the tension in life

3465642

In Harry Potter, there are these creatures called “dementors.” They guard the wizard prison and by nature, they are dark, cold, and soulless. They suck every joy out of the unfortunate person within their proximity, leaving the person to feel as if they can never be cheerful again. Dementors even have the power to suck someone’s soul out of them, a fate worse than death. J. K. Rowling has said that dementors are a metaphor for depression.

Having suffered with depression for more than half of my life, I can see the clear parallel.

The wizard who wants to scare away the dementor has to cast a Patronus charm. A patronus is cast when one focuses on one’s most happiest memory. It takes the shape of an animal, vibrant and full of light.

The significance of that too, is not lost on me.

When I think of my “Patronus” and happiest memory in my life, I think of when I was thirteen, isolated and unpopular. One day in winter, a boy that I liked grabbed my cold hands and said emphatically, “I will warm them for you.” It was incredibly touching, and a memory that was seared onto my brain with love and adoration.

But then I think of my dementors–my demons, my depression. And my most saddest, and arguably most traumatic, memory. I was fifteen. I arrived to the emergency room, anxious yet oddly numb, wishfully thinking that my dad was going to be okay. A family friend asked me, “Do you want to see your dad?” When I said yes, he led me into the dark room. I stared at my father lying in the bed, still as a stone. Sitting in the chair next to his bed, I reached out and grabbed his hand–but it was stiff. Cold as ice. And I knew. He’s dead. Why did no one tell me? He’s gone. He’s dead.

These two memories, are intricately linked and tied together. Hands. Warm hands. Cold hands. Connection. Love. Death. Loss.

As I reflect on all this, I think of Jon Foreman–he stated that as human beings, we are constantly living in tension, like a guitar string strung between two poles. While we often make attempts to fight against the tension, he asserted that perhaps instead our goal should be to make beauty in the tension.

And this is one of the biggest tensions we must face in life: Love vs. Pain / Loss. Or even more so, Love vs Fear.

I’ve spent most of my life fighting the tension. Living in fear, while also running from it. Fearing love, while also desiring it to the point it physically ached. But this is the tension: to love, despite our fears of hurt or loss. To love, even when we don’t know what will come. To never cease loving, even as we are drenched in pain. If we avoid loss or pain, we also have to cut out love. And having lived that way for many years, I can say with confidence that avoiding loss does not mean you will not experience pain–in reality, it is a confirmation that you will feel pain. Except it will be a different kind of pain… the pain of loneliness, of isolation.

I’ve experienced some of the most painful losses, but I realize now that this is a part of living in the tension of life. It is a part of living life in full color. We love and give love, empowering, inspiring, and giving warmth to others in the brave act. But then we lose and we suffer.

We will hurt, that is a guarantee. But eventually, we will be okay. With all of these swirls of human emotions, we are inspired, we grow, we make beautiful music. They are the raw materials that we use to build our lives and amplify our voices in the world.

The tension is where the beauty happens. The melody of our lives is when we dance on these strings of tension. Be brave, your melody is worth it. Be courageous, your melody is needed. I dare you. I dare you to live out your purpose. That the melody within you would soar above the fear, above the crowd, above the past, above the pain, and that the song that you were born to sing would come to life.” – Jon Foreman

year of faith

97322

At the beginning of this year, 2016, I made an unconventional resolution: I will learn to have more faith and trust in God. At the time, I recognized that one of my main struggles throughout life was maintaining faith when things got difficult and operating under complete self-sufficiency. But I wanted to live in trust and faith.

Well, God heard me. If I knew at the time what He was about to put me through after making that resolution, I may not have been so bold to make it.

He put me in the ringer. My (narcissistic) boyfriend broke up with me during the spring, co-workers picked on me throughout the year a la Mean-Girls-high-school style, I lost most of my friends, I couldn’t find a new job… I began to even doubt why I was in the career I was, because I felt as if everyone else owned my life and there wasn’t any joy left. My life was completely shaken up and I experienced more loss than I could bear.

Soon, there was no one else to rely on completely, except for God. People were coming and going. People weren’t consistent. People took and took, without giving anything back, tossing me to the side after they were done. God was my only Rock in the turbulent sea. Mid-way through the year, in the thick of storm, my new year’s resolution rang in my mind. I will learn to have more faith and trust in God. I realized that God was taking my vow seriously, and shifting my life significantly to bring about the change I needed.

