“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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
“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:
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.
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.
The phrase was on constant repeat in my head in moments of desperation and self-defeat. Starting in my teens, I’d have this phrase pulse like a chant in my brain. A motto for when I was ready to give up all hope, all fight, all resolve. Sometimes I wanted to give up on school, Chicago, Denver, parenting, homeownership, polyamory, romance, the stresses of my first job out of law school, the bar exam. It was the easiest thing to cling to in those searing stressful moments – the thought of home. Especially when I was far from Colorado. When times got tough the most comforting thought in the world was to crawl up in my bed on the giant house near the Fountain River and withdraw from the harshness of the world.
[CW: mentions of suicide, PTSD, sexual assault, trauma but also resilience, healing, faith and sex]
The past five years have been professionally prosperous for me. I have gone from owning my own mediation business to providing direct service to people experiencing homelessness, culminating in a senior management position at a major nonprofit organization. I honestly couldn’t be more grateful for all of the opportunities I’ve had. I am so very blessed.
But despite this extraordinary level of success in the past five years I have been increasingly unhappy. The chanting in my head didn’t go away with success, it only got more persistent. The stress breaking me down so it was constant drumming in the back of my mind, the first thing I’d hear in the morning and the last I’d hear at night.
It isn’t easy for me to admit that, especially here. More than anything I want my life to stand for something meaningful, powerful and inspirational – and deep in my heart I really, truly don’t hate my life. But the stresses, the accumulated traumas, the internalized doubt and toxic messaging of my internal world were constantly crashing into each other. I had never been great at prioritizing self-care, so when I was met with crushing amounts of vicarious trauma, fear and insecurity over the past few years, I spiraled even further into self-hatred, infecting my job, my family and my soul with a loathing I didn’t even know was a part of me.
I left my job at the end of October and left the organization last week. And what I’ve learned since then will help me survive the rest of this life.
I’ve been open in the past with the ways I’ve struggled with things like imposter syndrome and people-pleasing. When you’ve had such significant challenges with deservingness, that sort of meteoric rise can produce more anxiety and pressure than it alleviates. Until I found myself deserving of that kind of rise, it was never going to feel right.
I had too much that was working against me. The accumulation of vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue made my soul ache for daily relief that never came. I was new to supervision and my lawyer’s brain was constantly overthinking everything I said and did. I had trouble with processing financial statements quickly enough to give my people answers about expenditures. (Nevermind that I was now using terms like “expenditures” and “write-ups” far more frequently than my little social-justice, romantic heart ever imagined). I wasn’t taking care of myself either – getting an average of 4 hours of sleep a night, working an average of 65 hours a week, eating only one meal by the end of the day. I was dehydrated, chronically cranky and progressively unwell.
And so, over the past five years, instead of my brain chanting “I just want to go home”, it began to shift to “I hate my life”. A phrase that rang relentlessly in my head, even with the smallest of mistakes. When my nerves really were at their breaking point, the chant would spill out of my mouth bursting unwelcome into the rest of the world. My employees have heard it, my kids, my supervisors, my husbands. And when I was alone, I would find myself screaming it out loud. Impulsive and destructive. Multiple times an hour, multiple times a day. After a time it was barely controllable and barely contained.
It became so destructive that I was actively contemplating suicide, for the fifth time in my life. July, August and September were a white-knuckle ride. Each day presented new challenges that I was increasingly losing the ability to address or control. These challenges weren’t just about work – they included retriggering events and encounters, strong shifts in my family including sick parents and grandparents and the normal Trump-associated threats to the world. The hits just kept coming and I felt I was letting everyone down no matter how I responded.
And while I won’t go into detail about the reasons or rationale, what is important is that I reached out to the people best situated to offer meaningful help, without imposed expectations or unsolicited advice. I called on my team, both mortal and ethereal, to assist me through this storm. I have worked too hard, overcome too much, and had too much ahead of me to go down without a fight.
And that voice urging me to fight was my Pueblo voice: The Priestess of Pride City.
Go Big Blue
There is something distinctive about being from Pueblo. We are home to more Congressional Medal of Honor winners than anywhere else in the US. Formerly part of Mexico, we’ve celebrated Cinco de Mayo with our sister city, Puebla, the site of that historic victory. We host the Colorado State Fair and welcome all of Colorado’s makers, farmers, ranchers, and revelers culminating with the crowning a Fiesta Day queen. We have the longest running high school football rivalry west of the Mississippi (Videos: Bell Game 2019 – Bell Rings Blue ). And recently, our Governor has stood up with pride to defend the honor of our mirasol green chiles, defining the taste of Pueblo.
