If there’s one thing that’s been consistent throughout my whole life it’s that I love – deeply, passionately, truthfully, even dangerously. My love has often been referred to as a catalyst, which is why I love the Tower card so much: I’m the lighting that strikes the tower, shaking the world loose from the safety of their beliefs. I have lived at the intersections of intellect, attraction, and spiritual growth. I stand as the goddess at the crossroads, offering her alluring, tempting magic, inviting people to encounter the divine within. My best days are when I can bear witness to someone finally feeling seen and accepted for who they really are.
I have tried to live my life as a testament to love because I believe in the power of resurrection. I’m a sucker for a good phoenix story – of going through hell and rising from the ashes reborn and renewed. Those themes are woven throughout my life, a tapestry of shockingly beautiful change that ultimately brought people closer to their own humanity and authenticity. I’ve been the wrecking ball that had to come through to disrupt the safety of others’ insecurities and illusions, to show what is on the other side of the mountain of memory that has been blocking their path.
My message for the past 30 years has been that with love, we all can rise from the ashes of our lives into something spectacular and bold. By alchemizing our suffering we can transform the world around us so fewer have to suffer like we did. We can be living proof of strength in vulnerability, the lynchpin we need for a more interconnected, interdependent humanity.
Whether people judge me foolish or brave for my transparency and vulnerability, I wouldn’t be who I am if I weren’t out here trying to demonstrate my message in every flawed and magnificent way possible – that’s the Janet Way. And the Janet Way would have worked if it weren’t for that pesky trauma trying to unmask my painless facade.
The #MeToo catalyst that broke my Tower.
In October 2017, I was a manager at a new agency and a first-time supervisor. I was already flirting with the edge of burnout, trying to survive through constant retraumatization in my work and my personal life. I felt insecure in this position and felt I had to prove my worth by mastering entirely new systems. I was feeling pressured and scrutinized constantly, so by the time the Harvey Weinstein story broke, I also broke. A watershed of memories flooded my body reminding me of the daily sexual harassment during my adolescence, stuff I hadn’t dealt with since I left my home 20 years ago for law school.
#MeToo shook me to my core and it was too much. Too many memories.
It wasn’t hard to find reminders of those past traumas even in the sex-positive realms of kink and polyamory. Men who harmed me (and others) were still celebrated by the owners of clubs, leadership far more willing to give them a free pass than survivors’ safety. I was reminded of the way past groomers had pitted me against other women who had tried calling them out. #MeToo set off a spiral where I was suddenly unsure what of my sexuality and allure was truly natural to me, truly pleasurable to me and which ones were groomed into me to appease those grown men. I couldn’t answer this simple question: Do I even like blowjobs or did they just convince me I did so I wouldn’t ask for any pleasure of my own? It became harder to teach consent classes because I saw too much of licentious remnants of misogyny. How many of us had been taught to deny our own self-worth to appease the desires of others?
My tower had completely come down. After all the vicarious trauma of representing clients as a disability attorney that one event triggered such intense memories of trauma that I could no longer connect with my heart or my voice. I loved that job and didn’t want the trauma to stop me from the important work we were doing, so I cocooned myself emotionally so that I had no room to hold anyone or anything new. I pulled away from all but a few key romantic and sexual connections after that because I wasn’t sure what I brought to the table anymore.
That wild and passionate love I was known for didn’t feel safe anymore because I wasn’t even sure if it was me…or if it ever had been.
Much like the triggers I had in 2012 where memories of past abuse flooded me while I was studying for the bar exam, I couldn’t handle even the most innocuous of social intimacies much less the intense, kinky, queer varieties that normally sustain me. I stepped away from the last of my relationships outside of Warrior and Writer by November of 2018 – or to be blunt, I ghosted them – showing up only occasionally for important social events, like housewarming parties, nothing where I could be directly intimate with anyone. I shoved myself into anything other than the source of my distrust of the world: my own sexuality, my own bleeding, coerced, broken heart. Anything to escape facing the ways in which trauma had stolen the last remnants of my self-worth.
