Parenting While Struggling

I can’t keep all my sadness, frustration, unhappiness, and stress a secret from my children. Maybe there are parents who are good at this, but I am an open book. When I’m happy I’m larger than life with enthusiasm, laughter, and excitement; I talk too fast, jump around, and my teenager often tells me to calm down because I’m “too much”. On the flip side, when life is heavy my energy is lower, I’m more quiet, and often lost in thought. My children have all seen me cry, and each in their own way have inquired about my sadness and offered comfort or encouragement.

I want to be strong and positive for my children, ensure that they always feel safe, and I don’t want them to have the burden of emotionally supporting their mother. I also don’t want to pretend and be fake around them, setting an example that life is always easy. I’m their guide for how to live, navigate difficulty, adapt, grow and change, and sometimes that comes with loneliness, tears, and uncertainty. For my teenager, who’s more aware of the cause-and-effects in my life, she’s expressed sadness for my sadness, said it’s hard on her to see me upset, and also shared that I demonstrate how to rebuild and make life great after it falls apart. I have faith that she’ll be equipped to go through her own trials with more faith and hope for healing and rebuilding because of my example, and when I’m having a hard time that knowledge is a light in the darkness. For my little boys, it’s beautiful to see them care, and also nice to see how much they miss simply because they’re naturally in their own world, busy playing and not paying attention.

It’s so easy as parents to over-think, doubt, and feel guilty. I’m exceptionally hard on myself sometimes. But I had a realization the other day that having children is one of my motivations to step-up and fight against the desire to give-in or give-up. While my kids are aware when I’m struggling, I still choose to show-up for them and I’m more motivated to heal because of them. There have been times recently when all I wanted to do was feel sorry for myself, lay in bed and cry, and pretend I didn’t have any responsibilities. But my small humans still need my time, attention, food, and clean clothes. They also have expectations for how we’ll spend our time together because of the lifestyle I’ve created, which includes loud music, dance parties, eating dinner together, adventures to the park, singing and meditation at bedtime… all things my happy self loves and my unhappy self doesn’t want to do, yet when I participate despite my mood and feelings, I am uplifted. Having to show-up day after day for my family is part of my recovery story, and without the need to continue caring for my children I can’t imagine what my life would look like when shit goes sideways.

My 6 year old’s favorite song right now is Believer by Imagine Dragons. He asks to listen to it every morning on our way to school, loud, with the windows down. When my spirit is happy and I’m well rested, this is a seriously fun experience for us to share, and I dance and sing along. Recently I’ve been struggling, and have secretly hoped multiple times that he’ll forget to ask me to play the song, and when asked I’ve even contemplated saying “no” because my sadness wants silence and tears, but in those moments when I didn’t want to face the morning sunshine, let alone dance and sing, the sweet enthusiasm of my son and the continuation of a happy routine were things I needed and wouldn’t have given myself without his motivation. It’s easy in difficult times to look outside of the home and outside of everyday routines for comfort, or to suck everyone around you down into your misery. Healing and change don’t come with a roadmap, when we’re struggling we’re more easily triggered, and it’s okay to not have the energy to live life exactly same when you’re happy verses sad, but I encourage you to pay attention to how you’re showing-up, appreciate the little things that are encouraging you to get out of bed when you don’t want to, and stop over-thinking. We often need the opposite of what we want when heavy emotions are calling the shots – so eat healthy food when you want to eat junk, take a slow walk around the block when you want to get back into bed, be still with your thoughts and emotions and avoid over explaining yourself to others, love yourself, and maybe listen to some dance music when you don’t feel like smiling and see what happens.

My Heart Hurts

“Grief is the response to loss, particularly the loss of someone to which a bond or affection was formed. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, it also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, cultural, spiritual and philosophical dimensions.”  – Wikipedia

I haven’t been here before. I’d like to say that all the hurt, failure, loss, and starting-over in my past had somehow prepared me for this moment in my life. But that’s not the case. My heart hurts and I don’t feel strong or liberated or free or hopeful for better. . . sometimes endings release you from unhappiness, abuse, indifference, or pain, and so even in the darkest hours there’s hope for healing and future happiness, and motivation to leave the past in the past; sometimes endings are just a loss.

