In my January #RelationshipReboot video, I use the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021 as a backdrop to discuss transforming our perspective about accountability to recognize it for the act of love that it really is.
Category Archives: Rose Connections
Talking about my professional experience as a sex educator and relationship consultant.
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
- launched Rose Connections, my own training, coaching and consulting business
- abandoned working a 70 hour week to a more reasonable 30-45 hour week
- lost my father and grandfather 3 months ago but said goodbye on my terms
- healed from panic attacks where I was blurting out ‘I hate my life’ multiple times an hour to only saying it once every few days
- owned my sexual power once again, this time in a more dominant role
- started both an Only Fans and a Patreon account to invite financial support for my work
- created YouTube videos about the experiences and perspectives that got me here
- healed my relationship with my family to be more self-directed and assertive
- set specific boundaries around my time and energy
- let go of needing to please everyone
- examined my own racism and colonialism
- connected more deeply to spirit and my new calling
I am healthier now emotionally than I think I’ve ever been. I have always a Truth Teller, always sharing with transparency and honesty the world that I see and experience, but that often came at too great of a cost. But truth arises when people feel heard and safe, and my ability to continue to speak truth today means that this space has served a powerful, transformative purpose for the past 10 years.
It might be time to retire this blog and move forward with something that better represents the next level of my work and healing. Just as I spent my 20’s known as Magic Pussy, my 30’s as SharpSweetBella, my 40’s will be defined by La Madonna Rosa, the name I chose for myself in my birthday ritual this past winter solstice.
During that quiet coronation ritual, I made promises, vows to spirit to honor the role I’ve been given. I am stepping into a wholly new version of myself. And while I want to preserve the stories I have here, I want to move forward much more strategically aligned with a heart-centered direction and purpose. I want to be able to move forward on my own terms, not dragging my past behind me like an albatross, but using it as fuel for a lantern of hope for others when all seems lost.
Expect this space to change in the coming months. Thank you all so much for making this such a nurturing space for me to grow and become who I am today!
This is the way.
I’ve been struggling with what to write about “Insurrection Day” or at least that’s what I’m calling it. What else should we call the day a violent, seditious, coercively gullible mob attacked the U.S. Capitol building? White Supremacy Wednesday?
I spent the day feeling the suffering of a country whose heart was ripping in two, in real-time on live TV. My heart was dropped back into all that my generation has endured – the AIDS crisis, the Challenger explosion, Waco, Oklahoma City, Columbine, 9/11. I felt the same sickness, the bile, the disbelief, the familiar taste of crushing defeat transforming into cynically validating disassociative doomscrolling.
January 6, 2021 – A Day of Epiphany for the United States
It wasn’t until today that I recognized the timing of this event. Not just in relationship to the certification of electors, but with a Christianity that I thought I left behind. But in it, I found the message I most needed to share.
See, January 6th is the day Christians celebrate the epiphany, the twelfth day of Christmas (depends on specific traditions). It celebrates the day the Magi came to visit the newly born Christ child, bestowing gifts upon him as a king, a celebration and recognition of his divinity. It is celebrated as a manifestation of the divine’s presence here on earth, a recognized symbol of a higher purpose and connection. It is a day of holy celebration. Like, literally – celebrating the holiness of Christ.
The overlap between those who call themselves Christian and those who scaled walls, attacked guards, and stole furniture is, I imagine, very nearly a full circle. All of the QAnon videos assume some affiliation to Christianity – even the mystic woo-woo generated videos. They rely on creating an “Army of Light” for Christ, for Christ Consciousness, for battling Lucifer in some epic stand-off between good & evil. They presume to think you agree, by default, that not only is there a Devil, but that you must weaponize against anyone who believes differently than them because any opponent is automatically under his control.
Or so they say. If you ask me, it’s an easy way to morally and spiritually justify planning sabotage, sedition and homicide. A self-fulfilling prophecy that was intricately designed perpetuate its own paranoia and anxiety through reinforced mechanisms of manipulation and authoritarian beliefs.
But their choice of January 6, a day actual Christians had once honored their divine Savior, was turned into a day of bloodshed, selfishness and moral bankruptcy. Instead of celebrating the holy presence of their own god figure, they chose to play god. It wasn’t just the election that motivated their actions, it was a deep desire to reassert their superiority over everyone else. If they can disrupt our government, no one will dare stand in their way. They wanted to prove their own invincibility to the rest of us.
They expected their whiteness to serve as a shield. They expected their positions of power to be waiting for them when they got back, whether it be a boardroom, a classroom, a pulpit or an elected office. They expected their dicks to generate a “benefit of the doubt” force field to keep them safe from criticism. They expected their version of “free speech” to protect them from their lack of impulse control. They decided that their cause was just because fighting the “Devil” in form of Nancy Pelosi and Mike Pence is their god-given duty.
They are so devoid, so out of touch with their own divinity that they have to use force, coercion and bullying to feel their power. They create villains to slay so they feel bigger and badder. But eventually the only monster left will be the one in the mirror, the one they refuse to face.
The Devil is our favorite scapegoat
I don’t know who needs to hear this, but, There Is No Devil. Crazy, right?
See, civilizations throughout the world have described battles of good vs. evil, of light vs. dark, of day vs. night. Humanity loves its dramatic dualistic battles for justice. The bad guys are always bad, the good guys are always good. There has to be a winner and a loser. Those are the rules. Amen.
But the reality of humanity is that we’re waging a war closer to that of Dr. Jekyll &. Mr. Hyde. Our own darkness became too much for us to admit, so we externalized it, molded it into avatars of our own shadow selves, projected images of fear for us to blame.
Those who are familiar with tarot are familiar with the representation of the Devil card – Baphomet – a horned creature that is half man and half goat. The depiction quite literally is symbolic of creating a scapegoat. Someone to blame when we give into our temptations or allow our shadow selves to take the driver’s seat. Scapegoating is possible when we externalize and project our own thoughts, words, and actions onto another being, we absolve ourselves from bearing the responsibility of those things. The classic “The Devil Made Me Do It”.
What if all this time the battle hasn’t been against a separate entity, but a battle against our own worst natures? That there is no Devil figure spreading evil across the earth. There is no cosmic villain to blame for what is happening in our country right now. There is no single mastermind out to destroy God. The King of Hell doesn’t give a shit about bargaining for our souls. He or she isn’t waiting around for us to innocently pass by or hunting us like some sinister collector of holy relics.
No, I believe the evil in the world can be traced directly back to us. To our fear. To our hatred. To our ignorance. To our pride. To our jealousy. To our entitlement.
There is no devil; there is only us.
Pathetic, lonely, cringing, victimized. Us.
Enraged, bullying, threatening, controlling. Us.
The evil in this world – for example, a seditious and treasonous coup, is of our doing. No one was forced to walk up the steps of that building. No one forced the same people who screamed “Blue Lives Matter” at all us all summer to use their crutches and American flags to beat an unconscious Capitol Police officer. No one was forced into any of this. No, they just needed an excuse, something to blame.
But they won’t blame the person actually responsible, who pledged his support as he whipped them into a fury, deftly playing their tune, knowing just how to twist, lie and manipulate them into doing his dirty work for him. A mass indoctrination of rabid minions, snarling and ready for the faux righteousness of drawing first blood.
