Remember who you are

This MLK day is somehow more meaningful to me than the previous 34. In the last three years, I’ve become more aware. More aware of my likes and dislikes. Of what I will accept for myself and from others and what I will absolutely not tolerate. More aware of what makes me belly laugh and what makes me giggle nervously. More aware of things that bring me joy and things that bring me heartache. More aware of my unique strengths and genuine weaknesses. More aware of what I want to and can change and of what I cannot change. I’m more aware of the talents I bring to the table and how and what I can contribute; more aware of what I cannot do and where I must ask for help. I’m more aware of my voice and when to speak up. I’m more aware of when to sit quietly and listen. I’m more aware of the forces of nature, the science of instincts, the patterns of behavior, and the mystery of spirituality. More aware of what my You see, I’m more aware of who I am. Today, I remember who I am. And I am more than any condition or less-than ideology.

I cannot hate you without also hating myself.

I’m not beautiful for my age. I am beautiful. Period.

My dreadlocs aren’t clean and gorgeous for locs. My locs are gorgeous. Period. And my hair is my crown. Period.

My skin isn’t not-so-dark. My skin is dark and delicious. Period.

I don’t speak well for a Black girl. I speak well. Period.

I haven’t accomplished a lot for someone in my situation. I have accomplished a lot. Period.

I haven’t done a lot for someone from 6mile in Detroit. I have done a lot. Period.

I don’t have an amazing body for a mom. I have an amazing body. Period.

I’m neither too confident nor too independent. I’m confident and independent. Period. 

I’m not strong for a woman. I’m strong. Period.

Remember who you are.

If you’re having a memory lapse, society has you feeling less-than, you’re swimming through a sea of can’ts and aren’t sure of who you are or where you’re going, these three things always get my feet back on solid ground:

Ubuntu.

When I was Miss Michigan, my platform was Building Bridges through International Experiences. I spoke on the importance of stepping outside of the box of normalcy, moving past fear and judgment to experience life alongside someone different from you. I encouraged my audiences to love and embrace each other as their neighbors on the planet. I told my audiences about Ubuntu, a South African word so broad and beautiful there is no direct translation into English. But it means humanity. It means compassion. It means we are one. We are each other. It means I cannot hate you without also hating myself. Remember who you are.

I am a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars.

One of my favorite professions of faith, Desiderata, which came to me under very supernatural conditions and I reflect on with unlimited love, reminds me that we – all of us here on this planet – are made of the same combinations of chemical elements that make up life-giving trees and energy-producing stars. Yes, the same science that explains the breathtaking beauty of the Milky Way and the Northern Lights is the same science that makes electrical impulses flex our heart muscles and fires neurons to process external stimuli. Once you let that reality sink in, how could you ever doubt yourself and your own abilities and goals? You are magical! How could you ever endure diminishing and degrading societal norms when you truly understand that we are literally all the same elements? How could you ever think to humiliate or denigrate your neighbor? We are made of each other. How can I hate you without also hating myself? Ubuntu. Remember who you are.

The same power that raises the dead is inside of you.

About a year ago, one of the lead pastors at my church elaborated on the idea of God in us. In, being one of the four words he used to detail how to be one with God in all of God’s glory in his book, Four Small Words. In that sermon, he said, “The same power that rose Jesus from the dead is in you.”

There are only a few sermon statements that stay with me and stay forever. That was one of them. If you are Christian (and I am) and truly believe that women and men are made in the image of God, are we not equipped with the capacity to embody even a fraction of God’s limitless love and power? And if you are any other agnostic believer, and God – The Universe – The Creator – The Physicist – Love – whatever you believe God to be – is all knowing, powerful, loving and present, are we not made of that same magic? Indeed we are. We are radiant beams of energy, composed of the same spirit juice that created our entire spectrum of sensations and range of emotions and capacity to exist.  Remember who you are.

The same science that explains the breathtaking beauty of the Milky Way and the Northern Lights is the same science that makes electrical impulses flex our heart muscles and fires neurons to process external stimuli.

When I look out at the pain and negativity pulsing across our world today, I have to admit I am terrified. But rather than feeling discouraged, I am empowered. My fear emboldens me – not to persecute, point fingers, and blame others for my discomfort, but to remember who I am, who we are and be better. I’m encouraged because I know that our world needs us now – us, meaning, those of us who know who we are. When you remember who you are, you realize that it is up to us to embody compassion, exhibit love, and shine our light brighter than the darkness that threatens to oppress, bully, humiliate and weaken others. Remember who you are and be better.

Today, I remember who I am. I am a cosmic and radiant goddess and I am beyond any limiting, diminishing condition. I am. Period.

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Sweet Relief: Three Ways to Cleanse Your Spirit

Do you ever have epiphanies on the toilet? I do. Here’s one…stay with me…

The Toilet Diaries: December 2, 2016

This morning as I changed my feminine product, emptied my bladder and bowels, I got chills. The chills of relief when all the waste I’d been holding inside for 8-plus hours finds its exit and I can relax. I felt my body melt into itself exhaling, “Ahhhh this feels better.”

If our physical body so desperately needs to release, surely the law must be consistent for the whole soul.

I remembered being a child and laughing hysterically with my best friend at the phrase, “What a relief!” in response to having a nice long steamy piss.

But all this relieving eviction of body product got me to thinking…if our physical body so desperately needs to release, surely the law must be consistent for the whole soul: emotions, spirit and psyche.

Have you ever tried to hold your pee when a convenient toilet escapes you? Perhaps you’ve experienced the horrifying “prairie-dog” effect when your body just can’t make the dog stay in the hole. For the love of all things holy, why can’t the careful walk to the toilet also be the swiftest? The gush of blood when you just weren’t prepared. Eating that one wrong meal and you can’t keep the food down. And don’t your eyes pop out of your head if you try *not* to sneeze or do it with your eyes open? Or worse yet, martyring yourself trying to hold your gas for mutually the fear of embarrassment and the olfactory safety of your neighbors, but you finally reason with yourself to free the trapped air and your heart sinks into your pants when you feel that it’s actually a shart? Please, dear God no!

It is nothing short of torturous misery to try and hold in vomit, poo, pee, gas, or a sneeze – and it is equally all things glorious to release them.

