Why We Should All Stop Feeling Guilty.

Our son was barely two years old, when our rescued dog bit him, barely missing his eye. Charlie, our mixed breed yellow lab, was never ok. The first time I saw the hackles on his back stand straight up, he was only six months old. During the second week of puppy training, he began attacking other puppies in an aggressive way.

At the time, I had been volunteering with a rescue group for years, fostering dogs, screening prospective families and working at adoption events. Charlie was a puppy we had been fostering, the only one that we decided would become ours. These hours I spent volunteering, were exhausting, yet satisfying. I loved being around the most kind, compassionate and giving people. I loved making a difference.

Until the day, I needed help. And then nobody was there.

Charlie’s aggressiveness was fear based, and he was afraid of other dogs and small children. We began to realize, he not only became volatile around dogs, but was not to be trusted with young children. We watched him, closely, walked him where dogs were less likely to be around, and did the best we could. Still, when a dog bites, it happens in a second. And when my son, reached to pet him, in the moment I turned my back, Charlie went for it.

Five stitches later, along with complete honesty, we found Charlie another home. The rescue group offered no help except that I could bring Charlie to one of their events and stand by his crate. I did try it. I was desperate, but, Charlie did not do well in a crate, barking and growling when anyone approached. I knew I had to take matters into my own hands, and I did. I found a family, with no small children. They knew everything about Charlie, and still decided to adopt. We bid a tearful goodbye, as the wonderful couple with grown daughters loaded Charlie into their car. It was hard, watching your family pet drive away. I took solace in knowing it was better for Charlie and for us.

A year later, I was ready to search for another dog. I wanted to believe Charlie was not the norm, that adopting from a rescue was not only admirable but a perfectly reasonable way to bring a dog into a home. After all I knew the numbers of how many “very good dogs” are put to sleep each year because of overcrowding. In some small way, I wanted there to be one less dog, because of me. With my son along for the ride, we went to the pet store where we knew there would be rescue dogs up for adoption. I inquired about a dog, and was instantly remembered by one of the volunteers.”We do not know if you should adopt from us,” she uttered. “You put an ad on Craig’s List. Don’t you know you are supposed to return a dog that is not a good fit?”

I was shocked, and hurt. Never mind the hours I had put in for them. Never mind, I had put ads everywhere, hoping to find the perfect family for Charlie. Never mind my job for them was to screen families, and that is what I did with Charlie. Never mind, I had received no help from the rescue, and my pleas went unanswered. Never mind, I knew if I simply gave him back, he would never have been adopted in the methods they use. Never mind, dogs are so near and dear to my heart, I would never have just dumped him anywhere, with anyone. Dogs were always a part of our family, even our fosters, no matter how long they spent with us. I had cleaned up more poop then I want to remember, and had chased dogs down the street without a bra that had gotten loose.

I was not one of them, the ones that dump dogs at the pound when they are older, less cute. When they are moving, or are having a new baby. And yet, that is what they were insinuating. They then uttered, “Well you can adopt, but we just want you know how we felt.” My response was, “No thank you. Have a nice day.”

This was a wake up call, and I never went back to rescuing dogs. And not because of a few sour apples, or because of the judgement on their part, but because I realized an important lesson.

In the end, the snubbing did me a favor. It woke me up. No amount of guilt was worth putting my son in danger. And no amount of guilt was worth the stress that I often felt volunteering for a rescue group, even if I was doing good. It was not a fair exchange, and never is. Doing anything out of guilt creates more stress, not less. It is not good for anyone. Once I began applying this to my life, in a bigger way, I knew those women’s comments gave me a gift. I knew I had to learn to stop doing things out of guilt.

Many rescue dogs are amazing, and most rescue groups do incredible work. The time and attention needed to fix this problem of homeless animals is abundant and overwhelming. And yes, I still weep uncontrollably at the videos where the dog is dirty, living in the junkyard and is rescued, now living happily ever after in her new home. She is clean, healthy and has no issues. At least on the video. That is not reality. Most rescue dogs have issues. Often, purposely, this is left out of the video. Normally, you need an abundance of time, resources and desire to work with rescue dogs. It can be rewarding to both help out a rescue group and adopt a rescue dog. If it works for you.