In positioning the President as a “savior”, as some sort of divine messenger, they are able to create a self-sustaining loop of obedience and excuses. It isn’t Trump who’s to blame, it’s the mainstream media for not giving him enough attention. Any form of censorship of their batshit posturing is viewed as evidence incarnate of their suffering and the sinister plot against their FFFFRRRRREEEEEEEEDOOOOMMMM! It is a self-perpetuating loop of dubious group think that represents one the most reprehensible applications of manipulation we’ve ever seen. They are expendable to him, heartsick masculinity willing to die, impervious to introspection.
By convincing themselves they are fighting some Devil, they convince themselves that their cause is righteous and just. That they’re preventing great evil from taking over the earth. And yet, it is truly their own failure and denial of their shadow that is the true boss battle. Their divinity hides behind layers of false victimization and the violent rage it inspires.
But the Epiphany that is most needed is to face the Devil within. Unity will emerge once the shadow has been exposed and balance is restored. The most compassionate, loving response we can have right now is to hold them accountable – to shine a light on the failed commitment to something larger than ourselves. To shine a light on actions that break faith with our values. To take responsibility for remedying and realigning with the common good.
But for that to happen, we have to let go of the Devils we blame for the worst of ourselves. Accountability is the only thing that will come close to giving us the national healing we need and to face the darkness we’ve accumulated. For in facing the Devil within, we find a way to recover our own light and divinity.
CW: suicide, sexual assault, awakenings, healing
The best gift, the most uplifting present I could have given myself this year for my birthday is the gift of being authentic and real with myself.
I am no stranger to introspection. I can navel gaze with the best of them. And as exhausted as I’ve been I’ve never truly hidden from the dark stuff in my life, the intense inner work of healing that I’ve needed to do. But like most of us, I was frustrated and tired with all this work, feeling like I was on a never-ending grind that was wearing me thin rather than building me up. I was doing the heavy lifting, I was picking up every stone, examining each brick of my wounded tower of self. What was I missing?
At no time was that frustration more apparent than in 2012 when I truly learned how trauma reverberates reverberations to create an everlasting static that clouds the mind. A constant buzz reminding me that the world was inherently unsafe. An undercurrent that made me question whether I was inherently unsafe for myself or those around me. Doubting every single fraction of my value.
Trauma is a dream killer
My brain became twisted up with these messages of my burdensome distortions. I couldn’t see straight anymore and nor could I see a way through such devastating destruction in my life. It wasn’t just that there was one trauma I had to deal with – I had several that were presenting all at the same time setting off alarm bells all over my psyche. Post-traumatic stress kept me up constantly with nightmares, twitching pain throughout my body, night terrors where I was screaming and crying for hours at a time. I’d wake in the morning with puffy, raw eyes and a wounded spirit. There was no joy to my day because I knew I would only be facing more horrors at night.
I wasn’t well. A sleep study told me I had sleep apnea, which didn’t actually explain why I couldn’t fall asleep in the first place. Why my ears were sensitive to every sound – I swear I could hear my dog fart three rooms away. It didn’t explain why I started having recurring nightmares of being surrounded by white pine trees on fire. It didn’t explain that the night my childhood abuser died was the night those same dreams from childhood started up again for the first time in nearly 30 years.
Nope, that was trauma.
And that trauma was augmented by a childhood prophesy I had held secret from all but the closest of partners: When I was 6, in my nightly prayers, Jesus told me I wouldn’t live past 35, similar to how old he was when he, too, died for humanity. When I received my calling in 1990, I dedicated everything to that one purpose because after all, I knew my time here was limited. I believed in this prophecy so strongly that for the longest time I refused to even consider marriage or having children. I was labeled as having a fear of commitment, but given what I believed, can you blame me?
I took that belief to heart – and when I turned 16 years old, I found my birthday to be the best time for a true examination of conscience. I started to reject presents and attention, shying away from parties or celebrations in my honor. And like most things, I did my birthday the Janet Way – I turned a day of celebration into a solitary, reverent ritual of reconciliation, of journeying into a dark night of the soul to view my failures with brutal honesty and a penitent heart. I mentally flaggellated myself for the imperfections that got in the way of being a perfect example of love for humanity. It didn’t matter that my scope was so limited or that I was human. I was here only for a short time and so I needed to ensure that everything I did adhered to the highest of my ethical guidelines, my calling’s potential.
Since 1993, each year my birthday has been punctuated by a private ritual where I confess my sins to the Divine and accept punishment and penance for my sins. Each and every year, I buried myself in self-absorbed sorrow for my failings, of the ways I had disappointed those around me or the divine with my weakness and cowardice, my avarice and selfishness. The more that people celebrated me the more I punished myself for the weakness of needing that attention, my cowardice at not standing up for myself to push away presents. Eventually I got to the point where each December I would change my birthday on Facebook to a day earlier in the year so that it wouldn’t show up in notifications and I could avoid the unnecessary attention.
But there is something beautiful as well. It became a time for me to look back on the events and actions of the past year and truly empathize with those who I have hurt, especially those who I hurt with my selfishness. There are always many, many hurts for me to delve into. But when it’s over I am cleansed. I am forgiven. I am renewed to my divine purpose once again. A once-a-year reconciliation.
The Dream that Saved My Life
Part of the reason 2012 was so hard was because I had this looming deadline over my head. A prophesy that I wouldn’t make it past that age, that I would be sacrificed to the gods of exhaustion and obscurity. So even if I hadn’t been going through all the trauma, the bar exam, the death of an abuser, the separation of my family, I would have been paranoid about this ticking clock over my head. But the trauma only made that ticking clock yet another thing I couldn’t control.
So around Thanksgiving, after my sons’ birthdays (they’re 6 days shy of 6 years apart), I felt the need to control something – anything – about my experience in life. I couldn’t control what was happening int he rest of my world and certainly not what was happening to even my basic need for sleep, but I could control the outcome of this prophesy. I didn’t fear death, but I didn’t want to die in an accident or of a disease I couldn’t control. And even though my cosmic pledge was “Thy will be done”, I wasn’t going to leave this up to chance. If I was going to be parted from my loved ones and my calling, it was going to be on my terms only and with the knowledge I had a chance to say goodbye.
I started planning my suicide.
By this time in my life I was doing my dark birthday ritual a night or two before the actual day. I had relented that my family could still wish me a happy birthday – so if I did the ritual earlier in the week I wouldn’t be so distraught when someone wished me “Happy Birthday!”. I might despise it, but I wouldn’t outright reject the person saying it. I didn’t want to commit suicide, but it was literally the only way I felt I could reassert myself over the trauma of my own timeline, planning out how my family would move on without me. I planned the ritual for a few nights before and told myself that if I didn’t receive a clear message from the Divine by that date telling me otherwise by then, I would follow through on the plan.
I laid down to sleep on 12/12/12 and woke up the next morning from a dream that was so crystal clear, so somatically significant that it changed my life forever. A dream presenting me with a love so powerful that it filled me with more joy than I had ever felt before in my life. A cosmic reunion of souls, a Druid for the Queen in me, each of us supporting the other’s mission, an oasis of wisdom and sensuality between the storms. I saw a version of myself that I always wanted to be, one that was so deeply resonant that I have used it as blueprint for the life I am creating today: the Queen.
It was only then that I realized I was about to enact a plan based on the interpretations of a six year old me. I knew then that 35 wasn’t going to be the end, 35 would be the beginning.
