“How lucky am I to have a monster on my side?” – Amanda Parker
My friend, singer/songwriter Amanda Parker wrote a song about creating a monster to protect you from all the things that might hurt you. As I sat on the patio at Oast House listening to Amanda sing, I thought about how we’ve all patched together these monsters. How we’ve taken dead or dying parts of our experience and resurrected them into half-blind, stumbling beasts with gaping mouths, pressed into protective service.
The man I love told me that he can feel the truth in people that they themselves cannot admit. That it’s so incredibly frustrating to see this, but also see how unaware they are of this truth, or how hard they try to deny it. Days before he said this, I’d uttered these exact words to a girlfriend, about him. We’ve found common ground in this statement, and once again our dynamic has been the laboratory for another groundbreaking personal revelation.
My sexuality is a frankenmonster.
I love sex. It’s a sacred and profound experience to me when the elements are right. But that perfect recipe requires me to love so deeply and wholly, to lay open my soul and be completely vulnerable, that I can no longer face that with authenticity. I have loved so beautifully from this place, but my trust has been compromised again and again.
So I started digging up dead things and piecing them together: The awkward, painful moments of my youth, where nobody wanted to kiss me when we played spin the bottle became a constant need to feel like I am sexually attractive to other people. And a constant need to sexualize others.
The excruciating pain of a legacy of unfaithful partners became a rejection of monogamy. A declaration that even within the confines of a healthy, loving relationship, I would eventually need to seek someone else out. An insistence that whomever I am with be on board with that, before even learning how fulfilling our own sex life could be.
A fear that the most interesting thing about me was my sexuality grew into measuring my sexual vitality in terms of quantity, not quality. A belief that a wide array of lovers was proof positive that I was a vibrant, sexual being.
This monster isn’t keeping me safe. It’s holding me hostage, and it’s time to get out the pitchforks and torches. I need to bury this beast and step into either loving, or healing, with my whole heart.
I don’t need other people to validate my sexual worth. I can feel my fire every single day, in my solitude as much as in a crowd. I can reserve that sacred space for someone who I connect with deeply, or if I have to, I can allow myself time to let go of and honour that love, before anyone else steps in. My sexual fire won’t diminish if I tend to it myself for a while.
I deserve to continue to believe that it’s possible to be wholly sexually satisfied by one person. When I love, my heart wants nobody else. My body can feel this too. I deserve to believe that the sacred, sexual space I create with someone who loves me will be a safe space where we make it whatever we both need it to be.
I deserve to tear this monster to pieces and see who I am without it lurching ahead of me.
Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein after three of her babies died. We cannot give life to what we must let go. We cannot piece together fetid pieces of our experience and expect something great to result from such experiments.
I created my monster because I gave up on love, but love has saved me from the fire over and over again. It’s impossible to deny the healing and growth I’ve felt when I’ve leaned into the authenticity of my own heart. I don’t need a monster anymore, because I know how well I can protect myself.
What is your monster made of?
“Soon these burning miseries will be extinct.” – Mary Shelley
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.
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.
My tiny apartment smells like flowers. Freesias, to be exact. They gift the most beautiful fragrance. I wake each morning to a riot of birdsong, and sometimes a light shroud of mist hovers over the tops of the trees in the ravine below my windows. I am at peace, I am filled with gratitude, and my heart is full of love.
On Wednesday, Beltane, I began university full time. A seed I planted, an investment in my future. Careful steps towards a career.
I’m back in my apartment, and though I managed just fine while I was out, I can’t tell you how good it feels to be home. I feel safe. I feel cozy. I feel like cooking, and puttering and just breathing. This is another seed; building a home for me and my children and opening that home to the people I love.
There’s someone in my life. It’s so new, not even a full moon cycle has gone by yet. I want to preserve the space we’re building and not share too much, but if you could see me, you would see an ease that has settled across my brow and a peachy flush that with just a thought will spread from my cheeks to my navel. I am in awe of the certainty I feel, not about the future, (because I’ve learned how foolish it is to try to predict that), but in how I feel each moment. I do not want these moments to end, and this sweetness spills into every facet of my rich and rewarding life. It’s like a beautiful, flowering tree that suddenly reveals that it can also bear fruit.
I want to eat this fruit slowly, for as long as I can.
One morning over coffee and a rainy sunrise in my apartment, this new person told me about how he would come home with various injuries as a kid, and he credits his mom with only ever saying ‘Was it worth it?’.
Last year, my life fell apart and I was hurt in ways I couldn’t have imagined. The anniversary of that cataclysm happens this Saturday. Nine years of my life with my ex partners came to an end.