This post hit me in the gut right when I was at my lowest, mired in Imposter Syndrome and knee-deep in panic. This was a small light that emerged in the darkness, illuminating one of the deepest, hardest truths of my life.
Sacrifice as proof of worth?
I am not as familiar with the Giving Tree – I managed to encounter Shel Silverstein, without much time spent on this book. However, this criticism of this story rang a clear, resonant note of truth within. Sacrifice of talents…using them to meet the needs of others is a major reason for my anxiety and internalized pain.
This why I have a complicated relationship with the Catholicism of my youth. I still believe in the divine – I don’t call it god or any specific name, but I feel connected to something bigger than myself, far more infinite and loving than anyone can imagine. I’ve felt this presence since I was a kid, a guiding presence that was on my side, lovingly cheering me on even in my mistakes.
But Catholicism invaded at a very young age with messages telling me to fear God. The introduction of shame was packaged with meaning and redemption. The judgment meant I was answerable for every small transgression – such as merely thinking about sex. Any violation had to be confessed and absolved in order to still qualify for heaven someday. Humility or humiliation?
That isn’t to say that I didn’t genuinely love some aspects of Catholicism. I am drawn to a sense of ritual to anchor my spirituality. The Mass exemplifies the elegance in which all the senses keep your body present in the moment: incense, music, movement and body connection, the wine and bread, the visual presentation of the mass and its setting. There is something divine in the visceral celebration of our humanity like that.
But the spiritually connective ecstasy I experience in the rituals of faith are soured in seeing the shallowness of the people who claim community with me. The hatred they sow, the majestic righteousness they promote, the private deceitfulness they practiced were abhorrent. And because I was a “true believer” (in middle and high school), I had an obligation to be better than the average Sunday catholic.
That pressure was doubly true for a “visionary”, someone seemingly “chosen” to fulfill a mission. Someday I’ll share more about it, but at the young age of 12, I had been called to be the “hands of Mary”. My world changed. Faith was no longer an aspiration, but a leadership skill. Little old ladies asked for my blessing. Priests were at the ready to advise (I chose my confessors wisely).
My role always has been to provide healing, light and love in the world, to be the tangible and conceptual hands of the divine and loving feminine. The challenge of this role: this path would be paved with sacrifice, selflessness, imbalance and fairness, infinite patience, and the constant fear that I am not giving enough.
Someone else needed my gifts more than me.
“Lord, I am not worthy to receive You, but only say the word and I shall be healed” . A moment in the mass that is so sincerely that I tear up anytime we get to that part (and I hate how they’ve changed it).
My parents taught me kindness and hard work, but Catholicism amplified those qualities so that anything less than perfect performance was swiftly declared a sin. A true examination of conscience reveals all the minutiae of errors in word and deed and imposed shame for the sin of having faults and bad days. Any kindness I refused my fellow human being was a black mark on my soul, a disappointment to god. Anything less than perfect patience was selfishness. Asking to be loved back or simply accepted was greedy. I was so good at turning the mirror on myself, at holding myself accountable, that I confessed the tiny little lies I tell myself to cover for my flawed self.
I was a literal expert at tearing myself down. Why pretend I am better than I really am? Why bring attention to myself by promoting my achievements? Why take the credit when others’ contributions were more significant? I viewed my pride, my selfishness and greed with such disdain. These were what was going to land me in hell, I knew it. I reasoned that if I put myself through hell now, I might not be judged as harshly later.
In high school, when I found out I was in the running for salutatorian, I deliberately blew off a couple of classes to ensure that I wouldn’t take that particular spotlight. I figured other people deserved it more and that I wasn’t harming them by taking myself out of the running. I didn’t want or need the spotlight and such attention feels inappropriately arrogant. To this day I can’t even take a compliment because fuck…how selfish would that be?
Self-Destruction isn’t Love
So…here I am at 41 years old constantly struggling with imposter syndrome, trying to lead a major arm of a local nonprofit and still trying to make a difference with the individuals I encounter. And this locus of worth, the laden expectations of the purpose I chose for myself is what is holding me back. I have so convinced myself that by possessing certain gifts and talents, that by choosing a larger purpose for my life, that I must deny any benefits that allow me to live in celebration or accomplishment.
