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No, I’m not ready for Christmas.

And I’ve never meant that more.

Sure, there’s shopping left to do and gifts to wrap, but that’s not even the half of it.

I know that even when I put the last piece of tape on the final present (.. I don’t say bow because my craft skills are so limited they can’t even exist in the hypothetical), there’s going to be a part of me that still won’t feel ready for this.

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Life is fragile. Although it’s always technically true, it vibrates in my heart this year like a second heartbeat. This is an important Christmas; for my family and for my husband’s, and there’s so much I wish I could do, but even Santa can’t make my wishes come true.

I can’t make their illnesses go away. I can’t get my Mom back. I can’t stop her from disappearing from us. I can’t give my Dad (FIL) more time. I can’t be two places at once. I can’t stop the guilt. I can’t make it easier. I can’t stop the disappointment that I’m not watching my own kids open presents. I can’t stop the guilt I have about not making my Dad a Poppy. I can’t stop the sadness. I can’t stop time.

This is hard. This is going to be a hard Christmas.

I’m going to have to sit with this. Make peace with the chaos that will be there. Accept the pain that is inevitable. Accept that there’s no way to make this perfect, or even okay.

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Accept that it will be painful. There will be guilt. There will be sadness. There will be joy. There will be frustration. There will be mounds and mounds of love. And I’m committed to feeling all of it.

Taking it one breath at a time. I won’t just let it happen to me, I will intently live every moment of this Christmas with whoever I’m with at the time. I will feel whatever is there, without judgement (and when there is inevitable judgement I will try to let that be there and hold some compassion). This is my goal for Christmas. It’s a huge undertaking, but it is doable. Making the most of it, knowing it will never be enough, and just letting it be.

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I can be authentic. I can be compassionate. I can take make every opportunity to fiercely love everyone around me. I can be present and mindful. I can make space for the grief and sadness, as well as the joy and love. I can hold them. I can soak up every moment. I can laugh and cry with them. I can accept that pain and sadness and frustration and guilt will be a part of my Christmas. I can take advantage of every moment I have. I can make a conscious choice to be all in. I can live my values. I can give as much love as humanly (or dragon-ly) possible.

I can live the hell out of this Christmas, even though I still wish I was holding different cards.

I’m sure there’s a lesson here…

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I went walking in the woods today. The air was chilly and the ground crisp, as you would expect for December, but it was perfect because I needed to be there. Navigating around roots and mossy rocks I found some stability. The woods always have a way of grounding me, at least for the moment. I engage with the beauty, trying to stay mindful while thoughts still jumble around in my head. I hug the tree trunk in front of me and let tears fall down my cold cheeks. It holds me; supportive and strong.  As I grasp it like it’s my lifeline, I look up and see it’s empty branches.

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I think back to my hikes months ago when I couldn’t even see the sky through the thick ceiling of foliage. And then, the beautiful leaves that painted the sky and littered the ground with a beautiful myriad of color. And now, empty branches.

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I used to think of autumn like an ending, a colourful finale. The leaves displaying how beautiful death can be. Today I rethink this.

The tree is still alive.

The Moment Clichés Become Profound

Everything changes in a moment.

Your car crashes before you know what’s happening. You sit on the curb staring at the damage in disbelief of what you see. It’s shock. It’s pain. In a moment your reality is no longer yours. Thrust into this new world, all you can do is sit in a daze. It’s like a dream, a nightmare.

In waves of consciousness the twisted metal and smoke come into focus. Feeling the rain wash over you, your wounds start to throb. This is inescapable. This changes everything. As much as you want to run from this reality, there’s an overwhelming need to chase every ounce of life it has to offer. You run head first, with arms wide open, grasping life and love as fiercely as you can.

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We learn from the moments where it is undeniable how important this very moment is. When we are painfully aware that everything is temporary. It’s simultaneously crushing and life affirming. The clichés told us all along, “Make every moment count”, “Live for the moment”, “Live life to the fullest”, “There’s no time like the present”. We heard them, but we didn’t understand them. Not until that moment.

What seemed like such a simple message becomes profound in an instant.

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These moments teach us in ways only pain can, and it’s a lesson we must keep learning from. The lessons are beautiful and although they do cost us a lot, they are priceless. As tragic as it is to live these moments, they give us something for the rest of our lives. We must keep clear in our hearts and minds, as painful as it can be, we have to remember to live. Now.