Everything changed in an instant. I lost the person who gave my wounded heart wings, helped me discover magic in my spirit, and gifted me with friendship, peace, happiness, and adventure in ways I’ve never known. I am a better person because of him. I am forever changed because I was lucky enough to love him. I wanted everything we were and more with faith that we’d stand the test of time, but we weren’t moving in the same direction at the same pace, and now I’m left holding my breaking heart in trembling hands, overwhelmed with sorrow, replaying months of happy memories and grieving the loss of his special presence in my life.

It’s like the lights got shut-off and I can’t turn them back on.

I don’t know how to process this loss except to feel the hurt, and be patient and gentile with my heart. I don’t want to stop caring about him and I don’t want a future without him. There’s a hundred things I want to tell him everyday, I miss our joking and laughter, and I wish he could hold me and make this sadness go away. I don’t feel like myself and it’s difficult to find motivation to do anything right now. I’m not sleeping well and I cry often. My family and friends assure me that someday I wont hurt like this anymore because I’m strong enough to move forward, reminding me that I’ve successfully started-over in the past. But every time I’ve faced loss, change, heartache, and the need to rebuild, it’s come from a place of brokenness, regret, fear, and unhappiness, and I was highly motivated to make my life better. Non of what I’ve previously experienced applies here. I was heart-open, happy and hopeful, with no guard-up to soften the hurt, and no second-guessing my feelings for him to help justify the ending or motivate recovery. He was a dream-come-true after a lifetime of dysfunctional relationships, he was an open door to new hopes and dreams, and someone I feel so blessed to know. Beyond having to live without him, there’s brightness, enthusiasm, passion, joy, and hope that exists in me because of him that suddenly doesn’t have anywhere to go. I’m grieving the loss of a beautiful new version of myself full of vibrancy, life, confidence, and comfort. I’ve been so happy to be his person and really don’t want to let this version of me go. I’m seriously struggling to face my new reality, and my heart just hurts.

What I Want

A dream. . . a wish. . . memories and hopes. . .

I want you to be my good morning.

I want to tell you all my things, and to know all your things.

I want to hear your laugh and see your amazing smile.

I want to eat octopus and dairy queen, watch random youtube videos, and practice guitar together.

I want to go on road trips and explore new places with you.

I want to cook together.

I want to listen to music and experience your enthusiasm for the talents of others.

I want to laugh with you and have inside jokes with you.

I want to be as witty as you.

I want your encouragement and wisdom, and for you to be proud of me.

I want the comfort of your calming energy and the safety of your strong arms.

I want to hold hands, get lost in your eyes, and flirt with you.

I want to be this special version of me that exists because I’m yours.

I want to face our demons together, dream together, grow together, and make plans together.

I want us to encourage, motivate, and inspire one another.

I want to learn from you, depend on you, need you, and want you.

I want to be your biggest cheerleader and for you to be my safe place to land. 

I want you to be my lucky penny and I’ll be your four leaf clover. 

I want a love that will stand the test of time.

I want you to be my goodnight, knowing that when we wake up I’m still yours and you’re still mine.

A Little More Heart

Let me paint a picture for you:

A divorced mom of three is unemployed. The bills keep showing-up on time and mouthes still need to be fed. With each passing day the weight of her situation increases, and she finds herself crying almost daily. On top of the added financial stresses of unemployment, she still faces all the same daily challenges and responsibilities, like parenting a teenager, navigating co-parenting with an ex she wishes she never had to see again, homework, household chores, etc. . . the list goes on and on. Sometimes she feels like superwoman, with big ideas for how to improve her life and chase her dreams, and sometimes she’s so overwhelmed by paralyzing fear that she doesn’t feel strong enough to get off the couch. She wants to be happy around her children so they don’t worry, and the energy it takes to be okay when she isn’t is especially draining, but she chooses to put on a confident, positive face day after day because she wants her children to feel safe.

She finds healthy distraction and an outlet for dealing with her stress in fitness, cooking and eating well, dancing like no one is watching, and driving with the windows down. There is adventure and joy in her spirit that wants to be center stage, and thankfully her passion for life and her love for others tips the scale toward happiness more than sadness every single day. She’s strong and has faith that this season of challenge and change is temporary.

Each evening the house becomes quiet, and when all the lights are out and the children are asleep, she prays and meditates and journals about everything she’s thankful for, while hoping her mind will slow down enough to allow her to fall asleep. Quality rest is infrequent, which makes her body feel tired and adds to her emotional turmoil. Sometimes the silence is deafening and sometimes it’s peaceful. Either way the day comes to an end with the hope that tomorrow will bring new light, new adventure, and more joy than sorrow.

