The Softness that is Forgiveness

If anyone again asks me what it means to forgive someone, I will tell him or her this story.

It started when I was 32, in the summer of 2009. My husband, at the time, was from the Dominican Republic. We decided to make a trip there so his family could meet our daughter right when she was turning one year old.

We arrived in the hot month of June. The Dominican Republic is near the Equator, and from the moment we stepped off the airplane, I could feel the heat of the sun percolating on my pores. I had lost all my baby weight, but now was almost too thin due to not eating. My marriage was falling apart at the seams and I was unraveling too. The only thing holding me together was my focus on my child and her wellbeing.

“I’m so glad you finally lost weight,” my mother-in-law said to me in Spanish, with a widely genuine smile when I greeted her at the airport. While I knew that a person’s weight is not as taboo of a subject in the Dominican Republic as it is in the United States, her words etched a streak on my already decrepit spirit.

My mother-in-law never seemed to like me, but I could not ever seem to deduce why. Sometimes I thought it was due to the fact I was a foreigner. Other times I thought maybe I was unknowingly breaking some cultural rules or wasn’t submissive enough, in her mind, to be a good wife.

But ultimately the reasons behind her perceived dislike for me weren’t really worth spending time analyzing. I just had to deal with it.

During this trip, I tried to keep my daughter on a nap schedule. My mother-in-law told me this was ridiculous and that no child needed such a thing. I didn’t want to argue with her because I felt that would be a sign of disrespect, but I continued to put her down for a nap everyday at the same time, even though she would blast merengue music in objection to my decision.

I loved the Dominican Republic for so many reasons: I adored the welcoming nature of its people, the love I felt from my host family when I studied abroad there, the hospitality of strangers in the community, and the kindness and resilient spirit I witnessed in its people.

But I did not love my mother in law. I could not love my mother in law, no matter how hard I tried.

I looked at her and I saw pain. The pain of being an abused wife. The shame of being left by her husband. The guilt and oppression she suffered from so many losses.

And yet, I couldn’t find it in my heart to accept her in her brokenness.

The entire time we were in her home, I was belittled and criticized for being overly focused on my daughter. I was confused by the criticism that seemed to be contradictory at the time: one moment I was being told my schedule was ridiculous, but the next moment, I was called disorganized for not getting my daughter’s bottle ready quickly enough.

It was gaslighting behavior, except for it was my in-laws doing it, instead of my then husband.

As for my then husband, he remained silent most of the time, choosing not to intervene. When he would intervene, it was to side with his family as they were telling me what I was doing wrong in my mothering.

The last night we were there, I felt relief that we were finally going home. As I was rocking my daughter to sleep that night, my mother in law called for me to come talk to her. When I was done putting her to bed, I went to find my mother-in-law in the kitchen.

“I need to tell you something,” she said to me in Spanish, “something I should have told you before.”

I had a moment where my heart softened. She’s going to apologize, I thought. She feels badly for criticizing me.

But before my heart could soften any further, her words quickly transformed into daggers that were aimed at my heart, my self worth, and my ability to love.

“You are an awful mother and wife,” she said.

I gulped down air, feeling like I needed to run away, but instead froze.

“Do you want to know why?” she asked.

I didn’t answer, standing there without moving. Apparently I was now an ice cube, stuck in my tray, unable to transform back to fluidity.

“You have paid more attention to that child than your own marriage. So if my son cheats on you… if he has other women he wants to sleep with–that’s no one’s fault other than your own,” she said.

“You deserve however he treats you,” she stated, and finally stepped aside so I could walk away if I chose to do so.

I suddenly felt my legs melting. I bowed my head and exited the kitchen. I went upstairs and wanted to cry, but couldn’t. I didn’t have tears. I felt as if whatever bubble of dignity was still present in my spirit had been popped by a sharp needle and had oozed away.

Despite this terrible emptiness, I somehow realized a small push of determination to fight for myself was still present within me. I imagined myself putting on armor, lying down in it to rest, knowing that this was temporary. I just needed to remember that the armor was there to protect me.

The next morning we left the Dominican Republic. One year after that, I left my husband.

And then nine years after that, I walked into my ex-husband’s house to pick up my daughter, and I saw her face. When they told me she would be there, I was scared. Scared I would not know what to say. Scared she would take her anger at me out on my daughter. Scared that she would take me back to that day nine years ago in her kitchen when I last saw her.

But when I saw her face, I instead felt the strangest thing. I felt something weird, as she walked over to me and cupped my face in her hands and side kissed my cheeks, as is the custom in the Dominican Republic.

I felt a tenderness. I felt empathy. I felt respect. I felt seen.

