CW: suicide, PTSD & childhood sexual assault
This week I turn 45. For someone who intended for her life to end at thirty-five, the life I feel at forty-five surpasses all of my wildest expectations.
Quite literally I am only here ten years later because I believed in a damn dream about members of my soul family. I had been familiar enough with the intuitive language of dreams to err on the side of listening to that last-ditch effort by my subconscious to save my life (or a message from the Divine as I choose to believe). Here’s what I wrote back then:
My birthday is normally a time of solitude and reflection as it is so close to the darkest days of the year. I willingly enter into the dark night of the soul just before my birthday. A time for me to look back on the events and actions of the past year and truly empathize with those who I have hurt. There are always many, many hurts for me to delve into. But when it’s over I am cleansed. I am forgiven. I have renewed my divine purpose once again. A once-a-year reconciliation.
In the year 2012, 5 days before what many, including myself, feel is a shift in the consciousness of humanity, I turn 35. Ever since I was 6 years old, I have believed that I would never make it past 35, so this is the one birthday I have honed in on as more life-altering than the rest. I can feel something big about to make its way into my life. A new beginning and everything spiritual tells me it will be a time of great independence and bold action. This dream confirms all of that in a very real way that is hard to deny. I have to move boldly forth with power and confidence into this new year, this new life, this new adventure, and trust my heart and my skill to be my guides…as I once did, but in a brand new way.Dec 2012
I talked a lot about this in a post two years ago, but with this tenth anniversary at my doorstep, I feel it’s less important to focus on how it’s changed my ritual than it is to examine how that moment has brought me full circle to realizing why i may not need that ritual ever again.
The transformation of 2012.
Remember back around this time in 2012 when there was much ado about the end of the Mayan calendar during the winter solstice of 2012? Well, that was the year my life nearly ended. In fact, in many ways it was the year when my innocence was fully expunged, never to return.
I think we all reach this moment in our thirties and forties when we realize the life we had constructed was based on experiences that were more traumatic than we thought. It can rip a hole in one’s sense of identity.
For me, it was one of those tower-crushing realizations that shook me to my core. I described 2012 as the year “I truly learned how trauma reverberates to create an everlasting static that clouds the mind. A constant buzz reminded me that the world was inherently unsafe. An undercurrent that made me question whether I was inherently unsafe for myself or those around me. Doubting every single fraction of my value.”
What I went through that year as I studied for my third try with the bar exam, I wouldn’t wish on anyone. A combination of circumstances and crises, including the death of my oldest brother, the estrangement of family members because of abuse along with flashbacks created an environment of constant hyper-vigilance. The night before the exam, when we hadn’t even yet faced the worst of what the year would bring I said, “even showing up tomorrow is a victory.”
While others were watching the skies for aliens and apocalyptic dreams come true, many of us had personal experiences that would trigger the deep, dark process of unraveling not just our own trauma, but the intergenerational trauma that came before us. People were watching for an epic flood, a disaster, an invasion, or a financial fallout (#OccupyWallStreet), which means they weren’t looking for the ripples and loose threads that could unravel the world.
In 2012, we couldn’t have predicted the world that we have now. We had just re-elected Obama in a hopeful wave of approval but also wrestled with the collective shock of the Sandy Hook shooting. Yet, inexplicably, we are in a prickly world where democracy is under threat on the daily and trauma is now a household word. I mean, for fucks’ sake Nazis are back in numbers that is an insult to the lessons we should have learned. What the hell?
It’s just anecdotal, but I’ve noticed that for many around me the tendrils of transformation started getting plucked and pulled in 2012 in small, subtle ways, but ones that sent ripples of change through our lives and our world, unraveling the illusions that we relied on to protect us from seeing the evils done to us and through us.
Patriarchy loves to make us dance on its pathetic string to its rueful, repetitive tune. And nothing short of a vastly changing world and a global crisis could have shaken us awake enough to glimpse the smoke & mirrors. The pandemic brought out the worst and the best in us. A lack of integrity, empathy and a fierce lust for control caused them to cling to misinformation that fed the worst of us fantasies of their solitary victimhood. But for those who knew better found the courage and faith to confront the monsters of our past that act through us, the traumas that have been screaming to be seen with the hope that this will purify our souls, making us more resilient leaders for a loving world.
For me, that has meant sitting with some of the darkest, most monstrous memories of my sexual trauma. Sometimes it was flashbacks, other times it was something big like #MeToo. For others, it was awakening to patterns of racial discrimination and indigenous genocide. Some were faced with a reckoning, unable to unsee the patterns of abuse that neglectful families imprinted on us.