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Life has thrown a few of these moments my way in the past couple years, and now I find myself on the side of the road again. They are piling up like cars in a junkyard, and it all feels too overwhelming at times. I feel angry and upset at my new realities, and I’m sick of having to find my footing again and again. I have moments where I don’t think I can even process the pain from the wounds these crashes leave behind. These feelings are there, but for the most part they are quiet. The emotion that screams loudest is stronger than the fear, it’s love. It’s like the heavier life seems to get, the simpler it becomes. Love and living are the only focuses and the other stuff is all bullshit that fades into the background. I feel an uncontainable urge to love everyone as fiercely as possible. To fully live every excruciating and beautiful moment life has to offer.

The pain from these lessons stay with us, in some way, forever. What’s important is that we keep the beauty with us too. The beauty that changes everything. The quiet clarity that instantly makes you understand what’s important and what’s not. The beauty that makes you understand what true living is, and gives you the drive to live it.

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In a moment.

The sayings you’ve heard your entire life suddenly have new meaning. Suddenly you understand those platitudes and they are the most beautiful, truest things you’ve ever heard. I wish there was a way to say them, or write them, or shout them that would genuinely convey their powerful message.

After thinking on this for some time now, I don’t think it’s a problem with finding the right words.

I think the difference is that, after the crash, you don’t hear them – you feel them.

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A Magic Trick for Everyone

If you’ve been a reader for a while you will know I have a personal taboo on “At least” comments. Some of you may have wondered, “If we don’t say that, what DO we say??”. It’s no question that we all have great intentions and genuinely want to respond in a loving, helpful way when someone shares something difficult. You may even be enticed to ask those in your tribe “How are you really?” to open up that door, but hold back because you aren’t completely comfortable with how best to respond when they actually tell you.

I know, despite good intentions, I didn’t get it right in the past. I would unknowingly invalidate their experience and emotions by downplaying what happened (“Maybe she didn’t mean it the way you took it”), by getting them to focus on the positive (admittedly using that dreadful “at least” word), or by giving advice (“You know what you should do..”). If you haven’t read Dr. Wilson’s post on “The Problem with Advice”  yet I urge you to do so now. And if you have read it, it’s always nice to refresh. In this post she explains how doing these things (minimizing, focusing on the positive, giving advice, etc) actually sends the message that they shouldn’t trust their strong and healthy self…which leads nowhere good.

So what should we do? Stare at them blankly until they walk away??

One of the simplest, most powerful gifts we can give is VALIDATION.

This is what validation sounds like….“That’s hard.”   “No wonder you feel overwhelmed, I would too!” “That must be devastating” “How annoying!” “Ugh I would be mad too! That’s so frustrating!!” “That really sucks.”

That’s it.

Validating someone’s emotion is powerful because it tells the person that they have every right to feel the way they do and it reinforces their connection to their strong and healthy self (“Oh my god I’m really not crazy for feeling this way, it’s a normal reaction to this situation”). We are also sending the message loud and clear that we hear them and we have their backs. They will feel seen, heard, and valued. Who knew we could do all that by saying “That is so much to deal with, no wonder you feel stressed!” – I swear it’s magic.

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When I learned about the importance of validation, my first reaction was shock at how simple it was. I doubted it’s power because it just seemed like I’d be pointing out the obvious. However; once I tried it, and noticed how it felt when someone did it to me, I was completely convinced of its magic.

By not understanding the role validation plays in these interactions, I can see how I missed out on being the kind of friend I wanted to be in many past experiences. In most cases when people would tell me something, I did think “Wow, that must be so hard“, I just had no idea it was important to SAY. If this is where you are, remember and repeat this quote as needed. 

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This stuff isn’t common sense. We can all do our part to strengthen our tribes by sharing the secret of this magical gift.

Validation is one of the keys to empathy. Watch this short video on the difference between sympathy and empathy to see how validation helps with healing.

I implore you to go validate each other. Validate those thoughts and emotions that crave acknowledgement and understanding. Validate anyone and everyone, whenever possible. Don’t believe that it can just “go without saying”. Say it. 

Spread the magic.

A Balancing Act

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I’ve never had good balance. A fact I’m often reminded of in dance class and on the rare occasion I wear heels.

