Friday, November 11, 2016

Stand Back Up

For the past few days I've been grieving. Trying to make sense of what has happened in this country, what's happening now, trying to make sense of all of the hate. The political system in this country is broken and doesn't make any sense to me at all. The media in this country is what is leading us now and it confuses me. 

As a veteran, I proudly served this country. I am a US Marine and I served this country to protect the all of the freedoms that we all have. Even the freedom to hate this country, to disagree with the status quo, to stand up and let voices be heard to bring change. 

In these past few days I've felt a tremendous sense of sadness, fear, terror, anger and despair. The day after the election I walked to work suspect of everything and everyone around me. I was so full of fear that I wanted to hide. My normal way of being in the world where I smile and say hello to everyone had changed. I was withdrawn, head down and looking at the ground the whole way. Hiding. Trying to not be noticed. 

On one hand I do have that privilege of hiding during this dark time. I am white and on most days I pass as male. I have the option of shedding those clothes, growing my hair out and not being myself for the next four years while the country falls apart under this regime and my community gets bashed or beaten or killed. I have the option to live for the next four years in fear and terror and let the bullies win. I have the privilege of being able to hide. I recognize that privilege. 

But, I can't choose that path. My soul cannot choose that path. I can't chose the path of fear and let the bullies win. I can't live a lie and deny my friends and family and community. I can't stand on the sidelines and watch as people attack each other out of their own fear and hate. 

I won't live in hiding. I am proud of who I am. It's taken me a long time to come to this point, to fully be me in all of my authenticity. I've survived the looks and stares and attacks in the public bathrooms. I've changed people's minds along the way, as well. I've done all of that out of love and respect for myself and those who came before me. I've done all of it for those who will come after me. I will not hide. I will stand up with my community and I will stand up to the bullies because I will not let them win. I will not let them beat me down. I will keep standing up no matter how hard they push me. 

I choose to live with love and peace and to lead by example. To peacefully protest with those who think like me because we have to be heard. We have to join together in this dark time. We have to unify. It's the only way to survive these next four years. 

I've felt knocked down these past few days but today I am standing back up, finding solid ground in my power and meditating on the words of those who have lead in peace:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. - Dr. Martin Luther King

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. - Dr. Martin Luther King
 
If we want there to be peace in the world, we have to be brave enough to soften what is rigid in our hearts, to find the soft spot and stay with it. We have to have that kind of courage and take that kind of responsibility. That's the true practice of peace. - Pema Chodron

There is a saying in Tibetan, 'Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.' No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that's our real disaster.” 


― Dalai Lama XIV





Thursday, October 13, 2016

Heart & Soul

This past Monday I took a walk in the woods close to the house. My heart and my thoughts have been heavy with home, family, friends and work so I was attempting to find my center. Nature always helps calm my mind and soothe my soul.

I walked up through the old North Cemetery communing with the trees. They aren't as vibrant as I've seen them in past years but they are beginning to change. We've been in a drought so the Autumn colors seem to be a bit quiet this year. Still, I smiled at the trees and even stopped to tell a couple how beautiful they were. I like to run my hand along the bark gently in greeting.

Trees are comforting to me. They are strong yet flexible. They know how to sway with the wind. Their leaves whisper gentle sounds of comfort.

In the park where I walked there is a pond. Sadly, a much smaller pond because of the drought but, still, a pond. After walking the loop trail around the park I headed to the bench next to the pond to watch the sunlight dance on the water.

When I sat down on the bench I noticed that my feet didn't touch the ground. Sort of like what it might feel like to kids when they sit on a big bench. I smiled at the realization then as I sat there I began to relax into that feeling of being a little kid. A kid who needed comforting. A kid who can't explain why it hurts but knows that it just does. A kid who's lost her family or is just too far away from them.

As these thoughts filled my head I felt the burning in my chest. The tears began to form in the corner of my eyes. They fought me to get out, to find freedom on my cheeks. Finally I stopped fighting them for a bit. The release felt good but I stopped them again. My only thought being, "What if someone walks by or comes to sit on the bench, too?" I was alone. There wasn't anyone that was going to want to share the bench with me but I didn't want to be surprised. So, I got up and walked along the bank of the pond. On the other side of me was thick brush so I knew for sure no one would happen upon me there.

As soon as I got far enough away and tucked back into a little alcove of bushes, my body let go. Why I felt the need to hide, I'm not clear, but I allowed myself to just to let it out. Out it came, too. In full force. My heart felt like it was going to burn through my chest as I silently sobbed and cried.

I love my family dearly and want nothing more than to help all of them in any way I can. My West Coast family is struggling and I'm feeling quite helpless all the way out here. My heart aches to be with them.

