My body is amazing.

This woman’s body isn’t the only thing that is amazing.  Her courage, her voice, her strength, her intellect…just HER.

Reblogging from Villainy Loveless…

My body is amazing..

Angels and Demons the Following Day…

“One may tolerate a world of demons for the sake of an angel.” – Doctor Who ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, it’s easy to get caught up in the hoopla of holiday. The kids need the requisite cards to hand out to their classmates (yes, even the kid that smells funny, or the one that picks on them…yes even that one kid…you know…the weird one, who’s family is just….strange). Trying to explain to the little ones that everyone needs love. Or the pressures of dating or being solo or married/partnered. When they said they didn’t want a gift…did they really not want one? Or did they secretly want one but not want to have to tell you they wanted one? Or , or? To the point that we lose focus on the really important things in life.

Valentine’s Day, history and Hallmark aside, is meant to be a reminder of one of the greatest gifts humankind has. The capacity to LOVE. Love is a word that has probably one of the broadest ranges of definitions of any word in the English language. It has at least 27 definitions to express everything from a score in a tennis match, a term of endearment, and fondness for objects/activities, an affection for another person (anyone from parent/child, friend, to the intensity of romantic/sexual partners), the act of intimate relations, even a feeling used to relate the fondness of deity for it’s creation! It can be conditional. It can be unconditional. It can be short or last a lifetime. It can be returned or not. So why do we limit our focus in February so narrowly? Why celebrate only romantic love?

Sure, in it’s best form, romantic love is meant to embrace and embody a perfect union of (at least) two souls – in an unconditional, life long, enduring, passionate affection. But how many of us these days can honestly say to have found that ideal? How many of us compromise? How many of us are afraid to give of ourselves that completely – thinking it will never be returned as fully? How many of us limit our capacity and definition of love? Why? How often do you say “I love you” because you don’t know what else to say? Or because someone said it to you and you don’t want them to feel bad? Or even without really thinking about it because it’s just become so much habit – like saying “hello”?

Love can be so much more than we allow it to be. Rather than getting caught up in all the circus, why not spend some time to really think about those people in your life that you truly love? In all their varied forms and roles. The friend that you haven’t spoken to in years, because life gets busy, but you know if you called them on the phone right this minute crying they would immediately drop everything for you. The sister/brother of the heart – even if the stork did get lost and make the delivery at a different house. The people in your family, who would be there for you no matter what – even to tell you the things you don’t want to hear when you really need to hear them. Your partner/spouse. Your kids. Your parents. Anyone who can lay even the smallest claim on having a place in your heart.

I’m not saying all these relationships are perfect, of course they’re not. We’re all human and therefore all fallible. But what if we tried just a little bit harder? If we gave just a little bit more? What if we treated even a total stranger as we would those we hold most dear? How would that change the world? What if we treated ourselves with the same love that we give others? How would that change our own happiness? (Or if you’re really good at self love – treat others with the same love your show yourself. How would that change how they feel? How would it change how you feel?)

No matter our circumstance or personal histories, everyone knows and experiences what it feels like to be unloved. If you’re really lucky and fortunate, you only have to feel it once. Maybe a first crush that wasn’t returned. If you’re less lucky, you know other ways in which the absence of love can prick and sting even the seemingly hardest of hearts. But the presence of love, can be just as powerful. It can melt through the coldest walls of self protection a person can raise. Applied persistently and with care, it can create miracles. Love makes us feel good. It makes us happy, more positive, and healthier. So it makes sense that a person lacking such feeling would be more negative, sad. It’s been proven that going long enough without love can even cause death.

Love can make us do stupid and embarrassing things, sure. It can also bring out that which is the best inside of us. We are moved to sacrifice and endure for others, what we would never do – even for ourselves. As stated so aptly above in the Dr. Who quote “One may tolerate a world of demons for the sake of an angel.” Who would you tolerate a world of demons for? For who in your life, would you be willing to face down the bowels of hell itself? Who is the first person you think of when you wake? Who is the last person you think of as you drift into sleep? Who, at the merest thought of, can make you smile and instantly make your day better? Who knows the one thing that can always make you laugh? Who is the guardian of your secrets and will take them to the grave for you? Who never leaves, even when you’re not very lovable? Who prods, cajoles, gives you crap – because they want to see you succeed at be your best?

