This last weekend, I spoke for To Write Love On Her Arms at their Supporter Conference in Orlando. It was a dream come true for me and so, naturally, it was a huge trigger for fear as well.
I kept a journal through my experience and when I reviewed it, I felt called to share it with you.
I fear. I panic. I have a really hard time celebrating. I have to actively bring myself home to Love just like I help you do.
In the past, I’d hide my fears. But recovery only really came when I spoke my truth. When I opened up about all of these shameful secrets, that’s when the real healing began. That’s when I realized that these secrets were lies that fear told me in the darkness. In the light, they lost power. They dissolved.
I hope this helps you feel less alone in whatever fears you have today.
I’m on a flight to Orlando right now after 3 hours of delays, 1 of which was trapped on the plane. Now I’m typing on a shaky tray table, going back and forth between asking the middle and aisle to get up for me to make my way to the bathroom… surely just as 2 other people decide it’s the best time to use the bathroom as well.
And I’m so happy.
I’m on my way to Orlando to do what I’ve dreamed of doing for years, to a room of people who go out of their way to help people feel less alone.
I’ve been speaking for a little while now. In recovery centers, women’s centers and briefly on big stages at conferences.
But this feels different. This is triumph. This is my mentor-of-a-movement inviting me to help teach brave hearts how to love lost souls enough to stay another night. This is what woke up my heart to what was possible 4 years ago.
When I did The 30×30 Project 3 years ago, I had no idea where it would lead me. I had fantasies. I had hopes, but many of them weren’t rooted in anything solid. I still wasn’t clear what I was to do with this unsettling passion to welcome others into my recovery and hope that it could help them through theirs.
On the flight today, I began to read (and finished) If You Feel Too Much by To Write Love On Her Arms’ founder, Jamie Tworkowski. It was released a good year ago, but I never got around to reading it. I thought now was probably that time… seeing as I might meet him.
I’d forgotten how his writing had initially spoken to me. How, in 2012 when I first read the blog post titled To Write Love On Her Arms, I had been moved to tears, to relief, to action. The whole book rustled up the same sensations I had felt on that first discovery: of being known. I sat in my window seat, silently wiping at my eyes as I read, feeling the pain of his losses, waking in my heart distinct sensory memories of loneliness.
And perhaps that’s why I write to you today. Because those feelings of loneliness are memories. Memories that when felt today, surprised me in their intensity. I had forgotten what this loneliness felt like.
When loneliness was present, I was sure it would never end. The everlastingness of the pain relenting only in brief moments to gather more power for its return. It’s what led me to almost give up multiple times.
It was only through opening up to others, finding gentleness for myself and releasing that which I’d been too stubborn to let go of, that I was able to start feeling the presence of the light around me. In each of my angels, appeared to me in human form as friends, social workers and clients. As gifts sent for me to “find” in books, websites, medication, movies, art.
I’m speaking at the TWLOHA Supporter Conference on Sunday and I’m nervous as hell. Because this means so much more to me than any other event I’ve spoken at before. Because it’s not just my speech; it’s my people, it’s my movement, it’s my why.
And for that reason, I have no cause for anxiety. Because these people are here to bring love, not to bring judgment or shame. Just because my beliefs warn me that I’m not good enough, just because there’s history I fear will repeat itself, doesn’t mean it’s true or that it will.
I write because I hope it helps you feel like TWLOHA helps me feel: known and loved in spite of my darkness.
I fear – and maybe you do, too – that certain emotions and thoughts make me unlovable. That if people truly knew what I thought and what was in my heart, they would call me a fraud and take back their love and support. That because I need help I am weak, and so reaching out triggers shame attacks so strong I avoid it until I can’t.
But when I do reach out, I am almost always met with a surprising amount of love and care. Surprising. Every time. Deep gratitude-inspiring, heart-expanding surprise.
Maybe you can start to allow surprise into your life, too, if I show you that – though incredibly difficult – it is possible. Plausible.
The conference was intense in the best of ways. It’s Tuesday now and my head no longer hurts from the planes and processing.
Sunday morning, I did my 45-minute speech. The longest one to date, and the most vulnerable by far. I talked about the most recent plan I had to leave you, the one I rarely visit. It was in 2008 when my life turned upside down, when I thought my heart belonged to someone who didn’t know how to hold it, when I thought I must have done something wrong. Scratch that. I must have BEEN something wrong.
I talked about how – through opening up to the love around me – I finally felt heard and seen for the first time in my life outside of music and books. How TWLOHA opened me up to my mission in life: to help you feel heard and seen and to empower you to realize you are stronger than your struggle.
There were technical difficulties (the name of the game as I’ve learned over the months of speaking for NAMI). I didn’t feel as grounded as I usually do. I only forgot one line.
I left the stage unsure of how I did, beating myself up for small things, but not to a pulp this time. Just a few bumps and bruises… progress not perfection, right?
I heard some excellent feedback from people in the audience and on the TWLOHA team, and yet, despite all my healing and worth work, I am having trouble receiving it. I’m arguing it away. I’m telling myself they’re just saying that because they’re nice people.
But I caught myself.
So what if they are? What if they care enough about me to want me to feel good? Would that be the worst thing?
Then I caught myself again.
What if I really did do a good job? What if the things that went wrong paled in significance to everything that went right?
Writing this now, I know that it’s true. I hit my beats. I stayed true to my heart throughout and connected to Source.
I did a good job. Writing that feels dangerous, like I’m opening my arms to judgment. Come on in, I say. Steal this joy back from me.
I’m a motivational speaker. I do this regularly. And yet, I still feel crippled by fear and shame every time I do it. It still takes me active processing time to recognize when I do well because my instinct is to sabotage it. I’m uncomfortable with success and joy, so I look for reasons it shouldn’t be mine.
I write all this not so you’ll feel bad for me or reassure me or whatever else you might do in response. I write this so that you can see that even I – a professional speaker and teacher, one who is supposed to “have it all together” – struggle on a regular basis, too.
Fear never fully leaves us. We just get more resilient. Love just gets louder.
If I can experience this fear and shame and bring myself back home to Love, so can you. It’s just practice. Deliberate, foundation-cracking choices made over and over again until they’re easier.
Every moment is a chance to start the practice. So let’s begin with this one.
1st & 2nd image by Alex Jones for To Write Love On Her Arms.