It got to a point in the darkness where I had no other choice but to choose faith. It was the tiny white dot stretched far from where I was, but I walked toward it. I yearned for the light. I yearned for a life different from what I’ve always known. And God took care of me. Even when things got really bad, He brought the right people at the right time. He gave me moments, things, sunsets, animals, and anything and everything under the sun to keep me afloat.

Fast forward to today. What a windy journey it’s been. Now it’s the end of 2016, and I stand in awe of what God has created in me. Faith. Hope. Love. Authenticity. I was driving home today, my last day at my work, my new job starting next week… and in my grief and sadness at the end of a chapter in my life, I felt something bright and foreign in my chest: I’ll be okay. God will take care of me. The universe will yield what I need.

Faith. I don’t know what will happen in the next chapter of my life, but for the first time, I feel trust in God and in the fact that no matter what happens, in the end, I’ll be fine. I’ve been through hell, not only this year, but throughout my entire life. Yet here I am, alive and very much well. I’m a survivor. I’m a fighter.

And so, even though this year proved to be a very difficult one, at the close, I am grateful beyond words for the fruit that has come from this battle. God has given me a very special gift… faith. I’ll be okay, not because I have enough love, hope, and resources inside me, but because now I know with confidence that God is on my side, taking care of me.

 

necessary loss

135477

The concept of “necessary loss” has been revolutionary to me recently. Loss is rarely present without a web of complexity–in not only the grief, but the other emotions that arise, depending on the kind of loss you’re experiencing.

This is not to say all losses are necessary. Losses cannot be generalized that way. But, there are some kinds of loss that may end up falling in the “necessary” category.

I’m reflecting on this, because my life this year has had the overarching theme of “loss.” I did not only lose my romantic partner; I am losing my two current jobs in lieu of a new full-time job I will be starting in two weeks. I am losing clients I have worked with for at least 2-3 years as a result of my leaving. On a personal front, I have been losing all kinds of friends, and even parts of myself.

This is where the necessary part comes in.

When the loss of my ex first started everything off, I was feeling anxious and depressed, in addition to grief. When more losses rolled in, I felt overwhelmed. But now that I am at the end of the year and at a place where I can see all of this more clearly,  I realize that despite the turmoil and struggle, some of those losses were/are needed.

My ex? He was narcissistic and emotionally abusive. My job? Toxic environment and I’ve hated working there the past 10 months. My best friend? He’s been MIA the entire year, and it’s not too much to ask to want a best friend who is present more than 20% of the time. My other best friend? She’s more concerned with getting emotional support than giving it. Other friends and acquaintances I’ve chosen to not engage with anymore? More concerned with meeting their own selfish needs. The part of me that feels compelled to give at the expense of herself, making herself invisible in order to make space for others? Well, it’s because of that part I got into the aforementioned mess in the first place. It’s no longer serving a good purpose–in actuality, that part of myself is harming me a great deal more than helping.

My therapist brought up the term “blessed subtractions,” and I think it’s very fitting for my current life’s circumstances. It’s a blessing that I am no longer in an abusive relationship with a narcissist. It’s a blessing that I found a new job, even if it means building a new normal. It’s possibly a blessing that my clients will be getting a new therapist–that new person may give them something I may not have been able to give. It’s a blessing that I’m losing the friends I’m losing, because I need friends who can reciprocate support, love, and care–and not expect me to do all the work. It’s my responsibility to give myself what I need, and to trim out what’s not working.

Letting go has never been easy for me. It could be because I lost my father when I was fifteen, or the fact that I grew up never given emotional support from my family. Maybe both. I’ve been fearful of the grief and being consumed by it. But learning to let go is an essential skill of life… I’m only now just learning. Because there are fates worse than grief–like being stuck in a life of perpetual gray and unhappiness, or settling for abuse and emotional starvation. Grief and loss are tough, I know all too well. But all feelings pass. No exceptions.

And perhaps you’ll find that once you’ve let go of some of the unnecessary sacks you’ve been carrying, you’re free to pick up something new. Something better. I put my hopes in that.

 

empowerment junkie

96503

As I was brushing my teeth tonight, I was thinking of all the dating profiles I’ve been trekking through. What stood out to me were all these guys who tout themselves as “adrenaline junkies,” professing their love for many adventures and need for a fellow, like-minded partner. All these pictures of them climbing mountains and racing cars, and meanwhile, there I sit, finding pleasure tucked away at the corner of a cafe, with a steaming chai latte and a good book.

