Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Do you have nicknames?
Labels you give yourself or that other people have given you?
I respond daily to 20 different words besides my given name.  
They are terms of endearment, little love notes or labels
to show that I am special or unique.
They can be beautiful touchstones that help me feel 
loved, known or valued. 
Reminders that I matter to the nicknamer 
and that our relationship is special.

Sometimes though...nicknames can be less than wonderful. 
Do you know about back-handed compliments?
A back-handed compliment is an insult wrapped in 
a layer of sweetness-kind of a dark art form.
Older southern ladies are excellent at them.
That new hair cut sure makes your face look thinner!
Does that mean you like my haircut or that you think my face looks fat?
You have to be really clever to work words into a mixture
that makes the full meaning of them difficult to discern.

What about the nicknames you give yourself?
These are some of the sneakiest kind of nicknames.
Most of my life, I called myself a 'guy's girl'.
I swore like a sailor, drank like a fish, 
rolled with all the punches, laughed at all the jokes.
I developed a direct, aggressive communication style.
I became a bossy, outspoken, protector of underdogs.
I was not a 'shrinking violet' or a 'sweetheart'.
I was a girl who intended to navigate this world like the boys.

Describing myself as a 'guy's girl' was a way of 
framing some of my actual preferences that didn't seem to fit in
with female stereotypes that float around our culture.  
I love digging in dirt, science experiments, and watching action movies.  
Sci-fi, comic books, and power tools-all great!
I don't like having my nails done, shopping, or romance novels.
Also...I've got two brothers and have always had lots of male friends.
I like being liked by guys.
Saying that I was a 'guy's girl' felt powerful-
like reclaiming some of my identity in a world
that seemed to continually remind me to play small, be sweet.
I wanted to have every opportunity open, 
not be limited in the roles available to me.
I wanted to be the hero of my own story-
and in a lot of ways, I interpreted my strengths
and my goals as masculine.
A 'guy's girl'.
Term of endearment right?


This little label had some other, less positive nuances.
I have a challenging, broken relationship with my mother.
This primary relationship, the first love story of my life,
was with a young woman who was not ready or capable
of shepherding me through to adulthood.
My foundation for connection with women was fractured from the start.
My experiences with my mother, and my inability to trust her love-
made being a 'girl's girl' all but impossible.

As I grew into adulthood,
I often felt uncomfortable in my own skin around women.
I was not sure how to act, when to trust, 
when to be gentle or firm, when to listen.
I did not get a sense of belonging from meeting new women.
I got a deep sense of foreboding.

Being vulnerable in front of new women felt like setting myself on fire.
Protecting myself was the utmost importance-survival skills learned early
limited my bravery when it came to being myself.
So instead of listening for connection,
I often listened for reasons to justify keeping my distance.

I used to say-most women don't like me.
This was a limiting belief that I clung to so that I could justify my distance.
If they don't like me, I don't have to try.
If we have nothing in common, then I can stay in my cave.
Risk and vulnerability and the messiness of real connection-
I've had enough of that thanks.
I'll just stick to what I know.

To be clear, I DO have female friends!  
Incredible sister-friends who have walked with me for years.  
Women who saw me go through STUFF.
The women that I let myself be vulnerable and open before-
who saw me shatter, struggle, and laugh.
Who saw me screw up, work towards redemption and celebrate joy.
Not one of these women likes me because I'm a 'guy's girl'.
They love me because I am also a 'girl's girl'.

In some ways, these friends helped me justify the label of 'guy's girl'.

If I'd had zero female friends, maybe I would have seen it sooner.
Since I had several, and since they are so amazing in themselves, 
I inadvertently reinforced this limiting belief.
These women like me..so I'm not completely worthless.
Look at these jewels -I've hit the jackpot of friends.
I just don't NEED more women friends.
As if having more girlfriends would somehow be too much.
Or as if there was a catch limit on the number of close 
friendships women could have with other women.  
If I found a new friend who was a woman, 
I might have to give up an existing friendship.
There might not be enough of me to go around.
Another way to keep playing small.