The consequence is I have trouble believing in myself or in my own value in these roles. I chase after everyone’s goal-posts, trying to please everyone’s expectations of me at once. Constantly struggling with never feeling “good enough” or “smart enough” or “pretty enough” because I judge my best efforts as never enough – I could always do more, be more, share more. Thus, I am easily manipulated by others’ disappointment in me, including lovers, co-workers and random strangers. I succumb to the friends who say I’m not there for them enough. I break myself making it up to the partners who resent that I’ve chosen work instead of them.
I have impossible choices, all driven and decided by the lack of value I find in my own reward and happiness. I fall on my sword at every opportunity – because I should be held accountable for not being all things to all people. How fucking dare I not be infinitely grateful to serve in all the divine perfection I am allowed? How dare I not be grateful for the gifts god gave me? Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam – for the greater glory of god.
The toll this has taken on my mental health cannot be understated or dismissed. “Just stop thinking like that” they tell me, as if turning off years of programming and self-flagellating reinforcement is simple because now I’m suddenly “worthy”. Nah, it doesn’t work like that.
That’s not to say I haven’t done heavy lifting on this subject, but when you’re “smart”, you are likewise talented at overthinking everything. And combined with the Catholic examination of conscience, it’s easy to feel like I’m not going to ever be good enough.
But more than anything, these noble messages that equate sacrifice with pure love during childhood imply that our gifts, our talents, or unique value aren’t our own. Our gifts are meant for the consumption of others. Our gifts are meant to be shared with humanity, even if it means we subsist on anxiety and eggshells the rest of our lives.
“You’re meant for something more” is what we tell our smart kids, our spiritual kids, our mature kids. And those kids become adults who sacrifice themselves at the altar of humanity’s betterment. We learn fast, are adaptable and aware. Our skills of observation, of reading the signs of adults around us serve as a shortcut to help us excel and thus generate more to share with humanity. The better we get, the more we have to give in return.
I am trying to find balance with this right now, which is why I had to take a sick day. But that one day of self-care cost me sleep the next night because my conscience wouldn’t allow me to let anyone down. Sacrifice myself so others aren’t ever challenged to be inconvenienced or uncomfortable.
I almost quit this time last week – for no other reason than the fact that I don’t find myself worthy of this level of responsibility. I have always felt my “accomplishments” were just a payment toward the debt that I owe to the divine for the weighty charge I have been given. I will forever be paying back a debt I never incurred. Whereas those who have taken of my time and energy will never be asked to replenish what was given. (Consider the analogous application to the environment).
I chose a life of spiritual servitude, that any other day of the week I choose gladly – but last week it just unraveled me because …I’m exhausted. Too many have asked for more when I clearly have nothing left to give. And it hurts when they fault me for not having enough for them when I don’t have enough to keep myself going. But no matter whether it’s work, friendships, family or more they don’t see or care what it is costing me.
I sincerely believe I am capable of giving my all in the name of love, but my biggest challenge is to demonstrate that love for myself, to allow myself the worth of replenishment. If I am worthy enough of scorn, I’m likewise worthy enough for their forgiveness. And with the gifts I have offered the connection will always feel incomplete until I’m willing to receive.
I keep a document on my computer called “scraps”. It’s the little phrases or bits of paragraph that I pull out of whatever I’m writing for this blog or the other writing projects I have going. When I write, I always take one pass to just get all the words on the page. One, big exhale of thought. No matter how circular, intricate or even scattered those thoughts are, I write down literally everything I can, feelings and all. I store so many ideas in my head, recognize so many connections between other concepts and themes that I can only make sense of It all by manifesting it in words – spoken or written.
I have always preferred writing to speaking, precisely because I can edit. Maybe it’s the perfectionism driven by my old Catholicism, or maybe it’s because I have more at stake with my writing if I publish it online, but one post could take me months to write and edit. I’m always paring down, not just because of word count (screw you, internet, I’ll write a 1200 word blog post if I wanna!), but for clarity, saliency, and simple relevance. As I pull out phrases that sound really awesome, bullet points that aren’t as relevant, paragraphs and links that will become the basis of their own posts, I can’t allow myself to let go of the idea, so I copy and paste into my “Scraps” document for safekeeping. This gives me the emotional freedom to edit without feeling like I’m losing an important thread of myself.
No edit button for real life
However, I can’t edit myself in real life or in real time. I can talk. Fuck, I can talk a lot. But most of what I’m doing is verbal processing of all the many connections I find between ideas, observations, and knowledge that are separated and disjointed. As I apply words to thoughts, it all starts to make sense to me. I start seeing the patterns, identifying areas of opportunity, understanding what actions I should take.