The pandemic accelerated this awakening by forcing us to see how we rely on superficial coping mechanisms to deny our trauma and our passive approval of traumatic systems. Those took that seriously and did some amazing inner work; others burrowed into false narratives to escape any responsibility for healing or reparations for harm caused. How many of us would even recognize who we were back then or what kind of world we thought we’d have in 2022?
Or at least I don’t… because never in my wildest imagination would I have allowed myself to believe I’d still be alive to see this world.I was too close to the trauma and reverberations of past pain to realize that often what follows the darkest days of our lives is a resilient drive for justice that can transform the world.
What I didn’t know is that the events of 2012 would unearth the distortions that drove my self-hatred, also something I never thought was possible.
Distorted voices in the tunnels of suicidal ideation
Ten years ago, I had been clinging so deeply to a belief in the inherent flaws in who I am that I was willing to die, not to relieve myself of the burden of living, but to apologize for not being a more worthy human. If I could not accomplish the good, I had meant to, all the good that would compensate the world for the burden of allowing such a flawed creature as me to live within it, then I would sacrifice myself to help the world find some relief.
“My trauma was augmented by a childhood prophesy I had held secret from all but the closest of partners: When I was 6, in my nightly prayers, Jesus told me I wouldn’t live past 35, similar to how old he was when he, too, died for humanity. When I received my calling in 1990, I dedicated everything to that one purpose because after all, I knew my time here was limited. I believed in this prophecy so strongly that for the longest time I refused to even consider marriage or having children. I was labeled as having a fear of commitment, but given what I believed, can you blame me?
I took that belief to heart. I started to reject presents and attention, shying away from parties or celebrations in my honor. And like most things, I did my birthday the Janet Way – I turned a day of celebration into a solitary, reverent ritual of reconciliation, of journeying into a dark night of the soul to view my failures with brutal honesty and a penitent heart. I mentally flagellated myself for the imperfections that got in the way of being a perfect example of love for humanity. It didn’t matter that my scope was so limited or that I was human. I was here only for a short time and so I needed to ensure that everything I did adhered to the highest of my ethical guidelines, my calling’s potential.
Since 1993, each year my birthday has been punctuated by a private ritual where I confess my sins to the Divine and accept punishment and penance for my sins. Every year, I buried myself in self-absorbed sorrow for my failings, of the ways I had disappointed those around me or the divine with my weakness and cowardice, my avarice and selfishness. The more that people celebrated me the more I punished myself for the weakness of needing that attention, and my cowardice at not standing up for myself to push away presents. Eventually, I got to the point where each December I would change my birthday on Facebook to a day earlier in the year so that it wouldn’t show up in notifications and I could avoid the unnecessary attention.Reflections of Life at 43: The Rise of La Madonna Rosa
But where did that belief come from? What made me think I was just so….wrong… that I deserved to punish myself with such harsh critiques? Why did I hate myself so deep in the foundations of my soul that I constantly was using my birthday as a punishment? And why, oh why, was I so resistant, indeed, even defiant, to receiving the praise, love, and support that others freely offered to me that I would cut people out of my life if they so much wished me a happy birthday?!
Well, I said it up there two years ago. But I didn’t fully connect the dots until literally this week as I prepared for my ritual this year. Of course, it was trauma, but specifically, it was the confluence of childhood trauma with inadvertent circumstances that reinforced the trauma rather than relieved it.
I won’t be sharing what happened, only that near Christmas, shortly after my birthday, I was awoken from my sleep by someone who sought to “mark me” as unworthy. What was worse is that the events of the next few months left six-year-old me with no other impression than everyone else saw too. This deliberate message plus its accidental reinforcement calcified into this distorted, projected worthlessness.
It was embedded so deeply inside of me that it constantly churned in my stomach, a knot of anxiety that people were merely tolerating me, that they secretly all wanted me gone. The belief that I was a burden to know and impossible to love infected my life with its tendrils and traps. I didn’t commit to relationships because of this troubling influence of twisted emotional sinew, a loss of innocence that made me believe I’d irreparably harm anyone I loved just by being who I am.
This corrupted everything I would try to build for my protection and abundance, joy, and gratitude. It told me that those things were for others, but not for Janet. And that distortion has ruled my life ever since. I just couldn’t figure out why until now.
Tear down old towers of distorted programs.
I’ve been talking a lot in the Messages of Divine Love about releasing ourselves from old beliefs. I talk always about the Tower Card (and need to organize my thoughts into a book!) Many of us are still dealing with belief structures that are still on patriarchy’s factory default setting, whether we realize it or not. And some of us are dealing with the towers we hastily had to build to protect ourselves – wallpapering the holes to pretend like we’re okay. And many of us….and I mean, many of us are NOT okay.
