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Stay.Right.Here.

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Life seems to be serving up the same lessons that I seem to either forget or think I will eventually master.  In this week’s servings there was nothing over the top out of the ordinary, but none-the-less the challenges of parenting and adulting and relationshiping drudged up old responses that I thought I had out grew.  Just like an old, familiar space my responses were filled with anxiety and worry and a nagging voice that I-am-just-not-doing-enough and that I-will-never-be-enough.

These are the ghosts of my past who somehow fill my present and urge me to problem solve a future that still has yet to become.  

And so I do the old patterns that I’ve learned do not serve me well and this is that I try to control for the circumstances in which I have no control.  Usually how this looks is I try to out do myself– be better– be perfect– be a perfect mom– present a competent, well-put-together adult self for co-workers, be the best listener to my friends, have the patience of a saint for my children, stave off exhaustion or weariness, appear brave, commit to being a giver and resist being a receiver…

I know this is usually a fruitless, soul draining endeavor for me.  I know that the more I live in my head to be perfect and to present perfection the less I live authentically.  Authentic for me is to be in the moment– open to whatever life offers so that I can learn and grow.  Authentic also means that I am where I am… I’m giving what I have… I’m receiving what I can hold and I’m listening in the here and now.

And I’ve learned in the four decades of my life that the efforts to control exhaust me and wear me thin yet, I found myself doing this by default– just easing into this old pattern without giving it a second thought.  In my 20’s and 30’s this likely would go on for a long time, but thanks-be to the development of skills like mindfulness and self-awareness I was able to eventually notice that this pattern had snuck back up.  I was able to evaluate myself and make some different decisions regarding the anxiety and stress I was bearing and the response I wanted to extend to myself.

When I got down to it I realized that the anxiety I was holding was about an uncertain future that I have very little to no control over.  I mean to get really honest with myself I had to realize that I cannot predict or control what is to come and that scares the shit out of me.

I mean…

I can pour every ounce of parenting energy and wisdom into my children, but what they do with that… how they actualize is not in my control.

I can love with every ounce of love my heart and body can muster and I can’t control the outcome and the return of love or of loss or of illness or of death.  (Loving my mother meant taking care of her body and her health toward the fruit of her returning to complete health– I could not control for how her illness was going to compromise her and ultimately take her)

I can make all the ‘smart’, future forward career investment decisions to ensure a future of bright opportunities and financial security, but I can’t guarantee that these opportunities will be extended toward me.

And this lesson presented to me what it always presents to me– that what I have is right now.  I have today.

A few years ago, I did some crazy stuff.  I left everything behind: a marriage, a career, a community, a belief system– on the notion that leaving the toxic aspects of my life would lead to more health and growth.  I had a certain kind of optimism or hope about that decision.

In terms of my mental and emotional health I can say that I’ve seen the fruits of that decision produce the capacity for me to think and to breathe and to live in peace.  It’s in part, why I can presently be more mindful, but in terms of what the future holds I have no certainties and I think that some days I’m still waiting and watching with bated breath– I’m peering into the future, anxieties rising, lungs full– wanting, longing to control the outcomes.  And then life (sometimes in gentle ways and sometimes in not so gentle ways) brings me right back to where I am and says stay.right.here.  Don’t get ahead of yourself.  You have today.  You have this moment.  Stay right here and listen– don’t lose this moment.  Don’t let it slip away.  Bask in it.  Let the sun shine on your face and breathe, because this is what you have and this is what you can be certain of– this- right- here.

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What I wish I would have told the church (where I pastored for 10 years) to help other women

The life that I had known for all of my existence came to a screeching halt in the same year.  It was the year that I resigned from my position as a pastor at a local church, while simultaneously ending my marriage of fifteen years.  I didn’t tell anyone about my marriage (with the exception of a few close friends and my family).  I feared that sharing the demise of my marriage would just lead to more pain and scrutiny so I focused on what I could– the good that came out of serving the church.  But more pointedly, I chose not to share about my marriage because it was in keeping with what I had been shown and told while growing up in the church and then even more so while I was a minister—to keep the broken to myself.  There is a model of ‘keeping secrets’ that the church has become effective in teaching through strategies of shaming and an over reliance on church leadership.

I wish I’d had the courage and the vehicle to have told people about my marriage.  If I could go back I would— if for no other reason than for the sake of other women who hold their own shame & secrets of domestic violence to themselves.

In the second year of serving the church, the lead pastor learned of the circumstances of my marriage.  He sat us down for a talk to confront us on the matter.  I was choked with fear and then with shame.  I remember feeling the need to not only preserve my marriage but also to preserve my job at the church and so I swallowed my shame and I promised that my marriage would not come before my role at the church.

After that conversation, the relationship with the lead pastor never was the same.  We (my family) were never regarded in the same manner.  The relationship between myself and the lead pastor became more and more distant over time.  I learned from these cues to not bother him with my worries or concerns and maintained this status quo.

Shame became such a familiar cloud.  I learned how to be available for others while also hiding my own pain and my own face.  I became incredibly adept at this skill.  My availability was completely sincere, but my insides were melting.

One night things got out of hand at home.  I remember so little of the circumstances other than the fear and shock.  What I do remember is that I grabbed my two and half year-old daughter and with no shoes ran out of our apartment to a friend’s apartment.  My friend took my daughter and I to a hotel for the night.  The next day we returned to her studio apartment and I took refuge in her bed for a week while she helped look after my child.  When Sunday rolled around I emotionally, mentally, & physically dusted myself off—returned home to the huge hole in the wall and showed up to my pastoral duties at church that morning.

