Sunday, February 18, 2018

gun control, part 2

Judah will go to kindergarten in the fall.

And I do not want to send him.

I've been thinking about this for a few weeks now, because even before another mass shooting occurred in Florida, I was faced with the very real reality and concern that it could happen.

Late last year I wrote a post about gun control that helped me, not anyone else, wrap my mind around how I felt about this issue.

This time around, I am overwhelmed with the task of processing every other aspect of this argument.  So I come here.  To sort it out.

Right now my job is to provide brief intervention and therapy for pediatric patients at a doctor's office in town.  It is an affluent neighborhood and a homogenous demographic of children.  I anticipated, naively, I wouldn't have much work to do.  I was used to providing case management and resource services.  I was used to assessing for abuse and neglect.  I was used to a measure of preservation work that comes along with the oppression of poverty.  Even as a trainer for foster parents, I was used to providing alternative methods of discipline and redirection.  Unbeknownst to me, my jobs have prepared me for the truth that hit me square in the face this year.

So this week, on Wednesday night, when people started deciding who to blame for yet another tragedy where seventeen children and teachers were mercilessly slaughtered, I had a whole new perspective.

What I'm hearing mostly, regardless of what side it's on, is that it is a single faceted issue.

A one point problem.

Individuals, especially adults, have zeroed in on one issue worthy of campaigning over and have decided that their hot-button topic will be the answer.

I am solution-focused by nature.  I am wired in a way that allows me to be comfortable with your emotions, usually to let you sit in them, but I don't want to leave you there.  I am working on the practice of attending and mindfulness so that I am more comfortable with the nature of the present.  But I know I will never be the kind of person who graciously recognizes that nothing can change.

 So in an attempt to bring you my unsolicited opinion on this topic, I started listening.

I hear a few different things.

1) Guns don't kill people, people kill people.  You can outlaw guns, but then people will just use bombs, cars, knives.

2) This is not a mental health issue

3) It is a mental health issue

4) Gun laws need to be reformed

5) This is a parenting problem, a generational problem

6) This is not the time to discuss politics / this is not a party problem

7) We took God out of schools and this is the problem

I considered doing a literature review prior to writing this, and maybe I still will.  You deserve real information, reputable information.  In a world full of memes, peer-reviewed, substantial, ethically sound research is where it's at.  We will get there.  I will give you that.  Let's start with 1.

1. "People kill people".  People have killed people since the beginning of time.  We have not always had the access and availability of means for which to kill people.  But people have always been killing people.  People, I agree, will always find a way.  My concern with this approach is that it is dismissive and passive.  Someone dear to me recently helped me identify my hatred for the term "it is what it is".  He guided, patiently, the way only someone who loves you can do.  It really is what it is.  Buddhist principles that I admire so much even say so.  What's happening in the current moment is exactly the only way it can be.  We have to learn to accept this.  But my disdain for the statement comes more for a resentment and frustration for complacent people.  So yes.  People kill people.  I will, for the rest of my life, try to make it harder for people to kill people.

2. "This is not a mental health issue." This is where peer-reviewed research would come in handy.  I have a suspicion, although I've not been able to flesh this out in a respectful place, is that the stigma of mental health issues in America has made us believe that saying something is a related to mental health is an excuse.  It's a particularly sensitive subject for those of us who are passionate about race relations and justice for people of color.  We have created a society where white men who shoot and kill over a dozen people are"mentally ill" and have the opportunity to stand trial, but Black and Brown men and women are executed by police or fearful civilians without having access to their right of judge and jury.  This is not okay.  But I am here to tell you, there is a difference between someone saying "this is not a mental health issue" and "someone is not mentally ill".  I grew up with the instruction that behavior makes sense in context.  We strive to understand someone's experiences, their perspective, their history not in order to excuse them, but to explain.  In this context we strive to do so to find patterns so we can break cycles.  There are millions of people with diagnoses in America and all over the world.  There is no predictive validity to the presence of a mental illness in regard to mass terrorism.  Mental illness is a variation of human suffering, however.  And to deny that someone is suffering because we don't want to elicit compassion for them is not the way to find the solution.

3.   "It is a mental health issue".  I am only hearing this argument come from sides who are also saying #1.  That it is a mental health issue so gun reform can't fix it.  And if you're right, if this is purely an issue of psychopathology, gun reform won't "fix" that.  But you know what would?  Access to mental health care.  Health insurance.  Grants and programs that are designed to integrate mental health care into primary health care and school settings so when children, teenagers, young adults, middle-aged and elderly adults have issues there's an additional net to catch them.  Ironically, these were components of the Affordable Care Act that, of course need improvement and revision, but the current administration is trying to repeal.  If this is a mental health issue, I'm concerned about why an Obama-era legislation was repealed last February regarding mental health screens and background checks for people who were seeking to buy a firearm.  I'd ask, for anyone who chooses this particular platform, to just seek consistency.  Mental illness, as I said before, is overwhelmingly specific to an individual and is a form of suffering but it does not have to be debilitating.  To label anyone with a mental health diagnosis as dangerous or evil would not only be unethical, but false.  This perspective perpetuates stigma and paints a picture of millions of people, using only one face.

4. "Gun law needs to be reformed".  Over the last three or four years, I have worked intimately with close to one hundred individuals with suicidal ideation.  In the scheme of things, this is not a high number.  But the protocol for working with someone who is a threat to themselves or to others, once they are in the care of a professional, is to ensure that they do not have the means to do so.  Are guns locked and kept safe?  Do you have access to copious amounts of medication?  Are the sharp knives put away?  Do you have a support system?  Safety planning is not foolproof and we have learned over the years that creating contracts with patients who want to take their own lives is less than effective.  However.  While contracting is not protocol, safety planning is.  We understand, on an intellectual and systemic level, that people pull triggers on guns.  People will do bad things.  In the same way that we know people will misuse narcotics, so we created legislation that controls these substances and holds doctors and pharmacies accountable.  Do people still misuse substances?  Absolutely.  But we created checks and balances so that fewer might try.  Fewer might have the opportunity.  Gun law reformation is not unlike this.  For those of you concerned about the black market, I am alarmed because this same logic is not being applied to marijuana which is not inherently harmful.  It is not even being applied to opiates, stimulants, or benzos.  Black markets are created by our legislation, and I am not denying their existence.  But how many people with limited means, social skills, access are able to not only discreetly find, but obtain goods through this system.  Cruz, in Parkland, Florida this week, obtained his AR-15 legally.  Because of the way Florida gun law is set up.  These are the kinds of laws we are talking about.  Systemically speaking, the problem is so large, deep, and multi-faceted I am afraid we are freezing in the face of it.  There's too much to do!  The problem is too big!  If we just do one thing, it won't be enough.  Whereas, my mentality as someone so accustomed to micro change and impact, is that some is better than none. When there is a problem this complex, a knot so tangled, progress is slow but it has to be made.  One law at a time.  The mentality of "we cannot fix it all" cannot keep us from fixing what we can.  I urge those of us who are in this camp to continue to lobby for reformation of the law.  But don't stop there.  Being myopic is just not an option here.  Be methodical.  Address the acute problem so we can move on to the chronic ones.

5.  And finally, "it's a parenting issue".

Deep breath.

This is actually what I came here to talk about.

Because you're right.  Really.  You are.

It's not the only issue though.  It is not the stand-alone, single cause of gun violence in America.

If you were to sit down with the parents of children or young adults who committed mass murders, empathetically sit and listen and consider the person in environment, I don't think you'd find much compassion or sympathy for the murderers.  But you might gain some understanding.  Which is not the same thing.

I said it before and I'll say it again. Understanding doesn't mean excusing the behavior.  It creates an uncomfortable cognitive dissonance, which most of us are not willing to grapple with.

I read a facebook status this morning from someone I've known for a couple of decades.  We were raised in the some town, by similar parents with (at the time) similar beliefs.  She attributes this current problem to "this generation".