The transient feeling I've had over the last few years has helped me find myself and my priorities. It's been a good tool but I'm beginning to feel like I need to grow roots again. Ideas of a house, eventually a partner, a long term job, holidays spent surrounded by family and so much love are all floating around in my head quite a bit these days. I want to settle down again. I want to build those roots so I can stand even taller.

The tears I cried that day were for my family, for the distance, for their struggles and for the time it may take me to get home.

Home.

Just knowing I have a sense of that word now brings happy tears to my eyes.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Self Compassion & Understanding


Returning from the Farmer's Market with a carrot top tail.
This morning I woke up with a sense of sadness. I awoke to clouds and rain and cool air and the sound tires make in the rain as the cars pass by beneath my window. I slept in this morning after staying up late. I've been tired, yes, but this tired today felt different. It felt a little like escape.

My weekend mornings are usually spent leisurely drinking at least two cups of coffee while I read or journal in bed. This morning as I sipped my first cup I felt it. The sadness. The loneliness. It scared me so I finished my first cup, took a shower and walked down to the farmer's market. I felt this pull to run from it but at the same time I knew that taking it for a walk would do it some good and it did. When I returned I continued to find ways to get away from it, though. Escape, I recognize, is an old pattern for me.

I cleaned while listening to a pod cast. It was a Moth Slam that airs on NPR and sometimes those stories stir up emotions and sometimes they inspire me to write or look at things differently. Sometimes they just plain make me cry. I'm not even sure what the story was about at this point but I remember feeling the tears start to well up and the surge of emotions in my chest. I had to stop the vacuum, sit down on the steps and let myself cry for a moment. I let myself feel what I had been running from all morning. I stopped trying to escape and just sat there with it all. In my mind, I wrapped my arms around the emotions and myself. When I did that I realized that it wasn't just sadness that I was feeling. It was such a mix of happiness and sadness and homesickness and gratitude and all the feelings.

I sat there on the steps with tears rolling down my cheeks counting all of the blessings in my life.
  1. I have a group of the most amazing people in my life, both family and friends.
  2. I have an abundance of love, the size of which I've never before felt.
  3. I have a real sense of belonging and home that I've never before felt.
  4. I live in a world where there is beauty that stops me in my tracks and brings tears to my eyes.
  5. I am healthy and getting stronger every day.
  6. I am so much more connected to my body, my soul and my mind than I've ever been before.
The self growth I've done over these past few years has brought so much peace, confidence and friendship with myself. I am amazed at the amount of growth that I've experienced, in awe and am so incredibly proud of myself.

It really is true that happiness begins within yourself. I have become my own best friend, my own companion and my own confidant and there is absolutely nothing sad about that. It's reason to celebrate. The level of trust I have in myself to be completely open and authentic and real with those around me has skyrocketed.

Never before have I ever known myself so well, been so in touch with and connected to my soul and what it wants and needs.

Never before has my heart felt so completely open to life and love and happiness. This...THIS is what it feels like to live, to be fully present with myself and the world around and inside of me. This is what it feels like to be able to sit with the good and the hard feelings and emotions and to come out on the other side of them a better me. A more compassionate, understanding and loving me.

This life is amazing and full of adventure. My heart is so full of gratitude and love.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Ye Olde Barber Shoppe


I've been living here in Ipswich, MA for the last year and a half and have been walking by the barber shop that's on the same street that I live on for just about as long. Every time I've passed it I've thought to myself, "I should stop in and see if they'd be willing to give me my usual cut." The next few thoughts after that would usually be of fear and I would talk myself out of even just stopping in to ask. After all, barber shops are a part of the "good ol' boys network", right?

Well, today I finally gathered up the nerve to stop in and ask. I've been using my own clippers at home and doing the basic 1" all around cut ever since I moved here and got rid of my car. It works out fine but every now and then I just need that boost that a butch gets with a freshly buzzed fade. Always start with a #1 blade.

Stepping into the shop was like stepping back in time. Old posters and signs lined the walls and the furnishings in the waiting area were old wooden chairs. The barber chairs were the old fashioned kind, too. When I walked in there was a customer in the chair already and a woman barber so I took a seat in one of the old wooden chairs. Fox News was on the television in the corner and when I tuned into the conversation, I realized how conservative it was. But, I didn't feel like it was so conservative that I needed to leave. Thankfully.

When the other customer left I asked the barber if she would be up for giving me a men's fade cut starting with a #1 and, thankfully, she didn't even bat an eye. We chatted a bit about the town after introducing ourselves to each other and in the end, I came out with one of the best fades I've had in a while. I think I'll go back again at least once before I move home.






