The first time my mom heard me curse I was 18 years old. The neighbor’s son had come over to ask me on a date. He offered to take me to McDonalds to which I replied, “Fuck your McDonalds”. As my mom rounded the corner where she’d overheard my retort, I could hear her slow clapping. Her eyes were wide and mouth agape in adoration and surprise. “Now that’s MY daughter!” Though I was not one to turn down a free meal, I was pretty sure this dude dealt weed so he could have at least offered to take me to Sizzler. What's more, I had just finished telling him that I broke up with my high school boyfriend and would be starting college soon. Flattered by his desire to swoop in before other suitors could run up, I was truly heartbroken, so I did not take his advances well.
Talking about my youth in a public setting can be a little tricky, because like 43% of adults in the U.S. I grew up around alcoholism and substance abuse. Some common characteristics of Team ACOA are relentless self-judgment, being hyper responsible (or irresponsible), and seeking constant affirmation that one is worthy of love. I never really examined these traits as a teenager or in my early 20s, primarily because I felt like my experiences in life, especially the difficult ones, helped to shape the inquisitive, deeply spiritual, compassionate, and downright cheeky person I'd become. Fast forward to my 30s and erm..40s, I could see relics of my inner child toolkit blocking the path to truly enjoying myself and my life. Not that long ago, I found it inconceivable that someone could simply make peace with a quality in themselves they were ashamed of. Radical self-love had yet to appear on my radar, but I’ve been grateful for it’s arrival ever since.
Last year, a good friend introduced me to a book called Awaken Your Genius, by Carolyn Elliot. In it, she offers ways to reach into the parts of ourselves that most of us are coached to ignore or repress. This wasn't my first exposure to the concept of shadow work, but it was the first time I'd been offered a way through writing to examine this concept within my own life. One of the exercises instructed me to write a letter to my heart, telling it all that I was struggling with; for me this meant the torment of unmet goals and its sidekick, shame. Then, I would write a letter back to myself from my heart but with a style of language that I will describe, so not to plagiarize, as Woo-Woo. Get the book — Carolyn describes it best.
This is what my heart had to say:
Why scuttle your mind with such unpleasantries? Leap up and out. Over death flagellating your breast. You smell like autumn. You taste like moonlight. You look like green ponds under stars. You sound like honeybees floating too close. You feel like warm oil against cold flesh. Swallow this knowing and stay full.
You are Ouroburos carving, curving, coiling and captivating. Medicine flows from your throat, creeps from the corners of your eyes, and wants to make itself to the village. Let your safety drop out! BOOM till it crashes into a thousand pieces. Let roaches and caterpillars suck up its remains. Emerge weightless. Pour blood into the earth. Burrow yourself between the tallest redwoods and listen. Tremble in the cold water. I will not let love destroy you, but I take you to its edge breathless. This is how the next opus finds you.
Kiss your grandmother’s cold cheek. Press your face into the crust of her chest. Eat the cake on the counter. Smell the humble perfume. Dance to gospel and boop-boop-bi-doop. Sing loudest in the bedroom. Belong to truth and let it echo into the sound of Osada. Surrender poetrydrunk into laughter. Sail from this into that.
With never-ending love and adoration,
I trembled writing this letter and collapsed into tears upon reading it back, as if I wasn't conscious of the words while they fled from my furious fingers. It was one of the most profound writing experiences I've ever had. It stirred in the pot of my journal pages, and I expected to edit it eventually. But each time I reread it, or shared it with a loved one, I could find no synonym to swap out, no grammar choice that needed rules to ring truer, nothing wrong at all with what had poured directly from my heart — It was my truest heart song. With this permission to let go of all the ways I felt unfinished the "what-ifs" of my life gave way to a newfound excitement and zest for "what's next?!"
Turns out that F-bombs are vital to my lexicon and I still have lingering ACOA proclivities. Like sometimes I recoil from my truth when I fear hurting someone’s feelings; I criticize my partner’s driving, calling their occasional illegal turns, or incorrect use of the passing lane, acts of "caucasity," and I want EVERYONE to love me. But I also know that I have a gift for writing and it's easier these days to be proud of that and take a compliment without a self-effacing response. I know I am NOT responsible for anyone's emotions except my own. My partner is an excellent driver and her privilege comes in handy sometimes. And I am not for everyone. It's all copacetic. The more I lean towards self-compassion with my own shadow, the more empathy I have for others when they don’t live up to my fanciful expectations. TBH, it’s exhilarating to accept my own imperfections. When something pokes the prickly skin of an unresolved hurt, I can be petty AF in response and I can't read a fucking map to save my life. So what?! My imperfections can be adored as preciously as the parts of myself that I display proudly.
Over the years, though not all consecutive, I have had the privilege of regular psychotherapy. Weekly sessions with my current therapist have been très nécessaire the entire time we’ve been in this panini. Sometimes during our sessions, my therapist feels compelled to remind me that I am lovable and worthy of love. We met in person before tele-health was the norm so I know she can see my eyes roll incredulously as I murmur: How do you know? To which she always calmly replies, Because you are loved.