Desire’s Demise

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The Embrace by Egon Schiele

It must be time to spice things up with a hot topic I’ve never written about before. Now I’m no a sex therapist, but recently, three different clients, all beautiful and bright thirty-something women, started their sessions saying,  I’m s-o-o-o embarrassed, the words sticking in their throats. Uncanny! I thought. There must be something in the water. All raised an issue with sexual desire; all were terrified that the flames of passion were dying out and would never return again.

It’s all right; you’re not alone! I said encouragingly, the words sticking in my throat. Could I truly help these women given my lack of clinical training on the subject? I listened compassionately all the while wracking my brain for some useful information other than personal experience. I felt like a game show contestant on Jeopardy trying to come up with the right question before the clock ran out. Ticktock, ticktock…got it. Whew! Who is Esther Perel?

You might not have heard of her. I hadn’t, until another client, an enlightened 30-something dude (who’d actually make a terrific therapist) raved about Perel’s new podcast titled, Where Should We Begin? I googled her after his session. Ge’ez! Her TED Talk, The Secret of Desire in a Long Term Relationship, had over 10 million views. She must be a phenomenal speaker, I thought, and come to find out, she is. Funny, too!

To give you a preview, Perel explains how love and desire both relate and conflict. According to Perel, “Love seeks safety and security, whereas desire thrives on the unknown and unexpected. Both are essential to everlasting love.” states Perel, but she warns that, “Too much we and not enough me can surely extinguish the flames.”

She surveyed people in 20 different countries, asking: “When do you find yourself most drawn to your partners? Not attracted sexually, per se, but most drawn?” Their answers were universal:

  • When she is away, when we are apart, when we reunite. Basically, when I get back in touch with my ability to imagine myself with my partner, when my imagination comes back in the picture, and when I can root it in absence and in longing, which is a major component of desire.
  • When I see him in the studio, when she is onstage, when he’s in his element, when she’s doing something she’s passionate about, when I see him at a party and other people are really drawn to him, when I see her hold court (think Dany in Game of Thrones;) Basically, when I look at my partner as radiant and confident.

Now some believe (incluing some researchers) that men don’t have problems with sexual desire no matter how long they’ve been in a relationship. Could that be why my 30-something babes were freaking out? Bunk! Says Kristen Mark, a sex researcher at the University of Kentucky. Mark’s research found that desire has a natural ebb and flow in both men and women. “The longer the relationship goes on the lower the desire gets in men just as it does in women,” states Mark.

So what to do when the ebbs come and flows go? In addition to Perel’s suggestion of creating a sense of longing, Mark’s research points to the following strategies: communicate, even if uncomfortable, focus on meeting your partner’s needs, have sex without desire, and have patience / let time work out the problem. In addition, schedule sex, wear sexy lingerie, and put date night back on your calendar, especially if you can’t remember the last time you enjoyed an amorous evening, a mellow morning, or an intoxicating afternoon with your partner.

Most importantly, remember you’re not alone. Why else would a  TED Talk on sexual desire get over 10 million hits. Here’s the link once again: The Secret of Desire in a Long Term Relationship It’s a perfect activity for date night, that is, before enjoying something even better 😉

 

Haunting History

treeOn my morning walk today, the goons and goblins were out in full glory, Halloween decorations fronting the lawns of my in-town neighborhood. One particular display caught my attention–four faux headstones fronted by skeletons rising up from the ground. One struck a chord. It read, “I’ll be back!”

Oh yeah, I thought, as I reflected on an issue that’s been haunting me for weeks, an emotional wound I buried in childhood, that for the most part, doesn’t wreak havoc on my life anymore. But despite my belief that I’d thoroughly exorcised this demon, come to find out, it still hadn’t vanished completely.

The haunting started a few months ago over a conflict with a friend. She was struggling with her own issue, and to be honest, I didn’t want to hear it. I knew I should be supportive and draw on my inner caregiver, but another part of me, a childish part, felt angry and resentful. I don’t want to help her! I don’t want to prioritize her needs when she’s not paying attention to mine.

