The Power of Silence

This part is always the hardest; the radio silence. The twisting, writhing feeling when contact is severed. The waiting and wondering if you’ll reconnect in any kind of meaningful way. To me, there is nothing worse than not knowing where I stand with someone I love. I feel abandoned, in the truest sense of the word, when there is conflict followed by that silence. I think it’s the way some toddlers must feel the first time they are left at daycare, unsure if their parents will ever return. 

Sounds dramatic, right? 

I’m sampling a dose of my own prescription and sitting in this feeling. I’m texting and calling my close friends and expressing these huge emotions. I’m scared I’ll wear out their patience, so then I try to walk the geriatric miniature poodle I’m caring for instead, as a distraction. I tend the garden at the home I’m house-sitting. I read my developmental psych text book. Today, the window is about twenty minutes and then I can’t seem to find enough air again. 

Why does it feel like I’m being left behind and helpless? I’m not helpless. I’m capable and resilient as hell. I know, in time, this feeling diminishes. I’ve lived through this a few times over. The panic eases. My brain, heart and soul fill up with other things. Why do I feel like a terrified child?

I think it was the train.

When I was about seven years old my family went on a trip to Quebec. At that time, our unit consisted of my mother, father, my brother and my Nana who lived with us and helped to raise us kids. Nana had a difficult time connecting with me, and believed the sun shone out of my brother’s ass (it does, but that’s irrelevant at this moment). She was often very stern, and cross, and impatient. Her hugs didn’t come easily, and I often had the sense that she had no idea how to relate to me in any way. She found me dramatic and silly and frivolous. It was an Anne Shirley/Marilla Cuthbert dynamic that never really found its way to a happy ending. 

We took a train somewhere on this trip. Don’t ask me where, I can’t remember those kinds of details. I do remember I tried French toast for the first time in my Auntie Carmen’s beautiful apartment and that she bought me a Pretty In Pink Barbie when I came to have a sleepover with her, but that’s about all that’s left in this sponge of mine. Besides the train incident.

My parents and my little brother were in one car, and somehow my Nana and I ended up on another. Rather than wait for the conductor to come around and let us pass through, my Nana sent me off the train to run and get my parents. She was in a panic, and all but forced me off the train. Even seven-year-old me realized this wasn’t a great idea. I tried to protest, but to no avail. 

My little feet hit the pavement of the station. The doors closed and the train began to pull away. 

Imagine, for a second, that you are a child of single-digit age and this is happening to you. Everyone you know and love most dearly is slowly being carted away on a huge passenger train. Because your Nana forced you to get off said train. It’s a feeling I wanted never to relive.

And yet I have, again and again, and most often in intimate relationships.

The train stopped, by the way. My mom hit the emergency bar, or the emergency brake. Witnessing the state she was in when I got back on the train was nearly more terrifying than the train leaving the station. 

This connection between my adult panic and feelings of abandonment to this childhood event feels not unlike being hit by a train. I cannot stand feeling like someone I love is leaving me behind because it mimics the feelings of that moment, which is like fuel and a match when you’ve experienced trauma. However, in making this connection, I can suddenly see that the other person is not creating that feeling. It is emerging from somewhere deep inside of me.

Guess what friends? We’ve all experienced trauma. Every single one of us. Do you have reactions to moments, experiences, responses that feel disproportionate to what is actually happening? It’s very likely that this response is linked to a past trauma you’ve experienced. 

*Disclaimer: connecting to past trauma can be a seismic event. If you’ve never explored this in the safe context of therapy, you may not want to delve too deeply without professional support.

How do you stop it? Well, I’m no expert (yet), but I know there’s no emergency brake. In my own experience, it’s a muscle that needs training. The first step is connecting those enormous feelings and disproportionate responses. When else in your life do you remember feeling like this? How far back can you recall feeling this way? What were the circumstances?

When you arrive at the moment that created the trauma, you’ll know. That connection is like a throat punch to your soul.

What happens next is like laying down track. You piece it together slowly. The next time you are triggered (look that term up, it’s become overused in a way that makes me grind my teeth) remember where those feelings really come from. They are likely bigger than the moment, so they should not be attached to the moment (aka someone else).