Not bad for 46, eh?

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Thoughts About My Life As A US Marine




I've been participating in a challenge that's been going around on Instagram and other social media and it's got me thinking about my own time spent in the USMC. The challenge is to do 22 push ups for 22 days to raise awareness for veteran's suffering from PTSD. Among our nation's veterans there are, on average, 22 suicides a day. Mental injuries are real.

Thankfully, I was spared being deployed during war time. I was called back for Desert Storm but spent my time "re-training" in North Carolina. By the time I was done the conflict was over. It wasn't easy being pulled away from my son, who was only 9 months old at the time, but I am grateful that I never made it into a combat area. I can't imagine how my 21 year old self would have handled a situation like that.

I enlisted in the Marine Corps because I was looking for a place in the world where I felt a sense of belonging. The idea of the camaraderie that comes with being in the military was very attractive to me at the time. Also, my family has a history of it's men being Marine's and I was most likely looking for approval and acceptance from them, as well.

Not fully knowing what I was getting into, I signed up for the 6 year plan. The advantages this gave me was the option to actually choose my MOS (my job) and I was guaranteed to graduate basic training as an E-2. I choose to be a basic diesel mechanic and after doing so well in basic training, I began my military career in the fleet as an E-3, a Lance Corporal. As a matter of fact, I graduated basic training as the #1 graduate out of about 100 women, or two platoons. That is the one thing I am most proud of in this experience.

I was one of those weird people who actually enjoyed boot camp. Well, after the anxiety and nerves cleared away, of course, which took a little bit. Getting used to being screamed at almost constantly is a bit of a challenge but at some point I finally saw the big picture and just started rolling with it. I am an observer and this was the trait that helped me the most because I would watch others make mistakes and I learned quickly from them.

That camaraderie I was looking for happened for me in boot camp. We were a team. All 50 of us worked together, helped each other, motivated each other and looked after each other. It was one of the most challenging and awesome experiences I've ever had in my life and I don't regret one single moment of it.

Sadly for me, the camaraderie ended when boot camp ended. When I got out into the fleet it was every Marine for her/himself. I attended basic mechanics school in North Carolina. It was myself and about 49 other guys. I worked hard, understood it all fairly easily and graduated #3 in that class. From there, I was stationed at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California.

I was sent to the First Maintenance Battalion and looked forward to getting my hands dirty and driving some Humvees. Those things are beasts. I loved learning to drive them through the muck, the mud and the water. Yes, the water. There was about 6 inches of water on the floor board of the one I drove at one point and it didn't even hiccup. Beasts. I loved these machines and couldn't wait to work on them.

Unfortunately, I would never get that chance. As soon as I arrived at the offices of the First Maintenance Battalion to check in, I was directed to a desk with a phone and a computer. Thinking it was just a matter of time before I got to the motor pool, I did what I was told. Several months later, which included several weeks of KP duty (kitchen prep/cleaning at the chow hall) I asked my CO for a meeting. In that meeting I told him about my desire to actually be in the motor pool working on the trucks, in my MOS. I explained how well I did in training and that I was ready.

What he said to me has stuck in my mind all these years. It was the first big disappointment with the military and I was clearly shown where my place was in it. His response to me was, "You don't want to work in the motor pool with all of those guys." I told him that with all due respect if I didn't I wouldn't have trained for it. It went in one ear and out the other.

My idea of the military was shattered. I gave up inside and just did what I needed to do. I ended up choosing to be honorably discharged when I became pregnant with my son. At that point, the thought of leaving him to do a year long tour overseas was just too unbearable and that's exactly what I was facing.

The month spent apart from him when he was 9 months old was heart wrenching. I remember calling home and talking to my then husband (nope, I'm not a gold star), listening to him tell me about my son waiting for me at the front window, clutching my robe. The tears poured down my cheeks. I hated every moment of it. But, I did it.

I'm thankful I had this experience in life. It taught me a lot of things not only about life but about myself. I'm also thankful I didn't have to endure any combat or dangerous situations. I have family members that have. My Grandfather served in World War II and Korea. He was a Marine paratrooper. My other Grandfather was a cook in the Marines. My uncle served 3 tours in Vietnam. I can't even begin to, nor would I want to even try to, understand what it was like for them. Growing up, I watched them try to deal with the aftermath. I heard stories of attempted suicide. One of them involved my toddler self walking in on one of them holding a gun to themselves. Thankfully, I have no recollection of it.

Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is a real thing. Mental injuries are real and our veterans suffer from them day in and day out. Not only are our veterans suffering from it, their families and communities are suffering. It's only been recently that the US Government has finally begun to accept this fact. I wish they could have done it sooner before so many lives were lost.

