A Path to Healing

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The path to self-growth is not linear. It is a meandering journey through mountains and valleys, and occasionally there are more lows than highs. But it is a journey ever onward, and it is our light—that same light that exists in every one of us—that guides the way, if only we allow it to shine. -Rachel Grayczyk

It feels like often it takes something big happening in my life to point out the areas that need to be addressed. The areas within me that I’ve been running from or that seem too painful to really stop and take a good look at and heal.

A breakup or divorce, losing a job, losing a friend, getting sick. I’ve experienced all of these things and what I know now is that they are all messengers. They come with profound knowledge and insight. But they also come with a lot of heavy emotion that I often like to dust under the rug. Pain, sadness, heartbreak, anger, regret, resentment, fear, abandonment, betrayal — these emotions aren’t pleasant. At times they can feel like the most painful thing in the world. Who hasn’t experienced a heartbreak we thought we’d never recover from?

But what I also know now is that THOSE are the golden nuggets. Those are the moments and experiences that gain the wisdom. Those emotions are the messages waiting to be peeled back and dove into deeper. Those nuggets are actually the path to true peace and happiness.

We are all incredibly intuitive beings and already have the answers to the questions we seek within. Who said that originally? Rumi? Buddha? Whoever it was, I fully believe it to be the truth.

Recently I developed a massive rash all over my face. To some, it’s just a rash. To me, it means something more.

It looks a lot like acne but it’s not. I know it’s not. It is hot, very inflamed and itches. And that it seemed to get inflamed when I eat certain things like coconut. And I know enough, I’m intuitive enough, to know that it means something.

This rash, to me, is a message. I know, that sounds a little woowoo for some but I really believe that our bodies are incredibly smart and so many of our ailments are messages from something deeper within. Wake up calls trying desperately to get us to address the deeper issues that are in a way, holding us back.

I know on a deeper level there are several reasons for my rash. One, I’m consuming something my body doesn’t like and I need to pay closer attention to what I eat and drink and how i feel after. Do I experience a reaction right away or is it delayed? I’ll get into this more in another blog post.

Two, there is a huge emotional component. I’ve been hiding from some things in my life that need to be addressed and my body seems to like to get me to wake up through body ailments.

The traumas of my past are finally speaking up and asking to be dealt with. All that hurt, resentment, anger, it’s been bubbling up quickly the last few months and I feel my body is asking me to look at it for real this time.

I was also dating someone for the last six months whom I adore and love. However, I knew he and I were in different places and wanted different things but fought against that inner knowing and tried to fit this square peg in a round hole.

These things combined created a toxic environment inside of me, always questioning, always frustrated, always sad or questioning, “what’s wrong with me?” This triggered the only way I would listen — a horrible skin rash on my face.

And this is why I love the body. Because it never lies to us. It’s always seeking to show us the truth, get us to listen, get us to show up for ourselves, through messages.

I believe we can heal ourselves in a multitude of ways if we just stop, get really still and listen for the answers. Listen to those little pings, those nuggets of truth, those whispers that say, “he’s not good for you, or don’t eat that, don’t take the job, don’t say yes to the thing even though it “looks” good on paper — just wait.”

I would like to point out that that’s not to say I don’t believe in taking action. We have to take action. But maybe we need to pause a bit more, give ourselves space and time before we react? At least I know I sure do.

I also believe in western medicine. I do. 100%. I thank it daily because if not for it I would be dead. I know this. But I believe too many of us use it as a bandaid. A quick fix. At times, myself included. But sometimes if not most of the time a headache simple means you are dehydrated and need more water. Sometimes it is signaling you need rest or to actually look at something you’ve been avoiding. Taking a pill is a quick and easy fix but often we are reacting with the quick fix instead of addressing the issue. What would happen if we pause and just ask ourselves what we need instead?

If we just took the time to explore more of what our body, our heart and our soul are trying to tell us, what would happen in our lives?

This is what I’ve been thinking a lot about since the last time I wrote. Writing has always been incredibly therapeutic for me. It’s been a catalyst for discovery, exploration and ultimately, what paves the path to my own growth and ultimately, my healing.

