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Self-Reflection

 

Sometimes I feel so overcome with discouragement. It is a great mountain I am learning to travel within to climb. Recently this happened because of a mistake I had made in my personal life.

 

This mistake had to do with the way I reacted negatively to someone I care about. I reacted in anger and caused emotional harm to a person that couldn’t be dearer to me.

 

I made the mistake, and my self-esteem plummeted.  

 

I fell into an endless spiral downward. I felt angry. First at my circumstances (which include the loved ones around me). As if my problem was outside myself, and as if raging at all the outer chaos would soothe my now chaotic mind and soul. This revealed to me my first reaction was to the thought that “somehow if my circumstances were different I wouldn’t have made that mistake.” In short, I was blaming life, and other people for my own behavior.

 

Is it possible that if my outer circumstances were less difficult or chaotic I might not have made this mistake, by reacting in rage and anger? Sure.

 

However, is it also true that outer circumstances and other people will often throw me challenges, disappointments, and their own imperfections? Absolutely.

 

So the question is do I want to be the kind of person that has the inner strength and capacity to deal with these difficulties in a healthy way, in a way that harms myself and those around me less? Do I want to respond with confidence and trust in life, and my own ability to move through whatever arises? Of course.

 

So I have to stop blaming my external circumstances for my own behavior. I may feel tired, or frustrated or even full of rage, but that does not mean I have no choice in how I will respond and relate to these feelings.

 

I want to be the kind of person that can live in a place beyond reacting out of emotion. I want to inhabit a space where emotions are seen, acknowledged and felt in full, but I am not controlled or limited by them. I want to live in a mental space where I can see out beyond my rage, or sadness or fear. Getting there will take inner work.

 

Once I decided to take the responsibility for my mistake and not blame or make excuses- it was painful. I could see my behavior, my mistake so much more clearly. It was hard to look directly at it- but I had to. I felt ugly. Broken. And even questioned the value I bring to those around me, and if they were truly benefited by my presence or if they would, in fact, be better, lighter, happier in my absence. This is something I had never felt quite this clearly before – but I had felt the distant weight of my entire life.

 

This is when my self-esteem plummeted. I felt like I was doggy paddling through dark and murky water where some current was working hard against me. I felt exposed and vulnerable. It was a challenge just to get through the daily rituals of survival – getting dressed, eating, going to work. I began noticing and feeling the weight of all of my shortcomings, and imperfections- both in personality and physicality. Thoughts ranged from “I know better.” and “I should be passed this” to “how could my loved ones not be better without me?.”

 

I began to feel very insecure. Nervous. Heartbroken when I looked down and noticed my stomach, thighs, the hair growing where I wish it wouldn’t, EVERYTHING. I noticed my tendency to fret or clench my jaw in anger. My tendency to cling to and push away the people I love all at once. It was like all worry and fear living inside me rose up at once.

 

I fell down past the feeling of being in a little funk and past the feelings of sadness or a little down, and into a place where I could feel the presence of apathy, and deep depression hanging around my heart thickly like the humid and heavy heat of August in the south. I felt pulled between two opposing roads: giving-up or working in overdrive to “fix” everything.

 

But neither are really options for living. I could “give-up” which for me looks like going on autopilot, numbing out, and trying not to feel anything. Shutting down in any way possible…Not letting myself get invested in anything. I would be letting that spark within hide under the heavy slumber of apathy and fear closing myself off from my loved ones, and hurting them even more. At the end of this road lies bitterness, loneliness, and despair.

 

On the other side, I could try and self-improve. Exercise until all the pounds I hate disappear. Shave, wax, and remove all unwanted hair. Diet. Detox. Read all self-help books on insecurity, and anger-taking notes on and highlighting each word. Watch ted-talks, listen to podcasts, pin my workouts and self-esteem quotes. Anxiously grabbing for change through force. Here in this place of “fixing” myself I would be so self-absorbed and focused that I would miss all the beauty that is already here. Living life only to make improvements because I see myself as falling short or failing is closing myself off from the possibility of contentment (which is where peace lives). At the end of this road is also despair, and desperation for more life because this road is full of noise and distraction- and never-enoughness.

 

So neither road is really one I wished to travel. As I considered my options from within a voice whispers “stillness”. Here lies the inner ability to let it all be- stillness is that first stepping stone to acceptance. The place where the desire to be better and surrender meet to create the possibility to see my own self honestly and to hope. I sit down and meet myself in this difficult place of clear honest seeing, and reach out with inner love, and forgiveness. In this place, I am able to take joy in the opportunity to grow, and use the inner space of acceptance to become the person I wish to be.

 

In stillness, I allow this mistake, and all the feelings and the full experience that has come with it, to grow wings and become a great lesson, and light in my life. A beautiful moon in which I can bathe in, nurturing my soul until it blooms. A bloom which did not come from the easy place of pleasure, or perfection, but from the struggle and work of seeing myself clearly, sitting with and carrying the weight of my mistake long enough to feel its weight fully as my own responsibility, accept it, and only then place it on the ground. I breathe deeply and let the space between myself and the mistake grow. In that space, it transforms and becomes my moon by which I can see, where I can nakedly step forward, new and unfettered. A changed being. Letting go fully of what was.

We are not fixed in one space, or time, or personality. We, like all things, are always growing and changing with the tides of life. Each moment, experience and mistake is an opportunity by which to see life more clearly, and ourselves. We are invited over and over to let go of old habits, behaviors, and ways of being that no longer work for us. It takes work, and courage to face our ugly patterns but when we do so with love and compassion we are invited to inhabit our lives more joyfully, honestly and wholly. We can take each step forward open to hope, acceptance and love- we can offer these things to our-self, as we become the kind of person we wish to be. Hope that life always holds the possibility of beauty in every moment. Acceptance for all that is arising at this moment. Love, that ability and ineffable light within us all which makes life worth living.

 

Do not let your circumstances, limiting thoughts, imperfections or mistakes define or tie you down.

 

Walk with your ancient friends who are calling out to you from the mountain of your soul.

Hope.

Acceptance.

Love.

 

Self-Care Outside

Nature Walk for Self-Care

 

We have covered the topic of self-care before, and we wanted to offer a specific way that we like to do that. GETTING OUTSIDE!

 

It may be cold out, but bundling up and getting out for some fresh air can re-connect you to all the positive feels you might be missing. This will encourage  your sense of well-being and ability to deal with whatever life is throwing at you. Find a nice natural sport where you feel safe and secluded to just sit and breathe or go for a long trail run. Whatever way works for you, it is a great way to take care of yourself.

 

It is incredibly important to take time to just be you. Put your phone on “do not disturb,” and keep it put away unless you just absolutely have to use it for something. When you get outside or set aside time for yourself, but end up spending time snapping or insta-ing your scene you are doing those things for other people- not for yourself. Turning everything off is when you can really show up for yourself.

 

Why get outside? Because it’s good for the body and the mind.

 

It is good for you to physically move however fast or slow you choose. It is good for your lungs to get some cleansing fresh air. The body needs Vitamin D which is sourced from sunlight. It needs the freshly cleansed air that the trees are providing.

 

Being outside can also be good for the mind. As I said before we are often caught up in the monotony of life and our online presence. We can start to stress and overthink our interactions with others, over analyze our own  appearance or performance. Getting outside unplugs us from all the mental activity. Slowing down and hearing the wind blow through the trees, or seeing a deer snack on plants with her young, or feeling sunlight on our skin reminds us that we are actually a part of something beautiful and bigger than all of the other stuff we may worry about. We are a part of nature but sometimes our daily life disconnects us from that. It is good for us physically and mentally to make space for being outside.