For me (and I bet for many others), dating is a surefire way of feeling shitty about yourself. Sure, I’ve done a lot of self-work and I have more confidence than I ever had in my life, but there are still a fair amount of moments when I get down on myself. For example, my recent thought train has been, why am I only attracting weird, or frankly, unattractive, men? Why are all the nice, good men not into me? I’m not perfect, but I know I have a lot to offer. Am I not pretty enough for the men I want? Am I too boring with my artistic tendencies and love for psychology and self-growth?

But when I stared at my reflection, my mouth full of toothpaste foam, a realization occurred to me. I do go on adventures. Just not the conventional ones people think of.

And this is what I mean. In the seventh grade, I wrote a love letter to a boy I had a crush on, and was coldly rejected. He told me firmly, “I would never date a girl like you.” That moment is still embedded into my brain with nails of pain. Fast forward through relationships, I held much fear in baring myself as a result, but I always took the risk to bare my feelings anyway. Even still, I’ve been rejected, heartbroken, and disappointed by love more times than I can count.

It doesn’t end there. As any writer can attest to, I’ve amassed the typical, bloody history of rejections from literary agents, magazines, and anything and everything under the publishing sun, as I’ve chased after my dreams of publishing my writing. Cue more disappointment.

I’ve been looking for a new job for months to no avail, and yet I still search and apply. Even in my current love life, I’m still putting myself out there, despite the emotional abuse I endured in my last relationship only six months earlier. I try to balance the don’t-show-your-feelings approach to dating that has been pervasive in my generation, while attempting to honor my true, heart-on-my-sleeve nature–never letting go of my value for authenticity in any procedure to life. Even though more disappointment and pain are a guarantee, I still find myself moving forward.

Long story short, my realization was this: yes, I have had my heart stomped on, been rejected in numerous ways, disappointed and let down… but at least I’m living my life by putting myself out there. While many, many others go on “adventures,” travel to foreign countries, and seek the next adrenaline hit, I too travel in my own way. I also take risks–emotional risks. While a couple of those adrenaline junkies jump out of planes to avoid their inner self or repressed turmoil, I consistently choose to face my demons head-on. I fight and slay, every single minute of my life. I’ve suffered with bouts of depression for at least half of my life and continue to experience them today. I’ve struggled with suicidal thoughts and the ugliest of internal monsters. I fight against an Inner Critic more relentless than any beast of a story book. And I’m here today, alive and very much well. I’ve climbed my own mountains (and still climbing), survived the hellish of snowstorms, slaughtered a host of monsters. I’ve accrued many ghastly scars, but you would never know at first glance.

On top of that, all of these difficult emotions I continue to feel–the sadness, disappointment, rejection–are signs of my living life to the fullest. I experience the full spectrum of emotions as a result of my internal adventures. And before I start beating myself up for not seeming like a more interesting person, I have to only look at what life has brought to my table in these past 28 years. I’ve gone on more adventures that many of the general population actively seek to avoid. I may not be an adrenaline junkie, but I’m an empowerment junkie–someone who is constantly exercising her mind and trying to grow to her full potential despite her setbacks.

So people can criticize or judge, but it doesn’t matter what they think. They don’t know me. But more important than that, it’s time that I start appreciating the unique and wonderful person that I am. And the truth is, there is something of value in the way I live my life. I’m in the arena, getting dirty, taking risk after risk, boxing monsters… all the while, daring greatly.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

 

finding your inner worth

img_4676

I bought this poster two years ago from my favorite LA-based street artist, Morley. The words resonated with me at a deep level at the time, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized how deep.

For those of you who felt invisible in any capacity will understand the feeling. Maybe it’s being passed on a job position you wanted, getting turned down by a pretty lady you wanted to take on a date, or being left out of a friend’s gathering. If your worth rides on the success of these things, it feels like a big blow on your esteem.

I know this feeling all too well. Before, what would come to my mind would be the times kids at school made fun of me, when crushes would never like me back, when I struggled and struggled to make friends because I never felt like I fit in. I was too weird, too different. But recently, I created a project (dubbed my “revolution project”) to address my inner issues/demons, increase self-love and self-compassion, and accelerate my self-growth. What became clear to me was that I did not only feel invisible at school… but at home. My family always criticized me, pointed out my flaws to me, expected me to adjust to them or else label me as “selfish,” and tell me that they “never understood why I was the way I was.” Some people are blessed to have families or parents who see them for their strengths and weaknesses, for what they are worth and what they could potentially offer to the world. Not me. Not even to this day. My family still does not know who I am. And sometimes I still feel like I’m in the fruitless battle of getting them to see me.

This has been the theme of my life: getting people to see what I am worth. Getting validation for who I am. It’s one of the most severe lacks I’ve had, and one that I’ve tried to recreate.

