Blessed are the Assholes

Hi everyone! Thank you for being patient with me over the past two weeks while I went through a major re-write on my book and my book proposal. I attended the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference and had the opportunity to pitch my book to literary agents. Four of them asked me to send them my book proposal and sample chapters, and I was so excited and nervous at the same time that I put in a week of work on re-writing and editing everything to try to look as polished and professional as possible. I sent everything off on Sunday and now I’m trying not to obsessively check my e-mail for responses.

Hopped up on adrenaline, I spent every waking moment for a week trying to get my work to a standard that I felt good about, and somewhere in the middle of all of that work I had an epiphany–none of this would have happened if it weren’t for two of the worst experiences of my life.

The first of those two terrible experiences was my own illness. I focus on healthcare and mental health in my blog and podcast because my book is the true story of my own terrible illness, which was brought on by a whiplash injury. I was in the middle of dancing with a partner, when he forcibly dipped me and seriously injured my neck. For reasons that are only now becoming clear, this injury led to a year and a half of severe migraine symptoms.

That was bad enough, but as I sought help from the medical system, doctors kept telling me that my problem was just anxiety. As a licensed and practicing psychotherapist, I knew that wasn’t true and found a way to heal myself through alternative means. Now I want to share this story in order to provide a road map for others who are struggling through illnesses and can’t get the help that they need.

The second of those two terrible experiences was a breakup that I went through two years ago. I thought I’d finally met the man that I was going to spend the rest of my life with, but after 10 months of the easiest relationship I’d ever had, he suddenly broke up with me. He said that he’d never loved me and wanted to go back to his ex-wife. I was devastated, and I’ve been struggling to move on ever since. But as I struggled through that intensive re-write last week, the thought popped into my mind, “I wouldn’t be on the verge of publishing a book if he hadn’t broken up with me. I would never have gotten this close to my life-long dream of becoming a published author if he hadn’t broken my heart. I’d gotten too comfortable to keep seeking.”

As I shared this thought with my own therapist in our most recent appointment, she nodded and said, “You know, I used to have a framed print of the words ‘Blessed are the Assholes’ over my desk. When people treat you badly, it often leads to the best parts of life.'”

Blessed are the assholes.

Hearing this line brought up so many memories. All of the times that life went sideways and I couldn’t figure out why. All of the times when doors kept slamming in my face and I felt that all of my choices had dried up. The former supervisor who ran me out of the company. The ex-husband who cheated. The friendships that suddenly ended over nothing. So much pain.

And yet, those parts of my life needed to die in order for new parts of my life to be born. I was clinging to things that felt incredibly important to hold on to at the time, but now I’m nothing but happy that they’re gone because better things came to take their places. I didn’t understand at the time that room was being prepared for what was to come next.

Please don’t misunderstand me. This isn’t an “everything happens for a reason” blog post. I hate that platitude so much. Nothing makes me feel more invalidated than, “Well, remember that everything happens for a reason,” when my heart is broken.

When life is messy and cruel, don’t invalidate the pain by anticipating that something wonderful will come out of it. It might. It might not. What’s important at the time is to acknowledge how much it hurts and allow yourself to grieve. It’s only when you come through to the other side of the healing process that you will start to see what came into your life as a result of the loss. Only then will you be able to bless the assholes for wrecking what you thought you wanted in order to show you that you could have more.

If I ran into my former boss who ran me out of the company, I would thank her for being such a jerk to me. If she hadn’t, I would probably still be working as an insurance agent. The idea makes me shudder.

If I ran into my former husband, I might thank him for leaving me, because if he hadn’t I would probably still be married to him (what a horrible thought!), and I would never have become a therapist.

And now I’m realizing that if I ran into my ex-boyfriend, who I thought I was going to marry, I might just thank him for breaking my heart. If he hadn’t I wouldn’t be here on the verge of becoming a published author.

Often it is through pain that we become our best selves. Blessed are the assholes.

Are the “Bugs” in Your Life Trying to Help you Let Go of What You’re Holding On To?

I had my heart cruelly broken at the end of 2018, and spent all of January 2019 sick in bed, and I’m positive that the two are related.  While I eventually became physically well enough to work, go grocery shopping, and clean my house, I performed these tasks with only my body.  My mind was off trying to alternately figure out how I could have chosen so poorly, and also what was wrong with me.  Maybe you can relate.

As I cycled through the stages of grief again and again, I looked for ways to heal myself.  One of my go to strategies is to make myself super busy, so I started taking piano and Spanish lessons.  That was helpful, and I’m a more accomplished person now as a result, but I was still a complete emotional wreck.  I needed something more.