 

Some of my favorite things to do outside:

 

PicNic

 

Sit outside under a tree and just listen for a minute. Get out a favorite book(anything by Mary Oliver is a great companion to getting outside), sketch pad, or journal and enjoy some time digging into one of these activities.

 

Either in the forest,out in an open space at a park, or even my own backyard I like to take some music and a hoop and move.

Hiking with my dogs- pack a bag with a blanket, light snack and some water and set out on a nice long walk. Maybe set a goal of distance or location to reach- or don’t and just enjoy a random path. Set out with a steady pace and nothing to do but listen and breathe.

 

Nap in a hammock

Look for wild flowers or insects to sketch or identify.

Stargaze

 

Bonfire with music, friends, hot cocoa and snacks!

Maybe you are bit more active than me. Try mountain biking or cross country running. Whatever it is that works for you it’s important to get time outside regularly. We promised you will feel better- especially if you do it offline! You may just find a new hobby or passion. I know I did.

 

The more I get outside the more I realize it’s worth protecting. I’ve connected with the larger aspect of life that I am a small part of, and realized I can play an important role in not only doing good for myself but for my fellow earthlings as well.

 

Stay warm, but get out there and do nothing outside or do something outside whatever you do.. Do it out there.

 

 

Considering Christmas Joy

It’s the Holiday Season. A time of year many of us look upon with great anticipation. However it seems the Christmas season gets busier and busier every year, rushing around for last minute presents, and I personally was recently faced with a situation where I saw clearly how much Christmas has become about gifts and gift giving/receiving. That it has become a holiday filled with STUFF rather than joy.

 

This got me to thinking about joy…. Where does it come from? How do we get it? Are other people experiencing it?

 

I get the general feeling that Christmas has become a pretty selfish time of year. We think about the things we want, dream about the things we might get, and sure we spend some time shopping for others, but mostly it’s about receiving. I feel like looking around at all the things we want and not really pausing to be thankful for what we already have. I think this is what causes dissatisfaction, numbness, and even depression sometimes. When we look around and make lists of all the things we want it fuels the feeling that we don’t have enough making us feel unhappy with our current circumstances.

 

Now I don’t want to be downer but here is where I am going to get real. If you are reading this it is likely you have PLENTY. I know I have plenty of stuff. I have so much stuff my closets are full and my basement too. Why do we constantly feel like we need more stuff, why do we keep buying crap we don’t use? Because we have been sold the message that this is what makes us happy. The opposite is actually true. Look at these kids below. Why do they look so happy? Their clothes are torn, they look thin and malnourished and yet they are joyful and all it took was a soccer ball and rain. I think we are actually making ourselves unhappy with all of our stuff.

This is why I am kind of feeling done with Christmas as I have known it. I don’t want to buy obligatory gifts that people aren’t going to use, and I don’t want to receive it either. So here is challenge number one. Consider taking some of your Christmas money this year and spending it on someone who needs it. You are choosing to spread joy by making the world a little bit brighter when you do something like this to celebrate the season rather than spend lots of money on items that in the end matter little to you. So here is a list of things you can do this season to create true joy, spread real cheer and make a lasting change in the world:

 

Visit https://www.market.unicefusa.org/inspired-gifts/

And support kids in need.

 

Give the gift of protecting Nature in someone’s name this season here: https://www.nrdc.org/

 

Think about the things you are a passionate about and see if you can do something this holiday season to honor that.

 

I know Christmas is quickly approaching but in honor of this season I want to challenge you to focus on and be grateful for all the things you do have. To pause and consider what is good in your life without all the presents, and stuff.

 

For me nature is a wonderful reminder to slow down, and enjoy each day as it comes. When I spend more time in nater and offline I am creating the space for true joy. Joy that is based in love, compassion and gratitude and not in money or things I can buy.

 

I’m not saying to turn gifts down, or to not enjoy the season, but consider for the sake of your own happiness that at the end of the day all the things in the world can’t make you happy or joyful- contentment and gratitude are where true long lasting happiness comes from.

 

This season was meant to be a time where we can reflect on these qualities. To be at peace, experience the joy of the season, and spend time with people we love. Ask yourself how you can create space and time for those things this season. Spread love and cheer not through purchasing THINGS but through your time, creativity and authentic self give. I challenge you ( I will be doing this with you) to turn of your phones and enjoy some time just chilling outside or with people you love. Without texting it, snapping it, or instagramming just be there. If your really brave maybe try doing it for a whole 24 hours.

 

Wishing you all lots of love this Holiday Season. I hope it is filled with peace and the true long lasting joy of gratitude and contentment.

 

No is Simple.

Trigger warning: This is a post about sexual assault and could be triggering for anyone who has experienced it.

 

If you have experienced sexual assault or rape let me start by saying I am so sorry. This should never happen. You are not alone. If you need to talk with someone or need support there is a local agency that can help you. The crisis line for the sexual assault center here in Rome is 706-802-0580, if you are not local call the national line here: 800.656.HOPE (4673)

Autonomy is a human right. It is your right male or female, gay or straight, no matter your ethnicity, economic status, marital status or age.

 

What it is? Your right to be independent and self-rule. To be free from outside control or influence. You have autonomy over your body. It’s your right.

 

Maybe you have heard about it happening in a dark alleyway, or an abandoned parking lot late at night, or if you go somewhere you shouldn’t be. Let’s talk about when it happens when you are with someone you like, have a crush on, or are dating or just someone you are familiar with and trust.

 

Sexual assault and rape often happen when we are with someone familiar to us. These cases are often made more complicated by that fact, but I don’t think it has to be.

 

When it happens with someone we know It can be more difficult for the targeted person to speak up because they fear hurting the other person’s reputation, they share the same friends and support network, and because they know that some people will not believe them. There is a special kind of difficulty that arises when assault happens by the hands of someone we trust. Someone we know other people like, admire or even see as a leader.

 

Maybe they are the captain of the football team, maybe they are a coach, teacher or someone else in a leadership position. Maybe this is a person you have had a crush on.

 

Maybe it happens in the halls between classes, after a study session, at a party or a friend’s house.

 

Sometimes people make the subject confusing by asking questions of the victim like “Did you flirt with them?” “Did they kiss you? Did you kiss them back?” or “What did you think was going to happen if you got alone with them?” These kinds of questions while they may not seem like it are victim blaming. Victim blaming is putting more responsibility on the victim’s shoulders rather than the perpetrator of the assault.

 

At the end of the day the most important and only question really is “Did you say no?” or “was this against your will?”

 

Some people are under the misguided opinion that if you have flirted with someone, or are dating someone that this boundary of “no” becomes blurry. This is FALSE.

 

Just because you have kissed or had sex with someone before doesn’t mean this same person can demand it of you on other occasions. No matter how much you have flirted, no matter how many times you have kissed, or how much you have been okay with in that past doesn’t negate any future “no.” The right to have autonomy over your body every moment is yours.

 

When you say no, it doesn’t mean you are prude, or that you have lead someone on. It’s your right to say no. There is nothing wrong with saying “no” or declining someone’s advances. Autonomy- having the right to control what happens to your own body. It’s your right. So if you feel like saying no voice it. Say it.

 

For the rest of my life no matter how old I am I have autonomy over my own body. It’s the right of all human beings. Which again means…

 

No is simple.

 

And it should only take you saying it once in a situation for it to be respected.  