I knew these childish thoughts and feelings oh so well. I’d been listening to my internal rants for years. They’d come and go, like ghosts in the night, most often when a friend or lover was caught up in him or herself and seemed indifferent to what was going on with me.

No more, I thought! I must assert my needs and wishes more often. I must stop reacting childishly and choose a different way. Yet despite my desire to do so, I felt fear within my bones. Would I be criticized? Rejected? Or worse yet, abandoned? Of course these weren’t my grown-up thoughts. They’re the thoughts of a vulnerable child. According to Hal and Sidra Stone, founders of the Voice Dialogue method, the vulnerable child within us embodies our sensitivity and fears. Its feelings are easily hurt and it generally lives in fear of abandonment.

Abandonment issues are exacerbated in homes where parents/caregivers were emotionally wounded themselves. Children, being exquisitely sensitive to their surroundings, sense their parents’ unmet needs and typically make a choice, albeit unconsciously, to subjugate their own desires and take on the caretaker role.

The late John Bradshaw, renowned for his books and PBS television programs, concluded that this process is the reversal of the natural order. In his book, Healing the Shame that Binds You, he wrote: The caretaker role is strangely paradoxical. In an attempt to secure parental love and avoid being abandoned, the child in fact is being abandoned. Since the child is there for the parent, there is no one to mirror the child’s feelings and drives and to nurture the child’s needs.

To break the spell, we must encounter our fears, both past and present, and face their causes courageously. It’s essential to take a step back, stop re-acting out of anger, and instead, tend to the vulnerable child within us with love and compassionate care. Only then will we see what’s lurking behind our walls of self-defensive. Only then will we be able to communicate our needs in an emotionally healthy way.

Tears will fall first, if we’re willing to feel them, as mourning is required to heal the haunting hurts of our childhoods. In addition, wrote Alice Miller, acclaimed psychotherapist and author of The Drama of the Gifted Child, we must speak out against our mistreatment, confronting our parents in an inner dialogue to discover and validate our real needs, past and present.

Now you may be thinking, “My parents didn’t mean to hurt me.” Of course they didn’t! They were doing the best they knew how. But that doesn’t mean that you and I didn’t endure significant losses, most especially the loss of being who we were meant to be: the loss of our true selves.

Facing the pain that we buried away not only liberates our true selves, but also releases our gentle spirit, the essence of a vulnerable child who knows how to care without caretaking, love without condition, and confront without controlling in order to feel safe. You see, this spirit knows that our vulnerable child is not the only one hiding in the darkness; it recognizes that our loved ones are hiding there too.

There’s so much more I could write about how our personal histories shape our present relationships, but it’s time to conclude with the words of a man whose own history is haunting, whose poetry is healing, and whose music forever lives in our souls…

A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself – and especially to feel, or not to feel. What you happen to be feeling at any moment is fine with them. That’s what real love amounts to – letting a person be what s/he really is. Most people love you for who you pretend to be. To keep their love, you keep pretending – performing. You get to love your pretense. It’s tropen doorue, we’re locked in an image, an act – and the sad thing is, people get so used to their image, they grow attached to their masks. They love their chains. They forget all about who they really are.

Rest in Peace, Jim Morrison. Rest in truth (even if it scares you) my dearest friends.

Connecting Serendipity

Ahmed, the owner of Désert sans frontière, had agreed to guide me through the Southern Oasis route of Morocco. I was delighted to hand over the reigns to him after three days of traveling alone. The maze, the mayhem, and the men in Marrakech put me on guard, but now it seemed I could relax. After all, the owner of my guesthouse, Riad Attajmil, recommended Ahmed, a certified guide and excellent driver who grew up in a Berber village. We agreed to travel together for two-and-a-half-days before he’d drop me at a desert camp on the edge of the Sahara.dades

That was the plan, but by end of the second day, Ahmed suggested that the plan change. I don’t need to leave tonight. I want to make sure you’re safe, he proclaimed, as we pulled away from Chez Mimi in Dadès Gorge, the most romantic place I’ve ever been.

camelman2Hmmm! I felt my walls go up. Maybe I should stick to the plan? After all, Ahmed was smitten with me. I didn’t know if I could trust him, but on the other hand, I was anxious about fending for myself in the Sahara. (You know, there are snakes and tarantulas in the desert.) And, after all, he wasn’t going to charge me for the extra night, but instead, offer his services to the camp in exchange for room and board.