Are there exceptions? Yes. There are always exceptions. I know families that have had a wonderful experience adopting a rescue. This just has not been my experience. I know the saying, “Adopt. Don’t shop.” How awful it is to not adopt a rescue, to adopt from a breeder.

Do you know what is also awful? If you keep a rescue that is tearing apart your family and your walls with separation anxiety. To not be able to walk comfortable with your dog, because you are afraid another dog will approach, and your dog will attack. To not be able to have other children over to play and relax.

This attitude, this adhering to “shoulds” never works in life. Just as happiness creates waves outward, so does misery.

While I would never adopt from a puppy mill, as they are abusive and neglectful, I would also never again adopt from a rescue. For the simple fact that it does not work for me and my family.

We need to pick our battles. Martyrdom never works, and just keeps us on the hook for a crime we never committed.

I still hold on to this fantasy of working on a task force, one that raids puppy mills, or hoarders, rescuing hundreds of animals at a time. I admire those that do engage in this kind of work, but also know I will never be doing this. My life and home will never again be turned upside down by a rescue animal. And I will never do this type of volunteer work again. As this is not what my life’s purpose is about.

If we want to make this world better, we first need to do what makes us happy. Then, we can reflect outward and see how we can help. There are those meant to march on Washington, and those meant to help another cross the street. Devoting yourself to others, while you are secretly miserable, makes no sense. It wears you down, leaving you drained and empty. Staying in toxic relationships because of some obligation or thinking you can help, change them, and then turning around and drinking yourself blind every night or worse, yelling at your children for making a mess, creates more misery for yourself, and leads to more chaos in our world.

Learning the difference between codependency and compassion has changed my life. Knowing where the line is drawn between obligation and self-care has been eye-opening. Learning to check in with myself, using my intuition on how I am meant to help others has been incredibly rewarding. I now use discernment, and feedback, not guilt.

If we listen more, and ask what we are to do, we can choose to help where we are meant, and we find our path. We will need to stop, listen and open up our awareness. We will need to say no, often.

Looking back on that interaction with that rescue group, I can still feel the hurt I had felt. I can still remember calling my friends in disbelief. The words, “After all I did for them?” leaving my lips. And yet, I now know, they were doing me a huge favor.

Sometimes, especially when we act out of guilt, we need a little push in a different direction. And if we can read between the lines, what appears as rejection, is simply life saying, Back away. This is not your path. You are not listening so we are going to give you a gentle shove, even a good slap in the face.

As it turns out, after I left the pet store that afternoon, I found a breeder, and we adopted our amazing yellow lab, Bella. She has been the love of our life, bringing incredible joy, unconditional love and laughter to our family. So full of love, she helps all of us to smile a little deeper, and she is always there when one of us needs a hug, or a laugh.

I pray someday, that all dogs and all animals are treated with respect, love and compassion. I applaud all those working endlessly to help all animals and species. And then I go home and snuggle with Bella, knowing she is the perfect dog for us.

My love for storytelling, is one way, I hope to help our world. Through my words, I hope to help others feel, laugh, cry, and know they are not alone. As much as I still want to go on that task force, and personally right the wrongs that are done to animals, that is not my path in this life.

Life is meant to be a series of learning experiences. We are not meant to know exactly what to do, but it is important to understand why we are here, and how we can grow, evolve and change. I am still learning. I still feel guilty many times for saying no, for doing what is best for me. But I have learned that self-love, self-care and what is right for my immediate family come first. That is what I agreed to, and that is what I will strive to do for as long as I am living this life.

And of course, I hope to continue learning and overcoming, the failures and successes, the codependency and compassion, all the while, snuggling with Bella. 

My first co-authored book, Living Beyond Fear, will be available soon from both amazon, and fine book stores. These 37 letters, stories about life and death, will take you on a journey that is both healing and inspiring. Details to follow!

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How I uncovered the secret to feeling good enough.

When I think about vulnerability, I think about feeling worthy, and how for much of my life I did not feel worthy. I believe I am not alone. So many of us need that constant approval that we are good enough.

We check our status – how many likes did I receive? We look in the mirror – how much weight did I gain? We look at our bank accounts – how much money did I make?

How do we stop looking for that outside approval?

To begin to feel worthy, let’s first start with why we feel like we are not enough?

