Most of my life has involved caretaking other living things. In one way, I have considered it beside the point to share my story. In another way, I also knew that was a safe place for me. My story felt too scary to share, too fraught with wounds that were under the surface, and thus disputable. I had spent years of my life having my truth disputed and I didn’t want to invite more pain. I also knew that I carried myself well in public, considering what was happening for me on the inside, and I thought that sharing my story would undermine me in my professional and congenial community. I thought I had to be perfect in order to be respected. I now know that it is all the time I have spent in the imperfection that has really allowed me to evolve into such a good professional, community member, and friend. Because of all the time I have spent in the dark, in the pain, in the deep valley of life, I am not afraid of my own mess, or my clients' mess. I know, from a deep place that can not be moved, that you are not too far gone, too broken, damaged or lost. It is because of all the time I have spent in that space that I am so good at helping others find their way.
My story has a lot to do with my parents, which is challenging to write about publicly, because parenthood is the toughest job there is. My parents, and all parents, are doing the best they can. It makes no sense that a parent would consciously choose to do wrong by their child. These choices are driven by the unconscious and come from unhealed places inside of them. So I write about my parents because they matter to my story, not to fault them. And because I believe not separating fault from responsibility is part of what landed us in this mess. Fault breeds shame. Shame breeds innumerable awful things. We need to separate responsibility from fault. We often marry them, but they are almost never the same. We need to learn to offer a place where people can take responsibility without taking blame. Rarely do people really “know better”. If they did, they would do better. Parents, children, and all people, can take responsibility without taking blame. When we separate the two, we can leave shame at the door, and instead invite in a place for healing, connection, repair, humanity, and love.
My parents did not know how to be parents to me, and I couldn’t safely attach to either one of them. One was overbearing, intense, controlling and aggressive, and the other was hands off, self-sacrificing, and simultaneously both enmeshed with me as a peer, and emotionally distant. Neither of them could really see me. I scared them both, for very different reasons. In each their own specific ways, they needed me to be a certain way to ease their own pain, fear and discomfort. Not much of my childhood was ever really about me, though that’s very much what it seemed like from the outside. What it was about was my behavior. One parent wanted to control my behavior and the other wanted to avoid dealing with it. No one wanted to actually understand it. No one really ever stopped to look at me, to really see me, to consider what could possibly be so disturbing to me, that I would act so disturbed. Since no one ever really saw me, I never really had my own self reflected back at me. Because of this, I didn’t know how to find it. I didn’t know how to find me.
I always felt like I was an observer of the world, but not really a part of it. Psychically, I was on the sidelines of everything. Because I never attached to my parents, or any of my family, I didn’t really know how to attach to anything. This basal skill that most people learn just through being born was foreign to me. I never learned how to do it, nor that it was safe to do so. I didn’t know how to mesh with the world. I felt alien. As far as I could ascertain, I didn’t have an identity. I didn’t have a center. It was a black hole. For me, this was a slow unveiling, fraught with internal gaslighting. Still, the layers slowly peeling back allowed for bigger understandings over time. For instance, in my mid-20s, I went home with a friend for Thanksgiving. By that point in my life I had a psychology degree and years logged in the field. I understood a fair bit about my own work. I don’t know what it was about that time in my life, or that particular family - but my heart broke during that visit. I had no idea that families could operate like that one. And it wasn’t that they were perfect. It was that they were imperfect, and everyone was OK with that. I saw other adult children acting like I would have acted, and their adult parents responding in a healthy, loving, way even my imagination never had access to. Internally, my whole world dissolved. It would take me seven years to really put it back together.
I don’t even know how, but I learned to posture from a very young age - I fought tooth and nail for my own. But this wasn’t about food, shelter, or clothing. It’s about the intangible understanding that you are real, you exist, you matter. On the surface, in my home, everything looked kosher. We didn’t want for much materially. Underneath, in the emotional spaces, it got dark, quick. This is a challenging thing to explain, and to talk about. As a culture, we still think about trauma as if it has to show up, immediately, in big, neon letters. - TRAUMA! To count, it needs to knock you off your feet. You need to be able to prove it. It’s hard to talk about the trauma which is death by a thousand cuts. Where someone slowly but surely dismisses, denies, and cuts down your personhood, identity and humanity. Or even death by avoidance, or ignorance, where someone is too afraid of themselves to learn how to really see, connect to, and support another human. I was a troubled child, teen, and adult because of this slow death over time, and this led me to cause a lot of my own harm throughout my own life. I was constantly flopping back and forth between over-inflating and under-inflating my value as a human being. Neither of those places breed care.
