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.

 

 

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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:

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

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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.

 

Suicide: Why I Never Did It.

GUEST BLOG POST:

I wanted to die.  Not out of anger or fear.  I just wanted the pain to go away. It was the only way I could imagine it would stop. End it! I didn’t just feel pain. I was pain itself – and it had to end.

I had some deep dark days dealing with childhood sexual abuse, a teenage rape and feelings of utter worthlessness.

I never actually physically attempted suicide.  But for many years the thought was never far from my mind.

What kept me from doing it?

In the beginning it may have been the Catholic faith I was raised in.  A part of me was hopeful, despite my deep depression. I was an optimist at heart.  I kept telling myself that maybe, it would get better.

Maybe, if I offed myself I would miss something really good that would make me feel happy and good about myself.  What if that good thing happened tomorrow and I would miss it by just one day?

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Maybe it was Rita Moreno.  I saw her on a talk show many years ago where she talked about her suicide attempt.  “If you ever feel like killing yourself just wait one day,” she said.

I always waited.

I found strong support through therapy, but the thoughts persisted. Suicide became a trusted escape hatch.  When the depression and anxiety felt too much to handle I could tell myself, I had a way out.  I was not trapped in this mess.  I could leave anytime I wanted.  I didn’t have to actually go down that chute, but if it was handy I would feel safe.

I was tired of the dark sameness of my life, but the idea of change was terrifying.

I was afraid to show who I was.  Exposure felt unsafe. Stay hidden or you will be abused, beaten, raped. But something in me wanted to emerge. I dared myself to break out. Step into the light. It felt like I would die if I stepped out even one inch. I was trapped there in that place between deep yearning and fear. It felt like I would die, if I did this, if I stepped out into the light. I realized this was a suicide. I would die this way. Not a physical death – but a jumping off the cliff into a new way of being.  A new expression of who I am.

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Since that first leap, I have had many suicides.  I confronted my abuser.  That was jumping off a scary cliff.  Years later, I forgave him.  That was an even bigger cliff.  I took on leadership positions at work. That was frightening – it was exposure. I might be a target for abuse – but I was not. Those leadership positions helped me discover a whole part of myself that was always there, but had kept hidden even from myself.

I jumped into relationships – some were successful, some, not so successful.  Jumping into them was a suicide – jumping out of them was a suicide.

I survived all of them.  The old Elaine was dead and the new one was there to live a new joyful life.

My favorite suicide has always been the last one — When I am still still basking in the afterglow after having taken a chance to expand into my sense of who I am.

My most favorite suicide is the next one.  I don’t yet know what that is. I eagerly await its revelation.  I will jump off that cliff with joy into a new me.

ELAINE OCASIO