True Beauty Series: #1 "Burned"

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This is a love story.

More than ever, I know that my story has never been anything but a love story.

Talking about illness and past hurts is tricky territory — the human inclination is to look away or create distance, “Oh poor her, that is tragic.” Please save that kind of pity for something else. Because this story, my story, is every woman’s story to some degree.

I’ve never met a woman who doesn’t suffer at least a little bit in the present moment from upbringing, culture, ingrained patriarchy and misogyny, violence and/or trauma.

I’ve never met a woman who doesn’t secretly walk around with demons that haunt.

I’ve never met a woman who doesn’t in some way diminish her story or her incredible power in some way.

Not to say those women aren’t out there, because I’m sure they are. I understand that the women I circle with tend to be like the mythical Phoenix bird — rising from the ashes over and over again in a brilliant burst of light and transformation.

So, please remember, this is a love story. An ongoing story of repeatedly rising from the ashes of outdated, painful and downright violent ideas and behavior so I can freely do the work that I’m here to do and be the person I’m meant to be. My hope - always — is that you, too, will see your own strength in my words and rise from the ashes, blazing, for all the world to see.

Burned

I spent my childhood summers seeking an elusive state of "tan" and instead found myself burned, repeatedly and often. Recently I did the 23 and me DNA testing and literally, I'm 99% Northern European -- I was the poor kid that burnt (sometimes blistering) and then went from bright red, to an even paler shade of white with a few new freckles thrown in for effort. 

Why would I be so intent on being tan? Tan women were beautiful. Beloved. (Think: Farrah Faucet) It was also widely circulated among the women of my family that to be tan was to "look thinner": which was the ultimate desire of the women in my life. 

Never mind the intelligence, strength and love these women embodied -- they wanted to be thin. Never mind the incredible work they did in their communities — they wanted to be beautiful. To be cherished and loved. But when I was a kid, that definitely required thinness and a “hot bod”. And tan was part of the equation. 

I know. I know. It's heartbreaking. The ridiculous cages that women were put in, and continue to live in, make me weep for the world.

We are so much more than the cages of societal expectation. 

True Commitment

Tanning beds came to town when I was 15 and then, it was game on. I committed to my tan (often burning in the tanning beds as well) and stayed tan year-round for 3 or 4 years. I have pictures of me at 16-ish and I'm that weird orange-brown color that screams, "TANNING BED". 

Even at the very tannest my skin could ever be, I did not feel thinner or more lovable or even remotely good enough. I had been date raped around this time and, added to the developmental trauma of alcoholic (recently recovering) parents, the cruelty of "friends", and the raging misogynistic air that I lived and breathed in -- being tan could not cover, fix, or mend the confusion, anger, rage and grief that was burning inside of me. 

I felt ugly, broken and unlovable. I took up drinking. It was the most reasonable response. I have nothing but compassion for myself at that age and every age since. 

"You have melanoma"

When I was back in the U.S. this summer, I had a suspect spot on my chest biopsied, and thank goodness I did. I wasn't expecting it to be anything but maybe a dysplastic spot - a bullet dodged. However, it ended up being mildly invasive lentigo maligna melanoma, which, not surprising at all, is most likely to be found in people who experience frequent burns. 

Being burned is a thread that wove itself through much of my young life -- both literally and metaphorically. I spent a good deal of my 20's and 30's burning myself and letting myself get burned. Again, both literally and metaphorically (though no more tanning beds -- I was over that look.) hoping beyond hope to feel good enough for love, for appreciation, for worthiness.

The fact that I ended up with melanoma — wow. The scorched earth of my past concentrated in a burning spot on my chest, right over my heart. For me, it was an invitation to lean in, to take stock, to reflect on how being burned has shaped me, and my life,

Making Meaning in the Best Way

I believe in the power of making meaning in ways that empower. Making meaning in ways that call the Truth out into the open. Making meaning in ways that affirm the beauty that is in me, and you, and in the world, despite the challenges and really, maybe because of the tension between where we are and what we know is possible. 

At the junction between obstacles and possibilities, there is an evolutionary tension carrying tremendous creative power. Every challenge we navigate through creates us.
— Chameli Ardagh

When I spent time compassionately bringing presence to my body, and the spot where the melanoma was found, I surfaced a lot of anger. Anger at a culture that constantly picks at women's flaws. I felt bubbling rage at a culture that values women (STILL) more often by looks (including thinness) instead of by strength, intellect, heart, and our capacity to make powerful contributions to create a better, more vibrant, and beautiful world for everyone. Anger at the ways that I, and other women I know, still play small and hide because at a cellular level, there is a fear that we are too much or not enough. Still. 

