I Will Never Cut Another Dress

That’s a good look.

I lifted my head and peered out at my husband from behind the scarf that was covering the majority of my face.

Oh yeah, think I should leave it like this?

Oh definitely.

We both laughed as I continued to tie my head scarf and put my glasses back on.

My husband and I have a rule in our relationship: no body policing.

That means I am allowed to be in my body however feels comfortable without worry of non-acceptance and so is he. This is one area in our relationship where acceptance is not conditional.

So I can shave or not, wear make up or not, do my hair or put on a hat or scarf, dress however I feel etc etc.
He can shave or not, get a haircut or not, dress however he feels etc etc.

This is an important rule to each of us in our relationship because we have both been in relationships where we did not feel this freedom and we agreed that not having this freedom makes for an unhealthy relationship. We have to belong to ourselves first and one of that fastest ways to autonomy is through feeling full ownership of one’s body.

That is not to say that we never say anything about one another’s body/appearance. When my husband’s finger nails start to get long he sometimes scratches me on accident, I let him know so either:

A. He can choose to trim his nails OR
B. He is more mindful when embracing me.

Me saying something about his finger nails does not mean he has to cut them, he can make that choice, I am allowed to set a boundary stating: Hey that hurts please be careful how you touch me when your nails are that length.

This morning as I got ready and was thinking about this aspect of our relationship and silently counting my gratitude for it I thought of the times in my life when I did not feel in control of my body/appearance and acceptance was conditional on meeting the expectations of someone else.

As children we experience this all the time. For me it was my mother doing my hair the way she wanted it done while I cried under her comb that was piercing my scalp.

I started shaving my legs in 5th grade because two of the boys in class made fun of the hair on my legs. I had never given it any thought until suddenly I was made to feel ashamed for something my body does naturally.

As a teen it was all about trying to fit in order to stay invisible and survive. My face was marked with noticeable scarring after my car accident freshman year so I was already getting some harsh unwanted attention, I did my best not to stick out by way of appearance.

And in my twenties when my identity was usually wrapped up in whoever I was dating I followed their lead. My boyfriend said he likes brunettes better than blondes so for the first time in my life I dyed my hair and played the role of brunette for a few years.

There is one instance that always come to mind first when I think of why this (whole body ownership/autonomy) is so important to me: my ex and the dress.

I have a few great loves when it comes to dresses over the years. In high school I had this denim jumper dress that I loved so much I have it saved in a box to hopefully give to my one day daughter. In my twenties it was the Joni Mitchell dress, so named by my then boyfriend. Now it is my long blue wrap dress.

These dresses were my go-to dresses during these periods of my life because they all possessed the same magic: no matter how I was feeling before putting the dress on, the second I was wearing it I felt beautiful and grounded and myself.

I remember when I bought the Joni Mitchell dress, I got home and put it on to go out with my boyfriend that night. I felt invincible, like the most luminous, stunning version of myself. I got to his house, walked in surrounded by the energetic light I was feeling, and was immediately verbally shit on.

What are you wearing? You look ridiculous. You look like a hippy. You look like Joni Mitchell (which was totally meant as a dig – but she is fucking fabulous so jokes on him)Did you bring a change of clothes? I hate that dress. Never wear that around me again.

Honestly I loved it so much that as hurt as I was in that moment I still felt beautiful. And this was during a very insecure time in my existence, so for me to be able to rebound so easily from this verbal attack when my feelings about myself were completely wrapped up in how others feel about me.. that just further speaks to the power of this dress.

I was faced with a dilemma though. My boyfriend hates the dress and never wants to be seen with me wearing it again and I love the dress and never want to take it off. I was desperate to find a way to make this work. I was desperate. Those three words pretty much sum me up back then.

Acting on this feeling of desperation I did something that I immediately regretted, I cut the dress. The dress was long, white, and flowy with explosions of color splashed all over. It looked like art on a blank canvas. When I cut it all the magic was gone. I was Delilah cutting Samson’s hair. It was awful.

My boyfriend loved it. He thought I looked amazing. I suddenly realized just how much that does not matter. I did not like it and every time I saw myself in it all I could think was how I ruined this amazing piece of art. I think what I was truly feeling but was not ready to see was how I had once again abandoned myself. No amount of outside love and validation will fill the void created when we abandon ourselves.

I kept the dress for a very short period after the alteration before gifting it to a friend with the condition that I never have to see her wear it, ironically enough. I did not want the reminder.