Anyone who interacts with her sees light and laughter, and wouldn’t know that her world feels upside-down right now. She is determined to live life to the fullest, and definitely doesn’t want anyone feeling sorry for her because she believes she’s blessed and capable of turning things around, even if she doesn’t know how quite yet. But there’s a loneliness that comes with carrying the responsibility of her family on her own, and the need for someone to see beyond her positivity and acknowledge her bravery.

In everything you do, and with everyone you encounter, please remember that we are all facing something, healing from something, afraid of something, worrying about something, dreaming about something, and everyone is in need of more human kindness, understanding, patience, and genuine care. While we all put on a brave face to interact with the world around us, if we assume there’s a story behind every smile that is an equal combination of light and darkness, maybe we’ll all treat each other with a little more heart and a lot less judgement.

Happiness Is Right Now

Where there is gratitude there is happiness.

It’s easy to lose sight of right now because we’re so busy making plans for the future, hoping, dreaming, and wishing for better, often while worrying about the next big thing or how we’ll arrive at the destination we’re pushing ourselves toward. It doesn’t matter what it is: losing weight, building muscle, running faster, starting a meal plan, making more money, getting a promotion, advancing your career, starting a business, writing a book, meeting your person, being a better parent, buying a house, loving your partner better, showing up for yourself or life differently, starting a new hobby. . . there are a million ways that we can desire to change, improve, and grow. I believe that if we aren’t moving forward we’re actually moving backward – standing still isn’t an option, but how we approach our goals has a significant impact on our quality of life and overall happiness. If we’re too focused on “climbing the ladder” or get into “survival mode”, it’s easy to miss all the beauty in the present. There’s a difference between living for the future and living in the moment, and I’ve been guilty over and over again of losing sight of everything wonderful in the present because I’m putting too much importance on where I want to go, how I want to improve, or who I think I should be. Recently I decided that “should” and “when” are bad words, and remind myself daily that happiness is right now, or it’ll never exist. Just like we’re never “ready” for the biggest, most important, scariest milestones in life (like becoming a parent), we can’t save happiness for some future version of ourselves and we wont arrive at happiness after doing x.y.z.

When life is challenging, or maybe when we’re in the middle of a health pandemic, racial conflict, and political crisis at the same time, it can be hard to feel peaceful and thankful. There’s a heaviness that nearly everyone is carrying as we face change and uncertainty on a daily basis. The wold is crazy weird right now and limbo for any reason is uncomfortable. Obviously it’s easy to be thankful when life is easy and we feel successful, confident, and like everything is lined-up nicely, but life is a constant tide of highs and lows, and gratitude in the darkest times is more important – it can be the difference between depression and hope. In seasons of unrest and uncertainty, focus on anything and everything that’s positive in the moment, and you’ll create a spirit of thankfulness and positive momentum. When we acknowledge that happiness exists even when life isn’t ideal, we create positive energy that moves us toward our dreams with happiness and peace instead of fear and impatience. Having a spirit of gratitude creates resilience, perspective, grace, understanding, patience, compassion, love, kindness, tolerance, and happiness for right now, and since tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, today is worth appreciating.

Understand Your Love Languages

Your love language can be used against you, and the impact is significantly greater than other offenses or injuries thrown at you, because it’s the most direct path to your heart.

Breakthroughs don’t always show up with lightening and thunder, announcing significance in a way that forces you to pay attention. Sometimes clarity, self-discovery, and healing requires insight, thoughtfulness, and the mental and emotional space to simmer on simple words or ideas until new understanding clicks into place. Something seemingly insignificant, like a single candle lit in a large space, still brings light to dark corners. While we’re often looking for fireworks throughout our healing journey, the whispers in the back of our mind, or simple words spoken in conversation with a friend, or even a line from a movie can motivate transformation in meaningful and often massive ways. This kind of growth requires a deeper sense of self; a willingness to pay attention to subtlety, and safety within your own spirit to sit quietly with yourself even when it’s uncomfortable. Especially when it’s uncomfortable. Internal tension is an indication that something is out of alignment, and sadly it’s human nature to suppress unhappy emotions, triggers, doubt and worry, instead of welcoming these energies and accepting that they’re as natural and normal as the positive energies we hope to experience on a daily basis: happiness, joy, peace, love, etc. It’s my belief that we will experience more positivity and less unhappiness by embracing the uncomfortable thoughts and energies when they present themselves.

