“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
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
“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.
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.
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.
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
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…
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
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.
Right. On. Time.
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So, I made the last Origin Story post more about how, positionally, we were primed and prepped to open our relationship, but this is the nitty-gritty mechanics of how it came about.
There were too many moments to count where my ability to stay “faithful” by society’s definition was tested not just in my marriage but in pretty much every relationship I ever had. And there were too many moments where I didn’t abide by those standards and others where I felt resentful and caged.
I remember, a week before our wedding, during law school finals, I confessed to Husband that I had done more than just kiss Navy Boy on a recent trip out to visit him. I didn’t want to start our marriage with a lie and I felt a strong urge to share the truth with him. “I know. I just wish you had told me about it at the time,” was Husband’s response.
He knew about the people I habitually flirted with and understood. He knew about my desire to revisit with old flames and understood. He knew about how I desperately wanted to explore my bisexuality (another Origin Story to add to the growing list) and understood. He’s always known me so well and always understood.
By the end of law school, a year after our wedding, I was pregnant with our son. We were buying a house and I was studying for the bar exam. Midway through the pregnancy, because of the physical impact on my old injuries, I could no longer have sex. There was no position where I didn’t feel pain or numbness. Those were a lot of lonely days and nights for us, especially since neither of us had thought about this side effect.
Once I had given birth, I was anxious to be able to get back to being able to have sex. It had been at least 6 months and I was ready.
I don’t want to go into a lot of detail here because I still hold shame about this part of my story: I cheated. It was March 2004 and because of the way the pregnancy affected my body, I wanted to feel desirable and beautiful still. Husband would probably say that he just couldn’t keep up with me, but that isn’t true. My sex drive wasn’t the issue, nor was his. The issue was a need for approval – from someone other than the person who just watched me birth his child. I needed to find myself sexy through someone else’s eyes.
When Needs Backfire
That need hit me like a ton of bricks. I had gained a significant amount of weight during the pregnancy. The doctors assured me that I had so much fluid and he had been such a big kid (9 lbs 1 oz at a month premature) that I would likely go back down to my normal size in no time. But I didn’t. I never did.
I went back to the flirting I had done before. But instead of staying safe and monogamous, I was actually entertaining meeting these men. I needed to feel desirable again, a vital slice of anyone’s self-worth that in carrying all this extra weight I didn’t know myself anymore.
In my younger days, I may not have been the prettiest girl on the block, but I could more than make up for that with charm and wit and intellectual intrigue. I relied on my adaptability to be valuable and thus desirable to others. I had insecurities about my body, like most women, but I never felt it was unfuckable or undesirable in some fashion.
They don’t tell you about how you’ll feel about your body after motherhood. You spend most of your life being told that you need to be attractive to find yourself a spouse. And once you have kids, you devote yourself to them but stay attractive and available enough so that your husband doesn’t stray. That’s the national romantic “happily ever after” narrative, right? But no one tells you how you will feel as a woman, as a sexual woman, once you’ve pushed a live being into the world. Or that there will be a thousand conflicting messages and judgments about your value. Or that the very act of being sexual is somehow dirty and wrong, but if you don’t bounce back to your pre-baby shape you’re somehow a failure of femininity.
Cheating wasn’t planned or deliberate. I sort of slid into it, driven by this need to prove myself. The men I eventually met up with, one was a yuppie banker type cheating on his wife, the other was a bulky personal trainer type who worked security at night. Both were not just disappointing, but downright insulting. Banker dude asked to see under my skirt and told me I was “good enough for a blowjob” but nothing more. Personal trainer dude got up to go to the bathroom during lunch and left me with the check. When I confronted him in the parking lot, he told me I must have sent him an old picture because I wasn’t at all hot or worth his time. Although neither situation involved intercourse, I had definitely broken the agreement that Husband and I had set with each other.
I was devastated and on the verge of suicide because these encounters had been so shaming and I had been deceiving Husband and not telling him the truth.
And I had no one to talk to.
Facing my truth
At the time, I had just started writing on LiveJournal and was becoming more and more active in the communities there. I carried a lot of shame and guilt over what I had done and I was passively reading others’ journals to gain some insight.
Our anniversary that year followed my first Mother’s Day after giving birth. Both days were marred by these feelings, the burden of the half-truths I had been hiding from Husband. We fought more, picked at each other more and had more difficulty seeing eye to eye.
