Category Archives: Courage

Part 2: Plump with love.

Note: Thank you so much for the warm + generous response to Part One: Journeying towards Self-Love. I thought it would be more of a linear story to tell, but the story is emerging in just the way it wants to. Here is Part two… Enjoy! and as always, your responses mean the world to me! If you haven’t read Part One, best to read that first.

This is the image that was shown to me in Bali: My future self. Bigger than I am now. Plump. Eyes closed. Smiling like a happy buddha. My co-leader at the retreat Juna led us through a visualization, and in it we were to ask this future self a question- What do I need to know to get to where you are now?

As I looked at her, she seemed so hearty to me.
Resilient.
Wise.
Loving.
I wanted to crawl into her lap- the safest possible place to land. She was plump with love.

“Ground in love each day,” she said. “Ground in love before you pick up your kids. Ground in love before you talk to your clients. Ground in love before you walk out the door and into the world.”

I didn’t know exactly what she meant. I could feel the truth of it, but I wasn’t sure about it’s practical application. How was I supposed to do that? But I was drenched in tears by the end of the visualization and didn’t care. I was just so moved by the possibility that I could be this person – grounded, hearty, resilient, wise. Plump with love.

When I got back home after the trip, I decided to continue meditating each day like I’d been doing in Bali. I had been using Insight Timer (the best!!) and loved their guided meditations. This time I decided to use their search feature. I typed in “self love” and the very first meditation that popped up was this one: Live Awake with Sarah Blondin: Loving and Listening to Yourself. Sounds about right! I thought to myself.

I had no idea this meditation would bring me even deeper into my healing. Deeper into this experience, this practice of self-love I was cultivating. I didn’t know it would be another part of the medicine.

The meditation started out this way, with Sarah’s gentle and powerful voice saying: I love you. And I am listening. Tears immediately sprang to my eyes. I listened to her beautiful piece and was astounded by what I was hearing. I was sure she had me in mind when she wrote it. It was as if she was speaking directly to my heart.

Tears poured down my cheeks.

And then she said those words, the same ones from the visualization in Bali: We become round and plump with our own love.

And I gasped.
And opened my eyes.
And cried more.

I listened to that meditation every day for weeks. I made a habit of putting my hand on my heart at random moments of the day and saying to myself: I love you and I am listening.

Sometimes it felt neutral, like a fact.
Sometimes it felt potent and painful, for all the ways I don’t love myself.
Sometimes it felt silly, like why am I saying these things to myself?

But mostly it felt nurturing. And it was a practice. I was increasing my capacity to love myself.

And it was my how I grounded in love. Before I picked up my kids, I would put my hand on my heart. I love you and I am listening. Before I got on the phone with my clients, I love you and I am listening.

As I write these words I am wondering, am I saying these words to myself or my kids? To myself or my clients? But I think it’s both. I am saying those words to myself and therefore to everyone I encounter. My capacity to love myself is the capacity I have to love others. That’s the way it works.

If love is too strong a word for you, replace it with compassion. The degree to which you have compassion for yourself is the degree to which you have compassion for others. The places in yourself where you lack compassion, the places in yourself that are hard for you to embrace, will be the same places that are hard to love and embrace in others.

That’s what makes the work worthwhile.
That’s why self-love is not selfish, but self-less.

That’s why this is a bottomless practice. It is a lifetime of softening towards ourselves and the world. It is a healing… and as we know, healing isn’t linear, but winds around and spirals back. Sometimes we think we have landed at square one again, but we are always somewhere else on the spiral.
Always ascending.
Always softening.
Becoming round and plump with our own love.

 

Part 3 is coming soon…

Another note: I asked Sarah Blondin if I could interview her for my podcast and she said yes! Our intimate and wonderful conversation here.

You are more powerful than you realize.

When I was in high school, a hypnotist came for the school assembly. I was immediately intrigued and when they asked for volunteers to be hypnotized (and then paraded around onstage) my hand immediately shot up.

A group of about 30 of us were led into a portable classroom and were told to sit at a desk with our eyes closed. He led us through a relaxing meditation and then gave us some suggestions – “Your right arm is getting lighter and lighter. It is like a helium balloon, so light it is floating into the air… “

The kids with their arms highest in the air were chosen to be in the performance. I immediately worried as we marched onto the stage – Was I really hypnotized? Was I just faking it? I’m such a rule follower maybe I just did what he said because I was being good…  I don’t feel hypnotized.