 

No one ever knew about that week with the exception of that one friend.

 

The roller coasters of instability would continue throughout my marriage and I would do what I learned to do keep it to myself, show up for others and never complain.  I was wracked not only with incredible waves of shame, but isolation.

My story is not really all that special or unique.  It is an unfortunate thing to realize that between 25-33% of women (in the U.S.) are dealing with domestic abuse in all forms of physical aggression, financial deprivation, emotional battering and psychological warfare.  Think about it church and church leaders—that means that every 3rd or 4th female and every 10th male is dealing with some form of domestic violence while showing up to church every Sunday and maybe never telling a soul of the pain that they are in.

There are certain aspects of pain that the church is willing to do deal with that involve: biological illness and disease or a loss of a loved one through death, but the more sticky areas of pain having to do with mental illness or domestic abuse are overlooked—never to be spoken of.  In part, I believe it’s because the church doesn’t know how to respond.  They get so mired in the awkwardness and discomfort that it becomes easier to distant oneself from it then learn about appropriate ways to respond to not only the survivor, but the entire family system.  And so whether they mean to or not their distance communicates to the survivor and the entire family that something is fundamentally wrong with them and that they are not worthy of engagement.

For many survivors, who already have frail and shattered identities, they take that message to mean this is the best that they are gonna get—so they take it.  Community is incredibly important to survivors—a sense of being connected—even if it is not authentic is important and meaningful and gives even the smallest sliver of hope.

But you know what?  This-is-not-okay.  It is not okay for the church to slough off the awkwardness of domestic pain—maybe with the hope that someone else (a social worker, family member or government program) will intervene.  It’s not acceptable for the church not to learn culturally sensitive ways to interact, support and engage survivors who are experiencing DV.  It is not okay for the church to think that there is a ‘one size fits all’ approach that will be adequate for how it supports partnerships and families.

And so church leaders, you have some work cut out for you and one place you can start is by telling people that you believe them and that the circumstances do not change how you love them, embrace them or continue connection with them.

And then go get some training on domestic violence as well as a multi-cultural/inclusive approach to family systems.

New Beginnings is offering community-wide trainings and something they call courageous conversations: http://www.newbegin.org/courageous

The Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCDV) offers trainings and online courses: http://wscadv.org

Most importantly, Dear Survivor: you are not alone.  Your story, your experience… well it is real and valid and true.  You may question whether or not there is anyone that could understand or accept your experience.  You may even blame yourself.  You may be in a community or in a family where the norm is to keep secrets and you don’t think anyone would believe you if you came out and shared.  You may feel all kinds of love and confusion about the relationship and unsure of what the choices or options are.  You may be hearing all kinds of voices of judgement about why you stay or why you don’t leave or that it is immoral for you to end a marriage.  You may be feeling scared for your children and their futures.  You may be fearful about where you would live or how you could financially sustain.  You may be struggling with the belief that this is the norm in relationships.  You may be scared to your very core.  You are right there are no easy answers.  One blog entry and a few words are not going to be a balm for all you’re feeling and experiencing.  But I want you to know that I believe you.  I believe all of it and I know that there are others out there that do, too.  You are worth working through the hesitation to reach out.  Here are some safe places where you can do that:

New Beginnings: http://www.newbegin.org // 24-hour helpline 206.522.9472

DAWN: http://dawnrising.org // 24-hour helpline 425.656.7867

Lifewire: https://www.lifewire.org // 24-hour helpline 800.827.8840

 

 

 

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The complex connections between mothers and daughters

mom-haw-3-2Today is my mom’s 64th birthday.  She died this past January and the year has invited me into many reflections on our relationship.  While she was alive we spent quite a bit of time trying to get the other one to see the legitimacy of our existence.  Now that she’s not here and it’s quiet and there is no more proving and haranguing her to see I just have my reflections and they have taken an unexpected turn.  I imagine that it is the quiet I needed to be able to see things differently—to see things and to see her with more compassion and grace and pure longing without strings and expectations.

Psychologists and counselors always talk about attachment between mother and infant when looking at how adjusted an adult is in the world.  Let’s just say that my attachment to my mother was incredibly complicated.  I didn’t feel attached.  I felt on my own from as little as I can remember, but then I see these pictures of her and I and I wonder if my memory of my attachment to her is just fuzzy.  She was young, but she looked happy and we looked at peace when we were together.  However, my memories bring me to many occasions on my own.  My parents were unhappy and there was civil unrest in our home and I remember plotting and planning my escape if things should completely come undone.  I felt like a kite that was attached loosely to human hands and in the event that I should slip away or be let go I should have a strategy for how I should land.

On the days when the storms would roll in I would expect the house to come off its foundation, but it never did and my parents would stay together and we’d have some reprieve for a few days to a week until the grey took over…

When I got older and I was a tween to teenager the rumblings pulled me into the heart of the storm where I played some role of referee, peace maker or sponge for all the spill over between my parents.  My mom was loud and made her thoughts and feelings heard; my father would retreat in depression and silence and so it was easy for me to blame her—I didn’t see that both styles were forms of violence and manipulation.  I just saw her aggression because it so often came at me or my brother that I despised her and we had no attachment to protect us or harbor us for the storms.

