Gravity and Gypsies

It’s been a long time. More than a year, I think.

Sometimes I gain a sense of lucidity, and think, “How has it been more than a year and a half? How am I more than halfway to being a social worker? How have I been in a relationship this long?”

It’s been a rough go here. I’ve dealt with a depression that has kept me pretty numb through a lot of my time here. Only recently have I begun lifting above it. I hope the lifting continues, and I feel like me all the time again.

I have found myself pulled time and time again into the past, back to my time at BYU. I don’t know if it’s that my experiences there were so emotionally impactful, or if I miss having such a close-knit group of friends. I’ve questioned time and again whether or not I simply can’t let it go. The past, that is.

In my moments of lucidity, I find myself wondering if any of this is what I really want. I’ve gotten burned out to the point of nearly throwing in the towel. I’ve gotten isolated to the point of cursing out Seattle for being so tough to break into socially. But even beyond that, I’m not being me, and that feels worst of all. I hate not being me.

Sometimes this relationship feels all wrong. Not in the character of the person I’m with. Not in the respect and mutual admiration that we share. Not really even in the life goals we have. The details don’t match up; he wants to live where I don’t, and he has visions for a future family that I don’t care for. But home and family, those things are right on par.

No, the dissonance is in the feelings. It’s in the way I care for him, but don’t find my heart beating heavily when he looks in my eyes. It’s in the way I enjoy him, but my soul doesn’t leap when he enters a room.

Really, what lacks is the Cinderella Story factor.

For those who don’t know, A Cinderella Story is a Disney film starring Hilary Duff from a number of years ago. I’d rather not google it to find out, because I don’t want to feel old when I’m not. It’s all about a modern high school girl who works too hard and doesn’t quite fit in, but online she’s found her perfect match.

They learn that they’re at the same high school. And they decide to meet, at the Halloween dance. She steps down the stairs to the dance floor wearing a magnificent ball gown and a masquerade mask framed by golden curls. She finds her prince waiting in the middle of the floor, only to learn he’s the captain of the football team (yeah, I know, but it’s a Disney film based on a Disney film based on an old fairy tale. Cliches are gonna happen).

In her insecurity, she doesn’t remove her mask, but the two step out of the ball to a magnificent pavilion in the garden where a small band is preparing to play. They dance, and Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be” plays, the two of them falling deeply in love.

Just so you can experience it, I’ll post it here:

It is possibly the cheesiest drivel Disney has ever produced, but when it first came out I fell in love with this scene. Even to watch it now fills me with the same intense warmth and passion I felt then. I dreamed of loving someone like this, of feeling like I’d found my perfect match, of falling helplessly into someone’s heart. I even wrote letters to my “cinderella”. Yeah, I still hadn’t accepted my sexuality yet.

The feeling of this love is effortless. It’s such that you can’t help but love someone. In fact, you keep getting pulled in, and you want to be pulled in. Completely. Absolutely. Into glorious oblivion. Vulnerability isn’t pain, but rather freedom. This person sees your soul, and makes it feel right for being out in the world, rather than hidden where no one can hurt it. They feel right. They understand you. They are like you. And they love you just the same. There’s no better-than or less-than. No sense of superiority or inferiority. Just two people, who fit like pieces of a puzzle. Best friends. Finally home.

This is what is lacking. This is what I want. I don’t know what it means that I don’t feel it in my current relationship. Perhaps that I have emotional issues to work through. Or perhaps, it’s just not the right fit.

I first got inklings of this mismatch a bit over a year ago. I thought with time things would sort themselves out. I thought I would open up again, love freely, and things would be fine. Even if I hadn’t thought things would change, I was so desperate for structure and social interaction that I used the relationship (and the subsequent friends and roommates it brought me) as a lifeline.

Perhaps I needed it then. Perhaps it, like many relationships, is only supposed to be in our lives for a time.

I am aware of the potential to try and use people and relationships to fill holes. Sometimes at work as people come in and out of the store, I see a beautiful man, and I feel that instinctual urge to latch on, like a leech, gaining some sense of identity from him. But instantly, I feel the truth that I don’t want to be someone else. Really, part of what I’ve missed in this relationship is my sense of identity. Of being me.