 

I just read a really amazing novel Beartown that tells the story of someone who is sexually assaulted by someone she knows. It reveals the challenges and obstacles that victims face, and how we as society victim blame and normalize behaviors that cross the line. If you are 17 or older I really recommend reading this book.

 

Here is a powerful excerpts from the novel:

 

“Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes much easier to understand and much lass terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn’t through love, because love is hard. It makes demands. Hate is simple.

So the first thing that happens in a conflict is that we choose a side because that’s easier than trying to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time. The second thing that happens is that we seek out facts to confirm what we want to believe—comforting facts, ones that permit life to go on as normal. The third is that we dehumanize our enemy. There are many ways of doing that, but none is easier than taking her name away from her.

So when night comes and the truths spread, no one types “Maya” on their cell phone or computer in Beartown, they type “M.” Or “the young woman.” Or “the slut” No one talks about “the rape” they all talk about “the allegation.” or “the lie” It starts with “nothing happened” moves on to “and if anything did happen it was voluntary, escalates to “and if it wasn’t voluntary, she only has herself to blame: what did she think was going to happen if she got drunk and went into his room with him?” It starts with “she wanted it” and ends with “she deserved it.”

Excerpt from Beartown by Fredrick Bakcmen

For Sutherland Springs – Ending Violence

I’m not sure about you, but all of this senseless violence has got my head spinning. I just read about the most recent shooting in texas where people of all ages were targeted and killed in a church. It looks like it was a mostly hispanic church although no one is really saying that at the moment. Children were shot, a pregnant woman was shot, and senior members were shot and killed. I have had enough, but I feel helpless. Do I just read it and move on, go and submit my oh so important instagram picture of food, trees, or child. It doesn’t seem right to just read something of this nature and then move on. What advice is out there? How could we respond to these sorts of things and contribute to the good in society rather than the numb or negative?

 

SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) says that “Incidents of mass violence disturb our collective sense of order and safety, and may even impact those with no personal connections to the event.” So if you are feeling similar to me like you can’t just move on with the day, confusion and sadness are setting in, and a desire to respond awakens, we are not alone nor abnormal. I would even go so far as to say this is a healthy response to hearing this sort of tragedy. Right? It’s good that we feel. And of course we want to keep this from happening again. In fact, it’s a very natural response.

 

So what are our options from this point? We have heard the news, we have the feelings, and want to respond rather than move on as if it doesn’t affect us.

 

The truth is that is maybe it is more simple than we think. Maybe we just allow ourselves to be affected… move on, but not as if we were not touched. Take a deep breath send out your positive vibes, prayers and energy and then go on embracing your own life, but differently than before you heard the news. Maybe you could let this news deepen your awareness. Let the moments that follow be filled with compassion for those around you who may be experiencing difficulties. Smile more readily, engage with a passersby a little more openly and effectively. See the people and their faces and allow gratitude for your own life to seep in where you can.

 

Tragedy shakes us even if we aren’t directly hit. As mentioned above it tampers with our feelings of safety and order. The truth is none of us are exempt from experiencing loss, our own tragedies and difficulties. We can let these events remind us that life is no guarantee and that each moment, each interaction, each hug, kiss, laugh, tear could be it. We can embrace our temporary nature and allow that to push us to live more mindfully more wakeful.

 

Maybe this is our strongest opportunity at bringing positive change. When we live more fully I believe we live more compassionately. It is when we shift to autopilot and distraction, we engage less, notice less, and become consumed with our gadgets, screens, accomplishments, and keeping up with living, busyness, we are more likely to react in selfish, aggressive, horn honking, road rage, judgement, and anger. This in sometimes small and sometimes large ways adds to the negative, adds to our sense of disconnection with life. Surviving rather than really living. I see this in myself.

 

So yeah, taking a deep breath and letting the events you hear affect you and your sense of connection as you move on into the rest of your day and life. This could be your way of acknowledging the violence and doing your part in your corner of the world to enhance compassion. By loving those around you well and living with sense of gratitude you can be the change you wish to see.

 

There is more of course we can do when touched and changed by the stories we hear. We can reach out, send messages of love to those hurting most by this violence. Light a candle in their honor and say a prayer of love and light. Have your children make cards, you can write a letter, send flowers, and tell those affected that even though you don’t know them you love them. That you are so sorry for their loss and that you are sorry for the violence that has forever changed them. Speak love into the space where they have felt hate.

 

If you have the financial ability maybe you could send money in the hopes that grief therapists and counseling can take place.

 

Whatever your capacity. Be open. Feel. Don’t be afraid to be affected by that which you hear. We all share this country (and planet) together, and we all want the freedom to be  safe, and healthy here with those we love.

 

We are strong enough to stand with those who are hurting. Strong enough to live compassionately. Strong enough to let these events shape us and affect us for the better. In fact if the violence is going to stop we must do these things.  

 

So I applaud you for feeling, and I encourage you to do something with it. Even if it’s just acknowledging the sadness, confusion and fear these stories bring, and moving on with a deeper sense of being alive, aware and ready to embrace your moments with a larger capacity to love those who will cross your path today- even the guy with the bumper sticker you hate who cuts you off in traffic. Grow the love, and light in your moments today. Lots of love from me today to you all.

Self-Care for a Better World

“I have just three things to teach:

Simplicity, patience, compassion.

These three are your greatest treasures.

Simple in actions and in thoughts,

You return to the source of bing.

Patient with both friends and enemies,

You accord with the way things are.

Compassionate towards yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.

Lao-tzu, from the Tao Te Ching

 

Self-care can sometimes be seen as something selfish or feminine. Neither are true. Everyone needs to take care of themselves. Each individual taking care of themselves is the path to a healthier happier world. I love the quote above “compassionate towards yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.” You serve the greater good when you really show yourself compassion and take care of your own inner needs.

 

Life gets crazy for us all. There is constant noise, distraction, expectations and lists of things to do that can feel dizzying and overwhelming no matter who you are. We all exist in two worlds our inner world and the outer world. Both can be hectic and scary to face at times. It is important you have self-care practice in place when you begin to feel overwhelmed.

 

Self-Care is one of those subjects that can feel like it’s a little hippy dippy and over talked about. However, it is necessary for a fulfilling, stable and healthy life. It’s also one of those subjects that is seen as feminine, and that is seriously a problem because both genders need to take care of themselves and develop a sense of inner wisdom and centering, and compassion. If both genders can’t develop these qualities we are only insuring that future generations will continue to see problems of domestic violence, sexual assault, violence, and greed.

 

To figure out what self-care practices are best for you, start observing your inner world and the state it’s in. Notice moments where you feel happy from the inside, notice when you feel calm and content and what has caused that, and then notice times when you feel anxious or drained, and peg what caused that feeling. What are things that make you feel good? Not just what do you think will make you happy temporarily, but what makes you feel fulfilled? Whole? Strong? Some of this may sounds silly, but I promise you will thank me later. So with that I will go ahead and say YOU ARE WELCOME. Remember life is short, and self-care helps you enjoy it. That is really the most important thing we can do. When we are healthy, and feeling good we can make the biggest difference in the world around us.

Examples that have worked for me:

 

  1. Time alone. Time to think, journal and read.
  2. Time in nature to observe the natural beauty and remind myself I am a part of it.
  3. Eating healthy foods.
  4. Time with friends that make me laugh
  5. Prayer
  6. Meditation
  7. Yoga
  8. HIking
  9. Listening to music that fits my mood

 

Other things could include group sports, running, baking, doing art, and more. Your list of self care practices will be unique to you.

