A Word to the Girl I Once Was

I write this through a watery gaze that is shedding tears for the girl I once was…

I recently watched a video from a family member’s birthday party circa 1983. I must have been 2 years old and the party was held at McDonald’s when McDonald’s was THE place to hold birthday parties. The video was recorded on a VHS and it was slightly fuzzy. It was quite entertaining to see the fashion – especially my mother’s blue tinted, big framed glasses – and hear the music of the 80’s. As I watched, I looked for myself in the chaos of babies, children, teens, parents, characters, balloons…you get the picture. When I finally spotted myself, I was surprised by what I saw. I was sitting alone at a table and I had a look of fear on my face. My hands were clenching the seat beneath me and my frame was cloaked with anxiety. No one was talking to me. My mother wasn’t around. And I looked utterly alone. That video image spoke volumes to me.

Of course, being the good therapeutic patient that I am, I brought this up during my next therapy session. And of course, being the cryer that I am, the floodgates opened. My therapist attentively listened to my sharing and when I was done, she asked that question that I hate being asked, “Rozella, what are the tears about?”

I sniffled my way through my response and finally articulated what I was feeling. “I’m crying for the girl I was; for the image reflected back to me that embodied how I felt about myself. The image that showed me how afraid and nervous I was. The image that reiterates my greatest fear to this day – the fear of being utterly alone.”  Continue reading

I am My Sister’s Keeper

It’s become clear to me that a key aspect of my call is walk alongside women in particular as they discern what God is calling them to do, who God has created them to be and how to grow in love, compassion and grace of themselves.
My sister friends...

My sister friends…

I can’t help but think of the statement that those things we focus the most on, speak the most about, tend to be the things we struggle with the most. That is definitely true for me, dear shadow lovers. I talk about discernment and call because those are things that I have struggled greatly with over my life. I talk about compassion, self-love and grace because I am horrible at practicing these ways of being with myself and most days I don’t believe that I am worthy of receiving them. Now don’t get me wrong, I am a work in progress, paying attention to and working on my issues. But I spend so much time walking with others because at the end of the day, I don’t wish my feelings darkness, despair and loneliness on anyone. If I could help one less person, especially one less woman, not question their worth, not struggle with their intrinsic beauty and not doubt the love that our Creator God has given freely to each and every person, then my work, my life will not have been in vain.

Continue reading

A Word about Dust

Ash Wednesday

I’m writing about dust as I look out of the window and see white dust fall from the sky. It’s snowing again…

Remember that you are dust and that to dust you shall return. 

These words are sacred speak that are a part of the Ash Wednesday service liturgy. They are spoken by the pastor as they impose (a fancy word for put or place) ashes on your forehead. These ashes literally mark the beginning of the season that is Lent – 40 days of reflection, repentance, remembering and renewal that all lead to crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ.

Lent is a solemn occasion for sure, but I find it to be my favorite church season. I’m reflective by nature so this doesn’t come as a surprise. I also am someone who appreciates imagery and reminders of humanness; of brokenness, of being a part of something bigger than ourselves and of the need for restoration by something outside of ourselves.

Have you ever really dealt with ashes? Seen someone’s body reduced to ashes? My family cremates our faithful departed. And we don’t bury their remains. We keep them. We choose urns that speak to the person’s life and we create sacred space in our house so that they are always with us. One might be concerned that we are  running out of urn space in my parent’s house… That being said, I’ve seen the body of an elderly loved one go from flesh, bones and spirit to flesh and bones to ash. It never ceases to amaze how one person’s life can be reduced a small baggie full of fine, gray dust. It’s humbling. It’s terrifying. It’s the reality that is life. Continue reading

Embracing My Shadow Reloaded

In October of 2012 I began Embracing My Shadow. It was a year after my last major depressive episode and I had a deep desire to share my story. I wasn’t quite sure why I should share or if anyone would even care. I just knew that I had to get things out of my head and my heart. I had to give language to my thoughts and release my feelings. I had to confront some things and begin the difficult process of letting go.