I don’t know how that happened. I have no FREAKING idea. But I know that’s what forgiveness is. It’s a softening. A turning towards. It is not reconciliation. It is simply understanding. It is letting go. It is loving from a distance. It’s gratitude from learning the lessons the pain taught you.

Time creates space. Space creates room to see the truth. I know that without the gift of time and space, it’s hard to learn to recognize the truth. And the truth is that you never need closure for anything. Things fall apart and the only thing you need to remember or try to do is put yourself back together. And once you do that, you may see that in your brokenness, you are strong. In your pain and bitterness, you have lessons. And one of those lessons might be that you may one day, after time and space, find yourself looking back on everything, with a very different softness about you.

And that softness is forgiveness.

What it’s Really Like to be a Single Parent

The other day I went to my doctor’s office for an appointment and was making small talk with the nurse. I told her about an upcoming solo vacation I was going on for a weekend, and the nurse asked me if I was taking my daughter. I told her no, she was with her dad that weekend.

“Oh,” she said. “So you can like get away and do things by yourself when she’s gone. Man, I wish I were divorced so I could get a break from my kids!”

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I thought of a couple sarcastic, semi humorous possible responses in my head, but chose not to verbally respond to her statement, knowing that it was probably more of a commentary of her sentiments about her own marriage and responsibilities, and less of a statement about divorce.

Because no one who has ever been divorced says stuff like that.

And what the nurse didn’t realize is what it’s REALLY like to be a single parent.

Preface: This is my perspective, based on a few different factors pertaining to my individual situation listed below.

    I am divorced and have my daughter alone about 75% of the time.
    For various reasons, I do not co-parent with her father. We have more of a “business relationship.”
    I do not have a partner in my home. It’s just me and my kid.

So in essence, I’m about to give you my take on single parenting from someone who is truly single parenting 75 % of the time to one child.

Here goes:

Single parenting is like living inside a computer that never turns off. There are many different tabs and programs open and only you can close them because you’re the one with the username and password and operating instructions. Oh, and the operating instructions are ones you have developed yourself based on your own experiences as a child except for you have to keep tweaking them as you realize your childhood and even your child is quite different than you. People may try to help you and sometimes you’re like oh my goodness, thank you for your help, YES, because your computer is so warmed up from running all the time, and you have all these different tabs open, like a tab for meals, clothing, homework, cleaning, extra curricular activities, one for trying to figure out tweens or toddlers, and not even mentioning the tabs for your own life.

In contrast, many homes with two involved parents have a computer they share. They exchange operating instructional notes. They both know how the computer works. And they can divide up the endless tabs and responsibilities. And sometimes one of them can say to the other, “I’m losing my patience with this kid we are trying to figure out. I need to walk away from the computer, so can you keep tabs on it while I go to the grocery store and get a mental break?”

But the single parent has to keep all the tabs open even when she or he wants a break. Any breaks taken from the computer are never, ever spontaneous. No one just randomly shows up at her door at the exact moment she needs a break. That doesn’t mean she or he never receives technical support to keep their computer up and running smoothly. But it does mean she is the only one responsible for running that computer. It is she who must make decisions and decide how to fix it most of the time.

It is the times when my child is most emotional that I feel the greatest responsibility of single parenting and running that computer. When she is devastated about a loss, or extremely excited or nervous about an upcoming event, or angry with me because she didn’t get her way, I feel her feelings and I hold space for her and I realize that THIS IS IT. I’m her emotional support and I have to be present. I have to help her process.

It is in those times that I sometimes literally fall to my knees and say, “Lord, lead me, because it’s just me and my heart leading this kid, and I don’t know what in the heck I’m doing. Give me wisdom and strength to bear this great responsibility.”

Here’s the thing, though: I cannot bear witness to the challenges of single parenting without bearing witnesses to the beauty in it.

I am no more proud of anything than I am of the work I do as a single parent. I am not doing it perfectly, but I am doing it. I know that there are times she wishes, as many children of divorced parents do, that her parents were not divorced. What she doesn’t know, and may never know, is that I fought very hard to save my marriage to the point that I had lost myself completely in another person.

However, I found myself as a mother when I had the freedom to be me. I found myself when my daughter was two years old, woke up vomiting in the middle of the night, and cried for me. I found myself when she was three years old and fell running at the pool and got a concussion, and I scooped her up off the ground and rushed her to the doctor. I found myself when I took her to a child psychologist at the age of four because I was so worried I had no idea what I was doing raising this strong willed, vibrant little girl. I found myself when she received straight As all year long and won an award, and I was the sole person there to support her. I found myself when she got in big trouble in first grade for throwing her shoe over the fence during recess and she went the rest of the school day wearing one shoe.