Clearly that relationship did not pan out and I had time to myself before meeting my husband. That time was spent getting to know who I am outside of other people, that time is when I took myself back to my foundation and started rebuilding. My husband has only ever known me as a builder, as a woman under construction, as a being of growth and transformation.

Certain boundaries were set very early on in our relationship to ensure we would always belong to ourselves first:

No body policing.
Our books will have their own bookshelves.
Time apart is every bit as important as time together.

More boundaries were added as the years went on and adjustments are made as needed. One of the underlying messages in our relationship being: freedom to be exactly who we are and that be enough. And with that freedom I hold this truth sacred: Never in my life will I cut another dress.

joni mitchell dress

 

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Opening My Arms

i love you moo

Something, a theme, that has been coming up for at least 6 months now in my writing, my meditation, and my personal healing work is this idea of needing to set some things down so my arms are free to receive what I am really meant to be holding.

One example that I am willing to share in regards to this coming up in my writing is this piece I wrote not too long ago. It was my first true reflection on this idea.

This came up again for me in a big way this week.

I found out that my brother’s family is moving out of state in the near future. My brother is a recent graduate as well and his post-grad job is taking him north. It is the exact job he wanted so I am elated for his good fortune AND I am heart broken.

I am not going to beat around this bush one bit. I will miss my brother’s entire family, I will miss all of my nieces and nephews, AND I know I am going to feel as though my insides are being ripped out when my oldest niece leaves. Moo is one of my all-time best buddies. She is my bosom friend, my kindred spirit. I know this little soul was put on this earth so I could be her auntie and she could be my niece. I am devastated.

I have been taking it in stride. I am holding it together because I think a piece of me is a little embarrassed to show just how heart broken I feel. I will give myself the time I need to experience my pain, I will hold this and love this piece of myself well.

For right now what I am comfortable exploring is the fact that I am happy for my family. There is an AND of course. It is both devastation AND happiness, for now I am discussing one, this does not mean I am ignoring all of the other feelings coming up – all parts are welcome and I will take my time to be with each of them.

So my happiness is this: my family has trouble with boundaries and codependency and I think this will allow everyone to stand on their own for a while and each individual family unit figure out who they are and what works for them without pressure from other members of the family to do or be anything.

My husband and I have been setting boundaries for years, this will allow my brother’s family and my parents to catch up. My brother brought this up himself as a benefit to this move.

Here is what I am sitting with right now for myself: relating back to this idea of setting somethings down so my arms are open to receive. Maybe at this moment in my life I am meant to set Moo down so my arms are open to receive my next big relationship, that with my own children. Moo and her big brother have been my babies since they were born, especially Moo. I will love Moo no less and miss her no less AND I will be open to receiving.

My husband and I are not quite ready, we will know when the time is right, and when that time comes I believe my arms will open.

The Universe has divine timing, I know this to be true. I am not trying to spiritual bypass this situation, I am open to all of the feelings that come up, AND I can see the Universe at work here.

Nana Wisdom

Just as I was sure that I was finished processing the events of last week the Universe sent me one more message of validation.

After losing myself in the creative process for most of the afternoon I failed to recognize the house was slowly getting warmer. My husband turns the thermostat up when he leaves for work and occasionally during the course of the day I have to turn it back down again because lets be real, Florida summers are no joke and A/C is a life saver.

So when I was finally done with all my artistic endeavors I realized, wow I am burning up. It was raining at the time and since I was covered in paint anyway I decided to go outside and allow mother nature to cool me off.

It was pouring outside so as I stepped out I expected to be drenched, that was not the case though because our entire backyard is covered by the branches of our old Nana oak tree. She was protecting me from the rain and maybe on a different day I would be grateful, today I wanted to feel the rain though and she was getting in the way.

Because Nana was protecting me it took twice the time for me to cool off because I was not able to experience the rain fully AND not only did she shield me from the rain I wanted to feel, she dropped multiple leaves on me.

This is how I related this back to my experiences from the other day:

When someone prevents us from experiencing our pain by trying to hold it for us or protect us from it, it takes longer to heal. Just like today when Nana protected me from the rain it took me a lot longer to get wet and cool off.

When someone tries to block us from our pain what can end up happening is we wind up having to hold some of their parts for them as well. When Nana shielded me today she also dropped her leaves all over me. When the therapist from the other day tried to shield my client from the pain my client was experiencing my client ended up having to hold that therapist too. Not only was my client unable to experience her own healing by tapping into that pain, she ended up holding someone else’s pain without ever agreeing to do so.