There are no right or wrong answers here. You may have a different person for each of those questions. You may have a small handful. You may have just one person. Whatever the case may be, I challenge you to do something this month for anyone that comes to your mind in answer to any of these questions. Send a postcard, give an unexpected hug, just listen when they need to vent. Something, anything, to show that they’re important to you and that you appreciate them. In other words – show them some love. You may be one of many that love them, or you may be the only person in the world that loves them. Does it really matter? To them it will. Who doesn’t like knowing that they matter to someone – even a little.

Try showing even a stranger a little love. I promise you it makes a difference. Whether it’s picking up the tab for someone behind you in line at 7 Eleven, helping someone with their bags at the grocery store when you see they’re overwhelmed, leaving an anonymous letter somewhere for someone to find that simply says “You’re Great!” The smallest things can have such far reaching effects – we can all make a difference. And here’s a secret: Helping someone you don’t even know – can even help make you feel happier! Where can you start to make a difference? Where can you take an extra five seconds to give a stranger a smile or hold a door for someone who’s hands are full? Who can you cheer up? Where can you spread a little more kindness, a little more softness, a little more love in the world? Where can your presence lend a little more grace and goodness to the world?

Sometimes, the biggest thing we can do to lift another, is letting them help us. Is there somewhere in your life, that you could let someone help you? It can take a little stress off of you, it makes them feel trusted and important, and can make both of you happy. When someone offers help, instead of declining out of hand, think about it. Would helping you help them too? Do they maybe just want to be able to be a part of your life for a few minutes more? Do they maybe feel unnecessary or unwanted? Saying yes, might change that.

It’s not always about what you do or don’t do. It’s about how our actions and words affect others, from those who are most important to us to the stranger we pass without even noticing. It’s not always the big things we do that make an impact on people. It’s not the once a year charitable donation. It’s not looking good at church on Sunday. It’s choosing to be kind instead of first. It’s choosing to help instead of hustling by. It’s living as though every thing you do matters. Because it does. Small everyday things often times have the biggest impact. Some of the things you do that may have the biggest effect on the life of another, may be things you never hear about or even gave a second thought to.

Applying love to our life, in all it’s wonderful and varied forms, should not be something for just one or a handful of days a year. It should be something we live and breathe everyday. Where can living and breathing love improve your life and the lives of those you care about? How can we start seeing more angels and fewer demons?

The Emperor(Empress) Has no….Skin?!

Vulnerability.  There it is.  A word that can, at it’s very utterance, strike terror into the hearts of thousands of adult, teens, preteens and maybe even some kids.  But why?  Well, there are lots of reasons.  We’re taught that being vulnerable is synonymous with being weak.  That it means you’re a push over, or alone, or easily trampled.  And yes, it can be these things, when misused.  However, vulnerability – when wisely and judiciously applied – can be a source of great strength and insurmountable power.

Yes, yes, I see you over there in the corner raising an eyebrow and saying ‘yeah, right!’  Let me explain how I’ve come to this…remembrance, you might call it…and the effect I’ve seen as I’ve applied it in my life.

When I was a child, I would often forget to wear my skin.  What do I mean by this?  Well, I was transparent.  I wasn’t just the emperor who forgot to wear his clothes, proudly strutting through town.  No, I was the kid that forgot that you weren’t supposed to let people see your heart, or maybe even your soul.  That didn’t know, instinctively – as so many seem to, that there is a price to loving people.  That never thought of protecting themselves first, but rather of how they could help whoever was around them (even if I didn’t like them).  I really didn’t see the reason for wearing a skin, though through many painful lessons, I did learn some reasons.  Even for seeking out the thickest skin it was possible to achieve.