Picture yourself as a vessel with a maximum amount of storage space. What are you carrying with you, and do you really want to be holding onto everything that’s currently traveling into each of your tomorrow’s? Yes, we all have history, but that can be used to teach and transform without becoming baggage. There’s a difference between healing and suppressing; between letting go and ignoring.

My primary love language is Words of Affirmation, closely followed by Physical Touch and Quality Time. If you’re unfamiliar with Gary Chapman’s book and the idea of “love languages”, or if it’s been a while since you’ve considered yourself from this perspective, I encourage you to take the quiz (it’s short). I read The Five Love Languages for the first time as a young adult, and have revisited the book and my numbers many times over the years. I’ve incorporated this assessment into professional environments for team building, and also use this ideology of showing and receiving love to customize how I parent each of my children, in hopes that I’ll communicate love in the way they want and need to receive it, instead of only in the way my heart best understands love.

I was talking to my counselor about past hurts and questioned why things from my childhood and younger adult years are still haunting me. I’ve attended a lot of counseling and proactively put in the work to process and heal, and I’m hopeful there’s a future version of myself that doesn’t need to continually revisit past traumas. Within the discussion I mentioned my love languages, and the order and high scores for the first three. She suggested that the reason why it’s taking significant effort to heal from some of my past experiences is because my love language was used against me: cruel words and a lack of loving, supportive and kind words; physical abuse and isolation; and an absence of quality time combined with being rejected and ignored. It came and went in the conversation very quickly, and wasn’t attached to any of the weekly homework I was assigned, yet it’s been on my mind ever since. I never considered that hurt could have a more significant impact depending on how it’s delivered, but it makes sense, and as I’ve quietly sat with this concept day-after-day, I’ve traveled down paths I’ve visited dozens to hundreds of times, discovering peace and healing in new ways because I understand myself more. The trauma remains the same, the actions of others unchanged, and unanswered questions remain unanswered, yet I have more clarity about how my heart receives and interprets love and pain, why a lack of words can feel like neglect or a lack of caring, and I can also see how people could spend a lifetime showing love in the way they want to receive it while the recipient never feels understood, seen, or fully appreciated.

Humans are complicated and beautiful. What a blessing that we can learn about ourselves from thousands of different perspectives, and grow, change, and start over as often as we choose. I encourage you to not only work to find deep understanding within your love languages, but also consider how those you’re closest to show their love, because that’s ultimately how they need to receive love for it to have the most valuable impact.

Perspective is Powerful

I had big plan for this year; a vision of starting a new decade with purpose and passion, and making shit happen in significant ways – no more talking about it, no more thinking about it, no more making plans. It was going to be the year I stopped standing in my own way. It was going to be my best year yet. 2019 ended upside-down, concluding a decade with some of my biggest victories and most significant lows, and once again I was face-to-face with another forced restart, attempting to process disappointment and loss while clinging to hopes and dreams I refused to retire.

I did everything “right”. New-year/New-decade goals were set with habits in place to make my dreams a reality, while loyally attended counseling to work through past hurt and gain a deeper understanding of myself, maintaining faith and courage that my life could be anything I manifest – that the hardships of my history were lessons necessary for transforming me into a more loving, thoughtful, and powerful version of myself. These were my goals:

  • Career/Financial Growth: $10k+ per month, continue adding value and developing my professional purpose and passion.
  • Write my first book: complete my first draft this year, with the goal to publish prior to my 40th birthday.
  • Blog: publish often and continue developing my voice as a writer, telling my truths with bravery, facing my fear of judgement and transparency.
  • Physical Health: run further & faster, increase strength, eat healthy to fuel my body, and continue healing from body shaming and eating disorder, stop fearing food and the scale.
  • Mental/Emotional Health: self-love, self-forgiveness, deeper appreciation for my life, more purposeful parenting, daily meditation, live-in-the-moment, daily peace and gratitude, continue counseling.
  • Love: be courageous with my heart, live and love authentically, and stay true to who I am instead of who I think I should be or what I think others expect.

Nearly everyone I know has a story of how this year has knocked them down, sent them for an unexpected ride, and delivered loss or disappointment. It’s been hard as hell for everyone. In the moments when my life has felt especially out-of-control and hopeless, I’ve done my best to focus on gratitude, which has often required emotional effort beyond comprehension, like desperately pulling myself out of the quicksand of fear, sadness and tears so that I can remind myself that even in this dark time there is so much to be thankful for. There is a regular battle between head and heart, logic and feeling, and it’s exhausting. When I’m thinking instead of feeling it’s easy to recognize that I’m not as far off track as my emotions want me to believe, and there are powerful lessons in these trials, unexpected and valuable growth, and so many blessings wrapped up in all this hardship. I’ve discovered that sadness and hope can coexist, that I can experience joy with the weight of worry in the back of my mind, that I can choose peace in seasons of uncertainty, that I can cry and laugh within minutes of one another, that there is beauty in slowing down, and that I can trust myself with matters of the heart.