 

Sometimes we think talking with others will help and it does and sometimes it ends up making us feel worse. Notice when that’s happening and adjust course accordingly. It is best to share deep heartfelt emotions in person so that you have the face to face interaction and support that can be so comforting in times of stress. Notice who makes you feel supported and calm, and if there are times when others make you feel more depleted or misunderstood. Maybe decide what friends and family make you feel most supported and share with them before sharing with others.

 

As I said we are each unique, so what we need in moments of chaos, stress and feelings of being overwhelmed to bring balance will be different. Start observing what leaves you feeling more depressed, more overwhelmed, and stuck versus what leaves you feeling hopeful, free, honest, and kind. This is such an important time in your life of self-discovery. Allow this to be a part of discovering who you are – discover what makes you feel good, centered and strong. Who are you, and how do you take care of this being that is you?

 

For more on this subject:

http://www.loveisrespect.org/for-yourself/self-care/

https://tinybuddha.com/

http://mindfulnessforteens.com/

 

Waking up to your one wild and precious life: a rambling post on finding the Beauty in the Mundane

I am sure that all of you readers are in different places and picture different things for your future. You all likely have some picture of what you would like in your future. I remember how I imagined my adult life would be when I was in high school and college. Where I might live, and what I would do, how much money I would make, travels and whimsical experiences of horseback riding on beaches and mountains and living totally free. I thought about who I might marry and what kind of partner I would be. Now I am an adult, mother and wife, but of course nothing is how imagined. It is far better than I could have pictured, far more challenging, and absolutely miraculously mundane.

Not a perfect picture, but one that reminds me to savor my loved ones.

 

Miraculously mundane? What does that even mean Ashley? There is a depth to life lived that cannot be imagined before you get to the moments themselves. It is not bad to dream. Your dreams are information on who you are, who you want to be, and can play an important role in guiding you towards the things which you love. However, clinging to our dreams and the perfection in them can be problematic. Clinging to how we want things to be rather than allowing life to reveal itself to us day by day in its own way sets us up for disappointment. All of life is mundane. We all eat, we all sleep, we all must poop, and on a rather more serious note we all must be vulnerable, experience heart break, and are all temporary. No moment can be paused, or experienced longer than its time. All of us experience what it means to be temporary.

 

The mundane is the plain in which most of our lives take place, and because of life’s temporary nature can be felt as miraculous, beautiful, and something worth being awake for. However it’s becoming increasingly easy to miss out on the beauty of our own lives.

(Kid swinging, mundane for most, but beautiful to me)

 

I am going to introduce you to one of my all time favorites poems. You know some real wisdom is about to drop when the words come from this amazing woman- Mary Oliver.

 

A Summer Day, by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

 

The ending of the poem grabs me every time! “Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I love it because it wakes me up! The poet has been holding a grasshopper and watching it, and then carries us to this truth, that everything passes away, time moves on, and so asking this question “What are you going to do with your life?” Is important, and I think the first thing is wake up to it! See it. Even the parts that are so uninteresting, boring or cracked can be important in your becoming you.

 

As I said at the beginning dreaming can be good, but when we cling to our idea of what a perfect future, day or moment looks like we miss out on right here. In an episode of Avatar the Last Air bender I was reminded of this idea of contentment. One character says to another about a town they just arrived in “This will do but I don’t want to make a life here”, and his uncle wisely responds “here is where life happens whether you make it or not.” So true. So many of us hold our reality up to this picture of perfection we have seen on t.v., read about, or imagined. I think our interactions with social media can serve to make being present even more challenging. We see our friends and acquaintances posting pictures of their awesome lives and we can start to feel inferior. However some of my favorite photographs and pieces of art, writing and poetry point me back to the beauty in my own life and remind me to savor it. Here are some examples.

 

All of these photographs point to the beauty within common moments.

 

Here is another take on the mundane, which is both funny and charming.

 

This is from a polish photographer and designer Pawel Kadysz. A daily life of Darth Vader portraying the Sith Lord as just a normal guy with everyday life problems. I love this take on showing that within the stories we see, and tell we don’t think about the fact that everyone is more similar than different. That everyone is mundane.

 

Now I’m not saying don’t dream, do dream and be present for your thoughts, and then with awareness you can take real steps towards creating a life that makes you feel happy, content and fulfilled. Just don’t miss out on the joy of now for the possibilities that exist in tomorrow. Remember that perfection doesn’t exist. 

When we dream of a future we don’t picture the imperfections, the mess ups, the challenges. These can be moments of tremendous beauty, growth and love if we are open to it. If we want things to be perfect we will only be disappointed. If we are open to beauty existing right where we are, and within everyday life we can find tremendous joy.


The challenge for us all is to learn to appreciate the beauty in other people’s lives, stories, and work while at the same time finding contentment and beauty in our own lives even within imperfections. This is hard with the pervasive nature of seeing other people’s lives so much through our feeds, but we have to remember we often are not seeing the whole picture. And while we sit her looking at someone else’s life we are missing out on our own. When you can learn to hold it in balance loving and valuing your own unique but normal life, while appreciating someone else’s you can begin to allow their life to be a part of the beauty in your own. This is so freeing.

Savored moments.

 

So here is a SOCIAL MEDIA CHALLENGE: take one picture everyday for a month highlighting something you find beautiful, mundane or worth capturing that isn’t enhanced or edited in any way. Get out there and find the beauty in your everyday life. Is it a homeless man with a great smile you have been walking past? Is it your own feet on your favorite floor, is it your dog, or family at dinner? Find the moments you have missing and savor it through a lense. For more inspiration watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78ARBe2JCXw

To fully begin savoring sit down, get quiet and listen. Cultivate a sense of being present for your life unfolding right here, and now. Start with a comfortable seat and observe your breath, or go for walk outside and just listen to what is there. Get in nature and don’t speak, or do anything for a couple of minutes, just observe nature, and be there fully. These quiet moments can begin to expand where you begin to experience everything more fully, from your mother’s voice, your dad’s laugh, the smell of your home, and the warmth in a friend’s hug. These small moments that seem so insignificant compose your life. Listen to them, witness them.


 

More on beauty, contentment, perfection, and being human:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78ARBe2JCXw

 

https://onbeing.org/blog/omid-safi-the-power-of-being-seen-for-who-we-are/

 

https://onbeing.org/blog/parker-palmer-perfection-will-do-you-in/

Turning on the Light of Self Awareness

Have you ever had a moment where you felt like everything was going wrong, like the world was caving in on you, or like your day, week or year is not going as planned at all? Or a time when you felt powerless in a difficult situation? How about a moment when you were so angry with someone you lashed out with aggressive words or behavior to regain control and get what you wanted? What about a moment when you were so embarrassed because the person you had a crush on noticed you had something in your teeth or that toilet paper was stuck to your shoe, or you tripped and fell in front of a whole group of your friends at the movies in a skirt and your legs went flailing up in the air (true confession, this happened to me once), and the embarrassment stuck with you all through the movie or even through the day, and you thought you would never get over it? Have you ever made a mistake or done something you regretted so badly that you wanted to change schools, move to another town, change your hair and take on a whole different personality? Have you ever felt alone like the world was all gray and you would never feel happiness again?

You are not alone.

Life is full of these kinds of moments for EVERYONE. It sucks, but it’s true. Pain, disappointment, confusion are experiences we all have. However, this life can be enriched and good, because of, and not just despite, the difficult moments. To live through these moments, to grow stronger and even change for the better out of our struggles we must first learn to press pause. Embarrassment, anger, self loathing, and deep sadness are powerful emotions that can feel like they “take over” at times, and we can react to them in ways that only bring about more of the same. Or we can notice the emotion, press “pause,” and take a breath…or three or twenty. I know I know, this is common thread, and “Just Breathe”  may sound trivial, or shallow. However, it’s my aim to convince you to give this a chance, try it, and see if it doesn’t feel really really good to take a beat, a time out, and just breathe. Take a moment to be more aware.