I also realize that no one can give me the identity and emotional solidity that I need. Only I can give that to myself. And the more I’ve focused on that, the more I have felt more complete and more like me.

This cycle of contentment in the relationship and dissatisfaction has gone on for more than a year. Each cycle gets a bit more intense, and I have to face the realities of it more.

A few days ago, I was very distressed by this. I spent much of the day weighed down, feeling trapped by the relationship and feeling incredibly guilty for feeling like this with a boy who gives so freely. I avoided him that night, trying not to make eye contact too much. As we got into bed, I pulled out my phone and read one of the articles I’d collected in my year of rounding this cycle.

The author addressed the question of whether or not a feeling like mine was a sense of fear or resistance to intimacy, or an impression that the relationship wasn’t right. She says that the key is not to focus on what to do. That will only bring chaos. Instead, she said to focus on what it is you want. What do you feel now, and what do you want to feel? Make it concrete. Focus on it. Give it all your energy.

If it was fear, then those feelings will subside and peace and contentment will fill the relationship. If it was an impression to leave, then the other person will naturally distance himself, and the relationship will end without pain or chaos.

I’ve still yet to see what my feelings have been. But as I have focused on what I want to feel, what life I want to live, I have found a strength and solidity I did not have before. I have found the me that I am at my core. And the man who fits this picture doesn’t latch on to that me, nor does he have to carry that me. He walks beside me, two independent and strong people. We are best friends, and we share an intimacy and rapport that I’ve never shared with anyone.

I picture us sitting on a porch overlooking a sunset on the beach, a glass of red wine in each of our hands. I see the light and vitality in his eyes as he looks at me. I see him laugh and lean in as he connects to something I say. His words don’t just say “me too.” It’s in the way he moves. They way he looks. He understands me. He is like me.

We share goals and dreams and there is laughter and playfulness in our life. We dance in the kitchen to club music, singing like crazy to the music. We are lifted by the relationship. Energized. Empowered to be us, together.

It’s possible that I’m dreaming up something as cheesy as the ball dance from A Cinderella Story, but that is the feeling I want. And frankly, the strength I find from that core “me” lets me say with all seriousness the line Lady Gaga sings in her song “Gypsy”:

“I don’t wanna be alone forever, but I can be tonight.”

I’m not afraid of being alone anymore. Because being me, alone, is so much more fulfilling than being something else with anyone else.

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If the Sun Won’t Shine, Make Your Own

The last couple weeks have been good. A number of things have changed, so I’m not sure I can credit one thing over another. Most likely, it is a combination of things.

For one, T and I decided it was time to invest in a sun lamp. We turn it on every day, usually in the morning, and sit in front of its glow. It makes our faces so bright I’m pretty sure that people driving by see nothing more than our floating heads bathed in white light. It’s a little odd to sit in front of it sometimes, but it’s actually working. I find myself thinking more clearly. The brain-fog has finally cleared. I don’t feel like there’s a film between me and my emotions. I am much more present. I am much more productive and can stay on task. And I find that I have greater control over my emotions and my reactions. That lamp has been a life saver.

But that’s not the only thing that has changed. A couple of weeks ago in my Violence and Interpersonal Trauma class we watched a documentary on the Bloods and the Crips, the gangs that call downtown LA home. The documentary showed how the gangs came into being, how the culture is perpetuated, and how the greater upper-class culture has failed them on a couple of occasions. The film makers interviewed a number of the members, and they also interviewed the many mothers of boys who had been killed at a young age.

It was a heavy documentary, but I was astounded by these people’s ability to keep going and move on, even if the manner in which they tried to build a life wasn’t the best. It was the best they could manage. I got to thinking about my own life, about the struggles I’ve gone through. I thought about the things in my past that have hurt me that I never had control over. The things in my past weren’t nearly as traumatic as the things these people had to deal with regularly. So why couldn’t I move on?