Goals in review:

  • Career: I’m currently unemployed as a result of the economic hardship created by this pandemic. While it comes with heaviness since I’m solely responsible for my family of 4, I have faith that this is an opportunity for bigger and better, and I often remind myself that I’ve been through much worse and I’m capable of navigating this challenge.
  • Book: underway yet far from complete, progress significantly slowed by the massive lifestyle changes that came with working from home and having the children home full time for 6 months. Facing lots of self-doubt associated with sharing my story and not feeling “good enough” as a writer.
  • Blog: continually diving deeper and sharing with more confidence, happy with the ongoing exercise of writing about whatever comes to mind in the moment.
  • Physical Health: exceeding goals, no longer fearful of food, calories, or the scale, physically and mentally stronger, and loving my lifestyle built around fitness and health. Feeling proud, excited and motivated.
  • Mental/Emotional Health: counseling continues to be valuable for navigating the day-to-day challenges while also healing past hurts, I have a deeper appreciation for myself, I’m setting new goals and trusting myself to continue growing and achieving, practicing meditation and daily gratitude, finding peace in uncertainty, and accepting the discomfort of limbo.
  • Love: I took a leap of faith and as a result met someone wonderful, I’m giving of myself openly and recognizing when I’m tempted to pull-back or be guarded, discovering strength and comfort I’ve never know, living authentically and learning that transparency doesn’t mean weakness. It takes courage to open my heart but I have faith that the risk is worth taking because I’m confident I was made to care deeply for another and I’m unable to live the life I want on my own.

“I think if you focus on protection your heart you can avoid a lot of pain, but you can also end up living half a life”. – quote from Virgin River

Without perspective it’s easy to feel like my life is falling apart, I’m failing, and I’m impossibly off track. Thankfully we’re able to look at a situation, circumstance or problem from different angles, or I’d be in a really bad place without a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s scary to be unemployed. It’s frustrating to feel like I’m letting myself down and really far from accomplishing some of my goals. But this season in my life has brought the time and space for deeper self-awareness, the opportunity to make new friends, an open door for growth and possibility that I wasn’t brave enough to consider while busy and comfortable, and new experiences and goals that have required courage and faith that previous versions of myself couldn’t imagine, let alone embrace. There is the potential for beauty in trauma when we’re open to change, and while aspects of my life are scary and uncomfortable, I’m so thankful that there’s more to be grateful for than worried about right now. I have faith that the pieces currently out of place will find their way back together, and that when everything is in alignment again it’ll be better than ever because I’m a little stronger, wiser, and more appreciative than any previous version of myself. Growth is challenging, but holding yourself back will result in regret and unrealized potential, so I’m embracing change and looking for an optimistic perspective whenever my mind and heart aren’t in alignment. I’m also learning to accept that it’s okay to not be okay – sometimes my tears flow freely, fear takes over, and I’m so overwhelmed that breathing feels difficult – with kindness and self acceptance I gently move through the sorrow, feeling my feelings without judgement, and remind myself of present happiness and blessings within current and past difficulties. While this year hasn’t been anything like I envisioned, I’ve grown in ways I’ll appreciate for the rest of my life, and that knowledge helps center me in the moment and replace worry with peace.

My Baby’s Birthday: reflection and celebration

My baby is five years old. There’s a part of me that feels like he was born yesterday, and I can’t believe he’s already in kindergarten, learning to read, and having intelligent conversations. With each new day he grows and develops his own interests and personality a little more, always showcasing his creativity and beautiful spirit. He’s funny, kind-hearted, powerful, stubborn, and I love that I get to be his mom. There’s also a part of me that feels like I’ve lived a lifetime of experiences, change, trials and victories since he was born… has it really only been five years? Time is a funny thing; so subjective.

