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?                                                                                                                                                  

Was It Worth It?

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

Nobody Told Me About This

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.