Later that night, T and I were watching the Daily Show, and Jon Stewart interviewed Justice Sonya Sotomayor, of the Supreme Court. She talked about how she had come from a very difficult childhood, and how she decided one day that she would not let what she grew up in determine who she was going to become. That was very important in her path to become a Supreme Court Justice.

Naturally, this struck me as well. And I thought, how does one do it? How does a person sever that nagging connection that says “But I hurt!”? How do I let go of the misfortune I did not choose, in order to move on and grow?

Last week I began reading The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. The very first habit he talks about is Proactivity, the ability to look at a situation and recognize that that a person has complete control over how he will let that affect him. He makes a very strong point that a person cannot choose or control others, or even sometimes the situation. But the one thing that he can control is himself. So when faced with struggle or misfortune, how am I going to react? How do I want this to affect me? Sure, it hurts, and I can be sensitive to that. But I can choose whether or not it controls me.

This realization reminded me of a quote from the book/movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower:

“I can see it. This one moment when you know you’re not a sad story. You are alive, and you stand up and see the lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder. And you’re listening to that song on that drive with the people you love most in this world. And in this moment I swear, we are infinite.”

Even as I write this, I am overwhelmed by the power of that quote. To me, it is power, it is liberation, it is freedom. It grants the ability to find joy in every single moment, regardless of  circumstances. When I connect with the idea in that quote, I feel like I am flying.

As God often does, he orchestrates things to coincide. Over the week or two that I was making all these connections, I was also reading a book by Paolo Coelho (love this author) called “Veronika Decides to Die”. It’s about a girl to attempts to kill herself, only to wake up out of the coma in a mental hospital, told that she has a week to live. She spends the week in the mental hospital, freed from the silly social constraints of the real world, and finds that as she allows herself to live authentically and honestly the world becomes a beautiful place, and she doesn’t want to die anymore.

Her process of self-discovery inspires other mental patients, and they have their own beautiful awakenings. Among them is a boy that she falls in love with, who was committed to the hospital because he found his true purpose in life, his personal legend, and it didn’t fit with his family’s expectations. After being rejected by his parents, he attempts to go back and live as they would have him, but he can’t. He’s touched the soul of the world by discovering his true passion, and he can’t go back.

I finished this book last week, and the pure joy this boy felt through his passion was so evident. I could feel it. And I could feel in my soul that my own passion was already here, waiting for me. I’ve been sitting on it for years, knowing subconsciously that it was there, but I’ve been afraid to pursue it. Even when I would discuss it with my therapists, and they could see how just talking about it made my face light up with joy, I didn’t realize how deeply this passion ran. I cannot leave it be, and I cannot trade a life of pursuing my passion and art for some 9-5 job that simply puts food on the table.

So I am done wasting time and energy. I am changing the way I live each day, and I am making this passion, this act of creation, a vital part of my every day. And one day I will look at my bookshelf, and a score of books with my name on them will line the shelf, and I will think back to this moment, when I decided to get up and fight for my dream.

Since making that decision, everything has changed. Once again, it coincided with my other realizations almost to the day. And so the last while has been fantastic. I am living my dream. To put it in the words of Paolo Coelho:

Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”

And so, even though the skies outside are grey and gloomy, I have my own sunshine, in my lamp, in the infinite possibilities that lay before me, and in the dream that I am going to spend my life chasing over and over again.

Sermon from the Electric Chapel: Why I love Lady Gaga

Last night as I lay in bed thoughts about my parents flooded my mind. I had numerous hypothetical arguments with them. I felt anxiety, stress, and pain over the way our relationship has deteriorated over the last few years. I felt anger at their refusal to listen and their ease at disengaging from my life. I felt the pain of neglect. And I felt an overwhelming desire to fall asleep, although it avoided me for several hours.

This morning, as I was showering and getting ready, that internal angst and conflict returned, and I found myself defending myself in my head again. As I caught myself, however, I was instantly transported back to the Born This Way Ball two days ago, where I had listened to my favorite musician sing her heart out.