I have been a stay at home mom for over eighteen years, and just as long, I have had the feeling I was supposed to be doing something else, too. It stemmed from giving up a six figure job to raise my children. I am proud of this choice, and my children. So I ask myself, why am I still searching for that career, the one that would put me on the map. What map, and where I would land, I had no idea. Ideally, it would be oceanfront. I would have a room with a view. Beyond that? I just knew I was not there – yet.

So I kept running. Around the block, on a trail, through my days, hours and years. While, wondering if there was something else for me to do, I did what life put in front of me – changing diapers, paying bills, planning birthday parties, editing school papers. Supporting, loving, encouraging, managing the life of our family.

And then it hit me. I could never do enough. There always had to be something more to do, to become, to achieve. If you are chasing what is outside, that imaginary finish line keeps moving.

What would be enough, really? A six figure income? A child who attends Ivy league university? The largest house on the street? Best selling author? Fittest body? Longevity? A viral video?

I think back to high school when we all voted in our year book. We voted in categories such as prettiest, nicest eyes, nicest smile, best dressed, most athletic, along with most likely to succeed. What about the categories of most likely to help someone whose car has gone off the road, or most likely to help a child in need? Or how about most likely to pick up and drive to Washington D.C. to protest what is near and dear to his heart? Most likely to start the #metoo movement which will change the lives of millions of women? Most likely to open her heart, fully and honestly with those she loves? Or how about most likely to survive life?

Maybe so many of us feel unworthy because we just have our priorities confused as to what measures success. I have seen women leave an abusive relationship after ten years, and if that is not a measure of success than I am not sure what is. I have witnessed people becoming sober after thirty years of drinking heavily. I have heard the stories of adults surviving childhood abuse, getting knocked down time and again, and still picking himself back up, making a difference in our world. I have watched people lose everything and need to live out of their car. I have observed grieving parents endure the lost of a child, and people lose loved ones in a natural or human-made disaster.

To start feeling like we are enough, to understand why so many of us feel unworthy, we need to first change our priorities, change our definition of what is success. I survived migraine headaches as a child and chronic sinus headaches as an adult – pain that kept me in bed for days. I made it through the devastation of pregnancy loss, a category 5 hurricane and putting our family dog to sleep that we loved dearly. My success included breaking the cycle of abuse, raising my children to love themselves while also helping rescue dogs. 

I am not unique.

If you have survived middle school, when raging hormones bully their way into your entire being creating monster emotions, you are a success. If you endured even a year of high school, you deserve more than a pat on the back. You deserve a standing ovation. Working each day when you’d rather be on the golf course, giving birth, holding another’s hand, listening to a child, walking a dog, preparing dinner for loved ones, even getting out of bed in the morning when you’d rather hide under the covers is a wonderful measure of success. Speaking up and out against hatred or deciding that today is the day, you begin whispering kind words to your own heart.

Everyone serving our country in any way, shape or form deserves the highest honor of success. So does the one who steps out of her house after years of suffering with agoraphobic symptoms. The one who creates her own fashion statement, and the one who makes a mistake and says, “I am sorry.” The one who gets a C in chemistry. The one who drops out of college. The one who plants a tree. The one who smiles at a stranger on the street. The one who fails. The one who is rejected. The one who is breathing.

If you are human, you are a success story. If you are alive, you are enough.

We need to cut the cord with the long term belief that feeling like we are enough is tied to any outside source.

It is not about feeling like you have done enough, but knowing that you are enough.

You are not your past – that was just your experience
You are not your future – it is still unwritten
You are not your children’s successes, nor their failures
You are not your zip code or your occupation
You are not your age

You are not the words said to you in judgment or anger

You are not your fears, anxieties or depression
You are not your clean house or dirty feet
You are not your thoughts
You are not your body

You are not your age

You are not your clothes, your weight or your hair color
You are not the numbers glaring back at you from your bank account
You are not your gender or sexual orientation

Who are you?

You are a gift
You are loved
You are worthy
You are enough

Peel back those outside layers of not enough. Be the first to come out of the closet with who you really are. And the second, and the last. Walk away from a battered relationship no matter how many times you have gone back. Tell your story with your heart pounding and our palms sweating, saying yes, this happened to me, but it does not define me.

Worthiness is building our selves back up from the inside out. It is letting go of comparisons and likes from others, and finding that place within our own heart that is gentle, loving and compassionate – with ourself.

