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The Love Project

Learning how to love myself. One huge mistake at a time.

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Adventures in Vulnerability

Traveler looks at landscape

 

A funny thing happens to me when I start to write about my life.

 

I stop. Promptly.

 

As soon as I start to find the courage to expose my belly, something swoops in and slaps on some familiar armor. I strap it on and shut down the sharing. Real quick.

 

I was on a hike this morning with some girlfriends, talking about this thing that happens to me. Trying to make sense of my need to share and my habit of shutting down as soon as I start to open up. “That’s what you need to write about then,” says my friend. And at the risk of sounding whiney or pitiful, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

 

Renowned shame expert Brene Brown was on NPR this week talking about her new book, which explores the topic of vulnerability. I’ve heard her TED talk and listened to a few of her audiobooks and have become a huge fan. Pop psychology has become so focused on thinking a certain way to change your life (I’ve read all of those books, too), and it seems to me that she’s bypassed all of that and gone right to the core of why so many of us struggle to make real changes in our lives.

 

At our most basic level, we are all afraid we’re not ok. And no one wants to admit it. Because admitting it touches that fear and makes it feel true.

 

But the real work in transformation is not in changing the way we think about ourselves, repeating mantras or creating alternate beliefs, but in going deeper into those fears and opening up to it.

 

Opening all the way up.

 

I am afraid I’m not ok. That I’m not the best parent I could be. That I’m not the best friend or lover that I should be. That I’m not pretty enough, smart enough, fill-in-the-blank enough to be worthy of love. Admitting these things makes me weak in the knees. And not in a good way.

 

But according to Brown, that’s what we’re all feeling.

 

She also claims that the greatest measure of strength is one’s willingness to be vulnerable. That it’s the only true path to living a wholehearted life. What’s remarkable about this is that it’s probably the opposite of what we believe. If I tell someone I’m afraid, I will seem weak. If I confess my feelings of inadequacy, it will confirm that I’m not good enough. But she’s telling a different story. She’s saying we need to acknowledge this rawness. See it, feel it, taste it – and let others see it, as well.

 

My favorite quote from the interview with Brown is this:

 

“Vulnerability is the true measure of courage.”

 

Even as I write this, my armpits are sweating, and I’m just hoping I’m not the only one who feels this way. Because I think the point is that by pushing through the discomfort, we shed the stories of doubt we’ve been telling ourselves. That inner strength is maybe something we don’t acquire, but reveal. So right now, I’m choosing to believe that pit sweat equals courage.

 

I am in awe of people who live from their vulnerability, and I’m so grateful when I witness it. Admittedly, I don’t know anyone who does it all the time. But when I see it in a friend, a writer, a family member, my child – it brings me to my knees. In a good way.

 

I’m choosing to see the path of vulnerability as an adventure, a thick jungle through which there is no clear path. I have no idea what’s on the other side of it, but I believe the only way out is through.

 

And maybe I could have a little fun with it along the way.

Stuck in the Middle with Me

I have an enviable life. I live at the beach and have no real financial concerns. I don’t even have to work to pay my bills. I can watch the sunset over the ocean every night from my patio. I have a gorgeous boyfriend who loves me, and sweet kid who is happy and healthy and a car that always starts when I turn the key.

 

And yet… I am miserable.

 

The worst part about having no real problems is that you are forced to confront the real issue, which is the deeper, tender, rawest parts of you. The parts that refuse to be happy, refuse to feel the love that is all around you, refuse to see the glory in the sun setting over the Pacific.

 

I have had this enviable life for a few years now, since my husband and I separated. He very generously supports me financially and in general makes my life as easy as possible. I am lucky in ways that almost no one is lucky, and still I struggle to feel the peace and comfort and joy that should come along with that. With no actual dramas, there is no story to absorb all the uncomfortable feelings I have, which makes them harder to feel.

 

When I can step to the side of my discomfort for a bit, it’s interesting to notice how much of a habit unhappiness is. I don’t have a job, but I still feel light and free on Fridays and Saturdays and watch a tide of heaviness roll in on Sunday evenings in anticipation of a long work week that does not exist for me. Every Monday morning I feel anxious, a well-worn groove in my mind from many years ago when I did have a job. An emotional ebb and flow generated by some part of my brain that stores memories and doesn’t perceive reality.

 

The cool thing about this perspective is that it’s easy to see how our feelings aren’t necessarily a by-product of some real thing that’s happening, but energies that simply have patterns and a life of their own. And just like emotion, inertia has a momentum as well. With no real demands on my time, I don’t have an automatic sense of purpose. The spaciousness of a life without some obligation can very easily create more of the same. The emptiness, for me, has given birth to laziness and apathy – some days depression is straight-up knocking at my door.

 

These are some of the things that occur to me when people tell me how lucky I am to live where I live without having to work. Lucky maybe because I get a perspective into myself that others don’t have, but it can feel painful and lonely. Lucky also, perhaps, because I have the choice to do some deep work that I might not otherwise do.

Dog Days of Single Parenting

I wake up most days promising to be a better parent. To try harder to enjoy the moments that “go too fast.” To slow down to a child’s pace. And like it. To not notice the cancerous piles of laundry and sticky substances that glisten on every surface of my home. To just be.

There’s nothing harder. Most days I fail. Most days I am screaming inside my head while watching her play or tripping over her toys or fielding her requests to watch her do this thing that’s so incredible that I have to WATCH RIGHT NOW, MOMMY. Most days I want to be anywhere but frozen in time with my child. And on every one of those days I hate myself when I finally put my head on the pillow and run the reel of the day back through my mind and think of all the ways I could’ve slowed down a little, appreciated her a little, been a little less bitchy and anxious for her go to sleep. Or grow up. And I promise myself I’ll do better when I wake up tomorrow.

