Momentum is a Funny Thing

Suki Tsunami of Les Coquettes Cabaret

Man, I don’t know about you, but I love this January energy. I feel like I can do everything and anything right now. I’m motivated, I’m exercising regularly, I’m experiencing a creative explosion. I really love this feeling, even if it borders on manic sometimes.

How on earth do I make it last?

I’m making lists, checking in daily with an actual, physical day-planner type journal, I’m giving myself stars on the calendar for each day I work out, I’m taking note of how I feel when I’m productive. I’m taking vitamins. I’m being conscious about what I eat.

I think the secret is to find a rhythm and a system that feels great, and then repeat.

Life will trip you up, or slow things down. Instead of feeling guilty, I’ve found it’s much more productive to reset and return to the systems that feel the best.

A handful of years ago, I wrote a novel. I was even lucky enough to get support from an Indiegogo campaign. It was in its final stages, nearly ready for the world, and then my life took an unfortunate turn. My creative writing was sacrificed so that I could survive. My reflective writing took on a whole new life.

I’m ready to share my novel with the world.

I think it’s a fun story. It’s the love-child of my decades as a burlesque producer and artistic director and my life-long fascination with the superhero genre. That’s right. Superhero meets burlesque. My protagonist is a sardonic, witty, triple-threat performer who is experiencing a career nosedive until everything changes. I’m in love with the cast of characters who inhabit this world. I can’t wait for you to meet them.

Starting in February, I’ll be posting a chapter a week, right here, every Thursday. I’ll also be reading each chapter on my Instagram page, in case you’d rather listen.

If you’d like to read Bump and Grind, you can sign up below to make sure you never miss a post.

And of course, I’ll still be sharing the usual ‘slice of life’ stuff that I’ve always shared here. I just feel it’s time to get this girl out of my head and heart and into yours instead.

What are you excited about in 2020?

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A Snow Fall for a New Decade

The view from my desk, and Noodle’s allowance jar.

There is nothing more peaceful than waking up to discover everything blanketed in fresh snow. My home is a very modest one-bedroom apartment. It’s small, but the best feature is the wall of windows in the main space that overlooks a ravine. I woke up this morning full of words, and then the beauty outside made my heart want to burst.

I am starting 2020 full of love. 

This tiny apartment is home to three now, and it almost never feels too small. We’re building our life, and waiting for the perfect home to grow into. There’s no rush, and there are so many moments where I’m glad to be in here, cooking good food, sharing laughter and warmth and letting the outside world go on while I’m safe and full.

We’ve found the sweetest connection in drafting our dreams. There aren’t a lot of flowers or expensive dates. There are marketing meetings over brunch, walks through the moonlit cemetery while we hammer out our business model, morning sessions over coffee while I read my latest story or post, or we listen to my podcast.

Flowers will wither. This is growing into something lasting and fruitful. I have never approached love this way. 

I’ve never been with a man who can read the slightest shift in my mood, before I scarcely recognize it in myself. I’ve never been with anyone who can meet me with vulnerability like this, and a willingness to grow and learn. There is a sweetness in him that invites me to drop all of my self-protection and get to the heart of things faster than I ever have before. Loving this man is making me a better person.

He makes me feel beautiful. He recognizes my power and celebrates it. He believes in me.

He loves my son. He approaches his ever-growing role in my child’s life with curiosity and humility. He asks excellent questions about my kid and my parenting style. He appreciates the amazing parts of my boy, and wonders at the challenges he comes with. I see his desire to teach, to lead, and to love and it fills me with grace and gratitude.

He is delighted by my daughters. He is a gentleman who is engaged and indulgent. He’ll play too many rounds of the game of the moment, and laugh at the healthy competition. 

He is a good man with a kind heart and pure intentions. I have felt this from him since the beginning.