And in my most glorious moments, this is my realm, my territory, my kingdom: The intimately meandering conversations that all seem to circle around a profound point or theme, where topics range from science and pop culture to spirituality and personal trauma. Only by connecting and sharing with others with a genuine exchange of perspectives and experiences can I ever truly make sense of my own experience. I’m at my best when the conversation is organic, intimate, private.
My biggest stresses come from the inability to edit myself when I’m in a more formal, public and scrutinized environment. I am very purposeful with my words and I want the correct meaning to be conveyed at all times. When someone is hurt or offended or confused by what I say, it’s important to me to take responsibility for that, to learn from that experience, to do better the next time. But with that responsibility comes an inescapable compulsion to heavily edit myself before I say anything ever again.
I don’t want to ruin someone’s life because I was wrong about something I said
I’ve been public speaking since I was in 4th grade. That year I went to Space Camp and was asked to present to all the classes at my school about my experience. Eventually, I was also invited to speak at other schools as well. As time went on, as I participated in other experiences, I got very used to getting up in front of a crowd, rattling off something from the top of my head and delivering a succinct and precise message quite successfully.
It was one thing when I was a precocious teenager with ambition and spunk. It’s quite another when I’m an adult professional speaking with authority or as a subject matter expert. That shift, somewhere between college and law school, I started second-guessing myself. Maybe it was my first contracts class where the professor made an example out of the fact I hadn’t done the reading (my schedule changed that morning, jackass). Maybe it was the fact that most of my law professors agreed that I’d make a terrible litigator. I was too transparent in cross-examination to make a good lawyer. It definitely was influenced by the judge who dressed me down in front of the whole court for a typo back when I was a student attorney.
Once I graduated and progressed in my profession, I felt the weight of responsibility on my shoulders. I had “authority” now, people would take what I said and might make life-altering decisions from the words I uttered. I don’t want to be wrong. I don’t want someone’s life to be ruined because of the advice that I gave. So paranoid am I am about it, that after every speech, presentation or class, I have a panic attack – not before a speech, but after. That’s the point where I’m wishing I had the ability to edit myself, to re-answer that one question, to double check that statistic, to not sound so full of myself. My anxiety spirals me into a place of such distorted fear and dread, that I need to remove myself from the event for at least 15-30 minutes to restore some equilibrium.
Control helped me survive; letting go helps me heal
Editing gives me a sense of control. Control over how others perceive me, control over how the how much information I share. Control over my environment and experience. Control is safe. Control is how I’ve been able to survive. When I’m able to write, I can pour my heart out, edit and present the small gem I carved out of the raw, self-indulgent mess.
But healing isn’t complete unless we can let go of the things that no longer serve us. An authentic life isn’t about controlling how others view you – not self-editing or hiding one’s intentions or persona forever. It is about trusting that you’re enough, that you can handle whatever happens, that you trust enough in the universe to support your attempts at authenticity.
At some point in our journey we have to step into the light and be seen for who we really are. Stripped away of the artifice and masks of constructed stories, letting go of the clutter of thoughts we have about what others want of us and decide for ourselves that it is simply enough for us to exist as ourselves in our present reality. Healing is letting go.
And as such, nothing from this post ended up in the scraps document. Because it is enough to just show up authentically as myself, without hidden agendas or constructed personas. I deserve to fully show up in the world as the raw, unedited me.
I’ve been using OKCupid since around 2005 maybe? It’s been the most Poly-friendly of dating apps for years. In fact, it’s responsible for bringing Warrior into my life (his ex-wife, my former girlfriend, met me from OKC).
My profile is as…thorough…as a profile can be. It’s got a ton of information in it. Enough for any prospective match to know what they’re getting themselves into. This profile has served me well over the years – I can usually judge matches based on how well they read my profile. But…like most things Janet, it says a LOT.
With all the changes they’ve been making recently, presumably for safety, as well as to keep up with the Tinder trend, I find myself updating a really old profile to fit with emerging times. While I disagree with the whole “real name” bandwagon (especially harmful to victims of abuse/stalking, members of marginalized communities and Poly/kinky members of conservative professions), if my name is going to be associated with this, I want to be more strategic in what I say.
I have used a variation of this profile since 2009. And while I have changed and grown as a person, my profile parameters have stayed the same.