Heaven bless the perky rebound after throwing up too much alcohol or a disagreeable dish. Freedom. The cosmically orgasmic sneeze when our bodies reject a sinus intruder. Yes! More! Finally taking that Austin Powers-long pee after a good night’s sleep. Hallelujah! Making it to a toilet when your intestines have had enough. Pure ecstasy! Feeling your body deflate five inches once you release a massive gas pocket. Slow, wordless smile.

It is nothing short of torturous misery to try and hold in vomit, poo, pee, gas, or a sneeze – and it is equally all things glorious to release them.

For our physical bodies to function properly, the ugly must come out, up, down, AWAY. And into the air or down the drain. Are we properly cleansing our minds, spirits and hearts of its waste too? How do you practice the letting go of old memories and heartache that is certainly rotting and creating toxic fumes that prevent us from healthy function? I came up with three categories that sum it all up for me:

1. Burn

    Fire is a timeless symbol of not only power and passion but also equally life and death. The phoenix sets itself ablaze only to rise from the ashes again. Burning incense is a universally sacred practice. Two ways to burn yourself clean: first, sage. Smudging is another ancient practice of purifying space, energy and literally the air around you by smoldering leaves or sticks. The second is by naming your filth – write a letter to someone you need to forgive, write down the missteps that are anvils to your soul. Maybe it will be paragraphs; maybe it will be pages. Write it all down, weep over it, and then light it up and let it go…safely of course.

    2. Birth

      Nothing says out with the old like in with the new. The order doesn’t matter. Sometimes the arrival of something new can push the old aside. Other times, you’ve successfully eradicated your spirit gunk and although its exit is healthy, you’re left with a void of what was. Cleansing yourself through newness can be anything – something powerful that you create, design, develop; a therapeutic shopping spree to signify change; the first ceremony of a new tradition; moving or relocating to start anew in a new place; find a new way to give back to the community. Dumping your spirit’s waste in this way can be your renaissance.

      3. Be

        This is my personal self-care favorite. Being. As an extrovert, I tend to find my energy among people, but I also have introvert tendencies and need to indulge in delicious hermit-like moments to find my balance. Part of my soul-cleansing process includes quality alone time. This isn’t the avoidant type of me-time that includes eating comforting lime chicken or steak tacos (La Pasadita is the best – corn tortilla, onions & cilantro) on my couch in droopy sweatpants I’ve had since high school and watching made-for-TV movies from the 90s (you know the ones with Tori Spelling and Joanna Kerns…). Although these moments feel GREAT, I mean the actual art of being. Unplugging, looking inward, opening your soul to let go of the old and bad and ugly, and welcome in love and compassion and light. Meditate, pray, go to a sensory deprivation chamber, go off the grid for a few hours – heck, try a whole week! Delete the site history of the internet browser that is your soul and refresh your deepest core.

        Spiritual cleansing sweet relief soul waste
        If you have more tips – or have particular success with any of these, please write to me and let me know. Let’s continue the upward trend of healthy release. What. A.  Relief. 

        ~OR

        2017 Mantra: Allow the Magic 

        I’m not part of Team Burn 2016 To the Ground. I had a great year. While it was full of loss – of lives, loved ones, and trust; and equally full of pain, heartache and betrayal. I was assaulted, attacked, violated, harassed, disrespected, insulted, bullied and berated. I got hurt a lot in 2016.

        But here’s the thing: 2016 was also overwhelmingly also full of growth. I grew in areas where I didn’t even know I needed to be challenged. I saw things from other perspectives when I thought I had already examined all options. I saw myself with new eyes. I saw others with new eyes, too. I learned vulnerability and openness. I remembered how to relax and be OK with – and without – being OK. I learned to advocate for myself. I was encouraged, inspired, uplifted, empowered, adored, cherished, complemented and celebrated. I was seen and lovingly embraced a lot in 2016, too.

        What boundaries am I willing to set to make this the most transformational year of my life?

        Last night, after the various glittery balls around the world dropped and the star in Chicago rose, one of my best friends asked, “So what’s your 2017 Mantra? Every year starts with a mantra!”

         

        I hadn’t put much thought into it, but some of my best ideas are my gut’s first urging. My inner voice cried out before she even finished her thought:

         

        WHAT YOU ALLOW WILL CONTINUE, it said.

         

        I use this phrase a lot when I’m being the wise best friend and my girl had another run-in with the crappy boyfriend. But until the most intimate part of my living energy spurted it out, I had never considered it in all areas of my life.

        2017 is my year of boundaries – with myself, with my children, with my friends, family and love interests. What boundaries am I willing to set to make this the most transformational year of my life?

         

        1. What I allow for myself will continue. I have dreams. Goals. Aspirations. I have a vision for my mind, body and spirit. In the last five years, those milestones have been on a revolving scale with timelines extended due to the circumstances. But what if I held myself to a new standard? What if I did whatever it takes to make my dreams come true? What if I allowed myself to never hit snooze on a weekday and actually go to the gym before work? What if I stopped allowing myself to take a pass on packing my lunch and stopped eating at restaurants every day? What if I stopped choosing (anything else) over finishing the laundry?

        What I will allow to continue for myself is being bold and radiant. Living into my calling rather than shying away from it. I will allow myself to eat healthy and spend wisely. I will allow myself to be disciplined in study, art, music, dance, and fitness. I will allow myself to enjoy my lifestyle to the fullest.

         

         

        1. What I allow for my children will continue. Tantrums, whining, begging, screaming, arguing, avoiding chores, procrastinating…typical for children, yes, but these aren’t things they outgrow. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of adults this year have adult sized tantrums, and bicker, tease and bully like children. My responsibility as a parent is to raise adults that can think critically and handle adulting without reverting to infantile behaviors on grown-up scales. Discipline, emotional maturity, and calm problem solving starts now.

        What I will allow to continue for my children is positive reinforcement, intentional quality time, praise and rewards, boundaries, healthy conversations about emotions, and more responsibility with contributing to our home and housework.

