No-fucking-way.
As someone who’s lived through extensive trauma and abuse, and as someone who forgave and forgave and forgave the person who hurt me throughout my youth and early adulthood, I’ve needed this time of hating this word.
The concept of forgiveness feels a long way from anywhere I’m currently walking. And right now, it is.
But it isn’t with myself.
Yet for a long time, I couldn’t get my head around the idea that I could forgive myself. Forgive myself for fucking up? Forgive myself for doing things that caused, or cause, myself pain and greater sorrow or heartbreak or turmoil or struggle?
Forgive myself for neglecting my needs and depriving myself of things I enjoy? Forgive myself for failing, for saying or doing the wrong thing? Forgive myself for being selfish or being mean? Forgive myself for having qualities I hate about myself?
Forgive myself for having patterns that Piss. Me. Off.?
Slowly though, over the last few months, the word has organically begun to trickle into dialogue that I have with myself. Notes I write to myself. Things I say to myself.
It’s something I’m so glad I’m not afraid of anymore. And something I’m so glad I’m beginning to listen to. My inner wise woman, my inner healer, my inner parent, knows I can forgive myself and that this is one of the essential essences to self-love and one of the greatest gifts I can give myself.
But I still struggle to always trust their words — to trust my inner knowing that this route is the one I can take. To allow this love and gentleness to integrate and hang out with the rest of me, sometimes feels really fucking hard.
On days like today, the concept of self-forgiveness feels so simple yet so far from my internal reach. I end up feeling wrapped in a knot of frustration that ties tighter and tighter, as the hours of the day go on.
I wonder whether all those parts of myself that know and say I can forgive myself, and who forgive me, are actually full of BS. I wonder whether my critic is the one I should be listening to — he’s yelling so fucking loud, so maybe he’s right, after all?
I wonder whether it’ll ever be possible for me to forgive myself in all the ways that feel the hardest to. I wonder whether forgiveness will become a permanent tool within my inner toolkit, even though my heart knows it will be and is beginning to already.
As I watch myself fuck myself over on days like this — depriving myself of the things I love or need or long for, lying in a pit of sorrow and self-loathing and self-pity on the sofa instead of going outside like my soul is asking me to do, staring blankly at a wall or a computer screen, wondering when my life is going to get any easier or better, wallowing in the doom that seemingly lies ahead of me according to my critic, festering in his dialogue and resisting my self-compassion that’s always here — forgiving myself and offering myself warmth and compassion, instead of shit, feels not only impossible but to part of me it feels ridiculous.
To forgive myself for having bouts of desperation and helplessness, for not always being able to access my inner toolkit of resources, for having afternoons where all I let myself hear is the shit my critic is throwing around rather than the compassionate sound of love and understanding, for having hours where I don’t give a fuck about anything or anyone — not even me, for allowing myself to give up and collapse, for having patterns that fuck me over, for not being perfect, for being someone who’s experienced a shed-load of trauma and who has survived it all and is stepping out the other side of it and healing, for feeling lonely but fearing letting people in, all feels excruciatingly difficult.
And to the perfectionist in me, it feels bonkers. Irresponsible. Cowardly.
To her, to forgive myself is giving up. To forgive myself is to release the floodgates to the dam of pain and pressure I’m carrying on my back, and allow myself to be messy, to be human, to be normal. To her, to forgive is to be fucked.
The notion of softness, tenderness, care, ease, compassion, and forgiveness, in moments or afternoons of self-torture feel like taking a bucket of candy away from a small kid who never gets to eat any: it’s really, really, hard, without a lot of screaming, tears, and tantrum-throwing.
And something that must be easy to bail on, leaving the kid happily eating handfuls of candy.
To leave myself unhappily but familiarly being bullied by my inner critic and pressured by my inner perfectionist feels easier — in these moments or afternoons — than wrestling through to the love and warmth that sit deep in the middle of the dam on my back.
Warmth and compassion for myself are always right at the tip of my fingers, right at the edge of my heart, right at the top of my lungs, waiting and ready to burst out, leap out, spill out.
I just need to let it. I need to know it’s okay. I need to know that to forgive is safe — I won’t be hurt again. As a kid — and from the eyes of my inner girl and inner teen — my forgiveness seemingly brought more and more abuse.
As an adult, I look back now and cradle them both and tell them it doesn’t work like that. I tell them it wasn’t their fault. I tell them things are different now. I’m here and I’m listening. I won’t abandon them. I won’t hurt them.
