Your Five-Year Plan

steinbeckThere’s no way to accept and embrace reality without recognizing our own vulnerability. If we’re lucky, we get seventy, eighty, ninety, maybe one hundred years to offer up whatever we’ve got. The first order of business, once we’re grown, is to make peace with our past. I’ve met maybe three people who had idyllic childhoods, so barring them, most of us are going to have some healing to do. And of course, I jest. Even if your childhood was wonderful, we all have pain, insecurities, doubts, fears and struggles. It’s part of the nature of being human, and of being part of a mystery much larger than any one of us. Yet, we have to face the journey in our own way, and we have to develop our own tools.

We like to make things linear, but my sense is really that time folds in on itself, and also expands out, simultaneously. I can go back to any vivid moment of my life at any time. I can be three, on my grandmother’s soft and cozy lap, I can feel her fingertips tracing my face, and I can smell the mix of powder and perfume and love, just by closing my eyes. I can be fourteen, in the living room of the boy I adored, being kissed for the first time with sunlight streaming through the window, my heart pounding, every sense on fire. I can be sixteen, walking away from the boy I loved, who sat on a bench and watched me leave, sobbing as I went, because he said he had to go away. I can see the blurry trees through my tears, the statue of Balto in Central Park, I can feel the biting cold on my face, on my fingers, in my heart. I can be at the funeral of my cousin’s little boy, with that impossibly tiny coffin, and I can still see the way my cousin’s hand flew to his mouth when our eyes met. Just like that, I’m there, and I’m crying. I can be with that same cousin when I was five years old, and he and his brother threw me in a pool in Bermuda, much to my delight, even though my thumb was broken and I had a cast up to my upper arm. I can see that same cousin, with his head thrown back, laughing, before, way before the coffin and the loss and the grief. I can be at the emergency veterinarian’s hospital with my dog, and doctors I’d never met before, holding his head and watching the light go out of his eyes as I thanked him and tried to wrap my head around the fact that he was here, and then he wasn’t, ten years of history, ten years of being my best friend, holding the ceramic paw print they gave me as I walked out the door, about to give birth to my son, joyous and bereft all at once. I can be in the delivery room with my son, a week later, terrified, wondering if we were going to make it, and I can be in the delivery room with my daughter, too, although the births were two and a half years apart. I can also be right here, right now, with both kids asleep, a different dog curled up on the floor, people walking by on the street outside. If you can’t acknowledge the vulnerability of this thing, I think you’re going to be in some trouble.

A few years ago, I went to a meeting, and someone asked me what my five year plan was, and I didn’t mean to, but I laughed, loudly. I might have accidentally snorted. When I look back on the last five years of my life, almost none of it has gone according to any plan I had. You heal. You make peace with your past. You use your wounds as entryways to understanding and insight and compassion. You figure out what lights you up, what it is, you, in particular, have to offer, and you get busy figuring out how best to do that. Hopefully at some point you realize that it’s what you give, and not what you have, that’s going to define your life. You follow your passion and you share your gifts, and you keep your heart open. You evolve as everything around you evolves, and you keep putting one foot in front of the other. That’s the plan as far as I know.

I’m not saying you have to burn your vision board, or that you shouldn’t have goals. Living intentionally is the way to go. Thinking about where you’re going to spend your time and energy makes sense. It’s not like those are infinite gifts, after all, and you don’t want to squander them, but I wouldn’t get too attached to a picture in your head of “how things should be”, or how people should be, or how life should look, because reality is not obligated to bend to your will, and it probably won’t. If you want to pin something on a board, I’d make two columns. Under the first, “Things I Can Control”, under the second, you guessed it, “Things I Cannot Control”. There’s only one thing that goes under the first list, and here it is: “I can control the way I respond to what I’m given (if I work on it a lot).” Under the second list, go ahead and put everything else, including, “other people (and there are some sub-topics here, like what other people will want, or do, or say, or need), circumstances, the weather, when and if I’m going to meet someone amazing (here’s an asterisk for you— *YOU are someone amazing), how long I have here, how long anyone else has here, timing, and whether I’ll get the “breaks” I need.” There are a lot of other things that can go on that second list, that was just off the top of my head.