Calling myself a 'guy's girl' was not a term of endearment.
It was a back-handed compliment.
Being a 'guy's girl' was another way of saying I was NOT a 'girl's girl'.
I picked one side (and sub-consciously rejected the other side).

Healing this wound was not on my radar.
I didn't see my 'guy's girl' label as a problem.
Until-like so many miracles, something very small happened.
I was invited into a mother-daughter group.
With five other moms and daughters that I barely knew.
And then another miracle....
I said yes (when what I wanted to do was run away).
I started to heal a little bit...breathe into this girl thing.
Only then did I start to notice how big the wound is.

Watch your mouth.
It will tell you the truth.
Nicknames are interesting.
And endearing.
And also....they can be limiting.
They can be flat-out insulting.
You have to be in on the joke to see it.
You have to know that you are not in fact
the nickname itself.

That you are something more that is not containable.
Test them.
Flip them inside out.
Turn them over to see the underside.
Pull out the limiting beliefs, put them in the daylight.

You might be surprised at what you find.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


Title of this post references an excellent song by Beyonce off of Lemonade (my personal 2014-16 soundtrack).

Walking through Target last week,
an older woman wrapped in a puffy coat and fuzzy hat 
brushes past me and says

A teenager and I make eye contact at Starbucks, 
both slightly swaying to the music and happily anticipating 
the impending caffeine buzz.
We smile, she ducks her head and tucks her hair behind an ear.
Two baristas simultaneously call drinks and put them on the bar.
She reaches, picks up mine, 
quickly puts it back down then says
with a smile.

In the produce section, a round little face babbles 
nonsense at me while he chews on a marshmallow treat.
By the time I've picked the red grapes over green, 
stated my opinions on Spiderman and dogs
the little guy and I are friends for life.
All I know about his mom is that she is sorry,
very very sorry.

As I turn the corner of the peanut butter aisle,
a harried mom with 3 kids spilling over a giant red cart
is directly in front of me.
Sorry she says as she attempts to make her 
precious cargo take up less space.

The cashier takes my coupons and I insert my card to pay.
I hit the wrong button and we have to start a step over.
I'm sorry she says.

Going out to the parking lot, a family of 4 halts
to double check their receipt,
put their wallet away and put on their coats.
The littles spin while trying to catch the open arm of their coat.
Cart traffic flows around them with nearly no hitch.
Still they pepper everyone who goes by with sorry.

Avett Brothers singing in a trailer are still awesome. (Click for you tube.)

Everywhere I move there are 10,000 apologies being murmured.
Sorry sorry sorry.
Always by women.
Or at least almost always.
Why are we apologizing so often?
What have we done to be so ashamed, so unworthy?
In all the words at our disposal,
why is the first one dripping off our tongues one of diminishing?
We are sorry.

My grandmother used to call something sorry 
that was broken or useless;
diminished and not living up to potential.
That sorry dog.
Those sorry people up in Washington.

When I first noticed the number of sorry's 
coming out of my own mouth,
I was shocked.
I decided to count them.
In one hour, I said 35 sorry's.
Twice I said sorry to myself
for doing normal, everyday activities.
What in the world?
How did this creep into my conversation
and set up such a large shop?
It is heartbreaking once you see 
the pervasiveness of this habit.

It is also infuriating.
Like watching someone hit themselves repeatedly
and feeling powerless to stop it.

It appears sorry has become verbal punctuation,
a stand-in for all the words that don't fit.
A way to keep us apart-and still meet 
the basic requirements of civility.
The first thing that comes to mouth
in almost every situation
is an overly simplistic apology.
An apology is not meant to be 
rote, thoughtless, or inconsequential.
What are you apologizing for?
Apologies only work their healing magic
when they are intentional.
Not haphazardly thrown out like
mosquito repellant.