One morning I was scrolling through my email and got a message from the universe in the form of an email from HeatherAsh Amara, a spiritual teacher that I follow, inviting me to join a trip to Teotihuacan, Mexico, a place I’d wanted to go since my high school Spanish teacher showed us photos of the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon located in the Teotihuacan complex.  I opened the email.

Here’s HeatherAsh Amara’s website for more information on what she has to offer: HeatherAsh Amara’s website.

If you’ve never heard of Teotihuacan before, please look it up, because the photos will blow your mind.  It’s a pre-Colombian pyramid complex northeast of Mexico City with three beautifully preserved pyramids along what’s known as the Avenue of the Dead.  As I read the description of the trip, my heart spoke up and said, “I want to go there!”  Since it was the first time my heart had said anything except, “I hurt” in months, I pulled out my credit card and booked the trip.

It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, because Teotihuacan turned out to be powerful medicine for my grief.  Every day at the pyramid complex felt like I’d been transported to another world so majestic that my heartache seemed petty and unimportant.  I climbed to the top of both pyramids, descended into the Temple of the Butterflies, and bonded with an incredible group of women, but there is one experience that I particularly want to share with you today.

Each day, we all gathered and walked out to the pyramid complex for ritual.  On this particular day, the instructions were to walk the grounds gathering stones.  Each stone was to represent a loss.  I didn’t know yet what we were going to do with these stones, but I had losses and I was ready to represent them. So, I went out and, with the determination that I give to most tasks, gathered two heaping handfuls of stones.  Then I went to the assigned meeting point and waited for the others to finish their task.

The only other woman at the meeting place was the co-leader of the group, Emily Grieves, who has an amazing personal story and is an incredible painter.  Here’s her website for more information: Emily Grieves’ Website.

Feeling a little bit shy and star-struck, I said hello to her, but then waited quietly for the rest of the group to arrive.

The longer I stood still in the sun, sweating, the more bugs began to take interest in me.  When a particularly nasty bug landed on my arm and bit me, I jumped, dropped all of the stones in one hand and swatted the bug.  With the danger over, I sighed and proceeded to try to identify and re-gather the stones that I’d been holding on to. Emily Grieves watched me, saying nothing.

When another, even more enormous and hideous bug landed on my other arm, I dropped my stones and swatted it away again.  This time, however, instead of staying silent as I began to pick my stones back up, Emily said, “Maybe those bugs are trying to help you let go.”

I froze.

What an incredible idea!  I looked around myself at the swarm of bugs, then at my empty  hand, and then at the stones strewn around my feet and thought, “Maybe the bugs ARE trying to help me let go.”

Then, just as I’d decided not to gather those losses back to myself, the biggest blue-green dragonfly I’ve ever seen circled my head a couple of times and flew away.

I looked at Emily Grieves and said, “Did you see that dragonfly?”

She smiled and said, “Yes.  I did.  Dragonflies symbolize illusion.”

Then I had the epiphany.

All of those stones–all of those losses–they were just illusion anyway.  I had been holding on to those stones waiting for someone to give me permission to let them go in the proper way, but those losses were in the past and they could only touch my present if I continued to hold onto them.  

Now, I would love to tell you that I put the rest of those stones down and was immediately and miraculously healed of my broken heart, but that wouldn’t be true.  What is true is that I changed my mind that day, and it was the beginning of true healing.

Now, my question for you is this: Are there bugs in your life that are trying to help you let go of your stones?  

They may look like annoying problems, but perhaps they’re trying to show you that what you’ve been holding on to is only an illusion that is keeping you from seeing the reality of your life unfolding in this present moment.

For instance, maybe your difficult boss is the “bug” that is trying to show you that you’ve been holding on to the illusion that you need this particular job even though you don’t like it, and by letting go of that illusion you could move into more fulfilling and meaningful work.  Or, perhaps, that difficult partner is the “bug” that’s trying to show you that you’ve been holding on to the illusion that this is the relationship for you, and by letting that go you could either grow more fully into your relationship with yourself, or move into a healthier partnership.

When I realized that the bugs were telling me to let go of the illusion that the relationship I’d lost was the one for me, my relationship with myself blossomed so beautifully that I’m not only still taking piano and Spanish lessons, I started a blog and a podcast and wrote a book.  

Perhaps if you let go of that thing that you’re trying to force, you’ll find that you bloom in new and wonderful ways.  I encourage you to give yourself that chance.

