A Deeper Call to Being Child-Free

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Artist: Katie m. Berggren

I knew from the age of 4 that I did not want to have children. “I’m going to have puppies!” was my declaration when someone imposed their kid-wanting assumptions on me, when I was just a kid myself (why do people do that?). Throughout my childhood, I didn’t like dolls and preferred stuffed animals. It is believed that children hold the most genuine of truths, so I am happy to say that 40 years later, I have no regrets about being  child-free.

Throughout my teen and early adult years, the desire to have children did not present itself. “But what if you regret not having kids?” was the common response I received from others. As I grew older, I kept my mind open to the idea that I might meet the right person who would pull this maternal desire out of me. But that never happened. Except for two situations that lasted about a week, I never came up against a desire to have kids.

One of the situations where I did, was after a painful and disappointing relationship ended. I was in my late 20’s and believed that I had so much love to give, and needed to give it to someone who needed it. As I said before this lasted for about a week. I realized that, for me, this wasn’t a good enough reason to have kids. This belief was simply another co-dependent belief akin to my preexisting beliefs of: “if I only had the right relationship (job, home, lifestyle, etc.) then I will be whole and happy.” I think I knew then that replacing a baby for a relationship just wasn’t the answer.

As I look back, I am so glad I never became a mother. I know myself too well. I love my freedom and free-time. I cringe when it comes to unsolicited obligation and hate stopping what I’ve started. I know most people do, but when I have to sacrifice these things, I become depressingly miserable.

More importantly, I believe my life’s journey has been about growing and healing myself to the point that I truly needed to know how to mother myself. A few years ago, when I mentioned my decision to be child-free to a woman (that I have a lot of respect for), she replied with “You were too hurt”. I was immediately angry inside as my brain scrambled as if I had been clocked in the head. I didn’t know how to respond, and I didn’t want to ask for clarification. Now I know what she meant. This part of me that was hurt has always been here and wasn’t going to make room for anyone else, and I respect that. This hurt part in me needed me to be its mother, and being a mother to anyone else was not going to work.

I am grateful for my 20-something self that knew I couldn’t solve my heartbreak with a baby. There was a wisdom there that would reveal more of itself later. Yes, I do have so much love to give, and yes, there is someone who needs it. That person in need is myself, and I have more than enough on my plate when I take on that task.

Am I saying that you can’t mother yourself if you have kids? Absolutely not. I know many women who do a lot of inner-healing while raising children. Am I saying that every child-free person has a deep pain that needs healing? Definitely not. The decision to be child-free is an individual one, and I can only speak for myself. I have no desire to have children and  I truly believe that my decision to be child-free was born from a deep need for something else. There was a core place in me that was screaming for care, and needed all of me to attend to that care. Truth be told, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Shame Relapse

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It’s safe to say that most of my life has been lived from a pessimistic viewpoint.  Glass half-full was my default and Murphy’s Law governed my outlook. I strongly believed that optimistic people were living in a fantasy world and sorely needing a swift kick in the ass from reality. My ever increasing depression and anxiety further supported these ways of thinking. After going through a significant amount of emotional healing, I found myself slowly growing out of my pessimism. My growing belief in possibility and increased sense of trust are traits I could never have imaged having. From time to time I am surprised at how optimism has grown on me, or, how I have grown into it.

Then came last weekend.

I received a huge reminder that emotional healing and being optimistic does not mean that life suddenly ceases to have it’s pains and discomforts. Nor does it mean that depression and anxiety never come ‘round for a visit. Although I have experienced this at relatively mild and manageable levels, last weekend truly threw me into a pit I haven’t sat in for quite some time.

I was over-my-head deep in what Brené Brown calls a shame (shit) storm. Early Sunday morning, someone offered to fix a dent in my car. It was very unexpected and I suddenly found myself paralyzed with uncertainly and the inability to say “no”. I didn’t feel a big bad “NO!” but I felt icky in my stomach. There were three men, and the main guy talked fast and didn’t fully hear what I was saying. I was worried about being mean to these strange men who were offering to do something “nice”. I was simultaneously scared of how they would react if I said “no”. When all was said and done, the “work” they did resulted in my car being worse off than when they touched it. I was mortified.