But there we were, in front of the entire school, seated in little chairs ready to make asses of ourselves. I had seen one of these assemblies before and they mostly centered around having your peers cluck like chickens on stage. I vowed not to do that.

He hypnotized us a bit more and then started giving us suggestions – “You are a Russian ballet troupe!  We are so excited you are visiting our school! Why don’t you show us what you’ve got?”

I love dancing… I thought as I pirouetted around the stage. I’m such a good dancer!

Then his voice again. “This is your pilot speaking.  We are climbing to an altitude of 20,000 feet and it’s getting very cold in the cabin.” We all started shivering in our chairs.

It went on like this for a while.

Then the hypnotist walked straight up to me and whispered, “Do you have any back problems?” I shook my head no. “Good,” he said and took my hand, leading me to the front of the stage.  He had already placed two chairs there, about 3 feet apart, facing one another. He stood me between them and put the microphone down so only I could hear him. “You are a steel bar. You are made of steel. Straighten up, you’re a steel bar!” I straightened my body and nodded yes.

What happens next I have cobbled together from my own memory and what my friends in the audience told me they witnessed. You ready? This is where it gets weird.

My memory is that he lay my body between the chairs – head resting on one and feet on the other. I remember repeating to myself over and over again, I’m a steel bar. I’m a steel bar. Straighten up, you’re a steel bar! At one point, I could feel him pressing on my stomach, showing everyone how strong and steel-like I was.

But get this. Apparently, this six foot tall man had stood on my stomach. (I was a steel bar after all, so what’s the big deal, right?) Oh, and he jumped up and down on me. (I was probably 5 feet tall and 100 pounds of the time)

“What did he do?” I asked my friends after the assembly. “It was crazy!” they replied. “He was jumping on you! How did you do that?”

I had no idea and only fuzzy memories of chanting to myself.

Decades later, on a layover in Queretero, I met a Mexican man who told me he was a hypnotist. “Do you do school assemblies?” I asked excitedly, ” And make the kids do silly stuff on stage?” He nodded yes. Then I described my steel bar experience. “Was that real?” I asked him. “Did that really happen?”

He smiled knowingly. “We are so much more powerful than we realize.”

This is a message I’ve needed to hear so many times in my life. Maybe I needed to hear it today and that’s why this story is finding its way back to me. Maybe you need to hear it too – You are so much more powerful than you realize.

The trees told me this when I moved into my new house.
The angels told me this when my marriage was falling apart.

You are so much more powerful than you realize.

We have so many stories that get in the way – You’re doing it wrong, you’re failing, you should be doing more, you should be different…

But really, we are so powerful and tender all at the same time. I’m holding both right now in myself, in this moment. I can feel the tears burning my eyes as I write and I feel the truth of my power as well. They are inextricably tied- the softness and the strength.

 

 

We see things as we are.

I’ve been listening to a book lately by Deepak Chopra called Synchrodestiny and it’s an amazing book about manifesting change and creating abundance in your life using intention and synchronicity. Since he’s a scientist, the book is heavy on quantum theory and mind-bending things like particles that can exist in two places at one time… but I love that he does this with full reverence and honoring of the magic and mystery too.

He also explains a theory about how things don’t actually exist for us that we don’t have language for, that we don’t have a concept around. They are literally invisible to us/our brains because we don’t have the software to process them.

Like that story of the South Indian island that had always been isolated, and how when explorers arrived on big ships and the islanders asked “How did you arrive here?” the Europeans said, “The ships,” pointing to the ocean. But since the islanders had no concept of “ship” they literally couldn’t see them in the water.

I had a flicker of understanding this recently when walking in downtown Berkeley the other night. My date and I peered into the window of a cafe and watched the people inside for several moments. “It’s a board game cafe,” he said, and it took me several beats more to actually see that what I was looking at was not people sitting across from each other with mugs of tea and chatting, but a full cafe of wall-to-wall people playing Parcheesi, Sorry, and The Settlers of Catan.