Go it alone in the desert or risk uncharted terrain with a man? I had fought this battle my entire life, fearing that if I’d let down my guard with another, especially a man, I’d end up hurt or disappointed. But something was very different with Ahmed. A deep connection was emerging between us despite our many differences. It didn’t matter that we were born and raised in vastly different cultures. Our connection was based on authenticity, mutual respect, and value for each others world.

It made no sense to turn him away, and thankfully I didn’t. Something special was about to occur.

(Fast-forward a few hours.) We’re milling around outside Riad Madu, waiting to hit the dunes. I turned to Ahmed who looked perplexed. See that man over there in the Moroccan djellaba, he remarked, the one standing with a woman and child. I know him, but from where? Before I had the chance to help him solve this puzzle, he had stepped away from me and veered in this man’s direction. They spoke softly. I watched intently. They embraced warmly. I smiled from ear-to-ear. Something magical was happening, but what? I couldn’t wait to find out.

After several minutes of chatter between the two of them, Ahmed returned to my side wearing a smile broader than mine. My friend, Saïd and I attended Agadir University at the same time. We both majored in French Literature and attended many classes together. It’s been 17 years since I’ve seen him. Can you believe it? 17 years! After his studies, he left Morocco and took a job teaching in France. He now lives in Amsterdam with his Dutch wife and their daughter, but returns to Morocco for a week vacation every year.

Unbelievable! I thought. If I had stuck to my plan and told Ahmed to leave, Saïd and he wouldn’t have met. They wouldn’t have had the chance to spend hours that night rekindling their friendship, and I wouldn’t have played a part in their reunion.

It was good that they were together that night. It took Ahmed’s attention off of me. That said, it was hard to say goodbye to him the next morning, for I must admit, I was smitten too. But I had a sojourn to continue in Fez and he had a family to return to in Marrakech. But serendipity–it wasn’t ready to leave.

I was sitting at a breakfast table at my guesthouse three days later, enjoying the company of a young woman from Japan. What are your plans today, Mayuko? I asked politely. I’m heading to Chefchaouen, that beautiful blue village in the Rif Mountains, she replied. Me too! I exclaimed. Come to find out, we were both leaving Fez on the 11 am bus with assigned seats next to each other. And, we both had reservations at Casa Perleta, a guesthouse with only 8 guest rooms. Serendipity! I shouted after exchanging itineraries.chaouenmtn

What is serendipity? Mayuko asked.

Serendipity is when life hands you an unplanned surprise, an unexpected happy or beneficial event.

We agreed to meet in the courtyard in 30 minutes, hail a cab together, and spend the day tooling around the “Blue Pearl.” It was a wonderful day, a joyful serendipity!

ahmed+No one knows why and how serendipity happens, but I’m certain that letting go of control is an absolute must. After these two serendipitous events, I felt like something inside me had shifted. I felt freer and less fearful, more trusting and secure.

The dunes of Morocco had opened my mind and a man from the desert had unlocked my heart.

Possessed by a Plan

Everyone h670px-Knock-out-Someone-in-One-Punch-Step-3-Version-3as a plan until they get punched in the mouth. Mike Tyson

A part of me is embarrassed to write this post, but if Mike Tyson can concede defeat, so can I. Here goes.

Last March, I came down with a terrible flu. Sick for weeks, I spent most of my time laid up on my 20-year-old sofa staring at 4 walls of dull paint, a pet-stained carpet, and a 60-year-old end table I inherited from my folks. Not only did my body ache, my heart and soul ached too. I had way too much time to wallow in self-pity, alone at home, thinking about losses I’d endured over the past few years. I felt lonely and deeply sad.

