SEEN

Dear Strong Woman,

Leave it to Brené.

No, I have not yet watched her Netflix special, though everyone who has watched it has been posting those classic mic-drop quotes of Brené Brown’s left and right, and to that I am grateful. I’ve been working on this particular post for a few days and was having trouble with the “What for?” component. As in…what is the point I am trying to make with this spotlight on my messy parts?

The irony of this quote of hers doesn’t go unnoticed.

 

The irony of this quote of hers doesn’t go unnoticed.

So let’s get to it – the lesson that brought me to this beautiful breakthrough.
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I can preach about the importance of self-care until I’m blue in the face, and still put others needs before my own.

You could call me a hypocrite.
You could say I’m human.
I prefer to think I’m just a work in progress.

(Aren’t we all?)

What I didn’t realize was how deeply engrained my belief that “my needs aren’t important” really is, to the point where I subconsciously do things to reinforce it.

It’s fascinating and scary how the mind works.

For example: I tend to resent people who lack self-awareness. From this snap-judgement, my “formula” tells me such people won’t ever have the emotional capacity to be in-tune with my needs, and will likely hurt me. This resides within another formula that tells me if people loved me, they surely would never hurt me, so when they do, my fear that I am unloveable gets fed Thanksgiving style.

That “won’t ever” component…? That comes from the experience of me telling a family member how they’ve hurt my feelings, and being met – again and again – with defensiveness and the accusation that my feelings were wrong.

I learned over time to stop voicing what’s really going on with me, as it was easier to do that than experience that pain repeatedly. Only recently did I realize how this way of protecting myself is connected to my judgement of others that comes about when they share what’s going on with them. What’s more is that…the unloveable fear I mentioned? I counter that by listening for what people need help with, so I can help them, and therefore feel valued. Important.

In a way…loved.

So I’m the girl who doesn’t share her needs, asks others what they need so I can come to their rescue, and then inevitably labels them as needy.

WHAT IN THE WORLD?!

The good news? I’m aware of this cycle now. The bad news? Untangling this twisted formula of 25+ years isn’t going to happen overnight. Le sigh.

That’s why, albeit after major resistance, I enlisted the support of some reinforcements. I *gulp* asked for what I needed: to have conversations with other in which I only talked about what was going on with me.

That’s when the magic happened.

One friend let me vent about some deflated feelings around a project I’m working on. She heard me, validated how I was feeling, and helped me brainstorm some ways to put the wind back in my sails. By the end of our conversation, I was energized and excited to get back to work – night and day from how I felt when I first got on the phone. She also shared some things she was working on for a similar project, and we decided to check-in with each other later in the week to ensure we remained committed to doing the things we said we would do.

When we reconnected, she told me how sharing what I needed in that moment gave her the momentum to do what she needed. The initial exchange energized me. I hadn’t realized it had energized us both.

Giving to others always allowed me to feel valued. What a beautiful realization to know that receiving from others can have the same effect.

When I consider self-care, so often I think of the obvious that’s marketed to us: getting adequate rest, fueling my body with healthy food, working my body with a solid workout, taking time to be still.

All the things to fill my cup.

But what if it’s already full with…poison?
Overwhelm.
Negative thoughts.
Stories from past experiences.
Old wounds.

How can all the other stuff do it’s magic if we never let the toxins out?

Yeah, a solid sweat session helps.
So does journaling.

And yet, I’m realizing none of these quite compare to being seen by another human. To allowing it. To seeking it out.

Brené is right: We don’t have to do it all alone. We were never meant to.

It’s in this way I’ll overcome my fear of being unloveable, because being loved means allowing yourself to be seen.

LAYERS

Dear Strong Woman,

Sometimes, when I’m craving silence in a sea of noise, I put in headphones and blast some music to drown out the world.

You know…add on another layer of loud…so I can think.

(A writer’s gotta write…right?)

And as I type this, I’m thinking…this is kind of bullshit.

I mean, I’m also thinking about science and colors and how black is an absence of light and white is achieved by adding more and more light and how my current method of layering on sound to achieve the same kind of extreme may be similar…

But I’m still leaning more towards bullshit.

It’s what we do, right?  When we don’t like how something is, we are more prone to covering it up rather than rightfully address the disturbance.  We cake cover up on pimples and extra layers over unwanted body weight. We add exaggerations to resumes and extra gravy to dried out meat. We shove junk into closets and drawers and then name them as such…and then buy more stuff to “make us happy” and call it retail therapy…likely by charging more to a credit card vowing to pay it later.