In those moments, I long to reach out to my perfectionist and tell her all these things, too. That it’s safe, now. She doesn’t need to be so on it. That she can let go and give herself, give me, some slack… a break. She doesn’t need to keep it all together, because to be messy is to be alive.
To be messy is to thrive.
When I’m fucking myself over, I ask myself what I’m feeling. I ask my inner girl or my inner teen, or I ask my general being, what she’s feeling. And always, the answer is hurt or abandoned or sad or lonely or scared or worried or angry or let down.
Whenever I’m doing something that isn’t helping myself, I’m in pain. I’m hurting.
Surely this is a recipe for forgiveness: I’m hurting myself, emotionally or physically, because I’m hurting. It doesn’t get much more tender and vulnerable than that. If I heard this answer from a child, my own unborn child, I would embrace her with a cuddle and I would hold her.
I would tell her I love her. I would ask her what she’s feeling and how she’s hurting. I would gently explain the ways things could be done differently. I would tell her I forgive her. I would tell her I hear her, and I’m listening.
So even on days where forgiveness feels impossible to reach, and compassion feels like the rustiest tool in my toolkit, I will give myself the tenderness that I would give to my unborn child.
I will tell myself I deserve it, and I’m listening.
Previously published on Rebelle Society.
sitting with my shadow
I have a part of me that feels really, really, present at the moment—my shadow.
She’s really, really hurting.
She’s feeling so much pain.
So much that she doesn’t want to be alive at the moment.
Last weekend I noticed her more than I’d ever noticed her before. She felt so clear to me. The pain I was experiencing inside—the wound that was open and raw in my chest—was a wound she was holding, a wound that was hers.
Her feeling of not wanting to be alive came, and comes from, this wounding. It comes from the overwhelming feelings and pain and darkness that this wounding she has, brings.
And she needs to be heard, she needs to be seen, she needs to know she’s listened to. She knows she’s safe, she knows she won’t hurt me, but she needs me to know that, too.
She needs to know she’s safe to speak, and she needs to know she’s held.
During therapy the other night, I spoke of her intimately in a way that I haven’t before. I’ve touched on her a couple of times over the last year, but I haven’t felt able to fully hold her or speak in depth about her.
I haven’t felt enough distance from her, or understanding of her, or compassion and love within and for myself, to be able to hold her completely, fully. I couldn’t access the well of compassion and love that would later—now, later—be able to embrace her.
I used to feel afraid, frightened, and deeply anxious about her presence.
I still felt scared that she felt so present, raw, and vivid, last weekend, but I also felt trust—trust in me and trust in her.
My heart knows I don’t need to be frightened, or feel painfully alone with her. To be with her, is to feel her pain. To be with her is to be alone in my process with her, but I don’t need to always be alone physically or verbally, too.
I don’t need to feel isolated.
When I ask her what she needs at the moment, she says, “People.”
Heart-connections. Soul friends. Sacred friendships.
Thankfully, the more authentic I’m becoming, the more these kind of friendships and relationships are coming into my life.
My shadow needs me to know she’s not frightening.
She’s full of darkness, and her soul seeps wounds, but within her lies so much potential for me to grow and for me to shine.
She tells me how by bringing her out of the dark, out of her closet, I will feel free.
She tells me how she needs to see that she isn’t alone in this, because she knows she’s isn’t but until now, she hasn’t seen she is.
She’s seen the four walls of where she lies, inside.
The dark and gloomy space inside myself that until now, I’ve felt terrified of.
You see, she’s gentle and unafraid.
This shadow, this part of me, has seen shit that nobody should see. She’s experienced, had to do things, and witnessed situations and experiences, that brings shivers throughout my body and leaves my heart aching as I type this.
She’s been there. She was part of that.
Part of those experiences. Part of it all.
She holds the wound that’s seen it all, the strength that’s held it all, the pain that felt it all.
She knew that what was happening whenever it was happening, wasn’t the whole truth. She could sit within that knowing and honour that strength that’s always been there, and the strength I’ve always had within myself, because of her.
She didn’t need an answer or a word from me, then.
She has been so good at keeping quiet and keeping things silent.
She has been so good at holding, so good at telling herself it’s going to be okay, so good at giving herself the comfort and listening she needed, knowing that my time will come when I see that I don’t need to be silent anymore.
She knew I would discover that I could be unafraid and that together, we could speak.
And now I’m discovering that, too.