She described this generation as entitled.  As coddled.  As requiring "safe zones and participation trophies".  She described that they're taught that right and wrong are gray areas and relative.  She described them as believing they are god, rather than serving THE God.

Talk about cognitive dissonance for me.  I tried to wrap my mind around what children she's talking about.  Is there a specific age group this applies to exclusively?  Is there that much of a generational gap that someone in their 30's uses these words to describe a teenager?

This is where you lose me on the "parenting is the problem" agenda.

I have been working with families and their children for only five years.  That is not a long time.  I have only been a parent for that same amount of time.  And in twenty years, maybe I'll come back to my thoughts on this topic and just shake my head at my naivety.

But for the last seven months, I have sat across a table from parents who've been caught by our net at the pediatrician's office.  They sit there with their children who are anxious, depressed, angry, suicidal, and afraid.  They aren't sleeping.  They're panicking.

And in almost every single parent, except the three (out of 70) who I can remember as being healthy, caring parents, I see a mirror image of their child.

I could write for days about this.  About as a neutral party how I can look at a family and see how something occurred.

But in this affluent, homogenous community who doesn't need my case mangement skills, who doesn't need resources, who doesn't need money... they're presenting to me with so much unhappiness and so much discontentment and so much pain.

I don't see entitlement.  But I do see bad parenting.

I do see parents setting an example with their behavior, which maybe they aren't setting with their words.

My point is.  Parenting is absolutely the issue.

My point is also that it is our generation and the ones above us who works for the schools right now.  For the government.  For the FBI who failed to investigate Nikolas Cruz.  It's our generation who's raising the next generation.  And we are the ones telling the victims of this most recent shooting that "They don't know what they're talking about".

We raised them, folks.  We are raising them.

And while you are maybe not raising a psychopath, so you feel comfortable with your performance as a parent... I wonder if you're raising an asshole?

You should have seen my face as I dared to type that.

The likelihood that the way you parent will result in pathological or murderous behavior is pretty low.  Statistically speaking, it would seem insignificant.  It only takes one person to kill hundreds or thousands, which is why we must address this.  But the likelihood that you will raise a selfish, unkind, greedy, self-involved person... those stats are a little higher.  That's the risk I want to talk about.

I don't know too many of the kinds of kids this friend described.  I tend to pull from a different pool than most do, so my guess is if you are a teacher you see more than most.

But my question is, how honestly different are these children than their parents?  How many entitled children have you met who did not have an entitled parent?  How many impatient children have you met without an impatient parent?  How many unkind children have you met without an unkind parent?

We are raising them.

So my question is.  Even though you're probably not raising a psychopath.  Are you raising an asshole?  Are you raising the men and women who will gain power in our society and only care about themselves?  Who won't know how to handle conflict?  Who won't know how to ask for what they need?

Ask yourselves these questions, and ask this of the people who will be honest with you who know your children.

Are you raising a kind person?

Are you raising an involved person?

Are you raising a thoughtful person?

A brave person?

Are you raising a child who feels heard?

Do you know what kind of person you are raising?  Because it takes time and intentionality to find out.

Discipline is an imperative component of parenting.  But as I talk to people in my generation (a millennial), we feel a distinct absence of guidance.  We were told what was wrong, for sure.  Most of us were spanked, most of us were punished, most of us were held accountable for our "bad" behavior.

But we weren't necessarily taught what the alternative to this was.

Bad behavior has consequences.  Don't do the bad thing.

And the buck stopped there.

When was the last time you asked your child his opinion?

When was the last time you took your child to volunteer somewhere?

When was the last time you sincerely asked your teenage child how he was feeling and how you could help?

This is not coddling.

Natural, age-appropriate, and consistent consequences are necessary.  Absolutely necessary.

But that's not all parenting is.

I've seen a few people flesh this comment out, and I'm very proud.

Usually, the statements will end with "and you're not their friend" and this always pierces my heart.  Because I know exactly what you mean.  But what I see, in practice, is that we forget we are raising humans whose friendship we are going to crave and covet if we do it right.  "Not being their friend" is really a statement about not trying to just make our kids happy all the time, which to be honest, I don't want that in a friendship anyway.  But it also doesn't mean you have to be a prison warden, it doesn't mean you can't like your child.

I have been asking people I know, both who are good parents and good clinicians, what the traits are of good parents.

They can't tell me.

I think we just know you when we see you.

But I would encourage you, if this is your platform, to recognize what a longitudinal issue this is.

We were raised a certain way and this is impacting how we are raising our children.

Change happens incrementally.  And it cannot be mandated or regulated.  Which is why this cannot be the only solution to the safety of our children in public places.

And with this culture we've created, we've created so much judgment.  So much superiority and blame-laying and shaming.

It would be beneficial for all of us if we considered the concept that someone is doing the best they can.  And if it bothers us so much that we don't believe this is true, then ask how we can help.

And then go home and sit down to dinner and ask your kid how he's feeling.

Ask how he's feeling and then ask him his opinion on something.  Ask him what ideas he has.

6. and 7. "This is not the time for politics/God belongs back in schools".  I only want to touch on. Because I am not emotionally intelligent to address these issues without being derogatory.

Wednesday was Ash Wednesday.

Most of the pictures from Douglas Highschool, teenagers had ashes on their foreheads.

School is not the place children learn their religion.  School is not the place children learn their morals.

A public school should be neutral territory where people of all walks of life can be free to express their faith and religion in any way as long as it is not harmful emotionally or physically to someone else.

This was depicted beautifully by a pastoral services student in one of my classes.  She is devoutly Christian.  And she gently mentioned in class one day that she has prayer rugs and multiple different religious texts available for her patients because "just because what I believe and what you believe is different doesn't mean I can't minister to you."  Let that sink in.

Ten Commandments from the Christian's Bible do not belong on the walls of schools unless every religion's religious texts are also represented.  Students should be allowed to pray, to organize faith-based functions, but teachers and administrators should not be making these things mandatory.  If you are a coach on a sports team and your students ask to pray, pray.  It just shouldn't be your idea.  And if it is your students' idea and they have classmates who don't want to participate, there's an opportunity to teach about inclusion and acceptance.  This is going to look different all over the country.

But to impose your beliefs about a God not everyone believes in is harmful.

To suggest that the God you believe in allowed this to happen because you took religious rites out of schools makes me terrified of the God you believe in.

That said.

In conclusion.

The root word of politics is "polis" in Greek that means city or also "polities" which means citizen.  The dictionary defines it is "the activities, actions, and policies that are used to gain and hold power in a government or to influence government."

Politics, by definition, is a power struggle.

For those suffering, there are multiple perspectives.

But engaging in political action is the only way anything has ever changed.

Because we have created a culture, which has a government (the political direction and control exercised over the actions of the members of communities, via Merriam Webster dictionary online) we have created an existence or a life that is intertwined with politics.

Every last thing you do in America is related to politics.

If you identify as a non-political person, it means that you either have not educated yourself on how politics affect you, or you are so privileged that politics tend to err in your favor.

In this day and age, "being political" is one of the greatest insults someone may try and hurl at you.

Politicizing emotion or tragedy or using terror as a platform for political change is either viewed as necessary or abhorrent.  There's almost no middle ground.

But right now... there are too many people who are directly in danger or at risk because of a power struggle.

You can choose to remain uninvolved.  All this tells me is that you are either so deep in the throes of oppression that you don't have the energy left and that's why I have my job and use my voice.  Or you are so benefited by the systemic oppression that addressing it threatens you.  This is also why I use my voice.

I will not condemn you for not speaking up.  And I don't assume that if you don't speak up on social media, that you aren't involved elsewhere.  Plenty of people are only politically active on social media and that's not the kind of action we need.  I mean, if you are not speaking up in your families, at your workplace, at the voting booths... I will not condemn you.

I just ask you to use different language.

You are political.  Everything about your identity as an American is politicized.

It's just time to call it what it is.  That it is not your priority.