The facts I know. Self care is important. Tribe and giving to others is important. It’s not just because I think they “should” be, I truly believe they are vital to the person I am and who I want to be. But can you have both at the same time? I believe it’s possible, but I haven’t figured out how to make it work.. yet. My pattern seems to go like this: I get super focused on one and ignore the other, until after awhile I notice how much I’ve been neglecting the other so I switch all my efforts into that one- and the cycle continues. It’s a draining process and it leaves me feeling like I’m never doing enough of anything. I’m a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other, somehow always skipping over the middle ground.

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I’m either all in taking care of myself or completely ignoring myself and giving to others. And not surprisingly, when I put myself on the back burner I end up burning out.  It’s this end of the spectrum I (as I’m sure the majority of you) have spent most of my life. Putting others first to the point of being self-sacrificing. Fueled by a desperate need to be viewed as anything but selfish, I chased this as if I was trying to make up for my shortcomings, for who I was. It’s the reason I spent my sweet sixteen in the emergency room pretending I had had unprotected sex to get Plan B for a girl I barely even knew. I was trying to prove to myself, even more so than to others, that I was worthy. Of course I didn’t know this at the time, and I certainly didn’t understand how ill-founded those efforts were.

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Seeing self-care as a healthy priority, a necessity, for my own well being as well as my ability to help others, is a new outlook for me. Truths that I completely buy into and reflect back as much as possible to others. It’s putting it into practice where things get a bit tricky. I guess it’s no surprise that prioritizing self-care is difficult given that most of us have spent so much time on the other end of the spectrum; believing and even being taught that anything we do for ourselves is “selfish” and not in line with being a “good person”. This old story is so familiar to me that it’s almost as if I start scripting off the words before even realizing I’ve picked up the book.  

It’s the ease of falling back into old habits that makes this extreme so sticky to get out of. I get myself into this belief that “Right now I’m helping X which means I can’t be doing something for myself”. I recently caught myself in this mindset on the busy Thanksgiving weekend. I had a thought that it would be really good for my well being if I took ten minutes to meditate, but then I dismissed it saying “I’m not doing self-care right now, right now I’m helping X”. Solidifying this “either-or” mentality I have when it comes to who I’m helping. I caught this message in my awareness, and thanks to my knowledge of how important self-care is, I was able to see the flaws in it. Not enough to make me take a break to meditate, but enough to flag this as something I certainly need to work on.bethere

I don’t regret the things I’ve done for others; in fact I’m interested in finding ways to do more, so figuring out a balance is especially important to me.

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On the other end of the spectrum, when I’m focusing on self-care I find it easy to get out of the mindset of helping others, contributing, etc. When I first started to understand how crucial taking care of myself was, it was where all my focus went. For a few months I was rocking self care; my only goal during that time was to take care of my needs – everything else came second. I don’t think there was anything wrong with doing this, in fact I’m sure it was exactly what I needed to do at the time. Because giving to others comes more naturally to us, and we find it easier to prioritize then our own care, I think it’s necessary to take some time focusing on ourselves and learning how to prioritize it. The issue now is learning how to take the next step without leaving it behind.

I am a firm believer that we need to care for ourselves in order to care for others, one of the pillars that the #MyMaskFirst challenge was built on. However, during our month-long challenge of self-care, we only had one focus. Self care. As the saying goes- “it’s pretty easy to be good at work life balance when there’s no work to do”; what we need to be able to do is keep rocking self care when it’s not our only focus. Being able to care for ourselves and help others at the same time. Hmm.. maybe a new challenge is in order?

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As I said before, I haven’t figured out a way to simultaneously prioritize both in my daily routine…yet. (If you are wondering why I keep ending my sentences like that, I encourage you to watch this Ted Talk on the power of yet!)

I know I will get better at this balancing act, even if I’m not sure how I’m going to do it. I’m strapping on the stilettos and taking it one wobbly step at a time.

 

How Beating My Inner Bully Makes Me a Better Friend

During my second year of high school I became friends with *Ashley. One of the first things she admitted to me was how she didn’t like me the year before; she thought I was a bitch and standoffish because I was quiet and shy. I remember being surprised and semi-insulted when she told me this because her perception of me was so opposite what I felt inside. I considered myself a friendly, caring, open-minded person and felt unfairly judged. When I reflect on this now it makes perfect sense.