Worthiness is honoring how we feel. It is putting our self first, saying no, and standing up for someone who has not yet found the courage.

Deep down, we are all worthy, good, and whole. If someone took that from you, told you differently or pulled you apart until you felt like your heart was split into a million pieces, it is time for you to put your self back together. It is time to say each and every day – I love my self no matter what. I love all my imperfect cracks, my shitting mornings, my weirdness and my lack of motivation. It is saying that was then, this is now. Yesterday does not define tomorrow.

I am not there yet, but I am getting closer to feeling good enough. In the meanwhile, I keep in mind that hurt people, hurt people. And loved people, love people.

Today, I choose love.

Today, love wins.

Do something nice for your self today. Do it because it is finally time, to start telling your self the truth.

You are enough.

Please excuse any grammatical errors, as my editor is on a permanent vacation in the Bahamas.

Coming soon:  My co-authored book, Living Beyond Fear, due out at Christmas! 

The Illusion of Control

Control is an illusion.

There, I said it. There is no such thing as control. We have no more control over what happens in our lives than we have over the sun rising and setting. We may convince ourselves of the opposite so we can rise in the morning and go about our day without worrying that we will fall victim to a drunk driver coming home from a bar or a tree branch falling upon as during a walk along a wooded trail. We convince ourselves we have control because this keeps us from going down the rabbit hole of what if’s.

It also ties us down, binds us to become small instead of limitless. We convince ourselves we are living a wonderful fulfilling life, when in actuality we are hiding within the confines of our mind.

We give control such power, and yet it still defies us. Things in life happen anyway. Whether we brace ourself or not, the unexpected occurs because that is why we are here – for the experience. It is not to have only good things, wonderful easy moments. Life lessons are hard, but that is how we grow.  This false notion of control keeps us from living our truest life; one that frees us to follow our intuition, heart and dreams.

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In truth, the more we let go of control, the freer we become.

My illusion of control was shattered when the stillbirth of my son, fourteen years ago life came crashing down upon me. For years following this devastating life event, I felt unsafe, unprotected. I knew anything bad could happen at anytime. Truth is, I was no more vulnerable after the loss of my son than before. I just thought I was because I was forced to confront the illusion of control.

Each time my husband was late, I would panic. Every moment my daughters went out to play in the yard, I would need to go with them. I had thought keeping a close watch on my loved ones would keep them from leaving me, leaving a pain, a hole in my heart, so deep, it could never be filled.

It didn’t work. Soon I began to feel worse. Anxious, fearful and depressed.

Traumatic events, unexpected loss, diagnosis, accidents, job loss, divorce, even natural endings of life’s stages all challenge our notion of control. Sometimes the illusion of control hits us over our head, other times, it can feel like a punch in the gut. It may even show up as a simple detour on our way to work.  Whether you get knocked over, or just feel annoyed by inconvenience, it is how soft you are, how flexible, how permeable, that will determine how soon you get back up. Let life move through you. Sit within the discomfort, become lost within the depth of grief, and it will pass. Eventually everything will move through you, if you don’t dig your heels in the dirt, or grip tightly to your surroundings.

In my darkest out, grasping onto control began to feel like nails on a blackboard. I knew it was no way to live. I had to reach beyond circumstance and begin to trust life again.

But how?

Just feel.

It is that simple. I had to move from my head to my heart.

We must grieve deeply, if life brings us loss. We must allow ourself to feel scared if we become afraid. The only way out is through the mud. Otherwise we risk getting stuck in quicksand.

We must give up our notion that nothing bad is supposed to happen, and release our expectations of what is to come. This is how we move through whatever life brings with a lightness in our step, nor matter how heavy our hearts.

Just feel.

I love to listen to music. For me, this is quickest way for me to get in touch with what I am feeling. It bypasses my mind, and goes right to my heart. You know what works for you. Maybe it’s music or writing. Watching a sad movie. Singing, dancing, pounding pillow, walking in nature. Do whatever it takes to feel your way back from your head to your heart.

Opening your heart is where you will find freedom. Anxiety will dissipate, depression will lift, and you will know what it is like to live within the magic and miracles of life.

Feeling is the pathway out of the illusion of control, and into the glorious wonder of life.

Please excuse all grammatical errors and typos. My editor is on a permanent vacation in the Bahamas.

