Be Your Own Clean-Up Crew

jimrohnSometimes we get ourselves into difficult situations, and find we really want a way out, but the way does not seem clear. This is really common when we’re young. I certainly got myself into some tight spots along the way, and made a mess on the way out. Part of it is just that it takes time to know ourselves. It’s very easy to go through the first quarter of our lives being influenced by external factors. We might place a lot of value on what other people want for us. How other people want us to be or to feel. We might feel pressured by societal norms, or the way our friends seem to be doing things. There are countless ways to get lost on the path.

And when I say “the path”, I’m not suggesting there’s one path for everyone. I mean, your particular path. The one that’s going to lead to your deepest, truest self. The one that’s going to take you to your joy so you can swim in it and share it. The thing is, we aren’t encouraged to look inward, we’re taught to focus outside ourselves and meet certain markers, and those markers might differ from family to family, and from culture to culture, but we all have them. The expectations, the ingrained beliefs and ideas about things. Sometimes we have a lot of unlearning to do to figure out what makes sense to us, to uncover what scares us, inspires us, excites us. If you haven’t figured that out and you go ahead and make huge life decisions before you know who you are, you’re pretty much guaranteed to crash into some brick walls, and hurt yourself and others. As long as you aren’t reckless with other people, as long as you don’t set out to hurt anyone, no one can hate you for being young and confused, for thinking you want something, and then getting it, only to find out it is not what you thought it would be. That’s called being young and making mistakes, and it’s how we grow and learn.

Having said all of that, your choices and your actions define you, as does the way you make your mistakes, and the way you address them. What you do about how you feel is the stuff of character-building. Making a mistake is no crime. Handling it in a cruel or unkind way, leaving someone in the dark, showing a lack of compassion and empathy—those things are crimes. They’re crimes against your own heart and your own well-being, in addition to the harm you’re inflicting on the other party. The human heart is resilient, and most people will recover from heartbreak, abandonment or betrayal, given enough time, and assuming they avail themselves of tools that help with healing. Having to live with the fact that you treated someone poorly, though, that’s another thing. At night, in your bed, when all the noise of the day stops and you’re left with your thoughts and your internal dialogue, there’s nowhere to hide. You can’t run from yourself. You have to be able to live in your own skin, and breathe.

Sometimes we get desperate and it’s hard to face the mess we’ve made and so we try to run or hide or deny or deflect, and of course, that just compounds the pain and confusion, and lengthens the time it will take to heal. You cannot heal in murky waters, and you cannot heal if you lie to yourself. The sooner you face your problems head on, the sooner life will feel good again. It’s funny. Years ago I was on a play date with my son. He was about four. When we were leaving, I told him to go and help his friend clean up the mess of toys they’d created, and the other mom said her housekeeper would do it and that she preferred that anyway, because she didn’t want to end up with a nerdy kid who wore a pocket protector. I said I didn’t want to create a grown man who left his dishes and dirty laundry all over the house for his wife to pick up. I didn’t say it as a challenge, it just kind of slipped out, and we looked at each other and laughed and she sent both of our boys to go clean up. Often I see dog poop on the street. It’s the same syndrome. If you go through life expecting other people to clean up the messes you’ve made, don’t expect to be happy, because part of being happy requires that we’re accountable, that we’ve taken ownership of the way we’re going to show up in the world. Sometimes in an effort to help someone, we rob them of the opportunity to do that. Instead of helping, we’re enabling behavior that’s weakening this person we love, and true love doesn’t weaken us, it strengthens us.

Sending you some love right now,

Ally Hamilton

Let the Heartbreaks Soften You

 

keatsSometimes people do things that are incomprehensible. I once knew a man who was married to one woman, while starting a family with another, two towns away. I mean, you have to know it’s only a matter of time before that explodes everywhere, right? I was once betrayed by someone I believed was a friend, someone I’d tried to help, in a way that left me in tears for weeks, trying to make sense of it. I had another friend years ago who screwed me over for a job. The thing is, it takes a really long time to know another person. Sometimes you believe you do, and then something happens and you realize you didn’t know the person at all, not really.

