Be yourself- W.I.S.E. Project 2017 #tenacioustuesday

I don’t have any memories of being a baby but I recall this particular picture of me on my first birthday where I was standing on a chair staring at my birthday cake. My raven black hair was in disarray, framing my porcelain like skin. I was wearing this little red checkered two piece outfit with my belly peeking out of the top of the shirt. I have seen that photo so many times over the years and countless times over the years I have heard, “aww look how chubby you were.”, and “aww look at the belly” “so cute”

The dialogue that we use when we see babies is all pretty much the same, “look she is perfect” “look at those adorable chubby thighs” “he is going to rule the world someday” and my favorite (I might be quoting my mom) “she is so ugly, she is cute (because we all know that there is no such thing as an ugly baby) Babies are impeccable and we applaud their every milestone. Babies show up everyday and they smile at you even when they have sweet potatoes in their hair and a diaper full of shit. They are not self conscious, so a baby does not push you away when they are feeling gassy or bloated. They are little love machines, they want to love you and they want you to love them and they are generally quite enamored with themselves, and why shouldn’t they be? They get praised for pooping in a plastic pot.

Apparently when you are forty-three chubby isn’t as cute and way less people remark about my belly. (Thank god)

I have a lot of wonderful childhood memories. I was an imaginative child, I loved to play make believe and tell stories but I also liked to play outside all day. I loved to dance and do cartwheels and just about anything would make me laugh uncontrollably. It wasn’t unusual for me to come home with dirty or skinned knees from playing in the mud or falling off the monkey bars. The phrases I remember from adults during that time are all very similar; from parents, babysitters, teachers, grocers, “that’s not ladylike, be a lady, sit up straight, sit with your knees together, keep your dress clean.” At a certain point in childhood you start to become very aware of yourself; self-conscious if you will, and that wildly uninhibited sense of freedom and abandon becomes a memory.

When you are kid you always want to be older, I looked up to my cool cousins and desperately wanted to be like them. Then all of the sudden I was and Junior High was a whole new world to me, I had to leave the fun and safe environment of my elementary school to become a little face in a big crowd. I remember moving through the crowded hallways of my Junior High during class changes and seeing all of the pretty girls in the higher grades with their stylish clothes and puffy hairdos and for the first time I can remember not feeling “enough”

Not smart enough, not cool enough and not pretty enough. I can remember quite clearly admiring those girls in my brother’s grade. I was just entering this whole new world of Junior High but the Queens that reigned this new castle were very comfortable there. They looked immaculate and so comfortable in their own skin. I wanted to be them.

I lucked out ironically because one of the mean girls in grade nine took an awful dislike to me. There was no specific reason for her hatred for me, I just happened to be the in the wrong place at the right time and she took advantage of the opportunity to lash out at me. I became the object of her ridicule, anger and torment. It actually became one of the very best things to happen to me that very first year in junior high because I had an older brother and younger brother that harassed me constantly and toughened me up. This mean girl didn’t intimidate me as much as she annoyed me so I used my smart mouth to snap back at her and make her look stupid. That pissed her off of course and our chirpy banter stirred through the hallways during school and spilled over to after school hours and activities. I was secretly terrified of the bully’s best friend but way too cheeky and antagonistic to admit to that. My hutzpah attracted the admiration of some of those pretty grade nine girls that I wanted to be like. To have earned the respect of those girls awarded me a confidence that was unusual for a little fish entering a big pond. I have mostly fond memories of junior high but after a three-year stint it was time to move on to the huge pond, high school.

I met a guy that summer between junior high and high school and not just any guy; “the guy”. The summer of love quickly faded into the fall of responsibility and High School was a whole new ball game. That phenomenal confidence I had once had got lost in the endless hallways. I wasn’t the smartest or the funniest and I wasn’t the prettiest. I stumbled a bit and didn’t really know what crowd I fit into. The first several weeks of High School really sucked for me. I felt awkward, shy and lonesome for the first time in my school career. I eventually settled in and found several groups of people to pass the time with.

I can recall quite clearly that I used my smart mouth whenever I was feeling insecure or not enough. I felt like I was a smart girl, I had a passion for learning and I was an engaged student. I would spend hours in my bedroom studying, taking notes, highlighting and circling key words but that wasn’t always reflected during test time. I would second guess myself and erase things a lot; I rarely trusted my first thought. My oldest brother on the other hand sailed through high school barely opening a book. I remember getting a social test back and I was so excited to have gotten a 74 and a girl that I had gone to Junior High with was devastated to tears that she only got an 85. At this point I came to realize that I wasn’t the prettiest girl in this big sea and I wasn’t going to fit in with the smart crowd so I somehow had to pretend to be cool enough to get through school.

I started hanging out with this beautiful girl that really seemed to have everything going for her. She had golden hair and eyes the color of the ocean and she just lit up any room she was in. I loved her and she quickly became my best friend. I remember laying in her basement bedroom at her Aunt’s house staring up at the Marky Mark poster above her bed and wishing I was her. She seemed to be just enough of everything and by just being her friend I felt that somehow elevated me. I seemed oblivious to the fact that she was living in her Aunt’s basement instead of at home because she had troubles with her parents and that she continued to make a string of bad decisions because maybe her life wasn’t all sunshine and roses. I saw only what I told my mind to see. She is pretty, she is great, I need to be like her.

The summer before grade 11 I was still playing a cat and mouse game with “that guy” that I had fallen for the summer before starting high school. When he called me to come see him one hot July day I jumped on my bike and pedaled all the way there. That day changed my life!

I spent a good chunk of grade 11 pregnant after that hot summer day,  so when my friends and peers were going to parties and making great memories I was home on Saturday nights in my bedroom eating heavenly hash ice cream and watching my teenage belly  grow round; contemplating the future and decisions that no sixteen year old is equipped to make. Grade 12 was a blur at best, not only was I mourning the sudden death of my father before he turned forty years old but I was also grieving the loss of the baby boy that I had given up for adoption.