When I wasn’t playing mediator for the tensions between my parents I was a parenting my younger brothers.  My parent’s preoccupation with their conflicts and poor self-esteem and mom’s illness required me to parent and this produced a weird mixture of resentment and fierce loyalty to my brothers.

At 13 and 14 and 15 and 16 and 17 I was really trying my best to do good and to secure love, but the combination I had in my hands seemed to fail me and my family and my mother resented my involvements and so it was in these times I wished Claire Huxtable was my mother.  Claire Huxtable was that perfect mixture of beauty, sense of humor and grace.  She was a rock for her family—working as a lawyer, yet always ready to engage her children and all the mischief they’d find themselves in.  She wasn’t vindictive or resentful… She loved being a mother and a wife and she did it all so seamlessly and I wanted her to be my mother. I loved the way that she talked—with wisdom and grandness and grit.  She was the one I wanted.  I loved how her smile would spread across her face at the end of a conflict with her children and how she would pull them close in for hugs and kisses.  She didn’t let her kids get away with shit and her love was never questioned.   I wanted all of that and I thought only Claire could provide it so I wanted her.

As a teenager I couldn’t really see my mom.  I could only see what I thought I needed.  It would take years of therapy and heart searching to realize that my mom, in all her toiling and struggling and pushing and pulling, she was trying to use the combination she’d been given, too.

Before she died we talked about these things.  I mean for years we talked about these dynamics—we acknowledged their existence and we managed to do so and come out alive.  Even still, I wondered if my mom loved me and if I there was the slightest chance I had made her proud.

The last several years of her life were difficult.  For obvious reasons, the mystery of her illness and the ways in which her body was slowing closing up shop one organ at a time made it incredibly difficult.  Relationally it was hard because we didn’t always agree on the course that should be taken, but we muddled through it together.  Her rock solid willfulness and unyielding stubbornness drove me completely mad.  We would come up with a plan of action and on her own she’d decide to do something different—like the time that she was told her heart and kidneys were failing and she decided that she was going to quit all medical interventions to try an herbal remedy and diet instead.  I had to learn to accept that she had the right to make her own, adult decisions—even though I kept thinking, “Why won’t you fight to stay here—for me and for your grandkids”?

Over time I realized that my mom was also looking for a mother’s love.  Her mom had left her when she was about 10 or 11 years old and my mom being the oldest daughter raised her younger siblings (all 6 of them).  In order to graduate high school, she would take her two- year old sister to class with her.  Her father left before she was born and she always questioned her lovability.  I started to wonder what it would be like to have a child at 22 after you’d already raised a family…  I wondered how that felt.  Raising two kids of my own, I imagined it was exhausting and disillusioning.  There was never time for my mom to be a kid and so by the time I came along I think my mom was ‘mothered’ out.  I could never fault her for that and despite the rough edges she did mother me.

My mom taught me things that I couldn’t learn from Claire Huxtable.  My mom taught me how to be yourself.  Whether you liked her or not…with my mom—she was who she was and she inhabited her skin unapologetically.  I didn’t always understand her background and pride in her Filipino/Hawaiian cultural upbringing, but despite all the ways people tried to twist her to be more adaptable to white culture… She never did.  She loved her kimchee, rice, soy sauce and green mangos and peas and pork and she did not care if you thought less of her for what she ate, did or said.

My mom did what felt natural to her.  She’d answer the door in hot pink sweat pants and her hair all wild and pinned in random places with bobby pins and I-would-be-mortified.  I didn’t know how important that would be for me to witness her in this way.  She didn’t get all ‘cuted’ up for anyone—she did what she wanted because it felt good to her.

My mom said what was on her mind.  She didn’t mince words and she was horrible at filtering.  When people would make a mistake at the grocery store I’d pray under my breath that my mom would not see it or overlook it, because if she didn’t then I knew the person would get to hear what my mom thought about that and I’d want to slink away and melt into a puddle.

My mom did what she wanted and didn’t let status quo norms say she couldn’t.  She had always wanted to dance hula, but wasn’t able to when she was a child.  When she was in her late 40’s-early 50’s she started taking hula classes.  Within a few years she was teaching classes… people commissioned her for all kinds of events.  She danced for parades, anniversary celebrations, birthday parties, carnivals, etc.  She was such a beautifully exquisite dancer.  She excelled in her dance group and people were in awe of her talent.  She-gave-two-shits-about what people said she could do or not do.

I always thought my mom had one volume: loud.  As a young woman struggling to be a ‘good’ woman I thought how impolite and brash of her, but now I know that my mom laughed not in her throat but from the bottom of her gut because when you have to laugh then for God’s sake let it rip.  She had an infectious laugh that reminded you why it is good to live.

Since she died I have been thinking about all these qualities of her and realizing that I couldn’t have survived these forty years without what she has taught me.  More importantly, I wouldn’t want to be taught any differently because for the bulk of my life I have tried to make people happy and what I realized is that when I was doing that I wasn’t living at all.  The challenges that life has presented me with has needed me to have the same kind of authentic, gritty, scrappy, You-can’t-have-me mentality that my mom taught me.  Her survival has become my own.

Today I realize that she was exactly the right mother for me.  Claire Huxtable is great, but not who I needed.  I needed what my mom taught me—I needed to observe her and learn from her.  I needed to grow and without the ingredients my mom gave me I don’t think it would have been as possible.  She was the right mom for me.