There are times when the make-the-best-of-what-you-have approach is noble, but there are also times when it’s just the easy way out.

Which, when you think about it, it isn’t easy at all…in the long run.

The junk drawer will need cleaned out.

The weight will need to come off.

The debt will need to be paid.

But if we let those problems grow, they become bigger than ourselves, which can make the thought of overcoming them incredibly overwhelming.

So if you feel yourself falling further and further into a hole, let this be your sign:

Stop digging.

Too hard?  Ask someone to help you.

And please hear me on this:  doing so is a sign of strength, not weakness.  It means you are serious about changing your story, so much so that you are willing to put yourself out there, risking judgement and rejection.  Sounds pretty brave, yeah?

So dig in your heels and stop digging, babe.

And hey, who knows? You just might inspire someone else to put down their shovel, too.

MACHINE

Dear Strong Woman,

It’s been a while.

And you know, speaking of that…it’s also been a while since I’ve laced up the ol’ running shoes.

But I tell you what…I feel like I’ve been running nothing short of a marathon lately.

No matter how much you prepare, some things just seem to happen all at once. And despite forcing a smile as I plow through it all, despite knowing I am well-equipped to do the tasks that lay before me…

Stress got in.

(That bitch.)

It finally reached a boiling point this week, right down to the very minute of everything being due.  Timing is also a bitch, and yet never a mere coincidence.

I’ve done enough personal growth work to realize that it is moments like this where some of our biggest lessons are learned, so rather than throw my hands up (with a specific finger on each hand raised), I dug in my heels and asked myself…

What can I learn from this?

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Here’s the lightbulb:  I have trained people to think I don’t have needs, including myself.

Now, I have done hella work in this area the past two years, becoming much more aware of what keeps me sane, grounded, lit up and showing up.  But…it is still a journey.  It has ups and downs and roller coaster moments that literally make me question which way is up.  I have to make a choice everyday to continue to strive to reclaim power over my circumstances rather than claim to be a victim of them.

Life happens for me. (Not to me.)

And I can’t take my body for granted the way I have been.  I know I can push and push and push, but at what cost?  Just because I can doesn’t mean I should.

Despite what society is telling  me…

My body is a temple.

Not a machine.

(Currently repeating this out loud.)

TOGETHER

This is one that’s been on my mind for a few weeks.  I’ve learned over and over again that the best time to write is when the idea is fresh.  When the Muse speaks.  But I didn’t, and then I tried to go back and write down those phrases that were so effortlessly flowing in my head and they just wouldn’t come. 

So I sit here and try this again because the Muse told me it was time at 4:37am on a Saturday.  I know better than to argue.

I also know, from way too many experiences to mention, that the timing of everything in our lives is purposeful…so I am trusting that there was reason as to why I haven’t shared this until now.  Maybe time away from it allowed some dust to settle from the thoughts spinning in my head.  Maybe I needed to wait until this weekend beach getaway to literally get away from the noise and give my mind room to breathe.  Maybe I needed the time to build up the courage. 

We’re about to find out.

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GIRL TALK

Dear Strong Woman,

I have always struggled with female relationships.

Perhaps that seems odd considering my girl power attitude and the persistent female empowerment vibes I put out into the world, but it’s true.  I’ve had core groups of girlfriends and various stages in my life, but as I’ve transitioned from phase to phase, not all have transitioned with me.  The shift from each phase was mostly natural: changing school districts; transitioning to high school; going away to college; moving away from home…so perhaps it makes sense that friends have come and gone.

Perhaps you’ve experienced this, too.

But once you’ve parked, once you’ve established yourself somewhere, you can’t point to geographical differences as the reason why friendships in that space fizzled.  Now it’s something more. 

Something within.

SPAGHETTI

Most of us go through some sort of formal education until our early twenties or so, but I’ve found that the most valuable lessons I’ve learned happened in my mid to late twenties.  Those are the years when you take everything you’ve learned up until that point, throw it at the wall like spaghetti, and see what sticks. 