Lately I’ve been called to share where I’m at in a different way. Cancer took a toll on me physically, mentally and definitely emotionally.

The last two years have been extremely challenging in a multitude of ways for me but the amazing thing is, I’m finally at a point in my growth where I can look at challenge in my life and see the parts that are getting me to stretch beyond my comfort zone and grow.

The dance for me is and always has been to learn to balance my emotions, to not be so reactionary, to let go of all the stories I took on for years, and honestly, find my voice and figure out who the heck I am and fully embody that. Even if it means others in my life may disapprove.

Developing my tumor two years ago has been the greatest teacher so far. I think I’ll have to tell that story sometime because it was one of the most frustrating and terrifying experiences of my life. Yet, looking back it’s taught me so much. Getting a rare and confusing cancer diagnoses, the whole process of learning about that, surgery, treatment, and recovery from that has felt like one big uphill climb and I just couldn’t catch my breath. My normal disposition is to keep pushing on. To do all the things in the same way I always have. What I’m learning now is I just can’t. I’m not that person anymore. Or, maybe I never was.

I actually need a lot of downtime. I need a lot of rest and relaxation. I need quiet. I need to not over schedule myself or have very many plans throughout the week. I function better on more spontaneity and I definitely need to allow myself the space to make a decision instead of saying yes to everything out of fear of missing out like I normally do.

So, I’ve spent the last few weeks sitting with that and trying my best to get really honest with myself. I’ve been asking myself some really tough questions.

But it’s always when I feel like I’ve hit a bottom that God (ie: Universe, Source, Life) steps in to remind me of the very thing I’m not addressing and if I did, it would change everything. Rashes, breakups, anger and resentments rising to the surface, massive hormonal chaos. All huge messages right now for me.

I find myself in a place I’ve never been before. I’m excited. Almost giddy about what is to come. It feels like the calm before a storm but not a destructive storm like in the past. A tranSTORMation is what I’m calling it. A big one. One that will allow me to peel back even more layers and show up as the real me even more.

So what is next?

Trauma, whether emotional, mental or physically (usually it’s all three combined), doesn’t look the same for everyone thus healing can’t look the same for everyone either. We all have the opportunity to embark on our own healing journey. And that is exactly what I am doing.

As I said to my therapist via text the other day, “It’s time. It’s time to go deeper.”

So that is what I’m doing. I’m investing in me in a way I never have. I’m taking this whole healing thing a few steps deeper. It’s not a one size fits all plan. It’s tailored just for me. I’m looking at all areas of my life and getting very honest and I plan on sharing what I’m doing for myself to heal along the way. I plan to really show up in this space consistently and offer you an experience that may open a few doors of curiosity for you as well.

But please remember, this is MY path and it may not feel right for you. It may trigger you or cause uncomfortable feelings to arise in you. May I invite you to explore that more deeply? It’s just an invitation for you to possibly look at your life differently too. You have to go on your own exploration. Your own journey. You have to try things on, listen to those little nudges and find the courage to step forward on your own path. .

So raise your glass of organic green celery juice (that’s all I’m drinking these days) and cheers with me. Because t’s time to really heal.

Dear cancer, please leave us alone.

If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans. - Woody alan

I remember the day as if it was yesterday. I was sitting in my dorm room a few weeks into my freshman year at Washington State University when my phone rang. Well before I had my first cell phone, I picked up the landline, bringing it to my ear.

“Hello?” I said.

“Hi, Mandy.” My mom’s voice echoed in the background.

“Hi, Mom, what’s up?” I asked.

“Mandy, I need to tell you something.” Her voice cracked. And then the three words nobody wants to ever hear, “I have cancer.”

The rest is somewhat blurry as she filled me in on the details. As we hung up the phone I sat, staring at the wall behind my desk and all I could think was; my mom is going to die from cancer.

This was nineteen years ago and a time when all I knew was cancer was a death sentence. And although my mom is still with us, the way I felt when I heard she had cancer for the first time has never left my heart.

And each time one of us is diagnosed, the same feelings resurface. And as much as my family has dealt with cancer, it’s never easy to hear the words.

It was only a few short years after my mom’s cancer that my older brother, then twenty-six, called to share his results too.