Here's what I want to say every time I hear these words:
Stop saying sorry.
Wipe it from your vocabulary.
You're allowed to take up space.
Look at each person-including the one in the mirror.
Find other words to convey what you mean.
You might surprise yourself
by realizing that you don't owe anyone an apology
except yourself.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018


I was raised in the south so there is a certain 
tone that comes along with this phrase.
'You better' usually precedes these words
and if the full name on your birth certificate is used 
in sentences adjacent to this phrase...
you are quite possibly about to meet your Maker.
I'm used to this phrase being a threat-
but lately I've been turning this phrase on it's head
as part of my self-growth and love practice.
What if I watched my own mouth?

What if I paid as much attention to the words
I use when speaking to or about myself as I do
 when choosing what to say to others?
What if I was careful of my own heart as I am of my daughter's? 
What if I listened for secret insights into my own 
mind like I do with my son?
Would I find care and consideration?
The answer is often NO.
Not always...but often.

I have been taught since birth to
choose my words towards other people with care.
If you can't say anything nice-
don't say anything at all.
You'll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
Speak peace, say the right thing, don't be ugly, 
yes ma'am, no sir, thank you, excuse me.
I was only taught to use this skill EXTERNALLY.
Sweet talk was reserved for the things best said to others.
When talking to myself, my education was either silent 
to the finer points of self-speaking
or I was advised to be ruthlessly hard on myself to avoid 
'getting too big for my britches'.
Listening to the words I say to myself
is not part of my historical practice because it wasn't important.

To be fair....it can be hard to hear the words that I speak to myself.
My brain usually has about ten distinct conversations swirling around.
There are two dedicated channels going at all times:  schedules and food.
Then there's an array of other channels that get surfed in a constant round:
The last conversation with key people
Work projects
Personal projects
My outfit, my hair, my skin
My kids, my spouse, my dogs
Books and podcasts that interest me
And then there are events happening in the present moment!
It is a hot mess inside this brain-
a tornado that is very effective at distracting me
from what is going on with my soul.
Nayyirah Waheed

So how do I get to hear that internal voice?
Well...sometimes I have to hear the words OUT LOUD.
Some of the best clues to how my subconscious feels about me
are  found in conversations I am having with other people.
The words that I'm using will tell me if I watch my mouth,
if I pay attention like an outside observer might.
Here are some vocabulary indicators that I listen for, 
pebbles that lead the way-sometimes to little shame altars.

Diminishing Phrases

A friend asks 'How's your week?'
I might say 'Oh it's going good...just busy.'
Meanwhile....I haven't had a bathroom break in 5 hours,
I know I will leave my last meeting in a sprint to the car
so that we can eat dinner together before
going to a personal appointment at 7 pm.
Just busy, huh?
More like...over-scheduled and exhausted.

Using the word 'just' is pretty much a key symptom
 that I might not be loving myself.
I call this diminishing language.
When I minimize something that is stressful, 
anxiety producing or even possibly joy-giving-
my mouth is telling me to be small.
I might say 'I'm doing ok' instead of 'I'm struggling'.
I might use the dreaded words...'it's fine'
 instead of 'I am enraged'.
I might say 'It's no big deal' when what I really mean
is 'I'm so proud and excited my chest could burst'.
When the words that I choose are wholly insufficient 
to describe what is happening,
when my normally overly-articulate brain can only 
pull up simple descriptions,
I better watch my mouth.

Wimpy Verbs

Another indicator that I need to listen to my words
 is when I am using verbs that lack commitment or imply
that I am somehow not driving this car myself.
I'm trying, 
I might, 
I'm hoping, 
I wanted to
When I'm centered and strong and cared for-
I just don't use these kinds of passive words.
These words show me that I'm avoiding or afraid of something.
It's time to get curious about the sub-story
if I'm inadvertently giving my power away.
This life is my responsibility, my gift, my journey.
I have no intention of abdicating responsibility
and so I watch my mouth.

Choice Limits

If I am using the word 'should' relating to my own actions or choices,
then I'm holding myself hostage.
Should means there is only one possible outcome or choice
-or at least that it's important for some vague reason 
to believe the choices are limited.
There are almost no scenarios in life that are black and white.
With prayer and time, I can often think of hundreds of choices.
So a false assumption of limited choices tells me something.

