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.

β€œWell, it depends.”

One of the most bizarre things a mother can experience is that she can birth a child into the world who has a personality completely different than her own.

My mother did just that.

I came into this world, very quickly (my dad barely made it to the hospital in time) and very loudly, according to my father. I was a horrible sleeper (a trait I passed on to my own child) and sensitive and fearful. I was wired for anxiety and phobias and seemed to be driven by my emotions.

From the time I was two years old, up until adulthood, my mother spent a lot of time sagely advising me to slow down. To wait. To be patient. To think. I didn’t like that she was telling me these things, but I mostly listened because something inside of me knew she was speaking wisdom to me.

But the best piece of advice my mother ever gave me of all time was simply two words, or sometimes three, depending on how she framed it:

“It depends.”

That’s right, folks. Two words: IT DEPENDS. Sometimes she added in the extra word, “well,” at the beginning, and in that case, she said:

Well, it depends.”

If I had a dollar for every time my mother said, “It depends,” I would be rolling in the dough. To this day, she says it frequently in response to people making “should” statements that are filled with emotion. The following are a list of statements to which my mother has responded with her adage, “Well, it depends.”

  • Our culture: “Follow your heart.” Mom: “Well, it depends. Sometimes the heart is just a bunch of feelings.”
  • Our culture: “Be fearless.” Mom: “It depends; sometimes fear is there to protect you.”
  • Our culture: “Live your life with no regrets.” Mom: “Well it depends. Sometimes regret can teach us things.”
  • Our culture: “Stand up for what you know is right.” Mom: “Well, it depends. You may not be right and may just be being stubborn.”
  • Our culture: “Take the bull by the horns and act quickly and efficiently.” Mom: “Well, it depends. You can take your time and be efficient as well.”

You see??? IT JUST DEPENDS. That is what I have learned from my mother.

My whole point in sharing how my mother’s phrase has helped me, is because I realize today that it has caused me, despite the fact that I’m wired to be emotional and even anxious, to choose to be OPEN to multiple perspectives. To be OPEN to multiple ways of existing, and feeling and thinking.

And while there are definite moral truths that cannot be argued with when it comes to equality and justice for humanity–no matter who you are, where you live, or what you have done– beyond those universal truths lies the world of “It depends.”

No one has this freaking thing called life figured out. We are all going to make independent judgments based on our experiences. However, there is great comfort in knowing that feelings are just feelings and, as a wise yoga teacher once said, “I am determined to see this mountain as just a mountain. It’s not a statement on my life,” (meaning not everything we perceive as terrible that’s happening to us has anything to do with us).

Pastor Rob Bell says our culture is all treble and no bass. People get their news and develop their thoughts from what they are exposed to on social media. Through the lens of technology, we have begun to believe there are quick answers to everything. In the craziness of all of this, my mom has been my bass, my voice of reason, by asserting that we cannot depend entirely on feelings, or easily swayed by new voices simply because they sound good. It just depends.

I close with a photo of my Mom, telling everyone to chill out, because no one knows what’s going to happen. “It depends,” she probably is saying. ⬇️

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. 

The Ocean, the Sun, and Dory

Aliana and I just came home from a short trip to Florida.  At the airport, a stranger asked me where I was going.  I told him, “Naples, Florida.”  He asked, “Who lives in Naples?”

“The ocean,” I said.

He looked puzzled.  I almost asked him, “Have you not seen the ocean?”

As Aliana and I swam in the waves on Tuesday afternoon, I asked her a question.  “How do you think you are like the ocean?” Together, we made a list of the ways that she is like the ocean:

  • Strong, yet soft
  • Beautiful
  • Constantly changing, yet still the same
  • Full of life
  • Deep
  • Fun
  • Majestic

Then last night, we watched the sun set over the ocean.  And all I could think about was how this same sun has been setting on our earth every day since the beginning of time. The sun gives us life and is such a powerful part of God’s creation, yet I have never stopped to even think about how that ball of fire keeps me alive.  That MASSIVE star keeps our earth going. It goes up every morning, no matter what, and goes down every evening, no matter what.  It does its damn job without complaint.  And when it shines, it’s amazing how that makes all of us feel.