Beautiful things can come out of truly terrible times. Hardship and change can be used to positivity transform, learn and grow, and I’m so thankful that every time life has presented me with a reason to give-up, give-in, quit, or get stuck, I’ve not only survived but risen above. Humans are truly amazing. We are always stronger than we believe, and able to survive, start over, and become completely different over and over again. The past few years have been transformative for me personally, and for the spirit and culture of my home. Who I am as a parent and how I choose to live is unlike any previous version of myself. There’s peace, laughter, quality conversation, adventure, and friendship in my family, and after years of tension, conflict, inconsistency, and unhappiness, I feel blessed every single day. That’s not to say we don’t still struggle, or that being a single parent of a teenager and two young boys is easy, but at the foundation there is love, trust and safety, and that makes even our hardest moments feel healthy and easier to navigate in comparison.

I have three children, and each pregnancy and birth story is both tragic and beautiful. My first-born was conceived by force within a marriage, and I literally had no idea that that was even possible. I always thought of sexual assault as a one-time thing; a crime committed by a stranger or acquaintance, or because of drugs and alcohol, but not repeatedly by my husband while claiming to love me. I was young, naive, and couldn’t believe the control and mistreatment I’d committed myself to for “forever”, and while I was sure he didn’t love me I did everything I could think of to change myself into someone he could love in hopes that the abuse would end. There was so much darkness, fear, physical and emotional abuse, and loneliness during my pregnancy and after my baby was born, but out of that misery I became a mother to the most lovable little firecracker; my “dolly”. She was my reason to get up when I felt like staying down, she was my reason to smile and work hard, and she was eventually my reason to get divorced and change everything about our lives. As a byproduct of the rollercoaster of my life, she has gotten some hard lessons about life, love, trust, and loss, making her wise beyond her years.

Fast forward to my second marriage, where I was full of hope and faith that the nightmare I’d survived and escaped was a one-time experience, and everything was going to be different and better in this new life. I wanted another baby and to experience a supportive partner while pregnant. I had a vision of what it would look like to bring a baby into a happy family, and instead I got the opposite. My husband was angry with me for being sick, treated me like an inconvenience, and completely ignored me to party like he was a teenager. The disrespect and lack of understanding was heartbreaking. In most ways our marriage was over by the time our son was born. To make things worse, I became the breadwinner and he became the stay-at-home parent. He was always angry about the baby, angry with me for having a life outside of the house, and his drinking, verbal and emotional abuse skyrocketed. I hated how he treated me, my daughter, our son, and even our animals, and I often feared for our safety. Once again I was living in hell with someone I’d promised to spend my entire life with, and was overwhelmed with grief, obligation, and pride. I didn’t want to fail at marriage for a second time because of what others would think about me, and how it would impact my parents. So I tried everything I could think of to keep the peace, create happy memories for my children, and find common ground. When none of that worked, we fell into a routine of avoiding and ignoring each other as much as possible, while I pretended life was wonderful for friends, family, and social media.

Out of wifely obligation and serious pressure, I consented to intimacy with my husband six months after our son was born, and I felt so used and unloved that I promised myself it would be the last time. A month later I learned I was pregnant. Clearly my baby was meant to be in this family based on the circumstances that brought him into the world. When I fearfully shared the news with my husband his immediate response was to get an abortion. My decision to keep the baby ensured our eventual end, and we began a multi-year downward spiral that eventually resulted in a nasty, drawn-out divorce. The disrespect and lack of care I experienced during the first pregnancy was a cake-walk compared to the treatment I received the second time around, and while we shared the same house until our baby was over a year old, we were physically and emotionally separated for years prior to parting ways.

All three of my children were born into turmoil, and have experienced significant change in their young lives, yet each of them have a happiness and kindness that shows me that light is always more powerful than darkness. While I couldn’t insulate my children from the hardships we’ve endured, I choose to show-up for them with positivity and love every day, purposefully and thoughtfully living in the moment, and demonstrating peace, forgiveness, and gratitude. Recently my daughter asked a series of unanswerable questions, like “what if you’d married a good man” or “what if I had a dad?”. We determined after traveling down a rabbit-hole that both of us would be completely different people. She thanked me for my example of not giving-up, not living in the past, transforming life from awful to something good while also positively taking care of my children, and said that my example is empowering to her. Years ago, when I was so fearful of failure and unsure if I had the courage to leave my marriage, I was most worried about ruining my children’s lives, so to hear her observations and appreciation melted my heart and flooded my spirit with an abundance of peace and happiness.