Here are some things I know for sure: When I’m coming from a loving, open, generous place, life feels pretty awesome, and when I’m in fear, when I’m anxious or worrying or feeling resentful or bitter, or I’m blaming someone else, life feels pretty crappy. When I focus on what I can give, it reminds me that I’m coming from a place of abundance, and that makes me feel really grateful, and when I focus on what I don’t have, or what I’m not getting, that makes me feel like I don’t have enough, and other people have more, and that, in turn, makes me feel that I ought to grasp whatever I’ve got which makes me feel small and petty and like I’m coming from a place of lack, which feels bad. Also, when I focus on the days instead of the years, that feels manageable. When I think about what I can do today to support my own healing if I need it (that has to come first), or what I can do to possibly uplift someone else, I’m on track to have a meaningful and fulfilling day. If I can string a bunch of those days together, I’m having a meaningful and fulfilling life. If I start to future trip and worry about what could happen or what someone else might or might not do, if I start imagining different scenarios, then it all feels overwhelming. What can you do in service to your dreams and the dreams of those you love, today? What can you do to strengthen and nurture yourself, and everyone you encounter, today? I think those are useful questions.

Grateful, as ever, to be in conversation with you all, and sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Let Inspiration be Your Hook

thichFor many people, rejection is like a hook. They might be dating someone and feeling kind of “on the fence” about it, but if their potential partner starts to lose interest, it’s like an instant fever; now this person becomes enticing and coveted and the one they have to have. The same thing can happen with new friendships, it can happen amongst colleagues, it can even happen with strangers. If we harbor doubt about our own worth at our very core, having that doubt reflected back at us is almost intolerable. It’s like a message from the universe being delivered through this unavailable person: “It’s as you thought, you are not good enough, and you are not truly lovable.” It can be brutal.

What happens when we feel excluded, shunned, ignored, disrespected, discarded or unseen? These things never feel good, of course, but if we’re in a healthy, stable place, we can probably talk ourselves off the ledge. Not everyone is going to understand us, or see us clearly or dig our vibe, and that’s okay, it really is. Also, if a person is rude or haughty or demeaning or demanding, that’s a reflection of where they are on their own path, it’s not a reflection of anything lacking in us, but if we’re suffering from low self-esteem, if we’re having a hard time believing we’re worthy of happiness and love and peace, then feeling rejected by someone, even a stranger, can set us on the run. We might think if we can just convince this person that we’re actually amazing, then we’ll feel better, but the minute you’re in that kind of power struggle with another person (even if they have no idea it’s happening), you’re doomed because you aren’t going to be your authentic self. You’re going to be jumping around, chasing them down, waving your arms and dancing like a monkey to show how great you are, and that’s going to make you feel sick, as it should. Why should that make you feel sick? Because it’s the worst kind of betrayal; it’s the betrayal of self. It is never, ever your job to sell yourself. If someone is dismissive or unkind or unsure about whether they want to give you their time and energy, move along.

Sometimes we pick unavailable people because we have deep fear of intimacy. We think if we open and trust, we’ll surely be hurt, so we choose people who can’t commit. That’s not the only reason we might chase people who don’t have the capacity or interest to take us in, in all our entirety, with all our flaws and beauty and occasional absurdites. Sometimes a thing starts out hot and strong and we get swept up in the intensity and fall in love, only to find when the lust/dust clears, that we’ve chosen someone who could only give us their all in the beginning. Maybe we stay because we think this person is capable of being present and hot for us, and fully “in it”, because they displayed that when we started, so we wait and hope that person will show up again, but hormones and the frenzy of something new do not add up to true intimacy. That takes time, and fearlessness and commitment, and a willingness to look at our own raw, unhealed places; not everyone is up to that, and not everyone wants to do that kind of work. When we’re in love, we tend to excuse behavior that hurts, because we hope. We hope and we hope, and time passes, and we feel smaller and smaller, and more and more hurt. We feel rejected by this person who once seemed so into us, and we can’t understand how that could be, so we stay and we try and we bend over backwards and see if we can be perfect or different or better, or we see if we can accept what little is being offered, and somehow be okay with it. This is not a healthy scenario, and it isn’t good for your heart.