         

        1. What I allow for my friends will continue. I’ve lost friends this year – some to death, yes but in this case, I’m referring to friends lost due to just being slowly squeezed out of the circle; so slowly I wasn’t sure it was happening until it was over. And that’s OK. But I realized that over the years some of those friends have deeply hurt me, whether they knew it or not. I’ve allowed myself to suffer in silence, not fully understanding that I had power within me all along to steer those friendships; I just didn’t use it. I’m also learning that in forever friendships, a silent friend does not equate to a good friend. Just like in marriages, or any lifelong connection, if you’re not challenging each other in growth, what the heck are you doing for each other? Friends cannot allow friends to follow destructive paths, nor can they allow their friends to take the easiest route, avoiding their highest potential.

        What I will allow to continue for my friends is the glorious give-and-take of enjoying each other’s’ company. We come bearing gifts for each other – gifts of time, growth, comfort, compassion, acceptance, laughter, presence, love and forgiveness.

         

        1. What I allow for my family will continue. I have a colorful family. I don’t mean ethnicity or lifestyle. I mean psychologically. My entire life I’ve been around destructive patterns that I’ve had to endure – or perhaps that I’ve allowed myself to endure. It’s OK to respectfully decline abusive conversations. It’s OK for me to not allow this cycle to continue.

        What I will allow to continue for my family is accepting and loving me for who I am and who I want to be. We will speak to each other with tenderness and empathy, and respect the decisions we’ve made for our individual lives.

         

        1. What I allow for my love interests will continue. Just last week, I had a potential date. Someone I met online on a Monday, began texting on a Wednesday and was about to meet in person on a Friday. But this person was already playing power games – holding something over my head and expecting me to jump for it. He set the foundation for our relationship that he would have all the cards and I would have to take whatever he dealt. I shut it down immediately. He gave me a beautiful apology, which I accepted. I also told him that power games now meant power games in five years and I’m just going to pass. I cancelled our date and we never met. It was deeply fulfilling. And also deeply healing. While I would love to be in a partnership, I am very happy without a significant other, and there is no reason I should make these kinds of exceptions – especially with a stranger – just to not be “single.”

        What I will allow to continue for my romantic relationships is serving each other in love, enjoying each other’s company and uplifting each other’s dreams. We will design our own family culture, and have patience, compassion and forgiveness with our flaws. We will accept each other without the intent of changing one another and will grow together, helping each other along the way. We’ll communicate freely, welcome vulnerability and set expectations. We will allow each other to be sad, angry, upset, without letting that shake our unconditional love.

         

        There’s no badge of honor in martyring yourself for the comfort of others. If you are unhappy, uncomfortable, unfulfilled, unimpressed, and uncertain, just say no. Don’t allow it to continue. Allow yourself to live into your truest self because denying your inner voice is the biggest crime you could commit against the world. You – and I – are here to be our best and truest selves. You – and I – are our greatest gifts to the world.

         

        2017 is my year of boundaries. My #shutitdown year. My #allowthemagic year. I’m a fierce and cosmic goddess, formed in the image of God and the same elements of the cosmos. I am strong and powerful, if I allow myself to be.

        Octavia reese cosmic goddess allow the magic  

        What’s your 2017 Mantra?

        Octavia reese 2017 mantra magic
        2017 Mantra

        ~OR 

        Dating…with Children PART 2: The Childless Other Person

        So, you’re smitten with a parent…but half of those kids’ chromosomes are not from you. Yikes.

        Wait…

        Not yikes! Shame on you! We’re awesome!

        OK, no shame, really. It’s totally acceptable. In my opinion, any aversion to dating a single parent is just as superficial as being primarily attracted to a certain skin color or body type. And the stigma of single parenthood is just as archaic as Jim Crow laws. Unfortunately, the philosophies still prevail today; they simply lurk under different headings  <ahem bathroom & gender ahem> [don’t get me started]  or are introduced with false acceptance such as, I’m fine with it, BUT...

        Save your big but.

        Abstaining from single parents is simply your preference. It’s also something you can get over – if you want to. But the cool thing about dating is that you get to date who you want. So if you’re likely to avoid dating a parent, that’s OK. This article is not for you. You can also jump onto chats like these and connect with your fellow brethren.

        Ok ok ok, maybe I’m a little bitter. But still. I’ve been burned. I’ll venture to average about 90% of men I’ve dated since my divorce that either went ghost or ended things because I’m a mom have come back, regretting their judgmental rush to rule me out. Well, as I’ve said before: 1. I’m awesome (along with many other single parents) and 2. I will not be back-burnered while you look for something better. Because when you come back feeling silly and want another try, this is what I’ll say: Nope.

        And I might sing this song.

        And I might make this face.

        comeback

        On the other hand, if you are brave enough to think about entering into a relationship with a single parent or if you are already in a relationship with a single parent, here are some things to consider:

        1. It’s OK to say you’re not ready. So, yes, you are head over heels for a single parent. Praise Baby J. But you’re terrified to meet the kids. What if they don’t like you? What if you don’t like them? What if they’re naughtier than you expected? What if xn?

        Remember, you have a voice. If things are moving too fast for you, just speak up. Slow does not mean no. No means no. Asking to slow down isn’t rude or rejecting; it’s valid and healthy – especially for the kids. The same way kids deserve two happy and healthy parents, they deserve the happiest and healthiest version of YOU as the significant other. If you’re really with your Best Match, they’ll understand and respect your pace.

        Asking to slow down isn’t rude or rejecting; it’s valid and healthy – especially for the kids.

        1. Acknowledge what you’re in for. I’m reading this incredible book right now called Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them by John Ortnberg. A section in the very beginning stood out to me and will stay with me forever:

        A friend of mine was ordering breakfast during a recent trip in the South. He saw grits on the menu, and being a Dutchman who spent most of his life in Michigan, he had never been very clear on the nature of this item. So he asked the waitress, “What exactly is a grit?”

        Her response was a classic. “Honey,” she said (in the South, waitresses are required by law to address all customers as “honey”), “Honey, they don’t come by themselves.”

        Grits don’t exist in isolation. No grit is an island, entire unto itself. Every grit is a part of the mainland, a piece of the whole. You can’t order a single grit. They’re a package deal.

        “Call it a clan, call it a tribe, call it a network, call it a family,” says Jane Howard. “Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” It is not good for man to be alone. Dallas Willard says, “The natural condition of life for human beings is reciprocal rootedness in others.” Honey, you don’t come by yourself.