Without the crutch of school to fall on, suddenly it’s up to us to create our own identity.  To establish our place in this great big world.  We often get sucked into activities and behaviors we think we should take part in at this time in our lives.  So many of us associate finding our niche in the world with finding our people, causing us to do things our “people” do so that we too can feel accepted. Yes, as we enter adulthood…we resort back to tactics we lived by in high school.

Perhaps we find joy in this because being surrounded by others is all we know. 

It’s comfortable. 

It’s safe.

But how many of us find joy, and how many of us are just trying to keep our spots in the herd?

For the latter, there comes a point where many wake up one day, craving a little something more than what the world has to offer us.  Not being ones to accept the it-is-what-it-is mentality, the Strong Women of the world go out and create it.

EVOLUTION

That’s what I did. That’s what I had to do.

Lost in a sea of to-do lists full of tasks for others, I created a new one with me on the agenda.  The others still existed, still burned a hole in my notepad until tasks were either checked off or crossed through, but none of that happened without me taking care of myself first…which was a HUGE shift.

As I began to construct a life that fulfilled me, energized me, spoke to me…things changed.  I was happier, heathier, less dependent on others to fill my cup as I learned how to do that on my own.  I said yes to things I never dreamed of saying yes to, said no to things I never thought I’d be brave enough to say no to, and found myself.

Found writing.

Found purpose.

But while I liked who I was becoming, not everyone agreed with this change. 

To give you glimpse into some of the growing pains in my friendships during this transition, here is a Dear Strong Woman entry I wrote during the evolution process that I never shared publically, before the Dear Strong Woman blog was even a thing.

Dear Strong Woman,

I’m not feeling all that strong on this one, but here goes:

Here’s a real-life real-time scenario:

I’m currently getting ready to head out to a night in with some of my girlfriends. I love them all to pieces, but I’ve found that…well…I don’t get as much out of our time together as I’ve used to.

Yep, I said it.

This truth makes me feel uneasy.

And guilty.

But I’m working on that. (Growth is a constant process.)

Some of the thoughts in my head currently:

“When I opt for water instead of the wine, I’ll tell them it’s because I have a long run tomorrow.”

“When I’m ready to go, I’ll tell them it’s because I’ve got an early morning.”

Both of these things are TRUE, so why do I feel so…icky?

The whole truth? I’ve reached this point in my life where I get my fill of social situations pretty quick. After a short while, all I want is a cup of tea, a couple of pups, and stillness. I also, to be honest, don’t really like wine. #girlsnightfoul

So why do I feel like I’m letting them down…for being me? (Maybe because it’s the new me?)

At the heart of it, I know it’s because I am a different woman now.  I know that my soul craves something more.

And I can’t feel guilty for becoming the best version of myself. (Currently repeating this out loud.)

So I’ll wrap this up with what’s become my mantra as of late:

You will evolve.

Not everyone will.

Evolve anyway.

FAST FORWARD

Almost a year later, I continue to live by that manta.  I still have my girls, but they are a different mix: women I’ve met along this journey; women who are also in a transition from self-destruction to self-discovery.

We do things normal girl groups do, just…differently.  For example: We hang out at least once a week, but virtually.  Pretty cool when your vibe is able to attract your tribe across different states (countries, even!) and time zones. We also recommend our favorites, but our favorites are different, too.  This is not to say that my girls don’t recommend a great face mask or recipe here and there, but our forte…is books.

Damn, do we know our books.

We ask each other how we’re doing, call each other on the bullshit if we throw out an “I’m fine” response when we clearly aren’t, and can usually come up with a podcast or book recommendation for anything.  AN.Y.THING.

And THAT’S how I met my other girls.

Shauna, Jen, Glennon, Luvvie, Cara, Shonda.

My favorite authors.

My growth gurus.

My truth-tellers. 

These women were able to take everything I was thinking and express it more beautifully and wittingly than I thought possible.  These women were able to take everything I was feeling and strip it down to the root of why I felt that way.  These women shared their toughest lessons, their truest truths, their most heart-breaking moments, and their beautiful love stories.

And (some of) these women did this live in Philadelphia exactly three weeks ago.

TOGETHER

The moment I knew I had to go to this event was after I finished Glennon Doyle’s Love Warrior, fan-girled the shiiiit out of her social media accounts, and discovered the event she co-created with (literary genius) Jennifer Rudolph Walsh that just so happened to be making its way through a nearby city a few months later. 

YES, PLEASE.

