Dear Willingness…

I’m walking towards 14 years of sobriety and reflecting…

When I started my memoir, I ended up writing letters to myself.
Letters of encouragement. Confessions.
Hidden truths that begged for air and light.

This letter… A Letter to Willingness I share with you now.

This week has brought some surprising sweetness and has opened up some unexpected doors. If I had lost momentum in any of this, I would have never stepped through to meet those opportunities.

Some days I had to fight and then fight some more in order to keep moving forward.

To everyone who struggles with putting one foot in front of the other, this one’s for you

willingness

© 2017 Angela Rooker. All Rights Reserved.No reproduction, alteration, duplication, or transmission without author permission.
Dear Willingness-
It’s been really hard to get in touch with you lately.
I’ve been filled with this pressing, shadowy hush.
I’ve been struggling with yielding in life again. I hate how I have fallen into this place.
I have way too much to lose, and I know that in my entire being. It should be crucial to have you by my side.
I should be able to reach out to you, given our wonderful history together.
All of the sparkly, illuminated spaces that you have helped create on my path.
The naked, openness that I have pushed myself to, the ashes that I have burned into and also risen up from. I’ve cherished all of these moments that you have shared with me.
But now…I feel alone and need to share my pain. I need movement but all I have is a foggy memory of you whispering to me stories of beauty to come. I somehow can’t raise my heart to answer your call. I somehow am too heavy in this place.
It feels like there are big, unnamable barriers between us now. I’ve had to force myself to greet you daily. Even when I think about all of the amazing things that come when I walk with you by my side.
It feels impossible to rise up from this place.
I used to walk hand in hand with you, at a time when it really mattered. When you were crucial in my movement towards glistening grace. I remember you being the only thing I truly had to turn to. And when I did, when I let go in small and big ways and let you lead me, oh…the breathtaking views that you carried me toward. You helped me clear space for dreams to incubate.
Such a stark difference from this place where I find myself now.
This feels like not-quite-apathy nipping at my heels. A familiar numbing buzz. Possibly fear of losing it all because I have lost it all so many times.
But why? How did it get to this?
I remember the flame inside of me blooming and licking at the fears that needed to be sacrificed. I remember how it felt like I was suffocating on self-hatred, my heart crushing in impossible circumstances, and you somehow lifted my eyes to the sky. You pushed me to stay open, and count on better days. I eagerly awaited your call to travel to new places.
It feels as if the light has dimmed so slowly, even after all of the effort to keep it stoked inside of me. Breathing in and out, I’m exhausted by how much energy it takes to shine. Maybe darkness has its grace as well.
The tears are swelling now, cradling my sadness with soft release.
I remember being in a place when I had nowhere to go, and I faced you in the mirror. I could barely see you. The only vision of myself that reflected back was haunted with shadows and ghosts of endless pain. You managed to walk me forward somehow. You managed to get me to run toward the horizon. You managed to show me how to find myself in music and dancing and art. And now I glance at the moonlight fading, wondering what moves me forward now, in this place.
A tense calm in my footsteps, as if all of those sudden shifting sands in the past have made me perpetually cautious.
I remember being brave. And being in awe of that realization, the potential to rise above, endlessly lapping at the shores of my insecurity.
These new places where I feel lost don’t quite feel like that darkness I once faced. I now take more steps outside of my comfort zone, more out of habit than necessity.
I remember that place of necessity.
I remember the things that marked that place in my path where I had to take your hand.
You helped me reach my hands to the sky and develop the sweetness of sacred prayer. You helped me create words where there was silence. You helped me wash my eyes of the cloudy illusions that I was so convinced were real. You helped me articulate my heart’s desires in full capacity. Helped me mold daily rituals of forgiveness from the clay of my mistakes. You helped me get outside of myself to help another person. And another person. And another, until all that became familiar was getting out of myself to be of more use to others.
You helped me show up and be present in moments that tested my aching courage on a cellular level.
You helped me finally see myself as beautiful and true.
Maybe in this heaviness, all I really need to do is thank you for being in my life. For showing me the importance of being alive, despite tragic beginnings and tremendous, scarring loss.
Maybe all I am supposed to do in this moment is to express my deepest gratitude for all that you have showed me in myself, all that you have carried me towards, all that you have helped me loosen my grip on.
I would be driving with the brakes and gas going all at once without you.
You helped me use my footsteps in the right way to walk in beauty, to be aware of my actions towards others, to see my part in the storms of my past, and to do the next right thing to keep moving forward. You have helped me move through all of these difficult places inside and outside of myself towards more trust in myself. So that I could open the door for others to come in.
I would still be broken and discouraged, succumbing to the churning madness of disillusionment, without you. You were loyal to the light in me and you kept me critically focused on it, to save my very life. To raise me from the depths of my crippling despair. You offered me hope when no one else could.
You showed me new life, new love, second chances that I should not have been privy to. My trajectory was determined from the start, and you somehow shifted everything inside of me towards a possible future.
You helped me transform into a miracle. For that I will forever be grateful.
This release has helped remove some of the debris, so that I can see your light in my heart once again. You have shepherded my wounded sight once again.
Sometimes I need to move, and sometimes I need to be still, so that you can take the lead.
Please take my hand once again…I’m ready to trust this dance.