When stepping away from creating loving space, sometimes it’s necessary and healthy to take some silence and sever the connection. Some people need that quiet to really be able to drop into their feelings and gain valuable perspective. Not everyone is good at communicating if they need to take that time, but want to reconnect when they can. Not every relationship will end with closure that is satisfactory to all parties. The silence is a necessary step in letting go.

How old were you when your trauma occurred? Say you were seven, like me. Sit with your seven-year-old self for a minute. What would she need? A hug, no doubt. Calm and quiet. Some clear loving words. A distraction from that enormous fear, perhaps. What does seven-year-old you like? Writing stories, reading books, colouring, dressing Barbie.

Okay, maybe you don’t need to unearth your fashion doll collection, but do assemble an arsenal of tools available to nurture that wounded child place. If you’re out and about and can’t access your kit, consider some apps that might help. Meditation apps can offer a brilliant distraction. There are colouring apps, word games, or puzzle apps to rewire panic into something more creative. Shit, I’m rewiring right now in drafting this blog post.

Surrounding myself with beauty is my de-stress go-to. If I can’t escape to the forest, or bask in the company of my gorgeous friends, good old Pinterest will sometimes do the trick.

Later on, when you’re somewhere safe and private, consider speaking from the voice you were robbed of in your moment of trauma. Consider addressing the person (or people) who might have been involved, by writing down what you would have said. You don’t have to deliver the message. Just give yourself the opportunity to articulate how the moment felt. That might sound a little something like this:

When you sent me off the train, I felt like you didn’t love me enough to take care of me. I thought you were trying to get rid of me because you didn’t want me in our family. I was only a little kid, and I couldn’t understand why I made you feel so irritated all of the time. I felt like you didn’t care how scared and upset I was after I was back with my parents and my brother. From that moment on, it took me years until I really believed that you loved me.

There’s likely another step that could work here in the healing process. That step might be forgiveness, but I realize that’s unrealistic for some of us. I can forgive my Nana for whatever was happening in her head to send me alone off the train. Now, as an adult, I know she did have love for me, but that she had her own complex triggers and trauma to sort through. Some of us have different trauma though, and it may not be so easy to forgive. That’s okay too. What’s important is that we make the connections for ourselves that slow down those feelings of being triggered and help us nurture ourselves back to safety.

A whole day and a long, sleepless night has passed since I began to type out this post. I had a gentle morning with some journaling and yoga. I know I won’t get as much work done as I wanted to. I’m trying to appreciate the silence. I’m trying to claim it for myself. The twisting in my belly is a little less intense today. I cut myself some fresh flowers from the garden to sit on my desk and cheer me. My newly-found posse of five crows are croaking somewhere in the trees and I feel like I’m being supported and loved by forces I can’t see. There’s lots I’d still like to say, so I’m putting it on paper instead. This last attempt at relationship has cemented three huge game-changing lessons for me, and I am intensely grateful.

I cannot be abandoned when the most important source of love in my life is my own.

The Gift of Change

Photo by Honor Beauty

This story begins nearly two decades ago. Against the backdrop of two close family members succumbing to cancer, my fledgling marriage to a wonderful man succumbed to a number of things. Inexperience, lack of a practical plan, selfishness, impulsive behaviour, fear, pride, stubbornness, poor financial management, lust, and immaturity for starters. When I think back on that time, I can’t remember details. Life back then feels like a dream that slips further away with each moment of waking. I’ve come to equate this feeling with detachment. With trauma.

Fast forward to today. If you read my last post, you’ll know that I’ve been waiting out this past moon cycle to make a call about the space I’ve been trying to build with someone because it’s been tricky. I’m just going to set that down here on the table. Keep it in your periphery for a moment, okay?

Last weekend, I was able to join the fabulous Jenny Arndt at the equally fabulous South Coast Guest House for one of her day retreats. She’d messaged me because she felt, on a deep intuitive level, that she needed to coax me to come. Jenny was introduced to me by another incredible lady who is a mutual friend, but I’d only been crushing on her and her work from afar. I felt like she was kindred, and when I finally met her on the Summer Solstice, I knew I was right. 