For the rest of the day I oscillated between absolute shame and self-punishment, to acceptance and letting go. In my deepest shame I berated myself for being a stupid idiot who deserved what happened and can’t be trusted with her own life. I was dumb, a sucker, a jackass, and much much worse. These thoughts seeped into other parts of my life where I doubted my ability to do my job and feared I had lost everything I worked so hard for. I was certain I fucked up my whole life – again!

Then a slight wave of my optimism would glide through. Like a wisp of smoke I could hear and feel “You’re okay now, this will pass”. Then I’d plunge into complete self-hate again.

I reached out to a safe friend, and as we talked I wept like I haven’t wept in a few years. It was scary to cry at this depth. I feared for my life, and my emotional health.  I thought this was the beginning of the end, and here is where my emotional and physical life would unravel.

After processing it with my friend that day, and further processing this with my therapist today, I came to find enough ground to feel like myself again. My therapist gave me a reality check that con artists are good at what they do and that many intelligent people get scammed. Although I hate having been scammed, the reality is, what she said is true. Their use of fast talk and positive demeanor are weapons they are skilled at using to manipulate others.

I also learned that my childhood experiences of being silenced when scared and uncertain were repeated that Sunday morning. My mother often reacted to my fears and uncertainty as: inconvenient, embarrassing, a sign of weakness, a sign of stupidity, and intolerable. When scared or uncertain, she would abandon me emotionally by either ignoring me, yelling at me, or hitting me. I understand now that she was too emotionally fragile herself to handle my emotional needs. But as a kid, I learned to believe that being scared and uncertain was a personal flaw that yielded punishment.

Last Sunday my inner kid was uncertain, and wanted more time to think about the situation. Instead of stepping up like an adult to handle the situation, I did to myself what my mother often did to me when I was scared and/or uncertain. I abandoned her and left her there to deal with grown up stuff. How could she possibly be skilled enough to deal with three grown con-men?

In my counseling session, I made amends to my little girl and acknowledged her wisdom in needing things slowed down when I’m uncertain about making decisions. I told her that I can listen to her needs, because she knows my needs best.

I also came to realize that I really need my inner bitch in my life more. In an earlier post I wrote about understanding how she helps me make time for myself. My bitch is my protector who is loving, strong, and bold.She is the mother bear I never had and the mother bear to my little girl.  In making an agreement between my little girl, protector (bitch), and myself, to show up, listen, and take action, I am re-parenting myself and continuing to heal old dysfunctional family patterns.

Does this mean I will never be scammed again, or be taken advantage of? Probably not. Con artists are good at what they do, and continue to become more sophisticated in their skills. What will be different is I will be more integrated, more attuned to myself, and more loving and forgiving of myself. I will also continue to reach out to safe people because i can;t do this alone.

Although I would not want to repeat the depths of the darkness I was in this weekend, I realize that my friend was right about this unfortunate event being an opportunity to heal a deep core belief that no longer serves me. I have certainly paid more for “transformational workshops” that yielded less results, so I suppose it all works out.

After some more ground settled under me today, I posted this on my Facebook page as a reminder of the importance of listening to that little girl who knows so much more than I gave her credit for.

I cannot say it enough. How you treat kids is how they will treat themselves in adulthood. Not just the nice parts, but the not very nice parts too. ALL OF IT!!!

In our childhood, we hold the clearest awareness of our needs. Because we ARE children, we don’t have the adult capacity to communicate these needs in a way adults always understand. All too often, adults criticize and/or shut down kids when they are trying (in their kid ways) to communicate their needs. Kids often hear: “You’re crazy!”, “What’s wrong with you?!?”, “What do you want?!”, “Stop bothering me!”, “That’s dumb/stupid!”, “You’re not scared/angry/sad/etc.!”. Get the picture?

Over time, with these words hurled at us along the way, we learn to doubt our needs, and our intuition becomes muffled. As adults, we try to do what’s “right” instead of what we need. We criticize ourselves for even having needs! We may even judge others for having needs. To twist it even further, we judge ourselves harshly when we fuck up, because we didn’t listen to our intuition or attend to what we needed. How could we when the adults who raised us taught us that our intuition was: crazy, wrong, inconvenient, a problem, embarrassing, etc.

I know I’m not just talking about myself here. Right?

