Ali Brooks does amazing work! She leads an empowerment group for girls with Maureen Cassidy right here in Madison. She is also an amazing artist and social worker who works with women who have experienced trauma. Find her website here: Medicine for the Heart and find the link to her girls’ empowerment group here.
“I was livid at myself for having allowed myself for that many years to rely on somebody else to make my moral choices”
You love your kids. You are devoted, you work hard, you want them to have what you missed as a kid. You want them to have more, to know how loved and important they are.
Those things are true on days when you feel happy, loving it all. And it’s also true on days or weeks or months where you feel unfulfilled, lonely, stressed or boxed in.
Other feelings you might have about parenting but are afraid to admit it to yourself:
This is some deep shit. Those aren’t fuzzy feelings. One of the greatest dangers we face as parents is denying how we feel about parenting. If we only allow ourselves one feeling: “I love being a parent,” we suppress much of our daily experience. Squashing feelings down creates anxiety, depression, and physical imbalance.
Let’s just assume and know that the love is always there underneath whatever we are feeling day to day. If you are frustrated because your child just did something dangerous or reckless and you want to shout and swear at them but know that you can’t, where does that fear and frustration go? Your body holds onto it for you and is ready at any moment for you to acknowledge that it’s there, and find a way to release it through exercise, art, movement, breath, journaling, or whatever works for you to see yourself and acknowledge your experience. Just as we teach our kids, we need to recognize all the feelings, even the unfuzzy ones.
When I interviewed my mom about her birthing and postpartum experience, she shared that she went through a low postpartum period where she remembers rocking her baby back and forth saying to herself, “I love being a mom, I love being a mom,” scared by the words because she couldn’t quite feel them and she wanted to convince herself of their truth.
She knew there was love there somewhere, but what she was feeling in that moment was scared and sad.
Whatever feelings we go through about parenting, the love is always underneath. But if we don’t allow ourselves to feel the frustrations, anger, sadness, disbelief, fear, and helplessness that often come with raising kids, those feelings will keep asking to be seen until they are seen, so they can be released.
There are things I love about being a mom and things that are hard. Really hard. I sometimes feel resentful or sick to death of getting up early or burnt out on caregiving. Honoring myself through these feelings can help me access the joy and love underneath. It doesn’t have to be either/or. I love my kids and I feel tired. I love my kids and I feel sick of the tantrums. I love my kids and I feel angry they won’t eat the dinner I cooked.
Parenting is a long road, a forever road. To be well on the journey, we can be who we are and we can feel how we feel.
This could be 18 posts, not just the one. But I’ll try to keep it short. If you need more about how important it is to honor yourself and your journey and to find a way to fucking own it, you can find more here and here. And go to Oprah.com.
Here it is in a nutshell. You are important. Motherhood is transformational. You have a right to know who you are.
Motherhood is as much about self-discovery as it is about discovering your children and the world through new eyes. As the spiritual guru Rajneesh said:
“The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.”
And that is you.
You may find yourself thinking new thoughts, feeling unsatisfied in relationships, wanting to leave a job behind, hoping to go to school, wanting more sex or not caring about things you used to think were essential: religion, fashion, status, whatever.
To mildly put it, keeping up with who you are improves your quality of life. You have every right to explore your feelings, thoughts, sensations, body, preferences, regrets, longings, nuances, hopes, and passions.
If self-exploration is new to you, future posts will include ways to help you get started. Or check out the services I offer to work with me.
West before East
13 years old, backyard cement slab, suburban spiritual desert
cigarette smoking, Virginia Slims stolen from my long blonde dance teacher
she kept them next to the record player and my hands
hit the ceiling of her basement studio
when I jumped, really just looking for freedom
and the other side of the world, home to wisdom keepers
finding paths through movement to higher planes
unknown, they rang the bell in me, a light in the smoke,
a silent unseen hope, hope, hope
At 13, I wanted to feel more freedom than I was feeling. I sensed there was some element of explanation to myself and life that I needed but couldn’t locate. Where was the missing essential component, an unnamed magic that would explain all the various and separate activities, messes, mysteries, disappointments, awarenesses and relationships of life?
I needed a unifying theory and cosmic explanation for why some people were liars, why getting A’s mattered, why I was the last person in my whole class (or maybe galaxy) to get my period, why intuition didn’t count as intelligence, why sometimes a shout was not loud enough, why my mom’s church thought people were born with dirty souls, and why sometimes you lose the things you love.
Naming these questions, this demand for explanation didn’t come until later, like today in my 40’s as I am blending a green smoothie, hoping it doesn’t taste like leaves.
Back then there was just a sense that…. people around me believed they weren’t connected and somehow that wasn’t right and I knew it wasn’t right. So gimme a cigarette, says 13 year old me.
I didn’t know there were others also seeking breadcrumbs on a path inward and searching for wisdom in life’s everything. The absence of that knowledge created a loss that defined a lot of my teens and 20’s. It created devastating anxiety and depression, and big issues with trust and relationships- and it scared me to my bones.
In my neighborhood and culture growing up, the idea that nothing and no one was really interconnected with anything else created systems that validated us by measuring us.