Here is what I wrote back then:
“In the year 2012, 5 days before what many, including myself, feel is a shift in the consciousness of humanity, I turn 35. Ever since I was 6 years old, I have believed that I would never make it past 35, so this is the one birthday I have honed in on as more life-altering than the rest. I can feel something big about to make its way into my life. A new beginning and everything spiritual tells me it will be a time of great independence and bold action. This dream confirms all of that in a very real way that is hard to deny. I have to move boldly forth with power and confidence into this new year, this new life, this new adventure and trust my heart and my skill to be my guides….as I once did, but in a brand new way.JKRose, 2012
In all, I have the power to make this happen. Maybe not with the actual man in the dream (although I’ll never turn that down!), but certainly with what he (the Lover) represents. A union. A magnetic attraction. A fulfillment of purpose based on a risk of vulnerability, emotional chemistry, and sensual spirituality. The breaking of the dam that has held me too steady for too long. A loss of control that is mutual, consensual ,and completely magnificent in its beauty. I will have to take the step to make the changes that I see in this dream. I have no doubt about this. But I know it can be done. And I know I’ve found the path to reclaiming my soulful purpose again.”
Embracing the re-birth day
Here I am 8 years later – I made it!
I have arrived at this promised destination. Despite my optimism above, I took the long way to wade through my own trauma, to unravel the knots that have been holding me back. I had to resolve the threads of active retraumatization – the ripples that interrupted the calm I was trying to achieve. I had to resolve the distortions I still saw in the mirror, reflected in my life. I had to finally make the hard choice to choose myself. So when I left my job a year ago, all throughout COVID, I’ve been healing my weary heart, tearing off the layers of heartache that keep me from trusting myself.
I’ve engaged several healers throughout the years to help me with the issues that have been holding me back and making me feel small. But that help is meaningless if I’m not willing to confront all the ways those old beliefs where self-sacrifice is an expected penance for the crimes of who I am and who I’ve disappointed. But it’s only been in the last year, when i rejected the career-climbing hustle, when I removed myself from the practice of law (and its culture of dominance, emotional denial and brutal nitpicking) that I started to see who i was without all of these things. Sure, I haven’t passed a policy agenda or secured as many clients as I want to, but I’m enjoying existence more. I’m enjoying the freedom to determine my own day and to forgive my errors quickly so I can move on. I had to be free of the critics sitting on my shoulder, winding me up with hyperbolic stories of my failures, stirring up old traumas with each triggering hurt.
The work I have done to integrate this hurt, to transform the stories of an old, scared version of me is the leadership I’ve been called to. To be the example. The impossible Rose growing in the cold, dark of winter. To be a symbol of resilience achieved through Love, an avatar of tenacity in the face of overwhelming trauma.
My ritual was quite different this year – cut into two parts.
In the first, I surrendered my woes to Our Lady of Guadalupe on 12/12, keeping a vigil at my altar to her, surrounded by the red, white and pink fire & ice roses that symbolize my new calling. I encountered past lives that needed healing. And for the first time in my life, I was able to heal myself the way I’ve healed others. I cried and purged the memories of the past, rewriting old stories to tell a new truth about my life. I touched the wounds of my ancestors and set them free of the burden of our collective, inherited sexual shame and guilt for our failures throughout these lifetimes. I am the best of what they came here to do and it is my job to release them of the inter-generational trauma I carry, to gently forgive and heal the only way I know how.
That night between rituals, the anniversary of this life-altering dream 8 years ago, I was gifted with a momentary glimpse at what my partners see in me. And I was moved. I saw myself as I did in that dream. I realized in that moment that I had arrived. I would never be able to unsee that image of myself as laughing grace and overwhelming love, the true impossibility of my radiance. Why so many had seen me as their lighthouse, a constancy of light emerging in the darkness, reminding them they’re not alone.
For a moment, I understood what it had all been for. And I was transported to a core of myself I never saw before. I was finally ready to let go of the cords binding my heart. I was finally free.
By time I laid out everything I needed to start my true birthday ritual on Sunday night, I was entirely at peace and even excited for this celebration and, I daresay, coronation.
I celebrated and anointed my rebirth as the Impossible December Rose, taking a new name for my calling: La Madonna Rosa. And just as Juan Diego, or Cuauhtlatoatzin, his birth name, brought roses growing on Tepeyac to prove to the bishop Our Lady’s /Tonantizin’s appearance, I am here to bring people to the truth of miracles available within if they just believe. I am here to show the beauty that is waiting for them, the true miracle of integration and oneness. That night through to the morning of the eclipse, I danced, chanted, meditated and eventually took vows to step into my new role. The role presented in that fated dream, accepting the new responsibilities and directives. But most of all finally accepting myself as the Divine Leader I was meant to become.
Even though I’m still a bit of a control freak (what Queen isn’t?), I found my heart again and it is open and ready to shine forth. Profuse with affection and passion for humanity. Overflowing with gratitude for the generosity of my time here on earth, valuing every moment of every day to live out my purpose, including, and especially caring for myself. I am finally ready to serve humanity exactly as I am, in the only way I know how: as a reflection of the impossible resilience of humanity’s light in all its tender imperfections and blessed depths within us all.
A little about who I am professionally
Since I started this blog in 2011 I’ve been mindful about how I connect this blog to my professional life. But I also know that in order to let go of some of the trauma issues that have held me back, I have to forge a much more integrated, far less compartmentalized version of myself. This includes connecting the dots between the woman who talks about polyamory and consent to the woman who engages with holistic systemic change, all wrapped up with the hopes of inclusivity and accessibility.
What will always be consistent about me is my sincere desire to serve humanity in every aspect of my life. My radar is always attuned to tracking the ebb and flow of interconnectedness between each of us, especially when we engage in spiritual or systemic dynamics. I see the beautiful, magnificent brilliance of light that shines from each of us and how that connects, enhances, and amplifies the light of others. Every single one of us matter.
It has been 20 years since I went to law school, since I sat for my first torts exam or used a 4-color pen to book brief a case. The process of learning speaks so deeply to me – I miss being in school, but I’m also impatient for that learning to lead….somewhere. I have always sought to be a woman of action, a woman of substance and since I was a kid, I only ever wanted to serve humanity through acts of love honed with the sharp sword of justice. My priority in all aspects of my life, but especially professionally has been to ensure that no one gets left behind, no one is treated as “less than” or “undeserving”, and to not add to the burdens that people are carrying in their lives.
All people really want is to be seen and heard for who they are
That love of learning took me to take a class on trauma informed care when I was a mediator in private practice back in 2012. It changed everything for me. It gave me a term for something that I intuitively knew was the right thing to do but didn’t have the brain science to explain why. Once I recognized that what I was feeling about myself and about how people treated me, the mediator, during sessions, I started to recognize the patterns of my own trauma that were playing out during sessions. It explained not just my clients’ reactions, but the ones that were playing out for me under the surface.
Once I learned how to be trauma informed the biggest thing I noticed is just how shitty we were, as a society, at meeting people where they are. We are constantly pushing people to “just get over it” or to deny the severity of how a comment, action or even policy made them feel. I was a successful mediator in that I got people to transform conflict into something more positive, but often I was working harder than they were to recognize that the constant fighting, hypervigilance, and avoidance were all trauma reactions.
It’s not an understatement to say that my life has intersected quite often with trauma, both my own and others’. Over the years I’ve been transparent with my story because I know others have been through something similar, might be struggling the same ways I have (or am), and need a glimmer of recognition that will help them not feel so alone. By making myself visible, even at this moment, I have a hope of helping others feel seen through my own reflection and storytelling.
