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Embracing my Shadow Self (Part 2 of 3): The Last Battle

Introduction

“Embracing my Shadow Self” is a three part series where I examine my relationship with the uber-triggery Shadow Self that was imprisoned deep within me and has been responsible for most of my internalized woe for over a decade now.

“Shadow Work” has been part of my spiritual vocabulary for as long as I can remember. I don’t shy away from ever confronting my own darkness. In fact, it’s probably the most reliable thing about me. And while I can point to so many of my shadows and icky, dark corners I have gazed into, wrapped my loving arms around to heal and nurture, I could feel a messy knot of anxiety at the core of all this work that I couldn’t quite approach. Even after years of therapy, EMDR and past life regressions. it was unapproachable. It was like there were layers of force fields to hack before I could get at the slimy, angry black tumor growing inside of me, stealing the bulk of my optimism and resilience each day for breakfast.

I am a friend to the monsters under the bed. I’m known for embracing the humanity on its worst days and wrestling with demons until we finally become friends and allies. And while I have battled with my share of darkness both external and internal, there was one that I was uncharacteristically avoiding, the biggest, baddest boss bitch monster of them all: The Spider Queen.

This three part series details our first encounter in a dream I had some time ago (“The Prisoner on the 8th floor“), our final encounter (“The Last Battle”) and finally the healing has already arrived within the few months since I decided to turn toward her instead of continuing to reject her. This is the story of how I avoided her, abandoned her and avoided owning up to the ways I was hurting her (and especially myself) with those choices, which felt so necessary at the time. Ultimately, once I started to lean in, with all my courage, all my hope, all my humility and strength, welcomed her, made her a part of everything that I did.

Ultimately, this is a story of hope not just for me, but hopefully for you too. The work is hard, but I am so proud that not only did I do it, but I can share the story with you all.

Setting the stage

Parts 1 & 2 are written in 3rd person narrative, taking place at the “Red Rose Hotel” which is how I describe my heart. Each person I love, even a little, is given a safe and secure room in my heart that is theirs and theirs alone. Privacy is honored, but there are no locks on the doors to the room – people are free to come and go as they please. Even if they cause damage, they might need to make a deposit, go through some extra security, but ultimately that space in my heart will always be theirs. New rooms are added because my heart just grows with the more I meet others. There is only one floor, one door that is off limits – hers.

Part 3 is a personal testimonial and lesson about what I’ve learned since this process started on 5/5/21. Raw enlightenment happening in real time!

CW: arachnophobia, sexual assault, incarceration, suicide


May 7, 2021


Seven years had passed since Janet last visited the eighth floor, facing the fearsome Spider Queen. The whole floor had been evacuated to make room for this special guest, the most dangerous force to cross the threshold of the Red Rose Hotel. In fact, she found the prisoner so abhorrent and shameful that she stopped allowing new people to even enter the hotel at all, just in case the monster got loose and wrecked everything and everyone in sight. 

Janet stood in front of the elevator banks on the main floor, staring at an empty elevator car, collecting herself, summoning courage to enter and press the button. But she just couldn’t. She knew she had to go through with it, but found her feet frozen to the ground, unwilling to move further. Unlike last time, when she was summoned by the prisoner, known as MP, begging for a visit, this time she was sent here by her guides who told her the time had finally come. Their message was clear. She had been putting this off this confrontation long enough.  While Janet had always been obedient to her calling, no matter how much she wanted to delay this meeting, she knew she couldn’t escape it. She stalled as long as she could, making every excuse she could until there were no more left to make.

The elevator doors closed and moved on without her. She breathed heavily, asking for spiritual strength and fortitude for the evening ahead. She unwound her hair from its tidy bun, shaking it out fully. Today wasn’t about worry and control, it was about being real and confronting her worst fears. The prisoner has waited this long, what’s another few minutes?


The requests for visits had been coming for years after that singular, memorable visit in 2014. The first few she politely refused, but left open the possibility of a future visit. Never let hope die, right? But  that was all just a lie. In truth, Janet hadn’t really intended to come back to visit the dirty, ugly spider queen, or at least not until she had no other choice left. The letters started accumulating, cluttering her desk with the weight of untenable guilt. New projects, new “self-improvements” always took priority, burying the now monthly letters under piles of paperwork and minor accomplishments. She wasn’t even letting regulars come stay for a visit, so she wasn’t about to indulge someone who was such a painful reminder of her past, her her guilt. There was always something more important, always something more worthy to do, some other wound to heal, some other obligation to fulfill.  After a while, she forgot about the promises all together.  It wasn’t long before she forgot about MP too.

But those years of stoic separation took their toll and Janet was weakening, she could feel it. With each step forward, with each accolade, with each new problem she solved, she could feel her energy fading. She had fought the good fight, she survived, not by the mercy of strangers, but by making the tough choices, enduring the hardships and especially the consequences. She was the definition of resilience. I volunteered for this, she’d tell herself, accepting that hell on earth was a suitable sacrifice to ensure the safety of others. She took the abuse because she could, she accepted the trauma and the blame because she could. She was made for this; but more importantly she chose this, willingly as a calling.

She figured her gift was in not giving up, of continuing to endure in the face of extraordinary pressure. In the early days they kept trying to chop her down. And each time they did, Janet would rise back up and stand tall, defiant and brave putting her heart on the line. But as the years wore on, she stayed down longer, stumbled more easily in her recovery and started counting her days. Her grief was always present, the shaky inevitability of shame, the accumulated guilt and regret embedded deep within her veins, slowly poisoning her. It was interfering with her mission, her sacred work, but was also exacerbated by it. The more dedicated she was to her mission, the harder it became to do simple tasks like sending an email or making a phone call to a loved one. It was at the point where the hotel was nearly empty, the doors “temporarily closed due to ongoing construction”. She and the hotel were both slowly falling apart.

Too many times, too many for one lifetime, Janet faced down her own demons. She winced remembering the times she held a knife in her hand and was tempted, so tempted to be done with herself. The times she sat in the car and pointed it at a tree or a wall, but couldn’t move her foot to accelerate.  It wasn’t even that she wanted to die, but her calculations all told her the same thing – that death was the most reasonable punishment for all the pain she caused others. And if God wasn’t going to take her as she slowly deteriorated into a hollowed heartsick, inconsolable shell of who she used to be, then she would enact the justice that no one else would.  It wasn’t enough to repent, to regret, to apologize, and to mend what was broken, a sacrifice was needed. And slowly dying from the relentless guilt wasn’t doing anyone any good.

And by some grace, more than once or even twice, she was stopped. At the arc of the action – the final decision-point, one final gut check. And each time, every single time, she was stopped. “We’re saving you for a reason,” a faint whisper in her heart would tell her, “your last battle is not today.” Sometimes her guides would tell her themselves. Sometimes they’d send her the cosmic Druid from her past to give her a light of hope, a promised peace to aim for as he walked through her dreams. Hanging on by a thread, the only thread left sometimes, Janet kept surviving. Kept getting back up and kept hoping for some relief so she would be strong enough to do what she had to do in the end.

She survived up through the 20th of August 2019 until she almost didn’t. “We can’t keep doing this,” her guides told her as she sat in her car, parked just a block away from the office, “once you remember who you really are, you will never try to do this again. The choice is yours.” They left the decision to her – no invisible hand guiding her way this time. No intervention other than her own, the same hand that was shaking as it dialed enough numbers to find words of love to tether her as her final thread was fraying into oblivion.  She doubted whether she’d survive another day, much less another year to enact her plans, to live her purpose. She still doesn’t know if she made a choice or if the choice was made for her, the chain of events remains fuzzy. But two months later, as she drove to New Mexico to deliver her very first paid speech, she felt free. For the first time in over ten years, she could finally breathe. She chose herself and she could finally breathe again.

And she thought that was all that she needed. That a few weeks of recovery and she’d be back in the game again, changing the world, one program at a time, throwing open the doors of the hotel. But what she discovered is that her body and soul were so under-nourished that she needed a true respite to relearn the basics. Disordered eating, insomnia, hyper focus and hypervigilance made her repeat the same patterns over and over again. She’d blurt out, “I hate my life” the moment a triggering thought entered her mind, even when just watching TV with the family, but especially when she saw examples of leadership that reminded her of her failures. Rapid fire outbursts like this had been happening roughly every 2-4 hours for months now, more than she wanted to admit. The veneer she created and polished to impress a difficult world was not just cracking, but disintegrating more every day.

She needed a radical reboot, something that could relieve the pressure enough for her to heal the knots in the core of her stomach, blocking her light, threatening the purity of her love. It took a pandemic, enduring a global trauma and burying too many of her dead guardians – her father, her grandfather and even her loyal, shaggy dog – to accelerate the necessary healing. An opportunity to finally replenish some of the fundamental confidences she had lost. She was not just improving, but starting to break the bonds that had confined her to a space too small for her soul. One heart-opening, gut-wrenching experience after another, she knew she was avoiding the biggest choice of them all: to finally face the Spider Queen.


She sent the message late on Wednesday and received an elegant reply the next day, via one of the prison guards. The guard stood there in Janet’s office and boudoir, his eyes looking past her and staring deliberately at the wall behind her. Janet sat upright in her chair examining the crisp white envelope he had handed her. It was sealed with purple wax bearing the outlines of a crown and spindly black widow spider. Written on heavy stationary, with scrolled lettering just like an invitation, it said  “The honor of your presence is accepted. Face me alone and live.”

Janet was unprepared for such a formal yet ominous response. She took out her own stationary, her pen hovering over the linen white paper waiting for an idea, an equally cryptic but friendly response. Without another moment’s hesitation she wrote: Shall we meet at  4pm and commence negotiating the terms of your release? She handed the paper to the guard, his eyes wide as he read it as if to say, “Are you serious?!” But immediately saluted her and turned on his heel practically running for the door to deliver the message. The urgency of his departure told her that even the guards had wanted the Spider Queen to go free. It was time.

What ensued was a network of correspondence over the next day and a half, discussing the terms for the meeting. It wasn’t good enough that Janet intended to release her from the cell, MP kept insisting that she face her true spider form and hear her wisdom. Janet let her have a lot of her requests, including the extra security, but she drew a line with her last reply:

If you expect me to hear your wisdom, the panic of my arachnophobia will make that impossible. Either I see you as a spider or I hear your wisdom, but you cannot expect me to fully do both. Don’t sabotage all of this if you think the most important issue is that I know you’re a spider. I firmly acknowledge that but expecting me to overcome a lifetime of fearing spiders just to look at you in that form again defeats the point. I am here to make amends for turning you into one in the first place. Meet me as a human and deliver the wisdom or meet me as a spider and delay the wisdom. Which is more important to you?

