WAGGING TAILS

Dear Strong Woman,

Love is a four-legged word.

I broke down crying while sitting on the floor folding laundry last night. What? Not your idea of an exciting Saturday evening?

I went to grab a shirt to fold and found my Muzz laying on top of it. It’s a scene that’s frequented the past almost nine years now. Different clothes. Different floors. Same snoring pup making sure he’s right next to me.

I got present to how much we’ve been through in that time. New apartments, breakups, job changes, death. No matter the roller coaster or roller coaster of emotion, this furball has been my constant. I became overwhelmed with gratitude, which is when the tears came in.

We’ve been talking about relationships in my coach training and it’s hit me how alone I feel at times. It’s hit me harder how much I perpetuate that. I’ve cut out family,  friends, and previous colleagues from my life in an effort to protect my energy, with this conspicuous undertone of something being wrong with them. But as this pattern has continued to repeat itself over the years, I can’t deny the common denominator: me.

Being responsible and putting down the victim-mentality means it’s time for a gut check. I’ve been cutting others out to protect my energy, but at the root it’s because I couldn’t deal with the heartbreak of repeated rejection. I let it make me feel less than, and eventually I shrink smaller and smaller until I stop showing up all together.

This pup of mine doesn’t follow my lead. He doesn’t care if I’m late to feed him or haven’t walked him enough or am behind on his belly rub quota. He shows up with that same wagging tail every damn time and brings nothing but love.

I’ve practicing embodying his essence when I’m in the face of heartbreak, bringing a wagging tail (metaphorically) in place of a wagging finger.  Not because I’m looking to fix something about the people I care about, but because I’m choosing to stand for what could be by showing up as love and love alone.  That doesn’t mean loved ones will be ready to consider my point of view on things as anything other than ridiculous, childish, a threat, etc.  It doesn’t mean my plea for a deeper conversation will be well-received or even heard. It doesn’t mean I’ll feel less heartbreak.

It means I’m staying on the court when I want to tap out.  It means I’m showing up as me on full blast with less and less need for validation from others. It means I’m remaining in the essence of who I am rather than letting fear drive my decisions and take me out of the game.

When I do this, when I choose from love…I know there’s a hell of a lot more pawsibility present.  I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know there’s still a chance of something happening because I’m keeping that door open rather than slamming it shut.

Consider this in your own life.  In which relationships have you stopped showing up with a wagging tail, and done so because of something they need to do differently? What could be possible if you came from love each and every time? What impact would this have on you, on others, and on the world at large?

Share with me in a comment on this post, or feel free to connect with me privately: dearstrongwoman@gmail.com

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.
.
.
.
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.

DRAMA QUEEN

Dear Strong Woman,

You teach others how to treat you.

Overwhelming gratitude for some new friendships in my life.  I’m in awe of the depths to which we’ve gone in a few short months, and am currently ruminating in this glorious feeling of being seen, heard, and welcomed as ME and all that comes with that.  The mess. The dreams. The dog photos. All of it.

This. More this.

I’m also very aware of my role here.  Connection is a two-way street, and I’ve realized how often I’ve claimed this while choosing to do so solely from the passenger’s seat. Always one to listen, to ask for more details, to provide support, but not one to share as much about myself.  (I do so a little more in this space, and yet even that is sometimes strategically censored or purposefully vague.  I’m working on that.)

Funny, the “good” friend that I am, I’ve also been one to occasionally judge others for putting their issues on loud speaker, interpreting it as attention-seeking behavior. “Drama queen…” that voice in my head snarls out.

Continuing in this passenger-seat friendship pattern, pouring into others, eventually left me bitter.  Resentful. “What am I getting out of this? I shouldn’t have to ask my friends to be interested in me.”  I’d let these feelings eat at me, and then I’d let the friendships die because continuing them felt disingenuous.  Fake. Texts to get together set me off into a rage-filled deluge of “they” and “shoulds” and frustration.

Audience or not, now who was being the drama queen?

It’s taken some intense self-reflection and been a hard pill to swallow, but when the pointy-finger-of-blame comes out, I’m recognizing it as a sign that I’m not taking responsibility for what’s happening. If I have a need, it isn’t up to others to take the wheel in filling that need.  I drive that, and I ask others to come along for the ride.

“But I need to feel safe to really open up to people! I need to trust them!”  I hear you.  I’ve felt this, too.  In fact, I’ve gone as far to say, in a rhetorical fashion, “Well whose fault is it that I don’t feel like I can truly be myself around them!?”

The answer? Mine, my friends.  Mine mine mine.

I was so certain that trust and safety needed to exist before I could open up to people.  Now, I’m witnessing first hand how opening up to people creates that trust and safety. The environment no longer dictates how I choose to be. My being now dictates what I do, and therefore, what I end up having in my life…like these friendships. I view them all as a precious gift, and then have to remind myself that they’re a gift I’ve given myself by operating at cause with them rather than at effect.

If you aren’t happy with the current state of your friendships, I encourage you, Strong Woman, to own the truth of what you have (and haven’t) done to make that so, and then be the source of a different result.

Anxious to own it?  Afraid of the outcome? Pissed off that I would even suggest you’ve played a part in creating your relationship reality?  

That uncomfortable feeling is your comfort zone expanding.  Lean in.

GRATITUDE

Dear Strong Woman,

What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?

It’s a question that snaps me to attention, like a bitter wind in Winter that takes your breath away.

