Healing my heart: A quest for love

Allowing the heart to open up and let in the love that is offered from the world and the people who occupy it is a constant practice. I am a person with a fortress of walls. I have dragons and moats and oubliettes. People often get eaten by the dragons, drown in the moats and tumble into the oubliettes. A precious few make it through to the caverns of my heart.

I crave love so, I run from it—there is a part of me, (some days large, some days small) which believes I am not lovable. This comes from being given up for adoption as a child, growing up in a family that did not reflect me, having white friends who did not value me, and a society which tells me I am wrong simply for existing. I am also pretty weird and empathetic, so finding a place where I fit in has always been difficult. I have always felt like an outcast in every social situation I found myself in.

Over the past few months I have had the honor of finding people who do not make me feel othered. They are Black and brown and queer and straight, and spiritual and nerdy and weird and rad and fierce and I love them dearly. The only problem is, I am now in a space where I want to delve deeper into relationships, but I find myself lacking some of the necessary tools to forge the bonds I am after. Fortunately, I don’t give up easily, I am slowly wading into the waters of connection.

Receiving love from others begins with receiving love from myself. There four basic things that I do every day to help me to love myself and teach myself that I am worthy and capable of incredible love and compassion.

  1. I stretch. Every day…well, almost. I released a lot of tension and trauma during the four days I spent at the Shambhala POC meditation retreat at Sky Lake in Rosendale, N.Y. Every day we did yoga and not only did it stretch my body, but it helped to clear away the stress, settle me back into my body, become reacquainted with my breath. So, in the morning I wake up, stretch and breathe.
  2. I drink a jar of water. Making sure I stay hydrated allows me to feel energized and kicks my system into gear. It makes my skin and hair smooth and moves toxins out of my body so that I don’t feel bogged down. That and I want this melanin to stay poppin’ long into the future.
  3. I interrupt negative thinking. I tell myself that I am doing “such a good job” and that “I am so proud of myself” because if I don’t clap for me, who else will? I am incredibly hard on myself. My inner voice is foolishly abusive and so interrupting the sessions of abuse is helpful in creating a new narrative. If I am able, I try to identify the voice who is speaking: Is it my mother, boss, a mean teacher, the racist down the street? Who is speaking to me in such a cruel way? I will also correct the narrative moving forward. Often when I am stressed, I say “Fuck” loudly and with gusto. When this happens, I like to check in and see if “fuck” is really my mood, or if maybe something else going on. Usually I swear in response to something which triggers my anxiety, at which point I like to talk to myself about it. “Fuckkkkkkkk!” “No, LaLa, you’re fine. You’re not running late. You’re making yourself food which is important because you need to eat and nourish yourself. You are doing such a good job. You are fine.” This may sound silly, but it is important to be kind to ourselves, to love on ourselves. I try to speak to myself as a stern but loving parent to a child, because in those moments, that is what I am. I am raising myself.
  4. The fourth thing I do is listen to music. Simple, easy way to raise my frequency, work out my emotions and belt out a few tunes in the process (sorry neighbors!) It is no secret that music is therapy. Combine the right notes with the right chords and some killer harmonies and take me away. I have playlists which work me through a range of emotions, starting out sad or angry and ending contemplative or joyful. Music has been in my life since I was a child learning to play to violin, and it has stuck with me as my go to for healing myself and my heart.

The surest way to letting others love me is for me to love myself. It’s taken me 28 years to believe that I am worthy of love, and that my body is worthy of being cared for. I have just begun to look in the mirror and appreciate that I am getting older. Honor that I am on this planet to stay. There is something scary about that, committing to being present. Since I am going to be here, I’m going to be here for love. I have a difficult time connecting, but I am changing that narrative, one day at a time. Using these for tools as a base, I am adding more and growing each day.

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Photo by William Farlow on Unsplash

Learning to be alone: The struggle

The cognitive dissonance in our culture is strong. We say one thing and yet we do another. Whether it’s climate change, racism or interpersonal relationships, we struggle with uncomfortable truths and instead cling to immature hopes and dreams, because the vast majority of us have never been taught to face life as it is and to take that reality, no matter how uncomfortable it is and work for something better.