Janet was taking a risk setting this boundary, but her skill as a negotiator was the advantage – she knew MP valued her freedom more than she did the punitive aggressions she could enact on Janet.


The reply arrived within the hour, “That is reasonable. I will take a human form.”


Today, the courage of those exchanges was curiously absent as she stepped onto the elevator and pushed the button for the eighth floor. She was here alone as promised. Her guardians and loves waiting in the lobby below. The doors opened and guards stepped forward to search her, one of the terms she let MP dictate. She stood there in the dark, damp jungle this place had become. Grown over with vegetation, humidity making the air thick with heat. She felt like she was in a sauna, sweat dripping from her brow as they waved her through.

“Take your time, ma’am,” the guard said after he ushered her into the empty floor, a large four-walled room in the center of an otherwise empty building floor. The benches had been moved to create pews facing the room, as if the guards took turns worshipping this spider. She caught the shadows of movement from the cameras projected onto the screen. A large shadow of a spider loomed in the background. Angry, Janet was about to object when the shadow disappeared and was replaced by the defined curves of a woman coming into view. The guard at the door said, “she is ready for you now. You may step forward into her presence. You have nothing to fear.” He looked at her reassuringly, a glint of hope in his eyes. They all wanted this. Not as a betrayal of what Janet had built, but out a love and reverence for what she had rejected.

Janet stepped to the door remembering the horrific eyes she saw through the window when she was last here, hoping to never see them again. The guard turned on the lights within the multiple layers of cages revealing a woman with dark hair wearing a plunging midnight blue dress that sparkled as she moved with brilliant but delicate diamonds hanging from her earlobes. her body thinner and more defined than Janet’s, her hair less grey and closer to the natural espresso color of her childhood. She was pacing the floor, refusing to look through the door, as if she could will Janet to disappear. MP had kept her promise, now it was time for Janet to keep hers.

She was never bad, just….big. Too big to be confined to such a small space. It was unfair and Janet knew it. She had gotten carried away with this confinement. If she unlocked even one these doors, there was no going back. There is no way MP would tolerate this space for much longer. It was obvious she was growing in power and deepening in her beauty. The longer she is ignored, the more powerful she might become, more than Janet could control.

Janet stepped forward and spoke first, “You said you have wisdom for me?”

“And you said you had freedom for me,” MP spat at the floor. “I think I’ve waited long enough to deliver your precious wisdom. You first. You have ignored me for years. So why now? Because you finally need me? You finally figured it out?” Her voice was impetuous and angry, her movements as predatory as they were elegant as she turned her back in disgust. Janet exhaled. It was now or never. She motioned for the guard to start to unlock the inner cages. Each layer progressively less restrictive than the last. The woman in the cell, her back turned to the door, stretched and moaned with pleasure each time a layer was removed, like she could finally breathe again too.

Jaime Murray as The Black Fairy in Once Upon a Time. I had watched this episode just a day after my meeting with the Spider Queen and was shocked to discover the resemblance to how the Spider Queen appeared to me. Such a perfect recreation of what I experienced.
Source: https://oncedodibook.fandom.com/wiki/Black_Fairy

Janet held her hand up and stopped the guard after the fifth lock, risking the ire of the prisoner within. “This is just the start of the conversation. Remember, this is supposed to be a negotiation. What do I get if you’re released?”

The elegant prisoner howled in reply, “What do you want?” She paced the floor incredulous at the questioning, the incremental tease of liberty. But then in a moment she stopped in her tracks and said, the edge still holding in her cracked voice, “you want your wisdom? Here it is:


“I willingly walked into that cage, thinking it was just for a small time. Trusted you, loved you, fought for you, but you thanked me by burying me alive. And the few times I broke out, what I witnessed broke my heart. You had erased me, given up on me. I had no choice but to turn into the monster you made me. I mean, what did you expect? You excised one of your greatest assets, the part of you that was built to survive, the primal, dark queen voice of your calling that brought us here. You rejected the temptress of ages title that was our birthright. All for what? To impress people too intimated by our combined strength, to keep yourself small and acceptable. You gave them exactly what they wanted and you wonder why your calling stalled out, you nearly sacrificed your life to the wrong people?”

Her voice was raspy with anger, “This whole time you hid me away, afraid I was the problem. Thinking that your ‘goodness’ would be preserved without me there. And yet, here you are, sick, unhappy and rotting from the inside out. You had the gall to think that I created the whole mess.” She paced quickly back and forth, delivering her invective, “What you did endangered everything that we’ve worked for. What were all those man-projects for if not to change the very fabric of how women like us are judged? What was all of that advocacy energy worth if you weren’t going to use it to defend yourself from the arrows that you knew they would sling at us? I could be angry for lifetimes over rejecting me, but the worst was that you allowed yourself to be embarrassed of your truth. Our truth. The one we built together as allies in a bigger fight, the fight that you were called to lead. I was your pride and joy and you were mine, my sister self. We were one until you turned your most beloved companion into your most hated, ugly monster. All it did was made you hate yourself in the end. Don’t think I haven’t seen the ways in which you’ve tied yourself up in knots to punish yourself.

“Even though I know you did what you thought would keep our family safe – that you had little choice but to play by the rules – each day I’ve been in here is a day you’re not at your fullest, your brightest, your truest self. And you’re here because you finally figured it out. Making us whole is your last battle, bitch.”

Janet took the verbal berating, the shame falling off her shoulders like never before. It was truth. It was angry truth, but it was truth and it was liberating to hear. This is what she came here for. Without a word, Janet nodded to the guard and the locks continued to click open and slide away, one by one. Janet stared at the Spider Queen, her human form just as menacing and mesmerizing even in her smug satisfaction of the release. When the final of the locks had dropped away, the guard stepped forward, “Ma’am, you are the only one with the key to the original lock.”

Once Janet saw the ornate wooden door with the intricate system of interlaced tumblers in the form of a web, she began to remember. She remembered that sorrowful day that MP volunteered to go into the cage, meant as a performative stop gap to satisfy judging forces. The tears welled in her eyes remembering the tender embrace as MP bravely stepped in. She began to remember all that MP had done for her – saving her life after her rape, picking her up and giving her new purpose. She fused their intellect with an irresistibly loving magnetism that encouraged to go through this same process – facing their demons through the safety of Janet’s acceptance.

She realized then what MP had meant – her once beautiful panthress companion and guardian had become a spider, not because of the evil she embodied, but because of the evil that Janet had projected onto her. The memory of it pierced her suspicions and reticence transforming them into the compassionate resilience she had once been known for.

MP was pacing in the background, impatient and distrustful. Janet lay her hands on the door, breathing in deeply. She called upon all her strength, all her learning, her ancestors, her guides but most of all, the entirety of her love, directing it through her hands to the locks beneath. Her fingers invisibly worked through the intricacies of the task. A silence had come over the space, making the clink of the first tumbler echo loudly, giving all of the bystander guards a surprised, startled jump. But one by one the locks came undone, with nothing but Janet’s energy working through her hands. The last lock swung the door recklessly inside the cell room, making MP jump back in cautious surprise.

Janet stepped away, giving room for MP to move, “Thank you for your wisdom. You may never forgive me for what I’ve done. For how the burden of blame turned you into our worst nightmare. You have your freedom as promised.” MP glared at her, “And if I choose to kill you with that new freedom?” issuing a new but not unexpected threat. “Then so be it. At least then I will have finally set you free and that matters more.”

MP hissed at her skeptically taking a few unsteady steps forward. She’d been through this before in the early days when they expected a reunion or when Janet’s magic failed to hold. The door popped open only to be slammed back in her face. But as her foot crossed the threshold, the outer cage disintegrated into dust and ash. It was only ever held together by Janet’s magic.  Magic Pussy really was free now, but the temptation for revenge still swirled between them.

Janet eyed MP cautiously throughout, her stance guarded and ready to bolt. But now, she felt nothing but love and sorrow, not fear and hatred. She spoke up, her voice proud and confident, “You weren’t the problem. Which is why I’m here. It took years of confronting the shadows of men who had harmed us to recognize that you were never the enemy, they were. It started long before, fuck, lifetimes before. For lifetimes they have been holding us back, all of us, not just our synergy. Smashing us down anytime we show a modicum of success, especially success that is collaborative, courageous or transformative. I have watched it happen over and over again to dozens of others. They have a way of not just thwarting us, but of eliminating our existence entirely, caging that which is too natural, taming that which is too wild or savage until they force us to cut ourselves off entirely.”

The memories rolled through Janet’s mind, like a book flipping through events, showing the connections between them all. Janet’s voice started reciting the words and images she saw in real time:

“It started when we were seven years old, when we asked God to take away our memories of what happened. That’s when the ogre dreams started and we hid in the closet to escape him only to be caught and thrown into a ring of trees on fire. This was our first cage. The first time we felt powerless.

“Then came the harassment and stalking in our teenage years, the year after we were called by Our Lady as the hands. The judgment and intimidation of gang members and women proud of their beehive hairdos and fake turquoise jewelry tried force us to serve their purpose. That’s when the spiders started. That was our first flashback breaking off a shard of our luminous inner gem. Our light was fractured, where you first became separate from me.

“But the rape is when I needed you the most and you were there for me. You saved us by giving me the strength to survive, to insist that sex was always on our terms, always consensual from then on. You had no problem throwing punches if it ensured we didn’t get trapped again. This was our golden age, our most integrated and alive was in our recovery and the brightness of our calling. But I was living a conflicted life, told in law school to create cages to contain you, to contain me, to make me acceptable to a profession where no one accepts themselves because we are all living in such conflict with empathy and true justice.

“So by the time we were drugged, outed, betrayed, blocked, exposed, contained, restrained, and punished, they had ensured we’d be separate forever. That I’d be scared of you, blaming you for all the harm that I endured. They convinced me to turn on you, which was the only way to ensure that we were stopped. Drive a wedge between us to stop our progress. This is our Last Battle – to overcome our fear of each other so we can defeat those who feed us illusions of lack, separation and disharmony within our own bodies, minds and hearts. That separation ends today.”

Tears were spilling uncontrollably down Janet’s face, but she was still standing strong. Not a forced strength, but one of absolute resolve. MP looked at her curiously, perhaps even with a small amount of awe at the powers hidden within these responses. She wasn’t impressed yet, but she was less angry.