 

 

LAUGHTER (AND A WATER BOTTLE OF VODKA) HELPED ME LET GO OF MY COLLEGE DAUGHTER

They said the second time around was going to be easier. They said that having another empty room would encourage me to fill my time with things I love.

Problem is, I love my daughter, and now she is gone.

I admit it. Another daughter, barely off to college, and I was wallowing. Unprepared for the mess, I choke on my last sip of coffee. Not that I expected her to clean up her room before she left. It was a whirlwind final week picking up last minute pharmacy items, closing bank accounts, printing out pictures, triple checking her packing list (well my packing list).

My daughter was not an organized person, often with her head in the clouds. This is what I have always loved about her. Yet, standing in her room now, feels like I have walked onto a battlefield, the remains of her eighteen years strewn mercilessly across the floor.

From inside her closet, cleats caked with mud from her last varsity soccer game call out to me. I move in to get a closer look. Like it was yesterday, I recall my own excitement playing soccer, the scars I used to collect upon my body like battle wounds. How did we get here so quickly?

On the floor, a clump of mud momentarily irritates me. All those times I had asked to leave her muddy cleats in the garage, and the same number of times I was ignored. Teenage rebellion. Or was it simply distraction that led her to defy my requests – cell phones and boys did that to her.

Turning away from her t-shirts, each holding a memory of summer camp, road trips and sports teams, I walk back to her bed where her bookcase headboard resembles a display of offerings at a second hand rummage sale. Old nail polish, eight bottles; half of them dried and caked. An unwrapped newly bought phone case and a half used bottle of saline nasal spray rests upon a notebook filled with rainy day doodles.

Dumping this, tossing that. I gain the courage to look behind her bed. Among a mess of garbage, I find her promposal poster and recall her pale shoes offsetting her blood red dress. Undeveloped prom pictures sit idle on my cell phone, reminding me of all my unfinished to do lists. Perhaps I will get to them later today, or next year.

For now, I am too busy hearing the laughter, recalling the feeling of prom night with its fairy tale moments. How we so often measure time in seemingly endless nights, thinking it will never end.

I have had enough – wallowing, and cleaning. I am about to leave it all a mess when I stumble over something.

On the floor, I pick up my favorite drawstring bag – borrowed and never returned. I sling it across my back, taking with it the contents of two half filled water bottles and a few hair bands. On my way out, I catch a glimpse above her door of the bumper sticker she had bought freshman year of high school.

“Do Something Amazing.”

While brewing a much needed second cup of coffee, I click on our latest string of text messages. How could she forget so many things? Today I am thankful for social media and my daughter. In her memory, as the ultimate recycler, I open and begin dumping the water into the plant. Proud of myself, I think, I’m not wasting water, Lia.

As it empties, a familiar smell begins to permeate the air. I stop pouring, albeit way too late. I would know that smell anywhere. At a fraternity house, late night bar crawl, or just before the last song at a wedding.

Stale alcohol.

In this moment, I have two thoughts. I can’t believe I have just watered my plant with a vodka filled Dasani bottle. And, can plants get drunk? #AskingForAFriend

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My son, barely ten years old wanders into the room as I am wiping away my tears of laughter. I glance at the plant. I could swear it just hiccupped. I wonder if it will sing bad Karaoke or drink and dial. Maybe it will just sit and chat for hours about nothing, and everything. I hide the lampshades nearby, just in case.

“What’s so funny, mom?”

Yes, I still have him keeping me honest, as that is one of his strengths, to tell it like it is. I dump the rest of the vodka/water bottles in the sink, and toss a bottle of Advil near the plant, just in case. As I walk the half-filled black garbage bag out to the street, I notice I feel better.

Laughter is the best medicine.

While it doesn’t feel right tossing her life memories, I know these are just things. I welcome the cliché that I will carry her laughter in my heart, feel her bear hugs on my skin and bring up the image in my mind of her blond curls and dimpled smile whenever I choose.

Glancing upward, I notice the sun’s stark contrast moving out the last bit of black cloud above my head. Yes, I think I will be just fine.

That night, I sit by my plant – just in case. I mean who will hold back her leaves if need be? No need for cranberry juice. We share a toast with the rest of the watered down vodka from our liquor cabinet.

After all, today, I did something amazing. Through tears and laughter, I let my daughter go.

This post was also published on Grown & Flown, group blog.