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the workshop, which included some meditation, breathing, coaching and Qi Gong. I stayed open and curious, and after we practiced Qi Gong in the garden and sat down to free write before lunch, something cracked open like an egg.

It began with a question, posed to us earlier: “What negativities have I been investigating?”

The answer surprised me. 

For months, I’ve believed that my attempts at relationship-building were failing because of what the other person was struggling with. Despite their openness and vulnerability in sharing the grief they were working through, I thought the grief was the main barrier. As I reflected on this question Jenny posed, the word ‘neglecting’ appeared five times, and guess who was doing the neglecting? 

Me. I was neglecting myself.

I’ve created this narrative where I am a solid, independent woman. In so many ways, that’s now become my reality. But in relationship, I suddenly start to lose all sense of this independence and begin defining my worth through the relationship itself. I pour all of my energy and attention into the relationship. Into the other person. Into trying to help them. I used to believe this was a beautiful quality, a sign of my devotion. On the weekend, I realized this was co-dependence. 

No relationship in my life will ever flourish if I lean on it to satisfy so many of my needs. That must always be my job first. Romantic relationships should be like the icing on the already decadent cupcake of my life. The weight of my needs had become a greater barrier than the grief or the fear. This weight had been slowly crushing anything good that could exist between us. 

The heft of trying to fulfill my needs externally has also been crushing me, relationship after relationship. I’ve stayed in places far too long because of how desperate I was to see those needs fulfilled. I’ve stayed too long hoping someone else would ‘show up’ and ‘give me’ what I need. 

What I need from myself and what I need from relationship aren’t two separate things. They are the same, and they must be supplied entirely by me. I cannot ‘unplug’ (Jenny’s word) from myself and plug into someone else’s source. When I feel the urge to do this, I need to adjust my own plug and make sure it’s secure. If I’m not truly plugged in, I can’t truly see what’s in front of me. I can’t see the other person. 

“Stand in front of someone because we want to experience them rather than because we want to receive something from them.” – Jenny Arndt

Why did I begin this post with the mention of my marriage?

The day after this retreat, my mother handed off a huge bag full of photos and letters from my former married life. I realized that the dissolution of this relationship was the catalyst for these co-dependent tendencies taking root. Perhaps this behaviour was born from an unconscious need to prove I could make relationship work, which took precedence over realizing my own needs. Perhaps some separation anxiety took hold. Whatever the case, I knew in reading the first letter from a battered shoe box that I’d made a powerful connection.

These kinds of connections are the only way that I can change my behaviour. 

It took a couple of days to let that settle in and make sense. There was huge discovery, and then enormous emotion that bubbled out in ways I felt powerless to control. When this happens to me, I know the emotion is the surface layer and the truth is hanging out just below. Instead of writing, I did a lot of thinking. Instead of sharing, I sat with it for a couple of days.

There’s one more person who deserves a mention here. About a month ago, my good friend Paje (who took that lovely photo above) turned me on to this concept of Human Design. Through her exploration, we learned that I am a Reflector. There are all kinds of cool things about Reflector types, but my main takeaway is that I require a full lunar cycle to make a big decision. If I had honoured this slow pace in my past, I would have saved myself so much heartache. 

And so, with yesterday’s new moon, I told my truth; that I wanted to stay to see what this looks like as I learn this life-changing lesson. It seems unlikely that we really even know what is possible between us without me plugging back into myself. I don’t know what will happen next. I’m not measuring our time by the moon at this moment. I’m not waiting for anyone to ‘show up’. I’m showing up for myself. Maybe this person came into my life to help illuminate this truth? If that’s the case, it’s one of the greatest gifts of emotional growth I’ll ever get, and it sure as hell explains the deep connection I felt as we were thrown together by the universe.

I received a lot of blessings on my recent birthday (July 24th). Gifts of food, flowers, jewelry, books, art, words, crystals, wine, love. The greatest gift, however, is the gift of change.

This is going to be a radiant trip around the sun.