My best friend had moved away and would soon start a family at a very tender age and I struggled to fit in with people that I had nothing in common with. Their teenage struggles were so different than mine. I had tipped the scales between adolescent and adulthood and as much as I would have liked to pretend that I was the same, I never would be.

I endured some destructive judgement from my peers after I put my son up for adoption, and a decision that I had come to terms with as being mature and the best for him was turned into something ugly. There is no question that I had supportive people in my life, but the voices that made snide remarks to me about giving my baby away and those that stared at me and whispered became the loudest, but none of the voices could drown out my own voice in my head and I wasn’t really my friend anymore. I think I was truly never meant to fit in anywhere, I was meant to stand out; in a way I think we all are. We spend so much of our lives trying to stuff ourselves into boxes that were not made for us, dulling our sparkle so we are mere copies of the people that we stand next to.

I spent so much of my life afraid to stand out. I wanted people to forget that I was “that girl” so I just stayed small and followed along. When I had my girls I wanted to be a great mother, they became everything to me; leaving very little room for a relationship with my husband and no room for a relationship with me. I equated my self worth with how busy I was and how much time I dedicated to other people, I thought that self love was how much love I gave to others. I really never considered taking the time to love myself.

To be enough, I thought I had to keep giving to others and I was so tired at the end of the day that I didn’t have anything left over for me.

The months leading up to being reunited with my son that I gave up for adoption at 16, I was tormented. Would I be enough? I had these terrible feelings of inadequacy, that I should be more, do more, have more. Those feelings subsided for me immediately when we were united once again. It felt even silly that I had ever felt that way. He accepted me; he believed that I was enough!

Several years later I found myself in a spot where I was so miserable that I could barely get out of bed and I was in tears constantly. I had some wonderful gifts in my life but I wasn’t sure who I was and I still had those old feelings of shame and worthlessness. Those old voices that used to tell me I wasn’t enough came back when I was still but I was too mentally tired to keep being everything to every body. I finally realized that for my well being I had to dedicate some time to myself. That was all new to me of course but if I could tell you the single most important thing that I have learned it would be that life is all about love, it is our fundamental purpose to move through this world. We need to learn to love ourselves first, that is vital. We spend a great deal of time trying to get others to love us and wondering why things do not work out. If we do not feel we are worthy of time and love and investment in self care and self worth than why would we assume that others should invest in us. You can only give so much before your cup is empty and we all know you cannot pour from an empty cup. When we take the time to cultivate love and appreciation for ourselves, that love grows and touches every thing and every body in our lives. Instead of envying people and wanting to be them, we learn to admire them for the qualities that they possess. Most likely we see glimpses of these qualities in ourselves and when we appreciate them in others we are actually seeing a reflection. We can make choices to manage and grow these qualities that we desire to see more of. When we learn to love ourselves we don’t want to be anyone else, we can be happy for others and their accomplishments but also be quite happy to be ourselves. Comparison is the thief of joy, when we constantly hold our lives up against the lives of others we are literally stealing our own hard earned happiness.

This weekend I attended an I am enough workshop here in Edmonton hosted by Wellness on Whyte. One of the keynote speakers was the owner of Wellness on Whyte Dr. Geha Gonthier, B.A., LMT, ERYT, R.Ac.

Surviving her first cardiac arrest at 7 years of age, the doctors did not hold much hope for Geha. Through Europe’s integrated medical care, Geha met a doctor that advised her to come off western drugs and use diet and herbs to manage her chronic condition. Over time her condition improved dramatically and inspired Geha to make holistic medicine her life’s journey.

Over the last twenty years she has apprenticed with various teachers both in Europe as well as Maui on the subject of Chinese Medicine and herbs. In 2007 she received her Acupuncture Diploma after completing the program at Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton.

Geha has been practicing and teaching Yoga and Meditation for many years. The results of that are reflected in the gentleness and care she extends to her patients. The focus in her work is the integration of body, mind and spirit, encouraging profound healing in the most subtle levels of awareness.

I had read about Geha and was excited to meet her and hear her speak. After a glowing introduction that made me even more excited to be in her presence Geha emerged as this wonderfully warm, humble and beautiful woman who spoke of her life and experiences and that nagging feeling that had travelled with her throughout her life of “not being enough” I think it is always a little bit of shock when we hear from the people that we look up to that they face similar struggles, there is something very powerful and humanizing about it. During her talk she mentions a video by British Therapist Marissa Peer where she presents the idea of “I am enough”. I have watched the talk as well and I am not sure what segment of the talk resonated the most with Geha but for me there is a part where Marissa asked the audience to swing their left arm behind their back as far as it will go and hold it there a moment. She then asks them to drop their arm and relax for a moment. She then tells them she is going to again ask them to take their left arm behind their back but this time she is going to ask them to move it 1/3 more than they did previously, just a little bit more. She tells them to take a moment to think about it and then the audience all swings their arms back and manages to move them further than they did previously. Now if you recall, the first time she asked them to move it as far as it would go. She explains that their mind did that. They told their mind what to do and it obeyed. We tell our mind things everyday. Our mind obeys. “Don’t be foolish, you can’t do that. You are too thin. You are too fat. You are not smart enough. You are not good enough, pretty enough. You are not enough”

Our mind obeys.

What if everyday we told ourselves, “You are enough. I love you. You are amazing. You are doing a great job. You can do it. Go for it.” Imagine how different our lives would be if we all believed that we are enough. Maybe you don’t have a mansion and four fancy vehicles and a pool like Suzy in High School but you love yourself, your life has purpose, you are generous, kind, compassionate and full of love and wonder. That is more than enough!

