Are You the User or the Used?

Are You the User or the Used?

It is not uncommon to hear people say that they were used in a relationship. I usually bite my tongue when I hear it, because I know that the speaker was getting something in return, or they would not have been in the relationship in the first place, much less for as long as they were in it. The thing is, the answer to this question is not as simple as we might like to believe. We can’t really know for a fact that the other person was using us. In their minds, they could have been doing their best to support us, spare us from pain, teach us something, learn something from us, or even create a loving relationship. Maybe they really enjoyed us, but we were not totally available and they were terribly sad about that. Maybe they wanted to move on, but did not know how to go without leaving a gapping hole in our lives. Maybe they even tried, but they cared so much that they gave us mixed messages. Maybe we wanted more from them then they could give, but they still enjoyed being with us, in whatever capacity they were able to, even if it was less than we desired. Or, maybe it was a long list of other things going on behind the scenes. We can’t really know.

Or… maybe they really were just “using” us. Maybe when they spent time with us, they really were thinking things like: “This person is interesting and my life is boring, so I will hang with them for entertainment purposes.” “I am lonely and horny so I will have sex with them since they are putting the moves on me.” “I need money so I will let them think I like them so they will them buy me the things I want and need.” “They are funny and I am sad, so I will hang out with them and they will make me feel better.” “They are smart and they know how to do things that I need to know how to do, so I will have sex with them so they will help me.” “I need a man around to protect me and make me feel safe. I don’t really like him, but he is here, so he will do.” “I need a woman around to make me feel manly. She is clingy and desperate, but she’s not bad to look at.” However, we can never really know what someone else was experiencing. Even when they try to tell us, it is often hard to convey, or for that matter, hard for us to understand.

Even if we have hard core, hand written evidence that someone was using us, it will be of no benefit to us to believe that and focus on it. Just as difficult as knowing for sure what their motives were, is understanding that our ex may see us as the one did the using. There are two sides to every story. The truth lies in the humanity, compassion and forgiveness between us.

So, what now then? In most cases, (short of abusive situations) saying that you were “used,” is not a fact. It is a belief. To believe that you were used in a relationship is to step into a victim mindset. It is going to create a lot drama instead of gratitude.

What??? Gratitude? How can I suggest that you be grateful for someone who you believe “used” you? Easy. Finding the gratitude is never difficult, if we will only look for it.

If you truly believe you were used by someone, it is time to sit yourself down and have a heart to heart. Ask yourself what you got out of the relationship. No, I am not talking about the pain and heartache that was left when the relationship ended…I am not taking about the trust issues or STD you picked up as a result of their cheating. I am talking about the positive takeaway. Maybe you learned important things about yourself or life. Maybe you got valuable insights or advice that made your life better? Maybe you got to travel to interesting places? Maybe you got companionship during lonely or difficult times? Maybe they saw that you deserved happiness, even if they could not be the ones to bring it to you, and hearing it from them somehow helped you believe it?

Hopefully, you can see now that claiming that you were “used” is not usually a provable fact. Now, it is time to come to terms with your feelings about what happened. There are 6 (negative) core feelings that, once we identify as our experience, can help us step out of a victim mindset and into an empowered one. These are Anger, Fear, Sadness, Guilt, Shame and Loneliness.

Perhaps you feel afraid because you thought you knew the whole story, but it turned out to be more complicated than you thought. Maybe you feel sad because you had invested a lot in the relationship and it was sad to see it end. Maybe you feel angry, because you value complete honesty, and did not receive it. Maybe you feel, in part, guilty or ashamed, because you know that your heart was not really into the relationship anyway, even if you were not were ready for it to come to an official end. Maybe you feel lonely, because your go to companion has gone somewhere else. Maybe you feel afraid because you don’t know what comes next. Or maybe a combination of these feelings.

For each of these 6 (negative) core feelings, there are 6 core (positive) core feelings, which are Gratitude, Happiness, Hopefulness, Willingness, Love and Peace. Perhaps you can find feelings of Gratitude that you had companionship during a difficult time, or some other gain you experienced as a result of your time together. Maybe you can find Happiness when recalling fond memories, Willingness to look at your history with new eyes, Love for your Ex and Peace in your heart.