Should also means that I am making a choice that my 
heart doesn't think is positive.
Should means I need to be coerced or convinced.
Taking an action that I don't believe in whole-heartedly 
means there will be a cost to pay down the line.
Sometimes I need to sit still and do nothing until the way
that I speak to myself about that choice has changed.
It is the right choice but I'm not ready to make it.
I should can sometimes change to I will.
It's important to give some grace until my mouth 
lines up with my heart.


I am not in competition and I don't need a scorecard to keep track of anything.
Not with anyone, not for any reason, not at any time.
My centered soul knows that it is beloved and enough and already worthy.
It does not worry about whether someone else does it better
or whether there will only be room at the table for the top scorers.
So if I'm suddenly saying that I might not be good enough,
if I'm focusing on the fall instead of the ride,
or feeling the attention of mysterious judges on the sidelines....
well, I better watch my mouth.

The ways that I speak from my heart always spread love.
In all ways.
If I watch my mouth
and I notice that I'm not spreading love,
fueling support and giving grace
then I need to make changes.
No excuses.
No passive verbs.
No minimizing.
Now-when I can do it imperfectly.
Not later when I have it all figured out.
It is essential that I love myself.
The pervasive self-denial and self-hatred
that runs through most people that I know
has no positive purpose and can never be a force for good.
Love yourself.
As you love your neighbor
(or your child, spouse or best friend).
Love yourself
by using your mouth 
to speak kindness
to yourself.
Do it now.
Do it daily.
Create a reminder or a ritual.
This is some of the most important work 
that only you can do for yourself.
Maybe the most.
Watch your mouth.
You better.

Got this beauty at Indio in Durham.  Fantastic place.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

ALTAR OF SHAME - Extended Version

Christmas 1975? A real joy on that little face.
Warning....this post is very sensitive material and may be triggering to survivors of abuse.  It's ok if you can't go here.  Please do what is best for you.  

Below is some content that I originally wrote as part 

of the Altars of Shame post.  
I took it out because that post was getting too long and 
because I didn't want to distract from the core idea that
We don't mean to make it so...we think that we are annihilating it
by ostracizing it, excommunicating it, refusing to see it,
that it will somehow disappear.  
Instead, it thrives in the shadows and bends our lives so it can remain.

I benefit from others' shared experience and story 

in a way that theoretical or purely fictional stories can't replace.
That is part of the power of #metoo right?  
When I can see my own experience in someone else's story
I find insights and comfort in the community.
After some reflection and prayer,
I've decided that it's important for me to share a 
little more on shame altars as relates to my own story.
Maybe it will help bring clarity or empower someone else.

I was abused as a child by my primary care provider 
and assorted people she allowed into my life.
For years, I could only talk about the mental and physical abuse.
The atmosphere of my home was thick with constant implied threat. 
The mental abuse was extensive and pervasive-
I was essentially manipulated, controlled, gas-lighted and denied
as a method for my abuser to feel powerful.
The physical abuse was sporadic and sharply violent-
always administered by someone besides my primary abuser
but with her the consent or direction.

When I left that house at 18, 
I had no trouble bringing that abuse into the light of day.
I was certain (even as a child) that those experiences
had nothing to do with my worthiness.
I knew it was wrong, related to my abuser's impairment and
 that I didn't need to be ashamed of it.

It was discussed, railed against, refuted and rehashed...
by myself, with a community and with my extended family.
It mostly settled into the backstory of my life.
There are scars and sadness but no altars were made.
Nothing precious there.

Homecoming 1992?  Beautiful pretending....