People change and grow, but it’s never our job to manage anyone else’s path. People are ready if and when they’re ready, and it isn’t loving to try to manipulate or force or control an outcome that we want, but our partner or friend or family member does not. Love is accepting, and sometimes that means you have to accept that what you want is just not what someone else wants, and you have to let it go, even though it hurts like hell. The alternative is not livable or sustainable. You can’t allow your light to be dimmed and your spirit to be crushed, and expect that life will feel good, or that you’ll blossom the way you could. Maybe your paths will cross in the future, or maybe something else will unfold that you never could have imagined. It’s impossible to know, but one thing you can know is that you have to be you. You really can’t compromise on that. You can make adjustments, and work with the people you love so you can coexist harmoniously, so you can respect one another’s needs and space and dreams and necessary solitude, but you can’t try to be something other than who you are, because there’s only one of you. I don’t know if I can get across how amazing that is, but there are roughly seven billion people on this planet, and yet, we only get one you, for one blaze of time. Don’t let rejection be your hook. Really, you don’t have time for that. Let inspiration be your hook. Let that be the thing that sets you off running to show what you’ve got, not because you have anything to prove, or any doubt to undo, but because you have so much to give.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Give it Time

stripyourgearsSometimes our expectations of ourselves are so unrealistic. We have ideas about how we should feel, or where we should be at any given point in time, and if we aren’t meeting those markers, we feel disappointed in ourselves, or frustrated, or we wonder what’s wrong with us. This comes up a lot around grieving, mourning, and recovering from heartbreak of any kind. There’s no timer for this stuff; there’s no formula. It’s different for everyone, and dependent upon so many factors. But the last thing you need when you’re suffering, is to feel badly about yourself because you aren’t done suffering quickly enough.

Obviously it’s no fun to be pining or longing or missing people we cherish. Death is the most extreme version of this, of course. Grieving has no time limit. As Earl Grollman says, “The only cure for grief is to grieve.” No matter how much we understand we’ll all die eventually, it’s still almost incomprehensible when someone we love is ripped from us. It’s natural to want to hug the people we love, to hear their voices, their laughter, to hold their hands. The loss of a person is like the loss of a whole, beautiful world. There’s a shock to it, it seems impossible that the earth could keep spinning, and depending upon who’s been lost to you, and in what way they were taken, and at what point in your life and theirs, the impact may bring you to your knees. The only thing at a time like that, is to ask for help. Hopefully, you don’t even have to do that. Hopefully the people in your life know how to show up for you, at least some of them, so that you know you aren’t alone.

For many people, grief is difficult to witness, because it reminds them of their own mortality, the fragility of life, and the potential that they, too, could have to hold a sorrow so great. The people who are the most uncomfortable holding a space for your pain, are likely the same people who will tell you you “should be feeling better by now.” What they’re really saying is, “I’m having a hard time being around you when you’re in pain, and I’d like you to make it easier for me.” The thing is, when you’re mourning, your only job is to allow yourself to feel whatever you need to feel, for as long as you need to feel it. Anyone who can’t honor that or understand it is probably not going to be one of your cronies when you’re ninety-five, sipping lemonade in your rocker, but you don’t need tons of close friends. You just need a few.

The same goes for the loss of any relationship. You have to factor in all kinds of things. How much time and energy you invested, how many memories, shared experiences, heartaches and growing pains you went through. If you had a family with this person, it gets exponentially more complicated, but even if we’re talking about someone you dated for a few months, having a broken heart never feels good. You just have to give yourself time. Examine what happened, especially if you’re disappointed with the way you showed up, but try not to obsess. Glean the information from the experience that’s going to help you grow, and make different choices the next time. If you’re recovering from a toxic relationship, understand your oldest, deepest wounds were probably in play, and that it’s very likely you could use some support. It might be a great time to find a good therapist, and do some deep and needed work toward healing, but don’t beat yourself up because you aren’t over your ex. Some days will be better than others, and these are just natural feelings. Don’t stalk their social media making yourself sick, and try not to invest too much of your time or energy wondering what they’re doing. Focus on your own healing. As Regina Brett says, you have to “give time, time.” You know that anything you resist, persists. Of course we don’t want to marinate in pain, but denying it or running from it or numbing it out just prolongs the inevitable. Eventually you have to face it, and the more you’re willing to acknowledge and work with your pain, the faster you’ll move through it.