I needed something to take my mind off my misery, something to breathe new life back into my ailing room. Aha! I squeaked out of my phlegm-filled lungs. I know what I’ll do once I’m well. I’ll buy a new sofa. Yes! Freshen things up a bit. Right? You don’t know me very well, do you? Keep reading. The plot thickens.

My mind went to work planning and plodding, and before I knew it, I wasn’t just shopping for a sofa. I was redecorating my entire condo. Yep! A major do-over was underway. I imagined transitioning from traditional to contemporary and from cream and tan to gold and grey. Pinterest became my new best friend. I surfed online ad nauseam, not only for the perfect sofa, but for the perfect rug, tables, lamps, and artwork too. As soon as I was up and at ‘em, I got busy scouring every furniture store in town.

I felt possessed by a trio of interior design demons: Pearl Perfectionist, Pedro Planner, and the most controlling of all, Theodore Thrifty (who was dead set on staying within budget). They insidiously snuck into my consciousness, quietly taking over without me even realizing it, that is, until exhaustion set in. They wore me down with their obsessive-compulsive tendencies. I know they were only trying to help, but geez-Louise! After awhile, the search got old. Still, I couldn’t stop them.

I desperately needed help (from real people who lived outside my head;-) Enter Mr. Friendly-Furniture-Guy and Mrs. Upright-Upholstery-Maven. When I entered their family owned furniture store, it felt like I’d entered a time warp, like the small town where I was born and raised. The Mr. and Mrs. were extremely kind and caring. I felt so well-tended to, unlike when I was sorrowfully sick months before. In a flash, my demons vanished. Instead I heard, “They’re so attentive to my needs. I think I’ll buy a sofa from them.” So I did.

After waiting 6 weeks for a custom sofa, delivery day arrived. The delivery men carried in my new grey sofa (paid-in-full/no return). They put it in its place. BAM! Something was terribly wrong. It didn’t fit the room. I sat down. BAM! It didn’t fit me. I felt uncomfortable, not at all like I remembered. A one-two punch hit me hard. I was flattened.

Despite their good intentions, my interior design demons failed me, and now, to add insult to injury, they berated me. Once again, I needed help to make them go away. I picked up the phone and dialed my sister (my ‘one and only’ rock who lives far away). Only then did the floodgates let loose. Only then, with the support of someone I deeply trusted, did I realize that instead of buying a comfortable sofa, I bought comfort. I bought caring. I bought community.

Often, without even realizing it, we distract ourselves from feeling sad by over-planning or consuming. We get busy doing to escape our loneliness. Our inner-demons take over without our awareness. They don’t mean us harm. They want to keep us from hurting. But instead of freeing us from our emotional pain, they perpetuate age-old patterns that keep us from getting the help we truly need.

I’m not discounting these voices completely. At times they serve us well (Pearl Perfectionist is at work right now editing this post.) But when we’re sick, or scared, or lonely, or sad, they’re not the ones to turn to. That’s when we need comfort and caring from people we trust. That’s when I need more than my one and only who lives far away. I need community.

Speaking of community, I’ve turned an expensive life lesson into a meaningful gift. I’ve donated my new grey sofa to The Furniture Bank, a non-profit that collects gently used furniture from the community, giving it to individuals and families moving out of homelessness or fleeing domestic violence. A “perfect plan”, now wouldn’t you say?

P.S. I just bought a comfortable cream sofa that goes with everything I already have (minus the pet stained carpet). I’m quite pleased with my choice and so is Theodore Thrifty. 😉

“You Complete Me” or Do You?