Lady Gaga had a killer entrance, like usual, and her show was incredible. She went on for about an hour, then she took a minute, walked to the front of the stage, and talked to us. She preached her own little sermon, which I would probably entitle the “Don’t Give a Fuck” sermon. She said that when she was outcast in her youth, or when she is attacked in the media today, she refuses to give a fuck. She asked her dancers how they felt when others belittled them in their youth. They responded that they don’t give a fuck.

Then she turned to us, and this is the moment I was thrown into this morning. She said “It doesn’t matter if you’re gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, black, white, asian, or muslim. If others try to tear you down, do not give a fuck. So let me ask you this: when others try to hurt you, are you going to give a fuck?” To which thousands of Little Monsters screamed “No!”

And in that moment I looked around at those thousands of people, who were as different as possible from one person to the next. But in that moment, we were one people. We were united. Our Mother Monster formed us into a community, where love and compassion are law.

Being brought back into that this morning threw out all the voices of disapproval, rejection, and hate. I felt nothing but love and acceptance, and I heard the words of the song “Bad Kids” ring in my ears: “Don’t be insecure if your heart is pure. You’re still good to me. You’re a bad kid, baby.” And I knew that at least to Lady Gaga, I was still worth it.

I know how ridiculous that may sound. She is an international pop star who doesn’t know me from the millions of other Little Monsters out there. Yet, at the same time she does know me. As she told us at her concert, she is me. “Years from now, when they ask you who Lady Gaga was, you tell them, she was us.”

Despite being projected into the international starlight she never forgets her roots, that we feel as she did, as she does. I love Lady Gaga, because in her music, in her words, at her concerts I know that she truly and sincerely loves me, even if she may never meet me. I feel that.

And so I wonder, who speaks the words of God more: the “christians” protesting her concert, telling her fans that they are damned, or the woman who spends her money and her life singing and telling others that they are beautiful, that they are wonderful, and that they will always have a home with her, as one of her Little Monsters? I hear the mercy and love of God in her words, as unconventional as that may seem.

Though I may never be able to express it to her, I am so grateful for Lady Gaga, for her courage and her bold voice of compassion. And I hope that she feels my love, along with the love of all the Little Monsters around the world. She can be sure that we won’t “forget her when she comes crying to heaven’s door,” because she gave us the courage and hope to get there ourselves.

Paws up!

Born this way ball

Repeating History

The guy I dated in college would sometimes complain that with me, something was always wrong. Why can’t you just be okay for a while, he would ask. I felt that the real issues were never being resolved, and that’s why things kept coming back.

In the last year I have gone through a lot of pain, and a lot of struggle, so there clearly has been a lot to deal with. But as I examine the emotional struggles I have on a deeper level, the ones that feel like they’ve been growing for years, I realize that yes, for some reason I go through a cycle that inevitably brings me back to being anxious and burdened.

Tonight I have been going through old writing, things from high school, the first year of college, and the early days of dating my ex. And what’s remarkable is that the very things I am dealing with now I dealt with then. Yet for some reason I have this lingering belief that what I’m working through now is new and unique.

In journal writings and poetry from my high school years there is deep loneliness, a harrowing ache to love and be loved, and a desire to be seen by other people instead of hiding in inauthenticity.

In my writing from the early days back at BYU there is residual ache from a previous breakup. There is hope that I can move on and love again. And after I began dating my ex, there was a knowing presence of that past love, the fear that it would not heal while ruining the present love, and the underlying fear of being hurt again.

There is a hypersensitivity to the opinions of others. There is a feeling of being outcast. There is pain, loneliness, and dreaming achingly for a love and a future that doesn’t exist, when I can finally live happily. There is a lack of purpose. There is a lack of confidence. There are dreams of becoming someone who can do a great work. There is a yearning to finally make it over this monster of a burden that holds me down to finally be free and strong.

It is clear that I did not fully learn the lessons I was presented with at that time. Because I’m repeating it. I’ve almost forgotten those past feelings, but they were real, and were practically identical to the feelings I have now.

The obvious lesson to learn here is that doing what I did before would be a mistake. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now.

But what to do?

I want to be okay. I just want to feel like things are fine, that events in my life are not catastrophic, and that they do not threaten my worth as a human being. It’s like I’m continually stuck in survival mode.