But as a therapist, I can tell you that what we seek to recreate never bodes well for us. Why? Because of this: you become attracted to the people who are a match to the people you have unresolved issues with (mom, dad, brother, etc) in order to change the “ending.” In my case, I’ll finally be seen for who I am. I’ll finally feel emotionally supported. But these people we seek have the same incapabilities as the people in our past. So it’s like going to hardware store after hardware store needing and asking for a cup of sugar–and getting disappointed when they don’t yield what you need.

But the question to ask yourself is, am I seeking the right people? Am I going to the right shop? That’s what happened to me. All my past relationships, including my last one, and even many of my past friends, fell into the same category. People with narcissistic traits, people more concerned with meeting their own needs than acknowledging mine. The problem was, I was seeking the wrong people. I was going to hardware stores for sugar, only to get beaten down by their hammers. All these people were a match to my family. All these people never saw me for who I was or my worth, and as a result, actively devalued me. I always went back to square 1.

I am at square 1.

But for all of you who are in the same predicament as me, this is my advice to you: first and foremost, learn to see your worth. Start to wipe the fog away from the mirror and see your true reflection–your flaws, yes, but also all your strengths and beauty. Just like any other human being, you have them… it’s just a matter of seeing them. Maybe like me, you’ve never had the luxury of having your strengths pointed out to you growing up.

The other piece advice I have is this: allow only the people who see you for who you truly are into your life. The reality is, not everyone will see you. Not everyone will want to be with you. But that says nothing about your worth as a person. Going back to the poster, those who matter, those who see us, are going to be the ones that cut through the crowd. Do you want to be with someone who does not see your worth or all the amazing qualities you have to offer, or someone who does? Those who do see us are our truest loves–whether they are romantic partners, friends, employers, etc.

I know both pieces of advice sound like tall orders–I could probably expand into multiple blog entries on how to embark on both (and possibly will). But as someone who is taking this advice to heart and fighting to revolutionize her life, I can say with confidence that it is possible. But it’s a choice you have to make. It’s a journey, a process. And it all starts with you–loving yourself and recognizing you are worthy, regardless of how people treat you.

People with narcissistic tendencies still come to my door, but now I am choosing not to answer. Because I only want the people in my life who can see all of my strengths and flaws, and love me anyway… the people I don’t have to fight to get them to see me, but the people who already see, appreciate, and choose to be with me–those are my true loves.

And I don’t know about you, but I only want true love in my life. I’m done with the shallow and fake.

letter to my abuser

9653.jpg

Dear —,

This letter is not to disparage you, though I’m fairly certain that in your subjective reality, it will be perceived that way. All I can say is my intention is quite the contrary.

My desire is to actually convey that I get it. I understand why you did the things you did. Why you violently raged out of the blue. Why you stonewalled and threw sarcasm in my face. Why you blamed and shamed me, even for things you asked for yourself, and for things that were in reality yours. Why your own hypocrisy was lost on you. Why there were projection and projective identification on your end. Why it was easier to make me the bad one, the one at fault. I understand now, that you did all of these things because you were fearful. You suffer with a very weak and fragile ego, and it was your (dysfunctional) way of protecting yourself. It did not matter how much love I gave, because in your mind, relationships subconsciously mean being destroyed by the other. And you did not want to be “wrong” or “bad,” for what it would mean of your shaky self-worth, so it was easier to make me the bad one instead.

You also never had anyone in your family to model for you what it looks like to take personal responsibility. Instead, what you witnessed and consequently learned from your family was how to blame, how to shame, how to ignore feelings, how to focus on appearance, material things, and status above all else. Your family was never able to love and accept you as you are. It is no wonder why you acted (and still continue to act) the way you did.

I get it now. I don’t expect you to know better than this. Not anymore. You never had the nurturing to make it possible for you to have true empathy. And because I get it, I have compassion for you. I feel much sadness for you. And of course, I can say genuinely that I forgive you. Like an infant, you did not know better.

Yet it is apparent to me that you have not changed much since the last time we saw each other. You are still suffering with your ego ailment, and your recent actions speak of your need to first and foremost make yourself feel better and ameliorate your own guilt. That, too, I get. For someone who was never taught how to manage emotions, you depend on others to instead care, understand, and comfort you. Which is what you did to me throughout our entire relationship–which is why you got mad at me when I asked for support… because in your mind, like the infant, you believed I should be the one caring for you, not the other way around.

Again, I hope you do not take these words as criticism. My tone is equivalent to, “It is what it is.” And you are who you are. I am not asking you to change… that is on you. I realize now it is entirely your choice to change. So I accept you as you are, and feel sympathy for the causes of your wounds.