“The Birds are Mad at Me.” Tales of an Empath’s Life.

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This morning, while enjoying my first coffee, I looked outside and noticed the bird feeders were empty.

Crap.

I totally got caught up in my daughter leaving for college, the latest Netflix series, and you know, eating and other life stuff.

If it sounds like an excuse, it is.

I’m thinking what you’re thinking, is it my job to take care of the birds? Unless it actually is my job, and I am getting paid to feed the birds, the answer is no. Still, they’re helpless creatures and in a roundabout way, I signed up for the job because I put up the bird feeder.

Grabbing the bird seed bag, I hastily filled each feeder, and sent the birds a silent apology. After a few minutes, I peeled myself away from the trees and walked into the bathroom where my husband was shaving. “The birds are mad at me. I haven’t fed them in weeks. I filled the feeder this morning but they’re not coming by to eat.” I looked up at my husband who was now brushing his teeth.

“Birds don’t think like that, honey.” He smiled at me, but also peered in closer to see if I was serious.

I was serious. And yet, I wasn’t.

I knew the birds weren’t mad at me, but when you’re an empath, you feel everything. And sometimes, without realizing, you project.

In other words, someone, somewhere was mad at someone and I picked up on it.

I don’t remember when I first felt that someone was angry. It could have been yesterday, or last week. It could have been a second ago. And I didn’t realize it.

What we take in, needs to come out.

And when we’re not aware, it comes out in a whole bunch of strange ways, like me and the birds.

There’s a benefit to staying awake as an empath. Like a tick: if you find it within 24 hours, you’ll probably be okay. In other words, if you catch it, name what you’re feeling, or move through it—it ends fairly quickly and innocently. If you don’t, and it builds, it can wreak havoc both emotionally and physically.

A spiritual teacher once told me, “As an empath, you need to take out the trash.”

This is why a mindfulness practice for empaths becomes just as important as a healthy diet.

It is not just empathic adults who need to know what it means to be an empath. Many children are empaths and have no idea.

My son, often distracted in school, is exhausted when he returns home. He has been feeling for everyone else—all day, every day. He has no idea why. He just feels and releases. It’s why he goes into the woods as soon as he comes home. He unwinds with the salamanders and frogs. It calms him. He also likes dim lights, soft music, and time alone.

I’m the same, although I can do without the amphibians.

It’s also why we live on six acres and I work from home. As an empath, being around people can be exhausting. We can feel like rubber balls being bounced around by other’s emotions. We don’t know that it’s happening until one day, you look up and think the birds are mad at you. And you realize that something else must be going on. You’re too smart to think the birds are really mad. You know if you wait a little longer, they will begin feeding.

So you laugh at yourself, often.

And you spend time alone.

And you avoid the news.

And you make it daily habit to name what you’re feeling, and you ask often if it’s yours or someone else’s. And you begin to get used to not knowing why you’re feeling whatever it is you are feeling. And it starts to not matter.

And you even laugh, if you can, at some of the labels you and many other empaths have unknowingly taken on: depressed, anxious, ADHD, ADD, paranoid, phobic, introvert, and agoraphobic.

And you think, if they only had one label for all empaths it would be ESEP, Energy Sensitive Empathic People or ESEC, Energy Sensitive Empathic Children.

And you hope one day that all empaths will realize what is going on, and know that being empathic is a gift, not a curse. That being sensitive can have its perks.

You hope that others can see how empaths are helping others—by feeling the feelings for them.

And that spending time alone can lend itself to an active imagination, creative endeavors, and the time for self-reflection, a necessary and often eye-opening part of a life journey.

So the next time you think someone is mad at you, stop and think about the birds.

And then let it go.

After all, it was never yours to keep.

This article was also published on Elephant Journal. You can find it here.

 

 

How Crying in a Bathroom Stall Can Change your Life.

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This story begins with a women’s experience, which turns out, is also mine. We are all connected, more than we realize. As you read this post, see if you can also see yourself in her. If not, perhaps your story is still unwritten.

This woman, on the very first day of her corporate job, one where had been given a six-figure salary, the task of overseeing a large department and managing multi-million dollar budgets, found herself hiding in a bathroom stall, crying. It seems the life she had been leading, all she had been working towards – the degrees, the promotions, the awards – came crashing down upon her. In that moment, she had no way of knowing that everything in her life was about to change for the better.

