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Twenty years ago I learned a veritable tome of lessons, some of which I’m just learning now, and it seems unbelievable to me that I can look back at anything in my life knowing it happened twenty years ago. My mom taught me a lot about life while she was alive, and I’ve mentioned that before. She taught me compassion, strength, and determination. She taught me to seek adventure and levity in everything, to make people laugh whenever you can, and to live and love with all your heart no matter how scary the world feels. She taught me to trust my instinct and eschew advice that doesn’t feel right. She taught me to be myself.
What my mother’s death taught me was open honesty. You never know when the last time you say “I love you” or “good morning” or “good night” will be the last. It’s made me vulnerable at times, and I’ve had to learn to accept when it’s not reciprocated, but hey, another lesson, right?
But you see, it also taught me some less than positive lessons. At twelve years old I was already well aware that I was different. I didn’t have many friends, my anxiety and depression were already in full swing, and I’d already thought about suicide more times than I can remember now. I needed help, and I was constantly told I was wrong, broken, or worse…that I was fine. I was fat, I was slow, and I was constantly missing the mark. At twelve I had already had at least one nervous breakdown, I was scared of losing everyone I loved, and I had been proven correct. At twelve I discovered my intuition and empathy in the worst way, and I hated it, so at twelve I learned to hide. I learned to expect the worst. I learned to expect to be alone. I learned that change is terrifying. I learned to build walls, and forgot all those lessons about love and life and laughter.
When I started the Power of One it was immediately pointed out to me that when I’m uncomfortable or anxious I smile. It’s a skill I developed at a very young age, but I imagine I perfected it at my mother’s funeral. Since then it became a crutch I used to get me through parts of my life I felt I could not navigate, and it began to cloud the genuine me. I’ve been lucky enough to have people in my life who could see through the fog and find that genuine me, but for most of my life I haven’t been able to see her myself. I’ve merely been relying on the testaments of others who tell me they see her, like a fairy tale buried deep inside me. As the lessons from my mother started to actually take root and as my intuition and empathy refused to be ignored, life got harder, and the more I stayed inside my walls the more the fires outside tried to cook me out. I tried to let myself be vulnerable…to the wrong people at the wrong times. I tried to be happy…all the time, and ended up holding in the pain and sadness until I couldn’t, resulting in some pretty spectacular meltdowns. I tried to be strong and independent…and all I did was feel more like a failure.
In the year since I seriously started putting effort into my transformation, I’ve worked on being open without being overbearing, happy without using it to cover up when I’m not, and to know when I can be strong alone and when I need to reach out for help. Not all has gone according to plan, but if my mom’s death taught me none of this other bullshit, it taught me that life doesn’t care about your plans, and unpredictability brings as much serendipity as it does tragedy, and the only control I really have is how I choose to react to it, process it, and move on with my life. Losing my mother was not the first tragedy I’d faced in my life, but it was the first one I felt like I was facing alone. The truth is, every situation we face in life we face alone, even if we have the strongest support system on earth, because we’re the only ones who can do the internal work it takes for real survival…and real living.
Love you, Mom. Thanks for still teaching me. after all these years.
Go now, keep learning..keep living….
I was told to write out what I would say to you if I could tell you how to make a relationship work with someone with BPD, someone like me. For some of you it’s too late. The damage is done. I’ve hurt you irreparably, broken trust, and shattered security. We’ve already reprogrammed our relationship to be what it can despite those things, and I deal with the wave of sadness that hits to think of all the things I lost by not being able to tell you what I needed, by not knowing myself. Each and every one of you has asked me what I need from a partner, but even as much as I’ve grown in the last couple of years, I couldn’t put them into words until they were worded as advice for someone else. If that isn’t just the portrait of BPD, I don’t know what is. My hope is that this can clarify some things, maybe starts some dialogues, and definitely give us some blueprints on how to move forward and forge stronger, healthier bonds.
Sometimes I need reassurance that I’m important, and I have said this over and over again. I don’t need to be your top priority, but I do need to be one of them if you’re going to call me a partner. Sometimes I need a little extra attention. Nothing grandiose. Just a reminder that I’m loved. It’s never that I don’t believe I am, but it’s nice to hear, see, feel it from you. I need random messages and occasional outpourings of emotion from you, not constantly, but I need it not to vanish for weeks at a time.