It is important to identify our feelings about our life experiences. If, instead, we are busy blaming someone else, decrying their behavior, or making them out to be a monster, we are cheating ourselves out of valuable growth lessons. Focus instead on how you feel about whatever positive experience you got out of your time together, because the positive experiences did not suddenly become negative ones just because your partner lied, cheated, left you, or even all three of these things combined. The beauty that was shared between you does not stop being beautiful at the end of a relationship, unless we refuse to acknowledge our gratitude for it.

So, it really comes down to a choice. If you choose to see yourself as a victim, you will probably continue to believe that you were used. Choose to see the positive takeaway and you are on to a brighter future, with no one to blame, lots of wisdom and everything to gain.

The Practice of Authentic Living

The Practice of Authentic Living

Authenticity is in these days. I often read inspiring posts and articles that encourage me to be my authentic self and I feel charged up and think “Right on!” However, a lot of people do not understand what authenticity is, or what it means to live an authentic life. Authenticity is a practice… A continuum, if you will…It is at once both the simplest of things and the most complicated of endeavors.

Authenticity begins with truly knowing who we are. First of all, being authentic means breaking through our limiting beliefs, and understanding our deepest fears, because becoming well acquainted with our deepest fears will point us in the direction of our deepest desires. It means knowing and growing into our zones of genius, because allowing ourselves to become distracted by less inspired activities will only take us away from ourselves. It means understanding the difference between our ego, and our true selves, which are infinitely wiser, kinder and more ready to offer grace and forgiveness, to ourselves and to others. It means understanding that someone else may not be at the same place as you are on their journey toward authenticity, but that that does not make them inauthentic.

Why is it down right scary to be honest and authentic with some people and almost impossible not to be honest and authentic with others? When we spend time with people who share our values, being authentic is easier, because we are more likely to find common ground. If we share values with someone, we naturally feel safer and more connected with them. It gets trickier when our values clash with someone else’s. Especially if we want them to like us.

Often, it is with people who have shown us that they have rejected or judged others for holding values in conflict to theirs that we find it most difficult to be authentic. If they said bad things about that other person, then they might say bad things about us, right? Maybe they are not even able to articulate that they hold different values, which makes a relationship particularly lonely. Or, perhaps, they do know that they hold different values, but they would rather be in a known lonely relationship, than in no relationship at all. If we know that they have lied to others, we will surely wonder if they might lie to us. However it happens, we can usually tell when we are not wholly accepted by another, and if we are wanting to be, we might get stuck in the cycle of trying to win them over to our side. This makes authenticity difficult.

In contrast, we sometimes meet people who seem to rarely, if ever, stoop to judgement, while offering only inspiration and support, even if their values differ from ours. These are the people who will listen dispassionately to our darkest shame, offer forgiveness before we have asked for it, and encourage us to reach for dreams we never thought could possibly come true. They understand that even if they hold different values from ours, we are made differently than them, and that is OK. They understand that our differences, and even our failures, are a beautiful part of our journey and they support us to be on that journey. These people understand that authenticity is equal to love. It is always easier to be authentic with these people.

Sometimes, we are doing a pretty good job overall at being authentic, and we just get confused. Maybe we know someone who needs our help, or so they say, or so we believe. We may believe that our unique position, knowledge or skills in life will be the exact thing this person needs to step out of a bad situation and into a better one. We feel like it would be wrong not to be there for them, even if they have not even asked. Maybe we believe that we owe them something. Maybe they are popular and we want them to like us. Or maybe we are just lonely and want to feel important. These are the times when it can be tricky to distinguish from our ego and our true selves. Trying to manipulate someone into liking us is not authentic. How can they know who they are liking if we are not honest with them? If our ego gets involved, being authentic is going to be nearly impossible.

