Coexist: a radical acceptance of self
17 months ago my parents separated after 35+ years together. The moment this happened I think I expected that everything would change, however, in fact, most things stay exactly the same for a while. I can’t quite figure out which road would have been easier to manage or comprehend, but then again, all I really can do is accept that this was our road, our story, and try to find the lesson amongst the heartache.
So, I turn today back to the most consistent companion I have ever known, even when I ignore it, stifle it, quit it, fall in love with it again or run as far as I can from it. No matter where I find myself, writing fills in my gaps and allows me to understand my heart's discontentment a bit more honestly.
A bomb went off in my parents lives on a Friday afternoon, and thus, in my sister and I’s by association and 1 degree of proximity. But then, on Monday morning, they went back to work at our family business, together.
I find myself, even still, swirling inside with these many questions: what do you do when your whole family dynamic is changed? How do you choose between creating your own path with boundaries and self-care when all you know how to do is codependency and “fixing?” Where can I begin when the veil has been lifted off to reveal the deep, dwelling cracks in the surface, that now, as an adult, you must finally accept might have been there the whole time, but you just kept turning away whenever they would reveal themselves?
The last year and a half has been quite possibly the most difficult time of my life, while also being the most transformative year of firsts: in love and career too. My anxious soul was never able to let those two coexist, it is still a struggle, especially lately, to find joy amidst my intense sadness.
This time has taught me that when life brings my family change, pain, loss, or tragedy we have a tendency to lean out from our souls' need for time, space and grief, and instead, we run towards work and productivity and anything transient that can occupy our hurting hearts and helpless hands. We wake up for another day of what we tell ourselves are “healthy distractions” all the while suppressing our body telling us daily that it yearns for a break, a pause, a reset, anything else but this.
So, first things first. Therapy. How did I ever live my life before now without therapy? I don’t know if I have ever been more grateful to a person or an outlet of expression in my life. Last year I began seeing a therapist for the first time as an adult and I didn’t really click with him at first, however I stayed and told myself “just stick it out” “maybe it will get better” “Maybe he will eventually give you what you are looking for from this!” I would end a session and be completely stumped for hours after. It took me having a breakdown during Christmas when my partner and I were in quarantine together, with covid, for me to express how unhappy I was with this therapist and my partner saying, “Then get a new therapist. Why are you still going to him? There are a million therapists, you have to find what works best for you babe.” I heard that and it hit me like a tidal wave. My conditioning to “give everyone a chance” was leading the charge. My people pleasing muscle was leading the charge. My “seeing things through to the end” and “not giving up” rhetoric was leading the charge. My fear of “not being good at therapy” was leading the charge, I know…even as I write that I have to laugh at myself too, it's okay you can laugh. I think about all of these thought patterns and it just drips with toxic positivity. It has taken me a VERY long time to learn and identify the difference between when something is good for me and when I am doing something because somewhere along the way I adopted the belief that “that is just what you do.” But you see, “that is just what you do” is a broken operating system that is rooted in living life for others first, for validation first, waiting for outside forces to tell you you are doing the “right thing,” but maybe there is no “right thing” at all. I was “doing therapy” so I could say I was “doing therapy.” So I could check the box on my to-do-list-escape-plan out of my grief and sadness and anger. It took my partner asking me one million dollar question for me to finally stop believing the lie I had been telling myself and reckon with the simple truth that therapy should be just for me, and only me. I was so worried about telling someone that I left my therapist because I wasn’t happy with him that I stayed with him, because the fear of appearing ungrateful, or unhappy, or picky, or judged was scarier inside me than trusting that I deserved better. Now don’t get me wrong, he was a wonderful human, his style just did not serve what I currently need out of therapy. I was more worried about my relationship with him, and even more worried about what people would think than I was about this transaction and service that I was paying for.
Now I am with a therapist where I spoke out my desires and needs and wants from day one about what I am looking to gain from our time together. It is not perfect and I never expect it will be, but from day one I was true to myself. That's the difference. True to where I am today, not an old ideal of who I was that I need to let go of. To move on from. My story is my past, but my truth is my present, I must stop defining myself by my past, but instead choose the growth within my now.
This time has been the intersection of vastly different traumas and triggers within my soul. The first is the endless narrative inside my mind that I am unworthy of being loved by another and thus I can often be my own self-saboteur. The second is the fear of losing the people I love the most, so in small moments of misunderstanding my body often chooses fight between fight or flight, every time, as a mode of self-preservation. The last is codependency, a trait I am a pro at, but one that I only recently have been able to identify, name and begin to navigate when this is or is not healthy.
Unworthy of love. Every day I carry pain, unanswered questions and immense confusion surrounding intimacy and what a healthy relationship with sex looks like. When I was very little I was sexually abused and until my current partner and continuous unpacking with my current therapist too, I never realized how much that experience shaped the person I am today, while also shaping the people my parents and sister are as well. When pain enters a family we as humans always try to do our best, even when we might not really know what that is, and that is just what my parents did during this time. With the limited tools surrounding emotional intelligence and open/honest communication that they were raised to know, they did their best to help me and really, us, navigate those difficult years. I’m coming to learn now that I must forgive our circumstances from those years, and even more so the years after when we pushed away the pain to survive. I don’t wish to keep bringing my pain into my day-to-day, I yearn to be more present, but I now see that it starts with a radical acceptance of my scars.