Sappy doesn’t come close to describing this famed scene from the movie, Jerry Maguire, yet screenwriter, Cameron Crowe, draws us in, capturing the magnetic, head-over-heals, “You-Make-Me-Feel-Brand-New” kind of love. We all know that romantic love is just a phase that comes and goes. Robert A. Johnson, Ph.D., Jungian analyst and author of We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love describes it well…

This [romantic love] is a psychological phenomenon that is very specific. When we are “in love” we believe we have found the ultimate meaning of life, revealed in another human being. We feel we are finally completed, that we have found the missing parts of ourselves. Life suddenly seems to have a wholeness, a superhuman intensity that lifts us high above the ordinary plain of existence. The psychological package includes an unconscious demand that our lover or spouse always provide us with this feeling of ecstasy and intensity.

If only our lover would meet our unconscious demands forever. Blissful! If only they’d read our minds and always conform to our deepest desires. Heavenly! But wait. If this ecstatic experience was never-ending, then falling in love wouldn’t feel so special or be so purposeful.

You see, romantic love IS a path to completion, but not in a Jerry-Maguire-kind-of-way. Johnson describes romantic love as the mask behind which a powerful array of new possibilities hide, possibilities waiting to be integrated into conscious. When we allow our lover to see behind our mask, to see all of who we are in an authentic, non-defensive way, we create the possibility to heal old wounds and develop more of who we truly are. But we must choose this path, for it doesn’t appear naturally. Naturally, we veer in the direction of habitual patterns of thought, feeling, and action, but with help from a trusted lover, we can see all of who we are, most especially the parts we’ve been too afraid to face (including painful emotions, obsessive thoughts, or addictive behaviors).

Author Gary Zukov describes this life-changing union as a Spiritual Partnership, a relationship that is substantive and meaningful, one created through shared commitment, courage, compassion, and conscious communication and action. Creating this type of loving exchange isn’t easy, but it is incredibly worthwhile. According to Zukov, it requires you to choose words and deeds, moment by moment, that will create joyful and constructive consequences even when painful or violent emotions roar through you.

This partnership isn’t about someone making you feel brand you, it’s about YOU re-making yourself brand new with the help of someone who, as John Legend sings, loves all of you. (You’ve got to watch this beautiful music video! No harm in treasuring romantic love, even if it does wear off over time).

To learn more about the benefits of creating this powerful connection, read a free bonus chapter of Zukov’s book, Spiritual Partnership: The Journey to Authentic Power, or review his Spiritual Partnership Guidelines.

Wishing you an authentically loving Valentine’s weekend.

The Chemistry of Love

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed. — C.G. Junglovers

Why do we fall in love with one person rather than another? That was the question posed to renowned anthropologist Helen Fisher by Match.com in 2004. Why an anthropologist? you ask. Interestingly, studies have concluded that romantic love isn’t an emotion. It’s a drive. According to Fisher, romantic love is one of 3 basic brain systems that evolved for reproduction. The sex drive evolved to get you out there searching for a mate; romantic love helped you focus on one person at a time; and attachment kept you bonded long enough to raise a family.

By 2004 research had concluded that chemistry leads us to love, but science had yet to crack the code on why we fall for one person rather than another. Match.com asked Fisher to figure this out. She agreed to help them create a new dating site, Chemistry.com. To begin, she drew on her knowledge of how personality traits sync up with four brain chemicals: dopamine, serotonin, testosterone, and estrogen, and then categorized them into distinct personality types.

fisher

  • Explorers are driven by the dopamine system. These types are novelty seeking, energetic and restless.
  • Builders produce greater amounts of serotonin, a chemical  associated with calmness, cautiousness, and tradition.
  • Directors are fueled by testosterone, a chemical linked to intellectualism, straightforwardness, and tough-mindedness.
  • Negotiators produce more estrogen, making them more imaginative, emotionally intense, and desirous of intimacy.

Next, Fisher developed a questionnaire to determine the personality types of nearly 40,000 Match.com subscribers. She needed to prove that each type thinks and acts differently; and she did. Now her goal was to see if a person’s unique temperament dictated who they chose to date. Do opposites attract? Or do we prefer people who think and behave like us?