I saw what I expected to see, not what was right in front of me. Only when my friend said, “board game cafe” did it all come into focus. And there has to be a reason why I’m telling you this, why this story won’t leave me alone.

Maybe this is the point: We see what we expect to see, not what is right in front of us.

And maybe this is wisdom for me right now or wisdom for you. That we can choose other ways of seeing, that we can be open to other realms and other ways of knowing. We can create new possibilities and experiences if we can let go of the rigid ways and habits we have cultivated.

What was that quote by Anais Nin? “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”

As I navigate the world of dating these days, I am having to manage my energy and mind in big ways. It’s easy to get lost in fantasy… to see things as I want to see them and not as they are. It’s easy to get lost in negative fantasy too – to make the person wrong or bad, to cast them away as flawed so as to not be in that vulnerable middle place where we just don’t have enough information or lived experience yet.

I watch myself vacillate between these two extremes… and the up and down can be uncomfortable, even crushing at times. I shared this with my friend Carvell recently, telling him how excited I was about a new person I was seeing. “I’m afraid to be too excited though,” I told him, “because I get excited about people and then I get disappointed and I plummet… I want to let myself have the excitement, but I also don’t want to keep skidding on the rocks.”

He responded in the wisest possible way: “Here’s the thing. Right now, all you know is that you’re excited about this person. And… you don’t have a lot of information. Anything else you add is fantasy – positive or negative.” This has become my own little personal incantation: I’m excited about this person and I don’t have a lot of information… I chant this to myself when I see myself go to extremes. It keeps me grounded in what’s true. It helps me see things as they are.

 

It was an egg for love.

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I was lonely last night as my head hit the pillow. At first I didn’t know what it was- this agitated sort of feeling- but I  got curious about it. “This is lonely,” I said to myself, feeling more like an anthropologist than anything else. Where do you feel it in your body?” I whispered aloud. I put my hand on my heart where I felt the ache. “This is lonely,” I said to myself again. “What’s it like?” And I felt that it was a longing for connection, for touch, to be held. It was an ache for love. And it wasn’t scary to simply feel it- it just was what it was – an ache for love. (By the way, my computer just auto-corrected that last line and said, “It was an egg for love” which made me smile)

Then I imagined my future beloved right there with me. I held his face before mine and tried to see him, squinted my eyes in the dark to see what he looked like. “When are you coming?” I asked him and an answer popped into my mind. “How will you find me?” I asked the dark. And a friend (someone I only see occasionally) came to mind. Then I wondered if I made it up or if it was my intuition speaking. I will keep you posted.

I remember reading a story about how the writer Roger Housden met his wife. She came to him first in a dream- one that felt like a visitation- her face over him like an angel. And then when he met her many months later – it was that woman, that same face, and he knew she was real.

Once, many years ago, I was having a really hard season. I had just been laid off from a job I loved and had started my jewelry business. Problem was, there weren’t a whole lot of sales yet and there was everything and nothing to do. I spent entire days by myself in a big Victorian house in San Francisco, working in an attic and feeling lonely. Just me and a cat named Enki. I cried to a friend one morning who stopped me mid-conversation, “You need to do a mitzvah today! You need to get out of your own head. Is there anywhere you can volunteer?”

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I had been volunteering for years at a place called Creativity Explored – an art center for adults with developmental disabilities- so I immediately hung up the phone and raced over there. One of the things I loved about that place was that there was never any preamble or formalities. You didn’t have to explain yourself, you just dove right into what was happening in the moment. It was indeed the perfect way to step out of my own little mental drama.

I sat next to my dear friend Michael Bernard Loggins while he drew and we did our usual routine: “Okay, Andrea. Ask me questions and then write down what I say. Then I want you to read them back to me.” We both loved this.

Without me saying anything about myself though, he paused, looked me in the eyes and said, “Andrea, you’re not alone. Allura makes jewelry too.” He pointed to one of the other artists in the room- a soft-spoken woman in a wheelchair making day-glo bracelets. “If you’re both making jewelry then you’re not alone!”

Then he smiled, satisfied with himself, and continued to draw. I was stunned, forever changed by that moment of grace.

You get to have this.