My Strong Man and I are participating in something called the #Last90Days challenge.  The premise is to fight against the urge to throw your hands up on the final three months of the year with the promise that you’ll “do better” once the new year rolls in.  In committing to some simple (though not always easy) habits, the hope is that we’ll hit January 1st at the top of our game.

There are five things  (“Five to Thrive”) we’ve committed to doing everyday these next three months, one of them being to list ten things we are grateful for each day.

This practice has been a game changer.

At first, listing ten seemed a bit…annoying.  It’s like getting a ticket from a red light camera. You’re typically fined an amount that doesn’t completely break the bank, but is excessive enough be a plain ol’ pain in the ass. (You know…so you’ll more careful next time.)

So really…ten?  You’re serious about that? How about…three?  Okay…five?  Nope. TEN.

But then someone doing this same challenge shared a quote that helps her bring a lot of intention to listing her gratitude:

IMG_3973

That question, mixed with having only 10 spots to fill (yes only…see how quickly things shifted!) intensified this like crazy for me. Before I started using this question to help me focus for this task, I was adding some things to my list simply to fill the blank spots left on the page: my Reef sandals that are clouds on my feet; a favorite podcast that helps commute time pass quickly; my oversized Bethany Beach hoodie that feels like a hug.  Don’t get me wrong – I love these things! But only having ten coveted spots makes filling up said spots with “things” seem…foolish.

Suddenly…my list is full of people. Moments in nature.  Memories of loved ones and overwhelming appreciation for time spent with them.  A list of intangibles that can’t be bought, but rather cultivated. Created.  Home grown.

D23DACB9-D8FE-4CB1-9E18-57F9C9E9DBA4

Suddenly…I’m reaching out more to connect with people I swear I care about, but seem to only make an effort to connect with when it’s convenient.

Suddenly…I’m not feeling the urge to spend money on the things I’m usually inclined to buy.  I think to myself, “What would I swap on my list to make room for this?”  The smart-ass in me sometimes considers crossing out a brother.  The human in me sometimes makes me want to erase a dog (or two) due to the obnoxiously rude 4:00am wake up call.  (And by sometimes, you know I mean about .02 seconds.) But the bleeding heart in me never lets that follow though.

Could it be that gratitude is the ultimate budgeting tool?

My Strong Man’s job has him primarily serving the elderly. As is expected, they often feel the need to impart some wisdom on the strapping young man before them.  The overarching theme is always the same: the thing they cherish most in their lives are their relationships.  “Spend time with the ones you love,”  they tell him. When you’re nearing the end of your life, it seems as though that’s all that counts.

I sure as hell believe it. Do you?

The lesson this daily gratitude is enforcing is to keep the important stuff – and I mean the real important stuff, not what your circle thinks is important, not what society is trying to tell you is important – at the front of your mind.

Live your life by focusing on what truly matters.

66752DEA-C1A8-4A66-B8DD-FCE2D1E8A479

This post is dedicated to my grandmother, Cleo, who passed away four years ago today. 

THE TABLE

Dear Strong Woman,

I know what I bring to the table, so trust me when I say I’m not afraid to eat alone.

There was a time when this was a badge I proudly wore.  I was confident. Felt grounded in my worth. Knew I had a lot of good I could bring to a relationship, and knew I wasn’t going to waste time with those who didn’t clearly see that.  Strong Woman in a nutshell, back before this concept even existed.

I’m proud of that girl.  She stood up for herself, and knew she didn’t need others to validate her.  She learned a lot. About the world. About the people in it. But that girl also learned how to eat her dinner standing up, sometimes with the refrigerator door hanging open, always in mere minutes, and never in a mindful manner.

I wasn’t afraid to eat alone, but I sure didn’t spend much time at the table.

That’s no longer my reality. And what’s funny is that…of all the new things I’ve been adjusting to these past couple of months, the one thing that has been the biggest change for me – over moving away, over starting a new job – has been sitting down at the table for dinner.

As a girl who has grown to be quite a fan of self-help books, meditation, and the like,  it’s been nice to get some personal development from a slightly different angle. In fact, I’m often hungry for it. Not in terms of what’s on the menu – though that is a great bonus! – but for the process.  The company you get to interact with in that process.  I’ve found that dinner merely serves as the stage for us to slow down and connect while we create (and enjoy!) a main dish that is so often just to conduit to the main event:

Togetherness.

Togetherness around the table.

It’s a place where we can set aside all the doing and just focus on being.

One of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist, masterfully captures this in her book Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes:

We don’t come to the table to fight or to defend. We don’t come to prove or to conquer, to draw lines in the sand or to stir up trouble. We come to the table because our hunger brings us there. We come with a need, with fragility, with an admission of our humanity. The table is the great equalizer, the level playing field many of us have been looking everywhere for. The table is the place where the doing stops, the trying stops, the masks are removed, and we allow ourselves to be nourished, like children. We allow someone else to meet our need. In a world that prides people on not having needs, on going longer and faster, on going without, on powering through, the table is a place of safety and rest and humanity, where we are allowed to be as fragile as we feel.

What’s beautiful is that my old and new realities can coexist.  I can sit at the table proud, confident, grounded in my worth. I can be all of those things without needing to be alone to prove it true.

I’m still proud of that girl, but I’m also proud of who that girl has become. I’m still not afraid to eat alone, but I’m not too afraid to admit that…I much prefer it this way.

So I encourage you, Strong Woman, to take a seat at the table.

Gather.

Visit.

Be present.

It may satisfy cravings you never knew you had.