         

        None of us come by ourselves. Even if you’re an anti-single-parent dater, you still have to deal with your lover’s mother(s), father(s), sisters, brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, cousins, best friends, work friends, kinda-friends, dogs, cats, lizards, fish…germs. Everyone comes with an arsenal of people and connections and microorganisms that you’re going to have to navigate anyway. So kids aren’t going to be that much more added to the circus for which you’ve already bought non-refundable tickets.

        Kids are a lot of work. They’re needy. They’re loud. They’re rude. They’re dirty. They’re messy. But they’re also hilarious. Compassionate. Honest. Adorable. Gentle. Affectionate. And they’ll teach you more about life than any fancy professor with a ton of letters after their name. You’ll feel drained, overwhelmed, terrified, uncertain, and you’ll probably doubt your decision at least three times a day.

        But children are, unfortunately (or fortunately?), temporary; just like any season, phase, and quite frankly, all of life. So enjoy the ride. Savor the moments. Take pictures. Smell the rain. Remember how tiny their hands are in yours. Remember how soft their fingertips are as they touch your face. Remember that joyful giggle.

        As I mentioned in PART 1, the kids will grow up, move out, chase their own dreams and start their own families. At the end of the day, you’ve just completed one of the grandest adventures with your Best Match and Life Partner. Isn’t it amazing what you two can accomplish together? It will be worth it.

        Remember how tiny their hands are in yours. Remember how soft their fingertips are as they touch your face. Remember that joyful giggle.

        1. Remember what we’re NOT. Single parents are not charity cases. We don’t want your pity. We don’t want favors. We are strong, resilient and dedicated. We are fierce and driven. We’re survivors. We don’t need you to be our hero because we’ve already become our own heroes –for ourselves and for our children. Please don’t date us thinking we need you or that karma is going to come rain goodies on you because you’ve taken in what others have kicked out. Remember that we’re just souls hoping for passionate unconditional human love like any other single person. If you think you’re doing some noble deed by dating a single parent, please leave us alone.

        Remember that we’re just souls hoping for passionate unconditional human love like any other single person.

        1. Know your role and know your value. You are engaging in a partnership with someone that could be – or is – your Best Match. Your role in their life and family is their Best Match. You are not a substitute parent (and PLEASE don’t even entertain the temptation to compete with or one-up the other parent). You are not a babysitter. You are not a disciplinarian. If you feel a lot of pressure to fill roles outside of significant other, speak up. Of course, joining in a lasting partnership involves sharing some responsibilities, but take a step back and consider how your presence lands in the kids’ world. It’s better to slow down and limit your time with the kids than to impose and confuse them. Remember that your presence might make them feel guilty; like they’re cheating on their other parent by enjoying your company. More on the kids point of view in Part 3…

        Your role to the children varies, depending on their age and developmental stage when you enter the scene, but you are always meaningful. As your relationship with the kids grows, you can be a huge asset – especially to older children. For teens in particular, you might be their preferred adult confidant and listening ear; they might open up to you more than they would their biological parent, trusting that you will guide them without shaming them. You can be a very powerful positive influence for them when they need a consistent and reliable presence the most; something really meaningful, filling a unique space between friend and parent.

        Joining in a lasting partnership involves sharing some responsibilities, but take a step back and consider how your presence lands in the kids’ world.

        1. Communicate – comfort level and expectations. I personally hold to the One Year Rule. When you have kids and you’re dissolving a marriage in the state of Illinois, you’re required to take an online course and pass an exam on successful co-parenting. It was actually very practical! (High Five, State of IL!) When it comes to significant others, the course recommends the One Year Rule; that you and your significant other have been consistently and officially dating for at least one year before making introductions to the kids. This is to protect the children – from confusion, from having too many inconsistent people coming in and out of their home, from getting attached and then getting heartbroken when you break up, from setting their relationship norm to a standard of “shallow” and “temporary,” and so forth.

        If one year is too long – or not long enough – speak up. As I mentioned in another article on starting a relationship off right, holding back your fears or reservations only plants seeds of resentment. Communication is the foundation to any relationship, no matter how intimate or minuscule. So speak up. Discuss. If you’re not comfortable sleeping over, say so. If you don’t want to watch the kids, don’t. If you’re not ready to be alone with the children, let it be known! Your successful and loving relationship with your significant other’s kids revolves around you being comfortable enough to be your Best Self. Those adorable kids deserve to receive the best version of you when you’re together.

        At the end of the day, you’ve just completed one of the grandest adventures with your Best Match and Life Partner. Isn’t it amazing what you two can accomplish together?

        So talk about the big things with your partner and check in to make sure you’re still on the same page. Coordinate schedules, make sure you have date nights, make sure your interactions with the kiddies are balanced – neither imposing nor scant – and if the other parent is in the picture, you’d better figure out how to cooperate with them, too! Grits, man. Amirite?

         

        Check back soon for PART 3: The Kids.

        ~OR

        Don’t Recover. Adapt.

        The news makes me want to vomit. I’m demoralized by the American presidential election, disgusted with the global rejection of those displaced by war, confused by war period, angry at routine segregation and oppression, and the rampant injustice and violence makes my insides curdle.

        But if recovery is getting back to normal and normal  is slaughtering, ravaging, ridiculing and degrading our neighbors, then I don’t want it. I don’t want to go back to a normal where fear begets discrimination and pride births peonage.

        I hate that we’ve almost forgotten about Emily Doe simply because another tragedy upstaged the atrocity. I hate it. I hate that we saunter from one sickening unnecessary evil to another. I hate the heartache. And somehow, this pain is so familiar to me.

        I stand in solidarity with Emily Doe. One night I shared a taxi with a close friend. We agreed to drop me off first. And then he asked to use my bathroom. Of course. Why not. I told him to use it and let himself out. I was exhausted and going to bed. I said goodbye. And then I woke up to the sound of my bed knocking against the wall; my sweatpants waistband closer to my knees than my ribs. I’ll stop there. I won’t say I was raped. He did stop. But I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in months. I want to move. I want a new bed. I want to burn my sheets. Just like Emily wrote, “I wanted to take off my body like a jacket” and throw it out with the garbage. I still do. I get it, Emily. I ache with you.