In a million and one ways, I FOUND myself due to parenting my daughter alone.

And while I do not wish the challenges that come with divorce or single parenting on anyone, I am grateful for the million and one ways that the experience of single parenting has forced me to find myself.

With great responsibility, also comes a great reward, if you are simply willing to find yourself in the midst of the hard stuff.

One decade ago today

One decade ago, I was lying in a hospital bed in great physical discomfort as I was birthing my daughter.

This day is sacred to me unlike no other. My child’s birth was my rebirth. For this reason, her birthday is even more special to me than my own. She woke me up to the possibility of a new life and a new way of being.

She ignited a fire in my heart that I followed: a fire which burned through

injustice,

darkness,

and fear.

I took the ashes from this fire and buried them. I built walls to prevent me from veering off the path. I knew the new pathway I was creating required a significant commitment to growth, courage, and love–both for myself and for my child. I knew it was going to be hard, but that the reward would be great.

I am not being dramatic when I say Aliana saved my life. That statement is both a beautiful and ugly truth for me. It’s beautiful because it was because of my love for her that I took responsibility for my life. It is ugly because no child should have to enter the world, bearing a burden of such consequence.

The world of domestic violence is a dark one. People who live in it experience warped realities and emotional and physical trauma. There were three things that saved me: my love for my daughter, getting professional help, and about two people who knew my story and never gave up on me. Those two people told me everyday that I was strong and smart and that they believed in my capacity to do hard things. They reminded me of who I was when I forgot.

But if I hadn’t had that trifecta–I may not have left.

I feel that I am one of the lucky ones. Some people live their whole lives in an abusive relationship. Some get out, but they never heal or understand how they got there in the first place. They continue to repeat the patterns or form new addictions.

When you decide to take the pathway to healing, you will discover that it is simultaneously incredible and also brutal. You must be willing to be ripped open and dissected and put back together. Not everyone is willing. But I do believe everyone is able if they allow it to happen.

But they must really allow it to happen. All the beauty and all the terror– to allow it to wash over them, as Rilke says.

Today, people sometimes write to me and ask me for advice about how to help a friend or family member who is experiencing abuse and what I usually tell them is this:

  • Listen
  • Affirm their feelings
  • Accept their decisions
  • Set boundaries when necessary
  • Encourage the victim to get professional help
  • Acknowledge that leaving is very hard but it is the only way their children will know the love of a parent who has the capacity to love with her whole heart.

I am not a therapist nor do I know if the advice I just gave is the best or not. But I do know that conquering an abusive relationship is similar to conquering an addiction. That’s because all these crazy neural pathways are formed in your brain during trauma bonding. Research it. It’s a real thing. Stockholm Syndrome and stuff.

But if you actually DO it–if one actually leaves the abuse, the amazing thing is how quickly one can heal when you

  • Take responsibility for showing up in your life
  • Allow justice to be served by setting boundaries like you’ve never known before.

I am so lucky. I am so grateful. I will never ever EVER stop feeling grateful for my trifecta: my daughter, the professional help I received, and my two people who believed in me nearly a decade ago.

But it all started with my daughter. With me looking into her eyes and me saying to her, “I don’t want you to live like this.”

Beauty and truth. It’s what’s being served in our home, one decade later.

I love you, Aliana.

The Woman I Feared: My Ex’s Fiancée

When I was still married, I remember lying in bed one night thinking of all the reasons why I shouldn’t get divorced, despite the fact that my marriage was pretty much a living death at the time. All of the reasons I listed were branches grown from trees of fear or “what if’s.” Among these reasons was the following;

He’s gonna find another woman and I cannot bear the thought of another woman playing mommy to my daughter.

My internal dialogue went something like this: She’s gonna be pretty and sweet and is gonna let my daughter do whatever she wants and my daughter is gonna want to go live with her just like what happened in whatsherface’s family–YEAH that will be my freaking life and I won’t be able to bear it. And she will be the “fun mom” and my daughter will hate me because her dad and fun mom hate me.

But, as the story went (that was actually not just a story, but my real freaking life), I filed for divorce in spite of this fear and all the other fears. Because what often happens when you’re in a situation where fear is ruling your life, is your heart and your brain and body eventually can’t take it anymore, and so you have two choices: disassociate from the pain and fear OR boss up. Somehow, not by anything less than luck or possibly the grace of God, I chose to boss up. Not everyone is or was as lucky as me, and it is to those beloveds who are still living with fear as the boss of them, that I dedicate this post. I am speaking to you, my loves, who are living in fear, and I want you to know:

I am no different than you. I am no smarter than you or more courageous than you. I just somehow decided to do it-to leave an abusive, scary hellhole that was my life. Maybe your hellhole is different situationally than mine, but fear is fear, and loss is loss. It is real, and it’s hard, and it’s scary.

