Category Archives: support

A look into longing

What is longing? Well, to me it is about seeing a photo and wishing that I could spend the day with this dearest of friends.  It is her birthday after all, hence natural to want to be around her in person. Yet, she lives far away and I’m unable to celebrate with her.  The truth is… there is something deeper going on with my reactions.

I don’t just miss, I have a powerful visceral response to seeing her photos. I miss her so acutely at times it feels like my heart might just burst into a pieces. Sound dramatic? It is… because for me longing is a painful and sweet emotional expression of wanting something I can not have.

Longing gets it power by not relating to the present.  It is very often a reminder of something that has changed and a desire to have it returned. Or on the other side  it can be a forward projection of what you wish you could have in the future. However, it isn’t a here and now formation.

When we move into a place of longing for what we don’t have it takes up the available space to enjoy what we do! Hence, what this does is take us out of being part of the current experience. We are no longer living in the moment where the richness of experience is found but rather manufacturing an imitation of such.

This is not to say that having an emotional response is in any way negative, however allowing that emotional response to be coupled with negative thoughts about how your life is lacking, shifts the focus from who you are is in abundance now. So when you are pining away for someone or something that you want, take a breath and re-center. Shift your focus more towards how it is wonderful that you have experiences that are so powerful that they still resonate with you. This reframe allows you to bask in the here and now rather than taking you away from the very parts of life you want.

And to use this technique even within my own emotional framework and this blog post, I will say:

Happy Birthday and thank you for being in my life. I’m honored to have a connection with someone who brings me continued joy and inspiration!

See? Longing can become a reminder tool to focus on what living is all about.  It takes a bit of effort to shift into being present. It is worth it to be able to enjoy the current experience rather than separating from it. Give this approach a try. You are bound to be more presence.


Room for Anger

Last week was tough for a number of clients. I got to thinking about how great it would be if Madison had an Anger Room (a safe place to express anger in multiple forms).  Navigating angry feelings can be confusing and when you have abuse in your past it can be even more difficult to know what to do. A place like the Anger Room provides an outlet for learning about different expressions.

One might think that we all experience anger so what is complex about the process? Many of us suppress it for fear that we will act out in a way similar to the abuse or abuser we experienced. It is a scary thing when one has spent their life being a good, caring, gentle person who wants to stay away from conflict and angry feelings. It almost seems logical to become someone who is on the opposite side of rage. However, because anger is a universal signal that something isn’t right, problems occur if we ignore or push it away. People that experienced abuse didn’t feel that they could express themselves properly (for whatever reason) and were also taught that it was not okay to have the feelings of anger. Hence, in many ways their system is taught that it isn’t safe to have a response of anger, even when it is a healthy reaction.

Any time we pretend that our emotions don’t exist or don’t honor them, they float back up in unpredictable ways. And this very thing is often what a person is trying to avoid by suppressing the emotion in the first place.  So what is a person to do if they are scared or unfamiliar with how to feel anger and express it?

One of the first things is to begin to identity when you think you might be having anger. You begin to be aware of when you feel angry and where it is in your body. This allows for grounding and a signal that you are accessing the situation beyond just a momentary reaction. Once you have basic identification of what you consider to be angry feelings, you can look at what the anger is about… the person/situation that is currently happening or a trigger to how you were treated in the past.  Once these beginning steps are in place, you can look at how to express the anger in a healthy way*.

People hold anger in different ways and that means that what works for one may not work for another in providing some relief from the intensity of the emotion. Some people need a strong physical outlet, others need to write, many need to express the anger with the person (in a safe way) verbally, and others might need a more creative way to share these feelings.

Anger isn’t a bad thing, it is an emotional response to learn and teach you about your system.  What is harmful is when you don’t allow yourself to express emotions in a healthy way. Your angry feelings are telling you to listen to yourself and look at the situation  around you. This is a powerful tool for the ability to set boundaries, create a plan, and act in a healthy way.

*Please seek help from a therapist if you need assistance with this process.

Personal House Rules

I think often we have unspoken rules about how we want to conduct our lives. It can be confusing for someone to automatically know that -you-should-take-your-shoes-off-when-you-come-inside-the-door.  Then when the person doesn’t quickly act in the way we are expecting, we are confronted with a choice. We  let the new person know the expectations directly or we sadly can  stay silent and be upset that they didn’t do it right.