Today’s post is a departure from my usual fare because I am grappling with some issues and, as a writer, the only way to work things out is to write.

It’s been a little over two years now since I left my husband. It was not a dramatic ending—simply two people who, despite loving each other, were simply not meant to be life partners. Instead we now soar as friends, coparents and business partners. To say that we confuse people is an understatement but we found the courage to accept that love is not enough and that we are simply too different to be life/romantic partners. The differences that endear our friends to us can make for many uncomfortable moments in a marriage.

Ours is a culture that lives for love and too often the endings of relationships are seen as a sadness rather than the end of a single chapter (or a few chapters…or several) in the book of our lives. Too many of us run from relationship to relationship looking for our next hit of love because it’s what is expected.

For cis-gendered, heterosexual  women, the pressure to be paired up starts early on in life. I was raised in a family where women were expected to marry. All your achievements are great but a husband and kids is the crowning achievement. I learned that lesson early and married at 18 and again at 24. While many women today don’t marry as early in life as I did, for many of us, marriage or a life partner is our end goal and anything less than that feels like failure.

In the two years since the former spousal unit and I split up, there are a few questions that have become so normal, I know when to expect them. Have I met anyone else and has he met anyone else?  In other words, have we moved on? I thought when I left the family home, I had moved on but apparently, one must have a new partner to truly move on.

When we first split up, I knew that I wanted to spend some time alone figuring out my life. After all, it took getting into my 40s to finally be alone and standing on my own two feet sans a man. The reality is that I didn’t even spend a full year alone (if memory serves it was about 11 months) before meeting someone.  It was a complicated and brief affair that served to solidify a few things for me. I am not interested in marriage, living with anyone or additional kids. In fact, those are my three non-negotiables and I am not interested in wasting anyone’s time.

Since that relationship ended early this year, I have vacillated back and forth about whether or not to date again or to simply make peace with being alone. The truth is it’s a hard decision. I am a woman with needs and frankly, it would be lovely to have a companion to attend events with (including my own work events, which is another layer of complication) and just to have a special person in my life. On the other hand, my life is full. I have one kiddo still at home, my son and his family including my grandson, and a host of friends and colleagues. My professional life is full and I am filled with goals that only now am I in the place to work on.

My latest adventure in dating has left such a bad taste in my mouth that now more than ever, I am questioning whether I have the intestinal fortitude to even deal with the madness of dating in a swipe right or left world. It’s also making me examine why being alone, especially at middle age, feels so challenging. Is it because no matter what we say, we judge the unpartnered? We have created a world that assumes one is partnered and when they aren’t, it feels wrong even though we never question why it seems wrong.

This past summer, I took a mini-vacation alone and it felt like such a huge leap to experience pleasure alone and yet in the end, I had a fun and relaxing time by myself. Too often, though, such moments are viewed as an exception and not the rule.

How often do women feel incomplete without a partner? How often do we send the message that a woman is incomplete without a partner?  Why have we created the narrative that essentially tells us that our real life begins when we settle down with someone rather than seeing that what we are living is our real life whether we are partnered or not?

More importantly, how often does the societal expectation creep in and affect us in unconscious ways?

I wish that I could say that I have the answers to these questions but instead I am trying to figure them out myself. In the meantime, I am working on learning to love and cherish my solitude and make peace with my life in this moment. To see that being alone is not a curse but actually a blessing as it allows me the time to pursue the things that are important to me.

If you are over 40 and unpartnered, I would love to hear from you. How do you fight the societal expectation to be a duo act instead of a solo act?

If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

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On holidays and assumptions…

The holiday season is barreling down on us. In a few days here in the States, families will gather together to gorge on a dry bird doused in fattening gravy with a plethora of sides and a healthy dose of football games and conversations. Never mind that the roots of Thanksgiving should give us all a healthy case of heartburn; no matter what, it is accepted as a cultural norm that from now until the end of the year, we will come together, eat too much and hopefully have a groovy time.

Except that for millions of people, the holidays are anything but that idealized dream that is served up as a societal norm, so much so that we feel perfectly comfortable asking people we barely know about their holiday plans.