Sparking Joy

It wasn’t a clean break. The space I was trying to build with someone else is still a work in progress because we weren’t ready to let go yet. It’s currently relationship limbo. That nebulous space where you know something is there, but nobody knows what it is, exactly. It seems I’m the kind of person who needs the security of a label. ‘Single, but dating’? ‘It’s Complicated’? I don’t know how any of this relationship stuff works, which is no small irony considering the career and life path I’ve chosen.

I’m taking until the end of this lunar cycle on the 31st to feel my way through to the next steps with this one. Do I keep trying? Do I start to let go and begin to date other people? Do I end it completely and take a break? It’s been challenging, and a few certainties have emerged. I’m certain I need to put the vast majority of my energy towards mom life and school. I’m certain that there are specific personality types/behaviours that trigger incredible anxiety for me in relationship. I’m certain that I’ve lost my sense of joy.

Losing my joy is frankly scary. I blame nobody but myself for this. My ability to find joy, or at the very least, beauty in every day is what gets me by. I’ve been so consumed in this relationship puzzle, and in fact, the relationship puzzle at large, that I’m losing the wonder of each moment. Why have I made finding romantic love so important? Is it because I feel that it ultimately eludes me? Is it because I’m afraid of being alone? Am I trying to prove my worth through someone else? Am I trying to justify the terrible heartbreak I weathered with a shiny prize in the bottom of the box?

My wise friend Paje recently said ‘don’t look for a relationship, but let a relationship emerge if there’s going to be one’. This was like a small explosion in my brain. I should not compromise or commit exclusively until I am completely sure that there is something real emerging. Something real and mutual.

So, it’s back to the foundation again. My foundation. The qualities and choices that lead me to my higher purpose; to the kind of woman I want to be. She is strong, loving, independent, wise, generous, sensual, inspiring. She wants someone who will celebrate this with her the way that her dear friends do. The way that she celebrates the wonder of the people she loves. Someone who has the space in their life to actually see her, and know her worth. Is that really possible here?

Maybe I was too hungry for this idea of a relationship. Maybe the Universe knows that I’m not ready for a relationship right now, even if I believe otherwise. Maybe it’s a bad time to eat when you’re starving because that’s when you make choices that aren’t so healthy.

It’s a gray day here, but the heat has broken. I’m moving through this Monday sifting for joy in the mundane. I feel lucky that I can work from home and spend the morning sipping amazing coffee without worrying about what I look like. I feel, for a brief moment, the sweet buzz of an excellent energy exchange the night before. I take note of the fact that the sight of my belly in this clingy dress doesn’t bother me as much as it usually does. I give thanks for the low cost of repairing my punctured tire (thanks Peninsula Tire). I’m happy for good food for lunch. There’s a coffee date with my lovely friend Kate to look forward to. Maybe I’ll buy myself a birthday dress at the outlet mall. I’ll get to see my kids later, even if it’s just for a little visit. I’ll think of my free evening as an opportunity to catch up on my studies. Don’t dwell. Keep on moving forward.

Each day I need to wake up and promise myself that my priority will be searching for the good and the beautiful. Even if the day has only tiny morsels to offer up. Can you believe, after everything I went through last year, that I would allow myself to lose sight of my worth? To lose sight of the sparkle I’ve fought so hard to recapture? It happens to the best of us, doesn’t it? We take for granted our own priorities until suddenly we don’t even feel like ourselves anymore.

Here’s a little exercise. My therapist, James McQueen taught me this one, and I revisit it again and again. James introduced me to Acceptance and Commitment therapy (or ACT) and I really love the hands-on approach to mindfulness that ACT offers:

Divide a page into four quadrants.

In the bottom right quadrant, make a list of the core values that are most important to you. Also list the people who are most important in your life. 

In the bottom left quadrant, list all of your behaviours and feelings (including self-talk phrases) that take you away from your values. 

In the top left list all of the ways that you manage any emotion or behaviour that takes you further away from these values. 

In the top right quadrant, create a list of things you can do to manage the behaviours and bring yourself closer to your core values.       
    
You can apply this exercise to life in general, to your career, to any specific relationship, or to relationship as a concept. This entire blog is a testimony to the power of writing things down when you’re trying to manifest change, and there’s real power in revisiting the words you’ve committed to the page.     