This is the same thing that we do with the rules of self, we expect  that everyone will know how to we want to live our lives, what works and what doesn’t, how to treat us, what our boundaries are, and the very best way to show us love. This is mind reading  at its best. It is all so obvious to us.

I have a saying that I use with clients a lot “If it is obvious, then you need to say it out loud.” We are so accustomed to our own mind and beliefs that it seems a given, but if it is that ingrained within us that means it is pretty important. Hence, saying our ideas, expectations, and  boundaries out loud not only makes sense but also creates a much more open dynamic.

The approach of letting others know what your personal house are allows everyone to have a framework of interaction. You get to avoid a lot of the messy parts of stepping on each other’s toes.  Everyone decides if the structure is workable and provides an understanding of the boundaries. It sound so simple but that is exactly what we so often miss, stating that which seems like a default to our own system.

I really love the idea of putting your house rules out for everyone to see  (physically like photo above or state directly). Consider wearing your expectations with a badge of honor that you want others to know about from the start. Be proud of who you are and what you want from yourself and others!

From anxiety to curiosity

Yesterday, I attended a networking function. You know the type, people standing around in a room with business cards in hand and an agenda in mind. The context of this environment is one of constant social maneuvering. One is supposed to be friendly but not too personal, professional but not unapproachable, informative but not detailed. This maze of unspoken hoop-jumping often brings up anxious feelings for individuals.

It isn’t hard to imagine feeling a bit intimated by the whole process, because each one of us has been in the situation.  The main idea is that you are supposed to sell yourself as 100% confident, when really what you feel is nervous and overstimulated by the people, conversations, and expectations. It can be difficult and exhausting to say the very least. You compare yourself to those that appear to glide through the process wishing you had that skill set. And in your more honest moments you most likely think about how, at least, you are not as uncomfortable seeming as the man in the corner looking down at his feet as if to avoid any and all interaction.  There is a spectrum of possibility. You fall somewhere in the middle…some days on the lower side and others on the higher.

It is pretty obvious that this scenario is rather common but not exactly ideal. We want to feel positive, interesting, and self-assured when interacting in group situations. So what happens when the frazzled feelings of insecurity take hold?

Consider looking at the situation with curiosity instead of anxiety. The moment you feel that speedy heart rate and think way too many negative thoughts… just ask yourself questions about other people and start paying attention to how they interact. The idea I often call “going meta” where you take a bird’s eye view of the situation and look at it as if you were working to understand it rather than be directly within it. Here are a few example questions:

Why did that person pick that outfit to wear?

What do I think about the conversation I just overheard?

Did that person just flirt with another person?

What exactly would create a situation as to where I would go and talk with that person?

How did that person just insert themselves into the conversation with ease?

What allowed that person to actively engage in friendly banter?

When did that person decide to move on and talk to another?

How does the conversation flow for the person that everyone is talking to?

There was a group of three men talking with one another in a more casual way. It gave the impression that these people knew each other and had more reference of one another beyond just this event. One man was very tall, wearing all black, and standing in such a way as to portray he was more in control of the conversation. One could watch his stance, his body language with the other men, and follow his eyes to see what was keeping his attention.  And when one listened to his words, it would be easy to pick up that he was a massage therapist, English was not his first language, and that he had opinions about current events. Without ever saying a word, one could pick up a tremendous amount of detail. This was a man who appeared confident, aware, and might be considered intimidating to others.

There is a natural moment of approach anxiety with any new person or group. However, that very human moment can be transformed into the skill set of learning about another person. Walking up to this man with a big personality could be daunting. Yet, when you take on the moment as an experiment to discover as much as possible about him, then it becomes less about how you will be afraid or make yourself appear foolish. It instead becomes about connecting with another person on various elements of the conversation. And isn’t this what we are all hoping for anyway? We want people to enjoy talking with us, feel at ease, and want to spend more time together. This happens when we are genuinely curious about life, ideas, and even the random foreign massage therapist at a networking event.

All it takes to move from anxiety to curiosity is to ask yourself and those around you questions. Give it a try to see how it shifts the dynamics!

Adjusting to your new cult status

I’m happy to share my blog today with the wonderful guest writer, Valquerie. She is a local advocate for intellect, sexual acceptance, and all around healthiness.


Adjusting to your new cult status — by Valquerie

So I get excited about things.