I should mention that I have always been someone who was told that she shared just a little too much. I was too vocal in my love for folks. I was too open when it came to my thoughts and emotions. I was too deep when it came to my intellectual capacity and philosophical musings. I was too sensitive when it came to my interactions with others. What’s ironic about these accusations (or some might call them critiques) is that I never really shared the darkness and struggles that lurked beneath the surface. Going through my latest bout of death, disease and despair, also known as the reality that is life, I realized that my ongoing cycles of getting overwhelmed, going into hiding and flirting with the reality that is suicide were all directly connected to the side of myself that I didn’t want anyone to see. I was determined to keep this part of myself from the light of day. This was and is my shadow side.
I got the language of shadow from Debbie Ford and my time serving as a hospital chaplain. In simple terms, we talk about one’s shadow as the part of oneself that at first glance is dark, desperate, ashamed and compiled of all the tragedy and suffering in one’s life.
It’s the part of yourself that if not attended to, can overtake you and not in good ways. It’s the part of yourself that replays the negative self-talk that tells you that you aren’t good enough, lovable enough, strong enough, smart enough….ENOUGH.
It’s the part of yourself that keeps you from sharing your whole self, from being vulnerable. You just know that if anyone else ever encountered this part of yourself, they would pick up and run the other way and you would wither and die in a pool of shame.
This is the shadow. This is the side of myself that I not only shared but that I didn’t acknowledge. And I’ve learned something in my 32 years – not embracing your shadow can lead to death and destruction and cause you to act out in negative ways, engage in negative relationships and perpetuate negative ways of being that are life-taking and not life giving. But worse of all, not embracing your shadow can impede you from embracing the fullness and beauty of who you are. And almost two years later, I’ve realized what Embracing My Shadow is really about.
This began as a selfishly cathartic exercise of a woman who was struggling with depression and anxiety. My tag line was, “One woman’s journey of accepting her WHOLE self – depression, anxiety and all – and helping others to do the same.” It grew out of a desire for me to share my journey with mental illness and it quickly became evident that I was not the only one with a story to share who was seeking support. It’s been almost two years and it has grown into a community of Shadow Lovers, all of whom have varying degrees of relationship with their shadow.
It’s time to take the next step, to start a new chapter. Embracing My Shadow is no longer just about a particular aspect of my journey. It’s broadening as I have come face-to-face with my core issue; the thing that undergirds many of my mental health struggles and issues in intimate relationships. That thing is a lack of radical self-love. How can I accept love or even give love – from God or from others – if I fundamentally don’t love myself?
Embracing My Shadow is about one woman’s journey of accepting her WHOLE self – of seeking radical self love and helping others do the same. 
This is my call. This is where this journey has led me. I hope you are able to join in on this, because Lord knows, I can’t do it by myself. And remember, dear Shadow Lovers, WE are not alone.
Love,
Me
LOVE-YOURSELF-s

Music Mondays: Beyoncé

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Beyoncé released a new album on Friday at midnight. If you aren’t a fan or a music junkie or live under a rock, you probably missed this momentous event. People – both celebrities and normal folk alike – took to social media to express their shock and awe. The internet was all abuzz with a diversity of reactions. Most of the commentary was fun and funny to watch and read. Others were much more thought provoking a la this post over at the Crunk Feminist Collective and this video by the Queen of Nerdland, Melissa Harris Perry, where she hails this visual album as Beyoncé’s ‘Feminist Manifesto’. My favorite track is ***Flawless, which features the words of Nigerian feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie from her Ted Talk entitled, “The Danger of a Single Story“. It has me bobbing my head, shaking my hips, puffing out my chest and singing at the top of my lungs, “I WOKE UP LIKE DIS!” As a womanist with feminist leanings, this song speaks to my soul.

I have been listening to the album non-stop since Friday. It was released as a visual album, meaning that she recorded a video for every song. I recommend watching the videos as you listen to the songs to get the best experience and to understand the context.

All the commentary and pop culture hoopla aside, I was particularly excited about this album because I am in the midst of the hardest season of the year. I have written about my struggles with Seasonal Affective Disorder and am valiantly trying to be positive and proactive during this time of year. It’s hard. I am facing my third Christmas a divorcée. I thought it would get easier, but its not. I travel all the time. I am a long distance away from my family. And I’m sad.