I’m tired of being in crisis. I want to just be okay. Why can’t I just be okay? Why does everything have to be a potential threat to my being? I feel like I’m constantly battling to defend from people who will hurt me.

 

I read through old letters between me and the girl I dated freshman year of college. The dynamic feels a lot like the one I had with my ex. I’m repeating relationships. Or perhaps I’m repeating how I interact in relationships.

I feel like part of the patterns of the last 24 years is an inability to establish my own boundaries. I have been at the mercy of others for years. In relationships I have no say on how things go. I only take initiative when I have permission. I don’t get to say no. I don’t get to have a say.

Perhaps that is what I will focus on for the next while: creating and establishing better boundaries. At least it’s something I haven’t tried yet. You know?

Survivor

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This portrait of me was part of a series done by a friend of mine. It happened purely by chance, because another model couldn’t make it. He wanted us to hold a word that described us, beyond what others might see in our sexuality. My friends came up with things like “Dreamer”, or “Superhero”. But I struggled. My friends brainstormed with me, and when “Survivor” emerged, I knew that was it.

I still wear a yellow LiveStrong band that I put on three years ago. In the last three years I have survived cancer, a faith crisis, abandonment from my family, religio-cultural conflict, a massive breakup, and a major move. There were moments I thought I would never make it through, when I honestly could not see how things would work out. But I am still here. I am a survivor.

I wrote this poem during my second semester back at BYU, the first semester I was accepting my sexuality. I feel the end especially expresses where I have been, and where I am going.

Beneath the surface lies a world so few see,

A world that most do not understand,
neither do they try.
A world of love and passion,
Of heartbreak and woe,
A world of shadows straining to find
who they are and where they belong.

I have found this world,
because I am a part of it.
Part of the shadow that flees the sun
for a refuge of safety and peace.

I know the restraint of hiding from the day,
of seeking a place of solitude where my heart can find its home.

I know the chains of living one life by day,
and another by night.

I know the yearning of the shadow for love.
Need that the day cannot understand.

I know the fire of infant love as it courses through me,
reaching at last my aching heart.

I know the beauty of meeting the morn
with the eyes of glory looking into mine.

Though I am shadow,
I know the perfection of a completed heart.
I know its scarcity;
I know its grace;
I know its worth.

So how unlike the day can I truly be?
How different am I,
Though I walk in night to guard my heart?

My love is as yours.
My heart beats for peace,
As yours.

I am the shadow
But I am not the dark.
My soul is light.
My heart is love.
And my hand is strength.

Though I must hide from the day,
I will not fall.
I will not lose faith in the strength of human will.
Though I live in night,
I will believe.
I will live strong.
And when the world of shadow is finally ready to meet the day,
And when the day has found love and compassion for the shadow,
I will be there,
Unafraid,
Unashamed,
Undefeated.

It’s Like Dying Backwards

When the last guy left me, part of me died. I spent at least the next four months trying to cope with this part of me that was still slowly dying, lying in misery and pain within me. I was chaotic and desperate, and I clung to anything that would numb the pain, even for a moment. Deep down somewhere, that part is still dying, what little of it is left.

But now that T has come into my life, it’s moving in reverse. I think somewhere in some account of a near death experience I read that being brought back from death is just as painful, if not more painful, than dying. And as T is slowly mending my soul with his love, I’m being brought back to life and I’m feeling again. I’m dying in reverse.

I can’t quite describe the sensation. There’s a grief, but as it is drawn out of me like venom from a wound, it burns. The great relief is that as I find life again, as I feel again, and as I love again, T’s love is a healing salve.

And beneath this whole process, there is this subtle hesitation to fully giving in to life. If I live again, part of me will depend on T. He will have power to bless or to curse. And as he has been the oracle of my healing, he could also be demise, just like the other boy was.

I was in the bookstore today, searching for Christmas presents. I was getting tired, my backpack growing heavy and my shoulders beginning to ache. And randomly, there in the architecture section, I thought of T. I thought of how far away he was, and I missed him. And I felt it, then. True, sincere love. Not merely attachment. Not infatuation. But love that brings with it the realization that I’m being bound to him.