Geha’s talk was followed by a forgiveness meditation by Mandy Trapp. I was very excited for this because Mandy is the owner of Lifestyle Mediation and I had attended her salute the sun yoga/meditation class the previous morning. Mandy is one of those sincere and buoyant people that others gravitate towards. Mandy graduated from Chopra University with their top distinction of Vedic Master Educator and has brilliantly woven her Chopra education with her athletic training education, various yoga certifications, and several trips to India and Nepal where she has founded the India/Nepal Yoga Project; a non-profit organization that empowers healing in those affected by the devastating effects of human trafficking. She has worked in the Wellness Industry for over 20 years and founded Lifestyle Meditation in 2012.

During Salute the sun Mandy reminded us that the no matter what goes on the sun rises everyday and even if it is cloudy and not able to shine it’s brightest light it still shows up every single day. She expressed to us that like the sun we are not expected to shine our brightest everyday, that some days just showing up might be our best. Life is hard and it really helps to have that articulated. We are way too hard on ourselves, pushing ourselves to always be just right when sometimes it is an effort just to put our clothes on right side out!

Mandy led us through a forgiveness meditation and I don’t know if you practice meditation or if you have ever been a part of group mediation but it can be very powerful. It is a pretty good assumption that people attending an I am enough workshop are seeking similar things so the energy in the room is mighty. The first group meditation I was ever a part of was during a talk with Deepak Chopra and it is a formidable memory.

Mandy presented a short talk on some of her own experiences and builds on Geha’s talk about being enough and that moment in our lives when things change for us. She asks us to go back in our mind to being a baby and introduce ourselves, she then asks us to find ourselves at that moment that things change, when the rules of the world have changed and look at and sit with and speak to that person. The meditation led us through the mantra “I’m sorry. I love you. I forgive you. Thank you.” So, I found myself mentally sitting face to face with a fresh faced but scared and lost sixteen year old girl. I apologized to her, she forgave me. I love her and she thanked me. To say it was moving would be under stating it. That morning I had had a major blow out with my 17 year old daughter and I pictured her carrying around this hurt, resentment and anger and not really knowing or loving herself and my heart broke into pieces and tears spilled uncontrollably down my cheeks with my head bowed to my heart silently repeating I’m sorry. I forgive you. I love you. Thank you. . As I reunited with my 16 year old self, I searched for a way to help my daughter.

Geha had quoted one of her own teachers in what she told me sums up our human purpose in one broad stroke, “Tomorrow we die, today we love”

Love is the most important thing. We need to breath from our heart, communicate from our heart. Our heart is the center of our spirit, our inspiration and our soul. We crave acceptance and approval from others but we need to be able to love ourselves and embrace our enoughness without waiting for others to give us praise or tell us that we are good or loved.

My job right now is to love myself so am able to love my daughters and hold space with them through their struggles. To not sit in judgment of them, just in love and encourage them to always be their own best friend.

Tomorrow we die, today we love.

Love yourself. Be yourself. You are enough. You always were.

Lover’s Waltz -W.I.S.E. Project 2017

The message was wrought with hurt and anger but above all else it was a surrender. I thought that I was giving him what he wanted and needed; a resolution and one less thing to worry about so he could focus on the most important thing, getting well.

Last year when my husband found himself in the intense grip of depression I found myself in a sink or swim situation. I cannot recollect a time that it was more important to love and care for myself. I read a quote recently about the importance of writing from a scar and not an open wound. I agree that when your heart is suffering your reminiscence might be very different than recollecting the hardship at a later time. For me the pain has become another life lesson, and a reason to re-evaluate everything I ever thought about love.

Everyone has their own definition of love, as well they should; but I fear that love, the very idea of it has taken on such a transformation that it is hard to express in words. It is almost easier to tell you all the things that do not constitute love, than to actually define love. In spite of that I think that most people would agree that love is a feeling and that the very idea of love can be hard for a lot of people. Singles put themselves out there; constantly trying to find love while couples are continuously striving to keep love alive.

Is Unconditional love possible in a romantic relationship?

A term that I have heard a lot, as well as used a lot over the years is unconditional love. Unconditional love is a love without conditions which I think, in reality, is very hard to achieve. Speaking as a woman, falling in love, “true” love as it is often defined, is because we have found someone who fulfills our physical and emotional needs, and we imagine that this person will provide us with a stable home and a good life. As time goes on if that person does not satisfy our physical or emotional needs or offer us a secure home and a suitable life then problems arise. We are no longer happy because our conditions are not being met. That sweet feeling of love begins to turn sour. Some lovers part ways fairly quickly while others choose to stay and fight for love. Staying is right for some people and leaving is right for others but loving someone unconditionally does not dictate either of those things. Here is where I question if unconditional love in a romantic relationship is possible.

I have been with my husband for over 18 years. The most useful things I have learned about love have been have been most recent and I believe; if I am being honest with myself and the world, that I have only loved him unconditionally for a very short time, if at all.

To not only believe in the existence of unconditional love (as it relates to romantic love) but to also love someone unconditionally requires a great deal of vulnerability, courage and effort. True love is not about receiving love, it is about giving love, without the expectation of anything in return. Are we capable of caring about the happiness of another without any thought whatsoever of what we might get in return?

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The beautiful madness of falling in love…

Falling in love is beautiful madness. When you think of it, in the terms “falling” and the total abandon that overcomes you, it is quite surreal. We talk about being raised up by love but falling in love is quite different. That moment you realize you are falling  it seems completely out of your control, you are sitting there feeling so completely consumed by your love for another that you feel like you have fallen into them. Moments without them feel like days and you feel like you could die without them. Falling in love is quite a dramatic undertaking. During this phase of ‘falling in love” we are often so caught up by love that we fail to see our partners authentically. We cannot see them in any sort of negative light, and we simply overlook their faults. Without genuinely looking at things without blinders on it is not feasible to love unconditionally because we need to be aware of the good and the bad before we can make the declaration that nothing is more important than loving this person.

Loving someone doesn’t not mean you will always like them. In life and relationships, we make mistakes, but there are times that I have put my heart in a jar on the bedside table, sealed up tight and if I wasn’t getting what I expected from my relationship or if I was angry or annoyed my heart stayed in the jar, impenetrable. I was still there even though I had closed him off from a part of me, so I thought that meant I loved him unconditionally.