Be kind to yourself. Gravitate toward people who don’t try to fix things or tell you how to feel, but are simply able to listen and to be there. Nurture yourself, and spend time doing those things that bring you joy and fulfillment. Volunteer if you have it in you. Try to move your body and sweat and breathe once a day. Weep. Feed yourself well, and I don’t just mean food—pay attention to what you’re watching, reading, telling yourself, and try to have patience. One day, you’ll wake up, and the weight and heaviness of your grief won’t come crashing down upon you as you blink your eyes open and remember where you are. In the meantime, have some compassion for yourself. Life is a constant lesson in impermanence and loss. There’s also incredible beauty and joy and love, but it isn’t easy.

Sending you a huge hug,

Ally Hamilton

The Cycle of Abuse

frogsIf you’ve never been in an abusive relationship, you’re probably going to have a hard time understanding what would keep a person in a situation that’s so unhealthy and soul-crushing. This applies whether we’re talking about emotional and verbal abuse, or physical abuse. People who find themselves in these kinds of relationships didn’t land there out of the blue. A person who’s allowing herself or himself to be abused is a person in pain, and judging or shaming someone because they aren’t strong enough to get themselves out of harm’s way, is only going to compound their pain. The last thing a person needs in that situation is to feel someone else’s disdain; people allowing themselves to be abused are already swimming in shame and guilt and low self-esteem. What they need is support.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year, and 1 in every 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. It’s not just an issue for women, there are cases where men are being abused by their female partners, but it’s an overwhelmingly larger issue for women.

People who come out of abusive homes tend to seek out those relationships in their adult lives; we gravitate toward what we know, even if what we know feels terrible. So, too, do children of alcoholics tend to marry alcoholics. This might seem insane from the outside, but it’s what Freud called the “repetition compulsion”, what Jung referred to when he said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will rule your life, and you will call it fate”, and what Einstein defined as insanity, “Doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.” Yogis call these “samskaras”, or grooves that we play out again and again. We all want to heal and be happy, but a lot of the time, we avoid the very work that would bring us peace. Instead of examining, facing, and working with our pain, we run from it, or deny that it’s there, or numb it out, and then we call into our lives those situations that evoke the same ancient dynamic. We don’t do it on purpose, we’re just driven to heal, to overcome, to master those feelings we couldn’t master as children.

This isn’t a formula that works. When we call an abuser into our lives so we can overcome our original pain, we simply find ourselves powerless once again. We revert back to that scared kid. We think, it must be us, it must be our fault, because look, it’s happening again. We think we don’t measure up, we must not be lovable. Sometimes people put themselves in a powerless position financially. Maybe there are kids in the mix, and they think they should take it, because at least the family is intact, and the abuse isn’t affecting the kids (of course it is). There are all kinds of reasons people stay. They might not make any sense from the outside, but if you haven’t lived someone else’s life, don’t expect to understand the way they think about things. Let’s talk about the other side, here, too. Abusers didn’t just become violent out of the blue. Most abusers were abused themselves. That doesn’t make it okay, but condemnation helps no one.

When we doubt that we’re lovable or worthwhile or of value, we’re likely to call people into our lives who reflect those doubts back to us, and if you’re in a situation like that, you might think, “If only I could get this person to love me, then I’d be happy.” Or maybe things are really, really good a lot of the time, and just every so often, your partner hauls off and punches you in the face. It’s never okay. Abusers manipulate. They sweet-talk. They’re contrite. Maybe they cry and tell you it will never happen again, but it always does. Maybe you think if you just love your partner enough, he’ll stop. Maybe you think it’s your fault because you provoke him. Whatever the stories, the bottom line is, none of us was put here to be a punching bag. Love does not abuse you, mistreat you, disrespect you, lie to you, or hit you in the face. Not ever. You can’t be in love with someone’s potential, and in the meantime, excuse his or her behavior, not if that behavior is causing you physical or emotional pain. There’s nothing to be ashamed about. We all have pain, we all suffer, and sometimes we just don’t have the tools or the strength to get ourselves to a safe space. If that’s where you’re at, you have to reach out and get yourself some help. A good therapist is a great place to start. You have to get to the root of the thing. You have to figure out when you started believing you were not worthy of love. You really need to dig that root up, and cut yourself away from it, because that root was planted in the soil of lies. If you need help, or you know someone who needs help, go to:

Let me just say that most men are as outraged about this as women. It’s really important to me that these conversations don’t alienate anyone. As always, these are problems we need to solve together, and the only way we can do that is by bringing them into the light so we can help each other.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton


We-all-know-were-goingFor me, like so many others, this is always going to be a day of remembering. I was born and raised in NYC, and there that morning, thirteen years ago. And I can remember every detail, including every minute of the four and a half hours we didn’t know if my stepdad was okay (he was), because he worked in the World Trade Center, and all the phone lines in the city went dead. But I don’t want to talk about the specifics. I’ve done that before. I want to talk about what it’s like to be shocked by violence, because so many people in the world right now are living that experience every day.