        And Orlando. God. The agony radiates through my soul. My stomach crawls up into my throat every time I try to read the details of the horrific night. I wish I didn’t know what it’s like to lose someone to violence, too. I wish I wasn’t familiar with getting middle-of-the-night calls that someone has been shot. Killed. I wish I didn’t know what it’s like to huddle on the floor in a corner and pray the bullets miss you. And your brother. And your mom. I wish I hadn’t been to more funerals than weddings – two of them children, murdered in the streets. I wish I hadn’t lost my dad without saying goodbye. I get it. To all the family and friends off the victims, I ache with you.

        I don’t just empathize. I understand. I cry with you.  And it sucks. And it doesn’t get better. It doesn’t get easier. And I hope to God we don’t recover.

        re cov er

        As I – we – are surrounded by loss, I’ve realized two simple truths: 100% of people will die. 100% of people have faith (even if you believe in nothing, you must believe in that nothing with all of your soul). So it makes sense that 100% of people will experience grief at some point. Whether it is the loss of a life, the dissolution of a relationship, a stabbing violation of trust, the pain and betrayal is universal. You are not alone. 100% of people understand.

        All of us have experienced a version of emotional trauma that leaves us with a gaping void in our spirit.

        Most people will try to ignore the emptiness. It’s so much easier to remain where we are comfortable and unchallenged. We act like everything is fine. We try to recover. We try to go back to normal. But if recovery is getting back to normal and normal is slaughtering, ravaging, ridiculing and degrading our neighbors, then I don’t want it. I don’t want to go back to a normal where fear begets discrimination and pride births peonage.

        I don’t want to make a recovery to that. I want a relovery. I want to adapt. I pray that we will adapt.

        Adapt to lead with love.

        Adapt to allow space to grieve.

        Adapt to remember.

        Adapt to be nonjudgmental of our neighbors. All of our neighbors.

        Adapt to look within ourselves first.

        Adapt to identify our prejudices and control our actions.

        Adapt to own our emotions.

        Adapt to respect others’ emotions.

        Adapt to uplift others’ decisions.

        Adapt to celebrate our differences.

        Adapt to be a willing student.

        Adapt to use I-phrases; not you-phrases.

        Adapt to stop blaming.

        Adapt to admit fault.

        Adapt to apologize.

        Adapt to be brave.

        Adapt to let go.

        Adapt to name our fears, insecurities, and silence them from the inside out.

        Adapt to improve someone’s life, not take advantage of it.

        Adapt to honor your neighbor as yourself.

        Adapt to make unselfish decisions.

        Adapt to protect and care for strangers.

        Adapt to ask for help.

        Adapt to constructively cope with dissonance.

        Adapt to release control.

        Adapt to include instead of condemn.

        Adapt to be confident.

        Adapt to know when to stop.

        Adapt to speak up.

        Adapt to accept.

        Adapt to back off.

        Adapt to listen.

        Adapt to learn someone’s story.

        Adapt to see people.

        Adapt to be thoughtful. Curious. Caring. Gentle.

        Adapt to be kind.

        Adapt to heal.

        Adapt to unite.

        Adapt to forgive.

        Adapt to understand.

        Adapt to empathize.

        Adapt to love.

        This much I know is true: we will find a new normal. We’ll eventually stop crying every day. One day, we’ll stop thinking about it every day. One night, we won’t have nightmares, or cry ourselves to sleep. Or replay the instant over and over again. One day we won’t occupy that strange space of something that is ending. One day relief will come for longer than a handful of minutes a few times a day.

        One day we won’t occupy that strange space of something that is ending.

        But some days the sadness will feel fresh again. Real. Surface-level. Raw. It might be in a year. It might be in five years. It might be in two months. We might get dizzy when the wave hits us. When what’s left of that empty pit of loss peeks out from our core and tugs at our memories. It could be a smell. Or a song. Or a stranger’s voice in the distance that has an eerily familiar cadence. It won’t get easier. It won’t get better. But we will adapt.

        ~OR

        #speakwoman #prayfororlando #peacefororlando #gaypride #orlandopride #weareorlando #adapt #recover #stoptheviolence #regrouprebootrebuild #emilydoe #rape #roadtorelovery

        What Are Negging & Gaslighting? Abuse, That’s What.

        Earlier this week, I shared an article about Training Your Partner/How to Start a Relationship off Right and I fittingly, had the opportunity to put Step 5 into practice this week, too (see my final word below).

        I had been on a few dates with someone and there were red flags that I noticed but chose to ignore in the name of being mature and responsible and giving this person the benefit of the doubt. Once I followed my own advice, Steps 1-4, it was most definitely time for Step 5. Why? Because he was exhibiting abusive behavior. It was subtle, sneaky. I didn’t really see it happening. He was a fun and pleasant person, and I genuinely enjoyed his company. But in the midst of our good time, he would insult me and challenge me so regularly, I started to feel inadequate. And then I realized why: I was allowing myself to endure abuse.

        Finally, there are names for these patterns. If you haven’t heard of them, it’s time to learn, look and listen. Equip yourself and be aware: This. Is. Abuse.


        NEGGING

        Negging is that tricky subtle negative garbage that is intended to knock down your confidence just enough so that you’ll be more <air quotes> approachable. The Neg-slinger hopes to pique your interest for being seemingly so disinterested with you that they treat you as if you’re nothing special. AKA passive aggressive insults. AKA bullying.

        In this article, where negging is introduced as a pick-up method complete with tips and tricks for using the best neg at the best time to get the girl you want, the author also warns against using the negging <air quotes>“technique” inappropriately, where is comes out as an actual insult. Well guess what, it is an actual insult. Negging is bullying. Negs are passive aggressive self-esteem-crushing blows no matter how you want to define and refine it. Negging is bullying. Bullying is abuse. Do not put up with it.

        Some that I heard recently:

        “Wow, cute top! I love last season knock-offs.”

        “Omigod, I can’t believe you’re not wearing tights. That dress is so short. Aren’t you cold?”

        “Three kids, huh? What’d the third one do walk outta there?”

        “Wow, cute top! I love last season knock-offs.”

