Demons Are a Girl’s Best Friend

Skylar Liberty Rose

A couple of weekends ago I went food shopping and, along with the other groceries, I bought a big bar of chocolate. When I picked it up in the store I had done so with the intention that I would eat it over a few days. But then I got home and ate some of it. And that some of it had left me craving some more of it and then some more, still.

After that I stopped and put the bar away. But not before I’d had a moment where I thought to myself “Well I could just eat the whole bar and then make myself sick”.

Damn you, old habits. Why don’t you just die already? Bulimia, we broke up remember? Why you calling me?

It’s like a script that I know word by word. A dance that I know move by move. And it doesn’t mean I’m going to stick to that script or make those moves, but there’s no point pretending that I don’t know them by heart.

I won’t pretend because I know that there is danger in denial.

Sure, I could lie and say that I never have those kind of moments, that those thoughts belong to an old life and an old me. I could say that I put that kind of temptation out with the trash years ago and oooh look at me now, aren’t I just so fabulously together, eating my quinoa and kale and never thinking about binging on biscuits and then purging every unbearable bit of evidence out of me.

Or I could just acknowledge the emotions and deal with the demons.

I used to keep my demons in a box. I had to be sure they’d stay contained so they couldn’t hurt me. I’d sit on the box to keep them from escaping. But it gets wearisome after a time. Sitting on boxes of demons. Have you ever done that? It’s uncomfortable and lonely. You don’t get to join in the fun with everyone else because you’ve got this big cumbersome box that you have to keep sitting on.

Every now and again I’d check the contents of the box, hoping that perhaps the demons had given up and shriveled up. But there they were, still going strong.

It was then I realized that they were determined to talk to me. And for the first time ever in my life, I let them.

They introduced themselves to me. They had names like Shame and Fear and Ugly. They were smaller than I’d imagined and I was surprised at how uncertain they were once they were out of the box. I noticed that they didn’t seem to know exactly where to go or what to say. I remember thinking “I feel like that sometimes, too”.

There’s something I’ve learned about demons: mostly they just want a little bit of reassurance. They need to know that they’re not really the bad guy. They’re looking for a bit of love and affection, same as the rest of us.

I felt exposed and vulnerable with all my darkness out there in the daylight. But I also felt strong and capable. It was as though I was letting the world see me in 3D rather than the selected angle that I’d previously thought would only ever be acceptable.

I got rid of the box after that. I replaced suppression with expression. Instead of striving to be flawless and presenting myself as a perfect person, I decided to paint a much more realistic picture of who I was. Using all the colors. Not just the rainbow ones. And I found out something really, really cool – I liked myself. A lot.

I found out other things, too. I discovered that befriending Shame, Fear and Ugly meant that I was able to take some of the stories I’d written about myself and tear them up. Bulimia was one of those stories.

And yes, sometimes that story comes back into my mind and catches me off guard.

Sometimes other stories come back. When that happens I know I need to get together with my buddies, the demons. I have a chat with them and find out what’s up. I listen. Sometimes we have cocktails. Hug it out. You know, like friends do.

Maybe your demons look like mine. Maybe they have different names. Maybe you feel fear-full or shame-full.

Maybe you’ve written stories about yourself with titles like I Don’t Deserve Love or I’ll Never Be Good Enough or that old favorite, I’m Broken and Worthless.

Maybe you’ve stuffed a box full of your own scared secrets and you’ve been sitting on it for too many years, not knowing how on earth you’ll ever get up.

Know this. There is no part of you that isn’t deserving of love – not a single cell in your body. Every tiny molecule that makes you up is good enough, the darling parts and the demon parts. Being friends with all of who you are is the key to your own liberation. And square-cut or pear-shaped, those demons only add to your own beautiful worth, so stop shutting them away.

 

Also published by Not Salmon

A Story of Self Acceptance (Notes from a Woman Who Made Her Own Rules)

Skylar Liberty Rose

© Leon Cato Photography

“It is not the critic who counts”. How many times have I read those words from Theodore Roosevelt? How many times have I repeated them?

And yet, recently I’d found myself listening to those very same critics. Intently.

My self discovery journey began seven years ago when I decided to forget who they’d told me to be and started exploring who I really was. I’d had an attack of pancreatitis back in 2008. It came out of the blue and I was hospitalized and kept on a drip for days.

There’s nothing like a health scare to bring clarity at lightning speed.  