So as I woke up on Friday and reached for my phone, I couldn’t wait to download, listen to and watch this album. It’s hard for me to get out of bed. Like really hard. I jokingly posted as my Facebook status the following:

“Only Beyoncé can get me out of bed excited. Well, and God. But seriously God is using Beyoncé today. #FLAWLESS #thatisall”

I was only partially joking. I believe that music can be therapeutic and I believe that God uses various mediums to remind us of God’s never-ending love and encouragement. So in this instance, God used Beyoncé to encourage me and remind me of the power of love.

The album is all about love – love of self, love of others, love of home, love of life.

It’s all about love – eros, agape, philia and storge.

It’s all about love – confident and mature love.

It’s all about love, which I am desperately seeking…

I’ve struggled with loving myself. I feel like I am on an ongoing journey of practicing patience and grace towards myself. I really want to grow in love of myself because  I believe that I can only truly love others and experience love in relationship if I love myself. This album has me thinking more about what it means to not only love me, but to happy with me.

The last line of the opening track, Pretty Hurts, ask the question – are you happy with yourself? I feel like the rest of the album goes on to answer this question and it seems that Beyonce is happy – not fleetingly, surface level happy – but truly happy. And I want to experience that. I want to be happy too.

I’m inspired and for that I’m grateful. This album is going to get me through the next few days until I am home and can revel in the love of family and friends. It will get me through this season of being alone. It will get me through the sadness.

Thanks Beyoncé. Your music and vision give me life.

Love,

Me

Just Be – A Reflection on Yoga and Advent

JustBeEnough-Three-Words-2013I am a person of Christian faith, which I have written about here. This time of year is my favorite time of year because, for Western Christians, it begins the church season of Advent. We follow a church calendar, also known as a liturgical calendar, that marks the seasons of our life of faith. Advent kicks off this calendar and it is marked by a season of waiting – of waiting for the revelation of all that is good, holy, just, and compassionate in the person of Jesus Christ. This time is about waiting for the embodiment of peace. This is my belief and as such, I look forward to this pre-Christmas time because it forces me to slow down, to reflect and to be watchful. The watching and waiting take on different forms each year. I was looking back over posts that I wrote this time last year, and I realized how much can change in a year.

As this Advent begins, I find myself in a place of new beginnings. I recently began the process to become a certified yoga instructor and that began with me making a commitment of how I would engage this journey over the next year. After reflecting on my thoughts, I realized how appropriate it was that I was starting this profoundly spiritual journey at the same time that my faith journey enters into a season of just being. I am sincerely grateful for Divine Power Yoga for giving me the opportunity to begin this journey and I wanted to share my commitment with you.

Be present. Be mindful. Be gracious.

I commit to taking a journey wholeheartedly. I will be vulnerable. I will take risks. I will be patient with myself. I will honor the Divine within me and nurture her continuously.

I commit to growing in knowledge of yoga. I commit to seeking out information and reflecting on is meaning for my life so that I may help others do the same. I intend to be fully present in this learning process – approaching each step with curiosity rather than judgement. I commit to study.

I commit to attending to the matters of my spirit through the daily practice of meditation, prayer and journaling. I commit to make space for my thoughts and feelings and to situate myself in a posture of reception – being mindful, not clinging to thoughts and feelings that are life taking, but fully accepting the good, the positive and the life-giving.

I commit to reclaiming my body as a holy dwelling place, paying attention to the messages it sends me. I commit to takin in food that nourishes and provides energy. I commit to ongoing exercise and practice that strengthens my body and connects me to the fullness that God created. I commit to be gracious to myself as I embark on this journey, keeping in mind that it’s not about perfection and progress, but it is about practice and process.

It’s not about perfection and progress, but it is about practice and process.

This is true for my faith walk as well. 

How are you being called to just be?

Be present. Be mindful. Be gracious.

 

Yoga Making Space

I am starting a new journey this weekend. Over the next 10 months, I am a student training to become a certified yoga teacher. This wasn’t a part of my plan. It’s funny how things happen like that. One moment I am sure of one path and the next, something and someone I couldn’t imagine or didn’t know grace my path and things begin to coalesce.

I am a dancer and have lamented my disconnection from dance as physical, emotional and spiritual therapy. Since my move and the various transitions of my life, I have not been in touch with my physical form. And I’ve suffered because of it. Sure things have been pretty good as of late, but I have felt like a piece of me has been missing.