That political evolution might impact you in a way you deem negative.  So things are fine just the way they are.

We just have to tell the truth about that.

Thursday, February 8, 2018


August 2016 

I didn't pack enough food to take to work with me the other day.  The morning was hectic and it was more important to get Judah's shoes on than to pack an afternoon snack.

I had just enough time after work to drive straight to the gym for bootcamp.  So I texted a friend who works out with me and asked her if she had any snacks she could bring with her to tide me over.

She showed up at the warehouse that afternoon with two mini Reese cups.

Protein, we joked.  Perfect.

For the last three months, I have been working at a job on which I had piled exceedingly high expectations.  This job was my ticket out.  It was my saving grace.  It was my heroic opportunity to escape the tyranny I was experiencing in Winchester.  It was a chance to send Judah to school.  To do work that mattered.  To be proud of what I did.

I have this really detrimental habit, though, of ignoring important things.  Postponing doctor's appointments, avoiding the online banking app, not looking at the syllabus at the beginning of a semester.  I am not irresponsible, I just do not front-load well.  I cannot handle a barrage of information.  And I didn't budget well this time.  I guessed at some numbers, in my desperation to just "get out" and I reasoned that I would handle it like I've handled everything else so far.  I knew I was supposed to leave Clark.  To me, this seemed the only viable option.

It was a bad choice.

Judah has thrived at school.  Absolutely flourished in a way I could have never anticipated, but at the same time doesn't surprise me at all.  If all continues to go to hell, I will know I made the right decision for this season because my son has been poured into and taught and loved in a way that has truly nurtured his whole being.

But it was a bad choice financially.  It was a bad choice for my heart.

And I'm still processing the deep deep feelings of failure I have for making this decision.

To make ends meet I watched people's houses and dogs over the summer.  I have been cleaning people's houses as well, having to check my pride and do something I never thought I'd have to do.  Clean someone else's toilet.  This has helped curb the edge of the financial disaster that we've been perched on for the last three months.

Today, the severity and the harshness of the situation just settled in my belly.

I've been applying for new jobs, as much as I don't want a short stint of employment on my resume.  I've been looking outside my field of education, trying to find anything that will pay the bills.  Pay all the bills. I started looking for work outside of Lexington.  Branching out, expanding my search, to Louisville and Cincinnati.  Every day I get jobs sent to my email.  And every day I find a job to apply to, and just keep my fingers crossed.

I have been dealing with a certain degree of depression.  Between not being able to provide the way I've wanted to, working on a hospital unit which feels like a dungeon, doing work I am not nearly as passionate about as I dreamed I would be... recovering still from hurt and trauma.

Today I needed help from a manager at work.  He's a tall, friendly man who is always incredibly helpful.  And he showed up in my office today, walking in through the door into the tiny space, and leaned over and dropped two mini Reese cups onto my desk.

And this is what I believe.  In the middle of my worry and in the middle of the difficulty, I felt this was God's way of saying, "this job is not permanent.  This job is not meant to fulfill you.  But it will get you through until the better thing comes.  Until the real meal comes."

This was the greatest encouragement I could have received.

September 2017

It's been a year now.

About two months after Brian laid two Reese cups on my desk, a job opportunity came up for a promotion in my field.  A job as a director at a local nursing facility.

I was interviewed.  And called a few days later and offered the position.

I went into the facility that day to ask for particulars and tie up any loose ends.

This time, on my new boss's desk, was a whole jar full of mini Reese cups.

A whole jar.

I accepted the job.  Feeling like this was a sign.

That this was my green light to move forward with the promotion because I had felt before that God had promised his provision with two little Reese cups.

In November I started the new job and things didn't go quite as I had expected.

I don't even know how to tell part of the story.  I don't know how to explain how hard this was, without telling everything.

I don't know how.

So I won't.

February 2018

Six months after starting a director's job, I turned in a letter.

Thanks for the opportunity, it's time for me to go.

They asked me to stay, to help when I could.

So I started grad school, stepped down from a director's position, and helped out PRN all summer.

They asked me to stay in the fall.  So I stayed.  Helped every spare hour between classes and practicum. 

On Thursday they told me they didn't need me anymore.  I'd helped keep a department afloat, amid all the changes, they were fully staffed now.  The money wasn't there, and Thursday needed to be my last day.

If you can't imagine the disappointment and frustration and fear I felt over the next few days, I won't bother you with describing it.

Tuesday came around and I had gnashed my teeth and crunched the numbers enough and I did the bravest thing I knew to do.  In order to save my self. 

In order to, for once, put myself first. 

To slow the toll that was being taken on my brain and body. 

To finish well. 

I did the hard thing on Tuesday morning.

At the encouragement of my family and colleagues and clinical supervisor -- who encouraged me to me to be kind to myself. 

Tuesday night I came home and found an empty mini, Reese's cup wrapper on my bedside table.

Friday, February 2, 2018


the story of grad school will later be told like this:

i was scared and did it anyway.

and whatever cosmic force is in control, she was who led me here.

leaving crumbs for me to follow.

as she barreled through the forest ahead, tagging the trees

with mindfulness.





i am not here by accident.

i dont know if what comes next is a clearing or a valley or a wall or a river or a storm.

but the forest is particularly dense right now.

and what i've learned, from the forces, from the teachers, from the guides who mark the way,

is to pause.

what an opportunity, i've learned to say.

anymore, it only sounds a little bit like sarcasm. 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

steel umbrella

There's an apparatus at the park.  A giant, steel umbrella with the bones of a canopy, which spins.

I have no idea how it's supposed to be used.

But I know how Judah likes to use it.  

He is lifted up, grabs on to the rim of the canopy, and throws his body in one direction.

Because of the tilt, the climb up is slow.  If he threw himself hard enough, the weight of his little body will hold him momentarily at the top before the spinning starts again.  This time on a downward spiral, fast, fast, fast.  

That's how my thoughts have been lately.  

Throw my whole weight into it. Hands gripped, knuckles white, legs dangling.  My whole self: doing my best to create momentum.

There's a reason we should not stay in one place.

There's a reason we should not let our lives grow stale.

I am here today, taking my feet and knees and thighs and hips and pushing them against air and angle and the truth is...

We do the hard work for the feeling of relief when our weight is matched with speed.

Something happened and because my world has gotten small, I thought it would never happen again.

Like light breaking through the dark curtains, when the sun breaks through the clouds.

Something familiar, but forgotten, returns.  And it took so long for it to come back, your first instinct is maybe to chase.

But your instinct is wrong here.  Because while it is good, it is not rare.  While it is what you need, in part, it is not limited in supply.

You just let your world get small.

And the weight and angle and grip carry you higher and you travel the circumference and remember.  

I know how to do that.

I had forgotten.  I had forgotten that what light broke through the darkness this time, was not new.  It was not special, in the sense it was like none other.  I had found it before.  I'd find it again.  I had just let my world get too small.

Deep breath, pause at the top.  A smile tugs at the corners of my mouth as I wait, legs dangling, the momentum does its job and 


Tuesday, January 30, 2018


We sat in the back yard and I knew him when I saw him.  The oddball. 

A surprise and a gift and we followed him around as he explored. 

Walked away, the three of us.

I knew, no one else did, that I was trying to replace what was lost. 

I was trying to fill a void, the space left empty. 

Let us take care of something.  Let us heal. 

And I was up around the clock. 

Potty training.  Softening food.  Bathing.  Snuggling.

I remember the night Judah got jealous.  I remember the night that he got his fingers gnawed on and he cried and panicked and I remember thinking, I did this for youHow could I have gotten it so wrong?

And what we had expected never happened. 

Voids never filled.  There was no fulfillment.  No peace.

Families have pets, I thought.  Somehow in my mind, this gesture, this gift, would make us whole.  Would repair what had been broken. 

So every time this oddball peeled and ate a whole bunch of bananas or dug through the trash or pitted an avocado or gnawed on a pair of eyeglasses, resentment grew.