To love unconditionally is to choose to give love under all conditions.

Is loving under all conditions feasible? Is it healthy? What if your spouse is physically or mentally abusive? What if you set boundaries in the relationship and your spouse does not respect those boundaries? Are you then no better than a doormat? Are you willing to be the dust under their feet?

If love itself is a feeling and the feeling of love is commonly in response to something we are getting from another person; is it therefore conditional? Unconditional love is something we do, despite the conditions so does that make it an action? I do believe the feeling of love can be unconditional. Sometimes, no matter what a partner does, feelings towards them do not change or go away. Relationships, however, are working partnerships and as such, they require conditions, boundaries, and aims to be successful. I think it is possible to continue to love (the feeling) under any conditions but to continue to actively give our love under any circumstances is what I am not sure of.

We are not islands; eventually things will come between us.

About seven months ago my husband was in the throes of crippling depression. He was working away at the time and I didn’t recognize the signs immediately. We have endured some tough times throughout the years but in my opinion this was the worst, or at the very least the impact was the worst for me. Initially I took it personally and I think that is a common misstep. I have learned that you cannot love away depression, no matter how hard you try. There is not a manual on how to deal with your spouse’s depression so of course I made mistakes. However, once I got a sense of what was happening, I did a lot of research and every day I had to make a choice and endeavor to do the most loving thing for him in the moment. Some days he needed to talk to me and he needed me to be engaged and others he needed me to permit him some space and some silence. He wasn’t in charge of much in his life at that point as his demons had their arms wrapped tightly around him. I had to let him be in charge of something so I had to step back as best I could, and allow him to determine when we talked and what we talked about; it was more difficult then I care to admit. There was a comfortable, loving and flirty element to our relationship that disappeared and I struggled really hard with that. I faltered often, it is hard not to take depression personally, none of my emotional needs were being met and as I wrestled with the uncertainty of it all I tried not to lose myself. I was anxious to find some measure of structure in the chaos that had become my life. There were days that it felt like there was an ocean between us and that it would be impossible to swim to that place where we could meet in the middle. There were others that you couldn’t put a paper in the space between us. It reminds me of the old Dolly and Kenny song; Islands in the Steam, “nothing in between, how can we go wrong?” they croon. Well we are not islands and eventually things come between us.

Though it was all very confusing, the entire time my husband insisted that he felt like something was pulling him away, he felt like he was the captain of a sinking ship spirally into a black void and I know he wanted to get me to safety before the ship sank forever into the dark abyss. I spent many a night staring at the ceiling and telling myself that no matter what that the kuds and I were going to be okay. In my head, I made plans for a future that didn’t include the person I loved so much it hurt. I made a very big effort to be well, knowing that he could barely lift himself up to make it through the day and that worrying about me was too much. The most loving thing I could do for him in that moment was to take care of myself.

It is really hard to reach out to people when you are in the midst of something you can barely put into words but one day I texted a friend and I told her what was going on. She called me and prayed for me while I sobbed hunched over the steering wheel of my truck. It was such a powerful feeling to be embraced in love and understanding that was void of any sort of judgement; either of me or of him. It felt how I would imagine “true” unconditional love, the kind that god gives us, to feel like.

I never stopped giving my love to him but I felt at some point weeks later that the most loving thing that I could do is to let go, not to stop loving him but to loosen my grip and make plans to move on separately. He had told me so many times that he couldn’t see the light and that he so desperately wanted me to be okay because he felt like he was ruining my spirit and the very thought was killing him. I began to recognize that his frantic worry about me and my relentless longing for a connection that he couldn’t offer me was only serving to cause him more anguish. He was trying to lesson his own pain by lessening mine, all the while going to bed with his nightmares and waking up with his nightmares and trying urgently to sail his ship out of the storm. He couldn’t give me any reassurances because for him there was no end in sight to the way he was feeling. He was basically holding on tight to the little grip of reality he had.

Sometimes; sadly, loving another person means walking away.

I took my wedding rings off on the evening of November 22nd before I went to bed. I hadn’t taken them off much in15 years and it had definitely been awhile. They had become as much a part of my hand as my fingers were. I had to cut up tights, loop the nylon through each ring one at a time, lather up my hand and slowly wind the nylon around my finger until they finally came over my knuckle. After they came off I didn’t really feel much, a little physical pain on my finger but emotionally I just felt weary.

I know that depression is hard for people to understand, even well intentioned people will tell you to “look on the bright side” and to “snap out of it” I only wish that it were possible.

My husband has suffered some sort of depression for years but the depression that hit in July of 2015 was different than anything we had every experienced together, it stole so much of our lives from us. My husband suffered trauma in his childhood that has followed him into adulthood. He has tried therapy but he has not found the right person for him. He asked me to help him find an older lady, someone motherly to speak too. I did that and though it wasn’t the perfect fit for him I sincerely think there is someone he is looking for. However, until he is ready to truly sit with the pain, to walk through it, not around it, and to face his lifelong fears and terrors head on instead of just keeping them at bay as long as possible, depression will loom; just around the corner. Unfortunately, these are not my choices to make and even though I think it is possible, I do know that it will not be easy. I have come to accept that he is not ready.

Things got better for a while, in fact things were so good that we remarked frequently how grateful we were to have made it through that terrible time and we hung on tight to each other, loving fiercely in the aftermath. Depression however is a formidable force in breaking down trust and tearing couples apart. Fast forward to that night in 2016 after 2 months of life altering moods and indecision and my husband’s insistence that he was not good enough for me and that I needed to move on. Finding the strength through tears after I had decided over and over, day after day that I would be strong enough for both of us, that I would hold on no matter what, and that I would be the light in the darkness. That glimmer of hope got further and further away, just out of my reach, the reassurances, the reciprocation, and the plans for a future together; they all faded away. I tried to be what he needed, when he needed it, even realizing that he was struggling so hard within himself that as much as I was reeling I couldn’t expect him to be there for me. He stopped wearing his wedding ring; it was part of his conclusion that we had to move on separately as he did not want to envelope me in his gloom. My decision to stop wearing my wedding rings was largely based on doing what I thought was best for all of us, especially him, but my letting go was swathed in a great deal of hurt, anger and emotion. Sometimes; sadly, loving another person means walking away.