I haven’t been grounded.

I haven’t been in touch with my body.

I haven’t spent time moving and stretching and breathing life into tired joints and stiff muscles.

I haven’t engaged in something that causes my mind to stop and allows me to hear – to hear my own inner thoughts and to hear that small, still voice of God that reaches out to me when I am engaging in that which I love.

DownToEarth-Yoga_art-Alders800px

Enter Yoga. A colleague of mine is a yoga instructor and owns her own studio. I became close with her and the Spirit showed up. There’s more to this story that I will share later but the short version is that through this connection I am beginning this journey.

All of this is happening at the same time that I am experiencing some breakthroughs in therapy. I am beginning to peel back layers of myself and it has become clear that now is the time for me to confront some fears, some insecurities and some maladaptive ways of being. I can’t run from certain things anymore. It’s time that I make space…

Yoga is a way of life. The word yoga actually means to unite; to unite one’s mind, body and spirit on a journey of peace and acceptance. I realized tonight that I am on a journey of making space to knit pieces of myself back together as I seek healing and wholeness.

The part that’s been missing, the part that I’ve been longing for, is an integrated sense of self. I got this through dance. I was able to fully embody who I was created to be and the practice of dance taught me much about myself and ways of being in the world. After our first practice and class tonight, I was overwhelmed by the feelings that emerged simply because I made space.

Making space allowed me to feel some emotions that I’ve been avoiding.

Making space allowed me to hear from my body.

Making space allowed me to confront the negative voices that spew lies about who I am that my depressed mind has a tendency to believe.

There’s so much more to share and this is only the beginning.

Love,

Me

Grief Space Part 2

Grief Space – the place one finds themselves after a series of losses after some time has passed; the moment when one has to confront their emotions; a place of acceptance

one-face-of-grief-irene-nowicki

I’ve been trying to pinpoint what’s going on with me. I wrote about feeling untethered and the unfortunate state of being that I am inhabiting that currently includes daily tears and sadness. After a series of conversations, I finally realized that I am in what I am calling Grief Space.

I have not grieved the numerous losses that I have experienced since the summer of 2011. At the time that these losses were happening, I was in the midst of a depression so deep that it would take time off from work, an emergency intervention and a course of medication to get me to a place where I could finally put one foot in front of the other. So needless to say, I was not in a position to actively grieve.

Once things got turned right side up so to speak, I did what any strong black woman would do – I kept it moving. I actively worked on my healing. I threw myself into my work. I began making plans. I got a new job. I moved. I threw myself into my new work. I went through the motions of self-care. In the midst of all this doing however, I never stopped just to be. I never stopped to grieve.

It hit me this week that I am now finally in a place where the grief will no longer be denied. It wants to be recognized. I no longer have a choice. A friend of mine pointed out that I am now in the place where I need to pay attention to my grief. I need to look back over the past couple of years and just stop.

I need to deal with the fact that I left my seminary community.

I need to deal with the fact that I got married, separated and divorced.

I need to deal with the fact that I am no longer a step mother and am facing immense guilt over this reality.

I need to deal with the fact that my grandmother is dead.

I need to deal with the fact that my father is sick.

I need to deal with the fact that I left my beloved community in Atlanta that literally saved my life.

I need to deal with the fact that I am lonely.

I need to deal.

And it terrifies me. I often think that the worst place to be is healthy when it comes to mental illness because you know what sick looks like and you don’t ever want to be there again. My fear all of this time has been that if I let myself feel, if I let myself grieve, I may never emerge from the darkness.

During our conversation my friend pointed something out. She reminded me that I am not where I was. I am aware. I am proactive. I am supported. I am loved. And it is time for me to grieve. It is time for me to inhabit this grief space because until I do, as long as I keep stuffing it down and pretending like it’s not there or it didn’t’ happen, I will never fully embrace my shadow. It’s time for me to lean into the grief space, to go through it, to emerge on the other side. I’m asking for your prayers and your support. Maybe we can do it together.

Love,

Me

Grief Space Part 1

griefSunday was a day – you know one of those days when the emotions bubble up and over.