It would be a cool story, had she walked out of that New York high-rise that afternoon, but life isn’t about being cool, and neither is this blog. Change often takes time, and it took many more moments in the bathroom stall for her to find her voice.

How we had met was many years later, when she had asked me to write her a speech on Women Finding Their Voice. In preparation for my writing her speech, she told me her story, and how she had left her corporate job in order to pursue her passion – photographing women who life had beaten down. Women who didn’t look or feel good about themselves. Some were overweight, or fighting their way out of an abusive marriage, others had cancer. Through email, I learned how she had ignited her passion for photography, while also finding a way to make a difference for others. What seemed like an end, that moment in the stall, was actually a beginning. Along with her tears that morning, came a soothing ache of relief, a gift, a door opening. The first step she would take in a series of steps in finding her voice.

Due to unforeseen circumstance, she never did make it to that speech, but perhaps life had orchestrated our meeting just for me – and for you. To open my eyes to the path I was indeed walking in my own life, my own journey in finding my voice. Through her story, I had come to realize that finding my passion in writing, something that would lift me every day, while hoping to make a difference for someone else, began with many of my own moments in a bathroom stall.

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The steps she had taken that led her out of that bathroom stall, were ones I too had taken. Today, I share them with you. For sometimes we need to take the road less travelled, and other times, simply trace another’s footsteps in the sand.

As you read through these steps, please keep in mind that in finding our voice, our steps are fluid, as we can often skip or repeat steps along the way, moving forward and backward like a childhood game of hopscotch. Inevitably, whether we walk gracefully or clumsily stumble through these five steps, when we follow our hearts, we will find our voice.

The following five steps are simple, but not necessarily easy:

  1. Seek out your feelings. Our emotions always tell us the truth – sometimes whispering, often shouting at us. These are our bathroom stall moments. Take time to think about about your work, or your life. Does thinking about your day create feelings of joy or dread? When we begin to take notice of how we feel, we start to see the truth, to hear what is in our heart. When we follow our hearts, we find ourselves not at the end, but at the beginning of our story.
  2. Release Others’ Expectations. As we peel back the layers of our longings that linger beneath our skin, we often find a voice that is not our own. For many of us, our accomplishments have been driven by others’ expectations of us. Our stories of our higher education, financial success, the success of our children, can stem from a hidden need for approval. Releasing expectations is about not only releasing personal expectations about what we should do, but about what we think the world expects of us. It begins with the question, who am I doing this for and ends with what am I doing for myself? It continues with separating the voices of those we have known, from our own voice. We can meet every definition of the word success, except the one that matter to us. Success goes far beyond degrees, responsibilities and money.
  3. Find your passion. Unearthing your passion is not easy, but when you find it, it will feel like magic! Someday, you will be at the end of this wonderful life, and what will you find? Did you live your life for you? Did you follow your heart? Close your eyes, and think of something you love to do, that you would do for free. Start there. What makes you happy? As you take your last breath on this earth, what do you want to leave behind, and be proud of? This is the key to finding your passion. You will know you have stumbled upon it, by the excitement you feel, the joyful and peaceful feelings that emerge.
  4. Become courageous. This can be the most challenging step. Yet, when we reach deep within ourselves, finding the courage and taking a leap of faith with our passion, we are often rewarded. Give yourself a time limit, but don’t adhere to it. Set a goal but be willing to change it. Just begin doing what you love, and the rest will fall into place. Courage takes sacrifice, determination and pushing through adversity. As your courage grows, your passion grows, and this wonderful cycle continues.
  5. Share your Voice. Once you follow the other four steps, you will need to share your voice with the world. As you walk beyond the threshold of this fear, the life you have always wanted will begin to naturally unfold in front of your eyes. Resist the temptation to run back and hide. While many believe they have a fear of failure, it is often a fear of success. When everything you have been waiting for, that life you only imagined living, begins to take shape in front of your eyes, breath, say thank you. Remind yourself, you are worth it.

The first time I opened up to my voice, when Elephant Journal agreed to publish my article, I felt both disbelief and pride, joy and fear. Within twenty-four hours I had almost 50,000 views. My article had touched a chord about special needs children, and it was because it came from my truth, my voice. Not every article finds that success, but I have come to realize, the ones that I create from honesty and vulnerability, intimacy and truth, find their way more often into others’ hearts and Facebook pages.

