August 8, 2019 marked one year since my mother passed. I gave myself intentional space of solitude from October 2018 to February 2019, to do as minimal as possible. I utilized my energy for work, rest, and self care activities. Self care included weekly and monthly involvement in dance, paint, therapy, life coaching, acupuncture, personal training and travel. In this time of stillness, I spent a lot of time in introspection. I allowed myself to feel the depth of my sorrow, and at times despair.
As a big believer in the therapeutic art of journaling, I constantly wrote about mental, emotional and spiritual experiences thru this time. It was necessary for me to constantly process what I was experiencing, in order to not be completely consumed by grief with an onset of depression on top of my normal depression experience.
As all types of fears, insecurities, and trauma based responses arose, I was intentional of asking myself, what can I learn from this? I was extremely emotionally fragile during this time, and I allowed myself the space and gave myself the permission to honor my emotional experience. I feel like most of what I will share can be applicable to anyone, but I must preface these reflections, by mentioning that much of the inner work I’ve done, has been centered on processing traumatic experiences, and relieving symptoms related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As a mental health practitioner and community healer, I have to constantly keep self care, self awareness, and wellness in the forefront of my life.
There’s many roles and responsibilities that I carry, and I take them all seriously. Self actualization and self love are very important to me, therefore as I’ve increasing became a more conscious and spiritually grounded person, challenging and removing anything that’s an internal or external that's a threat to my peace, freedom, or purpose, must be assessed.
So much has transpired in the last year, both externally and internally. I have grown immensely, releasing many unhealthy thought and behavior patterns, while also acquiring acceptance and courage in many ways that I found difficult before. In light of this growth, and in honor of the gift that loss brings, I wanted to share major lessons experienced since my mother passed.
- Life Goes On.
As someone who has essentially lost both of my primary parental figures, my maternal grandfather and mother, it felt like life would completely halt. There are times within the first 7 months of my grief of my mother’s death where it almost felt like it wasn’t ok to continue life or accomplish anything without my mother being able to experience it with me. However, she was a person that chose to live life up until her very last breaths. I’ve always been a curious, explorative and ambitious person, and I realized there was no need to change that; if anything, I chose to continue being in that power, and even more so in honor of my mother, I allowed these parts of me, to continuously drive me.
I traveled, launched businesses, grew professionally and spiritually. I established new relationships, and others came to completion. I completed projects I’ve been dreaming about for years. I went on adventures. I became more honest, confident and unapologetic. So much happened, and in light of it all, everyday I thought about my mom, gave honor to my mom, and spoke to her, as if she was right next to me. I continued to live my life, while staying connected to her, and life felt like it was lived so differently.
2. Just because you can physically push, doesn’t mean it serves you. BE still.
Challenging emotional experiences really bring a different perspective on the necessity to BE still. With some experiences, it is absolutely essential for one’s emotional health to minimize certain activities. I am used to being an extremely productive person due to balancing work, writing, event planning and my social life. However, it takes a specific type of mental energy to sustain the focus, effort and grit that fuels high level productivity. Its also very common for many of us to choose “staying busy” in lieu of “feeling our feelings.” When people experience something that hurts or angers them, they find ways to detach and distract themselves. In the end, the feelings remain hidden and buried, and eventually overtake us. This was the experience I had when my grandfather passed in 2016. I kept going and did not slow down. It did not serve me.
So this time around, I knew I couldn’t handle it the same. I slowed down, and many times expressed my fragility and weariness to others. I didn’t want to push. I let go of my past relationship with the notion of being “strong” by bearing my own weight, and allowed my vulnerability to give my loved ones the permission to hold for me. I said no whenever I needed to. I turned down socializing when I felt it would be difficult. I reserved my energy during work, when I felt too fragile and depleted.