 

Tending Beauty: Finding Mindfulness Through Gardening

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This is where it all started. Little did I know how long it would take to create a sacred space for budding beauty.

Bloom where you are planted.” – Mary Engelbreit

In late Spring of 2016, I decided that I wanted to create a garden space in the front of my house. A simple wish, full of daydreams buzzing with vibrant colors and hummingbirds. Up to that point, every place that we had lived as a family over the past six years always had a garden. Our several attempts at cultivating an organic vegetable garden were typically head up by my husband.  One of my biggest hopes when purchasing our first home was to be able to have the freedom to plant some real roots and to create a place for meditation and contemplation. I had not yet truly dug my fingers into the earth in such a way to create a deep and lasting connection,  but I craved that so much that I started setting the intention to develop that kind of relationship to the tender land around me. I watched my husband, year after year, seek connection to nature in our vegetable gardens, but I always kind of felt on the sidelines when it came to committing to working in a separate, dedicated space to develop my own connection to the sacred Mother.

Do what you can with what you have in front of you.

A wish…turned into a pocketful of seeds, turned into upturned earth. That’s the only way to plant these desires, you see. One step at a time. But I was naïve concerning all things gardening. I loved the idea of being able to harvest the beauty once it bloomed so that I could showcase and uplift the energy of our home. How selfish of me, truly.

A wish…turned out to be a desire to have my own needs met first, instead of being inclined to reach out and care for something other than myself. 

These things revealed their true nature the moment the leaves poked through the soil. The moment the fragility surfaced, I became aware. The beauty I originally desired to cherish was only skin deep, a mere aesthetic to please my own egotistic inclinations.

And so, as the seasons turned, I transformed that wish into something real. A true connection based on things outside of what I could only personally gain.

Don’t be a fair-weather friend.

So this initial wish… invited me to build a relationship. Not just some passing appreciation of the fruits of nature’s labors. I had no clue what was in store for me on this new journey. I wanted to create a space for peace and reflection, but I could only reach those things if I dug into the earth to find them.

I wanted to create a space for joy and laughter, but only could I attain those things if I invited my family into this budding connection. I had to invite them to come with me and play in the earth in ways that would help not just the garden grow, but our entire family grow, with more love and dedication.

 

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Show up to grow up.

Each new spring was different from the last. New explorations of color and nurturing tools were offered to this sacred space. At one point I was so dedicated to keep the grass from fighting with the flowers over territory that I literally clipped the invasive blades with a handheld pruner. From a distance, I am sure that it looked as if I were obsessively offering my yard a haircut. It was in that moment that I stopped and realized that this connection was starting to take a hold of me in some unexpected ways.