One of the most valuable concepts I learned as a mediator is how critical it is for the human psyche to feel seen and heard, to be recognized, valued, and appreciated for the insight and experience we bring. And that is especially highlighted during conflict. The temptation is to win the fight, to shout down our opponent, to view everything as us vs. them. We often fail to truly see and hear see one another when our brain is too busy defending ourselves. And yet, most of the time, people have similar goals and objectives in mind, the same problem they want to solve, but each of them are only seeing a small piece of the puzzle, not the overall picture. And when you truly make space for someone to be authentic and real, you make room to find solutions together.
So why is trauma-informed care important?
How much different could our relationships be if, instead of nagging our partner until they snap at us, we recognized that there might be more to the behavior than the ulterior motives we ascribe and assume. How might we change our approach if we recognized that our words and behavior triggers something stored deeply in their bodies that they aren’t able to cope with at that moment? For example, maybe our partner snapped at us because their last partner used to throw things at them when they didn’t “obey” and they’re immediately defensive because our nagging triggered that embedded reaction for them?And what if they knew that by calling our normal request for help “nagging” they used a deeply stigmatized cultural description that likewise triggers shame reactions from our own childhood?
Is there a better way to relate that doesn’t leave us hostile and on edge?
While trauma-informed care isn’t a cure-all, it is a framework for how we can be more conscious of how we relate to one another. And with COVID increasing levels of trauma and toxic stress for everyone, it’s even more critical that we develop some skills so that we don’t inadvertently add to anyone’s trauma, least of all, our own. For us to have our best chance of truly beating COVID, we need to develop skills that allow us to increase our empathy. We are challenged to give people a soft place to land while we slowly reconstruct what “normal” looks like.
So why Trauma-Informed Social Change?
Trauma-Informed Change is a societal shift toward the empathetic recognition, respect, and reduction of the widespread impact of trauma on the world.
A trauma-informed society acts to mitigate retraumatization and avoids the addition of new traumas.
When we are trauma-informed, we are saying:
- I respect that you’ve been through some stuff….
- Because I’ve been through some stuff too and I recognize how that feels in myself…
- So, even if we can fix the things we’ve been through, we promise to…
- 1) to not needlessly reopen old wounds; and
- 2) at least not add new ones.
My professional website says:
My vision for humanity is a more compassionate, just & sustainable world created through trauma-informed, heart-centered leadership. By preventing and healing the toxic trauma and shame imposed by misaligned systems, organizational dysfunction, and interpersonal relationships, we create a meaningful & accessible experience of equality and justice for all.Janet Rose
And frankly, the most trauma informed thing I can for myself and for others in 2021 is to show people that resilience is possible. Like seeing Bruce Wayne and Batman in the same space, we need to be able to believe that we can get through this as integrated, whole people, instead of fractured, fragmented, and alone. We need to have the #RadiantResilience to not only recognize the vulnerability of the collective trauma we are experiencing right now, but the inherent strength it took for us to still be here, no matter how weak or exhausted we might feel.
I am here to share that not only is resilience possible, but that we can actually contribute directly to building it for a new world. As more structures that have enforced systemic trauma, like police violence and food insecurity, are challenged and dismantled, we need systems that are more responsive to the generations of trauma we are carrying in our bones. And at the very least, how amazing would it be if even just once in a day, we consciously chose not to add to another’s burden, not to add trauma or retraumatization to an already difficult day?
What might happen if each of us chose to simply not add trauma or retraumatization for even just one person each day? Below is one of the videos from my YouTube channel where I share my thoughts about how that might look.
I believe a more loving, just, and sustainable world is possible if we choose to show up and truly see people.
Even if all we do is nod to show “I respect what has happened to you and I’ll treat you with the dignity you deserve for that”, it would go a long way to demonstrating the love and sensitivity we want to see for our future.
Last week we celebrated National Coming Out Day. I live for celebrating stories of authenticity, courage, and acceptance. But, behind all the love I want to pour out for others on this day there is a tender, bittersweet memory that hangs over me.
It was the same time of year that the choice to come out was stolen from me. Just days before Coming Out Day fourteen years ago I was outed for being #bisexual and #polyamorous by a now-defunct Republican blog.
I cannot understate just how traumatizing it was to lose control over how and when I came out. I didn’t have a chance to approach my family privately. I didn’t have a chance to surround myself with support. On a Friday afternoon at 4pm, I had to deal with it right then and there because a newspaper was already sniffing around for the story. It wasn’t just that I had been outed, it was that they added the false narrative of “a lobbyist who traded sex for votes” to make sure they got the attention they wanted.
Gossip is conditioned humiliation disguised as truth-telling
Eager to make a name for themselves they wanted to expose liberals acting badly. Everyone was fair game, especially elected officials. But I was just a nonprofit advocate quietly blogging in my corner of LiveJournal about my new bisexual and polyamorous journey, a chronicle of those early years of both marriage and motherhood. I didn’t appreciate the gravity of my position or how it might garner unwanted attention. Nor did I account for how much public humiliation had become the official political pastime.
As I was dating, I became downright reckless with my online settings in order to accommodate lovers who didn’t have a LiveJournal, but wanted to see what I wrote about my dates with them. (Yeah, you read that right. My journal was more open to the public in order to appease men who wouldn’t make the effort to follow me. We all make mistakes!). It was low hanging fruit, a salacious glance into my “liberal agenda”, whetting the appetites of conservative strangers locked in an echo chamber of their own sexual repression.
The goal wasn’t just to expose liberals, but to punish them. I was ripe for the picking in 2006 when Amendment 43, a “one man, one woman” constitutional amendment, was on the ballot. They wanted to expose not just the evils of bisexuality and the slippery slope toward polyamory, but liberals as a whole. They couldn’t resist the opportunity to slut shame a young, Democratic woman. When no one took the bait, they invented enticing details constructed entirely from their speculative scrutiny of my life. They wanted a public spectacle, to etch the imagined sins of my private existence onto my skin for all to see.
The truth is far less salacious and far more ironic than the layered embellishments they made up. But, it’s easy to get attention when you wrap the truth in a distortion.
Gossip is about making ourselves feel superior
When you train others in consent and balancing power dynamics for a living, you start to see the micro-aggressions, the small ways in which we tear each other down in order to feel better about ourselves. Gossip is no different. It exerts power and influence to bolster one’s superiority, even passively.
What compels us to expose and share someone else’s story? Who are we to declare ourselves narrator of their life story? What compels us to disguise opinions and empty judgments as facts in order to get the pearl-clutching validation that we want? What is so broken about ourselves that we need to stoop to pulling the rug out from under someone in order to feel better about ourselves? Why are we so intent on making others’ lives our business to the point of punishing them for details that only succeed in making them an avatar of their worst day?
Because we want to punish those who deviate from the norm. We, as a society, have been sold a specific narrative of what we should aspire to be. We have accepted this impossible fairy tale, a two-dimensional image of success, love, happiness, morality. We flatten and distort others’ stories in order for the subtext to tell the story we really want the listener to hear: validation that unlike this person, we are actually normal.
We become desperate for the approval and attention of others. We want to know we’re accepted, that we’re heard, we’re valued. And the less that we see these things in ourselves, the more we draw negative attention to anyone who is “worse” than us. We medicate our fear of rejection, judgment and separation with gossip and passive aggressive communication. Tarnishing others so we appear to shine brighter.