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Mother’s Day & Father’s Day Grief

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Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can be tough holidays for people.  It is tough for a variety of reasons: the death of a parent or the loss of a child… These losses make a day like Mother’s day incredibly difficult with complex emotions and reactions.  This mother’s day was particularly hard for me because my mom just died.  And it makes sense why Mother’s day would be hard for how it serves as a reminder of loss we’ve experienced.  Society hasn’t gotten a very good grasp on allowing space for grief, but loss because of death is something that is more widely understood and accepted.

With loss in mind, Mother’s & Father’s Days also can be hard for losses that take a different shape.

  • For some, this day is confusing because the relationship that one had with their mother or father or both does not fit the picture or the hallmark card that society has so conveniently packaged for us.
  • For some, it’s the memory of abuse and neglect that make the holiday hard.  Emotionally neglectful mother or a verbally abusive father… How does one celebrate when there is still so much trauma from the past?
  • For others, it’s emotionally and verbally abusive parents in the present.  People in these situations feel the obligation to send a card or flowers or go out to brunch, but don’t know how to reconcile that with their personal need to heal apart from the controlling or dismissive parent.
  • For others, Mother’s and Father’s day is fraught with anxiety and shame due to the rejection they’ve received from their parents because of their identity, life choices or personal decisions.  Folks talk about how they desire to honor their parents, but don’t know how given the demands their parents put on their lives to change to fit the parent’s ideals and values.  The relationship with the parent feels the farthest thing from loving.

The thing is we never talk about these realities.  We rarely get to acknowledge the fact that our relationships with our parents can be deeply confusing and painful.  Societally we don’t allow for an honest discourse around these family dynamics and on top of it we have this one day out of the year that we are sort of expected to pretend that everything is perfect.

I’ve heard people say, “It’s your duty to honor your parents.  The Bible says to honor your mother and father” in response to friends or siblings sharing about their painful relationships in the family.  Other responses include.

  • What happened to you happened so long ago… Why can’t you just let go of it?
  • You’ll regret not making the effort if something happens to your dad.
  • Ahhhh you know your mom didn’t mean it.

It’s so easy to dismiss these hurts and pile on obligation and shame on the individual hurting in these circumstances.  We don’t recognize the harm that is done in these comments.

How  one must navigate these hurts is complicated and varies AND the first step is to acknowledge that this hurt is real and to recognize that all loss goes through a process of grief.  Every grieving cycle is different, but the complex emotions that come in grief takes place with all kinds of losses.

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Call me Sam: Our Story of Gender Fluidity

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I am a gender non-conforming person.  Although, I am comfortable in my skin as a cis-gendered woman– my values, my work and my hopes reflect a non-gendered position, as I hope that all people can be who they are and live into their potential in full inclusivity and acceptance.  And alas, I know this is not the reality for many people in our society.

In terms of my work as a therapist and advocate this comes easy for me– it has been a completely different lesson where my personal life is concerned.  This is where my confession really begins.

About 7-8 months ago, my child who was born biologically female asked me to call her Sam.  This child of mine has always had a creative edge in constructing worlds and peering into realities that she was not necessarily born into.  So when my kid came asking for me to call her Sam– well, I guess on some level I thought Sam was another part of this profound imaginative world.

But then shortly thereafter, she asked me to call her he (*this is where I’ll begin using male pronouns in this post, as this reflects his identity).  He began expressing his desire to shop in the boy’s department.  He picked out a picture of the next haircut he wanted– a very short haircut that he found in a boy’s clothing catalogue.  He expressed the desire for his teacher and peers to call him Sam.  He made it a point of asking us to share with family members and close friends that he was a boy and wanted to be referred to as Sam and him.  The reality began to slowly sink in that: this went beyond a world of imagination and was a way of expressing how he sees himself.

I have truly witnessed him blossom right before my very eyes, but I didn’t want to always see it and I knew that it would require efforts and energies on my part to not succumb to the societal pressures, expectations and norms placed on him and on me as his parent.

The conversations with family and friends have been a mixture of responses.  I am grateful for those who shared struggles and yet, went on to learn more (picked up books and resources) and ultimately accepted Sam, because well they always loved Sam and loving him meant more to them than being comfortable and understanding all of his exploration.  Ultimately, they were willing to get uncomfortable and be challenged in their own notions of gender conformity.

Oh how I wish more responses were like those above.  The other conversations were one’s filled with anger, fear and confusion.  As a parent, the questions I’ve been met with range from, “is this happening because you’re allowing it to happen” to “why are you not creating stricter boundaries”? to “why are you not simply telling her– she can’t be a boy”?  Sometimes there were no questions just judgements and accusations that we as parents were leading him astray.  Scripture versus and religious rants were bashed over my head and claims were made that it would be better for me as a parent to be drown in an ocean than for my child to be led down this “dark path”.  These comments were on the (obviously) other end of the spectrum of responses, but my point is I’ve had a myriad of conversations that have been painful and have required me to think about how to keep my child safe.

As a parent, (although I believe it to be complete bullshit) it is to be expected.  I am the adult.  I can engage these conversations to an extent and create the boundaries for the conversations I wish to not be a part of, but when they are directed at my child– whelp that’s a whole other thang.

And the thing is those comments directed at me are indirect messages to him to, “Get this kid in line– we don’t know what to do with him.  He needs to be fixed”.  When there is nothing broken with his identity at all.