Weed through the guilt and shame.

I can’t tell you how many times my imagined fears of what the neighbors thought pressed down on my efforts to show up and take care of this space in my yard. “It’s not good enough” would rattle relentlessly in my thoughts as I pruned and plucked. The moment I finally let the fears go, a neighbor called the city on us for having “too high of grass.” 

Some days I could only do what was minimally necessary to keep the judgement at bay, to keep the city from offering us a warning to keep our wilderness a little more tamed and appealing.

Gosh, I shut down when that happened, because didn’t that silly neighbor see me uproot that blasted grass handful by handful just to clear more space for mulch? Didn’t the city recognize all of the hard work that went to the wayside when nature took over with torrential rains, so much that I could not step foot in what had become a mini marsh in our front yard?

Some days I would greet this garden with a heart full of appreciation, and other days my entire being would just ache with an incessant nagging to do something about it already. 

It became less of a harmonious vision and more of a “thing” to do something with. A  burden. A source of bellowing shame and guilt. One more thing to use against myself to convince everyone around me that my efforts are a crock.

But the true magic of this garden, when I open up and see it as it shows up, is that all of that unnecessary noise shuts up the moment I plant my fingers into the rich soil.

Set down expectations with the rising sun.

I had to come to a decision about what this garden meant to me. Was it going to be an endless source of pain, shame, and guilt? Was all of this showing up through rainstorms and overgrown grass, and weeds, and fire ants just to show me that I have to claim, once and for all, that I am enough, no matter what?

Something inside of me shifted, and it became less about what people thought of my yard and moved back towards the original wish for beauty. What had this become? Shame and guilt were not what I had intended to plant in this space.

So I made a choice of how I wanted to have relationship with this space. If I had anger and frustration within me, I could intentionally till it into the soil for healing. If I had sadness and overwhelm threatening to shut me down, I could bring a simple cup of coffee with me into a moment of silence and ask to see the beauty instead.

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Does planting these seeds impact others?

I am going to go out on a limb here and make the assumption that most of us have heard of the concept stating that our thoughts affect our moods, and our moods affect our behavior.
So there are these days, right, when my thoughts feel more like a battleground than a warm hug.
On those days, when those types of thoughts run rampant, I have to pretty much warn anyone around to give me extra space, otherwise they will end up in the irritability “splash zone”, so to speak. When I don’t have a set practice of turning that kind of thinking around, I am a mess, and my life gets way more messy.
I have found that every time I bring that nasty negativity with me into the garden, it somehow does not taint that space with more negativity. It transforms it.
I visualize each weed that I pluck out to be one of those self-negating thoughts. Each mound of soil that I turn over and till to prepare a supple body for planting new starters or seeds, I offered each thought, one by one, in this meditative offering to release this nasty poison keeping me locked in self-doubt or shame and guilt.
The less poison churning inside of me, the less amends I end up having to make because I am activating a ritual of healthy release instead of slamming everyone around me with this crap that gets stirred up inside of me almost daily

“Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade.” – Rudyard Kipling

I’ll be honest, I truly wanted this garden to just magically pop up and thrive on its own. I wanted to appreciate the fruits of my efforts without really putting any effort into it at all. Did I realize how self-centered that was when I started this adventure three years ago? Of course not. I simply was not aware at that time how much energy, time and presence was truly required of me in order to produce this concept into a living, breathing space of peace and contemplation. I simply did not realize that the imagined space that I desired was being created in all of the small, present moments within this growing thing. It was less about the destination and all about the journey.

Staying true to the beautiful journey.

So this truly has become more valuable than just a clutch of pretty flowers for me. Taking time and energy to be present in this space outside of my home has actually secretly become an unexpected extension of my home. It has turned into a space built for laughter and tears, for frustration to be burned off and replaced with deep satisfaction that I am at least making a difference to a small, budding flower, if even I cannot make a difference anywhere else in that day or moment.