To this day, I have mixed feelings when people say to me, THANK GOD you changed. While I am very thankful I left my situation and that my life is now beautiful and true (albeit messy and hard, just like life is), I have SO much compassion for that girl that I used to be-my rock bottom self. Cause there ain’t nobody in this world who loves her more than I do. Why? Because she felt the pain and let it steer her. She felt the loss and knew that it was devastating. She knew she wasn’t like everyone else around her. But what she didn’t know, was that she was worthy of happiness, respect, and peace of mind. And so that’s why I love her–because she needed love and still does.

We don’t give as much love to people at their rock bottoms as we should. Sometimes it’s because we are afraid they will never change. Sometimes it’s because we are afraid they will change, but not for the better. Sometimes it’s because we’re just plain tired. To the people who are tired, please rest. But to everyone else, I say this: love them anyways. Show them love without fear, so that they know it’s real and that it exists.

And to my rock bottom beloveds, I tell you this story, about my now ex-husband’s girlfriend. Once I left, I had the gift of time. And with time, came less fear and more understanding. And then one day, my little girl came home from a visit with her dad and said, “Daddy has a new friend and her name is Ashley and she’s my friend, too.”

And somehow, I felt the goodness in this. You may ask me WHY and HOW in the HECK did I get there? And all I can tell you is that it was time, beloveds. Time created space, and space created awareness. Fear cannot survive when you start doing things you’re afraid of doing. I don’t know why that is, but it just is. It’s like your brain and anxiety get a little shock, but then they realize that you are still alive, so they keep going. That’s kinda how it was for me, too. I did a lot of little, scary things, and then the big ones took care of themselves.

And then it was revealed to me pretty quickly that Ashley was just a younger version of myself. And I loved her, because I love me. And she loves my girl, and so it makes sense that there is goodness in that. And even though she’s a younger version of me, she’s still not me. I am still mom, and that’s a truth that will always exist. Fear can’t change the truth.

So here it is, my fellow rock bottomers who may be reading this: I am no different than you when it comes to strength and courage. I love you more than I do most people because you know rock bottom. I love you because you understand pain and haven’t entirely dissociated from yourself yet. The pain you feel can be a loophole that you slide through which brings you to your future- a future where you find others like you, and show them love, and pull them out, too. All you have to do now, though, is believe, even if it’s for just a minute, and that everything you’re afraid of, isn’t as strong as you are. Give yourself the credit you deserve and know that you even if you just slide your pinky toe through the loophole, you still got through, so just keep going. One minute of believing fear isn’t your boss may turn into two minutes the next day, and soon enough, with time, you will realize your whole entire leg slipped through the loophole.

And that is how your truth begins.

Should I Stay for the Kids?

When¬†a couple is in a¬†committed relationship, and one of¬†them is contemplating leaving, he or she may ask¬†him or herself questions¬†such as, “Is this bad¬†enough for me to leave or good enough for me to stay?” However, when¬†that same¬†couple¬†is in a committed¬†relationship with children, there is a much more disconcerting thought that may enter his or her mind: “What would leaving do to my children?”

I am 41 years old.¬† I am divorced.¬† I am clearly not a psychologist or a relationship expert.¬† I am not going to furl¬†data or research¬†at you.¬†¬†However, I have had the privilege of witnessing profound personal growth in people who were willing to dig deeper into the layers of this aforementioned question:¬† What would leaving my children’s father or mother¬†do to my children?

When I hear people ask this question, I also hear the following underlying/interconnected  questions:

  • What would it do to me to see my children suffer through this pain?
  • What would it¬†mean for my children to come from a broken home?
  • What will happen to me¬†as I explain this to other people?
  • What will people think of me for leaving a marriage or partnership that doesn’t look “that bad?”
  • Shouldn’t I be able to¬†tolerate it, at least until the children get older, so that I can give them a “stable” home life?

These are really hard questions that I am sure many a therapist has heard in their offices. These are questions that have been written into journals and secretly tucked under people’s mattresses where no one else can find them.  These are questions that are whispered in quiet corridors where lovers meet to have affairs that feel more comfortable to them than leaving the status quo.  These are questions that people ask themselves as they drink a bottle of wine every night in order to go to sleep, because numbing out is easier than answering these questions.