For me it all comes down to this:

I know that in general people do their best to avoid getting caught in the rain, just like people do their best to avoid feeling pain. However, sometimes a person may make a deliberate choice to stand out in the rain and experience it, just like someone might make up their mind that they are ready to experience their pain and heal. The rest of us have no right to interfere with the choice that individual has made.

rain1

Self-Love Can Survive Any Drought

self-love can survive any drought

Over the weekend I spent a lot of time in quiet meditation creating. From that came the inspiration for a piece I painted this afternoon.

Cactus came up during my creating over the weekend and when I started thinking on what symbolism I see, this is what I came up with.

Cacti are like all other plants in that they need water to survive, that need looks different for them compared to many other species of plant however. Cacti are able to survive barren conditions and drought thanks to their ability to self-sustain by storing water inside. Cactus are not only able to survive these harsh conditions, they grow. They grow in conditions that would cause most plants to wither and die.

I related this back to inside love versus outside love. We have no control over the love we receive from others, much like plants cannot control the weather and when it will rain. In times of emotional drought/disconnection those who depend on that outside love and validation may struggle while those who can self-validate and experience love from within/self-love will not only survive these times of solitude, they will continue to grow and bloom because of the love they are able to show themselves.

In this way self-love is this self-sustaining property that allows us to operate with little fear of outside disconnection for we know all we need to thrive and grow lies within us.

For a long time I was much like Gerbera Daisy, finicky in every way imaginable and very dependent on my environment to provide me with everything I need to feel love and connection/survive and grow.

Now I know I am evolving into my own breed of cactus. I still enjoy being showered with love AND when drought comes my way I am able to self-sustain with my own inner supply of love stored up just for me, my own special gift from within.

My prickly spiny exterior is equivalent to my boundaries and assertive attitude, protecting me against all who would mean to harm me.
My root system underground is my way to connect with others who are willing to go deep rather stay merely on the surface.

At the end of the day what keeps me going is me. I am the love that keeps my heart beating, I am the love that will help me grow. If water is the source for life to grow and love is equivalent to water, I am the source from which my biggest growth takes place.

Holding On to What’s Mine

pain

I gave myself time this weekend to further process my feelings around the events I outlined in my last post. I checked in with my mentor, the person who first showed me what holding space looks like and who held space for me as I found my own voice as a clinician in that space he provided. Then I checked in with myself. As mentioned in my prior post there was a lot of counter transference taking place in that session, both the other clinician’s and my own.

I have no way of knowing if the other clinician is aware and doing her own work on this AND that is none of my concern. I am only responsible for me and my work. I know I am still sitting in my shadow of judgement. In my last post I led with that judgement because that is where I needed to start, now I would like to process a little deeper and go to where these judgements are coming from.

The reason I allow myself to show up in my shadows of self-righteousness, and arrogance, and judgement, as well as any other shadow that pops up based on how I experience the world and myself, is because that is where my work is. I can deny that any of these shadows exist so that way I appear pretty and palatable to the outside world and become consumed by them OR I can allow them to exist out in the open, allow them to bring me my work, and learn to love myself there. I choose the latter and my truth is if my shadows are too much for some to stomach, that has everything to do with them and very little to do with me. I will do my work to love myself wholly and worry not what the world thinks about it.

While sitting in the space of heavy judgment I was feeling towards the events that unfolded in front of me during this session I was able to identify where some of my feelings were coming from.

Above all it was this: I am someone who is doing my own healing work and I projected my truth about what that means to me onto this situation.

Being held in your pain is sacred. I have allowed myself to be held in my pain. Since I started my own healing work years ago what I have not done is allowed anyone to hold my pain. There is a difference.

When I am being held in my pain that means I am allowing myself to be supported while I hold my pain. I am not asking anyone to hold it for me. I have to be the one holding it or the healing is not happening.

Here are some examples of what that has looked like for me:

Sitting in the ocean. Allowing the sand beneath me to hold and support me, allowing the water to support me, as I hold my pain.
Sitting on a front porch swing next to my therapist. Allowing my therapist to energetically hold space for me, allowing the swing to support me, as I hold my pain.
Sitting in my walk in closet next to my husband. Allowing my husband to energetically hold the space for me, allowing the walls and floor of the closet to support me, as I hold my pain.
Sitting in a healing circle with other women. Allowing each of these women to energetically hold space for me, allowing the floor and the wall to support me, as I hold my pain.