3. Taking time to intentionally do nothing is precious, when you’re an intensely productive person.
This is connected to number 2, but goes in a different direction. The notion of BEing still can be more about slowing down, but doing nothing is literally, doing absolutely nothing. This was possibly one of the most difficult lessons to grasp, and challenges to employ. This challenge was actually assigned to me by my wonderful life coach. Like many productive people, so much of my identity was connected to outcomes and what I could/would produce. As a mental health clinician with depression, I am also super hypersensitive about my previous internal battle with balancing who I was as a clinician and healer with who I was as a person in need of constant restoration, and healing. There were so many morning, afternoons, evenings, and days where I literally had no plans, and actually did nothing. I would lay, I would sit and I would stand in silence; minimally if there was any activity, it would be listening to classical, meditative or jazz music single handedly or while journaling. Sometimes, it would even be in silence. It was often in these moments, where memories would play and epiphanies would occur. I would take these reflections into sessions with my therapist and life coach to process.
4. Constantly work on releasing the emotions anger, shame, and fear. These can be just as deadly as any illness.
Shame, fear, and anger threaten the quality of your life by robbing you of relationships and experiences that could bring joy and freedom. They poison relationships. They distort how you see your self and others. They cause you to question your value. As a woman who lived a life full of complex trauma, I believe that my mother began to develop a series of chronic illnesses not because of her lifestyle, but because of the emotional residue that her traumas caused. Sure she died of a pulmonary embolism, but I thought about all the events my mother survived. She was a soldier, but her body, could only take so much. I spent time, thinking about, and had many experiences during my grief bring up these emotions, and I decided, they did not and could not serve me for the life I wanted. So I leaned on outlets I knew could help release these emotions. Cue acupuncture and EMDR therapy.
Much of my acupuncture treatments were focused on emotional and mental health. In Chinese medicine, it is emotional experiences that impact the flow or stagnation of energy in your body. When you have stagnation, you have blockages, and the related blockages impact the nervous and circulatory systems, subsequently impacting different organs and this manifests in physical ailments.
My acupuncture treatments focused on shame, guilt, fear, insecurity, grief, and anger. For me, my acupuncture experience went hand in hand with my journaling and of course therapy. I realized I had so much of these emotions bottled up in me; some connected to my relationship with my mother, and much connected to trauma and experiences I have went thru on my own accord.
For me, these emotions most impacted my gastro-intestinal functions, sleep, anxiety, depression, appetite, libido and bladder. When I saw how intense these emotions had a hold on me, and understood how much they impacted my mothers’ life, I began to intentionally work on being mindful of anything or anyone, that would ignite these experiences, process immediately and move accordingly.
Complimentary to this emotional release work thru acupuncture, was my life changing work with my therapist. I experienced 8 sessions of a type of psychotherapy called EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). EMDR is a form of non talk therapy, in which one who has experienced trauma, reconnects to the memories of their trauma, in order to regulate their physiological and psychological experience that is connected to the trauma. These emotions of anger, shame and fear were completely connected to traumas I’ve experienced, and I relived thru all of them.
Being in a fragile place, there were easily several incidences during my time of grief that brought up these emotions, and it was the perfect opportunity to explore the roots. That's what EMDR does; allows trauma survivors to explore roots thru a stimuli based processing, and allows you to challenge negative core beliefs that resulted from these experiences.
5. If you eliminate your fear of death, everything else is relative and not a big deal.
Having the experience of losing my primary parental figures created a baseline of relativity. It made me really connect to the fact that if I felt like the worst has happened, nothing else could really be as big of a deal in comparison. I began to ask the question, regardless of using death as a measure, what is there to really fear when it comes to trying something or putting yourself out there? It offered me perspective about the temporariness in life. Relationships come and go. Emotions come and go. People come and go. Understanding how nothing is permanent offered a sense of freedom, and released the experience of holding on to how serious everything seemed.
6. Control is an illusion.
I have found that there is power in knowing the difference of impact, influence and control, as well as when each come into play. When it comes to control, there are many aspects of my being that I can control. I can control how I behave. I can control what I say to someone. I can control environments I choose to live and relationships I choose to have. I cannot control other emotions. I cannot control how people feel about or see me. I cannot control the weather or how fast or slow cars travel.