While IÔłŹ don’t know the answers to these specific underlying questions, what IÔłŹ do know is this: OUR CHILDREN NEED US, NOW MORE THAN EVER BEFORE.¬† And when I say “need us,” I mean need US–the real, most true version of ourselves.¬† If we are in a relationship that does not offer us the opportunity to be the most REAL and TRUE version of ourselves, then staying in¬†that relationship¬†CANNOT¬†be what’s best for our children.

When¬†a mother¬†walks into her home, and feels like she can’t be herself, that has a negative¬†effect on the little people in¬†her home.¬† When a girl looks into¬†her daddy’s eyes and¬†sees a person who does not love himself, that actually has a negative impact on that little girl’s mental health. When anyone walks into his or her own home, feeling broken-hearted because love doesn‚Äôt live in his or her marriage, his or her children will FEEL the effects of this sadness.

I know kids.¬† When I come to school to teach, and I seem frazzled for whatever reason, one of these insightful little people will come up to me and say, “Have you had your coffee yet?” BECAUSE THEY KNOW THINGS.¬† I don’t really wear makeup much anymore to work, but the first day I stopped wearing it, a five year old asked me the minute I stepped into the building, “What happened to you and where did your pretty eyes go?”

These are children–some of the most¬†curiously perceptive people on our planet.¬† They FEEL things in the air and see between the lines.¬† They know when we¬†are trying to¬†distract ourselves from our lives in order to avoid living it.¬† And they definitely know when we don’t love ourselves.

They can also sense when our lives are unfulfilled.  They can feel when there is an emptiness in our hearts.  Our children know when we are pretending, and if we continue to show them that pretending is okay, they will begin to start pretending and stuffing their feelings down, too.

And one of my mantras for this year has been: there is no power in pretending.¬† We do not want our children to believe it is okay to behave like someone they are not. When we push down who we are and what we want, in order to avoid causing other people to experience pain, we aren’t actually LIVING, and are in fact, BETRAYING our truest, highest selves.

We must start to understand that there is a way of being that is authentic. And in this space of authentic living, we will find that what is good and true and right for us (and I got this line from Glennon Doyle, because she’s a genius) is going to be what is good and true and right for “our people.” And our people include, but are not limited to, our children. Now, this does not mean our children will not suffer pain. Divorce is painful. Painnnnnnnful. Heartbreaking, in fact, for adults, children, and members of the extended family. But–and IÔłŹ cannot ask this question enough-is it our job to protect our children from ever experiencing pain and heartbreak? Is that truly what being a parent means? Or, does being a parent mean to hold our child’s hand and show them how to be their truest selves, even when it’s hard and not popular or right?

Could it mean that we are actually doing our best parenting when we teach them that they can walk through pain and come out stronger and more resilient?

IÔłŹ don’t know about you, but for as much as IÔłŹ hate seeing my daughter in pain, what IÔłŹ would hate even more would be for her to never know the lessons that pain can teach. That grief can teach. That heartbreak can teach.

Perhaps if our children can learn to withstand heartbreak and grief and pain, they can learn to sit with others and have empathy for them, too, when they see them walking through the same. And when our children can learn to hold space for each other and practice empathy and compassion, they can change this very world.

Happy Re-Birth Day to Me


9 years ago today, after laboring for 30+ hours, my daughter, Aliana, was born via Caesarian section at 7:50 am. After experiencing what my OB-GYN proclaimed to be a freakishly challenging pregnancy, that included sciatica, kidney stones, preterm labor, and gestational diabetes, it was mind-blowing to me that a human this extraordinarily healthy had actually been percolating inside of me for nine months.

On this day, June 15, 2008, I was 32 years old, yet I was just a shell of a person.  I had no personality, no likes or dislikes, and no idea how I had gotten myself into the mess of an abusive marriage.

And now I had this tiny, gorgeous human with a full head of curly black hair, that was staring at me with the deepest coffee colored eyes I had ever seen.  And somehow, those eyes were the only thing that ever could break me of my numbness.  You see, I could no longer disassociate from my life, because that would mean I was disassociating from MY OWN CHILD. 

In the intensity of her gaze, I imagined she was saying to me, “I am here.  I am LIGHT.”

Her existence broke me into a million pieces so that I would be somehow be forced to make a plan to put myself together again, because her eyes–HER LIGHT–showed me that she needed a mama who was whole, and that mama had to be me.

One day, I was giving her a bottle when her father entered the room.   I don’t remember what I had said that upset him so much, but he spat on me.  His spit ran down my face and dripped onto my shirt.  I didn’t react, as I knew that would make it worse, but Aliana did. She screamed at the top of her lungs and she no longer wanted the bottle.  Her screams and her terror reminded me of my own terror–reminded me that I needed to finally be terrified in order to be her mother. My heart of darkness slowly began to crack, and I allowed her light to seep into me.