But in saying all this, I hope that you understand why I have disengaged. It is painful and madness-making to subject anyone to the kind of treatment you put me through, to expect others to emotionally care for you while shaming them for wanting reciprocity. I realized too that everything I profusely apologized for at the end, were things I needed you to say to me (again, projective identification) to amend the ways you have treated me during our year together.

Of course I thank you for at the very least apologizing for your last rage fit. But I am no longer waiting for an apology for all of the others things you did. I see that it is too much to ask for from someone like you, someone who is in too much pain that he cannot see past himself. I am sorry for your pain. But the only way I see any kind of friendship occurring between us is through your expressed remorse. Through empathy. And if I accept that this is something you’re not able to do, then it is better for my mental health if I turn my head away.

As much as you wish otherwise, you cannot pay off the pain that was given to me. You cannot amend this with money. It was with words you did damage–so it is through words I need amends.

I wish you could’ve seen the ways I tried so hard, the ways I tried to love and understand you, but even in this, I forgive you. You could not see me. You are too burdened with your own despair. But I cannot carry your burdens and the emotional responsibility anymore. They’re not mine. So I give them all back to you. It is up to you what you do with them.

This is my sincere wish that God is with you along your journey. I hope you find healing to your pain.

Sincerely,

Anna

end of an era

478498136.jpg

I wish I had someone to tell my intense realizations to, so blogging about them seems to be the next best thing.

You know that feeling you get, when your at the precipice of radical change in your life? You’ve gotten tired of the same shit, the same narrative–like a drug addict, you hit rock bottom and it fully sinks in you’ve been seeking after something fake, tawdry and harmful. So you make the decision to end the chaos and change your direction.

That’s where I’m at. I’m at the close.

I was in a yearlong relationship with a boy suffering from narcissistic tendencies–a boy who gas-lighted and emotionally abused me. A boy who demanded that I take on his emotional burdens and compromise myself for him, while doggedly blaming and shaming me for asking for reciprocity in emotional support. It took me about 6 months to heal from all the damage he caused. At the end of this process, everything was coming full circle. Projective identification–he did not want to admit to his own weak ego, so in protecting it, he guilt-tripped and lashed out at me and put everything back on me. He took no responsibility. To add insult to injury, he expected me to not only carry all of my burdens, but his as well.

So that is why today was so empowering, so symbolic. I walked up to his house in contained silence, holding my breath as my feet crunched fallen leaves on his driveway. I prayed that he could not hear me from inside his house, that he was not alerted to my presence. When I was at his front door, I placed all of his things down–and I mean, all. Not just his material possessions… but also all the psychic, emotional burdens he constantly shoved onto me throughout our year together. All the things that were his and he never took responsibility for. All of his pain and baggage. All the things I took on because I did not know any better, because he expected me to. All the things he blamed me for because he was too weak to own, when in reality, it was his. All the chaos and bad fruit he reaped.

But I know better now. Six months of therapy, piles of self-help books, and two journals later, I am wiser. I am not who I used to be.

I took a deep breath, and in additional to his possessions, I dumped every piece of toxicity he tried to give me. My therapist’s voice was singing in my ears. None of this is mine. So I give it back to you. May God be with you.

Walking away, I felt a sense of cleansing, as if a waterfall was streaming down my soul. I felt released. He can no longer touch me.

For me, the era that is coming to an end is the era of putting up with ill-treatment from others, of settling, of taking on all the burdens of others at the expense of myself. I am completely weary of one-sided relationships. I want something different. Someone healthy. I have every right to my needs, to my thoughts and feelings. Everyone deserves a relationship where there is mutual emotional support. It is not my job to soothe everyone’s feelings or to take care of them, no matter how much they try to hold me to them. I no longer need to sacrifice myself for others, while they do very little for me. It is okay to consider myself and my needs. It is okay to express them.

To all my like-hearted readers, this is the huge step in healing from abuse–emotional, physical, or otherwise. Reject your abuser’s worldview. They may very well only be interested in protecting their weak ego, and meeting their own selfish needs. Leave them to their pit of darkness, and know that you can reject all the toxicity they tried to give to you. It is not for you to hold. It is theirs. Give yourself permission to be free.

Now I am free. And this is my mantra for my new chapter: whatever it takes. Whatever it takes to shift my narrative, my life toward one that is healthy and positive, I will do it. I will do the work. Because I deserve better than what I have been given. I will work and grow, until I have the life I desperately need. Whatever it takes.