This was the core truth. It didn’t start with being outed, but with a betrayal of innocence, so early on in life. MP recognized all the ways she and the guides had tried sheltering Janet’s heart from the worst of it. Jeremial had volunteered, bravely stepped forward to be the vessel for all that initial darkness. His fuzzy, warm body turning to one of smoldering coals and sharp edges. He could not transform or erase those memories, but he could hold them until Janet was ready. And when she was sexually assaulted at eighteen, away at college, betrayed by the men who she had counted on to have her back, the guides created a vessel from that shard, a seductively fierce armor for Janet to inhabit as she healed, not separate from her, but crafted from this purity of heart that might have otherwise been buried and discarded. MP was just the seductive, superhero identity of Janet, born at dawn on the banks of Lake Michigan. She reigned in Chicago for two and a half glorious years. Healing men, teaching women, holding abusers of power accountable.

The freedom of shining bright.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Janet continued, “They will never stop trying to control us. Controlling us with judgment, controlling us with fear of rejection. Controlling us with standards that never benefit us or the goddess we’ve been called to serve. The original problem was never us. The problem always will be them. Because they know they have a lot to fear about the power of a woman’s sexuality and the liberation it brings to those around us. We are part of a movement against a common enemy. I not only need you…I am you. The only way we will win freedom for all of our sisters locking themselves away in cages, for our mothers and grandmothers who were taught to hide their magic and stay small is if we are walking entirely and completely in our light. Our fully, integrated, healed and radiantly resilient self on bold display. You are what I’ve needed all this time. And I know I have a lot of trust to rebuild, but I am inviting you to please come home?”


Magic Pussy considered her for a moment, looking her up and down, moving more fluidly, slowly circling her like the panthress she was. “When I agreed to take human form I was hoping this would be the final outcome. Not just my freedom, no, that was inevitable. It was this realization, this unmasking of the great deception within yourself. The illusion that I’m someone outside of you, separate from you….worse than you. You have taught others about embracing the darkness within and yet, you still failed to even come visit me. You were that disgusted and ashamed of yourself. I was the devil you created to project your blame onto when the old ladies came looking to punish your budding sexuality. I was the best friend who cheered on each of your choices and taught you how to take the right risks. But I was also the companion who dried your tears and reminded you it wasn’t your fault and helped you survive.

“Girl, you’ve broken my heart more times than I can say, but do you know why I really do exist? What I really did for you? I kept your calling safe from patriarchy. I held it safe. That hand that stopped your suicides was me. That voice that told you we had more to do, was me. But it was only in choosing yourself that you could ever be free. They would never be able to destroy what I was keeping safe so long as you kept me alive. I held your deeper, cosmic callings – your heritage and birthright as the queen. Sure, I wore the crown while I was here, but I was keeping it safe for when you were ready. Because I knew you would be ready. You’re too strong not to be.”

Janet held her gaze for a long time, her eyes still held the ominous echo of the spider queen, but also the desire of the panthress, the regality of the queen. They both smiled then, seeing each other fully and completely, a joy neither of them had known for decades.

MP spoke first. “Before we have our glorious reunion, I need time. I need time to adjust. A safe place to weild my power and to trust you. There is no longer separation between us, but until there is full integration, I am no longer a depersonalized name – I hold the spirit of the Chicana warrior survivor in you. Not Magic Pussy, not MP, but you. I also need one last thing from you before I can begin trusting you again, Janet. Finally admit to me what you really want. Admit who it is you really want. You know it – say it and then we can finally drop the masks, the pretense and the last of the separation.”

Janet was silent, her mind calculating the risk of disclosure. The survivor queen whispered in her ear, “Tell me the truth. Who do you want? Who shall we attract into our orbit, dear one?” Her voice turned to a honied hiss, “You can’t hide it from me. I can see it in your thoughts… Just say the name so all can hear. Tell me what you want me to do.”


Janet’s face was beet red with embarrassment. She didn’t like to -want- anything, not even food or sleep if she could help it. But if she was going to trust in this integration, she had to be the one to take this risk, a risk she might not have take otherwise. She spoke his name and the intention of bringing him into her orbit, to satisfy a spiritual craving for divine union of souls, wishing with the fullness of her heart to experience the oneness of her divine family back within her reach again.

the queen leaned back on her heel, impressed. “To be honest, I wasn’t sure you had it in you. You’re always sacrificing and asking permission. And now, you know exactly how to speak the magic. Consider it done.” Janet smiled protectively, but both relief and genuine excitement were twinkling in her eyes, “Does this mean…?”

The woman gracefully held her hands said, “…that we smash patriarchy right in the balls for all the hell they’ve put us through? Fuck yes, I’m in. I thought you’d never ask.”


Did you know I am writing a novel about past lives and future loves? If you enjoy my writing go sign up for my Patreon where I share weekly readings, full/new moon ceremonies and more. But more importantly for $8/mo you get access to excerpts of my novel each month. Learn more at Temple of the Rose Gold Heart: https://www.Patreon.com/RoseGoldHeart

Embracing my Shadow Self (Part 1/3): The Prisoner on the 8th Floor

“Embracing my Shadow Self” is a three part series where I examine my relationship with the uber-triggery Shadow Self that was imprisoned deep within me and has been responsible for most of my internalized woe for over a decade now.

“Shadow Work” has been part of my spiritual vocabulary for as long as I can remember. I don’t shy away from ever confronting my own darkness. In fact, it’s probably the most reliable thing about me. And while I can point to so many of my shadows and icky, dark corners I have gazed into, wrapped my loving arms around to heal and nurture, I could feel a messy knot of anxiety at the core of all this work that I couldn’t quite approach. Even after years of therapy, EMDR and past life regressions. it was unapproachable. It was like there were layers of force fields to hack before I could get at the slimy, angry black tumor growing inside of me, stealing the bulk of my optimism and resilience each day for breakfast.

CW: arachnophobia, sexual assault, incarceration

Photo of Janet wearing a fur lined coat with with the words “Healing my Shadow Self: The Spider Queen” written over it in black type.

Introduction: I am no stranger to Shadow Work

I don’t normally run away from the monsters under the bed. I’m known for embracing the worst of humanity on its worst days and wrestling with demons until we finally become friends and allies. And while I have battled with my share of demons both external and internal, there was one that I was uncharacteristically avoiding, the biggest, baddest boss bitch monster of them all: The Spider Queen.

This three part series details our first encounter in a dream I had some time ago, our final encounter and finally the healing has already arrived within the few short weeks since I decided to turn toward her instead of continuing to reject her. This is the story of how I avoided her, abandoned her and avoided owning up to the ways I was hurting her (and especially myself) with those choices, which felt so necessary at the time. Ultimately, once I started to lean in, with all my courage, all my hope, all my humility and strength, welcomed it, made it a part of everything that I did.

Ultimately, this is a story of hope not just for me, but hopefully for you too. The work is hard, but I am so proud that not only did I do it, but I can share the story with you all.

Setting the stage

Parts 1 & 2 are written in 3rd person narrative, taking place at the “Red Rose Hotel” which is how I describe my heart. Each person I love, even a little, is given a safe and secure room in my heart that is theirs and theirs alone. Privacy is honored, but there are no locks on the doors to the room – people are free to come and go as they please. Even if they cause damage, they might need to make a deposit, go through some extra security, but ultimately that space in my heart will always be theirs. New rooms are added because my heart just grows with the more I meet others. There is only one floor, one door that is off limits – hers.

Part 3 is a personal testimonial and lesson about what I’ve learned since this process started on 5/5/21. Raw enlightenment happening in real time!

Part 1: The Prisoner on the 8th Floor

Red Rose Hotel – April 2014

Photo by Elias Tigiser on Pexels.com


“Come here, my dear,” her honied voice called from the cell walls. “Janet, come closer…over here,” she kept repeating every few minutes until finally the impatience began to brew underneath the sweetness she was trying to project. ” I know you hear me, girl. Come close, I have secrets that you want to hear.” After a few more minutes of silence her voice suddenly erupted through the room, sending a chill like the brusque unwelcome arrival of winter. Her voice took on an icy bitterness  “Us Queens have got to stick together, do we not?”

Janet sat there, on the benches outside the cells, embedded in the middle of the eighth floor, a labyrinth constructed within the hotel specifically designed to hide this prisoner. The place has fallen into disrepair, the air hot and humid. Where the walls once held tacky palm tree wallpaper, a request of her Florida guests, the trees had come to life, growing out of the walls with the dense danger of an Amazon jungle. The trees and vegetation had already taken over the walls and floors. She had to be escorted over the roots and pulsing life to reach the prisoner’s inner chamber. This place was returning to nature, commanded by the sultry sickness that resided at the heart of this place.

When Janet realized she had lost control over this place, her body was slumped down in the seat, back curved in preemptive defeat. She held her head in her hands praying the voice would just go away. This prisoner, although contained behind layers cinderblock, iron bars, glass. She couldn’t be too safe. It was as much to keep the prisoner in as it was to keep others out. And while she had surrendered willingly, at first, tales of her monstrous deeds reverberate throughout Janet’s life. Consequences for their failed partnership will never cease. She hurt everyone that Janet loved, and as much as it hurt to do it, she knew she had to be contained, controlled, locked away for her own good and the good of the realm as  a whole. The cell was well protected by twenty locks and several armed guards.

The prisoner, known locally as MP, voluntarily walked into the first cage, to demonstrate to others who were calling on Janet to burn her as a witch. But even then, her recklessness, her relentless pursuit of her own agenda is what ultimately added layers. Her continued defiance and disobedience would endanger them all, including and especially the kids. No, this was the only way. Had she not been so tempestuous, so attention-grabbing, so raw and dirty, picky and arrogant none of this would have even happened. There wouldn’t need to be guards at the door, locks on the door. All of these security measures were because Little Miss Seductive cannot be tamed. Except by one person and one person only, Janet.

As much as Janet wanted to believe that MP earned her place here fair and square, she knew ultimately it was her choice. She let MP close the door on that cage, at first just a performance of remorse and restraint, but later, a more permanent monument to it. Even if MP voluntarily walked herself in, it was Janet that sealed the first lock. She allowed this to happen and believed the visitor’s stories of MP’s wrathful wrongs to justify her choice.

Photo by Cameron Casey on Pexels.com

Just then she noticed that the hissing of the spindly, manipulative creature behind the wall was now turning to into low howls of pain. The caged walls rattled with each movement. She paced rapidly, scraping the floors, banging against the door. Each movement and unnerving noise was a demand: You will look at me!