But that’s OK. Because few of us are 100% authentic 100% of the time. Jesus and Buddha seemed to have figured it out, but most of the rest of us are still struggling with the concept. Judging or resenting someone who we deem to be “inauthentic” does not make us more authentic. Nor does it make us happier. Being authentic means understanding that we are all doing our best to be our “authentic” selves, and offering grace and forgiveness when someone falls short of the goal. It also means caring for our own needs.

A huge part of being authentic is learning to communicate in ways that take 100% responsibility for our feelings. Along with learning to identify limiting beliefs, our deepest fears, and zones of genius, learning to identify our feelings, needs and values makes communicating a much easier task. That way, we don’t feel the egoistic desire to call someone names, make their life difficult or otherwise cause them pain. Being authentic means understanding that true words, spoken without love, are not true at all.

Living an authentic life requires that we understand that we are loved, by a power much greater than ourselves, and that we are forgiven when we fall short of our goals. It means understanding that what we may have thought was “rejection” or “dishonesty” is merely our ticket to a better life. It means understanding that our beliefs shape our lives, and that we can choose how we see things that happen to us.

It means understanding that the belief that someone is “selfish,” “does not like us,” or has “hurt” us, is not going to connect us with our bliss. Instead, we can learn to see that they need something else in life, and so do we. It is up to them and their their higher power to lead them to their most authentic self, and it is up to us and our higher power to lift us up to ours. As we learn to see opportunities where we once saw pain, we can step into another paradigm of living. We can live in a world that leaves judgement at the door and creates a safe space for truth, even if we cannot understand it.

So, the next time we feel that pull to tell a half truth, go along with something that is not really in our best interest, or the best interest of others, I hope we can stop… and remember that living an authentic life is a conscious practice…and take practice it does.

If we all get up each day, put our judgements, fears and anger aside, pursue our passions, grow our genius, communicate with clarity, and strive to be the kind of person around whom we would find it easy to be authentic, we will get to Authenticity, together.

My Father Went to Heaven Today

My Father Went to Heaven Today

Written September 19, 2016

He was a handsome and charming man, my father…Tall and slender with wavy hair and a quiet, mischievous grin. He had a twinkle in his eye that seemed to say “I know more than you think I know, but you will never know just how much that is.” He was a stoic man whose childhood had had a rocky start.

His father was an abusive alcoholic. I don’t know much more about him than that because my father refused to speak of him other than to say “He’s dead and I don’t miss him.” His mother was sweet and naive and my father was the apple of her eye.

They left Oklahoma when he was just a young boy because the dust bowl had rolled though, taking all of the top soil with it, ruining all chances of growing anything for farmers, which is what his parents were. They arrived in California when he was 5, I think, but they were so poor the only place they could afford was a shack underneath a water tower. The floor boards were so far apart that if you were not careful you could easily get your toe caught in them and trip. Things were constantly falling between them and down into the dirt below. It was his and and his younger brother’s job to put a piece of gum on a string and lower it down to retrieve any of the coins that may have fallen out of sight. They did not get to keep their earnings.

Eventually, they were able to move to more of an actual dwelling, but it became clear to him that his father was not someone on whom he could rely. He developed an overly mature air about him, taking on the role of the man of the house. He worked odd jobs in the neighborhood to help support his family, and somehow suffered through his growing up years, in part by taking on the role of being his mother’s protector.

I am not sure what age he was when he enrolled in the US Navy, but he was stationed in Hawaii in 1954 and was on his way to completing his term when he met my mother who was studying at the University of Hawaii for some summer study and fun. Their worlds and backgrounds could not have differed more greatly, but by the end of their time in Hawaii, being together was all that mattered to them both.

According to reports, before they were married, my mother’s father asked my father what his plans for the future were. “Marry Libba” was his only response, as if that was the answer to everything and the rest would just work itself out. Things turned out to be more complicated than that.

My mother worked as a school teacher and supported him as he went to business school at North Texas State University, in Denton. I believe they truly loved each other, but they got pregnant before they were ready and with minimal emotional skills between them, life got complicated in short order.