I need you to hear my words not my tone or body language. I need you to believe my words not take them as passive aggression or sass.
I need to feel secure, and when i ask for clarification on what seemed like a small action to you, I need you to not take it as malice or suspicion. I’m just trying to understand. Sudden changes in tone, behaviour, or levels of interaction will be internalized if I can’t mention them to you and get them out of my head, which is running through every reason why it’s all a sign you’re about to leave me. I’m not saying these changes aren’t natural or understood, especially when something is happening in your life. I’m just saying I might ask.
I need you to talk to me. I need you to let me talk. This all boils down to communication. I’m going to overthink things, and getting it out helps. Weird things cut deep sometimes, and all I need is to mention it so it doesn’t fester. I need to know we can have an open dialogue without you lashing out at me. It helps me stay calm and rational.
I need you to know I worry about pushing you away. I worry about being too complicated. I worry about being misunderstood. I worry. Mostly I worry about whether or not you’re happy with me, whether you’re still happy with me, whether you stay because it’s become routine.
I need honesty, even when I might not like it, because I need to trust that you will tell me the bad things along with the good so I don’t constantly wonder what you’re thinking but not saying.
I need balance. I need you to trust me to handle my issues on my own first before you swipe in to try and fix it, but I also need you to know that if I’m reaching out to you I’m at the end of my rope. I don’t want to add to your stress, and I’m doing what I can and taking steps every day to do it better, but I can’t always do it alone. It took me a long time to be able to ask for help, and if I do it means I trust you with my life and my heart. Please understand this.
I need you to know my triggers. I’ll never ask that you avoid them, because part of learning to cope with them is getting used to processing them, but I do need you to be a little sensitive to the aftercare if you’re going to trigger issues. I need to know I’m safe having a reaction to things with you.
I need you to give me some control. I need to feel competent. I need to feel like you believe I’m competent. I need you to not be condescending. I’m an adult, and I’m fully aware of what’s happening and what I need. When I feel like I’m being coddled, babied, or invalidated it triggers everything, and I forget I’m strong and stop trying. I need to not stop trying.
I need you to be clear, patient, and observant at times. Especially when it comes to your needs and issues.
I need you to trust me to adjust my behaviour when I am wrong. I need you to trust me to understand when you need a little space, but I need you to eventually come back from that space. I need you to trust that nothing I do is malicious, and help me be a better partner. Lastly, I need you to trust me to be doing everything I can to be a better version of me every day. I’m not happy being this difficult to live with. I’m not complacent in it. I’m not making excuses.
This is not a list of things you have to learn to do for me. This is a list of things we can learn to navigate together.
I don’t believe we are stuck. I believe things can be improved even after years of unhealthy habits. No, you can never really start over, and there will always be old wounds, but healing is a powerful thing, and all of my relationships are strong, or we wouldn’t be in them.
I’ve done a lot of my own reading and research, but maybe it’s more helpful from a voice that’s not mine…
Which is why I’m here. I was asked whay advice I would give to a partner of someone with BPD. This is what I said.
Go now, feel.
The past few months have been rough, and I haven’t been alone in my struggles. It seems like everyone around me has gone through family problems, major depression, personal crisis, medical or financial hardships, or some combination of those things since Beltane, enough that I had to stop and wonder if there was any significance to it. Today I started to get the whispers of an answer.
This Litha is particularly strong, as it coincides with the full moon. This is the day of the Sun. It’s the time for harvesting the herbs we’ll use for healing and rituals, making it an auspicious day for work yet to come. That raw, masculine energy is high, and we are full of powerful potential.
At Ostara the world was bright, and we watched each other build cocoons with visions of being beautiful butterflies, looking forward to the day we would spread our wings and soar on the sunlight. We waited patiently, and little by little we began to change. This is where the transformation began, and we needed that time to be at full strength for what came next.