In spite of my approach to the mental and physical abuse,
I could not admit or discuss the sexual abuse that occurred. 
I denied it-even to myself.
I remember one of my aunts asking me in a vague way
if anything 'LIKE THAT' had happened to me
during those dark years where I was cut off from the extended family.
We were working on my bridal bouquet flowers.
I was 22, desperately chasing approval and acceptance,
newly reacquainted with my extended family
and pretending to be someone brave.
Sheer force of will had carried me through high school, 
college and into the work force.
I was planning a wedding and writing my own happily ever after.
Sheer force of will was going to carry me through here too.
Beautiful, worthy girls were not damaged in the way I had been.
I was certain of it.

So I flat out lied.
That worthless, abandoned shell of a girl was 
not getting brought into my adult life.
I was not going to have anyone looking at me as damaged goods
 when I walked down that aisle.
I protected my shame.
I made it precious.

Why did I lie?
Why didn't I talk about it?
It was too.....overwhelming? Uncontrollable? Irrelevant?
I preferred to ignore it.
I refused to label it or sit with it.
If I did try to label it or remember it, 
my brain skittered over it
like spiders in a breeze.
Occasionally I would hear other stories of sexual abuse survivors.
 I always compared my story to theirs
and decided that my story needed a different label.
If my abuse didn't follow the script of someone else,
then it didn't count as sexual abuse-right?
Good.  I definitely didn't want that label-
I'll keep looking until I find one I like better.
Only there wasn't another label that fit.

Beauty pageant....1990? More cover-up please...

I refused to acknowledge this aspect of my history
and so I remained in some ways chained to this shame.
The whispers of my subconscious always had a reason
 that it didn't need to be out in the open.
I was a mother-my children didn't need to know this.
I was a professional-what would my colleagues think?
My dad would be devastated-I needed to protect him from that knowledge.
My extended family would blame themselves.
My husband who thought I was so brave and free and clean
would be awkward at best, disgusted at worst.
Why does it even matter?
You're fine!  It's all over!
It's in the past, he'll never do that to you again.
You are free.  Finally free.
I was determined that this experience would not control my life.
So I locked it away in a precious, 
holy space that no one but me was allowed to enter.
It became my altar.

I was 38 before I could admit the abuse I experienced 
also included sexual abuse.
More than twenty four years of protecting this information.
It burst like a damn one night and would not be denied.
I'm not sure why I could see it suddenly and accept it.
Maybe I was tired of hiding from myself and pretending
 to be these screwed up versions of a half-person.
Maybe it had become too exhausting to keep throwing the distractions 
required to stay safe behind that altar.
Maybe I was angry at my abusers' continued influence 
over my life in spite of no contact for years.
Maybe I was just tired enough or mellow enough 
that the lines blurred for just a second 
and let me see behind the facade to the precious altar.
I don't know...it wasn't a conscious choice.
It was just suddenly there and obvious and irrefutable.

Once I saw it, accepted it...it poured out of me like rain.
It wasn't precious anymore.
I shared it.
First with my husband.
Then with core friends.
I will remember my dad's expression forever.
Tragic and compassionate-but no disgust or horror.
Just love.

Getting acquainted and re-aligned with this part of my story took years.
And therapy.
And writing and life adjustments and self-care and....
it is still unfolding-in ways that I am not wholly aware.
So far, no one has died or disowned me.
Breaking down my own shame altars-
hasn't caused anyone else to fly off the handle 
or build their own shame altar.
No one wanted me to keep this vigil to begin with-
that was my choice layered in survival mentality 
and coached by shame.

It doesn't matter who knows or doesn't know 
or what the label is.
It doesn't matter if it's actually on the front porch
or in the closet still...what matters is whether it's 
allowed in all the places-not just the special private ones.
It's no longer precious or needs to be protected.
I've also realized that I am the one who made it precious.
I didn't cause the injury-but I wouldn't let it heal.
The sacred, holy space that I made for shame around this abuse
persisted because I allowed it to persist,
because I didn't have the words or the bravery
and because I was surviving...even though I wasn't thriving.
I had urgency around hiding it, not urgency around healing it.
If there is an altar...a place that no one (maybe even you) 
can enter and be real with...maybe it's time to open a window
and blow out the incense.

Laura McKowen and Holly Whitaker...two amazing warriors against shame.