We Are The Broken Strong

She dropped onto the bed, closed her eyes and pulled her knees to her chest. The day had just been too much to bear. She didn’t want this pain. She didn’t know how to handle this hurt. She whispered quietly to herself, “Pull yourself together.” She wanted to be strong, to be okay, but she was not. She was falling apart. 

When was the last time you felt this way? After a break up? After not getting that promotion? After fighting with your partner…again? After watching the nightly news? After 1,000 “tiny” things that add up to one really awful day? When was the last time you fell apart? It happens to each of us. We all find ourselves in dark places, shattered by disaster, fear or sorrow. Broken by the pain in our lives or the pain we see in the world. And we feel helpless, hopeless and weak. But what if I told you that here, in the depths of your great pain, you are stronger than you have ever been?  

It was in one of these shattered moments that I tore through the internet for distraction and relief and discovered the Hindu goddess, Akhilandeshvari. Let me be clear,  I am not well-versed (or even versed) in Hindu theology or mythology. But there is something magnetic about this girl.  Her name translates to “She who is never not broken.” Her superpower? She lives in a state of brokenness, refusing to be confined by the limitations of becoming a finite whole. She intentionally stays broken in order to continually recreate herself only to break apart and rebuild again. The cracks in her exterior are the places where the light seeps through, guiding us to her true nature, her most authentic self. A beautiful reminder that no matter how broken the exterior, our true selves are always there, steadfast and steady despite the rapid currents of life.

Akhilandeshvari rides the currents of the river atop a crocodile. Her croc representing our reptilian brain and alluding to the primal fears that drive so many of our destructive thoughts and actions. Fear that we aren’t smart enough, skinny enough, successful enough, just plain not enough. Fears that many of us ignore or actively evade. However, instead of running from this fear, Akhilanda hops on and takes it for a ride. She stays in the flow, using her fears to move her forward, breaking apart and coming together as it serves the moment, each moment, as it comes. 

This goddess reminds me of the incredible power I have in my brokenness. It is in these times when I feel most alone, most vulnerable, most empty and most afraid that I can find the deepest growth and allow beautiful transition. The places broken by the chaos of my mind and my life give me access to the light of my essence and allow me to touch the tenderness of my true self. The fears that drove me into the depths can be explored and I can use them, ride them to the next moment. As I dive into this moment, and choose how to arrange the pieces of myself, I make those choices from a place of great strength and deep knowing. And I will break open again, over and over,  but it’s okay because the world needs me to break wide open so that I can come back every time, stronger. For it is in this way that I am broken strong. That we are all The Broken Strong. 

 

Pausing for Sanity

It’s last Monday morning and I’m completely enthralled in the battle of Monday morning. Getting myself dressed, getting the kids ready for school, feeding, watering and walking the dogs - - typical morning. When I come back from walking the dogs, I’m greeted by the sound of my 4-year-old in full blown tantrum mode, tears streaming down her face, screaming at the top of her lungs, “I’m STARVING!!!!” My two older girls are busy making themselves breakfast, packing their lunches and VERY BUSY averting their eyes. Many of you are thinking, “Well that sounds about right, 4-year-olds cry and, wow!! your kids are making their own breakfast and fixing their own lunches, that’s incredible!” But, you see, I am one of those people blessed with the curse of feeling things very deeply and sometimes irrationally. “Incredible” was not what I saw. 

What I saw was a morning in ruins that could easily have been avoided if one of the big kids had taken a moment to pour some cereal. What I saw was me, taking care of two dogs that the kids had begged for, while they did nothing to help out. What I saw was a crazed version of myself, mad as hell over what was going on. So, like any good mother would do, I took a deep breath, calmly assessed the situation, realized it was not a tragedy and moved gracefully through the rest of my day. Just kidding … I lost it. I went on a rant about how much I do around the house and how little anyone else seems to care. I told my big kids that I felt taken advantage of, that they should have been more helpful and they could have kept the morning from falling apart. I told my four year old that she was being completely irrational and needed to calm down - - oh, the irony. I sent them off to school with those words ringing in their ears. It felt horrible. Really, really horrible. 