“Well Manda, it’s colon cancer.” He said into the phone from Texas where he was stationed as a Captain in the Army.

Colon cancer? Isn’t that…for old people I thought?

Little did we know how untrue this would be.

Less than a year and a half later, on the heels of desperate pleas from my mom, I went in for a colonoscopy because her oncologist was suspicious that this could be genetic. In my foggy haze, I woke to hear my doctor say, “Go get her mom and bring them back in my office.”

I didn’t know what it meant but I knew it wasn’t good.

Although it wasn’t full-blown cancer, the large polyp in my colon was in the last stages of turning into cancer and thus, was treated as if it was cancer. Four surgeries, one deadly infection, an ileostomy bag (which I no longer have), shunts and tubes and drains throughout my body, and almost 30 days total over the course of the year in the hospital and only a few short months later I got another call from my mom…

“Honey…I have colon cancer.”

Hands down the toughest year, chemotherapy riddled my mom with pain so severe, she almost quit. But she made it.

And we thought the “cancer years” were behind us after that. We really did. Only a year later we received a phone call from my grandpa, my mom’s dad, and learn that he now had colon cancer.

And then my grandpa, again…bladder cancer.

And then my cousin, Becca, who’s passing on December 8th, 2013, ten short months after being diagnosed with cancer left so many hearts broken.

And then our dear friend Greg. My stepdad’s best friend, who was more like a brother, was diagnosed shortly after that and after three years of fighting, passed away last October 2017.

And then me. Metastatic Cancer of an Unknown Primary source. What does that even mean?

I lay this all out for you to see clearly not for you to feel sorry for us but so you can see why my family is exhausted... It’s been almost two decades of nothing but cancer.

So cancer, please, leave us alone.

But I know better. I know better to cry out such demands.

Because on Tuesday, September 25th I got a call…

“Mandy,” my mom’s voice, hard and stoic, “Honey, I have cancer again…”

So here we go, once again...

And we will keep you posted as she wins this battle too.

Because she's a warrior now.

She has no other choice.

Prayers and positive thoughts welcomed always.

Are you gonna poke my bear?

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“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Except for bears…bears will kill you.”

Every now and then someone comes along and pokes my bear. This is an expression I heard several years ago which simply means, someone comes along and taps on your wounds or stirs up your shit or your baggage to put it a little nicer.

I really love the expression though. I felt it added a layer of humor that resonates with me. It’s like my own personal safe word minus the S&M. If someone is stirring up my stuff and I’m too uncomfortable, all I have to do is look at them and say, “you’re poking my bear.”

But if only it truly worked that way.

Most of my bear poking has to do with the idea that I am not enough and truth be told, most of the people that come along and poke my bear are men. My daddy and abandonment issues run deep and who better to poke that bear then whoever I’m dating.

But I’ve noticed my bear getting poked in all areas of my life, not just dating. There is a story that was set a long time ago, deep in the back of my subconscious mind that says I’ll never be good enough for much of anything or anyone. Work, friendships, my art, even my health has it’s own bear. It’s inevitable that wherever we place our sense of worth will be a prime target for bear poking.

Last night I sat on my couch and listened to Ben Howard’s hypnotic melodies echo throughout my quiet home and I read over my old blog posts. Tears filled my eyes as I relived old memories and feelings that were, at worst, horribly painful and at best, life changing.

I came across the piece I wrote called, Sit In Your Shit and it reminded me how, for the last few months, I’ve felt called to sit in all the uncomfortable feelings instead of run from them as I so often do.

Being a perpetual runner has offered a lot of excitement in my life however, it’s also caused a lot of my shit to reside just below the surface waiting to be poked.

And I’m still here. I’m still being called to sit in my shit. And I’m reminded, once again, that it’s never fun to lean into your past traumas and barely healed wounds. Instead of running or numbing, I’m sitting and at times, it feels as if my skin is crawling and I’m a recovering drug addict, desperate for my next fix.