Please, go check out the challenge and the program that started it all go to 22kill.com. Join in on the challenge, as well.

Semper Fi.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Discovering More About Myself Around Relationships


I've been thinking a lot lately about relationships. All of them, really, but mostly the romantic kind. I've been single since somewhere around August of 2014 and I've been so by choice after taking a good hard look at my pattern of serial monogamy so far in my adult life. Well, really since coming out as gay. My straight life didn't work because I wasn't straight. Go figure. But since coming out as gay and since my first girlfriend, I've been in a pattern of serial monogamy. One relationship after another with little time in between to recover or learn any sort of big lessons about myself. So this period of being single has been an incredible growth period for me all around.

I've learned so much about myself and who I am now as a person. I feel more solid and confident in myself than I ever have before. I've forgiven myself for the mistakes I've made in the past and feel like I've learned some really hard lessons from those mistakes. I am much more aware of myself, my thoughts and actions and so much more focused on being real and open with myself and those around me. Real, vulnerable and authentic.

I've also come to accept and embrace the introverted, autonomous part of myself and have finally come to realize that I'm not broken. I'm also at times an extrovert and have embraced that aspect of myself. Really, I'd like to discard the terms “introvert” and “extrovert” altogether because they are so very binary and black and white. I prefer the term a good friend of mine used just a few days ago during one of our conversations around this subject: ambivert. I am an ambivert. Depending on the day or the situation I move along the spectrum of introvert and extrovert. I'm very rarely all the way on one end or the other. Sometimes I recharge around people. Sometimes I recharge in solitude. Ambivert. I love it. I'm claiming it.

A lot of my life has been spent as an observer. I've always been curious about people in the world and how they relate to others. I've watched countless friends and family members move in and out of romantic relationships, as well as myself, of course. For me, each one brought its own lessons, its own gifts. I've learned along the way that I loved too intensely, I wasn't butch enough, I was the love of someone's life but something else was more important, I got lost in my partners (and their lives) and I wasn't real or honest enough with myself or my partners. All very true and valid lessons that I will always carry with me. Plus, the one common denominator in all of those relationships was me. Not that they all failed only because of me (some did yes, but not all) but I was the common denominator through all of them.

I've finally come to realize that, for me, monogamy feels like a whole lot of pressure. It feels heavy and it also feels completely unrealistic to me. We couple up with these expectations of marriage and a house and kids and the white picket fence or something else that society has built for us and pressure ourselves to constantly run after those goals, if you want to call them that. Not everyone wants those things, of course. But, we also seem to want to fit each other into these roles where we pretend like we're not attracted to anyone else on the planet but our partner. Or, we feel that we can't have a close, intimate bond with anyone but our partner because we're part of a couple. Or, we profess our undying love one moment and the next we've fallen out of love. I've seen it happen over and over and over and over again. Not only with the people I know and love but with me. Why have I tried so hard to make something that seems so unrealistic to me work? (I say “we” in a lot of this paragraph. That “we” meaning the people who this sort of stuff doesn't work for. It isn't a generalization about all humans.)

I am a human being who is constantly growing and changing. I was in that space where I wanted to find “the one” that I could marry and grow old with. Someone to be my everything and who wanted me to be their everything. But, now I find myself in this space where that feels completely illogical, unrealistic, unauthentic and, frankly, terrifying.

I've spent time these past couple of years either trying to figure out how I wanted a relationship to look or how to just completely stay out of them. When I thought about how I wanted it to look, what I wanted didn't seem like a possibility within a typical monogamous relationship. I don't want to be someone's everything. I want to be their something and I want to be special to them but not their everything. That absolutely terrifies me and feels like a ton of weight that I just am not interested in carrying. Also, I want to keep a sense of autonomy within a relationship. As in having our own bedrooms if we live together or I would also be perfectly happy not living together. I still want my tiny home, piece of property and dogs. Whether in a relationship or not they are what make me happy and they are important to me.

Even just in explaining those basic things one can see that I don't want a traditional monogamous relationship.

Up until just a few months ago I believed that I couldn't wrap my head around the idea of polyamorous relationships. They clashed with my idea of what love was. How could you 1) love more than one person at a time (in the sense that I knew love, aka “I give you my whole heart”) and 2) share those people with other people without feeling like they were taking something away from their relationship with you? But, as I've explored and read and chatted with friends who are experiencing or have experienced polyamory, I've learned that there are different ways of being poly. I also know that there isn't a set amount of love that we can share and feel. When done with respect, understanding, compassion, honesty and openness polyamory can be an amazingly loving experience where love grows.