So as I was having these thoughts and trying to practice gratitude for the beauty that was surrounding me and has been surrounding humanity since the beginning of time, I started thinking about what it means to surrender to the forces around us–God, nature, circumstances.  Whatever they may be.  And I realized this:  Surrendering is freaking hard.  It’s not in our nature to let go.  It’s not in our nature to let God and the universe make decisions for us, yet that’s exactly what sometimes happens.

People have often asked me why I’m divorced (which, by the way, is a somewhat invasive question to ask someone you don’t know well, but anywho).  Rather than going into an excessive explanation, I have started saying, “I married a person who God didn’t intend for me to marry.”

There is no doubt in my mind, that God didn’t want me to marry my ex-husband.  But I wanted to marry him, and so I did.  And while I have this incredible child as a result of my decision, I can still honestly say that I was not acting in accordance with God’s will when I said, “I do.”  I was acting in accordance to MY WILL.

Along the same lines, I do not understand when people say, “I have no regrets.”  Because, I think regret is an important teacher.  I have LOTS of regrets, guys. I regret hurting my parents by being selfish.  I regret having no boundaries with people.  I regret putting myself in danger.  I regret hurting people by not being honest with them.  I regret gossiping about others. I regret trying to control people.

While I learned from those decisions (notice I don’t call them mistakes, I call them decisions), I’m still a work in progress, and I hate that I am that way, but I am.  Because I’m like Dory from Finding Nemo (I totally stole that analogy from Glennon, by the way)–I now know all this “life stuff” and “who I’m supposed to be” in my head, but then I sometimes have days or weeks where I forget it.  It’s during those moments that I make decisions that are sometimes less than stellar–decisions I regret.  But I’m trying to iron my path out so I have less of them.

And, if I take the time to pay attention to the forces of nature, they just may remind me everyday to SURRENDER to who I am and to the universe.  If I were in control of my life, things would be so different right now, but I’M NOT.  And strangely enough, I also believe God knows what God is doing, and I am just gonna try to get out of God’s way so I don’t jack it up.

 

 

 

Weak is the New Strong

This is what it’s like to save your own life.


My husband of almost ten years tells me he is going to go out of town. I feel a pit in the bottom of my stomach. Pain wells up. Fear brims over me. Adrenaline rushes through my body in the way it does when someone attacks you, leaves you for dead, and you survive and escape.

I pretend I am dead. Not literally dead, of course, but dead in the same way I have  been dead for ten years. I do not show him I am still breathing and that a flame is flickering under the surface.

He believes me. When he walks out the door, I get to work. Time is ticking. I put my toddler to bed and start packing. I try to remember what is important-photos, toys, clothes, passports, birth certificates. As I stuff them into random boxes and suitcases, I suddenly feel like I just can’t move anymore.

I lie down on the floor of my bedroom. I want to cry, but my heart is pounding and my body is hollow from not eating. I realize I do not feel sad. I feel paralyzed. Paralyzed by the fear of doing something that other people will think is crazy. I realize they will think I’m crazy, only because they do not know I have lived a lie for years. The lie is crazy-not me.

I call my only friend.

“I can’t do this. I can’t pack another thing.”

My friend reminds me that voice is a liar and that I need to keep moving.

I do the next thing and the next thing, followed by the next.

Soon, it is morning. Even though I did not sleep, I keep going. My uncle and aunt arrive to help. Then my mom and dad show up. We pack the moving van quickly. I am afraid a neighbor will see me and ask me what the hell I’m doing. But no one does.

Next, I go to the courthouse. I empty out all the contents in my purse and put my belongings on the conveyor belt as I walk through the metal detector, clutching my paperwork for the protective order. I make eye contact with the security guards  and I wonder if they can observe that there is strength in my frail body.

I go down to the basement to file the order. I speak to a victim’s advocate. She tells me I am beautiful and that my life will be better after I file the protective order. She tells me her story and how she once ran away too. I look at her perfectly done nails and long blond hair. We are nothing alike. Can our stories really be the same, I wonder? I do not feel beautiful and I’m only pretending to be strong.

I rush home, drive the van to a storage unit, and unpack everything there except for a small suitcase. A stranger catches my eye and asks me if I’m moving.

“Yes,” I tell her, hoping she does not ask anything else because my mind may crack.