As parents we do our very best, and even our best includes falling down, screwing-up, and living with some regrets. Sometimes the most crucial decisions we make are in the darkest of times, and we’re rewarded with the most beautiful outcomes. While the story of how each of my children came into this world isn’t full of happiness, each of their lives is a wonderful blessing, and with them by my side we’ve traveled out of devastation and created a new normal as a family.

Birthday’s are a time of reflection for me, and in the past when everything was still impossibly difficult, I felt so much heaviness when I thought about the everyday unhappiness my children were exposed to. What they knew as normal was dysfunctional and miserable. It’s a truly beautiful thing that we now have a life opposite of what it once was, and the journey from then to now is a powerful example for my children about having the courage to fight for better, being brave enough to start over, and choosing happiness day after day until it becomes reality. Now birthday’s are a special kind of celebration for me; a time of deep appreciation and an overflowing sense of gratitude for all we’ve been through and overcome to have the life we now live.

Jujitsu: feeling powerful and reflective

New experiences teach us new things about ourselves, and there’s always something to learn, something to discover, and room for growth. If you’re feeling stuck or indifferent or uninspired, learn something new, challenge yourself, and get outside of your comfort zone.

Recently I was invited to try Jujitsu, which is something I sort-of knew about but had never seen and definitely never considered for myself. The suggestion to try a class intimidated me, and that was enough to say yes. I thought about my history with running: for years I said I wasn’t a runner, and now I run nearly everyday and love the activity; and I thought about my history with working out: for most of my life I’ve said I don’t like gyms, and now my daily routine is built around when I’ll go to the gym; and I thought about my history with dieting: for most of my life I’ve feared food, hated my body, and had very unhealthy, dysfunctional eating habits, and now I’m the strongest and healthiest I’ve ever been, I love food, and I eat to fuel my body. Over the past few months I’ve felt a little stuck and uninspired, and started looking into dance classes and cooking classes, I signed up for a 48 mile challenge; anything to push me or give me something new to learn. I even started landscaping my backyard, which is an activity I’ve avoided for years with the same silly dialog as most of the things I’ve avoided and now appreciate: “I don’t like it” or “I don’t have time” or “I don’t want to” or “I don’t know how” or “I wont be good at it” or “what if I fail?”. So an invitation to try Jujitsu. . . why not? I can do anything once.

My “I can do anything once” attitude is a new addition to my personality. A couple years ago I decided I was tired of being shy and watching life happen from the sidelines. I felt like everyone else had more fun and more experiences than me. While I don’t recommend comparison as a healthy form of decision-making, I made this shift for me, not to fit-in or please someone else, and it’s blessed my life immensely. My timidness was holding me back from living authentically, so with purposeful bravery I started living outside of my comfort zone. For the most part I don’t need to coach myself to be brave anymore, but I pay close attention to my internal voice and energy, and when necessary I remind myself to relax and be me instead of what I think others are expecting. Change is often a choice and an action, not a feeling. If we wait until we feel ready, that time may never come. I learned in practicing boldness that it’s way more fun when trying something new to actively make friends at the same time, laugh, and ask questions. I laugh at myself ALL THE TIME, I dance without caring how I look because I love how it feels, and when everything in me wants to shrink, pull-back, hide, or shut-down and be silent, I kindly remind myself that my best self is happy, bright, bold, silly, wild, and social.

My choice to fully experience life and live on the other side of my insecurity has been transformative. I have more meaningful conversations with friends and acquaintances, I very quickly feel comfortable in new environments, and it feels great to be true to who I am and who I want to be, instead of the guarded, timid version of me that was quick to conform in an attempt to be what I thought others expected – I allowed myself to sabotage my authenticity for most of my life, and there is a loneliness built-into every experience and decision when living outside of your authenticity. Everyone wants to be seen, cared for, and understood, yet we hide so much of who we are to fit in that we’re left in a permanent state of wanting.