And yet…

There are nights when I wake up unable to catch my breath. The family I once had feels like it still exists in an untouched state in an alternate universe. Everything good about this love feels like it could be ripped away in an instant. My fear and self-doubt remind me that what I’ve learned about love has shown me that it won’t last, and that what I’ve learned about myself is that I make bad choices and behave poorly.

This perfect, glittering snow won’t last. I can still be breathless with the wonder of it while it’s here. 

And though nothing lasts forever, I cannot know what the end of this story looks like. This moment in my life is a gift, and I can hold it like it’s a fragile thing that I am certain to break, or I can pull it over my head and wrap myself in the splendour of it. I have to choose the latter, every single day. I have to stop allowing fear to step between me and the joy I deserve.

In 2020, I will stop listening to the voice that tells me I am not enough. I am whole, and worthy of the gifts that I receive. I am worthy of sharing my gifts with others. I am worthy of stepping fully into love, into my dreams, into my relationship with my children.

In 2020 I will give and receive love. I will celebrate the wonderful friends I have made over these last two years of healing (and yes, if you are reading this, I will always include you here, even if you are hurt right now). I will nurture the precious friendships I have made over the last decade of my life. I’ll create moments of greater connection with my family. I will reach for joy, over and over again. This is my word for this new year. How wonderful it would be as a word for the entire decade ahead. 

As this New Year begins to unfold, I wish that each of you will be able to find moments of pure joy, no matter how deep the twilight may be. May you always find the balance between the shadows of your past and the haze of your future, and live in the clear, bright present.

I Have No Idea What I’m Doing

But I finally know what I need. Which feels timely, because I’m in the midst of another immensely challenging moment. I feel a little lost, frankly.

It’s funny how life will knock you on your ass with a well-timed round house. Sometimes you need a few of these before you can clear away the stars and canaries and see what you’re supposed to see. I’ve got my fists in front of my face at this point.

I thought the best plan for me was to lean on a student loan and get two degrees so I could have the career I’ve been dreaming of. Then I realized I couldn’t earn money while making this happen, and I did the math. It made no sense to keep digging myself into a financial hole. The school plan isn’t going to work.

Maybe I can find my way to a career in therapy via private school? It takes less time, but there’s no hope of government funding.  

These writing workshops I’ve been leading though…they feel like magic. I’m trying to teach people what I’ve done for myself for years; to float on a raft of words over the sea of life. Sometimes clinging through the tossing and roiling. Sometimes floating and feeling breathless at the beauty of the cloud formations. I believe so deeply in the power of words that I’m taking on private coaching clients. It feels like the work I’ve always wanted to do. Maybe it’s a plan that could grow into something.

So many maybes…

I’m trying to be good at being in a relationship. Sometimes I think I’m brilliant at this. Sometimes I dream of building a life and home and family with the person I am loving. I want it so deeply that it keeps me awake at night, wondering how I can have the audacity to want such things again, knowing what I know.

About love. About life. About trust.

My childhood trauma was triggered two weeks ago by a drunken idiot at one of my favourite local bars. And this week, something else happened that I can’t write yet. There’s nothing like trying to find your way back from a vivid PTSD moment to really put life into perspective. Of course, any of you who have embraced your trauma know that it’s not the kind of perspective anyone wants to live with. It’s the kind of perspective that makes nearly everyone you know a source of danger. It shines a light on all the broken parts of you. It feels like you’re in a yolk, designed to show the world that you are so deeply flawed that you’ll never quite be part of the pack. Yes, I booked a therapy appointment as soon as I could. Yes, I’m laying low and trying to be easy with myself as I move through this. 

But I need care right now. I need gentle words, lots of loving words. I need to be told daily about the parts of me that are lovable. I need touch and physical affection. I need sweet, romantic gestures. I need someone to make me coffee in the morning.

I’m trying to be good at being in a relationship. I want to build that life. But building that life means needing to trust someone again with my whole heart. And my whole heart needs safety.