This year Sam returned to school completely out about his identity.  Friends, peers and teachers who had known him as ‘she’ sometimes didn’t know what to do with ‘him’.  He faced many questions from his peers about whether or not he was a ‘real boy’ or a ‘real girl’.  When Sam answered that he felt like he was both (a girl and a boy) kids laughed and said that wasn’t possible.  Honestly, although these conversations have been difficult for Sam and have hurt his feelings I understand why these kinds of questions exist.  The kids are trying to make sense of someone who doesn’t fit within the binary framework we’ve all been given at conception and birth.  No one tells us that it’s completely fine and natural for there to be variations, diversity and difference when it comes to gender– that for some gender is fluid and their identification of their gender is somewhere on a spectrum.

Our society gives us a structure for gender.  This binary gender structure gives us two choices, two boxes: boy or girl… this or that.  What is problematic about this binary construct is that it assigns characteristics, qualities and values to external representations of human beings.  In other words, if you have a penis then you are immediately assigned the qualities and characteristics that have been deemed to go with a penis.  If you have a penis then you are viewed as an individual who likes, values and expresses oneself with qualities and characteristics that are assigned to people with penis’.  We see this all the time.  Couples find out the sex of their baby and they immediately connect characteristics and values that go along with the sex of their child (i.e. boys= blue, girls= pink, boys= trucks, girls=dolls).  These qualities are assigned to you just based on the genitals you are born with.  This social gender structure doesn’t take into account the internal– it is purely constructed on the external and the internal is supposed to just follow suit.

But what if your internal experience varies or doesn’t match the external?  What if your personal qualities, values and characteristics do not match those that you are supposed to have because you have a penis or a vagina?  What if your personal values don’t fit the genitalia-specific assignment that you were given at birth?

This is just the tip of the iceberg, folks. The more I get involved in these conversations the more I see just how much more we love our boxes than actual people.  We love checking boxes and telling people, “you fit here and you belong there”.  We are committed to maintaining norms that make sense to us and allow us to place value on the existence of others.  We don’t even think twice about the boxes or the limitations the boxes present because these boxes afford us comfort and ease– a compass for how we are to navigate the world.

And then someone like Sam comes along and says, “the box is too tight– too restrictive– it’s not me”.  We respond with, “Oh shit, what do we do”?  Well typically we put pressure on the person to comply– conform.  We yell, “just be NORMAL”!!!!!  We may reject them… Displace them from family and community.  Sometimes we bully– we beat up and we even kill.

  • A staggering 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population with rates rising for those who lost a job due to bias (55%), were harassed/bullied in school (51%), had low household income, or were the victim of physical assault (61%) or sexual assault (64%). (National Center for Transgender Equality, 2011).

 

Sam feels this pressure daily.  He navigates this pressure daily.  He has an incredible read on people.  He knows who are safe harbors and who are uncomfortable, but trying to be polite and he veers clear of these people.  He feels the difference between acceptance and tolerance and he’s learned that tolerance seriously sucks.  He is learning to reject negativity and intolerance and he deflects with kindness and a sense of humor, but it still hurts.

This is just the tip of the iceberg– we’re just at the coming out phase with friends and family and it’s been hard.  We still have much more to consider: bathrooms, healthcare, community and safety (to name a few).

For now I want to say something on behalf of our family.  I hope other gender-non conforming families feel safe and will be able to share their experiences, too. For families and individuals out there needing support please feel free to contact me and reach out.  We have to find ways to support each other.

To non-believers and the rest of society:

  1.  It’s my child’s right to explore and figure out his gender identity.  You don’t have the right to tell my kid who he is and/or who he can be.  Any comments or confusion or fears you have regarding this– is your stuff– you get to deal with that on your own and not displace that on my kid.  If you are an ally there are books and resources to help you in your own personal process.  My kid has enough on his plate with just developing and growing and learning and he doesn’t need any additional pressure to conform to your comforts.
  2. It’s my right to parent, love, accept and support my kid.  You don’t get to shame me or pressure me to do things the way you would.  You see, I know my kid and I value him. I don’t have time to educate you and help you to see that gender diversity is healthy and natural. I don’t have time to answer questions about his/our process. This is not some freak show for you to gawk at and make judgements. This is our lives and my kid is someone of dignity and I won’t allow you to reduce him to anything less.
  3. We all have a lot to learn about gender.  Here are some helpful definitions:

Gender Identity: what you know and feel to be true about your gender (Meet Polkadot)

Biological sex is defined as the parts a person’s body has: chromosomes, hormones, and physical body parts. Both gender identity and biological sex are “normal and great” no matter what they are. Sometimes gender identity and biological sex do not match 100% and that is normal and okay (Meet Polkadot)

Cisgender: A person whose gender identity is aligned to what they were designated at birth, based on their physical sex; 2) A non-trans* person.

Designated Sex (Designated Sex at Birth): The sex one is labeled at birth, generally by a medical or birthing professional, based on a cursory examination of external and/or physical sex characteristics such as genitalia and cultural concepts of male and female sexed bodies. Sex designation is used to label one’s gender identity prior to self-identification.

Fluid: A gender identity where a person identifies as 1) neither or both female and male; 2) Experiences a range of femaleness and maleness, with a denoted movement or flow between genders; 3) Consistently experiences their gender identity outside of the gender binary.

Gender Expression: How one chooses to express one’s gender identity to others through behavior, clothing, hairstyle, voice, body characteristics, etc. Gender expression may change over time and from day to day, and may or may not conform to an individual’s gender identity.