Now back to Jujitsu. I watched some youtube videos before going to my first class so I was mentally prepared, met some super friendly people, and participated fully despite the fact that I was uncomfortable. The mental and physical challenge of trying to escape your opponent was engrossing, and I left feeling powerful. I’ve attended four classes now and I’m quickly learning, feel stronger and more capable each time, and I’m covered in bruises that I’m kinda proud of because they represent courage over comfort. I’m quick, strong, smart, and more capable physically than I expected. As the victim of physical domestic abuse, I’ve lived for many years with the belief that I’m weak and an easy target for violence, and I’ve also wished a million times that I’d fought back and somehow made them pay for what was done to me. I’ve carried a fear of being raped, assaulted, kidnapped or murdered for most of my adult life, and feel fearful and incredibly aware of my surroundings whenever I’m out alone… and I’m out alone daily. I never imagined that there was a sport or practice that could empower me emotionally and physically, while also healing past hurt, addressing unanswered questions and lingering fear, and clearing-out some cobwebs in my heart. I try not to look in the review-mirror very often since I’m not going backwards and can’t change the past, but there are things to unpack from time-to-time and the ability to heal even very old wounds. I don’t know if I would have reacted differently to my abusers had I received this training as a teenager or young adult… maybe they would have known my background and never attempted to hurt me, or maybe I would have had more self-worth and self-confidence and never associated with those people to begin with? That rabbit-hole doesn’t have much value – the person I used to be did her very best with what she knew and understood about herself and the world, she believed in people who didn’t believe in themselves, and she saw the good & potential in people instead of their truth, so while I wasn’t able to physically protect myself in my past lives, there’s a bravery and power in walking away and starting over that is more defining to my story than the tragedies. I’ve learned valuable lessons throughout my journey, and know that I wouldn’t be this version of myself without the combination of heartache and victories that are unique to my story. Does that make everything I’ve gone through okay? No. Would I wish for anyone else to travel my same road? No. But I’ve chosen to rise-up over and over again instead of being a victim, and I’m so thankful for a new opportunity to once again elevate my human existence.

I Am Unbreakable

What we hold closest to our heart and experience in life makes us who we are, and while it’s sometimes hard to see, it’s often felt through energy and the way we connect with others: belief, pain, history, passion, hope, loss. . . there is so much written on our hearts that makes us beautiful, complex, and unique, and each piece is necessary for creating a wholeness where light and darkness are safe to co-exist. While I’ve been dented and bruised from time-to-time, I am unbreakable, and with each lesson my heart has grown wiser and stronger; with each loss the cracks have been filled with more hope and bigger dreams. I have a deeper desire for love, compassion, and understanding because the events that could have broken me were used to transform me.

I’m currently at a professional crossroad where change is exciting and full of potential but requires faith and courage, and it’s bringing-out fear and insecurity that’s taking me on an emotional pendulum ride. I feel strong and intimidated, powerful and fragile, capable and lost, hopeful and scared. As I sit with tear-stained cheeks and wonder why my heart hurts so much while I logically know everything will be okay, I give myself permission to sit with my feelings – not to transform the unhappiness into happiness or to fix whatever is wrong, but to understand. I am the collection of all of my feelings, and they are all welcome. Through this act of self-acceptance I was able to identify the most powerful voice inside of me, and I’m able to see more clearly why this emotional battle is my current normal: I’m afraid of holding myself back, of not taking the leap of faith necessary to potentially achieve and experience life-long hopes and dreams. I don’t want to stay small and play-it-safe when every part of my spirit wants to soar. The fire inside me isn’t youthfully naive like it once was, instead it comes from a core-deep need to experience fullness and maximize my potential because I have something special to offer the world, and there is only one me.

I know what it’s like to settle, to be taken advantage of, to be unappreciated, to be unloved, and to be used. Now it’s time to shine. For the longest time I’ve fought against the presence of fear in my life, believing that hope, faith, and love were only possible without fear. I no longer believe that. There can be happiness and sadness in the same moment, hope with lingering heaviness, and the decision to be brave and move forward with fear and uncertainty in your back pocket. So I’m choosing to embrace fear as motivation to be courageous. We have the choice to harness any energy or emotion for positive or negative, and I’m no longer going to allow the fear of loss, regret, change, failing, or heartache to be reasons to re-evaluate my dreams or alter how I go after my biggest passions.

I love this lyric from Fly by Maddie & Tae: “We’ve come this far, don’t you be scared now, ‘Cause you can learn to fly on the way down.”

If we stay grounded there’s less chance of falling, but zero chance of flying, so I’m taking a leap of faith in love and career right now, heart-open with big dreams, enthusiasm, and a little shadow of fear following me on my journey. As I give my heart to another, my psyche periodically reminds me of the risk of getting hurt, but my heart hasn’t recovered from abuse and neglect to be hidden or restricted, so I’ll love freely and fully, with faith that when I fall I’ll be caught. We have one life to live and tomorrow isn’t promised, so I’m going to give my all to each day with gratitude for the life I’m blessed to live, compassion for others, passion for my dreams, and my heart of my sleeve.

“This is not the end of me, this is the beginning.” – Christina Perri