There it is. The thing I need. Emotional safety. Not a solid life plan. Not a career change. 

What’s safe for me isn’t the same as what’s safe for others. I have grown from a complex mixture of intuition and experience. I have an abundance of patience with myself and with the people I love. I know when I’m being anxious and when irrationality is slipping in. I’m willing to hit the pause button and try to gain a different vantage point. If I feel uncomfortable enough to voice discomfort, believe it. I’m too old to doubt myself any longer about these kinds of things. I’ve kept my mouth shut for too long, far too many times before. If I’m asking for something, it’s because I’ve thought it through.

For my entire life, I’ve been trying to protect myself from the thing I couldn’t when I was a little girl. I can see how this has made me difficult. I can also feel pride in how I’ve grown enough to accept my part. I’ve been in the stranglehold of life enough times now to know when my self-protection serves me and when it doesn’t.

I’m not settling without that safety. It’s not about being stubborn. It’s about accepting what is possible, and what is doomed to fail.

I need to lean in hard and know that I won’t be left to topple. I need steady hands to hold me when life pulls at those unhealed child places in me. I am so often the one people seek out when their lives feel overwhelming. I need someone who will be present and nurturing when I am the one who needs care.

I am a mother. I am a minister. I am a writer, a poet, and now a coach. This sounds like a solid life and a rewarding career. I will do my very best to be a strong partner, to build a home with someone. I’ll take all that I’ve learned about life and love and trust and apply it with my whole heart. Maybe this time it will all work out. 

Letting Go and Coming Back

The sky was pale pink over the lake this morning. I padded upstairs quietly into the cool air of the cottage, greeted by the smell of coffee and beautiful Lena in silhouette in her room. The best kinds of pjs are the ones that double as yoga wear. You can roll out of bed, ready to do something good for your body.

Nancy, who is my personal embodiment of how I’d like to age (striking, fit, bohemian), ushered us to the coffee she’d brewed. We three curled up on the couch and quietly commented on our quality sleep while sipping our morning elixir. Then we unfurled our mats, and Nancy led us in an eleven minute meditation. Her rich voice encouraged us to allow our thoughts in, acknowledge them, and then shift our focus back to our breath. Let go. Come back.

Let go. Come back.

I let go of how I defined family and came back to myself, committed to protecting my heart.

I let go of my anger and hurt and came back to build a loving co-parenting relationship with both of my exes.

I let go of the idea that it was too late to start over and came back to my dream of becoming a therapist.

I let go of the self-pity I’ve felt as a single mom and came back to feeling wild and empowered.

I let go of a handful of people I’ve loved or tried to love and came back to the idea of the kind of love I believe in.

I let go of a man I knew I could love well because he wasn’t ready to love. He came back.

The rain is pounding now on the vaulted ceilings of this place. I’m watching the ripples in the lake, safe and cozy at my spot at the head of the harvest table. A mist is rolling in. My belly is full of Inge’s grandmother’s gingerbread. Inge is the newest member of our writing group. She is vivacious and wise. Her stories are jaw dropping and heart wrenching. How have I been blessed to find so many inspiring women in this life? Women who fill me with words, who dazzle me with beauty. Women who make me want to stretch and grow and exude divine feminine energy everywhere I tread. 

We’re on retreat at Nancy’s lakefront cottage in Verona. This is our second annual retreat, and I’ve realized this writing time, this escape, is essential to my well-being. I need more of this uninterrupted space to focus on my craft. To play with words and imagination. To feel truly connected to the very best parts of myself.

I let go of writing because I didn’t feel like it could fit in my new life. I have to come back to it now and make it a priority again.

When I lived in a family of three adults, I helped to build our business, teach our children and run our household rather than finding work outside of the home. This created so much space for writing. Then it became necessary for me to support myself and my child, and writing was the first thing I cut out. It felt self-indulgent and silly to spend so much time on something that didn’t generate income. I’ve fed myself on poems and blog posts, but two unfinished novels sit waiting for my return. Crafting those stories felt like magic. Why should I abandon that magic?