As I’ve written several times, transformation is painful. In the second half of this process, our entire form changes, and the cocoon has to be broken. Our safe little world has to be opened up to an exciting, but terrifying, sky. It’s bloody. It’s traumatic. Everything about us must change. The caterpillars we were, and the cocoon we used to shield ourselves during our transformation must be cast aside in order to become what we are meant to be. Those cocoons may have felt safe, but they were dark and restricting. We weren’t meant to live there.
These battles we’ve been fighting for months are necessary for the transformation we’re each undertaking. They’re making us stronger, moving us towards who we really are instead of the mere possibilities we have been, but only if we’re willing to let go of the caterpillars and the temporary shells they built around us.
So, back to Litha and the sun we meet as we emerge. Sun means fire, and the fires of Litha burn hot, hotter this year than I have ever felt. For many of us that fire has raged internally. It purifies and transforms us, but it can be destructive if we fear it instead of dancing with it. I’m feeling change I set in motion years ago, and I have felt it in every cell in my body for the past three months. It has tested my faith in myself. It has tested my relationships. It has tested my ability to function at mundane tasks while every part of me feels torn apart, but in the end I…in the end we all…will emerge from the darkness that has surrounded us. I feel it happening a little more every day. I see it happening around me. It may not be over for some, but it will get better. I know we will all pull through this and fly together in the sunlight.
Go now,be who you were meant to be
New relationships give us all sorts of opportunities. A new partner means all these new frontiers to explore, don’t they? Suddenly we’re interested in couples Wii bowling tournaments and Faberge egg painting, and we make all these plans like they’re blueprints for this new relationship. Then reality sets in. Wii bowling happens on a work night, and neither of you can paint a fence let alone a hollowed out egg. Instantly there are all these unmet expectations. Now throw in the fact that this is a new person you’re learning, and no matter how many times you’ve dreamily cooed the phrase “it feels like I’ve known you forever” it’s been two months, and you’re still learning to communicate and exist on this planet together. This is where hopes get let down, miscommunication runs rampant, and because NRE has the happy gauge turned up to High Octane, these small disappointments feel world ending. Sometimes they feel relationship ending.
This is where real life has to interfere for the relationship to survive, and as comfort levels are established we must be willing to let some of those expectations be set aside for a rainy day, reshaped a little, ot even just released back into the wild. Maybe you buy a Wii and bowl at home. Maybe you take a Vino and Van Gogh class one weekend, get smashed, and paint nothing put stick figures and butts. Maybe you find something else that excites you. The key is to adapt, because at some point the letdowns get bigger; it’s a fact of life that no relationship, yes even yours, is perfect. If you can’t handle the reality that your partner hated the recipe you learned because she said she likes lasagna, how are you going to survive when you find out she whistles in her sleep and keeps you awake, when the perfect night out you planned in your head ends up on the couch in pj’s because one of you had an awful day, when tears are in her eyes because you weren’t even aware you’d done something hurtful? These things will happen, and these little compromises on expectations build the foundation for a relationship that can sustain them.
I’ve said it before. NRE is a roller-coaster, friends, and sometimes one partner gets off the ride before the other. What then? You will never survive this blow if you’ve let every other changed expectation tear at you. This is where the true strength of a relationship is tested. This is where you find out what you can do together, and once again you adapt. This is where love and compassion can mean everything. This is where reaching out and the little things that define your relationship are imperative, because they’re so easily left behind when the ride is over.
There is no other message here. Just let that one sink in a bit.
Go now. Hold on tight.
When I was a kid there was a portrait collage on the wall of my grandparent’s home. My grandfather lost most of his brothers to war, and they spent many meals with us in stories from his childhood. These are the uncles I never got to meet, but men I felt connected to through my grandfather’s words. Who he never mentioned was the brother who survived in body but lost his mind, but I knew the story, and it haunted me for a long time.
Fast forward a couple of decades, and I’m on an Honor Flight with a man named Georgie who spends three hours telling me about his life experiences. I’m in awe and humbled that of all the things he could be doing, he’s talking to me. He tells me about the loves of his life, of his kids, his jobs vacations and friends he’s lost. He talks little of war or service until we’re less than an hour out, but when he does his words are powerful. He speaks to me of honor and compassion. He speaks to me of the decades he’s spent watching strong men eventually defeat themselves. In the end he tells me to remember those whose sacrifice has been forgotten, and I think of that forgotten brother on my grandparents’ wall.