        Please imagine my face in response. There were no words. <Negger, please.>

        img_2124


        GASLIGHTING

        Have you ever been made to feel like you don’t remember things correctly, or your judgement is off, or that you’re just plain going crazy? Yes, that’s a thing. That’s an abuse thing. It’s called gaslighting. Gaslighting is when your abuser makes you question your own sanity.

        “Gaslighting or gas-lighting is a form of mental abuse in which a victim is manipulated into doubting their own memory, perception, and sanity. Instances may range from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.

        The term owes its origin to the 1938 play Gas Light and its film adaptations. The term has been used in clinical and research literature.” (Wikipedia)

        “Wow, you totally made that up.”

        Unfortunately, gaslighting and negging can go hand in hand. Because in the context where you might actually stand up for yourself against a neg, a gaslighter might say:

        “Wow, you totally made that up.”
        “You’re just too sensitive.”
        “I’ll talk to you when you’re not PMSing.”

        No, a-hole you need to stop being a jerk. It’s not me. It’s you. I’m not internalizing things incorrectly; you are saying hurtful things and you need to stop.

        Gaslighting is a high-stakes mind-game for control of your emotional and psychological dependence. Be aware. Your experience, perception, and opinions are all valid, especially when you feel hurt.
        Emotional abuse is brutal. It peels back your skin and digs its nails into your most vulnerable places. It’s an infection that seeps into your soul, telling you there’s something wrong with you; you’re not good enough; you’re a disappointment; no one wants you. Emotional abuse speaks life into whatever your self-defeating thoughts are. It crumbles you from the inside out, ultimately making you fully dependent upon the abuser as you fight for their approval. But it will never come. You will bend over to satisfy them, but they are insatiable. You’ll fear the same rejection by a stranger so you want to stay where its comfortable. At least you have someone right?

        Wrong.

        Be strong, be confident. Even if you have to do it alone. You deserve to be happy, comfortable and fully accepted by yourself as well as in your relationships. If someone isn’t making you feel seen, loved and valued, then you deserve better.

        So, here’s what I sent to my once-gentleman caller after I had certainly endured quite enough of both his negging and gaslighting:

        I just listened to your message. Let me be clear that I am not now and was not Friday riled up, angry, or upset; nor have I overreacted. I am very calm and matter-of-fact. I know what kind of man I want to share my time with and energy on and you have simply shown that you are not that man. Plain and simple.
        We are not married. I am not obligated to keep company with someone who has imposed negative critique on both my physical figure and my home in addition to continually taking a teacher/preacher tone with me as if I need to learn lessons in patience, wisdom, confidence and my family relationships. I have the right not to entertain a relationship where I do not feel fully accepted and cared-for as-is. I do not need to be coached/changed/fixed/improved/educated and if I do I will take the initiative myself, not because you told me to.
        I appreciate your effort after the fact, but I cannot trust words, only the actions you have shown me and what you have shown me is that you want to be with someone tidier, more physically fit, and willing to be lectured. I am not that person. I am quite comfortable in my skin and in my apartment and I am mature enough to handle my own relationships and decisions without you imposing unsolicited advice.
        In your next relationship I do hope you do not imply her body or home need improvement. Most women will not respond well to that or as mildly as I have. Also, thank you but no thank you for dinner. If you’ve already got one foot in DC, I really don’t see the point even if you managed to stop casually insulting me on a regular basis. I’m certain there is someone that is a better fit for you as I am sure there is for me as well. Good luck.

        AND SCENE. Do not settle. Be strong. Advocate for yourself. It is much better to be alone and healthy and happy, than in a relationship that is defeating and miserable.

        ~OR

        How to Train Your Man: Tips for Creating Your Ideal Significant Other

        In short, there’s really only one necessary step in training your significant other.

        Step One: NOPE

        The End.

        As a woman, single and sorta-looking, I cringe every time I hear the phrase, “I’m still training my husband [wife] [boyfriend] [girlfriend].”

        CRINGE. SHUDDER. HISS.

        Because the following are things that can and should be trained: pets, skills, muscles, hair, plants. An adult human is not one of those things. Now don’t get me wrong, if you have the trainer/trainee relationship and that works for you, then more power to you and that role-playing synergy. Thank God you two found each other.

        But the mentality that someone should pick the closest prototype to their perfect partner with expectations to shape and groom them into that perfect partner is an idea I hope can be quickly eradicated from our social-majority thought. Not only is it unfair to the “trainer” because they are obviously settling and compromising their standards, but it is abusive for the “trainee” to live under constant scrutiny and judgement from the person that should love them the most, unconditionally. The “trainee” has the right to be themselves, relax and be comfortable in the intimacy of home.

        Therefore, I offer this alternative title:

        Learning Love Together:  Five Tips to Starting a New Relationship off Right

        1. Get Real. No One is Perfect.

        There’s a thing I like to call the Prince Charming Syndrome. It involves being exposed to stories and movies that illustrate some perfect romance, budding with a delicious tension, finally blooming into a flawless, uncomplicated union, and they lived happily ever after.

        Lies.

        Coming from a single-parent home, I didn’t have a daily relationship to set the bar for me. Really, my only examples of marriage or any long-term relationship included my married-and-divorced-three-times mother; my godparents, who remained married but lived separately for several years and argued – both earnestly and jokingly – incessantly; and…The Huxtables. So, if it isn’t obvious, my perception of life partnerships was a bit skewed.  With Hollywood as my standard, I suffered from that Prince Charming Syndrome. And swiftly abandoned every relationship that required any effort or working through issues. By the time I had developed a relationship work ethic, my marriage of almost ten years was beyond my own repair. All affection was a distant memory and my vision of the future was 180 degrees away from his. So I valiantly galloped off into an opposing sunset.

        The more I put myself out there, post-divorce, embarking on a spree of great and not-so-great dates, I realized, everyone is different and no one is flawless – no one is a particular upgrade or downgrade from my once-spouse.

        Everyone comes from issues, passed down from their parents, passed down from their parents, and everyone internalizes, suffers from, responds to, and exhibits those characteristics differently. Some people are aware of those traits, others are not. Some issues lay dormant for years, awakening with a specific trigger, while others rear their ugly heads early and often and speak louder than words. And depending on how those negative qualities land in the significant others’ world (don’t forget the significant other comes along with their own cocktail of problems), the possibilities for volatile mixtures are endless.