Yeah, so, listen to that kid inside you. They have wisdom you have long forgotten. Stop trying to be so grown up, and let’s grow in. Grow into ourselves, and into our lives.

Curiosity May Have Killed the Cat…

…but Curiosity saved my life.

Not too long ago, I asked my boyfriend a question. He responded with an eye roll and agitation that implied “That’s a stupid question.” I immediately felt a heavy and dull pressure in my heart. My brain went fuzzy and I felt dizzy. This scenario is nothing new.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone eye-rolls something I’ve said with the implication that my question is stupid. And yes, it is possible to eye-roll verbally.

So when this incident happened, and I began to feel that familiar dull pressure, I thankfully had enough energy to sit with my inner kid/self. I began to dialogue with her and checked-in with what she was feeling and what she wanted. It felt like a long slow process. I was really uncomfortable and had to consciously breathe a lot whenever that dull and heavy pressure emerged again. It was tempting to stop, but I realized that I could either dialogue with myself, or talk to my boyfriend about what just happened, knowing full well that it could lead to an argument. So I chose to stay present, compassionate, and patient with the hurt part of myself.

Through this dialogue, I asked my hurt child self: “Why did his reaction hurt you?”

Her reply: “Because I just asked a question. I am a curious! I like asking questions!”

“You are curious! I love that about you! So, what do you want?”

“I want to be able to say things without being yelled at.”

“Ah! Well you know what? You’ll have that. You’ll have that with me. And when you don’t get that from others, I’ll be here for you.”

As soon as I said those words, it was like she beamed with happiness. “Really?” she said, with a “I get to have that?!?” sound to her voice. She was so happy. What was a bonus, was that instantly, the heavy and dull pressure on my heart lifted. I thanked her for her words and honesty.

When I opened my eyes  and came back into the present, I felt lighter. My boyfriend’s reactions no longer mattered and I could move on in the knowing that my curiosity was valid and needed no justification from or to anyone.

After processing this with my therapist and sponsor, I realized that my curiosity was an aspect of me that I lost connection with a long time ago. I lost it when I was a young adult trying to survive in the world. For me, trying to survive meant that I needed to walk a rigid path towards stability and predictability. This required that I take as few risks as possible. There was no room for curiosity.

Whelp, flash forward to my late 30’s and that rigid path led to a breakdown (that’s what happens with rigid things, they break). Through my healing journey I learned that when I surrender my control, I open up to possibilities that I couldn’t see because of my clinging to rigidity.

Surrendering and understanding that I don’t have the answers was a major task. It required a willingness to try. This willingness to try required being curious. So, I began the journey of walking an unpaved landscape full of endless possibilities with a “let’s see” attitude. Some things were great, other not so much. Along the way I learned what a Higher Power meant for me, and my faith and trust began to grow. Had I not been willing to be curious, things would have been much harder.

Even now, if  am really stressed, my perception narrows and I begin to believe that I can control the situation and make it better. What’s different is that I am not consumed by these moments. The intensity has lessened, and more often than not, I remember to surrender. I practice self-care, reach out for support, and re-connect with my Higher Power.

So I understand why my boyfriend gets frustrated when I ask seemingly stupid questions. If you haven’t surrendered the illusion of control, then curiosity is scary and threatening, especially in times of stress. I want to be clear that I’m not saying that it’s okay for him to be dismissive of me. What I am saying is that I have taken the focus off of him, and brought it back to me. In doing this I am able to get clear on what I need, and can approach him from a grounded place in myself.

Re-connecting with my curiosity has felt blissful and loving, as if seeing an old friend for the first time in decades. My curiosity feels integrated and I am beginning to understand that once you integrate a part of yourself, you are less likely to compromise it.

Normal Reactions to Abnormal Expereinces

When I began to learn about Attachment Theory in school, I felt a familiar language being spoken. Although I have been consciously growing and healing these last 4 years, I was unaware that the process that I was going through actually had a name. To learn that the process in which I have been understanding myself actually has a theory attached to it was quite comforting to me.