Like the Catholic church, where they were happy to tell you what was right and wrong or good and bad for you and how well you were doing with your salvation….(don’t get too stressed out, though, because if you don’t do well, the consequence is ETERNAL HELLFIRE, so relax.) Or friends motivated by insecurity from always needing to be better, who acted calculating and contradictory. There was a continual need to strive for pretty, thin, cool, smart, accepted. And, of course, a grading system at school that measured how well we could adjust to outside standards of what intelligence and accomplishment looked like. I felt assessed by the systems around me. Systems I didn’t support but was already in.
Why am I thinking of this today? Because like so many of us, I’m healing myself of those wounds from my past by diving passionately into the present.
Our authentic selves require expression, attention, love and security. When we have unresolved pain, there are parts of us that bind up or scab over. So even though we’re not actively in pain anymore, we’re still living from a place that has restriction and scar tissue, which affects our ability to move smoothly and freely through the world. Both within ourselves mind-body-soul and within our lives intention-action-manifestation.
I’m fully on board living authentically and seeking spiritual truths and unity. It all feels like the freedom I’d longed for as a kid, when I couldn’t identify why things felt disconnected or what I was missing. I wasn’t exposed back then to ancient wisdom traditions and texts, mystical studies, meditation, movement and meditation practices that had been teaching things like enlightenment and unity for thousands of years. And so to discover that this path exists and has existed for so long feels like I’ve been sitting on a pot of gold I never knew was there. I just thought I was sitting on a really uncomfortable chair.
And isn’t that everything? To discover the riches that are already here? We live in an infinite universe. The answers, the healing, the relationships, the love we seek is already here. But if we don’t find it by seeking it and focusing it into life, we are like the story of the fish not knowing they’re in water.
If we keep seeking deeper and deeper affirmations and questions, only then can the universe answer us. The avenues of living intuitively, mindfulness, meditation, yoga, breathwork, energy psychology, self-reflection, self-awareness, compassion and gratitude are what heals the scar tissues and enables us to evolve and live our lives free of energetic, mental, physical, and ethereal restrictions.
Freedom from the past, from the way it’s held in our bodies and minds allows us to be fully in the present. And focusing on the freedom in the present releases the ways our bodies and minds have held onto things.
I wish I could share this news with myself back when I when I was 13. And I can. Through releasing the restrictions that were formed through those years of struggle, and offering gratitude for the wisdom and resiliency gained. By intending that future lessons be gentle and learned through love. By doing that, I scoop her right off that cement and into the arms of the unconditional love that awaits right here with me in the present.
Today I had a rather large emotional release. I was thinking about my senior year in college- a tough time in my life and about to get tougher. My close friends had graduated the year before and moved away, my dad and I were struggling to maintain a relationship of any kind, I was relying on weed and alcohol for stress-relief, I had no idea what I was going to do after graduation, I hadn’t recovered from a summer breakup (nonchalant for him, devastating for me,) and that winter a friend committed suicide. I would discover later that his confused soul invaded my space and attached to me, causing terrible confusion and increased my already high anxiety and panic that affected me for years.
The rising anxiety and daily panic attacks affected how my body processed weed and alcohol. They had been working for years as self-medication, but now seemed to exacerbate anxiety. Enter xanax and therapy and somehow I managed to make it through finals and graduation.
I remember coming to one of my last finals. As I was walking down the hallway, I could feel a panic attack coming on. When I got to the room, that familiar surge of overwhelm and raw panic welled up into me like a tidal wave. “Shit, not now,” I thought. There was no way I could take one more step into the room. The walls were closing in. My heart was exploding, my chest was pressing in on me.
I waved to the teacher, Blane Harding, from my spot in the hallway and he graciously walked over to me. I simply said, “I can’t go in there.” He took a look at me and could see how agitated I was. I likely looked like I had seen a ghost and would bolt out of the building at any moment. Which was true.
Without a fuss, and as if it were the most normal thing in the world, he pulled a desk from the room out into the hallway and said, “Will this work?”
I’ve never been so grateful for someone’s kindness and matter-of-fact way of handling the situation. I took 1 and 1/2 xanax and battled my panic until it kicked in as I did my exam alone in the hallway.
What I learned that day, and what has stayed with me, was the power and importance of seeing what is right in front of you, without judgment, and allowing it to be.
Professor Harding could have done any number of things but instead he noticed me, listened to my words, and responded by offering an alternative that would work for me and where I was at in that moment. He didn’t try to fix me or even ask why I was needing what I needed. He simply noticed me and allowed me to be just as I was. In that space of noticing and allowing, some of the greatest healing can occur.
This process of noticing and “being with” is often called holding space. It is an integral part of how we connect to our own bodies, and in turn, with each other. It is how true connection begins.
To begin learning how to hold space for yourself, within your own body, I recommend this book:
The Power of Focusing by Ann Weiser Cornell
It will teach you how to listen to and be with yourself without judgment. Through this process, connecting to the innermost parts of you can happen. Those parts are extremely wise and have much to communicate with us.
To learn more about the sessions I offer that incorporate this kind of work, click here.