The hospital was full to bursting and I was moved to a ward that was primarily for elderly people. Very, very ill elderly people. I remember being taken to the bathroom one evening, my drip stand pulled along beside me, looking at the faces that occupied the rows of beds.

I saw shriveled sallow skin. I saw oxygen masks. I saw eyes that held nothing but fading light. I saw lone souls that probably weren’t going to make it out of that ward.

I made a promise to myself there and then that from that moment forward I would live. And I would feel. I would really feel. I wouldn’t mask anymore, I wouldn’t suppress and I wouldn’t wait for a better moment. There, on that ward, amongst the frail, tired shadows I decided to accept the gift of my life. I decided to do it my way.

I reclaimed my health and left my job, embarking on a six month trip to India and Bali. I volunteered at shelters, I practiced yoga at the foothills of the Himalayas, and I worked through some of the emotional baggage that I’d accumulated. That baggage looked like divorce and bulimia. It looked like self doubt and low self esteem. There was a lot to let go of.  

I’m not going to tell you that I suddenly had an epiphany in downward dog or that I felt blissed out for hours after meditation. Mostly I was hot and pissed off. Traveling solo can be the most amazing adventure but it can also be grueling.

I wasn’t trying to find myself. I was trying to remember myself. And I was judged for it.  

I found myself explaining to people why I was taking time out to travel. I sometimes saw the sneers behind the smiles, the barbed comments dressed up as something else.

I presented my choices to people in a way that I hoped would be acceptable to them rather than meaningful to me.

It was the first time that I became conscious of what it was to feel simultaneously high and low. High, because my choices felt completely authentic. Low, because my choices weren’t deemed appropriate to others.

On my return to England I decided that, following my divorce, it was time to change my last name. But my maiden name didn’t feel like a fit for me anymore. I wasn’t her. I wanted to move forward, not back. So I chose a whole new last name. And then realizing that, actually, I could do whatever the f*ck I wanted, I changed my first name, too.

Cue, disbelief and ridicule from the masses. Again, the simultaneous high and low.

Apparently, Real People had Real Jobs and didn’t change their names. They didn’t explore and experiment. They didn’t say no to careers and yes to photography courses. They didn’t leave Good Husbands and split up with Nice Boyfriends. They didn’t train to be a yoga teacher and then decide not to be a yoga teacher.  

And blah, blah, bloody blah.

In the words of Ash Ambirge: Make your own rules or make your own grave.  

So, there I was. New name and no idea of what exactly I was doing with my life, other than running wildly in the opposite direction of all the things I knew I most definitely wasn’t interested in.

And before I knew it, I’d run all the way to New York (with a little help from a Boeing 747) and I’d taken one of my explorations, namely writing, and I started to get published and for the first time ever in my life, I was doing something I really, really loved. And I was good at it.

Cue, the critics.

(Did you think they’d gone to sleep? Oh no, they’re right there. Watching. Waiting. Whispering.)

Everyone thinks they’re a writer these days”.  

“Most of these bloggers don’t even know what an adjective is”.  

You’ve gotta love social media. At some point we stopped using status updates to tell the world we were at the gym and we began using them to tell painstakingly point out the flaws in the lives of others.  

Classy move, world.

Suddenly I started to realize how regularly my news feeds were filled with people sharing articles, not because they wanted to applaud them, but because they wanted to attack them.

Too many people were talking too loudly and too often about everything they hated. And I was listening to them.

Empowerment suddenly seemed to be a dirty word. I began thinking that perhaps I’d better not use that word anymore because maybe I’d be ridiculed. Another one to add to The Ridicule List.

I panicked, thinking that perhaps I needed to re-strategize. Empowerment was out, and I daren’t use the word warrior because that was on The Ridicule List, too. So was poetry. And anything organic. Yoga was scoffed at and I could literally see eyes rolling at any reference to goddess.  

I thought that maybe the critics knew that I didn’t have a college or university degree, that I’d dropped out of the only writing course I’d ever taken after just a few sessions. Who did I think I was, trying to pull off this life anyway?

But whilst having this period of self doubt of everything I was doing, I noticed something else – I felt flat. As in, depressed and dispirited kinda flat.

I was taking such big steps back from my own authentic message, and with every single pace I felt more and more disconnected. I realized that I’d lost My Way and I was getting swallowed up in Their Way.