When you are a person with “control” issues, you often over assume how much you have control over. In experiences when one feels like they’ve lost control, they try to compensate by engaging in controlling behaviors. For me, I realized my tendency to control was often connected to my fear of abandonment, the perception that I had to save/help others, and my persistent need to create an experience of safety. These tendencies most often infiltrated my relationships, but also impacted my work and how I experienced outside stimuli.
The antidote to control, was learning how to completely let go, become less attached to outcome, and trust that everything will be ok, no matter how it currently looks. I stepped back from and released relationships. I walked away from circumstances that didn’t feel edifying and supportive. I spoke less and listened more. I did less. I gave up space for others to step in. I released needing to be or prove that I was right. I let other make decisions and step up in ways that I typically would have. I challenged less. I stopped over planning.
7. Know your values, and live them.
When you don’t know your values, you will be blown away like a leaf in the wind, and before you know it, you would have lived a life that was not reflective of who you believe you really are or aligned with what matters to you. I think many people live according to ideals they believe are important, but if asked, they don’t really know their values. Secondly, I believe that there is often a discrepancy between someone’s lived values versus their ideal values. During this time, I often reflected on the experience of my mother’s homegoing service. I thought about the obituary I wrote for my mother, the beautiful eulogy delivered, and the many comments loved ones made about who she was in their life.
It lead me to thinking about what her values were, if she lived them, and if people accurately attested to them in reflection of her life. Assessing my own values allowed me to hold up a mirror and really ask, how aligned are my decisions with what I say matters? This reflection brought me to the point of identifying my 5 core values, which lead to me doing work with my therapist and life coach around the decisions I needed to make to be more aligned with my values, and also just be more intentional about how I live my life. A Maya Angelou quote that my Life Coach has in her email signature has become the foundation, of how I live my life: Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.
Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.- Maya Angelou
So in learning to focus on my values, I also learned to be more courageous. Be courageous for me, and be courageous in the way I know my mother strived to be. My mother was a fighter, but she didn’t always honor her dreams, desires and beliefs. For people who have survived many traumas, survival is often more of a priority than courage. For so long my mom lived this way, but in her last 2 years of life, she increasingly grew in courage, and in her honor, I decided to do the same.
8. Find a harmony between focusing on the present and your legacy.
What can you be grateful for in the moment? What can you connect to in the here and now? What would you like to be remembered for? How are you presently working on something you can leave behind?
Being too caught up in the past or the future keeps one disconnected from the beauty, opportunities and miracles of the present. Not having any focus on the future, can lead one to waste life in a way that doesn’t leave legacy of impact. Your legacy is how people remember you, but your life is a statement about what matters to you. This could be two similar or different narratives.
9. Be clear if and when decisions or behaviors are driven by fear, deficit, or insecurity. Cut those chords.
Remember in number 4, where I mentioned how poisonous certain emotions could be? Well I learned they can be so poisonous, and subtle, you don’t even know they are choking, killing or harming you slowly. The experience of loss in and of itself can bring on fear and doubt, yet its powerful even when these emotions are experienced in relation to loss, one can identify that the loss is the reason.
In therapy, therapist are often digging for the “why.” Constantly exploring the reasons behind thoughts, behaviors and emotions give us insights into the core of our challenges. Emotions are data. All emotions give us insight into what matters, what feels comfortable, uncomfortable, and more. Some schools of thought believe that everything we do falls in 2 categories: love or fear. I don’t believe its that simple, but I do believe that fear drives us more than we realize.
My mere fixation on my mother not being present for my wedding, child births, big professional moments, and any other life altering transitions that would come to pass in the future, really got me to exploring more of my “whys.” Exploring motivations was such a game changer for me because I grew more aware of how deep my trauma centered responses were and how much they impacted one very important area of my life, my relationships.