You could say I went from walking around skinless, to being wrapped in my own version of blubber.  To insulate me from all the pain and heartache and cruelty I saw around me.  And for a very long time, I stayed that way.  It seemed the safest.  Rather to experience life a little dulled through senses that couldn’t quite fully penetrate out of my cocoon of safety, than to risk the sharp prick of unkindness or the stab of betrayal.  Better to be numb, than to feel.  Better to be a zombie, than to risk the “slings and arrows” of being alive.  Better to be the cause of my pain, myself, before others could even try to hurt me.

What’s that?  You say that’s messed up?  You’re right.  It is.  But for many on many years, it’s precisely how I lived.  This doesn’t mean I didn’t have any friends, or that I was completely isolated, locked in an attic somewhere.  Of course I wasn’t.  I had friends – but I kept them at arms length.  Some of them knew this and were fine with it.  Some tried to get closer – and I’d mentally yelp and run and hide in my safe corner.  The patient ones recognized something in me worth sticking around and seeing if – with enough love and no pressure – I might, like some skittish animal, eventually crawl out of my deep dark whole and let them near.  For those folks, I am and will always be, eternally grateful.  Their patience was tried time and again, and it couldn’t have been easy.  But it worked.  In spurts and starts, it worked.

One of the last painful lessons I’d learned caused me to insulate myself to the point of being near agoraphobic.  It wasn’t the most painful lesson, but it was on the heels of it.  It was the proverbial straw you might say, that caused me to just give up – or give in.  Give in to fear, give up my power.  I secluded myself in my home.  I didn’t want to see anyone, I barely would answer emails or talk to people even via chat.  I wanted nothing to do with people anymore.  My faith in people on a whole was completely obliterated.  I loved and trusted my dear wife – but I was even starting to push her away.  So slowly, that she didn’t realize I was doing it – but I did.  And my very old nemesis of depression and anorexia and self-harming not only came back to visit, but moved in and set up home in my mind again.

Now, mind you,  I am many many thing – but a fool is not one of them.  I didn’t wear my depression on my sleeve.  I ate as little as possible and only when I knew I was being watched, and since I couldn’t completely starve myself, I starved other appetites as well.  I wouldn’t allow myself to do the things that brought me joy, for example. And all my self-harming activities were such that however much pain I might inflict – there were no tell tale marks to give me away.  Allowing any of it to be seen, to be known, would mean letting someone in.  And that was dangerous.  That was painful.  That was the last thing I wanted.  It was also the only thing I really wanted – if I’d allowed myself to admit it.  It hurts to be that alone.  Especially when even you aren’t a safe place for yourself.

Eventually things spiraled down until I hit bottom.  I was heading back to bed one night after a whopping two hours awake for the day and I thought “everyone would just be better off if I never woke up.”  In that moment, I knew just how bad I’d let things get.  I hadn’t had a suicidal thought since I’d recovered from my attempts when I was 17.  But I still remembered clearly enough the slippery slope from thought to action.  I was terrified.  I didn’t truly want to die, yet…but I knew if I didn’t change something drastically and fast – it was only a matter of time.

I can honestly say at that point, I wasn’t sure any more if I believed in God or a higher power anymore.  If I believed in anything at all, any more.  But I was desperate, in a way only those who have faced that kind of darkness can know.  Desperate enough to pray, even if I didn’t know if it would do any good.  And that’s exactly what I did.  I lit a candle alone in a quiet room, and I prayed – begged – any God that might exist, the universe, any higher power that might be inclined to look on me with sympathy, for help.  For guidance, to find my way, to find me, to find the joy I used to feel, to find a way back to being alive again.  That was two years ago – this month.  Though I couldn’t tell you right down to the day.

Slowly, oh so very slowly, I started to come back up the other side.  I’d found a forum online within days of my appeal that led me to a group of very kind hearted people from around the world – who allowed me to simply be.  They didn’t know me from Eve.  They let me question – everything.  They let me be authentic, for maybe the first time in I couldn’t tell you how long.  Anything that I was exploring, questioning, trying to figure out – they withheld any judgments and were amazingly supportive.  But they were also safe.  None of them were local, none of them knew me, none of them could – in any real and tangible way – hurt me.  Still, it was a start.