You might not have had an idyllic childhood. Maybe you lost your innocence too soon. Maybe burdens were placed upon you at an early age, or you had to take the role of parenting your parents, or you saw and heard things no child should have to see or hear. That’s one way of being stripped of your innocence. Once you know something, you can’t not know it. And it’s the same when we’re shocked as a people, as a culture. I believe we all thought we were invincible in that way, that we were the super-cop of the world, that we were impervious to violation. But because of the way we’ve set things up, no one is immune. And no one is innocent. When we turn our backs, we aren’t innocent. We have a cultural idea that only the strongest survive, and that we have to compete if we want to succeed. We have lots of ideas that have led us to where we find ourselves today, with too many innocent children dying, too many parents grieving in the streets, too many people suffering.

How it is within us, is how it is around us. If you’re filled with love, you’re going to spread love. If you’re filled with pain or rage, so too, you’re going to spread those things. Anything we see around us is a reflection of something that exists within us, either personally, or culturally. This is why I believe it’s essential that each of us does the healing and the work to make the worlds within us loving and peaceful places to be. Of course that makes each of our individual lives easier and happier and more fulfilling, but it’s also a gift we give to each other. We love to blame “society’ for its ills, but society is made up of human beings.

There are some people who will never do this work. They’re too far gone. Rage has infected their hearts and eaten their brains and made them capable of inhumane thinking and actions. So be it. But that’s a small percentage of the human population. And I have no doubt that if the large majority of us got to work doing a better job of finding peace and steadiness within, we’d begin to do a great job of spreading that around. It’s not the tiny percentage of violent extremists who pose the biggest threat to our well-being. It’s the huge percentage of people who numb out so they don’t have to feel the pain of being human. Because it is painful. It’s also incredibly beautiful. It’s wildly interesting and unpredictable. You never know what’s going to happen from day to day, and you can let that reality terrify you or inspire you to live fully. We’re afraid of pain. We’re averse to discomfort, let alone suffering. But we’re all going to suffer to some degree or another, and we’re all vulnerable. It’s not a level playing field as far as what happens. Some people are born with amazing advantages. Some people endure knifing, piercing losses that make you wonder how they’re going to move forward. But as far as vulnerability goes, we all get the same parameters. We’re all going to die at some point. We all have an incredible capacity to love. Everyone we love will die eventually. We don’t know how long we have, we don’t know how long they have, we don’t know what happens after this. Welcome to the human race, these are the rules of this game. How we live up to them is what defines us.

When you numb out, you turn your back on your own precious heart, and the hearts of all the people who hold you near and dear, but you also turn your back on your place in the whole. You turn your back on all your brothers and sisters. Because as far as I’m concerned, we are one huge family living on one planet. We have some members who are bat-sh&t crazy and full of venom, and there’s no denying that. But most of our family members are decent people with beautiful hearts struggling to manage their own vulnerability and fear. And we could help each other so much by simply acknowledging that.

We don’t need more people who feel alienated and alone, we need more connection, empathy, compassion and understanding. We need that individually, and we need that as a people. Everything you do, matters. You’re an energetic being, and you spread and take in energy wherever you go. The more accountable each of us is for the energy we’re spreading, the more we mindfully try to up the happiness quotient of the world around us with our small actions every day, the more we contribute to a better and more loving world. So don’t underestimate your own power. You’re one of seven billion people, and you’re completely unique. You have a spark to offer that only you can. But if enough sparks come together, we have a raging, burning fire of love we can let loose together. And I really believe the time is now. We don’t have time to keep feeding the old story of us versus them. We need to be a we. Sending you love, and sending extra love out there to anyone who’s lost a family member to an act of violence.