So, I walked myself back to a place where the real me was last seen. I reminded myself I’d rather live in a brave yard than die in a graveyard. And I remembered some truths:  

1. People will tear down anything and they will do so for a multitude of reasons. Fear and envy usually come tops.

2. Adopting Brené Brown’s practice of writing (and keeping) a list of the people whose opinions you truly care about is a game changer. Trust me, it will be a smaller list than you think. 

3. Living your life to please other people is both illogical and impossible. No need to even set foot on that pointless path.

4. Scrolling endlessly on social media is a sure fire way to lose both time and confidence. I’ve limited my scrolling time to 20 minutes a day. Whenever I worry about what I might be missing, I remind myself what I’m actually gaining.

5. Having a degree does not equate to being a Real Writer. Being able to use words to connect with people and spark something inside of them, does.

6. Anyone who makes a mockery of someone else’s words, work or worth in order to elevate themselves is best kept at a distance. Of several miles. 

7. It’s ok to have critics. It’s just not ok to allow them to direct your next move. They’re on the sidelines for a reason.

And most of all. Most of all…  

I’m remembering the woman in that hospital ward. The one who was so sick that she couldn’t make it to the bathroom on her own. I’m remembering the strained faces in the other beds near hers. The ones who weren’t going to make it.

Above all, I’m remembering the promise she made to herself. That no matter what challenges might come, no matter what judgments might be made, she would be true to herself. She would live with fierce authenticity and keep forging forward. She would do it her way.

And as wine is my witness, I will.

Look for the Lighthouses in Your Life

There is something about lighthouses that soothes me. They offer guidance and safety. They signal hope and home.

And so often recently, I keep thinking that’s all we are trying to find. Hope and home. Each of us on our own journeys, on our own uneven paths. Searching. Searching. Searching. For what we once had. For what we’ve never had.

And then we stumble across something or someone that shines their light so beautifully and steadily and our tired eyes are grateful for the illumination.

Look for the lighthouses in your life. The ones that bring you back to yourself. The ones that do not stand in judgment but offer sanctuary and welcomes of “You’re safe. I’ve got you”.

And always know that you are your own lighthouse, too.

Permission to Stop, Drop and Fall Apart

Skylar Liberty Rose

There is something surprisingly undramatic about the moments in which we realize we are going to let go. The moments in which we say, No to the places, people or pastimes that are depleting and unending in their efforts to take more and give less. 

No. I will not do this today. Nor tomorrow. Quite possibly, I may never do this again. 

Often, letting go is about softly making space, paying heed to gentle guidance, forging a new path, weaving a different pattern.  

It’s been less than a couple of months since I read the message from my mum. The one in which she told me that yes, the results of the biopsy taken from the lump in her breast had come back. And yes, it was cancerous. 

And yet, it wasn’t a defining moment for me. 

In fact, I just carried on. There were tears, many of them, but I carried on. As did she. 

Sleep was somewhat elusive for me, but that wasn’t particularly out of the ordinary. I carried on writing, carried on posting, carried on living. 

On and on and on. 

Then came the morning a couple of days after my mum’s operation. I call her on Skype, wanting to know how she is, how she’s feeling. She tells me she’s still feeling nauseous and a little tired. Then she tells me that my cat, Baby Sam, who I’d had to leave with my parents in London when I moved to New York, is not doing well at all. 

His health had been slowly deteriorating for some time. He’d held on for as long as he could and now it was time for him to be at rest. It was time for us to help him. My mum tells me that the appointment is scheduled for a couple of hours time, that my Dad will have to be the one to take him as she is not well enough. 

Suddenly I can’t speak, the words are caught in my throat, the tears are burning my eyes. I am full of guilt that I am not there, that my parents have to take care of this final task of looking after him, that they have more heartache to deal with. 

I have to end the call. I cannot break down in the way I need to. I cannot ask my mum to carry my hurt, too. For him. For her. For all of us.  

I’m staying at someone else’s apartment for a few days, looking after a beautiful sweet souled dog, Chessie. Now, I feel as though I am unraveling and it feels strange to be doing so in surroundings that are not mine. I tend to shelf my pain until I am in a safe space, somewhere familiar. Then I can let the dam burst. But this news has found me here, and so it is here that I must deal with it. 

I call my husband and blurt out this fresh pain between my tears. I tell him this is too much, too painful. He says the right words but it is the love in his voice that pierces through the most. He doesn’t try to minimize my grief. He simply holds space for it. 

Once again, I can’t speak. Once again, I have to end the call. 