For more information about ACT, you can visit this site There’s lots of excellent free resources here too.

And so, as I launch into birthday week (I’m a Leo, we don’t just have one day) I’m on the hunt for that which I can delight in. What are some tiny things that you do to spark your own joy?                                                                                                                                                  

Even When It’s Right

I did it right this time.  I stepped into the possibility of love with all of my centres wide open. I listened to my heart and my gut. I made changes in my life to create space for this new relationship. I communicated my needs and my insights as clearly as I could. I owned my mistakes as soon as I saw them (again, I’m sorry for that alarming 3:00 am text). I didn’t hide the love I was feeling. I allowed the whole person to emerge instead of keeping them on a pedestal. I nurtured. I gave. My anger was held until I could see the fear and hurt that fueled it, and so my words were always delivered with unmistakable love. 

I dropped all the pretense I could detect and connected as deeply as I could. I slowed down when I was asked to. I gave the space that I was asked to give. I gave space that my gut told me to give. I saw the deep potential for loving in this person, the beauty and wonder in how their mind works, how deeply intuitive and sensitive they are. I was wholly prepared to let this be big and real and long-lasting if that was really what it was going to be. In the first month, I had glimmers that it could be that kind of thing. Then, I did the hardest thing; I allowed myself to see what was actually happening, instead of what I wanted to happen.

I am single again.

Love is not enough. Seeing the beauty in someone and feeling grateful for the gifts they bring is not enough. Unless both parties are arriving, and speaking their intentions in a language that is clearly understood by both, there will be a failure to launch. The old me would have stuck around, hoping. Aching. Wondering what I could do, or say to make a difference. Present-tense me knows that we are all complex beings full of fear and pain, and if someone isn’t showing up, you can’t do a single thing to inspire them to arrive. Or to stick around consistently, if they aren’t able to be there.

And so, with as much love as I have ever had in a moment such as this, I let go. The brittleness had started to set in. I can’t ever let myself get hard like that again. I let go of this beautiful soul, and my hope is that he will find whatever stillness and peace he needs to be able to arrive. I realize this will likely mean he isn’t arriving with me. That’s the fear that keeps people holding on, isn’t it? The fear that someone else will get to see it through. A funny fear for someone with complex views on monogamy, to be sure.

Holding on to a love that isn’t flourishing is a stranglehold. It will kill love, just as surely as the fear of losing love will result in…well, losing love. Hang on to something that isn’t quite there and it will get crushed under the weight of your expectation and fear. Stay distant because you’re afraid that this person will leave you, and you will push them away for good. One of us was trying to grab onto it, the other was pushing it away.

The hopeful (delirious?) romantic in me wishes that this isn’t the end of the story, but I know that if the story continues, I’m not the one who needs to write the next chapter. And so, to keep this heart of mine soft, I look for the lessons.

Here’s what I learned, this time:
I see people very clearly, in the way they want to be seen when they first arrive in my life. 

There is a lot more to people than this first impression.

I can communicate with love through frustration and difficulty.

I have an ability to help people open up and look inside themselves.

Opening up and looking inside themselves is something that other people are not used to, and often not comfortable with.

Helping them do this will often make them want to withdraw from me, or more correctly, make them want to withdraw from the magnitude of feeling this can unearth.

People’s actions or silence may be hurtful, but are usually not a reflection of who I am, or of my worth.

I can end my time with someone with more love than I began, and accept their humanity while still protecting my heart.

This hurts a lot because I felt a lot. I was deeply moved by the potential I felt, and the depth of this person I encountered.

I don’t have the capacity for any more romantic conflict, and I need to focus on my studies, so I need to withdraw from pursuing that kind of connection for some time.

And so, as the summer gets rolling I will get lost in school, my children, my girlfriends. In hiking, in nature, in writing. I will feel what it’s like to not think about dating or finding someone. I’ll keep my own heart at the forefront of everything I do, and fill it with love. 

This heart of mine is unbreakable. It keeps stretching and growing. I don’t give it away, I share it, but for now I’m going to hold it close.    