I don’t know why T chose me, why he fell in love with me, instead of some other boy. I don’t know why, with all my weakness, my fault, my insecurity, that he loves me so completely. But he does. They say that you never fully heal from heartbreak until the next love comes along. Thank God for T, and for healing.

 

Sometimes You’re Just Lucky

Sometimes I need to take a few moments, step back, and recognize how lucky I truly am. Caught up in the moment I can miss it, but when I look at the big picture, things make more sense.

Today was the first day in over a month that I didn’t see my boyfriend at all. He flew home yesterday for the holiday, leaving me with three unscheduled days to myself before my own holiday flight. He’s not an avid texter, so I get a few texts a day, max. But the ones I get pack a punch. Like a simple “I miss you.” Or, “I love you!”.

I changed my phone lock screen to a picture of us out on a hike. A great picture, really. And when I glance at it I am reminded that he is real, we are real, and that I have something to be grateful for.

From my perspective he and I happened very seamlessly, and I struggle to pinpoint the moment when we went from “dating” to something more. And my emotions have developed just as gradually. I haven’t had the “cocaine-brain” like I did dating other guys.

What’s more, he pretty much fell into my lap. He was the first guy I really clicked with here in Seattle, and things just happened. And I’ve been learning that they happened with someone who is very, very good for me. He has been showing me what it means to love, and to be in a relationship, without fear of rejection or abandonment. I am learning to trust completely again, because he is proving himself trustworthy. What’s more, he loves me, even just my presence, and wants me close by as often as we can manage.

And finally, he meets me on a spiritual level like no boy ever has. The first time we went to church together, he and I walked hand in hand to the front for communion, and stood side by side as we received it. While we were walking back to our seats, he leaned in to me and whispered, “This is why I love you.”

Sometimes, we just get lucky.

Of course, to paraphrase V from V for Vendetta, “I, like God, do not play with dice and do not believe in coincidence.” So lucky probably has nothing to do with it.

When my world fell apart in January, solace was a difficult thing to find. But when I found it, it was a tender mercy. One of those mercies came from a youtube video of a talk given at my university, BYU, by a church leader. A phrase that the leader said was particularly powerful for me.

“When you are compelled to give up something or when things that are dear to you are withdrawn from you, know that this is your lesson to be learned right now but know also as you are learning this lesson, God wants to give you something better.”

Today, I am thankful for God, and for the “something better”s that he’s brought into my life.

 

Come Let Us Adore Him

At this moment, the sun is actually shining in Seattle. I don’t want to jinx it, so when you read this, knock on wood for me. It’s odd how I don’t really notice that it’s been gone until the clouds actually part and I can feel its warmth. Its absence is felt only gradually. Yesterday I was having yet another off, foggy-brained, sluggish day. As I chatted online with a friend who has always offered great logical advice, he said “do you think the weather has anything to do with it? It was then that I had a “oh, duh,” moment.

I first noticed my sensitivity to the winter weather a couple of years ago. It was late November, I think, and I was hitting the same sluggish “I don’t care about anything” mood and doing little more than going to class and watching reruns of South Park. I don’t remember why I thought about it, but I realized that this happened the year before at about the same time. And then I thought about my journal writing, which I’ve done on and off since I was about nine or ten years old. It always stopped at the end of autumn, and caught back on about March.

I invested in some full-spectrum light bulbs, and they seemed to help. And then I didn’t think too much about it.

Here in Seattle, though, the cloudiness is a bit more intense than Utah. And the frequency of human interaction is much less. So that seems like a legit possibility. I invested in some vitamin D supplements and some fish oil omega-3s today, and hopefully that will make a difference.

As I got ready for the day, I randomly decided to throw on the Mormon Tabernacle choir’s Christmas cd. The final piece on that album, “Come All Ye Faithful,” is an absolute masterpiece. It’s arranged so perfectly.

The first verse starts out softer than normal, with the men singing

“O Come All Ye Faithful
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels;
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.”