I remember standing in our makeshift office in the basement, him asking me to tell him why I was crying all the time, what he could do to help. Eventually, I broke down and told him what had happened with both of those men–how each rejected me because of my body and how I was on the verge of killing myself over it.
Again, he forgave me–far more than I had deserved from him. And once again, he told me that all I needed to do was talk to him about what I was feeling and what I needed. That he didn’t object to me getting attention from others if that’s what I needed, but that those interactions would have an impact on me, and thus in our household and that he needed to be included in that, no matter how embarrassing it might feel.
Calling it by name
The more I was on LiveJournal (May 2004), the more I was exposed to others who were in or considering open relationships. It wasn’t a new concept per se, but at the time if you looked it up, all you’d find are swingers groups. Husband isn’t very flirtatious or outgoing, so swinging would never be something we could be comfortable doing together. I kept seeing allusions to the term “polyamory” but had trouble finding out more about it.
One of my newest followers at the time, a guy in Seattle, introduced me more fully to the idea through his blog. He and his wife were polyamorous and had been foIr at least a few years. Through our conversations, I started becoming more familiar with the term and heard some of the tales of people who actually lived this way.
It’s amazing how much your world opens up when you say find an identity that fits. This not just fit, but was focused on the love that I felt for so many people. While many people have floated in and out of my life, they have all mattered to me, contributed positively to my life and left me a better person. Polyamory seemed to welcome this–not just the sex, it was never just about the sex for me–it was about the connection.
Swing & a miss
Our very first foray was with a man on the east coast I had been talking to through LiveJournal. I had been given permission to play with him and would stay in contact with Husband about how it went. It wasn’t just the play that drew me in, it was the fact that this guy saw me like really saw who I am. I needed that. And I was falling for that now that the reins were cut loose and I could connect and lov and be who I truly am.
So, before a Sarah McLaughlin concert, between dinner and walking into the Pepsi Center, I had a conversation with Husband about this new guy on the east coast. I was falling for him. Talking to him multiple times a day and wanted to take things to an actual relationship. I told Husband about polyamory, about open marriages, about the fact that I felt we were solid and supportive of each other and we could make this work.
Jumping into the rocky end of the poly pool
Things never worked out with the guy on the east coast. The moment I confessed my feelings to him, when I bought a ticket to go out to DC to meet him a month later, he cooled off. (He also requested a full body photo of me and never responded to that, compounding how I already felt about my body). It was a shitty choice of a first try. I not only was rejected but felt I had been played and neglected once I wanted to take things into a less pixelated realm.
After that, Husband started instituting some rules and expectations. I don’t even remember those early rules anymore. At one point it was the “only girls” rule. While common for many who are just starting poly, it was a rule only because men were hurting my feelings so terribly by their rejection of my body (hence the body shame I still carry today). Husband thought that the women would be at least nicer and give me a chance to understand my bisexuality that I still hadn’t embraced. I wasn’t ready yet to fully embrace that part of my sexuality–so that rule went to the wayside.
Lots of rules came and went during those first few tenuous months as polyamorous. I went to DC to visit that guy–where he didn’t respond to my messages until the final day I was there. Guilted by our mutual followers he at least met up with me for a drink. But it was clear I had crossed a line by making our online interactions real and I was let down and dejected. Was this what polyamory was all about?
That was until I found Laz. In November of 2004, the day after the election, a smart, witty Texan found his way to my LiveJournal. He quickly moved into the role of a trusted friend and flirty confidante. And while he wasn’t the ideal partner (he was married with kids at the time), he was my first poly love and eventually, 6 months later, became my first poly husband.
Others would follow, but Laz will always hold a special place in my life for the role he played, for the support he gave and for the full realization that polyamory was right for us. I might not have ever stuck with polyamory had he not shown up in my life when he did.
To be continued…
At some point in the future, I’ll address Husband’s feeling about poly, how he manages his jealousy and all of the other little how-tos that people usually want to hear. But the how of it was more simple than people want to hear: He fully accepts me for who I am including the gift I have for connecting with multiple people and he gives me support and encouragement to be the best me that I can possibly be. And that…that’s why he is Husband.