Self-sacrifice is so ingrained in our culture as the “highest good” (we’ll get to why *cough* Jesus in a few) that we almost don’t think about it. We’re told we have to have grit. Tighten our belts, sacrifice whatever we don’t need, throw our shoulders back, and soldier on. And my ethics are such that I ruthlessly hold myself accountable for every small infraction I might make – so I bore the burden of others’ disappointments in addition to a confused and deflated heart.
Throughout that time this persistent message was being broadcast from across all corners of my life:
You’re the fucking problem, Janet. We told you you were too much. This is what you get for all your overconfidence and selfishness. No one wants becasue you’ll never be fixed enough to give people what they need from you. Your brokenness is hurting everyone else. It’s time to lock yourself up so no one else gets hurt. Clearly, you can’t be trusted with loving others.
Ouch, right? And yet, from 2012-2020, this was the soundtrack running through my head constantly, sometimes blurted out loud in meetings or screamed at the top of my lungs in the car. I second-guessed myself all the time and held back through an overabundance of caution in my professional life even though I was definitely kicking ass.
I kept trying to shut down the problematic parts of myself so I could focus on what was important. The problem was that a) everything felt important (thanks ADHD!) and b) there is only one of me and c) my executive functioning center had been invaded by so much stress that it was locked in indecision. So in a sloppy attempt to keep myself safe, I made sweeping sacrifices of my heart. I convinced myself that anything outside of the work was a self-indulgent luxury and that included dating, social events, and volunteering. I don’t need Love, I reasoned with my PTSD-drunk brain.
But the trauma surrounding the collective only made me feel mine more acutely. I burrowed into my preferred overworking flight response: Weekends were spent at the office working on data reports and grant narratives, swimming in the stress of navigating systems for our most vulnerable neighbors. I was holding clients and staff together with band-aids and duct tape, bleeding from the hands and heart, drained of compassion, and sleeping only 3 hours a night – so when people complained about my availability how much more of myself could I be expected to give?
I gave everything I could until my heart was drained and hollow. I was barely hanging on most days (I was also unaware I was coping with undiagnosed ADHD which severely impaired my abilities in that position). By October 2019, I was suicidal on a daily basis and I just didn’t have anything left to give. I ended up choosing my ethics and my own life over the health of the agency or my career trajectory. So, I gave my very first paid speech in Albuquerque about my agency’s service model, and then poof, five days later I was saying my goodbyes to the team.
Trauma steals our self-worth; Love restores it.
It’s been nearly three years and I think what I can finally articulate is how much trauma stole from my self-worth. Staying true to the archetype of the wounded healer, many of us in helping professions use a directed sense of purpose to restore our own health and wellbeing (a future post). Many of us have sought, but cannot find the healing we need; so, instead, we become the healers we most needed, to be the good in the world that wasn’t available to us. For some of us, like me, our work was a way to feel worthy again. Because trauma, especially the sexual trauma, had stolen my self-worth this work is all I had left. I was trying to medicate my trauma through helping others.
When I teach about trauma-informed social change I talk about how giving survivors control over even the smallest choices in our lives can be enough to start helping to heal the trust the trauma broke in us. Because it isn’t just our trust in others that suffered, it’s the broken trust in ourselves that becomes the most damaging. It rips our self-image to shreds, and our self-worth becomes another casualty of that reckless emotional or physical violence inflicted on us. What did I do to deserve this? is one of the first questions we ask ourselves. It’s underscored in our trauma responses, fight, flight, freeze, and fawn – we’re doing what will keep us safe. But when trauma has taught us that even simply existing, and surviving isn’t safe, resilience alone isn’t enough. Our survival depends on the love and care of the communities around us.
I felt impossible to accept love and support when my trauma was telling me in rich and subtle ways that I was to blame for all the bad shit that happened. I always found a way to connect all my faults and failings to every trauma I had endured. If not for x about Janet then y wouldn’t have happened. The equation always came out the same = Janet’s fault.
