reflection

Surviving another Solo Christmas

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  Last Christmas, I shared a blog post about waking up alone on Christmas and it was pretty popular. I heard from friends, colleagues and even complete strangers and it felt great to write something that helped so many people.

I shared that story from five years ago because I couldn’t post what was actually happening last year. I was spending Christmas solo, despite the fact that I was in a long-term relationship, and it was just too painful to write about.

This year, because I know people are solo for so many reasons and could use some help, I'll share what happened last year. We can’t help people if we merely allude to it but aren’t actually sharing from our lives, I've really learned that this past year.

And so, I’m sharing what a difference a year made in my life. It began with surviving another solo Christmas last year. If you’re in a similar situation this year, see if anything I did helps you, too.

 

“Where are you Christmas

Why can't I find you

Why have you gone away

Where is the laughter

You used to bring me

Why can't I hear music play…”

 

This time last year, it was clear that the relationship I was in for the past five years wasn’t working, despite my best efforts. Granted, the start of my business and then my transition and the loss of my family led to many stressful times, but all couples experience stress. It's called life. The person I had chosen was ambivalent about committing to a partnership from the day we met ten years prior and I just refused to accept it and move on. Without safety and security, love cannot thrive and by last Christmas, things had deteriorated so badly that I chose to spend the week alone and house-sit for a friend.

I packed a bag and drove across the city. Even though it wasn’t the first time I’d be doing this, it was certainly more difficult. I went from anger to sadness to pure and total confusion and back again. Was I doing the right thing? Was I just spiting myself or was this really a good call? How would I feel waking up alone again, only this time in a stranger’s house?

I sat with those questions and eventually the feeling that I was doing something incredibly right for myself, claiming some self-respect where I had lost it so many times over the past few years, overrode most everything else. I’d drawn a boundary and claimed much-needed space for the holiday experience I wanted to create for myself.

 

“My world is changing

I'm rearranging

Does that mean Christmas changes too…?”

 

Christmas eve at three in the afternoon found me standing in the aisle of Whole Foods completely numb. The little green basket dangled from my hand as people passed all around me. I gradually made my way around, feeling grateful for the many years I spent working and shopping in health food stores; it felt like the home I needed. As I picked up the essentials of what I’d need for the week, I muttered to myself about the excess of food sitting back at my “home”. I bought a few cookies as a treat. This wasn’t a time for deprivation. It was Christmas, after all.

As I began to cook, my mood instantly lifted and the knot in my stomach loosened. I played Christmas music and sang along. The therapeutic process of self-care began to work its magic. When my confidence faltered, some writing and phone calls to my best friends helped restore it.

With each hour that passed, I realized my own strength and resilience. It takes tremendous courage to powerfully choose solitude and consciously embrace loneliness any day but especially around the holidays. I was doing it for the second time in my life. There is so much hype telling us that we need someone or something, either the perfect family or the perfect partner or perfectly-wrapped material items to feel included in “the spirit of the season” or make our lives complete. It isn’t true. I witness so many people talking about rushing around and being stressed out, it seems to miss the point of things.

I think that all we need is ourselves and whatever makes us happy.

I went to bed and slept well but when I woke up Christmas morning alone, I cried. I cried for my childhood that had been filled with stockings and piles of presents. I cried for a family I never see or hear from. And then, I cried for the time and energy I’d invested in a relationship that wasn’t working. I cried because I couldn’t understand and it wasn’t fair. I got it all out.

And then I made coffee and a couple of eggs and I might have had some chocolate, too. I got to make the rules that morning.

And then I realized that I got to make the rules for the rest of my life. I was done settling or feasting on scraps in any way. That decision led to many more I've made this year and, as a result, my life is rich and full of everything I want and need.

A year later, I am celebrating this Christmas as a triumph over last year. It was a rock bottom for me, as I hid out in a friend’s house and published an article that wasn’t telling the whole story of what I was enduring. I no longer feel like a fraud for posting pictures or mincing words to belie the reality of my life.

 

There's no tree this year.

No stocking.

Few presents to give or receive.

But I don't feel alone or deprived in any way. Actually, learning to adjust my expectations has allowed greater freedom and appreciation for what I do receive. I have an invitation to Christmas dinner. Two friends made me homemade goodies.

I feel happy and content with everything I've been given in the past and will receive in the future.

 

“I feel you Christmas

I know I've found you

You never fade away

The joy of Christmas

Stays here inside us

Fills each and every heart with love”

 

Whether you’re dealing with loss of family from death or estrangement, an unworkable relationship or something else, surviving a solo Christmas isn’t about surviving at all. It’s about finding strength in being alone or embracing the pain we feel from a loss somewhere in our lives. It's about remembering that things aren’t always what they appear in the lives of others. It’s about sitting with things as they are. It's about cherishing old memories and dreaming of ones you'll make in years to come and finding tremendous freedom and power in that future!