        So then what?

        Be introspective. Take the time and energy to know yourself.

        And be thoughtful. Take the time and energy to know your significant other.


        1. Learning Each Other Takes Time and Communication.

        Team projects in the workplace involve a handful of key factors that make or break the outcome: intentional leadership, setting expectations, proactive communication. This directly translates into relationships.

        The success of every relationship hinges upon this openness. I know, this is a typical date-killer, the DTR (Define the Relationship) Talk. But really, I don’t want my time wasted and I don’t want to waste someone else’s time either. It’s OK to set boundaries, timelines, communication norms and preferences, and be clear about what you hope this developing relationship looks like. Letting your new partner know ahead of time, “I don’t text every day,” or “I’m more of a caller than a texter,” or “I’m not ready to fall in love, but I want to get to know you better,” are all very reasonable things to say on a first date – better yet, before the first date. If your relationship is lacking these basics, as time moves on, resentment will infect your partnership and slowly eat away every fiber of your connection.

        Proactive communication and setting expectations are not things that happen naturally or automatically, either. Someone has to take the lead. Ideally, both partners would happily co-pilot their Ship of Love as it pulls out of Infatuation Harbor. However, this might not be both partners’ forte. If the responsibility falls more on one side than the other, make sure this too is communicated and accepted. If not, it could easily be another foothold for resentment; where one partner feels they are doing all the work to maintain the health of the relationship and the other is absent at the helm.

        Set the tone early so that unrealistic expectations are not assumed, feelings are not hurt, and your new relationship doesn’t implode in the first month.


        1. Honoring Each Other Takes Selflessness.

        In order to truly honor your partner, you have to bend sometimes. Yes, compromise. When I was a kid and my godmother would resolve spats between my brother and me, she would say, “You guys have to compromise.” It felt like slander. An expletive. Profanity. I want what I want when I want it even if it’s not my toy. Gimme! But she was right. Compromise is the only way to resolve partnership issues. However, unlike childhood squabbles, the compromise cannot take place out of guilt or because Auntie said so.  In a relationship, it must be done with love, compassion and selflessness. If not, enter that sepsis of bitterness once again. Honoring your significant other means selflessly compromising, and doing it with joy, not obligation.


         

        1. There is Give-and-Take

        OK, let’s face it: adulating is hard. There are things are just a big fat huge annoying pain to do. Like sorting dirty laundry. Washing it. Drying it. Folding it. And putting it away. Ironing. Dishes. Putting away dishes. Sweeping. Mopping. Vacuuming. Unfortunately, they all have to be done. Even worse, they all have to be done over and over and over again. The absolute worst thing is when you’re in a relationship and you’re still doing everything despite this partner that can’t seem to help. Or this partner that not only doesn’t help but makes things worse, i.e. putting dirty dishes near the sink rather than in the sink or dumping dirty laundry on the floor rather than in the hamper. These little annoying things can set your soul ablaze with rage, or give you one more opportunity to remember that no one is perfect, you can proactively communicate, set realistic expectations, and lovingly compromise.

        Let’s take the latter. Perhaps you hate doing laundry but don’t mind the dishes? Trade. Instead of expecting your partner to perform perfectly the thing they avoid the most, set your expectation to, “This is my job,” and release them from the responsibility. Allow them to take over something that you equally abhor. Better yet, if your hate is mutual and one of the things that draws you together, alternate days and make it a game. Reward yourselves with a romantic game or some QT alone when all the chores are done.


        1. It’s OK to Say, “This Isn’t Right.”

        A lot of us are raised to avoid rejection conversations (why many people go ghost when something in the relationship has turned them off; it’s just easier – inconsiderate, but easier) or to do it as politely and delicately as possible (which is just annoying if you’re the one getting dumped). But guess what? It’s OK – no, more than OK – it’s healthy to speak up and say, “This isn’t working for me.”

        It’s OK to voice a situation where your partner has made you feel uncomfortable, and it’s up to you to decide if it’s worth it to work through that breakdown or if the situation is unforgivable and you’re just done. The point here is that you have the power and the right to stand up for what you want to get out of your relationship. And if it’s not working, it. Is. O. K. You don’t get Brownie points for putting up with a relationship that isn’t meeting your needs. Stand up for yourself. An unhealthy relationship is not better than being alone.

        I recently decided to make a list of must-haves and a list of deal breakers. If we make the same lists for homes, vehicles, other big parts of our life that require both a significant investment and a considerable commitment, then why not do it for the person we expect to share our beds, meals, hearts, and life with for eternity? To be clear, this is not a check list with boxes and dating is not a job interview. But it is valid to outline characteristics you hope your partner will possess, as well as a list of things for which you absolutely will not settle. Don’t make exceptions that ultimately force you to smile through your misery or slowly waste away until nothing of your soul remains. Don’t sell yourself short. You owe it to yourself to be fully loved and fully happy; and your partner deserves it too. If you make too many exceptions and excuses, you’re condemning both of you to an unfair compromise that will crumble your life force and extinguish your zest.

        At the top of my list: ability to show unconditional love. Unconditional because I want to be able to relax with my partner, be vulnerable and open with zero fear of judgement or abandonment.

        And I don’t want to be improved. I’m not a puppy. I’m not a professor. I do not want to train or be trained. I just want to walk alongside someone and be cherished. Don’t we all?

        ~OR

        Before Memorial Day

        It’s a holiday. While I’m on-call, many of my fellow Americans are doing the yooj: gushing over the all-too-rare magic of a long weekend without the sacrifice of one priceless Vacation Day or a sacred PTO cash-in. Yes, one of those Mondays that has something to do with the military and too many of us have no idea whether it is Memorial, Labor or Veterans Day. The only thing that triggers brain activity: Day. Off. Fer’ Murica.

        It’s the unofficial start of summer with a widespread epidemic of day drinking, lounging, sun poisoning and wishing for still just one more day like this.

        Don’t wait until you almost lose someone to see someone.