Make no mistake, I was outed by a man, likely one I rejected. A man that now represents the angry, intolerant smallness of men I’ve rejected throughout my life. Men who offered to swing a vote my way if I’d go out to dinner with them, meet them at their hotel room, come back to their car with them. Men who tried to grope me in crowded lobbies or lonely bars after a long day. But this time, I rejected some guy and he were able to exert enough influence to ensure I was adequately punished for it.
We have all done this – spread gossip, whispered in ears, shared private information. Small changes in our tone, our wording, project the image of the story we want someone to hear. We actively contribute to a first draft of an idea that might start with kernels of truth but become embellished with time. The more we let our insecurities play with others’ stories, the more we conjure false realities to soothe and medicate ourselves. These false narratives play on our own fear of judgment and our repugnance to authenticity. The more someone deviates from our expected norms, the more easily we can justify our derision and dehumanization of them.
Gossip distorts our reality to profit off our misery
Remember the days we played “Telephone” in elementary school? You whisper something to the person next to you and it gets passed down the line, whisper to whisper, ear to ear. You start by whispering “I like Ryan because he’s cute when he plays guitar” and by the end of the exercise it becomes “Janet chased Ryan and broke his guitar because he’s cute”. The truth is in there somewhere.
Distortions are inherent in how we communicate, how we listen, speak and describe the world to one another. We miss information and fill in the blanks with whatever our brain conjures as the truth. And sometimes, just sometimes, we intentionally alter one word, one image, one small phrase that tells the listener/reader exactly what WE want them to hear about that person or event.
In deviating from the straight, monogamous norm, I presented an alarming and incongruent reality in their lives – I was living my truth and they weren’t.And when faced with a situation that challenges their reality, exposes their flattened existence, they filled in the blanks to assuage themselves from confronting the depressing default reality they had never questioned before.
The Gossip Establishment, the forces that profit off our desperation to be “normal”, tell us what to think. They snap a photo of a celebrity kissing someone we didn’t expect and we busy ourselves to arrange the scant facts of the story according to whatever will keep our reality intact. We tell the story, filling in blanks influenced a cultural norm of monogamy, for example. Even though we are not actually privy to the details of their romantic life and are sifting through intentionally filtered information, we conclude that they must be cheating!
We project our own feelings onto the situation, crafting a narrative to support our emotional response to this new stimuli. We craft a judgment based on images of what we want to affirm in ourselves. The benefit is that we share the news to the profit of those invested in fueling our lust to prove our normalcy.
Which is what can be so pernicious about gossip. It preys upon the cultural miseries we’ve been fed to snake its way through our relationships, slowly infecting them with anxious judgment and shameful paranoia. It encourages us to overthink, make assumptions, rush to judgment, adopting narratives and stories that help us feel superior to anyone else. We superficially fill a hole that only grows deeper as we punish authenticity expressed outside our norms.
Weaponized Shame: Patriarchy’s Favorite Power Tool
It would be bad enough if it were just privately held distortions, but when we weaponize it with shame, we consistently undervalue the collateral damage it will cause. The Gossip Establishment does not care because so long as we are engaged in examining everyone else’s life, we don’t have to pay attention to examining our own.
My fatal flaw all these years was internalizing the disproportionate hyped-up shame leveled at me by people already predisposed to misunderstand me. It wasn’t that I cared that much about the opinions of those people, I cared about the impact those opinions had on those I worked with, those I advocated for, those that I fell on my sword to protect. While the impact of PTSD, anxiety and depression has at times been overwhelming, it’s nothing compared to the vicarious impact on those I served and loved.
The reverberations of that event are in my face everyday in the weight I gained as emotional armor, the startle response when the phone rings, or my household’s deep aversion to watching the nightly news. I internalized the judgments about my perceived selfishness (“isn’t one man enough for her?”) and culpability (“If you didn’t want to be judged, you shouldn’t have put your information our there.”) continuing my punishment long after those men forgot my name.
It wasn’t until Harvey Weinstein was arrested that I started to see how easily men who follow cynical formulas of privilege are threatened by self-possessed women. They routinely have to lower themselves to manipulate and force an outcome. They tarnish and cajole, coerce and undermine to ensure their superiority, to make the rest of us suffer for their narcissistic wounds. It wasn’t until we had the moment of justice that I started to reclaim my own story.
Liberate Our Authenticity to Reject the Gossip Establishment
Honestly, my story is kind of bad ass. Here is how I have reframed this story to take back the narrative once again:
I was a fiercely compassionate, systemically minded, endearingly hot Chicana do-gooder on a mission to serve as the hands of the goddess. In only my second legislative season, I demonstrated that I could master chaos and make it my bitch through honesty, transparency and love. I took the wild, impossible dreams on our legislative agenda and made them a reality. I owned my sensuality but tempered it with regular re-examinations of my own ethics. I nurtured my family and spoke from the heart. I was a true believer and a lead by example in both politics and in love.
How dare I live such an authentic, substantive, open-hearted life?
When I internalized their victim blaming narratives, their weaponized shame, it corroded my confidence and kept me trapped in cycles of self-loathing and woundedness. It blocked me from seeing that it wasn’t my existence that was the problem, it was that it made them aware of the painful truths they might otherwise avoid. My life made them aware that they were living an empty existence fueled by rage channeled into an obsessive pursuit of “winning”. My openness showed them they were just making excuses for abusive, deceptive behavior to cheat on their significant others. They building a carboard empire that was vulnerable to the faintest whiff of a woman’s fully-deserved success.
All of this makes me wonder how much of our history is just gossip that has been preserved, aggrandized and exaggerated into legend? How much of the stories we tell years later are told to gain the reaction of an invisible audience or control over a real one? How willing are we to consume the worst of others as a balm for the worst in us? How much are we willing to sacrifice to the anticipated rejection of the Gossip Establishment to continue our passive, default lives? How can we tell a new story?
Only when we are willing to see ourselves and each other for the valuable, complex people we really are will we truly be free. We must be willing to let go of the shame narratives that manipulate our sense of self. But in freeing ourselves to recognize the goodness in each other, to witness stories of courage, empowerment, and resilience, we can finally break apart the systems that depend on our collective insecurity and ignorance.
Shine your light, my friends. Celebrate the true you to create a more nurturing world for us all.
There is something so pure about sitting down to the computer, the pad of paper and purging myself of the attachments and expectations in my life. A torrent of words flowing without restraint. The blessed opportunity to be fully free with my expression, my words, my voice.
But for a long time now, my words have seemingly dried up, my voice too parched with anticipated embarrassment to speak. I have plenty of ideas and none of the energy to communicate them appropriately. I keep believing there was some magical time in my life where I didn’t feel that pressure, that potential for rejection, and where I could just pour my heart out.
As nostalgic as I can get, when I look back through my own journals, I now see a clear pattern of memories that remind me that even back then I wasn’t telling my full truth. I was documenting a prepackaged response designed to align with the person I always wanted others to see me as, but not necessarily what my full self truly was or would become.
My life has been a series of self-conscious, half-remembered events that reinforced how neurotically awful of a person I believed I was. I was careful to avoid ever expressing anything that indicated I was anything less than a perfectly faithful, compassionate, and accommodating soul. Even in my obvious struggles to take the high road with the boys who were breaking my heart, I blamed myself. Not misogyny by proxy, but because I believed it was the holy thing that a visionary would be expected to do. Even though I was seeking out deeper truths and meanings, I rarely spoke about my spiritual calling and especially kept very quiet about the sexual component of it. I would only mention it to shame myself for any perceived failures to be a girl worthy of that calling. I wrote, not for myself, not to document the truth, but to set the narrative for the story I wanted to be told instead of the true one that sits in my heart. Yet I still treated that as truth.