Fear of loss. Every day I also carry with me the fear of losing those that I love the most. There was a particular year and a half in my family's life, when I was a senior in undergrad, when we experienced an enormous amount of sudden and -many of them- tragic losses in our immediate family. This experience is what I wrote my upcoming book about. Also, the first time I really experienced death in my life was when my Grandfather passed away during the time of my sexual abuse when I was little that I alluded to above. Finally, It wasn’t until years later, during this year and a half of loss, when I began running toward relationship after relationship and fling after fling as a means to numb my soul's discontentment. I was so in fear of someone new dying around me, while still navigating who I was as a queer individual out in the world that I latched onto any man who would show me an inkling of attention and did all I could to make them mine. A task-driven-pursuit to distract my need to heal, my need to grieve.
Codependency. This one might be the hardest for me, simply because it is a double-edged sword. I deeply believe that a large part of my family's reliance on codependency comes as a direct result of our past trauma. Just like anything else. In our case, this shared familial grief -unexpected, confronting and relentlessly constant- brought us closer out of circumstance, but also out of our very real need to latch upon someone that “gets it.” When we are in grief we don’t think straight. When we are in grief we don’t have objective perspective and nuanced points of view. We are angry, we are breaking, we are sad, we are lost, we are overwhelmed, we are confused, we are hopeful one minute and devastated the next. Grief is unpredictable and in truth, it never leaves you. So, now I am here in a new season of life. I have moved into an apartment with my partner and we have begun blending our two very different worlds into not only a shared physical space together, but also blending two preexisting lives filled with trials and joys and shames and ghosts. Parallels and stark differences. These are the journeys that make us the humans we are today. These are the news that will soon be the familiars that will eventually grow into the remember whens and someday left behind as the legacies. But what I am learning most is how hard it is to navigate so much newness and so much effervescent joy in the middle of this vast intersection of my worthiness, fear and crippling codependency.
I have come to learn that the space I am in at the moment is called depression. A feeling and a state I have always been so hell-bent on avoiding that it’s taken me a year of denial to wrestle with the acceptance that this is where I am at and facing it is much more crucial to my healing than continually running away from it.
I am sad. I am angry. I am grieving. I am lost. I am uninspired. I am broke. I am frustrated. I am anxious. I am hollow. I am overwhelmed. I am all the things.
But what I can now say is that I am also worthy to be loved. I am also not defined by my abuse. I am also in love with my life, in the very same breath as accepting and grappling with my sadness. They are not mutually exclusive. They must coexist.
I am not going to be afraid anymore to say that I am sad and I am not going to feel guilt when I choose joy too. They must coexist.
I am not going to apologize for asking my partner, or my friends or my family for help and I am going to try with all of my might to accept if there are moments when those I love most don’t have it in them to give it to me the “way I want it.” They must coexist.
These last 17 months I have broken a LOT of my own rules, shit. I can give others objective advice for days, nothing brings me more joy than to show up for those I love. But what I am in the midst of figuring out today is how do I start finding joy in taking care of myself? How do I start embracing the path I am on and living each day to learn more about who I am rather than trying to find every avenue of escape to get out of my body and “do.” I am so tired of “doing,” I miss being. I remember being. Some days being feels like a distant memory I’ll never get back to, and others, it simply feels like a tiny speed bump to work through in a moment.
Doing is a survival tool implemented when your grief and sadness and heartache are too daunting to even imagine confronting. So, work and stuff and stress and plans and fixing and every possible thing outside of your being take the reins. It’s addictive as hell, because it tricks you into believing you are doing the work, when in reality I find, time and time again, that my charade of distractions is actually for others. It was never for me.
Because being with me has scared me for so long. It still does.
Being means I have to decide if I like who I am.
Being means I must get honest about what I want.
Being means I might have to grieve the loss of so much wasted time from my past where I was living inside of my shame, and an acceptance now that so much of the old me was perhaps a lie I told myself in order to survive.
I don’t want to keep doing and surviving.
I want to choose being and living.
But above all else, I do know that being and living are not a destination, they are a messy and winding road. So, all four must coexist.
Will there be days where doing and surviving might take over a bit more? Of course. But I now see that the work is inside of finding NEW responses when my triggers show up to the party. I don’t have to stay where I’ve been, I am allowed to grow, I deserve to grow.
I deserve to coexist with every edge of being.
I want to take a second and first off, thank YOU for spending this time with me, reading my blog, and sitting with these ideas. I encourage you to not let this connection today stop here. Send this to someone who you think needs to hear this today, or might connect to it in some way, shape, or form. My mission is to offer others space to find light and hope inside the hardest times while also celebrating the joys inside the best of times!
PLEASE connect with me! I want to hear from you!
Be well. Be kind. Be brave.
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