Everyone comes at polyamory from their own background and series of choices. For some, it’s their “cure” to cheating. For others, it’s a slow slide away from swinging and into more romantic partnerships with others. Others start it out as an experiment with fantasies until suddenly you can’t imagine what your life would look like without sharing it openly with others. And whether I’m talking about my personal origin — how I, personally, knew I was poly–or how my Husband and I came to open up our marriage, these are the fundamentals of what led us to where we are now.
While ultimately the decision was made on a Wednesday in July 2004, right before a Sarah McLaughlan concert, there were a series of events and conditions that led us to that decision. Here’s a look back at the major components that led to our polyamory story.
We are individuals who choose to share our lives together
I’ve known Husband-Writer since 1996 when we went on a musical tour of Europe together. He was a musician and writer with a generous soul and a sharp wit. We got to know each other very well on that tour and he quickly endeared himself to me by being in my life. Our love is based on the friendship we developed at the time, the rapport that was built on a shared sense of humor and a passionate love of expression.
Part of a series of posts in which I revisit my past, look on my origin story with new eyes. Draw lessons, revisit fond memories. Could be any of the people, places or choices that have influenced me over the years and shaped me into who I am now.
Nostalgia is fun.
For the years that I’ve been attending conferences and giving presentations, I’ve been asked the same types of questions: How did you know you were poly? How did you become kinky? What made you realize you were bisexual? Maybe it’s the geek in me, but I think we’re acculturated to crave origin stories. Adam & Eve. Batman Begins. We want to know where our heroes come from. We want to know their backstory. We’re dissatisfied as audiences if we lack context for the image in front of us. Sometimes, the more unattainable, the better.
It’s a way for us to keep ourselves detached from our dreams and ideals. A ready excuse for why we’re not exceptional. Why we’re never going to attain our dreams. When I go back to my hometown, for example, I’m told “of course, you’re polyamorous. The rules don’t apply to you.” They don’t because I chose for them not to. The rules don’t apply to me because I took a chance on being authentic and making hard decisions for myself and defining my own rules. It didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t without its consequences, but I am not fundamentally special in this ability. If i can, you can.
And so in this series, I’ll be talking about my own origin stories. Maybe it will be my Catholic upbringing. My calling. My bisexuality. My awareness of polyamory. Maybe some of them will be short little statements or photos. Maybe some will be entire chapters of insight and story. Most of them biased by hindsight. All of them a true reflection of who I am.
It’s 9:45 pm here on October 11th. I got home late and am making an ambitious (for me) dinner of shepherd’s pie. So as I wait, I think back on another marginally bad day. It wasn’t horrible, it just was angsty. And most of the angst was mine. I was impatient, unorganized, forgetful and foggy all day. And it wasn’t until later in the workday, when I was beyond the point of salvaging it that I finally realized why I was so on edge.
Today was National Coming Out Day
For the past 10 years I’ve been flirting with various forms of outness, to varying degrees. And to the point where I’m essentially out to everyone except extended family. Even professionally to some degree it’s been know how I identify. Especially over the past year or so I’ve become far more comfortable with being out.
But today it was scary and triggery. It brought back memories of a workday interrupted by a call from a friend telling me that a website had posted my online journal and that it was circulating among my colleagues and the press. It brought me back to the pacing through the hallways going mad from the ringing of the phone. It brought me back to 8 months of unemployment and 10 years of trying to scrape my way back to believing that I deserved to make an earning even close to what I was making before. It brought me back to the rumors, the panic attacks during the evening news, the fear, the cowardice, the ignorance, the victimhood, and especially the punishment. It brought me back to a night where I was as close to suicide as I’ll ever get and breaking down as a last-ditch effort to ask for help before I could finish the act.
I didn’t come out on Facebook today like I had wanted to. I have family who, as well-intentioned and loving as they are, tend to call my parents over every minor quip I post. As much as I love my parents, my coming out isn’t worth them having to field phone calls from worried family members and clueless friends. The choice to come out is mine and not theirs.
So, instead, I came out on Twitter, reminding all 686 followers of who I am.
Those things are some of the easiest things to identify things about me. It’s what most people care about when they talk about coming out. But identity is such a rich and powerful blend of concepts, stories, and aspirations that simply saying I’m bisexual, polyamorous, kinky, queer, Chicana, femme, Mother, wife, lover, educator, lawyer, spiritual, and geek is just a superficial part of the story. Some of it is the sensational part of the story because ooooh—bi, poly and kinky–that’s out there. But it’s just scratching the surface.