I wasn’t okay. I wasn’t okay in 1993 when I started doing this ritual. I turned off all the lights and sat in front of the tree and reviewed my life trying to find an answer to one simple question: what was so wrong with me that my boyfriend would cheat on me on my 16th birthday while I’m home sick in bed? Why did he lie to me? (FYI – when dating a girl who is empathetic and spiritual, you really can’t hide cheating from us – we always know and we ALWAYS find out, gaslighting be damned). How many of us have crawled into that hole of self-pity and loathing just to figure out why me? There was a point in my life where I thought I was above all that, but now I’ve realized that my ritual was doing this the whole time.
This is the first and only time I’ll likely say this, but for as noble as I’ve made my birthday ritual sound – it originated in the most predictable of ways for a survivor: trying to cope with an indirect message about my worthiness for the love I needed…and deserved. Because for as much as I do pride myself on not shying away from my darkness, the ritual only confirmed and reinforced that kernel of distortion – that I was inherently unworthy because of who I was. The conclusion I would reach every year reinforced that there were more reasons to be disappointed by me than there were reasons to be dazzled by me…so anytime someone was dazzled, I was already anticipating all the ways they’d be cursing me later for my failures.
My dad believed in much the same thing about himself – having been scolded at nearly the same age by his mother for something innocuous like taking peas out of a bowl or spilling milk or some such thing. So, I grew up around someone who modeled how to do that self-punishment well. And to see my parent, a man I loved and respected above any other do that to himself, definitely left me the impression that this was the only way to cope with feeling like a disappointment to others.
What neither of us knew when I was growing up is how undiagnosed ADHD was impacting both him and me, not to mention my brothers as well. Our brains, already coded for rejection sensitivity, found it easy to reinforce the pathways that told us we were just inherently flawed people. Trauma is so deeply isolating, even when experienced alongside others – because each brain processes it so differently. We could go through the same thing, but have very different reactions, triggers, and resilience to those events.
When trauma also carries shameful messages about self-worth, it is far too easy within the isolation of our experiences for those messages to get warped into the patterns that help trauma hide so easily. We blame ourselves for our fate and so to survive… to merely survive is both a blessing and a curse.
I deserve more than just survival.
My dream ten years ago wasn’t just about survival; it was an image of a future me, with more grey hair, more wisdom, and more sensual positivity than I’ve let myself have since 2012. It was a vision of me thriving in a space rich with meaning and shared purpose. It was a vision of a life shared in deep rapport and mutual healing. It was a vision of understanding, deliverance, and above all, radical hope, using symbols and phasing that have since proven to be true.
- I didn’t dream of clinging to a hellscape with the fraying edges of my fingernails. Instead, I was wrapped up in the warm arms of someone who understood and loved me and fully saw me and what I’m trying to do for the world.
- I didn’t dream of a world where I’m just barely getting by on a shoestring and a prayer. Instead, I had built a thriving practice that both healed and inspired others in unconventional ways.
- I didn’t dream of a fuck buddy that was a tempestuous port in a storm. Instead, I was part of an interconnected soul family that created miracles in the most impossible circumstances.
- I didn’t dream of covering up my guilt with soothing imagery and wish-fulfillment exercises. Instead, I not only confronted my own pain but used it to take away the pain of others.
- I didn’t dream of releasing myself from my pain through escape. Instead, I was brought back to life through the simple acceptance of authentic connection and joy.
The dream showed me a vision of myself much as I am now – writing and healing in my own space, influencing others to trust their inner gifts. It convinced me that not only was I not a burden, but that none of this could come to pass without my willingness to make it happen and to trust in myself. It showed victory over my past, in control over my experience, and still open, so very open to the abundant blessings of a universe that has more love to give than we can fathom.
That dream ten years ago beckoned me to be the fool and to trust. Somewhere in there, I had to trust myself that one day I could be victorious over all of the harm that had come to pass in my life, especially in 2012. That dream showed me the looking glass and asked me to believe, just for a moment that I deserved more than just survival – that I deserved to be swept up into a dance of victory – a victory over illness and impending death, over uncertainty and distorted memories. but more than that, I was being invited to show up exactly as I was to be loved, accepted, and understood by those on a similar path…so we could dance in victory together.
Whether it was a self-fulfilling prophecy will take a lifetime for me to answer. but it has already delivered one of the best gifts I’ve ever known: a stronger, more compassionate relationship with myself. And all I know is I want to spend the rest of my life showing the world the same hope, freedom, and love that we all deserve as we heal.
So say we all.