Relationship dynamics that reflected trauma experiences were so normalized to me, I didn’t even realize how intense it was. So I made very difficult decisions this year, that challenged me to choose freedom, and cut chords from people or circumstances that triggered these emotional experiences. I learned that cutting these chords or implementing these boundaries didn’t mean anything was wrong with these people or environments, but there needed to be separation for my mental, emotional and spiritual health. It was so difficult doing this and because those chords meant a lot, I even experienced grief around the cutting. Yet because I know life goes on, I know they will be fine, as well as myself, even if it takes time.
10. Go where you are nurtured. Be in the care of those who see you.
This is probably one of the most intense lessons for me because it meant I got to come to terms with how I really perceived my worth. Within days of my mother passing, I received an overwhelming amount of encouragement, cards, and gifts. There were several times I became so overwhelmed I cried and asked why? Why were all these people doing this? Why have people I’ve never done anything for doing this? How did people even think I deserved this?
A good friend of mine said, “Tiffany there doesn’t have to be a reason. You are deserving because God made you.” Those words pierced me because I realized that I rarely focused on how others pour into me; or even my perception of my “worthiness” to be and receive love. I used to say “be love, give love and receive love,” but that was honestly the encouragement I gave to and believed for others.
It takes a lot of courage to acknowledge you are not in healthy, nurturing or beneficial relationships. It takes even more courage to have conversations with others about the matter, and release the relationships that don’t serve you.
The most profound insight I realized in relationship to this was that the ingredients of being a healer, empath, and trauma survivor who experienced intense enmeshed and co-dependent relationships, really was a terrible stew for distorted views of relationships. For so long, I had been more focused on what I could do for, be to , offer to, and give to others, as opposed to what I could receive. I would cerebrally say reciprocity mattered, but realized that this was not truly the case, and I had to re-assess.
Because I was fragile, I was in extra need of people who were willing to be sensitive, understanding, compassionate and empathetic to where I was and what I needed. I learned that there so many people in my life that had the capacity to hold for, love on, support and nurture me, but until now, I never really gave them the opportunity. Likewise, I also learned there were people I romanticized to be nurturers, that really could not see who I was in this fragile state, nor really comprehend what I needed emotionally or spiritually. I had to be honest with myself about who could and could not hold for me.
This was an important lesson because I knew my mother to live in both emotional and physical pain for most of my life. What I also know is she often burdened this pain on her own, or would only let a few people support her. That is hard. Its hard to live a life thinking you have to constantly be strong on your own. I found it to be so liberating to be surrounded by and connected to so many people who allowed me to re-define strength to be reflective of vulnerability, transparency, and unapologetic authenticity. As a trauma survivor, unlearning that survival had to be connected to pain, and re-learn in to be connected to having one’s needs met in a way that feels safe and protective, was both mind-blowing and ground breaking.
Through this lesson, I realized how selectively pore my emotional boundaries are at time. I also realized how much of my identity was rooted in being a giver, nurturer, fixer and healer. I was blessed with the insight to know my healing abilities are a gift, to be used at appointed times with appointed people, and in no way shape or form, was it a realistic obligation to constantly view as myself as someone who needed to constantly support others, and not have a mutual experience.
11. Life is to be lived, on your terms because its your life.
Its so easy to let external circumstances impact how we choose to live life. In no way shape or form is this a-one-fits-all piece of encouragement, as some of us in this world have more freedoms than others. I recognize that there are many people in dyer states of imprisonment, detainment, and restriction. If one has basic freedoms and needs met, and agency of choice is available, then this is applicable.
One thing is for sure: we will all die. Its merely a matter of when. It doesn’t matter how healthy, how much or little money you have, how few or many friends you have, or what you’ve accomplished, you will die. So it really makes sense, to find gratitude in the time you’ve been given, to live life in a way that feels full and fulfilling. People will have an opinion no matter how you live your life. People can judge no matter what decisions you make. When one chooses to live life based on the perceptions or opinions of others, they often become people full of regret on their death beds.