Now, as I approach this task, feeling some internalized pressure to pare down what I say about myself, I have trouble letting go. My profile – my description of myself – is a statement of who I am, or at least who I believed myself to be, which is hard to let go of because it feels like saying goodbye to that woman.
So, to encourage me to start fresh on that profile, I’m preserving the original here so I don’t feel like I’m letting go of that past forever. But rather, I’m documenting the journey toward my new self instead. By putting this here, I allow myself to move on, to craft a new narrative of who I am and what experiences will feed my life in the months & years to come.
Saying goodbye to a wordier, more defensive version of myself, to make room for a better reflection of the power I bring to a connection and the path I want to be on today.
Enjoy the last remnants of the old me.
I was trying to pare down my profile to the essence and sadly I was unsuccessful. I admit, I’m not known my brevity, but I’m great at meaningful conversations, so maybe that makes up for it.
The most important thing to know is that I am happily and solidly polyamorous (couldn’t go back to monogamy if I tried). I have two primary partners (legal husband and Poly husband) and a girlfriend. I have two kids–teenagers–who make my life full and amazing. I give my family, including my chosen family, my all.
I am freedom loving, kinky, spiritual, a lover of laughter, liberal, expressive, way too serious, loving, passionate, vulnerable and confident although not usually all at once.
I love to experience that spark that happens between two people with great chemistry. Passion has been a defining part of my life, and it is a trait that is re-emerging after a long period of quiet reflection. I find passionate people, especially fellow geeks and politicos, especially attractive. Chemistry is found in the small moments, the crackle in the air during intense conversation or the overwhelming electricity of a touch or a smile. I just try to follow the connection and let it organically develop into whatever feels right.
I don’t respond well to pressure or uninformed expectations. I value honesty and openness. I tend to be find my deepest bravery and confidence in revealing my vulnerabilities and insecurities, and I’m trying to embrace the rewards of those risks. I celebrate small victories and learn from the crushing defeats; likewise, I tend to blow off small defeats and minimize large accomplishments.
I value thoughtful action, ethical behavior and compassionate communication. I love encountering the differences in one another that define our journeys. I recognize the inherent beauty and power of spirit. I try to be courageous every day and challenge myself to do what is right. I try to be ethical, approachable and understanding.
I embrace the term queer to describe my orientation. I am attracted to the whole person, inside and out, whether or not they conform to the gender standards or expressions others try to impose on them. But it’s not just gender…I love people who are equally fluid and open with their sexuality and therefore tend to gravitate toward bi (including curious, homo/hetero-flexible) or queer individuals. I consider myself a safe place for someone to explore and find acceptance for their sexual identity. However, I am not an experiment or a trainer for those new to their sexual exploration.
I crave sincerity in my relationships and reward that with my depth and passion. I am most strongly attracted to authenticity in all its manifestations. Most of all I enjoy being wanted for who I really am and am wary of surface level attraction.
I accept people, their interests, and their past experiences. I try to display the kind of openness I value. I am attracted to people who take personal risks in order to overcome their fears and past. I try to give people a safe place to be themselves without judgment or ridicule. But I’m not tolerant of deceit, manipulation or possessiveness.
I am trying to get back into finding and following connections again. After a very difficult few years where my family needed my full attention, I’m ready to start turning my attention to new people, new experiences. I’m ready for a renewal, a love for the life I want and have.
I have always been a Colorado Girl at heart. I grew up in a moderate sized town that all the time feels much smaller than its borders might seem. Everyone back home is connected. Strangers are looked on with pitiful suspicion and yet the residents constantly complain about the rich culture they have.
I will always be from here. I will always have crisp, cool mountain streams flowing deep in my veins. I’m perhaps as Mountain Mex as you get. And this weekend I spent the night at our cabin about an hour or so outside of Denver. I’m drafting this as I sit on the porch, Husband making dinner, meditation music in the background, kid is giggling to himself as he reads a comic book. I can hear the distant grumble of a motorcycle but know it won’t ever come past this place. I feel the freshness of the mountain air and I spent 10 minutes just watching clouds and their ever evolving shapes.
I am finally, fully at peace.
Connecting with the earth, grounding myself by climbing up some small boulders and meditating while facing Longs Peak. I was so utterly and fiercely at peace in that moment. Rest finally has started to set in. The kind of rest that only another Colorado Goddess would understand.
What I have been avoiding the past few months is the wisdom of rest, of obeying the cycles of the earth. I’ve always disobeyed sleep–“sleepiness is weakness of character”–and I barely eat regularly. I don’t like routine, I rebel against a set routine. But I can and do honor cycles.