You see, it’s in the pressing of pause inside ourselves, and becoming more mindful  that we can begin to see clearly. We can touch base with who we really are inside, realign ourselves with who we want to be despite our current state of sadness, despair, anger or shame. It’s in pausing things become clear, and we can see the temporary nature of our emotions and wait out the current storm for its inevitable end. We come to see that deep deep deep down in a hidden part of ourselves there is still light, hope, and strength to go on. And yes, it is in the “just breathe” mantra we can begin to see this inner space of strength, and light.

It sounds easy enough, but it’s actually quite a challenge. You see we are all living busy lives reacting to our emotions, experiences and thoughts without reflection or contemplation. We rush and entertain ourselves filling nearly every moment with distraction which can cloud our inner compass. It’s much harder to act authentically and to know who we are when we are living outside of ourselves in the past or future, or filling our moments with other people’s stories (i.e T.V., Social media etc.). This is why we need moments of turning off the distraction, letting go of everything for a moment to just be. Here the swirl of emotions, activity, and noise can fall back, and our own sense of center can be felt. Breath is the starting point to pausing, reflecting and turning on the light of inner clarity.

We can’t breathe for yesterday, nor can we breathe for tomorrow. We can only breathe for the now. Our breath brings us back to right here. We notice our body, and our mind without judgement as we breathe. This is our pause. Our anger, shame and yes sometimes even extreme joy can bring us out of the now. So to come back to the now is to come back to the breath. As we practice we can begin to use this in times where we are feeling things most intensely.

For example, say my boyfriend doesn’t text me back right away. Thirty minutes go by, an hour goes by and I start to feel my heart quicken its beat, my thoughts become harried wondering “what he is doing, who he is with…Is it raining? Was he driving? He was practicing with his band, and there is a cute girl in the band and man they sure seem to have chemistry… is he hanging out with her? Maybe I should just go over there.” This is the power of our emotions, and this is the power of a mind in reaction mode. Pressing pause allows us to take a moment, see our fear and breathe. We can ask ourselves what kind of partner we want to be, and respond to the moment in a way that allows us to feel in line with who we are, and that really most likely everything is okay…trust. One of my favorite quotes says, “Love in such a way that the person you love feels free.” Rather than reacting to fear and calling our partner 50 times, and becoming someone that the person we love feels constricted by, or controlled by, we can begin to see beyond our current emotion and reflect and respond in a way that brings more love, more joy, more freedom into the situation rather than their opposites.

Also it’s never too late. Maybe you are in a situation where you have already reacted in a way that blew up to a level you didn’t want it to go to. Still, in that moment, exists your breath. Your ability to pause, reflect, and…you got it, rewind. You may not be able to actually go back and undo a situation but you can go back, in reflection, to the moment where you lost it, and choose to bring the light in. Pause, reflect and breathe. Ask yourself what would I do if I could rewind, and learn from that. We all make mistakes we all react rather than reflect sometimes. Truly truly it is never too late to take a beat and pause. Apology is an art form we can practice as we reflect. It takes courage to admit a mistake and apologize to the one you hurt, and then it takes  even more courage to let it go. We must face our mistakes, and then we must learn to move on from them.

Our breath rooted in the present moment is how we let go, and move forward from things we would like to undo. Because life is moving on and the present moment moves us further from that person we were that we don’t want to be. That person is within us, the person who will react, the person that could make other people walk around on eggshells trying to please us. We all have our days where we are little more that person, but when we pause, reflect, and sometimes rewind, we give ourselves the opportunity to feed the one we want to be. The person that allows others to feel freedom and love when they’re around us. Giving our inner wisdom a little more space, and the darkness more light. Essentially, when we pause we are turning on the light in the darkest places of our soul.

I had a cool thought…being the Harry Potter nerd that I am. This is how we, as muggles, turn on the light in our darkest times and hours. When our world seems to be crumbling, or when we are enraged at the possibility of losing love or control in a situation, when we are confused, or numb, we do still have the ability to turn on the light, but it takes practice and searching to find the right switch. It’s there, and pausing, breathing and reflecting gives us the opportunity to give freedom, inner strength, trust, and spaciousness a shot. In the quiet moments of our own heart we reach inward. That is how we find the light, and in the light of our own soul, happiness can be found.

 

“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” Professor Albus Dumbledore

May we all shine brightly and bring our best selves forward.

Lumos Maxima!

To practice pressing pause: Mindfulness

Read the directions in their entirety before beginning practice.

Have some sort of timer near by.

Sit in comfortable position at the edge of a chair or on the floor. Sit in a way that is dignified but relaxed.

  

Softly gaze down at the floor, or if you are comfortable close the eyes.

Notice how your body feels as it holds your current waves of emotion.

If it is anger how does your body feel when you are angry? If you are embarrassed or sad, what does that feel like physically? Don’t judge the sensations or try and push them away, but take a breath and sit with them for a moment. Take a few deep breaths.

Feel your sit bones on the support beneath you, as you breathe soften your shoulders, belly, and muscles of your legs and face.

Take 3 more deep breaths.

Feel the sensation of breath for a certain amount of time – set your timer for 3-5 minutes

In this time breath naturally and feel the sensations of breath in the nose, or belly.

If the mind wonders -don’t worry, and don’t judge. Just notice that it has and come back to your breathing.

When the timer ends, come back to the feeling of your body in your seat.

Tuck the chin.

Feel the space where you notice your inner self to reside, the non-judgmental kind observer – rest your attention there for 3 breaths.

Set the intention to respond to yourself and others from this deep space within with inner strength, compassion, and wisdom.

Emotions come and go, and we all have  a steady source of strength to come back to.

 Its not about not feeling, its not about not thinking, but about being aware of our thoughts and feelings so that they don’t control and overwhelm us, and so that we don’t end up living a life that makes us unhappy.

 

 

 

 

Love Doesn’t Hurt: Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

By Colleen Curlee, LTD PR Intern

Isn’t LOVE what February is supposed to be all about?

The month where love is in the air and happy relationships abound free and beautiful. What is your definition of love? Does it encompass romance, friendship, and trust? Does it involve being happy and satisfied in a relationship where you feel supported and encouraged? Of course it does.

So why is it that…?

  • Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year
  • One in three adolescents in the U.S. a victim of physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner
  • Only 33% of teens who were in a violent relationship ever told anyone about the abuse
  • 81% of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue or don’t know if it is an issue

So we’re taking steps to change this.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month and we are determined to change perceptions of love and dating for teens in the Rome area. We’ll be doing blog posts each week this month to give you the knowledge and inspiration you need to stop TDV from happening, and to help those in abusive relationships redefine love for themselves.

So what do we mean when we say Teen Dating Violence?

Officially, it is defined as “a pattern of behavior that includes physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual abuse used by one person in an intimate relationship to exert power and control over another.”

TDV is not an isolated incident.

It is a cycle that takes time to recognize. This is what makes it so dangerous. Have you ever used a helium tank to fill up a balloon? When you first turn the gas on, the balloon immediately puffs up and begins filling with helium. After a moment or two, the movement slows down as the balloon gradually takes on more gas and continues filling up. If you’re not careful, you won’t notice exactly how large that balloon is getting until you finally overload it with gas and it pops – with all the gas exploding outwards. TDV works in a similar cycle that we’ll explain in greater depth throughout this month. The cycle of hurting and power will continue until someone refuses to handle the pressure anymore, with the explosion becoming dangerous and painful for everyone involved.