There are other aspects of identity that go beyond the census items of nationality (American), race/ethnicity or income. There are the aspects of self that evolve over time but create the refinements of self that truly identify us closer to our core. Those aspects of ourselves are just as precious and vulnerable, worthy of being spoken as personal truths.
So tonight, I define more of who I am. Coming out as the woman I truly am at heart:
I am a public servant. I have always been drawn to government, politics, and the business of policymaking. But moire than anything I have been drawn to a life of being in service to the public in some capacity or another. Right now I provide direct services through a nonprofit,. but in the past, I’ve served in capacities that were more about the public good than my own advancement.
I am half white and half Mexican but identify as Chicana. This is very important for me to distinguish. I love both of my families, but the Mexican half of my family was the most influential in my upbringing. My dad’s family valued education but watching my Mexican grandparents’ pride when my mom earned her master’s struck a chord with me. It told me the legacy that was going to be passed to me to build upon. It is a responsibility that I take seriously. My father’s family is full of intelligence, accomplishment, and distinction–my role with them is less to carry on their legacy and more to just not fuck it up. But what I accomplish for the Mexican side of my family, like a law degree, creates a path for others to follow. I’ve already helped one family member with his law school application and LSAT prep. We rise together.
That said, I am also very privileged. Because my last name is white, my skin is light and freckled and my hair turning gray faster than my more indigenous parts of the family, I’m a dead ringer for your standard, run-of-the-mill white girl. That’s not what I feel inside and so I get somewhat defensive during conversations about race. I am so eager to relate to people that I end up ignoring my privilege, the same privilege that makes it easier for me to be heard. It has been an uphill battle for me to remember that my story isn’t more important than anyone else’s, particularly those who don’t get the benefits that come with passing for white, cis, het and able bodied.
I am bisexual and married to a man. So another privilege I carry is that I at least am always perceived as heterosexual. I’m not, of course, and that’s where some mental health issues come into play for many of us–being misidentified, ignored and rebuked within the LGBTQ community (mostly getting derision from the Ls and Gs) creates an insidious amount of hardship as we try to navigate our way through the world.
I am bisexual and I have known it since I was 12. But to the outside world, I had a fairy tale wedding and lived happily ever after. And while I love my husband dearly, part of why I love him is that he’s never had an issue with me living my life as fully as I am able. He’s always given me support and encouragement, to pursue what makes me happy–including exploring my attraction to women and non-binary/gender nonconforming folk. Ultimately this is aided immensely by being polyamorous–we negotiate the terms of our marriage and it decidedly doesn’t look at all like the heteronormative ideal. And I am happier for it.
Finally, I’m coming out as a visionary within the Catholic meaning of the term. Again, from the age of 12, I believe I was called to something powerful. This calling initially spoke to me through the images and rituals of the Catholic faith–I was strong in my devotion to the Church at the time (see, I still capitalize it). But as I grew into the woman I am, I recognized that Catholicism at its core no longer fit with the calling that I was given. It was just too large for such a narrowly-defined faith structure. So, I departed from the Church. I still miss it sometimes–going to Mass and adoration, praying the rosary, the cleansing I’d feel after confession. It is like my hometown. I’ll always have a connection to it. It’s part of my story. But it’s not where I choose to live now–I have moved on. My calling is what matters most to me, not ascribing to any one issue of faith.
With all of that said, I have an update on the shepherd’s pie: I burned myself making it last night which is why this is posted late. i’m doing better today–but I guess I also need to add clumsy to the list of identities that I have.
You know me. You always find me at the crossroads. Smoldering sweetness. Transient memory. Dark benevolence.
I have burned with you in the fires; I have resurrected you from the despair. I've held your hand in the depths of your darkness. I've given you light to lift you. I've been here each time you've prayed out loud or cried silently.
Sweet and bold. Powerful and quiet. I will never leave you, my Love.
Blissful and melancholy. Radiant and cursed. Sensual and familiar. Rough and blessed. Vibrant and smooth. I embrace your duality and all the space in between.
Strike at the soul and be consumed within these flames.