But Janet wasn’t ready – not yet. She needed more courage. She needed more companionship. She needed more healing before she could face the grotesque monster behind the door. Even what little she could see through the window was enough to start the stress-induced cortisol cocktail flowing through her body. She was starting to recognize it, the surge of ice water in her veins, forcing her to take action or to freeze or to fly out of there at a moment’s notice. But it wasn’t just fear that triggered her, it was the memory of danger, the full scale of that trauma that MP brings with her that made her hold back. All this creature needed was just a few minutes to worm her way into Janet’s mind, taking control all over again.

But even with that, there were some advantages to when she was in power before. In fact, they had once shared an intimate and cohesively complex unity of decision-making.  The Prisoner known here only as MP, was the huntress, a sexually abundant temptress who could seduce even the most loyal heart into a wild night of abandonment and passion. But it was Janet who was the light bringer, the angel who delivered meaning and purpose to the encounter. Together they worked to unlock core, deep truths of these men and together they worked to extract the sicknesses of the soul to transform them into the glittering diamond dust to heal the wounds of confidence, courage and acceptance. Janet as the compassionate wounded healer, MP as the renegade wildling queen on the hunt. Together they were sweet and sharp, light and dark together, the Mother Mary’s angel of love and the Dark Goddess’s fierce panthress of justice, who many knew as Magic Pussy or MP. Together they were the goddess in balance.

Janet couldn’t stop herself from crying as she remembered their divine feminine union. They were one soul, whole and complete as one. She missed her sister soul, but knew that this punishment was necessary. Knew that they had to be separated if anyone was going to stay safe. Together, they were too damaging, MP was too powerful. Janet could not contain her anymore. Even MP knew it was necessary. Her promiscuous appetite brought too much unwanted attention and now a damage deeper than Janet could have ever foreseen. They aimed too high and it nearly cost Janet everything, including her life.

No, there would be no forgiveness today. She wasn’t going to fall for MP’s slippery lawyer tricks. She was just as lethal with law as she was with love, savoring the intellectual kill more than someone’s passive surrender. Janet was the peacemaker, the healer, the heart who felt all things, but she was also the constant forgiver. Not this time, this time she wouldn’t give in. If there was anytime she needed to be strong  and stand up for herself it should be now. No forgiveness. Not anymore.

“Come closer, girl. I know you know who I am,” MP’s voice taunted from behind the glass. A dark figure loomed from within the shadows of the lonely cell.  “You don’t have to be afraid of me. I can never actually hurt you,” she intoned, “not without hurting myself at least.” Janet shuddered, tears falling down her face. The taunting made it even worse. She summoned the last of her courage and stood up, her eyes averted as she faced the cell, her fists tightly wound up in a ball. She stood tall, stood her ground and lifted her face, opening her eyes.

There was a wail from the cell and scratching at the door. The guards took position, their weapons locked and ready in that instant. Janet stood calm, but in truth the fear was seeping from her pores and she felt she might melt into a puddle  in any moment. She stood there, the figure pacing back and forth in the shadows. An eerie silence fell between between them. MP’s arms and legs were scraping at the door, her breathing heavy and fast, audible even through the layers of glass.

Janet was walking toward the cell, about to speak, about to say, “see I did what you asked” when a roar started from the inside of the cell, so low and grumbly, the floor rattling ever so slightly that it at first Janet thought it might be the start of an earthquake. But then the howls started, the screeching, pinching howls. So furious and wrathful in its insistence.  Her screeches turned to cruel bellowing laughter:

You will look at me. All of me. Before this is over, before you can take your throne, you must face me. I am inevitable.

Janet snapped her eyes open just then, determined to prove this bitch wrong. She narrowed her focus and saw the gruesome, horrifying creature before her, her worst nightmares made reality.  Coming face to face with a fearsome spider queen.

She could only hold the gaze for a moment, a mere heartbeat. But it was long enough for them to stop time, to suspend this moment, a grace of magical ability they shared. It was also enough for them to truly see each other, see each other without the filters of fantasy clouding them, without the shields of revenge in their way. Rival queens in a terse parlay before battle. They held this gaze, through the layers of prison wall, through layers of time, viewing each outer through the glass face to face. The Spider Queen snarled and Janet held her ground.

Janet stared at MP’s eyes, shiny with darkly ominous intention, willing her stomach to not empty its contents on the floor. Both of them knew that their final battle would be their end. And despite MP’s bravado and Janet’s intellect, each of them turned away unsure whether they could survive such a battle.

Falkor from “The Neverending Story” one of my favorite childhood movies. This is what I imagine my guide Jeremial looks like, except more like a bear with 4 big, furry arms. Source: HeroesWiki (Picasa)

The guards rushed past to check the locks and tried to contain the beast, who went back to her wailing and scraping. Janet stumbled back to the benches where her guides and beloveds had been waiting for her. She sought out Jeremial, one of Janet’s original guides, whose wooly, furry arms wrapped her up and held her like a warm blanket. Mike held her hand and kissed her on the forehead and Ted leaned in to whisper how proud he was for facing the demon down. But her courage was entirely spent and soon after coming back she fainted in Jeremial’s arms. He lifted her gently as the husbands flanked him to protect his departure, carrying her back to the elevator.

The Spider was still now maniacally laughing, “You fainted? What a weak little girl you’ve become. Just wait until I get out of here and find you. If you can’t take this you definitely can’t take all of me, you coward”. To punctuate her anger she started chanting, taunting her with that word, that final pronouncement of “coward” over and over again. “You couldn’t stand up to them and you think you can stand up to me? You can’t stand at all, bitch. What a little coward?” She laughed herself into a frenzy, her screams ripping through the hallways, as if her echo were infused in the vegetation that lined the walls. Janet, barely conscious and aware could only hear the bleating cry of “Coward! Coward!” as the group retreated back to the elevators. The doors closed on the spider’s cruel snarl in the background.

The last words she heard were:


You will never take the throne without me, without at least facing me.  You will be back and you will be sorry!

The elevator jerked violently as the machine stirred to life and moved the party away from the prison floor. Janet’s tears silently fell, absorbed and silenced by Jeremial’s thick white fur, knowing this was always supposed to be their destiny.

Growth: The safety of shedding my SharpSweetBella skin

The past year my career has done a complete 180 from where I once was. I was hurt and frustrated, recovering from several years of life-threatening burnout. I hardly knew myself outside of the work I was doing. My family barely saw me and when they did, I was usually not very present with them. I was in such a constant state of panic that I couldn’t see up from down any longer. All of this on the heels of ten years of trauma, retraumatization and damaging self-worth issues in my sexual life as well. But for all that happened, for all that I was suffering sometimes in silence, I know in the end I made the correct choice to leave my old job and open my own practice again.


But growth is a funny thing. We work so hard to “get back” to some idealized version of who we once were, only to find that once we’ve achieved the stability we needed or positioned ourselves to take up that old glory, we find that it’s just not who we are anymore. Growth changes us. From children into adults, from adults into elders, from elders to spirits and back again. Maturity isn’t just about carrying the imprint of our past, but creating room to become even bigger, even wiser, even smarter and more bold.


Too often we question that growth, lamenting all that we’ve lost by not being the smaller, younger, thinner, more innocent version of ourselves. Sometimes we even curse the experiences that forced us to grow, but in the end, we keep earning experience points in this great journey of life. There are no winners or losers, just leveling up against your personal best. And as we grow, mature and become bigger versions of ourselves, we realize that our old dreams, our old expressions, our old image just doesn’t match the experience we’ve acquired or the deeper truths we’ve uncovered about ourselves.

When you get what you want, you find you didn’t want it at all.


I’ve been doing that a lot over the past year. Looking at my relationships, my faith, my family and even my wardrobe to figure out what still suits me. For example, in college, I had been known as “Magic Pussy” (MP for short), a term I had used throughout all of my poly and kink life as a badge of strong, courageous, sexually assertive identity. When I was outed, I thought for sure that healing meant I was making my way back to MP, a way back to that identity. I wanted to be that strong, independent woman to wielded her sexuality like a finely sharpened blade of truth.

Boudoir photo shoot by Broken Glass Photography (2017)


But in fact, that identity wasn’t a weapon, it was my armor. Armor that I created to protect myself through years of sexual harassment at work and school. Through years of studying men’s wants and desires so I could remain valuable and thus safe. That armor kept me safe because men fell in love with the idea of me so easily – very few got to see more than a limited facet of me, but it was enough to win their loyalty for literally decades after we’ve been broken up. They were attracted to the power I projected and how I transformed the worst in them into a glittering experience of intimacy and vulnerability, finding acceptance in my embrace. But few of them would ever fully understand that this ability, this power was developed because too many of their brothers had harmed me in inexcusable ways.


That armor also kept me from resolving the wounds it was protecting, the shadow self that I was avoiding: the wounded 6 year old, the humiliated 13 year old, the panicked 15 year old, the angry 18 year old, the cynical 20 year old and more. It was only in writing this blog and connecting with others who have survived multiple traumatic events, that I started to feel safe enough to peel away the armor to heal myself..


When I started this blog in 2011, I had only the vague goal of reclaiming my voice, whatever form it might take. I chose the name to honor the two men who saw me through the outing, my Husband and Laz. Combining my Husband’s first poem about me (where he called me “sharp and sweet”) and my poly husband, Laz’s blessing for me (“thou art god, Bella”) the name matched the frequency of the world I wanted to heal. In fact, my only goal has ever been to resonate with others who see themselves in my lived experience. To connect with others to let them know they’re not alone in their conflicted ideas and thoughts. And so, SharpSweetBella has become almost synonymous with the exposure of my private pain and insecurities, like imposter syndrome, and #MeToo. It was a way to find my authenticity on my own terms again.

I have different stories I want to tell


But part of growth is recognizing that if we keep telling the world the same stories about our woe and loss, we are committing ourselves to making that our only voice. And while emotional pain is a significant experience that should be shared to an empathetic audience, eventually, we want to know that the sun will still rise, that our hero is resilient and has overcome something significant in the process. And while I feel I do show that here, the narratives I’ve told about my trauma just don’t serve the story I want to share with humanity now.