I've also learned that there are others like me in the world who want to keep their autonomy within their relationships and don't want to be one person's everything and guess what? They have successful relationships. They're also very real about relationships being a temporary thing. Something we come together to experience, to make a connection, to learn and grow with and sometimes they end and it's not a bad or terrible thing. It just is. They recognize their own humanness and embrace and accept it. Some more fully than others, but still. They go into a relationship without the goal of coupling up, shacking up and struggling to live “happily every after”.

Of course, there are plenty of people in the world for whom monogamy works and lasts. I'm not saying that isn't true. What I am saying is that it's not true for me. Have I “given up” on the fairy tale? No. I just have a much more authentic to me realistic tale.

What's most exciting to me about this realization is that I went from feeling like I was completely shut down and walled off from love and romance to feeling completely open to the possibility of it happening again in my life. Of course, whether or not a relationship does happen again for me remains to be seen, but it feels so good to be open to it. My heart is open, I am confident in myself and who I am, and I am open to more growth and learning. It feels incredibly freeing and really fucking fantastic.

Also, if it doesn't happen, I'll still be happy with me. I have an amazing family and a couple of close friends who fill my life with so much love.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

(Repost) This Path That I'm On

I originally wrote and posted this on May 18, 2015 over on the other blog I started last year. (Original post can be read here.) It was good for me to re-read this morning so I wanted to share it here.

“There’s so much more to life than finding someone who will want you, or being sad over someone who doesn’t. There’s a lot of wonderful time to be spent discovering yourself without hoping someone will fall in love with you along the way, and it doesn’t need to be painful or empty. You need to fill yourself up with love. Not anyone else. Become a whole being on your own. Go on adventures, fall asleep in the woods with friends, wander around the city at night, sit in a coffee shop on your own, write on bathroom stalls, leave notes in library books, dress up for yourself, give to others, smile a lot. Do all things with love, but don’t romanticize life like you can’t survive without it. Live for yourself and be happy on your own. It isn’t any less beautiful, I promise.”
Emery Allen
 
I found this quote today while reading through some things online. It perfectly sums up the way I’ve been living my life for the past year or so. Prior to that I lived most of my life romanticizing it like I couldn’t survive without it; waiting for that one person to fill me up with love and acceptance. I spent so much time being sad over people who didn’t love me and waiting for someone else to complete me, to tell me I was enough. It was as if my life was incomplete and on hold until that person showed up.

Somewhere along the line over the past year, I turned and faced myself in the clearest of mirrors one could ever find; the relationships in my life, both with those who are in my life currently or had been in my life but are no longer. That’s when everything started to change for me. That’s when I finally came around to that ever important lesson that I am the one I was waiting for all this time. I am the only one who can complete me and the only one who can tell me I am enough.

After embracing this lesson fully, I felt like I finally started to live in this life and “walk the talk”, so to speak by being present in each moment with myself, the world around me and with the people around me; by being completely open and honest with my friends and family; by enjoying each day by taking moments to just breath and be – no phone, no iPad, no computer, no camera, no journal – just me, my breath and my surroundings. I finally began to get to know and accept myself. I’ve discovered that I am already compete and I am enough. My heart and my intentions are good. Every day I live to better myself and to love and support my family and friends.

While researching a bit online about just who Emery Allen is, I came across this next quote of hers.

“Not everything is supposed to become something beautiful and long-lasting. Sometimes people come into your life to show you what is right and what is wrong, to show you who you can be, to teach you to love yourself, to make you feel better for a little while, or to just be someone to walk with at night and spill your life to. Not everyone is going to stay forever, and we still have to keep on going and thank them for what they’ve given us.”
Emery Allen

“….and we still have to keep on going and thank them for what they’ve given us.” I couldn’t agree with her more. There was a time in my life where I wanted everything to become something beautiful and long-lasting. But the reality of it is, life just doesn’t work that way and that’s a good thing. When I think back on all of the lessons I have been gifted by those who are and those who have been in my life, my heart fills with such gratitude. In all honestly, I think about every single one of them every day and with each thought I send them love and gratitude. I also wish them love and happiness in their continued journey in this life.

In Buddhist terms I practice the art of Tonglen in those moments. As Pema Chodron instructs:

“So in the in-breath you breathe in with the wish to take away the suffering, and breathe out with the wish to send comfort and happiness to the same people, animals, nations, or whatever it is you decide.”

These lessons and this practice has done wonders for my thought patterns, my well being and the way I relate to the world and the people in it. There truly are no words to fully express my gratitude to those who have lead me down this path. My life is forever changed by all of you.

Sending you love, comfort and happiness.