Grow from It

neilPain creates empathy. Whether we’re talking about physical pain, or emotional, nothing teaches us more about how things are for other people, than moving through pain ourselves. Of course we wouldn’t invite it. No one wants to break a bone, or blow out a knee or a shoulder, nor does anyone want to have his or her heart broken. We wouldn’t ask to be betrayed, or invite grief into our living rooms to sit down for tea, but when you look back on your life, I’m sure you can recognize how your pain has made it possible for you to understand and empathize with people going through their own.

Years ago, I injured my right (dominant) shoulder. I wasn’t listening to my body, I was listening to my teacher. Intense hands-on adjustments were part of the practice, so I just accepted that how I was feeling was “normal”, even though it was hard to breathe during certain “shoulder openers.” Eventually the discomfort turned to pain, and when I mentioned it, I was told it was, “an opening, not an injury.” It got to the point where I couldn’t lift a glass of water without feeling fire in my shoulder, like someone was sticking a knife into it. Chaturanga? Impossible. And at that point, I demanded a cessation of anything hands-on. It took months to heal. My whole practice was about listening to, and accommodating my shoulder. I had to modify a LOT. I was scared and humbled and I wondered if it was going to get better.  I was angry at my teacher, but underneath that, I was really angry with myself. What more does your body have to do to grab your attention? Does your shoulder need to burst into flames? Eventually, through patience and rehab and compassion for myself, it healed completely, but I refused certain adjustments from then on because nobody is a better teacher than your own body. Apparently, that was a lesson I still needed to learn. Beyond that, it opened a whole new way of communicating with students with injuries. Prior to that, I knew what to tell someone anatomically. I knew what poses they should avoid or modify, and how. I knew what to tell them to do in order to strengthen, but I didn’t really understand the fear involved, the confrontation, the grappling with being attached to practicing the way we want to, and are used to practicing. As always, attachment leads to suffering.

I think for most people, fear is the worst part. We start to panic, and think things will always be this way. It’s the same when we’re heartbroken, grieving, depressed, or feeling stuck. Instead of opening to how things are, we contract. We resist. We tense up and try to push the experience away, or tear through it. Either of those responses prolongs the suffering. We don’t have to receive everything as a gift. We don’t have to be grateful for every loss or heartache we’re going to endure. That stuff does not have to go into your, “Thank you for this experience” file, but we never want to lose the opportunity to grow and open, and to pull some value out of our painful experiences, to allow them to soften us rather than harden us.

There are some things that happen in life that forever change us, and that’s just the truth. Certain knifing losses can change the shape of our hearts, and the way we’re moving through the world. There are some things we’re simply going to carry within us, but even those can make us softer and braver and kinder. That’s the amazing thing about the human heart. It’s resilient; it wants to heal. The most compassionate, insightful, empathetic people I know are also the ones who’ve suffered the most, and there’s beauty in that. Of course there are certain lessons we’d rather not know. Certain pain we’d prefer to keep in the box of “not me, thanks, I’ll pass on that opportunity to grow more”, but of course we don’t get to choose. Whenever you can, open more, reach out more, and trust that everything is always changing, and how things are now, is not how they will always be. Pull the beauty out of the pain, so you can withstand it and grow from it.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

How to Love People in Pain & Still Love Yourself

Sometimes-people-changeEarlier this week I wrote about being held hostage by someone else’s depression, addiction, personality disorder, or general instability, and I heard from a flood of people who wonder what to do when these challenging people are cherished loved ones. I heard from many mothers, struggling with their children, grown, or almost-grown, or very little, and from people who are having difficulty with one parent or the other, a sibling, their partner, their best friend.

I’m going to say the most excruciating thing is watching your child suffer. That’s a pain and powerlessness that’s simply brutal, and if that’s what you’re grappling with, walking away is not an option. If we’re talking about depression in a small child, you have to find help; a great therapist would be step one, there are brilliant people who specialize in working with children. If finances are an issue, and you’re here in the states, go to and get some support for yourself and your little one. This is a great resource for anyone suffering from mental illness, or loving someone with mental illness, at any age.

Parents who watch their grown children struggling often blame themselves. I’ve heard a lot of that over the last few days; the heartache and feelings of failure and shame, so I think the first thing I’ll say, is please try to stop beating yourself up. If you were there, if you were present, if you loved your child with everything you had and did the very best you could, you have to release yourself from feeling that you’re the root of your child’s suffering, whether your child is 19 or 49. If you didn’t do a great job with your parenting responsibilities because you were a child yourself when you had your babies, or because you were suffering from your own mental illness, personality disorder, addiction or depression, that’s a heartbreak for you and your kids, but blaming yourself just perpetuates and feeds the pain. Let go of blame.