I was entering the stage of grief that fluctuates between sorrow and resentment.

A part of me felt that he had given up on all of us; that he had mentally walked out on us. In my heart of hearts, I knew that nothing could be further from the truth but months of grief, heartache, and shattered hope had left me raw and angry. Most of all I was very sad. I felt like I had showed up for him, every single day, that I was probably the one person in his life that never let him down, that loved him unconditionally through every imaginable scenario and here I was left in a mess of tears. I was entering the stage of grief that fluctuates between sorrow and resentment.

I sent the love of my life a message and a picture of my red swollen ring finger and the rings that he had given me as a symbol of our forever love, sitting alone on my bedside table. The message was wrought with hurt and anger but above all else it was a surrender. I thought that I was giving him what he wanted and needed; a resolution and one less thing to worry about so he could focus on the most important thing, getting well. I turned my phone off and conceded to the restorative power of deep sleep.

I didn’t turn my phone on until about 10 am at work the next day. The return message I got from my husband was brave and honest and full of heartache; cloaked in a tiny bit of hope. Looking back on it, I feel like my willingness to finally loosen my grip was a turning point not just in our relationship but in my husband’s lifelong struggle with his demons. It catapulted us into a place of honestly and sincerity and allowed us to be open and candid about our feelings. Some of the things I learned during that time were shocking and hurtful and others brought me to my knees. When the person you adore has spent a great deal of their life in unimaginable pain it can be difficult to grasp the realities of that.

I would put my heart in the glass jar on my bedside table and put the lid on tight

I realize now that the demons for my husband are never very far away. From the beginning of our relationship when they came to visit I would sense a withdrawal from him and I would immediately withdraw as well. I would put my heart in the glass jar on my bedside table and put the lid on tight. For a good part of our relationship there were times that he needed me the most that I would be emotionally unavailable. Though I thought I loved unconditionally by always being there physically; I was cutting my husband off from the most important part of me. I believe that all relationships should have boundaries but I made mine red lines in the sand and I feel like there was many times that my husband had to struggle without me because my unconditional love had so many limitations. I didn’t have the courage to love freely; my love was always full of expectation.

Love is a feeling, but loving someone is a voyage that requires vulnerability and a courage that not everyone is capable of. I asked my husband s week ago what he thought unconditional love was and he said it was simple, “love without conditions, true love!” I asked him if he thought it was hard and he said, “It shouldn’t be.” A couple days later her waivered significantly on whether unconditional love was even possible.

Maybe I overcomplicate things but I have finally realized that if your number one goal is to protect your heart from hurt; as it was for me, then unconditional love will be impossible for you. Love is a feeling but unconditional love is also an action, it is something you do, not just something you feel. Sometimes it is the hardest thing you can do; to continue to give love without the anticipation of anything in return. We all struggle, we rise, we fall and we learn.

Depression is something we will likely always struggle with. I now know the value of setting loving boundaries in my relationship, but when hard times hit I think in some cases it is possible to keep on giving love. Sometimes that action, void of judgement is the most loving thing that you can do at the time. I know that when I make a mistake that hurts people, I judge myself harshly. There is a difference between we have done something bad, and we are bad. In the same token if our partner disappoints us, they often feel just as bad as we feel, guilt is healthy and inevitable but “you are bad” is shame and shame is not healthy for us or our relationships.

I took my heart out of the stupid glass jar for good. That glass jar can be shattered anyway but my heart is pretty enduring.

It’s the summation of small steps that make possible the substantial changes in an emotionally impaired relationship! We didn’t land back in the place where we were before the tough times hit, but we found ourselves in a new place and hopeful place ,a place we have grown into, and can continue to cultivate a healthy and loving marriage.

Mistakes happen; we need to forgive ourselves the things we didn’t know before we knew them. Loving someone is “trial and error”, often with a lot of error! In my opinion, there can be no true love without vulnerability; I think it has always been my largest struggle. You have to be willing to show up even when you have no control of the outcome. Opening up your heart to someone, can be the most vulnerable and courageous thing you can do but protecting your heart from hurt also shelters it from love.

I did shed some tears writing this, sometimes when you peel back the many layers of scar tissue over a wound it will bleed.

My goal is to love better, to have a love that is kind and giving, that has boundaries but is also forgiving.

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned since starting the W.I.S.E Project is the importance of self-love. I don’t think “true” unconditional love is possible in any relationship outside of a parent-child relationship if you do not first learn to love and take care of yourself.

Loving myself and learning to take care of my own health and wellness has made me a better partner and a better parent. When I chose to let go of my marriage, it was because I knew that I could be ok, no matter what. I have never bought into the “two becomes one mentality” of marriage. I am healthiest as an individual, responsible for my own happiness and harboring my own beliefs. I think loving yourself is the very best protection you can have for your heart. Your heart can endure grief and loss and pain and all of the beautiful and challenging things that come with love, if you love and take care of yourself first, the more aware and understanding we are to our own needs, the more giving and loving we can be towards others. When we are willing to risk our heart, we are also opening it up to love.

My goal is to love better, to have a love that is kind and giving, that has boundaries but is also forgiving. I am not sold on the dictionary definition of unconditional love, at least not in the way that it pertains to romantic love. I think the action of unconditional love (with healthy relationship boundaries) requires a great deal of compassion, and wisdom. I think our capacity to love and to give love to another can grow immensely as we grow as people. I also think that loving someone unconditionally, occasionally requires walking away.

That being said the only thing I am really certain of is that I am not completely certain of anything!