So, why should you care?

Because TDV can occur anywhere, at any time, and over every medium of communication from social media, to face-to-face conversations, to text messages and phone calls. It could happen to your best friend, your sister, your brother, and even the strongest person you know.

And in 2012, Georgia was ranked first in the nation for having the most incidents of teenage dating violence.

So here’s our challenge to you:

Assess your relationship throughout this month. Encourage a friend to read this blog and decide to assess his or her relationship together. Consider the difference you can make by educating yourself on the warning signs of TDV and by knowing your resources for it you ever become uncomfortable in a relationship. Together, we can stop teenage dating violence in Rome, GA. Look for our next blog post to learn more about the warning signs of teenage dating violence and get on the path toward love that doesn’t hurt.

Share your story and journey with us by using #lovedoesnthurt

What Would You Do? — Street Harassment

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FetfnxRvw8o

The above video, the Harry Potter Alliance addresses the underlying causes and some solutions to ending street harassment. While “street harassment” sounds vague and abstract, most of us have experienced it in some way.

Maybe this has happened to you: you’re walking down the street by yourself, and a man calls out to you, saying, “Hey, baby.” You keep walking, but he starts to follow you– and the comments get more and more explicit. He’s commenting on your sexual attractiveness– and not in a nice way– and you’re keeping your head down, trying to get where you’re going as quickly as you can.

Street harassment includes any catcalls, sexually explicit comments, sexist remarks, groping, leering, stalking, and assault that happen in a public place. Street harassment can happen while you’re walking, well, on the street, down a school hallway, walking in the mall, or riding on public transportation. Research shows that between 70 and 100 percent of women worldwide have experienced some form of street harassment.

When you’re experiencing street harassment, it can be terrifying– and hard to know how to respond. Here are some tips for how to handle street harassment.

If It Happens to You

There is no “best” way or one “right” way to respond to street harassment– what works in one case may not be right for a different person and/or a different situation. What’s important to remember is that there are options for responding to inappropriate behaviors, and you don’t have to ignore these comments or actions if you don’t want to. The ultimate question to ask for how to respond to a harasser is, “What makes you feel safe?” If you feel that a direct response will escalate the situation, then ignore the comments, walk away, or get help from someone else.  But if you feel as though you need to respond to a harasser to make them stop, then below are guidelines on how to approach that situation.

One way to handle street harassment is to directly ask the harasser to stop. Here are suggestions for how to talk to harassers.

  •  Use strong body language. Show assertiveness and strength through your posture, facial expressions, and voice. Street harassers are usually just bullies, and bullies back down from true strength.
  • Project confidence and calm. Even though you may be freaked out inside, it’s important to appear assertive and serious.
  • Don’t apologize, ask a question, or make excuses for what you’re saying. You don’t have to be sorry or try and justify why you’re asking for what you want. Don’t be afraid to be firm.
  • Don’t respond to questions, diversions, blaming, or guilt-tripping. Say what you want and need to say, and don’t let anyone side-track you. Don’t be afraid to be firm. 
  • Don’t swear or lose your temper. Responding with curses or anger will likely make the harasser respond with violence. Remaining calm, assertive, and serious will help you make your point without escalating the situation.

If you need some suggestions on exactly what to say to someone who is harassing you, here are some suggestions:

  • Name the behavior and state that it’s wrong. “Don’t touch my butt, that’s harassment.” “Don’t call me baby, that’s gross.”
  • Tell them exactly what you want them to do. “Back away from me!” “Stop touching me!” “Go over there!”
  • Make a non-specific comment about why harassment is wrong. “Show some respect!” “Nobody likes being harassed.”
  • Identify the perpetrator, and tell them to stop. “Man in the purple hat, stop touching me, now!”
  • Take a “Miss Manners” approach. “I can’t believe you just said that to me,” combined with a look of disgust.

When you’re experiencing harassment, it’s normal to feel flustered, disgusted, and off-balance– so it can be hard to remember a super-awesome way to tell your harasser to STOP unless you’ve thought about what you’re going to say, or even practiced it beforehand. Decide what good, generic response to harassment best fits you and your needs, and practice saying it while staying assertive, confident, and calm.

If It Happens to Someone Around You– Effective Bystander Response 

If you see another person being harassed on the street, in the hallway, or on public transportation, there are ways of effectively intervening.

If you see a person experiencing harassment, walk up and ask if s/he’s okay or if s/he is being bothered. You should not directly confront the harasser if s/he is a stranger, because this can often increase the risk of escalation (which puts you and the victim at risk). If s/he says yes, try and help as best you can– but if s/he says no, then leave. You don’t want to be another person intruding on their personal space and boundaries.

If you feel like this sort of personal question will make the victim more uncomfortable, try asking for directions, for the time, or other innocuous questions that will be enough of a distraction for the harasser to move on.

If one of your friends is catcalling or making inappropriate comments, call them out on it! Tell them that such comments are rude, disrespectful, and scary– never mind the fact that shouting “Hey, baby!” to a woman on the street is a terrible way to start any kind of friendship or connection with her. Ask them why they’re doing what they’re doing, or if they would tolerate such behavior towards their sister, or their mother, or their girlfriend.

No matter how you decide to respond, street harassment is never okay. There are ways for you and others to stop the culture of street harassment.

 

Healthy– nor not?

Social media has increasingly become the way we connect with one another– and how we share our ideas, hopes and feelings with others. Facebook pages like Boyfriends who actually treat their girlfriends like princesses post pictures and status updates about relationships that have thousands of likes, comments and shares. But are all of these messages about relationships reflective of a healthy relationship?

Let’s take a look at some of these pictures (taken from the above Facebook page) and talk about what each  picture is really saying about the relationship.

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Everybody likes to feel wanted; in fact, the entire point of a relationship is that two people enjoy being together enough to spend a lot of time together. The fact that this girl wants to be with her boyfriend is great! But comparing him to an object like her phone and acting possessive? Definitely not a sign of someone who trusts someone else. Additionally, this treats her boyfriend as if he is incapable of making his own decisions. Which is healthier– a boyfriend who is true to his girlfriend because he’s afraid his girlfriend will get mad if he so much as touches another girl, or a boyfriend who is true to his girlfriend because he chooses to be (regardless of how his girlfriend feels about it)?

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Everyone LOVES talking to their significant other (or SO)– that’s the reason why you date them! And with tech like Facebook, Twitter, and texting, it’s easy to stay in contact with our SO every moment of the day.  But is this really healthy? Setting good boundaries between you and your significant other about when it is and isn’t okay to text or Facebook chat is a great way to keep your relationship respectful. If one partner sets a boundary, that doesn’t mean they think the other partner is annoying or bad– it just means they want to have that time apart, and that’s okay.

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Relationships? Are hard. Really hard. Two people who are great, wonderful, loving people as individuals who are 100% compatible and who are in love with each other still sometimes can’t make it work. That doesn’t make either of them bad people–  or unlovable people– just two individuals who don’t work well in a couple (or who have to deal with outside pressures– like location, religious differences, or family conflicts– that are too much for the relationship.

And the truth is that some people ARE hard to be with– in fact, most people are hard to be with! That’s one of the hard things about relationships, that we all have quirks and problems and emotional baggage and a thousand other things that make building a relationship extraordinarily difficult.

If you seem unable to make a relationship “stick,” that doesn’t make you bad, unlovable, or worthless– it makes you human.