If you’re chuckling to yourself (or cursing under your breath), you’re probably in a relationship with someone who has a different style than yours. Fisher found that Directors are drawn to Negotiators, and Negotiators to Directors. On the other hand, Builders and Explorers, gravitate to partners who are more like themselves. To date, over 7 million individuals have completed Fisher’s questionnaire to help themselves find the “perfect” match. Some even resulted  in marriage. Last year, 17% of internet matches led to marriage. Good news, don’t you think? Yet still, the divorce rate in the U.S. hovers around 50% and the average marriage lasts 8.8 years. So if the chemistry is right, why do the flames of love expire?

Science continues to search for answers. One answer, paradoxically IS chemistry. As with any fire, embers need to be stoked. When the sparks of romantic love fade—approximately 18 months to 3 years into a relationship—couples need to stir things up. Additional brain studies have found that novelty and excitement keep romantic love alive. Research from New York’s Stony Brook University found that couples who regularly do new and different things together are happier than those who repeat the same old habits. The theory suggests that new experiences activate the dopamine system and mimic the brain chemistry of early romantic love.

So, instead of planning a romantic dinner this Valentine’s Day, go rock-climbing or scuba diving (exciting), visit a new city or music venue (novel), climb a mountain or take a tango lesson (energizing). Explore new frontiers in the bedroom, or better yet, role-play at a secluded hideaway (tantalizing). Take risks with your lover, again and again, so that chemistry of love can continue to work it’s magic.

To learn more ways to keep love alive, check out this cool infographic, The Secrets of Happy Coupling.  And, if you need help in opening your heart to love again or rekindling the flames in a tired relationship, call me for a complimentary consultation @ 678-360-6018.

A Unity of Souls

The fourth regret of the dying, according to Bronnie Ware (see previous posts), is not staying in touch with friends. One of the most beautiful passages on friendship was penned by the renowned theologian and author, Henri Nouwen…

Friendship is one of the greatest gifts a human being can receive. It is a bond beyond common goals, common interests, or common histories. It is a bond stronger than sexual union can create, deeper than a shared fate can solidify, and even more intimate than the bonds of marriage or community. Friendship is being with the other in joy and sorrow, even when we cannot increase the joy or decrease the sorrow. It is a unity of souls that gives nobility and sincerity to love. Friendship makes all of life shine brightly. Blessed are those who lay down their lives for their friends.

In my mind, true friendship is a heart-centered connection that deepens through authentic communication and unwavering commitment. Time is not the key ingredient. Understanding is. Our most enduring friendships, according to Nouwen, are not the people who have given us advice or cures for our ailments, but those who have been able “to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.”

Staying “in touch,” as Bronnie Ware writes, means so much more than simply making time for friendship; it means allowing ourselves to be touched in the most vulnerable of ways. We can be friends on the surface without truly understanding another’s feelings. We can catch up on the latest gossip, share a laugh or two, vent frustrations, and whine about co-workers and kids. Yet still, we can be out-of-touch with what’s really going on with each other at our core.

Recently, I came to terms with a loss of a friendship. I didn’t want to say goodbye, for we shared many common goals, interests, and histories. Yet still, I felt I wasn’t receiving the gift I deserved. The “unity of souls” that Nouwen so beautifully writes about was missing. I hadn’t accepted this truth until recently, mostly because, I hadn’t believed that I was deserving of this amazing type of bond. I feared being vulnerable, telling my friend how I truly felt about a conflict. I took a risk. I had to, for I longed for a deeper connection–a unity of souls. Sadly, I didn’t receive the understanding I had hoped for. But thankfully, she gave me the opportunity to tell her how I felt.

A unity of souls begins with emotional honesty. Next month I’ll conclude my series on the Five Regrets of the Dying with the last wish expressed by Ware’s patients–finding the courage  to express our feelings. I hope you’ll join me.

You Are Lovable

Until now, my blog was titled, Alone Together. But the title doesn’t fit anymore,  because something miraculous has changed in me. I no longer feel alone.