There were two more pregnancies before the one that brought me into the world, and a lot of chaos, so I hear. Although they both did their best with what they knew at the time, a lot of hurtful things were said and done during those 14 years. By the time I was about 15 months old, my mother had kicked him out of the house and he had moved in with the love of his life, the woman who would then become my step-mother.

Eventually, after my father had had some success in the high end furniture industry, they made their home in Highland Park, Texas, one of the most desirable zip codes in the nation. Even though that was less than 20 minutes from my our house, I only saw him about once or twice a year, for lunch or dinner, usually around a holiday, and always with my siblings. He owned a sailboat when I was in elementary school and he took us out with him a few times. I loved those trips, but his love for sailing was short lived, after having got the mast stuck in the mud one too many times. When we were not with him, there was rarely any mention of him because we all understood that our mother would have been been quite happy to never hear his name again. I spent many hours in my room fantasizing about him as a child. I had many curiosities…How did he spend his time? Did he like to ride a bicycle? Did he like to play games? Climb trees? Why didn’t he come visit more often? If I ran away, would he let me live with him?

The question that I never felt the need to ask though, was “Did he love me?” Because somehow, during those brief, infrequent visits, he managed to convey a sense of deep and abiding love for me. He conveyed an appreciation for who I was, much more than for what I did. While he was obviously proud of my musical accomplishments, I got the feeling that he couldn’t care less if I quit. I don’t know if it was that impish grin, his imposing stature, or his delightfully charming energy, but he managed to successfully radiate an unconditional love for me, and I never doubted it.

When I turned 18, and went off to college, I vowed to try to spend more time with him, partially to satisfy my curiosity, and partially because I wanted to rebel against my mother. When my mother’s father was dying and she did not want to leave his side, my father made the drive to pick me up after my second year of college. It was an unprecedented move.

The trip was awkward for me, for I had never spent more than a short amount of time with him, and never without my siblings creating a good bit of distraction. Some part of me, the child part, I guess, felt seen for the first time in my life. Suddenly, I had a father. He was driving up to Ohio to pick me up, load my stuff into a U-haul, and drive me (and my roommate) back to Texas, because, well, he was my father and that is what father’s do! It was a new experience for both of us.

I remember staying in a hotel room somewhere in Arkansas during the drive home. He stayed in one room, and my roommate and I stayed in the one next door. I had a very hard time sleeping that night… I kept thinking “I am sleeping under the same roof as my father… there is a wall between us, but we are actually sleeping under the same roof, for the first time in my conscious memory.”

My grandfather died just a few days after we arrived back home. He had always been the consistent father figure in my life, so at that point, it seemed appropriate to turn to my actual father, seeing as how he had extended himself like that. However, at this point in my life, I did not really need a “father.” So, this man, who I called “Dad” was almost more like a friend.

Even though he was a man of few words, he was truly charming, my father. Everyone enjoyed being around him. He was just pleasant, somehow…even when he was opinionated and insensitive, which happened now and then. We would go out to eat and the wait staff always smiled sincerely when they saw him coming, happy to have the opportunity to connect with him. He would take me shopping sometimes and I remember one time in a shoe store, a beautiful young woman in her late 20’s tried to hand him her card with a flirtatious smile (he was in his late 50’s). (Speaking of shoes, I got a kick out of the fact that whenever he found a pair of shoes he liked he would buy 4-5 of the same pair just so he would not have to go shoe shopping again in the next few years. ”I have better things to do with my time than shop,” he had said.), He was not a hunter, but he would take me to the gun range, where we would shoot skeet (he was a skilled and recognized champion skeet shooter) or engage in some target practice. Everyone there had the utmost respect for him. A few times he hosted me for a visit at their lake house in East Texas, where we would sit in the boat and not talk much. But that didn’t matter. He just had good energy.

He called me every Sunday evening for a long time. It took me a while to figure out that the main reason for this was that he called his mother every Sunday night. Given his lack of conversational skills, he had to have some news to report to her. When she died, in 2004, I think part of him died too. So much of his life had been tied up in caring for her, trying to make up for his father’s behavior, and he lost part of his purpose when he lost her. After her death, which occurred in a terrible accident, he stopped calling so I started calling him instead. I wasn’t as consistent as he had been, but I had my hands full of babies during that time, and he seemed to understand.

