August 30, 2012

sorry I'm not sorry

If you have been reading my blog for longer than about six minutes, you will know already that I harp on being free a whole lot. And truth. And vulnerability and love and liking what you like and such. Sue me. I love talking about freedom.

I used to babysit for a little girl who wore the poofiest, sparkliest dresses I have ever seen in my life every. single. day. She was four and loved poof so much that when she got in trouble, her punishment would be to wear pants to preschool. It may sound excessive, her love of glitz and glam, and honestly it may be a little. But I feel like if the kid loves feeling like a princess, why shouldn't she wear tulle every single day? That's what I love about little kids. They're just who they are. They don't have a choice in the matter, really, because they haven't yet learned what shame is or what it means to be socially acceptable. Children bring themselves without apology and without disclaimers and regardless of consequences. And sure, as adults sometimes it's probably for the best that we have a censor for our thoughts and know that tulle is not appropriate for all occasions, but even still, I think there is something to be learned about freedom from the little nuggets.

I used to think freedom was something you had to work for. I'd think, "one day, when I get free..." and then dream wistfully about all the things I would do. But one day I realized something fabulous - freedom isn't something I have to get, it's something I have to accept. I'm already free and that has nothing at all to do with me. My little epiphany opened up a lot of opportunities that I didn't have before, and for someone who spent quite a little stitch of time pretty caught up in what everyone else thought, this last couple years figuring this out has been pretty fun. From having the courage to say hard or vulnerable things to just believing I could be a person who wears red lipstick and does Zumba all the time, it's been interesting to say the least. And thankfully along the way I have had people in my life who are also free. Who encourage me in my freedom even when it looks like dying my hair blue for a minute or getting a tattoo or singing excessive amounts of karaoke or wearing electric blue shoes and doing the running-man all the time. We are learning how to live freely together and it is a wonderful thing. We're living free and taking everybody with us.

This is what, I've recently decided, I am most drawn to in a person - I like people who are unapologetic. Free. What I'm attracted to, what draws me in, what makes me want to spend moments and hours and days together, is that you are what you are and you make no apology for that. I don't mean unapologetic as in people who don't apologize for being jerks, or spilling beer down your back in a bar, or who say mean things and then get all, "what, I'm just being honest!" on you. Not them. Those people are not who I am drawn to. Those people I want to punch in the neck a little bit.

I'm drawn to people who sing loudly and snort when they laugh and have messy lives. I'm also drawn to people who are quiet, who don't say much, who are so sweet it makes my teeth hurt. The thing that I find attractive isn't what they're like or not like. Not that they are loud or fun or exciting or cool or whatever else. Not that they're nice or good looking or extra-smart [though, those are what you might call perks]. No, it's not those things that make me want to be around you and soak you in. It's that you are whatever things you are, honestly and genuinely and real-ly, and you are unapologetic about it. I'm talking about saying hard truths and doing the right thing and being who you were made to me, unflinchingly. It's really hard, I'll give you that, but it's absolutely not impossible. You'll do some weird stuff not everyone will like and your hairdresser might get mad when she has to spend hours trying to get the blue out, but it'll be more than worth it.

The most beautiful kind of person I can think of is the kind who is free. The kind who lives freely, like a princess in a full tulle skirt on a Tuesday. It's not that you'll never have a bad hair day or be cranky or get insecure, because those things are absolutely going to happen. But unless you're being a jerk, don't apologize for yourself. You already are what people who are worth your time are going to love you for. So go be you. Remember that shame is a big fat lie. Accept your freedom and live in it.

Take everybody with you.

August 22, 2012

take a deep breath

I have stated before, as a professional, that sometimes people need help that isn't. So it should come as no surprise to you that one of my very favorite therapeutic techniques is not something I learned in school, but rather something my mom taught me when I was just a wee tot. And that, my friends, is taking a deep breath.

Often I will sit with a client who is upset and I will stop the proverbial presses until they agree take deep breaths with me. They'll refuse, or say they can't, and much like my mother did with me when I fell into hysterics on the reg, I wait. I take deep breaths and wait for them to join me. Like magic, they're breathing. It's working. For the moment at least, panic has passed. All thanks to a simple deep breath. It's very effective. I highly suggest it.

I know from experience it's effectiveness because you see, when I stress, I don't breathe. Literally. It's as if I believe things are so fragile even the tiniest gust of wind from within me could make it all come crashing down. If I can just hold it in another second, I think, I will still be in control. In my scariest and most fragile moments I will often find myself physically struggling for air, trying desperately, pitifully to remain in control, unsure of the last time I allowed myself a breath.

Recently I had a not-breathing kind of meltdown while I was at church. In an attempt to not make a scene, I tracked down a friend I knew would be able to handle me, and I calmed down, with her help. She [recognizing that I wasn't] told me to breathe, and I did a little, just enough so I could go back to work at The Well. I took a deep breath and held it, so as to regain control, confirm my composure, and try to keep the whole thing from crashing down again.

Almost immediately when I walked into the other room, this darling little nugget of a girl ran to greet me. I scooped her up, and as she sometimes does when I don't see her for a while, she began to reminisce on our relationship. I like this about her. It's like she remembers she loves me, but a few weeks have passed, so she has to remind herself why. I like it because she's cute and it's fun to listen to her process, but also because as the list of memories she is compiling gets longer, her hugs get tighter and her face gets brighter and it's just about the best and most affirming gift I ever could get.

As she played with my necklace, thoughtfully, she recounted the Valentine she made just for me, the craft box I gave her and what she made with the stuff inside it, her birthday party, how fun it had been, dinner at my house that one time. And then, as if she'd just uncovered the best treasure she could imagine, she pointed to the exact spot on the couch where once, many months ago, she had sobbed, and where together we had taken deep breaths. She said as she pointed, you taught me how to exhale! It caught me a little off guard but I said yes, that was me, and she threw her arms around my neck. Thank you for teaching me, she said in a tiny voice. Now I can do it even when you're not there!

I don't want to get caught up in semantics, but I feel confident I never used the word exhale with a 5 year old. That was her word. And in that moment, holding all my breath in, her word made all the difference. It was like something in Violet's tender little soul knew there was something I'd forgotten, something she needed to teach me right back.

So I exhaled. It took about the rest of the day to do it, but I did. I took a deep breath, exhaled, took another. That night I thought, when I wake up in the morning, I'll do it again. And again after that. I've been breathing ever since, in fact. Breathed my way into signing a lease on a new apartment and through tricky friend stuff and sadness and insecurity. In a couple weeks, I will breathe my way through yet another move. And I'll keep right on breathing after that, too.

Things may be fragile, but in my experience, holding one's breath isn't a very effective method of control. Because, you see, we require air. And I am so thankful, so very desperately grateful, for the people who remind me to breathe. Who give me permission to to quit holding it in, to breathe all over them, and can handle it when I do. Who will sit with me, patiently, presses proverbially stopped, until I agree to exhale.

Because sometimes? Sometimes it's all you can do. Take a deep breath. Then take another.