I get home and I take one last look at my kitchen where I used to bake cookies. I do not feel sad. I know the same kitchen where I baked is the same kitchen where I was once beaten with a broomstick.

Everyone leaves the house and goes to their vehicles. It is pouring torrential rain, and we need to get out. But I feel the familiar wave of paralysis again, underneath the adrenaline and I cannot move. I ask my uncle for help.

My uncle is my second father. Over the last ten years, I have burdened him and my aunt with the story of my shameful  marriage, so that my parents’ hearts wouldn’t break. He knows everything, and he and my aunt have walked beside me through the pain and recognized the flicker of light, streaming through my brokenness.

“Do I leave a note?” I ask him.

He pauses and thinks. I can tell he doesn’t think I need to, but he gives me a piece of paper anyways.

“This is what you write,” he tells me. “Aliana and I are okay. I hope you can find a way to be okay, too.”

This note feels truthful and perfect and heartbreaking, all at the same time. I am proud of this note. I put it on the door and we walk out and never turn back. The note feels like a bomb that is about to detonate on the path of fear I have walked for so long.

I tell you this story today, because I remember what it feels like to die and start again. I tell you this story because I do not want to forget it. I do not want to disassociate from my darkness completely, because every time I do that, I forget the lesson that lives there. That woman is me. She is a survivor. I AM A SURVIVOR.

I need that lesson. Like, that lesson is the antithesis of my kryptonite. All my power lives right there.

And the lesson is this:   WEAK IS THE NEW STRONG. Each time I get to the end of myself, there is power in the new beginning. At the end of everything hard and messy, there is a reclamation of self that must occur. There is that moment that you do not want to cross the next line and do the hard thing, but you pick up a piece of paper, and start writing out the truth. You create your reality and are simultaneously shocked that you could do it.

I will keep trying to remember my lesson, and I hope you remember your lesson, too. When life is hard, remember that really hard thing you did. And know that you can do it again. And again. And again.

Let’s Talk about Sex

At 6:45 am during my morning commute, I am awake, but not like, REALLY awake. You see, I’m a crockpot, not a microwave. I heat up sloooowly, getting warmer by the hour. Therefore, I was not prepared for the bomb of a conversation my child wanted to have with me this very morning at 6:45 am in the car.

“Do you know what the word ‘climax’ means–like, the climax in a story?” she suddenly asked me.

 “Yes,” I said, (insert thoughtful pause) “Are you studying that in school?”

“Yeah, and I was, like, looking it up on Merriam Webster’s Dictionary online for the definition. Well, the first two definitions were normal. Like they were talking about stories…”

I was starting to get anxious at that moment. I’m not even Catholic, but I wanted to say Hail Marys.  I prayed in my mind, “Please, please, do not let my child go there. I’m so not ready to talk about this topic before 7:00 am. Please make her stop!”

But my child did not stop talking. Her eight year old brain was, in fact, churning.

“But the third definition,” she said, “was like, talking about sex.”

“Oh my. Oh my goodness. Oh dear…Did you show your teacher?”

“No! I just wrote down the first definition and got out of there fast.”

“Okay, well… I can see why that would have been shocking. You just, um….” (holy crap, I’m totally struggling for words here), “you just sometimes have to be careful with the internet.”

That response did not appease her. 

“So, like…what IS sex? I mean I know it’s a private word, but what it is it?” she inquired. 

“I am not exactly prepared to have this conversation at 6:45 in the morning on the way to school. Can we talk about it later?” I asked, feeling like I needed time to plan out what I was going to say. 

“Okay,” she said. 

But then, some weird voice intruded in my head. It was the voice that told my fears to shut up. It’s like, my authentic voice–the one that actually doesn’t respond in fear, but approaches situations from a place of love. And I was like, “Seriously, voice? After you just avoided that conversation, now you want me to be courageous? You are SO stupid, voice!”

And that internal voice said this:  “Emily, there is no perfect time to have this conversation. It is a gift that she’s asking YOU, her mom, instead of someone else. GO there. Be grateful for this moment.  Answer the hard questions the best you can.”

Stupid voice. 

“Actually, Aliana, that’s a good question you asked, and we should talk about it now,” I suddenly said. 

“Okay?” she said, now starting to get confused by my change of heart. 

“So sex is something that a woman and man do that creates babies… or I mean, that can create babies,” I stuttered.