Sometimes this happens because we project and assume. We project our own ideas of what it means to be a friend onto the other party, without stopping to wonder whether they have the same definition. Or we project our ideas about who we think someone is, or want them to be, without allowing them the time and space to show us through their actions. Or we assume how things are for us, is how they are for other people. We imagine everyone is working with our frame of reference, and what’s obvious to us will be to them. There are all kinds of ways we can get burned.

Transitions are never easy. Even though we long for stability, we resist the one stable thing we can count on: everything is in a constant state of flux. Fear is usually at the root of our resistance to change. The devil we know is better than the one we don’t, or something like that. That very thinking keeps us stuck in situations that crush the light out of us. If everything is always changing, if people and feelings and circumstances are always in motion, it means we can never know what will happen next, and for many people that’s a scary thought, so they try to pin down the things they can. People don’t like to be pinned down, though, or taken for granted or expected to always be the same. That isn’t a fair, reasonable or rational expectation.

What we can hope for from our close family members, partners, and loved ones, is communication. Few things are worse than transition without conversation. I know a woman whose fiancé left her three months before their wedding and never looked back, never explained himself, never said a word. He just took off while she was on a business trip, and left a note that said “Sorry.” That’s it, one word, and she was left to piece together what had happened on her own. It’s cowardly to bail without explanation, and it’s also disrespectful to the tender heart of the person left in the dark. Life is hard enough when we do have answers. Maybe we’ve grown apart, or what we wanted five years ago doesn’t feel right today. You have to be where you are. You can’t force love and you can’t force life, and you cannot control what other people are going to do, or say or want or need, but you can handle yourself with integrity and have compassion for people, and think about the way you’d like to be treated. Y’know, just common human decency.

Even when we aren’t treated with respect, we’re still getting an answer, right? If someone won’t talk to you, they’re actually speaking volumes about their own limitations. Some of the most important conversations happen without words. Could words soften the blow? Undoubtedly, but you can’t manage another person’s path, and people can only have the tools they have. What you can do is recognize something very essential: if a person treats you poorly, that’s a reflection of where she is on her journey, it’s not a reflection of anything lacking within you, and then you can go about the business of healing. Your first task is going to be opening up your gorgeous heart once more. Try not to let the heartbreaks harden you. Recognize that people in pain spread pain, and that it can be no other way, and try to wish them well. In the meantime, let your own light shine.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Take Off the Armor

 

glassmanThere comes a time when you really have to put down the blame and the sad stories and take ownership of your life, and your own happiness. You can’t point fingers and expect to feel good, because you’re making yourself powerless, and that feels terrible. You can’t feed your despair and also wonder why you aren’t happy. We are all here for a blink of time. It’s not how long we have, although I hope we all have long and healthy lives, it’s what we do with the time we’re gifted. Stoking the flames of your rage and bitterness would be an awful way to go.

There are so many people living in fear. Maybe it’s the vulnerability of being human that terrifies them, but it seems they’ve decided a shield of anger is better than an open heart. Usually when you’re dealing with that kind of armor, it’s because the heart it’s protecting was so badly broken. The thing is, those breaks can harden us or soften us. Softening feels a lot better. I know people personally who seem determined to die angry, though. It’s almost like they want their tombstone to read, “My life was hard, and it wasn’t my fault,” with a list of people at fault underneath.

You can’t cuddle up with the “last word”. If you choose being right over being at peace, it’s going to be a long and lonely road. Sometimes people are afraid to put down the sad story, because who are they without it? I once met a woman with blazing eyes who told me she could not forgive her father because then he wouldn’t pay for what he’d done, but she hadn’t spoken to him in years. So who’s paying? I mean, some things are unforgivable. Sometimes you have to choose not to have someone in your life, but you can do that with rage or acceptance.

Pain makes us grow. The butterfly needs the struggle out of the cocoon to strengthen its wings. If you cut open the cocoon, it will never fly. We need the travel down the birth canal to squeeze the fluid out of our lungs so we can breathe easily. If you’ve never suffered, you can’t help people who are in pain, because pain creates empathy. Sometimes people have blinders on and they actually think their story is unique, but you know what? I hear stories from people every single day and they’re the same. Something happens when we’re young. Maybe we aren’t received with love. Maybe we learn the world is unsafe and our best bet is to be invisible or indispensable, or both, depending on the minute or the day. Maybe those experiences create doubt within us. Doubt about our own worth. That’s a very common story. That, and fear of abandonment. Also, people suffering over betrayal, abuse, cruelty. Almost every time I post someone says, “This was exactly what I needed to hear today.” Or, “Are you psychic?” I’m not psychic. We’re all so much more the same than we are different.

