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compassion

I’ll meet you there

People like reading advice. They like hearing about how someone got through a tough time, and similarly, about how they might get themselves through.

Absolutely.

But over the course of writing posts, and reading blogs, and tuning into myself, and thinking about the texts and emails and messages I’ve gotten following different things I’ve written, I’ve come to realize that there’s something people like to read even more than advice:

They like to read about a person experiencing it. Being in it.

Which isn’t to say that we like to know someone is struggling. But there’s something so powerful about hearing about someone who is in it – someone who is living it, someone who Gets It.

It’s why people like Jenny Lawson and Glennon Doyle Melton have such a following. Because they don’t just write about recovery or having overcome x, y, z. They also write candidly in the middle of hard times, real times. And that’s usually the piece we are drawn to – we love the inspiration of victory, and the hope that it could be ours. But the part of the book, or speech, or post, where they write honestly about what the Hard Times were like – that’s the part we most connect to. Ah. Yes. Someone understands.

I strive for that on this blog, and I’d like to keep moving towards it even more.

Because sometimes, in the hardest moments, it’s not helpful to hear “this will pass” and “you will feel better” and “here’s what you can do to help yourself”. Because sometimes in the moment, you just can’t believe that you’ll ever feel better. That you’ll ever stop hating your body, that you ever won’t feel traumatized or triggered, that you ever won’t feel a pull toward alcohol, that you ever won’t go back to a bad relationship, that you ever won’t feel hopeless.

Whatever it is for you.

In those moments, when someone cheerleads, (well-meaning, of course. This is not at all about malicious intent) sometimes you want to retort back, “Prove it! You can’t, can you? You can’t prove to me that I’ll feel better, that it’ll get better, that the outcome will be the one I desire. You can’t promise me it. So stop. Just stop. Because I can’t trust it.”

So I thought about what helps me in those moments, because I sure have them, I think we all do, when I don’t want a cheerleader. What helps me, what people have done for me and said to me, and what I will say to you, whoever you are, now, is:

I know. I know it hurts and I know you’re afraid and I know it feels like it won’t ever go away. I’m not here to tell you it will. But I’m here to hold you – literally or figuratively. I’m here so that you can tell me everything, all that you feel and fear and think. And I’m not here to tell you it’ll go away but I’m here to embrace it because this is where you are right now and I love you and I will love you through this. Tell me, say what you need to say, and I will hold your gaze and I will hug you and I will be right here. I know this feeling. I know this place you are living in. And maybe that will bring you comfort that I get it. But this, right now, is about you. I will understand even if I don’t understand. I am right here, meeting you on this path that you’re on, and I will walk it with you.

That’s all any of us need.

Telling stories

I turned 28 last week.

I meant to write a blog post on that day. Something heartfelt or meaningful or even something simple but still something.

But between packing, cleaning, moving, unpacking, and attempting to get back into some semblance of normal amidst the chaos in our new house, I haven’t had a single second to sit down, let alone blog.

(I miss writing.)

In thinking back to the past year of my life, one theme weaved throughout: telling stories.

My 27th year was spent telling my stories. I told stories in therapy. I told stories to my husband. I told stories to my family. I told stories to my friends. Some stories were about my grandpa, and about my grief. Some stories were from years ago. But all were ones I hadn’t expected to need to tell.

Over and over again, this year, I spoke the chapters of my life until I could breathe again.

I first reached out. To those ones. I made coffee dates and dinner dates. I shamelessly invited myself over. I texted. I embraced being real.

And then over the next few weeks: I sat in a friend’s living room with her and her toddler. I sat in the passenger’s seat of a friend’s car. I sat across from a friend in a coffee shop. I FaceTimed friends. I talked on the phone. I snuggled under blankets with a friend in her living room and she looked into my eyes and it filled me with love and compassion, and said, “I am just hear to listen to whatever you want to say. And it is so safe, that you can even look me right in the eye as you say it.”

One evening with a friend, we ate and laughed and talked work and life. And then as the hours passed, darkness fell, everything quieted down, and I began to speak. “The thing is,” I said. “The more I keep something quiet, the more I don’t talk about it, the more the days and months and years pass without me speaking of it, the bigger it gets inside of me. Until it becomes this huge big awful  secret, but really, it isn’t. And I need it to not be that anymore.”

“Just say it,” she told me. “You’ll feel so much better once you do.”

And so I did.

A text she sent me the next day contained these words: “I refrained, as you should, from calling it a secret. It’s not and when you call it that you give it far more power than it deserves. It’s your story and for good or bad it’s part of what makes you you. It doesn’t define you as you are in control of that.”

Yes. So much yes to that. I have held onto those words.

My secrets are out, and they are no longer secrets. They are just pages in chapters of the book of my life. We all have stories, and there is no reason – none – to keep them hidden as secrets.