My shadow and I can be here in our wholeness and our brokenness, our pain and our beauty, our grief and our joy.
I, she, we, can be here with it all.
Originally published on elephant journal.
my fear of joy and wellness
Happiness and joy feel like the most terrifying things, ever.
Yet, they’re also all I want.
Brene Brown is one of my idols and one of my virtual mentors. During this chat with Oprah, she talks of how through her extensive research, she’s come to the conclusion that joy is the most terrifying feeling we experience…
Bonkers, right? Apparently not…
My fear of thriving—of wellness, health, happiness, stability, and success—feels crippling, frustrating and absurd. I battle with it daily…hourly. Big decisions, little decisions, it’s there in subtle or glaringly obvious ways.
Part of me is fucking terrified of things changing, but part of me is utterly craving it to. I’m gradually learning to find this this pickle I frequently find myself in, endearing—I understand why it’s here.
Just the last few weeks, I’ve noticed an ability to sit with my fear of joy and happiness and allow myself to feel the joy and happiness at the same time.
Watching this video again today, I realise that perhaps this is due to the fact I’ve been practising gratitude lately.
I used to hate the idea of gratitude practises—I’ve always seen myself as a grateful person, so why the fuck should I ‘practise’ it? It just comes naturally…
A few months ago I decided to rebel against this hate, and create a happiness jar—one that is now overflowing on my bedside table. It’s a resource I can dig into during moments I wonder where the fuck I’m going, and how things are going to be okay.
I write down things that have happened or things I’ve done throughout my day, and then I write what feelings I have around this—gratefulness, joy, relief, acceptance, love, connection, belonging, freedom…the more I do this, the more I notice that I consciously feel these feelings throughout my day.
Joy and wellness still feel terrifying, but they just aren’t feeling as foreign. Writing them down allows my body to feel them again, and know they’re safe.
That’s pretty rad.
I had therapy this evening.
Sometimes therapy rocks; sometimes it’s really, really, hard.
Other times, like today, it’s really fucking weird.
Today we worked on a paranoia that’s here and has been here really strongly, the last few days. It’s a paranoia that feels so tightly linked in with my critic, that to distinguish a form of solid ground, stability, softness or roots to a land where all those things exist, feels—and seemingly is—almost impossible.
You see, there’s a part of me that thinks I’m fucked. That thinks because of all I’ve been through, because of what I’ve experienced, what l I’ve seen and witnessed, done and had to do, I’m screwed.
To this part of me, my future is shattered and shadowed with broken dreams, broken promises and a broken me.
To this part of me, my future is destitute. I’m destined to live in a dumpster and live in a shadow of the person I could be.
You see, this part of me stops me talking about things. She has this theory that to talk about things, about my experiences, about what’s happened to me, will fuck me up even more than (according to my critic, and her) I already am.
To this part, to begin to open myself up to those around me and share and tell my story how it is, is to lead myself down a path of destruction and despair.
To her, sharing is dangerous.
To her, sharing is the reason I overdosed.
You see, I overdosed a couple of years ago. I sat down and swallowed so many pills that I’m lucky to be alive.
I sat down and wrote a note as though it would be the last thing I would ever read and the last thing I’d ever write (thank fuck it wasn’t, thank fuck it didn’t work, and thank fuck I called the ambulance when I did).
When I sat down, I sat down after having and doing and being in four months of therapy. I sat down after spending two or three of those four months of therapy in turmoil. A new kind of turmoil. An Inner turmoil I’d never experienced before.
Inside me lay a swamp. My riverbank had burst and my internal river, my story, my trauma, my memories, had spilled out onto the grassy bank that lay inside of me. Water was seemingly all I could see.
The thing is, I hadn’t learnt to swim yet.
All that I knew was beginning to disappear, and all that I’d hid was beginning to surface.
By talking, this surfaced more. But by talking, I’d done what I’d longed to do for fucking years. And I was doing what I’d needed to do for all those years, too.
I was talking.
I was telling my story.
I was doing what my younger self, my older self, my current self (then) needed to do.
I was telling someone I felt was safe, my story—all the things that had happened to me and that I had to do growing up, all the things I’d witnessed and experienced as an early adult.
I was telling this person, a woman I trusted, of all my heartache and all my sorrow. I was speaking from a place within me that I didn’t know existed. Or perhaps I had always known it existed, I just hadn’t been able to access it. I hadn’t felt safe enough to do it.