I now carry a scar and it means many, many things to me. It means I had melanoma, yes, but at a deeper level my scar is a visible reminder of the years I spent in tanning beds, trying meet other people's standard of beauty, a reminder of how much I wanted to be loved. It is a visible reminder of the violent ways women are told or taught to go against our own true nature.

This scar, this melanoma, is the years I felt unworthy being myself in my own skin. It is the self-destructive behavior, the violence I perpetuated on my female body because it’s what I learned was expected from society and our culture. The ways I bent and molded myself to others' expectations and desires. 

What is truly infuriating is that these storylines are still so pervasive and that women are still in the grip of these stories at all. It makes me want to scream. And let's face it: we are the lucky ones. We are the women who have the luxury of doing the hard inner work and mustering the courage to question the powers that be with relative safety. We have the option of walking out of our self-imposed cages and standing up to the people who would put us in our place as women.  

#TRUEBEAUTY

I’m lovingly naming this scar #truebeauty because it reminds me of the beauty - the true beauty of stubborn strength, emotional intelligence, grit, unfailing truth and resilience that I dismissed as part of my problem into my early 30's (too much/not enough/definitely unlovable). At 47, I thankfully see and appreciate the truth, the beauty, the power of what I’ve lived through and chosen and learned -- all of this has shaped and molded the #truebeauty that is who I am, who I've always been. 

What makes women truly beautiful, what makes us know we belong and we matter is being who we are, with all of our heart, on purpose — showing the world exactly who we are with no apology. It is breathtaking to see women be completely and utterly themselves — and I’ve found personally that to aim for anything less that full authenticity is not only exhausting but bound for failure. Knowing this, living this, is everything.

To burn on purpose

I burn with the passion of my strength and conviction that women have so much to offer the world. I burn on purpose with a vision for a world where women are focused on, and appreciated for, their powerful contribution to the greater good. And my scar will remind me to keep that fire lit, it will help me remember the Truth. 

All of the trauma, all of the times I was burned by others, or I burned myself in the name of being loved -- it strengthened me, tempered me. I believe with all of my heart, as the quote says, that our challenges create us. We have the capacity to take what happens to and to let ourselves be transformed by the fire, to let it teach us who we are and what we are made of. To rise from the ashes more ourselves — that alone changes the landscape of the world we inhabit.

We don't always have a choice in the circumstances of our lives. Many times we don't. It's true. But we always have a choice to respond with strength, with dignity and to meet the fire with the best of what we've got in the moment. To let ourselves heal and feel the pain all the way through and then... we rise. This experience with melanoma has reminded me that women hold a power that we don't wield far often enough -- women carry tremendous strength, wisdom and truth in our experiences, in our very cells. 

My deepest wish is that you read this and recognize a small (or big) way that you might be holding yourself in check. Perhaps you are quieting your voice to be more soft, more acceptable. Hiding your light.

Please stop.

Never has the world needed women to stand up, to speak the truth, to show their strength, to burn with purpose and passion for the good of all. I know amazing women -- look, I know you, don't I? Today is not my day to die (thank goodness) nor is it yours. Burn on purpose. Burn with your passion.

This is a love story — it was never anything but a love story. A story of seeking and finding the unfailing love that burns in our hearts for our own liberation, for the healing of humanity, for the freedom of women who don't have a voice, and for the earth and the children. This is a love story fueled by fire — not through compliance and silence and demure femininity, but by letting ourself burn with the Truth and the beauty and the power that is at the very center of our being.

Blessings to you, my sister.

Now go, burn bright. 

xo.nona


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The light-bearing gift of addiction

I've been thinking a lot about addiction and recovery as I've been winding down my work in preparation for our move, and feeling all the feels about all of it. Because I'm recognizing the clear signs of withdrawal from work. From WORK for crying out loud. It's been like falling down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland -- I keep thinking I'm going to get to the bottom but I keep falling, my past rushing by, offering me greater wisdom and healing around the gift of addiction and the call to recovery. 

I know this place. 

If you've been here for a while, you know that I freely identify myself as a woman with a body that is addiction-prone. I've not drank alcohol for fifteen years and so many other addictions have shown up for me to circle this particular pattern within myself over and over: money/over-spending, sugar, information mining, Facebook, my silly iPhone... and here we are, with work. 