Not knowing what else to do, I go and lay on the bathroom floor where Chessie is sleeping. I want to be next to her. I want to be near another living creature. I need to feel her life force as Baby Sam’s life force slips away. 

Whole body sobs wrack through me. I realise that it is not just my beloved pet I am grieving for. I am also grieving for the years that have gone, the years he witnessed with me. Almost seventeen of them. 

He was right by my side for so many memorable moments. One marriage, one divorce, six house moves, a few boyfriends, a few more jobs, birthdays, Christmases, lazy Sunday afternoons and lively Saturday night dinner parties. He’d curled up by my side as I’d read books and watched movies, he’d offered up his warm fur for me to cry into on countless occasions and he’d woken me up at all hours wanting food. Even when I was no longer living with him, I knew he was still there. Always there. 

But now he wouldn’t be. 

And it is here, on the bathroom floor, that the defining moment comes. When the pain that’s been balled up inside of me finally wants to be felt. 

I don’t want my mum to be sick. I don’t want anything to happen to her. I am not ready to deal with losing her. I never will be. 

I lay on the tiles and see fragments of my life circle around in my mind. Memories that have been in storage for so many years are let loose. 

I want to steal back in time. Not to relive the moments, but to witness them. To see all the detail I can’t remember. To notice all the ordinary. 

Still laying next to Chessie, still crying, I reach for my phone and take a photo of us, knowing I will need to write about it later. Knowing that the creative release is always, always my healer. 

I also know that I have to pull myself together, temporarily at least, as the commitments of the day are calling me. My body feels so heavy on the coolness of the floor and I wonder if I didn’t have any scheduled appointments, how long I might stay here. 

I go through the motions. Opening the apartment door. Leaving the lobby. Walking out into the street as I silently will the city to be gentle today. But how do you ask one of the most chaotic cities in the world to keep quiet? To make space for your thoughts. Not to intrude on your grief. How do you tell the traffic not to invade your every sense today. 

Outwardly I look the same. My red, puffy eyes that have known only a few hours sleep for the past weeks are hidden with dark glasses. Nobody can see inside. 

My mind drifts off to all the other people who are hurting right now. What about the man walking a few steps in front of me, the cyclist that pauses to let me pass. Are they hurting, too? Did something happen in their world this week that is tearing their insides to shreds? And how would I know? What outward sign might there be?

I think to myself that we need to have t-shirts made with a slogan which we can wear when we’re falling apart: I’m Not OK Today. I’m Hurting. Please Be Kind. 

And then I wonder how many of us would be wearing those t-shirts at any given time. How many of us are hurting across the globe. How many of us are lying on bathroom floors that aren’t ours, unraveling and raw, sobbing over cancer and cats. 

Every interaction I have is given a split second assessment. Do I have the energy to engage? What will this engagement cost me? What do I have in reserve? The answer comes back: Fuel tanks down. Running on empty. 

I call to mind part of a poem that I’ve seen so much of lately, words of Warsan Shire:

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.

Then I think of my own words that I silently say in my mind whenever I read hers:

and then I whispered
where is the love? 

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.

I hurt now, because I loved then. I love now even though I know I will hurt in the future. Such is this tapestry of life.  

I know I am letting go. I know I am stepping back. And even though I do not exactly know what I am letting go of, or what I am creating space for, I am trusting my soul and its ancient wisdom to guide me. 

I think we all need to fall apart from time to time, to look at our pieces strewn all over the floor and then slowly, carefully reassemble ourselves. Being mindful of how it feels when we put ourselves back together. Paying attention to the parts that are tender and torn, noticing what has been neglected, what needs to be nourished. 

I own this unraveling and I honor it. It is mine. I will claim it and covet it as much as any joyful, sun drenched victory. It carries its own sense of peace, its own beautiful light.

I am falling into it.

4am and Other Reluctant Friendships

4am and Other Reluctant Friendships

4am is my newly found acquaintance. One that I was never interested in making.

She’s as punctual as they come. Every morning, right on time. And even though I’ve assured her that I don’t need to witness her arrival, she shakes me awake nonetheless.

She frequently introduces me to her friends, 5am and 6am. Truth be told, I like them even less.

But recently, to my surprise, it seems we have formed an alliance. An uneasy one at first, but her persistence has paid off. I’ve found myself resigned to her inevitable appearance. “So, here we are again. Pull up a chair. I’m listening. What urgent share do you have for me this early morn?”