Her birth was my rebirth, so in many ways, this day, June 15, is sacred to me and forever will be. It is a day that I was also born, as this baby was the one who brought me back to life.

Sometimes people say to me, it’s unfortunate that you and your ex husband conceived a child together, because that means you have to still communicate and can’t be completely unattached. What people who make these comments don’t understand is that if I hadn’t had my daughter, I might still be living in that marriage. Aliana’s existence propelled me into a completely new level of life, because I finally loved a person so much that I didn’t want her to live the way I had been living.  The love I couldn’t feel for myself, I could feel for her. 

Something deep inside of me knew that I could never be the mother she needed unless I could fully be myself, and the journey to self discovery started with her birth. 

Changing lives is serious business, and this girl wasn’t even planning on getting into that business; the universe simply deemed it so.

And for that I will always be thankful. Happy birthday, Aliana. 

Uncle Roy

I do not have a fancy house or amazing car or a six figure salary. But I do have something money cannot buy–I have an Uncle Roy.


Having an Uncle Roy is like having a dial a therapist, quite literally because he is a therapist and he always answers your calls. Even if it’s 2:00 a.m…especially if it’s 2:00 am.

Uncle Roy listens. Then he says something profound. Then once you’ve calmed down, he says something witty. And before you know it, you’re feeling centered again.

I have wanted to write about Uncle Roy for awhile, but I don’t know if any words I say can do him justice. I mean, how do you begin to describe a person who invested hours of his time in order to save your life?  The main thing I can tell you is this: everyone needs an uncle Roy.

When everyone had given up hope that I would leave an abusive marriage, Uncle Roy didn’t. When everyone was so sick of hearing me sing verse 742 of the same damn (metaphorical) song and dance, Uncle Roy still gave me the microphone and  said, “Sing louder, because you need to hear yourself. You need to hear your story and realize what’s really going on.” When everyone else told me that my situation freaked them out, Uncle Roy remained calm. When others backed away from me, Uncle Roy came closer.

Everyone needs an Uncle Roy.

When I started to date after my divorce and had dating anxiety, Uncle Roy made me laugh when I told him and Aunt Jeanne about some of the odd and strange men I met through online dating. I laughed and laughed until I couldn’t possibly be hurt or resentful or anxious anymore. Everything that didn’t work out was just too damn funny to be upset by it. But this just amazed me–how my uncle’s jokes could transform a situation that felt like a tragedy into something hilarious, all the while showing empathy at the same time. That’s a GIFT. “When you’re laughing, you’re healing,” he says.

When I became involved in a new relationship with a guy I really liked, my PTSD would sometimes rear its ugly head. It was during these times that my uncle taught me the important truth: “Healthy relationships are not fragile.” And this is what that means: there’s no need to overanalyze things that you did or your partner did or to fear that little mistakes may tear things apart.  Because if it’s healthy and good and the right fit, it will naturally work. And if it’s not, it will start to unravel. This is the natural order of things. You must let go and let it unravel if that’s what it starts to do.

Uncle Roy taught me that I don’t ever have to have all the pieces of a puzzle or all the information I’m seeking to make an informed decision. He taught me this: HOW YOU FEEL about a situation is enough to know how to proceed. If you continually feel unhappy in a certain relationship, your feelings are enough evidence to end it. If you continually feel anxious or resentful towards someone, that’s important information to pay attention to.  If you wake up in the morning and never want to go to your job, that’s a feeling that you need to deal with. If you look out your window and can’t stand where you live, that feeling is information.

You see, these are things that many of us don’t learn growing up. But it’s never to late to learn them. It’s never to late to listen to yourself. And it’s never to late to believe you have everything you need to solve the problem you’re facing.

Uncle Roy has not had a life without hardship. Without divulging too much of his personal info (however, he doesn’t know I’m writing this, because he cannot operate a computer), Uncle Roy went through a painful divorce in his twenties. He experienced the heartache that many involved fathers feel when they can no longer see their children everyday. He felt a deep devastation of betrayal in his life and it took hard work to just keep doing the next thing and not allow his depression to devour him.

But he did it. He woke up everyday, and did what he thought was the right thing to do. And just kept doing that again and again. He eventually turned his shit into fertilizer in his practice as a therapist. He began to help people understand that by doing the next thing, they would survive.  He continued, and still continues, to help others understand the fundamental philosophy of what he refers to as the acronym T.A.K.E., which stands for Tolerance, Acceptance, Kindness, and Encouragement–what he considers to be the foundation of healthy relationships.