I’ve been feeling untethered recently. There’s no way else to describe the disconnect and chaos that I feel. I have been struggling to identify where these feelings come from.

Life is pretty good. I’m enjoying my work.

I’ve been proactive about my mental health, seeing my therapist weekly and staying on top of my medications.

My visions have returned. In my major depressed states, I don’t have the capacity to hear from God and my gift of visioning is hindered. That hasn’t been the case recently. My visions have returned, almost to the point of being overwhelming. The creative energy is flowing and ideas are racing through my mind faster than I can account for them.

I’m nervous about the winter. Seasonal Affective Disorder is something that I deal with and being in a new city where cold, long winters are a norm scares me, but I’ve been proactive about dealing with this reality.

But there is still this feeling…this persistent, nagging emotion that something’s off.

I have been having a few days like today in succession recently and that scares me. I don’t like days like this because they remind me that the darkness is ever present. But something else happened today. I chose to reveal myself instead of hide. I reached out instead of staying in. I opened up instead of shutting down.

It began with church this morning. I’ve been feeling so guilty for not going to church. I am a leader in God’s church and I don’t belong to a regular worshipping community. I worship with many different communities as I travel, but I don’t have one community that I call home. Many have told me that I need to cut myself some slack because of the demands that my work in this season of my life make of me. But that doesn’t help ease the guilt. It doesn’t change the fact that I am disconnected from community. So today, on a rare occasion that I was in town and that I wasn’t exhausted, I went to church.

I cried most of the way there and I can’t  even tell you why. The tears just flowed. I got to worship late but I still went. This is a BIG DEAL. The anxiety of walking into places late is often times debilitating, but I decided to push through it and enter into a space that I knew God was calling me to be. It’s funny because I had these great expectations of worship this morning and they didn’t come to pass. But I realized as I left the service that me attending and getting out of my house was the first step.

From there I met with a dear friend who happens to be a pastor. I warned him before lunch that I was a complete mess and sure enough, over the course of our meal, the tears flowed. I still couldn’t explain exactly why I was so emotional but he let me babble on incoherently as I tried to make sense of the the emotions that I couldn’t seem to name. Our time together ended up being cathartic and I realized that if I hadn’t gone to church this morning, I wouldn’t have had lunch with him. I left our conversation extremely grateful for our time together.

As I drove home from lunch I kept playing the rest of my day over in my head. All I wanted to do was go home and bury myself under my covers. But I kept thinking that I needed to be out of my house. I needed to be around other people, even if I wasn’t directly engaging them. I needed to get outside of my head. And quite frankly, the thought of going home and being in my space by myself scared me. So I headed to a local coffee shop and began reading a book that I’ve been meaning to get to.

I sat there for an hour or so and still felt unsettled. At this point, I was getting tired of myself. I have no patience with myself and often wonder why things seem to be so difficult for me. I get tired of the tears. I get tired of the anxiety. I get tired of the sadness. I just get tired. In these moments I can’t imagine why anyone would want anything to do with me. I don’t want anything to do with me.

As I was having these thoughts I decided to reach out to a friend of mine who has profoundly shaped how I understand myself, my gifts and my call. It just so happened that she was available to talk. What happened over the next hour helped me understand what I was feeling and what I needed. Our conversation led me to realize that I am inhabiting what I am calling grief space. And it’s time to deal with it…

Part 2 to be published on Friday.

From Darkness to Light

A year ago today I launched Embracing My Shadow. This blog was born out of pain and despair. It came to life when I was dying. It taught me that even in the darkest moments, light can emerge…

I started writing about my depression a year after my last major depressive episode. It took a year to get to a place where I was feeling like myself – the self that I had never fully embraced. This blog started as a cathartic exercise; as a way to cope with a darkness that has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.

Things are not always easy but this blog, this community of Shadow Lovers who have accompanied me on this journey, has been life-saving. I am so grateful for the support, for the people who share their stories with me and for the grace that I am constantly shown when I reveal dark, painful truths about myself.

Thank you for walking with me.

Thank you for sharing your story with me.

Thank you embracing your shadow even as I continue to embrace mine.

Thank you, dear Shadow Lovers, for joining me on this journey, as we go from darkness to light.

Love,

Roze

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