The second verse begins boldly, with a full choir bursting out in a Capella

“Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation,
Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
Glory to God
Glory in the highest:
Oh, come, let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.”

There is then an organ and orchestral building, until in a massive crescendo the choirs sings in full voice

“Yea, Lord, we greet thee,
Born this happy morning;
Jesus, to thee be all glory given!
Son of the Father,
Now in flesh appearing!
Oh, come, let us adore him,
Oh, come, let us adore him,
Oh, come, let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.”

This is one of my favorite hymns and performances, and as I listened in the bathroom, I wept.

I continued listening to MoTab as I got ready, then I headed to the bus stop. I barely missed the bus, so I stood at the stop and put in my earbuds to listen to Brene Brown talk about her book Daring Greatly.

She talked about experiencing joy in the moment, and as I listened the sun fell on my face. I felt the vulnerability of the last few weeks/months, and I felt a sense of peace, rest, and healing. The words came to my mind “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

I need worship, and I need spirituality, because I don’t function well without it. I need real activities, concrete actions of worship and reflection on God, in order to connect with Him and find the peace I seek. It is through Him that I find healing.

I am able to let go of the shame and struggles my family has with me when I commune with God. I am healed from decades of shame and not feeling good enough. I can let go of the beliefs of my family, content that I am with God, and that I don’t need to explain myself. I can then respond with love to them, when I would normally want to guard, defend, and attack.

I think part of getting through this funk, in addition to getting active, taking these supplements, and using fancy light bulbs, is going to mean taking time each week to worship, and to commune with God. It is there that I find peace.

The words of that Christmas hymn call out to me, “O come, all ye faithful. Come let us adore him, Christ, the Lord.”

Right Now

It’s 10:30 at night. I’m sitting in bed after a long day, having finished class at 9:00 tonight. Next to me, my boyfriend is lying asleep after his own long day of finals. The hum of my computer and the sound of the washing machine in the next room the only sound beyond my clicking keyboard. Everything is still.

This relationship has been different, and at first I was worried about that. I didn’t have the cocaine-brain, adrenaline rush, all my life goes on hold so that I can be with you always kind of thing like I have in the past. This was very gradual, very natural. Our lives kept going. Only now, they go together.

T is very sweet to me. He puts a lot of thought and effort into giving his all in this relationship. I try to do the same for him, and keep watch that I don’t do the things that caused so many problems for me in the last relationship, and in my dating life in general.

What’s been truly beautiful is how comfortable things have gotten in the last week or two. T is starting to feel like home. I like that feeling a lot. In the last two weeks only one of those nights was not spent together. I really like waking up just a little, just enough to hear him breathe and feel his warm skin.

I am trying to live in the moment more. Forget what others say, or what I think they say, and just cherish T. Treasure the time I get with him. Because one day we won’t be young grad students struggling for cash and stealing kisses as we make dinner. And we’ll miss these days.

So I think I’ll put my laptop away, forget the rest of the world, and wrap myself around this wonderful boy and fall asleep.

Excruciating Vulnerability

I think it’s safe to say that I am a Brene Brown superfan. I believe her work is some of the most groundbreaking work being done on the dynamics of interpersonal relationships, and really, on what makes life worth living.

If you haven’t heard her TED talks, here’s her first one, “The Power of Vulnerability”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o

And here’s her 2012 talk, “Listening to Shame”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0ifUM1DYKg

I love how her work extends beyond the academic and is working among the people who need it most: us. She transcends academics while still doing her work professionally within it.

What I love even more about Dr. Brown’s work is that she steps out from behind the academic shield and shows us how she is living her work herself. She dares greatly, making herself vulnerable to all of us. And so not only is she a brilliant researcher with some revolutionary ideas, but she’s just like you and me. She gets it. She still struggles with it. And she builds community with us by inviting us on the journey with her.

I’ve been following Dr. Brown’s work for several years now, and I have been working to practice Wholehearted Living in that time. I have grown a lot, but life continually throws me opportunities to become more, like with this move.