For as creepy and paranoid as this sounds, I have always lived my life as if I’m being watched and will be judged throughout. Mindful that someday any of my writings might have an audience who would be critically unkind, I always aimed to demonstrate my self-awareness, my willingness to accept responsibility for my actions and bad deeds. My journals were a companion piece to the sanitized confessions I was making to the priests. As I read through those journals, I could remember the places where my pen hesitated, the specific decision points where I could have given voice to my truth, in my own space, but didn’t. What was important to me, even then, even in the words I used to describe my own experiences and feelings, is that I was portraying myself in accordance to the avatar of a visionary I wanted people to know about me. It was an image that denounced my childish anger and my greedy needs. Hands clasped in prayer (but in a cool way) “Lord, I need nothing from you but clarity. Please give your servant clarity so I don’t mess up everyone’s life”.
I was trying to contain myself in a vision of what I thought people might want from me, instead of admitting and dealing with the actual pain I was feeling. It was another way to justify the sacrifice and suffering.
It is also why I believe the phrase “fake it ’til you make it” is complete bullshit. Even when I thought I was being true to that vision, I wasn’t. I was only hiding my truth from myself, punishing myself for what I lacked instead of celebrating what I had.
I remember one specific journal entry from April 1994, the entry right after I gave my virginity to someone after breaking up with my boyfriend. Not only was I beating myself up about it, but I also understood why it was bothering me: “I guess as an only child who had to be in control all the time, I find it hard to be out of control.”
I was convinced at the time that my feelings were out of control. Staying up late at night worried that my sex drive was out of control. Not only did I believe myself to be selfish and jealous but I was strategic in how I portrayed it. Hesitating as I wrote to choose whether to take the high ground or tell the awful truth. In my mind, I was a flawed, immature, and insecure girl who was chosen, likely by mistake, for a big spiritual calling. I started from a place of unworthiness for such a grand mission that I spent the past 30 years trying to beat myself into submission to become a person worthy of such a demanding role. I modeled myself after others who stood for equity, justice, under an umbrella of divine love. I was brutally honest with myself so that others wouldn’t have to be. I conformed myself to what would most allow others to forgive my inevitable lapses when my human flaws leak out and sour my good intentions. I control the reader’s point of view of me. And so in my expressions, my deeds, everything I said to even myself about who I am was meant to conform to a model that was aspirational at best. A constrained and captured essence of deeper realizations that helped me survive the chaos of my world.
That chaos, that lack of control is what so many of us are feeling right now. The ways in which we compartmentalized ourselves, controlled ourselves for the pleasure and acceptability of others are either disappearing, unavailable, or now too uncomfortable to continue. We each have been wearing masks, for years, for lifetimes and generations. We filter ourselves, show only the best photos, choose the best words, use the right fonts to construct a reality that not only reaffirms the personal brand that is totally, really completely authentic© but also satisfies us that we don’t have to reveal our full selves to be liked. More masks that we wear to be the
I admit I’m so very confused by the spiritual people who complain about wearing physical masks and yet won’t address the mental ones they continue to wear. Aggressively declaring “Love and Light” as they actively resist attempts to listen to someone else’s truth is as restrictive as face coverings. Just like the ones I wore in my journal. Portraying myself to be all about “love & light”, who was I trying to convince?
April 13, 1994 (my 16 year old self)
“I have sinned so much. Give me the strength to get through the days. Help me see my many failures. Help me trust in you. I will not promise, but I will control myself according to your will. Help cure me of my selfishness, greed, and pride. Let me just fall into your arms. ”
And yet, those words were chosen, deliberately to prove to myself that I was the problem, not the men who were fucking with my heart. I manipulated my own intentions, begging forgiveness instead of demanding apologies, showing how contrite I was for my transgressions even though theirs were worse. God, or Spirit or the Divine, knew the content of my heart just as well as I did, but instead, I was trying to convince myself and the future, the unintended audience of the sincerity of the responsibility I felt to have acted better. I can still feel the rage I was suppressing, the excuses I had to forcefully set aside to defiantly turn a harsh mirror on myself. To prove I could withstand it.
Those restraints on even my own history, my own view of myself are worth seeing in context. I deliberately made myself small so I would never be too big for anyone else, so I wouldn’t exceed the small container of tolerance that I imagined others would give me room to occupy. I deliberately robbed myself of the triumph of all the ways in which I exercised control over that moment in my life, so I could meet the finger-wagging judgments of those who came after me.
I deprived myself of the miracle, the true awakening of womanhood, where I was able to truly choose my sexual expression with someone else. I got to choose how, when and who I was going to give my virginity to, but I also chose why. I chose to a path the showed me an innate power I have. But despite what I remember and felt, the words in my journal barely even hint at the awakening that this was for me. The mask I designed to fool even myself actually diminished the true joy I felt and instead punished me with unearned shame and guilt. A way to fit in to the image I thought I needed to maintain to make everyone else happy with me. The truth was far too expansive than I ever was willing to document or admit; I needed to control the narrative, constrain the truth in order to fit in the small container I restricted myself to.
Part of what I see happening around us is that our illusions of control, the containers that we used to compartmentalize, and thus, the ways in which we think we exercise direct control over our lives, are breaking down. This aligns with these changes of the Tower (that i’ll be posting about in the next two weeks), where our overall systems of power and control, are crumbling past the point of meaningful repair. But even more specifically, whether it be in the jobs we’re doing or communities we’re sharing in, we are starting to feel the squeeze of trying to fit into the containers that once held our lives, or rather the image of our lives, together.
The family feels different now that we’re all working and playing in the same space together in drastically different ways. Work feels different when the office politics are now seen through the unfiltered lens of Zoom. We feel more raw and numb than before, an awareness we hadn’t noticed before. We’re noticing that not only are those masks meaningless, but the ways in which they contain the full complexity of us, reducing us to two-dimensional avatars of ourselves is no longer a comfortable place to live.
So, my promise tonight with this post and all others that come behind it is that I will share more than the mere impression of my truth. I’ll get into the nitpicky, down and dirty truth of my perspective, my experience, my background, and my vision. I’m tired of pleasing audiences who view me through the cracked lenses of their own self-pity or defense mechanisms. Their truth isn’t mine, but I will listen to it nonetheless. Because witnessing the truth in one another is the only way we’ll survive the challenges coming our way. Living in our truth, breaking out fo the containers meant to keep our lives in tidy conformity to the whims of a collective world that is on its last legs.
Today’s hashtag is #NeverForget – tributes to 9/11 flood our feeds. So many Americans have shared what they were doing that day, what their reactions were, how it affected them, how it affected the world around them.
All I can remember is the shock. Pure, unfiltered shock.
My mom was in town to help me choose my wedding dress for my May 2002 wedding. I was babysitting my step-son-to-be (he’s now 23 as much my son as anyone could be!). My husband-to-be was driving back from Utah with his family after attending his grandfather’s funeral, a Pearl Harbor vet. I had just started my first class in my master’s program for public policy. I was excited, full of promise and happily planning out my new life.