I talk about my uncle all the time with others, because I love him.  And also because what I want people to understand is this: you only need one person in your corner. Just one.  And while I do not want to minimize all the incredible people who have played a role in helping me to change the trajectory of my life, Uncle Roy was so pivotal when I was at my lowest of my low.  And he was just there, showing up for me, and somehow never doubting that I could be my own hero.

All you need is one person.  Just one.  I love you, Uncle Roy.

I Woke Up Like This

When I first got divorced, I walked around for about a year like a female version of Rip Van Winkle who had awoken and was seeing a new world. 

Despite a PTSD diagnosis from my doctor,  everything felt like a miracle to me. 

Every time I would pay a bill, I felt gratitude to be paying my own bills. When I bought my first piece of decent furniture, I felt like a queen. I finally slept like a baby most nights in my bed, and I let my daughter, who was two at the time, sleep next to me, despite everyone telling me “that was a bad idea.” I didn’t care. What I cared about was that we were finally SAFE and FREE. 

For about a year, I walked around like that-in an almost mystical, childlike state of wonder. I am not saying I wasn’t raw and emotional-what I’m saying is that I felt peace, despite the range of emotions that passed through me.

I remember sitting in my little, white and brick house in a not-so-great part of town, rocking my daughter in my tattered, hand-me down rocking chair, thinking that I had life figured out and that life was good. 

You see, it takes some time to realize you have your own life after you haven’t for so many years. And here I was, in 2010, finally awake to the idea that I was alive and that I could make choices for myself.

People observing me said, “Wow. Emily is doing SO well. She’s, like, a brand new person.”

Only I wasn’t. I was still the same person I had been during my entire marriage; I was simply now reacting to the fact that I was finally safe and free.

I was like an aged onion. There were so many layers of me that hadn’t been peeled back yet, and my skin was starting to toughen and the roots were trying to pop out because I needed to be peeled. The learning had barely begun. 

I realized in therapy that rejection was my oldest wound. And it has also been the most difficult wound to heal. Deep wounds like that do not heal from the outside–they can only heal from within. You cannot slap a bandaid on a rejection wound and expect it to heal. You have to do the deep, psychological work that starts from within. 

Combining my fear of rejection with PTSD, and you could say my post divorce dating life was a complete shit storm. I went from boyfriend to boyfriend. I remember my therapist looking up at me and asking me, “Where did you go?”

My energy was frenetic. Although the framework for the abusive marriage was gone, I was still the same person, afraid to be seen. Afraid to show up, instead of showing off. Afraid of being my true self, because…who would actually love that?  Although I said I wanted a partner, I continued to pick partners who were clearly not right for me. 

But tonight, as I sit here on Valentines Day 2017, the one thought in my mind is this: it is so good to be single, free, and safe. I once prayed so hard for the things I have now, and I feel GRATITUDE to have them. I feel a little wide-eyed tonight, even though seven years have passed since I left. 

I know there are many men and women in relationships that, even if they are safe, they are not free. They feel afraid. Maybe they are afraid of rejection from their spouses, even after being married all these years. Or maybe they feel like they just don’t have the courage to be seen, and that eats away at their insides. Or maybe they feel they cannot trust this person lying next to him or her and that wears on them day in, and day out.

If that is you, while I do not have specific answers, I can tell you this. Don’t stop peeling off your layers. Don’t stop showing up. Don’t stop feeling the feelings. Don’t numb out. Have the courage to be yourself and figure out what’s underneath the feelings. Because until you peel all the layers off, all you are is a body with feelings-not your awokened self. And we all need a planet that is full of humans who are healthy, alive, and awake. 

Happy love day, 2017.


Back in the days of my 2010, Rip Van Winkle awakening. 

Grounded in Truth

I know this question isn’t anything new, but what would happen if we all got REALLY truthful about how we are REALLY doing?

This morning, a guy who I think may be interested in me, texted me, “Good morning.  How are you doing?”

My response was “Not well.  I miss my daughter.  I feel like shit.”

When I pressed send on that text, I suddenly felt this surge of power that I sometimes feel when I’ve been uncomfortably honest with someone. “YEAH!” I think. “I FEEL LIKE SHIT and I just told a potential love interest that!  GO ME. I CAN DO ANYTHING.”

(Images from Allie Bosch, hyperboleandahalf@blogspot.com)

I feel like shit.  Let me shout it from the god damn rooftops.  Let me tell the barista at the coffee shop when she asks me how I am. Let me tell the clerk at the gas station. Let it be known to one and all that I feel shitty today. 

Sundays when I don’t have my daughter can be hard. Sometimes I want to curl into fetal position and not leave my bed. My thoughts and emotions tend to become negative and it’s easy to feel stuck. And I’ve found that the only way to get unstuck is to fight back by doing the next thing. 