“So, I am sex?” she asked.

“NO! I didn’t explain that right… um, sex is like something a man and a woman who love each other can do together to make a baby,” I said, through my not fully awake brain. 

“Okay,” she said. “Oh, did I tell you about the trip my friend went on?”

And just like that, she changed the subject. And I kind of, like, thought about going back to the sex thing, but then I remembered that when we went to the child psychologist, she told me to follow my child’s lead in discussions of this nature, and just answer the questions they ask.

And that was it. Apparently I CAN have awkward and hard conversations at 6:45 am. And if I can, we all can. AND, I know I’m going to have to talk about this again with her, which literally makes me want to crawl out of my skin, but I think what this means is that I SIMPLY HAVEN’T FIGURED OUT YET what it is that I want her to know and understand about sex–what it means and what it doesn’t mean. What intimacy is, and what it isn’t. 

And maybe that’s because I’m still figuring this all out FOR MYSELF. Sex is a topic that people have VERY strong opinions about, and I’m even nervous as I’m sitting here typing this out to you. πŸ˜³πŸ™„πŸ˜³ When I was growing up, I found out through the grapevine that sex was when a penis went in a vagina, and OMG that was just so BIZARRE to wrap my brain around,  and THEN I was told just to “never do it until my wedding,” and wasn’t really told why. 

I am starting to see that I sort of learned things in reverse. Like, I got married and had a child, and THEN I learned about sex. And that’s all I’m going to perhaps say about it now, as the rest of my thoughts on that will be in my future memoir (hehehe), but WOW, you guys. Just wow. I actually got through that conversation!!  Like I tell my students, “We can do hard things.” ❀️ I can. You can. We can. 

Esmeralda

So I have a lot of things I want to say right now because it’s been a thought provoking week. 

But first I want to tell you about Esmeralda.  This is Esmeralda. ⬇️ I just met her a few days ago.

 
Esmeralda was diagnosed in January with Stage 2, Hodgkins’ Lymphoma.  She had to start chemo right after she received her diagnosis. 

When she found out that she had cancer, she sat down with her twin daughters who are seven years old, and explained her diagnosis to them.  

 “Are you going to die?” one of them asked her. 

“I am not going anywhere,” she told them without hesitation. “We will fight and kick cancer’s butt!”

And everyday she fought that ugly disease. That same disease that had taken the lives of her mother and sister and brother. 

Her older son, who is in his twenties, had difficulty eating and sleeping and begged his mother to not give up. He had seen others die in their family from cancer and was afraid of losing his mama. 

Esmeralda felt fear everyday. Nights and mornings were difficult. When the fear gripped her, she would cry herself to sleep, thinking about the possibility of her children growing up without her. She contemplated missing her little girls’ firsts in life. In the morning, she would cry in the shower, sometimes out of fear, but also sometimes in pure gratitude for receiving another day of life. 

Each day was another day. One day at a time, she focused on making it through THAT DAY.

She went to work, despite the fact she was going to chemotherapy. Esmeralda wanted to show her family that she was strong. She refused to sit in bed and wallow. 

She developed a love/hate relationship with chemo. She loved the fact that it was shrinking her tumor, but hated the awful side effects. 

Esmeralda prayed everyday. She encouraged her children to pray when they were sad or afraid. “Don’t forget to pray! God hears you!” she told them.  She has no doubt that her faith carried her through the darkness of her disease.

And in June, her cancer went into remission, and she completed her last chemo. 

When I asked Esmeralda what she learned from this experience, she said, without hesitation, “With strong faith and a positive attitude, anything is possible in life. The energy you GIVE is what you GET. Wake up (each day) and leave the past and hate behind…Live life…Have love in your heart!”

Wow.

Wake up.

Have faith.

Thank God for another day.

Repeat. 

Esmeralda fought a battle against cancer and won. Each day is a new day. A clean slate. An opportunity to have love in your heart. 

Shenpa

I used to look at certain people and wonder if they’d ever had a broken heart. I felt that I, as a sensitive person, somehow had this unique cross to bear on this planet, since I seemed to always FEEL my feelings. 

But now, I know better. I know enough about what it means to be human to know that we all have had our hearts broken at some point–whether it was by a person or an event. We just receive and interpret pain in different ways.