Trans*: Umbrella term, originated from Transgender (see below). Used to denote the increasingly wide spectrum of identities within the gender variant spectrum. The asterisk is representative of the widest notation of possible trans* identities. Aimed at promoting unification among gender variant communities by placing focus on gender transgression over specific identity labels, genders, or bodies.

 

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Gender DiversityGender Diversity

Gender Definition & Terms 

Injustice At Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (2011)

Meet Polkadot by: Talcott Broadhead 

Trans Bodies, Trans Selves by Laura Erickson-Schroth 

 

 

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Supporting a Partner who has Experienced Trauma Part 2

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A few weeks ago I had an individual comment to the previous post entitled: Supporting a Partner who has Experienced Trauma.  This individual’s comments addressed an important issue that occurs when family members are not supportive to their partners because they: do not have a desire to do so or they are insensitive to the needs of loved ones traumatized or they do not see the unique needs of those traumatized to be legitimate or warranting attention.  Some may have difficulty facing the reality that there are folks like this that do exist– well they do and I think that deserves attention, especially as we as a larger community figure out ways of being supportive and compassionate to people who face challenges like these in their family of origin.

Let me start by saying that the first post on this subject was addressed to those partners and family members who do desire to support their loved ones, but either do not know where to start or who want effective/compassionate/appropriate communication strategies to communicate their support.  I have met countless families who are well-intentioned and desire healing and wholeness for their suffering family member but do not have the tools or resources.  That said, as a member of the therapeutic community I think I have a responsibility to educate and provide these resources to the broader community and develop compassion for those who may be failing in their efforts, but want to learn and want to grow in order to provide care to their loved one.  There are classes and resources available for families who face a cancer diagnosis to teach each member the process of treatment, what to expect, how to support the loved one who has cancer, what their loved one can eat, etc.  Why don’t we provide more of these educational & empowering experiences to families who are dealing with trauma and mental health? 

The second part to this series has to do with partners and families who do not see the necessity of their support toward the healing process in trauma.  These are folks who might ask questions like, “why is this still bothering you when that happened decades ago”.  Unsupportive and insensitive people may question the accuracy of memory, the survivor’s choices– they may even go as far as defending or justifying the perpetrator’s abuse.

What most people do not know is that trauma response has neurobiological consequences that impact the individual’s lives daily for a long time.  Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects a person’s sleep, work, relationships and health daily.  PTSD symptoms include: nightmares, flashbacks, depression, anxiety and memory issues.  Our human brains are wired to process threatening information and to develop a response quickly.  We all know this as the fight-flight-freeze response in the limbic system of the brain.  In this state, our brains’ role is to quickly respond– evolutionarily this is helpful if you’re being chased by a lion.  However, in prolonged states of abuse like sexual assault in childhood or domestic violence the threat is consistently there and the brain is conditioned to maintain in the fight-flight response position, which means the frontal cortex (where much of the linear thinking occurs) goes offline and cannot process information when the threat is no longer there.  For traumatized people the consequences of trauma in the brain can mean that the process never reaches completion.  The trauma narrative has a beginning, a middle, but there is no ending so the brain keeps processing the event as though it is still occurring.  In other words, people suffering with trauma reprocess the trauma event as though it is still occurring in the here-and-now– even if the danger or threat has passed weeks, months or years prior.  This is stressful and anxiety producing for the individual and it is no wonder why people feel depressed and isolated in the process.

What can be additionally traumatic and isolating are the responses that survivors receive from people.  We all know about this too… the victim blaming and shaming is outrageous and all over the media and in our culture.  The survivors who came forward to share their stories of victimization at the hands of Bill Cosby is one example of the silencing and shaming that goes on in society.  Unfortunately, we have seen this at every layer of society from the legal system to the family to the church community.  There are few spaces of safety for survivors.  As sad as it is to see this in the larger society, what brings me to tears is the lack of compassion, understanding and protection from survivor’s families.

There are countless stories of survivors turning to their partners or parents or pastors or friends to share their stories and who have been met with denial and rejection.

That said, this post is to & for the survivors.  

  1. You are brave and strong and courageous.  You are a survivor.  You are resilient and have endured the horror of trauma with dignity, integrity and grit.  We honor you.
  2. I mourn that you mourn the loss of many things including a partner or loved one to support you, to understand you, to listen.  I grieve that in your family you have felt voiceless and invisible.  Even in your grief, I see your courage to remain and to be true to yourself and your story.
  3. There are people that do understand.  I’ve found that although many survivors experience a loss of relationship with families they are born into they are able to build their own families and communities who may not be genetically related, but who get them, accept them and join them.  These families are deep and real… It’s a family by adoption, but it is so meaningful because of the freedom each one feels to choose each other.  Think of a friend or two that you trust, that you connect to and that will get your back in your darkest moments– these are your real people– your village.
  4. Join a support group.  Support groups are important for a number of reasons: 1) it establishes a space where you are not alone, 2) support group members and facilitators understand the challenges you have faced with the trauma and in your relationships, 3) these are confidential groups so you can share your experiences without fear of reprisal, 4) support groups can be a place to develop friendships and 5) you learn from others by listening to their process and folks learn from you by hearing yours– it’s communal, collaborative and respectful in this way.
  5. The symptoms and challenges you experience doesn’t have to be it forever.  There are empirically tested therapeutic interventions that can assist you in the symptoms you experience post-trauma.  These interventions can help you develop different responses to yourself in distress.  EMDR is an intervention that has been studied rigorously and has had positive outcomes for trauma symptoms.  Check out the link to learn more.  But a short version to EMDR is it facilitates a reconnection to the frontal cortex in the brain.  Post-trauma the memory can get stuck in the amygdala and continue to reprocess the trauma.  EMDR assists the brain in completing the process of information by bringing the frontal cortex back online.  Emotional regulation through mindfulness is a skill that can be effective.  I am happy to give some ideas of different therapies that are available and may be a good fit for specific situations.  All this to say, it is possible to learn new skills, gain insight into how you’re effected by trauma and make meaning in your life.