27 was the end of secrecy. I want to spend 28 continuing to tell stories. To more friends, to more people, to the blogosphere. I am learning so damn much from talking.

Like:

It’s freeing. It’s shame-dissolving.

The details matter, but they also don’t.

Talking doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing.

It brings you closer to the ones you speak it to.

People understand, even if they don’t understand.

May we all continue to tell our stories and be freed in doing so. May we allow our friends to hold us – figuratively and literally. May we allow ourselves to heal. May we release everything into the wind. May we continue to speak until we can breathe. May we all make that shift from secrets to stories.

Being met with empathy

Briefly at one point I touched on how I find the difference between being met with sympathy and empathy so fascinating.

And I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately – the difference between how I feel after talking with certain people, the questions I have about why, the people I gravitate towards in the middle of different situations.

What I find extra interesting is that there isn’t necessarily a rhyme or reason to who these people are. We might have best friends who sympathetically hear your story but they’re not the ones you will turn to in times of crisis. Because they’re the ones who sit in front of you, and nod as you’re talking, and say “I’m always here for you!” and it’s very sweet but in your gut you know it’s more of a script they’re following and less of a from-my-soul-I-mean-this. They’re the ones who you leave often feeling just as anxious, unresolved, and maybe fearful about how you were perceived.

What we really need in our lives are these friends, the ones who meet us with empathy. Compassion. Love. Who don’t just hear us but listen. Who sit with you and nod along with you. These are the ones who look deep into your eyes and say, “Call me. Anytime. I am here.” And your core just knows – yes. They mean this. I could, and I might, take them up on this. And you feel loved, and heard, and wrapped in a blanket of compassion. And your fears about judgment and blame and disgust and shame go out the window because in those moments, in those conversations, there was no space for them to exist.

And different people serve different purposes in our lives and I don’t think there’s a thing wrong with that. But I encourage you – find one or two people, who in your gut, you just know – they will hear me. They will listen. They will love me through it. They will say they’ll be there and they will show up and they will mean it.

These are the people who will make you lighter. Stronger. Who will hold things for you when you can’t carry them. Who want to hold those things for you. Who will love you through it – any of it.

These are the people.

Who lift us up, propel us forward, carry our stuff.

These are the people we need.

The beautiful gradient of being real

Sometimes I think that we feel like it’s all or nothing – we either spill our guts and tell our inner secrets or we don’t say anything and stay closed up.

But it’s not black and white. It’s a beautiful, sparkling gradient of dancing flecks and sparkles of colors.

The gradient doesn’t require having full length conversations about things. It doesn’t require telling it all. Nor does it require sharing it with everyone. It doesn’t require you to be serious and it doesn’t require any further explanation.

The beautiful thing about the gradient is every little bit falls somewhere along it.

The empowering thing is that each time you share – a word, a sentence, a story, you are healing yourself, working towards bravery, combating shame, channeling compassion.

It’s when you are talking with a friend you trust, and you casually throw in a funny anecdote about what your therapist said to you. (and knowing that you don’t have to share any more than that. You don’t owe anyone an explanation.)

It’s when you state that a comment made by a co-worker, or student, or camper, triggered you. (and giving yourself the power – knowing you don’t owe anyone an explanation about why).

It’s saying, “I need a minute, I’m really anxious” (and only saying more than that if you want to)

It’s asking a friend to check in at the end of the day (and knowing that you don’t have to be in crisis to deserve support. You always deserve support).

It’s the time that you say, “Last night was rough.” (and leaving it at that.)

Is it not such a relief to say one of those things, and be met with a smile, a laugh, a compassionate or empathic response?

All of those times – and so many more – put you on the path, away from the darkness and into the light. All of those times prove to yourself – I can be real. I can share. I can do this. And the more that we practice this, bit by bit, the easier it gets. The more we are real, the more we give others permission to do the same.

And we heal. Bit by beautiful bit.

What I want to tell you

Here is what I want to tell you.

That you don’t ever have to give me a reason for your struggles. There isn’t always one. If there is, you can tell me why. And if there isn’t, it doesn’t matter. It makes you no less deserving of a hug, of a listening ear, of a compassionate smile.

That you can say to me, “I’m so anxious,” or “I’m super down today” or “I’m miserable” and I won’t expect you to know why.

That in sharing where you’re at – to me, to someone else – you are engaging in self-care. Reaching out and allowing others to have compassion for you is self-care. It will in turn allow you to have compassion for yourself.

That you deserve to accept that compassion. That there is nothing so flawed about you that makes you unlovable. That we are all a perfect mess. That however much the fear in your brain tries to spin it, to convince you that you are not deserving of love, of compassion, of self-care, it’s wrong. And if you don’t believe that the voice is wrong, let me remind you it is.

That you will believe it some day. I promise you that.