In my life I have known so many of those “forgotten brothers”, and I have felt the loss of each and every one of them. Yes, there were friends and family members who never came home, but there were also those who did only to kill themselves shortly afterwards, to never quite find a way to grasp life again, to lose everything to one addiction or another. Then there was love I didn’t know how to handle, a decision I couldn’t make, and my future forever changed by the loss of my own “forgotten brother”.
So, this morning I took a walk through the part of my past I don’t generally see these days. It’s not that I avoid it, but it’s become a part of a life that doesn’t even seem like mine anymore, so I let it quietly lurk in the background of my memories. But today I took a walk, and the images became vivid enough to touch. Maybe it’s because I’ve been in a dark place, or maybe it’s fresh loss. Maybe it’s just life’s way of reminding me where I’ve been in my life and why I keep moving forward, that these moments in time, and yes, these people, are still very much a part of me and each and every one of them is fighting for me.
I don’t tell his story often, and it’s not one I’m prepared to tell today, but today I honor him and all the forgotten brothers and sisters.
Go now, reflect and remember.
We are taught as a society that anger is bad. Angry children are punished instead of taught to process, angry men are destructive, and angry women are irrational. We learn to ignore it, to bottle it up, to fear it, and this leads to a breakdown in communication and emotional presence. But anger is not the enemy. Anger, like any other emotion, is defined by how we respond to it and process it.
Even just a year ago I would have turned the first time I got angry as a new partner into fear that if I expressed it at all he’s walk, and past experience has taught me that anger makes me a monster, a selfish bitch. Crazy. Both of my parents got very quiet when they were angry, and I have inherited that behaviour. When I’m frustrated I get snappy, but when I’m genuinely angry I shut down.
Our challenge as adults in relationships is to deal with anger instead of letting it push us apart, right? How do we do this without the emotional toolbox we should have been given decades ago? How do I process and communicate my anger without getting passive aggressive, hurtful, or adversely, detached? How do I help my partner not feel like he needs to be on his defense? These are not questions I have answers for, and they stir up the fear that I’ll merely succeed in pushing him away from me, but staying angry doesn’t help anyone.
Go now, use your anger
Mother’s Day snuck its way in subtly this year, and a bit earlier than usual. For a myriad of reasons it’s historically been a very hit or miss day for me emotionally. It’s unavoidable, but I try not to let it destroy ym ability to function, the result being anywhere from hermitting under the covers all day while my husband flips through funny movies to breaking down in the middle of a wedding reception. But that was before Good Girl, which dealt with both my guilt and grief over my mo’s death almost 20 years ago and the constantly evolving acceptance and mourning of pregnancy loss and knowing it’s unlikely I’ll be a mom. This year, as I’ve stated many ties since December, is different.
My posts about healing have taught me not to expect the same responses to even long recurring events in my life. Enter, Mother’s Day. I didn’t really know how it would hit me, so I had no idea how to begin to process emotions as they ebbed. I felt it coming, but it wasn’t the normal overbearing weight I’m used to, so I waited patiently for my body to tell me what it needed.
Last night I found myself in Spokane, WA, where I laughed and got a little tipsy with new friends. We talked about different issues in our lives, and I was able to begin to sort out different currents of emotion running through me. This wasnt a river of sadness, it was a mixture of different feelings ranging from sadness to gratefulness. I felt ok about things. A little lonely and down, but nothing I couldn’t handle.
This morning I woke up early feeling isolated from myself, and reaching out I found that most of my support system was busy, unavailable, or having their own issues. I really was alone. It hurt, and for a moment I let myself slide into darkness, but I forced myself up and went outside.
If you’ve never been to Spokane, go. It’s beautiful. I found myself walking by a series of waterfalls through a park, and I began to sing and old river chant to myself. As I stood on a bridge overlooking the falls it hit e all at once. The flood. Right there in a public park I bawled like a baby behind my sunglasses. Then it was over, and I realized that this year the grief is not the focus of my being. It’s there in the background, and every once in a while it strikes, takes my breath away, and recedes because it wants to be acknowledged. Not overpowered, not surrendered to, but acknowledged. It wants symbiosis.