Listen to that still, small voice.

So when the earth calls, I now listen in a more heart-centered way. I recognize my role in this relationship, that this isn’t a one-sided deal. On their own, flowers and plants can be pretty hardy and resilient, but man do they enjoy connection just as much as we do. Our energy and presence affects them when we offer a moment or two to show up and witness the birth of their awakening beauty. And their energy welcomes us to a place of inward reflection about how messy we can make life when we lose sight of tending the beauty.

Can anyone else here use more self-love on the daily??

“Self-love seems so often unrequited.” – Anthony Powell

For me, self-love has always been connected to work. Work that I don’t have time or energy for, really. That sounds crazy, right? Why would I not have time or energy to invest in self-love? Because I have spent so much time and energy in building relationships with others. I have been spending so much time and energy giving the necessary love that I, myself, deserve to people whom often don’t respect it, don’t return it, don’t encourage it. I have spent so much of my time depleting myself with people pleasing, seeking outside validation, committing to working on myself to be better for others, that I have nothing left to offer myself.

When I give and give and endlessly end up in the self-love negative, how can I possibly be open to choosing more love for myself and others?

It often feels like an uphill battle, this thing called self-love. There are so many self-help books and philosophies floating around that offer so many mixed messages. I am enough! I am not enough! I am content with what I have! I am deserving to strive for better! So what can I possibly listen to? Which message is the best one for me when building a relationship to my self-love? There are so many things promising a solution, so many Best Selling Authors offering  ways to inevitably “fix” my relationship to myself. So, where do I even start? Do I need fixing, or am I truly enough as I am?

I have this hunch that it’s not just me…

If there are so many books on it, where so many of them often clash in approaches and philosophies of how to do this self-love thing, I  guarantee that I am not the only one lost and confused. I am not the only one pushing and pulling myself in every direction trying to figure it out.

How often is our self-love conditional?

I was,for years, perpetually convinced that I would love myself once….. Once a relationship showed up. Once I had secured acceptance in a large circle of friends. Once I had lost 20 pounds. Once I obtained my degree. Once I started my own business. Once I got married and finally had a baby.

Looking back now at a picture of myself in my first wedding and see the naivety exuding from the blissful gaze at my ex-husband. This relationship had exactly what I was looking for, right? This X, Y, or Z is what will finally seal the deal, right?

So I thought.

Where was the love when I gained it all?

Back in 2008, I stepped out from my comfort zone to start up a nonprofit to help empower women. I had a vision! I had my degree! I was newly engaged! I HAD FINALLY ARRIVED! Everything was perfect and aligned and exactly what I had wanted. Except for the fact that, on a daily basis, I talked myself out of being successful. I didn’t believe that what I had to offer truly mattered, and my negative self-talk reflected that belief system. I was convinced that no one would pay me to work in a way that was in alignment with my passions in life, and I found that I was surrounded by others who felt the same way and confirmed my doubts. I was surrounded and filled with the message that I wasn’t enough with what I had at that time to pursue what my heart desired. I pushed myself with expectations to apply to get my Masters because I wasn’t enough with a B.A. to be a successful business owner. I didn’t have the look, the language, the public speaking skills. Nothing matched this idea of what a “business owner” and “Executive Director” looked like, so I treated myself as unworthy and lacking true value. I was not enough, to myself and to others whom I surrounded myself with, even though I had achieved some pretty large accomplishments in my life.

And where was the love when lost it all?

The business dissolved in 2010 right before my divorce. Several people in my personal circle knew about what was going on “behind the scenes” with my ex, and no one thought to give me a heads up. No one respected me enough to tell me what was happening. Talk about hitting a bottom. Talk about coming to a place of complete lack of faith in myself and others, my dreams, and love in general. I finally lost that 20 pounds… from not eating while going through the divorce process. I had so much anxiety and grief and I attempted to forge relationships with unloving people. My five year plan fell through. My ten-year plan fell through. My happily ever after fell through, and I was STILL surrounding myself with people who did not respect and value the love that I had to offer. In that place, where I was surrounded by failure and loss and pain, how dare I look in the mirror and say to myself, ” You are enough.. Just as you are”?