Which leads me to this really fascinating Tibetan concept I just learned about called shenpa. Shenpa is YOUR HOOK. And it’s not a good one. It’s rooted in our egos. It’s that part in some of our pain stories where we had to make a choice. And we chose a behavior or a thought that led us to darkness instead of light. 

Darkness can be worry. Darkness can be fear. Darkness can be an addiction. Darkness can be self-righteous indignation. Whatever it is–it’s not our best selves. We go to that HOOK–that place–so we don’t have to feel the discomfort and pain. 

Not too long ago, I realized that shenpa occurs for me in the context of rejection. And I HATE that that’s my shenpa, but it is. I hate it because it’s such a common part of life. 

But you guys, rejection hits me right in the gut. Both literally and figuratively. Many times when I have felt rejected, I have actually felt nausea. I also wanted to control the situation while feeling out of control emotionally. Rejection has a history of taking me on a train ride that feels like shit. And once I get on that ride, I am the passenger in a car that is going a hundred miles an hour without a destination until I crash and burn. And then I eventually get over it. But not really. Because I may do the same thing again but in a different scenario.

Rejection is my oldest wound. I could probably fill this blog entry with 500 stories about the times I felt the sting of rejection growing up; but I kinda feel like I would be deflecting from what I really want to tell you, which is this: I learned you can actually slow down and stop the shenpa. 

Isn’t that awesome? And this is how it looks when it happens and you decide to stop it. 

You are in a situation and you feel the HOOK coming on–the panic. The fear. The anger. Whatever it is—but you don’t pull the cord or take the bait. You just pause and say, “Hold up here. I am not getting on that train yet.” And you just distance yourself slightly and look at that damn shenpa and you recognize–omg–THIS IS IT. This is shenpa. 

And that right there is half the battle. You call shenpa’s bluff and you slow it the heck down. In that moment you don’t start thinking you hate yourself or that you hate another person. Or you don’t  smoke that cigarette or drink that drink or go have sex or stuff cake in your mouth. 

Instead, you simply say, “Oh my God. I can feel it. It’s my hook wanting to be baited.”

And then you feel the pain, instead of letting yourself engage in those negative behaviors or stories you have told yourself you need to tell for so long. 

 I actually stopped shenpa once. Now let’s just hope I can do it again. (Since I sometimes forget what I’ve learned).

I was in the nail salon getting a pedicure not too long ago. As I was sitting there, I  engaged in a texting conversation with a man I really liked. For whatever reason, I had developed somewhat of an attachment to this person. I felt like our connection was unique and saw what I thought were many positive characteristics in him that I selfishly wanted for myself. But anywho, as I’m asking him a question that was not personal in nature, but rather a factual discussion, he suddenly (felt sudden to me, anyways) wrote that he wanted me to “knock it off” because a particular comment I had made, caused him to feel angry and that he no longer wanted to converse with me.

So basically… he shut the conversation down. He stopped all communication. And I FELT THE SHENPA. And here’s what the shenpa said, “Don’t let him reject you! If he’s rejecting you, you have no value! You can’t let it happen. Stop it! Text him back! Say sorry! DO SOMETHING!!! Convince him you didn’t mean to make him angry! Convince him that this was a misunderstanding!”

Shenpa feels like fear to me. Like anxiety. Like my throat may close up. 

But this time–somehow–I recognized it and refused to get on board. And you know what happens when you refuse to get on board? You don’t feel zen–no, no, no–you feel OTHER emotions. 

When I decided to not get on board, I re-read his words, and my eyes filled up with tears. This time, I felt pain. Not fear.

Wow, this hurts, I thought. And to top it off, the tears wouldn’t stop falling and I was in this damn nail salon. 

“I have such terrible allergies,” I said to the amazingly kind woman doing my nails. 

She nodded knowingly. 

And that was it guys. I felt really, really sad. I liked this guy. It hurt to hear him say, “I don’t want to converse with you anymore,” (which is his right, by the way, and I’m thankful he was able to say what he felt.)

But that was it. I stopped the train. I felt the pain. And then I went on. If I can do it, anyone can do it. 

Here’s Aliana reinacting how to stop shenpa: ​

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Well kind of, anyways.

Goodnight. ❀️