A river, my river. It has its ebbs and flows, but it’s very controlled in its rage, and that’s what makes it powerful. This grief doesn’t have to make me weak. It doesn’t have to make me stop. It just has to happen. That doesn’t mean it won’t flood sometimes, but for the most part being a part of my river allows it to run on my terms.
So back to the healing. What’s been bothering me without my knowing it is this feeling that to heal is to abandon. My mom. My babies. My future. My past. Here in the present, it felt like moving forward was leaving them all behind.This river reminds me that it isn’t true. Nothing is ever abandoned, it just becomes a part of the flow.
I had my moment, then I put my phone on airplane mode to avoid any incoming negativity and took control of my day. I found a comic book store for Free Comic Book Day, Auntie’s Books and Uncle’s Games, and a pop up punk rock concert in a parking lot. I avoided the Trump rally despite having to deal with two men hitting on me holding support signs. I walked through parks and trails. I took a million and one pictures of waterfalls. I rode a gondola over the big falls by myself and didn’t have a panic attack as it dangled me precariously over the water. Why? Because was able to recognize the beauty and power in that river matching my own.
I can’t say Mother’s Day this year won’t be sad. I can’t say the tears and keening isn’t over. I don’t think it ever is. What’s also there is the rock solid support of my healing and the growth I continue to navigate, and that’s what makes it different. I’ve jumped in my river, made my peace with it, and am beginning to understand its power and beauty.
Go now, find your river.
Yesterday was Beltane, and I didn’t have sex once. In fact, I turned it down for physical reasons. Later that day an acquaintance posted how hard Beltane was for those who are single or otherwise unable to have sex, and I realized just how many people miss the point. Yes, the lore of Beltane centers around sex, but like any lore, there are layers and layers of meaning, and no one meaning is correct. I’ve always had issues with events that center around kink and sex in relation to Beltane, because I feel like so much is lost in the need to free the libertine, especially in a group setting.
Let’s step back a moment, and I’ll tell you a story.
Two years ago I started running. My first focus was consistency. Making it happen on a regular basis was a struggle, but last year I began to focus on theat first mile. How was it improving as i went? How was I feeling after each new time landmark? Was I keeping that time and endurance consistent? Last week I hit a pretty big deviation in my mile. It wanted more. Not just faster, but it wanted more….something. Today I threw it all off course. Instead of the straight timed distance run, and int he spirit of the season, I chose a multilevel course on the elliptical that mimics a run through a state park. Despite the extra complexity, it shaved a noticeable chunk of time off my first mile, and an internal check begged me to keep going. By the time i was done with the second mile I was ready for more. Unfortunately I had more to accomplish today, but the energy raised by that second mile was powerful.
So, back to Beltane. Yesterday I recognized the energy of the season manifesting differently. There were primal urges, yes, but there was so much more beneath it. You see, Beltane isn’t about what fuels us, it’s about the spark that ignites us to push to heights we didn’t know we were capable of. It takes us out of a comfort zone and tell us to quit limiting ourselves to what we think we’re ready for. It reminds us we are beings of powerful energy and awe inspiring abilities. That we can make change and manifest our lives in ways even we can’t imagine yet. Yes, many people find that inspiration and raw power in sex, because it’s one of the most primal ways we have of letting go and letting our real power surge inside us. Sex makes us, for an instant, a different being all together. It allows us to step outside of our physical existence and experience the world around us, the universe, and yes, other humans, in ways the body cannot.
So no, this Beltane I didn’t have sex once…..but the spark of Beltane was very much alive inside me.
Go now, feel the spark.
A partner recently told me “you need to be confident to be with me”. My first reaction was to wonder why he was with me in the first place. My next was a dissection of exactly what “confidence” means. As little girls we are conditioned to believe that confidence is expressed in catty competitions with other little girls. As confident women we are called conceited, bitchy, and shrewish. As a woman who has had to suck it up and be all of these things at one point in my life, I hate the word “confident”. I haven’t survived the worst parts of my life because I was confident. I don’t keep pushing forward, growing, learning because I’m confident. Strong, sometimes. Stubborn, undoubtedly. But confident? Where does it come into any of this?