This was supposed to fix it. 

And I had been wrong. 

When we moved home, he came with us.  Happier to have a yard, happier to have a friend. 

But what happens in May? I wondered.

When this pup, who turned out much differently than we thought he would, has to go back to living in a crate.  Has to move into an apartment.

What happens when we attribute so much meaning and so much expectation on one thing.

One person.

One job.

One degree.

One house. 

One salary.

One ring.

What happens when we wait to repair and we wait to heal and we wait to redeem and we wait to resolve and we wait to reconstruct because we feel we are missing pieces. 

We wait to live.

So I think back to the backyard.  Picking that warm, furry body out of the pile of warm, furry bodies.  Thinking, certainly, this will fix us.  This will heal what hurts.

And in hindsight, knowing I was wrong, I wonder how to let go.

When we attach ourselves to the purpose of something, the function it can serve, rather than who it is intrinsically... love has a hard time growing.  We become enmeshed, calling it love; except we only really love what it was supposed to do for us.   

What happens in May today turned quickly into what happens now?  And all over again I have to face this furry, oddball puppy who can't stay.  


Turns out, graduate school really takes it out of you. 

Not as if I haven't done all I knew to do over the past seven years to be my best self.  But the last eight months have been an entirely different story.  Rapid transformation seems to bring on a certain measure of shame for not changing, evolving, so quickly in the past.  

Education and resources and perspective have changed and elicited this transformation... there's no way my brain looks the same as it did at the beginning of last summer.

I read something in Daring Greatly by Brene Brown a year or two ago... and I spent an hour trying to find it on the internet yesterday without having to check the book back out from the library.

Turns out everyone loves talking about bravery and vulnerability and what it does for us.

But not many people want to sound byte the narrative about what happens if we do it wrong.

And I wasn't doing it wrong on purpose.  But it still was happening. 

I got a nasty text from someone who didn't know me the other day.  Who talked about how I was too much, essentially.  That I had abandonment issues.  No wonder I was alone.  I took it with a grain of salt because, again, they don't know me.  But I sifted through the criticism and remembered this term from Brene's work.  Looked long and hard to find it.  The internet is a strange place.

But its called "floodlighting".  Defined by Brene as an attempt to elicit a response or to breed connection or a false sense of intimacy.  When we share too much too soon with the wrong people. 

Some people do it for attention (think: Kardashians). 

And then there are people like me.  Still working through a lot of shame and a lot of trauma and trying really hard to not let it fester in the dark. 

Maybe I want to know if you're okay with my story before we get too deep into this; it'll hurt less if you choose to bow out early.  There's a small part of me that still naively believes that if you know what I've been through, maybe you'll choose to engage me differently.  Not stay out of pity or choose me out of obligation.  But if you know what my family has been through and you recognize you can't fill a single need we have, maybe you'll just choose to go.  Maybe you'll choose to communicate. 

Maybe it's my way of normalizing some of what we've been through.

But it's not good.  And I know that.  I knew it before I just didn't have a name for it, and so now that I have a name for it I not only feel empowered but I have immediately done the work I know to do to fix it.

This space, my writing, is not so different from that concept of too much too soon with the wrong ones.  But you choose to be here. Over the years, you know whether you want to click this link and read along or not.  Really I don't share details here until after I've processed it all, anyway.  And that's one key component to healthy vulnerability versus floodlighting.  Being vulnerable not to fill a need and not dependent on a response. 

Yesterday I was talking with a friend who was describing herself as an empath.  I have spent my entire life with empaths. 60% of the women in my immediate family are empaths.  It wasn't until yesterday though, after my friend stated that she thought I was one too, that I realized I wasn't.

So, as per usual, I did some research. 

Turns out there are four common emotional personality types.  The Intellectual, the Empath, the Rock and the Gusher.

And guess which one I am. 

I am currently hitting my face with my palm, face red still from the embarrassment.

Sometimes it's embarrassing to find out who you are.

And I'm right there.

Gushers, according to Dr Judith Orloff, are incredibly comfortable with our emotions.  We express them, experience them, share them.  Sometimes too much.  We don't wallow in negativity because we are comfortable feeling it, but we often want to talk about it.

It took me a few minutes to get over feeling embarrassed and of course... shaming myself for feeling lots of emotions, which of course makes me the "gusher" that I am.  It took me reading through the other personality types to convince myself that I was not the only one with inherent and interpersonal flaws. 

And then I realized what the author recommended was not to change yourself, but to strengthen yourself; her methods suggested were everything I've been working on the past seven to eight months.  Somehow, without the words to describe myself, I had perceived my own need and begun the hard work. 

I also was able to recognize and acknowledge that this is one of the reasons why I am not too shabby at my job.  Why I thrive in these fast-paced, charged environments.

The way people feel doesn't scare me.

People's experiences and feelings and grief and joy... I am not overwhelmed by them. 

I understand them.

My empathy may not look like absorbing their energy or sharing their load. 

But I can sit with someone.  I can let them be, whatever it is they need to be.  I am a sensitive listener.

And that's something. 

Am I still a little embarrassed?  Sure.  Kind of like realizing you've been walking around with a hole in the seat of your pants, or your dress got caught in your pantyhose.  Nothing too mortifying.  Nothing anyone has not seen before.  Just a little embarrassed because here's a flaw.  And I know I have them.  I just didn't want you to know.

The other facet of this process has been resisting the urge to text everyone I've ever vented to and apologize.

I'm sorry for who I am, essentially. 

None of this is news to you all.  I'm sorry it took so long for me to see it. 

Growth sucks.  But here I am.  Neck deep in changing our whole lives, starting with my mind and heart.

I'm doing the best I can.  

Monday, January 29, 2018

when it's over

Endings are wildly irreverent, sometimes. 

But I tore it to pieces and I'll throw it in the trash on my way out.

No ceremony.  No celebration.

Just an ending.

A debt paid in full. 

Sunday, January 28, 2018


January 28th 2007.  

A heavy breath of fog had descended on the bus station, causing lights to blur, and a layer of dampness to cling to every surface. He watched as drivers and security filtered through the automatic doors, and he felt the gust of warm air on his face every time just as the doors closed again. 

He had finally worn holes in the soles of his shoes. His threadbare scarf was wrapped tightly around his neck, and his fingerless gloves were fraying. He lowered his head, lifted the burning cigarette to his lips, and drew a deep breath. He had been sitting here for hours.

Beside him on the ground lay a duffel bag. Green canvas, his name was printed on the side. It was stuffed, filled to the top, and these days the seams were stretching. The shoulder straps were darkened from his sweat, the bottom of the bag blackened from the many station floors it had fallen upon. His own shoulders had taken shape to accomodate the heavy bag, and he couldn't even remember what it felt like to walk without it.

A bus pulled into the station, its brakes exhaling and whistling. He looked up and caught a glimpse of the bus' number. The headlights penetrated the fog and darkness, and then was absorbed by the fluoresent glow. This was his bus.

He stood up, dropped the cigarette butt on the concrete, grinding it with the thin toe of his boot, and shouldered the heavy bag.

The sun would rise in a few hours, but he would already be on the road. When natural light was cast upon the bus station again, he would be gone. His bag a few pounds heavier, his pockets that much emptier. The thing was, the bag would only continue to get heavier. And his pockets would continue to be lined and then spent, his belly continue to get fed and then become hungry again. The only consistency was what was so inconsistent. The only thing that never seemed to change was the bag.

He shifted the strap on his shoulder and took a step forward. The windshield wipers on the bus began to sweep back and forth as the fog released cold rain. Taking a deep breath he left his bench and walked towards the bus, stealing one last look at the station through the corner of his eye.

There were days this bag groaned beneath its own weight. There were days when he wept for the weight of it on his own shoulders. The days of inspiration came and went. Days when he would stand up and leave the bag on the bench, or in the restroom, or in the overhead compartment. On those days he was done with the weight of it all. He was done with tying the top closed, making sure nothing fell out, reminding himself that his identity was carried in that bag. On those days he would leave the bag.