It’s easy to pathologist someone as depressed, anxious, co-dependent, etc. I think it’s important for many people to have an understanding that these behaviors, emotions, and reactions are normal given their early childhood experiences. Many circles call this “having a normal reaction to abnormal events”. When I first heard this, I remember feeling seen, heard, and as a result – validated. My reactions were debilitating me, but in hearing this I realized that I wasn’t inherently defected. Instead, I realized that I had lost my way because I was given a faulty road map.

This video for the Still Face Experiment is a snap shot of how our parents, caretakers, and guardians interactions with us shapes how we react to them, the world, and in turn ourselves. A mother staring blankly back at a child represents a mother not responding to the infants cues. In daily life, parents and caretakers easily miss infant cues when the adult is busy, stressed, traumatized, addicted, or in any other way distracted or unable to. Being fully present to an infant 100% of the time is impossible, however, the more an infant’s cues are misread or unread, the more the infant will adopt a stressful reaction. This can lead to a sense of worthlessness (“I don’t matter”) and/or helplessness (“I don’t like asking for what I need”) and a myriad of other issues as the child grows and seeks to be seen.

In my case, I grew up in a large family. My parents were raised in physically abusive homes and neither received much affection. Although I did not experience physical abuse from them, my family didn’t know how to connect on emotionally healthy levels. There was a lot of blame, teasing, and criticism; and if I was hurt, it was because I brought it upon myself. Because my parents worked long hours, I was handed off to whoever could take care of me at the moment. My older sister says that when my mother would return from work, she would hand me off to her and I would turn my back towards my mother in a subtle resistance of going to her. I can image that as an infant, I probably experienced a lot of guessing if my needs were going to be met, and how to go about signalling for it.

I think it’s important to add that I’m not seeking to blame parents or caretakers. In your healing journey, you may experience anger towards those who raised you. I think this is normal and healthy. However, being stuck in blame and resentment can be unhealthy and how long you need to feel this way is different for everyone. My hope is that at some point, you will grow a space in yourself that can make peace with the past, understand that you are not flawed, and learn to be kind, loving, and nurturing to yourself.

The Mystery of Language

An exercise from “One Year of Writing and Healing”: http://www.oneyearofwritingandhealing.com/one_year_writing_and_heal/2006/10/writing_and_hea_1.html

I remember enjoying writing. I believe it came easy to me. I think it was because it was very structured with the use of the wide ruled writing paper. I remember writing the letters out very slowly and methodically. It was more like drawing than writing. I loved “drawing” shapes, then making the shapes connect. Now the new shapes made sounds and words! It was very exciting to be able to communicate in a new way. To be able to convey what was in my head to others.

Even though I could write, I remember being upset that my writing was so sloppy. To this day it still is.

When it came to reading, phonetic books were fun. “The cat is on the mat” is still burrowed in my brain.

I remember enjoying reading at my level, and wanting to check-out books from the “older kids” section. The school librarian would never let me, telling me they were “too hard”. Nonetheless I loved the library, and would eye the older kids books. I anticipated being able to one day check them out.

I do recall that when I about 6, I thoroughly enjoying the story of “The Old Woman Who Swallowed A Fly”. I think it was the combination of rhyming, melody, and sheer bizarre content that delighted me. I remember sitting “Indian style” (it was the 70’s and political correctness didn’t exist in my little world then) on the floor singing along to the story.

I loved that story so much I made my own version of that book. I stapled pages together and copied the story word for word, complete with pictures. I remember it felt like a huge undertaking. I kept making mistakes and had to erase a lot. I wondered if I would ever finish. When I did finish, I remember showing a few people my book and really liking that I had my own copy of that story that I liked so much.

Doing this exercise has really helped tame the worry I feel inside. There’s something about reconnecting with fulfilling early memories. I feel like I’ve tapped into an authentic part of me that has been forgotten by years of self-imposed “have to”.

It’s rejuvenating to tap back into a time where I felt a joy so pure, that difficulty was not a barrier to fulfilling a vision.

A Sinking Ship

Last week I had a horrible argument with my father. It scared me that I can slip back into that role so easily. It scared me that his rage is still there, like a sleeping lion. When I was a kid, his rage was frequent and consuming. It permeated the house and when he yelled (at anyone), I would disappear. Stillness meant the illusion of safety.

And here we were 35 years later. A part of myself was yelling back, getting louder and he got louder. Another part of me began to feel like it wanted to disappear. It was then that I realized that this needed to stop. Now.