I want to show you what sitting in your shit looks like…

Sitting in your shit ISN’T about being a victim or pointing a finger and placing blame. Although a lot of our wounds and traumas are the consequences of someone else’s actions, at some point in our adult lives we must find it in ourselves to let go of the blame. We’ll never fully heal unless we do. Sitting in your shit is ABSOLUTELY about getting curious about these traumas and wounds and asking ourselves what the TRUTH is. Not the story we’ve created from it.

For example, if I’m dating someone and I start to feel my bear getting poked I take pause whereas in the past, I’d lash out and stir up the shit. Now, instead I sit in the discomfort of whatever their actions are creating within me. Because we know really this is merely a projection. It’s a memory from the past that is telling you a story triggered by this new person’s actions. So I ask myself; what is the truth here? I get curious. I lean in. I talk to the six your old me who was desperate to be loved and seen by a man who just didn’t have the ability to do so. I tell her she IS loved. She IS seen. She IS enough.

Sitting in your shit after someone has poked your bear is about asking questions. It’s about reacting less and inquiring more. It’s about doing things differently. It’s a curiosity of the unknown. The belief in the possibility, that maybe, just maybe, this wound may loosen it’s grip on you if you understand it more.

And I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it over and over, it’s gonna hurt like hell but each time you address it, that pain subsides and softens and transforms into something different.

So what I’ve allowed myself to get really intrigued by lately isn’t so much my baggage but rather HOW the act of really looking at it has dramatically CHANGED it’s hold on me. I’m intrigued by how I’m showing up different when old bears get poked all because I finally succumbed to the reality that, what I was doing in the past just wasn’t working so why not try something different? Why not look at it all in a different light?

So that’s what I’ve been doing. With dating, with work, with friendships, with communication, with my overall feelings of never being ENOUGH.

Because truth be told, I am enough. We are all enough. Every single last one of us is enough right this very moment.

I’m imperfect and flawed and at times moody and emotional. But this makes me who I am too. Just as much as all the other “good” aspects do. I can’t deny them because by doing so I am only feeding the bears and constantly confirming the story that runs through so many of our minds…I am not enough.

But we are enough. We have to begin to understand that and fully integrate that into our being. I think that our bears and those that come along to poke them are actually, and I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, a gift to us. In a weird and twisted way, they are really doing so to get us to wake up and do our work so that one day when that bear get’s poked it no longer needs to rear it’s defensive head and instead, just slowly turns and walks away.




All Dogs Go to Heaven

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One of my favorite songs is Into the West by Annie Lennox. The lyrics are, at times, gut wrenching and most often leave me with tears streaming down my face. It's haunting yet beautiful. I put this song on last Saturday as I aimlessly walked around Encinitas by myself trying to settle on the fact that my Roo was no longer with me. 

Lay down
Your sweet and weary head
Night is falling
You have come to journey's end
Sleep now
And dream of the ones who came before
They are calling
From across the distant shore

Why do you weep? 
What are these tears upon your face?
All of your fears will pass away
Safe in my arms
You're only sleeping

 

I'll never forget the last few moments as we sat on the warm blanket the vet technician had laid down for him, his head cradled safe in my arms. A friend had told me the last thing to go was their hearing so as I watched the Veterinarian inject the liquid that would inevitably take him away from me, I buried my nose in his ear as tears streamed uncontrollably down my cheeks and whispered over and over again, " I love you. Thank you for all you did for me. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you..."

And just like that, my sweet Roo drifted off to sleep for the last time, until his body was limp and he was gone. 

I looked up at my friend Oliver who dropped everything and drove down from Irvine at a moments notice to sit with me as I said good-bye to my best friend. Tears poured from his eyes too. Rocky touched many people's hearts. I knew that already. 

Rocky, or Roo as I so often called him, was more then just a dog. He was my best friend. He was my family. 

It's hard to explain what this kind of bond is like to people who haven't experienced it before, but in honor of my sweet boy and the love and life and protection he infused into each day for the short time I had him, I must try. He deserves that. He deserves so much more then that. 

Most people know that Rocky came to me on the heels of a cancer diagnosis that was vague and scary. The irony of that is not lost on me. God works in mysterious ways but also very obvious ones too. 

What people don't know is Roo and I didn't bond right away like I sometimes lead you to believe.  