What do you think unconditional love is?

Do you think it is possible?

Do you think it is healthy?15541249_10211047297515845_5487702828603847435_n

 “I think unconditional love for another is: You see them for who they are, as much as possible; you accept them for who they are and where they are on their journey. You know they are human with strengths, weaknesses and wounds, just like you. You are willing to go with them or understand and love them when their wounds get exposed for healing purposes and you pray for them. I think it takes a lot of grace! And if they walk away and go in a different direction, you might have to work through grief, anger and hatred because you had expectations and wanted them, but you land in the place of letting go and still loving them and wanting God’s best for them.”

~Rebecca Mcmaster

Part of Me-W.I.S.E. Project 2017/Tenacious Tuesday (Self Love)

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In the summer of 2012 when my daughters were 7 and 12  I took them to see Katy Perry’s Part of Me. To say that Katy was at the height of her career would not be an understatement, she played to sold out shows in arenas in 124 cities all over the world during her yearlong California Dreams tour.

There was an Alice in Wonderland-esque meets fairy-tale feel to each show and she played both Alice and the Princess flawlessly. Many a pink tutu, ruffles, lollipops and glitter were exhausted during every performance. It was everything I would have expected from a live Katy Perry Performance but so much more.

Filmmakers Dan Cutworth and Jane Lipsitz gave fans a unique experience which was a culmination of backstage pass,  front row fantasy and raw human emotion. Perry never faltered in her commitment to her fans, giving stellar performances night after night, all the while defying exhaustion and facing some incredibly challenging difficulties in her personal life.

In October of 2010 Katy married comedian Russel Brand; embarking on her first career altering tour just four months later in February of 2011. Perry went to remarkable lengths to fan the flames of her marriage, often taking her only days off to journey across the Atlantic to be with Brand even though he was unwilling to put forth an equal effort to stay connected to her and their marriage.

As the tour wore on Brand continued to push for a family but Perry was not in a place to commit to being a full-time mom. She continued to sacrifice her time and her health for a man that appeared to want to exert a certain measure of control over the young songstress.

I know for a fact that at 7 and 12 years old, my daughters were not impacted by the movie in the same way that I was. I watched a woman in the throes of super stardom, lift herself to the an amazingly high throne in the pop music industry and at the very same time get broken up with; in a text, moments before having to get ready to go onstage.

I watched the movie again this past Friday and I recall her being rushed to the stage while her team was quietly uncomfortable, wondering if the singer would perform. They attempted support and encouragement but it was apparent that they were uncertain as to what exactly was going on and how to react to it.

Katy, faced with the reality that her marriage had crumbled, doubled over sobbing a couple of times on the way to the stage. She was overcome by grief and sadness and as a spectator, having watched her vulnerability unfold and her marriage emplode, it was gut wrenching. You could almost feel the tightness in her chest, the heaviness in heart, I must admit I choked back some tears myself.

As they say in the biz, “the show must go on” and it did.

Katy  was on a platform under the stage, in Brazil I believe, and tech was waiting to rise her up. As she was waiting she wiped away tears, and then spun the candy embellishments that rotated across the chest of her dress, nodded to be lifted up and plastered on the best smile she could manage under the circumstances.

Ready or not, it was time to be Katy Perry the star, Katy with the broken heart would have to wait.

I was so moved by that moment. Her pain wrapped itself around me like a blanket.

To this day, I cannot fathom how Katy was able to will herself to perform that night. I think society is somewhat programmed to believe that stars are exempt from feelings, that somehow money and fame trumps pain and anguish. On the contrary, I cannot imagine enduring that type of all-consuming heartbreak in the public eye.

Strangely, that performance may have been the best one of the tour, possibly of her career. She was able to connect with the audience and her own lyrics in an authentic and emotional way. I am certain the love and energy of the crowd that night and the nights following must have helped  to keep her together when the cards were falling down all around her.

Some tough times followed but in adversity Katy Perry found redemption. She made her mess her message!

When Katy Perry released her album Prism, she said that the title came from her letting the light in. In the midst of a crisis she found her identity and the genuine need for self-love.

For several reasons, I became a bigger fan of Katy Perry after her public despair and the transformation that occurred following that difficult time. I heard an interview subsequently where she said, “What I need is self-love, first and foremost. I think everything follows in such a fantastic way after you have that love for yourself.

We give little pieces of ourselves to the people we love, but when we truly love ourselves there are parts of us that can never be taken away. Our worth, our value and our sense of who we are as a person, independent of our relationships.

You can temporarily chain a heart but you cannot break a soul.

Have you experienced heartbreak? Have you been able to let go of the pain and grow from it? Do you view vulnerability in relationships as a strength or a weakness?

I am (W.I.S.E. Project 2017)

You can accomplish anything and everything, as Nature does, effortlessly, just by Being – the world will offer itself to you, for it has no choice. –Deepak Chopra

 

Last week I had the extreme honor of meeting Deepak Chopka. I know that some of you do not know who that is; my own mother didn’t have a clue. As a thought leader Deepak and his books emerged for me as the “answers” to all of the questions I sought when I decided to live mindfully. I am very well aware that some of you make a conscious effort to dislike shiny, happy people but Deepkak might appeal even to the likes of you. He is quiet and humble, he is equally unmoved by criticism and flattery and he is an extremely intelligent and thought provoking leader in science and medicine. Even if you want to hate us Pollyanna types that try to get you to look at the world in a new way, Deepak can back up with science all of the reasons why you should be looking at the world and your own life in a different way.