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Oh my goodness friends, I’m moving. (I’ve been looking for almost a year in this crazy Bay Area housing market)

It feels like a miracle of endurance and faith and letting go.

It’s not fancy. In fact, it’s modest and the kitchen is tiny and the roof is pitched and the walls curve at funny angles. But I love it. Outside every window, all you see is trees… it has a big deck and two bedrooms with plushy carpet throughout. It’s cozy and feminine and feels like a treehouse. It has good mommy energy – like the redwoods surrounding it – feminine and powerful.

I feel safe there.

And the best part? There is another single mama who lives downstairs. Her girls are the same age as the boys. It’s the mommune I’ve always dreamed about! We have autonomy with our own apartment, but with another family living downstairs. We can share meals and play and look after one another. Plus, they have cats! Adorable cats!

When I did a walk-through with the mama from downstairs, my eyes pooled with tears, “Do I get to have this?” She beamed, “Andrea, you get to have this. What else do you want?”

And that made me think of you and us women in particular, and how our wants tend to go offline, how they get set aside in favor of other peoples’ wants. And we do this because we are kind and because we want to do right by our people and because we want everyone to like us and because we are afraid.

And after a while this becomes a habit… and we can’t even ask ourselves what we want without all the noise rushing in – what other people want, what we think we deserve, what’s practical, what we think we can get. It gets all muddled in there and you can’t tell what’s what anymore! or if you are worthy of any of it.

Is there something you want? A tiny thing? A big thing?

Close your eyes and imagine whispering it in my ear right now. “I want… (fill in the blank).”
Then imagine me looking into your eyes and saying, “You get to have that. What else do you want?”

Heart full of gratitude,
Andrea

P.S. Brave Blogging is going swimmingly! It is such a good class.
If you’ve been wanting to write more, please join us! It’s not too late.

Brave Blogging is when you’re afraid to push publish. Like today.

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I painted yesterday. As soon as I got a taste, I wanted more. I can feel it even as I type- I’m craving those colors, wanting to dip my fingers into cobalt, phthalo turquoise and yellow ochre. I want to squeeze those tubes of hot pink into my mouth.

Hiking has felt that way too. Anything that makes me feel better – sweating, creating, connecting, it all feels like the most potent medicine. I am like a starving person. None of it is lost on me.

Lost.

That’s part of this experience too. Where do I belong? Who do I belong to?

When the man I’ve been seeing for the last year broke up with me recently, I cried in my friends’ arms. My sweet friend that insisted on spending the night, who heard my voice shake and texted a few moments later: “I’m coming over right now and staying the night.”

She arrived with strawberries and whipped cream, wine, chocolate and two lottery tickets. And when the grief was overwhelming, she held me while I wept – a cry from such a deep, old place I hardly recognized it. A child’s tears… and I found myself saying: “He didn’t choose me. He didn’t choose me. I want someone to choose me…”

I want to know who I belong to.

“You belong to your boys,” the intuitive bodyworker said to me years ago. “You will always have your boys.” This is before I decided to leave, before I said those words: I can’t do this anymore… before everything unravelled.

Lost. In limbo. In between. Wobbling about.

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“That hurt we embrace becomes joy. Call it to your arms where it can change.” I read this line in a Rumi poem recently. I think he’s talking about self-compassion and the alchemy of grief. That’s the water I’m swimming in folks. I know I’m not alone.

 

 

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P.S. This is an example of Brave Blogging! Will you join me in doing more of it? Class begins on Monday!

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Because what we think we deserve is not enough.

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I wrote a piece for Postpartum Progress years ago about getting more help than you think you deserve. I wrote it as a love note to new moms, but I’m realizing that this mantra might apply to lots of other times in our life as well. (Like for me, now!)

Because what we think we deserve is not enough.
Because what we think we deserve is just the tiniest slice of what we actually need.

Because needing help, support, company doesn’t make you needy, it makes you human.

I’ve been practicing this lately and it’s vulnerable stuff. But honestly, I was in such a place of despair last week I really didn’t care. In addition to calling for support from my virtual community (oh my goodness. thank you) I also sent an email out to some local friends. It went something like this:

Hey sweet friends,

I’m not doing particularly well.

And I have the kids all weekend by myself.