Your memories are yours. Your ideas, your experiences, your frame of reference, the way you’ve come to perceive the people and the world around you, all of these are unique to you, but if you start talking to people you will also find the themes are uncannily similar. The pain and struggles and fears and doubts and failures we face are universal. How we respond to them defines us.

Life is not easy. It’s incredible and wildly interesting. It’s full of moments that are so gorgeous they suck the air out of your lungs and make your heart expand simultaneously. There are events that will undoubtedly put you on the ground with your mouth full of dirt and your head full of why. In the world right now, there are bombs going off, shots being fired. Children are dying, or they’re watching their parents die. These things are happening and it’s hard to bear witness and there are no easy answers. Sometimes people are ripped from us when we aren’t done loving them. We aren’t done. It’s not a level playing field. Some people will suffer in ways that make your own heart ache. Don’t think you’re the only one. You’re not alone in this.

The thing is, you have a spark that is yours alone, and you can feed that spark until it becomes a roaring fire in your heart, and lights you up from the inside. You can give that fire that’s yours, you can give that away every day. Whether it’s a fire of rage or a fire of love is up to you, but I think we have enough rage in the world. Healing is a lot easier than being bitter and angry and isolated for eighty, ninety or one hundred years. When I say healing, that’s personal. What you’ll need to heal is something only you can determine, but I’d get on that, because life is ticking away right now, this minute. I don’t say that without compassion. It takes a lot of bravery to release an old story.

I tried life the angry way. I pointed fingers and made my unhappiness and frustration and disappointment the fault of other people, but it wasn’t. Things happen and they shape you, but none of us is in a time warp unless we choose to be. The earth keeps spinning, and it will continue to do so long after we’re gone. Take hold of the one thing you can—how you’re going to show up, what you’re going to offer. May all beings be free from suffering.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

 

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Let the Disappointments Strengthen You

shannonaFew things feel worse than being used or duped, especially at the hands of someone we believed was a friend, but these things happen in life. Betrayal stings because we trusted, and we were wrong. Not only are we disappointed and sometimes disgusted with the other party, we’re also angry with ourselves for not having seen more clearly. Also, when we feel disgusted, it’s usually because we are really, really hurt.

The trap in these situations is to ask ourselves, “How can this person have done this to me?”, and begin to make our list of all the ways we’ve shown up and been a great and loyal friend, partner, or colleague. The reality is, it’s not about you. This person would do this to anyone in similar circumstances. This is where this person happens to be on his or her path at the present moment. You just crossed paths at the wrong time.

Now, how do you wrap your head around that if it’s your partner? How not to take it to heart in that scenario? It always takes two. In any relationship, the dynamic exists between the two parties. There’s you, your partner, and the space between you, and the relationship lives in that space. You are each responsible for what you contribute, whether it’s your care, your attention, your energy, your time, your love, your presence, your patience, compassion and forgiveness, your sense of fun, your willingness to keep learning about the other person, or not so much. You are responsible if you neglected that space, if you stopped looking or caring or listening, if you filled that space with your rage, resentment, boredom, fear, frustration, or if you didn’t fill the space at all. That’s the part to examine.

A lot of the time, we’re taking things personally that have nothing to do with us. If someone behaves in a way that lacks integrity, that’s their issue. The part that’s personal is the healing you’ll have to do if you got stung. Also, it’s helpful to remember those times when we did not show up the way we wish we had. No one operates from his or her highest self in every moment. We all make mistakes, we all blow it sometimes. Learning from our mistakes so we can make better ones moving forward is the thing. Practicing forgiveness for ourselves and others creates the environment for change and growth. Don’t get me wrong, there are some things that are just over the line. You can forgive people for your own well-being, and still choose not to have them in your life.