That I, and many of us in your life, have walked this same path. And we’re still walking it. And we get it. And you are not alone, contrary to that voice in your brain that tells you otherwise. I know that voice. It’s wrong.

That there are no bad feelings. Hard ones, sure. Uncomfortable and painful and sometimes debilitating ones. But they’re not bad. And you’re not bad.

That you can feel what you feel, and walk through the path that you’re going through without judging yourself for it. That you get to  accept it and experience it mindfully.

That the goal of getting through a hard time isn’t to push away the hard feelings, thoughts, or memories. It’s to mindfully experience them. I know that seems counter-intuitive. But if we only embraced, enjoyed, and accepted happiness, joy, and content, we’d only be present for about half our lives.

So: Stay present. Through the pain, tears, memories, heartache, grief. Feel it all. It feels like it will rip you in two. I know. It won’t. I promise. You’re resilient and this will not break you.

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Shame

When I discovered Brené Brown’s work on shame, specifically her most recent book, I grabbed hold of it (literally!), thinking, this is IT. This is what I’ve been trying to put into words. This is what I’ve been trying to understand. And it was almost a sigh of relief; I don’t have to spend my life figuring it out, because she did the research and put it to words.

And so over the last however many months, or maybe a year, I’ve been thinking about shame and compassion even more than ever. I’ve tried to express my own thoughts on the subject. I’ve written a poem about it. I’ve jotted down notes. I’ve tried to briefly explain that the fear of shame is what makes us lack compassion for ourselves.

During this time, a friend and I have had countless conversations on this topic. Over and over again, we wonder: why do we think the worst about ourselves, but highly of each other? Why do we feel nothing but deep compassion for each other’s experiences and thoughts, but feel shame for our own? Why do we think we are the outlier or the exception?

And after thinking a lot, (I know, you’re shocked), I have a tentative conclusion: shame is (sometimes) somewhat of a self-protective mechanism.

I always used to say that I was pessimistic and didn’t get my hopes up about things, because that way I didn’t have to worry about disappointment. The fall is a lot less painful when you never left the ground, versus when you’ve climbed to the top of the tree. I think shame is similar. We preemptively shame ourselves so that if others shame us, it hurts less.

Have you ever gotten up the courage to share something with someone, something that was important to you, for whatever reason? And have you ever had their response be to tell you that you’re being dramatic, exaggerating, or just looking for attention? Boom. The shame response is born. From that moment on, we expect that the next time we share something, we will face the same response, which we can’t bear to experience. So we protect ourselves. We pre-shame ourselves, if you will. We preface our stories with, “I know it’s not a big deal, but….” or “I’m sure this isn’t what you want to hear, but…” or “This is really f***** up, but….” It’s protection. It’s setting the bar low, so if we are met there, no harm done.

(By the way? Even if we were being dramatic or exaggerating or whatever. The first thing we learn in our fields of work is that behavior=communication. It’s a principle we are taught to apply to all of our kiddos. And it applies to us, too. So there was a reason we once said or did what we did. We needed something from it; we were trying to express something, trying to release something. Even if at the time we weren’t sure what. And in the same way that we help our kids learn to express what it is that they truly are trying to say, we need to help ourselves. It’s a process.)

The interesting thing is, we expect to be shamed, but we would never shame others in that same way. Which is why we preface our stories that way, but if a friend were to tell the exact same story, or share the exact same idea, and preface it that same way, we would say things like, “Of course it’s a big deal” or “I do want to hear anything you want to say” or “It’s not messed up, tell me.”

If we were to tell our stories, to share our thoughts, without that preface, we’d be putting ourselves at risk. Which isn’t inherently something we want to do. We’d be standing on the edge of a cliff and trusting we aren’t going to fall. Which is terrifying. Even just writing this post, I want to put a whole long list of disclaimers, like, Feel free to disagree with this and I’m probably wrong but I’m just trying to share my thoughts and it’s fine if you think it’s stupid…..etc. But I won’t, not this time.

Part of it, I believe, is our culture. We live in a shame-filled society. If you think about the news, there is stigma placed on so many things, so it’s no wonder why we expect shame as anyone’s response.

I think the solution is to practice little bits at a time. And it’s HARD. A friend and I have a rule that we never apologize for texting the other. We’ve established that if the other person is busy, or not in a place to text or chat, they won’t until they’re ready; so we never need to apologize. But we find it funny that without a doubt, when we’re in a vulnerable place and text the other, we apologize. We say, “Sorry, I’m sure you’re busy, but….” and “Ugh I’m probably stressing you out more.” And then the other person says, “No apologizing!” So I’m certainly not saying it’s always doable. Especially when we’re vulnerable, or spinny, or anxious, or just out of balance.