I’m thinking having company would make a world of difference! If you have any pockets of time this weekend, or if your kids want to play, let me know.

XO

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And then a wash of shame came over me. And some thoughts: What’s your problem? Why are you so needy? Are you ever going to have your shit together? And I remembered that mantra again – Get more help than you think you deserve.

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And then there’s the other side… and I remember how honored I feel when a friend comes to me with the real deal of her life. How it feels like a blessing to be included and to be able to offer my support.

It’s intimacy.
It’s connection.
And that’s soul food for me. I’m guessing it’s soul food for you too.

So can we just make a little deal here?

Can we just declare right now that it’s okay to not have our shit together?
That it’s okay to feel lost.
Or lonely.
Or in need.

Let’s decide that it’s actually a gift to include others in our (sometimes messy) process. That by showing our own vulnerability, we make space for others to do the same. Let’s create that kind of world for ourselves, shall we?

Some years ago a friend of mine was telling me about an icky procedure she was going to have to do the next day at the hospital. “Do you want me to go with you?” I asked. Tears welled up in her eyes. “That would be so nice,” she said. “I didn’t know I could ask for that.”

And I LOVED being there for her. I felt so happy to be the person that got to give that gift. It was good. It was her medicine and it was also mine.

Yes. Yes. Yes to this.

We can ask for this.
We need to ask for this.

This is how we are going to survive the messiness of life. This is how we are going to thrive.

We stay connected. We stay real. We stop pretending. We tell the truth.

When we do this, we are shining a light in the dark places for each other. When we offer the light of our heart, our attention and our compassion we help each other move through to the other side.

And when YOU decide to be the brave one, the one that reaches out first… you give your loved ones permission to do it the next time. You create a loop of mutual support + connection that will not only feed you, but save your sanity. This is a crazy ride folks. We need each other. Let’s be brave together.

 

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P.S. Ready to do some Brave Blogging with me? The class begins on September 5th. More details here.

 

The alchemy of grief

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When I saw those words in my calendar – Grief workshop 10am-6pm – I thought “What the heck was I thinking when I signed up for that??!” And then I thought, I don’t have anything big to grieve anyway. I will feel like an imposter. 

But a few beats later, I remembered: Your marriage. You need to grieve the death of your marriage.
Oh yeah, that.

We do so much to distract ourselves from loss. We get busy. We numb. We hang out on social media, so we don’t have to feel our sorrow. Our aloneness.

As I walked into the meditation center where the workshop would be held, I felt it begin to bubble up in my chest… and the tears began to pool in my eyes. It was as if my body was already thanking me – thank you for inviting me to the party. Thank you for putting your attention on me. I never get invited to the party!

And I found myself so grateful that I had finally been invited to inhabit and express my sorrow somewhere. There was something to do with it other than suppress it or contain it.

Francis Weller writes and speaks beautifully about grief. I’ve watched this talk over and over again. (Watch the whole thing. It’s life-changing) He talks about the extent to which we can carve out space for our sorrow is the extent to which we can make space to feel joy. He talks about how we have become a flatline culture – with a narrow range of what we’re allowed to feel. He talks about coming together in community to grieve as part of our “soul hygiene.” That to “speak of sorrow works upon it.”

He spoke about how we have undigested sorrows… and that grief is a capacity we can build, a skill that we can strengthen. It requires courage and vulnerability. It requires a willingness to be with things as they are.

He says: “Grief might be the remedy that heals us. Grief is wild. It’s feral. And when we touch it, we are alive.

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There were about 70 people in the room and we began drumming and singing. I was amazed by the beauty of all the voices (just regular people singing, young and old) and how it sounded like the most exquisite church choir.

We broke out into small groups to share and did several powerful writing assignments using prompts like: I remember.. I wish someone would ask me… and my real grief is… 

Then the ritual began.

We had all brought special things to put on the altar – photographs, flowers, rocks, anything that felt sacred. And while the whole community sang a kind of mantra (putting us in a kind of meditative trance) we each went to the altar to grieve. You could do whatever felt right up there – shout, cry, be silent – while the rest of us held space for you. When you came back you were received by the community with hugs and loving attention.

The alchemy of this process was palpable. You felt transformed by it.