I’m really excited this past year and a half about Narcotics Anonymous — you know, the whole 12-step recovery thing, replete with the Higher Power and all the jargon. Dang, I love it. My whole life has changed. I am a new person. Growing, learning every day. A new lease on life. I can finally stay clean AND have a fun, fulfilling life. Who knew? You would love it, too! You should totally come to a meeting — even if you don’t have a drug problem! That’s how amazing it is.

A few years back though, it was the Landmark Forum. Later it was Tantric Sex; Gurdjeff and Dogma 95 filmmaking; Anarchist World Agrarian Revolution. No, but this is really it!!!

Let’s face it: I get excited about things.

So it doesn’t really work, make sense to most people, or get me very far in conversation to declare my latest be-all and end-all thing as the ultimate one anymore, especially to people who have known me for a while — Mom, you reading this? So I am working very hard to adjust to my status as a happy, healthy, thriving cult member.

Yeah, so, for the sake of this piece, a cult is just a group of really happy people who are so excited about what they’re doing that they tend to look really weird to people on the outside and their everyday internal cult activities may not actually stand up to scrutiny from an outside observer — i.e., if you come in, take what we do out of context, try to intellectualize it, or argue it away, you very well might technically win that argument! A cult such as this may have strange jargon and customs and tend to inspire a zeal that at its best is inspiring and beautiful and at its worst can be off-putting.

I hope you will allow me poetic license with the word “cult” because that’s where my analogy stops. I want to be clear that I’m not trying to take lightly the serious problem of real cults that ruin people’s lives, separate them from all friends and family in order to take advantage and weaken individuals and rob them of all wealth and will. The real deprogrammers out there who I’m told deal with these things…well, I’ve only heard about them.

I did meet a guy once — we were all hanging out at the student union on campus and decided to go rent a cheap motel room and watch the Playboy channel and stay up late. This guy was with us but we realized the next morning after dropping him off on State Street that none of us actually knew him!?! He turned up in the newspaper as one of the kids that committed suicide wearing Nikes in preparation for an alien aircraft which was supposed to arrive behind the Hale-Bopp comet. Really sad story of a lost soul. I’m sorry, if you knew him.

So let’s leave that aside and get back to the everyday cult that I believe harmlessly attracts and gets us intrigued and excited and really appears to us and to others to be doing us some good; nonetheless it’s hard to talk about it with outsiders, even friends and family, too much; and as much as people can get that it seems good for us, they don’t tend to want to hear about it as much as our fellow cult members want to talk about it, or as much as we have the capacity to go on and on about it, given the chance.

By the way, yoga is my other new cult. I can’t imagine life without it. And I can’t imagine how I got by without it before now, or how you are getting by without it as we speak!

What mechanisms are at work here? I genuinely care about others and want them to experience what I have. I see other people suffering and want them to suffer less. I think that if they could just experience what I am experiencing, they could feel as good as I do. But it’s very arrogant of me. It’s very judgmental. It’s very grandiose. I am then trying to map my own experience onto another person and imagine that their path is exactly mine, that this juncture in their life is the same as mine. Just because I think I see a blind spot or area where someone might be struggling doesn’t mean that I know that person or have answers for that person where they are today. On the other hand, with a natural self-expression, an organic approach, perhaps a difference can be made?

If my favorite cult has taught me anything of value, it is that I am not perfect, nor shall I expect myself to be. Shall I hold perfection as a standard for others? How about not. How about a very healthy dose of acceptance and love for myself and others? Sometimes my zeal to share and convert and insist that someone needs my cult’s solutions can simply send the message that I am judging this person as deficient and lacking, bad and wrong, and holding myself up as the greater and more evolved. Uck; I do not want to hang out with that judgmental person; don’t call me back and keep your cult off my lawn!

What’s been working for me with NA — a group that has never asked me for a dime, has helped me get closer to my family and friends, has contributed so much to my recovery from some pretty serious drug addiction — is just to get that it works for me and it works for a lot of other people I know, many others I simply know of, that it might work for you, and it might work for someone else.

I heard it said that one should “share the fruit, not the tree.” I imagine that to be shining brightly and being as awesome as you can, being generous and kind, loving and inspiring as you can. Then there’s always the little tag line or simple endorsement you could drop casually, or share in moderation with concerned parties. It seems important to find a balance between proselytizing and stinginess — so that you are equally willing to share your experience as you are to walk away without mentioning it.