I'm grateful that I recognize addiction as one of my life lessons and frankly, I believe the world might be a kinder and more intelligent place if more people would make room for addiction and recovery to be part of their story. Because it probably is, to some degree.  

Addiction is a light-bearing gift.

We live in a world addicted, for good reason. Addiction is a reasonable response to living in a dysfunctional society. Addiction is a reasonable response to living in a system that devalues and dismisses women and destroys our habitat, Earth. Addiction is a reasonable response to families and societies that were never taught to value emotions or how to meet needs in truthful, life-giving ways. Addiction is a reasonable response to wanting comfort, joy and fulfillment, but not knowing how to cultivate those qualities in meaningful ways.

So what is addiction? 

Definition of addict {Merriam Webster}

transitive verb

1:  to devote or surrender (oneself) to something habitually or obsessively was addicted to gambling

2:  to cause addiction to a substance in (a person or animal)

Origin and Etymology of addict

Latin addictus, past participle of addicere to favor, from ad- + dicere to say.

What I love about the definition and etymology of the word addiction is that the cure is written into the definition itself. To loosen the chains, our call to action is to surrender to the truth — to face ourselves and our habit: the sugar, the work, the alcohol, the endless seeking, the desire to transcend, the drugs — our habitual reliance is harming us, causing pain, or keeping us from what we truly desire. 

Addiction, no matter what form it takes, is the obsessive creation of space between a person and their life. The space between you and your light. The space between you and the discomfort of unmet needs and unseen emotions. The space between you and what you really want. The space between you and being too much. Addiction, in all it's forms, creates space through distraction, through numbness, through disconnection. 

Addiction is not a personal failing, it is an indicator of sensitive bodies and minds living in a society that requires distraction and distance in order to survive the violence and suppression that is the norm. The continued use of violence and suppression to "get over it" is not supportive of the psyche's need for safety, affirmation and great care.

The longing for a different path opens the path.

The pain that creates the addiction is deep wisdom -- a call to meet one's needs, it is a healthy instinct gone awry. As the addiction itself stops working (almost always), it brings you back to the initial pain and then some. Though it’s a place where you are suffering and you may feel broken, incapable and unworthy, the longing for a different path, opens the path.

Addiction, and the inevitable longing and urge for healing, points to the wisdom and wholeness that is alive and well within you. The indomitable human spirit KNOWS that there is something else available. You can trust your instinct to heal and the mere fact that a particular addiction has come to the end of it’s useful life is an invitation to wake up. You, me, we are made for so much more than a life of addiction, distraction and numbness.  

The light at the bottom of the rabbit hole.

In a long conversation with a friend I hadn't spoken with in three years she said to me, "You look great. Softer. There is something different about you and your energy now." I feel that, deeply. I'm grateful for that reflection. 

Seeing my own relationship with addiction and distraction presented to me as I've stopped working has been difficult, and it's been like falling into a state of full on grace. The ways I've wanted work or sugar or marriage or staying ridiculously busy or money or spiritual practice (and previously, alcohol) to support me, to protect me from my own anger or grief, or to make me feel important and relevant are astonishing and oh so human. My pull to these destructive ways of being has stemmed from a deeply rooted neural pathway that told me I was nothing without "important, relevant work" and my feelings? Well, since my anger and grief are related to unfixable circumstances, I best just bury them in sugar instead of feeling through it all. And my desire for real support: to be seen and held and treated with tenderness? I've sought those things in the solace of a spiritual practice instead of the hard work of asking for what I need from actual humans.

Let me be clear, there is nothing to fix and, nothing innately wrong with any of the above - nor are they always addictive. It is my relationship to these things that kept me hidden from myself. As I said, addiction is a reasonable response to an unreasonable world. And, that doesn't mean that it is the response that we are meant to have or that I want to live. My pain tells me there is something far better, far more real available. Despite of, or maybe because of, addiction, I am a fully functioning swirl of human and divine and I feel lucky (yes, lucky) that I knew early on that addiction would be a companion on my life's journey as it has been a constant invitation to move toward recovery -- the call to ever-increasing closeness with myself and with life in nourishing, authentic ways. 

I believe that humans are wired for devotion.

For emotion. For shining big light and walking in the dark. For intuition. For celebration. For stillness. We are wired to ride the rhythm and flow of our emotional waters. For wonder, joy and connection. I experience it more and more, and I hope beyond hope that you feel that, too. 