I don’t know how all of the pieces will fit together, but I know that my life must be built around writing. Writing cannot be something I squeeze in when I can. Perhaps just speaking this aloud will help make that my reality. Meanwhile, I’m taking some exciting steps towards shaping my path.

On October 25th, I’m teaching my first Reflective Writing workshop in St. Catharines. Reflective Writing is the process in which emotion, need, and want are articulated by putting pen to paper. It’s journal writing, essentially, but with a guide (me) to help unlock what is swirling around within. Articulating emotion has become one of my greatest gifts, and I feel like I am called to help other people discover this ability in themselves. This approach to writing is something I want to nurture and build into my healing practice. If you’re in the Niagara Region and you’d like to participate, you can find the workshop details below.

I’m working on a podcast, which was the brainchild of my podcast partner Joel van Vliet. It’s called ‘I Do and I Don’t’ and it’s a marriage and relationship advice podcast where we offer useful and sometimes irreverent (thanks Joel) advice to anonymous listeners. You can follow us on Instagram and catch each episode as it’s released @idoandidontshow . The podcast reminds me of the Facebook Live show that I used to do with my brother, Kyle Andrew. I’ve missed that kind of collaboration, and when Joel offered me the co-host slot on I Do and I Don’t, I jumped at the opportunity. We’re having a lot of fun recording, and I’m really excited to be able to share episodes with you soon.

My heart is full. My children are thriving and working hard at their own creative pursuits. My son just turned seven. I can scarcely believe how big he is now. How clever and full of mischief he is. He delights in making people laugh, he loves to write stories and books about the subjects he’s jazzed about (dinosaurs, mostly) and he is abundant with insight and imagination. The girls are passionately exploring the world of theatre, and blossoming into their social circles with grace and more than a few excellent questions for us parents to tackle. 

My exes remain close friends. I’m not sure we’ll ever unpack everything that went wrong between us, but we all seem content with a kind of happy agreement to share time with our children. I hope this is something we can maintain as our lives move forward. Having their support and friendship feels like we are still family, and I see so many people struggle with strained and toxic relationships with the parents of their children. I feel lucky that we have chosen another path.

It’s possible that I am finding love again. Against all reason, my heart could not let go of this person I’d been seeing since April, though I had to let go of the relationship I was trying to build. Timing is essential in matters of the heart, and it was clear things weren’t working. The circumstances were complex and difficult. There was hurt to wade through both from before our time together, and during. Through it all, I believed in our inherent goodness. In the potential of our connection. I was very sure of what I’d felt when we had first met. I held on to that, and tried to be patient. We are together again, and it feels mutual and full of possibility. He is deeply intuitive, like me. There is no hiding from each other, and in my vulnerability with him I feel heard and held. I can’t speak on his behalf, but in this space we are creating, I feel safe and supported. If we can sustain this connection, I could dwell here for a long, long while.

The most important thing I’ve realized, yet again, is that if we are not meant to walk together, I am whole and capable of living richly while I walk alone.

I let go of this idea that love is supposed to look a certain way and came back to see what our love might look like.

Dinner is my meal this evening. I’m roasting fennel, beets, acorn squash, parsnip, carrot and yam. This will be served with sauteed mushroom, onion, kale and Oktoberfest sausage. I’ll throw together my friend Jenny’s amazing celery and date salad. While I cook, I’ll sip wine and listen to the stories of these wonderful women. But this steady rain is beating a rhythm on the roof and my eyes are getting heavy. I think I’ll curl up in my quiet room and lay down for a nap. I’ll pretend that his arms are around me and his breath is on my neck. That my son is playing quietly in the next room. That my daughters are tucked into books or music and listening to the same steady rain wherever they are. 

I let go of the crushing weight of my sadness and came back to the warmth of my joy.

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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.