The husband-to-be called me from the road early that morning waking me up. “Turn on the TV,” he said, “a plane has hit the World Trade Center.” The words didn’t make sense until I reached for the remote and saw the enormity of what he was trying to tell me.
I screamed to get my mom’s attention, my kid still asleep in his room. She turned on the TV in the living room and gasped. We just couldn’t comprehend what we were seeing. And then, right then the 2nd plane hit. The shock, the magnitude of what we just witnessed was too much to describe. Hearing about the Pentagon and Pennsylvania only added to the confusion and dismay.
I personally didn’t know anyone who died that day, but I know two people that fate chose to save that day. My cousin, who is like a brother to me, worked in that building (and fortunately was at the coast celebrating his son’s 1st birthday). My mother-in-law was supposed to have been there that weekend but she was called out to Utah with the family instead.
And then the waves of grief finally started after I saw people throwing themselves from the building, escaping the fatal onslaught of fire, smoke, and falling debris, my heart broke with a permanence I still can’t fully describe. Empathy for the loneliness and desperation fueled by primal fear and a haunting inevitability. Witnessing someone’s last moments like that over and over – too many to count – so many I will never know the names of. When the kid asked why they were jumping, the tears couldn’t stop. I stood in the shower for 30 minutes just crying, letting the sound of the shower drown out my wailing sobs.
We kept the dress appointment that day because as mom said, we needed something to look forward to in the midst of sorrow. Trying on wedding dresses that day, knowing I made the right choice for the modest wedding of my dreams sounds like the most selfish, self-absorbed thing to do. But it was the only thing that could replenish the outpouring of empathy that was drowning my spirit.
Little did I realize that as an American, my heart would continue to break over and over again in the years since.
9/11 exposed some of America’s deepest vulnerabilities
As Americans, we felt vulnerable, exposed, and indeed, traumatized. We went through a collective mourning period – classes were suspended, we were allowed to be human beings with feelings, at least for a little bit. There was a precious moment of recognition in one another’s eyes about the unspoken horrors we had just witnessed. At the gas station, at the grocery store. For a few days we honored that flicker of recognition in one another.
But our consciousness can only handle so much darkness and trauma before it starts seeping deeper into our system, a quiet code of disquietude flipping switches on a dime, sometimes to protect us, sometimes to manipulate us. It happens in our everyday lives all the time. We swallow the words of the bully until they’re embedded in our system, stopping us from speaking our truth, maneuvering levers to spoil our successes long after the bully is gone. Victimization giving rise of paranoia, distrust, and a new system of “normal”. Our deep underbelly, both in corporate America and in our mundane, empty lives was disrupted by the coordinated and deliberate hatred of others.
It wasn’t long before things started shifting, before we started looking at one another with suspicion. Many were manipulated by lies about weapons of mass destruction. How many of our soldiers carry trauma from this fabricated war? But our vengeance must be served, is the programming we’ve been taught.
The pre-existing rift between left and right began to grow both between and within parties. We saw a growing rise of hate crimes and targeted discrimination against those of Muslim faith and Middle Eastern descent. We allowed compromises to both civil liberties and human dignity in the name of national security. Terrorism added a new violent layer of fatalistic aplomb to our public discourse.
And it has been growing exponentially ever since. We have been fed a steady diet of gradually paranoid narratives, the inspiration porn of populist one-upmanship, tolerance for the most extreme interpretations of the truth. Constantly exposed to provocative images of fear, nefarious gaslighting narratives we soaked up the stories that personalities that justified the weaponized surety of our own private victimizations.
9/11 felt personal
9/11 felt more personal than many things we’ve gone through as a nation. Yes, the rest of the world witnessed it, but we were the victim of a crime so heinous in reality and symbolic in identity that I think we are still uncovering layers of it. Unlike a natural disaster, we were targeted, we were unexpectedly knocked in the gut, costing thousands of innocent lives. Not on the battlefield. We were ambushed at work, on a commute. A normal ordinary day of no true significance other than the date these men collaborated to choose. This wasn’t a distant declaration on foreign soil, this was here, this now, this was personal.
We grew to see shadows in every corner of someone else’s life but failed to expose our own to the light of day. We resisted looking at the ways in which we center ourselves on narratives of pain and struggle but fail to empathize with the pain and struggle of others. We both want our pain recognized and we want it protected. We want someone to witness it, but to do so would be to expose it to the light of our own attention, exposing the uncomfortable depths to which it has embedded itself into our daily world.
The memory of that exposure of our vulnerable underbelly still hurts after all this time in some big and small ways. And in so many ways as a nation, we are still guarding this wound, lashing out at anything, anyone that might threaten us again. We want assurances of our safety and have been willing to even sacrifice one another to have it.
No matter how much we might have progressed and emotionally healed since then, there is a festering wound at the core of our political and cultural life. We all have expressed a deep distrust in the collective will of our nation to move forward together, hypervigilant ideological stubborn wars waged against one another with alarmingly high consequences. Each side battling for control over unwieldy systems that are crumbling under the weight of inequality, failing to deliver on the promises of this nation, the chosen promise on the declaration of inalienable rights.
We think we’re playing at tug-of-war, when in fact, the rubber band holding our planet together is about to snap from the pressure of containing such fiercely repulsive polarities of our illusions of separateness. All to protect ourselves from confronting the collective compassion fatigue we have steadily been experiencing since 9/11. It’s not that we don’t care…it’s that we’ve been through so much unacknowledged, unhealed pain that our capacity to care is overwhelmed by the state of “way too much” always.
Vulnerability invites connection
Just like we went through a shared trauma on 9/11, we are experiencing one at this moment today with COVID. The sorrow, the frustration, the anger, the misdirected pain burrows under the surface, inflaming the festering pain we’ve been feeling for nearly 20 years now. Just like members of the Silent Generation were impacted by the traumas of poverty and lack, this ongoing generational trauma will likewise be passed along to our children
I want more than anything for us to we recognize that these vulnerabilities are easier to bear when shared and recognized in our connections with others. We don’t have to understand what someone else has gone through in order to extend empathy and understanding. Instead of adding doubt and denial, we can choose to accept and recognize a shared reality – that we have been through some shit together.
It’s critical, now, more than ever, for us to find and create places for community and connection. Not to gossip and hate on others, but to share lived realities in the comfort of those who get you. More than ever we’re invited to share our truth, to open old wounds, and heal ourselves to save the generations to come.
As we carry forth the memories of this day to the next year, may we find the strength to stand up for one another.
May our lungs be full of the breath of inspiration to speak our truth.
May our minds be clear enough to recognize the truth in one another.
May we each find a pathway to create a better reality than the polarized forces we’re sponsoring today.
May those we choose as leaders prioritize the healing recognition we need and actively choose not to add more trauma to our already overloaded lives.
The rubber band of our uneasy tolerance holding the country together will snap unless we show up with our full integrity, our full honesty, and our full humanity and demand the same from our leaders.
If we can do these things, we will have honored those who died this day, we will have recognized the pain and tears of every mother, father, husband, daughter, or best friend who lost their beautiful love that day. We will have honored the brave rescuers who saved lives and sacrificed themselves in pure selflessness and duty to humanity.
And we will have moved a step closer to bringing us into the resolute safety of truth…the foundation for rebuilding ourselves and our country.
I started law school twenty years ago this week, in the fall of 2000. During that first year, where they program you to “think like a lawyer”, I realized that the practice of law was never going to be compatible with who I am, so I chose to pursue a dual degree with a master’s in public policy.
