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

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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

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

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.

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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

We Wear the Mask – A Sermon on Suicide by Rev. Tiffany Thomas

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We Wear the Mask

By: Paul Lawrence Dunbar, 1896 

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

    It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—

    This debt we pay to human guile;

    With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

    And mouth with myriad subtleties.

     Why should the world be over-wise,

    In counting all our tears and sighs?

    Nay, let them only see us, while

            We wear the mask.

    We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

    To thee from tortured souls arise.

    We sing, but oh the clay is vile

    Beneath our feet, and long the mile;

    But let the world dream otherwise,

            We wear the mask!

Suicide is the intentional and purposeful taking of one’s own life. Suicide is an acute problem in our community, a problem that we do not talk about. The reason we do not talk about it is due primarily to the generally accepted notion that suicide is a “white” problem. Communally we earnestly believe that black people do not commit suicide.  In reality, nothing could be further from the truth… Click here to keep reading the orginal post by Rev. Tiffany Thomas published at Shepreaches.

Secret Shame

This piece was written for ShePreaches Magazine, an online publication for african american women for which I am a columnist. In honor of suicide prevention week, I will be posting daily in order to provide information and inspiration. If there is something that you would like to share, please contact me. Thank you for being the loyal readers that you are. We, not one of us, are not alone…

Love,

Me

Secret Shame Image

On August 19, 2013, actor Lee Thompson Young was found dead in his Los Angeles apartment. His cause of death was ruled a suicide. Lee was a twenty-nine year old black male who seemed to have a bright future ahead of him in Hollywood.  Lee died due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. A suicide note was not left behind and his family, friends and co-workers were all shocked by his death.

On June 13, 2012, the body of writer Erica Kennedy was found in her Miami Beach, Florida home. Erica was a publicist, fashion and entertainment writer and book author who also happened to be the best friend of Kimora Lee Simmons. Erica was a forty-three year old black woman who was a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College. More information surrounding her death was never released but it is believed that Erica committed suicide, most likely because of an ongoing, secret battle with depression. Much like Lee Thompson Young’s death, Erica’s death sent shockwaves through her community of family and friends.

Suicide is rarely spoken about within the black community. One might say that discussing it is taboo. I think it goes a step further than just being taboo. It is a secret shame….

To continue reading, please click here to see the whole piece that was written for ShePreaches Magazine.

National Suicide Prevention Week is the Sunday through Saturday, September 8-14, 2013 surrounding World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10, 2013. The theme this year is: Challenging our Assumptions and Moving Forward Together. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, please call 911.