Those same days were the days he picked it back up again. Turn a corner and be struck by shocking vulnerability. Who was he without that bag? And he reminded himself he was nothing, that he was empty without it, and he would turn around. Usually running, he would return to pick up the green, canvas bag with his name on it, stained and smelling. Shouldering it again, he would continue on his way, he back aching from the weight, his soul darkened by the presence of the baggage.

Today was another day of inspiration.

Oh! what he could do without this bag. He could live a real life, find love, find his way back home.... the thoughts and ideas and dreams churned like turmoil in his heart until he could muster enough courage to lay the bag down again. Those were the days of inspiration. Those were the days, which inspired change. Those were the days when his heart, body, mind and soul wanted freedom from this burden.

He had grown strong for carrying this bag. He was powerful for having it. He was in control of his identity because of this bag. No one could take it from him, he was in charge.

But there were days when the bag had all the power.

He shook the thoughts out of his mind this time. Too much had been tucked away in that bag today for him to leave it behind. Someone might find it. Someone might see.

So he handed his ticket to the attendant, nodding silently and blowing the last of the cigarette smoke out of his mouth. He wondered if the attendant would think it such a "good morning" if she carried a bag like his. Would she be so happy if her shoulders ached like his did?

And then they reached for it.

This was why he hated traveling. Why he would rather hitch hike, sleeping in the bed of an old Chevy as it rumbled down the road. His fellow travelers never took his bag away from him. Some of them even had their own baggage thrown in the passenger seat, making the journey too.

The buses always took his bag. Every time.

He slipped the bag off his shoulder, feeling for a brief, strange moment what it felt like to be free. But only for a moment. He leaned over and picked the bag up in his arms as if it were a child and handed it over.

The cold rain fell on his skin and began to soak through the shoulders of his coat. The percipitation darkened the green canvas, making it appear black. He turned to climb into the bus, feeling the emptiness of his arms and the absence of the load on his shoulder.

And then he heard it.

He had known the bag was too full. He had patched and mended the seams too many times to count; this morning when he had dropped the empty flask onto the top and then clasped the bag shut, he remembered wondering how much more the bag could hold.

He heard them exclaim their apologies. He saw her bend down to retrieve the contents of the bag before they rolled beneath the bus. He watched as the wind caught hold of the loose strap and he felt his heart sink.

There, scattered on the wet asphalt, caught in the damp glow of the headlights was his life. Or, what it was his life had become. And he fell to his knees. He pushed her away, trying to hide his belongings as quickly as he could. There were, perhaps, a few more secrets, which hadn't been exposed. He wrapped up contents in the ripped bag and stood up. Shaking his head, holding back the tears, he stood up and walked away from the bus.

The rain came down harder. He felt the raindrops chase down the back of his neck, sending shivers up his spine. He stared down at his life, laying helpless in his arms. And he felt the hurt.

That's what the bag was for, anyway. To hide the hurt. To keep it. To numb it. Open the bag and it all returned... the memories, the addictions, the loneliness, a little bit of joy every now and then. Open the bag and his life would rise up, and he could smell it. He could taste it. He could hear it. The bag was to keep it all at bay.

The bag was broken now.

And he felt sick.

And he felt tired.

And he began to remember what it was like to feel...

And it was no longer inspiration... nor was it embarrassment.

But he felt something, heard it rise up with the fog.

And he stepped into the bus station, feeling the warmth on his cold, red cheeks again, letting the water drip from his boots. And he dropped his bag, dropped what was left of his life into the trash can.

He backed away slowly, still worrying that someone might find his secrets. But he left the station again, sat back down on his bench, lit a cigarette, and waited for the next bus. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Tell Me About the Time You Did the Dishes

Old Friend from Far Away / Tell Me About the Time You Did the Dishes

There was a season in our life that made a lot of sense.  

I had moved out of our childhood home before it all happened.  And then he moved out too. 

And for a long season, there was a lot of secrecy and a lot of dinners at restaurants and a lot of cleaning up whatever he left behind at the old place and a lot more of feeling left out.  

And then Fiddler's Creek happened.  

New beds happened.  That sectional happened.  A whole season of 24 happened.  

We'd all be there.  The four of us and him.  And it was clean and it was sparse and it was the best thing I can ever remember.  We would cook or order out, usually on a Monday night so that afterward we could watch Kiefer Sutherland save the world.  

After dinner he would always move to the sink in the small kitchen and wash the dishes.  

We would offer to do it for him and he always shook his head.

He liked washing dishes, he said.  

Most of what goes on in my days doesn't make sense, he tried to explain.  

When I wash a dish it's dirty, then it's clean, and I get to put it away.  Eventually, the whole sink is empty.

That made sense to him.  That was his resolution.  

A few years later I lived in a studio apartment and was a few months pregnant.  I had let the dishes pile high and couldn't bring myself to tackle the job of washing them.  

Finally, whether it was really that bad or pregnancy had heightened my sense of smell, I couldn't take it any longer.  I rolled up my sleeves and went to work.  

I remember being done and looking at the empty sink and knowing nothing moving forward would resolve quite so beautifully.  And I was thankful.


I spent that whole day trying to make it go away. 

The chest tightness, the tears welling, the short breath. 

All day I followed my own advice.  I did what I have been taught and what I've been teaching.  Breathing deeply, calming the amygdala.  Trying to regain control of my nervous system.  Filling my nose with air, I tried to taste it as it left my mouth.  But nothing worked.

In fact, it climbed.

I convinced myself of a truth that I had no idea about.  And I became overwhelmingly uncomfortable in my own space.  I made myself sick.  A fear of missing out, a false sense of urgency.  My chest wall tightened and my skin was hot and I could feel every nerve-ending in every fingertip.  

I'm still surprised as I sit here and can breathe all the way into my lungs.  On the other side, I am still fascinated it's over. 

It's over, in part, because someone said this...

"Anna, you're having a hard time because you're trying to make these feelings stop."

I'm listening.

"You are having a hard time because you've convinced yourself that you shouldn't be feeling this way and you're trying to make these feelings go away.  But what you're going through is a hurricane.  And people don't make hurricanes go away.  They protect themselves from them.  Hunker down. Wait it out.  Step aside, let it through."

This particular friend is usually the friend who tells me to suck it up and quit being a wuss.  Man up, they usually say, you sound like you ain't been through shit before.

Instead, this time they said:

"You've never done this before.  The whole point is to mess up.  The whole point is to get through this shit you don't know how to get through so that you can get stronger.  So you can grow.  The point of life is to screw up some.  And really, it doesn't sound like you're screwing up that much at all.  You're still supposed to feel this shit."

Tears streamed down my face. 

 I realized how hard I had been trying to keep my composure. How my body needed some release, some relief, and I had just been trying to stay calm.  I was trying to make something go away, which really needed to run its course.  I was trying to outrun something I wasn't meant to outrun.  I was trying to escape something, which wasn't designed to be escaped.  

Later that night I sat down and read this: 

"I had completely clear insight that my whole personality... was based on not wanting to go to the groundless place.  Everything I did... it was all to avoid feeling this way.  

By learning to stay, it gradually loses its threat... 

We think that facing our demons is reliving some traumatic event or discovering for sure that we are worthless.  But in fact it is just abiding with the uneasy, disquieting sensation of nowhere to run and finding that -- guess what -- we don't die; we don't collapse.  In fact, we find profound relief and freedom." 

(Taking the Leap, Pema Chodron, p. 19)

Chodron recommends we practice what she calls the "pause".  

Which, I suppose, is not the same advice as hunkering down in a hurricane.  

But I think I understand the idea.  

The practice of pausing--ritualistically, intentionally--and bringing yourself to the present moment. Attending to whatever is true right now -- whether it's a  groundless or not.  The practice of mindfully extending kindness to yourself, exploring what it is you are feeling without judgment.  Without criticism.  