But find that person with whom you’ve been vulnerable, with whom you’ve shared something, something that you worried would have a shame response, and didn’t. And the next time you talk with this person, try not to preface your stories. Just say them. Trust that you will not be shamed. Trust that this person is not going to suddenly think less of you. Trust that you trust this person for a reason. Trust that you’ll be met with compassion. Oh, it’s hard. But I’ve done it before, with a handful of people. And the feeling of just talking, just sharing, without those self-shaming or self-deprecating comments, is so liberating.

You deserve to release shame into the wind and breathe compassion in.

Finding myself

When I put out a survey a while back, asking people to vote on what they were interested in reading about, one reader wrote, “liking yourself, being comfortable with who you are, finding a sense of self”. I have slowly been mulling that over in my brain, trying to piece together some words that make sense. This is what I’ve come up with.

I didn’t always love myself. I felt awkward and out-of-place for a lot of my childhood years. So I did what I could to try to feel normal. This included: reading teen gossip magazines, even though I didn’t like them, so I could be up on the latest celebrity news; watching TRL on Fridays, even though I couldn’t care less about music videos, so I could discuss them with peers; buying a shirt from Abercrombie and Fitch, even though I didn’t really like it that much, because that’s what everyone did. As I got older, it became: staying out late and going to a lot of parties; buying Uggs and other “trendy” clothing; pretending I liked watching football and other sports; the list goes on.

During my sophomore year in college, I hit a turning point. For various reasons, my life shifted a bit, and when that happened, some pieces fell into place. It’s funny how once a certain filter is removed, you see things differently. Once the shift happened, I realized: I didn’t like football. I didn’t like staying out late every night. I didn’t like bars. I craved my routine. I liked studying and spending my weekends studying with a friend and a coffee, and my evenings curled up on the couch, watching Grey’s Anatomy with my roommate.

So it was progress. I was realizing what made me feel good, and what made me, well, ME, but I still didn’t always do anything about it. Because honestly, I was terrified. If I showed the world who I was, what if they rejected me? Wasn’t it better to play it safe and at least know I sort of fit in? For a while my answer was yes. I knew some of what made me happy and what made me feel good, but I didn’t always act on it. I kept my mask on. I wanted to belong. And sure, I often felt happy and content. But it didn’t fill me up. It wasn’t as authentic as it could me.

When I started grad school, I started over. For the first time in years, I had a fresh start. I was feeling good, positive, and full of life. I no longer had illnesses or disorders standing in my way between me and happiness. I only had ME. I was my roadblock. So, I began grad school as my true, authentic self. I didn’t always wear makeup to class. I didn’t hide my perfectionism or anxiety. I talked to all sorts of people. I geeked out over things we were learning. I embraced awkward moments. And the result? I made friends. True, wonderful, forever friends. People liked me. They liked me for me. And the funny thing is – making friends and being liked was the easiest it had been, up until that point.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this was when I fell in love – and even more so, when a man fell in love with me. When I met Jeremy, and as we began dating, nearly four years ago, I was determined to be me. Enough was enough, I had told myself. There was no point in faking it, in hiding who I was. If he didn’t like me for me, then that was okay, it just meant he wasn’t the one for me. I raised the bar, and told myself that I would not settle. I embraced myself and so somewhere out there, was someone else who would embrace me, too.

And that someone was Jeremy.

He loves me for my quirks. He loves me for my weirdness. He loves me for my personality. He loves me for who I am. He fell in love with ME. Not a shadow version of me, not a fake version of me, but just the real, true, authentic, unique, me. I am a person who was worth falling in love with. I am a person who is worth marrying. I am the happiest, truest, most real I have been in my entire life. He has not only accepted who I am, but embraced it, hugged it, nurtured it, and encouraged it. I blossom with him. I am the luckiest.

And so – I do love myself. I have embraced myself. I know that I love wine, but I don’t like beer. I know that I am a hardcore introvert. I know that despite being an introvert, I have wonderful friends. I know that I still wear mismatched socks. I know that four stuffed animals sit on our bed. I know that I make up words and songs as I go about my day. I know that I’d prefer reading to watching sports. I know that I prefer a few, true, forever friends, over a bunch of casual friends. I know that I love a handful of t.v. shows, but I don’t like reality t.v. I know that I love deep, intense novels, but dislike chick lit. I know that I am sensitive and often tear up. I know that I squeal when I’m outside in nature. I know that I kneel down to take pictures of snails, frogs, and worms. I know that I look up to take pictures of skies, trees, light. I know that I don’t really care about fashion, and often just reach for whatever colors feel right. I know that all of these things make me who I am. And I know that I am okay. That I am enough.

Embracing myself does not mean always being happy. Those things couldn’t possibly be synonymous. But embracing myself does mean accepting all parts of me. Working towards acceptance of where I’m at, in each moment. Having compassion for myself, in a variety of situations. Knowing that despite the external circumstances, I am at peace in my core.

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