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Some of the most important relationships we have in our lives will be with our friends. Friendships are an important part of being a healthy human being, and everyone has to learn how to balance romantic relationships with friendships. While it’s pretty common for time spent with friends to decline once you’re in a relationship, especially in the beginning, keeping strong friendships is not only possible but a good thing to do when you’re in a romantic relationship. In fact, it is a huge relationship red flag if your partner either makes you feel guilty for spending any time with your friends or tells you not to see a close friend you have. When a partner says things like this, they don’t say it because they love you or because they want to see you more– but because they want to have control over your life and your choices.

 

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Our media is full of examples of a “bad boy”– a boy who rebels against the society around him (maybe even being violent or committing crimes) or who behaves in ‘dangerous’ ways is sexy, mysterious, and desirable. Unfortunately, these “bad boys” who are so often treated like the romantic lead in movies are often less than desirable partners in real life. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with your love interest wearing a leather jacket or having tattoos, ask yourself– does he treat you with respect? does he let you make your own decisions? Check your relationship against the wheel of power and control.

A lot of times, boys who “act bad” or do things that go against the grain are doing so because  they need someone else to tell them how cool or important they are. Because they’re so insecure, it’s hard for them to express love and respect for themselves, much less towards another person. Additionally, a lot of girls are attracted to ‘bad boys’ because our culture teaches us that it’s possible for good love to change a bad boy into a good man. In reality, any attempt to change a partner because they “aren’t good enough” ends in frustration and pain. No person can change another person– they have to do that on their own.

 

Hopefully these pictures have helped you think about your own relationship or the kind of relationship you want to have. Just remember that mutual love and respect are the two most important keys to any healthy relationship.

Myths and Facts: LGBT Relationship Edition

While a lot of television shows and movies focus on intimate partner violence (IPV) (also known as domestic violence) between heterosexual couples (specifically men abusing women), IPV can happen to anyone, of any sexual orientation, of any age. This includes people who are in LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender) relationships.

Abuse in any relationship, straight or otherwise, is about one partner using power and control over the other. However, there are tactics specific to LGBT relationships that abusers use to gain this power and control.

  • Threatening to “out”/use isolation: Threatening to “out” a person, or expose a person’s sexual orientation, can be a powerful tool of control. Being outed can result in a loss of family support, and in losing friends. Additionally, when a person first comes out on their own as LGBT, they can be very vulnerable to abuse because they may lose touch with support networks (friends, family, or the community). This can cause a person to feel as though their relationship is the most important resource in their life, which gives the abuser a great deal of control over the other person. For example, if an LGBT person is kicked out of their parents’ house after coming out, they may have to choose between living with their abuser or being homeless. On a less extreme level, an abuser may say things like, “If you came out or if you told anyone we were together, they would hate you. I’m the only one who really loves you,” or “I don’t understand how you can be friends with that person when you know if they found out we were together, they would hate you. You need to stop spending time with them because I’m the only one who loves you.”
  • Using LGBT-friendly spaces and friends: Because LGBT-friendly spaces can be few in number and have small numbers of participants, the abuser may use these close-knit communities of supportive friends, family, and affirming community spaces to track the activities of their partner. The abuser can also cut off their partner from this support and these resources. For example, if a victim has a close-knit group of friends in a club at school with an LGBT-supportive adviser, the abuser may spread rumors about the victim or use other tactics to cut off their partner from this resource.
  • Using institutions and societal bias to gain control: Law enforcement, the medical community, schools, and other institutions that are normally resources for straight survivors have a history of discrimination and physical abuse against LGBT persons. These barriers present within organizations and society are used by abusers to increase control over their partner’s life and actions. For example, if an LGBT person goes to a school nurse to be treated for physical problems related toward the abuse, the victim may perceive they will be judged, condemned or lectured for being LGBT instead of being able to use the nurse as a resource for getting help. Abusers can leverage this bias to gain control over their partners.

Here are some myths and facts about LGBT Intimate Partner Violence.

Myth: Men can’t be victims of IPV and women are never abusers, so in LGBT relationships, violence and abuse don’t exist.  

Fact: IPV is about power and control, not about sexual orientation or gender. Women can be abusers in a relationship (straight or otherwise) and men can be survivors of abuse (whether they’re straight or on the LGBT spectrum). LGBT relationships are just like straight relationships in that they can be anywhere on a scale from healthy and respectful to abusive.

Myth: It is always the “butch” or more masculine partner who is the abuser, and the more feminine or “weaker” partner is always the victim.

Fact: We all carry around stereotypes about what abusers look like and act like– we think they’re physically powerful, big, and have masculine characteristics. These stereotypes, however, don’t reflect the reality of IPV, which is that anyone, regardless of their masculine or feminine characteristics, can exercise power and control over a partner– whether that power and control becomes physical, emotional, financial, or sexual abuse.

Myth: If a gay man is physically abusing his male partner, that’s not abuse– that’s just a fight. A man should be able to protect himself. 

Fact: Our culture teaches us that it’s okay for men to be aggressive and violent– especially with other men. However, the truth is that there is nothing normal or acceptable about physical violence between partners, no matter the gender of either of the partners. No person– LGBT, straight, male, or female– deserves to feel unsafe and threatened in their relationship. This myth also implies that it is the victim’s fault for not stopping the violence, when the truth is that IPV is never the victim’s fault; the abuser made the choice to use violence, and that choice is out of the victim’s hands.

Myth: Intimate partner violence only happens to LGBT people who are poor or who are people of color. 

Fact: Domestic violence can happen to anyone, of any age, of any sexual orientation from any walk of life. IPV can happen to a rich, young white gay couple living in Rome just as easily as it can happen to a mixed race lesbian couple living in Chattanooga, and just as easily as it can happen to a straight white couple living in Atlanta. There is no group that is exempt from experiencing IPV.

Myth: There is no help for LGBT couples in abusive relationships, because gay marriage is illegal in Georgia.  

Fact: There is help for LGBT couples who are dealing with abuse, even in Georgia! Federal law, which applies everywhere in the US, protects LGBT folks against abuse, bullying and other violations. Hospitality House in Rome, Georgia, has resources for anyone in an abusive relationship, including emergency shelter, legal advocacy, and individual counseling. Other state and national resources include United 4 Safety (based in Atlanta, Georgia), the GLBT National Help Centerthe Northwest Networkthe National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, and the Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project.

No one deserves a relationship founded on anything less than love and respect, including LGBT individuals. Be aware of the red flags and warnings signs for abuse in relationships, and remember that abuse is never, ever the victim’s fault.

Men Stopping Violence: Sir Patrick Stewart

Sir Patrick Stewart, also known as Charles Xavier and Captain Picard, spoke last Friday at the UN Hotel in New York City about the issue of men ending domestic violence. Stewart’s talk served as the kickoff for “Ring the Bell,” a movement that hopes to inspire 1 million promises to end the violence against women.

Stewart has spoken before about his experiences living in a home with an abuser (in this case, his father)– including a talk given in 2009 to Amnesty International, embedded above– and how he has dealt with feeling angry, out of control, and violent in the past.

While violence against women is framed as a “women’s issue,” up to 94% of abusers in intimate relationships are men. Don’t be mistaken by this statistic– women can certainly be abusers, and men can certainly be abused, but statistically speaking men are more likely to be the perpetrators of violence. This means that men speaking out against domestic violence and intimate partner abuse, particularly to other guys, can be a huge step in eliminating all kinds of IPV.

So you’re not Captain Picard, and you barely have the ear of a few close friends, much less a national audience– what can you do to prevent violence and abuse?