I knew he was my dog the moment I saw him but he made me work for his trust because he had been severely neglected in his former life. 

I'm certain that God planned for us to meet just that way because as much as Roo came to me to help heal my heart through a traumatic time, I came to him to help heal his too. 

Roo was a special dog. Everyone, accept for maybe my neighbors who he built up a bit of a territorial thing against, loved Rocky. 

We couldn't get through a walk without someone coming up to us and asking to pet him and commenting on how sweet he was. But they didn't even know the half of it. 

My Roo was a gift. A miracle. The most incredible blessing. 

Roo was diagnosed with an advanced form of a very serious lung condition two weeks ago and as much as I want you to know the details of that, I'd rather you hear the details of his greatness instead. 

Roo was stubborn. It was one of my favorite things about him. He was strong willed and knew what he wanted, just like his mama I suppose. When he wanted something, he wasn't afraid to tell me with a serious stare down or a deep guttural bark. Sometimes we'd just stare at each other until one of us gave in, usually...almost always, me. 

Rocky had a sense about me. After I proved my worthiness to him, he watched me like a hawk, never more than a few feet away from me. Unless he was sun bathing on the front porch. My Roo loved the sun. Even then he had one ear alert, following my every move. 

One of my favorite things he did was guard the door of any room I was in. He'd walk in, even if it was just the bathroom, assess the situation and then turn around, sit down in front of the door and stare out. If I was standing at the bathroom sink brushing my teeth, his butt was sitting on my foot as he made sure nobody took me by surprise. It always made me laugh so hard but deep down, he made me feel so loved. So safe. So cared for. 

After I put him to rest Saturday, I came home and walked through the front door to pure and utter silence. I'd never again hear him jumping off my bed or the couch or the infamous sound of his collar and dog tag clanking together as he ran to see me as if it was the greatest moment of his day. I'm pretty certain it was. 

I stood in my entry way and felt a vulnerability I hadn't felt in very long time. Where was my boy to greet me? What would I do on those darker days when he'd make me get out of bed to take him on a walk? He'd act like it was for him but I knew it was really for me.

 Who would understand the physical pain I was in like he did and rest his head on my left hip in times when it was almost unbearable?

Who would gently lick away the tears and make me laugh when I was sad or hurt? 

Who would teach me about patience and slowing down and simplicity and stopping to smell the roses?

Who would dance with me as I cleaned the house or sit right behind me as I was cooking waiting for anything to fall on the floor? 

All of these little things were a part of our special bond. He just understood the things I needed. Things I never told him out loud. Things I rarely told anyone out loud.  

These are the situations where I truly don't understand God. Why would he take away something that he knows I need so badly? 

But at the same time, I feel so fortunate to have had over a year with my sweet Roo boy. All of our day to day moments and our great adventures will never be forgotten. I'm certain God knew I needed him just when I did and knew I was strong now, enough so to make it without him. I like to imagine his soul was needed for someone else going through something so grave that only my Roo boy could take care of them just the way he took care of me all last year. He's good at that. 

So, my Rocky was more than just a dog. Rocky was my best friend. He was my own little personal family. 

And now he's gone. And that hole he filled is empty and aching pretty bad these days. 

My sweet Roo boy, you were the greatest gift I've ever recieved and I hope you are running through fields of kibble and pain free once again. 

I hope you come to visit me in the breeze that kisses me cheeks and dries my tears and on long coastal drives as I sing loud to all your favorites. 

I hope you know just how much I love you and just how brave your fight was. I know it was for me. You tried so hard to be here for me. I'll never forget that. 

Until we meet again my Roo boy...

You're only sleeping. 

a chance to breathe again, a chance for a fresh start to you

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And through it all, I stood and stumbled, waded through my thoughts and heart Yeah through it all, I fooled and fumbled, lost to the poet's frown.
I fought the wolves of patience just to let it lie down.

I've come to the conclusion that I am quite lousy at relaxing.

And it's never been more apparent than on this trip. 

Even with my deep desire of a life that is simple, I find myself wrestling with my inability to just sit and be and how much I feel the need to do all the time. 