My period started on Thursday. And so did the emotional fallout of what was triggered in me by the eclipse. I broke down into sobs on the way home that night. Overwhelmed and envious of those who can so easily engage in the carnal desires that used to be my realm of expertise. I always tend to resent and resist the ebb and flow of my own body, of my own spirit, of my own needs until finally nature wins out.
I talk a lot about the transformations that I have felt over the past few years, but the one that is still faltering is my ability to allow a relationship to flourish into what it should be sexually and emotionally. I have been out if he habit for so long that I start to overthink things, worry about not falling into the same traps I have before. I choose to wait it out, make them wait until my trust is finally ready. I never fully allow myself the ability to just give in to the tides of the moment. Not only must I always be the responsible adult, I also must never make a mistake.
Resistance of my nature
Over the past several years I have convinced myself that I am undesirable or that if I am desired it’s because I’m skilled at adapting myself to what others need me to be. And when I find those who do desire me physically, I construct walls because I believe that if they experience physical attraction to me, they may have trouble with the spiritual connections I desire.
Thus, I’ve grown very tentative in my romantic potentials, always staying only distantly engaged because I don’t trust myself and I don’t trust their desire. It’s not just men, I apply this hesitation to women as well. I have wonderful and beautiful people in my life, but I have always questioned my worthiness of that love and attention. I shut it down, deflect it, only minimally engage with it because I don’t want to do something wrong to be found unworthy.
But when I’m here, in the mountains, I’m clear. I’m grounded. I’m confident. I’m secure. Time moves more slowly. My spirit feels aligned but as flexible as a new aspen tree. And I recognize myself again.
In this moment, with this freedom of sky and nature, I can feel my body begin to succumb to the subtle joys of stillness. I can feel myself begin to unwind, my mind less concerned with details and more concerned with falling into a rhythm within. I accept this gift for what it is. A moment of replenishment, a moment of resilience, a moment of radiance. No resistance necessary. It is about me choosing my own experiences and using the energy i gain from the mountains to manifest my core desires once again.
Permission to be free
I have done a lot of work in my professional life, work that due to the emotionally heavy nature of what I do, has taken a toll on me personally. No wonder I haven’t been willing to give myself over to sex with new people. Because my body knows what it needs and it isn’t the awkward passions of a night out, or the insubstantial promises of pleasure.
Pleasure, my true face of pleasure, is a vulnerable experience and I do not give that to just anyone. They must also be worthy of me.
Knowing that I can and do direct my experiences helps me find perspective in my sexual reluctance lately. I know exactly what I want and it isn’t some unknown who can’t be bothered to be present enough to see me for who I am. It isn’t the Twitter follower who ignores the rants I write or the bad days I’ve had and thinks I should spend my time flirting with them.
No, what I need is a lover. An honest to goodness soul nurturing lover, willing to give of himself or herself to fully feed me, and to be fed spiritually by me as well. I want someone I don’t have to fumble with and who is fully present in a erotically healing space together with me.
I just won’t settle. I won’t settle for bad casual sex. I won’t settle for rushed, entitled sex. I won’t be pressured into whiny, insecure sex. I choose the sex and the situations that are right for me.
And sometimes what is right for me is time by myself to think and feel. This weekend is right for me.
Today (Saturday) I have meditated, read a couple of chapters in a book about the many faces of the god and goddess, played a game with my family and felt my spirit nurtured with the passion for my home state. No Trump propaganda nonsense. No screaming Twitter tirades. No worry about the state of my house.No internet. No tv. Just music, books, crocheting and my writing. My family — Husband and the Kid — and my connection to the mountain.
Self-care often involves indulgence and giving yourself over to the need to be good to yourself.
Medjugorje, Bosnia – June 25, 1990 is when I first felt called to a life of service.
Indulgence is such a difficult concept for me and yet one that is so utterly familiar and available. I am very guarded about indulging myself – my fantasies, my pleasures, my dreams, my deepest depravities. The worst is deciding when to give into my impulses. Giving myself over to the fleeting desires of the moment. The heat of the moment. The flash of inspiration.
Always so afraid of the consequences that I would clamp down all opportunities to live in the moment. Shit needed to be planned and taken apart mentally and verbally before I would ever indulge. Worse were the times that I would shut myself down before I could ever indulge the rewards of a job well done — No, there was always more to do, more to accomplish before I was worthy. Read the rest of this entry →
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.