He found me fascinating…up to a point. Because my interests were ones that he had never really explored, we talked about things he hadn’t discussed much with anyone else: spirituality, nutrition, psychology, alternative medicine, communication, and sometimes even death. (He hated that subject, but he would go there, now and then.) He would listen, quite intrigued for maybe 10 minutes, and then abruptly announce that he had to go. It was like a timer would go off and he and was no longer allowed to be curious. It was back to work he went.

Or… back to drink. My father loved his martinis, which he had every day at 5:30 sharp, but never before, because he was, unlike his father, quite disciplined. He also loved his red wine which he drank with dinner…and… after dinner. My father worked hard and tried his best, but he never learned the skills to deal with the complex emotions that come with life. So, he just buried them and kept working hard. He was a responsible person, an accomplished and successful businessman, and an an enjoyable companion, but I soon learned that if I called after 8:30 or so, he might not make much sense.

A few years ago, he started making even less sense… even before he had had, ahem, his dinner. Four years in a row, he called me in January to wish me Happy Birthday. He had gotten the day of the month correct, but my birthday is in February. I took it as a compliment that I was on his mind at all, and I was grateful that he still knew who I was. This year he did not call me at all. This year, on the day he normally would have called (a month early) to wish me a happy birthday, he had fallen and broken his hip.

When I visited him after his hip surgery, he was just a ghost of the man I once had known. He was in agonizing pain, pretty much everywhere, not just in his hip. He asked me to give him a neck massage. I don’t think he had ever had a massage in his life, and it did not go very well… but he had asked. It was the first time he had ever asked me for anything even remotely intimate. Instead of the massage, we just held hands and were quiet together, him looking into my eyes and I looking into his. We sat like that about 10 minutes and it was clear to me that he was saying “Goodbye.” After a while, he picked up my hand and brought it to his lips, planting a kiss on the back of it and held my hand against his face… ever so tenderly. I cried a silent tear, and wordlessly, as was his style, he wiped it gently away.

His hip healed up alright, but he was tired and he had lost all will to live. He endured numerous health complications after that and the next 8 months brought infections, pneumonia, more infections, edema, several more falls and then finally, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. When I saw him last, he had been moved back home for Hospice care.

He was sleeping and I did not want to disturb him. I whispered, almost silently, in a voice he would not have been able to hear, even if he had been awake, “I love you, Dad.” He must have felt it though, because he opened his eyes, looked at me and reached his hand out to mine. I held it and watched his labored breathing, the pauses between breaths lasting an uncomfortable duration of time. I felt no need for any last minute confessions, apologies or expressions of regrets. I was simply THERE… A loving witness to his existence.

Do I wish I had been able to experience a more typical father/daughter relationship? Sometimes, yes. I have no doubt that his absence in my youth played a big role in the way my life unfolded. But sometimes, now and then -more and more as time went on- I felt like he was my father. Without a doubt, he was generous and he was helpful and he was kind. Furthermore, I know with every fiber of my being that he loved me, like no one else ever has or ever will. And, for that, and for him, I am grateful.

Questions: Why Asking Them and Answering Them is So Important

Questions: Why Asking Them and Answering Them is So Important

When I was a kid, like most kids, I was full of questions. I peppered my mother with questions day and night, because as far as I could tell, my curiosity was a natural part of me like any other. Just like my arms reaching out for a hug, my questions sought connection with both my mother and the world around me.

Back then, answering a child’s questions was a little bit more involved than it is today. We did not have the internet. In order to answer a lot of my questions, a trip to the library was in order. We made a few trips to get some pertinent materials, but my mother was a busy woman and the encyclopedia and dictionary fast became my good friends. Books are nice, but they did nothing to help me feel connected to my mother, the world around me, or myself. That kind of understanding was just a head experience. Book knowledge left me lacking and by the time I was ten or eleven, my old friends were gathering dust.