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When we invest in the belief that we aren’t worthy we are forced to live and act as though we are worthless. It’s pretty hard to act like a friendly, caring, open-minded person if you have to act like nothing you think or do means anything to anyone. I’m beginning to understand the true impact low self-confidence, self-worth, and self-love have had (and continues to have) on my actions and the way I come across to others.

Someone really helps me out and it means a lot to me. I want to tell them how helpful they’ve been, compliment them, and thank them wholeheartedly. But do I? In the past the answer would have been a resounding no. I’d hear that voice inside say “Why would they care what you think? A compliment coming from you is probably worthless to them, it might even be seen as an insult” so I kept my mouth shut. Now I’ve become better at seeing this voice as a reflection of that old “I’m worthless” story and I try my best to ignore it, or drown it out with my commitment to authenticity.

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It has been intriguing to learn how much my self perception is affecting my “friendliness”; a few scenarios I have noticed thus far have been a hesitation to give hugs, compliments, express opinions, and extend invitations. I’ve even heard this voice pipe up when I go to “like” someone’s facebook status. Oh, and eye contact… can’t forget that one *insert fake laugh* !

When I fail to make eye contact with others I’m sure the conclusions that are being drawn about me are not in keeping with who I truly am, but a mere reflection of the constraints my Inner Bully has me under. ~Insight on my semi-social nature walk

I’ve been practicing eye contact when passing strangers on my walks lately. It’s quite a funny experiment. The rush of self doubt and judgement when I see someone approaching is enough to make me laugh- I mean, they are strangers! People I will probably never even see again! Is there any better way to truly understand that this it totally my own shit?! It has also been interesting to see people’s reactions with the understanding that that’s all them. I admit that I have had moments where I was offended and even judged people as unfriendly for their lack of response – much like Ashley did with me back in high school. Understanding myself better has helped me understand others as well.  What’s true for me is also true of them; how others react to my some-what forced greeting is truly a reflection of how they feel about themselves.

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Realizing these consequences of having the “not worthy” mentality has made me even more motivated to tackle that old story. Being authentic and a good tribe member is vitally important to me – I refuse to let myself stand in the way of that.

 

Passing the Test and Sitting with Feedback

My solo journey was a test; I wanted to see if I could take care of myself, and if by doing so I could gain confidence and prove that I could be the dragon all by myself out in the big scary world.

Quite frankly I would have been proud of myself if I had managed to drive and stay in the hotel in Portland for a couple days. What I did was far beyond that. I didn’t just survive on my own, I thrived. I put myself in a situation where I was constantly pushing my boundaries and challenging myself to go outside way outside my comfort zone. I was stronger and braver than I knew I could be. And I even enjoyed it.

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I did have moments of panic, self-doubt, and times where I was absolutely sure I made the wrong decision. Overall these moments were a mere blip in the whole experience, and overcoming them felt more like a victory then had they not occurred at all. I realize I cannot escape from myself, no matter how far I travel, but I can handle it and hold myself with compassion as I continue to live my values. Therefore, I will say I aced the test.

I feel like it’s given me confidence I can apply to other areas. That it has shown me what I can do and that knowledge will make it more difficult to stay small and hold back. I’ve seen first hand what I am capable of so it’s pretty difficult to deny. Even if I choose to stay in the cell, I’ll know that I am capable of running free -it will be a choice. I know the secret now… the door isn’t locked.

“This is a place of beauty. A place for me to find out who I am. I’m free to explore and be whoever I want. But am I not free anywhere? Isn’t it only my own limitations that stop everywhere from being here?” ~Insight at Earthdance

Which brings me to the feedback. Being at earthdance was an eye-opening experience. I may have been on a trip to prove to myself that I could take care of my needs, but what was interesting was how much I discovered what those needs are. It made me very aware of a whole new realm of needs that need to be addressed. On one hand the trip made me more confident as a caretaker, but on the other hand it actually made that job more difficult.

I’ve been unsettled and uncomfortable since I returned “back to reality”. Awareness is a double-edged sword. I’m happy for the insight and excited to strive to fill those needs, but the reality of living with unmet needs is frustrating. I got a taste and now the cravings are relentless, but I don’t know how to feed myself, and I’m starving.