Trauma disrupted my sense of self-actualized earned security – it taught me to distrust my own intuition, undermine my own accomplishments, and second-guess my every action and word. It took a sledgehammer to my gut, pointing and laughing as it kept swiping at me through the daily news cycle of the cravenly manipulative Trump “grab-em-by-the-pussy” administration.
And here’s where Jesus comes into play, because as a kid, I have very clear memories of “turn the other cheek”. It became a cornerstone of my life to the point where revenge isn’t a thing for me. But what wasn’t clear to me as a kid is that turning the other cheek doesn’t mean we don’t also stand our ground.
I’ve had difficulty articulating the ways I withdrew from everything having to do with love, romance, sex, kink, and polyamory. I had grown so cold and closed off that I was regularly suppressing the very sensations of arousal, rejecting even the remote possibilities of friendly flirtation. It had gotten to the point that even if the dream *any gender* partner arrived on my doorstep dressed in nothing but a bright red bow with a note that says, “for Janet” I’d give them a jacket and send them on their way. I shut myself off from even entertaining the possibility of love, much less romance or a new soul partner. Hard to feel inspired to grow a heart-centered business when mine was only operating at a fraction of its capacity.
I was conveniently forcing myself into the model I was given through Catholicism where self-sacrifice and punishment are viewed as a noble way to solve problems, seek forgiveness, and redress harms. Our suffering was nothing compared to Christ, so we offered it up. These intergenerational patterns of sacrifice embedded in my veins through my southern Colorado Mexican-Catholic penitente forbearers who flogged themselves to bear the pain of Christ. Similarly, my calling was often as a pain-bearer, an emotional sin-eater to take the harmful toxicity of humanity and transform it with love.
Self-sacrifice was a form of penance that I gave myself for my sins, the ways I couldn’t be all things to all people. I was holding myself back because deep down I believed that all the harm that had come into my life was because of me or rather, my defiantly sensual, brightly effervescent intensity – a switch that I tried in vain to turn off. I figured the only responsible way to minimize the harm I was causing would be to withdraw from life. I put myself on the cross as a sacrifice to Love, expecting my heart to pump the last of its blood in sacrifice for our common good. I may have believed in resurrection for everyone else, but I was condemning myself to suffer for…being me.
This is why I loathe the “you must love yourself before you can love others” advice (check out the video I did about it at the end of this post). The love I had for my kids, my partners, my parents, and even my pets gave me a mirror into the worth they found in me – so perhaps it was finally time to take the risk to find myself worthy too. It was only Love that restored me.
Resurrecting my heart.
A lot has happened in the past few months – old wounds rose to the surface, like bubbles releasing the last of unexpressed grief and toxic rage lurking inside. I celebrated my 20th anniversary with Writer in Vegas. My youngest kid graduated and moved out (and now lives with my mom 2 miles away). Warrior moved in about a month ago and so far it’s going amazingly well – I can feel immense growth happening all around for all of us. I’m finding my voice again and trusting more in the people who love me. Day by day I grow in strength and inner power, more confident in my words, and more decisive in my actions.
But for all the healing that I’ve documented here, I felt like something was missing. Like I was missing the codex that would help me decipher the remaining map pointing to my next big thing. I still felt anxious, unsure of myself, trying to exist in separate dimensions all at once, so worried about rejection. It was like inhabiting twenty different versions of me at once – at some point, I’d have to bring the walls down and reintegrate.
Of course, I resisted because it was safer to continue to show up in pieces of the whole, like special edition Janet dolls, each sold separately. Folks who benefited from Nonprofit navigator Janet are actively discouraged from knowing that OnlyFans Oracle Janet exits. Domly-doms who want to own Sharp&Sweet Switch Janet sometimes don’t want Queer Chicana Consent Educator Janet who shoves privilege in their faces. And while Social Justice Lawyer Janet is a discontinued model, Intuitive Queen Janet is a rare and elusive collector’s item.