For starters, challenge the conditions that cause domestic violence. IPV is all about power and control– and in most (not all) situations, about men exerting power and control over women. One of the ways this happens is through jokes. Humor takes concepts, ideas and ways of thinking and normalizes them, or makes them acceptable. This is why a lot of people take sexist jokes seriously– because a sexist (and unfunny) joke about a woman making a sandwich normalizes an unequal power relationship between men and women. If you hear one of your friends making a joke that demeans or degrades women, tell them it’s not funny.

Actions, of course, speak louder than words. Make sure your own behavior towards women is respectful and kind, just like it would be toward anyone else in your life. Whether you’re at work, school, practice or with your family, set an example for younger boys by treating women the way you would want to be treated.

 

What do you do? – Effective bystander intervention

Laci Green, a well-known vlogger and sex educator, tackles an important question in this video—what do you do if you see some kind of abuse happen in a public place? What do you do if the abuse happens to (or is perpetrated by) someone you know?

 

No one wants to get involved in someone else’s business or make the wrong assumptions about a situation they don’t fully understand. However, one of the reasons abuse happens in the first place is that the abuser thinks what he or she is doing is normal and acceptable, even if to an outsider they appear brutal, abusive, and cruel. One of the ways to challenge the idea of abusive behaviors being normal is through bystander intervention.

 

Here’s a guide to what to do if you find yourself witnessing an act of abuse.

 

When It’s Between Strangers

 

If you see someone at school, at the mall, or at another public place that appears to be in an abusive situation, there are several steps you can take to be a proactive bystander.

 

First, ask yourself if the situation is safe. If the circumstances are already violent or appear to be escalating quickly, call the police or the proper authorities (a teacher or principal at school, the security agents at the mall). Putting yourself in the middle of a violent conflict in an attempt to “rescue” someone could not only put yourself in danger, but the victim as well—there’s a high chance the victim will be punished later or be less likely to seek help in the future.

 

If the situation is nonviolent, try these strategies

 

  • Distract: Ask for directions, to borrow a pencil, or ask about a lost item. The goal is to prevent the situation from getting worse or, even better, to get a moment alone with the victim to ask if they’re okay. Tell the abuser that someone wanted to speak with them, that they dropped something important, or anything to ask the victim, “Are you okay? I saw what happened, and do you need help?”
  • Direct: Simply approach the people involved and ask if everything is okay. While it may be more satisfying to tell the abuser exactly what you think of their behavior, this could be dangerous for the victim later; the best approach is to ask the victim if they are okay or if they need help. Don’t judge or offer advice; even saying something brief like “no one deserves to be treated like that, and I want to make sure you’re okay” can be helpful.
  • Delegate: Even though you may not know the people involved, someone else might—ask them to check up on the situation later to make sure the victim is okay. Tell a teacher, guidance counselor, your parents, or a trusted adult friend what you saw. They may be in a better place to intervene effectively than you.

 

If It’s Someone You Know

 

Whether a friend discloses abuse to you or you witness abusive behaviors, knowing how to respond can be difficult. Above all else, remember that your friend needs support, love, and respect.

 

If you witness abuse, here are guidelines on how to have a conversation with your friend about what they are going through.

 

  • Express concern. Let them know you are worried about them and their safety—“I saw this happen, and I want you to know that I am worried about you. Is there anything you want to talk about?” would be a good starting place. If your friend denies anything is wrong, don’t push or insist that they are in danger, but remind them that you are always available to talk if they need anything.
  • Listen, and assure them that what is happening isn’t their fault. Just having a nonjudgmental ear to listen to can be incredibly useful. Tell the victim that the abuse (whether physical, emotional, social, or technological) is never, ever their fault.
  • Offer them resources. Although your friend may not be ready to take any steps to leave the relationship, remind her that there are options for getting help and staying safe. The dating abuse hotline (866-331-9474) or the Georgia 24-hour Statewide Hotline (1-800-33-HAVEN) are good numbers to give them. Remind them that hotlines and shelters can help them take measures to stay safe (like a safety plan) even if they decide to stay in the relationship, and can offer them resources should they decide to leave. Remind them of adults in their life and yours who love them and would help if asked. Tell them they are not alone.
  • Support them in their decision, even if it’s something you don’t agree with. It can be hard to not give advice to a friend who you feel is in danger, but you cannot control your friend’s actions. They need to decide what is best and safest for them in that moment and on their own terms, and they are the only person who can do this. They need your support, even if they decide to do nothing or stay with their abuser. Think of it this way—they already have someone in their life who is controlling them; why would you want to be another person trying to control their life?
  • Keep it confidential. If you believe your friend is in immediate danger, contact the proper authorities (the police, a teacher, etc.). But don’t spread rumors or talk poorly about your friend to other people. Particularly in a school situation, the knowledge you have can be hurtful if spread to other people. Your friend needs support, love, and respect—and gossiping about their relationship (particularly if it’s abusive) is the opposite of that.

 

While abuse happens between individuals, individuals are influenced by the community. Through safe, effective bystander intervention, the community—whether that’s your classroom, your school, your neighborhood, or your town—can become a safer place for everyone.

Biggest Bully

Amy Poehler, actress and comedian, has great advice for girls in her latest video in her series Ask Amy. Amy answers the question of how you overcome negativity in your life. Her biggest piece of advice was to overcome self-negativity, and have that be a starting point for accepting positivity.

 

Poehler is also talking about an issue that is often overlooked in the larger discussion of dealing with bullies. What if your biggest bully isn’t someone else? What if you are your biggest bully?

 

What Ms. Poehler is addressing in her video is low self-esteem. Low self-esteem is where an individual views themselves as inadequate, unworthy, and unlovable. This belief influences every part of an individual’s life, and leads to all kinds of false assumptions about their worth as a human being (which, in turns, impacts the decisions they make in their lives). Low self-esteem can impact anyone, male or female, at any age.

 

Everybody has days where they feel grungy because they skipped the shower for extra sleep, or sloppy because today’s lunch took a detour onto your shirt en route to your mouth. That’s a normal part of being a human being. But when negative thoughts about yourself become a pattern that reinforces the idea that you are disgusting, worthless, or unlovable, destructive behaviors can follow—not to mention the fact that hating yourself is about as exciting as open heart surgery and twice as hard to recover from.

 

So how do you break this cycle? How do you learn to control those thoughts and stop feeling about as worthwhile as last week’s leftover tuna casserole?

 

For starters, Ms. Poehler has some great advice—pay attention to the thoughts that you have about yourself! If you wouldn’t tell your mom or your best friend that you think they’re too fat or that they’re ugly, why would you think that about yourself?  Take active steps to stop thinking thoughts that are destructive and untrue. Instead of saying, “I hate my fat thighs,” try focusing on a positive aspect of your physical appearance and complimenting yourself; instead of, “I am so stupid,” think of a task you did well recently and give yourself a pat on the back.

 

Also, remember that you are not perfect—and that’s okay! You have flaws, just like the rest of humanity, but focusing on those flaws means that you ignore the parts of yourself that are totally awesome. Learning to think about yourself positively can also be a really hard thing to do—you’ll probably mess up and get discouraged, and that’s okay too. As Ms. Poehler suggested, surround yourself with friends who genuinely care about you and think you are worthwhile. True friends will encourage you and find ways to lift you up when you start feeling like tuna casserole again. Friends who don’t treat you with love and respect aren’t your real friends, and aren’t worth your time.

Blog written by Melissa Moore, Lose The Drama’s new intern!

 

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