Moving to Seattle has been tiring. It has stretched me, and made me feel very vulnerable. But the place that vulnerability seems to hit the closest is in relationships. I remember how often my insecurities would flare up when I dated Ty back in Utah. The simplest, most innocent thing could happen, and if my insecurities were near the surface… really, if I was already battling shame, then all hell would break loose. I worried so often that I wasn’t good enough for Ty, that he would lose interest and go after someone else. Some of the stories my insecurities would make up were agonizing. Looking back, the underlying feeling in all those “insecure fantasies” was fear of being worthless.

These feelings are at the heart of Dr. Brown’s research. Even though I was eyeballs-deep in her work at the time, I still struggled immensely with fear that I wasn’t good enough for Ty. And it wasn’t just negative reactions or emotions from him that would spark it. Sometimes, the mere lack of positive affirmation would send my insecurities (my shame gremlins) running amok.

The breakup in January turned my shame gremlins into full-fledged shame Godzillas. I still can’t go back and read those old journals because of how packed with pain they are. Needless to say, for months I was a pretty big disaster. It’s a miracle I passed my classes that semester. I dated a bit, and when I finally started developing deeper feelings for a guy I found myself hitting a familiar pattern, one I know all too well today.

The first date always goes well. First dates are a total crap shoot, because you don’t even know the person, and so there is no reason to expect that it’s going to go amazing. I go in hoping to have a pleasant time and good conversation, and I’m never disappointed in that.

Problems arise when things go well. Too well. (I realize how ironic that phrasing is, but this really is the point where things get difficult). Second dates are much more difficult, because suddenly, I’m invested. I want things to go well. And this time my brain chemistry is off the charts because I’m on a date with a boy I like. I once heard the saying that “when the heart is involved, everything comes out in ‘moron’.” That’s about right. Second dates are when I’m totally awkward, foggy-brained, and suddenly without a personality or an interesting thing to say. And it sucks.

What’s fascinating, though, is what happens when touch gets involved. If he takes my hand, if we cuddle, or if he kisses me, suddenly all the walls come down. Sure, dopamine is still raging through my brain, so I can’t vouch for the intelligence of my conversation, but the anxiety and the fear of rejection completely disappear. I think it’s safe to say that touch is a primary love language for me.

Before things become official, though, there is a period of pendulum-like swinging between guarding myself out of sheer vulnerability while hungering for the intimacy that I can almost feel, and opening up and actually connecting with the other guy.

I recognize that some of this comes down to abandonment. The most painful emotion I’ve ever felt has been being left by someone I loved. It fuels the shame gremlins and wreaks havoc with my fear of worthlessness. And so while I starve for the deep emotional and spiritual relationship that vulnerability can bring, I also battle the incredible discomfort and exposure it brings. That excruciating vulnerability…

I don’t know how to break that cycle. And I think I’m having a difficult time identifying when I’m feeling shame or just vulnerable. I’d be willing to bet that today’s fear of not being good enough for a guy was a shame storm of large proportions. The ironic part is that now that it’s settled down, I realize I’m feeling shame over having felt shame. I am embarrassed about how emotionally upset I got, how much my irrational thinking spun wild stories, feeding the shame gremlins even more.

But all things considered, I did better today than with any shame storm before. I was aware, I recognized the urge to numb away my feelings or to discharge the pain by casting blame or accusations. I resisted that, and instead felt my way through the struggle, called a friend and talked through it. I didn’t even make an ass of myself to this guy. And honestly, that’s pretty damn good if you ask me!

I need to stop being so hard on myself. I actually felt that pretty strongly today at church. In the liturgy of the episcopal church there is a prayer that we all say together after we take communion. It is so cleansing for me. It goes like this:

Eternal God, heavenly Father, you have graciously accepted us as living members of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, and you have fed us with spiritual food in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

As we prayed this today, I felt compassion, and I felt the prompting to be more compassionate with myself. And that is the crux of Dr. Brown’s work.

When we live from a place of worthiness, a place of “I am enough, right now”, then we engage the world authentically, and we connect with those around us. Such a life is vulnerable, but as Helen Keller once said, “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”