This is what being held looks like for me. This is how I learned to hold space.

I do believe that you can be both energetically held AND physically held while holding your pain. I have absolutely curled into my husband’s lap and allowed him to physically hold me while I hold my pain. Whenever I allow myself to ask for support in this way it comes with conversation – that is what was missing from the situation I witnessed. When I allow my husband to physically hold me while I hold my pain I am clear about what my needs and boundaries are first, I tell him exactly what I need from him and then ASK if he is comfortable with my specific request. He has a right to say No AND if at any point I feel like he is trying to hold my pain rather than hold me while I hold my pain, I have the right to disengage. If there is ever a time that I am allowing anyone else to hold my pain then I am not healing. That is my truth.

In school when we talked about counter transference and becoming triggered while working with a client I think there was this idea for some that this only relates to trauma or our biases based on how we were raised to view race, religion, sexuality, etc. I believe it goes far beyond that. I experience it all the time with clients. It happens in moments when my client reminds me of my nephew or my husband based on something they say or a mannerism they possesses. It happens when my client is struggling with a part of their healing that I previously struggled with. And it certainly happens when I see something that goes against one of my personal truths.

There is nothing wrong or shameful about being triggered and experiencing counter transference. My admission of this does not make me a bad or ineffective therapist. My truth is: the counter transference itself is not as important as  what you do with it.

In that session both myself and the other clinician experienced counter transference. My truth based on what I saw and how I experienced the situation is: when I became triggered I sat there with the piece of myself that was experiencing the counter transference and I HELD HER. The other therapist did not hold her pain. She did not hold the piece of herself that was triggered by our client’s emotion. She got up, crossed the room, and essentially made the client hold it for her. It was never about how the client was feeling, it was about how what the client was feeling MADE HER FEEL.

Each therapist has there own style and approach to practice. I feel very deeply connected to my way. That does not make me right. That does not make other therapists wrong. Part of my practice will always include showing up for myself like I am right now so at no point am I ever trying to hold my client’s pain for them or energetically asking them to hold anything that belongs to me, including my opinions on how this work should be done. Even my approach to practice belongs to me alone and I am responsible for holding that piece of me.

 

Holding Space Not People

It is important to me that I acknowledge that in this post I may show up in my shadow of self-righteousness. I was triggered yesterday and when triggered any number of my shadows may rise to the surface. As I process out this experience I am sure self-righteousness will show up as well as any other shadow that has something to say.

Yesterday I was meeting with a new client. Rather than start this story at the end, let’s go back to the beginning. Last week I was informed I was getting a new client who would be transferred from the therapist who had been working with this client because the therapist was leaving the agency. My supervisor requested the therapist and I touch base with one another so I could be brought up to speed on treatment goals and progress thus far as well as anything else pertinent.

When I spoke with the therapist I was informed that the client has severe abandonment issues and the therapist informed me they would like to attend the first session I schedule to make introductions, answer any questions, and ensure a smooth transition for the client.

I am new to this job so at first I did not question this. I assumed this was protocol, when a client is transferred both therapists go to meet with the client and do a warm hand off. Plus I was willing to trust the current therapist’s judgement. A few days later, however, I did start questioning it.

In the days leading up to the scheduled session I had a few interactions with the therapist that on the surface seemed normal, yet I was picking up on something. I started wondering, is this proposal of going together really for the client.. or is it for the therapist?

Attachment goes both ways. The bond between client and therapist does go both ways and that is why boundaries are so important.

I believe my intuition was right this time. This was about the therapist, not the client. I believe there was unaddressed counter transference happening.

What I witnessed during the session was, in my opinion, outside of appropriate boundaries. At one point I asked a question that elicited a strong emotion from the client, when this happened the other therapist left the couch we were sitting on together, walked over to the client who was seated on an adjacent couch, and half held them. This was done without warning and without permission.

In that moment that therapist was not holding space for her client she was literally holding her client and my truth about that: we cannot let go of pain we do not allow ourselves to experience.  We cannot set down/let go of something we never held, literally and figuratively speaking. That is what our work is collectively as a human race. In that moment my client was attempting to hold her pain so she could finally put it down/let it go and the other therapist prevented my client’s healing moment due to their own personal need to comfort the client. They were made uncomfortable by the client’s pain, maybe it reminded them of their own – who knows, either way they took this opportunity from the client and that was incredibly hard for me to witness.