Was it worth it?
In nine years, and in the unraveling I learned how essential it is to honour my boundaries and value my self-worth. I learned how my behaviour impacts everyone around me. I learned how to master my emotional response to triggers. I learned how my childhood trauma affected my ability to be in relationship and to be a parent. I learned how burying a truth can turn that truth into a bomb when it’s uncovered. I learned how I love women differently than I love men. I learned that each person in a relationship has a different experience of that relationship. I learned that transparency and honesty are essential for me to create safety. I learned that the best sex comes from deep emotional connection. I learned what it feels like to want to be a better person because of those you are sharing loving space with. I learned that I am often wrong. I learned how dangerous denial is. I learned humility. I learned empathy. I learned that alcohol and pot won’t make things better. I learned that there is a difference between having anxiety and being in a triggered state most of the time. I learned the wonder of my body. I learned what a powerful and excellent mother I am. I learned that I must constantly grow as a parent. I learned that I am resilient. I learned how incredible my friends and family are. I learned that the people I built a life with for nine years are still my family. I learned that I have spent much of my adult life afraid to accept real love. I learned that I am ready to accept real love.
So, yes, I think it was worth it.
Our greatest lessons leave us with scrapes and gouges. We get “loose in the joints and very shabby” a la the Velveteen Rabbit. These chapters, when we feel like we are suffocating on pain, are the ones that deliver us to our higher purpose. They cure our emotional armor and strengthen the muscle that is our heart.
I was made for love. Love is my higher purpose, and it spills into every facet of my life. My writing, my work, my relationships are all inspired by love. Love for my family, love for my sisters, love for my children, love for my partner. So I will show up, eager and in awe when I am met with energy that compliments my own. I will plant seeds and watch deep root systems grow where I am understood. I will give with abundance and accept a bounty in return when I am accepted. I will share the space within my soul when I know that I am safe.
There is nothing else more worth it in this life.
Have a listen to me on The Heather Report at 10:00 am (EST) on Sunday, May 5th. You can stream this at 4680q.ca
Those of you who know me, or who have been reading these posts for a while, know that this year has been a year of recovery. I’ve learned so much about myself; what I’m capable of, what is truly important to me, what I need to feel safe and secure. I’ve built my life again from scratch. I’ve found new ways to understand myself and the people around me. I’ve even tried dating again, sort of.
There was a lovely relationship that happened too soon.
There were several wonderful and exciting people who didn’t quite fit.
And now, well…I’m not exactly sure what is happening now. It could be a brief glimpse of exactly the kind of connecting I want. It could be a longer, sweeter taste of the kind of connecting I want. It’s far too soon to know anything beyond how very different this feels. It feels safe, and good, and like stepping into a warm bath after an exhausting day. However long it will last, I’m grateful for this feeling, because I’m reminded that it’s possible.
But oh, what stuff this Is unearthing.
Just when I thought I’d resolved as much as I could, processed and unpacked what I needed to. Just when I thought I knew what to do to feel the ways I want to feel, the universe throws this new potential at me, and my subconscious has some surprises in store. I suppose I’m not actually surprised. After so much hurt, romantic vulnerability is justifiably scary. I look at that warm bath and feel relief. My subconscious thinks I could be stepping into lava. You can imagine the internal battle that ensues.
Would more time make this easier? Perhaps, but it could also create a wall so high that climbing it might feel impossible. And let’s not ignore the fact that the mysterious universe has delivered this radiant and wonderful person at this particular moment in time. If I’m going to occupy real heart space with someone, it’s not always going to be smooth. Trust is a real tricky thing for me, and I will need both the right person to build it with, and the self-awareness to separate my own insecurities from the truth that is unfolding before me.
I’m going to need someone who is patient, and not annoyed by having to offer reassurance. I’m going to need to first sort through the swirling mass that sometimes occupies my brain and heart space in my journal, before I bring it to the table. I’m going to need to stay in the present and see what is actually happening, rather than listening to my fear.
Does that sound like a lot of work? Perhaps it is, but it’s necessary, and the outcome is greater strength and command of my own heart and head. And I believe, down to the very tips of my toes, that with the right person, it won’t feel like work at all.
So whatever this is, let it unfold as it should; carefully and consciously. Let me trust in face value and gut feelings. Let me understand that there are two separate experiences of this shared space, each of value, and each with a unique set of needs. Let me trust myself to be brave enough to delight in this the way that I deserve to, for as long as it exists in my life.
The next time I build a home, it’s going to have a strong foundation.