“As I walked through the woods I could feel my perception change. I was concentrating on the trunks like i usually do, but then I noticed the branches. Once I focused on the branches they were all I could see, everywhere. Like a cat’s whiskers. They are always there yet somehow invisible. And then there’s a shift, a change in light, and you notice them. They aren’t just there, they’re overpowering. You can’t believe you couldn’t see them before. You wonder if there’s a time when they will fade out of your awareness again.” ~Insight at Earthdance

As uncomfortable as I am, I hope it continues until I can make a change. I don’t want to lose this ambition for more, even though it’s making my skin crawl. I don’t want to feel restless or caged- but even more so I don’t want those feelings to become so normal I don’t even notice them. So normal it feels fine. Everything is fine. Everything is not fine. I hear Dr. Wilson’s voice clear in my head as validation to sit in this discomfort; when it comes to your life “‘good enough’ is not good enough”.

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This journey gave me a lot of insight into who I am, what I need, and what I’m capable of. At the same time it showed me what I don’t have, what I’m yearning for, and that change is paramount.

It’s a gift I’d never return, like a surprise puppy dog under the Christmas tree.

“I feel like I’m a different person here. Maybe I’m not a different person. Maybe I’m me – with less limitations.” ~Insight at Earthdance

Utterly Transformative

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Wow.. where the fuck do I even begin. I feel like one of those debit machines that just keeps flashing “processing..processing..”. I’m sure I’ll have much more to say later, and it may be premature to write about this before I’ve had a chance to truly reflect, but I feel compelled to share some of my raw, unrefined thoughts so please bear with me.

I spent the last four days at earthdance exploring free movement, sounding, contact improv dance, and much more with a group of wonderful, free-spirited people. I did things I never expected I would do; that actually make me laugh when I recall in my head because it’s so absurd that I actually did these things –ME!?!

To give you a taste of what I’m talking about – I participated in improv sounding and movement (one example being jumping up and down yelling “ka-kaw” pretending to be a crow), performing improv monologues and dances IN FRONT OF PEOPLE, literally hanging out with trees (I’m an actual tree-hugger now), as well as contact improv dancing (which is basically rolling and flipping over people..and those “people” being strangers on the first night). So yah, I did that.

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I dove in. I took risks. It’s not that my insecurities vanished as I arrived at this place, although it is magical. I felt my insecurities and inner bullies bubbling up, especially in moments of intense vulnerability.  At times I felt them tying me down like I was on a leash, and although I can’t say I fully broke it, I pulled it so taut that I was able to meet the challenge anyway.

I made many choices this week. The choice to go, the choice to keep going, the choice to participate, and the choice to seek out even more opportunities to participate. As I sit in my hotel room, half-way home, I am feeling proud and extremely empowered.

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One choice in particular is sticking out to me about this weekend. In this one workshop we had just finished our monologue performances and I was shaking with the shock of being so vulnerable and witnessed. It was time for the next activity, which was picking a “status” from 1-10 and acting it out. At this point, I was naturally feeling very 1ish and I felt compelled to write down a 1. I paused, staring at the paper with the 1 on it. That 1 stared back at me as if it was reprimanding me with a “you know what you need to do” snort of derision. That’s when I added the zero.

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I decided that what I really needed right then was a boost of confidence, even if I didn’t feel it. So I made my 1 a 10 and took it overboard- I decided I would not just be a super high class woman, I was going to be a superhero. So I proceeded to fly around the room with a huge smile, yelling “I’m awesome” “I can save you!”. It was just a silly exercise, a mere moment in the realm of the whole weekend, but it feels monumental in the grand scheme of my transformation journey.

 

 

 

The Beginning..and Dodgeball Apparently

The beginning. I guess it’s too early to say it was the hardest part, but deciding to go and actually leaving felt like a huge hurdle. And not a hurdle that was cleared gracefully like the skilled hurdle jumpers do, but rather one I was trying to climb with one leg still planted on the ground that I ended up straddling until I fell in a heap on the other side.

Leaving was painful; the voice that is all too good at convincing me to stay home in bed continued in full force long after pulling out of my driveway. The whole drive through Nova Scotia felt easily erasable, I was playing the indecisive game until I reached the half way point of tonight’s destination. Once I reached the point where going back home would have been as much, if not more difficult then continuing onward, it felt easier. There was a relief in it, a finality to the decision to actually go through with this plan, for better or worse.