Sometimes, it turns out, I just need time.  And the pause allows for time.  The pause creates time.  A brief moment of grounding yourself, despite groundlessness, despite ego, despite attachment.

Maybe I've gotten it all wrong.  But this is what I understand it all to mean.

What I'm struggling with now is understanding how to manage my expectations without negotiating my way out of a dream.

How do I hope for a new job, the opportunity to move to a new city, a 4.0 for graduation, or for love, but also manage my expectations for those things?  Because it turns out, my knee-jerk response is to talk myself out of wanting it.  

To detach from hope by denying its worth to me.

How do we both want something and have realistic expectations for it?  Can we release attachments to these narratives and still hope for them?  Without punishing ourselves if we don't achieve what we are striving for?  Without shaming ourselves for the wanting?

I spent the majority of that day sifting through cognitive distortions and assigning myself the same homework I've been assigning my clients.  

I don't have the answers yet.  But it's the healthiest way I know to be.  

Tuesday, January 16, 2018


With each of my clients I sit down across a wide conference table and I complete an assessment.  

There's only a few rules, I tell them.  

The first rule is that I want you to tell the truth.  Even if at home or at school or at work you get in trouble for telling the truth.  I want you to tell me whatever you think the truth is, whenever you're ready to tell it.

The second rule is that if I use a word you don't understand, I want you to tell me and we will pick new words.  

I ask them about home, about transportation, about legal involvement, about medical history, about family composition.  And then I ask them a series of questions, questions that I did not write.  Questions I hate asking.

1. Are you having any trouble with people in your life right now? 
2. Do you have any reason to feel frightened in any of your relationships? 
3. Do you ever have any thoughts of hurting yourself on purpose or thinking you were better off dead?
4. Have you ever had anything horrible happen in your life that was outside of the ordinary?

I have had to ask these questions to clients as old as 18 and as young as 6.  

We also talk about depression.  And we talk about anxiety.  We assess mania and hyperactivity.  

But it never fails.  There's one question, smack in the middle of the assessment.

Have you experienced any loss or grief? 

And unless I have a really emotionally intelligent teenager sitting across the table from me, I watch young brows furrow, watch these children chew on their lip, swivel in the chair.  I pause.  Wait for it.  Let them ask.  

What does grief/mean? 

And so we talk about it.  

Sometimes a parent is sitting with us  and the look on their face when I ask this particular question breaks my heart.  

I don't want to ask it either, I promise.  

So I lean in.  

Is it when someone dies? They always ask this.  Grief happens when someone dies.  

I nod.  

It can be. 

You can feel grief for a lot of reasons.  Sometimes we lose something we thought we could keep.  Sometimes things change that we thought would never change. 

Some of my clients list grandparents who've passed, and you can watch their little minds working to capture a concept so abstract.  So intangible.  This answers my question for me, essentially.  For these clients, the answer is no.

But the others...

Their faces say yes before their mouths do.  

me too

I liked him, I thought.

A few months before I'd had my heart broken by someone who had no ill intentions, but hadn't been careful with my heart.

I was 22 and childless and I don't remember who I was back then.

But I remember a week night.  After work, heading to the apartment close to campus.  Drinking a little too much on the back deck.  Everyone leaving but me.

Belt buckles left bruises on my hips and I was angry and I punched and pushed and pulled my bra back into place and scrambled to find my keys.

Drunkenly he offered to walk me to my car, because "campus isn't safe for girls at night".

And the next day he didn't remember how he got the bruise on his arm from where I had pushed him off of me.

I was careful.  Walked outside with my best friend.  I was sober and had my key in my pocket.  All night someone had been bothering me inside.  Walking up behind me and pushing himself against me.  Once he pulled my hair I told the bouncer to watch out for me and I left.  Walked to my car a few hundred feet away.  I pulled my key out of my pocket and it fell on the ground.  When I bent over to pick it up I heard my friend scream my name and the next thing I knew I was being thrown against my car.

He'd just gotten out of prison, he had told me.  He pushed his body against mine and kept me suspended feet above the ground.  All he'd done while in prison was work out, he said.  He could do this all day.

My friend yelled at him to drop me, but he ignored her.  His hips pinned me against the car and his hands pulled my hair and he described vulgarly what he planned to do.  And I looked for the police over his shoulder and finally between gritted teeth I reminded him that if he wasn't careful I could get him sent back to jail.

And my friend showed up.  Upstate New York in a black trench coat who had been watching from his two story walk up apartment, unsure whether we were playing or I was scared.  When he saw me pushing he walked down and stood in the glow of the streetlight and simply said, "drop her".

Which he did.

And he ran.

Or the time I was standing in the restaurant and the young man walked back and grabbed my ass with his hand.

Or the time he pulled me into the back room to put his fingers up my shorts.

Or the time he pulled me into his lap and kissed me without permission.

The time he grabbed the back of my head and pulled me towards his lap.

The time his hands kept coming back every time I moved them.

The time I don't really remember.

The time he made a decision for us that we were not ready to make.

The stories go on and on.

Not a single one of those men believed at the time that what they were doing was inappropriate.

And I could have made a scene about every single incident.

There are days I wished I had.

 I could have aired their dirty laundry.  I could have publicly shamed them.  For a couple of these guys... I could have ruined their careers.  As preachers, as barbers, medical students, small business owners, as politicians, as husbands.

But there are people right now who are telling my stories without my permission.  Rape culture reminds me daily what kind of role I played in each and every scenario.  Rape culture adjusts and amends my expectations of the behavior of men.

I had to make a decision each and every time about how to handle what happened.  With the expception of a few cirumstances, wildly out of my control, I handled it in a way I felt proud.

A couple of the incidences required that I seek counseling.

To this day I think about the worship leader and I have deeply rooted skepticism, distrust, for men who work for the church.

All I am saying is, me too.

Me too.

And in the moment I wish I had talked more about it.  Maybe I wish I had been more vocal.

But I never wished I had been more vocal in order to draw attention for myself, or to punish the man (men) who'd hurt me so badly.

My thoughts on this go on so far as... what do we do to protect those women (or, let's be honest, men too) who come after us.  This is the gray area.  This is where grace gets sticky.  This is where the lines are blurred.

What do we do to maintain that private relationships and relations are respected, that shame has no part in our narrative.  Not for ourselves, not for our perpetrators, because justice doesn't require shame.  But what do we do... how do we behave, so people are made aware that what they did was wrong.  While also behaving in a way which is above reproach?  How do we create room for redemption, while still allowing breathing room for the reckoning.

I believe this is the only mentality that will survive this movement.

We could "trade licks" all day long.  And the feminist movement could gnash our teeth and wail and groan and raise our voices so loud to make sure we overpower the louder voices of our male counterparts.  We could embarrass all of you.  If we all told these stories, we could dismantle entire empires.  But that's not sustainable.

With the exception of two... I have never been hurt by a man who knew what he was doing was wrong.

This does not excuse them.

But it draws attention to a problem much deeper than publicizing sexual misconduct allegations and hashtags can reach.

*** I wrote this months ago and feel like this is the hurdle I must overcome to be able to write anything else.

Monday, January 8, 2018


I had a moment this morning.

One of those moments.  The one I had been waiting for.

The moment when the blood pumped a little faster and my cheeks pulled at my mouth.

Gears slowly slid into place for the first time in a few months and the fluidity of connectivity gave me peace.

I've been learning.

My brain has kicked high into consumption mode and the dry sponge that was myself has leaned in to absorb.

To soak it all in.

The information I suddenly realize I don't have.

Curiosity, they say, is an understanding of the difference between what you know and what there is to know.

Part of generating motivation is identifying discrepancies between who we say we are and how we behave.

We are scared of fear and of suffering and of sadness and instead of working through we attempt to override.

But feeling is the way.

To exhaust your emotions and feel in totality.

I am learning about attachment.

About mobility and the ways we have to sit with our pain.

About how every muscle and fiber and nerve is somehow connected and when part of us hurts, we have to look above the pain and below the pain to find the source.