I started writing this blog 14 months ago. At that time, life was difficult. I was struggling both personally and professionally, afraid to ask for help, afraid help wouldn’t come. I had lived so independently and accomplished so much–all by myself. I was proud of that fact, convinced I didn’t need anyone to help me find my way. Yet lurking beneath my confident facade of “not needing” lived a vulnerable child in search of love.

In the past, I believed that I needed to do something to be loved. My belief wasn’t conscious. It was buried deep inside.  My depression clued me in, as much as I didn’t want it to. I realized it was time to learn, despite the fear I felt. It was time to respond to the lonely child within, not by joining an online dating service, but by committing to a year-long training where I’d not only learn new skills to use in my therapy practice, but where I’d do my own therapeutic work and deepen the love for myself.

Seven wonderful people came together once a month to unveil hidden secrets in a safe, supportive place. Together, we risked vulnerability with the goal of becoming more emotionally healthy and whole. The process at times was frightening, but it was also nurturing, creative, and soul-satisfying, just like love is when you get it right.

In the process, I fell in love with my playmates, and in return, they fell in love with me. We all did great work. All our issues were different. But we accepted each other completely. We all loved each other through the pain we had carried in our heart for years. There was nothing any of us needed to do to earn each others’ love. There was no need to please, no pressure to perform, no problems to fix–nothing to do except be truly ourselves.

Being myself was scary. I didn’t want to remember the part of me that was lonely inside. I didn’t want to expose her to the world for fear of being hurt again. It did hurt, but the pain was bearable, especially because I was with people who loved me despite my flaws. Because of them, and the wonderful therapists who led our group, I was able to be vulnerable and risk being seen. In their presence, I allowed myself to stop pretending that I was fine on my own. And when I did, the joy I felt was beyond belief.

Alone is not my way anymore. Together is so much better. On this Valentines Day 2012, I wish you deep love within your heart, for despite your flaws, YOU ARE LOVABLE.

Christmas in My Heart

My heart is alive in Christmas, but a few weeks ago it wasn’t so. My first entry, Winter Solstice, recounts the darkness I struggled with this past year. I hope this won’t discourage you from reading it, for it ends in a hopeful place.

The following excerpt from “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” by Dylan Thomas, captures the beauty in the darkness…

Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steadily falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.

For many weeks I was asleep in the darkness, afraid the night would never end. But it did. It ended when I looked out into the world and saw light in the windows of people who loved me, people who were able to hold me “close and holy” while I slept. Their light rekindled my faith and reminded me that I’m never alone in this world.

As 2010 comes to an end, and a New Year dawns, I’m imagining brilliant light streamingthrough my windows and back out into yours, so that together, wewill honor Christmas inour hearts the whole year long.

Winter Solstice

Depression. I was a walking Cymbalta commercial. Tired, achy, unfocused, despairing, crying until my once sparking eyes receded into their sockets, puffy and red. My compassionate heart-felt hollow and aching. My once joyful self exorcised from my body, whereabouts unknown. “Who is this person that has taken over my existence? I don’t know her,” I screamed out. “I don’t want to know her.” I hated who I was. I hated the diagnosis that defined my current reality, a label coined in the name of mental health. No clinical diagnosis had been given me, but having just completed my masters in counseling, it was evident that I met the criteria for a mood disorder, major depressive episode.

Disorder. I had learned a great deal about disordered thinking and feeling in graduate school. Research-based findings and immersion in theoretical frameworks had defined my journey for three long years. It was hell letting go of an enlivening coaching practice to build competence in a field built on diagnosis and disorder. Creativity was limited; experiential learning rare. Despite my disappointment with the methods used to teach me, I was determined to achieve my lifelong goal to become a professional counselor. I believed that earning licensure would add value to my work and secure my future in a way coaching alone never could.