As I let my work as I know it unravel and fall away, my personal work continues to be taking a compassionate bow of reverence toward my desire to create space between myself and life and to say, "Not today. Today I am devoted showing up for the fullness of my being and the fullness of my life." I have come to believe that I cannot engage in the work I am meant to if I'm putting space between myself and my light, between myself and my needs, between myself and my emotions, between myself and my body and my experience -- all of it. 

Your invitation, and there is one, of course. 

If you are a woman who knows that you are putting space between yourself and your life with.... something (pick your soothing agent of choice) then honor that. Soften into it. Let me affirm that this is not a personal failing, but a reasonable response to what is happening in your life or in our collective experience. Only then are you free to choose differently, if that is what you want. I would invite you to get curious about your habitual responses and what might be available if you got just that much closer to yourself and your own experience? What light and treasure might you reveal to yourself and to the world?

With all of my love and adoration. I am fully on your side.  

xoxo.nona

The Only Way Through

Let's begin with a fundamental truth. 

No one escapes the discomfort of uncertainty. That's the truth. The wisest course of action is slow down and lean towards it, peer into it's depths and soften your whole body. To welcome the waves of emotion as they crash on the shores of your being. The quickest way through (which may not be fast at all) is all the way through.

New beginnings are uncomfortable.

Knotted together with the wonder and consciousness-expanding experience is the inevitable discomfort. The death of something old and outdated. Uncertainty abounds. In the middle of transformation, we live in the question. And a question that always comes up for me, "How do I get away from this discomfort, this not-knowing?" (Usually repeated like a desperate mantra at one point or another.)

Humans are tender beings. 

The tendency is to protect, to create distance, when we are in the middle of change -- be it internal or external. I'm struck by knowing that there is no solid ground. We are always in a state of uncertainty, but there are large swaths of life that FEEL certain most of the time. 

And when the discomfort of change sets in, we all have ways of distancing ourselves.

Rightfully so -- we are tender beings. We have endless means to distract and numb in today's world. Some people whistle in the dark and want to stay endlessly upbeat. Others numb up in ways that are relatively benign to wildly destructive: eating all the ice cream to shooting up with heroine and everything in between. Some people try to control everyone and everything in an attempt to make things comfortable again. 

I used to drink it away, many years ago. Then I tried to transcend the human experience through becoming enlightened (so funny, right?). Now? Now I tend to vacillate between welcoming the full spectrum of experience and compulsively seeking clarity before I hunker down with cupcakes to create some space between myself and the uncertainty.  We all have our ways to soften the edges where our capacity for upheaval dwindles.

But time and again, more quickly I circle back to the pulse of my desire -- the desire behind all others that drives and inspires me moment to moment. 

I want to live with my heart wide open. 

The full catastrophe is what I want. Adventure, truth, joy, connection, love, beauty and authenticity and all the heartbreak and failure it takes to get there. This has been growing in me since I stopped drinking 14 years ago, the seed of this desire was likely the root of my sobriety. Now I want what life offers, I long to know the world and to let it change me, but I still fight against my conditioning. My desire for safety and my fear of being hurt. 

Honestly, if it were all bad and I knew I was going to be suffering in the next act, it might be easier -- pain and suffering are celebrated, respected and revered and I'm a skilled navigator in those choppy waters. However, learning to open myself just as fully to joy and beauty and love challenges me and teaches me in a way that suffering has not.  

I am committed. I stay the course with compassion for my failings and keep opening, nudging my edges, expanding my heart's capacity for contentment, if not joy, in any and all circumstances. I'm so much closer to trusting life and trusting myself to be okay with not only the choices I make, but what's offered to me.

And with this growing trust? I don't need to know anything else because the journey is going to show me what I need to know.

What is life bringing you?   

When you are in the middle of change, wanted or unwanted, no one can make your choices for you. No one knows you, and your circumstances, better than you. It's wise to be fierce in your commitment to know your own heart. 

Others can walk with you, hold you hand and light your path -- perhaps even offer you glimmers of inspiration as to how you wish to ride the waves of change.  I offer you these aspirations for your journey: may you find yourself inspired to slow down and to lean in. May you have the courage to peer into the depths and soften your whole body in a gesture of welcoming. May you savor the path and know that the quickest way through (which may not be fast at all) is all the way through. May you trust that the journey will show you exactly what you need to open your heart, moment to sacred moment. 

xo.nona