 

*lyrics to Christmas, Why Can’t I Find You? co-written by James Horner and Will Jennings and sung by Faith Hill

Five Gifts I’ve Received From My Transition

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  It’s a nice coincidence that Transgender Awareness Month is ending just as we celebrate Thanksgiving. It's true that as part of my gender transition process, I celebrated the holiday this year neither with my family nor as part of the relationship I had shared for the past five years. While there were many painful feelings present, it wasn’t all that was there. My spiritual practice helps me put all things in perspective and, upon further reflection, this experience helped me to realize several gifts I’ve received from my transformation.

Finding and feeling gratitude and joy for the gifts we receive from experiences of adversity help us balance the pain of loss, sadness and grief. 

Some might call this process of introspection and meaning-making to be selfish navel-gazing. I call it my path to enlightenment which basically means I get to feel awesome more often and shitty less often. Whatever can help me do that in a way that works and lasts, I’m all for it. No doubt, if you’re reading this, you’re drawn to the same desire. You’re going through something that has tested you in some way, or have already done so, and want to know what to do with those thoughts and feelings so you can get to the part where you feel some relief.

So, insofar as it’s helpful and enlightening to you, as this month of seeing and understanding the transgender experience more closely comes to a close, here are five gifts I’ve received from my experience so far.

1. Developing a new capacity for compassion. It’s said that those who find and really understand Buddhism (and other religions or spiritual paths) are those who have experienced the greatest suffering. I absolutely fall into that category, from countless experiences before and since my gender transition, and my own awareness of my life experiences helps me to deeply understand and relate to the suffering, struggle and joy of all people better than I ever did before. Before my gender transition, I danced around this experience by picking and choosing who deserved my patience and compassion. Since choosing to transition, I see much more clearly the connectedness, the relativity and patterns of the human experience. Making space for my process and practicing tremendous acceptance and compassion for myself, where others haven’t been able to, helps me make space for others in ways I couldn’t before.

2. Going undercover every day. So, I will admit that it’s pretty damn cool to live two lives in one lifetime. I spent 34 years as one person and now get to move through the world for the rest of my life like I’m wearing a costume or going undercover every day.  Truthfully, I still feel like the same person because I am the same person. The only thing that’s different is how people interact with me based on who or what they think they see or know. More often than not, I find it quite comical and extremely enlightening. It’s humbling to see what I thought I knew about the world. Since processing through much of the pain and anger associated with such profound disorientation and transformation, I actually laugh to myself on a daily basis when women treat me like I don’t have a brain or when men accept me as “one of the boys”. Can you imagine waking up and experiencing the world as a completely different person midway through your life? It is equal parts fun, weird and profoundly confusing. It’s fascinating stuff and I feel like the Terminator, scanning for and detecting data in each human interaction.

3. A whole new relationship to my body.  Like many people, for most of my life, I was at war with my body. Department store dressing rooms were torture chambers and getting dressed every day was an agonizing chore. I cannot explain exactly why just yet, but since my transition it feels like the war is over. There are many daily battles but nothing near what I experienced before making this decision. I think because I had to think so intimately about it, like when I chose to quit being a teacher, and then become a vegetarian, then a lesbian, and then just a person, I reached a real peace and serenity with my choice. I think learning that only I could choose to flip the switch, and making the choice to do it, helped me come to value and appreciate my body more, maybe for the first time in my life. It’s like we’re in this thing together, now. Maybe the hormones help. Maybe they actually turned off some receptor somewhere deep in my brain. Maybe it’s for reasons I haven’t yet determined or will ever understand. Not a day goes by where I don’t reflect on my decision but I never regret it. It was mine, and only mine, to make. The days I spent frustrated and confused in my previous form are over and are now replaced with new and different feelings. The new ones are also difficult but easier, now, somehow.

4. A new voice. I never appreciated my old singing voice until I lost it. The first few months of my voice change were extremely difficult as note after note disappeared. When I finally realized I couldn’t sing along to Brandi Carlile or Patty Griffin, two of my most favorite artists, it was a very difficult few weeks. Now, two years later, my voice almost perfectly matches those of James Taylor and Michael Buble. Don’t tell anyone I sing along to Michael Buble and no one gets hurt, ok? As I grieved the loss of one range and experience, I welcomed a new way of expressing myself as a singer, even if I only do it to make myself smile. I’m also learning a new way to express myself in many ways, how to use my life experience and my “voice” in my writing and speaking in ways that I never have before. Sometimes I catch myself waiting for what feels like persistent laryngitis to wear off and have to remind myself that it’s definitely here to stay. Here to stay in a good and fun new way.