Until 2001, every Thanksgiving in my life was spent with my family of origin. Some years it sucked, some years  it was great but until 2001, that was my norm. Then I moved to Maine and the first year in Maine, traveling home to Chicago for the holidays simply wasn’t practical and then in my second year in Maine, my mother was ill and we put a hold on turkey day so that my mom could recover, never realizing that in a few short months, she would be gone…forever. In fact it was on Christmas Day 2003 that we would learn that her cancer had metastasized to her brain.

Thanksgiving 2004, my dad and brother made the trek to Maine and I attempted to keep the family traditions going but the truth is that for our family, the winter holidays would never be a joyful affair. The loss of our leader combined with the fact that her last holiday season on earth had been our personal hell just took the joy out of the season.

I would later attempt to create my own traditions as is often suggested especially after my daughter’s arrival. But being a tiny family in a place with no family and not really any close friends either often meant the holidays for us didn’t feel much like any other day except that I was worn out  by a day of cooking and cranky as hell, so much so that we all agreed that my cooking the holiday feast was a bad idea. Thus the tradition of gussing ourselves up and going out to eat on Thanksgiving was born. The first year it felt strange but with each subsequent year especially after the eldest child went off to college and couldn’t always make it home, thus reducing us to a trio, it made sense. For Christmas we decided to opt for Chinese for dinner with me preparing a reasonable brunch with homemade cinnamon rolls during the day.

Yet in choosing to find a way to get through the season of joy while not entertaining  the ghosts of a life long gone, it is has been interesting to see the reactions of others. Yet I am interested in why we assume that everyone approaches the holidays from the same paradigm. Considering that families are getting smaller and more spread out, why does this notion of a picturesque holiday season loom so large in our collective thoughts? Why, in our attempt to connect and make conversation, do we feel it appropriate to ask people we barely know about their holiday plans? I suppose one could say that I may be thinking too much on the subject but after finding myself engaged in one too many conversations about my own upcoming holiday plans, I was reminded of conversations with a dear friend who is almost 50 and single by choice. He has no kids and isn’t particularly close to his family of origin. Some years ago, I admit to being baffled by his comfort at what seemed at that time “odd” to me only now to realize that perhaps it was odd of me to bring my baggage to his door on holidays.

The truth is that growing numbers of us are living lives that fall outside of the Ward and June Cleaver dream. We live in an era where family relationships are destroyed or altered over Facebook postings yet we cling to this idea that we will get together, break bread and it will be joyful. But at the same time, it makes us uncomfortable with other people’s comfort at accepting the hand that they have been dealt when it comes to family.

Early in my career, I worked at a homeless shelter and homeless shelters don’t exactly close for the holidays…hey homeless person, go back out on the streets today so that we get  the day off…nope, it doesn’t work like that. Being the low lady on the organizational totem pole, it meant that I had to work holidays, which meant a few years of truncated visits with my own family on the holiday. My mom, bless her heart, was pissed but she understood. Yet seeing people in the world who truly were alone and reliant on the kindness of strangers in many ways has served me well as I navigate a life that falls outside of the norm. I am comfortably uncomfortable with the remains of family that I have; after all, what are my options?

While I may be comfortably uncomfortable, it doesn’t mean that I want the pity of others just as my old friend didn’t want my pity. Instead we ought to do a better job of holding space and accepting that we all walk different paths. For me, it’s the pitying tones that just set me off because it’s in those moments that I feel like “other.” Gee, I am a Black, middle-aged woman in Maine, newly separated and I have virtually no family aside from one sibling and an aging father…can you say: Stands out like a sore thumb? I can’t raise all the family members lost to early death up from the dead. I cannot manufacture a life that does not exist. Instead I wish that we would make room for everyone’s realities and experiences. In fact I am convinced that if we did this in all areas of life, perhaps we would all be a little better off on this dusty rock. So enjoy the start of the holiday season if you are in a place that celebrates Thanksgiving Day and if you are alone or in a space where you aren’t celebrating the holiday, may you find a moment that feels right to you.
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