She always spills.

The thoughts that are rejected by the daytime hours are collected by her willing hands.  Reflections which refuse to be drowned out by the noise that sunlight brings. They desire their moment in the spotlight of silence, demanding that they be seen and examined. As soon as 3.59 has breathed a final breath, she rushes in, ready to present her wares. 

4am holds armfuls of dark treasure, baskets of words that swim their way over to me. They dive into my mind as though I were the ocean they’d been longing to dip in.

For a long time I greeted this unwelcome awakening with contempt. I resented such robbery of precious sleep and the rude refusal of this uninvited visitor to leave.

And then I saw that she was trying to help me. She’d spent all day tirelessly searching the deepest parts of me so she could show me what I couldn’t see for myself.

We are so very naked in those small hours. All of our vulnerabilities float up to the surface wanting to be loved. There in the shadows we are our truest selves, unedited and unadorned.

Somewhere deep in the restlessness, embedded in the resistance, there is acceptance. Of what is. Of what will be.

Instead of willing sleep to return, I’ve stopped fighting the shifting light. There’s something oddly soothing about it’s reassuring progress. It is symbolic of impermanence. Nothing can remain the same, everything must change. 

It is these early morning meetings of truth that have lead me to examine my other reluctant friendships. After all, isn’t reluctance our greatest guide?

Joy tells us what we already know about ourselves. Reluctance speaks differently. It tells us what remains unexamined and unresolved. It’s the crumpled map to our own peace, yet we still resolutely fold the page over and try to find another route. Still. After all these years of our souls guidance.

I used to be disinclined to explore the dark spaces. Far better to turn away and leave the uncomfortable emotions well alone. But I always felt divided somehow. As though if I opened myself up I’d find that I was comprised of two piles: loved and unloved. 

How callous we are to our own hearts.

Light and dark do not fight each other. Day and night co-exist in harmony. The melting moon surrenders to the rising sun without complaint. I am learning to acquire the same grace.

If there is a part of me I am reluctant to love then that is my soul speaking, that is my soul saying: Go there, be there, love there

I’m making friends with Fear and Self Doubt and Not Good Enough. They’re not the enemy, they never were. Just parts of me that need some extra love. I don’t have to hang out with them for hours. I just acknowledge them, say hello, then move on. Some friendships go that way.

4am is teaching me to sit with the feelings. To see them as they are without asking them to be different. She shows me how if I just hold the emotion in my hands, if I just cradle it softly, it might show me some of its story.

I sometimes think that it isn’t revealing who we are to others that scares us. It is revealing who we are to ourselves. To stand in our bare skin and love all of who we are. Not to be selective. Not to look away. 

In these moments of silence I am bringing myself back to life. The small child in me trembles as she tries to tell me that she cannot be loved, that she’s too damaged and dreadful and quite unworthy.

In these moments of solitude I am telling her that I love her anyway. That I love her even more. That there is nothing to forgive.

Maybe I’m not as tangled and torn as I sometimes think. Maybe I’m as whole as I ever was, as broken as I never was. Maybe I can throw the memory doors open wide and not be afraid of the past that rushes in.

I’ve fought too hard, too long. I’ve held on too tightly to far too much. And here, now, in the softness of release, I marvel at how easy it is to let go. To surrender to myself. Not to say yes. Not to say no. Only to say nothing and let the early morning moment have its own voice. 

There is nothing more necessary than this breath. Nothing more timely than the story that fills this second. Before and after are dead and unborn. They are either expired or yet to exist. There is only now. There is only ever now.

Now holds everything.

 

Image courtesy of Bill Williams

My Husband Is a Black Man. My Husband Is a Target.

Leon Cato Photography

My husband comes over to kiss me goodbye before leaving the apartment to go to a photography shoot. “Be careful out there” I say to him.

As he shuts the door behind him, my mind swims with the images I’ve just seen of the moment Alton Sterling’s life was taken by a police officer. He was the 114th black man to be killed by police in America this year.

I feel sick at the thought that there are still five more months left before 2016 is over, which means there are five more months for that figure to get higher. And higher. 

My husband is loyal and loving. He brings me fresh lemon and ginger tea every morning, he cooks dinner for us every evening. He’s my partner in creativity and my staunchest supporter. He’s not at the center of my world – he’s woven into every part of it.

But none of that will matter if he happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

My husband is a black man.

My husband is a target.