So as long as your cult is not harming you or anyone else, I say enjoy your new cult status. Bask in the excitement of your new zeal. May your cult be as fulfilling to you as mine has been for me.

Well, now that all that’s been said, I would love to hear about your new cult — as long as we both remember that your mileage may vary, as may mine.

“Take it Easy,”





“Sharks need friends or they get sick.”

These words came from across a table scattered with plastic toys in the shape of sea creatures.   This precocious youngster has dazzled me with facts about snakes previously. And because he is a Star Wars fan, I can’t help but pay attention! He brought up this idea because he was doing all he could to convince his father that he needed two baby sharks instead of just one in the aquarium.

Sharks at play

I asked follow up questions but the boy was already on to other facts, reading a book on the topic, and playing shark trainer was high on his agenda.  I sat there thinking about how all I could remember was that a shark can be a host to parasite style fish.

So after a bit of research (read: looking around on the net) I learned that indeed if you are going to have sharks in an aquarium that having two is better than one. This is because while other fish can be companions out in the wild waters, it doesn’t work the same way inside a tank. The sharks get grumpy and want to eat the other fish but when there is another shark they work together. Normally sharks are rather solitary but in this fashion they are friends helping one another out.

You probably see where this is going, but this all tumbled around in my brain and I just saw so many ways this applies to relationships. We often  have an approach of being all on our own.  We show our teeth when we need to and sometimes end up on Shark Week  but overall we just move along to live.

However, when things shift into smaller waters we are much more open to being friendly. We do need one another to help us out because we can’t do it all on our own.

What is the point of all this? Well, I’ll make it easy for you: if sharks can figure out how to be kind to one another and that it helps keep them healthy, couldn’t we move a bit further up on the food chain of friendliness?  I’m not suggesting we use people or be nice just to get ahead, but I am suggesting that in the tank the shark does more than just get along.  The two sharks begin to work together and discover that they do more than just provide a cleaning service. They become companions!

It is a great thing  when we move from accepting help, only in the toughest of times, to opening up ourselves to allowing others to nurture us. It is is probably time to let some other people into your life and care for you, it will help you become healthier!

Bill Zeller’s Truth and Choice

A client sent me an email about Bill Zeller’s suicide note before it had spread across the net. I opened the link and read the heart wrenching letter of person expressing so clearly the pain of past abuse, which so many of us have had to live through. I wanted to hide away, curl up, and cry.  I know the emotions that Zeller explores… I have felt them deep within my being… I know the hurt feeling of being so alone with only terrible thoughts to comfort. I was touched to read such honesty, scared by the realness, and also sure that as a therapist, these words were important for others to read.

I’m not alone in this process… hundreds if not thousands have experienced this reaction after reading Zeller’s letter. And I think that Joel Johnson said it very well in his intro to reprinting the thoughts and feelings of Zeller.

But as someone who has had similar experiences in my own life, I want to say to anyone else who feels the way Zeller felt: You can’t escape your past. Not completely. But you can deal with it. You can contextualize it. You can learn how to prepare for the times when you feel like it’s not even on your radar and then it totally broadsides you.

And you can talk to people. You really can!

I don’t pretend to have all the answers nor have one right way to understand the choice to live or die. I honor that each person finds their own way. However, I will say that there is something hugely important about the idea that when you feel so lost, alone, and stuck within pain… it can feel nearly impossible to talk about it.  There are so many fears of being judged as broken/bad/wrong/or sick. When you are inside yourself with suchanguish, the energy that is required to open up can be overwhelming.

Yet, that is just the point. We have the ability to deeply color our perception of the world around us.  Our thoughts impact our emotions and when we focus so directly on the pain the context around us becomes dark.  Hearing, seeing, and feeling other perceptions help our brains to take in alternative data points. We move beyond the creation of our self image and include perspectives.  With this, it becomes possible to experience something other than the sadness.

Talking with another person isn’t going to be a magic “fix” to the pain. However,  it does provide a crucial leverage piece to break the pattern that can keep us lost within it.

I encourage you to read Bill Zeller’s letter in full (as per his request) be aware that it could be triggering:

The Agonizing Last Words of Bill Zeller

And remember that you really can talk to someone… anyone!