Those four months were like medicine, but to this worried and fearing part of me, they were also destruction.
To this part of me here now—the part that believes talking is unsafe—those four months of talking and talking and talking were what lead me to overdose. To her, it was those words that I shared, and that safety I felt and the attachment that came from this, that caused the overdose to happen.
To her, those words and that sharing and that sense of safety and attachment, caused everything to spill out and for my riverbank to burst and for me to become overloaded, flooded, to seemingly drown within it. And my critic is yelling over her shoulder, telling her that this messiness and this crumble, this flooding that continued for months following the overdose, was wrong. It wasn’t okay.
It was far from okay as something to experience, but it wasn’t wrong.
This part of me forgets that’s here now, forgets—or perhaps cannot see—that the overdose happened because I spoke to my mum two days before I wrote what I did and took what I did. She cannot see that it was this trauma that sparked off the disconnection and desperation inside of me, that took me there—to that place of doing what I did.
She believes it was her not doing her job.
Her failing at her job of keeping me safe, so now the sandbags are piled high along my inner riverbank to make sure it doesn’t burst again.
She believes that this openness and holding, safety and connection, sharing and talking, that I experienced and was having, caused me to feel so raw, so helpless and unable to cope with the trauma came after I spoke to my mum.
She believes that without this rawness I would have been able to handle it—the trauma, the call—so I wouldn’t have tried to kill myself. I wouldn’t have been so triggered, so unable to see anything but the need to end it all.
This part of me doesn’t do philosophy.
She holds resistance like a burning fire against the theory that perhaps the overdose would have happened anyway. That perhaps it was a culmination of all that I’d experienced before then, and that perhaps I needed it to allow me to step into the next stage of my life, of me.
To this part of me, her theory is fact and the only truth.
Don’t fuck around trying to tell her otherwise. And don’t fuck around trying to help.
Don’t try to introduce a new theory—it will be thrown out the window, along with the love for herself.
Because this part of me is hurting.
She’s in agony because she believes she failed that day, and those months previous.
She let her guard down and she let someone in.
She allowed me to feel safe and she allowed me to feel at home—two things I had never fully experienced, until then.
She believes she’s on her own and (until then, until now) she always has been, and so she believes always will be.
She’s isolated and she’s strong.
She’s isolated but she’s connected to her own four walls of protection.
She’s witnessed the way in which she needs to do it, to do life—she’s learnt from my mum. She’s learnt that the way to live is to live in turmoil and in silence, or blinding and bursting rage that lands on others closest as abuse.
She witnessed what no child should ever witness, but from what she witnessed, she grew and she took this experience with her, into her adulthood as proof that shit gets fucked up and people hurt you, let you down.
She took the things she saw, she took the things she borrowed from those years, and has published them as truth in her mind.
The truth that she’s alone and it needs to be that way.
The truth that she has no home, that she has no place to go to. And that if she did, bad things will happen, because when she had one, bad things did.
You see, she had a safe place—a place that increasingly felt like home. A place that were four walls of protection not inside herself. They were four walls of protection that for the hour or the hour and a half she was there, were held by someone else.
For those moments, she was safe and she was protected. Something she had never been.
During the months before the overdose she had a space she could go, somewhere she felt safe, somewhere that became home for her to be authentic and for her river to burst its banks and run free.
But to her now, all that talking and that safety and that home was what brought me danger of the desperation I felt that day, and the trauma that followed.
So to talk now—to feel safe and at home and attached—would be leading me that way, too.
It would be asking my riverbank to burst again and never repair.
To talk now would be opening up those old wounds from that time—the wounds that remain here, untouched and unbroken, tight and within—and let them be heard, spoken, released.
To talk would be to challenge her inner theories of destruction and to sit beside them with theories or experiences of love and warmth.
To talk would be to allow myself the freedom that I, and she, so desperately needs and deserves to feel.
To talk would be to allow myself to be authentic and to reach out, and connect, from that place.
To talk would be to ignore the broken record of my critic, or the tight-knit script of my perfectionist.
To talk would be to show this part of me that I can heal, that we can heal.
And that talking, sharing, love, and connection, is safe.
Because there’s a part of me here now, that was never a part I was able to connect with so strongly, or at all, before.
The part that keeps me safe amongst it all. The part that sets boundaries and listens to my limits. The part that holds an ear to my heart to listen to what she says.
The part of me that knows the difference between story and truth.
Originally published on elephant journal.