When I see footage of families grieving for their black brothers and fathers, their sons and loved ones, there is always a part of me that thinks “Will that ever be me?” 

But this is not about me. It’s about him. It’s about the way society sees him differently.

I remember the first time we got stopped as we were leaving a store together, the security guard asking to check our receipt. I remember being surprised that we had to provide proof of the purchases we’d just made. And I remember thinking “This doesn’t happen when I’m on my own”. 

Our marriage has been described as progressive and I feel nauseous at the use of that word. The label is less about our individuality and more about our inter-racial relationship. It bothers me that science and technology advance every day, yet equality and acceptance are still struggling to be seen.

My husband moves through this world with a different set of danger signals.

The sound of a police siren is different to his ears.

The sight of a police officer is different to his eyes.

We are both law abiding citizens, free from convictions. But only one of us is free from racial profiling. 

I was recently sexually harassed in the street. It was nearby my home and my husband was there within a minute or two. The guy that had made abusive remarks to me had already run off into the subway station. My racing mind was relieved. I knew that if my husband had caught up with him there might have been an incident. Which means there might have been police. And I do not want my husband near the words “incident” and “police”. Not ever.

We often attend protests and rallies together, peacefully marching for the rights of the marginalized and oppressed. Each time I’m mindful of what’s going on around us, of any change in the mood of the crowd, of any rising restlessness.

Because I know that in a single second it could be my husbands face that I see pressed against the ground. It could be a chokehold on his neck. It could be a gun pressed into his back.

It will not matter that there were witnesses who will testify he did nothing wrong. It will not matter there was video footage to back up those testimonies. It will not matter that he has one of the most beautiful hearts and brilliant minds I know. 

It will not matter.

It will not matter.

He will not matter.

And that’s why I made myself watch the video of Alton Sterling losing his life. Why I watched the video of his son breaking down in tears.

How many more hashtags? How many more lives? 

As has become the norm in the wake of such deaths, the Internet goes wild with justifications as to why taking a mans life was an acceptable act. There is talk of previous criminal convictions, questions raised as to worthiness of moral standing. Apparently this condemnation is appropriate. Apparently having a past legitimizes extinguishing a future.

Pull trigger first, assassinate character later.

I hope at the time of my death I am not subjected to public scrutiny as to whether I met a fitting end, as to whether I deserved it. I hope my family do not have to read scathing remarks about me in comments sections, written by perfect strangers living perfect lives.

As a writer, I’m committed to shining a light on issues that I believe need to be illuminated. Ensuring that black lives matter is one of them. I am an artist who lives out loud. I will not be quiet about miscarriages of justice.

If I don’t use my platform, and my privilege, to bring something of substance to the table then I will have abused the rights that have been afforded to me.

There are still too many people shying away from too many inconvenient truths. It’s 2016 and we are still refusing to digest the facts that we deem to be unpalatable. We are still looking the other way and we are still not acknowledging that we each play a part in paving the way for a better world.

We are still chanting Not One More as the death toll increases. 

As I was writing this article I heard the news about Philando Castile. I watched his girlfriend recounting the horror she had just witnessed. I saw more hashtags that told me to Say His Name. And I did. I said his name and I silently, sickeningly said a number, too:

115.

If we truly want there to be no more lives lost then we need to look at how we’re living. I question daily how I’m being the change I want to see in the world. How I’m making a difference. I have to know that I’m doing more than posting a meme and sharing a Martin Luther King quote. Because quite honestly, that’s just not cutting it.

Self enquiry is uncomfortable. It’s easier for me to blame police officers with guns than it is to look at my own hands and question my own actions. How am I culpable? How am I complicit? Can I do more? Can I listen more? Can I love more?

I used to think that it was enough just to know that I wasn’t intentionally doing any harm. Now I know it’s not enough unless I am intentionally trying to help. That means having conversations and getting into communities. It means lobbying for change and standing up and being counted. It means not being deterred or distracted. It means solidarity and support.

I don’t have all of the answers. I don’t know the precise path forward. But I do know that unless I start with me, I can’t ask anyone else to do the same.

I do not want it to be an accomplishment that my husband comes home tonight. I do not want it to be an achievement that he is not on the news as Number 116. I do not want the man I love to be a statistic, his memory pulled apart before my grieving eyes. 

He matters.

His life matters.

His black life matters.