Death. All the while I was in graduate school my 12-year old business was dying a slow, steady death. My receipts had dwindled with the economic downturn; my website became infected with malicious code. Still, I held onto my pride and my pleasure, facilitating a few retreats and tele-forums and squeezing in a few coaching clients between research papers and tests. I loved (and still love) what I created with HumanArts, a coaching and consulting practice designed to help people and organizations become creative, resourceful, and whole. But I knew it was time to let go of my creation. The universe was beckoning me to move forward again. Despite my resistance and fear of the unknown, I shut down my website, disconnected the phone line, canceled the P.O. Box, and scrapped my artistic letterhead. My heart grieved. I felt lost, a woman alone in search of a new identity.

Departure. This ending wasn’t the only cause for my depression. It was also fueled by the departure of my only sibling, Sandy, who moved to Los Angeles in July of this year. I wallowed in self-pity, convincing myself that she was the only person I could truly lean on, and now after 30 years of togetherness in Atlanta, she was gone. Her timing sucked! She left me when I really needed her. I had just taken a part-time job with a dysfunctional county agency, a treatment center for substance use disorder. I was frustrated with red tape and hierarchical controls, discouraged about my choice to enter the mental health field after years of entrepreneurial freedom. I had finally earned the right to counsel individuals with “disorders,” and here I was, struggling with a disorder of my own.

Disconnection. “Help me, please!” I screamed out loud to no one and everyone. Numb with pain one day, anguished the next, no matter what surfaced I knew I couldn’t suffer alone anymore. “Haven’t I already been down this path?” I bemoaned. “Didn’t I write a saga of loneliness in A Journey of My Choosing?” Despite my resistance and fear of the unknown, I knew exactly what I needed to do.

Reconnection. I picked up the phone and called my friend Kathy. Again and again, she was faithfully there. I asked my friend Mardeene to come over and comfort me. I needed to be held and cry in her arms. I let it all out on the phone with my sister, purging my emotions until I felt limp. To salve my tired soul, I took hot baths and played soothing music. I cooked healthy meals and drank hot tea before going to bed. I walked in the park, practiced yoga, and meditated at sunrise. I got out of the house even when I didn’t feel like it. I asked for help, over and over, despite the shame I was feeling inside. I stopped giving so much and started taking much more. Then finally one night after six months of darkness, I caught a glimmer of light during a Winter Solstice celebration.

I always return to Mary & Martha’s Place at Solstice, a spiritual center that fills me with peace and a renewed sense of hope. Mardeene agreed to join me and I was thankful that she did. Sitting in the pew of a dimly lit sanctuary, my soul sank into “Sweet Darkness,” a poem by David Whyte…

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb
tonight.

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.

A surge of grief caused me to shutter. Mardeene took my hand and squeezed it tightly, there once again, tending to my needs. Together, we meditated in sweet darkness and sang softly with a community of gentle voices. Near the end of the service, we stepped out of our pew to join a procession, moving toward an altar filled with unlit votive candles. I hadn’t noticed that I was the last in line until I arrived at the table. I lit my candle prayerfully before attempting to hand my light stick back to the women guiding us along. Instead of taking my light stick, she handed me another votive. There were many more candles left to light, and miraculously, I was the one who was invited to repeat this ritual over and over again.

Over the last few years I lost much of my light spending time in places “too small” for me. My creative spirit withered in the halls of academia, and it’s currently suppressed by government bureaucracy. I trust these experiences are serving a purpose, but I also know it’s time to break free once again. My mind isn’t clear of exactly where I’m headed, but my heart knows for sure that I can’t go it alone.  I’ve been there and done that on a solo journey of my choosing. Today I choose to connect to an enlivening community.

Connection is key in the journey of self-development. The research proves that growth-fostering relationships enhance creativity, clarity, and vitality. So there, theories do serve a purpose and education is useful (I smile as I write), but what’s most valuable to me right now are the people who bring me alive.

My intention for 2011 is to expand my connections, “Alone, Together,” writing and reading my way into re-creation, overcoming the darkness as I step more fully into the light. If you’re seeking more light, more love, and more connections, join me.