About the option of suffering and the way we choose to be in the moment.

About strength and how our bodies compensate for our weakness.  About nutrition and how you can exhaust yourself, but your body can't grow until you give it what it needs.

About meditation and mindfulness.

About rumbling with the truth, about the stories we tell ourselves.

I asked the question yesterday.

What do I want?

I can never answer this question.

They say not to share your goals but I struggle to even share them with myself.

Do I say them out loud for the first time and risk sounding silly?  Risk sounding childish.  Risk sounding small minded?


We are afraid of feeling anything but happiness.

Avidly, religiously we avoid anything which might hurt, which might remind us of lack, which might create distance, which might stretch us too thin, which might put us on the ledge, which might lead to failure.

We play it safe.  With our hearts and careers and words, navigating narrow roads with trepidation.  Slowly.  Because it's scary.  We self-protect, forgetting that hiding from the wind means hiding from the light.

We tell ourselves stories about inadequacy.  Laboriously mulling over our shortcomings, the ways we could be better in order to win affection, promotion, achievement, acceptance.  We create shelves and boxes and entire closets to store backboards and storyboards, canvases for which to paint all our experiences.  The stories we tell ourselves guide the dreams we are willing to pursue, the risks we are brave enough to take, the relationships we allow to develop.

We starve connections, which perhaps only need honest communication.

We turn down opportunities, which would have maybe only required the bravery of rearranging.

We experience pain and then experience suffering regarding pain.  The pain of two arrows, as the Buddhists say.

We experience anything, and shame ourselves for feeling it.

We lack compassion for ourselves.

And we tell stories, sliding ideas and thoughts onto shelves where we think they belong.

Sometimes missing out on truth entirely.

And so the circle connects, returning us back to the mirror to examine our image.

Are we behaving like ourselves?  Are our actions and interactions congruent with who we know ourselves to be?  For where we want ourselves to go?

Are we telling ourselves the truth?

Are we leaning into curiosity and allowing it to guide us through to a life well lived?

Or are we sinking, settling into a routine, which lacks conviction or discipline when what our souls are hungry for is funneled energy; effort channeled toward purpose and rallied for all that is freedom and clarity.

What's the truth then?

How can you know?

Find the grit.  Slide your palms and trace your fingers on the surface area of this whole experience.  There are injuries, keeping blood from flowing.  There are stories, and they are just that.  Tissue, knotted up, deprived of oxygen.  Blocking healing.

What it will take to heal, will hurt.

Dissecting poor attachments disguised as compensations, stories which don't support our truth and power.  Being willing to move slowly while something firm and sturdy rebuilds.

It will hurt, and we have will have to sit with it.  We will have to show ourselves compassion for it, patience while we unload and correct our movement patterns.  Loving-kindness applied like a warm compress, where we've piled high our damaging narratives.

We don't want to do anything that may not lead to happiness.

And happiness may not be what's on the other side of this discomfort.

But, love, there's life.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Test One/ Prompt One - Old Friend From Far Away

One goal for 2018 is to write every day.  Whether it's one-line journaling or blogging.  I have an intention to work through Natalie Goldberg's "Old Friend From Far Away", which is a helpful book on how to write a memoir.  Most of the entries are exercises, which I find useful for dislodging some writer's block.  I have worked through her first two exercises (about what we see and what we remember) multiple times over the years.  So for today's entry I started on chapter 3.  I do not intend to edit or even proofread these entries.

Test One / Begin each answer with "I Remember" 

1. Give me a memory of your mother, your aunt, or grandmother

I remember getting in the minivan with aunt Donna.  We drove for hours, a loop of highway around the foothills of the Rockies, slowly climbing.  She drove with her left food on the door panel of the minivan.  I, afraid of heights or falling or sliding whatever, was unnerved by the nonchalant way she navigated the winding narrow roads.  Up, up.  I think I remember later telling Larry that Donna wasn't the best driver and he laughed, already knowing this about his sister in law. 

2. Give me a memory of the color red

I asked for a sign.  The streets of Addis were crowded and colorful. Children begged on every corner.  There were merchants and we were the only white people for miles.  I was fighting, with everything in me.  They all knew it.  There had already been doves and there had already been prayers answered and they were putting things on me I didn't want to carry.  We walked into the Orthodox church, surrounded by deep brown women in stark white head coverings. The only colors left unsullied, left pure.  I remember there was no light.  Just towering windows with stained glass.  The ceilings were vaulted and it smelled hot, but there was relief there.  It was not the hot, dry season yet.  But it also wasn't Kentucky.  I was dared.  I was challenged.  I responded with an attitude and rounded the corner.  The nativity was depicted in stained glass and for a moment I stood still, with the worshippers moving around me as water does a boulder in the stream.  I remember whispering, "who didn't tell the Italians that the Virgin Mary is supposed to wear blue?"

3. Give me the memory of a sound

I thought I would sit here and tell you about the piano. 
But that's not it. 
What I actually remember is the emptying of pockets. 
The wooden porch echoes a certain way, before the screen door creaks a certain way, before the front door catches as it tries to unlatch.  
We memorized footsteps.
To this day I can tell you who has come home. 
I could probably tell you exactly how many seconds there were between that front door catch and the back room - where we sleep now - and the long, low dresser that keeps Judah's clothes now.  And I'd count those seconds and wait. 
The drawer would open, catching like the front door does. 
And he'd empty his pockets. 
Loose change, keys, and half of an unwrapped pack of Certs.
Settling noisily on that long, low dresser.

4. Give me the memory of meal I loved

There was a joke, about Norman Rockwell holidays on Severn Way.  A joke that turned into expectation.  That house used to be full of life, long before we all knew the secrets. And on Christmas Day the kitchen would be full and the back sliding glass door would be steamy.  Sliding open and shut while meat was grilled in the snow. 

5. Give me the  memory of rain

The little yellow house had a small front porch.  Up the street there was street light in an empty parking lot.  And he'd pull the old, tan lawn chairs back as close to the house as he could.  Sit, cross his calf over his knee, and watch.  In the darkness the only way we could see the rain was in the cast of that street light.  We could hear it.  We felt it spray our faces, as we sat on the shallow porch, feeling the foundation shake every time the thunder clapped.

Sunday, December 31, 2017


"On days like today, when a new year is on all our doorsteps, I feel so clearly that I have never really known where I am going.  And I think I might be getting old enough to feel okay about that now." SC Lourie

I am fundamentally unsure of how to tell the story of 2017.  So I sought out resources, which ironically is exactly what this entire year is about.  I will tell the story of the last twelve months by utilizing a personal inventory, a map.  It's the only way I know how.  You can find this inventory or yourself at I Love Namaste.  

1. My personal mantra for the second half of 2017 was the word "momentum".  I began the year believing my word for the year was "fill", and a few months into 2017 I couldn't have resonated less with a word.  In May life began to change drastically for my small family and I kept hovering around the word and symbolism of momentum.

2. An epic quality I unearthed in myself this year was my capability.  I began the year struggling to acknowledge my worth and my ability.  I questioned myself, doubted myself, and for a while I allowed myself to remain in multiple situations, which did not bring out the best in me.  Throughout the year, however, I was able to acknowledge in myself a true capability I had not recognized before.

3. In 2018 the epic quality I want to unearth in myself ... is bravery.  

4. In 2017 my favorite self-care practices continued to be lifting weights in the gym, but also a newfound practice of mindfulness.  Through my courses in my graduate program, I was able to access endless information and resources, which helped me incorporate some Mindfulness Practice into mine and Judah's daily life.  

5. I am not sure very many people supported me in my self-care efforts this year.  I honestly feel I used up all my "help" to get through the hectic schedule of graduate school.  If anyone supported my efforts for self-care, it might have been my clinical supervisor.  But also myself.  I was my own best advocate this year in regard to what I needed to regain health or maintain a habit a self-care. 