The thing is, life is short and precious. You can get really caught up feeling injured, wronged, or victimized, but that’s time you’ll never have back, and that isn’t a stance that’s going to serve you. Most people are just doing the best they can with what they’ve got. Sometimes people are really young, selfish, confused, or immature. We’ve all been those things at some point. No need to take it personally, because it’s not a reflection of anything lacking within you. As soon as you can, pick yourself up, because there’s a lot of beauty in this world, and there are a lot of wonderful human beings. As far as the people who’d walk through fire for you, don’t expect a roomful. Maybe a handful. For sure, one. You can always walk through the fire on your own behalf, and sometimes life asks that of us.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Don’t Consent to Poor Treatment

eleanorrNot all friendships or romantic relationships will stand the test of time, and that is okay. Of course it hurts, but it’s just the way of things. People change, circumstances change, everything in the known universe is in constant motion. Sometimes we think something is “for life”, but it turns out not to be. Certain people are going to turn out to be “somebody that you used to know.” Yes, you can thank me for having that song stuck in your head for the next little while. But it’s really the truth.

Of course it doesn’t feel good when someone rejects us or ditches us or treats us with very little respect or concern. Especially if there’s a history of kindness and shared memories, of times when you really went out of your way to show up or to help, but if you are suddenly discarded, you’ll probably look back and realize you were dealing with a mostly one-way street. Someone who genuinely cares about you will not treat you carelessly, no matter how caught up he or she might be with other interests.

If someone is behaving in a disappointing way, that’s no reflection on you, it’s a reflection of where that person happens to be on her or his own path. You don’t have to take it to heart. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting or hurt, it just means you don’t have to take it as a sign that you’re easy to discard. There’s another great Eleanor Roosevelt quote, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”

Generally, you’re dealing with one of two things: either you have some part in the dissolution of what was once a beautiful bond, but the other party is unwilling or unable to communicate in a respectful way so you can understand a differing point of view, and apologize if the situation warrants that, or, you’re dealing with a person who truly doesn’t give a sh%t. And either way, it takes two to make a “thing go right”. There’s another song for you, you’re welcome.

If a person won’t tell you what’s up, don’t lose sleep over it. I mean, in order to own your end of a thing, a person has to be willing to tell you what the thing is, and if they won’t, it really has to go in your, “no time for this” folder. Because that’s okay in high school, but otherwise, not so much. If a person doesn’t care enough to communicate, why waste your precious time and energy on it?

The thing is, life is so short. All you can do is manage the way you show up, and pay attention to what you do. If you blow it, own it, apologize, and take some time for self-inquiry so you can learn and grow and do it better the next time. Try not to hurt people. If you’re the person doing the leaving, whether we’re talking about the end of a friendship or a romantic relationship, communication is always a good way to go. I mean, if you went on one date with someone and it wasn’t a match, I’m not saying you have to spend an hour talking about why that is, but don’t say you’ll call if you have no intention of calling, because that’s also only okay in high school, and not really even then. If someone is into you and it isn’t mutual, don’t leave them hanging in the wind. People are precious and the human heart is tender. Take care of your own, and be kind to others.

Sending you love, lovers,

Ally Hamilton

When to Hold On, and When to Let Go

Some-people-believeSometimes it’s so hard to know when to hold on, and when to let go. This comes up in all kinds of relationships. Often, we’re dealing with people who simply do not know how to love. Maybe there’s a history of abuse, and they’re continuing the cycle of what was done to them. Maybe there are personality disorders, and we’re dealing with people who don’t feel empathy, and are incapable of communicating in a compassionate way. There are people who go up and down…sometimes they’re rational, and other times there’s no logic at all, no possibility for understanding. Those are often the most challenging cases, because we get lulled when things are good, and blindsided when the tides turn. The thing is, after you’ve been through a few cycles with someone, you have to stop allowing yourself to think things are going to be okay every time they have a good week. Your heart is tender, and it can only take so much battering. Also, you are the steward of your own ship, and if you keep sailing into tsunamis, you can’t expect things to go well. There are also cases when we’re dealing with betrayal, and it’s hard to know if we should try to open again, or cut our losses and move on. Sometimes we’ve just grown in different directions and need something else, maybe something we’ve never known before. Like belief in ourselves.

