My Name, In Lights

I shouldn’t have agreed to go.

To the couples’ therapy session we’d waited a month for, I mean. A month that felt like years. A month I couldn’t make it through because I was so exhausted of trying to bridge the gaping chasm that grew so wide between us.

But I agreed, even after I said I couldn’t remain in the relationship. Have you ever had to set a boundary like this with someone you loved deeply? It’s one of the hardest things. 

He’d never asked for anything like this. I was surprised when he did. 
I realize now I was still waiting for him to meet me. To give me a little piece of something to hold on. Instead I saw that he was done. Instead I saw our pattern play out for the last time; when I don’t feel seen, I am activated. When I am activated, he de-activates. It’s a cycle, and it’s brought us to a stalemate.

I know that I was loved, but I know too that love is not enough. I need deep intimacy and communication, and this cycle we fell into made it impossible for both of us. I tried as hard as I could until it felt so lonely that the only thing that made sense was to try to heal myself.

Someone told me I shouldn’t yearn for little pieces. That from day one my name should be written in lights.

A breakup feels as raw and deep as grief. Even if you know the relationship isn’t working. The love remains, and it doesn’t know where to go. What do you do with everything you wanted to believe? How do you extract yourself from the story?

I’m listening to a lot of podcasts. One particularly useful one suggested that I frame the entire relationship from the first moments to the very end as being predestined. That the ending was as certain as the start, and that all of it has created deeper meaning in my life. I like this. It feels less like I’ve failed, again. More like the Universe wove something beautiful and complex and painful in which I can discover, more deeply, myself.

I have discovered that when I am the one who takes all the initiative in the early days of a relationship, I set myself up to always feel like I’m chasing someone. I have discovered that my subconscious beliefs about love are that anyone I open myself up to will inevitably betray me and leave, and so I select and create circumstances where it is impossible for me to be as vulnerable, as empathetic and as connected as I yearn to be. I have discovered that this betrayal and abandonment began long before I entered the realm of romantic love.

I have discovered that when the sobs wrack me so hard I can’t produce sound, it actually works to hold myself in the fetal position and stroke my own hair.

The trees will continue to remind me of all that is wild and beautiful inside me. I can miss him deep in my bones, remember how sweetly I would sleep beside him, remember how the morning light seemed to create a halo in his messy curls, and I can slowly extract the threads that belong to me and weave them back into myself. 

There is someone out there who will love him so much better than I have been able to. The same is true for me.

I have never felt like a half-life. I don’t need someone to help me feel whole. I just wanted to love and be loved. I still want this, but the idea of being open right now feels absurd. I need tending; gentle, daily reminders of how worthy I am. I know I can manage this task myself. I have always enjoyed my own company. When I’m lonely I have an army of witches, healers, mothers and warrior-women to reach for. I have my beautiful children, and my family.

With the new moon I set an intention. I asked to ‘receive’ and I will mend my heart and sink deep into the Feminine and open myself to everything that is meant for me. I will not push, pursue, lead, demand, beg, plead again. I will rest, and I will unfurl like the sweet ferns in the deepest part of the forest. 

The light will find me. It always does.

Pandemic Fall

This is exactly how a Sunday morning should feel; I’m sitting in bed in the warm glow of the bedside lamp, and the rain is pattering outside. The screen of my laptop is reflecting the Gingko tree in the backyard, and she feels like she’s watching over me. My little cat Luna is curled up on the bed, licking raindrops off her coat, and I’m here, talking to you as we approach our first pandemic fall.

I tried again. And again. The space between him and I grew wider and wider. Not for him, somehow, which I don’t think I’ll ever understand, but certainly for me. It’s the worst kind of lonely to be lonely in a relationship.

So, here I am, creating Sunday morning sweetness for myself. 

I shared my decision with so much love. I still feel all of that love, but I’ve made peace with the fact that I can love someone and not be in relationship with them. There needs to be time now for me to understand, with no measure of uncertainty, the cycles we were locked in. Two wonderful people do not always make an ideal pair. 

This time my decision wasn’t a boundary I threw up in the midst of conflict. This time I sat in this feeling, I did the work with my team of healers, I wrote and wrote and wrote. This love was a huge piece of my healing because I filled four books from cover to cover in the space of a year and a half with trying to understand. Understand him. Understand us. Understand who I was in this space.

I could not be myself. 

My son and I are settling into our new life, in our new home, in our new town. I’ve moved in with a dear friend who is also a single mom. She’s got a five-year-old daughter who is full of fire and sweetness. My little guy is adjusting to having her around, to having his own room, and it’s not always smooth, but I am so happy here. 

I sit around the fire with amazing women. We share our secrets and our struggles as the coyotes howl in the distance. My roommate is full of kindness and grace. She’s brilliant and talented and so wonderful at mothering. I wake up to coffee and a huge backyard with the most beautiful Gingko tree to shelter us all. Gingko is longevity, resilience and hope. 