6. In 2018 I hope to encourage the people I love to risk, to challenge themselves, but also to take care of themselves.  We have learned, by pure accident and despite society's definition, self-care does not look like massages and comfort food. More often it looks like quality time and listening and filling up each other's tanks.  It may look like a change of pace, paying attention, or eliminating distractions.  I hope this year I am able to listen better and anticipate other's needs, especially Judah's.  

7. 2017 was full of events I didn't expect.  My heart has worked long and hard at healing from most of these events, which will remain private.  Fear and loss were ever present demons in the first half of 2017 and the grief that accompanied them permeates most of my early year memories.  However, maybe the third most unexpected event in 2017 was being accepted into graduate school, into the competitive Integrated Behavioral Health program, being awarded a scholarship, and moving home to Winchester for the first time in eleven years.  

8. Noticeable changes, which occurred because of all of these events, include an obvious change in environment for Judah and myself.  For myself I developed an avid and intentional desire to pursue healing and process hurt in a way, which allows me freedom.  Throughout this year I have intentionally studied Buddhism and pursued simplicity and intentionality for both my physical and emotional health and wellness.  Mindfulness and my research on the Buddhist principles surrounding expectation and attachment have elevated me in remarkable ways. 

9. In 2018 I have new tools to handle the unexpected.  Specifically, these tools look like new knowledge and the ability and opportunity to obtain more.  Also the intentionality and continual development of healthy and secure attachments.  Mindfulness and the practice of loving-kindness also allow me to experience life with less judgment.  

10. My biggest health and wellness success in 2017 continues to be my pursuit of strength.  I have continued to research and identify weaknesses in myself, pursuing balance and power in the activities I have engaged in.  

11. My personal style has changed dramatically over the last few years.  In 2017 I sold almost everything I own and this impacted my style dramatically.  Not only my personal wardrobe but the items I choose to exist in my space have been pared down and for both style and practicality's sake, I am selective.  I own very few clothes and have changed the way that I choose products for my hair and skin.  I am more intentional these days and willing to invest, but also willing to go without.

12. This year was not one of clarity.  However, what helped me live in simplicity was when I began to associate simplicity with freedom.  Walking away from our home of four years, selling our belongings, parting with things which served no purpose or held no value has set us up for a freedom I've not been afforded in years. 

13. My top four core values this year are the same ones I teach Judah.  Kindness, bravery, generosity, and curiosity.  I wholeheartedly believe these are fundamental qualities needed for us to be our best selves.  

14. I want to keep all these core values in 2018.  I would like to cultivate creativity and discipline as additional core values in the upcoming year. 

15.Looking back, everyone I have encountered has helped me live out these core values.  Those who love me the most have especially encouraged my bravery and curiosity.  However, I honestly believe Judah has encouraged these qualities in me more than anyone else.  Teaching him what's important has helped to further instill these qualities in myself and held me accountable for exercising them as often as possible.

16. In 2017 I was given a laptop to use for grad school.  Despite the toxicity and the fear that would later encompass that relationship, I was encouraged to take a risk and was given a sweet gift before it all fell apart.  Just a month later, someone stole that laptop out of the trunk of my car.  I was devastated, felt violated and discouraged, and my great aunt who is also a social worker sent money to me to replace the laptop.  I chose to invest part of that money into refurbishing an old laptop and saving the rest for Christmas for Judah this year.  I am forever grateful for her generosity.  I was shown kindness by Sprint employees, my family, classmates, and coworkers. 

17. In 2018 I can practice kindness by being patient, by paying attention, my affirming with my words, by keeping my word, and by showing up when and how I can. 

18. I don't know how to answer this question... but I will say I experience kindness through thoughtfulness, by being shown I am seen, and through encouragement.  Anyone who has offered an encouraging word, picked up Judah when I could not, bought my coffee, hugged me and let me cry, checked on me, told me to snap out of my moods, or fed me this year is someone for whom I am grateful. 

19, 20, 21. I keep my friends.  For years and years.  I am thankful for the few new friendships I made, and am continuously grateful for the long-standing relationships, which have changed and evolved over the years.  

22. I did not struggle too much in the latter half of 2017 with procrastination.  In the first few months of the year, I experienced an immense amount of hurt and I put off the hard work of healing until May when it all surfaced and had to be dealt with.  The last seven months of 2017 I no longer had room or space to procrastinate and I have healed dramatically due to intentionality and time.  One area I continue to procrastinate in is making changes to my dietary habits in order to obtain some physical healing and wellness.  I also put off going to the dentist/oral surgeon.

23. In 2018 I intend to graduate grad school with a cumulative 4.0.  I intend to hire a recruiter to help me find a job somewhere in the country, sell my rental home, and continue to take charge of my physical wellbeing.  I am scheduled to have my wisdom teeth cut out next week.

24. My friends and family who helped me move, who helped repair my home, who helped take care of Judah on nights I had class, helped proof-read papers, and listened to me cry over research projects. 

25.  I did not reduce stress in 2017.

26. In 2017 I felt the most at peace when I pulled out of our townhome for the last time.  I knew it was the right decision and I knew what was coming next was what was right for Judah and me.  I was sad, but I felt an undeniable sense of peace and confidence in my decision. 

27. In 2018 I hope to cultivate calm by generating calm and peace within myself.  I hope to be able to tackle what comes next for us with a greater amount of grace and assurance regardless of the chaos or hardship, which may occur.  

28. In 2017 I felt confident about almost nothing.  I removed myself completely from my comfort zone and threw myself into an environment, which required astronomical amounts of humility and flexibility.  I do remember feeling confident in my interview for the IBH program. I remember thinking, I know how to work with doctors, I know how to be a social worker... and choosing simply to answer questions with honesty and humor.  I was told 24 hours later I had gotten into the program.  

29. I was bravest throughout the process of applying for grad school, quitting my full-time job, selling my belongings, and renting out my house.  That took more bravery and was one of the greatest risks I have taken in years.  I was also brave in walking away from multiple situations and circumstances, which were not best for Judah and myself.  For making the hard decisions for our family, and no matter how long it took me, removing us from anything which intended us harm or did not contribute to our best life.

30. In 2018 I hope to be more confident in my ability as a clinician and as a parent.  I also hope I am confident in areas of interpersonal relationships -- romantic, platonic, community.  I hope I am able to feel confident about what I bring to the table and what I contribute to a relationship as well as what I can hope for myself in the interim.  

31. I am grateful for Judah, I am grateful for my family who has sacrificed space and money to help us this year, I am thankful for best girl friends who live all across the country and answer my panicked texts at most hours of the day and night, I am thankful for a job that allowed flexibility even after I put in my resignation, I am thankful for a gym with childcare, I am thankful for a practicum site with doctors who value my time and experience, I am thankful for a new baby nephew and a baby cousin and a niece on the way, I am thankful for people who spoke hard truth (whether with kind intentions or not) which helped me grow, I am thankful for the College of Social Work, I am thankful for those who left and helped me create space for healing and progress. 

32. Gratitude journaling was particularly helpful this year.  As a mindfulness practice, gratitude helped me alleviate some of the pressures of anxiety and remind me to attend to the present moment. 

33. This year I hope to give back by finding ways to volunteer when Judah and I relocate.  I am hoping to find a community of people we can invest in who could use the skills I have. 

34. The biggest change I have made in 2017 was our entire life.  Looking back, I am nowhere close to the person I was when the year began.  

35. Three qualities I've fostered in 2017 that will help me live an empowered life... are vulnerability, intentionality, and perspective.  

36. In 2018 I want to relocate.  I hope to graduate in May, take Judah on a vacation, meet my new niece in June, find a Social Work job in another city, and relocate Judah and myself before kindergarten starts in August.

Bonus: what word captures how you want to feel in 2018? 

I would like to rephrase this question, as I am not sure I want to put so much emphasis on a feeling.

One important lesson I learned in 2017 is the opposite of depression is not happiness.  

It is vitality.  I hope for vitality this year.