Outside of my own personal truth about what I saw take place, touching is a big gray area in therapy.  For example, in a Hospice setting hugging is a regular occurrence you see happening. Still, you ask before you touch – that is my truth. In a traditional therapy setting you do not see touching as often. There are many reasons for this and I am not here to write a report on the significance of physical contact in therapeutic settings, just know that this is a delicate area. And again, to be clear, my truth is: I would never touch a client without asking permission first and in most cases I would probably just never touch a client.

What I witnessed felt, in my opinion, like an unhealthy attachment between the therapist and client (that may or may not go both ways). It felt to me like the therapist was having trouble letting go and that was why they requested to be present. Now it could absolutely be both; the therapist felt this was the best way to help the client transition AND they wanted to be there for their own personal reasons related to trouble letting go. The latter aspect made me feel very uncomfortable and made my part of the session challenging.

It is difficult to build a connection with a new client when they are trying to process the loss of a former therapist they felt connected to and that former therapist is still present. It is difficult to connect with a new client when they are literally physically connected to their former therapist during the session. It was a weird situation to find myself in and I was definitely regretting not listening to my inner knowing and asking the therapist not to attend.

Here is my truth about this, and this is where my self-righteousness will undoubtedly show up: I think it is important for all those who want to step into this very sacred role of holding space for others in this way to be doing their own work, or have done their own work. I am human, not robot, which means during a session, all of my pieces are still present in the background and can become triggered by a client or the environment or anything really. My truth is: me doing my own work is what has made me effective at holding myself AT ALL TIMES so I am able to hold space for my client and protect against counter-transference.

Transference and counter transference are absolutely a thing that happen in a therapeutic relationship. Transference can actually be a great way to process and explore deeper topics in a way that feels surface level and safe with a client. Counter transference is also a natural thing that happens, what is important (in my opinion) is having a place to process it when it happens. Supervision is a great place for this, that is a big part of supervision, AND I still believe in therapists having their own therapist to hold their deeper work.

For example, I totally see where I am experiencing my own counter transference in what took place during this session. I am processing a surface piece of that here and I will be doing my real work around it when I see my therapist.

Something that I heard a lot when in school had to do with meeting our clients where they are. I think we also often times meet our clients where we are. Just like Brene Brown says you cannot give your children what you do not have, relating to parenting, I think the same can be said for therapy; you cannot give your clients what you do not have.

I cannot hold space for my clients to do work I have not personally done. That is my truth. It is not every therapist’s truth, many never do their work and do not feel called to and are still effective at practicing in their way. My truth is: I could never hold space for the deep healing work my clients are called to do if I am not walking my own path towards healing.

I do not know what this is going to look like going forward with this client. This client’s very first experience with therapy has sent them the message that when they cry their therapist will literally hold them. I am hoping to show this client that they can still feel held energetically through use of empathy and healthy boundaries AND show them how to hold themself and comfort themself.

inner shit

#This-is-my-truth.

 

Authentic Connection

Sunday I had an experience that left me feeling more disconnected than connected. Yesterday after another miss at connection I took time to build my connection back up.

This morning I woke up feeling more balanced in terms of inner connection AND still rather disconnected from the outside. Then I read an email from one of the women on Sunday, an email that came with an energetic invitation to stand in my truth about my experience on Sunday.

She and I spoke by phone for about an hour this morning and that missing connection found its way home again. She was open to my honest feedback about how the group impacted me in both a positive and negative way and together we brainstormed the next steps of this group and what needs to happen for it to move forward successfully.

This is what authentic connection looks like. When speaking today we both understood that our feelings and reactions to different aspects of the group and even the group’s members belong to us. My triggers, my feelings, my judgements, they are mine to hold. I can express them to give a perspective without the other person feeling responsible to do anything with it. The same goes in reverse, anything she shares with me belongs to her. I am not responsible for her stuff.

This woman is relatively new to my life, she was called to me at Red Tent. It was really nice to be able to have an honest conversation where boundaries were clear and nothing was taken personal. I think there is something special here.

I am grateful that this conversation happened. I feel so much better about my experiences from Sunday knowing that she was triggered as well. My work is my work and this group is absolutely bringing me my work. There is something to be said for that and after the conversation from today I think I am more open to seeing where this group goes. We’ll see, I could also change my mind again.

It is nice to be moving into a place where I am having more authentic interactions with others. It feels good to be heard and seen in my truth. It feels good to be responsible for myself. It feels good to see parts of my future manifest right before my eyes.