My first reaction was to feel self-righteous and cling to my frustrations about the situation. I let that spiral into a story of how spoiled and ungrateful I’ve allowed my kids to become and how little responsibility they feel for the people and things around them. I called my husband in a fit of frustration and demanded a plan. Can we make an incentive chart to encourage the kids to be nicer to each other? Should we have a family meeting and tell them (again) what it means to contribute to the household? Do we need to sign up for a class on how to raise productive members of society?

After that anger settled, and guilt settled in, I turned on myself. How could I have been so cruel? How could I not see that they are just kids and, of course they are absorbed in their own worlds, and the 4-year-old is not their responsibility. Even more, this was just one moment in time. What about all the Saturday afternoons Caitlin spends playing with Emmie or all the times Taylor jumps up from dinner and pours milk for her sister when I’ve forgotten? And how could I allow them to go to school feeling like they were bad sisters, bad daughters, for not doing what I expected they should do? I fell fast into a spiral of self-loathing and knew I had to do something to make it all right again. I went to Barnes and Noble and bought four (yep, FOUR) books that surely held the secrets to self and sisterly love. I meditated furiously in an effort uncover the answer. I forced a nap and went to bed early so I would be rested and better able to manage my reactions. I desperately tried to regain control over my feelings. And while my actions were well intentioned, I knew deep down they were coming from a place of reactivity. I should know by now, that never really works. So of course when I woke up the next day, I still wasn't there. I got up determined to try harder, to be better. But when I sat down to meditate, I literally couldn’t. My mind would not settle and my heart? Forget it … hard as a rock. I sat on my yoga mat and put my head on the ground, defeated.

This is the place where I used to get really stuck. In this space of being so frustrated by what is going on around me and so angry with myself for feeling that frustration, I wouldjust give up. This place where I had tried everything I knew to try and still could not make it all ok. I would get stuck and I would stay stuck. But now, what used to send me to bed for a week, what used to send me send me to the fridge for a bottle of wine, now this stuff encourages me to pause. I slowly realized that my books, my desperate attempts to meditate and my well-planned resting, was making everything worse instead of better; that all this doing was just a reflection of my need to control my environment, a need that had landed me in this mess to begin with. So, head on the ground, feeling defeated, I remembered that I have learned to pause.

I did next what I might have done in the first place - - I allowed myself to feel it all. I allowed myself to feel really angry with the kids. I allowed myself to feel frustrated that mornings are rushed and kinda suck in general. I allowed myself to feel angry and disappointed in me for not handling life with more grace and ease. And I sat with that. I felt it, raw and ugly, and I allowed it to start moving through me. What came next were still actions, but they were actions that came from a place of surrender rather than from a place of reactivity. When I stopped and really listened, there was a still small voice telling me that I needed to get outside and move. So I took a long walk, I listened to a podcast and I sat by the water and meditated (much, much less furiously.) I spent some time recognizing that what was underneath my need to control exactly what was happening that morning before school, was fear. It was fear that I wasn't going to get everyone ready for school on time. It was fear that I would always feel like there is too much to do and not enough time to do it. It was fear that my girls were growing up to be selfish jungle beasts and this was just one more piece of evidence that I am a horrible, awful, very bad mother. It was fear. 

And the interesting thing about fear is that once you name it, it starts to lose it's power. As I named this fear and sat with it, I started to soften. So all of those things? None of them were true. I was probably going to get everybody ready for school, and if I didn’t, who cares? I don’t always feel like there’s too much to do and not enough time (ok, I’m still working on that one.) Most importantly though, my girls are not raging, snarling jungle beasts, they are kids. Pretty awesome kids. Kids who need space to be kids. 