        One more day. It’s Memorial Day. What we’re supposed to think of is those that are serving, those that returned from serving, those that died serving, and those that disappeared serving. This video (again, wrong Monday Military holiday, but same thing…), really got me in the feels:

         

        There’s something beautiful and aching about the desperate, automatic, instinctual throwing of limbs around the body of someone you love and miss…like you have to touch them with as much of your bodily surface area as possible and you’ll never let them go again.

        My boys hug me like this. It almost brings me to tears each time. I want to freeze the moment and hold them forever. And I know one day they’ll be too cool for me. One day, they’ll start doubting and pulling back and refraining. One day, they’ll tone it down like the rest of us.

        We’re muted. We’re diluted. Until we experience the threat of loss. Until that stabbing wake-up call;  that one instant it takes for us to start seeing each other again.

        I wish these stunningly passionate wordless expressions of deep affection were more common. I wish we’d be like eager uninhibited children, or the military-relative that has been on-edge for two years or more. I wish we would greet family before leaving for work on the Tuesday after a nice long holiday weekend  and instantly do the same when that awful vacation-hangover workday is over.

        Don’t wait until you almost lose someone to see someone. They don’t even have to be in uniform. Hold them now. Embrace them before they’re deployed. Before the diagnosis. Before the accident. Before the 911 call. Before the coma. Before the hospice. Before the abandoned Facebook profile. Before the memorial. Before the void. Before the hole in your spirit. Before they are a memory. Go cling to someone you love while you have them.

        Happy Memorial Day.

        ~OR

        Avoid the Side-Eye: Dos and Don’ts When Working with Black Women

        A cartoon I saw yesterday left me with a knot in my throat. It showed First Lady Michelle Obama looking masculine and irritable, when compared to her potential replacement of the Republican-Party-Hopeful persuasion. There are so many things wrong with this image of her that I had to look away. It infuriates me that a strong, educated, strikingly beautiful American woman can be drawn so viciously. I refuse to link to it here and glorify the artist for his disgraceful work.

        But then I considered my own identity issues as a Black Woman. I thought about how we’re shamed for not being good enough, pretty enough, educated enough…but then we’re shamed anyway, even when we blow those expectations out of the water. The truth is that we can never be good enough because someone will always find a reason to complain, nag, and diminish our value (enter the first stop on my Road to Relovery: validate yourself first) – even if you’re a double Ivy League graduate and the First Lady of the United States. I thought about how the physical attributes that kept me away from the cool kids table 20 years ago are the same things the cool kids are spending millions to have synthesized today.

        beauty goals by octavia reese
        Standard of Beauty 1996-2016

        I wasn’t allowed to be Black growing up. As I was taught to strive for greatness, the image of greatness was not Black greatness. The image of greatness I saw did not look anything like me. The image of beauty I was shown was 90s heroin-chic; long, cadaverous, pale, curve-less. And the image of success I was shown was…well, any lawyer or doctor (or both) with a giant house, beautiful kids, 90s heroin-chic wife, fancy car, multiple vacation homes…yep, the upper-middle white man of the 90s was my hero.

        But before I go too deep on the double standards I’ve watched evolve over the last decades that absolutely turn my stomach (again, the shame and rejection of the Black woman’s figure by mainstream media, “Omigod Becky look at her butt,” to the booming booty boosting industry giving non-Blacks our shape; the cannabis industry turning from Black street crime and thousands of imprisoned business-savvy young brown people to a legal, medical multibillion dollar industry profiting non-Blacks, etc.), I want to offer the following tips to assist in a successful interaction with the Black goddess of today:

        1. Do know my name. Do everything within your power to call us by our own unique name – not to be confused with that other Black woman you met once, talked to, worked with or grew up with. In school, I was The Token for many years and everyone knew me by name. Enter new Black family stage right; suddenly everyone started calling me Nora. Not my name. I realized I was just filed under “The Black Girl” in their minds and when there were two of us, ERROR 404: Black Girl Name Not Found.
        2. Don’t conditionally compliment me. That means, don’t be surprised that I speak a certain way or have a large vocabulary. Don’t say “wow, you speak well …for a Black girl.” And while you’re at it, drop the mom clause too, i.e. “wow, you look great…for a mom…”
        3. Don’t ask if our hair is real or ours. Assume it is, close your mouth and move on.
        4. Don’t compare us. I am not Michelle or Whoopi or Kerry or Serena or Beyoncé or Iman or anyone else that you’ve seen on TV. Unless it is a comparison to compliment, just accept that many of us don’t fit into your boxed definition of Black Woman. Best once again, to just close your mouth and move on.
        5. Do join us. Women are strong, powerful, divine vehicles of life and yes, we can do all of that thing that you’re doing pregnant and in heels. Men, please stop asking us what we can do for you and let us do our thing or maybe even, dare I write it, offer to help us. And to my ladies, women of all colors, cultures and creeds need to stick together. Stop the girl-girl hate, cat fighting and competition. How about we take each other out on friend dates.
        6. Don’t tell stories. We don’t care about that one Black person you know. It’s ok if you don’t know any other Black people. Actually, no it’s not ok, but if it’s your reality, then so be it. You don’t score “OK With Blacks” badges by telling us about someone you met or asking if we saw the last Tyler Perry movie or episode of Scandal or Empire. Just relax and act normal.
        7. Do let us be ourselves. We’re not all comics or athletes. Again, relax. And maybe just keep the lips sealed one more time.

          be yourself
          Do let us be ourselves
        8. Don’t say “I’m not racist.” You are. We all are. It just depends on what you do and say with your initial prejudices.
        9. Do be aware of your prejudices. Name them. And if you’re a forward thinking human-loving being, then you’ll know better which thoughts and reactions to push aside and how to move on without being awkward.
        10. Don’t admit to not understanding #blacklivesmatter. Just don’t. Close your mouth. Google it.
        11. Do understand police tensions. It’s not right that young Black kids dislike or fear the police, but it does make sense. It is sad but true and don’t forget that our Black history with law enforcement is drastically different from your non-Black story.
        12. If you’re going to assume anything, do assume we’re just as American as you are. I’ve been asked so many times where I’m from. Here. I’m from here. Just like you. We sing the same national anthem, cheer for the same teams, and drive on the same side of the road. If you haven’t noticed, America is actually quite colorful. And it is an astoundingly beautiful thing.

        ~OR

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