But I need life to give me some answers to some things that have been heavy on my mind lately. And I know what I have to do to get those. Even when it means discomfort to get them. 

When we landed in San Jose, Costa Rica on Friday we found our way by taxi to a tiny little bus station that would take us on a four hour turned seven-hour journey to Puerto Viejo where we were staying for the night.  This is near the Panama border. 

After two plane rides on nothing more than a few glasses of wine and two green superfood bars I picked up prior to leaving, we found ourselves on a long, full bus ride listening to the unwelcoming sounds of an arrogant Polish twenty-something playing dubstep from a keg-shaped Bluetooth speaker in his lap. 

I only know he is Polish because my friend Raven and I sat for a good thirty minutes listening to these guys talking back and forth as they drowned themselves in some kind of liquor from a bottle in a paper bag.  Eventually, I needed to know and asked. I like to ask people where they are from when I travel. I like to hear their stories. 

After we had our brief conversation he turned on his speaker for the whole bus to enjoy. At first, I thought it was coming from the bus speakers but it became apparent, from the annoyance of other riders, both locals and travelers, that this was not the case and it was coming from the keg shaped speaker in the Polish guy's lap. 

I found myself growing irritated too. I mean, come on guy. Dubstep? Had it been mellow beats that is one thing but if you are privy to dubstep you know it's anything but mellow. 

I kept telling myself to just relax and go with the flow. Don't let this one little moment, this person, this blip on the screen of your life caused by someone else's actions annoy you. 

This is what travel is about after all. The unexpected things that happen. The laughter that comes for years that come from moments just like these. 

Little did I know, I was going to be saying this to myself often on this trip. 

As with everything though there is a great lesson to be learned. And what I've realized on this trip so far is that it has more to do with the fear of facing my myself and my thoughts and hearing that little voice inside speaking truth to me than actually not being productive

But  I don't want the dubstep noises of life to cause me to miss out on all the wonderful moments in between so I need to learn to relax and just go with the flow of life. 

I want to hear life talking to me and to do that you have to learn to slow down, open your eyes and your heart and fully take in what is around you. 

So I slow down and let things be and allow the thoughts and feelings to surface. All of them.  I allow answers to come to those questions I keep asking God and give thanks with gratitude in my heart. Even when it's not the answer I truly desire. 

And as the lyrics of one of my favorite songs goes:

And what we found
Down these coves of limestone and cockle shells,
What we found
Down these roads that wander as lost as the heart,
Is a chance to breathe again, a chance for a fresh start to you
My my a chance to breathe again, a chance for a fresh start to you
Oh my a chance to breathe again, a chance for a fresh start

And it's through this song that God gently reminds me that his hands are all over everything as rain pours from the skies and I have no other choice but to just sit and be with myself, my thoughts and my own heart and maybe, just maybe, it's a chance to breathe again, a chance for a fresh start. 

For once there is no dubstep to drown these out. 

These Waters by Ben Howard

I saw red and yellow flowers outside over the moors
And brightest sunrise ever to touched my eyes.

And through it all,
I stood and stumbled, waded through my thoughts and heart
Yeah through it all,
I fooled and fumbled, lost to the poet's frown.
I fought the wolves of patience just to let it lie down.

See these waters they'll pull you up,
Oh, now if you're bolder than the darkness.
My my, let these songs be an instrument to cut,
Oh spaces 'tween the happiness and the hardness.
My my, spaces 'tween the happiness and the hardness.

Oh, out the door,
The touch of morning, the burning of the frost
Out the door
My, strong hands to hold, good friends that I never lost.

And what we found
Down these coves of limestone and cockle shells,
What we found
Down these roads that wander as lost as the heart,
Is a chance to breathe again, a chance for a fresh start to you
My my a chance to breathe again, a chance for a fresh start to you
Oh my a chance to breathe again, a chance for a fresh start

Oh, no, see these waters they'll pull you up,
Oh, no, if you're bolder than the darkness.
My my let these songs be an instrument to cut here darling,
These spaces between the happiness and the hardness,
Oh my my, spaces between the happiness and the hardness
Oh my my, spaces between the happiness and the hardness
Oh my my, spaces between the happiness and the hardness