I acknowledged that he was angry.

I acknowledged that he could no longer hear me through his rage.

I told him I was sorry for upsetting him and that my call was made in good intention.

As we both calmed down, he began to tell me a few of his concerns with one of my sisters. I began to offer some suggestions, and as he shot each one down, I began to feel that 5-year old shrinking inside me. The feeling was all too familiar. It was a sick, twisted feeling. I began to see the dysfunction of my family much clearer and it was almost overwhelming.

We hung up and I cried. I cried and I began to pray*, affirming what I know, what I can do, and what I can’t. I repeated; “This is no longer mine. I give it back. I hand it over”. “This” being that feeling of being invisible, of being negated, of being responsible for my family’s happiness. I repeated those words until  felt some sort of release.

It’s a common ACA trait to want to save others, especially family. And as more time passes, and the less I am in contact with my family, the more twisted my family’s dysfunction looks. I see this as an indication that some healing has taken place. It hurts even though I’m healing. It feels isolating.

With time and distance, I see my family as a ship that is sinking and in flames. Today it hit me that I cannot save them. Not because I don’t want to, or don’t care, but because it is not my place to make their healing happen for them. Anyone who has ever had a loved one battle with addiction knows this. You can’t make an addict sober. It’s their journey. This family dysfunction is the same thing. As a Latina, it is an excruciatingly painful experience and one that is hard to wrap my mind around. It feels like betrayal. But I also understand that a healthier me is the only thing I can offer myself and my family.

In the end, it felt good to be able to have a disruption and feel my feelings without being overwhelmed by them. It felt good to experience my witness-self/observer and reconnect through acknowledging what was happening in that moment. It felt good to be in the now.

“This” I later told my therapist “is what I wanted when I first came here. To live my life, and when something shitty happens, not be overwhelmed by it. To be able to experience it and move on.”

* Payer for me is a new concept that I’m coming into. For me it is like a mantra. I affirm my place in this world and the qualities I’m releasing and growing into. I affirm my connection to all living entities and life itself.

Protection Pt. I

I decided to talk with one of the people from the Workbook group regarding me taking a break. I was a little unsure if we were still a “closed” group or not and felt like I needed to clear that up since I’m not sure when (or if) I’m going back.

We talked about my frustration how irritated 12-year-old self was just sick of processing EVERYTHING.  She mentioned that this part of me sounded really masculine.

When she said this it totally hit me that a) yes, it is in fact masculine (animus) energy and b) this is that male inner child* (persona/inner self) that my therapist mentioned a year ago.

In looking at this part of me, with the knowledge of its masculine nature, several things became clear. I’ve been aware that this part of me had something to do with puberty and sexuality. At 12 I was just in the beginnings of puberty and I remember that I felt very afraid of my femininity. I learned that I had to protect myself from boys and men around me. That I had to make myself invisible or else I’d be “asking for it”. My mother never talked to me about how to be a girl/woman, but what I learned in watching her was that a woman is quiet, reserved, modest, and sacrifices her desires so that others are accommodated. Of course I also saw that she grudgingly played that role.

I feel like my animus energy was there when I was 12 as a means to protect my feminine self. It showed up as the loud mouthed “I don’t care what you think” attitude that I learned from my father. In my mind (at that time) that’s what strength and masculinity looked like.

So no wonder this part of me came out again when me and my therapist talked about me no longer dating as a means to not only protect myself, but as a way to get to know my Self more. Not only was I reacting, but I was protecting myself in the same style I did when sexuality showed up on the radar.

It may seem small and insignificant, but this bit clarity really helps me to understand what the hell was going on. For days I was so confused at why I was being so angry and shut down.

What also helps is that in stepping back from doing so much work has helped in the process to just happen. For clarity like this to surface. I am so glad I was able to do so with supportive people.

(*I fucking hate the term inner child, but I don’t know what other term to use)

Taking a Break

So I’ve really pulled back from doing ACA stuff. I use to go to our weekly meeting, a weekly workbook group, and a weekly re-parenting group. Now I just go to the weekly meeting. My whole “not dating” thing has really brought out a sarcastic and agitated part of myself (I call it my 12-year old). Since then I’ve just become tired of processing EVERYTHING!! I am tired of getting to know me right now and I don’t want to get to know me more.