My mother must have seen my questions as a chore, as they were almost always met with the answer “I don’t know,” “Just because,” or “Because I said so.” Rarely did she make the effort to help me find true understanding. Not only did I find this exceedingly frustrating, it left me feeling lonely and vulnerable to the world. I learned to keep my questions to myself, and eventually managed to kill my curiosity almost entirely.

Killing my curiosity had the effect of disconnecting me not only from my mother and the world, but also from myself. I learned to ignore, or squash altogether, not just the curiosity in my mind, but all of the corresponding messages my body was sending me … a tingling on the back of my neck, a tightening in my solar plexus, a warmth in my head or chest, the urge to run and play, or… the urge to run away.

This disconnection played a big role in my childhood. As a result, I found myself in many a dangerous situation. In part this was because, having cut myself off from my sense of wonder, I could not perceive, much less heed, the warnings my body was sending me. It was also in no small part, because I put myself in dangerous situations out of a desperate urge from my inner self to feel alive and connected. I used my poor choices as a means to call myself into consciousness, as if I knew that if I put myself in enough dangerous situations, eventually I would either die, or have to show up to rescue myself, since no one else was doing it.

It was not until I was in my early 20s that I even began to consciously ponder what a sense of wonder was. I had been told I had “no sense of wonder” by a person I deeply loved, and I was frustrated by what I perceived as a flaw in myself over which I had no control. “How do I grow a sense of wonder?”, I wondered, not unlike a cat chasing its tail.

It was a long journey reclaiming my wonder… a journey that included many years of pain, fear, loneliness, tears, anger, a lot of mistakes and finally joy. Once I had it in my grasp, however, I was so intimately connected with wonder that I would never let it go. I soon realized that my journey to discover my own joy and wonder had given me the tools to help others discover their joy and wonder too.

Now that I am a mother, I am devoted to answering every single one of my children’s questions. I (almost) never answer their questions with “I don’t know,” or “Just because”, and I have never responded to the question “Why?” with the answer “Because I said so,” because that is NOT an answer.

I want to raise empowered children who grow up into empowered adults. I want them to understand the context of my directions. Telling a child “Because I said so,” is the opposite of empowering. It creates stress, dependence, and anger. It is mind numbing, soul killing and destructive to their bodies. I want them to understand that that nagging “need to know” feeling is their friend, not something to be brushed aside. I want them to understand that their curiosity is not just in their head, but it is a whole body experience, so that when they are in a questionable circumstance and they feel that hot feeling at the back of their neck, or that tightening in their solar plexus, they are able to STOP, ask themselves an appropriate question about the circumstances, listen to their bodies, minds and hearts, and get themselves to a safe place. Sure, taking the time to answer all of their questions may seem like a chore, but usually, thanks to my own reclaimed sense of wonder, it is a journey of joyful discover for all of us, one which leaves us feeling more alive, more connected and… even more curious!

Stress Was My Only Reference Point

Stress Was My Only Reference Point

I remember when I first learned about the concept of stress management. I met a guy who was a yoga teacher and a massage therapist. He was talking about how we all could benefit from having less stress in our lives and how yoga and massage were a great way to let it go. I hadn’t done much yoga at that point, and I had no idea what he meant with all of the “stress management” talk. I mean, I enjoyed yoga, but I would never have described myself as “stressed.” I even felt a little annoyed when he stressed “stress management” above all else. I mean…. BORING, right?

Well, later on, this guy turned into my boyfriend and I got regular, intelligently delivered earfuls about stress, and how it was the cause of so many people’s pain, both emotional and physical. He was convinced that stress was at the root of much of the world’s problems. I really just did not get it. It seemed like to me that war and greed and illness were at root of much of the world’s problems. It never occurred to me that stress might be at the root of war and greed and illness.

Looking back from my perspective now, it’s funny. I was an intense kid, but that intensity had its counterbalance: I could always count on missing at least one two week chunk of school in the middle of winter somewhere …Every year… Like clockwork. I was in 4th grade when my pediatrician told my mom to put be on some B vitamins, because I was “stressed out.”