What I remembered this week is that sometimes you've got to step back and stop trying to think your way out of it. The plotting with my husband, the self-help book binge, the well planned rest and meditation … none of that worked. What worked was pausing. Giving some space to all the things I needed to feel and allowing those things to move through me in their own time and in their own way. What is always left in that space is deeper understanding and greater compassion. This will happen again and again and again and again. And next time, maybe I'll do better, maybe I won't. But every time I step back and allow the lessons to come to me, rather than chasing after them, I am back to myself so much faster than I used to be. And If I keep showing up and I keep allowing these things to connect me to my understanding and my compassion, the moments of clarity and peace will continue to outweigh the frustration and depression. 

So the next time your everyday feels so very overwhelming, when your boss yells at you for a job done or the barista messes up your coffee or your kids think dinner time is “let’s do all we can to make mom crazy” time, I encourage you to pause. Listen to the still, small voice inside you. That voice knows exactly how to move you through the frustration. And remember that it is the not-doing, so much more often than the doing, that will move you into a place of understanding and compassion.

Mother's Day Do-Over

Almost exactly a year ago today, I woke up, pulled the covers over my head to block out the sun and mumbled to my husband, "I can't move." He quietly reminded me that I needed to be at school for a Mother's Day Breakfast. The kids had been making cards and gifts for weeks. They wanted me there. But I couldn't get up. I was too hung-over from the night before. 

The rest of that day was filled with thick shame. It wasn't the first time I had made choices that landed me in a sea of headache, nausea and deep regret, but it was the first time that my drinking rendered me incapable of showing up for my kids. It was the first time I became deeply aware that my drinking was hurting my kids. It would take me another 7 months to build up enough strength to find the help I needed to quit. 

Today, I woke up with a clear head and a very grateful heart. Over four months of sobriety with me, I went to my kids' school for Mother's Day breakfast. I pushed down the regrets that still surface about that horrible day last year and I embraced this new me. I allowed tears to roll down my cheeks as I listened to the chorus sing, "True Colors." The lyrics cutting straight to my heart..."The darkness inside you can make you feel so small...Don't be afraid to let your true colors show." And after that song leveled me, I went to my kids' classrooms and breathed in all of the things they had spent weeks making for me. I took all of their kind words and their beautiful art and wrapped it around me like a second chance blanket. Because I have to believe that I deserve this second chance. That we all deserve another chance in the places where we've really messed up. Even more than that, I know that my true colors are showing and they love me for that. 

I've struggled with if, when, how to "come out" about being sober. Up to now, it's been a quiet conversation with family and a few friends. Society tells us so many stories about people who struggle with addictions and most of those stories are not ones I would choose to star in. But I believe that the stories can change and the only way I know to spark that change is to be brave enough to start a new conversation. It is time to shine a light into the dark spaces of depression, anxiety and addiction. The three are inextricably linked for so many...they are for me. In order to create meaningful connections with people who struggle with depression and anxiety, I have to be honest and clear about how those things show up in my life. So today I choose to let my true colors show. 

 

Triple Dog Dare

I read somewhere recently that “the work you do on yourself is the work you do on the world.” I love this for so many reasons. It reminds me that the world needs me at my best. It reminds me that it’s not only ok to take time to do yoga, meditate or get a massage, it’s absolutely necessary. It reminds me that it’s good to spend an afternoon reading. It reminds me that not every moment should be filled with cooking, cleaning, nagging and pleading so that life stays “just so.” It reminds me that if I want to show up in a meaningful way for the people I love, I need to show up as my best self and being my best self takes some hard work. 

 

We get so wrapped up in the minutia of all that we do…parenting, working, cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring… that we forget the toll everyday life takes on our emotional selves. We find ourselves miles away from our best…sad, anxious, stressed, depressed, wondering sometimes if this is all there is to life. There is more, so much more. And the journey to more, begins within. 

 

So I dare you, I double dog dare you to stop and do some work on yourself. Tune in, dive deep and listen to what you need for YOU. Grab your old camera and take beautiful pictures, pick up an old notebook and fill it with your important thoughts - then share them out loud! Take a class in hand lettering. Go dance in the sprinklers. Take a bath in the middle of the day. Whatever fills you up. Whatever feeds your soul. This is the important work. This is how you show up as your best self for your family, your friends, and the world. And we all need your best self.