My therapist reminded me that this agitated 12-year-old part of me is a good thing. At 12 I was a pain in the ass and I didn’t care. She pointed out that (even though I was probably reacting out of some kind of pain at that age) I was still very present with myself. I showed up in my own life.

As for ACA, it’s a strange thing. I feel like asking for my space is totally respected, and even though I am isolating to a point, I don;t feel as alone as before. I know they (the group) will be there when I come back around again.

Re-Visiting Worthiness

In last night’s session I told  my therapist what I experienced during my coaching session on Saturday at the Prosperity seminar. I recounted what I felt when the coach helped me identify the unowned part of me that feels like it’s worthy. As I re-told this experience I began to feel the pain again and began crying. I don’t think I have cried this hard in her presence before.

I trust her enough to allow us to explore this experience further. I was afraid, but went along with it, checking in with myself to see if it was too much and needed to stop. My therapist is very compassionate and so she would check in as well, asking if it was okay to go further along the way.

I explained to her that the image that came to mind for me was of me as a child (around 4 or so) sitting curled up in a dark space, with my arms wrapped around my knees and head down. The space around me is black. Although this image represents me, it does not represent me as a child, it is that part of me that feels worthy. The fact that it had been shut down so early in my life brought me to tears.

She asked me if that part of me had anything to say. I mentioned that I could go on and on about the part of me that feels unworthy, but this part of me that feels worthy has been shut down for so long that I didn’t even know it was there, and so it feels like it has no voice yet. All I could say was that this part of me feels sad, neglected, oppressed, and shut down.

She then asked if it was okay for her to join me in that space. When I told her she could, she then asked why this was possible. I found that to be a peculiar question, but what I realized was that, I could allow her to join me because she is safe and I have no anger or resentment towards her.

She then asked what proximity of closeness I was okay with. At this point I was okay with her hugging me (not literally, but in conciousness). As we sat in this space, she would ask how I was feeling, If there was a change in darkness, feeling, etc. I noticed that I felt the same emotions and tones, but it was just a bit less oppressive. Slowly I felt less alone and a bit more relaxed.

Then out of nowhere the image of my pre-school teacher came to me. She walked into this space and stood close by with a smile as she wore her polyester pink dress suit and her black hair in a bouffant. I mentioned this to my therapist and told her that this teacher was probably the first person outside my family to really acknowledge me. She was kind, approachable, and always gave me attention. I have a very vivid memory of her talking to my mom afterschool one day, telling her in a very excited voice how impressed she was about a drawing a did of my family. I felt so happy in that moment.

I also mentioned that I wanted to invite my uncle in,but didn’t feel safe enough to do so because he is so closely related to my mom, and I can’t think of him without thinking of her. So me and my therapist sat in her office as I continued to experience this acknowledging of such a neglected part of me. It was the most beautiful moment I have ever experienced in counseling ever.

I’m not going to pretend to understand inner child work/authentic self work completely. It seems complicated when you begin to understand different parts/aspects of you. How does the part of you that feels unworthy and the part of you that feels worth exist at the same time? Don’ they cancel each other out? From what I am experiencing, as far as I can tell, it’s just another experience of all things being present.

What I know is that when I am stressed, depressed, etc. I go back to old habits and begin to feel disconnected and have black and white thinking. But life is all-inclusive and when I feel more connected, I can see and feel that all things exist.

Chameleon

I was at the re-parenting group on Saturday and we did a small exercise after our reading on inner child work. We were asked to choose a plush animal and let it “speak” to us.

I almost decided to pass on the exercise as I wasn’t feeling it, but when the pile of plush animals was placed on the table, I immediate was drawn to a multicolored chameleon.

I sat there with pen in hand, and looked at this little chameleon. I remembered what it was like being a little girl and how much I loved playing with plush animals. I preferred them over dolls or cars. It took a little while, and I had to relax a bit, but then I started to write down what can to me.

“I always change to fade in the background. Doing that protects me. I am more than that. You should see me when I am not afraid or needing protecting. I am vibrant and solid in color and you can see me for who all that I am. I see a lot. I see all around me. I can balance myself with my own tail.”

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