Francis spoke beautifully about how it was an alchemical process – “how bringing some heat to it transmutes it into medicine. We feed the fire with our attention, our compassion, our curiosity and our affection.”

It’s taken me months to write about this, but as I ride new waves of grief, I needed to remind myself again.

That by bringing our sorrow into the light we have the opportunity to heal.
That by bringing loving attention and compassion to it, it softens and changes in our hearts.
That by taking it out of the shadows and into community (even just another person) it becomes an offering of healing for all of us.

Thank you for being part of my loving community that helps witness my process – my joys and my sorrows. I believe we are all lifted up by this energy and I’m so grateful.

 

Oh my goodness. You all blew me away this week.

Wow.

I sent a call out this week for metaphorical doulas… stories, kind words of support and encouragement to help me across this incredibly hard threshold in my life. I am so honored and blown away by your responses – your blog comments, your wisdom, your love-soaked emails. Oh my goodness. Thank you.

You burst my heart wide open.

And I cried for the rest of the day. Not out of fear or sadness, but out of the pure joy of being connected.

Thank you for you reflecting my spirit back to me.
Thank you for reminding me of all the kindness + goodness in the world.
Thank you for the understanding that we are never alone in whatever we are going through- that we are all just walking each other home.

An unexpected serendipity happened that day as well.

One of my oldest friends (who I consider part of my soul family) immediately called when he saw the post in his inbox. I burst into tears as I answered the phone (we haven’t seen each other for almost 10 years) and it happened that he was flying into SF the next morning.

We met the next day for lunch and as I sat down, he placed the following pieces of paper in front of me:

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There were a few more pages… and he instructed me to check all the boxes that felt right to me.

It was one of the kindest possible things.

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Big heart-full of love thank you to all of you for being a part of my community. I am wowed by you and feel so grateful for each and every one of you.

XO Andrea

P.S. You will be getting another missive from me today with a video describing my upcoming class – Into the Mystic. Excited to share that with you!

Crossing the threshold. Calling in the doulas.

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I don’t want to tell you about the rage I felt this morning, how I feel so close to the bone these days that sometimes I’m just a little nub of a thing. I don’t want to talk about the electric current of fear that shoots through my body at 3 a.m. each morning and how I have to talk myself down to sleep again. I don’t want to talk about how being a grown-up feels really hard right now and I wonder if I’m up to the task.

This season of grief looks like that these days – moments of touching into despair and feeling how unsettled and afraid I feel about creating my new life.

Last week I was hiking by myself and the tears started to burn my eyes. I began to cry, then sob. And when others passed me on the trail I would try to hold it together til they went by.

I thought of my friend SARK who, in the wake of losing her beloved partner this year, has been “grieving deeply and living wildly” and I remembered her advice from a conversation we had a few weeks ago. I called her in a mess of tears + she encouraged me to go there completely, to feel it fully, even exaggerate it. She said: 

“The fear is that the grief will swallow you up, that you’ll stay there forever. But the truth is, if you let yourself feel it fully, you’ll get bored at some point and think – Okay, now let’s go have a sandwich.

And so I was in and out of those feelings all day long – letting myself feel the layers of fear. Feeling  untethered in the world. Feeling like I’m not strong enough for any of it.

And then it passed.

I’ve been likening the process of divorce at times to childbirth – except that I’m giving birth to a new self, a new life.

And this season feels like the transition period in labor. For childbirth, transition is the storm before the calm. (Believe it or not, the pushing phase is considered the calm) It’s the moment when it’s so painful and difficult you lose all hope. It’s the moment when you feel like you’re sure you’re not strong enough, you’re not made for this, and you find yourself shouting “Just take this baby out of me! I can’t do it!” Or “Just give me the drugs!” Or even thinking that this whole having-a-baby thing was a really bad idea. 

It’s the moment when you need the most support and encouragement because (excuse my French) you are fucking exhausted. And the thought of doing it for even one more minute sounds impossible.

But you can’t go back now. It’s all in forward motion and his baby is coming out.

Somehow.

Transition can go on for hours, and feel like a freaking eternity. There are doulas, and nurses, and partners to help, but ultimately it’s your work.

Have you ever been in a season like this?

I could use your encouragement right now. Calling in my metaphorical doulas!

You know who you are.