But the reality is that while I have many, and I mean many different facets to who I am, I am always Janet. And how awesome is that? I am deeply layered, vibrantly complex, sensually sacred, wickedly smart, fiercely compassionate, and soooo much more. Why do I keep hiding the true fullness of that? Why do any of us? I needed to stop hiding the layers, facets, colors, and textures of my narrative and get back to truly living my message again so I could add even more to the story of resilience and resurrection we need in this moment of humanity.
It’s hard to believe that only a week ago, I finally saw how distorted I’ve been while living in that trauma space. I pulled up a video that a dear friend sent me around this time in 2020. A thoughtful and sincere message I requested to support me. He communicated so eloquently and sincerely how much he championed the work I do and the empathetic way I try to engage with the world. Sounds amazing right?
Back when I received it, I was immensely grateful but unable to absorb the message at all. All I heard underneath the words were the echoes of my own disappointment and self-rejection, static drowning out the soothing timbre of his voice, like tinnitus of the soul. What I heard wasn’t someone sharing their authentic experience, but all the internalized criticisms that habit taught me would be hidden within the layers of everyone’s words. Even then, more than six months after I left my job, I still cringed even at wonderful blessings like this. I anticipated rejection because I felt unworthy of praise.
Two years later, nearly to the day and I’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting to remove needless triggers of self-doubt in my daily life. It was only in passing through that rubble and shadow of my life that I could truly hear and absorb the love and respect that was conveyed.
Once I heard it, truly grokked it, I felt lighter – like there was no more reason to hate or punish myself. I finally received the healing that I needed, the same healing I hope to give others. I finally felt that last pieces of my love and trust fall back into place and suddenly I knew where I was headed and why. Listening to those words with new ears evoked the final piece of my healing: the end of my self-sacrifice.
Perpetual Self-Sacrifice helps no one.
Healing happens on its own schedule: I had to rehabilitate my body and mind to even be able to even a baseline to rebuild my empire of Love. Then I had to confront my past and make peace with myself to be ready for this moment. I had to shed the weight of traumatic shame that has accumulated over the past ten years – ten fucking years – in order to be ready for this step of integration.
Even Jesus didn’t stay on the cross longer than a day. What was I hoping to gain by punishing myself like this, walling off the one precious resource I have to give: my heart? Who did that benefit? The people who told me I was too much, the boys in men’s clothing that tried to contain me in compliable boxes of body shame. My sexuality might have once been performed at their suggestion, but it wasn’t always. At some point, next to a frozen Lake Michigan, I chose to use MY power, MY compassion, and MY justice to transform those experiences into healing and service.
Then and only then was I finally ready to receive praise, advice, or love with the generosity of heart I claim to have. I had to know and truly feel the power of my own strength, which also meant asking for help when I needed it. Once I could finally see myself through the eyes of compassion, I felt my heart lift enough to see the sparkling potential of myself again. I knew I was ready to truly embody Love again.
I have always said that my only purpose in this blog, in my business, in my personal and professional life is to share the Rose-colored goggles I wear (pun intended) which illuminate interconnected possibilities and shared hope. Even if people never use them, I want to at least share the tools that I developed through all of the hardship, pain, and suffering I’ve experienced – both in myself and vicariously through my clients.
If I am to believe that my life here has a meaning, that I am here for a purpose, then isn’t it time to come down from the cross and get to the business of resurrecting hope for humanity’s soul once again? That has to start with me. It is time for me to prove that we ALL rise from the ashes, even me.
I had to go through all of this, suffered all these tiny deaths, all so I could rise through these ashes of our world to show up as the queen that I made myself into, not because of my trauma, but because I was strong enough to use my trauma as a shield for others, and now it’s my turn for resurrection.
My life is proof that all of us are worthy. And now that I’m no longer on the cross of eternal self-sacrifice I can finally celebrate the miraculous return of my radiantly resilient, enticingly expansive heart and give back to all those who kept me strong.
I am with you always in love.