Here’s the thing. If someone has a history of treating you badly, you have to distance yourself. I mean, if it’s not a relationship you want to end completely, then boundaries are your only option. I’m talking about familial relationships here. Most people do not want to cut ties with their parents, siblings, or exes when there are children involved. I really consider that a last resort. There’s a deep pain when we have to walk away from people who were meant to love us, and didn’t or couldn’t. There are cases when ending the relationship and cutting off ties is the only option, so I want to acknowledge that, but short of instances of abuse, boundaries will usually get the job done. We can love people who have a hard time being consistent, while still loving ourselves.

If your parent or parents have never been there for you, if you’ve had a fear-based relationship and doubted your value to them, I do think you need to step away. Sometimes that’s incredibly difficult. If you rely on your parents financially, or you come from a culture where you don’t leave home until you get married, it’s not as easy as just moving out and starting your own life. Obviously, it’s very hard to heal and to create boundaries when you’re living under the same roof with people who’ve let you down in all the important ways. You can recognize that perhaps your parents are repeating what was done to them, but that does not lessen the impact on your own gorgeous heart. It’s beautiful if you can see that it isn’t about you, or anything lacking within you. It takes strength and insight to understand that some people, even your parents, might not have the tools to love you well, and that it isn’t a reflection on you. You’re lovable. You’re made of love and you’re full of love, and if your own parents can’t see that and receive that and embrace that and nurture that, that is very sad for them, and a heartbreak for you all. That doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t have love in your own life. I would say removing yourself from the situation is ideal, but if you aren’t in a place where you can do that yet, protect your heart in all the ways you can. Nurture yourself, be kind to yourself. Mother yourself.

If we’re talking about romantic relationships, betrayal is a tough one, and I also think it’s a case-by-case situation. Let me say that if you are unhappy in the context of your committed relationship, bringing another party into the mix is a very bad idea. If there are children in the picture, you’re putting your whole family on the line. You’re also making troubled waters murkier. If you’re at the point where you’d even consider going outside your relationship, it’s time to grab your partner and head to therapy, because the answers to the problems do not reside in a third party. That isn’t going to fix things, it’s going to confuse them further. Maybe you and your partner have gotten off track. Maybe you’ve dropped the thread. Maybe you’re so convinced you know everything there is to know about one another, you don’t even pay attention anymore. Perhaps you’re out of balance. Maybe there are little ones in the picture, and you haven’t figured out how to nurture them, keep a roof over your heads, and still find time for romance. Maybe you’re full of rage or resentment, or a list of ways your partner isn’t showing up for you. Maybe you’ve shut down. The things is, relationships need our time and attention. Human beings thrive on love and connection and communication.

Sometimes people blow it. They get desperate. They feel lonely or unseen or unheard, or they feel unwanted in every way, and they act. Maybe they’ve felt rejected or disrespected, and someone at work is making them feel amazing, like everything they say and do is brilliant. Like they’re hot and desirable and hilarious. You know how it goes. A flirtation starts to build and then there’s emailing or texting and the next thing you know, something has happened. I mean, you can’t play with fire like that and expect to walk away unharmed. When there are other people in the mix, like your family, that hurt has deep and far-reaching consequences, and now, instead of focusing on the problems that existed between you and your partner, the number one priority will be fixing what you’ve done, if your partner is even open to allowing you to try. You’re going to have to be patient, and understand you broke their trust. You’re going to have to be transparent, and also compassionate. Basically, you’ve just created a bigger mess for yourself, and you’re likely to feel resentful, because all the other issues are going to take a backseat to your making things right, which might not be possible. Having said that, people can recover from betrayal. It takes two people who are willing to fight for the relationship. If there are kids in the mix, I hope you try. If it’s a pattern, and there’s a history of cheating, you’re probably not in a good situation, but if it’s a one-time thing, and you can recognize that both parties contributed to the deterioration of the relationship prior to the betrayal, you can come out stronger on the other side.

Sometimes there are no kids in the picture, but there’s a long partnership. People sometimes write in and ask if it’s okay to leave someone just because they feel pulled to do so. Usually, these are people who are very used to putting other people’s feelings, needs and wants ahead of their own. I don’t believe anyone would thank you for staying in a situation out of pity or guilt. We all deserve more than that, don’t you think? It’s never easy knowing what to do when our heart is in the mix, and other people are involved. I do think people tend to walk away from their families too easily these days. I think it’s heartbreaking when parents and children don’t speak, when brothers and sisters aren’t in contact, when people walk away from the families they’ve started without giving it everything they’ve got, first. I also think life is short and precious, and that we don’t have time to waste. If you know a thing is dead, release yourself, and the other party. If you’re holding on to something toxic, by all means let go, or get yourself help doing that if you need it. Love is worth fighting for, and sometimes that means we hold on, and sometimes it means we let go. Trust your instincts.