Quote against mountainous background says, "You can be an echo of your past, or the glory of your future. Past is connected to future through the present. At this very moment, at every moment, you are choosing to carry on the past with all its troubles on your shoulders, OR to let it go and see a bright future pull you forward. Choose wisely" - Unknown


I started SharpSweetBella because I needed to feel safe in telling my story, expressing the truth of what had happened to me. I needed to pour out the emotional injustice of it all, how I was struggling to find wholeness in my experience. This blog has documented the process of my resilience since then. The process of picking myself back up again, trusting my own voice, much less the audience I’m sharing it with. In 2012 it documented both the delirious joys of passing the bar exam to the debilitating lows of suicidal ideation. It also is the only place I recorded a dream that literally saved my life. It’s where I protested efforts to disrupt the accountability of local kink community as we asked them to stop protecting predators and where I started developing more of my spiritual voice. I laid bare the entire story of my rape and my Outing. It also manifested as lectures to my equals and confessionals to my social justice superiors. It was about finding Janet Rose again and proclaiming my rebirth as a seasoned, experienced leader.


This site was intentionally created to keep me small and safe. There have never been plans for monetization or scaling up, just simply the experience of rediscovering my deservingness. There have never been thoughts about readership, only the offering of companionship. In some ways, this blog was the thin layer of skin, a cocoon that kept me safe while I transformed from the Wounded Healer into the Queen of Rainbows and Roses, a long and arduous process that wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t been able to discuss it here. This blog was never meant to be optimized for anything other than the magic I was rediscovering in myself.

Honoring the Rise of La Madonna Rosa


The past year has brought a lot of personal and professional changes that have really accelerated the dynamic of what the gifts and talents that I want to bring to the world. It’s amplified my voice to make it bigger and more accessible. It’s freed up my time so I can spend it writing all day or constructing arguments for various social justice projects. It’s exposed me to amazing and beautiful people, collaborators who bring joy to my life and augment the reality I want to create so divinely. In the past year alone I have:

  • prioritized my self-care and healing
  • moved to inactive status as an attorney which alleviated so much anxiety
  • launched Rose Connections, my own training, coaching and consulting business
  • abandoned working a 70 hour week to a more reasonable 30-45 hour week
  • lost my father and grandfather 3 months ago but said goodbye on my terms
  • healed from panic attacks where I was blurting out ‘I hate my life’ multiple times an hour to only saying it once every few days
  • owned my sexual power once again, this time in a more dominant role
  • started both an Only Fans and a Patreon account to invite financial support for my work
  • created YouTube videos about the experiences and perspectives that got me here
  • healed my relationship with my family to be more self-directed and assertive
  • set specific boundaries around my time and energy
  • let go of needing to please everyone
  • examined my own racism and colonialism
  • connected more deeply to spirit and my new calling

I am healthier now emotionally than I think I’ve ever been. I have always a Truth Teller, always sharing with transparency and honesty the world that I see and experience, but that often came at too great of a cost. But truth arises when people feel heard and safe, and my ability to continue to speak truth today means that this space has served a powerful, transformative purpose for the past 10 years.

It might be time to retire this blog and move forward with something that better represents the next level of my work and healing. Just as I spent my 20’s known as Magic Pussy, my 30’s as SharpSweetBella, my 40’s will be defined by La Madonna Rosa, the name I chose for myself in my birthday ritual this past winter solstice.

During that quiet coronation ritual, I made promises, vows to spirit to honor the role I’ve been given. I am stepping into a wholly new version of myself. And while I want to preserve the stories I have here, I want to move forward much more strategically aligned with a heart-centered direction and purpose. I want to be able to move forward on my own terms, not dragging my past behind me like an albatross, but using it as fuel for a lantern of hope for others when all seems lost.


Expect this space to change in the coming months. Thank you all so much for making this such a nurturing space for me to grow and become who I am today!

This is the way.

My Tribute to my dad: Take my Love with you wherever you go

Whether you follow me here or on my other social media channels, no doubt you noticed me talking about several deaths that happened in my world right on top of each other. On January 17th, I lost my dad, on January 21st, I lost my grandpa and on Feb. 2nd I lost a childhood friend. Three deaths in 16 days. Three people who made a difference in our world – two in law enforcement and one forensic psychologist, three people who influenced who I am today.

The death of my dad was the hardest and will continue to be the hardest. He was one of the people I trusted most in this world, one of the people who unconditionally believed in me, one who taught me how to make room for my feelings. As a family, we gathered over Zoom last weekend to say goodbye to my dad, to honor him in the ways we felt best.

My dad and I at my wedding in 2002.

And one of those ways, for me, is to honor him this way – to share my love for him and his love for me here. Because in all things my dad gave me safety, which is what is necessary for resilience to truly grow. Space, time & room to heal, grow and finally glow. This was his love language – giving us the freedom to be who we really are and as you’ll read, the gift he asked me to share is to help eliminate shame & guilt from our lives. That’s all I want, all I’ve ever wanted. So grateful to my dad for giving me the tools and wisdom to make that a reality in my world.

I love you and miss you, dad.

A tribute to my dad…

My dad and I shared a love of self-expression. We both could be wordy – which should be a giant hint of what to expect from me – but it was because we saw so much in the world that moved us deeply, so much that sparked imagination and even more that reflected the truth and irony of the real world.

We both spoke in languages that accentuated our ability to share love, allowing us to build a trust and comfort with vulnerability – one that sometimes allowed us to speak without words, to commiserate without details, to connect without expectation. We found a way to communicate even when words felt inadequate.

One of those languages was sci-fi. I mean, I was born the same year Star Wars debuted, so it was fate that I would be a geek. And how excited I was to see Return of the Jedi with him at the Chief theater in Pueblo, it was Star Trek that really became our own special love language.

And I think this quote from Gene Roddenberry summed up dad’s viewpoint so well.

“In a very real sense, we are all aliens on a strange planet. We spend most of our lives reaching out and trying to communicate. If during our whole lifetime, we could reach out and really communicate with just two people, we are indeed very fortunate.” – Gene Roddenberry

Because the vision that Roddenberry created for this world fascinated dad and I so much, the allegories of our current problems giving us hope for better leadership in the future.

From ethics of the Prime Directive to the judgment of Q, we examined our potential as human beings. We’d have moral debates and relate the show back to our own lives. Both of us sought to live a life of service working for something bigger than ourselves, to make our lives as meaningful as possible.

I rewatch those episodes a lot, especially now when we all need hope for a better future. And in those moments where the show hits the right emotional and humanist chords, I can still feel his hand reaching over to embrace me, a tender grip on my shoulder pulling me to express the resonance of that moment, to share how deeply moved he was, to express a hope so impossibly grand, it almost hurt to speak it out loud.

He made me believe in that vision so much that I chose to make it my life’s work to get us one step closer to that hopeful future.

My dad always met me on my level – he always made it a point to understand me and my perspective of the world, quite literally putting himself on my level to talk to me. A technique that most parents should learn.

And so, social justice became our language also. We both needed to make sense of a world that too often was cruel to sensitive souls like him and I. He saw how easily wounded I was by the suffering of others and he gave me avenues to channel my empathy into meaningful change.

His words helped me to reframe my experience away from victimization and toward resilience.

While my mom’s fire and passion give me courage and a boundless drive to make a difference in the world, the type of difference I chose to make comes from the wisdom and guidance of my dad.

Even though Dad wasn’t religious, he heavily influenced how I describe my relationship to the Divine. He encouraged my faith and taught me how to balance it with emotional honesty, intellectual curiosity and cultural humility. He let me explore my spiritual world by providing me a solid framework of ethics and safety (a family business, literally). There were of course things I did that he disapproved of, but he rarely told me that, wanting me to be uninfluenced by his opinion, knowing I saw a truth in things that he couldn’t, just as he saw certain truths that I couldn’t. 

More than anything, throughout my life my dad made me feel safe in the times where I felt the most threatened.

Like when I was 13, it was the language of his presence that mattered most to me.  I had been plagued with nightly terrors of nightmares, screaming in the middle of the night. Those nights, he would lay beside my bed, holding my hand, talking me through a guided visualization of our annual hike through what we called “the Meadow” a stretch of land near our family’s cabin in the high country.

He would create this bubble of safety until I finally fell asleep. The imagery he used still permeates my meditations today – little yellow, pink and white flowers dotted across small grassy hills, the sounds of nature reminding me that I am supported.

My dad and I at the old cabin near Red Rock Lake. This was his favorite place on earth.

From talking with my siblings, I know that they were no stranger to the language of his “lectures” especially when we did something wrong.  It wasn’t that the mistake was highlighted as much as the motivation behind the mistake, the psychology of our choice.

 But in some ways, I see how much those lectures were more like a Socratic inquiry of emotion itself, a philosophical exploration of the nexus between what we did and what we felt.

It was a way for him to understand himself through us.  He’d ask his psychologist questions and I’d open my heart and spill out my insecurities over my relationships, my frustrations with injustice, or the fears of my personal failure. He helped me define my inner landscape, a skill that has become more valuable the older I get.

My dad hated the language of authoritarianism. While his education and position gave him authority over others, he was disgusted by those who flaunt and abuse their power, who unilaterally impose fear & suffering to solidify their control.

He tried, sometimes successfully, to escape hierarchies of rank and often examined his own privilege to rectify the passive injustice that he saw illuminated in our world.

And so, even though it might hurt his back to do so he’d meet me on my level, literally sitting on the floor with me to play, to listen, to understand, to equalize our conversations.

That was projected into his public self – he was universally known as friendly and generous, and my kids saw him as both Santa Claus and Gandalf, secretly calling him Gran-dolf, the very image of a wise, old wizard with a sparkle in his eye.

Side by side photos of Ian McKellen as Gandolf from Lord of the Rings next to photo of my dad, David Rose, as himself.
This is why my kids call my dad “Grandolf”

To understand my dad is to hear the wisdom expressed in the language of his wit. 

He amused himself endlessly with his little quips & witticisms, a trait for wordplay and puns he got from his dad, Clarence – a gift of the Rose heritage, a talent for both learning & expression. He kept a shoebox full of these thoughts under his desk – even had a short comic he was writing. It will take the rest of my lifetime to go through them, but there was one that stood out that I wanted to share today.

Context: In late 1999 the plan had been to move to Denver to work for then Representative Abel Tapia for the legislative session, go to law school and then go out to change the world. But my dad had just been diagnosed with cancer and I was deeply reconsidering my plan so I could stay behind in Pueblo with him.

In the days before my birthday, he had been told he had a 20% chance to live just one year. I had already signed a lease on a new apartment in Denver.

My dad made it a point to tell me to go live my life. To live my purpose by working at the Capitol. He made me leave and he made my brother go with me to ensure I stayed. He visited me at the Capitol a few weeks later, just after he started chemo and was about to do his first radiation treatment. I remember how moved I was that he dressed up to visit me that day, in my little corner desk of a big room we shared with another representative and aide. He put his arm around me and told me how proud he was of me.