I can’t wait until my daughters come to see this place. I can’t wait to cook for my friends in my home.

What do I need now? I need to focus on my career. I need to give my heart space and time to heal. I need to be in nature, and I need my children. I need to see my parents and my brother. I need to connect more with my dear ones in Toronto. I need good books and delicious food and permission to have days where very little gets done but everything gets processed. 

I need me.

None of us can envision the coming fall. This has always been my favourite time of the year, but now I’m just not sure where it is leading us. I could not have imagined a world where I’d deliver my son to grade three and everyone would be masked and distanced. I couldn’t have imagined a world where he couldn’t have sleepovers with Grandmere and Grandpere. What will happen as our numbers continue to climb? We’ve lost so much, haven’t we?

What have you gained? I’ve gained a clear and unwavering understanding and acceptance of how I need to be loved. I’ve gained permission to fall deep into my own wildness, to grow feral with my need to be connected to nature and the divine. I’ve gained an awareness of how powerful my journal therapy practice is, and how I am truly meant to do this work. I’ve gained another reminder of how precious and fleeting my time is here.

I’ll be sitting more often with you. I need this space again, this space which has been so powerful with each huge transition. I’m going to cultivate the most healing pandemic autumn that I can. How will you adapt your favourite fall routines? 

Whatever we come up with, I hope we can be connected and healthy and aware of how important it is to nurture ourselves.

Another Post About Heartache

You may be inclined to think this is a cry for help. It’s not. I wrote it so you know you’re not alone in this madness.

How’s your pandemic going?

Mine’s a disaster.

In the good old days (February), I was living in a one-bedroom apartment with two cats, my partner, and my seven-year-old son. It was beyond small, but we made it work, and mostly it felt cozy. We were dealing with what I thought was normal relationship stress. Things like learning how to communicate effectively, moving through conflict with empathy, and prioritizing the relationship amidst our busy lives. We are very different people, so this wasn’t always easy. We were also trying to grow two new businesses. It was a lot, but it was also exciting. 

Then, COVID hit. I lost all of my work. We’d just made huge investments with the new business. Everything that was tricky about our relationship was magnified in an enormous way. I have to stop agonizing with my therapist over my own relationship missteps and shortcomings. I can no longer nurture the survival of this relationship because we’ve hit a wall and I can’t see our way over or around it. I have to take care of myself and my son.

Here’s a truth about me; I can’t listen well when I’m so unsteady. I lose empathy, or more accurately, I cut it off because I feel too much. It’s been a problem for most of my life, but a problem I’m committed to working on. This commitment only comes with the humility and vulnerability of owning my shit and understanding how it impacts the people I love. Over the years of personal work, I have sat in my shame, learned where these behaviours come from, and have moved that shame into self-compassion. I will do this work until the day I die because I am deeply committed to my evolution and my capacity to love.

If both people in a relationship are not ready or willing to do this, you can guess what happens to the relationship. 

Owning your shit feels like your soul has been cracked open. Like the entire scope of your life, every relationship you’ve ever had, plays out before your eyes and you see everything through a new filter. A filter that sharpens the moments where you’ve caused pain, where you’ve neglected yourself, and where you were aching for love, or help, or protection. It’s so, so much more than saying “I know I did that.” It’s a knowing so deep you want to hide yourself from the world when you feel the impact of all of that self-protective shit.

Until you can stand neck-deep in your own reality, you will continue to lose all the things you love. You won’t be able to stick with the career path you dream of because a little voice will always tell you that you aren’t good enough to make it happen. You’ll choose the wrong people to love you because you’ve associated having to beg for love as normal relationship dynamics. You’ll drive away people who genuinely do care for you because their attempts at nurturing seem utterly strange. 

Until you can wade through your mess, like Leia and the boys in the serpent-filled sludge of the Death Star, you won’t begin to tackle the clean up. And that clean up makes way for the slow realization that you are worth love, support, protection, or whatever else you ache for. You are worth knowing without question how deeply your partner loves and cares for you. As you arrive at that sense of worth, so too will you arrive at the unfailing knowledge that you are created to provide all of those things for yourself first and foremost.

I can love myself. I’m getting better at protecting myself. I’ll have to make some changes (again) to support myself. It’s been lovely having this sweet little den on my own, but with the instability of the world, I need to find a situation where I am not stretched so thin.

How does one plan the immediate future when the immediate future is impossible to know?

I can start with what seems most certain. I say ’seems’ because last year at this time, I was pretty certain of the path I was on, and now the entire world is different. We must do what little we can to create safety and stability right now. 

We must do what we can to mend our hearts and keep moving.

My Monster

“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

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.