The Six Stages of Grief and How to Move Through Them

Recent events in the United States, and the world, have been wearing heavily on my heart.  I know that I’m not alone in this.  A pandemic where the death toll in the country has exceeded 100,000 people, combined with horrific civil rights violations, followed by demonstrations, rioting and looting made for an overwhelming week.  While I knew that the anxiety of the past few months had increased, I also knew there was another emotion waiting for me to recognize it.  So, I sat with myself  for a while feeling into the ache in my chest asking ‘what am I feeling?’ and slowly it came to me that it was grief.

  • Grief for the 2020 that I thought I was going to have.
  • Grief for months without seeing my friends and family.
  • Grief for the deprivation of almost zero physical touch since March.
  • Grief for a country divided along multiple ideological lines.
  • Grief for George Floyd, a black man that I never met who was brutally killed by police.  The video of his murder breaks my heart.
  • Grief for police brutality toward peaceful protesters.
  • Grief for only being able to see people’s faces on computer screens because they’re all covered by masks in public.  I miss smiles.

And there is so much more to grieve over.  While talking with clients this week, I helped several people identify the grief that is weighing them down.  Naming the grief is the first step, and helpful in itself, but there is more work to do to process the grief.

In 1969, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages of grief in her work with the dying:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

These stages can happen in any order, each one can happen more than once during the grieving process, and they take different amounts of time for different people.  There is no right way to grieve, and there is no appropriate length of time.

When people lose a loved one in the US, they receive 5 days off of work, and then they’re expected to go back to work and act like nothing happened.  They receive condolences one time from friends and family, and then, strangely, it’s never mentioned again, and people think it’s over.

Months later when people say that they are still grieving, they get mixed responses.  Sometimes people who have had difficult losses in their lives will sympathize with how lonely and difficult it is to grieve a loss in this culture.  However, grievers also hear things like, “Oh.  It’s been months.  Aren’t you over it yet?”

The message that they’re grieving wrong shuts people down, leaving them even more alone in their grief, and grieving is not something to be done alone.  Grief is something to be witnessed.

If you identify with the existential grief that I’m talking about, or if you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, whether by death or by leaving, please find people who can bear the weight of your grief enough to witness it.  If that’s not a loved one, please find a grief support group or a therapist who can be with you while you process your emotions.

Grief is not logical.  It cannot be reasoned with and you can’t think your way out of it, no matter how hard you try.  It lives in the body and must be physically worked through.  Ways to move grief out of your body include yoga, body work, journaling, and letting go rituals.

Ritual is a beautiful and powerful way to move grief, and here are a few of my favorite letting go rituals:

  • Write a letter to the person, or the situation, that you are grieving that you never mean to send.  Put all of your emotion into the letter.  Don’t be shy.  Swearing is totally OK.  Nobody’s going to read it anyway.  Once you feel complete, burn, bury or shred the letter in order to release the emotion.
  • Take a bath in Epsom salts, and imagine the warm water and the salt drawing all of the grief and pain out of your body.  When you feel complete, pull the plug and watch the grief go down the drain.
  • Hold a coconut in your hands and direct all of the grief, pain, anger and sadness into the coconut.  When you feel complete, go outside and smash the coconut against a wall.  (This is incredibly satisfying).  Be sure to throw the coconut away afterwards.  Please don’t eat it and re-ingest all of that grief.
  • Put some music on that speaks to your grief, and then give your body permission to move any way that it likes.  Don’t be shy.  Your body will know what it needs.  Keep moving until you feel complete.
  • Repeat as needed.  It often takes more than one time to release all of the grief.

Recently I read Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief by David Kessler, who worked with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.  He maintains that there is one more stage in the process of grieving, and that is making meaning from the experience.  That doesn’t mean that you go around saying platitudes like “everything happens for a reason,” which I hate.  It means that while it still hurts, and it may never be OK, you find a way to make the loss mean something.  For instance, David Kessler made his son’s death mean something by writing his book, and by teaching others about grief.  I’m making meaning from my illness by writing a book as well.  Many other people make meaning by volunteering, or by donating to charities.  However is right for you to find meaning is perfect, but do look for it as it’s an important part of the grieving process.

Please be patient with yourself and with those around you who may be grieving differently.  If you’re in the denial phase and a friend or family member is in the anger phase, you may have difficulty relating.  Be kind to each other about this.  There’s no right way or wrong way to grieve, and pressuring either yourself or others to grieve differently is a great way to prolong the process.

For those of you who feel as weighted down as I do by the grief of this moment in time, I am witnessing you.

Please see the following links for more information on grief and grieving:

The Sixth Stage of Grief Website

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief Model