I first had to ask myself this: What is confidence, and where does it become hubris? Am I confident for wearing a two-piece bathing suit with an extra forty pounds on me? Was I confident when I quit a stable job to chase a career in hopes it was the best move for my family? Was I confident when I stepped out on a stage and shared some of the most vulnerable moments in my life? Or was it stupid? When we talk about risk and the unknown, what’s the difference?
The answer was simply: The difference is knowing it might fail, accepting that, and not givingup so easily.
You see, confidence does not mean I’m not also scared shitless, that I don’t sometimes feel like I’m a mess just faking it well enough to get through the day, that I don’t have moments where I am an intricately and inexorably flawed human. Confidence is not the absence of weakness or doubt, but the willingness to meet it head on and give it a decent fight. It means knowing that sometimes I’m not going to be good enough, and that’s okay. It’s knowing I’m going to fail and trusting myself to heal from it and learn something from the experience. It’s continuing to give all of myself in good faith that I’m contributing something to the world, to my family, to just one person. It’s getting up and telling my story over and over again no matter how rote it may feel because it might help someone find their own strength.
So, back to the matter at hand. Am I confident? I honestly have no idea.
I don’t strive for confidence. That’s a superficial battle. What I strive for is courage, compassion, and a little adventure on this journey. The rest will come.
Go now, cultivate.
This past weekend was a hard lesson for me in healing. I let anxiety win, and it was……quite the spectacle. What happened behind the scenes was even worse. I convinced myself I was a fraud. I convinced myself I was worthless. I convinced myself there never had been hope for me. I looked back at the work I’ve done over the past two years and felt like I’d been lying to myself. Then I removed myself from the situation and remembered what it felt like standing on that stage by myself without anyone there to help me. The power I felt in telling a part of my story. The shift I felt inside me when I stopped fearing the unforeseeable and took hold of what’s mine. My life. That was not a lie. That could not have been false.
I’ve written a lot about healing and the way my life has changed since my experience with Good Girl. What I have not written about is the backsliding. What I haven’t written about is the doubt and the fear that the healing was some delusional fantasy that anything has changed. What I haven’t written about are the mistakes we make, because after decades of making the same ones over and over again, these are new, terrifying mistakes. It’s so easy to wonder if the change was worth it, because the demons we’re accustomed too are much easier to quell than new ones that might try to manifest in our lives. The answer is yes, it’s worth it. All of it, and the mistakes don’t unravel a single bit of it.
We’re told healing is hard. We’re told it’s a process. We’re told it’s painful. We’re never told how much maintenance it requires and how much of an adjustment it is to our daily lives. We have this idea that healing makes everything better, filling our lives with sunshine and rainbows and cute little kittens. What we don’t realize is that healing is NOT a panacea. It doesn’t make anything go away, it just gives us the resources to deal with it and to navigate new challenges that arise in a healthy manner. It doesn’t change learned behaviours. It doesn’t erase anxiety, depression, PTSD, or physical illness. It merely gives us better moves with which to fight and an understanding of how to fix what we break. Healing is not curing. Healing is taking something we once let run our lives into the ground and use it instead to fuel us to keep thriving.
The reality is that while healing is an internal process it requires external maintenance in ways we never experience when the stakes are low. My lesson wasn’t just painful for me; I hurt someone I love. It’s up to me to face that, do what I can to repair it, and do the internal work to ensure it doesn’t happen again. In the past it either wouldn’t have been healthy enough to matter or I would have just logged it with the other good things I let myself ruin. In the past few months it’s become more apparent where the healing could not help me because the problems I have are biological, so I’ve had to bite the bullet and admit there are things I can’t fix without medical help…then actually seek it. These things are no longer buried under me. They’re out in the open, they’re manageable, and they’re in the way of the life I want to live. Lastly, I have recognized things in my life that I was once passionate about but no longer serve that quick fix need in my life. There’s been a twinge of nostalgic panic as I begin to let those things go to focus on what’s really important in my life, but I’m decluttering and setting new goals.
You see, healing is a battle cry that screams “you no longer have power over me”. You won’t win the battle just because you’ve healed, but it will give you a fighting chance.