 

Let the Moments Seize You

“You know how everyone’s always saying seize the moment? I don’t know, I’m kinda thinking it’s the other way around. You know, like the moment seizes us.”

That’s one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite movies, Boyhood. And, for me, a reminder of all that we’ve forgotten.

Somewhere along the way we forgot that the moments seize us. We tried to harness them and give them names. We called them Monday and March, Wednesday and August. We told the moments to fit into windows of sixty seconds and sixty minutes and not to spill over into the next frame of time.

We forgot to let ourselves be seized.

We were told to save the best china, to keep safe the silver, to wait for the special occasions that may, or may not, come.

We forgot how mighty the moment is, how special and unrepeatable. So utterly rare as to never be quite the same moment again.

We were told that delayed gratification was a delight to be savoured, that all good things come to those who wait.

Some people spend their whole lives waiting.

The moment is here. The time is now. Don’t wait, Brave Heart. Don’t wait.

It Is Not the Storm That Slays Me

I saw you today. The dark clouds gave way to thunder and when the lightning chaser sparked up the sky, I saw your silhouette.

I’m not sure how many days you’ve been gone. For the longest time I kept count by the calendar, but somewhere along the way I forgot to keep track.

It’s been three and a half hours. It’s been four years. It’s been no time at all. It’s been forever.

I was bulletproof, you see. Secure in my safety vest that kept danger at bay and prevented hurt from piercing through. Such illusions we surround ourselves with. We think that if we earn enough, if we build enough and own enough that we’ll add strings to our bow of invincibility. We think that pain won’t find its way to us.

My mind has never been able to recall the exact words they spoke to me when they told me you’d gone. Those moments are forever lost to me. But my body holds the memory. My skin still remembers.

Through the muffled noise, in the empty chaos I felt as though I’d been shot. The gun came preloaded with pain. Bullets burned through me.  

I was still standing upright yet it seemed as though I were falling to the floor, cold concrete pressing into my cheek as I willed the world to stop moving. Of course you hadn’t gone. That was unquestionable. Unfathomable.

I needed time to understand. A moment. A century. Never.  

Later on, I learned that I had behaved quite calmly, spoken rationally, made sense. Apparently the screams in my head had stayed silent. It was only I who had been deafened by their roar.

There was a defining moment, there in the first throes of grief. A moment when I knew that my world had irrevocably altered.

The weeks that followed were fragmented. Layers. Loss. Devastation. Decay. Every time I tried to untangle my mind, more thoughts came flooding in. There was no room for them, but they came anyway. I looked for meaning in everything. I found solace in nothing. I didn’t know who I was or where I began.

I had nowhere to go. I had nowhere to be. All I could do was follow my restless feet to the next moment.

Seasons have come and gone since then and I have envied their ability to cease and recommence as though death were no thing to them, as though living were easy.

The days without you are like strangers I don’t want to meet. I have no interest in their empty embrace. The scent of every sunset haunts me, I cannot stand to see the curtains close on another day that you weren’t here to witness.

The world continues on, as it always has, as it always will. The woman on the subway pushes past me, the newspaper vendor stares through me, the coffee barista smiles at me.

I am stunned at how unaffected they are, at the ease with which they move. It is inconceivable to me that there is a person on this planet who has not been changed because of you.

Summer days are the hardest. The contagious joy that manages to infect everyone else is unable to catch me. Here, in the crowds of everyone and everything, I stand alone.

I welcome the winter and its blanket of snow. It covers what I can no longer bear to see.

The nights are made of you. Every fractured hour. Every broken dream. In the starlight, beyond midnight, I cry out with a raw rage that only the darkness can hold. I die a thousand times before the rays of the sun finally find a way to break through.  

There is some relief in the shadowy hours. I am not so seen. I can peel off the pretense and set aside the disapproving comments that I should be over this by now.

In the mornings I armor up. It’s become a familiar routine. Layer covers layer. Motion follows motion. It’s robotic and hypnotic all at once.

It is not the storm that slays me. It is the calm. The endless drops of silence that threaten to become an ocean of never ending nothingness. I cannot bear to sink into their depths. I am too terrified of what I might find out. About who we were together. About who I am without you.

I’m the shipwreck that is still throwing down an anchor. Still trying to secure my shattered pieces to something stable. If I can just hold on to something solid, I’ll be whole again.  

I’m told I will get through this, that I’ll move past this. Those words are a waterfall that washes over me, barely leaving a residue. I don’t want to get through, I don’t want to move past. I only want you back.