However, it is also due to this intangible death that I have gravitated toward communities of social and spiritual liberation. It is for this reason I understand that societally, people of color, women, queer folk, trans folk, working-class communities, disabled communities (and more) experience this slow death en masse. Without these experiences of my own, I can't say that I would be devoted so deeply to the work of collective liberation. And it is through the study, the language and the experiences of liberation that I have really come to understand love. And it is love that makes this, and everything else possible.
From here, at 40, I consider myself someone who got exceptionally lucky. I also know I pushed limits habitually, because I felt so uncomfortable, and that it worked out in my favor. I know it didn't have to turn out like this, and I am ineffably grateful. One thing going it alone taught me was how to properly calculate risk. But the black hole was always there, limits or not, and it got much louder every time something fell apart. There were times I really felt like I would rather die than live a life that made no actual sense to me. I was confused all the time. I was wholeheartedly trying to do it “right”, but nothing seemed to work. Every time something blew up in my face, I would have the courage to go farther into my dedication of desperation. If I were in the time of Moses, I would have been heading to the top of a mountain in a lightning storm, jumping up and down yelling “SMITE ME ALREADY. What is with this sh*t?!?!” And, looking back, more often than not those chaotic desperate moments got me where I needed to go. What I understand now is that those moments don't need to be so chaotic or messy. We can move forward out of love.
As I waded through decades being sick of not understanding this thing called life, I eventually learned about experimental healing happening with psychedelics. As someone who never had a recreational relationships with drugs, psychedelics were a big leap for me. I did a lot of research, and asked a lot of questions (too many questions!) of anyone I could get in touch with who had experience with medicines. During that time, I was able to get my hands on a random pill of Ecstasy from a friend, whom I trusted, and who promised it was safe. Fast forward to one of my more desperate times, I split the pill in half, and, choked with fear, planned my first experience. Because of my past traumas, I was not trusting of other people in my space while I was out of my own mind. My only option (that I could see at the time) was staying the course and figuring it out as it came at me, like I felt I had been doing my whole life. This worked out incredibly well for me - on my second journey, in another bout of desperation and about four moths after the first, I had a major enlightenment experience. After that day, I knew nothing was going to be the same as it was before. And, it wasn’t. I still had a long way to go, but I had been catapulted a long way ahead of where I had been. It was not easy, but I finally, FINALLY understood the thing I had been missing all those years, and most days that gave me enough fuel to keep going.
(I want to make sure to say here, as a disclaimer, that I had under my belt years of mental health trainings, doula work, years of mindfulness and meditation, yoga and other grounding practices – and I needed to use all of those skills. Though I do recommend solo work for most people using medicine at some point, I do not recommend solo medicine work as a good starting place for everyone.)
That was years ago now, and from that point, I learned more and more about what it means to be stable, steady, and secure in a world that desperately does not want us to be. I learned more and more because I was building the courage to test my own stories at deeper and deeper levels. Each time I tried to test the reality of any particular narrative, it turned out to be distorted, like a funhouse mirror. Once I understood that, I could start to see more and more patterns of that same distortion everywhere. When I began bringing those insights into my professional field, things really started to change with my clients.
What I have now, it wasn't given to me. I had to fight for it. Hard. This commitment to myself, and to the world is one I have to make every day. But it’s a lot easier now, and it should not be hard-won, ever, for anyone. You are valid, and your journey is valid. You matter. I can't carry you across the dangerous terrain of coming to trust your own inner compass - and I wouldn't want to - you need to know how strong you really are, that is the whole point. But I can promise you we will get to the other side. I can’t go back forty years and make it better for me. I have found my way, and I know how to help you find yours. Right now, I can make it better for you, and for anyone you reach. This is how we make it better for everyone.