Summertime brings a unique opportunity to renew feelings of being a child. The warm breezes, smells of burning charcoal, and sounds of squealing children delighting in just being alive remind me of those perfect moments you can only feel when you’re a kid. Waterlogged and red-eyed from too many pool hours. Sunburned and starving after playing on the beach all day. Full on hot dogs and sugary drinks. Afternoon naps in front of box fans on full blast. A time when being suspended in life felt good.

And so yesterday I lathered up my munchkin and myself in sunscreen, threw a few towels in a bag, and headed down to the place where the ocean meets the river nearby. I decided to let go and have some fun. God damn it. And, by some small miracle, I did.

Throwing rocks, it turns out, is amazing.

And then this happened. It was so ridiculous and so cute that I forgot for just a moment how boring parenting can be. And I saw my daughter as someone with a sense of humor and a playful spirit. And I felt like a kid, too. (And also, what’s cuter than chihuahuas swimming in place? Besides, maybe, my sweet girl holding one.)

Our kids can be our greatest teachers, can’t they?

That night I went to bed feeling like the victor of a tiny but monumental battle. I had been in the moment with my daughter – and myself – if just for a moment.

P.S. This is my new favorite writer and blogger. She’s not new to the world, but she’s new to me. Bless her messed up life and her open heart and gorgeous writing. This post made me feel like I was perfect in my skin. Do yourself a favor and read it now: Don’t Carpe Diem.

XXOO

Abz

Why you should embrace the mess

My tiny kitchen was overflowing with snacks and ingredients for the week. Coronas and wine bottles clanged around the fridge as things were constantly moved to make more room. Bags of coffee and corn chips lined the back splash. The counter tops seem to be giving birth to little clusters of cookie crumbs. My beach house, which usually contains only myself and my daughter, housed four extra women for the week. The vibe of a kid-free vacation (for them anyway) bounced and buzzed around this place like a pack of happy little bees.

The place stayed a wreck, to be sure. Wet towels hung all over the place. Trash cans filled up quickly. Sunglasses and keys and smart phones dotted every surface. There is a natural tendency to want to create order where there is none. And there was simply no order to be had in a house of grown women eating, showering and peeing generally on the same schedules. But I sank into it willingly. I am someone who craves structure (eh, hem…control freak), but I experience a new world of joy when I truly let go and enjoy a moment. There is never a way or a reason to organize a moment. It’s just happening as it should. Always, always.

My girlfriends and I laughed and cried and ate and drank all week. We layed on the beach, we told stories around the fire, we complained about things out of our control, we expressed love and gratitude for each other’s friendship. And just like they blew in here with grocery bags and blow up mattresses, they packed it all up and left. It was quiet. I forced myself to clean up and do some laundry and return emails to shift my energy back to the regular old life I lead. It’s like any moment we experience, extended or brief, beautiful or excruciating. It will always pass. And we are left with whatever we gave that moment.

As a kid we used to visit my uncle’s family in New Jersey. A big Italian family, lots of eating and drinking (and eating and drinking). One night we sat down to a big family dinner of spaghetti and homemade meatballs. I carefully lifted a massive, marinara-soaked meatball out of the bowl with a spoon and promptly dropped it on the antique lace tablecloth. I watched it splatter and spew sauce like a body hitting pavement, and I froze in that moment and begged time to undo itself. My uncle’s father, an old man with strained voice like Brando in The Godfather, turned to me. I was sure I’d be sleeping with the fish that night. But he said: “If you didn’t drop any food on the tablecloth, you’d never know anyone ate here.”

I have never, ever, ever forgotten that. It comes back to me when my child colors on the cover of a favorite book of mine or lovingly puts stickers all over a piece of furniture. I’m reminded of it when my sweet boyfriend pulls beers from his beach bag and puts them in my fridge along with half the sand on the southern Cali coast. And I remembered it again this week as I wandered through the spaces that were left when my friends went away. I picked up wet towels, I wiped down surfaces, I cleaned five different colors of hair out of my shower drain.

I was blessed to know, to really know, that these were all signs of people I love having been here.

What your cooking says about you

I have friends visiting from out of town this week. A tribe of beautiful, colorful, genuine women. The conversations are lively and meaningful. We wrap our voices around sex, parenting, friendship, divorce, art, heartache, happiness. Things we all know to varying degrees.

I’ve been excitedly going through my dusty recipe box, pulling out things I’ve wanted to try. I had ripped out a recipe from a magazine awhile ago for a broccoli and cauliflower bake that sounded yummy. It called for avocado oil, ginger and red pepper flakes. Savory, bright, spicy. I offered to make it last night as my contribution to the group dinner. Simple recipe with powerful flavors.

When it came out of the oven, I popped a piece of broccoli in my mouth. It tasted like broccoli and cauliflower and nothing else. No ginger. No red pepper. No avocado oil. Everyone ate and nodded in my direction. It was good enough.

I woke up before everyone else this morning and attacked the pile of dishes from last night. When I was scrubbing the casserole dish that I had used to bake the veggies, I made a mental note to write a blog post about how my cooking reflects how I approach a lot of things in my life, including my writing. I don’t take chances because I’m terrified of offending. I hold a little back when I’m in a position to give of myself. I procrastinate blogging until I have the perfect idea and have the perfect amount of time to write it out perfectly. Which never happens. So instead of making yet another note about something I will eventually say, I decided to just sit down and bang this damn thing out (and on my phone, no less).

It might be a little overdone. It might not be exactly the flavor you were looking for. That’s ok. You don’t have to keep eating. I’m tired of not surprising myself. Caution and under-spiced broccoli is boring.

I’m going to start flavoring my life. Right now. Damn it.

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