So how do these negative love experiences shape my relationship to myself, as well as the concept of love in general? How can I truly love others and myself in the midst of disappointment and hurt?

At the end of the day feeling completely defeated and depleted, it’s really hard to muster up the courage to look in the mirror and say to myself, “You are enough, just as you are..” It’s really hard not to sink completely into the abyss of self-doubt and shame, and project ideations of rejection outward and apply them to every hint of a possible step forward. It’s incredibly difficult to not want to shut down completely and just give up. It’s incredibly difficult to be your own cheerleader 100% of the time when you are facing unexpected deep-rooted grief and loss.

So do the positive accomplishments determine whether or not I accept and value myself fully? Will picking myself up and dusting myself off again do the trick?

Since that dark bottom, I have rebuilt some things in my life again. I have helped create a loving family with a new husband and beautiful daughter. I started dreaming again and believing in myself that the future is bright and possible. And that’s exactly when it started happening again: I found myself constantly locked in a gaze of disapproval with myself, dissatisfied at the image of me now as I compared it to the picture of myself pre-pregnancy. I want to just full-body sob.

It’s always something, right?

Always something I need to work on to either accept or change before I feel a little love for myself. The thing is… that version of me pre-pregnancy isn’t perfect either, because I remember at that place wanting X, Y, or Z to happen before I would be happy with myself as well.

That’s when I started to really pay attention. Something INSIDE did need to change, because everything outside of me wasn’t solving the problem. I was losing my self-worth in conditions and experiences and conversations on a daily basis.

“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. Your really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.”  ― Lucille Ball

The truth is that self-love isn’t conditional, otherwise it’s not truly self love. If any circumstance changes the level of value and worth that I have for myself, then my foundation of value and worth is superficially built on quicksand and will collapse at any and all change that I encounter in life.

So what do they say? The only constant is change, right? Does that mean that I am screwed, then?

It sounds like a pretty bleak diagnosis, right? That I just am incapable of self-love if I keep looking outside of myself, if I keep offering more to others than I offer myself.  I’ve repeatedly lost and gained so many things in life. What I need is a proclamation! From this day forward, on the deepest cellular level I now proclaim to give myself constant steady love, despite ANY change. From this day forward, I am my own rock in the midst of anything moving around me, good or bad. From this day forward, it is also completely ok if I mess up learning how to love myself more deeply.

SELF-LOVE IS POSSIBLE!

First of all, it’s impossible to be simultaneously broken and whole  and perfect. Or is it?  Can we be hurt and hopeful too? I have found that I have to be intentional with the time that I spend with myself, in my thoughts, beliefs, and actions. I have to make a decision to stop trying to constantly fix myself. I wasn’t broken, I was learning how to live life on life’s terms.

Ahhhhhh! Compassion. There you are!

I have to make a decision and take action on a cellular level  to ALLOW what is, good or bad, and in that place, with whatever I am surrounded by, I must offer myself compassion and  start practicing random acts of kindness….. to MYSELF! I must do that before I offer love and kindness to others. Sounds self-centered right? One of the very important lessons that I have learned as a mother is that I cannot take care of others if I don’t take care of myself first, that I cannot offer to anyone what I don’t have myself . I cannot approach anything in life from a place of deficit without getting the same disappointing results. Period.

So for me, self-love is allowing the good the bad the ugly. You know the vows that I took in marriage to someone else? Twice? Well I need to make that kind of vow with myself, through sickness and health, till death do I part, that I will love myself, no matter what. Self-love is being kind to myself, not because of something that I did or didn’t do. Not because of something that I accomplished. No, self-love is every day, knowing and practicing ways to show myself and others that I simply deserve it.