So that’s just what I did. I wrote a list: coffee, write, laundry, exercise. And then I pretended I was a normal person and went to get coffee at a nearby coffee shop. While there, I ended up having a pleasant interaction with a dad in the coffee shop and his son who was building with Legos. And I talked to the employees about how I feel shitty and need espresso today instead of plain coffee. And those employees were so nice to me, and said, “No problem, we get you.” And while I was drinking my Americano, I decided to like, make this blog into an actual website. And then I decided to send invitations to everyone on FB to “like” this blog even though I really dislike self promotion and it makes me want to poke my eyeballs out. And I stayed in that coffee shop and started writing this blog entry until the coffee shop closed. 

Then I stood up and realized I felt pretty good… and it was all because I fought back by doing the next thing.  

So now, I’m doing laundry. And then I will exercise. And then it will be 8:00 and Aliana will come home and we’ll snuggle and watch a little tv before bedtime. And then I will know that today I was truthful and honest with myself and others about what I needed and how I felt. And that makes this day actually not so bad. 

P.S. During NYE I went on a yoga retreat led my Laura McKowen and Becky Vollmer. I had the privilege of sharing a sacred space with 26 amazing individuals. We did yoga. We spoke truth to each other. We worked on letting go of what we needed to for 2016, and looked forward to 2017. I chose a new phrase for 2017-Grounded in Truth. Because I realized that is what being brave looks like for me. Maybe that’s what it looks like for you, too. If it does, then let’s hold up each other in truth. ‚̧

P.P.S. As for the potential love interest, I realized today that I don’t think we are compatible enough to date. And that’s the truth. 

I love you guys. That’s all. And guess what? I don’t even feel shitty anymore. 

I promise you it will suck and then it will be beautiful 

Ending relationships is HARD. I need everyone to just process through that challenging truth for a moment–including me. ūüė≥

Some relationships have ups and downs and are meant to survive and keep blooming. 

Others have a short season, and stop blooming. Sometimes people in those relationships keep watering them, hoping that the plant WILL JUST FREAKING BLOOM FOR PETE’S SAKE. And so they water and water, until it is seeped in water and drowning and can’t breathe anymore. 

What I want my daughter to understand, and what I want myself to understand, and what I want others to understand is that once you make the commitment to being you–it is a courageous act. And you cannot just back down, even though you’re scared. You’ve got to shine that damn courageous light of yours–that flicker–so that the other courageous people on your path can find you. 

Once you make the choice to commit to yourself-which means to love yourself enough to live a meaningful life, grounded in integrity–there is no turning back. And if you try to turn back, it will haunt you. You will hear that voice that tells you, “this relationship isn’t right, or this job isn’t right, or something JUST ISN’T RIGHT, DAMN IT!” 

And it will keep you up at night until you make the change. 

Change requires ending something so that you can begin something else. When something isn’t right, yet it’s comfortable, it’s SO easy to just stay there. You can ignore that voice, right? You can, that is true. But you will never be who you were meant to be, if you continue to live in the comfortable state that doesn’t honor you. 

When my marriage was falling apart several years ago, I started to look for answers. I was like a freaking Sherlock Holmes, going through phone records, looking at receipts in the trash. I wanted proof. I wanted that hard core evidence that I had a reason to walk away. 

My uncle, who happens to be a therapist, (which is very convenient for me as you might imagine), listened to me dissect all the pieces of evidence over the phone, until he finally said, “Emily. You don’t need evidence. Your feelings. Your truth. THAT IS ENOUGH TO MOVE FORWARD.”

Your feelings. Your truth. THAT IS ENOUGH evidence to move forward with change. When you commit to a life of integrity and faithfulness to LIVING OUT YOUR PURPOSE (sorry for my overuse of capital letters, but this is important here), you commit to your truth. And gosh, that truth can SUCK. It can be dark. It can be painful. But it is the only way to the other side. 

You must live your truth so that you light the way for others on your path to find you.

Do you know how hard it is for me to blog sometimes about divorce and being alone and having PTSD and being depressed and then being joyful and feeling courageous ALL AT THE SAME TIME?? It is SO hard, my friends. So hard. That’s why it’s easier to sometimes curl up in bed and drink tea and forget that I have stories to tell. 

But tonight I am showing up and telling you that although I am VERY afraid to end those things in my life that do not fit my truth, that I will put one foot in front of the other and, with much trepidation, actually end them so that I can grow. And guess what? IT WILL SUCK. But I will keep writing and keep doing the hard truth telling as best as I can while I go through the endings. 

I dislike the discomfort of change. I really do. But I’m doing it anyways, damn it. 

And I love you for reading this. That is all.