 

About Deepak-

Deepak Chopra MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation, and is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Endocrinology and Metabolism.  He is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians, Clinical Professor at UCSD Medical School, Researcher, Neurology and Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), and a member of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. The World Post and The Huffington Post global internet survey ranked Chopra #17 influential thinker in the world and #1 in Medicine. Deepak Chopra is the author of more than 85 books translated into over 43 languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. www.deepakchopra.com

I found out on a Tuesday that Deepak was doing a talk in Edmonton about the future of well being. Five minutes prior I had finished his book Quantum Healing on my Audible App. Since Facebook, Google and our brains are all somehow wirelessly connected it is no wonder that the sponsored post for the Children’s Autism Services of Edmonton Fundraiser featuring Deepak turned up in my suggested posts immediately. It was the next afternoon that I definitively decided to go. I shared the post on my Facebook wall fishing to see if anyone I knew was interested in going but nobody immediately took the bait. I decided that I was one hundred percent not going to miss the opportunity. I chose to do the VIP meet and greet so I could meet this man with the brilliant mind and get a nice picture for my Instagram of course.

I had a couple of friends encourage me to go solo, reminding me that I was likely to get a lot out of the experience by meeting like minded people. That is exactly what happened. A lot of people were there on their own accord as it is the type of event that if you do not follow his work, you are not likely to spend the money just to have a night out but if you do, you are not likely to miss out because you do not have someone to hold your hand.

It was a very informative evening and the energy in the room was amazing. People who follow the work of Deepak Chopra are enlightened, open minded and mindful people so I was in very good company (in case you were worried)

One of my friends suggested that perhaps Tupac was now living as Deepak Chopra which gave me a bit of a giggle, being a huge fan of the late Rapper, producer, actor and poet. Even my Mom knows who Tupac is!!! I yelled Tupac loudly and he flinched so it is a possibility.

Deepak’s talk on the future of well being was incredible but for me the most thought provoking park of the evening was doing a Deepak guided meditation with 900 other people. I am guessing that the majority of those people have loving and energetic hearts, alert and reflective minds and they understand and practice empathy and compassion. I can tell you that it is a much different experience than being in a social media thread with thoughtless and closed minded individuals. Having the opportunity to mediate, guided by one of the World’s top thought leaders, side by side with forward thinking, intelligent and genuine people was a moving experience to say the least.

At the beginning of the mediation Deepak had us chant in our heads “I am” and our full name.

“I am Michelle DeBay, I am Michelle DeBay, I am Michelle DeBay.

He did not instruct us to breath in a particular way, just to be aware of our breath. He told us to think of our heart and be aware of it.

After several minutes had passed he instructed us to drop our last names and chant silently.

“I am Michelle, I am Michelle, I am Michelle, I am Michelle…”

He reminded us to quietly be aware of our breath and our thoughts.

After several more minutes he had us drop our name altogether.

“I am, I am, I am, I am, I am, I am, I am, I am….”

It felt very powerful and he told us to be aware of our thoughts and to just let them come.

“I am a love warrior, I am powerful, I am kind, I am a leader, I am wise, I am compassionate….”

Those are some of the thoughts that rushed to my mind in the calm yet enthusiastic room.

After several minutes he told us to think of our childhood memories and to just let the thoughts come naturally.

The room was hushed. My heart was smiling. Some really fun memories came to mind.

After the meditation I felt physically, mentally and spiritually unburdened. The incredible lightness of being.

Deepak; who is direct, in a calm and non egotistical or sentimental way, mentioned Donald Trump a couple of times during the evening. His references were rather open-ended, draw your own conclusion remarks but their belief systems are not aligned and he makes no secret of that fact.

He told us that during the mediation when we chanted our full name that we were tied to our gender, our origins and in some cases our ethnicity and religion. When we dropped off our last name we freed ourselves of some of those ties. When we dropped off our name altogether we freed ourselves to any sort of ties that weighed us down. We became a whole person.

A person of the universe.

“I am the universe.” I said to myself, clutching my signed pre-release copy of Deepak’s new book about discovering your cosmic self.

He reiterated what most of us are already aware of, so much of our identity is tied up in stuff that we never had any control of. We spend a lifetime defending things that were decided before our birth; our gender, our race, our ethnicity, and in a lot of cases our religion. There are many scientific reasons to explain how at the core we are all the same. These things unite us. Unfortunately we are living in a time where hate and fear creates division. If we were able to see beyond the things that make us different and focus on our similarities and our relationship to the universe we might be able to embrace others in a kinder, gentler way.

Sadly we find ourselves in a time where fear breeds hatred and instead of our differences being celebrated, they are condemned. I am pleased to say that I am at a time in my life that I feel awake to the realities of the world and how I fit into it all. I find now more than ever people want to share their fear with me, their hatred, their bigotry, as if they are offering to save me from myself. A peaceful world is only possible if we interact with each other as peaceful, loving beings, one individual at a time. If we can teach just one person the importance of peace and love through our own harmonious and impassioned actions than we have made a difference. If we can be taught to hate, we can be shown how to love.

Generations of creative and enduring people have torn down walls and fought for the freedoms we often take for granted. Now is not the time for silence.

Once the fabric of a just society is undone, it takes generations to weave it back together. ~Deepak Chopra

Hurts so good! W.I.S.E. Project 2016

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Yesterday was the last day of summer and a beautiful one at that. I had very little sleep if any the previous night so I tried to manufacture a positive attitude that morning with two cups of the very worst coffee ever made. Tim Horton’s should hang their head in shame. What I produced was an annoying belly ache. However, at lunch I had a fantastic sandwich and I got a free slice of coconut cream pie that I ate at 3 am so I feel like the day somewhat swayed in my favor. I was mentally exhausted starting the day and at the end of the day I was physically spent as well. I was in bed and asleep by 8:45 p.m. and I woke up feeling angry at the world. Anger is a basic human emotion that helps defend us from attack and like pain it is a compelling warning that commands acknowledgement.

The last time I checked in here I had just read Glennon Doyle Melton’s Love Warrior and I had just started her course with the fabulous Brene Brown on the Wisdom of Story. I was listening to the intro of the course with Brene and Glennon (who by the way I have convinced myself are my friends) and they talk about wisdom, shame, pain and owning our stories so that we can write our own daring ending. I remember feeling so filled up with love and blessings. Thankful for the lessons that I had learned in my life and grateful that my story was a good one. Quite literally within 8 hours my life began to unravel. Everything that I believed my life to be was called into question. It is one of those moments where all of your fears and insecurities set in. You are momentarily enveloped in panic and you forget who you are, you forget that you are a warrior and that your spirit cannot be shattered.