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Once and for all: Suicide is not selfish.

This week has been filled with many losses in our world.

One of the great losses is the passing of Robin Williams.

Everywhere I turn I hear people talking about his death and his life. There is much to be mourned and celebrated in reflecting on Robin William’s life. He has touched us all in powerful and brilliant ways through his artistry and humanity.

Although, I didn’t know him personally or ever have the privilege of meeting him in person I feel as though there were ways I knew him. He had that ability to let parts of his dignity and humanity out in every role that he offered us. His role as a therapist in Goodwill Hunting blew me away. His ability to connect inspired me to be the kind of therapist… that is in the suffering and pain with the client… reminding them that, “it is not your fault” as he simply and passionately put it about the abuse Will Hunting endured.

My heart feels a hole since the news of his passing.

My Facebook feed has blown up with many conversations about depression and suicide. People are sharing their own stories about themselves or about people they love. Given that 1 in 4 people suffer from depression every year it is no wonder– we are all touched and impacted by this illness. And we desperately need a way to talk about this to extend compassion to the pain, suffering and darkness.

Robin’s passing has provoked us to look at the ways that we are impacted by this illness.

As long as we are talking about this with kindness and love– sharing our stories and listening sensitively I think this is a wonderful thing.

But the conversations I can’t get behind are the ones that blame those who are suffering with depression and suicidal ideation. I’ve read many comments about the selfishness of suicide. I couldn’t disagree more.

To reduce suicide to selfishness is inaccurate and an oversimplification.

Depression is a disorder that leaves one in tremendous pain. The emotional pain that some suffer can be so severe that the only light to one’s suffering is the belief that one will need to leave this earth and one’s body. It is a painstaking decision one that ruminates in one’s mind for a very long time.

People considering suicide not only think about it’s impact on their suffering, but also the impact that it will have on those around them. It is not an easy decision, nor a selfish one. It is a decision that arises when absolutely no other solution can provide relief from the pain.

While growing up the notion that suicide was a selfish decision was something I heard on several occasions. This especially was taught in the church I grew up in with the added pressure that suicide would give you a first class ticket to hell.

Now I ask you: Who is selfish here?

How is it that we can reduce someone’s pain and suffering so easily by making such shortsighted comments and claims?

If you’re asking yourself about the selfishness of someone’s decision to take their life then I’d ask you:

How well did you know them?

Did you know the depths of their pain?

Did you hear their heartache?

Did you know the agonizing desire for relief that they were seeking?

These questions of selfishness are ones of convenience.  It is far more convenient to place these questions on the person who is suffering than to dig in and do the work of understanding that person’s pain.

The selfishness is a societal one, which so easily and thoughtlessly places this additional burden on the individual in pain.

All these questions evoke is shame and guilt to the person who is navigating a great deal of pain already.

If you have questions about someone’s despair– do the homework. Find resources to enlighten your mind. Listen– no, really listen. Do not be quick to give solutions or assign judgements… just listen and be present.

And for those who are suffering, you are remembered today. You are cherished. It is not your fault and it is not selfish to want relief from your pain.

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Maya, thank you

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I join the chorus in remembering and commemorating, our dear sister of soul, Maya Angelou.

A few years back I had the great fortune of hearing Maya read.  It was (I believe) to be her last reading tour– She was approximately 83 years old.  The experience was like no other.  It wasn’t really a reading it was a speaking, as words just seemed to fall from her mouth onto our expectant ears.  Here we were child-like perched at her feet– bright eyed and waiting with hopeful anticipation.  And boy did she deliver.

She made her way to the podium…

silence filled the room…

And then she spoke.

Her voice– like a bell rang so clear, so precise, so resonant– lodging into the fibers of our beings immediately.

Her voice– commanding.  It could have just been her and I there in that room for all I knew because her voice had the poise and ability to evoke that kind of intimacy.  And I felt loved.

She spoke that evening of the suffering and the tragedies, the longings and the hopes, the breaths bated and loves thwarted.

She spoke of broken childhood, the rising of a woman and the aching of her aging bones.

Her memory was clear and differentiated.  She held no ties to societies definitions of femininity or beauty.  She stood tall and on her own terms.  She gave the rest of the sense that we, too, could join in that resolution.

She welcomed us into the joys of conceiving and birthing our deepest dreams and yearnings.  She taught us that the sweat, pain and groans of birthing give way to authentic selves.  She called us to never lose hope and reminded us that self-preservation is a lie.

That evening she told us of the process of losing her sight– paying all dignity and honor to the gifts that her eyes gave her over the years and with grace releasing her eyes from the need to strain or maintain.

I know I was one of hundreds that night and yet, I felt like she knew me.  That is what Maya has been doing all these years teaching all of us that we are known, as she exposes her story and the rich tradition of giving voice to tragedy, fear, triumph and courage.