It’s more than I understand, more than I know how to feel. Loving you and losing you have been the lessons of my life.

Those shots of grief that ripped through me never quite found their way out. There was no exit wound. The hurt remains inside me but I have found a space for it where it has settled into something less devastating.

I speak to you often. The air around me holds my monologue with acceptant hands. Although your voice never calls out in reply, I am saturated with the sounds of you. There are echoes of you everywhere, faithful notes that never leave.  

Still there are times when a memory hurtles unexpectedly towards me, slicing my breath away with it’s too-sharp steel and once again I am floored with grief anew. But right before my center crumbles, something else steps in. A knowing. A resoluteness.

It’s an alchemical moment. What was transforms into what is. And pain cannot live in that moment. It’s a quiet, graceful second of extraordinary. A beautiful bare skinned tribute to truth.

It is from that truth that my comfort comes. Your story has etched itself so deeply onto every page of my soul. Your love lives on inside of me and I hug it to me like a precious, timeless gift, taking you with me wherever I go.

 

Image courtesy of Brenda Clarke

Things I Have Learned (and Remembered) in the past 168 Hours

Skylar Liberty Rose

1. Grief reveals us. It strips the skin from us and shows us who we are without the day to day adornments that we layer up with. It also shows us who others are. Sometimes there are surprises.

2. Self enquiry is uncomfortable. 

3. There are some relationships that it’s necessary to take a step back from. There are some that require two steps back. Or three.

4. Creativity is always a good idea. 

5. At times of crisis, soulmates step forward. They softly, quietly gather up our torn, scattered pieces and gently help to put us back together. They can do this in person or from afar. They’re magical that way.

6. Some hugs stay with us forever. 

7. It’s ok not to have all the answers. Or any answer. It’s ok not to know, or not to be sure. It’s ok to be human and imperfect and make a mess of the moment or the day or the week.

8. The answer to every problem can be found in the eyes of a dog. 

9. Being brave enough to be vulnerable is really necessary. It’s also really damn hard. But it truly is in those brutally bare moments that we receive the truths we most need.

10. People pleasing is a non paying position. Do not apply for that job.

11. It will never be completely easy. Whatever “it” is. For every moment of bright brilliance there will be many more moments of wading through deep marshes in thick fog wondering WTF is actually going on. Hang in there.

12. We are each of us enough. 

13. We can never fully accept anyone else until we are able to fully accept ourselves. Just when you think you’ve got your Self Acceptance Crown nice and straight, someone will come along and knock it off. It’s ok. Crown back up and own your throne.

14. Some wounds reopen after long decades have passed. Listen to their story but do not be defined by their words. Gently remind them that their time has passed. 

15. Every time the words “I love you” are uttered, a flower grows, a heart heals, a tide turns and a body breathes. Say those words often. And say them to yourself.

Humanity Is Hurting. It Is Time That Love Wins.

I do not pretend to understand a world in which guns and rapists are acceptable but love between same sex couples is deemed “wrong”.

“Wrong” is the fact that whilst people are losing their minds about “predators” in bathrooms, Brock Turner is given a slap on the wrist.

“Wrong” is the fact that we have a racist, bigoted presidential candidate who is allowed to get away with racist, bigoted remarks every damn day.

“Wrong” is the fact that a beautiful young woman, Christina Grimmie, was shot whilst signing autographs.

And “wrong” is the sickening news that I have woken up to on Sunday morning that at Latin night at Pulse Nightclub, people were held hostage and gunned down because of their sexual preferences.

It is not a crime to love someone of the same sex. It is not a crime to be queer. It is not a crime to dress in drag or identify in a different way. It is not a crime to love your God or have a faith. It is not a crime to have a different belief system than the person sitting next to you on the subway.

But it IS a crime that, here in 2016, we are STILL not respecting peoples human rights, that we are still dwelling on what we think divides us rather than what actually unites us. It IS a crime that people cannot exist without being harassed or hurt because someone else thinks they have a superior right.

Humanity is hurting and we have to rise up. 

It is easy for us to love the people we think are the same as us, people with similar beliefs and ideals. It is not so easy to love those whom we perceive to be as different.

Today, I implore you, go deep in your heart and find some love and compassion for someone who isn’t the same as you. And then take that love and make it count. Please.

My heart is breaking right now and I have to believe in a better world. Please, just love.

You can read the printed version of Until We Are Impossible to Ignore here.