In my last post I shared a quote about pain being a traveling professor. In our greatest moments of pain there is always a lesson. Sometimes our distress, our uneasiness and our misgivings are based on the unknown. The unknown creates a disquiet in our souls. We inch along suspiciously into the darkness where we would wade confidently in the light. There is  a security in knowing what comes next. I have experienced pain before, I know that I cannot run from it because it will follow. As a society we use things like food, booze, drugs, shopping and sex to avoid feeling any real pain, even though we know from experience that pain is a prudent educator.

My friend has just recently embarked on a fabulous journey traveling to places all over the world that she has never been, she is doing a great deal of it solo and one of the things I said to her is that I hope she learns to find the comfort in discomfort. What I meant by that is that I hope she can learn to embrace the unknown, to find the beauty in it, to experience the lesson in things that may be hard and be better for it. I am at a place where I find myself struggling to yield my own advice. Often we cannot know what is going to happen next but we can take the lessons we have learned and recall that we have been here before and if we know anything we know that pain has a beginning, a middle and an end. It doesn’t last forever. We wage these huge battles with ourselves in attempt to avoid any sort of pain and in turn we can cause ourselves greater torment.

My whole purpose of the W.I.S.E. Project was to learn to live more mindfully, savoring the present moment without always thinking of the next one. Living in the past and stressing about the future was not helping me to create the joy that I wanted out of life. Crisis is a sign that change needs to happen and to facilitate change and growth I have to find some certainty in uncertainty. It is tough my friends.

Some time has passed and I am feeling clearer and stronger. Very rarely are we presented with a lemon that cannot produce some sort of lemonade.

I never look at feeling hurt and pain as a weakness, I know I am strong and I know I am enduring. I love fully and completely and though I may agonize and endure the scars that braving that type of loving can carry it is my tenacity and my courage that allows me to love fully in the face of fear.

Life is like a big road trip, sometimes you get a little lost, sometimes the road is a little bumpy, the best we can do is play good music and don’t carry to much baggage. Perhaps it is more about the story than the happy ending. Epic stories are wrought with pain, struggle, survival and love. Do your best, create a good story.

Maybe we like the pain. Maybe we’re wired that way. Because without it, I don’t know; maybe we just wouldn’t feel real. What’s that saying? Why do I keep hitting myself with a hammer? Because it feels so good when I stop.” ~Meridith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy

Happy first day of Fall W.I.S.E. friends. May we someday learn to find the comfort in discomfort.

 

 

 

Naked and Afraid-Marriage in the 21st Century -Podcast 3 part series

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I decided to do a three part  segment on Marriage and some things I have  learned during the last 14 years of wedded bliss and almost 18 years in a relationship with my husband in which we have  faced our share of adversity and struggles.

Marriage can be fun, beautiful and so rewarding, but the one thing that nobody tells you on your wedding day is how hard it is, how much work it requires and if you do not nurture it it can very quickly wither up and die, like a flower in the desert heat!

I entered into my marriage pretty idealistically and with a lot of silly expectations. I brought with me way too much sass and this incredible need to be right all the time. My husband brought his own ideas and idiosyncrasies. Adding us together, mixing us up, throwing in some good times and struggle on top of struggle there have been some dark moments. The thing we are proud of is that though there were times where we almost got lost in the struggles, we dug in, put in some very hard work and today we are lucky to not just call each other partners but we are best friends.

There will be times that we may not like each other but those are the times that we remind ourselves how much we love each other. We have shared some great times together and some times that have made our heads spin. My need, or desire to share this with you comes from a good place in my heart that wants everyone in a relationship that is facing hard times or  daily struggles to know that you are not alone and it is normal. I even share some tips about things that have worked for us.

Join me for a fun and honest look into being Naked and Afraid in a marriage in the 21st century.

Part One- Setting the Stage

Part Two- Stupid things your spouse does and taking the good with the bad

Part Three- Make-up sex, fighting fair and why cuddling has it’s time and place.

Thanks for joining me, I would love to hear your feedback and I adore your marriage stories.

Cheers,

Michelle

Saturday in the Park

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Hurt, fear, anger, disappointment, pain.

It has been an incredibly sad and emotional couple of days and though I wish I could numb the cruel sting of it we cannot selectively numb pain because when we shut out the darkness we also shut out the light. We have little choice but to feel the emotion, the fear and the discomfort of the uncertain days to follow.

John Lubbock said that happiness is a thing to be practiced, like a violin. It is times like this, when tragedy strikes and innocent lives are lost that I have to be reminded. I am embraced in sadness and disbelief over something I have no control over and even knowing how important it is to not let hate win, happiness in this moment feels wrong.

To all of the wounded and heavyhearted souls in Orlando, I see the wreckage that you are staggering through, you are achingly overburdened with grief and sorrow and so many of us wish we could help. Losing a loved one has it’s own anguish, losing a loved one to violence is unimaginable. When your loved one is murdered for simply living a life without boundaries, for being themselves, for loving freely and wholehearted there is simply no words I can offer to ease the pain or make any sense of it. The LGBTQ community is in mourning, the world is in mourning. We share in your grief.

I wish I could help you navigate your way through the horror, to take the weight off your chest, to tell you that someday you will smile again.

 

I feel helpless and you feel hopeless.

We have to remember to breath.

I promise to use my voice to share hope and not give hate an audience. I need to recognize the helpers because that is where I will find love and  peace.

I am going to take five minutes to pretend it is Saturday, in the park along the river, just you and me and the falling stars…

In that five minutes I will seek light in the darkness. I hope that someday soon you can do the same.

“it’s the kind of heartache you can feel in your bones”