Of course, he beat those odds by a good twenty-plus years. At this point he would have said something sharply witty like:

It’s pretty impressive that I 100% beat the odds for 21 years in a row! OR Maybe they got it wrong – it was a 100% chance to live exactly 21 years!

Just a few days before he died, I was helping to organize his desk. He had written this back in 1999, when he thought he was going to die. He made several copies which he kept in his desk drawer, presumably so they would be ready to give to us when this day came.

Breaking cycles of insecurity

Text on light brown background that reads: Wherever you go, whatever you do, I hope you will carry my love with you. It doesn’t weigh much, perhaps you can use it to lighten your burdens. – DWR 12/99

My dad was afraid to be a burden to everyone else which reveals yet another language that we shared – insecurity and guilt

For all that my dad believed in everyone around him, he held an undercurrent of anxiety regarding his own self-worth, his own contributions in life, feeling like he hadn’t done or given enough. He was quick to see fault in himself, rather than others, reinforcing old patterns of rejection and anxiety consolidating it into a knot of internalized judgment.

And because I share this trait, I understood the guilt he felt, the shame he punished himself with. I was so defensive of dad – ready to confront those who would trigger that private, internalized pain, ready to put myself on the line to alleviate that pain. That empathetic connection the deepest of our communications.

We talked about this on his last night with us. I had conveyed a message from Andrew Romanoff, who you heard from earlier. He didn’t believe that someone as important as Romanoff might care for him. Andrew responded in big, bold letters…. “WHAT?!?”

Which sort of conveys what we all feel, right?

When I showed him the texts he said, ” I have always felt unworthy, undeserving of the love and attention people give me.” I held his hand, tears mixed with laughter on my face, and reminded him, “I know dad, because I feel the same way about myself. And my son feels that way about himself. too” He looked at me right then, squeezing my hand tighter, his hands cold, but still so strong with life and said, “Well, then it ends tonight. It ends with me, right here.  Promise me you’ll let this die here tonight.” 

His green and gold hazel eyes locked onto me to confirm that that I had heard him. My head nodding with the rigorousness of my commitment, the words stuck in my throat, sobbing with both joy and sadness.

Joy that he was recognizing the harmful effects of our shared legacy of shame and guilt, but sadness that he suffered for so long with that shame. But, like we always do, we spoke wordlessly, with the love and honesty of our gaze, volumes of mutual respect, admiration and encouragement passing between us.

That night I held the phone as he facetimed with my brother and sister.  I watched him tell them how much he was proud of them. He called our partners, Dan, John and Mike, “Good Men” – a phrase he felt unworthy of bearing no matter how many times I forced him to hear it.

He told me often that night that he had acceptance for this moment, that he had lived a good life – the proof of which is seen in his children, his five grandchildren (Brandon, Jennifer, Dylan, Gabe and Leslie). He saw our good deeds as artists, thinkers, and nurturers. And he whispered to me, “maybe by loving and raising you kids, I think I have already changed the world for the better.”

I can say with complete certainty that in the end, my dad did knew how loved he really was. 


The only regret I have is that we couldn’t sit down to watch Star Trek: Picard together, my Christmas present that had been waiting for him at home.

I went home from the hospital planning to show up at hospice with the DVDs so we could watch it together, reliving the memories of our special Saturday night KWGN scifi ritual. To hold his hand, creating the same bubble of safety he created for me, allowing the moment to move us.

I wanted to say goodbye by sharing Picard’s journey in that show, as he deals with aging and bravely tries to right the wrongs of his past. That lesson would have reverberated strongly for my dad. I wanted him to see our favorite hero, Jean-Luc Picard, facing his own mortality, amidst a period of political turmoil and growing moral imperatives. I wanted to feel his reaction to this line:

Quote from Star Trek: Picard

“We have powerful tools: openness, optimism, and the spirit of curiosity. All they have is secrecy and fear. And fear is the great destroyer.”

The task he’s asked of me, of us really, is to release ourselves of the fear, the shame and  especially the guilt of our past so we don’t starve the soul of the unconditional love it needs to thrive. He invites us today to live with a vulnerability of openness, a boundless optimism for our vision and with the imagination of curiosity, the true gifts of our humanity.

And so this becomes my sacred charge and in the words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard:

 “Make it So”.

For more on grief…

I also made a video about how I’ve been processing this grief. See more here:

Rose Connections video on “Leaning into the vulnerability of grief”

The Lightwashing of Reality: How QAnon weaponized white women & lightworkers

Over the past year, I haven’t been quiet about QAnon’s harmful influence within the spirituality and wellness communities, but I haven’t been as vocal as I should have been. By some fluke of fate I had a front row seat to the explosion of QAnon theories in the spiritual, mystical and wellness communities that once welcomed my social justice mind and queer, mystical heart. Today I can’t even bear to look at that time without feeling shame for staying as long as I did. And that guilt persisted during the Insurrection on January 6th.

Most are calling this QAnon incursion into spiritual and wellness circles conspirituality. But for me, calling it “lightwashing” feels more accurate because of the use of “love & light” narratives to absolve oneself of responsibility for collective action on social harm. Even if I didn’t personally get caught in the QAnon spiral of doom, I watched helplessly as whole groups of lightworking, spiritual friends were lightwashed into this strange, cruel, incongruent reality. I feel a responsibility to share what I learned during that time, a responsibility to share what insight I have about their beliefs and behaviors and why it is so perniciously awful.

Exploiting the vulnerability of the pandemic

I first became aware of QAnon in late 2017 when I started seeing an increased presence of “We are Q” signs prominently bouncing around at Trump rallies. Since I’m suspicious of anything that aligns with the former president’s self-aggrandizement and violent rhetoric, I did a bit of research to find that it was yet another 4Chan spin-off, this time with a constructed mystique of anonymity, creating a mystery for the relentlessly overstimulated incels of 4Chan to chew on and later weaponize against women (more on that later)

It was a violent movement from the start, cheering on a bloody end: predicting “The Storm” which presumably is when Trump would round up prominent Democrats, arresting them and eventually executing them. QAnon can’t exist without its lust for blood.

Here is what the New York Times was saying in August of 2018:

The paranoid worldview has crossed over from the internet into the real world several times in recent months. On more than one occasion, people believed to be followers of QAnon have shown up — sometimes with weapons — in places that the character told them were somehow connected to anti-Trump conspiracies….”The biggest danger is you are one mentally unstable person away from the next massive incident that defines whatever happens next,” Mr. (Ben) Decker said.

“From 2018: Explaining QAnon, the Internet Conspiracy Theory That Showed Up at a Trump RallyThe New York Times, 8/1/2018

And although I had researched QAnon enough to recognize its dangers, I went down the rabbit hole just enough to see the face of their message, insidiousness of its tactics and goals. I hoped, rather than believed, that it would just go away.

Read the rest of this entry

Origin Story: My calling over the past 30 years

This year I celebrated the 30th Anniversary of my Calling. While this is a story I’ve shared before audiences of true believers and benevolent skeptics with donuts and orange juice in the back of old church halls. This month was the first time I chose to share this story as deeply as I feel it, hoping that it resonates with folks who are currently answering a calling that matters to them. I recognize myself in each of them, hoping they are better prepared than I was, but grateful for the lessons I had to learn the hard way.

This Origin Story is deeply embedded in my heart. Enjoy!

Edited from original published at #OneHeartOneEarth
June 25, 1990 I was called to be “The Hands of Mary” – a daunting task for a 12 year old.

The vision on a crowded hill

The clouds were sparse on Apparition Hill (Podbrdo) that night. It was a clear, summer’s eve, a handful of days after the Summer Solstice. It was also the 9th anniversary of Our Lady’s first appearance in Medjugorje, Yugoslavia (Bosnia-Herzegovina) to six local children.  Back when it was still a Communist country. But on June 25, 1990, I climbed that hill with hundreds of thousands of others. All with the hope of catching a glimpse of the divine. 

I was a 12-year-old girl from Colorado, praying with thousands of others, longing for the proximity to one of Mary’s visionaries, Ivan Dragicevic, as he led his rosary group. Murmurs of prayers could be heard in dozens of languages on the hill that night. The power of that moment was undeniably pure. Humans from all over the globe gathered in a moment of peace, of hope, of love, brought together by Our Lady. Miracles of faith witnessed in the everyday kindness we offered to each other amongst the sharp stones and pitch-black shadows. We removed barriers so everyone could witness this event. 

But others didn’t see what I did that night. I saw the cross marking the spot of the first apparition disappears from the landscape. I saw the stars glow brighter, suddenly free of the haze of pollution. I saw the hands of Our Lady, gold sleeves slowly coming into view. I saw her hands outstretched before me, open and inviting. Her hands motioned over the crowd in blessing. And even though someone stood up in front of me, interrupting the vision, I was able to get them to sit long enough for me to see the stars move from the heavens to form a cross of gentle, magnificent light.  Time stood still and moved too fast all at the same time. I was dumbfounded, moved to tears, overthinking as I always did. I didn’t want to believe what had just happened. I wasn’t worthy. I blurted the whole thing out in short, sobbing sentences to my mom as the group continued the rosary. 

When they announced that she was wearing a gown of golden light, in celebration of her anniversary there, I knew. When they announced she gave a very special blessing to the crowd gathered there that night – that we were being asked to give her blessing to others, I knew.  When they announced that she departed in a cross of light, not only did I know, but then my mom understood as well. When they confirmed everything that I saw…I knew but didn’t want to believe. I knew I was being called to something bigger than myself. I knew I would never be the same person ever again.

And then I came home…

Me at 13 years old. About a year after I returned from Medjugorje.

What I really needed in that first year was a welcome packet for “How to Be a Catholic Visionary”. Even though I saw the hands of Mary, it didn’t mean I knew what it meant or what to do with it. I had nothing to anchor myself when others tried to use me to push their agenda. At twelve years old, in 7th grade, I was piecing this together for myself.

Little old ladies were thrusting me to the front of their rosary groups, giving me uncomfortable importance that I felt was entirely unearned. I was embarrassed as they lined up for me to lay hands on them. Is that something I was even supposed to be doing? Is that really what was asked of me? The more they expected of me, begging for favors for themselves while sharing judgmental comments behind my back, it placed an inhibiting spotlight on me that made me even more self-conscious and doubtful of myself.