On Love and Boundaries

My baby mama and I were commiserating about romantic relationships under the blazing noon heat of our son’s baseball game. “You need to get better at protecting your heart,” she said “You fall in love too big and too fast.”

This isn’t always the case, but when I love someone, I don’t hold back. Is this foolish? Maybe. Does it open up the potential for hurt? Sure. But let’s be honest for a moment, shall we? If you have those deep feelings for someone, even if it’s the easy-to-confuse infatuation and chemical response that sometimes feels like love, does hiding that emotion make the hurt any less if things don’t work out? Does hiding the hurt really make it disappear? We all know the answer is a negative. We all know that emotions are powerful, whether or not we think we have them in check.

I will not stop falling in love the way that I do. I’ve even started expressing that love, when I feel it, with zero expectation of reciprocation. My motivation here is the fact that we all seem to need love, now more than ever, and everyone seems terrified of vulnerability. My other motivator, which frankly is the strongest motivator in my life short of my awesome children, is having seen death up close so many damn times. 

I love you. You have a beautiful soul. I’d love to share my life with you, because it’s going to be much shorter than I think. I need you to know that I love you because you deserve that love, and we never really know what might happen.

Giving this love away costs me absolutely nothing. It feels beautiful to put it into the world. Into someone else’s heart. The well of love is bottomless and the pain of trying to love doesn’t come from sharing love without fear. It comes from sticking around when safety isn’t created.

Let’s not confuse safety and danger, friends. I’m not talking about abuse or neglect, though those things are obviously going to make loving space unsafe. I’m talking about those challenges to your personal boundaries that don’t feel okay. Are you familiar with your personal boundaries? If not, it’s time to get real intimate with them. 

Personal boundaries are formed when you have a clear sense of what you need to feel safe in romantic space. I’ll give you my list, so it can inspire you to contemplate one of your own:

Transparency
Emotional awareness
Honesty
A desire for clear communication
Responsibility
Self-care/ a health-conscious mindset
Strong family values
Respect
A deep appreciation for sexuality
Kindess
The ability to express how they feel about me
Affection (in private and in public)
Personal passions/goals and space for the other person’s
Presence
Humour

This list forms the touchstone that I will now use anytime I try to build space with someone. These are the boxes that have to be ticked. It’s pretty basic stuff, but it’s the stuff that makes me feel like my heart will be treasured in the way it deserves. When any one of things is missing, I know to pause and tap into my intuition and my logic to see what’s happening in the space I have created. This is when difficult conversations happen, and when difficult decisions have to be made.

Sometimes boundaries get tested by good people who are in complicated places in their lives. Or good people who have created walls around themselves because it is devastating and often traumatizing to have your heart broken. My mistake in the past was to excuse the breach of those boundaries out of sympathy for the other person. It’s a confusing situation when you can feel someone’s inherent goodness, yet see them behaving in ways that are hurtful. However, a truth in my life is that it does not serve loving space to stay when my boundaries are challenged. I grow brittle and hard, and behave in ways that are not authentic.

This week I did something I have never done before. I asked someone to step away and take some space to listen to their heart and know what they truly need. This was a scary risk to take, but my intuition was as clear as a girlfriend admonishing me over coffee. ‘You are going to get hurt if things continue like this.’

I approached this conversation with all the love I have. Whatever happens next, I regret nothing. The gift of my heart is one I will never apologize for, or feel badly about giving again because now I can give that gift, and take care of myself. 

There is some pain, and some fear in the waiting. I hurt for the amount of complexity this person is dealing with. I’m afraid if they decide to move on, it will bring up some feelings of inadequacy in me. I feel some loss over the potential I felt that hasn’t been realized. But this is nothing like the kind of heartbreak I have endured. I know I have done what is right for both of us. I know I’m honouring myself in this.

Do yourselves a favour dear ones, and make a list of what you need to feel good and safe when you share your heart. Get real clear on which lines cannot be crossed, and pin your loyalty and commitment to those boundaries first and foremost. Your heart deserves to be treasured and cherished, and I think that only happens when you learn how to do that for yourself.