Our very first class was on the evening of September 10, 2001. The next class, the week after the Twin Towers fell on 9/11, our curriculum had changed from learning the details of social and financial norms in policy to a new focus on homeland security and domestic surveillance. The syllabus and readings were changed, guest speakers rescheduled. It was a somber awakening to a new, grim reality.
One of the most useful classes I ever had during that program was “Analytic and Critical Thinking Skills for Public Policy”. We were given a topic to research and for each resource we used to form our opinion, we had to analyze the bias that it provided and journal about how we reacted to discovering that bias. We had to walk through the steps of how we analyzed this information and why we relied on it to form our opinion. We had no choice but to brutally encounter our bias, admitting when we saw a shift in our thinking.
The point was to recognize the how and why of the information we were reading and the policy positions we were taking. I learned how to research funding sources for think tanks, patterns of bias from academic researchers, and truly had to pick apart the logical fallacies of the evidence I used to recommend certain policy positions. Nothing could be taken for granted, especially our own confirmation bias (our tendency to interpret new information as confirmation of our existing viewpoint). And while I am known for my intuitive approach, the scorching scrutiny of real life pubic policy has given me an analytical framework that I continually evaluate and improve upon.
I say this now because over the past several months I’ve seen an alarming influx of misinformation coming across my daily feed. Often it’s positioned as “truth” with wording that often aligns with “do the research” without any guidance for what that might entail or how to navigate the sources found. I often keep an open mind to new information and have a history of changing my position if I find evidence that is compelling or challenging enough. Yet, when I read these theories most of these sources just don’t pass muster for how I professionally analyze information.
Media Literacy Basics
I am grateful that a few of you have reached out to ask my opinion on some of the more concerning and mysterious theories out there. I feel flattered to be seen as the intellectual Dana Scully to your “I want to believe” Fox Mulder. And while I could sit here and tell you what I personally think about each pet theory, my goal is to share how I do this, so we all become better at drowning out the noise and clarifying the truth.
As part of my heart-centered leadership practice, I help emerging leaders understand how to solicit and evaluate evidence to become stronger, more resilient voices for their communities. However, media literacy is one lesson I am offering free for anyone who comes by here because it’s so important now between COVID19, the election, and climate change, to recognize reliable information. It is important that we’re working from at least a similar set of facts and concepts to create a better world without further victimizing one another. This is my mission.Read the rest of this entry
Perhaps it’s the influence of social media or a misunderstanding on my part, but it seems that confidence has become a frequently maligned character trait. While certain character traits are intended to be non-threatening, assertiveness, for example, a sense of confidence seems to be viewed with disdain by many. At some point, a healthy sense of confidence became synonymous with arrogance. However, I believe that hiding your gifts under a bucket because they make others uncomfortable is neither fair nor healthy. When did confidence become a bad word?
Confidence is frequently viewed as threatening and aggressive, and sometimes it can be. I think we often assume someone may use their confidence against us as if it can be weaponized. It is common to feel threatened by someone who does a given activity better than you, but this does not mean you are being targeted. I think a large number of people feel threatened by a strong sense of confidence due to their personal insecurities. They dislike in others what they feel is a deficit within themselves. Rather than saying “I wish I had that” or even better “teach me how to do that” we fall back on jealousy because we do not want to face our perceived short-comings.
Has anyone ever felt jealous of someone due to their abilities or accomplishments? All of us have at one point or another. As I became a more mature adult, however, I realized if I felt this way towards someone it was because I had a problem, not them. I came to the conclusion many years ago if I was experiencing something as toxic as jealousy it meant I was feeling insecure about me. The good news is I am the only person I have total control over, so I can address my jealousy so it no longer influences me. I do not have control over anyone else so why should I feel negatively about their abilities? That doesn’t make sense to me anymore. Have I experienced this from others? Absolutely. It usually left me scratching my head.
Confidence resulting in overbearing arrogance and bullying is not true confidence, rather it is aggression. My quick and dirty definition of aggression is getting your needs met by taking from the needs of someone else. Our culture of winners and losers created this. A key concept here is that other people do not have to lose in order for us to win.
I am not speaking about athletic contests which are deliberately set up with a winner and “not winner” due to an agreed-upon set of rules. I am speaking of day to day life where we all have to navigate a series of challenges, some expected, some not. As a coach, when I help someone with their level of confidence, I have helped them develop a life skill that can help them across all domains. I am not helping my clients with this so they can step on others. I am helping my clients so they can develop themselves and thrive.
Confidence does not have to be arrogant or self-aggrandizing. A given individual may wield it in that manner, but I do not think that is its purpose. True confidence and assertiveness should work together like a hand in a glove. It is almost as if our culture views confidence as something in short supply, often resulting in judgment and criticism, such as “who does he/she think he/she is?”, or “You must think you’re so great.” Taken to its most extreme, this may look like “nothing makes me angrier than someone who feels good about themselves.” Absurd, no? Confidence does not have to equal toxicity unless you apply it through that filter. There is nothing inherently wrong with genuinely knowing you are good at something, particularly if it is something that required time and dedication to accomplish. A famous entertainer from the 1980s once said “If you try to stick your head above the crowd, someone will throw a rock at it.” Are we so connected to our perceived limitations that self-betterment is viewed as threatening?
Many people mistakenly view confidence as something that makes them better than others. Again, this is not what confidence is about. If my sense of self is sufficient and I feel I can learn what I need to learn to be competent or even excel at a chosen task… What is wrong with that? We are attached to our insecurities to such a degree that the accomplishments of others are frequently viewed as threatening. Is success a limited commodity only a precious few can attain? Is it only available while supplies last? The implication is we must get up early, stand in line, and hope we get some before it runs out. There is not a national scarcity of confidence and there is plenty for everyone.
In the U.S. there seems to be a cultural penalty for having confidence or even a healthy self-image. We experience too many mixed messages implying we don’t quite measure up (advertising for example) but changing that so we do measure up can often come with a penalty. It’s almost like we just can’t win. What is our cultural obsession with a) not feeling good about ourselves; and b) being angry with and attacking those who do? My personal observation is social media has made this worse. It’s easier to be shitty to each other now without the consequence or pressure of face to face interactions. That is likely a topic for another time…
Confidence is inherently healthy and it promotes other healthy behaviors. Learning new tasks is a common example of this. If I can learn one thing in a given field, I can likely learn another and another until proficiency and then later excellence is achieved. Can I learn all things expertly? No, probably not. But if I can learn things I enjoy doing and get myself paid in the process, I am likely in a good place. We have this cultural fixation on the strong, independent, rugged individual who marches to the beat of their own drum. We also dismiss them and sometimes target them outright and attack them until they “arrive.” After they arrive, they are still subject to cruel scrutiny by their peers or the media. Celebrity culture, anyone? This is why the aforementioned entertainer spent so much time dodging rocks.
I think if we can adopt a supportive attitude toward each other rather than viewing the accomplishments of others as threatening, we will be more likely to view confidence-building as a natural progression rather than an attempt to unsettle the rest of the collective. If we can view this as a natural progression we all go through, helping each other excel becomes a natural part of life rather than needless animosity. Let’s be good to each other.
Ted Morris is an experienced therapist, having worked in community mental health systems, working primarily with men engaged with the criminal justice system. He recently launched Audacious Growth, a personal development coaching business specializing in working with men who wish to deprogram toxic beliefs and patterns to more fully integrate the Divine Masculine into their lives.