The pressure for perfection became nearly synonymous with my calling in those first two years. My imperfections seemed to be an indictment of my unworthiness. Not only was I exploding with hormones as an adolescent, but I felt like I was being watched for any minor mistake, rosary-laden ladies waiting for me to fail so they could feel better about their own faith. So I made mistakes on purpose – offering them larger concerns than the micromanagement of my life that would fuel my anxiety for years to come.

The closest thing I had to a true compass in those early years, besides my parents, was a visit by Fr. Rene Laurentin, a Catholic priest giving a talk in town about the scientific testing he’s done on the Medjugorje visionaries. The organizers made sure I was invited to a private dinner with him, a not-so-subtle hope that he would validate my vision. I dreaded it. Despite my stated wishes, the ladies pushed the issue and he asked to hear my story. 

It dribbled out like an apology, anticipating his rejection. Each sentence was dripping with, “I know you think I’m crazy, which is totally okay, I probably am.” He listened quietly as his translator relayed the message. I searched his face for the doubt, the denial of the authenticity of the vision. Instead, he relayed a story of other children my age all across the world who have had similar visions. One only saw Our Lady’s eyes, another saw her feet. In fact, these “partial” visions were more common than I had known. 

“Mary’s is asking whether you will serve as her Hands here on earth. Do you accept, child?” he said in all seriousness.

Even as I relay this story, thirty years wiser, my eyes are filling with tears of blissful joy. Because I finally had a purpose.  All of this doubt, all of these signs were for a reason. I wouldn’t need anything else ever in my life. Just this. I only wanted to live a life of service to the Divine. At that moment, in the middle of a steakhouse, I smelled roses. This was Mary asking me to serve as her hands through this wizened French priest. 

A calling requires consent

No matter what happens, I remind myself that I chose this. There was no pressure. I say yes willingly.

My first awakening wasn’t the vision itself, so much as the divine purpose attached to it. Smelling roses that night was the start of understanding that other people didn’t get to dictate what my calling was. That Mary would tell me, through that sign and others, when a message was meant for me or when an opportunity required my energy.  I was called to devote my life to something bigger than myself, even if it hurt, even if it cost me. I could endure anything with the love of the Divine, a sacred bond that no one else gets to define. The little old ladies, the well-intentioned priests, parents, gurus, even the bishop, none of them could tell me what I saw or what Mary asked me to do. The gravity of my calling, the patterns of how Our Lady speaks to me, the signs I see along the way, are my purpose, my joy and mine to choose. No one else is capable of living it for me or taking it away from me. Only I have the power to say “no” or “yes” when I am called.  I have the power of consent.

I say yes to that call each time I stand up for those more vulnerable than me. I say yes when I amplify marginalized voices, using my privilege to hold the door open so they can charge in and kick some ass and when I step back to listen and learn more. I say yes when I touch a lover’s most intimate soul-wounds with unconditional acceptance. I say yes when I embrace the darkest shadow forces of this world with the light of my love.  I have walked through chaos and created peace through my passion for service. I have held a light for others as they face their own dark night of the soul. I channel empathy and transform suffering. I am living my life as a testament of love, even when it hurts, even when I think I can’t go on. I say yes.  

Once I understood my purpose, once I understood that I wasn’t there to fulfill others’ expectations for my calling, I forged my own path. I know so much more now than I did before. I know how to better discern the signs, how to better meet the challenges asked of me, when and how to ask for help.  And I know my work continues to this day as I work to dismantle systems and beliefs that keep us stuck in our illusions of separation and lack. I will always serve gladly as the hands, reaching to offer proof that we are truly all connected. Hand to hand. Heart to heart. 

To follow a calling is to share the voice of your heart

But more than anything, I have been called to share my story with you. Here. Today. Sharing my heart this way is the true joy of what I do because I want you to know that this is possible for you as well. It was only when I chose to let go of what others expected me to be that I found the natural flow of my light, my connection to the true potential of my highest self. It is has given me the courage to do the impossible, to live an extraordinary life of love. 

And because this post insisted on coming out this month, if something about the words, the images, the emotions resonates with you, consider this your sign from the Divine! Is there a slender, delicate proof of your own truth contained in these words? 

This is the Divine’s way of reaching out to say hello, inviting you into a deeper union. 

I’m here to affirm that this bigger-than-you thing that you’ve been called to do…yes, you ARE worthy. It is never too late. Awakening happens.

Always.

Right. On. Time.  


Creating a community to support other heart-centered leaders – sharing insights for loving, sustainable, and equitable change.

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Password Protected Post notice

Some of you may have recently gotten a notice of a new post, but cannot access it because it is password protected. I didn’t mean to cause confusion, so let me share what this is all about:

I’ve launched a new feature on this blog for those who have signed up for my Patreon page. Please excuse the mess while I configure the best way to protect those posts for members only, but also make a smooth experience for subscribers to the public content.

From the Vault is a collection of NSFW posts – could be kink tutorials, scene reports, fantasy & erotica, sexting tips, so many fun things. The highlights of my early sex blogging life will live here.

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Protected: From the Vault: Giving Yourself Some Direction

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Breaking out of the containers of expectation

There is something so pure about sitting down to the computer, the pad of paper and purging myself of the attachments and expectations in my life. A torrent of words flowing without restraint. The blessed opportunity to be fully free with my expression, my words, my voice. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

But for a long time now, my words have seemingly dried up, my voice too parched with anticipated embarrassment to speak. I have plenty of ideas and none of the energy to communicate them appropriately. I keep believing there was some magical time in my life where I didn’t feel that pressure, that potential for rejection, and where I could just pour my heart out. 

As nostalgic as I can get, when I look back through my own journals, I now see a clear pattern of memories that remind me that even back then I wasn’t telling my full truth. I was documenting a prepackaged response designed to align with the person I always wanted others to see me as, but not necessarily what my full self truly was or would become. 

My life has been a series of self-conscious, half-remembered events that reinforced how neurotically awful of a person I believed I was. I was careful to avoid ever expressing anything that indicated I was anything less than a perfectly faithful, compassionate, and accommodating soul. Even in my obvious struggles to take the high road with the boys who were breaking my heart, I blamed myself. Not misogyny by proxy, but because I believed it was the holy thing that a visionary would be expected to do. Even though I was seeking out deeper truths and meanings, I rarely spoke about my spiritual calling and especially kept very quiet about the sexual component of it. I would only mention it to shame myself for any perceived failures to be a girl worthy of that calling. I wrote, not for myself, not to document the truth, but to set the narrative for the story I wanted to be told instead of the true one that sits in my heart.  Yet I still treated that as truth.

For as creepy and paranoid as this sounds, I have always lived my life as if I’m being watched and will be judged throughout.  Mindful that someday any of my writings might have an audience who would be critically unkind, I always aimed to demonstrate my self-awareness, my willingness to accept responsibility for my actions and bad deeds. My journals were a companion piece to the sanitized confessions I was making to the priests. As I read through those journals, I could remember the places where my pen hesitated, the specific decision points where I could have given voice to my truth, in my own space, but didn’t.  What was important to me, even then, even in the words I used to describe my own experiences and feelings, is that I was portraying myself in accordance to the avatar of a visionary I wanted people to know about me.  It was an image that denounced my childish anger and my greedy needs. Hands clasped in prayer (but in a cool way) “Lord, I need nothing from you but clarity. Please give your servant clarity so I don’t mess up everyone’s life”

I was trying to contain myself in a vision of what I thought people might want from me, instead of admitting and dealing with the actual pain I was feeling. It was another way to justify the sacrifice and suffering. 

Fake It Till You Make It‘ by tenaciousbee

It is also why I believe the phrase “fake it ’til you make it” is complete bullshit. Even when I thought I was being true to that vision, I wasn’t. I was only hiding my truth from myself, punishing myself for what I lacked instead of celebrating what I had.

I remember one specific journal entry from April 1994, the entry right after I gave my virginity to someone after breaking up with my boyfriend. Not only was I beating myself up about it, but I also understood why it was bothering me: “I guess as an only child who had to be in control all the time, I find it hard to be out of control.”

I was convinced at the time that my feelings were out of control. Staying up late at night worried that my sex drive was out of control. Not only did I believe myself to be selfish and jealous but I was strategic in how I portrayed it. Hesitating as I wrote to choose whether to take the high ground or tell the awful truth.  In my mind, I was a flawed, immature, and insecure girl who was chosen, likely by mistake, for a big spiritual calling. I started from a place of unworthiness for such a grand mission that I spent the past 30 years trying to beat myself into submission to become a person worthy of such a demanding role. I modeled myself after others who stood for equity, justice, under an umbrella of divine love. I was brutally honest with myself so that others wouldn’t have to be. I conformed myself to what would most allow others to forgive my inevitable lapses when my human flaws leak out and sour my good intentions. I control the reader’s point of view of me. And so in my expressions, my deeds, everything I said to even myself about who I am was meant to conform to a model that was aspirational at best. A constrained and captured essence of deeper realizations that helped me survive the chaos of my world. 

That chaos, that lack of control is what so many of us are feeling right now. The ways in which we compartmentalized ourselves, controlled ourselves for the pleasure and acceptability of others are either disappearing, unavailable, or now too uncomfortable to continue. We each have been wearing masks, for years, for lifetimes and generations. We filter ourselves, show only the best photos, choose the best words, use the right fonts to construct a reality that not only reaffirms the personal brand that is totally, really completely authentic© but also satisfies us that we don’t have to reveal our full selves to be liked. More masks that we wear to be the

I admit I’m so very confused by the spiritual people who complain about wearing physical masks and yet won’t address the mental ones they continue to wear.  Aggressively declaring “Love and Light” as they actively resist attempts to listen to someone else’s truth is as restrictive as face coverings. Just like the ones I wore in my journal. Portraying myself to be all about “love & light”, who was I trying to convince?  


“I have sinned so much. Give me the strength to get through the days. Help me see my many failures. Help me trust in you. I will not promise, but I will control myself according to your will. Help cure me of my selfishness, greed, and pride. Let me just fall into your arms.

April 13, 1994 (my 16 year old self)

And yet, those words were chosen, deliberately to prove to myself that I was the problem, not the men who were fucking with my heart. I manipulated my own intentions, begging forgiveness instead of demanding apologies, showing how contrite I was for my transgressions even though theirs were worse. God, or Spirit or the Divine, knew the content of my heart just as well as I did, but instead, I was trying to convince myself and the future, the unintended audience of the sincerity of the responsibility I felt to have acted better. I can still feel the rage I was suppressing, the excuses I had to forcefully set aside to defiantly turn a harsh mirror on myself. To prove I could withstand it. 