Sending you love, and wishing you peace,

Ally Hamilton

See the Pain Beneath the Words

stephencoveyHave you ever gone to see a film with a friend, and come out to discover you have two completely different viewpoints about what you’ve just seen? Obviously, it’s not that you’ve seen two different movies, it’s that you and your friend are bringing two different perspectives to a shared experience. I think that’s clear when we’re in that context, but we seem to forget it’s the same with life.

We’re always bringing so much to the table. We have our life experiences, our histories, our opinions and feelings and things we’ve been taught, in addition to our current mood and circumstances. This is really helpful to remember when we find ourselves totally thrown by someone else’s behavior or different take on a situation. It’s also good to remember when we move through conflict with those we love.

So much of the time, we get caught up in the story, or our need to be right. If we’re not seeing eye to eye with a loved one, we might expend a lot of energy trying to convince them to see things our way. We might dig our heels in, or shake our head, or throw our hands in the air in our attempts to “win” a fight, but when we separate ourselves form those we love because being right is more important than being close, no one wins.

If, for example, your partner feels jealous, and you know in your heart there’s no need for that fear, you might become impatient or angry or indignant. Maybe you go for reassurance once or twice, but then you feel frustrated that you have to spend time and energy putting them at ease when you aren’t doing anything wrong. You could take that tack, but you could also stop and breathe and consider your partner’s life experiences. Maybe they’ve been betrayed in the past, more than once. Don’t get me wrong, here. I’m not talking about pathological jealousy, or controlling or violating behavior. I’m not suggesting it’s ever okay if the person you’re with is checking your email or your text messages, or showing up unannounced. That kind of behavior chokes the life, trust and health out of any relationship.

What I’m talking about is clear communication and compassion. When we love people, we love the whole person, with all their beauty and all their flaws and occasional absurdities, just as we hope they’ll also love us. We don’t reject the challenging parts. We don’t walk away when a person we love is in pain. One of the most loving things you can do for anyone is to try to understand their perspective, because underneath words and stories, there are always feelings. Sometimes in the middle of a charged exchange, it’s incredibly revealing to stop listening to the words, and just look at your loved one’s face. Maybe you’re going to see fear or anger, because when we love, we make ourselves vulnerable, and when we feel threatened, it’s human for us to want to protect what we love. Generally, if you can see the pain or fear beneath the words, it makes it so much easier to be kind and understanding. That’s what we all want, right? To be seen and understood, to feel that if we’ve given someone our heart, we can trust that they’ll take care of it, and that they won’t shame us or reject us for our insecurities. We all have some, after all.

The other thing that’s such a relief, and often comes with time and distance, is just the realization that so little is personal. People can only be where they are, and they can only use the tools they’ve got. We’ve all had our experiences and our life lessons, and most of us have learned at least a few things along the way that we’re going to have to unlearn. Like, maybe you learned that “everyone cheats”, or “everyone leaves”, because that’s what you saw growing up, and that’s what you’ve unconsciously sought out as an adult, in an effort to rewrite your story. Maybe it just hasn’t occurred to you yet, it isn’t that everyone cheats, it’s that all the people you’ve picked, cheat. Ugh. Not a very fun realization, but key for your healing and happiness. Anyway, my point is, if you love someone, and I don’t just mean romantically, part of your job is to help them unlearn anything that’s blocking their happiness. I mean, you don’t have to take that on, that’s advanced love, but the option is there for you to be that person.

If you can really make those closest to you feel safe to be fully themselves, and to know that you won’t walk away, you set the stage to be received in the same way. Not everyone is going to accept that invitation, but you don’t need everyone, just a handful of people is a blessing. You can always have at least one person who accepts you entirely, because you always have the power to do that for yourself, and it’s a relief, really. We all have our struggles, fears and pain. That doesn’t make us less lovable.

Sending you a huge hug, and a lot of love,

Ally Hamilton