The moment I knew I was where I belonged was when I the program I was handed upon arriving was actually a workbook, pen included.

MY PEOPLE.

The moment I knew this event was created for me was when Jen Walsh opened the show by very casually saying, “I used to always think that a strong woman was someone who never asked anyone else for help.”

MY WORDS.

(And my jaw. On. The. Floor.)

The moment that sparked the a-ha! light bulb wake-up-call I didn’t even know I needed was right after intermission.

TRAGIC FLAW

After lots of laughter, tears, and all the usual things that happen during a good quality girl chat, there was a short intermission.  I took the time to free write for a bit, just trying to best capture all of the wisdom and fire flooding my brain.  More so, I took the time to just sit and take in the energy in the room.  The collective laughing, crying, amen-ing, and hell-yes-ing, that had taken place.

Connection.

These are my girls.

In an effort to regroup after intermission, Latham Thomas led us in a guided meditation.  She told us to create an intention. Something you need in this moment.  The first word that popped into my head was guidance.

I’ve been on the cusp of something for a while now.  Something that’s riiiiiight…there.  Something on the tip of my tongue.  I can only describe it to you in terms of energy, because when I am in the flow, it is a current that runs through me.

But running…where?  And…how?

The meditation continued.  We went from breathing and sitting to singing and standing.  She instructed us to put our left hands on our hearts and our right hands on the shoulder of the person to our right. Sitting alone, and with a few seats on either side of me, I waited for people to shuffle towards me.  My girls.  This is the kind of connection I need.

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No one moved toward me.

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And before even a twinge of disappointment settled in…I blocked it.  It’s okay that they aren’t strong enough to be vulnerable and take steps towards me. I don’t fault them.  We all have some growing to do.  Until then, I am strong enough to stand alone.

Still high off the energy, I was rattling off as best recap I could to my Strong Man on the way home.  But when I got to the part where I was describing the thoughts in my head during the meditation, I had a breakthrough.

I used to always think that a strong woman was someone who never asked anyone else for help.

Jen’s words.  My words.

Who am I to forgive them for not being strong enough to come to me?  If I needed that connection in that moment, why didn’t I reach out for it?

I couldn’t believe I was saying this.

Here’s the thing: I firmly believe that I should never have to ask a friend to show interest in me.  That I should never have to ask a partner to love me. To fight for me.  If these people can’t see that I am worth that, then perhaps they we never my people to begin with.  Because at the end of the day…

I don’t need anyone.

In true Strong Woman fashion, I can take care of myself.

The ones I hold near and dear to my heart are the ones who I want to be in it.  But…the minute they show me reason to believe they don’t want me in theirs, I subconsciously begin the write-off process.  The withdrawal.  The I’m-not-the-wrong-one-here-they-obviously-don’t-want-me-around-anyway front.  I tell myself I am okay with the fade because I don’t want to be with anyone who doesn’t want to be with me.  I know what I bring to the table, so trust me when I say that I’m not afraid to eat alone.

But as I sit here closing out this post a whole five days after starting it, reflecting on the experience I had at that event three weeks ago, and hell…even reflecting on the past three days…

I’ve realized my tragic flaw.

I want to live a happy life, and there are some people I’ve connected with along the way who take my happiness to that next level.

If I want that

I need them.

Who am I to forgive them for not being strong enough to come to me?”  

If I need them, I need to be brave enough to ask for what I need.

So I urge you, Strong Woman, to swallow your pride.

Even if you’re scared.

Even if you think it’s too late.

Ask for what you need.

TEAM

Dear Strong Woman,

Get over yourself.

You are strong, yes…but that doesn’t mean you have to do everything alone.

Those moments when you get stuck in your head, trying to force a light into the darkness swimming there, only to get sucked deeper into a web of What the hell is wrong with me?!…

Turn to your Strong Man.

Here’s the thing – you can’t say you are a team and then pick and choose when to function as one.

When you turn inward, you turn you back towards him. Doing this repeatedly may cause him to do the same when he is stuck in his own web.

How can you help each other get untangled if you are both facing away from one another?

(Rhetorical.)

Trust that your spidey-senses led you both to each other because 1+1= 3 here.  Trust that he is willing to wrestle in the web with you. Trust that he won’t save you, but will instead constantly remind you that you are your own superhero, and cheer you on as you save yourself.

That’s what a Strong Man does.

So let him.