We’re all going to suffer. This is not an easy gig. The parameters make us all vulnerable, and some people have a harder time with that reality than others. There are people who always see the glass as half empty. People who look on the dark side of things, expect the worst from people, and feel frequently disappointed in themselves. If you’re seeing that tendency in your little one, I’d get in there and point out a different perspective whenever you can. Keep re-framing things for your child, but also be sure to normalize their feelings. There’s such a desire to make everything okay for our little people, and loving, well-meaning parents say things like, “Don’t be sad”, or, “Don’t be angry”, or, “Don’t be scared,”, but the truth is, these are normal human emotions we’ll all experience. When we, as children, get the sense that certain feelings are not okay, like fear, or sadness or anger, we start to push things down. We start to edit ourselves, and that’s the beginning of loss and confusion. We become lost to ourselves. Also, show them what it looks like to be a forgiving and compassionate person. When you make a mistake, acknowledge it, but don’t berate yourself. Our kids do what we do, not what we say.

If you see your little one feeling down, you might just speak out about it, as in, “Hey buddy. You seem a little blue today. Everything okay?” If you don’t get far with that, you can get more specific. “What was the best part of your day today?” and, “What was the hardest part of your day?” Just keeping the lines of communication open is huge. Making your child understand that s/he is safe to talk to you about anything, any feeling or any situation, or any confusion that might arise creates a foundation of trust. Naming what you’re seeing in a loving way is also good. “It seems like you’re focusing on everything that isn’t going well. Can you think of three good things that happened today? Or one thing you’re really thankful for?” Basically, you are your child’s nervous system when they’re little. They can’t always self-regulate, so you’re helping them learn how to process and integrate all the things life is putting in their path, whether that’s the changing structure of your family, a friend who’s moving away, a new school, bullying or exclusionary behavior from someone else, or their own acting out. Any intense emotion that’s flooding their little nervous system might require some help from you. The steadier you are, the easier it will be for them to lean on you, and the more you’re accepting of all their feelings, the more comfortable they’ll be to share everything with you.

If you’re dealing with your older child, and this could mean your teenager, but it could also include your 50 year old child, you’re in a different area. With depression,  I’m going to recommend what I did above; a great therapist is the place to start. If you’re dealing with addiction, then chances are the whole family is being held hostage, and you’re going to need help for everyone. There’s always a family system in place, roles each person is playing, a dynamic between all parties which needs to be examined and, in most instances, changed. If it’s serious, rehab may be your best hope, with additional support for every member of the family. Al-anon is a great resource here, both for people suffering with addiction, and the family members around them, but search for yourself, because there isn’t just one way, or one solution. There are obviously so many different situations with all their complexities, but understand when you’re living with and loving someone who’s addicted to drugs or alcohol, you’re also in the mix. You can’t save them, but you can do everything in your power to get them some help, and I think radical honesty is a good bet in that case, too. If you have things you want to own, own them. If there’s anything you wish you’d done differently, tell them, but also let them know they’re on their own path now, and they have the power to make it great, or to stay stuck and that you’re going to help them, but you’re not going to enable behavior that keeps them powerless.

If you’re dealing with mental illness or a personality disorder, it’s rough. Certain behaviors can’t be helped, they can only be regulated. It’s not easy to love in the first place. It requires that we make ourselves vulnerable, and it’s really hard to do that, and even reckless, when we don’t feel safe. So loving someone you cannot rely upon to be steady is no easy feat. It’s hard to love and protect yourself simultaneously. I think the best thing you can do in that case is have enormous compassion for yourself and set up a solid support system, so you don’t feel isolated in your experience. Find those people you can trust, and lean on them when you need to; sometimes our feelings of being hijacked and imprisoned make it hard to reach out. Think about what you need to feel respected and understood. This is where boundaries come into play. You can love someone who’s having a hard time getting out of bed in the morning. You can love someone who careens from high highs to low lows. You can love someone who says one thing to you one day, and something completely different the next. But it’s not easy. As always, your first responsibility is to your own heart. If you betray that, you won’t be able to help anyone.

Sending you love and hugs,

Ally Hamilton