Slowly I began to peek out just a little, began to feel – just a little.  I can’t say I began to trust, but I did begin to be just a bit less afraid.  Nine months later, that little bit of fledgling courage would start being put to the test.

Having grasped onto that forum like the life line it was, forcing myself to interact with others and look for anything that might help me be ME again, I took small risks and reinforced a small sense that maybe, just maybe, it might be ok.  About this time, my life went through another upheaval – as life will.  While I didn’t land down in the pit again, I was shaken up pretty good.

You see, I didn’t think I had any worth.  I didn’t have any value.  I believed that I deserved every bad thing that ever came my way, but none of the good.  I thought my very audacity of existing, something to be punished with extreme prejudice, and apologized for.  That any act of reaching out was being a burden – rather than a way to share joy.  This time though, instead of withdrawing and seeking solace in sleep and solitude, I did the thing that is hardest for me to do.  I reached out.

You remember those very patient few I mentioned earlier?  Yeah, they were still there.  They may not have known how deep a whole they were waiting for me to crawl out of, but they were still there, bless them.  And when I did reach out, even tentatively, I was received with sympathetic ears, commiseration, and from some – enveloped in bear hugs before I could know what was happening to me!   Some bear hugs were real, some metaphorical, but they were all very strong and not a little overwhelming.  I am forever grateful to them, family and friends, for being there – even when I didn’t know how badly I needed them.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t divulging the secrets of the universe, or ever the secrets of my heart – not yet.  I was however, willing to take the risk of making a connection – to another person, to another heart – if only very timidly.  It was another, more important, start.

The year forward from that has been very possibly one of the most profound, if not THE most profound year yet, of my entire life.  I have been challenged on every front, on a daily – if not at times hourly – basis, to live my life with courage.  To shed the layers and layers of skin.  To endure newly exposed nerves to the air of life, without shrinking back.    To live authentically, to live in truth – whatever my definition of that may be (it’s different for everyone), to BE.

To be open.  To be honest.  To be brave.  To be emotional.  To be daring.  To dream.  To pursue those dreams.  To open my heart.  To open my soul.  To connect.  To be VULNERABLE.

Ah-hah!  You thought I forgot didn’t you?  Nope.  To be vulnerable.  Let’s take a closer look at that word.  It’s synonyms are: exposed, open, sensitive, subject (to), susceptible.    So to make one’s self vulnerable to another person, is to make yourself open, sensitive, exposed, susceptible and even sometimes subject to that other person.  Is this a wholly bad thing?  No.  Without vulnerability, we can never be truly close to another person or really know them.  Is it without risk?  NEVER.  Is it worth the risk?  Always.

Yes, being vulnerable, willingly and knowingly to another person is always a risk.  You do give that person power to hurt you.  But you also give that person the ability to love you, and to be vulnerable to you as well.  It means trust.  It means love.  It means respect and honesty.  And it can be the most rewarding thing you ever do – even as it is simultaneously the most exhilarating and terrifying thing you ever do.

By being vulnerable to those that love and support you, you gain not only their love and support, but your own strength and self-confidence has a safe place to grow and expand.  By taking the calculated risk of making yourself vulnerable to a stranger, you can gain a life long friend.  By taking the bigger risk of walking and talking your truth, and going out into the world skinless – but not blind – you not only gain the strength and power to be found in a life lived authentically, but you can lend that same strength to others fighting similar battles and who think they are alone.

By being vulnerable to some very special people in my life, I’m no longer not only not suicidal, I’m actually hungry and enjoying meals with those I love rather than trying to starve myself as punishment for existing.  I’m even winning the battle on not self-harming.