5. A new understanding of love. Transition of all kinds challenges relationships of all kinds. My process has tested my own love for myself and the love others have for me and themselves. We often speak and write of love as a definite like if we define and measure it and put it in a box or summarize it in a well-worded quote, we’ll know where to find it when we forget or need it. Through my interactions with family members, friends, colleagues and strangers the past few years, I’ve come to a new understanding about love. I think love is both a feeling we experience and it happens in real time, each day, as an expression in our words and actions in relation and response to the needs of others. My transition has taught me to see and accept the many different ways humans manifest this. I understand that love, like happiness, begins as an inside job and is a daily practice with ourselves and others. It’s the process of thousands and thousands of choices we are free to make from one moment to the next.

 

I’ve been living openly as a transgender person for two years and six months. I’m so new to this and will undoubtedly have new and interesting insights as the years go by but these are the greatest gifts I’ve received from the process so far.

 

In your own transition process, I hope you find these words helpful in some way.

If you would like my support, drop me a line at dillandigi [at] gmail.com

How Bliss Feels

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I surround myself with a lot of folks who are into health, wellness and spirituality so I see a lot of people talk about bliss. They mention being "blissed out" or "in the flow".

I've known bliss a few times in my life. It is fleeting, not the kind of thing that is a permanent feeling. I don't know that humans can achieve a constant state of bliss--maybe it's possible, but I haven't had it happen to me. But it is pretty awesome when it does happen.

Now that I've experienced it more often recently, I want to tell you how bliss feels. Or how it feels to me.

You may have read my post about meeting Pema Chödrön last year. It was a life-changing moment for me, one of those, "I can die happy now" experiences. Sitting in the same room with her was already cool enough but I actually got to stand at the microphone and engage in conversation with her. Truly extraordinary. And I have it recorded on DVD to watch whenever I want to remind myself of that moment! If you want to buy that retreat on MP3 or DVD, you can click here.

Well, I decided to return to the Pema Osel Do Ngak Choling in Vershire, VT, this year for some much-needed time away. It wasn't enough time, I can tell you that much, but it was valuable for what it was.

I got to see people I had met last year and felt the feelings of overwhelm and pure gratitude when they recognized me. It was equally weird and comforting. I have this weird story in my head that I move through the world relatively invisible--and if I wasn't already addressing the origins of that silly myth, I am doing so more deliberately now. These people remembered me as much as I remembered them. It was intimate and beautiful.

We were led in teaching and conversation by the Buddhist author and teacher, Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel on the topic of the Middle Way. We began the instruction each day by sitting for 30 minutes in silent meditation. I was really looking forward to this because I have hard time making time for this each day in my own life--I find it easier when people structure it for me.

I can't speak about the sitting part without talking about my hips. Of late, I've noticed a growing tension and inflexibility in my hips and legs. I desperately need to address it because it is affecting movement and sitting for meditation. I've tried stretching but need to do more of it more often, I think. Is there an area on your body causing this sort of experience for you?

After the second painful sitting experience, I moved to a chair. I was tired, no doubt about it. I've been burning the candle at both ends and it was catching up to me as I sat there. My eyes began to get very heavy but rather than fight and try to keep my eyes open, I let the sleepy be a part of my sitting. It was part of it, not wrong or unwelcome or bad but just there.

But I didn't fall asleep. I sort of dozed or drifted in and out. I wasn't blaming myself or feeling  badly about my eyes being closed. I was present to those thoughts but didn't get consumed by them.

And then, I decided to open my eyes for a second.

It felt like someone poured soothing hot water through my veins. Every muscle was relaxed. My stomach, which is often clenched, was soft. My throat was loose. I could feel every muscle in my face had softened. My heart was beating slowly, but my mind was clear and then I had this thought, "oh my goodness. This feels sublime."

I don't do drugs--is this maybe what it feels like? I'm not sure. But if I can achieve that with nothing but my own breathing and mindfulness and some sleepiness--sign me up for more!

The only other time I felt this way was when I fell in love for the first time. I don't think my feet touched the ground for a few weeks back then.

This time it was a minute of total bliss, physically and then mentally once I was aware of it. And just like that, in one second, it was gone. I tried to cling to it and make it last and then closed my eyes again because I realized I was grasping.

I drifted in and out like this a few more times to recapture that mellow, blissed-out feeling. It worked and amazed me.

And it's powerful and wonderful to know I can achieve it anytime I want!

You can listen to more about how to get to this state ("shamatha") by clicking here.

More and more I am finding I can achieve moments of bliss off the cushion, too. I find it harder to do now than when I was younger. Life stressors have increased and self-consciousness is more present some days more than others, but I know it's possible. I find that same feeling of bliss in the company of friends, doing work I love and those precious moments when I am about to fall asleep after a long, amazing day.

 

Is this something you want to try or experience? Is it something you know well?

Share your thoughts below. :)