She’s led all of us on this feminine tradition of telling.  There is no need for secrets or hiding here… come as you are naked and open.  Maya along with many other female voices (Adrienne Rich, bell hooks, Eve Ensler, Gloria Steinem) have been modeling for us this woman tradition of rising up and taking our place and we will ache in her absence.

I was so lucky to participate in that evening.  I’ll never forget it nor her.

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UPDATED: ‘About’ Page…

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The ‘About’ page has been recently updated and will give you more information about what you will find on this blog.  This blog is meant to be a resource for the community, as well as a place to dialogue and share ideas!  Here is the new missional write up for what this blog is ‘About’.  I hope this can be a resource for you and please, please, please (not to sound desperate or anything ;)– I just think we’re all better for hearing from one another) share your ideas with the community.  We need your voice!

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What “Created for More” is all about:

Welcome to Created for More.  This is a blog about sustaining and maintaining healthy lives and relationships.  In this blog you will find tips, ideas, life lessons and advice on balancing your life.  

My name is DeAnza and I am a licensed therapist in Seattle.  I have devoted my life’s work to assisting people to living lives more authentically and compassionately.  I am passionate about helping people to thrive, grow and hope.  I acknowledge the fact that we live in a society that does not embrace all people.  There are many ‘isms’ that push people to the margins of society.  Yet, despite that stark reality– I think there is a way to live liberated, brave, courageous lives through self-acceptance, compassion and hope.

As much as therapy is about healing and acceptance in the individual, I believe therapy/psychology is also a vehicle for justice and advocacy.   Societal stigma tells us that to struggle or to be different is bad, unacceptable or wrong when in reality being human is challenging.  We all have challenges and that doesn’t make us bad or wrong it makes us human.

Psychology challenges stigma by giving accurate psychological health information to the public and advocating for those suffering with mental health.  Mental health is a part of our overall health.  Did you know our brains are just as susceptible to disease, dysfunction and malfunction as any other organ of our body– why wouldn’t we take care of it like we do other parts of our bodies?

We need to live without shame in that.

In this blog you will find different articles to healing, establishing healthy relationships with self and others, educational information on psychological issues and ailments, advocacy information and opportunities.

This is a blog about life– growing, learning, developing, creating and the things most important to us like: family, community and relationships.  Topics may vary and include the following: therapy, trauma, theology, feminism, health, sexuality, identity, LGBTQ, race, gender,  society/ culture, justice, compassion and more.

Join in the movement of living a life that is free, liberated– fully embracing all your potential.  You are Created for More then the status quo– what do you dream about, hope for, desire?  And know that you are important, needed and vital to this community!

Video

Closets suck.

http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Coming-Out-of-Your-Closet-Ash-B

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Ahem ahem… now wait a minute before you go on thinking that you couldn’t possibly have anything in common with Ash Beckham, a self professed lesbian feminist (who goes through phases of militant lesbian intensity, which includes quoting Ani DeFranco as gospel, not shaving armpits, etc. (her description not mine)). Take a few moments to pause and listen—you might just find that you have more in common with her than you thought.

The one important thing that Beckham does in this Ted Talk is draw us to our commonalities around ‘closets’. Closets has traditionally been a term used in the LGBQT community, but Beckham shows us that we all have closets. She defines closets as hard conversations—anything ranging from a terminal illness to moving out of state. From time to time we face closets and we have to make that scary, hard choice to come out of our closet and share our situation—“initiate a hard conversation”

There are some common experiences that we face in closets. Closets are typically isolating and lonely. There is a lot of strategic energy that goes into figuring out ‘who to come out to’ and ‘when’ and ‘how’. And ‘coming out of a closet’ is not usually a one- time event. It usually requires coming out again and again and again.

It’s important to acknowledge the commonalities in closeted human experiences.

This is a good message—an important message—a vital message.

We need this message.

We have much more in common with one another…

Yet, I am also aware of the fact that we hold a tension in talking about closets.

On one hand, there is a common or similar experience and on the other hand there is something very different for why some of us need a closet.

For all of us, our closets pose a difficult conversation ahead. For some of us, our closets are survival. (Survival can be defined in physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual domains).

A few weeks ago it was trangender remembrance day. I took time to reflect and mourn. In reflecting on transgendered people who died in 2013 I was struck with the stark and hard reality that to come out of a transgender closet there is incredible risk… for this list of people’s names revealed the graphic and violent accounts of transgender deaths—hundreds of brothers and sisters murdered simply for being who they are.

So in contrasting the meaning of closets: for all of us hard conversations versus for some, survival.

We must acknowledge that for most of us to come out of closets and have that hard conversation we may face some rejection, some lack of understanding or lack of compassion on the hearers part—it will more than likely be difficult and painful and hard.

While for some of us, coming out of our closets will mean we will be hated and despised and targeted with violent acts for being who we are.

We cannot deny that there is a difference here. Dare I say a privilege here?? For the term privilege has been on the cusp of being overused… but for lack of a better word right now… yes, this is a closet privilege and it’s important to recognize, because some brothers and sisters may face danger in coming out of their closets and that should lead us to deeper and deeper fountains of compassion within our hearts.

Coming out of our closets are never easy. We don’t need to get all judgy with people for taking their time in figuring out ways to come out of their closets: the time, the place and the people…

It’s so personal and so intimate a decision that none of us can place standards on other people for how this should be done.

Go on. Watch this talk.