I urge you to go out and find your voice. To listen to the gentle whispers of your heart, and follow it. To uncover and release any expectations that are not your own. To uncover your passion, reach for that courage and unleash your voice onto the world.

We can wake up each morning, and go through our days, never finding our voice, knowing the sun will continue to rise and fall. Or we can step out of our comfort zone, follow our hears and leave our mark on this world.

 

Please excuse all grammatical errors and typos. My editor is permanently on vacation.

 

 

It’s Not Whether You Get Knocked Down, It’s Whether You Get Up.

 

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In speaking with a teen the other day, I noticed how excited she was that a local newspaper was publishing a piece of her writing. After the article ran, her good mood plummeted. It seemed the comments she received online were not as exciting, nor inspirational. In fact, they were harsh and meant to cut her down.

Was this her first lesson in writing? Perhaps. But it is more than that. The post was about school shootings, something near and dear to the hearts of teens these days. It was heartfelt and well written. The comments accused her of being naive, blaming of her generation for their inability to cope, that it was not gun control that was the issue, but the lack of awareness and mental health of her generation. The angry comments were directed at her; they were accusatory and vindictive.

Maybe it is because I am a mom of a teen or because I have been the receiver of being cut down, unkind abusive words encouraging me to hide my true self, but what does anyone gain from cutting someone else down? Nothing. Your point gets lost, and you lose credibility. In fact, this is the worst way to try and change someone’s mind, get your point across.

It is in fact cowardly to hide behind a computer screen and lash out. It is especially harmful when it is done to one of our children. We can disagree, but where is the respect? Where is the compassion?

Will we get to the point where we all become afraid to speak our minds, our truth for fear of negative abusive comments, internet trolls waiting under the bride while we dance across in our billy-goat costumes, hoping to just make it to the other side?

I applaud Jimmy Kimmel in his addressing this issue – as the famous actors and musicians read the unkind comments that were hurled at them from someone, alone, lurking in the dark, his fingers spewing out their insecurities aimed at a more pliable source than himself. Or Demi Lovato addressing her weight issues directly addressing those who criticize how she looks, not who she is on the inside.

But, no matter how we spin it, it is not ok.

The old saying that hurt people, hurt people is the truth.  So how do we stop it? People in glass houses should not throw stones but they do. They throw rocks, and hurl insults at other people every day.

I grew up in a glass house, and I threw rocks at times, as a child. Probably to get someone to notice I was hurting because someone was hurting me. As adults, it is our responsibility. It is our job to know better. To do better. To protect and serve our children.

My blog is not political, and the point of this post is not about gun control, but respect, compassion and the true meaning behind awareness.

It is not just that the pen is mightier than the sword, but the pen can be equal to the sword in damaging another’s well-being. One is physical, the other emotional. Both are harmful.

Words can cut another off at the knees, place a stake through the heart, choke the life out of us. They can also be uplifting, inspirational and loving. Sometimes it is all about taking space.

Look at the following words when there is no space. This is what happens when we don’t take the space to think about our words. They become swords:

wordswordswordswordswordswordswordswordswords

Here is what it looks like when we take the space. Our words go back to being words:

words words words words words words words words words

This may be a simple example, but often the truth is simple. If you become angry, defensive, or feel the need to lash out, take a breath, take your space. This is just an new response to an old wound. Think about what you are needing to defend and why.

Whether it is through the written word or how we speak, we should all take space. Ask ourself – is this about me or her? Am I being kind and respectful in making my opinion known?

Knocking people down so we can feel better is short-lived, and like a drug, only temporarily takes away our own pain. Resolve your issues within yourself, not against someone else. Abusive remarks, abusive behavior happens often when people repeat what was said or done to them. The cycle of abuse can stop with you. Jump off that hamster wheel, and the next time you find yourself reacting to someone – take your space. Take a walk, take a hike, and wait. Then come back, check in with yourself, and ask, why is this bothering me to much?

And if you are the one who finds yourself on the ground, because someone knocked you down, you do not have to stay there. Dust yourself off, and know it was about them – not you. Then do better. Speak kindly to yourself and to others. Have compassion, and if you are pain, look for the hand that is there to help. Reach for that hand, instead of picking up a stone.

We owe it to our children.

We owe it to ourself.

We owe it to our world.