I remember thinking, “Stressed out? What does that even mean???” every time I took the giant orange caplet and tried not to choke on it. I never understood why I had to take those things, and I resented that I had to gag them down every morning before I headed off to school. “B vitamins help with stress,” my mother had explained.

The thing is though, they did not help. I continued to get sick every winter with mysterious and lengthy illnesses that oftentimes had no name. One time, I remember the doctor said I had “The Dallas Disease.” I was only 11, but I was pretty sure that there was no such thing as that. I felt like there was something wrong with me… Some secret, “wink wink, nudge nudge ” kind of thing, that my mother and my doctor knew about but would not tell me.

Even so, I kept taking my B vitamins, and in the 7th grade… surprise, surprise…they actually worked! I only got sick a few times that year, and none of the episodes were more than a few days long. I made it through junior high and high school without anymore major mystery illnesses, and at some point near the end of high school, the B vitamins stopped showing up in my life. I guess either my mother thought that I no longer needed them or, maybe she was just so stressed out  herself that she forgot to remember them.

My first year in college, I got hit with another mystery illness. This time I had really outdone myself. I was laid up for almost a month and I missed so much school that I had to withdraw, The doctor told me it was a chronic issue and that I could expect to be tired the rest of my life. I would need 10 hours of sleep every night, he had said, and probably a 2 hour nap on top of that. To a young college gal, with dreams of much adventure, that sounded like the closest thing to a death sentence I could imagine.

But here is the kicker: I WAS tired. I DID need rest. I DID need sleep. I DID need to learn how to relax. My body was trying so hard to tell me and I just would not listen. Even years later, when I was trying to listen, I would hear my yoga-teaching boyfriend  (we broke up a long time ago, but we are life long friends) talk about stress, and I could not hear it.

I get it now. I get that I was so stressed out that I could not even understand what stressed out meant. I get it now…that the reason I was offended when someone suggested that I was stressed out was that STRESS WAS MY ONLY POINT OF REFERENCE. I had been stressed out my entire life. If I was not stressed out, then WHO OR WHAT WOULD I BE??? What I had thought of as just a lot of natural energy and drive was really a mask I wore in order to hide from my own stress, my own emotions and others.

Now, the shoe is on the other foot. Now, I see that same mask on others. I see it when my friends are so busy that they do not respond to my texts. Sometimes for weeks. I see it when their kids have to be taken here and fetched from there and they have no time to talk. I see it when they have to go to work at 8:00 and don’t get home until 9:00 that night, or even later. But when I mention that they are carrying a huge stress load and suggest they might benefit from some self-care, they respond with “Oh, I am fine, I am not stressed, I am just busy. Don’t worry about me.”

Easier said than done…. Because now I know what it feels like to let go of stress. Now I know what it is like to reset my brain and body to a relaxed and receptive state. Now I know that being “busy” all of the time IS a form of stress.

It took courage for me to learn how to calm down, because the honest truth of the matter was, I did not believe I was safe. I did not believe that calming down was really a wise choice, given how unsafe I felt. There was too much to do, and I could not trust anyone else to do it.

It took a lot of searching, and learning, and asking questions, and making mistakes and trying this and trying that. There were a lot of times that I felt I would never “get there”… and I did not even know what I was looking for…. There was just this quiet nagging in the back of my mind (or, red raging in the lining of my throat, when I was ill) that something… wasn’t quite right. That feeling drove me until I learned how to let go and relax. Now, I get up every day and I choose to let go, because now, I can…and you know what? I get MORE done. I have MORE fun. My immune system is strong, and I feel FULLY ALIVE, which is something I only pretended to feel when I was younger…Because, now I know the difference between feeling stress and feeling ease. Ease is a good thing.  It has changed my life.

So, the next time  you hear someone talk about stress, and you hear yourself say silently to yourself “What are they talking about? I don’t have time to relax!”  you might want to reconsider. It may not be that you are too busy…It may just be that you just don’t know don’t know how.