IMG_1292I made myself a rear view mirror hangy-thing (if there’s a term for this I have no idea what it is, and google wasn’t fast enough for how tired I am). I like having my dragon girl with me; she’s right there reminding me what I want to be – what I can be.

To stay would have been to stay small, and that can’t be me anymore. Even though it’s familiar and still so ingrained that it’s formed a weave with my identity, I know it’s time to let that go.

While driving I had a flashback to playing dodgeball in grade school. There were a few boys in the class who threw the balls with such ferocity they would leave bruises, and had enough force behind them they’d knock over classmates who ran by. I was scared of getting hurt. I was afraid of them. In order to secure my safety I made a deal with these boys; whenever I caught a ball I’d hand it over to them, and in return they wouldn’t hit me.

Red Ball --- Image by © Lawrence Manning/Corbis

I sacrificed any chance of winning. My only goal was to keep the dodgeball bullies happy so I could be safe. I literally gave away my power. Driven by fear, I made myself small to survive gym class – I never won, I never really even played, I simply existed until the bell rang.

This pattern didn’t end with gym class. I’ve been perpetually making myself small, giving away my power to outer and inner bullies, so I can exist.

But what’s the point in just existing? Sure, I felt safe in my small role – at least at times, and the method of keeping others happy did seem to work. But what did it do to me? Putting on mouse suit over mouse suit for so long, it’s no wonder that after a certain amount of time I didn’t remember there’s a dragon under there.

I’m done. I no longer want to simply exist while waiting anxiously for the bell to ring. I can’t frantically scurry around chasing an elusive form of safety. I can’t give away my power.

It’s time I pick up the ball and throw it myself. I might get hurt but at least I’ll be playing, and who knows, maybe I’ll take out a few of those motherfucking bullies while I’m at it!

I’m off into the great unknown tomorrow, my only plan is to end up somewhere between here and my final destination in Massachusetts, everything else is up in the air.

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More inspiration on the dashboard. The pic on the right is the dragon and the little girl, and the yellow thing is my hook card 🙂

 

To Go or Not To Go

..that is the question that has been plaguing my psyche for weeks now.

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A few months back I discovered a three day dance/creativity workshop retreat. It takes place at the end of this month, a 12 hour drive away from here in another country. When I discovered the retreat my heart leapt out of my chest with excitement. I was intrigued and energized about the possibility of going. The idea of driving there alone, finding places to stay, experiencing the workshops and people put this huge dumb smile on my face. It felt right.

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The closer it gets the more that sense of “right” is turning into uncertainty, excitement into fear, and intrigue into wishing my passport would magically expire overnight.

I felt empowered about the idea of travelling solo and proving that I can take care of myself; showing myself that I am stronger, braver, and more capable than I think. The hope was that this trip would make me more connected with the dragon, but now I’m worried it’s going to do the exact opposite.

When I think about the trip, I honestly cannot even picture doing it. Maybe that’s perfectly fine, but for some reason it scares me. Maybe it means I’m not ready. Then again, maybe the only way you really get those clear pictures of yourself is by doing the things you are trying to imagine. I certainly have no issues imagining myself panicking 😉

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I haven’t felt particularly strong lately, certainly not as strong as I wanted to feel before taking this trip. I want this to be a good, healthy, empowering experience, and I’m worried that if I go and end up feeling like shit that it will only perpetuate the belief that I can’t do this. I’ll never be able to travel again. I’ll never be okay alone. I’ll never be able to take care of myself.

Is this just fear that I should push through or a sign that I’m truly not ready that shouldn’t be ignored?

Not To Go. What does that accomplish? As much as I can wish that I never found out about this retreat or had the idiotic idea to sign up for it, the reality is that it is already in my mind (and now you all know about it) so at this point it would really feel like I’m backing out of it. And doesn’t that also prove and perpetuate the belief that I can’t be alone/travel/all those things I’m worried might happen if I go and fail? Doesn’t backing out just mean I fail before I even try?

..or is it protecting me from a bigger fall?

This incessant game of mental pong is driving me mad. I don’t know what the right answer is, but it seems my only option at this point is to go.

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To Go.

Take the leap and see what happens.