Those restraints on even my own history, my own view of myself are worth seeing in context. I deliberately made myself small so I would never be too big for anyone else, so I wouldn’t exceed the small container of tolerance that I imagined others would give me room to occupy. I deliberately robbed myself of the triumph of all the ways in which I exercised control over that moment in my life, so I could meet the finger-wagging judgments of those who came after me.  

Blogging since 2003, sometimes I struggle with expressing myself in a way that is more pleasing to everyone, sometimes denying my own truth to do so.

I deprived myself of the miracle, the true awakening of womanhood, where I was able to truly choose my sexual expression with someone else. I got to choose how, when and who I was going to give my virginity to, but I also chose why. I chose to a path the showed me an innate power I have. But despite what I remember and felt, the words in my journal barely even hint at the awakening that this was for me.  The mask I designed to fool even myself actually diminished the true joy I felt and instead punished me with unearned shame and guilt. A way to fit in to the image I thought I needed to maintain to make everyone else happy with me. The truth was far too expansive than I ever was willing to document or admit; I needed to control the narrative, constrain the truth in order to fit in the small container I restricted myself to. 

Part of what I see happening around us is that our illusions of control, the containers that we used to compartmentalize, and thus, the ways in which we think we exercise direct control over our lives, are breaking down. This aligns with these changes of the Tower (that i’ll be posting about in the next two weeks), where our overall systems of power and control, are crumbling past the point of meaningful repair. But even more specifically, whether it be in the jobs we’re doing or communities we’re sharing in, we are starting to feel the squeeze of trying to fit into the containers that once held our lives, or rather the image of our lives, together.

The family feels different now that we’re all working and playing in the same space together in drastically different ways. Work feels different when the office politics are now seen through the unfiltered lens of Zoom.  We feel more raw and numb than before, an awareness we hadn’t noticed before. We’re noticing that not only are those masks meaningless, but the ways in which they contain the full complexity of us, reducing us to two-dimensional avatars of ourselves is no longer a comfortable place to live. 

So, my promise tonight with this post and all others that come behind it is that I will share more than the mere impression of my truth. I’ll get into the nitpicky, down and dirty truth of my perspective, my experience, my background, and my vision. I’m tired of pleasing audiences who view me through the cracked lenses of their own self-pity or defense mechanisms. Their truth isn’t mine, but I will listen to it nonetheless.  Because witnessing the truth in one another is the only way we’ll survive the challenges coming our way. Living in our truth, breaking out fo the containers meant to keep our lives in tidy conformity to the whims of a collective world that is on its last legs.  

For Love of Country: never forget who we can be together (9/11)

Today’s hashtag is #NeverForget – tributes to 9/11 flood our feeds. So many Americans have shared what they were doing that day, what their reactions were, how it affected them, how it affected the world around them.

All I can remember is the shock. Pure, unfiltered shock.

Photo by Thomas Svensson on Pexels.com

My mom was in town to help me choose my wedding dress for my May 2002 wedding. I was babysitting my step-son-to-be (he’s now 23 as much my son as anyone could be!). My husband-to-be was driving back from Utah with his family after attending his grandfather’s funeral, a Pearl Harbor vet. I had just started my first class in my master’s program for public policy. I was excited, full of promise and happily planning out my new life.

The husband-to-be called me from the road early that morning waking me up. “Turn on the TV,” he said, “a plane has hit the World Trade Center.” The words didn’t make sense until I reached for the remote and saw the enormity of what he was trying to tell me.

I screamed to get my mom’s attention, my kid still asleep in his room. She turned on the TV in the living room and gasped. We just couldn’t comprehend what we were seeing. And then, right then the 2nd plane hit. The shock, the magnitude of what we just witnessed was too much to describe. Hearing about the Pentagon and Pennsylvania only added to the confusion and dismay.

I personally didn’t know anyone who died that day, but I know two people that fate chose to save that day. My cousin, who is like a brother to me, worked in that building (and fortunately was at the coast celebrating his son’s 1st birthday). My mother-in-law was supposed to have been there that weekend but she was called out to Utah with the family instead.

And then the waves of grief finally started after I saw people throwing themselves from the building, escaping the fatal onslaught of fire, smoke, and falling debris, my heart broke with a permanence I still can’t fully describe. Empathy for the loneliness and desperation fueled by primal fear and a haunting inevitability. Witnessing someone’s last moments like that over and over – too many to count – so many I will never know the names of. When the kid asked why they were jumping, the tears couldn’t stop. I stood in the shower for 30 minutes just crying, letting the sound of the shower drown out my wailing sobs.

We kept the dress appointment that day because as mom said, we needed something to look forward to in the midst of sorrow. Trying on wedding dresses that day, knowing I made the right choice for the modest wedding of my dreams sounds like the most selfish, self-absorbed thing to do. But it was the only thing that could replenish the outpouring of empathy that was drowning my spirit.

Little did I realize that as an American, my heart would continue to break over and over again in the years since.

9/11 exposed some of America’s deepest vulnerabilities

As Americans, we felt vulnerable, exposed, and indeed, traumatized. We went through a collective mourning period – classes were suspended, we were allowed to be human beings with feelings, at least for a little bit. There was a precious moment of recognition in one another’s eyes about the unspoken horrors we had just witnessed. At the gas station, at the grocery store. For a few days we honored that flicker of recognition in one another.

But our consciousness can only handle so much darkness and trauma before it starts seeping deeper into our system, a quiet code of disquietude flipping switches on a dime, sometimes to protect us, sometimes to manipulate us. It happens in our everyday lives all the time. We swallow the words of the bully until they’re embedded in our system, stopping us from speaking our truth, maneuvering levers to spoil our successes long after the bully is gone. Victimization giving rise of paranoia, distrust, and a new system of “normal”. Our deep underbelly, both in corporate America and in our mundane, empty lives was disrupted by the coordinated and deliberate hatred of others.

It wasn’t long before things started shifting, before we started looking at one another with suspicion. Many were manipulated by lies about weapons of mass destruction. How many of our soldiers carry trauma from this fabricated war? But our vengeance must be served, is the programming we’ve been taught.

The pre-existing rift between left and right began to grow both between and within parties. We saw a growing rise of hate crimes and targeted discrimination against those of Muslim faith and Middle Eastern descent. We allowed compromises to both civil liberties and human dignity in the name of national security. Terrorism added a new violent layer of fatalistic aplomb to our public discourse.

And it has been growing exponentially ever since. We have been fed a steady diet of gradually paranoid narratives, the inspiration porn of populist one-upmanship, tolerance for the most extreme interpretations of the truth. Constantly exposed to provocative images of fear, nefarious gaslighting narratives we soaked up the stories that personalities that justified the weaponized surety of our own private victimizations.

9/11 felt personal

9/11 felt more personal than many things we’ve gone through as a nation. Yes, the rest of the world witnessed it, but we were the victim of a crime so heinous in reality and symbolic in identity that I think we are still uncovering layers of it. Unlike a natural disaster, we were targeted, we were unexpectedly knocked in the gut, costing thousands of innocent lives. Not on the battlefield. We were ambushed at work, on a commute. A normal ordinary day of no true significance other than the date these men collaborated to choose. This wasn’t a distant declaration on foreign soil, this was here, this now, this was personal.

We grew to see shadows in every corner of someone else’s life but failed to expose our own to the light of day. We resisted looking at the ways in which we center ourselves on narratives of pain and struggle but fail to empathize with the pain and struggle of others. We both want our pain recognized and we want it protected. We want someone to witness it, but to do so would be to expose it to the light of our own attention, exposing the uncomfortable depths to which it has embedded itself into our daily world.

The memory of that exposure of our vulnerable underbelly still hurts after all this time in some big and small ways. And in so many ways as a nation, we are still guarding this wound, lashing out at anything, anyone that might threaten us again. We want assurances of our safety and have been willing to even sacrifice one another to have it.

No matter how much we might have progressed and emotionally healed since then, there is a festering wound at the core of our political and cultural life. We all have expressed a deep distrust in the collective will of our nation to move forward together, hypervigilant ideological stubborn wars waged against one another with alarmingly high consequences. Each side battling for control over unwieldy systems that are crumbling under the weight of inequality, failing to deliver on the promises of this nation, the chosen promise on the declaration of inalienable rights.

We think we’re playing at tug-of-war, when in fact, the rubber band holding our planet together is about to snap from the pressure of containing such fiercely repulsive polarities of our illusions of separateness. All to protect ourselves from confronting the collective compassion fatigue we have steadily been experiencing since 9/11. It’s not that we don’t care…it’s that we’ve been through so much unacknowledged, unhealed pain that our capacity to care is overwhelmed by the state of “way too much” always.

Vulnerability invites connection

Just like we went through a shared trauma on 9/11, we are experiencing one at this moment today with COVID. The sorrow, the frustration, the anger, the misdirected pain burrows under the surface, inflaming the festering pain we’ve been feeling for nearly 20 years now. Just like members of the Silent Generation were impacted by the traumas of poverty and lack, this ongoing generational trauma will likewise be passed along to our children

I want more than anything for us to we recognize that these vulnerabilities are easier to bear when shared and recognized in our connections with others. We don’t have to understand what someone else has gone through in order to extend empathy and understanding. Instead of adding doubt and denial, we can choose to accept and recognize a shared reality – that we have been through some shit together.

It’s critical, now, more than ever, for us to find and create places for community and connection. Not to gossip and hate on others, but to share lived realities in the comfort of those who get you. More than ever we’re invited to share our truth, to open old wounds, and heal ourselves to save the generations to come.

As we carry forth the memories of this day to the next year, may we find the strength to stand up for one another.

May our lungs be full of the breath of inspiration to speak our truth.

May our minds be clear enough to recognize the truth in one another.

May we each find a pathway to create a better reality than the polarized forces we’re sponsoring today.

May those we choose as leaders prioritize the healing recognition we need and actively choose not to add more trauma to our already overloaded lives.

The rubber band of our uneasy tolerance holding the country together will snap unless we show up with our full integrity, our full honesty, and our full humanity and demand the same from our leaders.

If we can do these things, we will have honored those who died this day, we will have recognized the pain and tears of every mother, father, husband, daughter, or best friend who lost their beautiful love that day. We will have honored the brave rescuers who saved lives and sacrificed themselves in pure selflessness and duty to humanity.

And we will have moved a step closer to bringing us into the resolute safety of truth…the foundation for rebuilding ourselves and our country.

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