Even those not cursed to be English Majors as I was, oft know the line from Meditation XVII by John Donne “Do not ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”  A more complete though lesser recognized version of that same quote reads thus:  “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

“No man is an island.” No one is alone.  I thought I was and I was so very wrong.  I’m not alone.  Neither are you.  Isn’t that something worth being vulnerable for?

I Desire.

I desire.  Two very simple, very loaded words.  The Oxford Dictionary defines desire as: a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen.  Desire is more than just a sexual or sensual longing – though that’s how we most commonly see it used anymore.  It is want.  Multiplied.  It is a dream. Pursued.  It is passion. Burning.  It is quite simply that flame that burns longest and deepest within our soul.  That directs our every goal, path, pursuit.  It manipulates our relationships with others.  It enhances.  It torments.  It is that which lets you know you’re alive.  Painfully, exquisitely, breathlessly – alive.

So what/who/how/why do you desire?  I’m not asking who your latest crush is, or who you’re in love with.  I’m not asking what home you want to own, what car you want to have in your garage, or the latest greatest gadget you’re lusting after.  No, the kind of desire I’m speaking of is far deeper.  It is the desire of the very self, the soul.  The who, that you long to be.  The what that gives you purpose.  The how that you alone, unique in all the universe, can express.  The why that fuels it all.

I’ve had these two words rattling around in my head for days now.  I desire.  And the terrifying and simultaneously grand thing is, that it’s not an incomplete sentence.  There’s no missing fill in the blank.  Rather, it is a statement of being.

I. Desire.

As someone who has spent half of their life fighting depression, eating disorders, and various issues of self-worth and self-esteem – that realization, that declaration, is a profound experience.

Going through some old papers, I stumbled across a poem that the adolescent me had written about this tiny flame:

The Flame

I sit there as the candle burns low

Seeing the past and future in the flame

As my feelings of hate recede and sadness grow

The need for me to my ancestors lay claim

But time passes on, my mother calls

And I must run to see what’s wrong

I run and run as my faith in god falls

I must run and run to see what’s wrong

Soon the candles flame goes out

I am left alone in the darkness

With the pressure on my lungs I shout

Feeling overwhelmed by the starkness

And so I fall into that sleep

Into which the premonitions creep

To look back and read those words now, with eyes and a heart now grown a little wiser, a little kinder, a little more gentle – I wept.  I wept for the pain the young girl that I had been had poured onto the page, and the suicide attempt that had followed that poem and so many like it, less than a year later.  I also felt a profound gratitude for the single greatest failure of my life.  Had I been successful nearly two decades ago, at wiping myself from existence, I would have missed out on so many amazing experiences that I couldn’t even dream of or imagine at that young, tender and tormented age.

There’s been a lot of work this past year to find my purpose, my desire.  To find that small flame or spark that lit-up my entire being.  And to be honest – I didn’t really believe I would find it.  A part of me was sure that when all the heavy lifting was done, I’d find a scorch mark or maybe ashes, of a flame.  A flame that long since had burned out.  Whether from suffocation, starvation or neglect – I would find only the ruins of what once was.  If I was lucky, I might see a burnt out shell of the potential that had been.  A shell that if I didn’t breath too hard or accidentally touch, might not crumble and blow away in the wind before I could try to memorize what it had looked like.

To my astonishment, I found that beneath all the crap, the scars, the pain and the joys, the memories and the questions – buried under the shame and guilt and sadness and anger and fear – there is still a small but determined fire that has somehow managed to persist and persevere through it all.  That I am both Prometheus and the sacred flame.  Suffering the torments of being picked apart daily by all my insecurities and fears, and at the same time, deep within, burns a divine, unquenchable, sacred fire.

I may not have all the answers to the questions that I’ve asked you here, but I have a start at answering them.  Just by virtue of recognizing that quality within myself.  And as any fire does, when you give it fuel and you give it room to breathe, it grows.  With the right mix of blood, sweat and tears – of courage, vulnerability and faith – I can step into that fire, into that flame, and become it.  My divinely unique gift, my flame, my desire – my self.  Wonderfully, authentically, utterly ALIVE.  Perfectly imperfect.

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